Forcing a smile, I glance at Julian. His anger and annoyance have turned into amusement. His lips are pulled up into a grin, and his eyes turn mischievous.

“Well, it was great running into you. Best regards to your father. Maybe we’ll find some time to catch up soon.” Julian smiles, throwing hot coals into the raging fire inside of me.

“I’m sure we will,” she chirps shamelessly. “I’ll see you soon.”

Ignoring my presence completely, she turns around and walks away, swaying her hips seductively. I turn my attention to Julian, who is still looking at me, amused.

“What the hell was that?” I snap.

“Do you have any idea how sexy you look when you’re jealous?” Julian smirks, dragging his fingers over my bare back. My body instantly responds, heat creeps up my neck, and warmth fills my lower belly.

No, no, no! He is not so easily off the hook. All night, he has acted jealous of guys simply looking at me, and now he is patronizing me for being upset when he flirts with someone. I don’t even want to know how exactly he knows her.

“Explain, mister, or so help me…” I’m not sure what the hell I’ll do, but the threat passes my lips before I can fully think of a response.

“Chelsey’s father and I used to be business partners. As long as I’ve known her, she’s had a little crush on me, but I’ve never touched her if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Relief floods my veins. I’m well aware that Julian has been with other women prior to meeting me, but knowing of them and seeing one of them in the flesh are two different things.

Even without him touching her in the past, my mood is souring by the second simply thinking about the whole interaction. Trying to banish those thoughts from my mind, I look around the room. I need to find something else to think about.

“Jealousy looks good on you, but pouting does not.” Julian leans into me with his minty breath fanning over my cheek. “You know I was just teasing you. I would never discard a queen like you for trash like her.”

“I’m not pouting,” I lie. I definitely am.

“Can we just forget about her and enjoy the evening? She is nothing, Elena. She’s been throwing herself at me for years, but I don’t want her. I only want you.”

“I’ll try, but seeing you with her brought up old feelings. I get that’s just me being insecure, but how would you feel if I had been with men before we married?” At my words, his whole body stiffens, his eyes darken to a storm-cloud blue, and his fingers dig possessively into my skin. I’ve hit a nerve, and my entire body tingles at the knowledge.

“I would’ve killed every man who ever touched you before me.”

“Exactly,” I murmur.

Julian sighs. “You are right. I shouldn’t have teased you like that. Let’s forget this, get a drink, and have some fun.”

“I don’t want a drink,” I answer quicker than necessary.

Actually, I do want a drink, I just can’t have one, but he doesn’t know that yet. That secret will be his Christmas present in the morning. “I do want something to eat, though. Can we go to the buffet?”

“Of course.” Julian nods and holds his arm out to me.

I loop my slender forearm into his muscular one, and he leads me to the far right wall of the banquet hall. The wall is lined with large tables, and a colorful array of warm and cold foods are spread out like art. The food is so creatively presented, it’s almost too beautiful to eat.

We grab some plates, and I load mine up until there is no space left.

“Hungry?” Julian chuckles, looking at my plate.

“I didn’t eat much today, I had to make sure I’d fit into this dress, after all,” I lie again.

I normally tell Julian the truth, but I really want to keep this secret until tomorrow morning. There isn’t much I can give a man who has everything money can buy.

This will be the greatest gift of all.

We choose a table to eat at, and my mood slowly returns. Maybe I was just getting a bit hangry. When I’m finished eating, Julian goes to get me a piece of cake, and while I wait patiently for some sugary goodness, my eyes scan the room without any particular focus.

I take in the sea of people, old and young and all dressed to impress. My eyes move over a hundred unknown faces until I catch a single known one. I freeze. Then I blink.

People move in front of me, obstructing my view. When they move past, he is gone. Disappearing like he wasn’t there at all.

Frantically, I look around, trying to find Lucca again, but he has simply vanished.

“You okay?” Julian’s deep voice startles me.

Tags: Cassandra Hallman, J.L. Beck The Moretti Crime Family Erotic