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Ansley looked up, fingers wrapped around his disposable coffee cup, and stilled at the sight of the woman making her way through the shop's clear glass doors. She was even more arresting in person.
The picture on Sophia Feathermoore's Web site had not done her justice.
Her wild, ebony mane appeared even more lustrous in the evening light. Her skin was creamier, a richer mahogany tone than her picture had illustrated, and her eyes ... Even from across the room, the large dark pools of her espresso eyes seemed to pull him in and never let him go.
She moved with a vibrancy that spoke of determination. Her every step was purposeful as she searched the café for someone she recognized. She walked deeper into the coffee shop and looked over the people. Her gaze skimmed over him and continued. Belatedly, Ansley realized she had no idea what he looked like. The truth must have hit her at the same time because she stilled and frowned at the room.
He knew he needed to stand or wave her over, but Ansley was loath to move from his spot. He relished the fact that he could watch her in secrecy. Her simple head shot had not given him an indication of her body, and what a body it was.
Sophia was all curves. She might have been considered plus-sized by the public, but Ansley believed she was the perfect size for him. Bountiful breasts, wide hips, and long legs. She looked to be approximately five feet ten. At six-four, Ansley appreciated things capable of handling his large size.
And Sophia looked more than capable as far as he was concerned. He felt his cock jerk with interest within his simple Dockers pants as he stood and waved at Sophia.
She stared at himfor a moment before making her way to him. Ansley gritted his teeth as she made her way over to him. Before Sophia had masked her feelings, he had seen surprise on her face. She had not been expecting him to look as he did.
Ansley was used to the reaction. At least he should have been. He got it often in his line of work. He did not look like he belonged in the fine arts business. He was a hard-edged man with features that attested to his character. One client had even gone so far as to point out the fact that Ansley looked like a military man.
As I should. The armed forces are in my blood. He was the latest in a long line of Westwick men who'd served their country.
The sharp spike of feeling he felt in reaction to Sophia's look of astonishment surprised him. Ansley had seen the look on countless clients' faces. It never affected him before.
But she's different.
"Westwick, Mr. Ansley Westwick." Sophia stopped right in front of his table.
"Yes." Ansley gestured to one of the unoccupied seats at his table. "I'm so glad you came."
"With an invitation like yours, how could I resist?" she said with a slow, shy smile as she took the chair directly across from him. "I'm very excited about this consultation that requires us to meet."
Ansley slowly lowered the paper cup in his hand and leaned across the table. His gaze holding hers, he asked, "Is that all you're excited about, Sophia?"
Her eyes widened with surprise, then dropped away. "What else is there?"
He took a sip from his coffee and considered the woman before him. The better part of eighteen months had been spent thinking about her. "I'll admit that I'm ... excited to meet you."
"Oh." Large espresso eyes stared at him in utter surprise before flickering away to glance out the window. "I've wanted to meet you too, for some time now."
Already he had gained some ground. Good. "I'm glad to hear that."
Something in his tone must have given away Ansley's satisfaction because she flicked another unsure glance at him, but this one was different. There was more than just shyness in her gaze. For a moment, she looked like a trapped animal. And Ansley got the feeling Sophia viewed him as her hunter. The look lasted less than a moment. Still, Ansley knew he made Sophia nervous. He needed to put her at ease.
"Would you like to hear about the job?"
For the first time that day Sophia's gaze lifted to his and held. "Yes."
"A few months ago I found out that Jacob Bainsworth throws a biennial party at his Diamond Springs estate. It's a weekend-long event."
Sophia sat back in her seat and stared at him in surprise. "And he's throwing it this year?"
Ansley nodded his head in agreement and took a sip from his coffee. He lifted his head and looked into Sophia's bright eyes. "But it's by invite only."
She licked her lips. He watched her tongue move across the full plane of her lower lip and felt the movement deep in his balls. He was definitely attracted to her unconventional beauty.
Fortunately, Sophia was totally unaware of her effect on him.
"And you somehow managed to get an invite?"
He smiled at the disbelief and admiration he heard in her voice. "Yes."
She stilled across from him. "Did you manage to get two invites?"
"Yes, Sophia. I did. I want you to come with me."
The air between them altered almost immediately. Before Sophia opened her mouth, Ansley knew she was going to deny him. "To a party?" she asked.
Noting the fear in her gaze, he tried to downplay the celebratory element. "Think of it as an assignment. It is just part of the job. You've been to a number of parties that focused on art."
"Yes, but this isn't one of those parties. I got the impression that this was a real party."
"How is this any different? You're still going there for the art, Sophia," he replied.
She chewed her bottom lip, eating away the dark lipstick to reveal the flushed pink tone of her mouth. "I'm not really good around people."
"I'll be there, Sophia."
If anything, the darkness in her eyes deepened. She was nervous about being with him. It made sense. A genteel woman such as herself probably wasn't used to hard men like him. Ansley sighed. "Remember we're going there to find my client's missing piece. We're not going there to party."
She gave him a lopsided grin. "Good, because I have to admit I'm not much of a partyer."
He took a moment-dragging sip of his cool coffee. "And why not?"
Her muscles went tight with tension. Too late, Ansley realized he had said the wrong thing, drawn her too far past her comfort zone.
"I guess I don't have much practice with partying."
The statement was spoken in a matter-of-fact manner, but there was nothing simple about what Sophia said. Ansley watched her wondering what kind of idiot males surrounded her.
Sophia should have been used to the best kind of parties.
At least, Ansley would have made sure she was used to such things if he could call Sophia his.
"I promise this will be no different than any other job I've worked on. It's a simple matter of getting into Bainsworth's home so we can find the piece."
"What happens after that?"
He grinned. "Let me worry about that. This is my expertise, after all."
The steady rhythm of fingers tapping the rosewood table danced through the air. Ansley glanced at Sophia's long, slim fingers moving upon the wood. Like the female they belonged to, her fingers had an elegancy that marked each digit. Perfect, right down to her fingertips. Ansley grimaced at the fanciful thought. He was not a romantic, but he was definitely romanticizing every thing Sophia did.
It's the fantasy. For months now, he had dreamed of her. What he didn't know about her, his imagination fleshed out. In the end, he had created an image of a perfect woman. And he was affixing that view to Sophia.
If he didn't curb his wayward thoughts, things were bound to end badly. "What are you thinking?" he drawled out, knowing that he needed to focus on the case. It was his first priority. Sophia could only, at most, be a pleasant afterthought.
"Bainsworth is notoriously secretive."
"I'm assuming he'll have his famous security measures in place."
"Ah, you're wondering how we'll get past the identification phase, even with our invites."
"It's a costume party. And my friend made sure to get us the invites of a couple who resemble us."
"Wow. That's impressive."
"Getting that all together must have taken considerable time and effort."
"Yes, and money."
Her beautiful eyes tightened slightly as she peered at him in consternation. Fine tingles of anticipation danced upon his skin as he waited for Sophia to look her fill. After several moments, Sophia appeared to have consumed enough of him. "You're really going out of your way to find this piece."
"Hmmm," he murmured noncommittally. Sophia was incredibly perceptive. That characteristic was part of the reason why Ansley originally hired her. He hoped it didn't come back to bite him in the ass. It was one thing to have a perceptive consultant across the country; it was another to have a highly perceptive woman across the table from you.
"You're a very dedicated man."
"When there's something I want, I go after it."