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If You Dare
One year later ...
All heads turned toward the sleek silver profile of a shiny new Lamborghini Murciélago as it whipped up to the valet of Lafonte's restaurant.
A couple of teenage boys pushed each other out of the way in their desire to be the one to park the car.
When the driver's door slid upward, a sixfoot- four African-American gentleman dressed in black, casual Armani emerged.
"Yo, man. You can get Janet Jackson with that car. For real!" The young boy with the name Todd engraved on a bronze name tag rushed over to him.
The man gently lowered the rim of his dark Oakley shades so his onyx gaze locked on the gushing teenager, and a small smile curled at the side of his mouth. "Be careful with my lady," he said, and then tossed him the keys.
"You can count on me," Todd reassured him.
Turning, the gentleman slid his hands into the pockets of his linen suit and entered through the restaurant's glass doors.
He immediately liked the low lighting and intimate ambience of the place. He caught a dozen covetous gazes from women linked on the arms of impeccably dressed men.
The hostess, a petite ebony beauty, greeted him with a magnanimous smile. "Good evening, thank you for choosing to dine with us at Lafonte's. Do you have a reservation?"
"I'm afraid I don't. I'm here to see Sean Lafonte. He's expecting me."
Still smiling, she reached for the phone on the podium. "May I have your name?"
"Black. Damien Black."
Seconds later, Sean Lafonte straightened his tall frame, showcasing a Valentino white suit as he gestured for his visitor to enter. "Damien Black, it's good to see you again."
"How long has it been -- five, six years?"
"Something like that." Damien walked to the desk and accepted the extended hand being offered. "You still look good."
"Such a smooth liar." Sean patted the small bulge of his belly. "Now you, on the other hand, look as though you were born in a gym."
"You know me. I've always believed in taking care of the mind, body, and spirit."
"Spirit?" Sean laughed and gestured toward the vacant chair across from his desk. "You're an interesting bag of contradictions, my friend. You're the only spiritual thief I know."
Damien curved the corners of his lips, not quite smiling.
"Now, now. I was just teasing you. What's a little humor between friends?"
"Is that what we are -- friends?" Damien asked with perhaps more sarcasm than he intended.
Sean's false cheerfulness died with his smile. "Perhaps I overstated myself. Associates, then -- does that work for you?"
Damien's smile warmed. "At least it resembles the truth." Heglanced at his surroundings. "I see the restaurant business is doingwell for you."
"People have to eat."
"True. How many locations now?"
Sean eased back into his chair. "If all goes well, the third Lafonte's will be opening out in Alpharetta."
"I take it this job will be financing the restaurant?"
"Not entirely, but something like that. Are you up for it?"
"Depends on how much we're talking about."
"Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars? What's this -- minimum wage or something?"
Sean laughed and grew serious. "Five hundred."
Damien stood. "It was nice seeing you again. Call me when you want to talk business." He turned and headed toward the door, but didn't get far.
"Wait," Sean said.
Damien faced him again, with his brows arched high over his eyes.
"Throw out a figure."
"I deal in percentages. Fifty-fifty."
Sean shot from his chair. "What? That's outrageous."
"I did a little research, and I know how much the Degas collection will go for on the black market. It's a fair deal."
Damien watched Sean's expression harden. Sean could easily tell him to go to hell, but both knew Damien was the best man for the job.
"I'll have to run some numbers." Sean eased back into his chair. "How can I reach you again?"
"Don't worry." Damien winked and turned back toward the door. "I'll be in touch."If You Dare. Copyright © by Adrianne Byrd. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.