“Dominic…it’s Penelope. I just wanted to thank you for an amazing dinner.”
The words connected, I guess.
They made sense, I guess.
Shaking my head, I pulled away from Dominic and glanced toward the phone, then back to him.
It was the look on his face that did me in.
If I’d seen any other look on his face, I might have been able to curl back up against him and laugh it off, let things get back to where they’d been heading. I’d already had my fill of Penelope Rittenour and could already guess at the mindset that woman had. She was the sort who’d just twist people up because she could.
But the look on his face, I couldn’t ignore it.
His jaw was like stone and his eyes were icy, a cold glacial blue when he looked at me. Without a word, he rose and walked over to the counter. He deleted the message and then turned back towards me. When he sat down, I turned so that I was facing him, but not touching him.
“I thought you were having dinner with your mother,” I said, trying to keep the accusation from my voice.
“She’d invited Penelope.” He sat down and reached for me.
I didn’t want to hear anymore. I stood up, but didn’t make it three steps before he caught my wrist.
“Lovely,” I said, giving him the smile I’d perfected for the business meetings I’d attended with him. It was all professional polish with zero emotion. “I imagine the two of them had a wonderful time telling you how absolutely exotic and low-class I am.”
“I don’t give a damn what they think about you!” His voice was harsh, the words boomed out in sharp staccato.
“Neither do I!” I fired back at him. Except I lied. When you’ve lived most of your life being the town freak because your skin’s too dark for one group and too light for another, you grow a thick skin. But still, under that thick skin were layers and layers of nerves longing for acceptance. I could bluster through this though. I knew it. I’d done it before. I sneered at him, hoping that if I provoked him, he’d get angry and let me go. “You think I care what some New York princess with a pedigree thinks about me?”
Dominic lifted a hand and touched my cheek. The gentleness of it caught me off guard. I’d been expecting anger following my attack.
And then he murmured, “Yes.”
I jerked away from his hand, shaking my head. “No, I don’t.”
“You do,” he insisted. “Not so much what Penelope thinks and that’s good, because she’s not worth it. She can barely hold a thought in her head that doesn’t revolve around the current trends and the current causes.”
I felt a burst of relief at his description of Penelope, but it didn’t overshadow the rest of what I was feeling. He took a step toward me to close the ground I’d managed to gain. I took another step back and found myself up against one of the low, fat accent chairs. I braced my hands against it, curling my fingers into the leather cushions.
“No, what you care about is how some people look through you and they look around you and they look down…and it hurts.” He cradled my face, his thumb stroking across my lip. “I see you, Aleena.”
I set my jaw, trying to ignore the way his words twisted my heart.
“I’m sorry.” He pressed a soft kiss to my brow. “I should have mentioned it, but it was something my mother set up and I didn’t want to upset you. I…” He looked away and then back at me, sighing. “I upset you more by not telling you.”
I eased away from him and moved to stare outside. Needing air, I pushed open the curtains to the rarely used balcony and stepped outside. The wind was still bitter cold, especially this high up, but I welcomed it and lifted my face, breathing it in. The robe I was wearing was thick, warm cotton, keeping me from freezing.
“Are we trying to make a relationship work here, Dominic?” I asked when I felt him move out behind me.
“I thought we’d already decided we were.”
I nodded. Then, slowly, I turned to face him. “Then don’t do this again. I understand why you didn’t tell me, but it felt like you were hiding it.”