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Monica Davenport’s little problem with intimacy was growing too big to ignore. Relationship to relationship, she’d helplessly watched the affection every man had ever had for her crumble, then die, each time she physically turned away from them.
She was the darling of Chicago, rivaled only in popularity by Daniel Lexington himself, and at twenty-eight, she was proud president of Davenport’s, one of the top luxury cashmere retail chains in the United States. She was an icon of poise and fashion and yet… the press hadn’t dubbed her the Ice Maiden for no reason.
She could smile for the cameras, but the truth was, happiness had left her a long time ago.
The day she realized she would never allow herself to love another human being.
Sighing, she excused herself from the group of couples she’d been talking to and wound her way through the crowded ballroom, her eyes scanning the figures of dark-clad men in search of the one she had been watching all evening.
The place looked splendid tonight. Soaring marble columns rose to the vaulted ceiling, and the entire ballroom was dripping in flowers. Fountains sprouted chocolate and champagne while ice sculptures of nude Venuses gracefully adorned every corner. Hors d’oeuvres circulated on sparkling silver trays for the lavish patrons and the room was full of subdued laughter as live classical music wafted in the background.
Like all the other ladies, monica had dressed in white, a requisite for every female attending the yearly Black and White Ball. A large pearl bracelet adorned one of her wrists, and she wore the earrings to match, nine millimeters in size and as lustrous as the day they’d been pulled out of their shells. Her slender body was encased in a high-end designer dress of crepe lace in a soft ivory color—not quite white, but close—which had always complemented her eyes, for it magnified their blueness and contrasted nicely with her long ebony hair, which she’d held back in an elegant little bun.
She’d become quite an expert at playing the part she’d been born to play, and the cool smile that accompanied her to these events felt like another accessory she must wear. Rarely did anyone get to see the the real Monica. Rarely did she allow her to show.
As she crossed the long expanse of the ballroom, she suddenly spotted him near the terrace doors, in a group consisting entirely of men. Her heart almost stopped.
His back was to her now, broad and strong, and a kernel of nervousness unfurled within her. Ask him, a little voice whispered.
“Here,” Peyton Lane said, as she passed her a full goblet of wine. “It helps when you have one of these.”
Peyton Lane worked at the firm who’d taken Davenport’s into the New York Stock Exchange years ago. The curvy brunette was also known as the woman who’d snatched—and tamed—the city’s most incorrigible playboy, Luke Preston. The man was so taken with his lady, in fact, that Peyton now wore an engagement ring—a white, blinding diamond the size of a quarter. “Thanks, Peyton,” Monica said, graciously accepting the goblet as Peyton playfully lifted her own drink in a mock toast.
Taking a sip, Monica found her eyes sliding back to the figure across the room, and she realized, judging by the awed, avaricious faces of the two ladies standing to Peyton’s right, that they were looking at him as well.
He stood next to the famed Luke, whose romance with Peyton had caused quite a stir when everyone realized the infamous rake was no longer available. That same romance had now crowned the man beside him as the true reigning billionaire bachelor in all of Chicago.
He was, after all, the Price of the Windy City.
Daniel Lexington had always been the favorite of the press, and there was no doubt to Monica as to why.
With his had thrust into his left pocket, at six foot three, and with his hair a sexy dirty blond with sun-lightened streaks, he was the perfect embodiment of a Viking in a tuxedo.
He wore the sable suit as though it had been made exactly to his dimensions, the dark material clinging perfectly to fit his narrow hips and his lean, long legs. Coupled with his perfectly symmetrical face and a set of shoulders that coule bear anything, the man radiated a universe of success and confidence, his entire being giving out a silent message of a wondrously channeled power.
“They say he just says the word, and God obeys,” one of the nearby women whispered.
The group laughed, and Monica smiled and kept her eyes on him, a strange pride and protectiveness sweeping over her.
Great bloodlines, a fantastic centerfold face, a good heart, and a very, very arrogant presence, Daniel Lexington carried himself as if he owned you and the planet he was standing on.
He was, despite his awe-inspiring reputation, one of the few people in the world to whom Monica felt close, which only made her realize how alienated she was from true closeness because she only saw Daniel a couple times a month, when they occasionally shared lunch.
Her eyes remained fixed on him, and her stomach warmed with every step that brought her closer to him. He now stood with two elderly men, as Luke Preston made his way toward his fiancée.
Daniel did not miss a beat in the conversation. Monica had never seen a man so comfortable in his own flesh. His green eyes were usually warm, sometimes even a little hot, and Monica never failed to feel their heat when he looked or smiled at her. Reflecting on it now, she realized if she had one secret she needed to entrust to someone in her life—anyone—she would entrust it to him. Friend. Almost… family. Once, she might have even dreamed he could be more.
Before her parents died…. before she saw how obsession, infatuation, and love could warp you. Consume you.
No… she had closed that off years ago. But Daniel continued to be the one presence in her life she kept helplessly coming back to. And he was perfectly alone tonight. He was never alone at this sort of event.
But then, neither was she.
This was as good a chance as any.
“Hey, you,” Monica said softly, sliding her hand into the crook of his arm.
Daniel didn’t turn from the conversation, but he instantly stretched his arm and drew her to his side, the motion sending a bolt of longing to her gut. Nobody ever touched her like this. Daniel was so comfortable with her. He’d been a great brother to Chloe, and Monica had always watched them with longing, wishing someone would shower her with affection like that.