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Because You Are Mine (Because You Are Mine #1)

By:Beth Kery

talking across the room toward her, leaving a surprised-looking Lin in his wake.

Francesca experienced a ridiculous urge to run.

"Oh . . . he's headed this way . . . Lin must have told him who you were," Zoe said, sounding as bewildered and caught off guard as Francesca felt. Zoe was more practiced in the art of social elegance than Francesca, however. By the time Noble reached them, all traces of the giggling girl were gone and in their place stood a contained, beautiful woman.

"Mr. Noble, good evening."

His eyes were a piercing cobalt blue. They flicked off Francesca for a split second. She managed to suck some air into her lungs during the reprieve.

"Zoe, isn't it?" he asked.

Zoe couldn't hide her pleasure at the fact that Noble had known her name. "Yes, sir. I work in Imagetronics. May I introduce Francesca Arno, the artist you chose as the winner in the Far Sight Competition."




He took her hand. "It's a pleasure, Ms. Arno."

Francesca just nodded. She couldn't speak. Her brain was temporarily overloaded by the image of him, the warmth of his encompassing hand, the sound of his low, British-accented voice. His skin was pale next to his dark, stylishly coiffed, short hair and gray suit. Dark Angel. The words flew into her brain, unbidden.

"I can't tell you how impressed I am with your work," he said. No smile. No softness in his tone, even if there was a sharp curiosity in his stare.

She swallowed uneasily. "Thank you." He released her hand slowly, causing his skin to slide against hers. A horrible moment of silence passed as he just looked at her. She gathered herself and straightened her spine.

"I'm glad to have this opportunity to thank you in person for awarding me the commission. It means more to me than I can convey." She said the rehearsed words in a pressured fashion.

He gave an almost imperceptible shrug and waved his hand negligently. "You earned it." He held her stare. "Or at least you will."

She felt her pulse leap at her throat and hoped he didn't notice.

"I earned it, yes. But you gave me the opportunity. It's that I'm trying to express my thanks for. I probably wouldn't have been able to afford the second year of my master's program if you hadn't given me this chance."

He blinked. From the corner of her vision, Francesca noticed Zoe stiffen. Francesca glanced away in embarrassment. Had she sounded sharp?

"My grandmother often says I'm ungracious in the face of gratitude," he said, his voice quieter . . . warmer. "You're right to scold me. And you're also very welcome for the opportunity, Ms. Arno," he said, giving a nod of acknowledgment. "Zoe, would you mind taking a message to Lin for me? I've decided to cancel dinner with Xander LaGrange, after all. Please have her reschedule."

"Of course, Mr. Noble," Zoe said before she walked away.

"Would you like to sit down?" he asked, nodding at an unoccupied circular leather booth.

"Sure."

He waited behind her while she scooted into the booth. She wished he wouldn't. She felt awkward and ungainly. After she'd settled, he slid beside her in one graceful, swooping motion. Francesca smoothed the gauzy skirt of the vintage beaded baby-doll dress she'd bought at a secondhand store in Wicker Park. The early September evening had been cooler than she'd expected when planning for the cocktail party. The casual denim jacket she wore had been her only choice, given the thin straps of her dress. It struck her how ridiculous she must appear, seated next to this immaculately dressed, thoroughly masculine male.

She fussed anxiously with her collar, and then sensed his stare on her. She met his eyes. Her chin went up defiantly. A small smile flickered across his mouth, and something clenched in her lower belly.

"So you're in the second year of your master's program?"

"Yes. I'm at the Art Institute."

"A very good school," he murmured. He rested his hands on the table and leaned back in the booth, looking thoroughly comfortable. His body was long, relaxed, and taut, reminding Francesca of a predatory animal whose seeming calmness could leap into full-out action in a split second. Even though his hips were slim, his shoulders were broad, suggesting some serious muscles beneath that starched white shirt. "If I'm remembering your application correctly, you studied both art and architecture at Northwestern University?"

"Yes," Francesca said breathlessly, pulling her gaze off his hands. They were elegant hands, but also large, blunt tipped, and very capable looking. The vision of them disturbed her for some reason. She couldn't help but imagine what they would look like against her skin . . . wrapped around her waist . . .

"Why?"

She started from her totally inappropriate thoughts and met his steady stare. "Why did I study both architecture and art?"

He nodded once.

"Architecture for my parents and art for me," she replied, surprising herself by the honesty of her answer. She usually made a show of being coolly disdainful when anyone asked the same question. Why should she have to choose between her talents? "My parents are both architects, and it was their lifetime dream that I become one as well."

"So you granted them half a dream. You earned the qualifications of an architect but don't plan to make it your career."

"I'll always be an architect."

"And I'm glad of it," he said, looking up when a handsome man with dreadlocks and pale gray eyes that contrasted with darker skin approached the table. Noble shook his hand. "Lucien, how is business?"

"Booming," Lucien replied, his gaze shifting to Francesca with interest.

"Ms. Arno, this is Lucien Lenault. He's the manager of Fusion, and the most illustrious restaurateur in Europe. I handpicked him from the finest restaurant in Paris."

Lucien rolled his eyes amusedly at Ian's introduction and grinned. "Hopefully, the same can be said of Fusion very soon

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