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

By:Beth Kery

. Ms. Arno, it's a pleasure to meet you," Lucien added in a delicious, French-accented voice. "What may I get you?"

Noble looked at her expectantly. His lips were unusually full for such a rugged-featured, masculine man, striking her as sensual yet firm.

Stern.

From where had that strange thought leapt?

"I'm fine," Francesca replied, although her heart started to beat erratically.

"What is that?" he asked, nodding at her half-empty drink.

"Just my usual drink, club soda with lime."

"You should be celebrating, Ms. Arno." Was it his accent that made her ears and neck prickle when he said her name? There was something unique about it, she realized. It was British, but some other influence seemed to slide into his syllables occasionally, something she couldn't quite identify. "Bring us a bottle of the Roederer Brut," Noble told Lucien, who smiled, gave a slight bow and walked away.

Her confusion mounted. Why was he bothering to spend so much time with her? Surely he didn't drink champagne with all of the recipients of his philanthropy. "As I was saying before Lucien arrived, I'm glad about your architecture background. Your skill and knowledge in that field is undoubtedly what gives your artwork so much precision, depth, and style. The painting you submitted for the contest was spectacular. You exactly caught the spirit of what I wanted for my lobby."




Her gaze skimmed across his immaculate suit. Somehow, his apparent love of a perfectly straight line didn't surprise her. True, her artwork was often inspired by her love of form and structure, but precision wasn't what her work was about. Far from it. "I'm glad you were pleased," she said with what she hoped was a neutral tone.

A smile ghosted his lips. "There's something behind your statement. Aren't you happy that you've pleased me?"

Her mouth dropped open at that. She stifled the words that flew to her throat. I do my art to please no one but myself. She stopped herself just in time. What was wrong with her? This man was responsible for changing her life.

"I told you earlier, I couldn't be happier about winning the contest. I'm thrilled."

"Ah," he murmured as Lucien arrived with the champagne and ice bucket. Noble didn't glance in Lucien's direction as the other man busied himself opening the bottle, but continued to study her as though she were a particularly interesting science project. "But being glad of your commission isn't the same as being glad you pleased me."

"No, I didn't mean that," she sputtered, looking at Lucien when he uncorked the champagne with a muffled popping sound. Her bewildered gaze returned to Noble. His eyes glinted in an otherwise impassive face. What in the world was he talking about? And why, despite the fact that she didn't have the answer to that, had his question made her so flustered? "I am glad that you liked the painting. Very much so."

Noble didn't reply, just watched detachedly as Lucien poured the sparkling fluid into flutes. He nodded and murmured his thanks before Lucien walked away. Francesca picked up her glass when he reached for his.

"Congratulations."

She managed a smile as their flutes touched ever so fleetingly. She'd never tasted anything like it; the champagne was dry and icy and felt delicious sliding across her tongue and down her throat. She gave Noble a sideways glance. How could he seem so oblivious to the thick tension in the air when she felt as if she'd suffocate from it?

"I guess since you're royalty, a cocktail waitress won't do for serving you," she said, wishing her voice hadn't quavered.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Oh, I just meant-" She cursed silently to herself. "I'm a cocktail waitress-I do it to help pay the bills while I'm in grad school," she added, slightly panicked at how cool, and a little intimidating, he suddenly appeared. She lifted her flute and took a too-large gulp of the icy fluid. Wait until she told Davie how she botched this whole thing. Her good friend would be exasperated with her, even if her other roommates-Caden and Justin-would roll with laughter at her latest incident of apparent social idiocy.

If only Ian Noble weren't so handsome. Disturbingly so.

"I'm sorry," she mumbled. "I shouldn't have said that. It's just-I'd read that your grandparents belonged to a minor branch of the British royal family-an earl and a countess, no less."

"And you were wondering if I despise being waited on by a mere serving girl, is that it?" he asked. Amusement didn't soften his features, just made them more compelling. She sighed and relaxed a little. She hadn't completely offended him.

"I did most of my schooling in the states," he said. "I consider myself to be an American, first and foremost. And I assure you, the only reason Lucien came to wait on us himself is that he chose to. We're fencing partners in addition to being friends. The custom of the English aristocracy preferring the status of a manservant over a maid exists only in Regency English novels in the present day, Ms. Arno. Even if they did still exist, I doubt they'd apply to a bastard. I'm sorry to disappoint you."

Her cheeks felt like they were boiling. When would she learn to keep her big mouth shut? Was he telling her he was illegitimate? She'd never read anything regarding that before.

"Where do you waitress?" he asked, seeming color-blind to her scarlet cheeks.

"At High Jinks in Bucktown."

"I've never heard of it."

"Somehow that doesn't surprise me," she muttered under her breath before she took another sip of champagne. She blinked in surprise at the sound of his low, rough laughter. Her eyes widened when she looked at his face. He looked so pleased. Her heart dipped. Ian Noble was spectacular to behold at any given moment, but when he smiled, he was nothing short of a menace to a female's composure.

"Would you mind coming with me . . . walking a few blocks? There's some

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