Regardless, this bastard was going to discover that Santos was equally adept in both environments.
“Raminar,” Santos snapped, barely concealing his animosity. For the moment.
“Fazir.” The introductions might have concluded with those two words, but the mental circling had just begun. Santos wasn’t aware of his lips curling into an almost feral smile, but he was aware of the deep, primal surge of satisfaction at the knowledge that he was finally confronting a worthy adversary.
“Shall we begin?” Gaelen suggested.
Santos nodded. “Of course.” Both men settled into a leather chair, facing off on opposite sides of the polished conference room table. Different from the battlefield, but Santos knew from experience that peace negotiations could be just as dangerous.
The nightclub’s music pounded rhythmically and the irritating, flashing lights created a false sense of intimacy. Talia sipped her over-priced cocktail of…ingredients she didn’t recognize, pretending to smile as her friends laughed about…something that they thought was hilariously funny. Obviously, Talia had lost track of the conversation. She’d known these women since college. Back then, the four of them had done so much together, including hitting all of the nightclubs on the weekend. Her memories of those weekends were of fun and laughter, dancing and flirting with the various men at the clubs.
Unfortunately, even back then, Talia hadn’t enjoyed the dancing and drinking as much as her friends. But she’d wanted to be included, so she’d gone with them and, in many ways, she’d had fun. She loved dancing, but not the heavy drinking. And while her friends had often gone home with the men they’d met at the various clubs, Talia hadn’t. The idea of having sex with a complete stranger just never appealed to her.
A flash of the man from the lobby raced through her mind, but Talia pushed the image away. Again. She’d never see him again, so what was the point of thinking about him?
Forcing her mind to concentrate on the conversation, she took another sip and leaned forward, trying to understand what her friends were talking about.
Odd, but her friends hadn’t changed all that much in the years since college. Looking at the three ladies, Talia wondered why they felt the need to dress in short, tight dresses and drink so heavily. They were professional women now, all with good careers. They were all dating someone seriously, so why were they here? Why was it their goal tonight to flirt with as many men as possible?
“Talia! Drink up! You’re behind!” Desiree called out, leaning forward, her eyes sparkling with an overindulgence in the expensive cocktails and an almost frantic attempt at excitement.
Talia brightened her smile and took an obedient sip of her martini. Was there something wrong with her? Was she broken because she didn’t find clubbing and dancing and drinking to excess fun anymore?
Her heart ached when her older sister, Orella, came to mind. Orella would have loved this nightclub. Orella probably would have been out on the dance floor, smiling flirtatiously at the five or more men vying for her attention. Orella knew how to catch a man’s eye. She’d laughed and loved and had wonderful, wild adventures!
But Orella had died in a tragic car accident with her husband. They’d been going too fast along a narrow stretch of highway in the Italian Alps and their car had slammed into…Talia shook her head, sending away the painful images.
Talia’s thoughts turned to Elsa and Ellora, her sister’s twin girls who were still working through the devastating loss of both of their parents. Would they grow up to be adventurous like their mother? The girls were adorable and sweet and Talia loved spending time with them. She sincerely hoped that Elsa and Ellora didn’t grow up craving the constant attention of men, or the need for the next adventure or adoration of people in places such as this nightclub.
Unfortunately, the small girls had stopped talking for a time, their grief too intense and their inability to cope with that grief had left them silent, trying to emulate Talia and her older brothers who had needed to appear stoic in public during the funeral. They’d also discovered that Orella, in her petty, selfish way, had told the sweet, vulnerable girls that they were chatterboxes and their constant questions were going to kill her. Those were the last words that Elsa and Ellora had heard from her mother before she’d died and they’d taken them to heart.
Thank goodness Amit, her oldest brother and ruler of Izara, had thought to hire Harper, a trained psychologist with expertise in grief counseling. And thank goodness those two had fallen in love. Talia’s features relaxed into a genuine smile for the first time that night at the thought of Amit and Harper. They were so madly in love, it was wonderful to see. Amit had always been such a gruff, silent man, the burdens of leading the country weighing heavily on him. Then Harper had arrived and her smile and insight had brightened everyone’s world, especially Amit’s.
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