She glared at him before reluctantly stepping out of the elevator.
“I can’t figure out if this is reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter’s lair or James Bond’s high-tech den,” she muttered, and he tossed her a cynical little smile.
“Is that a retinal scan?” she asked, fascinated in spite herself as he stepped up to a discreet sensor next to the door frame. A green light switched on after the scan, and he followed it up by placing his palm on a panel below the sensor, and a second green light switched on. Just below the panel was a keypad, and he shielded it slightly with his body as he keyed in a number. There was a third green light followed by a slightly musical beep, and he opened his door and waved her in.
“Paranoid much?” she asked as she swept by him.
The place was huge, lavish, and seriously expensive, with panoramic views of the mountain, the waterfront, the yacht basin, and the ocean through floor-to-ceiling glass panes. There was gray-and-white marble everywhere, ugly stark furniture, and gigantic potted plants that looked like they belonged in a greenhouse or a rain forest. Then again, with all the glass, this place could easily pass for both greenhouse and goldfish bowl.
“Guess you don’t roam around naked much,” she observed, stepping up to one of the windows and glancing down at the little people strolling around on the dock.
“The windows are tinted,” he said, his gravelly voice sending unwelcome stirrings of desire shuddering up her spine. “We could do all manner of things in here, and nobody would ever know.”
“Yeah, but you can see out.” Ugh. That didn’t sound sexy so much as creepy.
“Hmm, it tends to bring out the closet exhibitionist in some people,” he murmured.
She ignored his suggestive tone and continued to roam around the place, pausing every so often to stare out at the view or to look more closely at some grotesquely oversized vase or to gape in awe at his gigantic flat-screen TV and ridiculously complicated-looking entertainment system.
He didn’t say a word, just watched as she flitted from one part of the huge living room to the next. She eventually paused at a sliding door that led out to the wooden deck with its deep blue rectangular infinity pool.
She was aware of his eyes on her as she slipped out onto the deck. The rain had stopped enough for the weak, watery spring sun to slip between the clouds and bless her with a glorious shaft of light. She lifted her face to the heat and just stood there, trying to gird herself for what was to come.
“I’m putting a couple of T-bones on the grill.” Dante’s quiet voice came from behind her and startled her out of her reverie. Immediately back on the defensive, she stepped out of the sun and under the eaves. It was cold in the shadows, which kept her alert and ready for anything he had to throw at her. “How do you like your steak cooked?”
“Medium,” she said, and hugged her arms around her as she tried to ward off the chill.
“Come in out of the cold,” he told her as he turned to go back inside, and she followed. Once inside she wandered aimlessly from one end of the living room to the other. He was busy in the open-plan kitchen, his tie undone, jacket tossed aside, and shirtsleeves rolled up. It was the most relaxed she’d ever seen him. His kitchen was a modern masterpiece of chrome and marble, and felt as frigid and unlived in as the rest of his home.
That’s what was wrong with this place! It didn’t feel like anyone actually lived here. There were no personal effects lying around, no family pictures, no clothes scattered about. No remnants of any work he’d been doing spread out, not even a book he might have been reading. It was eerie.
“You can have a look upstairs if you like,” he invited, and she glanced over at him in surprise.
There was another floor?
“The staircase is tucked away over there.” He nodded toward a spot opposite the patio door, and she saw that the staircase was situated inconspicuously in the far corner of the room.
She meandered over to it, and before she knew it, she had her hand on the highly polished banister and was making her way upstairs. Like the living area down below, the place was a marvel of décor and architecture and was as cold as ice. Cleo hated it. There were three bedrooms, each with its own attached bath and shower, complete with a king-size bed with matching bureaus, huge walk-in closets, and a wall of those nasty voyeuristic windows. There was also a spacious, very well-equipped gym with a treadmill, Airdyne bike, punching bags of various sizes, and weight-training equipment. Considering his hard body, she figured he probably spent a lot of time blowing off steam in here.
His study was the smallest room and the only one that bore any hint of personality. It was furnished with rich oak furniture, and gorgeous floor-to-ceiling bookshelves took up an entire wall of the room. It was also the only room with wooden floors, a fireplace, and cozy rugs. Comfy overstuffed chairs and a matching love seat were situated in front of the fireplace. His large oak desk took up an entire corner of the room, which was where she saw real signs of life. Papers, a laptop, a familiar-looking iPad, and . . . was that a ficus perched on his desk? She shuddered at the sight of it and focused instead on several framed photographs.
The one that held her attention was an old photo of a grinning dark-haired boy of about nine or ten hugging a scruffy dog. Of course, it could only be Dante. The eyes were the same, and the boyish features held a promise of the gorgeousness to come. There was another picture close by of an older man who bore a striking resemblance to Dante, with his arm around the teen version of Dante. A smile twitched at her lips as she took in the gawky frame that would eventually fill out so magnificently, the awkward hunched shoulders, and the glare. The glare was definitely Dante’s. Then there was a picture of Dante and Luc beaming at the camera in their graduation robes, both looking young and carefree as they held up their degrees in triumph. Luc had a similar picture in his study. Cleo had missed Luc’s graduation; she’d been busy doing something she’d undoubtedly considered vastly more important but couldn’t even remember seven years later. She sighed and tore her eyes from the photograph.