The Ultimate Seduction

By: Dani Collins


TIFFANY DAVIS PRETENDED she wasn’t affected by the hard stare her brother and father gave her when she entered her father’s office. It wasn’t easy to let people she loved pass judgment on whether she’d used sufficient concealer on her scars. Sometimes she wanted to throw the bottle of liquid beige into the trash and scream, There. This is what I look like now. Live with it.

But her brother had saved her life pulling her from the fiery car. He felt guilty enough for putting her in it. He still grieved for her groom, his best friend, and everything else Tiffany had lost. She didn’t have to rub salt in his wounds.

Good girl, Tiff. Keep biting back what you really want to say. It’s not like that got you into these skin grafts.

She came to a halt and sighed, thinking it was probably time for another visit to the head doctor if she was cooking up that sort of inner dialogue. But her harsh exhale caused both men to tense. Which made her want to rail all the louder.

Being angry all the time was a character shift for her. Even she had trouble dealing with it, so she shouldn’t blame them for reacting like this. But it still fed her irritation.

“Yes?” She clicked her teeth into a tight smile, attempting to hold on to her slipping patience.

“You tell us. What’s this?” Christian kept his arms folded as he nodded at the large box sitting open on their father’s desk. The lid wore an international courier’s logo, and the contents appeared to be a taxidermist’s attempt to marry a raven to a peacock.

“The feather boa you asked for last Christmas?” Lame joke, sure, but neither man so much as blinked. They only stared at her as if they were prying her open.

“Be serious, Tiff,” Christian said. “Why is the mask for you? Did you request to go in my place?”

A claustrophobic band tightened around her insides. A year in a mask had left her vowing to never feel such a thing on her face again. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The frost in her voice made both men’s mouths purse. Why did all of this have to be so hard? The touchiness between her and her family was palpable every minute of every day. If she was short, they were defensive. If she was the least bit vulnerable, they became so overprotective she couldn’t breathe.

They’d nearly lost her. She got that they loved her and were still worried about her. They wouldn’t relax until she got back to normal, but she would never be normal again. It made the situation impossible.

“Where is it you think I want to go?” she asked in as steady a tone as she could manage.

“Q Virtus,” her father said, as if that one word sufficed as explanation.

She shook her head and shrugged, still lost. Did they realize she was in the middle of an exchange worth five hundred million dollars? She didn’t have much, but she did have a job now. Seeing as it involved running a multibillion-dollar company, she tried to do it well.

“Ryzard Vrbancic,” Christian provided. “We put in a request to meet him.”

Pieces fell together. Q Virtus was that men’s club Paulie used to talk about. “You want to meet a puppet leader at one of those rave things? Why? The man’s a despot.”

“Bregnovia is asking for recognition at the UN. They’re a democracy now.”

She snorted in disbelief. “The whole world is ignoring the fact he stole the last dictator’s money and bought himself a presidency? Okay.”

“They’re recovering from civil war. They need the sort of infrastructure Davis and Holbrook can provide.”

“I’m sure they do. Why go the cloak-and-dagger route? Call him up and pitch our services.”

“It’s not that simple. Our country hasn’t recognized his yet so we can’t talk to him openly, but we want to be the first number on his list when recognition happens.”

She rolled her eyes. Politics were so fun. “So you’ve set up this clandestine meeting—”

“It’s not confirmed. That happens when you get there.”

“That would be the broad ‘you,’ right? Like the universal ‘they’?”

Christian’s mouth tightened. He lifted out the feathery contents of the box. It was actually quite beautiful. A piece of art. The blend of blue-black and turquoise and gold feathers covered the upper eyes and forehead and—significantly—splayed down the left side in an eerily familiar pattern. Ribbons tailed off each side.