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the courage to approach the doors. By that time Ronsard was there, and he deftly stepped in front of the man. "Your solicitude is much appreciated," he murmured, "but won't be necessary.""Ah ..." The man blinked at him as Ronsard's identity registered. "Yes, of course."Ronsard went outside into the warm Paris night. The flagstoned patio was lit only by indirect light, from the windows behind him and by the lights strung in the ornamental trees in the garden. Small tables and chairs had been scattered about the patio, providing guests with an opportunity to take fresh air and escape the noise of the ballroom.The widow sat at one of those tables, her hands quiet in her lap as she looked out over the garden. She hadn't wept, Ronsard saw when he drew near, his footsteps slow and purposeful. She had kept her composure, though he thought he detected a sheen of tears in her eyes, and her mouth had that soft, sad curve that made him want to kiss a smile onto it. A mouth that delectable should always smile."Hello," he said gently in English, and the slight start she gave told him that she hadn't been aware of his approach. "Forgive me, I didn't intend to startle you."She turned those big dark eyes on him, and again he felt that surge in his loins. She looked so sad, so alone and vulnerable. Even as he watched she gathered herself and sought refuge in the social face she had probably been taught to assume from the time she was out of the cradle."That's perfectly all right," she said, beginning to stand. Her voice was low and feminine, without the annoying nasal tones of so many Americans. "I was just about to return to the party-""No, don't let me displace you," he said quickly, reaching out to gently touch her arm. He was always gentle in his dealings with women, and so many of them were endearingly susceptible to that tenderness, as if they didn't get enough of it in their lives. The widow, however, looked mildly shocked that he had touched her, and she drew back just a little."I saw you come out and thought you looked ...upset" He had to be cautious here and ease her wariness.For a moment she didn't say anything. She turned her head to look out into the garden, and he admired the graceful line of her neck, the curve of her cheekbone. Then she said, "The music reminded me of another time."That was all. There were no forthcoming details, no expounding. He sensed her reluctance to give him any personal information. He was accustomed to women responding to him, trying to hold his attention; this woman's very lack of response was intriguing."My name is Louis Ronsard," he said, settling into the chair beside her."I'm pleased to meet you," she said politely. "I'm Niema Jamieson.""Niema." He said the name slowly, tasting the sound of it. "What a lovely, unusual name."She gave a small, quick smile. "Too unusual, sometimes. People seldom know how to pronounce it if they see it spelled out-they usually pronounce it 'Neema' instead of 'Nye-ema,' and if they hear it they don't know how to spell it. When I was a child I often wished my mother had named me Jane, or Susan, or anything straightforward.""Is it a family name?""Nothing so dignified," she said, and the smile became a chuckle. He was delighted by the transformation of her face, from sadness to humor. "She liked the rhythm of the name Naomi, but not the name itself. So she substituted vowels until she found a combination she liked, and"-she spread her hands- "Niema was invented.""I think it's lovely.""Thank you. I've become accustomed to it." She glanced over her shoulder into the ballroom. "It's been nice talking to you. I think I should-""Of course," he said, getting to his feet. "You don't know me, and you're uncomfortable being alone with me." He paused a beat to give her an opportunity to demur, but she didn't, and he was amused. "Will you reserve a dance for me, Mademoiselle Jamieson?" He purposefully called her mademoiselle, to give her an opening to tell him she was widowed."Madame," she corrected, and he was pleasantly surprised by her accent. He was less pleased when she left it at that, withholding the fact of her widowhood; a woman who was interested would have made her marital status clear.His own interest increased. Ronsard seldom had the opportunity these days to enjoy the chase. Women were all too willing, which was a nice state of affairs, but sometimes a man wished to be the predator.His question hung in the air between them. Finally she said, "Yes, of course," but her tone held only politeness, not any eagerness for his company.He was both piqued and amused. Perhaps he had become spoiled, but he knew he wasn't repulsive. Far from it, in fact. This woman, though, seemed totally unaware of him as a man.Politely he offered his arm, and she laid a graceful hand on it. Her touch was barely perceptible; she didn't cling, didn't actually hold him. Together they walked back into the ballroom, drawing more than one pair of eyes. Ronsard saw Madame Theriot frown and whisper something to her husband. So, she wasn't pleased that her young friend had become acquainted with the notorious arms dealer?Ronsard smiled at Madame Theriot, then turned to his prey and made her a small, graceful bow. Something in his manner must have alerted her, because her eyes suddenly widened and her soft lips parted. Before she could pull away he pressed his lips to her hand, a brief salute that he didn't allow to linger, and caressed her with his eyes. "Until later," he murmured. Chapter FourteenNiema took a deep breath as she walked across the ballroom. A major hurdle had been crossed, and so swiftly, so easily, she was astounded. The plan had been for Eleanor to introduce her to people who had spoken with Ronsard, but not to the arms dealer himself. Eventually their paths would have crossed, but it would have looked odd for Eleanor to be the one who made the introductions, as she naturally would not have liked for her best friend's daughter to associate with someone like Ronsard.None of that had been necessary. Out of the corner of her eye, she had seen him speaking with someone she had already met-his name escaped her- and both of them had been watching her. At that moment the orchestra had begun playing a particularly lovely piece of music and inspiration struck.She allowed sadness to play across her features for a moment, then excused herself to the gentleman who was something boring in the French government. She leaned over and whispered to Eleanor, "He's watching. I'm going to slip out onto the patio."Eleanor, whose acting skills were worthy of Hollywood, immediately saw the opportunity and what Niema was doing. She put on a concerned face and touched Niema on the arm-nothing dramatic, but a touch of sympathy that wouldn't go unnoticed.Then Niema had simply sat on the patio and waited. Within five minutes, Ronsard joined her.He was remarkably good looking. The photos she'd seen of him didn't compare to the man in the flesh. He was tall, with dark blue eyes set on a slant above his exotic cheekbones, and he wore his long dark hair loose on his broad shoulders. The hint of savage in an elegant tuxedo was a devastating combination.His voice was smooth and low, his manners impeccable, and his eyes managed to convey both his interest and his concern over her sadness. A romantic, handsome Frenchman at a formal party was enough to give any woman weak knees.As soon as she reached Eleanor, the older woman gripped her wrist and leaned over to whisper in Niema's ear, all the while frowning at Ronsard, as if she were informing Niema of his reputation. "Mission accomplished?"Niema put a startled look on her face, then an alarmed one. She darted a quick glance at Ronsard. Yes, he was watching. She quickly looked away. "He asked for a dance," she murmured.Eleanor, who knew only the basic story and that Niema was to draw Ronsard's attention, turned away with a practiced smile as the prime minister's wife approached, and Niema's attention was claimed by a young staffer from the embassy who was from New Hampshire and was evidently suffering from homesickness. Since Niema had never been to the state, she hoped he didn't start asking specific questions.The only formal party she had ever been to in her life was her high school prom. This was far out of her league, but to her surprise she felt comfortable. The clothes were better, the food more exotic, the people more serious and aware of their own importance, but all in all the same dynamics applied: polite chitchat, polite laughter, the constant mingling. The politicians worked the room while the lobbyists worked the politicians. Everyone wanted something from someone else.Her French had rapidly returned, once she heard it spoken again, but then French had been her best language. Ronsard had spoken in English, however, so that was how she had answered him. She doubted he was a man who ever let anything slip, but if he thought she didn't understand him he might be a little careless in what he said. It wasn't her intention to hide the fact that she spoke the language, though, as that was too easy to give away, and he would immediately be suspicious.She had to avoid any appearance of being interested in him. Quite the opposite, in fact. He had to make all the moves, so he couldn't suspect her of maneuvering for an invitation to his villa. But at the same time she had to show she liked him, or she wouldn't have a reason for accepting.In her favor was the fact that other women fawned over him. She would stand out in his mind because of her very lack of response. Men liked a challenge, and she was going to give him one.The dancing started, and she let herself be steered around the floor by the first person who asked, who happened to be the boring gentleman she had been talking to earlier. He pumped her arm as if he expected her to spout water out of her mouth, and all the while he enthused about thoroughbred racing. She smiled and made an occasional comment, and he was happy.Next the ambassador claimed a dance. He was a stately gentleman with silver hair and a sweet smile, a little shorter than his wife, but with a smooth tact that made her instantly comfortable. He spoke to her as if she

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