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were indeed an old friend of the family, chatting on about friends they supposedly had in common, a vacation their families had once spent together when she was a child. She wondered if one of the qualifications to an ambassadorship was to be a consummate liar, because he excelled.After the dance with the ambassador ended, she excused herself and went to the ladies' room, where she killed as much time as she could. She didn't immediately return to the ballroom, but mingled in the other rooms, speaking to those people to whom she had already been introduced. If Ronsard really wanted to dance with her, he was going to have to find her.He did. A warm hand closed around her elbow and he said, "You promised me a dance."Niema hesitated. A small silence fell around them. Everyone knew who he was, of course, and waited to see if she would snub him. She saw his eyes begin to narrow, and into the silence she said, "Are you certain you want to risk your toes?"Relieved chuckles rippled around them. His face relaxed, and a slight smile curved his lips. "My toes would be honored." He held out his hand, indicating the direction of the ballroom.She walked calmly by his side, ignoring the hand that settled on the small of her back. The orchestra was just beginning a number slower than the others had been, and she realized that he had waited and chosen his moment-either that or bribed the orchestra."I thought you were going to refuse me," he said in a low voice as his arm closed about her waist and he swept her into a gliding circle. He held her closely enough that she could feel the warmth of his body, the movement of his legs against hers, but not so close that she would be alarmed and pull back."I was."One dark eyebrow arched, his expression sardonic. "Why didn't you?""A dance won't hurt me," she said calmly."Neither will I." He looked down into her face, his tone gentle. "I assume Madame Theriot warned you against me.""Understandable, don't you think?""Understandable, but unnecessary. I mean you no harm."She didn't respond to that, her expression serene as he swept her around the floor. He danced with a grace that made the exercise effortless, and she thanked God that her parents had insisted she take dance lessons in high school even though she would much rather have learned how to hang glide; at least she wouldn't embarrass herself. A socialite would know how to dance, after all.When she made no effort to pick up the conversational ball, he asked, "Are you just visiting, or have you been employed at the embassy?""Gracious, no!" She looked amused. "Visiting, only.""For how long?""No definite time. A few weeks.""That isn't much time," he complained softly, looking down at her with such apparent masculine interest that a woman would have to be blind to miss it."Monsieur Ronsard-""Please don't be alarmed. "You're a lovely woman, and I would like very much to see you while you're in Paris. That is all.""There's no point in it." She looked away, staring at a point over his shoulder. She made her tone gentle and faintly sad.He firmed the guiding touch of his hand on her back, pressing his palm against her. Her gown was fairly low cut in back, and his fingers brushed her bare skin. "There is always a point to pleasure.""I don't seem to be very good at pleasure these days.""Then you must learn how to enjoy yourself again."Her lips trembled, and a look of pain haunted her eyes. He saw it, as she had meant for him to. "Forgive my clumsiness," he murmured, dipping his head so his mouth was close to her temple. "I never intended to distress you."She firmed her lips and lifted her chin. "The orchestra is very good, isn't it? I love this piece."He allowed her to steer the conversation into mundane waters, but she felt his unswerving gaze on her face the entire time. Louis Ronsard was definitely a man on the hunt. So far, she thought, she had done a credible job of appearing reluctant without insulting him.The dance ended, she thanked him for it, and turned to leave. He fell into step beside her. "Have you been to Paris before?""Yes, of course.""Ah. I had hoped to show you the city.""Monsieur..." She hesitated, as if groping for words. "Forgive me if I sound presumptuous, but I'm not interested in any sort of romance. Even if your occupation wasn't a barrier I wouldn't-""Forgive me," he interrupted, "if I've made you in any way uncomfortable. I would like to spend time with you, yes. I would like to make you smile again, as you did out on the patio. A lovely lady should not have such sad eyes. And even if you say that, no, I may not kiss you, or delight myself in other ways, I would still like to take you out to dinner."For a moment Niema was so diverted and charmed by the phrase "delight myself" that she couldn't stop herself from smiling.'Aha! I have achieved one goal already." He touched one finger to the corner of her smiling lips, "Your smile is as lovely as I remembered. Please say yes to dinner. My reputation is greatly exaggerated, I promise."She searched his face, as if looking for the truth. Finally she said, a bit hesitantly, "I haven't dated since my husband-" She broke off and looked away."I understand you're a widow," he said. "Yes, I asked about you. I'm sorry for your loss. It has been . .. how long?"Five. The word echoed in her brain, and this time the sadness that flashed across her face wasn't an act. Five long years. "Two years," she managed to say, her voice constricted. "Most people think that's long enough to grieve, but... it isn't."His expression was somber. "I think the heart has its own calendar. You mustn't let anyone rush you, including me. I give you my word I would attach no expectations to a dinner together. It would just be a meal in pleasant company, no more. Or perhaps you would prefer lunch?"She let herself waver, then said softly, "Yes, lunch sounds ...""Safer?" he suggested."More casual. Less like a date."He chuckled. "I see. Then, Madame Jamieson, will you not go out to dinner with me? Let's just have lunch instead."She smiled up at him. "That sounds very nice."As soon as he was back in his town house, Ronsard placed a secure call to the villa. Cara answered immediately, though it was late, after one A.M."Consult that computer of yours," he said. "I want to know whatever you can find out about Niema Jamieson, from New Hampshire. She's a widow, a friend of the American ambassador, and she's visiting them now.""How do you spell her name?"Ronsard hesitated, then remembered what she had said about her mother modeling the name on 'Naomi.' "N-i-e-m-a," he said. "Late twenties, early thirties. Dark hair and eyes.""Got it. When do you want this?""In the morning.""I'll get right on it."Ronsard hung up and paced slowly around his luxurious bedroom. It had been a long time since he had been so intrigued by a woman, but that didn't mean he was careless. If Niema Jamieson wasn't what she seemed, he'd know it soon enough. And if she was, then he looked forward to a pleasant chase and seduction. Most women could be had, eventually, and he doubted she would be any different.He had forgotten how pleasurable it was to be the pursuer, to feel that triumphant thrill when she agreed to meet him for lunch. He laughed at himself; such a small victory, but he felt like a conqueror. He would put a satisfied smile on the widow's face yet.She had been faithful to her husband's memory for two years. Such steadfastness was rare in his world. He found he respected her for that and envied her the love she must have known. Such a love had eluded him; he loved Mariette, of course, and Laure was his heart, but a sweeping, romantic love ... no, he hadn't known one. Passion, yes. Lust. Possession. But not love. He suspected he never would love anyone in such a manner, that he wasn't capable of that depth of emotion. Or perhaps he was simply too wary, too guarded, with too much at stake to let himself become vulnerable.Not even for a woman like Niema Jamieson. Chapter FifteenThe telephone beside her bed rang at six A.M., jerking Niema out of a sound sleep. She rolled over and groped for the receiver. "Hello." She sounded as groggy as she felt.She heard a stifled chuckle. "You certainly sound alert."John. The sound of his voice did funny things to the pit of her stomach. She settled herself deeper into the pillow. "We social butterflies need our sleep.""Has the fluttering attracted any attention?""It certainly has." She yawned. "Within minutes.""Told you. We're amoebas.""I hope this line is secure," she said in sudden alarm."If it isn't, then the Company isn't doing its job.All lines into the embassy are secure, and I'm on a secure phone. Tell me everything about last night."How did he know she'd met Ronsard last night? she wondered in annoyance. "Are you keeping tabs on me? How? Where are you?""Of course I'm keeping tabs on you," he said calmly. "You didn't think I'd bring you into this and just leave you on your own, did you? I'm nearby, for the moment."And that was all he intended to tell her, she realized. Still, it was enough. Until she heard his voice, she hadn't realized how much she had missed him, missed the constant challenge of his presence. If he was nearby, that meant she had to be on her toes, because he could pop up at any second. She didn't want to step out of the shower, stark naked, and come face to face with him. On the other hand . . .Whoa. She backed away from that thought without finishing it. Instead she began a recital of the previous night's events. "He followed me onto the patio and introduced himself and asked for a dance later. When we danced, he asked me out to dinner. I refused. We're having lunch today at one, at Le Cafe Marly. Do you know where that is?""It's in the Richelieu wing of the Louvre. It's where you go to see and be seen.""And here I thought having lunch with him would be more discreet than dinner.""Not at Cafe Marly. Why are you trying to be discreet?""If I'm this fine upstanding citizen and an old family friend of the ambassador's wife, it would seem more reasonable to at least worry about seeing an arms dealer.""Ronsard is seen by every influential person in Paris," John said dryly."Yes, but I'm different." She said that with

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