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When a fire destroys an expensive painting, art claims specialist Samantha and art conservator Antonio are brought on to investigate for fraud. But as secrets and deception complicate the case, will Samantha and Antonio’s attraction spark a fiery romance — or leave them both burned?


I placed my hands on the back of the bar stool and leaned forward to get her attention. “Is this seat taken?” 

She looked over absently, face toward the bar. “No.” Her voice was restrained, as though masking anger, not sadness. Perhaps irritation. Her jaw clenched, highlighting a remarkable cheekbone. 

I took the seat and ordered my wine from the bartender. The woman stared at a plate of bruschetta, barely touched, holding the foot of her wine glass. She rubbed a hand over her face, shielding it from me, which raised my curiosity. 

“You look like your evening has gone about as well as mine has.” I leaned an elbow on the bar, propping my head up. 

She stiffened and sank deeper into her hand. “Worse, trust me.”

“Would you like to talk about it?”


I evaluated the length of her. Tall for a woman, with a physique half-way between athlete and goddess. With an aura which said to leave her alone. All the same, I dove in. “You know, I heard a rumor.”


“About the butter.”

Silence, but her eyes flicked in my direction behind her splayed fingers.

“I shouldn’t be spreading it.” 

Her shoulder shook with quiet laughter, but the hand remained in place. 

I was feeling lighter already. “What did the fish say when it swam into the wall?”

Her hand dragged down to her chin and she looked at me askance, pretending to frown. My heart skipped. Her eyes were the palest shade of blue-green, like the Aegean Sea. Like the officer from Bobby’s house? Tall. Athletic. Barely looking at me as she spoke. What were the odds I would see her twice in two days? 

And why was she not saying something about it? Surely I was not that forgettable? Or perhaps she just met a great number of people.

As I paused, she raised an eyebrow. Her full lips curved up ever so slightly, like she was trying to keep her smile suppressed. 

“I don’t know, what did it say?”


She laughed and the hand went up again, covering her mouth and cheek, but leaving the eyes so I could lose myself in them. “You tell really bad jokes.”

“Sì, I do.”

Her eyes fell back to the plate, her laughter dying. “My date had already eaten and then he insulted me.” She sighed. “What was so bad about your evening?”

“My date tried to seduce me.”

She laughed again, both hands covering her face. It was musical, enchanting, and all I wanted to do was spend all night making her laugh. She revealed her striking eyes again, covering the cheek. “What man complains about that?” 

I shrugged, holding my growing smile to a smirk. “Long story.”

“I wanted to hit him. Badly.” She rubbed her free hand on her leg. There was a small tremor as she moved it. She was nervous. That explained the hand on the face. She was attracted to me and the hand likely hid her blush. 

I narrowed my eyes and ran a thumb across my pursed lips. She followed the movement, pupils dilating, and took a quick breath as she shifted her gaze to her wine glass. She was mine if I wanted her. Sexual attraction was easy. Everything else was difficult. All the important things, like connection, things in common, love. All the things which eluded me. 

“Is he still here? I can take care of him for you.”

She chuckled and looked at me from the corner of her eyes. “Trust me, I can handle that part just fine.” 

My eyes trailed from her face, down the strong arm and body, sure she was right about that. Perhaps she should be my next attempt at love. 

“No one should be so rude to a woman as beautiful as you.”

She rolled her eyes and groaned. “I was pretty sure I was done with dating forever, but your ridiculous lines are really sealing the deal.” She reached to the back of her bar stool and turned to scan the restaurant. The pose highlighted her form, her breasts, her narrow waist. And her neck. Her long, elegant neck. As she turned back to me, the hand didn’t cover her face and the ponytail fell from her shoulder to her back. She faced me directly and with a slight grimace said, “Yeah, he’s still here.”

But the words didn’t matter. The hair, the blush, the squared posture. The serious expression. Goosebumps traveled up my arms and my heart began to thud so loud she must have heard it. I was twenty-one years old again, sitting at the back of class, transfixed by the girl giving her presentation. That’s why she seemed so familiar yesterday. 

It was her. Roman Art Girl. 

My anchor.

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