A Billionaire's Redemption - By Cindy Dees Page 0,3

remembered. Being in the same room with him was still like standing next to a hurricane.

She registered a few changes, though, as he met her in the middle of the spacious library. His clothes were more expensive, and fit better these days. His hair was shorter but still looked tousled like someone had just run a hand through it. His eyes...oh, my. They were still that dark, mysterious shade of green that looked right through her. Although at the moment, she saw reticence in them.

An urge to stutter and blush like a schoolgirl nearly won out over a lifetime’s worth of ingrained manners, but she only fought it off by dint of long years of concealing her true thoughts and feelings.

“Gabe Dawson. What a pleasant surprise,” she said smoothly. “Can I get you a refill on your drink? Is it still Kentucky bourbon, neat?”

He waved off the drink offer and set down his glass on a side table. His gaze slid down her body to her toes and back up to her face quickly enough not to be offensive, but with enough thoroughness to send a wave of heat coursing through her—and a shiver of apprehension. He always had skirted the edges of impropriety in the most delicious way. Rhett Butler, move over.

“How are you doing?” he asked, his voice every bit as potent as she remembered. The passing years had given it a richness, a maturity, that tasted good on her tongue. Oh, my.

She sank onto the edge of one of the big leather wingback chairs and gestured him into the matching one. He leaned forward in it, propping his elbows on his knees to study at her intently. It was unnerving being the subject of such intense scrutiny. But then he’d always had that effect on her. She restrained an urge to pat her hair and tug at the neck of her sweater. Instead, she folded her hands in her lap and nearly crushed her own fingers.

The monstrous impropriety of his being here occurred to her. How dare he intrude upon her family on this day of mourning and loss? He’d hated her father. Done his damnedest to ruin John Merris. Abruptly, his presence grated like sandpaper on her skin. He had no right to be here.

She gritted her teeth, her training in being polite to everyone in all cases rubbing raw against an urge to scream and rail at this man. Although truth be told, her need to scream at the top of her lungs wasn’t all about him. She risked a glance at him, and felt awkward heat bloom in her cheeks. Lord, this man discombobulated her.

She stared down at her tightly twined fingers and very belatedly answered his question. “My mother and I are doing as well as expected after such a shock,” she said automatically, for the hundredth time. “Thank you for coming.”

“You don’t have to put on a show for me, Willa.”

Her gaze snapped up to his. “I beg your pardon?”

“I’m not here to pay my condolences. I wouldn’t insult you or your mother by pretending to be sad your father is gone.”

She leaned back hard, shocked at his bald honesty. This was the deep South. Old-school Texas. People didn’t admit to being delighted that their archrival had kicked the bucket. The rules of polite behavior were observed. Leave it to Gabe Dawson to flout even the most basic societal convention.

“I need to speak to you and your mother about a business matter. Is she up to joining us?” he asked.

Minnie Merris had been so doped up on tranquilizers before the funeral, it was a miracle she’d been able to stand. Willa had no doubt her mother had added a handful of sleeping pills to the cocktail of medications by now and was passed out cold in her bed.

“I’m taking care of all business decisions at the moment,” she answered smoothly.

“Minnie dumped it all on you, huh?” he asked sympathetically. “She never was much for taking care of herself.”

Willa’s spine went rigid. He might be absolutely correct, but she didn’t need this man pointing out her mother’s flaws to her. “If you’ve come to gloat over our loss, Mr. Dawson, you can leave now.”

He threw up his hands apologetically. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”

Willa noted wryly that he didn’t apologize for calling her mother weak and unable to care for herself; he’d merely apologized for saying it aloud. She waited, irritated, as he took a deep breath and gathered his thoughts.