Burn Me Once - Page 74

She sipped her champagne again, willing the alcohol to whisk away the melancholy. But it wasn’t working. Frowning, she realized that she shouldn’t have even come here, and she wouldn’t have if she hadn’t been personally invited by Mayor Thompson, who was a close family friend.

“My God, Rebecca.” She heard a pleasant greeting from her right. She turned and saw Ben Thompson, the city’s long-standing mayor, and his wife, Esther, coming toward her. She smiled as they each embraced her.

“How are you, dear?” Ben asked her. “I’m sorry we haven’t been in touch since the funeral. Your father is truly missed.”

“Thank you. I miss him, too.”

“Thank you for coming tonight,” Ben said, patting her hand with his. “I’m glad you were able to make it.”

Rebecca smiled, knowing that he meant it. She’d always had such great memories of Ben and Esther, of family barbecues and vacations. After Rebecca’s mother passed away when she was a baby, Esther had stepped in to be a sort of surrogate, providing love, support and guidance; and Ben had always been at her father’s side, avuncular, an uncle figure since her childhood.

“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, and I’m well,” she said. “How are you both?”

“Things are good,” Ben answered. “I’m retiring this year and finally stepping down. I don’t think I have another campaign in me.”

“Oh, really?” Rebecca was surprised to hear it. “And then what will you do with your time?”

“I’m going to make him relax,” Esther answered. “Days filled with golf, traveling, arts and crafts—”

“Sounds awful,” Ben interrupted, and they all laughed. “Dear,” he said as he reached out for her hand, “we must move on, but let’s get together sometime soon.”

“Absolutely.” Rebecca smiled as the couple left to greet another set of guests.

Satisfied with her first social interaction of the evening, Rebecca took a deep breath and scanned the room. Sipping her champagne again, she felt her confidence bolster. Despite the size of her father’s enormous shoes, and how hard she’d been working to fill them, she knew she could do this. She could handle being the new face and CEO of Daniels International. This job was in her blood.

Rebecca’s gaze struck on one of the reasons for her increased workload. Brett Collins was arrogant, stubborn and probably looking for retribution after the recent series of events between their two companies.

But that didn’t mean she couldn’t be physically affected by him.

Every system in her body ran hot as she saw him casually lean an elbow against the bar. He was alone, but it didn’t seem to bother him as he lounged confidently like a king—or a god among men. His eyes roamed over the crowd, sharp and methodical as he scanned the room, until they connected with hers.

At that moment, time stopped for Rebecca as the rest of the room—the party, the revelers, the music—fell away. Her breath halted as he held her stare, transfixed, unable to turn away even if she wanted to. Just like what happened every time she faced him, she got lust-inspired tunnel vision. They had history, and she was brought back to her undergrad days in college. The thing between her and Brett had always been hot, heavy, intense. Since day one of freshman year in college, they’d butted heads, and now they were entangled in a rivalry between their firms—two of the biggest in Las Vegas—and eventually only one would survive.

Rebecca saw Brett’s eyes narrow, and he straightened to full height. His body was still similar to the one she’d known so intimately before as a younger woman, but in the past few years, she was pleased to see that he was even larger, stronger—a more grown version of her old enemy and lover. His broad shoulders and strong back were clad in the fine dark blue material of an immaculately tailored suit. Along with his dark blond hair and blue eyes, he still possessed Adonis-like traits—a strong jaw, straight nose and high cheekbones. But, she noticed, the deep dimples that she remembered at the edges of a youthful, cocky smile were absent these days, seemingly unable to coexist with the cold, hard stare of Brett Collins, the real estate mogul.

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