Austin stared at the brass-framed photograph of the smiling young woman on Richard’s desk, conflicting emotions passing quickly across his bold features. A silken cheek rested against long slender fingers. A head of dark curls tilted saucily to one side and amber eyes danced with elfin mischief in a face glowing with happiness. Before he could stop, he reached out and traced her coral-glossed lips with a fingertip. He imagined the scent of her perfume and breathed in deeply to catch the sweetness of the fragrance. Such a pretty little thing, he thought. Such a pretty thing to be oh, so wicked.
Austin was half in love with Melissa Graham as it was, half in love with the image projecting from the photograph he held in his hand
anyway. Had been since Richard Graham married his stepmother, Katherine, two years ago. Even though he’d never met Melissa, her image was forever burned into his memory. Now his nemesis, at least that’s how he thought of her, was on her way here and he had to prepare himself for the worst. She was going to be nothing but trouble and he knew it. Trouble with a capital T. If not to Katherine and Richard, then to himself. He felt it in his bones. She’d more than proven it in the past by her actions … or lack thereof.
Melissa was no good for him. He knew that. Nor was any good going to come out of this visit for Katherine and Richard Graham. The two people he admired most in the world. Melissa had never accepted their marriage or acknowledged that it even existed. She hadn’t seen fit to attend the wedding and hurt Katherine deeply by doing so. Austin had taken her absence as a direct snub. A deliberate act of defiance and disrespect for both Richard and Katherine. The two of them wanted Melissa’s approval and blessing but it never came. It was as if their love never existed.
So, what did the witch woman want now? Why is she coming here after all this time? To mend fences? He didn’t think so. Couldn’t see it happening. Or, is she coming in person to see how much havoc she can wreak? To hurt Katherine more, perhaps? That would be more like the little harridan. Over and over, questions tumbled in his mind but no answers came to him. None that suited him anyway. He was not a trusting soul in the first place and all his instincts were shouting loud and clear not to trust Melissa Graham.
Austin tightened his jaw. No, he pledged, curling his hand into a solid fist. He wouldn’t have it. He’d spent his lifetime protecting Katherine whether she needed it or not and would continue doing so until his dying day if that’s what it took. Melissa wasn’t going to get the chance to hurt Katherine again. He would damn well see to that, no matter what his feelings were for her.
“Oh, what the hell,” he cursed out loud. “She’s probably just a passing fancy anyway.” At least with her coming, he could lay it to rest.
With a heavy sigh of resignation, Austin lay the photograph face down upon the scarred oaken desk and left the room. No matter what he had to do. It would be done.