The Darkest Temptation - Danielle Lori


(n.) an ache for a distant place

Breath ragged from the run, I dropped my heels on the grass and padded barefoot across our manicured lawn, not stopping until I’d climbed onto the rocky embankment and felt the cool waves lapping at my toes and the hem of my evening dress. I panted as sweat glistened on my skin beneath the heavy moon. A gentle breeze tousled my long hair, rustling the palm trees and my lacy cap sleeves, but the paradise constrained me as tightly as the Dior belt around my waist.

The five-mile run wasn’t enough to shake the combustible feeling that expanded inside—though, as always, the sea held me back.

I itched to rip the pearls from my neck, to tear my dress to shreds like Cinderella’s stepsisters had, but doing so would demolish a facade I’d maintained for so long I wasn’t sure what lay beneath. So, instead, I dug my French-tipped nails into my palms.

There had to be more than this, more than a world behind The Moorings’ gates, but the desire for more than a life of opulence inflated a kernel of guilt in my stomach. Staring out at Biscayne Bay, the wide, glittering path that led to the endless ocean, I felt as adrift and stagnant as the buoy that bobbed in the water. The only difference was, I was floating on a mundane sea of expectations.

I closed my eyes and mentally recited, Je vais bien. Tu vas bien. Nous allons bien. I am okay. You are okay. We are okay.

I was allowed only a few seconds alone before Ivan’s familiar presence caressed my back. He moved to stand beside me, his suit jacket touching my bare arm.

“You cannot run off like that, Mila.” A Russian accent and exertion roughened the edge of his voice.

The smallest amount of humor arose at the visual of Ivan chasing me through Miami’s streets in a suit and a grumpy disposition, but the amusement faded with the next wave that washed up on the rocks.

“If you keep following me like a stalker, I’m gonna end up catching feelings,” I said drily.

He gave me a look. “You know it is my job.”

Ivan had come home with my papa after one of his business trips to Moscow years ago. Having been only thirteen at the time, and him eight years my senior, I’d thought he was the most handsome boy I’d ever seen. I’d fallen in love with his accent and endearingly limited knowledge of English, and I couldn’t have embarrassed myself more by following him around our spacious Spanish Colonial home.

Now, he followed me.

One hand rested in his pants pocket, and the other held out a small red velvet box. “From your papa.”

I stared at the box for a long second before taking it from him and opening it. Blue heart-shaped earrings. Papa always said I wore my heart on my sleeve. The stones were fake. He knew I never wore the real thing, not after watching Blood Diamond when I was a preteen.

This wasn’t the first time he had a gift delivered after missing something important to me. The difference was, this time, I couldn’t push this feeling, this budding suspicion, away any longer.

“I hope you didn’t sprain anything,” I said.

Ivan cast me a questioning look.

“It’s a strenuous job digging through Papa’s backup gift drawer.”

With a sigh, he ran a hand through his blond hair. “He cares, Mila.”

“He sure has an interesting way of showing it lately.”

“He is very busy,” Ivan remarked. “You know this.”

I made a noncommittal noise. My papa must be busier than the president to explain why he hadn’t shown his face for the past three months. He’d missed the last two holidays, and now, my twentieth birthday.

We celebrated my birthday at the same table in the same five-star restaurant without fail every year. Papa would order a steak. I’d smile at Enrique, the owner and chef who’d taken our orders personally since I was a child, and change it to something heart-healthy. Papa was supposed to be watching his cholesterol. I’d fret; he’d argue. But he’d eventually give in.

Tonight, I sat there for two hours with Ivan and my unblemished reflection in the porcelain plate. That is, until an anniversary party at the next table exploded everywhere, shattering my resolve into gold confetti. Ivan was chatting up a waitress at the bar when I escaped the restaurant and ran the five miles home.

“He’s never been gone this long, Ivan . . .” My voice trailed off before Copyright 2016 - 2024