“Vincent,” Ben repeated. “Your stepfather?”
He stayed skeptical, aware she was very capable of conning him, but even though she’d always seemed frank about her poverty-stricken childhood in Bogotá and her stubborn struggle to become a geologist, she had always glossed over mentions of her stepfather.
Ben moved across to take the pages, searching her expression for truth, lies, motives. Remorse.
All he saw was heart-catching beauty. She wore no makeup, no scent of hair products or perfume. Her dress was definitely off-the-rack, but looked couture on a body that he knew from extensive personal mapping possessed more curves than a mountain highway.
He returned his gaze to the shimmer of red gold in her hair. The sensual sweep of her lower lip had captivated him from their first meeting. That mouth and her accented, pillow talk voice as she had asked him how he had come to be a geologist.
“The family business?” she had guessed.
Hanging around Barsi on Fifth had sparked his early interest in precious metals and gems, but the jewelry store was window dressing to some extent. The back rooms were where the real money was made. Gold and other commodities made for a diverse portfolio. Ben had seen the potential in offering opportunities at the literal ground level. Family money and their network of Manhattan contacts had ensured the company he’d started after earning his degree, Barsi Minerals, became lucrative and successful.
He’d been at the top of his game when he’d hired her, without any idea he was being set up to lose everything.
He should have trusted his instincts. Something had seemed off when he’d brought up Vincent during her interview. Her body language had changed, her face blanking.
“He called to tell me you were one of his top students,” Ben had told her. It wasn’t unusual for a seasoned professional from America to take a position with a foreign university, nurturing along the next generation of dirt scientists. It had surprised him she hadn’t mentioned Vincent as a reference.
“I don’t trade on that relationship,” she had claimed flatly. “It was coincidence that my mother began working for him while I was at university. They married, but she passed away two years ago. I was never close to him.”
A prickle of warning had gone down the back of Ben’s neck. He had known she wasn’t telling him everything, but he’d been so dazzled by her, he’d let it pass.
Besides, Vincent’s attempt to insert himself into the hiring process had seemed harmless. Ben’s success and reputation meant people sought to impress him. Plus, he came from a family of loving oversteppers. He’d done it himself when a cousin needed rent and was too proud to ask. He had accepted Vincent’s eagerness to get Henriqua hired as natural parental behavior.
Vincent wouldn’t be coming to Indonesia with him, Ben had reasoned. Henriqua would.
Which was the most salient point now.
“Vincent wasn’t there.”
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