By Mary Margret Daughtridge
“Sex trade? You mean he sells them into prostitution?”
“Or to...private collectors.”
Trish shuddered. “That shows how deceptive looks can be." She fought the urge to turn around for another look at the man. "He doesn’t look evil.” While some of the guests at the ship’s masquerade ball wore masks, he did not. Trish had guessed he disdained pretense, confident that he had no need of disguise. If she could be that wrong, it proved how out of place she was amongst this moneyed crowd. All the discomfort with the glittering scene and the stiff brocade of the reproduction eighteenth century ball gown she’d felt a few minutes ago returned, doubled.
“Smile,” Armand hissed. He wiped his palm surreptitiously on his tuxedo pants, then with a very good imitation of welcome extended it to the man moving toward them through the crowd. “Pieter, Pieter! How good to see you. Trish allow me to introduce to you Pieter Van der Sloop.”
Pieter had silver blond hair allowed to curl around his ears, and light blue eyes set in a golden tan face of surpassing handsomeness. His athletic frame could have graced the cover of a sailing or skiing magazine—and the white smile he flashed at her said he knew it. Instead of shaking her proffered hand, he brought it to his lips. He didn’t kiss it. He rubbed his lips across the knuckles in a gesture that had nothing to do with politeness and everything to do with sensuality.
“So, Armand, you are here with your merchandise, yes?” Pieter’s words were only lightly accented. His light eyes drifted over Trish. “Beautiful. You’ve done well, Armand. How much?”
“Please, do not say ‘merchandize,’" Armand chided. "This is a rare and perfect work of art, and you know it.”
“Of course." Pierter inclined his head in apology. He chuckled at the same time, rendering the gesture less than sincere. "I stand corrected. I repeat, how much?”
Armand told him and Pieter nodded. “A good price.” His eyes swept over Trish again and lingered on her chest. She forced herself to stand still and even raised her chin to give him a better look at the necklace, despite cheeks that felt on fire.
Armand straightened his cuffs in a show of nonchalance. “You are interested?”
“For myself?” Pieter’s lips curled slightly. “No. I do not buy.” He turned his gaze to Armand. “I broker occasionally. Would you like for me to bring you interested parties?”
“And let you have a cut?” Armand dropped all pretense of urbanity. Trish had the oddest feeling that he was glad he hadn’t made the sale, glad he could dismiss Pieter. “Forget it.”
Pieter shrugged philosophically—a gesture American men couldn’t approximate without looking gay. On him the movement said, “I have a great body and I know how to use it.”
Trish had never met a man so sure of himself sexually…well, except for the other man, although, technically she hadn’t met him…and wouldn’t if she could help it… still, something about both men, one so dark, one so fair made her compare them.