“You are the most beautiful woman in the room.”
Willow couldn’t help but tense as the rich, masculine voice seemed to wrap right around her. She’d heard him approaching, of course, and she’d known that he was closing in on her. She could feel him right behind her, not touching her, but now barely a whisper away.
She lifted the champagne flute to her lips and took a slow sip. The sweet liquid bubbled on her tongue, and she rather liked that feeling. What she didn’t like…
Willow turned to face the man who’d just complimented her. Tall and absolutely gorgeous, Jennings “Jay” Maverick seemed to dominate the ballroom. He wore a black tux that emphasized his golden tan, and his dark, blond hair wasn’t tousled for once. Instead, he’d shoved it back in a style that just emphasized his high cheekbones and the rough cut of his jaw.
More men in tuxes were behind him—dancing and flirting with women in gorgeous gowns. People who seemed to not have any cares at all. People who laughed and drank and had normal lives.
People who were not like her. “I don’t want to be here,” Willow whispered. She put her hand on his tux, right above his heart. “Why am I here?” He’d bought her a dress, some little piece of black silk that felt like heaven against her skin—she wouldn’t lie about that—but the dress didn’t seem to be her style.
Not that Willow had any idea what her style was.
Hell, she wasn’t even sure that Willow was her real name. She didn’t know a thing about her past or her life. But every instinct she had screamed that she’d never been the type for these fancy ballrooms. She didn’t fit in with these people, and part of her just wanted to vanish.
But Jay’s hand rose and his fingers—long and strong—curled around her hand. He was tall, over six feet, and he leaned toward her, his pose almost protective.
Not that she needed protecting. She was stronger than everyone in that room. Mostly because they were normal humans. And she…wasn’t.
I don’t know what I am.
“You are the most beautiful woman here,” he said again, his voice a sensual rasp. His eyes—a deep, dark brown—held hers. There was gold in the depths of his gaze. Gold that could burn with his anger. But he wasn’t angry right then. She wasn’t quite sure what he was. “You’re beautiful, Willow. So you don’t need to stand in the corner, away from everyone. You don’t need to hide a thing about yourself from the people here.”
Oh, he was so wrong. This was his world. Rich and powerful. Because Jay was apparently the man of the hour. A tech billionaire who could have anyone or anything he wanted with a snap of his fingers. But…
He can’t have me.
“The people here would freak out,” Willow told him, her voice soft, “if they knew the truth about me.”
The truth—that she was a lab experiment gone wrong. Part of the top secret Project Lazarus. A dead woman walking, literally.
She pulled her hand away from his. “How much longer do we need to stay? Haven’t I been on display long enough?” Granted, she had been standing in the corner, but she’d entered the ballroom on Jay’s arm. She’d walked into the building with him courtesy of an actual red carpet. Dozens of cameras had flashed at their entrance. She’d been seen by everyone, and Willow knew that was the point. Jay was using her to attract attention. Or rather, to attract specific attention.
Jay was hunting a very dangerous predator, and he was using her as bait in his hunt.
A muscle flexed along his jaw. “No, you haven’t been on display long enough.” His voice had roughened. Behind him, the band began to play a new song. A slow, sensual song. “Let’s dance,” Jay demanded.
Dance? Willow knew horror must have shown on her face. But it was too late to stop him because Jay had pulled her away from the wall. Eyes were instantly on them as he made his way to the dance floor, taking her with him.
Wherever Jay went, gazes followed. Women flirted. Men vied for his attention. Money truly did talk.
And, of course, the fact that Jay was sexy as hell just made him more of a media obsession.
He took her right to the middle of the dance floor. Pulled her close. Put one hand at the base of her spine, touching her skin because there was no back to the dress he’d picked out. His other hand cradled her palm, holding her carefully.
His head lowered toward her, and Willow turned her face to his ear, hissing, “I can’t dance,” even as she felt a flood of heat stain her cheeks. This was going to be another humiliation for her. Another in a long line.
She had no memories of her past. No idea who she’d been before she woke in some godforsaken North Carolina lab. She’d been put in Project Lazarus, and Willow had lost her life. When she’d escaped that facility, she’d made the mistake of trusting the wrong man—a killer. If Jay hadn’t helped her, if he hadn’t gotten her to a safe place…
“Fuck me, baby,” Jay rasped. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think…Look, all you have to do is just hold on to me.”
He didn’t think…Hadn’t realized that while she might know how to kill a man in a hundred different ways, she didn’t know how to dance. Didn’t know how to laugh and flirt and act like she was a normal woman.
He pulled her even closer. The couples around them were moving in sync, doing much more advanced dancing. Were those couples waltzing or something? She didn’t know. Willow just wrapped her arm around Jay’s neck and buried her hot face against his tux.
She wanted this night to end.
“One foot,” Jay murmured, and now his mouth was near her ear. He’d curled his body into hers, and she felt almost protected. “Then the other. Just move with me. Sway. That’s all you have to do. Close your eyes and listen to the music.”
Her eyes closed.
His hand tightened on hers. “I’ve got you.”
The safety of his arms was a lie. She was smart enough to know that. She couldn’t trust Jay. Jay was Project Lazarus. He’d been the guy to help bankroll the operation. And now he was there, with her, because he was trying to atone. The guy didn’t get it. You couldn’t atone for some things in this world.
But she kept her eyes closed. She listened to the music. And she found her body moving in a slow, natural rhythm with his. They seemed to flow together as they moved across the dance floor. Murmurs teased her ears, whispers that she hadn’t been intended to overhear, but Willow’s senses didn’t work like an average human’s.