Just Once - Page 29

“The official story is that she's here for a fundraiser to fight world hunger,” Art answered, his voice flat from distraction as he craned his neck to see if the slight stirring he noted among the security meant that Annika would be emerging soon.

The crowd, also picking up on the potential that something might be about to happen, began to murmur.

“And the real reason?” Caleb prompted his brother once it became clear that Art wasn't going to elaborate, but Art didn't answer.

Annika, flanked by even more bodyguards, had come into sight.

To say that the sight of her still took Art's breath away would have been an understatement, and under any other circumstances, he wouldn't have been able to tear his eyes away from her. As things were, however, Art indulged in one brief, longing-filled look before focusing all his attention on the little girl wiggling in Annika's arms. From the distance he was at, Art couldn't be sure, but the girl seemed to be simultaneously protesting both her white dress which reminded Art of Easter, and the fact that her mother wasn't letting her down.

Annika smiled politely for the sake of the crowd, but Art thought he caught the sharp hiss of a reprimand as Annika subtly turned her head away from the crowd and the cameras so she could address her daughter. Whatever Annika said, it was effective . . . but only for a moment.

For five full seconds the little girl favored the cameras with her best smile, accentuating that even as young as she was, she was already as heartbreakingly pretty as Annika, with similar hair and fine, pale features, save for her eyes, which were an even brighter blue than her mother's . . . startlingly so.

Then she started squirming and protesting again that she wanted to be let down "now," and Art found himself thinking that Annika had been smart to wear such practical clothing as the no doubt expensive, but loose and easy-to-move-in beige pantsuit she was wearing. Her daughter was obviously handful enough that the added difficulty of wearing something more cumbersome would have made keeping a rein on her impossible.

Art's reverie was shattered by the sound of his brother's voice pitched discretely into his ear. “Well,” Caleb chuckled, “she's got your tenacity, but I'm happy to see that she didn't get your nose in the bargain as well.”

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