When Karisma reappeared, Paolo forgot his annoyance. He couldn’t take his eyes off her and saw that the other partygoers felt the exact same way. The room became electric and seemed to buzz as all eyes were on Karisma. Not since Elizabeth Taylor had Hollywood been so enthralled with a woman’s looks the way they were with Karisma Montgomery’s. In fact, she was often referred to as the black Liz Taylor, a reference he thought was rather insulting. The media would never call someone the white Karisma Montgomery. Paolo’s eyes followed her, drinking her in, as she gracefully handled the multitudes of people that swarmed around her, making each one feel special with really no effort at all. At least that’s the way it looked to Paolo. Everything she did appeared to be effortless.

“Breathe,” Davit said, laughing. Daniel joined in and Paolo glanced at the two, giving them a slight frown. Then his attention went right back to Karisma.

He watched her as she threw her head back and laughed at something a famous actor there with his equally famous wife said. His groin twitched. Shit. He studied her profile as she kissed a well-known singer, who stood stroking the small of her back through her fur coat. I should be doing that, he thought.

An elderly record exec shuffled over to her with his male companion, and offered her a congratulatory kiss. His companion took a picture of them in a friendly embrace. Paolo was about to stand up and make his introduction when he realized he’d indeed been holding his breath. What type of power did this woman have over him? He didn’t know—yet—but he was going to find out.

Daniel said, “That is one beautiful woman,” and took another swig of his scotch.

Davit looked at Paolo, who hadn’t said a word, but remained entranced by Karisma’s beauty. “You ready, bro?” he asked, patting Paolo’s back.

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Paolo replied. He took a fortifying swallow of his drink and then stood up. Daniel and Davit followed suit.

Paolo only took one step and felt his body tense. Karisma had turned in his direction and their gazes locked. He stood rooted in place and could hear Davit chuckling behind him. Then Paolo felt his brother’s hand pressing on his back to start moving again. “This is out of control, bro. Get your ass moving,” he whispered.

Of course, Davit was right, and Paolo breathed in again, trying to calm his entire body, including the stirring in his pants, and he stepped forward. The entire time, his eyes had remained locked with Karisma’s.

Karisma watched as the fine looking man, this dazzling stranger, walked toward her. Dayum, she thought. He was about six foot three, she estimated, and wore a tuxedo that was impeccably tailored to his muscular, confident frame. And his face…beyond handsome. Suddenly, an overwhelming sense of shyness swept over her as she struggled to avert her gaze from his. She was staring, but so was he.

As he neared her, Karisma could see that his eyes were the color of sapphires…and he was certainly a gem. A flush came over her cheeks as he moved in closer, now just one step away.

“Miss Montgomery,” he drawled in a sexy baritone with just the hint of an accent. His silky tone flowed through her, making her feel all girly and she found herself involuntarily rubbing her thighs together in that same way that Erica Kane used to do on the old soap opera All My Children. An invasive and intriguing desire, to be certain.

He extended his warm hand to her, and like the magnet he was, her hand lifted to his.  He kissed it, leaving a trace of his full, sexy lips lingering on her skin.

“I wanted to come and introduce myself. My name is Paolo Montovani. I own FutureShock and have been looking forward to meeting you.” He said this all the while holding onto her small, delicate hand. Paolo felt the energy of their connection and although he was nervous, he knew women enough to sense that Karisma had felt it, as well.

Karisma dropped her hand and smiled radiantly at the man before her. She was used to getting hit on, but the way Paolo went about it was absolutely tempting. “It’s nice to meet you, as well, Mr. Montovani,” she said, trying to sound nonchalant. “I’m Karisma. Call me Kari.”

“If you’ll call me Paolo.”

The two were quiet briefly and Karisma noticed the way he looked at her, absorbing every detail of her the way she was him. “Paolo it is,” she finally said.

“And these are my brothers, Davit,” he said while holding his arm out to indicate his brother standing on his right. “And Daniel,” he said, pointing to the left.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you both,” Karisma said. The two brothers were very handsome, too, but in a different sort of way than Paolo. Plus, Karisma thought she might be seeing double and she knew she hadn’t overindulged in the champagne. “Oh, you’re identical!” she exclaimed. She could have bitten her tongue for letting that roll off it. Of course they’re identical, Karisma, duh!  Then she smiled brilliantly and quickly recovered. “But I’m sure you already know that!” She laughed and so did they.

“Yeah, we’ve heard that before,” Davit said, not minding at all. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Kari,” he said, also taking her hand and kissing it.

Karisma’s eyes naturally trailed off toward Paolo and she saw that his forehead creased ever so slightly from his brother’s innocent kiss. It made her smile and she gave a gentle, cheery laugh.

“They even dress alike,” Paolo told her. “My mother started it. Poor guys are terrified of change.”

“Hardly,” Daniel said, putting his hand in his pocket and wearing a complacent grin. He looked thoroughly entertained by the entire situation.

“Well, I’ll bet you two have played a lot of jokes on unsuspecting victims, haven’t you?” she asked, looking at the handsome twins.

“Of course we have,” said Daniel as he moved in for a turn to taste Karisma’s delectable hand. “And may I say that you are more beautiful in person than I could possibly have imagined.”

“Thank you, Daniel,” Karisma said, trying to look for some defining characteristic to tell him apart from Davit. “So, you must be the flirt.”

“Guilty as charged,” Daniel said.

Then Karisma turned to Davit. “And are you the quiet one?”

Davit stepped forward and said, “No, no, Kari. I’m the one who doesn’t have to work as hard.”

Paolo and Daniel both groaned as Karisma laughed. Paolo watched the woman who had starred in his dreams at night, and felt emboldened when her attention went back to him. He didn’t care for it being centered on his younger brothers. “So, then what does that make you, Paolo?” she asked playfully.

“It makes me wish I hadn’t brought these two with me,” he said with wry humor. They all laughed again and then there was silence, an awkward silence that forced their attention to turn back to each other.

Karisma was officially nervous, and turned on. Clearing her throat, she asked, “So, you’ve recently acquired FutureShock? I heard it was up for sale, but didn’t know anything had been finalized.”

“Indeed, and you own Goldtone, a very successful label, I must say. You beat us out tonight, twice.”

“It was a good night,” Karisma agreed. “However, Goldtone isn’t just mine; it is family- owned.” She smiled that beautiful white toothed smile at Paolo again, and he wished it were just the two of them in the room, and not the couple hundred partygoers that were crowding the space. He didn’t want to share Karisma with others, yet everyone felt it was their turn to get a bit of her attention. They kept interrupting, giving her kisses on the cheeks and come hither looks.

Scooting over to the group quickly, a young woman came up to Kari and planted a fresh red kiss on her cheek. Paolo and his brothers eyed the other beauty, as she looked somewhat similar to Karisma. “Hey, here I am. I made it,” she said breathlessly.

“Hey Karla,” Kari said, as she air kissed her. Karla was lovely. Whereas Karisma’s beauty was overt and extreme, Karla’s was more understated, girl next door. Her burgundy wine colored hair was swept to the side and the gown she wore was a white Emilio Pucci design. Floor length and lacy, the dress revealed lots of back and cleavage. A high split showed off the butterfly tattoo on her lower thigh. Zoning in on the handsome brothers, she said, “Aren’t you going to introduce me, Kari?”

Kari smiled and said, “This is my sister, Karla. These are the...” Karisma began to say, but someone else grabbed her from behind, making her stop and whip her head around. Caught off guard, she was about to scream, when she realized she was looking into the face of none other than Raymond Bryant, known to the world by his rap moniker Alleged.

“Sup, Shorty,” Ray said, smirking down at her.

“Ray,” Karisma said, frowning slightly. She looked toward the ballroom entrance. “How did you get in here?” She tried not to sound too annoyed, but couldn’t hide her discontent. No invitation should have been a clue and meant something, but not to him—the rude jerk.

Ray grinned wide and toothy at her. “It’s like that, huh?" he asked, taking a step back. “You been a’ight, girl? You lookin’ fly as usual. You wearin’ the hell outta that dress and shit. I just wanna say congratulations on all them Grammys y’all won tonight. That album is dope. And I know how hard y’all, especially you Kari, worked on that shit. You deserve all them damn awards.”

“Thanks,” Karisma responded politely.

“Hey, Ray, can’t speak? Or don’t you see me standing here?” Karla asked with sass and a hand placed on her hip.

Ray looked at Karla as if just seeing her. “What’s up girl? You know it ain’t like that.” He pulled her elbow toward him to plant a kiss on her cheek. Kari watched them warily.

Paolo observed, sensing Kari’s discomfort and noticing that she’d also lost her genuine, million dollar smile. He also knew that she and Ray used to be a couple, and that they’d broken up very publicly. From this scene, it was clear that Karisma was indifferent toward Ray, which pleased him. He was a good-looking guy, Paolo supposed, and a rumored sex addict and serial cheater. How anyone could cheat on a woman like Karisma was beyond Paolo’s understanding.

She turned to the Montovani brothers and introduced them. “Ray Bryant, Karla Montgomery, these are the Montovanis. They own FutureShock.”