Authors: Nina Croft
Tags: #seduction, #werewolf, #billionaire, #engagement, #blackmail, #unrequited love, #secret, #scientist, #fake engagement
Operation Saving Daniel
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 by Nina Croft. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
Visit our website at www.entangledpublishing.com.
Edited by Elizabeth Pelletier and Robin Haseltine
Cover design by Curtis Svehlak
Ebook ISBN 978-1-62266-344-6
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition November 2013
To my big sister, Anne, who filled the house with fabulous books while I was growing up.
Ten years ago
Something woke him. A noise outside his door. Glancing at the clock on the bedside table, Daniel saw that it was after two in the morning. He ran a hand through his hair and wondered whether he should get up and investigate. Instead, he switched on the lamp, grabbed his glasses from the table, and peered under the sheets to check whether he was wearing something. Just in case his room was invaded. Black boxers—good enough.
Not surprised when the door creaked open, he waited, squinting in the dim light to see who would appear. One of his sisters, he’d guess, bringing him a belated, last-minute birthday present. Why did the thought terrify the life out of him? He’d turned twenty today, and he should have gotten over his fear of his sisters by now. Or maybe not.
But it wasn’t one of his sisters. A girl stood framed in the doorway. For a moment, he thought he must be imagining things, especially since he’d spent many hours in this very room, fantasizing about this very girl.
“Lissa? What the hell are you doing here?”
Melissa Jackson wrapped the black, silky robe tighter around herself and stepped into the room. Her long dark hair was loose on her shoulders, and her golden eyes gleamed in the lamplight. She strolled languidly across to his bed, the effect only spoiled when she tripped over her heels and muttered a jumble of swear words.
Heels? Since when had Lissa worn heels? Something was up.
Halting by his bed, she peered down at him through her thick black lashes, her expression almost coy, and he frowned. Coy was not a word he would have associated with Lissa. Ever.
He pulled himself up so he was sitting, back against the wall, sheet tucked tightly around him as though it could protect him from whatever was coming.
“Your sisters are worried about you,” she said.
A light sweat broke out on his forehead and he swallowed. “They are?”
“Hmm. You’re twenty, and you’re still a virgin.”
His mouth dropped open. “How the hell do they know that?”
Lissa gave an exaggerated roll of her eyes. “They know
. I thought you’d have realized that by now.”
Actually, he’d always presumed they had some sort of pact with the devil. He thought about defending himself, but what could he say—that it was none of their business? That would only make things worse, so he kept quiet and reached for the glass of water by his bedside to give himself something to do.
“Marcy thinks you might be gay.”
He was about to swallow a mouthful, now he spluttered so it sprayed across the sheet. He coughed and cleared his throat. “Why does she think that?”
“Just a theory—no
evidence, as it were. But Babs said no, you’d had girlfriends, even if you hadn’t gone all the way with them.”
He wasn’t sure that was a good thing; maybe if they thought he was gay, it would keep him safe.
“Julia, on the other hand, thinks you’re scared of women.”
“Only some of them,” he muttered. “And is it any wonder?” He was the third child out of five. The only boy. It would be more surprising if he weren’t scared of women.
Lissa smiled and sank down onto the edge of his bed. It was a physical effort not to inch away. She reached across and patted his arm. “But I told them that wasn’t it at all.”
Why was he suddenly afraid? Maybe because Lissa was one of the most perceptive people he had ever met. She’d been his sister Julia’s best friend since they were eleven. Daniel had come to know her well in that time, and while he could never think of her as a sister, she was certainly in league with them.
She also possessed the most fanciful imagination he had ever come across, and he didn’t want that insight or that imagination aimed at his sex life. Or rather lack of it.
But he knew her well enough to realize there was no stopping her. Her theories regarding his virginity were going to be aired whether he liked it or
. And it was definitely
“No, you’re not scared.” She considered him, her head cocked on one side. “What you are is a goddamn romantic. You want it to be perfect, and you’re waiting for a princess to come along and rescue you from your tower and sweep you off your feet to live happily ever after.” Leaning a little closer, she rested her palm against his bare chest. A prickle of awareness ran through him. “But, Danny, surely you know by now—there are no such things as fairy tales and definitely no happy ever afters.”
He held himself very still. His policy with Lissa, as with his sisters, was always to show no fear. “I think I like the gay theory better,” he said. “And how did you get to be so cynical so young?”
“Just lucky, I guess. And hey, I’m eighteen. Not so young.” She cast him a meaningful smile. “And
Shock hit him like ice water. “What?”
A shaft of something like pain ran through him to learn she wasn’t a virgin. Who? When? Where? He pushed the questions aside. “Lissa, why are you here?”
“Haven’t I been clear?”
“As mud,” he muttered.
A wicked grin curled her lips as she pointed to her throat. She wore a red ribbon tied in a big bow. “I’m your birthday present.” And with those words, she undid the belt of her robe and shrugged out of it so the material pooled around her hips.
She wore black underwear. Black lace underwear. And God forgive him, his cock jerked inside his boxers. It didn’t help that this had been a recurring fantasy since the first time he noticed she was growing breasts.
“Oh, no. No. No. No.” He fought the urge to pull the covers over his head and hope she would disappear. But Lissa was nothing if not tenacious. As she swayed closer, he could smell the perfume on her skin, sharp and sweet. He swallowed, rallied his forces.
“Tell me my sisters didn’t put you up to this.”
She frowned. “Of course not. I came up with it all on my own.”
He wasn’t sure he believed her and he just wasn’t prepared for this. “Please go away, Lissa.”
“You don’t like me?” She pouted. Lissa actually pouted, then licked her lips and rose to her feet so the robe tumbled to the floor. She pulled back her shoulders and stood before him. Almost naked. It might have been better if she had been naked. The black lace bra framed her pale breasts. He hadn’t realized they were so full. Her belly was flat and he could see her pubic hair through the thin silk of her panties. This was so not right. He scrambled to his feet and stood with the bed between them, then wished he hadn’t when her gaze drifted down over his body and back up to his face.
She waved a hand in the general direction of his groin. “Oh, you do like me, after all.”
Daniel risked a peek and again wished he hadn’t. His treacherous dick was straining at his boxers in a bid for freedom.
“Don’t worry, I have these.” As she opened her fist, a handful of condoms tumbled to the bed. “And I practiced putting them on,” Lissa said. “I’m very proficient.”
“I’m not sure I want to know how you became so proficient.”
Lissa perched on the bed again. “This is also a going away present.”
“You’re leaving?” He’d been aware she’d planned a yearlong trip before she took up her place at university, but he hadn’t known it was imminent.
“Tomorrow. Will you miss me?”
Would he? It seemed like she had always been there, part of the family. Maybe that’s why he found her presence in his bedroom so difficult.
“Come on, Danny. For one night, pretend I’m your princess.”
She reached behind her—the action pushing her chest out—unhooked her bra, and dropped it to the floor. Her breasts were full, the pale skin almost luminescent, her nipples dark, dusky pink and pointing straight at him. Heat rushed through him once again, settling in his groin, all thoughts of his sisters driven from his mind.
His damn dick felt like it might explode as every nerve in his body tightened. For a second longer he fought it, before giving in to the inevitable. He reached out a hand and caught the end of the scarlet bow. The ribbon unraveled as he pulled her toward him.
When he woke again, pale morning light was filtering through the heavy curtains. His whole body felt sated. Lissa sat on the edge of the bed, once again wrapped in her robe. It took only a moment to remember the night before, and warmth washed through him.
She fiddled with the end of her belt. “I wanted to say good-bye before I left.”
He pushed himself on to one elbow. “Why don’t you stay? I don’t mean now. I mean…” He shrugged, finding it hard to put into words. She needed space, but he didn’t want her to go.
Leaning in close, she stroked a hand down his cheek and kissed him on the lips. “Because I like you too much, but you want the fairy tale and I don’t believe in happy endings.”
Then she was gone.
Ten years later
Nearly dying can change your views about many things.
Love being one of them.
A month ago, lying in a hospital bed in Africa, the fever eating her up, Lissa had realized something. She didn’t want to die without telling Daniel Melville that the reason she had seduced him all those years ago was because she had loved him.
Of course, she was over him—totally. She had cured herself of that particular affliction by means of sheer willpower, a lot of years, and a few thousand miles between them. Now, she could happily say that Daniel was nothing more than her best friend Julia’s brother and a happy memory.
Except, she spent way too much time thinking about him, and she’d come to the conclusion that was because, deep down, she still felt guilty about running away. So she’d see him, apologize, tell him why she had run away, explain the love thing was no longer an issue, and afterward, she could move on. Because the other thing she realized while she hovered between life and death was, she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life alone.
Once Daniel was out of her mind for good, she could find a nice steady man, have a bunch of lovely children, and fill the emptiness inside her.
That her near-death enlightenment had coincided with Julia’s plea for help, seemed like fate stepping in. Julia was worried about Daniel. So here was Lissa back in London; a woman with a mission.
Daniel had obviously moved on. Julia was pretty sure he was about to propose to his long-time girlfriend, Sophia, charmingly known among his sisters as “The Evil One.” But other than the imminent engagement, Julia had been cagey about Daniel’s current situation. She’d handed Lissa the address where he worked, said go and see for herself, and afterward they would talk. Very cryptic.
Lissa peered up at the huge glass-and-steel building and double-checked the address Julia had given her. She’d been expecting some sort of science laboratory. Instead, she was in the heart of the city, right slam in the middle of the business district, and at the headquarters of Stone Enterprises, a multinational, privately owned pharmaceutical company. And according to the plaque on the wall by the big double doors, Daniel was one of the directors. How weird was that?
As she approached, the glass doors slid open like magic. Living in a remote village in the middle of Africa with no electricity for ten years had given Lissa a unique appreciation of technology, and she couldn’t resist taking a step back so the doors closed. Forward…back…open…closed. Finally, after intercepting a condescending glance from the uniformed guard, she realized she was being less than cool. And procrastinating. So she swiped her sweaty palms down the side of her jeans, gave a gentle tug on Spot’s lead, and strolled nonchalantly into the reception area.
Across the huge expanse of floor, a perfectly made-up blonde sat behind the reception desk. Lissa sauntered up. “I’m here to see Daniel Melville.”
The blonde regarded her from top to bottom, clearly unimpressed. “You have an appointment?”
Lissa pursed her lips and shook her head, for which she received a supercilious smile and a long-suffering sigh.
“I’m afraid Mr. Melville doesn’t see anyone without an appointment.”
“Look”— Lissa leaned across the desk and read the name label pinned over the woman’s left breast— “Gretchen, just call him up and tell him Lissa Jackson is here.”
The smile didn’t falter, neither did it reach Gretchen’s pale blue eyes. “I’m sorry, but that’s not company policy. If you would like to leave a name and number, we’ll contact you if Mr. Melville wishes to see you.”
The tone implied it was extremely unlikely. Lissa tapped her fingers on the desk and considered her next move. This was turning into a challenge. She’d always relished a challenge, and in some ways, she could sympathize with the woman. Lissa was messing up her immaculate reception area with her less-than-immaculate appearance.
She was the first to admit that her hair needed cutting, she wore no makeup, her current outfit had seen much better days, and to top that, she was accompanied by an extremely scruffy three-legged dog.
She gave the receptionist her most winsome smile. “I really do need to see him.”
“I’m afraid Mr. Melville has a very busy schedule. Perhaps someone more suitable could deal with you.”
Like the janitor?
Lissa bit back the suggestion and resisted the urge to grin. She’d spent seven years as a scholarship student—a “charity case”—in a snooty girls boarding school; it would take far more than one stuck-up receptionist to make her feel inadequate. “Please tell him Melissa Jackson is here and could I have a minute. I’ll sit over there and wait.”
Spot’s claws made an uneven clicking on the polished marble as she led him across the floor to a row of low seats facing the bank of elevators. Lissa wasn’t even convinced the receptionist would pass on the message, but she’d wait a while, and then work out phase two of her plan of attack.
But phase two wasn’t needed. Less than a minute later, the elevator doors slid open and a couple stepped out.
Her gaze passed over them but drifted back because they were so beautiful and so perfect, like something out of a glossy magazine advertising expensive perfume or gold watches. Both tall, glamorous, and possessing that air of privilege and way of moving—as though they owned the world—that put them on a different level from mere mortals.
Spot whined and she leaned down to stroke his wiry head, then looked again, a frown forming between her eyes.
For a moment, it seemed as though the air was sucked from the room. She stared blankly, trying to reconcile the man striding across the floor with the boy she had known. Daniel had always been handsome, but through his teenage years, he’d disguised it with shaggy hair, glasses, and a general air of endearing geekiness.
Today, he wasn’t hiding anything. Tall, maybe six four, his dark blond hair immaculately cut to show off sharp cheekbones, an aquiline nose, mesmerizing gray eyes, and what she’d once thought was the sweetest mouth she had ever come across on a man. Though currently it was held in a stern, uncompromising line.
Did I really kiss that mouth?
Ten years ago, he’d been lanky; he’d filled out and was broad at the shoulder and narrow at the hips, and all wrapped up in a charcoal-gray business suit, white shirt, and a dark red tie. The conservative clothing did nothing to hide the long, lean body beneath.
Did I really have sex with that body?
It was hard to believe.
Everything about him was controlled. From his appearance, to the way he moved with the measured grace of an athlete. Or maybe not an athlete. She’d done a lot of game-watching in her time in Africa and Daniel reminded her of a big cat, a leopard, disdainful of his surroundings, seeming separate even from the woman at his side.
Could this be Sophia Forbes, a.k.a.
The Evil One?
Lissa suspected so. Mainly because she hated her on sight, just as Julia had predicted. “She’s a complete bitch,” Julia had told her. “You only have to look at her to see that.”
“The Evil One” was the complete opposite to the type Lissa had believed Daniel would go for. This woman was no fairy-tale princess that was for sure. More like the wicked witch. She, too, wore a business suit, so fitted it appeared as if the fabric had been poured over her tall, extravagantly curved figure. Her dark red hair was pulled into a chignon, showing a long, graceful neck and a perfect oval face, flawlessly made-up. The sort of makeup that was invisible except you knew it must be there, because no one could be that perfect.
Lissa shifted again, suddenly feeling less than adequate. Under normal circumstances, she hardly noticed what she was wearing, or what anyone else was wearing for that matter. Now, she couldn’t resist glancing down—her T-shirt was faded and bore a big red nose in the middle, a relic from a fund-raising event.
She sank a little lower in the seat and gnawed on her bottom lip while studying Daniel surreptitiously. There was nothing left of the boy she had seduced in this tall, imposing stranger.
As he made his way to the reception desk, the woman stuck close to his side, one hand resting on his arm, scarlet talons curled into the dark material of his jacket. After speaking briefly to Gretchen, he turned to look in Lissa’s direction, his face expressionless.
Maybe she shouldn’t be there. She was here partly at Julia’s behest, but she’d also come looking for closure. Perhaps she was just opening old wounds.
Too late. He was walking over, his face still blank, his hands hanging loose at his side. He should have seemed relaxed. Instead, he radiated an aura of tension, the air crackling around him.
Had those hands really touched her?
Daniel came to a halt in front of her, The Evil One still latched on to his side, and Spot scrabbled backward, until he was crouched beneath Lissa’s chair. Who could blame him? Talk about intimidating.
Lissa pushed herself to her feet. At five foot eight, she still had to bend her neck to stare into his face.
“Hello, Daniel.” She held out her hand.
He glanced from it to her face, with not a glimmer of recognition. What had happened to “you never forgot your first”?
Then she saw a glint in his silvery eyes. He knew exactly who she was. Well, two could play at that game. “You don’t remember me? Oh, Danny, I’m hurt. Let me give you a clue—”
“I’d rather you didn’t,” he interrupted, his tone cool and clipped as he turned to the woman beside him. “Sophia, this is Melissa, an old friend of the family. She went to school with Julia.”
“Really.” Sophia sounded uninterested, which was very bad manners. “Are we going to lunch, darling?” She put her hand back on his arm in a sign of possession and stared straight into Lissa’s face.
, her eyes said.
Lissa grinned. The Evil One was welcome to him. He’d changed beyond belief, and she really wasn’t into stuffy businessmen. But at the same time, she felt the need to ruffle his feathers, see if she couldn’t break through that icy-cool composure, and find a spark of the old Daniel underneath.
“So how long has it been?” she asked.
He gave a casual lift of one shoulder. “I don’t remember.”
“You don’t?” Now he was really pissing her off. So maybe he didn’t want his girlfriend to know they’d slept together—maybe Sophia was the jealous type—that didn’t mean he had to be quite so boorish. “Nearly ten years.”
“Of course. It was my birthday. My twentieth birthday if I remember rightly.”
“How could you forget?”
The Evil One studied the two of them, speculation in her eyes, as though Lissa had interested her at last. There was something not quite right in the smile she sent Lissa’s way. In fact, she’d seen pleasanter smiles on a crocodile.
“Ms. Jackson, why don’t you join us for lunch?” Sophia turned to Daniel. “Family is so important.”
“She’s not family,” he replied.
The words hurt. Lissa hated that, but they did. A minute ago, she would have gladly left and reported back to Julia that he was a lost cause. But there was something not quite right here. The old Daniel would never have been so openly rude.
The truth was, she’d fallen in love with him the first moment she saw him, when she was twelve years old and he a lofty fourteen. That had been the first summer holidays she’d spent with Julia’s family.
Daniel was cool, gorgeous, and beyond her reach. In retrospect, she’d come to understand that was the reason she’d allowed herself to love him. He was like a crush on some unattainable film star: safe.
She hadn’t been able to resist that night with him. She’d known she’d be leaving in the morning, going far away—all the way around the world in fact—surely, she was allowed the one night. So she’d taken it, and in the morning, she’d run. And she’d been running ever since.
Should she join them for lunch? She glanced down at Spot, sitting quietly at her feet.
Daniel followed the look. “She can’t come. She’s got a…” His brows drew together. “Dog?”
Shit, now he was sneering at her dog.
“She can leave the dog with the receptionist,” Sophia said.
Lissa was almost tempted, if only to irritate Daniel. But she shook her head. “I can’t. Spot gets anxious if I leave him. He was my father’s dog. My father died recently and Spot misses him.”
“Is that what brought you back?” Daniel asked. “I always thought you weren’t close.”
She shrugged; she hated talking about her family. It wasn’t that she was ashamed of them, but they were hard to explain. “I’d returned anyway. My last contract was up, and I’d been ill. Look, I’ll leave you to your lunch. I just wanted to say hi.”
She turned to go, but he stopped her with a hand on her arm, and at that first touch, she knew she’d been deluding herself that she felt nothing for him now.
“Join us, please,” Daniel said.
Why in the name of all that was holy had he said that?
The words had popped out of Daniel’s mouth without any conscious thought. Which was totally unlike him. He thought about everything before he spoke—he couldn’t afford not to. Especially not with his watchdog beside him. He’d been doing well up until that point. Or at least relatively well, considering the shell-shocked state of his brain from seeing Lissa again after so many years. His first reaction to hearing her name had been a wild instinctive delight. Followed swiftly by abject terror.