He’d been too preoccupied with Mike’s horror stories of the business going on the fritz to worry about posttraumatic stress disorder. Perhaps he should talk to Steve. He’d been in the service about as long as Stuart had, though he’d been through much, much worse than he had. Steve had actually been badly injured in battle, and still carried the scars, both physically and emotionally.
No, he decided. This was simply the backlash of a man deprived of normal sexual activity for too long. Once he got this out of his system he would cease to lust after Kirsty like a horny sixteen-year-old. After all, it wasn’t as if he was in love with her, and she was definitely not in love with him, he decided grimly.
out of the porthole window as the private jet gained altitude and quickly soared over London’s azure skies. Even though she was a member of the illustrious Knight family, she’d never flown in the company jet before, the privilege strictly reserved for her three cousins who now ran the company. Lesser family members like her were relegated to less prominent roles in the company hierarchy. The fact that Stuart had handpicked her as his new PA meant a significant rise through the ranks and, as the HR director had assured her when she’d gone in to sign the contract, a proportionate pay hike as well.
Not that she cared much about either of those things. Though initially she’d wanted to work for Knight Enterprises as a way to be closer to Geoffrey, soon after the drama that had ensnared the family she’d discovered an ambitious streak in her personal makeup. After the Caroline Popping disaster had embroiled the family in a debilitating scandal she wanted to help preserve the company that carried her mother’s name. To that end she’d studied hard, earning a top score in her penultimate year. Carving out a career path didn’t include accepting favors from Stuart, however, and most definitely not when his only motivation was to keep an eye on her. She wanted to carve out a career based on talent, hard work and drive, not because Stuart thought she was a liability.
Besides, working this closely with Stuart wasn’t her idea of a great career move and she’d told him as much. His terse and brutal response was that this was a temporary arrangement. The moment Geoffrey and Giselle were off on their honeymoon, she would be back in her old job so fast her head would spin.
She glanced at the choppy channel as the sleek private aircraft crossed to the European mainland on its way to the South of France, where the important telecommunications convention was taking place over the next weekend in Nice, the French Riviera’s capital.
Stuart had settled in his own seat on the other side of the aisle, and was deeply engrossed in his work. The sight of his dark head bent over his laptop gave her a small thrill of awareness as brief images of the way it would feel if he bent over her instead, his lips tormenting her nipples, his strong hands grasping and molding the soft round globes of her breasts. She quickly abandoned the illicit fantasy for what it was: a mere erotic daydream. Why it would be Stuart of all people who suddenly featured so prominently in her fantasies, she didn’t know. Perhaps his mere proximity was wreaking havoc on her, adding to the fact that since his return from the war Stuart had grown even more formidably masculine than he’d always been. She wondered if the scar on his brow was an indication of other scars on his body. And suddenly a vivid image of herself caressing his sculpted torso, her fingers perusing every inch of his dark skin while her lips and tongue followed suit presented itself. She wriggled uncomfortably in her seat, the heat lapping at her core a stark reminder of the dangers of this trip.
Stuart was now simply her boss, she decided, and a presence she had to endure for as long as he chose to keep her on as his PA. Nothing more, nothing less. And she returned her gaze outside and this time stubbornly kept it there.
Stuart looked up from the schematics Knight’s chief IT engineer had sent him. A tendril of russet hair had escaped the confines of Kirsty’s chignon and was caressing the pale silky skin of her cheek, the fine dusting of freckles almost invisible in the early morning sun streaking in through the porthole. His gaze inadvertently lowered to the sensible lilac blouse she’d opted for, and took in the mother-of-pearl buttons, the top ones undone, a hint of lace visible beneath, whispering promises of the fullness of her breasts. The pink buds of her rising peaks strained the sheer fabric and he experienced a painful hardening of his own irrevocable response as he imagined making short shrift of those ridiculously tiny buttons and taking the full weight of her breasts in his hands while his tongue described a wet trail along the lush silkiness of her neckline.
His lips tightened and so did the grip of his fingers on the iPhone he was holding. There was no point lusting after Kirsty when all she could think about was Geoffrey, he told himself harshly. She was probably thinking about him right now, which was why her nipples were hardening into darkly pink raisins clearly visible through her blouse. She was indulging in sexual fantasies of her own, featuring Geoffrey Holland.
He’d watched Kirsty develop from an awkward gangly teenager into the beautiful young woman she was now, and had never ceased to be amazed by her persistence in favoring Geoffrey with her affections. The man might have been his friend once, but he was not the kind of man Kirsty should end up with. What she needed was someone who would introduce her to the world of love and passion with a firm but tender hand. A man who would show her what true pleasure was and who could bring her arousal to a fevered peak that would leave her breathless and fully satisfied. A man who would lovingly guide her along the road to sexual fulfillment.
The notion that he could be that man—that he would take the virginity she so flauntingly dangled in front of Geoffrey’s face—filled him with an urge so powerful, so all-consuming and painfully potent that he heaved a silent grunt and forced himself to renew his focus on his work. But even before the plane touched down at Nice Côte d’Azur International Airport, he reached a decision.
He wouldn’t merely take Kirsty’s virginity—thus preventing any other male from doing so—he would make her his bride. He would honor his grandfather’s wish and marry sensibly, take a woman as his wife who would never harm the family’s name or fortune. And since Kirsty was a member of the family herself, she was perfectly tasked for the role. And as an added bonus he would be saving her from herself—from destroying her life by throwing herself at the mercy of the likes of Geoffrey.
When Kirsty glanced up, dimly aware of the blush her cheeks were carrying, she caught Stuart’s intent gaze and her heart skipped a beat. He was looking at her with a look so fierce that she briefly felt like a child about to be castigated for doing or thinking the wrong thing. And she knew she was guilty as charged!
But then the pilot announced they had reached their destination and before long Stuart escorted her off the plane and into a waiting limousine where they continued their journey in complete silence. Stuart was seated opposite from her, his trousered leg touching her own stockinged one, and even though by rights she should have moved, she simply couldn’t bring herself to do so, as the heat radiating from his body caused a distinct and powerful response in her own and conjured up images of Stuart’s leg pushing apart her legs and his body pinning her down into the softness of the limo’s exquisite leather, his mouth brutally taking hers in a passionate kiss that erased the last vestiges of common sense.
Stuart watched the telltale flush of Kirsty’s usually pale cheeks, the sparkle in her blue eyes and the pulse at the bottom of her throat and wondered what she was thinking. It wasn’t that hard to guess. With a dark frown, he told her, “Geoffrey sent Mike a text that he and Giselle are expecting their first baby.”
Her gasp of shock told him all he needed to know. “What?! Already?”
Viciously, he snapped, “Don’t be so shocked, Kirsty. This is the twenty-first century. Couples do engage in premarital sex.”
“No, that’s not what I meant. I just meant—”
“You wish you were the one pregnant with his child?” he cut in harshly.
“Face the facts, Kirsty,” he scoffed, “Geoffrey doesn’t love you. Never has and never will, and the sooner you get that through that thick skull of yours the better for all concerned!”
She closed her mouth with a little click and looked away, her cheeks glowing. What she’d meant to say was that she was surprised and dismayed that Geoffrey hadn’t confided in her. She was supposed to be one of his friends, after all, and yet he’d chosen to break the news to Mike instead. And such important news it was, too. She couldn’t help feeling annoyed and disappointed. What she was not feeling—even though she had expected it—was the sharp stab of pain at knowing that another woman had conceived his child—and she was as surprised by this as by the news itself. She should have been devastated—heartbroken, even—and the confusion that now held her in its grip translated into a quickening of her pulse and a furrowing of her brow.
“Get over it, Kirsty,” Stuart continued harshly. “The sooner you accept the fact that Geoffrey now belongs to another the better for—”
“For the family. I know,” she bit back furiously, surprising both herself and Stuart, judging by the way his eyes narrowed into slits. “That’s all you care about, isn’t it? The family and its reputation? You don’t care about…” She helplessly cast about for the right word. “About people!” she concluded lamely.
“I do care about people,” he countered.
“But only if those people happen to carry the Knight name!”
She didn’t know what point she was trying to make, nor did she care. All she wanted was to give vent to the frustration she was feeling, for whatever reason.
has to care about the family.” Stuart’s lips tightened into a grim line. “Since all you care about is Geoffrey and making a total spectacle of yourself.”
“No, I don’t!” she heard herself cry out desperately.
“You could have fooled me,” he meted out tersely.
Stuart was right, of course. If given the opportunity she would have flung herself into Geoffrey’s arms. She had loved him all through her adolescence, after all. She had dedicated countless diary entries to her roseate dreams of him, and the future they would be building together once he saw how great they were together. How perfect for each other. But then why did all of that seem like such a distant memory all of a sudden? Why hadn’t the news that Geoffrey was fathering a child with another woman rock her world and bring tears to her eyes and sorrow to her heart? She shook her head, thoroughly confused, and closed her eyes forcefully, trying to conjure up the trusted and comfortable imagery of herself in Geoffrey’s arms, her lips stirred by Geoffrey’s, his arms pressing her to his chest, her face nuzzling his shoulder while he whispered sweet nothings into her ear, declaring his everlasting love for her. Alarmingly, her mind kept exchanging Geoffrey’s cheerful face by Stuart’s stern features, Geoffrey’s teddy bear frame by her cousin’s hard-bodied embrace and Geoffrey’s full-lipped kisses by the intrusion of Stuart’s passionately thrusting tongue.
It was obvious that Stuart’s nearness and sexual availability was causing her body to confuse sexual arousal with love and her heart’s compass to go haywire!
When she opened her eyes, Stuart was leaning over to the driver to give him some final instructions, and she couldn’t help but be drawn to the smattering of body hair noticeably on display at the open collar of his shirt. Unlike the kind of metrosexual man who was so much in fashion these days, Stuart obviously didn’t believe in shaving his chest but rather preferred to keep things natural.
She couldn’t remember Geoffrey ever displaying the kind of body hair Stuart did. As far as she’d been able to ascertain in the past her true love’s chest was both bare and, if she was absolutely honest, quite unattractive, as he lacked the hard musculature Stuart obviously possessed, Geoffrey being of the more cherubic variety. Pink and chubby, not darkly toned and rock-hard, like Stuart.
She shook herself once again. This sudden sexual obsession with her cousin must come to an end, she admonished herself. All it was was his undeniable pure raw sexual charisma. The aura of danger that he carried like a lethal weapon, evident in the flinty-eyed gaze of his remarkable golden eyes whenever they locked in on hers. All of this was affecting her powerfully—nothing more!
As the car zoomed along the road lining the coastline, she could see the green-blue of the Mediterranean reflecting the blindingly bright sunlight, the tourists milling along the boardwalk, palm trees swaying gently in the breeze while large and luxurious hotels rose up on the other side of the road. Far from eliciting thoughts of enjoying a leisurely holiday far away from home, however, the scenery only served to emphasize the dilemma she was facing as she was going to spend her time here working side by side with Stuart.
The car had pulled to a stop in front of the hotel where they were staying, and as she stepped out and looked up at the graceful lines of the carved limestone facade, she was glad that very soon now she would be granted a brief respite from Stuart’s presence by spending some time alone in her room.
irsty had just dumped
her overnight bag on the bed—a rather large double bed, she was glad to note—and was hesitating whether to take a shower now or step out onto the balcony to take in the view first, when a knock sounded on the door and before she had a chance to respond it swung open and an irate-looking Stuart entered, rolling in his own travel trolley.
Her eyes widened in shock as he growled, “There’s been a mistake in the booking. Looks like we’ll be sharing this room.” He then directed a pointed look at the bed, and added, “And the bed, I’m afraid.”
Kirsty’s heart lurched violently at the thought of sharing a room—and a bed—with her cousin. In horror or pleasure? a nasty little voice questioned. She stomped on the little voice and announced, “That’s quite out of the question, Stuart. We can’t be sharing the same room, or bed—just the idea is simply—” She threw up her hands in exasperation. “—inappropriate!” she finally managed.
He quirked a sardonic brow. “Look who’s talking. Miss Please-come-up-to-my-room-so-I-can-give-you-a-kiss. You weren’t so concerned with what is or is not appropriate then, if I recall correctly.”
“That was different,” she huffed out, twin streaks of crimson slashed across her cheekbones at the memory of that kiss, and the one at the office yesterday. She pointed to the bed. “What will people think? They’ll think we’re…”
She simply couldn’t bring herself to utter the word, and was mortified when Stuart supplied, “Lovers? Why? Does the prospect appeal to you?”
appeal to me! It’s just that it would look highly unprofessional.”
“You and I being lovers or people thinking we are?” he questioned, giving her a hard, probing look.
“Both,” she managed as she tried not to follow up on the imagery those words elicited. She and Stuart
. Stuart making to love to her—pressing her down on the bed, the sheets soft and cool against her bare skin, his hot lips laving her peaked nipples, his hand trailing along her thighs. “It’s simply out of the question,” she blurted out, well aware that her cheeks were now so tainted with scarlet she must present the token image of the blushing virgin.
Stuart shrugged. “Can’t be helped. The hotel is booked solid and this is the only room left.” He gestured to the bed. “Look, the bed is big enough for the both of us. And I promise I won’t endanger your precious virginity, all right? I know you’re saving it up for that very special someone.” Those last words were laced with a generous helping of sarcasm.
The blush spread, and her bosom heaved at the implications of his statement. “I’m not saving my… my virginity for Geoffrey, if that’s what you mean.”
He gave her a dubious grin. “Oh, no? That’s not what I heard.”
“I don’t know what you heard but I can assure you that it’s a vicious lie.”
“What? The fact that you held onto your sacred state of virginity or that you’re so eager to offer it to Geoffrey for his personal consummation?”
He should stop goading her, Stuart knew, but he simply couldn’t help himself. For one thing, the mere thought of another man laying claim to her now sent rivulets of pure jealousy coursing through his veins, no matter how much he tried to stop it. And for another, the thought of him being her first, the one who would introduce her to a world of exquisite pleasure, made his body snap at attention and turned his hardening flesh into a painful experience.
He saw that before he’d entered the room she’d popped a few more buttons of her blouse, preparatory to taking a shower, and the generous swell of her breasts was on visible display. It was all he could do not to tear that pathetic excuse of a garment from her body and cup the fullness of her breasts in his large hands before sucking the darkened tips into his mouth to nibble and suckle, lave and explore.
“I never considered my… my virginity something special,” she snapped, making his eyes travel upward from her breasts to her face—that lovely, lovely face. “The opportunity to… to alter my state simply never presented itself.”
Alter her state. Now that was a nice way of describing the act of making love, he thought grimly. “Don’t play coy with me, cousin,” he growled, his voice hoarse with suppressed desire now that they were alone. “You were saving yourself for Geoffrey, and now that he’s chosen not to take advantage of your particular proposal, you’re at wit’s end.”
“Quite the opposite,” she countered, defiantly raising her chin. “I’m very happy for Geoffrey. He’s a dear friend, and all I care about is his happiness.”
He merely shook his head at this, not deeming it worthy of a response. She was so full of it. For the next few minutes they both unpacked their luggage, each naturally gravitating to a different side of the bed as if they actually were lovers.
“I’ll take a shower first, if you don’t mind,” Kirsty announced haughtily.
“Go ahead,” he grunted, testing the bed by lowering his large frame onto it and staring after her sashaying bottom as she retreated into the bathroom. After one last glance over her shoulder, she closed the door, and he stretched out on the bed, his arms beneath his head. What the hell was he getting himself into? He had no particular feelings for Kirsty, certainly he didn’t love her. So why were they fighting like an old couple? And why did the prospect of sleeping in the same bed almost make him feel giddy?
This idea he’d had on the plane about making her his bride kept churning in his mind. It was the perfect solution to a complicated problem. Grandpa had insisted his three grandsons marry sensibly—not taking any chances with the family name and fortune, and here was a bride who fit the bill perfectly. And what was more, there was no love lost between them, which prevented all the awkwardness and potential trouble love brought to a relationship.
Furthermore, it was obvious there was a certain sexual compatibility between them, a certain chemistry they shared, so making love to her would not be a hardship, either for him or for her. And she would make an excellent bride. She fit his grandfather’s description to a T. She’d been born into the same family, courtesy of her mother, so she would never do anything to harm their interests. She was kind and intelligent and definitely not a gold digger or attention-seeker. And above all they’d known each other for ages, so there would be no nasty surprises down the road. Perhaps they might even grow to respect and care for each other, Kirsty gradually accepting her role in this union.
He had to admit that when he’d looked into her personnel file he’d been pleasantly surprised. She was a hard worker and an excellent and dedicated student. Not only was her grade average pretty damn impressive but she’d shown herself a fast learner, extremely sociable and likable, and had a knack for the business that had impressed even her immediate supervisor and colleagues.
Now all he needed to do was ease her into accepting his proposal, which shouldn’t prove too hard. His face suddenly grim, he knew that his methods might be deemed unorthodox, but the situation was an unusual one. And hadn’t the rich and powerful always resorted to just such a way to handle the tricky matter of matrimony and succession?
And as the sound of the shower elicited images of Kirsty’s naked body subjected to the spray of hot water and his burgeoning erection turned granite, he made up his mind. He would take Kirsty’s virginity tonight and make her his. It was a sacrifice they both would have to make for the sake of the family. Just why the prospect filled him with such longing and furious desire he didn’t know. But he vowed not to let it distract him from honoring his grandfather’s final wish.
Standing under the biting spray of the shower, Kirsty wondered how she would survive this weekend. Once again her mind was drifting back to explicit images of Stuart ravaging her body—his hands all over her while she welcomed him to having his way with her. Was it true what he had said? That she’d saved herself for Geoffrey? Of course it was. Not only had she saved her first kiss for Geoffrey—she’d saved her virginity for him as well. But for some reason that kiss with Stuart had changed all that. It now felt as if all that came before had been nothing but a girlish dream, which Stuart had brusquely shattered into a million pieces by giving her a taste of what loving a man could really be like.
Loving a man? But she didn’t love Stuart, did she? Of course not!
The hot spray hit her face and she felt the soapy suds drift down the valley between her breasts, past her belly button and down along the triangle of her sex, softly bedewed with reddish curls. She imagined Stuart’s hand down there, splaying the outer lips of her sex and dipping his fingers into the wet heat within, his mouth hot on her breast while his thumb grazed her clitoris and sent electric currents dancing up her spine, suddenly eliciting powerful and unexpected starbursts of sensation thudding through the heart of her sex, her core spasming violently. When finally she turned off the tap she was trembling.
Stuart might have been the one she’d always been a little scared of growing up, but she had to confess that it was exactly this brooding, dark quality that elicited the most powerful surge of pleasure she’d ever experienced. Was this what orgasm felt like? What it felt like to be with the man you loved? No, not loved, she quickly corrected herself. She could never love Stuart. He was too much of an ogre for that. And as she slipped into her clothes she had to laugh at herself for even contemplating loving Stuart. He was not a man women loved—he was the kind of man women lusted after, and that was exactly what was happening to her now. The dark and dangerous quality he possessed was exactly what had driven her over the edge in the shower just now. Secretly, she hoped to experience the same sensation brought about by the skillful touch of her cousin.