The Billionaire's Ruthless Intrusion (Billionaire Knights Book 1) (8 page)

Chapter 14

G
eoffrey was holding
his engagement party in the same club he usually favored, coincidentally the club where Stuart had given him a stern talking-to about Kirsty. Stuart stood leaning against the bar and watched the cheerful moves of the crowd with a kindling eye. Ever since he’d been in the service he’d developed a dim view of a world where people could simply have fun without thinking of the men and women who protected their freedom at the cost of their own lives. He knew he’d always been the serious one, and the object of much mirth amongst his own brothers for his dour demeanor, and since his tours of duty his outlook on life had only darkened. He found his gaze drawn to Kirsty as she flitted across the dance floor. She was like an angel lighting up the place, he thought, and his heart lurched as she directed a glance in his direction.

She was dressed in the kind of strapless peach ruffle dress that became her so well, the diaphanous material and youthful design accentuating her sweet and cheerful disposition, her feet clad in colorful sneakers. Her shoulders were bare, and the swell of her breasts clearly visible. The heat of the club had covered her pale skin with a thin sheen of sweat, and she looked positively radiant, not to mention sexy as hell. He felt the now customary slow burn of need in his gut, his flesh hardening the moment he’d laid eyes on her in that outfit, and it wasn’t helping that her lips were applied with lip gloss that made her luscious mouth even more kissable than it already was. Memories of the night they’d made love came back to haunt him in full force as he watched her gyrate on the dance floor.

Geoffrey and Giselle had announced that drinks were on the house, and the crowd of friends and family they’d invited were enjoying the gift thoroughly.

He sensed before he saw the presence of his two brothers as they joined him.

“She’s a sight for sore eyes, isn’t she?” Steve asked in a mocking tone.

“Don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” he grunted.

“Yeah, she’s something else, all right,” Mike intoned, giving him a slap on the back. If they hadn’t been surrounded by a crowd of onlookers, he would have retaliated by taking his brother in a headlock and wrestling him to the floor.

Even though his brothers were about the same height and build he was, Mike was the only one who hadn’t joined the military, being selected to stay in London to shepherd the company while Stuart and Steve went off to fight. That didn’t mean Mike couldn’t hold his own in a fight. Far from it. In fact they were probably equals when it came to physical prowess and fighting skills, as all three had gone through military training preparatory to their father’s tragic accident.

“I heard she tamed Caroline?” Steve asked, a more serious note in his voice.

“She did,” Stuart acknowledged. “She made her see the light.”

“It will cost us, though,” Mike said with a grimace.

“Less than if we’d been forced to sell,” Stuart countered.

They gazed at Kirsty, who must have felt the three brothers give her the appreciative eye, for she turned and waved at them. Her smile went straight to Stuart’s head and he groaned, which had both his brothers in stitches. No sense in denying what couldn’t be denied now. He lusted after this woman like he’d never lusted after anyone before. He wanted her so bad, in fact, that it was all he could do not to close the distance between them and take her into his arms, his mouth devouring hers and his body aligning with hers in the kind of primal, raw mating ritual he had in mind.

“You’ve got it bad, haven’t you, bro?” Mike asked.

“Simply lust,” he told his brother stoically. “If you’d gone to Iraq instead of staying home to have fun with the ladies you’d know what I’m talking about.”

This time Mike did take him in a headlock, and before long the fight had them both wrestling on the floor in the kind of tussle they’d grown up with. It didn’t take him long to turn the tables on his brother, though, fury for the erroneous submission that he was in love with Kirsty fueling his actions. And then he saw the horror that was taking place on the dance floor. As he pushed Mike’s face against the floor, he saw from the corner of his eye that Kirsty was dancing with Geoffrey! Rage hit him like a sledgehammer, obliterating every last vestige of common sense. He was up and racing for the dance floor before Mike or Steve could stop him, murder in his eyes and unmitigated fury turning his body into the lethal weapon the military had trained him for.

Kirsty hadn’t noticed the dust-up at the bar. Geoffrey had approached her the moment the slow song had come on and had swept her off her feet before she could object.

“Hey, little girl,” he breathed huskily in her ear, his face suddenly too close for comfort, the smell of alcohol and sweat hitting her nostrils.

For a moment she was dazzled by his attention, for this was what she’d always wanted, wasn’t it? Geoffrey holding her close, crushing her breasts against his chest, his hands sneaking down to her buttocks, his lips grazing her cheek. This had been her girlish dream for years and years, the object of her desire finally taking notice of her. And yet she couldn’t bring herself to feel the exhilaration she’d always anticipated when her dream finally came true. She told herself that it was because his fiancée was dancing not ten feet away, her arms around her father-in-law. But she knew that wasn’t it. Now that they were body to body, she felt… nothing. Not the thrill of excitement, not the slow burn of heat or the sweeping wildfire of desire. All she felt was a slight resentment that the man would be dancing with her so lasciviously, looking at her so desirously, while his fiancée was in the same room with him. What was he thinking?

“I’ve wanted to do this for so long,” he croaked in her ear.

“Do what?” she asked.

And then he was kissing her. Not the hot and passionate kiss Stuart had given her back in Nice but a sloppy wet kiss that tasted of liquor. The only sensation it elicited in her was a sense of repulsion and disgust!

He released her to drawl, “You’re the one that got away, you know. Time to settle the score!”

“What score?” she asked, horrified he seemed to consider her a prize.

“Just ask Stuart,” he announced mysteriously, and then he was gone, abruptly stepping away and leaving her reeling. And she would have fallen if it weren’t for two strong arms holding her upright and then she saw that it was Stuart.

“What the hell were you thinking?!” he cried viciously, and then he was half dragging, half carrying her away from the dance floor. The lights and the people were a blur as tears pricked behind her eyes and all she was aware of were his fingers biting into her arm. The cold was like an icy shower when they finally exited the club through the back door and they were out on the street. The balmy weather had given way to a light drizzle and with it a marked chill.

“What were you thinking?!” he repeated, dragging his hand through his hair.

“I—I wasn’t—”

“Exactly!” He rounded on her. “You couldn’t wait to kiss him, could you?!”

She was starting to recover now, and the injustice of his words stung, compelling her to retort, “I didn’t kiss him—he kissed me!”

“Right—of course. Why don’t I believe you?!” he scoffed, pacing the asphalt of the narrow back alley. Then he rammed the palm of his hand into the metal dumpster positioned next to the exit. The cover clanged shut and she jerked up, not in fear—with Stuart there was never fear, she suddenly realized, for she knew he would never, ever hurt her. She was shocked that he would react so fiercely, so passionately to the kiss she’d shared with Geoffrey. Because Stuart cared deeply and passionately about his family’s reputation, she told herself. That was the only reason he was stalking up and down the alley like a caged tiger, darting furious looks in her direction, his eyes burning, his lips a thin line.

“I told you to stay away from that guy!” he repeated.

Something Geoffrey had said now came back to her. And she frowned. “Did you tell him that, Stuart?” she asked, the tremor in her voice betraying her sudden fierceness. “Did you tell him to leave me alone?”

He didn’t respond but merely glared at her, and that was all she needed to know. A fresh stab of hurt slashed through her. Not only didn’t Stuart want her like she wanted him—he’d been telling Geoffrey to steer clear of her.

“When? When did you tell him?”

He shrugged. “Does it matter? He’s not the right man for you, Kirsty.”

Her response was fueled by a sharp sense of betrayal, mixed with the despair that Stuart didn’t care about her. “You had no right! You knew that I loved him!”

He eyed her darkly, his scowl deepening and his jaw working.

In a sudden flash of emotion she raced at him, pounding her fists against his chest, her eyes flooding with tears. “You had no right to ruin my life!” she cried, and she meant every word. He’d slept with her, then discarded her like a piece of debris. “I hate you!” she exclaimed, spending all her rage and frustration pummeling his chest. He merely stood there without retaliating, gazing down at her with… compassion? Regret? No, that was impossible. Men like Stuart Knight didn’t feel regret. Finally she walked away, staggering back into the club with head bowed, allowing her tears to freely stream down her face. Not only had Stuart driven Geoffrey away from her when they’d still had a chance, but then he’d brutally taken possession of her most cherished possession—the gift she’d intended to give to Geoffrey: her virginity, and had discarded her as if it meant nothing to him. As if she meant nothing to him.

She was dimly aware that people were staring at her but she didn’t care. She staggered through the club, and finally reached the cloakroom. Gathering her coat and clutch she wiped the tears from her eyes and walked out the front door. The moment she stepped out into the street, she forced herself to raise her chin.

The Stuart Knights of this world might try to bring her down but she wouldn’t let them! she vowed fiercely. But as she was riding a taxi home, she suddenly felt so nauseous she had to ask the driver to pull over, and as she heaved, she knew that Stuart hadn’t merely taken her virginity, but her heart as well. Yes, her heart, she finally admitted as she lay back against the seat while the car moved away from the curb. She loved Stuart. Loved him, dammit. When and how it had happened she didn’t know. After they’d made love? Or when he’d complimented her after their visit to Caroline and told her he couldn’t have done this without her? But there was no point in denying it now. Somewhere along the way she’d fallen for Stuart and had allowed him to break her heart.

Stuart watched Kirsty stagger back into the club and had to fight the urge to go after her and drag her back outside and tell her… Tell her what? Tell her that he’d warned off Geoffrey for her own good? Or for the good of the family? She was right, he knew. He’d ruined her life so he could save the family’s reputation.

No, he told himself viciously. He’d told Geoffrey to back off because he would have taken her to bed and then kicked her out again when he’d had his bit of fun. Geoffrey would have destroyed her. He would have turned her into a hollow shell of the playful, cheerful young woman she was and whom he’d grown to love… Love? Of course not. He didn’t love Kirsty. He lusted after her, wanted her so much it hurt. And in that sense, he admitted grudgingly, he wasn’t any better than Geoffrey. He’d also used her to satisfy his sexual urges and had then kicked her out of his life. He’d done to her what he’d vowed he wouldn’t allow Geoffrey to do! Christ, he groaned as he gave that dumpster another vicious kick. Time to remove himself from her life as well, before he hurt her any more than he already had. Time to finally set her free…

Chapter 15

K
irsty arrived
at work early the next day, her head held high. She might have cried herself to sleep the night before, but when she’d woken up that morning she’d vowed to put all of the stuff that had happened out of her mind and move on. She would forget all about Geoffrey—and how easy it was to forget him now—and Stuart…

With a sigh she realized that forgetting about Stuart would be a whole lot harder than Geoffrey. Ever since the realization had hit her that she loved him, she knew that she wouldn’t escape this torment without some scars on her heart.

She’d ridden the Tube to work, as she did most mornings, and all the while had tried to steel herself for the upcoming confrontation with Stuart. She would simply pretend like nothing had happened, she’d decided. They’d had a fearful row but that would be the end of it. Stuart had behaved abominably, but he’d done so for the sake of the family, which was something she could forgive him.

He’d behaved abominably in Nice as well, but she needed to put that behind her. How many men and women didn’t sleep together just for the fun of it? And never once were their hearts involved. Sex was, she was beginning to discover, not connected to love. Stuart had physically lusted after her, and the fact that her heart had become involved wasn’t his fault, so she couldn’t blame him for something that was essentially her mistake. She should have never fallen for the wrong man, a man who didn’t want her in his life.

She stepped into the office and headed for the small space Stuart had assigned her. Previously Jenny’s domain, his former PA, it was conveniently adjacent to Stuart’s office. It offered a view of London and the Thames, which was quite an improvement to the desk she’d occupied in the secretarial pool.

She was surprised to find a bouquet of flowers on her desk, a small envelope attached. Frowning, she picked it up, smelling the fresh blooms with an exalted air, her heart lifting. Would Stuart have bought her these in a bid to make amends? His way of showing her how sorry he was about that terrible row?

With trembling fingers she picked up the cream-colored envelope and extracted the card. As the words registered, her legs gave way and she dropped down on her chair, her heart lurching violently and painfully in her chest.

‘I feel it is no longer permissible for me to inconvenience you by keeping you in your current position,’ the words read, written in Stuart’s hand. ‘So I’ve taken the liberty to transfer you to our sales office in Islington. You will report to Miss Danish, who will teach you the ropes. My deepest apologies—Stuart.’

The note dropped from her lifeless fingers. She closed her eyes as the first tears started burning. She’d opted to leave the past behind, and so, apparently, had Stuart. So why did she suddenly feel so forlorn, as if someone had ripped a hole in her heart and now she was left with nothing but this aching emptiness?

Automatically she began packing up her meager belongings in a small cardboard box. She looked at the closed door to Stuart’s office. Would he be in? Should she knock and enter and ask him… Ask him what, exactly? Not to send her away? She had more pride than that. Besides, did she really want to remain in his employ? Working side by side with him every day? As tears fell down on the picture of her mum and dad she’d had framed and occupying the prime spot on her desk, she knew that Stuart had made the right decision. This would be much easier for the both of them. Well, certainly for her, of course. This way she could wean herself off the man who was now occupying her every waking and sleeping moment. The man who’d stolen her heart and was holding it captive…

In his office Stuart heard Kirsty rummaging around in the next room, and wondered if perhaps he shouldn’t go out there and talk to her—tell her… tell her that it had taken his last ounce of willpower to take this decision? That this was, after all, the best thing for her: that she was now free to pursue any man she wanted. The mere thought of another man touching her, kissing her, making love to her filled him with such anguish he almost yanked open the door and swept her into his arms, his lips crashing down on hers as he staked his claim the way he’d wanted to do since…

With a vicious sweep of the hand he vowed that this line of thinking would lead him nowhere good. He heard the door close in the next room and knew she was gone. Not gone from his life, obviously, as he would still see her occasionally at office parties or family gatherings, but at least gone from his inner circle.

Why, then, didn’t he feel more elated? Why did he feel such a crushing sense of loss and defeat? Almost the same way he’d felt when news of his father’s death had arrived, or the news that his grandfather was dying and wished to see his grandsons one last time?

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