Authors: Caroline Anderson
He was standing in her kitchen. He'd shed the jacket and left the bow-tie dangling when he'd undone the first three buttons of his shirt, so she could just see a tantalising glimpse of his broad, muscular chest, and he looked amazing.
Warm and relaxed and just so damn sexy she was going to make a fool of herself.
âIs this the wine you were talking about?'
âDo you see another one?'
He grinned. âI didn't know if you had a secret stash.'
âNo secret stash. I know I seem to have done nothing else since you moved in, but I don't really drink. Occasionally I like a glass after a particularly long day, so I keep a bottle in stock. You've obviously just caught me in a weak moment.' Why was she justifying herself? âHere, you can earn your keep and open it.'
She passed him two wineglasses and rummaged in a cupboard for crisps.
âSour cream and spring onion or sea salt and cracked pepper?' she asked, waggling the packets at him.
âWhatever. You choose.'
âWell, I like both, that's why I bought them.'
They headed through to the sitting room, and she put on some soft bluesy music, turned the lights down low and sat beside him on her sofa, the crisps between them and their feet propped side by side on the coffee-table.
âTell me about Dan,' he said, munching the crisps, and she rolled her head towards him and smiled.
âDan's lovely. He's been a bit of a wild childâhe's mixed race, and his father didn't want to know and his teenage mother's family were horrified to have a coloured child thrust into their white middle-England midst and kicked them out, so he didn't really belong, and he went off the rails a bitâstealing cars, joy-riding, that sort of thing. Mum and Dad sorted him out, though, and he's been to uni and he's a motoring journalist now. He's doing well, but his self-esteem is still a bit shaky and so he doesn't expect his relationships to work. He's always surprised when people like him.'
James frowned. âThat's tough. I really would have thought in this day and age it wouldn't make any difference what your ethnic background was.'
âAnd you think I'm naÃ¯ve?' she teased, and pushed the crisps towards him. âCome on, eat up or I'm going to have to finish them and then I'll be like a house.'
âYeah, right. I can see that happening.' He shifted a little so he was facing her, and she could feel his eyes on her like lasers. She felt instantly self-conscious, and had to stop herself forcibly from tugging at the top of her dress.
âLook at me like that.'
âLike what?' He sounded surprised.
âLikeâI don't know. Like you're studying an insect.'
He laughed. âActually, I was just looking at you. I find it's easier to talk to people when I can see them. And, anyway, I like looking at you. You're beautiful.'
She felt herself colour. That was the second time he'd said it tonight, and it made her feel vaguely uncomfortable. âHardly,' she replied. âI mean, I know the dress is lovely, but it's just me.' She shrugged, and he just shook his head slowly.
âWhat's wrong? Why can't you take a compliment, Kate?'
She forced herself to meet his eyes. âI canâwhen it isn't a blatant lie.'
âIt's not a lie.'
âJames, I'm not beautiful. I may be reasonably attractive, butâ'
âKate, you're beautiful. Believe me.'
Could she? He sounded sincere enough, but he hadn't seenâ
âDo you know why I was in hospital?' she said abruptly.
âNo, but I'm guessing it was something to do with the scar on your ribs?'
She sucked in her breath and met his eyes, shocked. âHow do you know?'
He looked a little awkward. âThe changing-room door was open. I glanced up. I wasn't spying, I justâ¦saw you.'
âOh, God.' She closed her eyes and turned her head away, colour flooding her cheeks. She felt a flicker of guilt, because she'd sneaked another peek at him, but it had never occurred to her that he'd do the same. âI didn't realizeâ¦'
âTell me about it,' he prompted gently. âWhat happened? Was it something to do with Jon?'
âJon? Good grief, no. He's a pompous ass but he's not violent. No, a patient lashed out at me and kicked me in the ribs. One of them punctured my lung and nicked the pulmonary vein. It was pretty exciting for a while, I gather.'
âFor heaven's sake! How hard did he kick you?'
âHard. He had steel toecaps on. I was called down to A and E to examine him because he'd got a query appendix. I poked him, and he didn't like itâespecially when I told him there was nothing wrong with him.'
âOh, absolutely. I should have been more careful.'
âNot you! Him!'
âOh.' Funny, she'd got so used to thinking it was her faultâand was that Jon's fault?âthat she'd lost sight of the simple truth. âYes, I suppose he was an idiot. But it scared me. And I hate the dark now.'
âWhat's the dark got to do with it?'
âWell, that's where it happenedâin the car park. He followed me when I left work.'
âYou weren't still examining him?'
âNo, there was nothing wrong with him so I'd got rid of him ages before. He was just trying to skive off work, and I made him look a fool. So he hung around waiting for me and left me lying on the ground in the car park. Luckily someone came along shortly afterwards, otherwise I would have died. And all Jon could say was that it was my own fault, he'd told me I worked stupid hours and if I'd been at home where I belonged it wouldn't have happened. He'd had to cancel an important dinner and it had cost him thousands in lost contracts.'
âAll this, while you were lying in bed in hospital?'
She nodded. âI told him to go awayâtold him if his stupid contracts were more important than me then I didn't want to see him again. He took all my things round to my parents' and left them there on the porch, and that was it. Finish. The end of my marriage.'
âYou're better off without him.'
âOh, tell me about it. It's not all bad, though. He's paid for this.' She waved a hand at the room and dredged up a smile. âThe conversion work, anyway. Both sides. I had it done for the family, as a thank you, and at the moment I'm living here. I've got another house, butâ¦'
She sighed. âI just don't like going back there in the dark, so I rent it out. And I've been fine here, mostly, butâwell, Pete Graham brought it all back a bit.'
âI'm sure. You should have said something. I would have made sure you didn't have to deal with him.'
âJames, it's not a problem, I can handle it.'
âOf course you can, but if you don't have to, why should you? And, anyway, what's all this got to do with whether or not you can take a compliment?'
She looked away. âWellâyou've seen the scar. It doesn't exactly enhance me.'
âI disagree,' he said softly. âIt adds another layer to the complex person I'm getting to knowâand it certainly doesn't detract from you.'
âOf course not. Why should it? Has it put anybody else off?'
She couldn't look at him. âI wouldn't know. I haven't been in a situation where the subject might arise.'
He stared at her. âWhat? Butâthat's not a recent scar.'
âThree years oldânearly four.'
âAndâ¦' He frowned, then shook his head. âYou're unreal.'
The music came to an end, and he stood up and went and rummaged through her CDs. âChoose what you like,' she told him, wondering what he'd go for, and to her surprise he put on an album of love songs that she'd bought in a lonely moment, and came back to her and held out his hand, his eyes unreadable in the soft lighting.
âDance with me,' he murmured.
Her heart lurched. âReally? Here?'
âWhy not?' he asked softly. âIt's better here. Nobody can see us.'
Because it was crazy, and silly, and so, so dangerous. If she touched him, she'd be lost. But she'd been dying to dance with him again, and he was just there, looking so damn sexy she couldn't resist him. And he didn't care about her scarâ¦
She took his hand, let him pull her to her feet and moved into his arms, resting her head on his shoulder and feeling the fine, soft cotton of his shirt under her cheek. Her nose was close to his throat, and she could smell the clean citrus tang of his aftershave and the undercurrent of his own personal scent, warm and intoxicating. She rested her hands against his sides, her fingers splayed against his ribs, and she felt his breath ease out, teasing her hair, warm against her ear.
âYou smell wonderful,' he murmured, nuzzling her cheek, his voice low and gruff and incredibly sexy.
She felt the brush of his thighs, the shift of his ribcage under her fingers, the heat of his hands against her waist, and then they slid down, cupping her bottom and easing her closer, and she felt heat pool low down in her body at the intimate contact.
She lifted her head a fraction and his jaw grazed her forehead, the stubble just rough enough to excite. The touch of his lips was warm and gentle, coaxing as they glided over her skin, down her nose, across her cheek, then back again, drifting over her mouth, backwards and forwards, until finally they settled.
Her lips parted, and with a muffled sigh he lifted his hands and tunnelled his fingers through her hair, holding her steady as he deepened the kiss and took her mouth with a hunger that both terrified and excited her.
been kissed like this, as if he'd die without her, and it was shocking and wonderful and incredibly potent. She lifted a hand to his jaw, loving the feel of it, smooth and yet rough against her palm, driving her higher. She needed more than this, needed to kiss him back, neededâ¦
Sliding her hand around the back of his neck, she pulled him down harder against her, opening her mouth to the full onslaught of his.
It was like putting a match to tinder. One of his hands slid down, cupping her bottom and lifting her hard against him, and she gasped at the shockingly intimate contact of her body with his. She could feel his response, knew what it was doing to him, what it was doing to her, also, and her resistance crumbled.
What resistance? She didn't
to resist. She wanted Jamesâhere, now, no questions asked. She needed him.
She'd die without him.
He drew away, lifting his head a fraction and resting his forehead against hers while his chest rose and fell against hers and his breath was hot against her face.
âKate, this is getting out of hand,' he said raggedly.
âYou'd better stop me now.'
He groaned softly, then lifted his head a little more and stared down into her eyes. âAre you sure? We can't undo this later.'
âDo you want to?'
âNo. Hell, no. I want to take you upstairs to your room and make love to every single square inch of you.'
Delicious promise shivered over her, leaving her strung tight with anticipation, and she stared up into his eyes, his pupils black, rimmed with blue fire. His lips were parted, his face taut, and she could feel his self-control making his body tremble under her hands.
She slid her hand down his arm, threaded her fingers through his and led him up the stairs to her room.
She didn't turn on the light, but the moon was full and the light poured through the roof window and streamed across the bed, silvering everything it touched.
She turned to him, freeing the buttons of his shirt one by one, taking out the cufflinks and throwing them aside, then running her hands slowly over his chest, his shoulders, his arms, back down to the bottom of his ribcage, turning her hands over so her knuckles grazed his skin and made him suck in his breath.
Suddenly brave, her eyes locked with his and she let her fingers explore him, finding the catch on his trousers and freeing it, sliding the zip down slowly, so slowly, while he held his breath and stared back at her with those mesmerising, fiery eyes.
The backs of her fingers brushed the thick, solid ridge of his erection, and he exhaled sharply and took her hands and lifted them away.
âEnough,' he grated. âPlease. I need to see you.'
His arms went round her, his fingers searching while she waited impatiently, unable to think about anything except being close to him. âHow the hell do I get into this?' he growled, and she remembered.