Authors: Abby Green
She reflected to herself that she’d never consciously set out to favour less feminine apparel, but the fact was she didn’t own anything remotely
, and not even one dress.
She looked at other women sometimes and something very secret inside her envied their easy femininity—the way they revelled in it and celebrated it. Hers had been locked away for so long now that she didn’t know if she could ever explore it again.
Her one concession to her hidden femininity was her love of opulent perfumes. The more heady and sensual the better …
Luc’s caustic comment that she might be gay mocked her. Some of Jesse’s closest colleagues were gay, and in truth she envied them their confidence and freedom of expression, even if she didn’t share their preferences.
She put down the dishcloth and absently touched her short hair, which she could see reflected more clearly in the window as it got darker outside. Inexplicably she thought of something she hadn’t remembered in years: her first foster mother and her scathing voice.
‘Nits. Disgusting thing you’re bringing into my house. Your hair is far too long as it is. Don’t know how it hasn’t been cut before now. You’re just lucky I worked in a hairdresser’s, my girl. We’ll soon have the lot off and those little buggers gone …’
The woman had been oblivious to Jesse’s tears as her almost waist length fair locks had fallen away to the floor. Jesse’s mother had had the same glorious hair, and since she’d died Jesse had got used to sleeping at night with a skein of her own hair wrapped around her hand. It had given her a comforting sense that her mother was still there.
The same foster parent had given the few dresses Jesse had owned to her own daughter, who’d been a little younger, declaring,
‘You won’t be needing those any more …’
But she hadn’t minded so much about the dresses. They had come from her father—leftovers of the few occasions when he had displayed anything remotely resembling patriarchal awareness. He would arrive and bestow some lavishly decorated box on Jesse before telling her to clear off while he locked himself and her mother into her mother’s bedroom.
Since that day in the foster home when she’d been so brutally shorn she’d never let her hair grow long. She’d felt so nakedly vulnerable that day that she’d vowed never to let anyone be able to do such a thing to her again … and she’d controlled that by insisting on regular haircuts, sometimes cutting it herself if she had to.
Jesse tried to rationalise that perhaps she was in this strange reflective mood now because of the day’s stressful events, but she realised that she didn’t have to fear such a scenario ever again. Of course she’d known that for a long time, but keeping her hair short had become a deeply ingrained habit. A kind of armour.
A very fleeting thrill of excitement surged in her belly at the thought that she could possibly let her hair grow … and then she caught the wistful expression on her own face and grimaced at her reflection before turning back into the kitchen—only to come face to face with a half-naked Luc Sanchis.
He was standing there watching her, and she went hot at the thought of him observing her so silently. He wore only a small white towel slung around very lean hips. A vast expanse of tautly muscled bronzed chest was in her eyeline, along with a very masculine dusting of dark hair.
Personally Jesse had never found the clean-chested look very enticing, and in response she could feel her nipples tightening into hard little buds. Broad shoulders drew her eyes upwards
until she had to look into that ruggedly beautiful face. It was impassive. Not mocking, as she’d feared, after what had felt like her far too leisurely appraisal.
‘I heard you taking a swim earlier.’
Jesse took a second to register his words. And then she nodded, slightly suspicious of this very sanguine Luc Sanchis. ‘Yes … the pool is just through the French doors and down the garden. The other side of the bushes. There’s a pool house stocked with robes and bathing suits.’
‘Ah …’ Luc folded his arms across that chest, making his muscles bunch. ‘I did notice that in your kind kitting out of my
there weren’t any swimsuits. It doesn’t matter, though. I prefer swimming naked. That is … if you think the owners wouldn’t mind?’
A tide of heat swept up over Jesse’s neck and throat at that image, but she managed to get out a garbled-sounding, ‘No, I don’t think so. The pool is cleaned regularly anyway. But, like I said, there are suits in the pool house.’
Luc had moved so that he was standing in the open doorway which led out to the fragrant night and the garden. Now Jesse had a full view of him from head to toe, and all she could see was that eye-wateringly small towel—which she feared might drop at any moment. Even though it was in her peripheral vision she noticed the very virile bulge of his manhood against the fabric, pushing it out. And she didn’t doubt for a second that this was him
He drawled, ‘I think I’d still prefer to go naked.’
And with that he sauntered off into the gloom, with the moonlight casting long silvery shadows over everything.
Jesse blinked when she saw the lights come on around the pool and pool house. She could just make out the tall figure of Luc, and the flash of white as something was dropped or whipped away. And then there was a splash.
With a strangled sound Jesse whirled around and all but ran
from the kitchen up to her room. She closed the door firmly behind her and breathed deep, aghast at how fast her heart was beating.
was this man above all others affecting her like this? This was the least appropriate time for her to be feeling her hormones surge. She’d never needed her cool armour more than right now, to get through these next days and ensure the final demise of her father.
She’d blushed more since meeting Luc Sanchis than she’d ever blushed in her entire life. Even when she’d been intimate before she’d never felt this constant level of heat in her system, as if she had a kind of fever. She touched her forehead, but contrary to the rest of her, which felt as if it were burning up, it was cool. Betrayed by her own body. She hated it.
She pushed herself off the door and went to her securely locked case. Safe in the knowledge that she could still hear the faint splashes of Luc swimming, she opened the case and took out her phone, switching it on. Within minutes she’d dealt with some e-mails and had been informed that there were already headlines proclaiming that Luc Sanchis had backed out of his deal with JP O’Brien.
Jesse sent up silent thanks for the mole on O’Brien’s staff who was giving her information. It was a disgruntled employee—a woman who had been sexually harassed by O’Brien but was too scared to jeopardise her job by coming out about it. Jesse had promised her that along with all of O’Brien’s employees, apart from his close associates, she would be looked after when his business failed.
She switched off the device again and put it away securely. She took a deep breath. She couldn’t hear the splashing any more. Luc Sanchis could be anywhere. But Jesse knew that as soon as he went near the perimeter fence, if he had half a mind to try to escape, all hell would break loose. She could rest easy and not care where he was so long as that didn’t happen.
When she went into her bathroom, to shower before bed,
she tried not to notice the glitter in her eyes or her flushed cheeks, which told of something far more dangerous than satisfaction that her plan was working. And when she was naked under the teeming spray of her shower she tried desperately not to imagine Luc Sanchis as he might look now, after his swim, with water running in rivulets down those hard muscles …
Luc stood at the side of the pool, a large towel in one hand, letting the water drip from his naked body. The cool night air didn’t bother him, even though his skin was in goosebumps, because he wasn’t feeling cold. He was feeling quite hot.
A scowl marred his features momentarily, because he couldn’t seem to bring his wayward body to heel. He looked down, almost bemused at the sight of his arousal which sprang rebelliously from his recalcitrant body.
He’d expected to go down to the kitchen and taunt Little Miss Uptight a bit. He hadn’t expected that her blushes and obvious discomfiture would turn him on to the point where a cool dip in the pool had been entirely too necessary and annoyingly ineffective.
She’d looked all too appealing, standing there in bare feet and tight jeans, with a loose top half falling off one shoulder, exposing a very staid white bra strap. And her scent … that maddeningly inappropriate scent for one so uptight … had enflamed him even more. Making him think of an exotic harem scene, where she would be lying naked on a sumptuous divan.
In his fantasy she had long hair, spilling over her shoulders, tantalisingly touching small breasts which he imagined had nipples like hard berries, pink and ripe on his mouth and tongue …
Emitting a growl of frustration at finding himself thinking of
again, and not his predicament, Luc roughly rubbed the towel over his body and sent up silent thanks when his
libido finally seemed to do as it was told. He slung the larger towel around his waist and turned off lights before striding back up the garden.
The villa’s kitchen was still bathed in light, but he knew she was gone and, sure enough, when he glanced up he saw a light switch off in one of the rooms down from his.
He smiled grimly at the thought that Jesse Moriarty’s crimes were mounting by the minute. The latest one being making Luc desire her.
The following morning Jesse was grouchy after a night of broken sleep. Even though she was well used to insomnia. She hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep for years, and it was in the small morning hours that she did her best work—even coming up with the anti-hacking software that had made her name. She was most relaxed when surrounded by quiet and darkness, such a far cry from her chaotic upbringing.
She cursed loudly as black smoke billowed out of the toaster and the kitchen’s smoke alarm went off. Scrambling to try to eject the toast, she vaguely heard,
‘What the hell?’
before she sensed a large presence by her side. And then she was being summarily lifted out of the way, so that Luc could flick out the charred toast far more dextrously than she’d been doing.
Even through the acrid smell of burning his own scent, clean and lemony, hit her nostrils and caused an immediate physical reaction. She lurched back further and took him in. He was now flicking a tea towel at the alarm, which was no bother to him considering his height. The T-shirt he was wearing pulled upwards, exposing a sliver of taut belly with that tantalising line of dark hair leading down under the jeans he was wearing. His bare feet, with their strong bones and hair-sprinkled toes, made Jesse’s own feet curl into the tiled floor.
And then suddenly the alarm stopped, leaving the residue
of an echo in their ears as they adjusted to the silence again. A bird twittered innocuously outside.
Jesse gulped and looked up at Luc, who was quirking a brow and looking down at her with the offending toast held between thumb and forefinger.
‘I didn’t think it was actually possible to burn toast in a toaster. Obviously you’re more proficient at computer programs and kidnapping.’
Jesse scowled at being reminded of the fact that in this area she failed miserably, and grabbed the toast out of his hand. She wasn’t going to admit weakness in front of him now, and she slapped it down on a plate and took it over to the table, where a steaming cup of coffee awaited her.
‘I don’t have a sophisticated palate. I happen to like burnt toast.’ She slathered spread on it defiantly, her stomach already protesting at the thought of eating it.
She took a bite and looked at Luc, who shrugged minutely as if already bored with her little performance. He said laconically, ‘Forgive me if I don’t join you—I prefer my food a little less
She struggled to chew the burnt bread and watched as Luc busied himself pulling ingredients from the fridge. Eggs; salmon; milk … Then she continued to watch as he whistled tunelessly and prepared himself a delicious-looking breakfast of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. All evidence was pointing to the fact that at least Luc wouldn’t starve while on the island.
Seriously bemused to see this side of such a man, Jesse said faintly, ‘There’s some coffee in the pot.’
Luc grimaced slightly, and she watched as he took a sniff and then poured it down the sink before preparing a fresh one.
‘No offence, but it would appear as if your coffee-making skills are in the same class as your toast-making skills.’
Inexplicably this made a dart of hurt lance Jesse. She’d
got so used to eating out of cartons or heating up ready-made meals for one that she hated to think of it as pointing to a lack in her life. A lack of something earthy and feminine. It made her think of her mother and how she’d used to love cooking up Irish stews and feeding them to her daughter, along with tales of growing up in the countryside in Ireland …
Before Jesse could get up and escape Luc came over to the table with his own breakfast and freshly brewed coffee, sitting down. Curiously she felt the urge to stay put, not to escape.
His breakfast mocked her. The scrambled eggs looked so fluffy she could imagine they tasted as light as air, and along with the strips of smoked salmon … Her mouth watered. And then the scent of fresh coffee hit her stomach and it rumbled.
Mortified, she knew her wish that Luc hadn’t heard it hadn’t been granted when he glanced up. He said, ‘Help yourself to coffee, if you like … and there’s eggs and salmon left over.’
Rigid with embarrassment, Jesse fought down the softening feeling inside and said caustically, ‘I’m sure you don’t really want to share food with your captor.’
Luc merely shrugged in a very Gallic way and said in between mouthfuls of food, ‘I’m making the best of a bad situation. And I think if I can be pleasant then you certainly can. I’m the one here under duress, not you.’
Jesse felt ashamed, but bit back the words of apology on her lips. Unbelievably the man who wanted to save her father—one of the most corrupt men on the planet—was managing to make
feel in the wrong.