Authors: Janice Maynard
Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance, #Contemporary Romance
Seconds passed, perhaps minutes. Who knew? Her brain was fogged by afterglow. Even embarrassment couldn’t intrude at that moment.
Larkin’s voice rumbled in her ear. “You’re amazing, Winifred Bellamy. Hot as a firecracker and so damned sexy you make my brain mush and another part of me hard as a steel spike.”
“No one else has ever thought I was sexy.” The truth spilled from her mouth uncensored.
He toyed with her swollen sex, sending little aftershocks throughout her body. “Then you’ve been hanging around with the wrong kind of men.”
That sobered her. She wriggled away from him and straightened her clothing. The thin open-weave sweater that matched the color of her skirt was suddenly far too hot. “Not the wrong kind of men,” she clarified carefully. “Just no men at all.”
His poleaxed expression made her wince. “You’re a vir—”
“Not technically,” she rushed to reassure him. “But you’re going to be disappointed if you think I know the
or really anything about how to please you. I don’t. I can’t. I should have said something sooner, but this whatever it is between us caught me off guard. Really, it’s better if we stop this now.”
“I should agree with you. I’m breaking rules right and left when it comes to you being a client.” The dark look had returned to his face. “You make me question things I thought were carved in stone.” He took her hand and placed it over his erection that throbbed, unmistakably hard and thick, through his cotton sleep pants. “But
is because of you, sweetheart. So I guess I’m saying to hell with my high-and-mighty principles. And I assure you, I’m not going to walk away just because you’re inexperienced. I’ll admit…I’ve never been with a woman who didn’t know the ropes. But I guess that makes us even. Everything between you and me will be new territory.”
“There is no
” Winnie said, feeling desperation clog her throat at his deliberate incomprehension. “You have to forget this idea. We’re only going to be on Wolff Mountain together two or three nights. You said so yourself. It would be unbearable if we started something and it blew up in our face.”
“Starting something with you is all I can think about.”
Oh, God. Her cheeks flamed. “Don’t you see? Even talking about sex is foreign to me. You’re gorgeous and charming and I’m sure you have a little black book with names under every letter of the alphabet. I can’t compete with that. Please forget we ever kissed.”
“I can’t.” He said it simply, but with emphasis. “The kind of sexual tension and arousal that sparks every time we’re in the same room together isn’t some random occurrence. It’s real. And powerful. I need to walk away. But I can’t. At least not yet. You’re stuck with me this weekend, Winnie. ’Cause you’re to blame for the mess I’ve made of my famous
rules for living.
Sooner or later, you’re going to be beneath me on soft sheets screaming my name when I make love to you until we both pass out.”
She stared at him openmouthed. The picture he painted made her yearn for something she would never have, even if she gave in and agreed to be his lover. When the two of them became intimate…and she was ruefully aware that the timing was
…Larkin would become her whole world. Even if she told herself she could be Bad Winnie and fool around with him just for kicks, the truth was, she would probably fall in love and he would break her heart. Because as he had made perfectly clear on more than one occasion, he was not a marrying man.
She wanted someone who loved her desperately. Many of the women in her care lied to themselves repeatedly, telling themselves that their men could change. If Winnie let herself believe in a future with Larkin, she would be making the same foolish mistake.
It was one thing to decide to enjoy a momentary liaison. And maybe she would if she had the courage. But to expect anything more would be akin to asking the moon to warm her like the sun. Larkin, though he might take her to the stars with his lovemaking, was no warmer than the moon. He was wonderful to look at, but like that silvery orb in the midnight sky, remote and impossible to reach when it came to true intimacy.
“I think we’ll have to agree to disagree,” she said primly, trying to ignore the butterflies in her stomach.
arkin had never been in such a position. Only Winnie’s inexperience kept the situation from being worse. He was a wreck. Sheer determination kept him upright, but he was perilously close to seducing her despite her objections.
Hot arousal pounded through his veins. His sex was swollen, and Winnie had no clue how desperate he really was. That fact alone was enough to make him put on the brakes in consternation. How could this quirky, artless female reduce him to such a state?
Larkin Wolff was one cool customer when it came to women. He never let his lust lead him down the garden path. Sex was great. And he wanted it. Often. But not enough to let any woman convince him he needed to be housebroken. Commitment to a woman meant personal responsibility, and he’d had enough of that to last a lifetime. Devlyn and Annalise were happy. Despite the fact that he had failed them repeatedly. Only his mother’s untimely death had saved them all. So how could he contemplate making the sweet, generous, heartbreakingly vulnerable Winnie part of his life?
She wasn’t the kind of woman to settle for meaningless sex. And if he couldn’t promise her forever, what else did he have to offer? It was possible, given Winnie’s physical reactions, that she might be okay with temporary if he gave her time to get used to the idea. He had promised to take her to bed. In spite of his better judgment, he was not going to be able to resist doing just that.
He studied her broodingly as he poured himself another cup of coffee and tried to pretend that she hadn’t just rocked his world. She was dressed to play the part of an heiress today. Expensive but understated clothing…her long untamed locks forced into a socially acceptable style.
He far preferred the crazy hair, denim overall shorts and bare feet. That Winnie made him behave. This sultry, amped-up Winnie made him sweat. Both of them made him crazy.
The sound of the front door opening indicated Mrs. Cross’s arrival. Winnie’s wide-eyed panic might have amused him if he hadn’t resented the interruption. “Come on,” he said. He tugged her arm until she followed him out the far door of the kitchen and into the little corridor that led to the back staircase. Pulling his coconspirator with him, he moved quickly up to the second floor.
They stopped in front of his door. “I want you,” he muttered, ready to drag her inside and show her how a man persuaded a woman.
Winnie’s perfectly oval face with its high forehead and freckled cheekbones paled to the color of skim milk. “You’ll get over it.”
“Damn it, girl. Why do you have to be so stubborn?” He rested his forehead against hers, hands gripping her narrow shoulders.
“Think this through,” she begged. She petted him with both hands as if he were a cranky toddler. “It’s too quick, too ridiculous. I wish I could blame it on the full moon, but I’m confident that in no time at all you’ll see we’re doing the right thing by resisting whatever it is. I’m meeting your family this weekend…attending a birthday party. No matter how I respond to you or you to me, we shouldn’t let this go any further. We can’t be skulking around having naughty tête-à-têtes.”
He swallowed his irritation and held her close, soothing himself with her presence, even as he felt the ache in his loins remain fierce and rampant. Maybe she was right. But he wasn’t convinced. And he was no longer thinking clearly. “I’m not making any promises,” he said.
She broke free of his loose hold and took three steps toward her room, hands clasped at her breast like a Victorian heroine who had narrowly escaped being ravished. “It’s like the flu,” she said. “You have to tough it out. I’m not irresistible, I promise.”
He saw in her face that she was speaking the unvarnished truth. Or at least the truth as she knew it. Her lack of confidence in her femininity troubled him. When it came to her life’s work, she was assertive…bold. And he had no doubt that she would fight to the death for the emotionally and physically damaged women and children in her protection.
But why could she not see how much he desired her, how beautiful she was, how special?
He cleared his throat, surprised to find it clogged with emotion. “What time is it?” He hadn’t put on his watch earlier, hadn’t even showered yet, for that matter.
“I told the pilot we’d be at the airport by ten-thirty. Can we still make it?”
“I asked my father to send the Wolff jet to pick us up. It’s quicker and more pleasant than flying commercially, and frankly, I don’t think I can be closed up in a car with you right now for several hours. Not when there’s a good chance I’d pull off the road and have sex with you in the backseat.”
“You’re exaggerating,” she said, her voice faint.
“I sure as hell am not. You don’t know how close you came to having me take you standing up. That would have shocked poor old Mrs. Cross, now wouldn’t it?”
“No one really does that, do they? Except in the movies?”
Her painful naïveté found a cynical spot deep inside him and softened it, made him want to smile despite his physical distress. “Meet me downstairs in twenty minutes,” he said quietly, actually looking forward to this trip home. “I’ll have the driver come up for your bags.”
Winnie shifted her weight from one leg to the other. And she was barefoot. Again. “I mean it,” she said, her pointed chin aimed at him in a stubborn tilt.
“You wouldn’t enjoy it.”
“Whatever helps you sleep at night,” he said, taunting her gently, but realizing ruefully that she had him twisted in knots. “I’ve got plans for you, Winnie. So be forewarned.” Perhaps he was warning himself, as well, because the consequences of deviating from his personal code were impossible to anticipate and likely to bring chaos and turmoil.
Even so, he had to have her.
* * *
Winnie brushed her teeth and threw her last-minute personal items into her bag. Her hands shook so badly that she dropped and broke a vial of expensive French perfume.
The fragrance was exotic, alluring…everything she was not. It was a gift last Christmas from her contact at the social services agency. Winnie had thought to take it with her to Wolff Mountain. Now it was ruined. Avoiding the glass, she touched her fingertips in the pale liquid and dabbed behind her ears and between her breasts.
The bit that remained in the bottle she put in a drawer. Perhaps it wouldn’t evaporate before she got back. The air around her was heavy with the evocative scent. Suddenly, she flashed to an image of Larkin taking her here in the bathroom, their bodies slick with sweat.
On shaky legs she walked back into the bedroom and retrieved her purse. She needed to say goodbye to Mrs. Cross and see if she had any last-minute questions. Leaving her door open so Larkin would know it was okay to get her bags, she walked downstairs.
He came through the front door just as she reached the foyer. His eyes widened when he saw her shoes. She had purchased a pair of taupe “big-girl” pumps with three-inch heels. The added height made her feel reckless. Larkin’s eyes glazed over as he ran his gaze from her feet, up her legs, to her breasts.
Hot color flooded her face and neck. “I’ll be in the kitchen,” she said, turning away from him so she could breathe.
“The driver’s here.”
“I won’t be long.”
“What about your sub?”
“My friend will arrive in a little while, but we don’t need to wait. She and Mrs. Cross have held down the fort for me before when I’ve had to be away.” She fled just as the uniformed chauffeur entered, the man following Larkin upstairs for the luggage.
By the time she returned, Larkin stood impatiently at the front door. “Come on,” he said. “We don’t want to be late.”
The limo was a deliberate choice. Larkin and Winnie wanted anyone watching to buy the story about Winnie heading to St. Barts. The driver had left the privacy window down. Larkin didn’t ask for it to be raised. Consequently, conversation was minimal as they headed toward the airport just outside of Nashville.
It was just as well. Winnie couldn’t think of a single conversational topic that would be innocuous enough to blot out the memory of what had transpired in the kitchen that morning. Larkin sprawled in his corner, his expression inscrutable, his gaze trained on the passing scenery. When it became painfully apparent that he was ignoring her, she checked messages on her phone, sent Mrs. Cross one last text about next week’s grocery order and then mimicked Larkin’s posture.
She had never flown on a private jet. When her parents were still living, the year she turned fourteen, they took her on one memorable family vacation…a ten-day tour of the Greek Isles. The airline tickets were first class, of course, but the flights, though very enjoyable, were nothing like the Wolff family jet.
The pilot greeted her pleasantly, and a single attendant seated her and offered beverages. Winnie felt like an interloper, especially when Larkin sat up front with the pilot and copilot. Eventually, she fell asleep.
When she awoke from her nap, they were circling to land at Charlottesville. Winnie had read that the Wolff property was tucked away on a mountaintop in the wilds of central Virginia. But she had no idea how long the trip from the airport would take. A second uniformed driver met the plane, transferred their luggage and offered box lunches he had picked up on the way.
Winnie was impressed. Larkin seemed to have every detail under control. After she finished her fancy sandwich, she dabbed her lips and glanced sideways at her companion. She had questions, a lot of them, but again, the presence of the driver kept her silent.
After an hour and forty-five minutes, when it was clear that their destination couldn’t be too much farther, she finally broke her silence. “What will be expected of us tonight?”
Larkin drummed his fingers on the armrest. “Nothing more than a family dinner. Tomorrow I’ll take you exploring. And we might be roped into decorating if it’s not supposed to rain overnight. The party is Saturday at two.”
“Apparently so. My sister always was a risk-taker. The forecast calls for blue skies and upper seventies.”
“She must be delighted.”
“I’m sure it never occurred to Annalise that the outcome could be otherwise. She tends to charge full steam ahead.”
“You love her.”
His lips twisted in a faint smile. “I love all my family, but yes…Annalise is special. How she survived growing up in a house full of men, I’ll never understand.”
“And her husband?”
“Sam? He’s been a family friend since we were kids. His father was the architect who designed Wolff Castle.”
“Do you really call it that?”
He laughed. “We never intended to, but the locals began referring to it that way, and the name stuck.”
Winnie kept the conversation going more for a distraction than anything else. As they reached the base of the mountain and waited for the massive gate to swing open, her nerves tightened. “So how did Sam and Annalise get together?”
“If you want to know what I think, I believe they’ve both had a thing for each other a long, long time. But they’re both stubborn, Annalise even more than Sam. So it took getting snowed in during a blizzard for them to admit they had fallen in love.”
“That is so romantic.”
Larkin snorted. “Oh, it is. When they’re not trying to kill each other.”
“I thought you said they were in love.”
“I did. But when you love a Wolff, life’s not always easy.”
Winnie looked out her window at the dense foliage, oddly disturbed by the tone in Larkin’s voice. She wasn’t in danger of falling in love with him, was she? Certainly not when he had made his feelings so plain.
Larkin was in lust with her. She was fairly certain his obsession would fade when they got amid his family. He would be too busy to pursue her. “When was the last time you were home?”
“Christmas, for a long visit. And a two-night stay right after my little nephew was born. I had to see him in the flesh to actually believe my rowdy sister could grow up to be a mom.”
“She sounds like quite a woman.”
“So are you.” He stared at her, his gaze intent. “Outwardly, you and Annalise are nothing alike. But you both have a take-no-prisoners attitude when it comes to causes you care about. I think you’ll like her.”
After a winding journey that must have covered at least two miles, the car pulled up into a flagstone portico and stopped. It was markedly cooler on the mountaintop than down in the valley, and Winnie shivered briefly as the wind danced around them when they stepped out of the car.
The house where Larkin had grown up was monstrous in size and yet somehow appealing. It did indeed appear castlelike. Nestled in a clearing amid a forest of mixed hardwoods and evergreens, the behemoth of a structure looked as if it had been part of the mountain for centuries. But she knew the tragedy that drove the elder Wolff brothers to hide their children from society had occurred only a few decades ago. “C’mon,” Larkin said. “I’ll introduce you to the clan if anyone is around.”
As it turned out, only the head housekeeper was there to greet them. Larkin’s three cousins had houses of their own on the mountain, as did Annalise. And Devlyn and his wife, Gillian, weren’t arriving from Atlanta for another couple of hours.
In the magnificent foyer, Winnie surveyed her surroundings with interest while the housekeeper pulled Larkin aside for a private word. Moments later the older woman led the way upstairs, leaving Larkin and Winnie to follow in her wake.
Winnie tugged on his hand, making him bend to hear her whisper. “What did she say to you?”
Larkin paused on a step, mischief lighting his eyes and taking years from his face. “She asked me if you would be sleeping in my bedroom.”