Authors: Michelle Douglas
Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #General
A tentative excitement wrestled with her apprehension. One moment, joy held sway. In the next, anxiety had gained the upper hand. An unplanned pregnancy? She gulped. It sounded so irresponsible. Irresponsible people shouldn’t be allowed to raise children.
She hugged her handbag. No. She hadn’t been irresponsible. She and Alex had taken precautions. It was just that sometimes—obviously—accidents happened.
She frowned over that word—
. Her baby wasn’t an accident. It was lovely—a miracle.
Alex wouldn’t think their baby lovely. He’d definitely think it was an accident—a mistake. She closed her eyes. It was pointless telling herself now that she was through with thinking about Alex. They were having a baby. That changed everything.
“Packed with a smoldering tension
and underlying passion,
THE LONER’S GUARDED HEART by
Michelle Douglas will leave readers wanting
more…. [It] is a keeper that I will treasure.
If you are a reader that loves tender heartfelt
stories then this book is a must buy because it
has all these elements and so much more.”
“Michelle Douglas makes an outstanding
debut with HIS CHRISTMAS ANGEL,
a complex, richly emotional story. The
characters are handled especially well, as are
the many conflicts and relationships.
This one’s a keeper.”
—RT Book Reviews
At the age of eight,
was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. She answered, “A writer.” Years later, she read an article about romance writing and thought,
Ooh, that’ll be fun.
She was right. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found with her nose buried in a book. She is currently enrolled in an English master’s program for the sole purpose of indulging her reading and writing habits further. She lives in a leafy suburb of Newcastle, on Australia’s east coast, with her own romantic hero—husband, Greg, who is the inspiration behind all her happy endings. Michelle would love you to visit her at her website, www.michelle-douglas.com.
CHRISTMAS AT CANDLEBARK FARM
THE CATTLEMAN, THE BABY AND ME
To my grandparents,
Bunny and Beryl Snaddon,
with love and thanks for all those
wonderful summer holidays!
intercom on Kit’s desk buzzed and instantly her heart hammered up into her throat.
‘If you’d come through now, Ms Mercer.’
Kit’s toes curled at the rich black-coffee voice. Her heart lurched back into her chest to thump out a loud tattoo. When she leant forward to depress a button, her finger was surprisingly steady given what was happening to the rest of her body. ‘Certainly, sir.’
Her finger might be steady but the huskiness of her voice was more Marilyn Monroe than sensible, strait-laced secretary. It should appall her, belying as it did her attempts to match her employer’s professional formality, but it didn’t. His formality made her lips twitch.
That formality delighted her; energized her.
She seized her shorthand pad and tried to stop herself from racing straight into his office. Cool. Calm. Collected. Her smile widened. No hope of that whatsoever!
Still, she paused at the door to smooth a hand down her skirt. Adjusted her shirt. Undid her top button. Her fingers lingered at her throat, remembering…
Heat rose up through her. Anticipation fired along each and every one of her nerve endings.
She did her best to dispel the images that rose up through her. She didn’t want to appear like a trembly, needy teenager in the throes of her first crush. She wanted to look like a woman in control, like a woman who knew what she wanted. She wanted to look seductive.
She bit her lip to rein in a smile. What she wanted was for Alex to take one look at her, grin that sexy grin of his and take her in his arms. Kiss her. To sweep the polished surface of his enormous desk clear and make love to her.
Her legs grew languid, her breasts pushed against the crisp cotton of her shirt. She gulped in a steadying breath.
Alex had indicated how he wanted to play this. And last night had proved just how well she and Alex played together. She smiled again. She couldn’t seem to stop smiling. They’d play it Alex’s way this morning. Tonight they’d—
No. There’d be plenty of time to think about that later.
She lifted a hand to check her neat, businesslike bun and then, swallowing back her excitement, she pushed through the door, chin held high. ‘Good morning, sir.’ She made her voice brisk.
‘Take a seat, Ms Mercer.’ He nodded to her shorthand pad. ‘You won’t need that.’
She placed it on the desk in front of her then very carefully folded her hands together in her lap and waited for a cue. She loved that oh-so-serious look on his face, couldn’t wait until he said something sexy and husky in that masculine burr of his. She couldn’t wait to take the pins from her hair, to shake it out till it fell around her shoulders in a newly washed cloud, and to then walk around this enormous desk of his. No, not walk—sashay. She’d sashay slowly around to him like the siren she was starting to think she was.
The siren she’d become in his arms.
Once she was face to face with him she’d slide up to sit on his desk. She’d cross one leg over the other, making sure the action hitched up her skirt to reveal the silky tops of her stockings, held in place by a lacy suspender belt the colour of coffee cream. Then she’d undo the buttons on her blouse, her fingers lingering over each one, until she’d revealed breasts practically spilling out of the tiniest wisp of lace imaginable in matching coffee cream.
And she wanted to watch his face while she did it.
She zeroed in on his face now, holding her breath and waiting for her cue, aching to play out that fantasy. His lips opened, lean and firm, and the breath hitched in her throat. Thick, hot yearning tumbled through her.
This man was all she’d ever dreamed of and more. Last night had revealed that to her in undeniable glory. They’d moved together with an accord that had been more than physical. Last night had been the most wonderful night of her life. When Alex’s passion and gentleness and generosity as a lover had touched her soul.
Words emerged from those lean lips of his. Kit relished their black-coffee timbre, savoured their resonance, and drew in deep breaths of his dark malt scent. She’d caught a trace of that scent on her sheets this morning. She’d placed those sheets in the washing machine with a faint sense of regret before she’d left for work. She’d cheered herself with the thought that it’d take more than laundry powder and water to wash those memories away. Of course, there were all those new memories they’d make too and—
The staccato whip of Alex’s voice hauled her out of her thoughts. It hit her then that she’d been so busy relishing and savouring that she hadn’t taken in a single word he’d said. ‘I’m sorry.’ She glanced down the length of her nose at him in as cheeky a fashion as she dared. ‘I was a million miles away.’
It took an effort of will to hold back her smile.
He let out a breath and glared. She blinked and sat back with a frown. What on earth had she missed? Had something gone awry with the Dawson deal? The deal Alex had been chasing for the last eight months. The deal that they’d clinched and then in their elation…
He leant forward and his glare intensified. ‘Do I have your full attention?’
She swallowed. ‘Yes.’
‘I was saying that what happened last night was unfortunate and regrettable.’
Each word was clipped out with precision. Short, sharp, unmistakable. Barbs, bayonets, slashing at her. Kit flinched and half lifted an arm as if to ward them off.
His mouth grew straighter, grimmer. ‘I’m sure you agree.’
Unfortunate? Regrettable? Her stomach tumbled in sudden confusion. How could he say that? Last night had been wonderful.
‘I beg your pardon?’ She prayed he wouldn’t repeat it. She prayed she’d heard him wrong.
He held her gaze. Unlike her, he didn’t flinch. He looked cold, hard…alien. ‘This time I believe you heard what I said. And that you understand exactly what I mean.’
The room spun. She gripped the edge of her chair and hung on tight, praying her sense of balance would return and halt this sensation of endless freefall.
A denial sprang to her lips as the room and Alex swam back into her line of sight.
He was wrong!
She released her iron grip on her chair. ‘Let me get this right.’ Her hands trembled. Perspiration gathered beneath the collar of her shirt, beneath the underwire of her bra. ‘You’re saying you wish last night never happened?’ The perfectly monitored air-conditioned air chilled the skin at her throat, at her nape, of her bare-but-for-nylons legs. She resisted the urge to chafe her arms. ‘That you…
‘That’s exactly what I’m saying.’
She stared into his face—cold, hard, the face of a stranger—and greyness leached in at the edges of her consciousness, swamping her joy, blanketing her in a thick fog that her mind struggled to think through.
The air conditioning chilled a layer of ice around her heart, numbed her brain and robbed her eyes and mouth of all natural moisture. She’d never realized before how much she hated air conditioning.
Beyond Alex, through the floor-to-ceiling plate-glass window, morning light glinted off the white sails of the Sydney Opera House with an absurd gaiety that was reflected in a thousand different points of light in the water of the harbour.
How had she read this man, this situation, so wrong? She lifted her hands to massage her temples. She wasn’t some doe-eyed schoolgirl easily seduced.
No hot-blooded woman would deny Alex’s all-male magnetism, and last night she had most definitely been hot-blooded.
But not doe-eyed!
A demon of panic clawed at her throat.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to end.
He couldn’t deny this connection that existed between them.
She dragged her gaze from the sight of the harbour, alive with yachts and ferries, to the man on the other side of the desk. He leaned towards her and she forgot to breathe. What would he do if she leaned across the table too and pressed her lips to his? She’d bet her bottom dollar it’d drive the deep freeze from his eyes.
He jerked back, folded his arms. His face became even more stony and unreadable. ‘It can never happen again.’ He must’ve registered her shock because he added, ‘Not that I’m denying it was enjoyable, pleasurable.’
His eyes darkened, as if in memory of the amazing things they’d done together last night, and everything inside her clenched.
‘Nevertheless, it cannot happen again.’
‘Why not?’ The question slipped out of her like the air from a slowly deflating party balloon. She knew it wasn’t what he’d wanted her to say. She hitched up her chin. Why shouldn’t she ask? It wasn’t as if she had anything to lose.
Except a good job.
Well, okay, it was a great job.
And maybe some pride.
She pushed her shoulders back. Who gave two hoots about pride at a time like this? And good jobs were a dime a dozen to someone with her qualifications. ‘Why not?’ she repeated, louder this time.
‘Because you’re the best damn secretary I’ve ever had!’ He slammed his hand down on the desk, the force half spinning him in his chair. He glared at the wall to her left. ‘And I don’t want to ruin a great working relationship by sleeping with you.’
Why were men so afraid to call it making love? She stared at him, willing him to meet her eye, silently urging him to unsay his words and to put this right. When he didn’t she said, ‘From memory, there wasn’t much sleeping involved.’
She cleared her throat and leaned towards him. ‘And, for the record, I don’t think it was unfortunate and I certainly don’t regret it.’
All his square-jawed, broad-shouldered, tight-buttocked masculinity could take that!
One of his superb shoulders shifted, its power barely disguised by the impeccable cut of his suit. She recalled the feel of the firm flesh of those shoulders beneath her fingertips, the crisp whorls of hair on his chest, and her mouth went dry. She recalled the silky hardness of him and her body’s delight at his touch with a clarity that made her insides tremble. She would never forget her soul’s delight at a night of lovemaking that had blown her apart and put her back together again both at the same time.
He pushed out of his chair. ‘It can’t happen again.’
Oh, yes, it could. And so,
He shoved his hands into his pockets and pinned her to the spot with his dark, frigid eyes. ‘And it won’t happen again, Katherine, because I don’t do long-term, I don’t do marriage and babies, and I certainly don’t do happy families.’
He’d called her Kit last night, not Katherine.
‘And if I continue to sleep with you you’re going to eventually realize I’m telling you the truth and that you can’t change me. Then you’ll get hurt and angry, there’ll be ugly scenes and recriminations and then you’ll up and leave without giving me so much as a week’s notice.’
It took a moment for the actuality of his words to sink in. When they did, her jaw slackened. He had to be joking, right? These couldn’t be his actual thought processes.
His dark hair glinted almost black to the Opera House’s white. She stared at him and her stomach billowed with an inexplicable emptiness as the scales finally fell from her eyes. For the last eleven months she’d been in love with a lump of rock.
Alex Hallam was a lump of rock.
Not something light and porous like limestone either, but something hard and impenetrable. Like granite.