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Christmas Eve Wedding
By Penny Jordan
Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Copyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA little hesitantly Jaz pressed the button for the lift to take her to her hotel bedroom. She was alone in the dimly lit foyer apart from the man who was also waiting for the lift. Tall, broad-shouldered, and subtly exuding an aura of very male sexual energy. Being alone with him sent a frisson of dangerous nervous excitement skittering over her skin.
Had he moved just that little bit closer to her whilst they waited, blocking her exit and hiding her from the view of anyone walking past the lift bay so that only he knew she was there, or was she imagining it? Like she had "imagined" that look he had just given her body ... her breasts ...
And had he noticed the treacherous reaction of her body to his sexually predatory glance? The taut peaking of her breasts, the sudden soft gasp of her indrawn breath. Could he tell that recklessly she was in danger of actually becoming physically excited, not just by his presence but also by her own thoughts?
There was an awesome sexuality about him that made her tremble inside with arousal and guilt.
Was it possible he guessed what she was thinking? Was that why he had moved closer to her?
Colouring up self-consciously, Jaz looked away from him, determined to focus her thoughts elsewhere. She pondered on what had brought her to this hotel in New Orleans in the first place.
On the other side of the city her godfather would be going through the final details of the sale of his exclusive and innovative English department store to the American family who had been so eager to buy it, to add to their own equally prestigious and larger chain of American stores. They needed the store to give them an entrée into the British market.
She knew that her own job as the store's display coordinator and window designer was totally secure, but it had been a struggle for her, and a test of her determination and resolve to prove herself and succeed in her chosen career.
Her parents, loving and caring though they most certainly were, had initially been shocked and disbelieving when their only child had been unable to share their commitment to the farm she'd grown up on, and had instead insisted on making her own way in the world.
They had been very reluctant to accept her decision to go to art college, and Jaz knew that it was really thanks to the intervention of her godfather, Uncle John, that her parents had finally taken her seriously. Thanks to him too that she now had the wonderful job she did have.
It was no secret that her parents still harboured the hope that she would fall in love with someone who shared their own lifestyle and ambitions, but Jaz was fiercely determined never to fall in love with a man who could not understand and did not share her feelings. She felt that the right to express the artistic side of her nature had been hard-won, and because of that it was doubly precious to her. She was ambitious for her talent, for its expression, and for the freedom to use it to its maximum capacity, and she knew how impossible that would be if she were to marry a man like her father, kind, loving and generous though he was.
To further validate her ability she had recently been head-hunted by a top London store, but she had chosen to remain loyal to her godfather and to the unique and acclaimed store which had originally been begun by his grandfather.
Now in his late seventies, her godfather had been for some time looking for a worthy successor who would nurture the store's prestigious profile, and although at first he had been dubious about selling out to new owners on the other side of the Atlantic, a visit to New Orleans to see the way the Dubois family ran their business - a trip on which he had invited Jaz to go with him - had convinced him that they shared his own objectives and standards. Since he had no direct heirs to pass the business onto, he had decided that the best way to preserve the traditions of the store was to sell it to the like-minded Dubois family, a decision Jaz herself fully endorsed.
As the lift arrived and the doors slid open Jaz's thoughts were snapped back into the present. She couldn't help snatching an indiscreet look at the man waiting to step into it with her, her heart bumping against her ribs as she acknowledged the buzz of sexual excitement she had felt the moment she had seen him. Was it the fact that she was out of her own environment, a stranger in a different country, that was encouraging her to behave so recklessly? Or was it something about the man himself that was making her touch the tip of her tongue to her lips as she stared boldly at him, her female senses registering his sexy maleness?
Just the thought of being alone in the lift with him was filling her mind with all manner of forbidden erotic scenarios. A wanton inspection of his body verified just how completely male he was. A soft, dangerous lick of excitement ran over her as her senses reacted to the way he was looking at her, silently responding to the fact that she had looked at him for just that little bit too long, challenging him in a way that was wholly female to show her that he was equally wholly male.
"Seen something you like, hon?" he asked her as the lift door closed, trapping Jaz inside the intimate space with him.
Apprehension curled feather-soft down her spine. She knew that what she was doing was totally out of character, but for some reason she didn't care. There was something about him that brought the secret ache deep within her body to a wire-sharp intensity that could not be ignored.
Refusing to back down, she met his amused look head-on, tossing her head as she replied huskily, "I might have done." She had been warned before her visit that New Orleans was home to a very dangerous type of sexually attractive man - men who never refused to gamble against fate or to take up a challenge. And she held her breath now, wondering how he would respond. She couldn't resist glancing into the mirrored wall to her side to take another peek at him.
His shirt was unbuttoned at the throat, exposing an exciting "V" of male flesh. Impulsively she took a step towards him. She wondered how it would feel to caress that flesh with her lips, to taste and tease it until he had no option but to reach for her and -
She could feel her body melting with arousal. Everything about him tormented her senses in ways she had never imagined. Just looking at him made her want him. She could feel her face burning, her heart racing at the explicitness of her own thoughts and fantasies. She felt shocked by them.
Her heart thumping, she continued to study him. Over six foot, with very thick rich brown hair just touched with honey-gold where the fierce heat of the sun had lightened it. In the close confines of the lift she could smell the cool expensive tang of his skin. Everything about him looked expensive. From his clothes and his haircut to his elegantly discreet watch. Everything apart from his hands which for some reason, whilst immaculately clean, were slightly callused. Her stomach lifted and clenched with female excitement at the thought of those hands, so tellingly male, pressed against the soft femininity of her own skin.
She had started to breathe too fast, betrayingly fast, she recognised as his glance locked on her mouth.
"Go ahead," she heard him urging her shockingly. "Go ahead, hon, and do what you want to do. And you do want to, don't you?" he guessed, his voice dropping until it was a low sexy murmur, as rawly sensual as though he had actually caressed the most sensitive parts of her body with the rough male heat of his tongue.
Somehow she had actually put one hand against his chest!
Excerpted from Christmas Eve Wedding by Penny Jordan
Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.