Read an Excerpt
'Oh. My. God,' Laura muttered, her fingers tightening around her binoculars and her breath hitching in her throat at the sight that met her eyes.
Her heart skipped a beat and her entire body flushed with a heat that had nothing to do with the warmth of the early summer sun and everything to do with the view.
Because, wow, what a view
There, approximately two hundred metres away, across a lush green field and over a drystone wall, in one corner of the extensive grounds of the manor house, was a man.
Standing with his back to her, bending down and hauling a hefty log onto a stump. Wearing nothing but a pair of jeans, heavyduty work boots and a rather impressive tan.
Whoever he was, he was darkhaired and tall. Broadshouldered and fit. The muscles of his shoulders and back twisted and flexed as he hammered the axe down on those poor helpless little logs, displaying such strength and control that every inch of her began to tingle.
When he moved round the other side of the stump and lifted the axe high above his head, the tingle turned to fullblown lust. For a brief frozen moment, in sharp definition, there was the most magnificent chest she'd ever seen. Tanned. Lean. Sprinkled with a smattering of dark hair that narrowed down his taut stomach and vanished tantalisingly beneath the waistband of his jeans.
Ignoring the little voice in her head telling her she really ought not to be doing this, Laura pressed the binoculars closer and bit her lip, largely to stop herself whimpering.
She'd never whimpered in her life, but if ever there was an occasion to start, this was it.
She could make out every rippling muscle. Every one of his ribs. Her fingers itched to trace the dips and contours of his body. What would he feel like beneath her hands? What would it feel like to have all that strength and control on top of her? Underneath her? Inside her?
At the bolt of desire that burst deep inside her, Laura's temperature went through the roof. The breath shot from her lungs and her heart practically stopped. A weird kind of fizzing sprang to life in the pit of her stomach and she clutched at the curtain before her balance vaporised and she nearly toppled out of the window.
Good Lord, she thought dazedly as stars spun around her head. She was fantasising. Ogling. Virtually salivating. Since when had she started doing that? She dragged in a shaky breath. Crikey, maybe she really had gone off the rails.
Letting the binoculars dangle from the leather strap hanging around her neck, Laura sagged against the wall and willed her breathing to steady and her heart rate to slow.
Now, of all times, when she was by herself and inches from an open window with a tenfoot drop to the ground, would really not be a good time to faint.
Which was precisely why she ought to unwrap herself from the curtains, back away and pull herself together.
Besides, quite apart from her precarious position, she had no business ogling men, however hot. After the traumatic collapse of her last relationship she'd sworn off the whole lousy lot of them. And even if she had been in the mood, voyeurism had never been her thing. It was sneaky. It was reckless.
And kind of thrilling.
Laura swallowed and blinked to clear her suddenly blurry vision. Oh, for heaven's sake. That little thrill currently whooshing around her body could stop it right now. She was interested in the house, that was all.
For the six weeks she'd been living in the village the manor house had been as silent as the grave, and her frustration at not being able to take a look inside had reached such a peak that if she weren't such a lawabiding person she'd have contemplated a spot of breaking and entering.
So when she'd heard the sound of splintering wood coming from the other side of the village earlier this morning she'd barely been able to believe her luck. Grabbing her binoculars, she'd raced upstairs, wrapped herself in her curtains and scouted the landscape for the source of the noise.
Quite what she'd been expecting she wasn't sure, but it certainly hadn't been a sight as enticing as this.
As the thrill returned, more delicious and more insistent than before, Laura paused midunwrap, nibbled on her lip and frowned. She'd always appreciated beauty. Had always admired structure. Which was why she'd become an architect. Now here was the finest animate example of both she'd seen in a long time and given the current sorry state of her love life it was unlikely that she'd ever get the chance again.
Her heart thumping with illicit excitement, she edged closer to the wall, huddled deeper into the curtain, and fished her binoculars out from beneath the heavy fabric.
How could another second or two hurt? After all, it wasn't as if he could see her, was it?
Matt swung the axe high above his head and froze.
There it was again. The flash.
Once. Twice. And then intermittently, like a sputtering light bulb. Like a beacon. Or like the sun glinting off a pair of binoculars.
He thwacked the axe down on the log with such force that the blade scythed through the wood like a hot knife through butter and lodged in the stump.
Something hard and tight settled in the pit of his stomach. Couldn't they leave him alone for one measly second?
Ignoring the stinging in his muscles and the sweat trickling down his back, he bent down, picked up the two halves of the log and hurled them onto the pile.
One last weekend of peace. That was all he wanted. One lousy weekend of privacy before he embarked on a role he wasn't sure he was entirely prepared for, and life as he knew it turned upside down.
Matt grabbed the bottle lying in the grass, sloshed water over his head and flinched when the icecold liquid hit his burning skin.
Hadn't he provided the press with enough stories recently? They'd been hounding him for weeks, ever since it had been announced he was the longlost heir to the newly restored Sassanian throne. They'd been camping outside his London house and tailing him wherever he went. Shoving tape recorders and cameras in his face at every opportunity and demanding responses to questions about his private life he had no intention of ever answering.
By and large he'd played his part. Given interviews. Posed for photographs. And borne it with remarkable, if grim, tolerance. But by following him here, to the house in the Cotswolds he'd almost forgotten he owned, they'd crossed the line.
As irritation escalated into anger, Matt shoved his hands through his hair and pulled his Tshirt over his head.
Enough was enough. No way was he just sitting back and letting some miserable lowlife hack gawk at him all weekend. To hell with the consequences. He was going to go round, grab that pair of binoculars and wind the strap round their scrawny neck.
Ah, that was a shame, thought Laura, biting her lip as she watched that magnificent chest disappear beneath a swathe of navy cotton.
If she had control of the world, a man like that would be consigned to a life of nakedfromthewaistup logchopping. On permanent display. As a gift to the nation or something. And if she had control of the world, she'd rewind time and hit the pause button at the exact moment he'd taken that impromptu little shower.
Despite the heat simmering in her veins, Laura shivered as the image slammed into her head. Utterly transfixed, she'd followed the rivulets of water trickling down his chest and hadn't been able to stop herself trembling with longing. The powerful lenses of her binoculars had picked out every glistening drop clinging lovingly to his skin and her breath had evaporated all over again.
Even now, when he was all covered up and striding across the lawn towards the house, as if the hounds of hell were snapping at his heels, she felt as if she were on fire. Tiny flames of heat licked along her veins. Her skin sizzled. Her stomach churned.
He disappeared inside the house and Laura blinked and felt a sharp pang of loss.
The unsettling shock of such an intense reaction snapped her back to her senses. She blinked. Rubbed her eyes and pulled herself together.
Right, she decided, unwinding herself from the curtain and setting the binoculars on her dressing table. That was quite enough of that. She'd indulged for far longer than was wise and she had things to do.
So no more thumping hearts and trembling limbs. No more tingling in inappropriate places and erratic breathing. And definitely no more fantasising.
Tucking a notebook and pencil in the back pocket of her shorts and slinging her camera over her shoulder, Laura pulled her shoulders back and headed downstairs.
If she was going to wangle an invitation inside what appeared to be a near perfect example of early seventeenth century architecture, she had to be charming, determined and above all, strong of knee.
One of the first things Matt had planned to do once installed on the throne of Sassania was open up the press and grant the country's journalists more access to information.
Now, he thought grimly, eyes down as he strode along the path in the direction of the binoculartoting hack, he wasn't so sure. Now he'd like to abolish it altogether and string up the entire lot of them. Starting with the one he was about to tear a strip off. 'Good morning.'
At the sound of the voice a few feet in front of him, Matt skidded to a halt and his head snapped up. His gaze rested on the woman blocking his path smiling blindingly at him and for a second his mind went blank. All thoughts of journalists and Mediterranean island kingdoms evaporated; if someone had asked his name he'd have been stumped.
As his gaze automatically ran over her he felt the ground tilt beneath his feet. Blood roared in his ears and fire surged through his veins. His chest contracted as if he'd been walloped in the solar plexus, and for one horrible moment Matt wondered if he was having a heart attack.
But then as suddenly as it had started, it stopped. The ground settled, his head cleared, his lungs started pumping and his heart rate steadied.
Keeping his extraordinary reaction firmly behind the neutral expression that had helped him make billions, Matt shoved a hand through his hair and forced himself to relax.
No doubt it was the unexpectedness of her that had caused his violent reaction. The sudden interruption to his train of thought. That was all. It couldn't possibly have had anything to do with the mass of blond hair, the big cornflowerblue eyes or the wide smile. Or, for that matter, the set of killer curves encased in the skimpiest shorts and tightest Tshirt he'd ever seen.
Because that would be as disconcerting as it would have been unusual. He'd never been distracted by a woman, however beautiful and however well packaged, and he didn't intend to start now.
Reminding himself what he was supposed to be doing, he gave her a brief nod and the flash of an impersonal smile. 'Good morning,' he said, taking a step to the right to weave past her.
Which she mirrored.
Matt frowned. 'Excuse me,' he muttered, and took a step to the left.
Which she blocked, too.
He rubbed a hand along his jaw and stifled a sigh. Once might have been an accident. Twice was deliberate.
Matt bit back a growl of frustration. This was precisely why up until now he'd chosen to live in a penthouse in an exclusive apartment block in the centre of London, where none of the neighbours knew each other and no one was interested in wasting time on idle chitchat. Everyone kept themselves to themselves and just got on with their own lives.
Here, however, out in the country, things evidently didn't work like that. Whoever she was, she clearly wanted to chat. While he didn't. Nor did he have the time to tango from side to side like this all morning.
Toying with the idea of clamping his hands round her waist and hoisting her out of the way, Matt dipped his eyes to the narrow strip of bare flesh between the hem of her Tshirt and the waistband of her shorts.
He wondered what it would feel like. Smooth. Silky. Warm. Undoubtedly. And what would it taste like? At the thought of his mouth against the skin of her stomach, moving lower and lower to see what she'd taste like, his mouth went dry and his pulse leapt.
Hmm, he thought, shoving his fists in his pockets.
Perhaps putting his hands on her wasn't the wisest course of action. Conversation, polite but brief, it would have to be. Assuming he could speak, of course.
'Are you all right?' she asked, her brow creasing in concern.
Matt gave his head a quick shake to dispel the lingering fuzziness and cleared his throat. 'Fine,' he said.
'You went very pale for a second.'
'You startled me.'
Her smiled widened and his temperature went up a notch. 'I'm sorry,' she said. 'I thought it would be safer to alert you to my presence rather than wait for you to barrel straight into me.'
At the thought of his body colliding with hers, of having all that softness and warmth plastered against him, a bolt of desire kicked him in the gut. A vision of the two of them tumbling down onto the grass, limbs entwined, mouths jammed together, hands everywhere, slammed into his head and his heart nearly leapt out of his chest.
So much for trying to kid himself that his reaction to her was simply shock. Shock had never given him an erection harder than granite.
Great. Scorching attraction. Just what he needed.
Matt's jaw tightened. 'I was deep in thought,' he said, finally drumming up some of that steely control he was supposedly so famous for and hauling his body into line.
She tilted her head to one side. 'I could tell. And not about anything good by the looks of things.'
'That's a shame.'
She nibbled on her lip and nodded. 'I think so. Especially on a day like today.'
'What's so special about today?' Apart from being the day he thought he might be losing his mind.
'Well, for one thing, the sun is shining, and, this being Britain in May, that's a cause for celebration. Plus the flowers are beautiful and the air smells heavenly.'
Were they? Did it? Matt had been too wrapped up in his thoughts to notice. Now his thoughts had been scattered to the four winds. Forget the flowers. Forget the air. She was beautiful. She smelt heavenly. And her mouth was something else. 'Really?' he muttered, trying not to imagine what it would feel like crushed beneath his.