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By Helen Brooks
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"MISS QUINTON! I know you're in there, dammit! You have precisely sixty seconds to open this door before I break it down!"
Ria stumbled shakily into the small square hall of the flat, her ears ringing with the thunderous banging which had begun again immediately the harsh male voice had stopped. The front door was vibrating under the pressure of the savage blows being rained on it, and she could just imagine how her neighbours on either side were going to react to such a tremendous din at six o'clock in the morning. She'd already had a written list of complaints pushed through her letterbox awaiting her on her return after Poppy's occupation of her home while she'd been away. They were just going to love this!
"Right, young lady!" The furious voice rang out again just as Ria's hand slid the bolt on the door. "Don't say you weren't warned!" At the same time as she wrenched open the heavy oak door a towering black shape cannoned into her, whipping the handle out of her fingers with incredible speed and sending her slim body spinning through the air to thud against the far wall with a loud thump.
"You stupid little idiot." As she pushed back the thick mane of silky silver-blonde hair that had covered her face with the impact, she found herself being coldly scrutinised by one of the most ruthless faces she had ever seen. "What possessed you to open the door like that? Haven't you got a grain of sense in that doll's head?"
The sheer injustice of the accusation provided the shot of adrenalin Ria needed to clear her whirling head and send the blood coursing angrily through her bruised limbs. "How dare you?" She was relieved to hear that her voice was amazingly firm. "You've been pounding away at my front door like some demented madman for the last few minutes and then you have the nerve to ask me why I opened it, to you ... you ..."
"If you are searching for an adequate description of me with your limited brain-power, please don't bother." The malevolent voice was biting. "You would be better employed asking me who I am, surely? Or maybe it is a common occurrence for you to open the door to strange men first thing in the morning?" Steel-blue eyes swept arrogantly over her body in scorching appraisal, and as his hard mouth tightened ominously his gaze became openly insulting.
"I don't care who you are," Ria responded weakly, fear sending tiny shivers of panic down her spine. The thick fleecy robe she had pulled on so hastily had fallen open and the whisper-thin nightie she wore left nothing to the imagination. His cold narrowed eyes burned with contempt as he took in the full high breasts, slim waist and long shapely legs, seconds before she gathered the belt tightly round her body, jerking the ends violently, her hands shaking.
"You will care. Believe me, Miss Quinton, you will care." It was a naked threat, the deep voice low and cruel.
Ria's frightened eyes darted to the open doorway behind him, but one glance at the stiff rugged face told her he had guessed her intention to run. His power was almost tangible; it oozed out of him, making her stomach muscles knot and her blood pulsate wildly. She had never been in the presence of such fierce masculinity before.
"What do you want?" Her soft grey eyes were huge in her pale face, her hands clenched nervously by her side.
"All in good time, my dear." He pushed the door shut with the back of his foot, setting his tall lean body nonchalantly against the painted wood and crossing his arms slowly, his muscled frame perfectly relaxed. A heavy accent and the bronzed darkness of his skin told her he was not English but apart from that she had no clue as to who he was, or why he should be so fiercely angry with her.
His piercing eyes continued their leisurely wandering over her slight frame as she stood tense and still before him. "Nice, very nice," he murmured appreciatively, and as rich colour suffused her smooth honey-tinted skin in a red tide he smiled arrogantly.
"Eighteen, nineteen?" he asked calmly.
Ria frowned. "I'm twenty-one, not that it's any of your business," she said coldly, her face stiff.
"Oh, but it is my business, my cool little cat," he corrected swiftly, his face straightening. "When you made the mistake of sharpening those long claws on a member of my family you made everything about yourself my business. The frequency with which you visit somewhat dubious nightclubs, your ... regrettable lifestyle -"
"Now look here!" Ria cut in on the cold suggestive voice hotly, straightening her back as a pure white flame of anger swept through her. "I don't know what you're talking about and I don't want to. I've never seen you before in my life and you think you can barge into my home, attack and insult me -"
The flow of words stopped as the stranger moved forward, calmly brushing past her with evident disdain and walking into the small compact lounge beyond.
"You had better come and sit down," he suggested softly with just enough steel in his voice to make it a command. "I am not in the habit of bandying words with women such as you. We have certain arrangements to discuss in the next hour and you will keep that beautiful mouth under control." The big body was intimidatingly close.
"We have nothing to discuss," Ria protested warily, edging carefully past him and subsiding thankfully into the depths of an armchair. If only she hadn't opened the door; how could she have been so stupid? She was always so careful. It must be jet lag, she thought miserably to herself, watching him under her thick dark lashes as he swiftly checked each room of the tiny flat. She had been in America for six weeks coordinating an important photographic session, smoothing ruffled feathers when necessary, organising locations and ground-work and generally making sure everyone arrived at the right place at the right time. It had been exhausting but exhilarating - she loved her job as personal assistant to the boss of a small but exclusive modelling agency. She had arrived at Heathrow late the previous night, eventually dropping into bed in the early hours.
"It would appear we are alone." The deep voice was expressionless, but Ria reared up like an enraged lioness.
"What did you expect?"
The soft laugh was mocking and totally without humour. "We won't go into that, my dear Poppy. I can call you Poppy? I understand everyone else takes liberties with you." He raised an authoritative hand as she went to reply, his expression suddenly changing into splintered ice. "Let us just get one thing absolutely clear at the start. I did not "barge" into your home, as you so charmingly put it, I have not "attacked" you, and if you feel the truth is insulting then perhaps it's time to take a long hard look at the selfish nasty little butterfly you are."
Suddenly things were a little clearer. This madman thought she was Poppy. She groaned inwardly. What had her beautiful, unscrupulous and scatter-brained cousin been up to now? Her thoughts raced wildly. She had known it was a mistake to let her stay in the flat while she was away, but Poppy could be so persuasive with her velvet-brown eyes and persistent entreaties.
Excerpted from Deceitful Lover by Helen Brooks Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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