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By Kate Walker
Thorndike PressCopyright © 2002 Kate Walker
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Excuse me, but is this seat taken?"
Lydia didn't even have to look up to know who had spoken. There was only one person in the whole of the airport lounge who could have a voice like that. The sort of voice that wrapped itself around her senses like a slither of warmed silk, its low, lyrically accented tones making her skin shiver in reaction to the sheer sensuality of their sound.
She had spotted him as soon as she had walked into the room. It had been impossible not to notice him. He was tall, dark and devastatingly imposing; it seemed as if he were the only person in the place. The sort of man who would draw any woman's gaze with the automatic ease of a powerful magnet and then lazily hold onto it without any sort of effort on his part.
And he had made no effort at all. Though he could not have been unaware of her attention, the overwhelming interest she hadn't even had the strength to hide, he had done nothing at all to sustain it or show that it mattered in the slightest to him. No trace of reaction had touched the carved male beauty of his tanned face, no flicker of a smile either of welcome or even disdain. But he had not been unaware of her.
"I said ..."
"I know what you said!"
The faint rasp of an edge to the beautiful voice, the hint of angry reproof, had herlifting her head sharply, tossing back the soft brown curls that framed her heart-shaped face. Wide-set blue eyes fringed by long, curling lashes clashed abruptly with harder, glittering black, and for a second she felt as if her heart had actually stopped in stunned disbelief.
Dear God, but he was even more spectacular close up! The true beauty of that golden skin, the sculpted cheekbones and wide, hard, sensual slash of a mouth was like a blow in the pit of her stomach. His nose was long and straight, his hair unredeemed black, cut in an uncompromisingly severe crop that emphasised the total perfection of the superb, clean-cut lines of his features.
And if he had seemed tall from a distance then standing over her like this, with those amazing eyes fixed searchingly on her face, his impact was positively earth-shattering.
"I know what you said ..."
Hastily Lydia adjusted her tone a degree or two downwards, from the pitch to which shock and apprehension had pushed it, wishing she could erase the flaring wash of colour from her cheeks as easily.
"But I would have thought that it was obvious that no one was sitting there."
And that no one had occupied the chair beside her for all of the - what? Almost three quarters of an hour since she had taken up her position here. After all, he had been watching her for almost all of that time.
She had tried to bury her face in the copy of the magazine she had bought to while away the time waiting for her flight to be called, but she had felt the burn of his brazen gaze fixed on her. And she had met its cold scrutiny head-on if she'd so much as glanced upwards from the page.
"I wondered if you might be waiting for someone."
"Well, no, I'm not! I'm here on my own!"
"Then may I join you?"
She knew she sounded suspicious, as stiff as a cat being threatened by the approach of a stranger into its territory, but she couldn't help it. It was how she felt, wary and unsure of herself. If anything, she felt like the intruder into the luxurious, opulent surroundings of the VIP lounge. It was not the sort of place she normally frequented, not the sort of place she could ever have afforded to be in if it hadn't been for her new job, the generosity of her employers.
He, on the other hand, looked totally, supremely at home here. His long, lean body might be clothed in the same casual jeans and a jumper that she had chosen for practicality during a long flight, but there could be no doubt that his clothing was very definitely not from the chain store where she had bought hers. No, the lines of his clothing murmured of designer labels and expensive tailoring, and she was sure that the smoky grey sweater that hugged the firm lines of his chest and skimmed the narrow waist and hips could only be of the finest, softest cashmere available. Everything about him said Money, with a capital M.
And in spite of the supremely civilised nature of his appearance, something about him seemed to whisper of a wilder spirit, an untamed, elemental part of his character that didn't fit with the ultra-modern surroundings.
He shrugged indolent shoulders, unconsciously drawing attention to their width and strength.
"To while away a little time. To ease the boredom of waiting with some conversation."
A tiny hint of a smile curled that devastating mouth up at one corner and the onyx eyes gleamed for a second with a hint of mocking amusement.
"Is that such a terrible idea?"
This was even worse! Her tongue seemed to be tangling up on itself, refusing to get the words out in any coherent form, and she was stumbling over the simplest of answers. And it was not a sensation she was used to.
She didn't normally have this sort of trouble in talking to strangers. She was trained to talk to them, after all! Trained to handle almost any sort of eventuality or problem. So why did this one man affect her like this?
"I'm expecting my flight to be called at any minute."
"I doubt it."
His glance towards the huge plate-glass windows was wry, his mouth taking on an expressive twist as he surveyed the scene outside.
"The snow is definitely getting worse and the wind's picking up. It's blowing a blizzard out there. No pilot worth his salt is going to even think of taking off in conditions like this. You'll be lucky if you're only delayed by a couple of hours."
"Only delayed," Lydia echoed bleakly. "As opposed to what?"
"To your flight being cancelled completely and the airport being shut down for today. I think you'd better consider that possibility ..." he added, seeing the way her face fell. "From what I can see, it can only get worse, not better."
And what would she do then? Lydia was forced to wonder. If the airport closed, she had nowhere to go; nothing to go back to. Today was to have been the start of her new life, a whole new beginning.
"Would having a drink with me be such a bad thing?" The thread of irony was definitely darker now, making her shiver faintly just to hear it.
But still she couldn't make herself say yes, please sit down, introduce herself. All the normal politeness and pleasantries seemed to have fled from her mind, leaving it shockingly blank as a wiped blackboard.
"Just what is it that you're afraid of?"
Silkily spoken though they were, she knew the words were meant to sting and they did. Sharply.
"Do you really think that I'm about to pounce on you in front of all these other passengers - not to mention the airport staff? Perhaps you fear that, driven mad by your stunning beauty, I will ravish you without mercy."
"Oh, now you're just being ridiculous."
She struggled to ignore the sudden twist of her heart, the judder in her pulse as the impact of that "stunning beauty" hit home. His tone had been ironical but something deep in those spectacular eyes had told her that the words had been more seriously meant.
"Please don't be silly. It's just that ... that I really don't see exactly why you should want to. What would you get from talking to a complete stranger who is due to head out of here on a plane at any minute? I mean ... why me?" she ended on an uncharacteristically plaintive note.
The wordless sound he made with his tongue was sharp, impatient, speaking eloquently of the irritation and temper he was struggling to rein back. It was also totally un-English making her wonder just what his nationality might be. That accent certainly wasn't Italian or Spanish. It was far more exotic than that, in spite of impeccable pronunciation and a natural ease of grammar. There was an arrogance and pride in both his profile and his bearing that made her think fleetingly of long-ago kings or Bedouin warriors, but such fanciful thoughts flew from her head when he spoke again.
"You are clearly not a fool," he declared with a sudden harshness that brought a gasp of shock to her lips. "So why do you behave as if you were? You know very well what is between us - what has been there from the moment I first laid eyes on you and you on me."
"No, I don't!"
Excerpted from Desert Affair by Kate Walker Copyright © 2002 by Kate Walker. Excerpted by permission.
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