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Grace Carter glanced up from her computer, frowning at the figure that sauntered so confidently into her office high above the cold, wet February streets of central London, without so much as a knock on her door as warning.
And then she went very still in her chair. Something that felt like fire rolled through her, scorching everything in its path. She told herself it was indignation because he had failed to knock as any decent, polite person shouldbut she knew better.
It was him.
"Good morning," he said in a low, richly amused and somehow knowing voice that seemed to echo inside of her. He seemed to smolder there in front of her, like a banked flame. She straightened in her seat in reaction.
"By all means," she said, her voice cool, ironic. "Come right in."
He was dressed in a sharp, sleek Italian suit that clung to the hard planes of his celebrated body and looked far too fashionforward for the staid and storied halls of Hartington's, one of Britain's oldest luxury department stores, where conservative was the watchword in word, deed and staff apparel. His toolong dark chocolate hair was tousled and unkemptrather deliberately so, Grace thought uncharitablyand fell toward his remarkable green eyes, one of which was ringed by a darkening bruise. It matched the split lip that failed, somehow, to dampen the impact of his shockingly carnal mouth. His cuts and bruises gave him a faintly roguish air and added to the man's already outrageous appeal. And well he knew it.
"Thank you," he said, those famous green eyes bright with amusement, quite as if her invitation was sincere. His decadent mouth crooked to the side. "Is that an invitation into your office or, one can only hope, somewhere infinitely more exciting?"
Grace wished she did not recognize him, but she didand this was not the first time she'd seen him in person. Not that anyone alive could fail to identify him on sight, with a face that was usually plastered across at least one or two tabloids weekly, in every country in the world. Showcasing exactly this kind of inappropriate behavior.
She was not impressed.
"Lucas Wolfe," she said, as a gesture toward good manners, though her voice was flat.
He was Lucas Wolfe, second son of the late, notoriously flamboyant William Wolfe, darling of the paparazzi, famously faithless lover to hordes of equally rich and supernaturally beautiful womenand Grace could not think of a single reason why this creature of tabloids and lore should be standing in her office on a regular Thursday morning, gazing at her in a manner that could only be called expectant.
"All six resplendent feet and then some," he drawled, his dark brows arching high above his wicked green eyes. "At your service."
"You are Lucas Wolfe," she said, ignoring the innuendo that seemed to infuse his voice, his expression, like some kind of molten chocolate. "And I'm afraid I am busy. Can I direct you to someone who can help you?"
"Too busy for my charm and beauty?" he asked, that wicked grin making his eyes gleam, his expression somewhere between suggestive and irrepressibleand surprisingly infectious. Grace had to fight to keep from smiling automatically in return. "Surely not. That would require hell to freeze over, for a start."
She ignored him, rising to her feet to regain the appropriate balance of power.
"I would invite you make yourself comfortable," she said with a tight smile, close enough to courteous, knowing her voice would make the words sound sweeter than they were, "except that seems rather redundant, doesn't it?"
Every instinct she had screamed at her to let this man know exactly what she thought of his kind. Womanizing, useless, parasitic, just like all the men her poor mother had paraded in and out of their trailer when Grace was a child. Just like the father she'd never met, who from all accounts was yet one more pretty, irresponsible wastrel in a long line of the same. Just like every other idiot she'd had to slap down over the years.
But as a member of the Wolfe family Lucas was considered royalty at Hartington's, given that his family had once owned the company. The Wolfes might not own Hartington's any longer, but Hartington's board of directors loved to play up the connectionand as the events manager who was in charge of Hartington's centenary relaunch in a matter of weeks, Grace was expected to act in Hartington's best interests at all times no matter the cost to herself.
"I am always comfortable," he assured her, his voice a symphony of innuendo, his green eyes wicked and amused. "Making myself so at every opportunity is, I confess, very nearly my life's work."
She had a huge project to manage, which meant she had better things to do with her time than waste it on this useless, if shockingly attractive, man. Grace hated wasting time. That was the feeling that expanded within her, she told herself, threatening her ability to breathe.
"I'm sorry," she began, the polite smile she was known for curving her lips, though she knew her gaze remained cool on his. "I'm afraid I'm quite busy today. May I help?"
"Why do I recognize you?" he interrupted her, languidly, because of course he had all the time in the world.
Grace was horrified to feel that rich voice of his wash through her, sending tendrils of flame licking all over her skin, coiling low in her belly. She felt it, and it panicked her. Surely she should be immune to this man's brand of practiced, cynical charmshe, who prided herself on being absolutely unflappable!
"I can't imagine," she said, which was a lie, but it was not as if she and Lucas Wolfe would ever speak again, would they? She could not fathom why they were speaking nowand why the cynical boredom she'd sensed in him in a chic and crowded hotel bar the night before had changed to something else, something dangerous and edgy. As if a dark fury lurked within him, just out of sight, hidden beneath his wellknown and deliberately polished exterior.
But surely not. She was being fanciful.
"I know I've seen you before," he continued, his green eyes narrowing slightly as he looked at her, then warming as he let his alltoopracticed gaze drop from her face to skate over the figure she'd dressed in Carolina Herrera and other exclusive labels no doubt downmarket to a man of his tastes. His lips moved, sensual and inviting for all they were cut, seeming to suggest things. "You have the most extraordinary mouth. But where?"
Heat danced through her, simmering in every place his green gaze touched her: her breasts, the indentation at her waist, her hips, her legs. Grace was forced to remind herself that a man like Lucas Wolfe more than likely looked at every single person he encountered in that very same waythat the promise of sex and intrigue that seemed to heat his expression meant about as much to him as a handshake meant to anyone else. Less.
She felt a strange sort of echo sound through her, a deep alarm, reminding her of that naive girl she'd been so long ago and had sworn she would never be again. Not with another man like this one, who would render her just as pathetic and deceived as her poor, trusting mother. Who would destroy her whole life if she let him.
That was what men like this did. Simply because they could.
Grace knew that better than anyone.
"He's more than a bit of all right, isn't he?" the fashion buyer from Hartington's had cooed to Grace last night, when she'd first seen Lucasmuch drunker and far more disreputable than he appeared now, if that was possibleat an extraordinarily glamorous fashion show thrown by Samantha Cartwright, one of London's most beloved and avantgarde designers.
Mona had sighed lustily, gazing at Lucas from across the trendy bar as he'd flirted with Samantha Cartwright herself, oblivious to all the watching, judging eyes around them, Grace's among them. "And, of course, we're to treat him like a king should he so much as glance our way. Boss's orders."
Grace had nodded, as if she'd had the slightest expectation of interacting with the famous playboy, known as much for his devilmaycare attitude as for his long and illustrious string of lovers. Not to mention his muchdiscussed allergy to anything resembling work, particularly for Hartington's, who had been after him for years to take a figurehead position with the company as his equally disreputable late father had once done.
She'd felt a potent mix of awareness and disgust as she'd watched him. How could a man like Lucas, who was unabashedly making a play for the much older, and very much married, Samantha Cartwright right there in full view of half the city, also manage to seem so alive and vibrant, in the midst of London's creme de la creme, as if he were the real thing and they were nothing but fluff and misdirection?
However, all his sexiness and charm had not prevented Samantha Cartwright's husband from expressing his displeasure at finding Lucas secluded with his wife sometime later all over Lucas's pretty face.
The fact that she, personally, had had a strange moment, a nearinteraction with this man, did not signify. He clearly could not recall it and shewell, if her sleep had been disrupted last night, what did that matter? It could as easily have been the espresso she should have known better than to order after dinner. It had to have been.
"I believe I saw you last night at the Cartwright show," she said now, and felt gratified when he blinked, as if not expecting that response. Grace smiled, razor sharp, and let her dislike for himfor all men like him, so careless and callousflood through her. "Though I cannot imagine you remember it."
"I have an excellent memory," Lucas replied, his voice silky, and she had to admit that it got to her. It should not have affected her at all, the lazy caress of it, like bourbon and sin, but it did. The man was lethal, and she wanted nothing to do with him.
"As do I, Mr. Wolfe," she said crisply. "Which is how I know that we do not have an appointment today. Perhaps I can direct you ?"
She let her words trail off, and waved her hand in the general direction of the door and the offices beyond. But Lucas Wolfe did not move. He only watched her for a moment. His battered, sexy mouth curved slightly.
"You knew who I was the moment you saw me." He looked amused. Triumphant. She could not have said why that seemed to claw at her.
"I imagine every single person in England knows who you are," she replied briskly. She let her brows arch, hinting at disdain. "One assumes that must be your intention, after so many scandals, all of which are dutifully reported in the papers."
"And yet, you are not English," he said, shifting his body, making Grace suddenly, foolishly glad that her desk stood between them.
She was abruptly aware of how powerful he was, how welltuned and whipcord tough his body was, for all he kept it concealed behind a lazy smile, calculating eyes and sophisticated clothes. Leashed and hidden, though the truth of it lurked beneath the surface. As if his playboy persona was a mask he wore.but that was ridiculous.
"You are American, are you not?" His head tilted slightly to one side, though his gaze never left hers. "Southern, if I am not mistaken."
"I cannot imagine why it should be relevant, but I am originally from Texas," Grace said, in quelling tones. She did not speak about her past. She did not speak about her private life at all, come to thatnever at work, and certainly not with perfect strangers. The origin of the accent she'd worked so hard to minimize was about as far as she was willing to take this conversation. "But if you will tell me why you are here, I can find a more appropriate"
"Exactly what did you see me doing last night?" he asked, interrupting her again, his gaze amused, his grin widening.
"Did I do it to you?" His gaze warmed, became more suggestive. "Do you wish that I had?"
"I hardly think you would have had the time," Grace said with a short laugh, but then his eyes gleamed and she recollected herself.
She had not worked as hard as she had, nor overcome so much, to ruin it all over someone like this. She didn't know why Lucas Wolfe, of all people, should get under her skin in the first place. Grace had been working in events management since college, and she had seen her fair share of huge personalities, the very rich and the wishedtobefamous, and everything in between. Why was this man the first to threaten her renowned calm?
Lucas only gazed at her, his green eyes mild, though Grace could not quite believe what she saw there. She had the sense, again, that it was all a maskthe shocking masculine beauty, the roguish appeal, the sexy swaggerand that beneath it lurked something far shrewder. But where did such an idea come from? She dismissed it, impatient with herself.
"If you will excuse me," she said, her voice perfectly calm, betraying none of her strange internal struggle, "I really must return to my work."
"But that's why I'm here," he said, an unholy glee lighting up those marvelous green eyes. His mouth pulled into a smirk, and he shifted again, as if bracing himself for a blowa blow he was fully prepared to handle, his body language assured her.
A prickle ran through the fine hairs at the back of her neck, making her hands itch to smooth her sleek, understated chignon and make sure it continued to tame her wild blond hair into something appropriate for her position. Making her want to remove herself until she had reverted to the ice queen norm that had saved her time and again, and until she'd gotten the best of this baffling heat he seemed to generate in her.
"What do you mean?" she asked, hoping she sounded cold instead of anxious. Stern instead of thrown.
She was resolved to fire whichever member of her staff had let this man in here to unsettle her like this when all of her focus needed to be on the relaunch. Yet even as she thought it, she knew that no one who worked at Hartington's could possibly deny this man anythinghe was a Wolfe. More than that, he was Lucas Wolfe, the most irresistible of his whole compelling, colorful family.
Even she could feel that pull, that attractionshe who had long considered herself terminally allergic to men of his ilk.
"I am the new public face of Hartington's, like my dearly departed father before me," he drawled, his green eyes sharp and mocking, as if he knew exactly what she was thinking. "Just in time for the centenary relaunch."
He smiled then, that famous, devastating smile that Grace discovered could light a fire within her even when she knew he must practice it in his own mirror.
"I beg your pardon?" she asked, desperately, though she already knew. She could not seem to believe it, to accept it, and her stomach twisted in protest, but she knew.
That smile of his deepened, showing off the indentation in his jaw that had been known to cause hysteria when he flashed it about like the deadly weapon it was. The smile that had catapulted him into the hearts and fantasies of so many people the world over. The smile that drove so many women to distraction and regrettable decisions.
But not me, she told herself desperately. Never me!