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Spectators and participants in the Wellington High Court rose as one. Day one of the defamation case brought by Randall Thorne, founder of Thorne Financial Enterprises, against Syrius Lake had begun.
Seated behind his father in the front row of the gallery, Nick Thorne frowned as his younger brother slipped into the empty seat beside him. "You're late," Nick muttered without heat. Adam was always late, even while on holiday.
The judge bustled in and motioned for everyone to take their seats.
"Would you look at that?" Adam whispered, nudging Nick. "Little Jordan Lake, all grown up and pretty as a picture."
Nick tilted his head and flicked a glance to his right. He'd noticed her earlier, surprised at how demure she looked with her hair tied back, wearing a white blouse and a knee-length black skirt. Everyone here would be more used to seeing her in the tabloids, partying it up with some rock star or other, her golden hair flowing and plenty of long, smooth leg on display. She was every inch the heiress, daughter of one of the richest and most flamboyant men in New Zealand.
Adam leaned in close. "I'm surprised you've never considered hooking up with her. An alliance with the Lake princess would be one way to bury this stupid hatchet that's been the bane of our lives forever."
"She's more your type than mine," Nick murmured, settling back in his seat as his father turned his head and sent him a disapproving look.
It was true. Jordan and Adam were rebels, whereas Nick was duty-driven and responsible. The brothers could almost pass as twins with their olive coloring, dark hair and brows and their father's tall, broad frame. But Adam, with his designer stubble,flashy suits and bad boy demeanor, was far removed from the quieter, more conservative Nick.
"True," Adam whispered, rubbing his chin thoughtfully, "but I live in London."
The infamous feud between Randall Thorne and Syrius Lake had tainted their whole lives, especially their late mother's, a former close friend of Syrius's wife, Elanor. Nick felt a pang of compassion for the woman sitting at the end of the row in the aisle to his right. Elanor had spent thirty years in a wheelchair because of Nick's father, all the more galling because she and his mother were once national ballroom dancing competitors and partners in their own dance studio.
"You can't help your looks, big brother," Adam went on, "but you're still not a bad catch. CEO of the biggest privately-owned finance company in New Zealand "
"Not yet," Nick said tersely.
"Soon." His brother waved a nonchalant hand toward Jordan Lake. "Cultivate something with her. It's a dirty job, but somebody's gotta do it."
Their father turned again, this time with a stern look at Adam.
The respective counsels droned on. Nick shifted impatiently. He'd felt duty-bound to stand by his father today on the first day of the trial, but there was no way he could afford to be here all day, every day for the next week or however long the trial lasted. That would fall to Adam, who'd come home for a few weeks' holiday and to support his father through the trial.
To his right, Nick caught a flash of tanned leg as Jordan shifted. His eyes lingered on her black pump-clad foot as it bounced up and down. Was she as bored and impatient as he was? Hell, she had nowhere else to be. She didn't work, unless you counted the pursuit of a good time work.
The hair on the back of his neck prickled and Nick looked up. The heiress was watching him, her mouth slanted in a cool smirk. Then she tilted her head toward her mother and whispered in her ear.
Adam cast him an amused glance, seeing the direction of his gaze. "You know you want to," he murmured.
Nick gave his brother a wry smile. It was great having him around. Nick missed him, even though their father constantly played them off against each other, unheeding of Adam's wish to have nothing to do with the family business.
Randall raised them with an abiding fascination for money, but Adam preferred to be at the cutting edge while Nick liked to have his finger on the pulse, maintaining and building strength. Adam departed four years ago to live his dream as a trader in London's stock exchange.
At the break, his father and lawyer seemed supremely confident, Randall declaring none too softly that he intended to annihilate Syrius Lake, whatever it took. With a sinking heart, Nick realized that if it wasn't this case, it would be something else. Without his mother's tempering influence, Randall would stop at nothing to get his revengeand that directly impacted on Nick's future. He intended to be named successor of Thorne Financial Enterprises when his father retired in a few weeks. If his father retired
Adam's words played over in his mind. Could he honestly consider cultivating something with Jordan Lake? Putting an end to the bitterness their fathers had supped on for three decades? The more he thought about it, the more he agreed with Adam. His eyes followed the swing of her ponytail as she walked ahead of him back into the courtroom and a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. Jordan Lake would be the ultimate takeover.
Days later, Nick stirred as the mattress shifted and the woman next to him rose and walked into the bathroom. Sated, a little sleepy from the late nights he'd been keeping since his brother hit town, he wondered idly if he'd drifted off.
In a few short weeks, Adam would be gone, back to the high-velocity stock exchange world he ruled. Privately, Nick worried how long his brother could handle the pressure. He might be flavor of the month now, lauded by all and making an absolute fortune. But that was the thing about the share market. There was a never-ending supply of hungry young sharks circling, just waiting until someone made a mistake. Adam had been one of them not so long ago.
Nick stretched and plumped up his pillows, resting one arm behind his head. The bathroom door opened and a tall, slender blonde walked into the room. She moved to the dresser mirror, her arms raised as she fiddled with her long, tawny hair. Nick's eyes feasted on the long line of her spine, the curvaceous swell of her hips, and her skin, which had a luster to it even with the heavy drapes drawn against the afternoon sun. He liked how at ease she seemed about her nudity.
"Got time for a drink or are you rushing off?" he asked, aware that his question would surprise her. They didn't make a habit of small talk after their lovemaking sessions.
She flicked him a curious look in the mirror and continued twisting her hair expertly into a knot that looked at once messy but sophisticated.
"Let me guess." Nick clicked his tongue. "Cocktails. The Zeus Bar."
Again, he felt the wash of cool blue in her glance as she turned. "A little early for me." She bent and plucked something from the floor.
Clothing would be scattered all over, he thought. It was always like that. The moment they were inside the room, there was no decorum, no neatly undressing and folding and hanging. Sometimes they were lucky to get out of here without ripped garments.
Today she'd worn a short fuchsia shift dress, with a strap over one shoulder tied in a big extravagant bow. Easy to get inand outof, and entirely suitable for cocktails in any of the bars she was frequently photographed at, although never with him.
Despite her accessible outfit, it had still seemed to take an age to get his hands on her today. Time moved like a slow-motion movie clip when he entered this suite at the five-star hotel every Friday. Each image burned into his brain: the silkiness and fragrance of her creamy skin, the tumble of her hair as he tugged it into disarray, her sighs as he bared her to his hungry mouth and hands. As if she, too, had pictured this moment, his kisses and touch, the way he tore at her clothing. As if she, too, had longed for it every day between. Each set of images stayed with him, replayed over and over in his mind throughout the week until he could have her again.
Once a week for four months, and Nick knew nothing personal about her, except for what she brought to his bed.
"I saw you on TV last night," he commented as she untwisted her panties from her dress. "A short, puffy black skirt." He paused. "And a tall puffy pale man."
The woman daintily stepped into her underwear. "Not me. I stayed home last night."
Nick's mouth went dry at the little shimmy her hips did to facilitate the placement of her underwear. "I'd know those legs anywhere," he countered mildly. "I could sculpt them."
She blinked, shaking out her dress. Probably wondering what on earth did it have to do with him, he thought.
"I do have a short black puffy skirt, and" a breathy huff of amusement burst from her lips "a tall puffy man or two, but it wasn't last night."
She raised her arms fluidly and the dress floated down like a pink cloud, veiling her body.
Nick gazed at her, desire curling its claws into him again. Even after two tumultuous orgasms in less than two hours, he wanted her again, quite savagely. "Where do you go, Jordan Lake, when you leave my bed?"
Jordan had managed to lower her brows and close her gaping mouth by the time the dress passed over her head. She wasn't bothered that he didn't believe her about last nightshe owed him no explanations. It often happened that on a slow news day, the press or TV used file pictures of her on a night out. It had been a couple of weeks since she had worn that skirt.
What surprised her was that he'd asked. They had been meeting here every Friday for four months and Nick Thorne never once expressed an interest in her activities outside of this suite.
She turned her back, arching a brow at him in the mirror. "Jealous, Nick?" she asked, deliberately imparting an edge of sarcasm.
She recalled blushing the color of this dress after their very first time together. She'd lain in bed, covers drawn up to her chin, waiting for him to return from the bathroom. What next? she'd wondered. Would they talk? Cuddle?
But Nick made it painfully obvious that this was merely a sexual arrangement. He had quickly dressed, commanded her to be here the same time next week, pressed her hand to his mouth and was out of there in five minutes flat. No backward glance, no promise to call. Nothing.
Jordan had been shocked, a little hurt and felt foolish. He thought she knew the game but she wasn't nearly as sexually experienced as the media portrayed her to be. Of her four previous lovers, two of those were fairly serious relationships. It was just that her taste in men ran to playboys, pro athletes and musicians. But her wild days were definitely behind her by the time she met Nick.
Holding his gaze, she carefully tied the bow on her shoulder and then reached behind her to tug at the zipper of her dress.
Nick threw back the covers and in a second, stood behind her, his knuckles pressing purposefully into every nub of her spine as he worked the zipper slowly up.
He took her breath away, even after all this time. His shoulders seemed an aircraft wing-span across compared to her narrow frame. He was a full head taller than her, his short, dark hair a little disheveled. In the dimly-lit room, he looked almost Latin with his thick dark brows, dusky skin and full, sensuous lips.
Lips that brushed her ear, generating a flutter of excitement deep in her belly.
Bad sign. She should definitely go. Her mother was expecting her for dinner, anyway.
But then his eyes locked on to hers in the reflection and he bent his head to nuzzle at the top of her shoulder. "No hurry, is there?"
Jordan leaned her head back to nestle in his throat, watching him with half-closed eyes. Behind her, his hand continued its slow progress, now in between her shoulder blades, each centimeter a wand of heat that caused her back to arch. She sent a silent apology to her mother for her anticipated lateness.
Nick Thorne was irresistible to her. It had been that way since the first clash of their eyes in an elevator in this very hotel. She was leaving an aunt's eightieth birthday afternoon tea party. Nick was leaving a banking conference. A chance meeting so powerful, she couldn't believe they'd even made it out of the elevator without her skin blistering. The intense attraction led to an indecently quick drink at the bar and an even more indecent mutual decision to take a room, there and then. The thrill of it all was intensified by how forbidden it was because of the hatred between their fathers for the last thirty years.
The zipper was fully up but Nick's green-gold gaze was not that of someone who wanted her dressed. He caressed the back of her neck close to her hairline, an exquisite touch that made her breath catch. The heat of him behind her, naked and masculine, bathed her skin. He slowly moved his hand to the bow on her shoulder, watching her as if challenging her to stop him. The ribbon had as much resistance as her mind, and the front panel of the dress collapsed in front but was supported by the zipper at back. Not supported enough for the weight of her breasts, which spilled out, taut and aroused.
"Now look what I've done," Nick murmured in her ear. "And I was only trying to get to know you better."
Jordan swallowed and raised her hands, cupping her breasts. "You know me," she said breathlessly, playing the game. "You know these."
"Yes, I know these." His big hands relieved hers of their burden, kneading and squeezing just the way she liked. Jordan welcomed the onslaught of sensations that had become familiar yet never failed to render her boneless. Even as she wondered vaguely why the sudden interest, it was beyond her to resist his touch. She swirled in a hazy pool of delight at his breath on her neck, his hands on her flesh, the hot, hard wall of him pressed up against her back.
He used his hands unhurriedly, feathering down her sides to her buttocks, pausing to caress them in a circular motion that made her shiver.