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The event that same evening was long and boring—the kind of charity dinner that he'd rather not attend. But he was a Devonshire and a member of the British royal family and there were times when he simply couldn't decline. At least the William Kent Room at the Ritz was an exquisite venue.
His date for this evening was Mary Werner, the daughter of a billionaire office supplies executive. She was a suitable girl and would make him a proper wife, if that's what he was after. He knew that her family probably expected a proposal soon.
His half sisters—Gemma and Caroline, who were twenty-three and twenty-one respectively—called her his maiden bride. He pretended to growl at them for it but he knew they were right. Mary, as lovely as she was, was a bit too tame for him.
There was a spate of camera shutters clicking at the entrance to the ballroom. He glanced over his shoulder to see Amelia Munroe smiling for the photographers. She wore a bright red sheath, which hugged her generous curves, and held a small dog in one arm. The animal yipped whenever a flash went off.
There was a lull in every conversation in the room as all heads turned toward her. She said something in her distinctively brash American accent and then threw her head back and laughed. Suddenly he didn't mind being here quite as much.
"Oh, it's Amelia," Mary said quietly.
"Indeed. She does like to make an entrance."
"Yes, she does. Everyone is watching her. I wonder how she does it," Mary mused.
Geoff knew exactly how she did it. She drew attention because of the way she was built, the way she smiled, the way she laughed. She moved like a woman with loads of confidence. Her curly black hair was pulled up on her head and tendrils fell around her heart-shaped face. He couldn't see her eyes from here, but he knew they were a diamond bright blue. Men wanted her—hell, he did. And if Mary's reaction was any indication, women wanted to be her.
The atmosphere in the ballroom had changed. Though the paparazzi were kept at the door, the excitement spilled into the room as Amelia walked in.
"I guess the International Children's Fund must be one of her pet charities this year," Mary said.
"Must be," Geoff said. Hubert Grace, one of his stepfather's friends excused himself from the table and Geoff shook his head as Hubert made his way across the ballroom to Amelia's side.
"What is Hubert doing?" Mary asked.
"I have no idea. I suggest we go back to our conversation, though," Geoff said.
He might be attracted to Amelia but he knew from past experience that the things he wanted most in the world were the ones that were dangerous to him and to his peace of mind. And with this new deal he'd agreed to with Malcolm, he had to be on his best behavior—something that had never failed to make him restless.
"Good idea. I wonder if she realizes how much of a distraction she is," Mary said.
"Does she bother you?" he asked.
Mary shrugged. "Not really."
Mary was a beautiful girl—a proper English rose with fair skin and thick, straight hair. Her eyes were a pretty blue that showed her keen intelligence. But she was tame. She allowed herself to follow the rules…much like he did on occasion. Their position oftentimes meant that they had to do what society dictated, especially in their circles.
He glanced back over at Amelia holding court across the room. He wanted to be over there but not one of the crowd. Given his rank and status in society he rarely settled for being one of the many, and this time was no different.
"Not really?" he asked Mary. "What is it about her that you envy?"
Mary took a sip of her wine and then turned to look at Amelia, who was still engaged in conversation with Hubert. "Everyone is watching her and talking about her—even me. I guess…I just wish I could walk into a room and make everyone else want to be me."
Geoff studied the American woman. She was gorgeous, from her kissable mouth to her curvy body. But more than that, it was her joie de vivre that drew his eye. She'd grown up rich and often turned up in Hello! magazine and YouTube video on her yacht in the Mediterranean. She'd had her share of scandals, but she never shrank from the public eye. He was intrigued by her.
"I think it's the fact that she doesn't follow the rules and doesn't care if anyone is bothered by that," Geoff said.
"I agree," his sister Caroline chimed in as she returned to the table. "You are talking about Amelia, right?"
"Yes," Mary said. "I envy her."
Caroline laughed. "I'm jealous of the way she commands the attention of everyone. I wish I did."
"You do, Caro, you just don't realize it."
"I think you might be the only one who thinks that," she said, smiling up at him. He adored both his little sisters, having practically raised them. His mum had bad episodes of depression and often took to her room for weeks at a time. And his stepfather had died when the girls were four and six years old.
"The right man will see that as well," he said.
"And when will he come along?" Caro asked.
"When you are thirty," he said with a mock growl.
"Until then, I'll just have to have fun with Mr. Wrong."
"Not if I have anything to say about it."
"You don't," she said with a giggle. "You are too busy running Everest Air."
He scowled. Malcolm's "gift" was a pain in the ass. With the spike in crude oil prices and the slowing economy, the air industry was feeling the pinch. Geoff was coming up with some creative ideas to keep the airline in the black, but it was taking up more time than he wanted to devote to his job.
He decided it was time to start working hard and playing hard.
"Too true, Caro," he said.
Mary was quiet during their conversation and he suspected it was because she was expecting an offer of marriage from him soon. As much as he liked Mary, when he tried to imagine spending the rest of his life with her, he couldn't do it.
She was simply too quiet. He had more fun talking to his sisters then he did talking to her, and in the end he guessed that made the decision he'd been mulling over about marrying her so much easier. It wasn't fair to Mary or himself. They both deserved more from their relationships.
He had a life of duty and obligation, and he wanted his marriage to be more than a merging of family names and titles. He wanted the real thing—unlike what he'd seen in his parents' lives.
He knew that he could never turn his back on his responsibilities but he also knew that he'd always had in the back of his mind the fact that he was going to have a good marriage.
His mum's affair with Malcolm Devonshire had changed her. She'd said as much more than once when she was having her dark spells. And her marriage to Caro and Gemma's father had been made purely to restore the reputation she'd destroyed with her affair.
So he'd seen the obligation side of marriage and it had left him feeling empty. When he'd been younger, he'd seen his sunny mother wither whenever she read an article about Malcolm until she spent more time in her home then she did at the social obligations she used to enjoy.
And he knew he wanted more than that. He wanted someone different—a woman who could stir his passions. He heard the husky sound of feminine laughter and glanced across the room to where Amelia held court with several eager young suitors. He wanted her.
She spent a lot of time in the spotlight, something that he'd learned to avoid as a young man. But that didn't seem to bother him at the moment.
Geoff was used to going after what he wanted and used to getting it, and Amelia Munroe would be no different. He was going to have her.
He took a sip of his martini and leaned back in his seat as the emcee talked on and on. He thought back to the time he'd spent with Amelia on a philanthropic trip to Botswana. He remembered how compassionate and sincere she had seemed there. Not the spoiled heiress whose every move was catalogued by the press, but a woman who'd sat in the dirt and comforted a child who was crying. A woman who'd spoken the local language to the people who were collecting the water and medical supplies that their group had brought with them. She'd casually mentioned she'd learned the language on a trip years earlier to the same region.
Seeing that side of Amelia had intrigued him. But seeing her tonight in full form had reminded him that she was a complex, confusing, beautiful woman. One that he was suddenly hell-bent on getting to know better.
Amelia Munroe smiled at Cecelia, Lady Abercrombie, and nodded as the older woman talked about the fiasco at her dinner party a week earlier. Amelia wished she were indeed the careless person she was portrayed as in the tabloid media because then she could just walk away from Cecelia. But she couldn't. Lady Abercrombie was one of her mother's closest friends and when she wasn't rambling on endlessly, Amelia genuinely liked her.
"Well, to make a long story short," Cecelia said, "be glad you didn't come."
"I'm not glad I missed your party. It sounds like it was very interesting."
"If you'd been there, it would have been more than interesting," Cecelia said. "How was Milan?"
"Wonderful. Mother has designed a new line that is going to be simply spectacular. I can't wait for the world to see it."
"I'm going next week for a sneak peek," Cecelia said. Though in her early fifties, Cecelia looked at least fifteen years younger, with a trim, athletic build and perfectly coiffed blond hair. But what really made her look young was her smooth skin—something that Amelia's mother, Mia Domenici, attributed to the spa treatments Cecelia had twice a year in Switzerland. Something Amelia's father never approved of.
"I'm sure you'll have a lovely trip," Amelia said.
"I can't wait. Oh, I see Edmond, Malcolm Devonshire's man of affairs. I want to find out how Malcolm's health is, dear, do you mind?"
"Not at all," Amelia said and watched the other woman walk away. Cecelia was a gossip and always knew every detail of the personal lives of their set. She turned to survey the room and saw a man walking toward her.
She knew him in an instant. Geoff Devonshire. They attended many of the same functions and served on the board of the International Children's Fund together.
There was something about the man, with his dark, thick curly hair and piercing blue eyes, that she couldn't resist. She thought back to a photo she'd seen of him once, standing next to his Learjet in a pair of slim-fitting jeans—and no shirt.
Yummy. The man had chest muscles like the Italian models that her mother hired for her fall shows.
But unlike most men, Geoff had never paid her much attention. It was maddening, actually.
"Good evening, Geoff," she said, as he stopped in front of her. She stood up to give him the customary kiss on each cheek, but he startled her by putting his hands on her waist and brushing his lips against hers. Her mouth tingled from the contact and she tilted her head to the side to study him, trying to hide the fact that he'd caught her so off guard.
She was the outrageous one!
"That was a bit friendly," she said.
"I can be a cheeky bastard," he replied with a half smile.
"As can Hubert," she said.
Geoff laughed as she gave the older man a wave.
"Scandalous," he joked.
It was an apt choice of words, Amelia thought. Scandal might as well be her middle name. Though she had been born to a world of wealth and privilege, she'd also been born into scandal. Her mother had been the mistress of Augustus Munroe, a married New York hotel mogul who had changed the way that people traveled. He'd revolutionized the hotel industry with his signature luxury-themed hotels.
"But I don't want to talk about Hubert," Geoff said, staring her down with his impossibly blue eyes.
She took a sip of her champagne. "You don't? What do you want to discuss?"
"Dinner. Tomorrow night."
"Why, Captain Devonshire, are you asking or ordering me out?" she asked, using one of Geoff's many titles. She was playing coy but was surprised. After ignoring her for so long, why was he suddenly interested in her? He'd been a decorated war hero in the first Gulf war with the Royal Air Force.
Geoff smiled. "I'm asking, of course."
"But aren't you serious about Mary Werner?"
"We have been dating casually. Is that a problem?" he asked. "I didn't think that exclusivity was something you usually bothered with."
Heat rushed to her face. Geoff thought he knew her, based on what? Stories he'd seen splashed in the papers? She had always been careful not to repeat her mother's mistake of dating and falling for a committed man.
"Maybe you don't know as much as you think you do," she said.
"There's no maybe about it," he replied. "I'm sorry. That was rude and I have no excuse for it. Please accept my apology."
"Accepted," she said. "You should know as well as anyone that just because a story is on a Web site or in the tabloids doesn't make it true."
"Give me a chance to make it up to you with dinner," he said.
"Why? Are you just after the girl you've read about?"
"No, I'm not," he replied. "There is something about the girl behind the headlines that intrigues me."
Amelia was afraid to believe him. Geoff was different from every other man she'd met but that didn't mean she could trust him. She had learned little about Geoff from the rumor mill—just that he was a man who took his work and his life very seriously, putting duty first. She had thought they had little in common—she courted the media and he shied away from it.
"If you have dinner with me, there will be photos and stories about us," she said, wanting to make sure that he understood what her life was all about.
"I am aware of that."
She nodded. "Then I will see you tomorrow night."
"I will see to the details," he said. "I'll pick you up."
"See you then," she said. She turned and walked away. She was always the first to walk away. She'd started doing that when she turned twenty-one and realized that she didn't have to wait for someone to leave her again. Someone…she meant her father and all men.