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The engagement was a fake, a desperate plan by Jasmine Cooper to pacify her dying father and prevent family turmoil. Shameless flirt and financial whiz Adam Thorne knew an opportunity when he saw one. The only thing greater than his ambition was his pride, and Jasmine had once wounded his. So he'd accept his onetime lover's impulsive proposal—taking his revenge along with a healthy profit. But would his carefully crafted payback falter in the ...
The engagement was a fake, a desperate plan by Jasmine Cooper to pacify her dying father and prevent family turmoil. Shameless flirt and financial whiz Adam Thorne knew an opportunity when he saw one. The only thing greater than his ambition was his pride, and Jasmine had once wounded his. So he'd accept his onetime lover's impulsive proposal—taking his revenge along with a healthy profit. But would his carefully crafted payback falter in the heat of holiday passion?
Well, well, Adam Thorne thought as he lounged in his chair, staring at the woman who had just entered his office. Mohammed had come to the mountain.
Satisfaction plumped up his chest. The rugby ball he'd been tossing up and down stilled in his hands. She might have shown him the door last month after a magical night of passion, but here she was, standing in the doorway of his London office, in the flesh. He tamped down the urge to smile. She'd better be prepared to grovel, or stump up with the goods. He wasn't a man used to slights and empty promises.
Taking his time, he gave the ball one last toss, caught it, then slid his feet off the desk. "Shouldn't you be twelve thousand miles away, hard at work for my big brother?"
Jasmine Cooper, personal assistant to his brother, Nick, English but presently living in Wellington, New Zealand. Cool, composed and without doubt the most fascinating female in Adam's considerable catalogue.
"I had some leave owing."
Adam unwound his long frame, stood and skirted the desk, tossing the rugby ball into a nearby open box.
She walked toward his desk, unbuttoning her long black woolen coat, and he let his eyes have at her. She was, as usual, impeccably dressed in a navy wool trouser suit, saved from severity with a bright-yellow sweater and those four-inch spiky heels she liked. His eyes were drawn to her heels like a magnet. Years of ballroom dancing had given her the most sensational, mile-high legs. A savage bolt of desire rushed through him and his fingers twitched, recalling never-ending silky smooth skin, firm and strong as they locked around his waist, as he molded them with hishands….
"May I take your coat?"
He held out his hand while she slipped out of her coat, glancing around curiously. His office resembled a bomb site, littered with boxes. Adam was enjoying a leisurely last day as junior partner in Croft, Croft and Bayley stockbrokers. In the new year, he would be opening his own premises in the Docklands for a markedly different venture.
He slid the garment on to a hanger and turned back to her, indicating she sit. "To what do I owe this very unexpected pleasure?"
She lifted a graceful hand and patted at her long dark hair, tied back, as usual. Adam preferred it out, remembering how it tickled his chest as she straddled him, kissing his mouth. Her almond-shaped eyes, he'd discovered, interchanged between smoky gray and blue, depending on her level of arousal.
Today, she was poised and elegant, lightly made-up, the perfect milk and roses of a true English beauty with a warm, rich shade on her lovely lips. As if he hadn't been assaulted by the same sights and sounds dozens of times over the past weeks, he again recalled those eyes hazed with passion, her short, well-kept nails digging into his hips, urging him on. The desperate little panting noises that escaped her throat at the onset of orgasm, and which he just bet prim and proper Ms. Cooper was mortified about later.
Pity she'd blotted her copy book. Adam was still mightily displeased at the way she'd treated him afterward. It had taken six dates to charm her into bed, spurred on by her quietly confident decree that she would not be another notch on his crowded bedpost. He'd persevered because he was on holiday, his time was more or less his own and he'd enjoyed her company more than expected, considering she was nothing like the women he usually dated. If people had a type, Jasmine Cooper was nothing like his.
Hell, he'd persevered because she'd told him no.
"I just spoke to Nick last week," he mused. "He didn't mention you were coming over."
He'd also courted the displeasure of his brother, who seemed to take a personal interest in keeping him away from his P.A., going so far as to tell him that a woman like Jasmine wouldn't give him the time of day.
Adam never could resist a challenge, but his brother had been partly right, as it turned out. After an incredible night of unbridled passion, he'd been shown the door. She couldn't wait to be rid of him. Perhaps she considered him a lapse of her impeccable judgment, or thought he might be less than discreet and tell her boss. One moment, she'd been all over him—literally—the next, it was here's your hat, what's your hurry?
Adam was a master of keeping things casual but at least he did so with charm and good manners. This elegant woman in front of him may look genteel, with her cultured accent that would be at home in Windsor Castle, but she'd dented his normally robust esteem and he didn't like that one bit.
Now she sat in front of him, her hands clasped tightly in her lap. A second glance showed him how tightly. Her knuckles were white. An interesting show of nerves.
"I usually come home at Christmas."
Logical. It was Christmas Eve and she was English and presumably had family here. But why bother coming to see him when a few short weeks ago she couldn't wait to be rid of him?
"And you just happened to be passing?" he said dryly.
Her lips softened. "Not exactly."
Jasmine was a woman of few words. Well-educated, classy, she would never run away with her mouth— although he recalled one or two things she had done with her mouth that had caused him all sorts of pleasure. Adam put his desk between them, feeling as horny as a school kid. He'd been working twenty hours a day since returning from New Zealand, winding up his affairs here, hunting out investors, organizing new premises. He hadn't had a date since he got back. The London debutantes that usually peppered his crowd had had short shrift from him of late—and that, he told himself firmly, had nothing to do with the trouble he was having dislodging the thought of one particular woman from his mind. He only gave Jasmine Cooper a second thought because she'd pissed him off!
"I need to ask a favor," she said, her gaze steady on his face.
Adam raised a brow. That was rich. He'd asked her a favor, one that could make a huge difference to the success of his new entrepreneurial start-up business. She had promised to help and yet every time he'd called from London, she had frozen him out, told him she was too busy to talk.
What could she want? His body? That tantalizing thought flirted with his mind. He'd gladly oblige, but first he'd teach her some morning-after etiquette. One does not hand one's lover his pants and usher him out the door before he's even had his coffee. "I see. Is it just me, or do you see the irony in that?"
For the first time, she had the grace to look a little discomfited. Not much, just a brief shift in her gaze, a tiny clearing of the throat. His brother, Nick, liked to boast that he had the best P.A. in the country: scarily efficient, über-professional, absolutely composed. But Adam possessed the secret to unlocking that composure. All he had to do was get close to see the way he affected her.
He stood and perched on the edge of his desk right in front of her.
"If I acted a little distant after…" she began.
He kept his brow arched and his eyes on her face. He wanted that apology. "After our unforgettable night together?"
Adam smiled when she swallowed, noting the faint tinge of pink on her cheeks.
"I apologize," she said gravely. "I'm afraid I'm not very experienced in these matters."
"Which was one of the most charming and unforgettable things about that night," Adam told her. And he meant it. For a woman in her midtwenties, she was beguilingly shy and inexperienced. "Was it not to your satisfaction?" he asked, knowing the question would discomfit her, and that she had been satisfied several times over.
Her skin pinked even more and he could tell she'd embedded her teeth into the inside of her cheek.
"I'm very sorry, Adam," she told him earnestly. "It was a special night, one I'll never forget."
Adam held her eyes for a few seconds more, then nodded. He deserved no less, but the apology seemed to be from the heart and his anger dissolved. Besides, having her grovel put the ball firmly in his court. She had come to him. He wanted what only she could give him.
And presumably, she wanted him, or else why was she here? "What can I do for you, Jasmine?" he asked, settling back on the desk to give her a modicum more breathing space. He folded his arms, intrigued now that his pride had been restored.
Jasmine swallowed again and looked him directly in the eye. "I want you to spend Christmas with me at my family's estate in Lincolnshire," she said. "As my fiancé."
In the shocking silence that followed, Jasmine forced herself to keep her eyes on his handsome face. She must stay calm and controlled, act as if this was just an everyday request and not the most preposterous thing she'd ever done in her life.
Under his short, razor-textured dark hair, his forehead creased in surprise. His toffee-colored eyes were wide with astonishment. Designer stubble and sideburns normally turned her right off but the moment she'd met Adam Thorne, playboy, high-flyer, and—according to his brother—a shameless flirt and womanizer, she was mesmerized. Model good looks, a tall, lean build that looked oh-so-good in his designer suits and trendy open-necked shirts.
Now all traces of his heart-stopping smile had vanished, his full lips pursed as he stared at her intently. Lord, why had she come out with it just like that? She should have worked up to it.
Jasmine bit her lip, cursing the long flight that seemed to have loaded her brain with cotton wool and feeling less than her best physically. For some reason, a few weeks ago, this interesting and very sexy man had found her attractive. Today, she felt as dull and dowdy as the winter's day outside.
"Perhaps I should expand a little."
She never volunteered details about her family, not to Adam, Nick or anyone. It was easier that way, to shun relationships, not get close to people. She'd fled England five years ago to get away from her colorful past.
On the morning after they'd finally slept together, Adam had asked her about a magazine article she'd cut out and left on her coffee table. At the time, Jasmine was distracted, admiring his naked chest, the long line of his spine, the length and sheer fluid beauty of his legs as he walked around her lounge.
Distracted mostly by the utter novelty of having a gorgeous naked man walking around her lounge.
"That's my uncle," she'd responded to his question before realizing the danger. Adam lived in London. He might have heard something. He might mention it to Nick. She couldn't bear it if her few New Zealand friends and colleagues found out about the complicated circumstances that had dogged her all her life.
Jasmine had panicked, barely hearing him as he told her he'd been trying to get hold of the great Stewart Cooper—the subject of the article—for two months, and maybe she could get him an introduction. "Yes, probably," she'd told him, thrusting his shirt and trousers at him, making excuses that she was late for something, sorry, have a good trip back to London, thanks for everything. She had practically closed the door on his goodbye kiss, full of regrets because it had been the best night of her life and now it was spoiled.
But she hadn't worried about it for too long. Adam Thorne was hardly likely to remember her. That was one of the reasons she'd indulged herself, that and the fact he was heading back to London in the next couple of days.
He had called, as it happened, several times. She'd managed to stay cool and vague and after a couple more calls, he stopped asking how her garden was looking, had she been dancing lately and was Nick working her too hard. He only asked about her uncle.
She'd stammered that she was too busy to talk, she hadn't been able to contact him. Jasmine felt terrible, but what could she do? She'd never met her uncle. Never wanted to because of the bad blood between him and her father. And according to her father, he'd never wanted to meet her. Really, she'd done Adam a favor. Stewart Cooper, the reclusive billionaire, might never agree to see him if he knew Jasmine was a friend.
Now, she cautioned herself against telling him more than he needed to know. "Firstly, my name isn't Jasmine. It's Jane."
Adam frowned, pursing his lips, and she nearly smiled when he softly formed the word a couple of times, Jane, as if testing it on his lips.
Then he shook his head. "Doesn't do it for me, sorry."
"I haven't changed it officially," she told him, digging her fat traveling wallet out of her bag. She slid her passport from its compartment, opened it and showed him. "My passport and official documents are still Jane."
"Jasmine suits you better," he insisted, glancing at the passport.
She wondered with trepidation if her next words would get a reaction. "My father is a retired barrister, Sir Nigel Cooper?" She raised her brows in query.
Adam shook his head again.