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By Alison Kent
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe hardest thing a woman had to do was tell a man to leave when she wasn't sure she wanted him to go.
Or so Annabel Lee decided as she stood in front of her office's wall of windows in the gIRL-gEAR complex, staring at the east-west headlights and taillights dueling down Houston's Southwest Freeway.
With one section of the miniblinds raised and the lights turned off, the darkness of her office blended with that of the night sky, creating an encompassing theater of black. The glow from the hallway outside her door provided the only illumination. She didn't need any more.
It was eight o'clock on Friday night.
It was the seventeenth of December.
Two weeks of vacation loomed ahead. Time she'd set aside to recover from the grueling study schedule she'd kept for the past month, a schedule that had helped her ace her finals, bringing her another step closer to completing her forensic anthropology degree.
Two weeks to explore her options - both career and personal. An exploration best done in solitude, no matter that her partners in the gIRL-gEAR fashion empire, where she held a vice-presidential position, insisted otherwise. They wanted to brainstorm, to role-play, to run aptitude tests, to make introductions, to initiate contacts.
Like Greta Garbo, Annabel simply wanted to be left alone.
She'd done all she could to limit disruptions to her self-imposed exile. She'd set an auto-response on her email accounts, had vowed to check phone messages but once a day. Her voice mail gave emergency instructions on reaching her through gIRL-gEAR's CEO, Sydney Ford.
It wasn't as if Annabel wouldn't be seeing her partners at all during her time away from the office. She was hosting a casual Christmas Eve dinner for those staying home for the holidays, though the finalization of those details would be no more than a minor distraction. And, yes. She had an impending New Year's Eve catering disaster to divert, which would, unfortunately, take a bit of time and effort.
Neither of those, however, rivaled her most immediate crisis. Because tonight, during the four hours or so that remained between leaving the office and going to bed, she had to give up sex.
Celibacy had never before presented a problem. She wouldn't have gotten as far as she had in life without learning the value of discipline. She was thirty-three years old and hadn't been a virgin for a very long time. She'd experienced her fair share of devoted lovers as well as a few whose loyalties had belonged in another's bed. Never in her life, however, had she been swept away by a man's body.
Yet for seven weeks now she'd been drowning.
Taking stock of her life required total concentration, unwavering focus. The distraction of sex would be impossible to resist, the temptation to experience mindless oblivion insurmountable. At least this sex, this oblivion, and all of what she had with this man. She had to pour her energies into her self-assessment - not into bed nor a relationship that would never go anywhere beyond.
Arms crossed over her silk power blazer of cinnabar red, she lifted her chin, pleased at the strength she saw in her image reflected in the dark window. Pleased, in fact, with the total picture she made in her straight black skirt, which was short and tight - exactly the inaccessible fit he loathed - and her three-inch pumps in black leather.
Her dark panty hose were guaranteed to piss him off - as would her panties. He liked her to wear stockings and garters and nothing more, and the defiance of dressing exactly as he'd told her not to gave her an edge.
Tonight. She would tell him tonight. Before she left the office and went into hibernation she would call him, arrange to meet him for drinks, and tell him it was over. He wouldn't be happy. Hell, she wasn't happy. No sane woman would be, giving up sex that was spontaneous and heated, and cut so close to the heart of who she was.
She never climaxed without feeling she'd left too much of herself behind, and that he would use that weakness against her. That danger was a big part of the allure. She constantly wondered how far he would take her, but only half as much as she wondered how far he'd allow her to go.
Things had become more complicated than she'd ever thought possible after the first time he'd kissed her. The minute he'd backed her up against the alley wall behind the wine and tobacco bar hosting gIRL-gEAR's Halloween night bachelorette auction, she had known he would become her addiction. Much of her intuition came with the first touch of his tongue.
But she'd known even before she'd tasted him. He'd stood there, his hands flexing at his hips, his chest heaving. What the hell business was it of hers how he'd come by the money he'd used to buy her? That had been his demand in response to her query. The other words that had come out of his mouth had been raw and ragged and totally unfit for civilized ears.
That was when she'd admitted to the wild attraction and vowed to take him to bed. Nothing about him was the least bit refined. He was unpredictable, unruly, totally undisciplined and more than a little bit mad. He was the most intriguing man she'd ever met. He was also the most dangerous. To her, yes, but also to himself.
She was afraid part of her fascination was an urge to free him from the demons keeping him bound. What a stupid endeavor that would be. She knew nothing about the horrors he'd faced, even as she knew firsthand the impossibility of changing those blind to their own destructive behavior.
After all, she'd tried for years to change her mother.
Still, Annabel wanted him in ways that frightened her, despite knowing he could not possibly be a permanent part of her life. He was too capricious, too ... damaged. And after surviving her childhood intact, she'd sworn to surround herself with sanity. If that wasn't possible, then she would live her life on her own.
So when, three minutes later, his long shadow fell across her from the office doorway, she damned herself for ever giving him the building's front door key. He came here often when she worked late into the night, tempting her by saying nothing, by being unpredictably spur-of-the-moment, by beckoning her away from the life of work and study that consumed her, to show her the world in which he lived.
A world of seedy bars with anonymous faces and the worst liquor imaginable. Of long drives down roads without end, of bowling and batting cages, of running at midnight through downtown streets in the rain. Of making out in the rain forest at the city zoo, with birds cawing and squawking and trilling all around.
A world no one she knew would ever believe she visited.
A world that wasn't real.
And here he was again, unexpected yet ... not. She wasn't surprised, but neither was she ready. She hadn't been able to pull up the drawbridge to her protective walls. She needed more time to gird her loins before going into battle.
Yet all she could do was close her eyes and increase the pressure of her hands holding her arms to her body. She would turn and reach for him if she let go, and tonight she had too much to say.
With every step he took toward her the tension heightened, growing as thick as the flow of blood through her veins. Her pulse raced, an exhilarating rush prickling her skin.
Excerpted from Indiscreet by Alison Kent Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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