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It was a filthy night. Which suited Dante Carrazzo's filthy mood right down to the ground.
The BMW's windscreen wipers struggled to keep pace with the blinding rain, while its headlights picked out little more in the night fog than the ghostly shadows of gum trees looming claw-like over the unfamiliar Adelaide Hills road. If there was a boutique-hotel anywhere in the area, it sure didn't want to be found.
Which was probably no surprise, given his plans for it.
He steered the car tight around another bend, his frustration mounting as his headlights met nothing other than their own reflection over a slick ribbon of road disappearing into the gloom.
Tiredness tugged at his senses and stung his eyes, eight hours behind the wheel after a full day's battling to bring the Quinn deal to fruition starting to take its toll. Dante clamped down on the weakness the same way he did any other, forcing himself to alertness. It had been a long time, but he knew this was the right road. It had to be here, hidden under this blanket of fog, somewhere
He was past the poorly lit turn-off before he realized it.
With a muttered curse, he wheeled the car around at the first opportunity and headed back, pulling the car into the long driveway and towards the distant, eerie glow of lights that heralded his destination.
Shrouded in swirling mist, the old mansion turned boutique-hotel looked almost sinister, its windows dark and unwelcoming, the old sandstone walls glowing unnaturally in the muted lantern light. He parked the car, mentally adding to his description the words, "brooding" and "resentful".
Almost as if it hated him just as much as hehated every last thing it represented.
So be it.
The fog wrapped around him as he stepped from the car, icy droplets stinging his skin. He pulled his bag from the car and strode the few feet to the arched entrance-lobby, leaning against the night bell as he swiped the dampness from his coat. He waited precisely ten seconds before pressing it again.
'I have a reservation,' he said, brushing past the open-mouthed night clerk into the warm interior the second the door finally opened.
Behind him he heard the massive timber-panelled door being shut, closing out the swirling mist and cold. 'I'll certainly check for you, sir,' said the clerk, making his way to the polished timber reception-counter. 'Although I'm afraid we seem to have a full house tonight.'
Dante fixed the clerk with a stare that would splinter rocks. 'I hope that doesn't mean you've given my room away.'
The clerk frowned, his eyes flicking nervously away to his screen. 'It will only take a moment to check, sir. What name did you say?'
'I didn't. And it's Carrazzo. Dante Carrazzo.'
'Ah!' The clerk straightened as if someone had shoved an iron rod up his spine. Dante caught the smell of fear that came with it. It came as no surprise. All of the staff would be wonderingnow that he owned Ashton House lock, stock and barrelexactly what it was he had in mind for it. All of them would be on tenterhooks.
He allowed himself a wry smile. Given his reputation, they had a right to be.
'We we weren't expecting you tonight, not with all the Melbourne airports closed.'
'Do you have a room for me or not?' His eyes were stinging again, indigestion burning his stomach. After the day and night he'd had, what he needed right now was a few hours of precious sleep, not a discussion about his travel arrangements. And if they'd given away his room
'I'm sorry. Of course, sir,' the night clerk blustered, passing a pen for Dante to sign the register, while at the same time reaching for the room key. 'Your suite was held. It's just that we didn't expect you until morning.'
'Last time I looked,' he replied smoothly, his voice modulated to low while every word was aimed like a barb, 'it was morning. Now, what time will the manager be here?'
'MacMackenzi will be on from seven.'
'Good,' he said, scribbling his signature on the registration form. 'Have this Mackenzi meet me in the restaurant at nine. Now, remind me where I can find this suite '
The clerk gave him directions as soon as Dante had convinced him he was capable of carrying his own luggage. But he'd barely started down the passageway before he heard his name.
He turned on a sigh, impatient and unimpressed. 'What is it?'
The clerk shrank noticeably in response, as if already wishing he could take back his interruption. 'I meant to tell you, Mr Carrazzo, the staff organized a welcome package for you. You'll find it waiting in your suite. But please, don't hesitate to let me know if there's anything else you need.'
'Oh, don't worry,' he growled, 'I will.' He turned and made his way down the old stone-walled billiards room, and through the passageway that led to the wing where the presidential suite took up half the space. If the staff really believed something as insignificant as a welcome package was going to change his mind about this place, then they were in for a major disappointment.
The plush carpet absorbed his footfall. The hotel slept silently around him, the only sound the burst of rain against the roof signalling the end of the brief respite, while the distant roll of thunder promised still more bad weather to come.
Weariness dragged at him now, muting the feeling of triumph that had come with learning Ashton House was his. He paused and took a breath, the key lodged deep into the timber double-doors that marked the entry to his suitethe same suite that Jonas and Sara Douglas had shared seventeen years ago.
Seventeen years it had taken him to get here.
Seventeen years, and now the last asset, the jewel in the crown of the Douglas Property Group, was finally his. That deserved some kind of celebratory toast, surely?
The door swung open to a dimly lit corridor as the heavens really opened above, the noise from the rain now a deafening roar. The bedroom lay to the left, he seemed to recall, so instead he turned to the right, remembering a sitting room, snapping on the lights and immediately dimming them down low. He dropped his bag and opened a timber sideboard. Bingo. He emptied two tiny bottles into a tumbler and took a swig, rolling the malt whiskey around his tongue before tossing it back, appreciating the burst of fire all the way down to his belly. He sighed an appreciative sigh. He'd needed that.
A few seconds later and he'd shrugged out of his jacket and reefed out his shirt, unbuttoning his sleeves as he circled the room. Unexpectedly, it wasn't at all cold in the suite, despite the two walls where uncovered French windows looked out into foggy rain-streaked blankness. Another wall held a door that he remembered led to the bathroom and connected with the bedroom beyondand a bed that beckoned.
Could he sleep in a room that had once housed Sara and Jonas?
Oh, hell, yes! It would be nothing more than the sweet, satisfying taste of revenge that would fuel his dreams tonight.
He finished in the bathroom, leaving his clothes where they fell noiselessly under the hammer of rain on the roof, and stepped naked into the bedroom.
And that was when he found her.
The naked skin of lean shoulder-blades glowed pearlescent under the wash of light angling from the bathroom door, while copper-lit mahogany hair flowed in waves across the pillow. Her face was turned away, but even shadows couldn't hide the fine line of her jaw or the sweep of long lashes over high cheekbones.
Some welcome package, he thought with reluctant appreciation, muscle weariness morphing into testosterone-fuelled interest in an instant. He moved closer to the bed. By rights, his bed.
He had to hand it to the staff here, they were nothing if not creative. Nowhere else had the personnel tried the Goldilocks approach, trying to soften his attitude by pressing a little tender flesh onto him. And that flesh did look tender, he mused. Tender, smooth and very inviting.
Not that he was really interested. No-one decided who Dante Carrazzo slept with. And no whore was about to change his mind about what he had planned for this place. She would just have to find herself another bed to warm tonight. It shouldn't take her long, given her obvious attributes.
He was about to rouse her when he caught sight of himself and cursed. In this state, he'd never convince her that her services weren't required.
Wrapped in one of the white hotel-robes from the closet, he reached once again for her shoulder, just as a clap of thunder shook the room, the curtained windows lighting up a scant second later. She stirred and murmured, and he thought his job already done, but she merely rolled over, sinking back into oblivion on a sigh.
Breath hissed through his teeth as his eyes drank in the new, improved view. Even with her eyes closed she was some temptress, her lips full and inviting. But it was the cream-skinned breasts topped with dusky nipples that shook his resolve, nipples he could see were already firming with their exposure to the air.
Not the only things around here firming.
Heat targeted his groin, ramping up the pressure to an ache, and relaying the message that he was now way, way overdressed. What had been before no more than a general but suppressible interest in the fairer sex, had combusted into something much more carnal. Much more necessary. What would it take to wake her up? If she could sleep through a storm like this, it might take a while to wake her by conventional methods.
Which left him with the unconventional.
He made a sound like a growl. Maybe he had been too hasty, wanting to dispose of her so soon. It wasn't like he was about to change his mind about this place, but he was due a celebration. What better place to have it than in the very room where Jonas and Sara had lain the night before they'd smiled like sharks and had told him the truth?
Pain, savage and raw, sliced through him at the memories, turning to bile in his throat, as if it had only been yesterday and not all those years ago.
Damn them! He would bury every part of their memory, every part of their legacy, just as he buried himself deep inside this woman.
Then he would toss her out.
He returned to the bathroom, locating what he needed before dispensing with the robe. Now it was time to find out just how difficult his Goldilocks would be to rouse. The more difficult the better, he acknowledged. For tonight he didn't want conversation.
Tonight was all about retribution.
She was still on her back when he returned, her face to one side, her arms flung wide, her perfect breasts exposed for the taking. His taking. He took a moment to drink her in. The face was almost angelic in repose, while the naked form of a goddess called to him like a siren. He took in the twin globes of her breasts, and the shapely dip to her waist, and what lay lower, hidden for now by the covers, but hinting at more hidden treasures. If he wasn't mistaken, her lower end was just as bare as her topand, if he'd had any doubt that his surprise visitor wasn't intended for his pleasure, the fact she lay there naked removed any such doubt in a heartbeat. So, she was into saving time? He appreciated such little economies, especially tonight.
He dragged in a sudden burst of air, and needed to balance the weight of blood pooling in his groin. He was glad she hadn't awakened when that clap of thunder had rent the skies. This way would be much more entertaining. 'And much more satisfying,' he murmured as he gently knelt down on the bed alongside her.
She barely stirred, even when he pushed a wayward coil of hair from her face. Unable to resist a further touch, he ran the back of one finger down one shadowed cheek and was rewarded by the merest hint of a sigh, her lips parting as she drew in air, lifting her chest and doing amazing things to those breasts.
His gaze lingered there, taking in the creamy glow of her skin and the pebbled peaks of her breasts, calling to him now like beacons. He would answer that call, but there was no rush, and right now he hadn't finished with her mouth.
With the pad of one thumb, he gently traced the outline of her lips, feeling her warm breath against his skin, taking her murmur of pleasure as a sign of encouragement.
He dipped his head, drinking in the warm, feminine scent of her skin before giving her mouth the briefest of passes. She sighed, her head rolling to one side. He brushed her lips with his own, finding them warm and welcoming. She moved under his mouth, even in sleep finding that sweet spot where their lips meshed perfectly, inviting him to linger, inviting him to explore further.
Reluctantly he pulled away, watching her shadowed face as her body reacted to what he was doing, looking for any hint of her wakefulness but finding none. It was different, he realized, pleasuring a woman asleep, different and more arousing. There was something more evocative, more empowering.
Sex by stealth.