Read an Excerpt
Six months later
"PLEASE, Carrie, you've got to do this for me," Lulu begged, streams of mascara–stained tears running down her crumpled face. 'If Darren listens to that message he'll throw me out!"
"I want to help. You know that," Carrie said, looking at her weeping friend with concern. 'But wouldn't it be better if you did it? After all, no one's going to think twice if you walk into your husband's study and take his phone."
"I told you—everyone heard us arguing. Anyway, I can't go down there like this," Lulu wailed, indicating her ruined make–up with a theatrical gesture. 'But if I don't delete that message I'm going to be in such big trouble."
"Well, I'm hardly going to blend in with the party." Carrie glanced down at the sports gear she was wearing. She was Lulu's personal trainer, not one of her footballer husband's fancy party set. 'And you know I've got to leave soon or I'll be late picking up Danny."
"It won't take long." Lulu suddenly lunged towards her and pulled at her T–shirt. 'Quick—get these things off. You can wear one of my dresses."
Five minutes later Carrie emerged from Lulu's bedroom, dressed for her mission and feeling decidedly self–conscious. After the past six months of caring for Danny and coming to terms with her grief, it was an unsettling experience to dress up for a glitzy celebrity party. Even before her life had changed so dramatically she wouldn't have felt at ease in such dangerously high stiletto heels and a dress so tight she could hardly breathe. But there simply hadn't been time to sift through Lulu's wardrobe to find something she'd feel better wearing.
She left her backpack, which was stuffed rather haphazardly with her training gear, by the front door, and started moving through the house towards Darren's study. Lulu just needed his phone long enough to delete the voicemail she had left in a fit of jealousy. Then Carrie's task would be over.
She took a glass of champagne from a passing waiter and knocked back a recklessly large swallow of the sparkling liquid. An explosion of bubbles fizzed against the roof of her mouth, making her throat tighten uncomfortably and her eyes start to water. She coughed quietly, and blinked to clear her vision as she glanced quickly round the room.
Despite the early hour, the party was already in full swing. A photographer was making the rounds, finding no shortage of guests willing to pose for him—no doubt hoping to find their photos inside the glossy pages of well–known celebrity lifestyle magazines.
She smoothed the sparkly red dress over her hips in an ineffectual effort to cover a decent amount of thigh. Lulu wasn't known for choosing her wardrobe with modesty in mind, and that coupled with Carrie's considerable extra height meant that she was left with an alarming amount of leg on show. Even more disconcerting was the lack of decent coverage provided by the plunging neckline.
Feeling very self–conscious, she dropped her gaze and moved across the room. A curtain of sleek black hair fell across her eyes, but she didn't flick it back. She felt better with her face hidden—although no one was actually looking at her face, she thought with a shudder.
At last she slipped quietly into the study and closed the door behind her. She ignored the nerves that fluttered in her stomach and crossed to the desk. Putting her champagne glass down, she picked up Darren's jacket from the back of his chair and reached her hand into the pocket.
"Do you make a habit of that?"
Carrie gasped and spun round to see who had spoken, clutching the jacket tightly to her chest.
A stranger stood just inside the study. Tall and imposing, with an unmistakable air of power about him, he was standing perfectly still, calmly watching her every move.
Her eyes flew to his face, and as their gazes met she sucked in a startled breath. He was utterly gorgeous. Dark brown hair and bronzed skin made his appearance classically Mediterranean, apart from his eyes, which were an arresting shade of blue.
She looked at him, taking in his incredible bone structure and perfect features. He was unbelievably good–looking, but there was something disconcerting about him. She had the strangest feeling that she ought to know who he was. She bit her lip and studied him, momentarily forgetting that she was still holding the incriminating jacket.
It worried her that she couldn't place him. Many of the guests at the party were celebrities—easily recognisable people that for an instant you thought you knew, until suddenly you realised who they were. Carrie was used to that, with several of her clients being celebrities of one kind or another. But there was something about this man that unnerved her.
He was studying her in return. She felt a shiver of sexual awareness prickle across her skin as his gaze swept arrogantly over her. The intensity in his glittering blue eyes made her suddenly acutely aware of her body, and of the revealing dress she was wearing. It was an unfamiliar sensation.
For the past six months she had been totally absorbed in her new way of life. She had discovered the bittersweet joys of caring for Danny whilst dealing with the loss of so many loved ones and had learned to cope with the everyday stresses of looking after a child.
With all of that going on, she simply wasn't used to thinking of herself as an attractive woman that men might fight desirable.
A wave of heat washed across her exposed skin, but it was unsettling and she did her best to ignore it. She couldn't let herself be thrown off kilter by her unexpected feelings. After all, she still had to get Darren's phone for Lulu, and then leave in time to pick up Danny.
"Can I help you?" she asked, deliberately making her voice sound as indifferent as she could. 'Are you lost, or were you looking for Darren?"
"You didn't answer my question,"the stranger said. 'I asked if you made a habit of that."
Carrie's heart skipped a beat. he'd seen what she'd been up to.
"I don't know what you mean," she said, in an attempt to brazen it out. She let the jacket fall back onto the chair, closing her fingers round the mobile phone just as her hand slid from the pocket. She tossed her silky hair away from her face and stared squarely back at him.
"I meant do you often creep into other people's studies and steal their mobile phones?" His voice was deep and resonant, with the hint of an accent that Carrie couldn't place.
"I didn't creep anywhere."Trying to sound cool, she let her gaze slide down across his powerful body. She was impressed by what she saw. Lean and athletic, he looked amazing in his dark designer suit, but she had no doubt he'd look equally good dressed in the more revealing exercise gear that, because of her job as a trainer, she was used to seeing men wear. 'And I haven't stolen anything. This is Lulu's phone. I was fetching it for her."
"You should really work on your story more," he said. 'I work for Lulu." She shrugged, trying to ignore the mocking note to his tone. Maybe she could still bluff her way out of the situation. 'She asked me to fetch it."
"Really?" he asked, running his eyes insultingly over her, starting from the tips of her toes and working his way up in a leisurely fashion. 'Are they your work clothes?" he finished, letting his gaze linger on her almost indecently exposed breasts.
"I'm Lulu's personal trainer," she said, trying to ignore the way her skin was burning from his perusal. It was strangely exciting, yet utterly unnerving, to feel the way her body was responding to the touch of his eyes. 'Now, please excuse me. I really must get back to her."she took a step towards the door.
Suddenly the sound of Darren's voice right outside the study caught her attention.
Her eyes flicked nervously to the door. She still had his phone in her hand, and there was nowhere in the ridiculously skimpy outfit she was wearing to hide it. She'd made Lulu a promise, but now she wasn't going to get away with it.
She looked back at her uninvited companion. Would he give her away? Reveal that he'd caught her red–handed in the act of stealing the mobile phone?
At that moment he started walking towards her. Her heart lurched and she clutched the phone tightly, staring at him. She was paralysed like a rabbit in the glare of an approaching juggernaut. What was he going to do? Take the phone from her and tell Darren exactly what he'd seen?
His movements seemed quite unhurried, but there was a purposeful glint in his blue eyes that sent an icy tingle skittering down Carrie's spine. Then suddenly she realised he was standing right in front of her, effectively shielding her from anyone who came into the room.
Startled by his sudden proximity, she stared up at him with wide eyes. At five foot eight inches she was tall, but even with the added height of Lulu's four–inch stiletto–heeled sandals she had to tip her head back to look at him.
The expression on his face made her heart beat erratically. His glittering blue eyes darkened, and he looked so deeply into her eyes that it felt as if he could see right into her soul. Then he tipped his head slightly to one side, as if he was about to kiss her!
"So lovely," he murmured, resting his hands gently on the bare skin of her upper arms.
Carrie was transfixed. She simply couldn't tear her gaze away from his face. He was absolutely gorgeous. Everything about his features seemed perfect, from the deep blue eyes fringed with sinfully long lashes to the wide, expressive mouth. And he was looking at her and seeing a desirable woman.
Suddenly she became aware of the sensuous slide of his hand down her arm, skimming lightly over her skin in a way that made the hairs stand up and goosebumps prickle over her exposed flesh. His hand closed over the phone, taking it from her grasp, then in the next second his other arm moved around her, pulling her hard against his muscular frame.
She gasped as her body bumped against his, the skimpy dress doing nothing to shield her from the hot–blooded strength of his powerful masculine form. Her heart was beating so loudly it blocked out all other sounds, and her stomach was turning somersaults. What was he going to do now? He couldn't really mean to kiss her, could he? He didn't even know her!
Somewhere deep inside her mind a tiny rational thought told her to push him off, to back away and get out of there while she still could. But her body was ignoring the niggle of common sense, overriding her instinct for self–preservation. She simply didn't want to do the sensible thing.
She stared up at him, unable to speak or move. Then the moment of no return passed and his mouth came down on hers.
The sensual movement of his lips against hers set her body trembling, and she clung to him, utterly lost in the moment.
Her legs felt weak, and her arms seemed to slide around his broad shoulders of their own volition as she felt her body meld itself to his. He placed one strong hand between her shoulder blades to support her, and by leaning forward pushed her back over the desk. A moment later his other hand found her waist and tugged her tightly to him.
Her hips were pressed against his, and her spine was arched back, pushing her breasts upwards. It was an undeniably erotic position, and a rush of sexual excitement stormed through her body, starting an insistent throbbing of desire deep within her. Then, with unexpected abruptness, he pulled back from the kiss.
She stared at him in startled silence. All she could hear was the sound of her own breathing and the rapid beating of her heart.All she could see was his face, his expression intense but unreadable. He still held her close, but not so tightly as before.
"Carrie?" A man's voice coming from behind the stranger broke through into her awareness. 'I didn't know you were coming this evening."
Darren! She'd forgotten all about him. Suddenly she remembered she'd taken his mobile phone—then an instant later realised it was no longer in her hand.
"Lulu…Lulu asked me to stay for the party," she stammered distractedly, hardly able to tear her gaze away from the stranger's face to glance at Darren. 'What are you doing in here?" There was a hint of suspicion colouring his voice as he looked down at his jacket. It was lying rather haphazardly on the chair where Carrie had dropped it. 'Well, I can see what you're doing—but why are you doing it in my study?" he added.
"I needed a moment alone with Carrie." The stranger suddenly spoke, turning his head to look at Darren. From the calm assurance and air of authority he exuded, anyone would think it was his study rather than Darren's.
Carrie's eyes opened wide with shock. How did he know her name—was he simply repeating what he'd just heard Darren call her? And why had he said he wanted to be alone with her? An uncomfortable mixture of emotions rattled through her as she stared at his strong profile. Had he simply followed her into the room with the intention of making a pass at her?
"Nik!"Darren exclaimed. 'Long time no see. You didn't tell me you were coming."
Carrie frowned in confusion. For some reason she was surprised that Darren knew the stranger, but after all this was his party, and all the people here were his guests. And he'd called the stranger by name—Nik.
"It was a last–minute decision," Nik said. 'I've just come straight from the airport."
"I can see you didn't waste any time getting straight down to business, you old dog!"Darren laughed, slapping him soundly on the back. The action bumped Nik hard into Carrie, sending shockwaves of desire ricocheting through her sensitised body. 'And, Carrie," he added approvingly, 'you dark horse!"
With another jolt she realised that she was still almost indecently entwined with the stranger. His muscled leg was pressing intimately between her thighs, pulling the fabric of her dress taut across her hips and causing it to ride up even higher.
"Well, don't let me interrupt you, mate." Darren spoke to Nik as leant past them to pick up his jacket. 'I can see you've got things to do," he added with a knowing grin as he pulled the mobile phone out of the pocket. 'I've got a phone call to make, so I'll leave you to it. Lock the room if you want," he finished, closing the door behind him as he left the study.
Carrie stared after him with her mind spinning, then turned back to look into Nik's face, which was still only inches from her own. She was confused and embarrassed by her response to his kiss, but she was also angry with him for putting her in that position in the first place.
"What on earth do you think you were doing?" she demanded, pushing him away from her. She stood up straight, wobbling slightly on her high heels before she found her balance, but then she planted her hands firmly on her hips and stared at him indignantly.
"I would have thought it was obvious," he drawled, looking completely unmoved as he straightened his tie and tugged at the cuffs of his shirt so that once again he looked immaculate. 'I was replacing the stolen phone, of course."
"Oh!" Carrie was completely thrown. How could he be so matter–of–fact about what had just happened between them? Had he really only kissed her to provide a distraction while he put the phone back?
The kiss had lasted only moments, but it had had a profound impact on her both physically and mentally. For half a year her identity as an individual with hopes and desires had been locked away. She hadn't thought of herself as a woman with natural needs and passions. Now she had suddenly let go, in a way that even shocked herself.