Read an Excerpt
There was no way this was going to work. No way she was ever going to be able to persuade anyone that a hired escort was her partner for real, Tilly decided grimly. But why should she care? Given free choice, she wouldn't even be going to the wedding. Her mother hadn't picked a decent partner yet, and Tilly had no faith in her having done so this time. And as for Art's family Tilly tried to picture her fun-loving, rule-breaking, shock-inducing mother living happily within the kind of family set-up she had described to Tilly in her e-mails, and failed.
The marriage would not last five minutes. In fact it would, in Tilly's opinion, be better if it never took place at alleven if her mother was adamant that she was finally truly in love.
She was a fool for letting herself be dragged into her mother's life to act the part of the happily engaged daughter. But, as always where anything involving her mother was concerned, it was always easier to give in than to object.
The only thing Tilly had ever been able to hold out about against her mother was her own determination never to fall in love or marry.
'But, darling, how can you say that?' her mother had protested when Tilly had told her of her resolve. 'Everyone wants to meet someone and fall in love with them. It's basic human instinct.'
'What if I find out that I'm not in love with them any more, or they aren't in love with me?'
'Well, then you find someone else.'
'Only to marry again, and then again when that doesn't work out? No, thanks, Ma.'
Mother and daughter they might be, and they might even share the same physical characteristics, but sisters under the skin they were most definitely not.
No? Who was she kidding? Wasn't it true that deep down she longed to meet her soul mate, to find that special someone to whom she'd feel able to give herself completely, with whom she'd feel able to remove all those barriers she had erected to protect herself from the pain of loving the wrong man? A man strong enough to believe in their love and to demolish all her own doubts, noble enough to command not just her love but her respect, human enough to show her his own vulnerabilityoh, and of course he must be sexy, gorgeous, and have the right kind of sense of humour. The kind of man that came by the dozen and could be found almost anywhere then, really, she derided herself. Just as well she had never been foolish enough to tell anyone about him. What would she say? Oh, and by the way, here's a description of my wish for Christmas
Get a grip, she warned herself sternly. Heher 'fiance', and most definitely not soulmatewould be here any minute. Tilly frowned. She had e-mailed him last night to explain in exact detail what his role would involve, and to say that he would be required to pose convincingly as her fiance in public. And only in public. No matter how many times Sally had assured her that she had nothing to worry about, and that hiring an escort was a perfectly reasonable and respectable thing to do, Tilly was not totally convinced.
Luckily, because she hadn't taken any time off during the summer, getting a month's leave from her job now had not been a problem. However, she could just imagine what the reaction of the young and sometimes impossibly louche male trainee bankers who worked under her would be if they knew what she was doing.
Other women in her situation might think of themselves as being let loose in a sweet shop at having so many testosterone-charged young men around. Tilly, however, tended to end up mothering her trainees more than anything else.
She tensed when she heard the doorbell ring, even though she had been waiting for it. It was too late now to wish she had taken Sally up on her offer to go into work later, so that she could vet the escort agency's choice.
The doorbell was still ringing. Stepping over her suitcase, Tilly went to open the door, tugging it inwards with what she had intended to be one smooth, I'm-the-one-in-control-here movement.
But her intention was sabotaged by the avalanche of female, hormone-driven reactions that paralysed her, causing her to grip hold of the half-open door.
The man in front of her wasn't just good-looking, she recognised with a small gulp of shock. He was He was She had to close her eyes and count to ten before she dared to open them again. Tiny feathery flicks of sensual heat were whipping against her nerveendings, driving her body into a fever of what could only be lust. This man didn't just possess outstanding male good looks, he also possessed that hard-edged look of dangerous male sexuality that every woman recognised the minute she saw it. Tilly couldn't stop looking at him. He was dark-haired and tallover six feet, she guessedwith powerfully broad shoulders and ice-blue eyes fringed with jet-black lashes. And right now he was looking at her with a kind of frowning impatience, edged with cool, male confidence, that said he certainly wasn't as awestruck by her appearance as she was by his.
'Matilda Aspinall?' he asked curtly.
'No I mean, yesonly everyone calls me Tilly.' For heaven's sake, she sounded like a gauche teenager, not an almost thirty-year-old woman capable of running her own department in one of the most maledominated City environments there was.
'Silas Stanway,' he introduced himself.
'Silas?' Tilly repeated uncertainly. 'But in your e-mails I thought'
'I use my middle name for my e-mail correspondence,' Silas informed her coolly. It wasn't entirely untrue. He did use his middle name, along with his mother's maiden name as his pen-name. 'We'd better get a move on. The taxi driver wasn't too keen on stopping on double yellows. Is that your case?'
'Yes. But I can manage it myself,' Tilly told him.
Ignoring her attempts to do exactly that, he reached past her and hefted the case out of the narrow hallway as easily as though it weighed next to nothing.
'Got everything else?' he asked. 'Passport, travel documentation, keys, money '
Tilly could feel an unfamiliar burn starting to heat her face. An equally unfamiliar sensation had invaded her body. A mixture of confusion and startlingly intense physical desire combined with disbelieving shock. Why was she not experiencing irritation that he should take charge? Why was she experiencing this unbelievably weird and alien sense of being tempted to mirror her own mother's behaviour and come over all helpless?
Was it because it was Christmas, that well-known emotional trap, baited and all ready to spring and humiliate any woman unfortunate enough to have to celebrate it without a loving partner? Christmas, according to the modern mythology of the great god of advertising, meant happy families seated around log fires in impossibly large and over-decorated drawing rooms. Or, for those who had not yet reached that stage, at the very least the loved-up coupledom of freezing cold play snow fights, interrupted by red-hot passionate kisses, the woman's hand on the man's arm revealing the icy glitter of a diamond engagement ring.
But, no matter how gaudily materialism wrapped up Christmas, the real reason people invested so much in it, both financially and emotionally, was surely because at heart, within everyone, there was still that child waking up on Christmas morning, hoping to receive the most perfect presentwhich the adult world surely translated as the gift of love, unquestioning, unstinting, freely given and equally freely received. A gift shared and celebrated, tinsel-wrapped in hope, with a momentary suspension of the harsh reality of the destruction that could follow.
She knew all about that, of course. So why, why, deep down inside was she being foolish enough to yearn to wake up on her own Christmas morning to that impossibly perfect gift? She was the one who was in charge, Tilly tried to remind herself firmly. Not him. And if he had really been her fiance there was no way she would have allowed him to behave in such a high-handed manner, not even bothering to kiss her Kiss her?
Tilly stood in the hall and stared wildly at him, while her heart did the tango inside her chest. 'Is something wrong?'
Those ice-blue eyes didn't miss much, Tilly decided. 'No, everything's fine.' She flashed him her best "I'm the boss" professional smile and stepped through the door.
'Keys?' This woman didn't need an escort, she needed a carer, Silas decided grimly as he watched Tilly hunt feverishly through her bag for her keys and then struggle to insert them into the lock. It was just as well that Joe wasn't the one accompanying her. The pair of them wouldn't have got as far as Heathrow without one of them realising they had forgotten something.
What was puzzling him, though, was why on earth she had felt it necessary to hire a man. With those looks and that figure he would have expected her to be fighting men off, not paying them to escort her. Normally his own taste ran to tall, slim soignee brunettes of the French persuasionthat was to say women of intelligence who played the game of woman-to-man relationships like grand chess masters. But his hormones, lacking the discretion of his brain, were suddenly putting up a good argument for five foot six, gold and honey streaked hair, greenish-gold eyes, full soft pink lips, and a deliciously curvy hourglass figure.
He had, Silas decided, done Joe more than one favour in standing in for him. His impressionable sibling wouldn't have stood a chance of treating this as a professional exercise. Not, of course, that Silas was tempted. And even if he had been there was too much at stake from his own professional point of view for him to risk getting physically involved with Matilda. Matilda! Who on earth had been responsible for giving such a beauty the name Matilda?
What was the matter with her? Tilly wondered feverishly. She was twenty-eight years old, mature, responsible, sensible, and she just did not behave like this around men, or react to them as she did to this man. It wasn't the man who was causing her uncharacteristic behaviour, she reassured herself. It was the situation. Uncomfortably she remembered that sharp, hot, sweetly erotic surge of desire she had felt earlier. Her body still ached a little with it, and that ache intensified every time her female radar picked up the invisible forcefield of male pheromones surrounding Silas. Her body seemed to be reacting to them like metal to a magnet.
She grimaced as she looked up at the December grey-clouded sky. It had started to rain and the pavement was wet. Wet, and treacherously slippery if you happened to be wearing new shoes with leather soles, Tilly recognised as she suddenly started to lose her balance.
Silas caught her just before she cannoned into the open taxi door. Tilly could feel the strength of his grip through the soft fabric of the sleeve of her coat and the jumper she was wearing beneath it. She could also feel its warmth his warmth, she recognised, and suddenly found it hard to breathe normally. Who would have thought that such a subtle scent of cologneso subtle, in fact, that she had to stop herself from leaning closer so she could smell it bettercould make her feel this dizzy?
She looked up at Silas, intending to thank him for saving her from a fall. He was looking back down at her. Tilly blinked and felt her gaze slip helplessly down the chiselled perfection of his straight nose to his mouth. Her own, she discovered, had gone uncomfortably dry. So dry that she was tempted to run the tip of her tongue along her lips.
'I 'aven't got all day, mate '
The impatient voice of the taxi driver brought Tilly back to reality. Thanking Silas, she clambered into the taxi while he held the door open for her before joining her.
Joe would never have been able to deal with a woman like this, Silas decided grimly as the taxi set off. Hell, after the way she had just been looking at his mouth, he was struggling with the kind of physical reaction that hadn't caught him so off-guard since he had left his teens behind. In the welcome shadowy interior of the cab he moved discreetly, to allow his suit jacket to conceal the tell-tale tightness of the fabric of his chinos.
'Why don't I take charge of the passports and travel documentation?' he suggested to Tilly. 'After all, if I'm supposed to be your escort'
'My fiance,' Tilly corrected him.
'You did get my e-mail, didn't you?' she asked uncertainly. 'The one I sent you explaining the situation, and the role you would be required to play?'
For the first time Silas noticed that she was wearing a solitaire diamond ring on the third finger of her left hand.
'My understanding was that I was simply to be your escort,' he told her coolly. 'If that's changed '
There was a look in his eyes that Tilly wasn't sure she liked. A cynical world-weary look that held neither respect nor liking for her. What exactly was a man like this doing working for an escort agency anyway? she wondered. He looked as though he ought to be running a company, or or climbing mountainsnot hiring himself out to escort women.
'You will be my escort, but you will also be my fiance. That is the whole purpose of us going to Spain.'
'Really? I understood the purpose was for us to attend a wedding.'
She hadn't mistaken that cynicism, Tilly realised. 'We will be attending a wedding. My mother's. Unfortunately my mother has told her husband-to-be that I am engageddon't ask me why; I'm not sure I know the answer myself. All I do know is that, according to her, it's imperative that I turn up with a fiance.'
'I see.' And he did. Only too well. He had been right to suspect that there was a seedy side to this whole escort situation. His mouth compressed and, seeing it, Tilly began to wish that the agency had sent her someone else. She didn't think she was up to coping with a man like this as her fake fiance.