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Tess Tremaine tapped out the chorus of 'Like a Virgin' on the gleaming granite floor of Graystone Enterprises's thirty-eighth-floor San Francisco reception area and focused on the opaque glass door to Nathaniel Graystone's inner sanctum.
A lead weight the size of a football sat in the pit of her stomach. The exact same lead football that had sat there more than a decade ago, when she'd been fifteen, sporting gelled magenta hair and a nose ring, and had watched her father's face go red with anger.
The good news was the purple spikes and the nose ring were gone. Her hair was now her natural honey blonde, currently twisted into a sophisticated chignon. The bad news was Tess Tremaine, wild child, wasn't as dead and gone as her once dreadful fashion sense.
She might have lost the bad attitude and the bad hair, acquired a decent wardrobe and a whole new layer of sophistication, eventually crossing the Atlantic to pursue a career as one of the most sought-after freelance event planners, but underneath the poise, the professionalism and the designer clothes still lurked that attention-seeking little tart.
Tess crossed her legs, smoothed a shaky palm down the seam of her pencil skirt and started to tap her heel against the granite againearning a flicker of a frown from Graystone's perfectly groomed PA.
The lead football turned into a block of cement as she gazed out of the glass wall to her right at the vertigo-inducing view of the Bay Bridge.
For the first time since that long-ago scene in her father's study, she didn't have a clue what to do next. No amount of tough talk, hard work or careful restyling would erase that one act of insanity at the Galloway after-party six weeks ago. Of course, at the time she'd been emotionally raw, or she never would have fallen for Graystone's focused attention so easily.
Under any normal circumstances she would have been flattered by his interest, but she would have remained dignified and aloofand completely sober. But that night hadn't been normal circumstances.
Dan had dumped her, after thirteen months of dating, and she hadn't seen it coming. He'd accused her of being frigid. And while that might actually be truebecause sex with Dan had been about as exciting as watching wood warpshe'd still been angry and hurt and confused. Surely their sex life wasn't the only thing that mattered? Didn't compatibility and companionship count for anything?
And Dan's timing had been impeccable, because no sooner had he dropped his bombshell, than she'd had to dash off to assist with one of the Bay Area's biggest events of the year.
So she could cut herself some slack there, but not nearly enough.
Maybe she'd been hurt and angry and out of kilter, but that still didn't excuse the two glasses of champagne she'd guzzled on an empty stomach as soon as she'd arrived or the way she'd so quickly become intoxicated with Graystone's industrial-strength testosterone once her hosting duties were over.
She should have kept her eyes and her hands to herself. She should never have flirted with him, she should never have encouraged him, because it had been obvious as soon as he had arrived in his imposing black tuxedo, with his little coterie of yes-men and women, exuding power and authority and a potent danger, that a man like Graystone could eat a frigid party planner like her for breakfast.
But then the reckless little tart of her youth had put in an appearanceand everything she'd worked so hard to bury since that day in her father's office had come fizzing back to life.
Her heel stopped in mid-air as she recalled Graystone hoisting her up against the door of the utility closet behind the Skyline's kitchens as if she weighed nothing at all, and thrusting heavily inside her, filling up places that Dan had never even come close to touching.
Heat welled up and washed through her.
Don't think about that now. You 're in enough trouble already.
Yes, the experience had been short and sweaty and far too sexy. So sexy in fact she'd been limp and sated and virtually comatose before she'd come to her senses and shot out of the closet so fast she'd left her knickers behind.
Tess blinked as another residual hum of heat flashed through her memory.
Unfortunately, forgetting Graystone and their brief, but not-briefenough encounter wasn't going to be that straightforward.
Sweat dampened the collar of her blouse at the thought of seeing Nathaniel Graystone again after the way she'd run out on him.
Don't think about that either.
She tapped harder on the tiles and ignored the pointed glance from the PA. What were the chances he'd even remember her? He'd no doubt been through a long list of easy conquests since they'd hooked up at the Galloway launch. The man had been a sexual dynamo that night.
Anyone with that much energy and enthusiasmcolour scorched her necknot to mention that much in-depth knowledge of a clitoris, was no amateur.
The tapping cut off as an odd sense of calm and purpose settled over her.
She couldn't let that matter. And she could have all the panic attacks she wanted about seeing him again, but one thing she did know, because she'd learned it in her father's study the day he'd cut her out of his life.
You couldn't run from your mistakes, because they always caught up with you in the end. And whatever Graystone said, she'd deal with it. This wasn't about her. Or not just her. Not any more.
The intercom on the PA's desk buzzed, making the football of cement in Tess's stomach feel as if it were being sucked into a black supernova of guilt.
Switching off the light flashing on the high-tech communication system, the perfectly groomed older woman sent her a passive smile. 'I can ask Mr Graystone if he has time to see you now, Ms Tremaine,' she said, her voice carefully neutral. 'If you'd like to give me a few more details about the purpose of your visit.'
'Right.' Tess paused, her gaze flicking to the frosted glass as she tried to think of what to say. Forcing a smile, she made herself look the woman in the eye. 'Could you tell him I'm one of the people who helped host the Galloway launch he attended on July twentieth?' Hopefully that would be enough of a hint to jog his memory. 'And I need to see him on a personal matter.'
Giving a curt nod, the PA relayed the information into the intercom.
The neverending pause that followed had tiny beads of sweat popping out on Tess's upper lip. What if he refused to see her altogether? What would she do then?
But just as she started to feel a little giddy, panic colliding with the horrid feeling of vulnerability, a deep, laconic and painfully familiar American accent crackled round the room.
'Send her in, Jenny. And hold my calls.'
'Hi, Tess, this is a surprise.'
The slow smile that spread across Nathaniel Graystone's features as he walked across the royal-blue carpeting towards her had Tess's heart beating into her throatand several more intimate areas of her anatomy.
'A great surprise,' he added, gesturing towards one of the large leather armchairs arranged around a coffee table.
Tess perched on the soft leather, and tried to even her laboured breathing. She hadn't quite prepared herself for seeing him in the flesh again. Instead of the debonair tuxedo of their closet encounter, a pale blue shirt stretched over broad shoulders. Steel-grey trousers fell in pleats around a lean waist and then hung in razor-sharp creases down long legs. His cropped black hair, which she knew was deceptively soft beneath her clutching fingers, contrasted sharply with those striking sapphire-blue eyeswhich twinkled with mischief, as if the two of them shared a naughty secret.
Probably because they did.
'To what do I owe the pleasure?' he asked, the frank assessing look he sent her reminding her of the first time his eyes had locked on hers across the crowded bar in the Skyline.
She'd been unable to tear her gaze away then. She was finding it equally tough now. 'I needed to see you.'
He didn't look surprised by her answer, the easy smile only becoming more assured.
The fine hairs on her nape tingled. Of course he wasn't surprised. No doubt he was used to women chasing him, and flinging themselves at his feet. But the indignation quickly passed, to be followed by humiliation. Why wouldn't he think that?
His arrogance on their only night together had been one of the things she had found so irresistible about him, the moment of insight deeply unsettling. She, who had strived for ten years to be the driver of her own destiny, had succumbed far too easily to his dominant, take-charge masculinity, some sexy small talk and a few come-to-bed looks.
He'd made her feel desirable, in a way Dan never had. Dan had never shown anything like the same urgency or dedication when it came to getting into her knickers. No wonder she'd been so susceptible to Graystone that night. It had been a sop to her pathetically fragile ego.
The sensual smile curved into a rakish grin making his harsh features look almost boyish. She wasn't fooled. Her heartbeat careered up another notch.
He propped his tall frame against his desk and folded his arms over his chest, making her uncomfortably aware of pale blue cotton stretching at the seams around his impressive biceps. Then his gaze took a leisurely trip down to her kitten-heeled pumps and back again.
'Let me guess,' he said, his deep voice rumbling up her spine as the corners of his eyes crinkled with amusement. 'You came to get your panties back.'
Tess cleared her throat as her nipples squeezed into hard aching peaks, and hot blood coursed up her neck.
'Not exactly,' she said, her voice coming out on a distressingly breathy whisper.
'Are you sure?' he teased, sounding very sure.
She lurched out of the chair. 'Yes I ' Panic skittered up her spine and the fog of arousal cleared as she recalled how her whole life had gone into freefall at precisely eight twenty-two a.m. that morning. 'I didn't come here for another quickie.'
The leisurely glance that swept down to her bullet-tipped breasts called her a liar. 'Then how about we try slow and easy?'
Indignation flared, eating away at the supernova of guilt.
'My apartment's a few blocks away,' he continued, without waiting for a reply. 'While the janitor's closet was memorable ' his eyes met hers, the dark arousal in the translucent blue reminding her of the sexually charged moment when he'd grasped her hand and dragged her inside the closet ' a bed would work better.'
Temper burned up her throat and took hold of her tongue.
'I didn't come here to sleep with you, you arrogant jerk. I came to tell you I took three pregnancy tests this morning.' The words flew out of her mouth gaining force and velocity. 'And they were all positive.'
Tess's tiny spark of satisfaction was very short-lived when instead of looking shocked, or even surprised, at the news, he simply said, 'Well, that's one hell of a passion killer.'
Nathaniel Graystone kept a tight rein on his temper, even though keeping the nonchalant smile on his face was making his cheeks ache. 'And I suppose now you're going to tell me the baby's mine.'
The pleasure at seeing her again had died a quick and painful death.
She'd driven him wild that night, with her light flirtatious touches, her fresh, funny, forthright mannerand a raw, naked passion that had just about blown his head off.
But then she'd left him standing in a closet, still dazed with afterglow, his pants round his ankles and nothing but a pair of torn silk panties and several sleepless nights filled with sweaty erotic dreams to remember her by. He'd been right to be suspicious of the insane chemistry between them. And right not to have called heralthough it had taken every ounce of his will power not to pick up the phone in the last six weeks. The whole thing had been a set-up, from start to finish, just like Marlena, just as he'd suspected when she'd run out on himwithout even the decency of a goodbye.
'Baby?' she yelped. 'It's not a baby yetit's a collection of cells.'
His gaze swept over her. The sheen of distress in her striking green eyes spoke of someone on an emotional knife-edge. Damn, she really was an accomplished little actress.
'Whatever it is,' he said, because she appeared to have missed the point, 'I'm not the father.'
She didn't say anything.
'Look, sweetheart,' he said, keeping the smile firmly in place, 'I wore a condom that night. And we only did it once. And while my sperm might be Olympic swimmers, even they can't swim through latex.'
'I know you wore a condom,' she said. 'But you obviously didn't put it on as efficiently as you did everything else that night.' The tartness of the reply surprised him. He'd expected contrite by now, and maybe some wheedling. Instead, her slender frame stiffened, as if she were getting ready for battle. The flush of colour in her cheeks turned the pale skin a vibrant pink and the flash of temper in her eyes made the green sparkle. He forced himself to ignore the residual hum of arousal.
'I put the condom on just fine,' he stated easily as a slow-burning resentment settled low in his gut.
She gave a soft sigh, but the expression in her eyes when they met his again seemed more weary than calculating. He knew it all had to be part of her act, making the strange tightening in his gut kind of annoying.
'If you say so,' she said at last, the words barely audible.
She gripped the strap of her purse and gave him a stiff little nod. 'I guess this is goodbye, then, Nathaniel. It was certainly a memorable night.' The wistful tone shocked him, but not as much as the sight of her slim shoulders rigid with tension as she crossed the room and walked out of the door without a backward glance.