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Alexander Wentworth the Third could be a very patient man when he wanted to be.
Take the stock market, the money market, the futures market, any market, for example… When it came to waiting for the opportune moment, Lex had been known to exhibit the patience of Job.
If an eight-knot wind was blowing north-north-east off the Cornwall coast, and he had no place to be but on his yacht and nothing to do but set a course and peel a diamond-encrusted bikini off a beautiful woman, Lex could be very patient indeed. Journeys of seduction were meant to be savoured and savour them he did. Frequently.
Yes, indeed. Patience was one of Lex's many virtues.
Unfortunately, his current stock of patience was fading fast, and it wasn't just because he was fifteen hours into a twenty-five hour flight from London to Sydney, with a stopover in Singapore still pending. It was because his temporary personal assistant had a God-given talent for driving him nuts.
Sienna Raleigh was her name; personal assistant and right-hand man her latest trade. She had a doctorate in Renaissance Art, impeccable if somewhat colourful lineage, and a smile that could drop a man at fifty paces. Sienna had been five when they'd first met. Lex had been all of eleven, and her failure to acknowledge his superiority in all things had both irritated and intrigued him. He should've taken it as a warning never to employ her, he thought glumly. He really should've made an effort and crushed her insurgency some twenty years ago, the moment he'd first set eyes on her, he deduced with a sigh. Because he didn't have a hope in Hades of crushing it now.
'Any more stock reports to read?' he asked her.
'You meanapart from the dozens you've already read?' she said, without lifting her gaze from the book she was reading. 'No.'
'Any more newspapers?'
'You've read all those too.'
'Just checking.' He waited a beat. 'What's that you're reading?'
An airport novel.' Sienna's long-suffering tone served only to amuse him. Clearly the nut-driving worked both ways. 'I'm up to the part where our hero—due to a combination of strength, determination, brilliance, luck, and fortuitous plotting—single-handedly nabs the villains and then walks away from the traitorous yet agonisingly beautiful woman who betrayed him.'
'Sounds reasonable,' he said. 'Keep me posted.' He drummed his fingers on the armrest, flicked through the entertainment channels. Sighed.
Sienna looked up at him from her book, those golden brown eyes with their tiny flecks of green revealing acute exasperation and a refreshing lack of guile. Admit it,' she said. 'You have the attention span of a gnat.'
'I do not.'
And you want my book.'
'No, I don't. Unless of course you're finished with it.'
'Because it certainly sounds like the end to me.'
'There's an epilogue.'
'You actually read epilogues?'
'Wouldn't want to miss anything,' she said sweetly. 'Attention to detail is what you pay me for, remember? It was in the job description.'
'Wasn't catering to my every whim in the job description too?' he asked. 'I thought it was.'
'Maybe in your draft. Your former PA removed all references to slavery before she sent it out.'
'She was an uncommonly good PA,' he said on a sigh, and meant every word. 'I still don't understand how she could choose marriage and motherhood over working for me.'
'Unfathomable,' said Sienna a little too dryly for comfort.
'You like working for me, don't you?'
'Lex, I've been working for you for three days and so far it's been bedlam. I've rescheduled five meetings, changed our travel arrangements twice, kept an investment bank president on hold for fifteen minutes, begged your former PA to return on a daily basis, and vowed to shoot you at least a dozen times.'
'What can I say?' he said. 'It's been a slow week. You'll like the set-up in Australia, though. Trust me.'
Sienna ran her hand along the leather armrest and looked around the spacious cabin area as if assessing the benefits of business-class travel, before turning an amused gaze on him. 'Speaking of the set-up in Sydney…I still don't think it's a good idea for us to share a house while we're there. A month is a long time, Lex.'
'It's not a house, it's a business hub,' he said. And you'll have an entire wing to yourself and a commute to work of approximately fifty metres. None of my other PAs ever complained of it.'
'None of them are still working for you either. What if I want to get away from you and the work? What if I want to entertain? What if you want to entertain?'
'Will you have time to entertain?' he countered.
'Who knows?' She stood and stretched, giving him a nose to navel view of an impossibly tiny waist and firmly rounded buttocks. 'I might.'
Not if he had anything to do with it. Which—as fortune would have it—he did.
It occurred to him, not for the first time during these past few days, that Sienna might just have a point. That sharing adjoining quarters with her these next few weeks was going to prove far more of a challenge than he'd anticipated. He and Sienna hadn't seen much of one another these past few years. Different paths, different lifestyles, that was what he'd told his mother and anyone else who'd asked. Childhood friends often drifted apart, end of story, and if there was another reason he'd kept his distance lately, well, that was for him to know and no one else. When it came to Sienna, Lex's body and brain were not in alignment. His brain wanted his role in Sienna's life to be much the same as it always had been. Protector, mentor, occasional antagonist.
His body just wanted her naked beneath him. Hotly responsive. Possibly begging…
Right voice, wrong tone altogether. Where was the breathless pleading? The dulcet whimpers of a woman with nothing but fulfilment on her mind?
Whoa! He looked up with a start to find Sienna staring down at him in exasperation as she dangled some sort of report in front of his nose—a prospectus for a Shanghai construction company about to list on the New York stock exchange, to be exact. He'd mentioned the company in passing a couple of days ago but hadn't expected her to follow up on it. 'For me? Aw, you shouldn't have.'
'Think of it as the toy truck every mother in the known universe keeps in her handbag for when she's out and about and wants her fractious toddler to behave.' She fixed him with the queen of all challenging smiles, then picked up her book and settled back into her seat. 'Enjoy.'
'No, really. You shouldn't have. They're heavily invested in the US sub-prime housing market. They're going down.'
'Then see what you can pick up in the fire sale. Isn't that what you do?'
She had a point. She did have a point. But he didn't feel like reading any more. He needed to diffuse some of the sexual awareness currently tying him in knots, and if seduction wasn't an option—and it wasn't—then an argument would have to suffice. All he had to do was pick a reason, any reason. Maybe he should voice those mostly brotherly instincts and tell her that entertaining another man while living under his roof was out of the question. About us living together…'
'You mean about us occasionally meeting each other outside of working hours in common entertainment areas?' Sienna arched a delicate eyebrow and smiled a hoyden's smile. 'And what we should do if the other person has someone else with them?'
Lex smiled back, every sense sharpening beneath his lazy façade. She did want to fight. It would be churlish of him not to oblige. 'If you happen upon me while I'm entertaining, I will of course introduce you to my companion and quite possibly ask you to join us, at which point you will in all likelihood refuse and give me one of those looks—yes, that's the one—and take yourself off elsewhere. Does that sound reasonable?'
'Does that scenario work both ways?'
'Well… no.' He loved the way her eyes flashed fire and her chin came up. 'Should you wish to entertain, I'll require three days' notice and a thorough background check on the individual, or individuals, concerned. How does that sound?'
Perfect. 'One can never be too careful. Imagine how you'd hate yourself if you were played for a fool by a reporter after an inside story on me. You'd be crushed. And I just know that somehow—in some nebulous parallel universe accessible only to the female psyche—it would be all my fault.' He shook his head sorrowfully. 'Make that five days notice. I hate being the one at fault.'
'You think I can't recognise a reporter when I see one?' she said with the quirk of an eyebrow. 'With my family background?'
'You're right,' he said, conceding yet another strategic point. Not a problem to his way of thinking given that the entire aim of this conversation was not necessarily to win but to fight. Sienna's mother had been many years older and several hundred million dollars wealthier than her artist husband. The press had feasted on the disparity for years, but the banquet had really started with Sienna's mother's alleged suicide. The squandered millions. The faithless husband. The forged will and the missing paintings. Two months after Sienna's mother died, her father had played chicken with a freight train and lost, and the gutter press had started up again. Eventually, thankfully, they'd moved on to newer, juicier stories but Sienna's loathing for the press and her reluctance to step anywhere near the limelight remained. 'Bad example. A reporter wouldn't last five minutes with you. But what say a thief tried to woo you in order to gain access to the complex? Know anything about thieves?'
A fleeting smile crossed the generous curve of her lips. 'People call you a thief, Lex. I know a lot about you.'
He knew what people called him. He'd heard it all before and was prepared to let the insult pass. Actually, no, he wasn't. This time the insult rankled. Time to ramp this argument up a notch. 'I pay for what I take.'
'You pay a pittance for what you take—then you break it down, repackage it, and make a fortune,' she said with brutal accuracy. 'Doesn't matter if it's legal, Lex. To some people's way of thinking, you're still a thief.'
'The technical term is corporate raider.'
'Raider, brigand, pirate… thief.' Her eyes challenged him to explain the difference. Presuming there was a difference.
'Those companies have been ruined by mismanagement, overextension, or plain old neglect long before I ever arrive on the scene,' he argued. 'I'm not responsible for that.'
'No,' she said. 'You're right, you're not.' Sienna opened her mouth as if to say more, but closed it again without uttering a word. She opted instead for opening her book and trying to ignore him, but he wasn't about to let her off the hook that easily. He reached over, took the book from her hands and shoved it down the side of her seat.
'Say it,' he said curtly. 'Whatever you were about to say, say it.'
Sienna looked mutinous, not to mention defensive. Lex knew from experience that following orders—his or anyone else's—was not her strong suit. But then she spoke.
'You could save those companies, Lex. Turn them around rather than tear them to pieces.'
'I knew that was where you were heading with this. I knew it!' He'd wanted an argument, he reminded himself bleakly. Just not this one. 'It's not that simple.'
'I realise that. But you could save them—'
'You give me far too much credit.'
'—if you wanted to,' she finished. 'You just don't want to.'
'You're right. I don't,' he murmured and felt his shoulder muscles bunch and tighten, and all because of a criticism he'd heard a thousand times before. He'd had enough of this flight. Of Sienna's criticism. Of wanting Sienna in his arms with one breath and wishing her a million miles away with his next. He'd had more than enough of that.
He half rose from his seat, trying to get past her so he could go somewhere else. Somewhere Sienna's measuring, questioning gaze wasn't, but she didn't shrink back in her seat to let him past like any normal person would do. Oh, no, she didn't do that. Now that he'd pushed her to state her case, she wanted a reply. 'This isn't about fixing other people's mistakes,' he said curtly. 'It's about capitalising on them. Darwin's theory of evolution fits the corporate business model to perfection. It's survival of the fittest, the fastest, the strongest, and the smartest. Not to mention the most ruthless.'
'Where's your sense of social responsibility?' she asked quietly.
'With me and mine.'
'Working with you these past few days has been such a revelation.' Her green on gold gaze held him prisoner; she would not back down. 'Just when you think you know a person…'
He smiled mirthlessly. 'What? You didn't think I was ruthless?'
'Not that ruthless.'
'Well, now you know.' He could have brushed past her then, would have if he hadn't made the fatal mistake of dropping his gaze to her lips, those soft, perfectly shaped lips. He leaned down, put his hands on the armrests either side of her and moved in close, until his mouth almost brushed hers. 'Want to be mine, Sienna?' he whispered with more than a lick of temper to his words.
She went perfectly still. As if she'd forgotten how to move, how to breathe. As if he were the predator and she the prey, thought Lex, and felt his body respond to the notion with savage satisfaction. Embracing it, savouring it, as simmering temper turned into a different kind of heat altogether. 'Breathe,' he whispered.
'No.' Her voice sounded thready, uncertain, and the beast inside him purred.
'You'll die if you don't.'
She took a breath and released it raggedly before easing slowly back against the seat, her startled gaze not leaving his. 'Breathing's not the problem here,' she muttered and took another shaky breath. 'I'm on it, see? But I'd rather not be yours.'
'No?' Lex smiled grimly and slid his gaze down her body. At first glance, Sienna's body language backed up her words. Her hands were ironing out the creases in her little pink skirt, smoothing the material down towards her knees as if she would have liked a couple more inches of fabric. Her knees pressed primly together, barring his way, and she'd tucked her legs tightly against the seat, demure-schoolgirl-style. Alas, there was nothing demure about her delicate pink sandals. Those shoes were all grown up.
So were other things about her.
At her throat he noticed the frantic beating of a pulse gone wild.
Outlined against her fitted white business shirt he could see the unmistakable imprint of nipples gone hard.
Sienna Raleigh, childhood nemesis and bane of his existence, was all hot and bothered. By him.