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Iona Guthrie bit back an unladylike expletive and tore off her wet smock, wrinkling her nose at the disgusting stickiness of the liquid that oozed down her front and soaked her to the skin.
'Now what?' she demanded of the universe, heading for the elegant little powder room close by the entrance of the penthouse. 'First the vacuum system dies, then the laundry loses the special linen, probably produced by diamond-decorated silkworms. Now this--ugh! I'm beginning to believe this penthouse is haunted by a demon. So what's next? An earthquake? A waterspout?'
She pushed back the thick strand of straight ash-blonde hair that had come adrift from her businesslike ponytail, and opened the door. Grimacing, she slung the smock over a towel rail and began to wriggle free of her bra. The scent of the roses in the exquisitely arranged vase permeated the luxurious little room, calming her down a little.
How the other half--no, make that the upper point zero zero zero one per cent--live, she thought, glancing at the flowers.
Fortunately the billionaire businessman for whom the penthouse had been prepared wasn't due to arrive for several hours yet.
And she'd almost finished the checklist. Iona made a mental note to tell the manager of the apartment complex that the maid needed supervision; one of the hand basins in the master bedroom suite had had a hair in it. She'd picked up the detergent bottle to clean it, only to discover that the lid hadn't been put on properly.
The view from the window was enough to soothe anyone, even a detergent-soaked lifestyle organiser. Relaxing into the promise of a sunny weekend, Auckland city hummed peacefully below. A warm spring sun beamed down, highlighting the white wakes of pleasure boats on the harbour and gilding islands that faded into the distance.
Iona expelled another long breath and finally managed to shrug free of the loathsomely sticky bra, glancing at her watch when a muted ting from the communications system warned her that the private lift was on its way up.
Good for you, Angie. Dead on time. Her cousin, who was also her boss, was collecting her for the next job, a barbecue one of her clients had suddenly decided to hold that evening.
Her bra landed on the towel rail next to her soggy smock. Pulling a face at her half-naked reflection, she extracted a handful of tissues from her bag before turning on the elegant Italian tap.
She heard the big outer doors slide back, and called out, 'Come on in,' as she began to mop the residue of the detergent from her skin.
A moment later she sensed Angie's presence. Dabbing distastefully at her bare breasts, she said, 'I won't be long.'
'You'd damned well better not be.'
Iona froze. Not Angie--definitely not Angie.
Deep, slightly accented, very much male--a voice chilled by a contempt that sent slivers of ice jostling down her spine.
And familiar...oh, so familiar. That voice still haunted her dreams.
Her head jerked up. In the mirror her stunned gaze met eyes like a lion's--tawny and arrogantly disdainful in a bold masculine face.
A man straight out of a Greek fable.
Or a Tahitian fantasy...
A shocked sound tore from Iona's throat when she registered the starkly classic beauty of his features. She swallowed, then croaked, 'Luke?'
'What the hell are you doing here?' Luke Michelakis asked in a voice so cold it froze her brain.
Hot colour washed up from her naked breasts as she grabbed at the discarded smock and wrapped it around her, only to see her bra slither onto the floor. 'I was--I'm checking the place over,' she muttered. She dragged in a jagged breath and demanded, 'Why are you here?'
'I'm staying here,' he said icily.
'You are?' she blurted, heart pounding so heavily in her chest she was afraid he might hear it. Indignation sharpened her tone. 'Well, you're not due for another five hours!'
Black brows lifted. For a disturbing few seconds he let his unreadable gaze roam her face, then he stooped, picked up the bra and held it out to her, skin-coloured cotton dangling from a long-fingered olive hand.
'Th-thank you.' She snatched the offending scrap of material and tried to regain some shred of dignity. 'Please go.'
The black lashes drooping over those exotic eyes couldn't hide a glitter that sent a shameful shiver through Iona.
Nothing of that gleam of awareness showed in his tone when he drawled, 'Gladly.'
Humiliated, she turned away. Not that there was any refuge--the mirrored walls revealed every inch of her shrinking, exposed skin to his scathing survey.
For a taut, hugely embarrassing second it seemed he was going to stand there and watch her dress.
She said harshly, 'Go now!'
'My pleasure,' he bit out, and left with the lithe, silent menace of a predator.
Weak from shock and relief, Iona slammed and locked the door behind him, then seized the wet bra and struggled back into it. Her bones felt like rubber and she had to draw several difficult breaths before the colour returned to her skin and she could think clearly.
From the moment they'd met, Lukas Michelakis had had that effect on her--he literally took her breath away.
Charisma, she thought wildly. Presence, impact-- whatever the term, Luke possessed it in spades. Eighteen months previously it had been the first thing she'd noticed when he'd strode towards her across pristine sands in Tahiti--that, and the authority with which he'd ordered her off, telling her the beach was private.
Luke--here in New Zealand. He was the man she and Angie had cheerfully referred to as the unknown plutocrat.
This penthouse had to be possessed by a demon, and it had set her up nicely. It was probably laughing its evil head off.
She'd just scrambled back into her smock when the doorbell pealed again.
Oh, at last--Angie...
And no sign of Luke as she hurtled out and opened the door. But instead of the calm presence of her cousin, she was confronted by a harried apartment maid holding a bag.
'The linen from the laundry,' she informed Iona, eyes widening as she looked past her.
Bracing herself, Iona turned. Tall and tigerish, darkly dominating, Luke paced silently towards them.
'I'll show you the rooms to be made up,' Iona said swiftly. Holding her shoulders so stiffly they protested, she almost frog-marched the maid down the corridor towards the three bedrooms.
'Who's the guy?' the other woman hissed just before Iona left.
'A guest of the owner,' Iona said crisply.
'He can be my guest any time he likes,' the girl growled, then giggled.
Iona left the room, unconsciously walking quietly. To no avail; a grim-faced Luke appeared and said curtly, 'I need to talk to you. Come with me.'
Her spine tingled, every nerve in her body sending out a red alert. Ignoring a foolhardy impulse to announce that she didn't take orders from him, she assembled the tatters of her composure and looked up to meet his hooded, intent gaze.
A dangerous move, she thought in dismay when her body suffused with heat.
It took every scrap of control she could produce to steady her voice. 'I'm sorry the bedrooms aren't made up, but the laundry managed to lose the sheets. They've just arrived.'
A negligent shrug of broad shoulders informed her he wasn't interested. He said, 'I can still see a sticky trail of something on your skin. You'd better finish cleaning up, then I want to see you on the terrace.' He paused, his expression unreadable, before drawling, 'I can lend you a shirt if you want one.'
Once--in Tahiti--he'd slung his shirt around her when her shoulders started to burn in the sun, and its removal had led to an erotic interlude that came surging back into her mind only too vividly.
Of course he knew. Colour burned across her cheekbones, and he lifted an arrogant eyebrow, his eyes narrowing in sardonic challenge.
'That won't be necessary,' Iona said, before swinging on her heel and heading back into the powder room. She locked the door behind her, leaned back against it and bit her lip.
Arrogant? Forcing herself to move, she wiped off the detergent.
Arrogant was far too insipid a word to describe Luke Michelakis. She ran her fingers through her hair in a vain attempt to restore its sleekness, and listed words much better suited to the man--words like cynical, dominating, and intimidating...
It was a satisfying exercise, but she couldn't concentrate on it. Different, infinitely dangerous words refused to budge from her brain.
Sexy. Magnetic. Compelling.
And those words were why eighteen months previously on a hot, deserted beach in Tahiti she'd made the craziest decision in her life. One look at Luke Michelakis had told her he was just what she needed--a man vibrant with charisma, his personality vital enough to rescue her from the emotional desolation that had followed the death of her fiancé, followed soon afterwards by the car crash that took both her parents.
Instinct had whispered that this magnetic Greek would know exactly how to bring her back to life. He'd know how to make a woman scream in rapture-- and in his arms, in his bed, she'd feel safe as well as pleasured.
That same perverse instinct had also been sure that because he was handsome and arrogantly sure of himself, he wouldn't want anything more than an affair.
Instinct--while perfectly correct--hadn't known the half of it, Iona thought grimly. Luke had not only introduced her to a sensual intensity she'd never imagined, he'd converted what should have been a very temporary fling into an experience that had changed her life. In his arms she'd learned just how wonderful a superb lover could make a woman feel.
And that erotic discovery had backfired big time, bringing bitter guilt. Gavin had died to save her life; she'd mourned him so deeply she'd been hovering on the edge of depression, yet somehow in ten days and nights of passion Luke took not just her body but a piece of her heart. Disgusted with herself, she'd fled Tahiti, determined to banish all memories of the time she'd spent there.
It hadn't worked, and now here Luke was in New Zealand. Of all the wretched coincidences!
It should comfort her that once she got out of this penthouse they wouldn't see each other again. Except that his appearance--so unexpected, so embarrassing-- had lit fires she'd thought long smothered.
Iona rinsed out her bra, wrung it free of surplus water and put it back on again. Her body heat would soon have it dry. The smock still clung, and she was acutely aware of her breasts beneath it, of skin so sensitive the material seemed to drag against it, of heat burgeoning deep inside her. She took a deep breath before walking steadily out into the hall with her head held high and what felt like a herd of buffaloes rampaging through her stomach.
The hall was empty, but not for long. Silently, his handsome face grim, Luke came pacing through from the drawing room.
Luke watched Iona come towards him, the lights gilding the cool ash-blonde of her hair. Although it had been a year and half since he'd last seen her, everything about her was burnt into his brain--the warmth of her sleek body, the dark mystery of her changeable blue-green eyes, the lush promise of her mouth...
Her wild surrender.
And his searing feeling of betrayal when she'd walked out on him, the conflict that raged between his prized, iron-clad control and a primal awareness that his affair with Iona had been something rare, much more intense than mere holiday madness.
For the first time Luke admitted that one of the reasons he'd come to New Zealand was to see if he could contact her again. Just to make sure she was all right, of course.
He hadn't expected to find her within a couple of hours of landing. His over-developed sense of responsibility should be satisfied because she was obviously fine.
And certainly not filled with delight to see him again.
But she was still very, very conscious of him.
Setting aside the potent, inconvenient pleasure of that realisation, he said abruptly, 'It will be best if we talk out of earshot of the maid.'
Iona had resolved to treat him with cool detachment, and in a matching tone she managed, 'Very well.'
As he escorted her out onto the terrace she realised anew just how lithe he was. Tall, broad-shouldered, he walked with the prowling, noiseless grace of some great beast of prey.
Not the sort of man anyone would ever overlook.
Once out on the terrace, blocked from the sounds of the city by lush plantings, without ceremony he demanded, 'What are you doing here?'
'I'm making sure that the apartment is ready for you and your party,' she said with an attempt at cool detachment.
A black brow climbed. 'Your employer appears to be a little too trusting. You left the door unlocked--anyone could have come in.'
Iona suspected he was waiting for a defensive response. Well, she wasn't going to give it to him.
Crisply she replied, 'The security here is excellent. The bell sounds when the elevator is stopping at this floor, and as you were supposed to arrive much later this afternoon I assumed it was my employer--Ms Makepeace--who'd been let in by the concierge.'
He dismissed her words with another hard-eyed stare. 'I gather she is not the housekeeper.'
He couldn't possibly be interested in domestic arrangements. This wasn't even his apartment; one of Angie's clients was lending it to Luke while he was in New Zealand. Was he getting some small-minded amusement from emphasising the distance between them?
After all, in Tahiti she'd walked out on him. It had probably never happened to him before.
But the man she'd known had not been small-minded. Repressing a rush of too-poignant memories, she replied, 'You're right, she's not the housekeeper. She owns and runs a business organising the lives of people too busy to do it themselves.'
'In other words, a housekeeper and butler service,' he observed on a note of irony.
Iona gave him her best, kindest, nursery-schoolteacher smile. 'More like a manager,' she corrected. 'She's extremely successful--hugely discreet, one hundred per cent dependable, and a perfectionist. Your host asked us to make sure the apartment was ready for you, so I called in this morning to check it out. Unfortunately there were a few minor problems, which are on the way to being fixed now. If you'd arrived at the time you said you would, everything would have been perfect.'
He gave a sudden crack of laughter, and for a moment he was the man she'd known, the man she'd fallen-- well, not in love with. No, never that.
In lust with.