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"It's time to wake, sleeping beauty." The voice was deep, dark and achingly familiar.
Jessica Cotter's eyelashes fluttered in response. A masculine hand cupped her shoulder and stroked her skin. Her lover's touch. Warm and secure under the down duvet, Jessica gave a small moan of contentment and snuggled deeper under the bedclothes.
"Wake up, Jess."
Even through the mist of sleep she sensed him coming closer, bending over her. Instead of kissing her, he pulled the covers back. Screwing her eyes tightly shut to resist the onset of the day, Jessica curled into a ball and murmured a protest.
Then she caught his scent. One hundred percent pure male. Turn-on sexy. A hint of the heat they'd shared in the dark of the night still clung to the air. The protest became a soft moan. She shifted against the sleek satin sheet, stretched a little. Her body arching toward him, her eyes still closed, she waited for his touch.
His fingers tightened on her flesh. This time he gave her shoulder a little shake.
"Get up, Jessica!"
She opened her eyes. It took a moment to get her bearings. Ryan Blackstone's penthouse.
The morning of his father's funeral.
Howard Blackstone's funeral. Little wonder Ryan wasn't in the mood for
"Wipe that. You don't need to get up yet." He interrupted her thoughts. "I'll shower first. I need to get moving. Take your time."
Jessica sat up, wide awake now, and reached for the covers intent on hiding her suddenly inappropriate nakedness. She need not have worried. Ryan was already turning away.
She collapsed back against the pile of pillows and felt a hollow heaviness filling the pit of her stomach. The sound of the shower hissed in the bathroom. Asideways glance at the clock on the bedside table revealed that it was much later than it should be . Damn, she'd overslept.
They both had.
The running water stopped. Jessica didn't move. She waited. The bathroom door opened and Ryan emerged, towelling his dark hair, surrounded by steam billowing out of the bathroom behind him.
He was utterly, unashamedly naked. His wide chest bare, his narrow hips lean. The most gorgeous male she'd ever known. Jessica watched furtively from under her lashes as he glanced at the Seamaster on his wrist, made an impatient sound and headed for the walk-in closet.
She closed her eyes.
God, this was going to be difficult. "Are you asleep again?" Even with the hint of impatience, his voice was deep, a sexy rasp that never failed to ignite her senses.
Her eyelids flicked open. Immaculately dressed in a dark suit that contrasted with the crisp white cotton shirts he preferred in Sydney's February heat, he was picking his way through the clothing they'd torn off last night and dropped on the floor. Jessica felt herself flush at the memory. He must've read something in her face because his eyes darkened with secret knowledge and he came toward her. He reached the bed and bent over her, planting a muscled arm on either side of her, and his eyes softened.
"You are the most tempting woman in the world," he murmured.
He smelled clean and freshof soap and man. "And you're easily tempted?"
"I could stay here the whole day."
His words cast a shadow over her thoughts. So much would happen today. Howard Blackstone's funeral the will read-ing the discussion she needed to have with Ryan. Yet, despite everything hanging over her, he was irresistible.
One last kiss. That's all, she promised herself. Jessica threaded her arms around his neck and tugged.
"Hey." He landed on the bed beside her, his face so close to hers she could see the jade hue of his irises, the verdant richness that never failed to set her heart pounding. His jaw was tanned and smoothly shaven, his features strong and bold.
His hand stroked a tendril of hair out of her eyes. "You look tired. Pale. There are shadows under your eyes this morning. I shouldn't have kept you up so late."
"No problem." She forced a smile to conceal her worry about him. Their predawn lovemaking had held a certain desperation. The disappearance of his father's jet and the subsequent recovery of Howard Blackstone's body had blighted Ryan. On her part, the desperation came from other causes a sense of time running out.
She changed the subject. "You're meeting Ric before the funeral, aren't you?"
At the mention of Ric Perrini, interim chairman of Blackstone Diamonds and his sister's husband, Ryan's mouth tightened into a hard line. "No. I'll have plenty of time to talk to him afterwards."
Jessica hesitated, then said softly, "Today is going to be hard on Kimberley as well." Ryan's sister had returned to Australia after her father's death having spent the previous ten years working for Matt Hammond, the son of Howard Black-stone's most bitter enemyhis brother-in-law, Oliver.
Jessica almost said, "Go easy on her," but bit the words back at the last minute.
Ryan wouldn't want her counsel. She was only his lover, after all, not his wife.
Heck, she was less than his lovershe was the secret mistress that no one was supposed to know about. With a touch of dark humour Jessica wondered what people would say if they knew that the cool blonde who ran Blackstone Jewellery's Sydney store in the day came apart in the boss's arms under the dark cloak of night.
Shock. Horror. A Blackstone sleeping with a lowly member of staff? A mechanic's daughter living with a groomed-for-greatness millionaire?
A hand stroked her hair. "You know what I want more than anything in the world?"
Ryan's voice was soft, mesmerizing. For a moment Jessica TESSA RADLEY 11 wished that the world outside these wallsthe Blackstone family, Blackstone Diamonds and public expectationscould melt away. That there was only them: Jessica and Ryan. That she could curl up in his arms and never leave.
"What do you want?"
"To climb into that big bed beside you, kiss you here" he pushed aside the cover a fraction of an inch and touched the soft skin at the base of her throat "and celebrate life, rather than death."
He matched his actions to his words. The kiss landed on target. Jessica swallowed, her throat moving convulsively under his mouth. Then his lips moved up along her neck and landed on her mouth.
"Open your mouth, honey, I need you."
There was a desperation she'd never heard from Ryan before. Obediently her lips parted. His mouth plundered the softness, his tongue exploring the inside of her sensitive bottom lip. Jessica moved restlessly, her arms tightening around his neck to a stranglehold. She did not want to let him go. Ryan was breathing hard when he lifted his head, and his eyes were wild.
"God, I could stay here all day. What an easy way out." His head dipped again.
The kiss was frantic and Jessica ached for him. His desire to take the easy way out, to escape, hammered home how much he dreaded the coming day. The funeral was the final proof that his father was gone. Forever. She rubbed her hands along his shoulders, wishing she could take the hurt, the pain, away from him.
He pulled back. "See how responsive your body is?" Ryan slipped a hand under the cover. "Your breasts have swollen already. I noticed last night how taut they are."
Jessica went cold.
She grabbed his wrist to stop his hand moving toward the curve of her belly. She hadn't seen any change in her body yet. Only felt the warning signs. "We haven't got time for this." Rolling away from his touch, she said, "You better get going or you'll be late."
"And you better get up, too."
"I will." She gave him a weak smile. "As soon as you're gone."
He blew out hard and raked the fingers of both hands through his hair. "I suppose it's better that way. Once you get up and start dressing I'll never get out of here. But first "
He bent forward and placed his lips against hers for a long, lingering moment. It was a gentle kiss. Tender. A sharp contrast to the desperate passion that had gone before. "Thank you for last night."
Jessica's heart tore in half.
Ryan didn't know it yet but last night had been goodbye although she was already wavering. Maybe another week
He rose to his feet. A dark sombreness shadowed his eyes. "Don't be late for the funeral. And don't"
"Don't do anything that would give us away." That hurt. Especially today. "I know."
Astonishment turned his eyes the colour of sunlight on jade. "I was about to say don't do anything that might distract me."
Her throat went dry. "Go, Ryan."
Jessica watched him stride out of the bedroom, heard his footsteps on the highly polished nyatoh wood flooring in the airy lobby. Only when she heard the elevator doors slide shut did she get out of bed.
Her stomach rolled. Bile hit the back of her throat. Jessica ran. She barely made it to the bathroom before she started retching.
Afterwards she washed her face with cold water, her hands trembling. Then she finally looked up into the mirror above the basin into her pale face with its wide-set brown eyes, the smattering of caramel freckles standing out in sharp relief. She looked absolutely ghastly. But she held her own gaze. No more pity. No more guilt. Today, she told herself. You break it off today. As soon as the funeral is over.
Before the evidence was there for everyone to see.
Ryan stood on the roughly hewn stone steps of the historic church where his father's soul was about to be rendered to immortality or consigned to hell, depending on your view of Howard Blackstone.
There was no room for grey emotion when it came to his father, Ryan mused. You loved him or you hated him. He had loved his father. But their relationship had not been an easy one. The midday Sydney sun beat against his back, causing sweat to bead uncomfortably inside his collar. He loosened the top button of his shirt and inhaled a deep breath.
He caught a whiff of the scent of churchyard roses. It reminded him of Jessica. The image of her spread across his bed this morning flashed through his mind. He recalled the temptation she'd offered the desire to succumb to the passion that flared so wildly between them, and the craven impulse to push the hard reality of the day aside. He felt again his all-consuming hunger for her, for the relentless passion they shared each night that left them spent afterwards. A passion that kept him bewitched, despite that brief flare of mistrust after his father's plane went missing. A dark moment of suspicion that he'd abandoned as quickly as it had come.
From inside the church came the strains of organ music. Abide with me. His chest tightened. me a minute to say goodbye to my father," he Amen ringing in his head, he before his death. Under the original will Ricrather than Howard's own childrenstood to inherit the majority of Howard's shareholding. Was Ric fazed by the possibility of coming into less shares now? By the possibility of Kimberley failing to inherit any shares at all?