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Struggling to control her galloping heartbeat, Juno Delamare scanned the arrivals screen at Heathrow's bustling Terminal Five for details of Flight 155 from Los Angeles. The words 'In the Arrivals Hall' winked back at her and her heart stampeded into overdrive.
For goodness' sake, woman. Get a grip.
Juno jammed her fists into the pockets of her newest jeans—which had a small tear at the knee where she'd been stacking shelves the day before—and took several deep breaths. She had to calm down. She was on a mission here, a very important mission, and she simply did not have time to have a heart attack—it would put a serious crimp in her plans.
When Hollywood heart-throb Mac Brody walked through the arrival gate, she intended to be ready—and in complete control of her faculties—so she could hand him his invitation to her best friend Daisy Dean's wedding and make sure he agreed to come.
Daisy was marrying millionaire property developer Connor Brody in two weeks' time and she'd set her heart on reuniting Connor with his long-lost brother at their wedding. So Juno had made it her mission to ensure said little brother came whether he wanted to or not.
How exactly she was going to get him to agree she hadn't quite figured out yet. But she intended to give it her very best shot. Daisy had helped Juno put her life back together six years ago—when she'd thought she'd never be able to care about anything or anybody again—and she owed her.
Unfortunately, despite Juno's heartfelt commitment to the cause, when she'd made her secret vow two weeks ago to get Mac Brody to Daisy and Connor's wedding she hadn't given a whole lot of thought to the logistics. But now, as zero hour approached in Heathrow's imposing terminal, the logistics were beginning to choke her.
What if she failed? What if he travelled with a phalanx of bodyguards and she couldn't get near him? What if he refused to take the invitation if she did get near him? And then there was the coup de grâce. When was the last time she'd even approached a strange man, let alone tried to persuade him to do something? Her powers of persuasion were less than nil where men were concerned.
She didn't do seduction—she didn't have the looks, the aptitude or indeed the wardrobe for it. Which meant she would have to appeal to Mac Brody's better nature. But on the evidence so far, he didn't have one.
Maybe she'd never met the guy. Maybe she'd never even seen one of his movies, but Juno had been in Daisy's bright airy kitchen two weeks ago. The morning the letter had arrived… And that had told her all she needed to know about the true character of Mac Brody, Hollywood mega-star and Irish bad boy extraordinaire.
Okay, so he was good-looking—if you went for the tall, dark and dangerous stereotype—but that didn't alter the fact that beneath all that brooding masculinity was a shallow, arrogant, self-absorbed egotist.
Juno's temper rose again at the memory of Brody's callousness.
Daisy had been so excited, so sure the letter would be good news. Only to rip open the envelope and find the wedding invitation she'd sent Brody inside and a note from his agent that stated in one neatly typed sentence that Mr Cormac Brody would not be attending the wedding of his brother Connor and requested that Ms Daisy Dean refrain from contacting him in the future.
The perfunctory note had made Daisy cry, and Daisy hardly ever cried, but almost worse for Juno had been Connor's reaction. He'd slung his arm round Daisy's shoulder and told her not to upset herself so. Mac was entitled to his feelings, they'd no right to pressure him into making a commitment he didn't feel comfortable with and that was the end of the matter. But Juno had watched Connor read the note himself and had seen the sorrow and regret he'd been trying so hard to hide.
What right did Brody have to hurt her friends like that? And worse than that, he hadn't even had the guts to get his hands dirty and contact them himself.
Juno muscled her way through the waiting crowd and folded her arms over the barrier. Ignoring the insistent rat-a-tat-tat of her heartbeat, she studied the stream of owl-eyed transatlantic passengers flowing through the arrival gate. Her mouth set in a grim line of determination. She'd have to hide her hostility towards him if this was going to work. But whatever happened, she was not going to give Brody the satisfaction of seeing how nervous she was—or how much she had at stake—and she absolutely refused to beg.
It would only make the contemptible man feel more superior.
Juno's eyes narrowed sharply as she spotted a tall solitary figure strolling down the concourse alone. In contrast to the other travellers, who were rumpled but well dressed, this guy's clothes were comfortable to the point of being disreputable. Faded denim hung from his lean hips and an ancient LA Dodgers T-shirt stretched across tanned biceps as he lugged a large leather holdall over his shoulder. The matching Dodgers baseball cap had been pushed down so the peak covered his face, but Juno could still see a day's worth of stubble on his chin, and the wavy black hair that touched broad shoulders.
Could that be Brody? She stared, trying to make up her mind. If it was him, he wasn't what she'd expected. With his shoulders hunched, his head down and his fingers fisted on the handle of his holdall, the man walking towards her looked as if he was trying to be inconspicuous.
And it was working. But for his height, which towered at least a foot over her own five feet two, Juno guessed no one would have given him a second glance. But then Juno noticed the way the stranger moved and she knew he had to be Mac Brody. He had the exact same loose, languid gait as his brother, Connor.
She jostled her way through the crowd to head him off at the exit gate—her heartbeat bumping right back up to warp speed.
Keeping his eyes on the grey industrial flooring, Mac Brody blanked out the crowd noise and hitched his shoulder to relieve the knot of tension and fatigue.
He'd never been keen on airports, and Heathrow held some bad memories. The last time he'd been here three years back, the paparazzi had been lying in wait to ambush him. It had been less than a week after his public bust-up with supermodel Regina St Clair—and a mere two days after Gina had sold her story to the press and branded him a coke-snorting wild man who bedded a different woman every night.
Gina's X-rated fantasies might have been funny—but for the fact that a lot of people had believed her and the fallout had followed him around like a monkey on his back ever since. The press had smelled blood that day, and they hadn't let him alone since. He'd never been comfortable exposed to the media spotlight, so it had been a harsh lesson to learn and no mistake.
He'd been mad as hell with Gina at the time. But he'd got over it soon enough. Somehow she'd deluded herself into believing they were in love and he hadn't been paying enough attention to notice. He adjusted the weight of his carry-on bag on his shoulder. Lesson learned. Whenever he dated now, he made it plain exactly what he wanted out of a relationship—and exactly what he didn't want—right from the start.
He glanced up to search the terminal for the exit. Seeing no sign of any photographers or press hounds, he heaved a sigh. He could cope with the paps if he had to, but right now he was exhausted after an eleven-hour flight and back-to-back night shoots during the past week and he didn't need the hassle. Luckily for him, he'd learnt to blend into the woodwork at an early age; people rarely recognised him in a crowd unless he wanted them to.
Spotting the 'Way Out' sign, he changed direction, but as he lowered his head to make for the exit a small figure stepped from behind a pillar straight into his path.
'What the…?' He pulled up sharply to stop knocking the girl down.
'You're Cormac Brody.' Her voice wavered, but the statement was loud enough to attract attention.
'Keep your voice down,' he said, scanning the surrounding crowd. Luckily no one seemed to have heard her.
'I'm sorry to bother you. But I need to speak to you,' she said, polite as you please, but he detected a definite edge. 'It's extremely important.'
'Extremely important, is it?' He'd heard that before. A firm dismissal hovered on the tip of his tongue, but, as his gaze drifted over her figure and then settled back on her face, it refused to come out of his mouth.
Whoever the girl was, she was seriously cute.
The torn jeans and layered T-shirts should have made her look like a tomboy, but somehow they suited her, hugging her subtle curves and accentuating her narrow waist and a pair of small but pert breasts.
Then there was the impact of that pale heart-shaped face to consider.
Not quite green and not quite blue, her round, translucent eyes grabbed most of the attention, but when you added in the soft, carelessly cut cap of dark blonde hair, the clear, creamy skin and perfectly defined bone structure—plus the fact she didn't have a spot of make-up on—he had to admit the effect was striking.
He wondered if she was a fan. And hoped she wasn't.
'What is it that's so extremely important?' He could spare her a moment—after all it was a long time since he'd been this intrigued. 'I haven't much time at the minute, darlin'.'
The doe-like eyes narrowed and she looked even cuter—sort of like Bo Peep in a strop. 'Don't patronise me, Mr Brody.'
He blinked, surprised by the ballsy comeback. No way was she a fan. 'I'd really appreciate it if you'd stop saying my name so loudly,' he said, keeping his tone light, even though this was the second time he'd had to mention it. 'I'm in no hurry to draw attention to myself.' Intriguing or not, she was turning into a bit of a liability.
He glanced past her again to make sure she hadn' t given him away and spied the one person he didn't want to see. 'Damn.'
She frowned and began to turn. Throwing his bag down, he grabbed her shoulders and shoved her against the pillar to get them both out of Pete Danners's line of sight. His nemesis. The same freelance photographer had dogged him like a Rottweiler three years back and he had no desire to repeat the experience.
'Don't look round,'he snapped. He propped his elbow above her head, trapping her body against his to look round the pillar. 'If yer man over there sees me, this trip'll be a misery.'
Juno sucked in a sharp breath, so shocked she forgot to exhale.
What was happening?
One second she'd been staring into staggeringly blue eyes and thinking Cormac Brody was a lot better-looking than he had any right to be and quite as arrogant as she had assumed. The next she'd been pinned against his lean, muscular body.
She got light-headed and remembered she needed air. One breath gushed out and she sucked in another. She could feel every single inch of him. The solid planes of his chest flattening her breasts. The long length of his thighs pressed to hers and the buckle of his belt, outlined against her stomach. The overwhelming scent of minty toothpaste and man suffocated her.
'What are you doing?' she panted, the outraged squeak muffled against his chest.
She hadn't been this close to a man in six years. By rights she should be screaming her head off. But right alongside the shock was the unfamiliar blast of heat that throbbed in every place their bodies touched.
He moved back a fraction, still looking past her shoulder. She took another gasping breath.
'He's gone. Thank the Lord.' The brush of his breath against her ear lobe had a shudder ricocheting down her spine. 'I owe you one, gorgeous.'
'I—I can't breathe,' she stammered, her teeth rattling.
He yanked off his cap and the bold, unfathomable blue of his eyes fixed on her face.
You're what's wrong, she wanted to yell, but couldn't say the words. She had to stop shaking first.
He bent his head. 'Relax, darlin'.' One calloused palm settled on her neck.
Her breath hitched painfully as he traced his thumb along her chin and then sank his fingers into her hair.
She tried to say something, anything, but all that came out was a choked moan. His hand rested on her nape, holding her steady. 'How about we try this?' he coaxed, his lips so close she could taste the minty scent of his breath.
Then his mouth slanted across hers.
The second those firm lips touched hers, her pulse went haywire—as if she'd been plugged into an electric socket. Shock and something much more potent rocketed through her.
Then his tongue slid over her bottom lip and a staggered groan escaped.
She should push him away, her mind screamed. But when her palms flattened against his T-shirt, the muscles quivered beneath her fingers and her hands slid down the hard plane of worn cotton. Her lips parted and his tongue plundered. Fire flashed through her, pulsing in her sex, hardening her nipples—and incinerating the last semblance of coherent thought.
He established a primal rhythm as her mouth opened wider to accept him. Then her tongue duelled with his, tentatively at first but getting bolder as the fire raged at her core. Strong, insistent fingers explored, slipping under her T-shirt, fanning her ribcage and making her buck against him as they caressed over-sensitive skin. Then she felt it. The thick ridge pressing into her belly.
She struggled, trying to wrestle back control of her traitorous body, and he broke away.
'Whoah. That was something else.' His ragged breathing matched her own as he rested his forehead on hers. 'We'd best stop, before things get out of hand.'
Juno stiffened and shrank back as reality returned, dousing the last of the passion like a bucket of ice water.
What had she done? After six years of contented celibacy, she'd snogged a complete stranger in the middle of Heathrow Airport. A stranger she didn't even like.
'Please, could you move your hand?' she said, brutally embarrassed as his thumb continued to rub lazily across her ribs, perilously close to the underside of her breast.
He drew his hand down, rested it on her hip. 'How about we find somewhere we can continue this in private?'
She fumbled with her T-shirt, frantically tucking it back into her jeans as blood surged into her cheeks. Did he think she was a prostitute or something?
He put his finger under her chin, tilted her head back. 'Is there something the matter?'
Of course something's the matter. A nymphomaniac just hijacked my body.
She jerked free. 'N-nothing's the matter,' she stammered.
'You sure?' His brows lowered. 'You're acting a bit strange.'
You don't know the half of it.
'I have to go.' She had to get away from those prying eyes and that harsh, too handsome face, before the nymphomaniac returned.
His hand clamped on her wrist. 'Now wait a minute,' he said with irritating calm.
She tugged, but the warm manacle only tightened. 'I really have to go.'
'You don't kiss a guy like that and then just walk off,' he said, not sounding the least bit perturbed by what they'd just done. 'And what about the extremely important thing you had to discuss with me?'
She opened her mouth to demand he let her go instantly. And then snapped it shut again.
Oh, no. The wedding invitation.
How could she have forgotten about Daisy's wedding? And her mission?
'Please, l-let go of my wrist,' she stuttered, the words trapped behind the boulder of guilt stuck in her throat. 'I have something for you.'
He released her, a sensual smile on his lips. 'I think we already established that.'
Her blush intensified—and her nipples tightened. Damn him. How did he have that effect on her? 'I'm not talking about sexual favours.' She grabbed his wrist and slapped the envelope into his upturned palm. 'It's an invitation to your brother's wedding.'
He tensed and the smile vanished as he stared at the invite.
'It's from my best friend, Daisy, your brother's fiancée,' she added.
His gaze lifted and she thought she saw something flicker in his eyes. But it disappeared so quickly she was sure she'd imagined it.
'I don't have a brother,' he replied, crushing the envelope in his fist.
That was one scenario she hadn't even considered. 'Of course you do,' she blurted out, wondering what on earth had happened between this man and Connor.
He looked completely unmoved. She'd promised herself she wouldn't beg, but after what she'd just done a little begging didn't seem like such a big deal any more. She took a deep breath. 'Please. You have to go. It's really important.'
'Not to me it isn't,' he said with enough arrogance to make her bristle. He lifted the invitation. 'So you can give this back to your best friend and tell her I'm not interested.'
'How can you be so callous?' she asked, before she could think better of it.
'How come this is any of your business?' he shot back, a bitter smile twisting his lips.
She stiffened, stunned by the cold, emotionless tone. 'I told you, Daisy's my friend,' she said, hating the defensive -ness in her voice.
'I see,' he said. 'So was the kiss her idea or yours?'
Juno's mouth fell open. She snapped it shut. 'You know perfectly well that kiss was your idea.' What exactly was he accusing her of? 'You know what, Mr Brody.' Forget begging, she'd had about enough of Mac Brody and his titanic ego. 'Just because you're rich and famous it doesn't give you the right to treat your family like dirt. Daisy and Connor are wonderful people—and they deserve a lot better than you.'
'Is that right?' To her fury, he chuckled. 'So if you think I'm such a low form of life, why did you kiss me, then?'
If he didn't stop talking about that damn kiss she was going to slap him. 'I didn't know you then. I do now.'
His lips quirked, apparently immune to the insult. 'But you've yet to encounter the best bit.'