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As she turned into the underground car park, shared by the architectural practice she worked for with several other businesses in the same modern block, Giselle saw a car reversing from one of the precious spaces. Quickly she turned the wheel of her small company car against the arrows, driving up an exit lane, her brain and body automatically focusing on getting to the empty space before anyone else spotted it. She only realised as she swung round the end of the exit lane and up to the space that an imposing, expensive, polished sports car, with an equally imposing, expensive and polished, far too harshly good-looking man at its wheel, was stationary just down from the space. He had obviously been waiting for the space's occupant to leave.
He looked at her, his expression one of arrogance mingled with open male disbelief. For a second she hesitated, her resolve almost failing, but then she saw how his glance moved deliberately from her face to her body, as though she was a piece of merchandise he was looking over and then rejecting, and a spurt of pure female fury had her turning into the spot for which he had been waiting.
She could see the cold savagery of the look he was giving her, and lip-read the words, What the hell? as they were formed by the sensually chiselled hard male mouth as she swept past him, her whole body shaking, her hands damp with perspiration as she clung to the wheel.
It wasn't just because his arrogance had infuriated her that she was doing this. This morning she'd received an unexpected call asking her to get to the office early, to be present after the senior partners' meeting. She could not afford to be late; necessity overruled and squashed the guilt she would normally have felt at her lack of good road manners. Then he had given her that lookthat assured, arrogant, hateful glance at her bodythat had said so clearly exactly what kind of man he was: predatory, callous, completely fixated on his own desires and needs.
Her need for the parking space was far greater than his, Giselle told herself. She had to be in the officefifteen minutes ago. He, on the other hand, looked the sort who normally had a driver to attend to such mundane things as parking his car.
Inside the car, she started to change her driving shoes for her office heels. The sound of an engine revving furiously made her exhale in relief. He had obviously driven awayat high speed and in high dudgeon, no doubt.
Having moved his car a few yards, to let another vehicle pass him, Saul Parenti stared with furious disbelief at the thief who had just taken his parking spot. The fact that this deed had been commited by a woman added insult to injury. Saul had the blood of generations of powerful men running through his veinsmen in control, in authority, absolute rulersand right now that blood was running very hot and fast indeed. Saul would never have described himself as a misogynist, far from ithe liked women. He liked them a lot. But generally speaking the place where he liked them most was in his bednot in a parking spot for which he had been waiting with a patience that went against his nature.
With no other parking space available, he parked swiftly to one side, obstructing two vehicles, and switched off the car engine. He pushed open the door, unfolding his muscular six-foot-four length from the driving seat of his car.
Giselle was unaware that her theft was about to be challenged until she was out of her small car. Making the short walk from the car park to the lift that would take her up to the office was the time she normally used to get her professional mask firmly in placethe one that hid the fact that she disliked the male interest so often directed at her at work. Because of this she was too involved in adopting her cloak of defensive hauteurstraight back, straight-ahead focus, and a lift of her chin that said she was untouchableto be aware of the danger until it was too late and she was forced to rock back on her heels in mid-stride or risk walking straight into the man standing between her and the exit.
'Not so fast. I want a word with you.'
His English was excellent, and somehow slightly at odds with his darkly male looks.
Well, she certainly did not want to exchange any words with him. Giselle stepped past him, and then gasped in outraged shock when he blocked her, stepping closer to her, until she felt as though each breath was filled with the raw masculine smell of himall dark, erotic mastery spiked with something sharper, like the touch of a velvet glove spiked with hidden danger.
'You're in my way,' she told him as she fought to keep and sound coolnot realising the dangerous opening she had given him.
'And you are in my parking spot,' he retorted.
That might be true, but she wasn't about to give it or anything else up to him.
'Possession is nine-tenths of the law,' she quipped, and then wished that she hadn't when he seemed to move even closer, his presence somehow paralysing and imprisoning her.
'Possession belongs to those who are strong enough to take what they want and hold on to itwhether that applies to a parking spaceor a woman.'
And he was a man who would possess his woman. The knowledge of that had somehow got under her protective armour, and now that it had She was beginning to feel dizzy, weak, filled with a febrile excitement brought on by the clash of words between them, a dangerous desire to go on pushing him, to test his self-control.
A shudder ripped though her. This was madness. Just because he was a man. And what a man, she was forced to acknowledge dizzily. For a start there was his heighteasily over six feet, so that even in her heels she had to tilt her head back to look up at him. Somehow, despite the fact that she had worked for years never to allow herself to be physically aware of men, this one had such a powerful aura of raw male sexuality about him that she suspected it would be impossible for any woman not to be aware of him. Her own unexpected and unwanted vulnerability set off a chain reaction of panic and anger inside her, and those emotions were intensified by the fact that they could not block out the effect his maleness was having on her.
Unfamiliar and definitely unwanted thoughts were springing up inside her head with such vigour that it was impossible for her to cull them. Dangerous thoughts, all allied to the fact that he was a man. And not just a man but the architectural equivalent of instant visual gratification via the perfection of the design of his outer form. In fact looking at him could easily become a female compulsion, Giselle suspected helplessly. That expensive-looking shirt he was wearing must surely have been made to measure for him, to cover those shoulders and that chest. No surplus fat there. His body looked as though it would be all hard muscle over silken flesh. How would it feel to touch such a man? What would it be like to have such a feast of male sensuality spread out for her delight and the enticement of her senses? A quiverful of molten aching darts of longing were piercing her body, lethally infecting it with tiny stings of desire.
Protectively Giselle lifted her hand to her heart in an attempt to steady its increased beat. She must not feel like this. Not now and not ever. Not for this man or for any man. She tried to look away from him, to break the spell his sexuality had cast over her, but instead her gaze slid recklessly to his face and became enmeshed there.
His genes were not derived from any Anglo-Saxon ancestor, she was sure. Not with those arrogant, almost Roman Byzantine features, with that hint of cruelty stamped into them. No. His was an intensely masculine faceintelligent, educated, arrogant and elegant. The Mediterranean olive flesh was drawn smoothly against high cheekbones, a strong jaw, and the Roman strength of his nose. If it hadn't been for his unexpectedly silver eyes she would have said that this was a man whose bloodline came from the darkest mists of timefrom a race of men destined by birthright and their own strength to sweep aside all opposition to their will.
One blast from those grey eyes was like having a laser gun applied to her icy shield. This was a man with a capital Mall-male, all-powerful, a man who believed that his will, his needs and desires should be free to rove and take possession of whatever they and he wanted.
The shock of being confronted by him was definitely having a dangerous effect on her. Somehow her senses had managed to break through the mental chastity belt in which she normally locked them to behave like a group of hormone overloaded teenagers, all too ready to feast themselves on the banquet in front of them. Only of course she had no intention of allowing them to do any such thing. And she had years of practice in ensuring that they obeyed her, she reminded herself as she struggled to retain her air of icy uninterest.
She didn't like him, Giselle decided. She didn't like him one little bit. He was far too arrogant. And far too male for her own comfort. Was that why she didn't like him? Because she knew instinctively that his brand of male sexuality was very dangerous to her and that she was not as protected from it as she knew she had to be? Of course not, she assured herself determinedly.
Saul studied the woman standing in front of him with a practised male gaze. Medium height, slimalthough the combination of the almost uniform-like dullness of her black skirt suit, worn over a plain white shirt, and the fact that her clothes were cheap and ill-fitting, as though they were a size too big for her, made it impossible to judge accurately how feminine her body shape might be. Her blonde hair was drawn back tightly into a smooth chignon that revealed the delicate bone structure of her face, with its femininely pronounced cheekbones and luminous skin. The gold tips to her eyelashes revealed by the overhead lighting suggested that they were neither dyed nor covered in mascara. Some men might find her cool, touch-me-not Grace Kelly-type looks a sexual challenge, and be curious enough to see just how much applied male interest her ice would take before cracking, but he was not one of them. He liked his women subtly and seductively wanton and willingnot playing at being ice maidens so that they could demand their ice was melted.
However, even if she had been his type, right now his attention was focused on retribution rather than seduction.
'Let me past,' Giselle demanded, asserting herself in an attempt to remind herself of the reality of the situation.
Her sharp demand added to Saul's impatient fury. She had stolen his parking space, and she was argumentative, stubborn, and refusing to admit that she was in the wrong. Her whole attitude made him want to put her in her place.
He wasn't going to move, and she was going to be late. Determined to make her escape, Giselle stepped quickly to one side of himbut as she did so he reached for her, taking hold of her forearms in a fiercely hostile grip. She could feel their bruising pressure on her flesh, male and alien and burning away the layers of cloth between them, so that it was almost as though he was touching her bare skin. A shocking sensation seized hold of her body as powerfully as he seized hold of her, panicking her into curling her hands into fists that she wanted to beat against his chest.
'Let me go,' she insisted furiously.
Let her go? There was nothing he wanted to do more. She'd already caused him more trouble in five short minutes than he'd ever allowed any woman to cause him. He looked directly at her. Her face was white and set, her eyes burning with temper, her mouth
Still holding her with one hand, he removed the other from her arm to reach up and very deliberately wipe the lipstick from her mouth with his thumb, as if in preparation to kiss her.
She stood frozen, shocked at the intimate gesture, and the moment stretched as their gazes locked. Unable to move, Giselle was stunned by the leap of sensation his gaze shifting to her mouth conjured within her, and with it the hunger toto what? To lean in to him?
The sudden blaring of a car horn close to them had Saul releasing his prisoner, thrusting her away from him as he did so. What had possessed him? And what would have happened if they hadn't been disturbed? he asked himself as Giselle took advantage of the interruption to run from him.
To Giselle's relief he didn't follow her to the liftwhich thankfully was empty. In it, on the way up to her office, with her heart thudding and racing and her mind in turmoil, she had to force herself not to think about what had just happened but instead to focus on the reason everyone had been called into the office.
For the past two yearsin fact virtually since she had joined the prestigious practice of architectsthe firm had been working on a lavish and costly project for a Russian billionaire, which involved turning a small island he had acquired off the coast of Croatia into a luxury holiday resort for the very wealthy. The financial downturn had led to the project being put on hold, much to the dismay of the firm's senior partners, but then late yesterday they had received news that the island had a new owner, in the shape of another billionairea very successful entrepreneur, who had seen the plans for the island and now wanted to discuss them.
This news had galvanised the senior partners into swift action. Everyone connected with the plansno matter in how lowly a capacityhad been instructed to make themselves available after the preliminary early-morning meeting, in case the island's new owner wished to discuss any aspect of the plans with them. The hope was that he would give the green light to the stalled project, but of course there was no guarantee of that. With the threat of potential redundancies looming over them, naturally the more junior architects, like Giselle, were keeping everything crossed that he would look favourably on the plans.