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'Enjoying the view ?'
Thia tensed, a shiver of awareness quivering down the length of her spine at the sound of that deep voice coming out of the darkness behind her, before turning quickly to search those shadows for the man who had just spoken to her.
She was able to make out a tall figure in the moonlight just feet away from where she stood, alone on the balcony that surrounded the whole of this luxurious penthouse apartment on the fortieth floor of one of the impressive buildings lighting up the New York skyline. Only dim light spilled from the open French doors of the apartment further down the balconyalong with the sound of tinkling laughter and the chatter of the fifty or so party guests still insidemaking it impossible for Thia to see any more than that the man was very tall, dark and broad-shouldered. Imposingly so.
Dangerously so ?
The wariness still humming through her body just at the sound of the deep and seductive timbre of his voice said a definite yes!
Thia's fingers tightened about the breast-high balustrade in front of her. 'I was, yes ' she answered pointedly.
'You're a Brit,' he observed deeply.
'From London,' Thia confirmed shortly, really hoping that he would take note of that terseness and leave her to her solitude.
The New York night skyline, amazing as it was, hadn't been Thia's main reason for coming outside into the balmy evening air fifteen minutes ago, when the other guests had all been preoccupied with their excitement at the late arrival of Lucien Steele, American zil-lionaire businessman, and the party's guest of honour. That so many high-profile actors, actresses and politicians had turned out for the event was indicative of the amount of power the man wielded.
After all Jonathan's hype about him Thia had to admit that she hadn't found him so prepossessinga man of middle age and average height, slightly stocky and balding. But maybe all that money and power made him more attractive? In any event, Thia had just been grateful that he had arrived at lastif only because it had allowed her to slip outside and be aloneinstead of just feeling alone.
Thia certainly hadn't intended to find herself alone on the balcony with a man who exuded such an intensity of power and sexual attraction she could almost taste it.
'A Brit, from London, who's avoiding the party inside.?' that deep voice guessed with dry amusement.
Having been to three other parties just like this one in the four days since her arrival in New York, Thia had to admit to having become slightly boredjaded?by them. The first one had been funexciting, evenmeeting people she had only ever seen on the big or little screen before, world-famous actors and actresses and high-profile politicians. But the artificiality of it was all becoming a bit samey now. The conversations were repetitive and too loud, the laughter even more so, with everyone seemingly out to impress or better everyone else, their excessive wealth literally worn on their sleeves.
This constant round of parties also meant that she'd had very little opportunity for any time or private conversation with Jonathan, the man she had come to New York to visit.
Jonathan Miller, the English star of Network, a new American thriller television series set in New York, directed by this evening's host, Felix Carew, and co-starring his young and sexy wife Simone as the love-interest.
The show had been an instant hit, and Jonathan was currently the darling of New York's beautiful peopleand, as Thia had discovered these past four days, there were a lot of beautiful people in New York!
And not a single one of them had felt any qualms about ignoring the woman who had been seen at Jonathan's side on those evenings once they'd learnt that Thia was of no social or political value to them whatsoever.
Not that Thia minded being ignored. She had very quickly discovered she had no more in common with New York's elite than they had with her.
She was pleased for Jonathan's success, of course. The two of them had known each other for a couple of years now, after meeting at the London restaurant where Thia always worked the late shift, leaving her free to attend her university course in the day.
She and Jonathan had met quite by chance, when he had been appearing in a play at the theatre across the street from the restaurant and had started calling in late in the evening a couple of times a week for something to eat, once the theatre had closed for the night.
They had chatted on those evenings, then dated casually for a few weeks. But there had been no spark between them and the relationship had quickly fallen into the 'just friends' category. Then, four months ago, Jonathan had landed the lead role in the television series over here, and Thia had accepted that even that friendship would be over once Jonathan moved to New York.
He had telephoned a couple of times in the months that followed, just light and friendly conversations, when they had caught up on each other's lives, and then a month ago Jonathan had flown back to England for the weekend, insisting he had missed her and wanted to spend all his time back home with her. And it had been fun. Thia had arranged to have the weekend off so that they could have dinner together in the evening, visits to museums and walks in the parks during the day, before Jonathan had to fly back to New York to start filming again on the Monday.
But no one had been more surprised than Thia when a first-class plane ticket for a week-long stay in New York had been delivered to her by messenger just two days later!
She had telephoned Jonathan immediately, of course, to tell him she couldn't possibly accept such generosity from him. But he had insisted, saying he could well afford it and, more to the point, he wanted to see her again. He wanted to show her New York, and for New York to see her.
Thia's pride had told her she should continue to refuse, but Jonathan had been very persuasive, and as she hadn't been able to afford a holiday for years the temptation had just been too much. So she had accepted, with the proviso that he cancelled the first class ticket and changed it to a standard fare. Spending that amount of money on an airfare seemed obscene to her, in view of her own financial difficulties.
Jonathan had assured her that she would have her own bedroom in his apartment, and that he just wanted her to come and enjoy New York with him. She had even gone out and spent some of her hard-earned savings on buying some new clothes for the trip!
Except Jonathan's idea of her enjoying New York with him was vastly different from Thia's own. They had attended parties like this one every night, and Jonathan would sleep off the effects the following morning. Meanwhile his late afternoons and early evenings were usually spent secluded somewhere with Simone Carew, going over the script together.
Seeing so little of Jonathan during the day, and attending parties in the evenings, Thia had started to wonder why he had bothered to invite her here at all.
And she now found herself irritated that, once again, Jonathan had disappeared with Simone shortly after they had arrived at this party he had claimed was so important to him on account of the presence of Lucien Steele, the American billionaire owner of the television station responsible for Network. That desertion had left Thia being considered fair game by men like the one standing in the shadows behind her.
Well perhaps not exactly like this man. The way he seemed to possess even the air about him told her that she had never met a man quite like this one before.
'Beautiful.' the man murmured huskily as he stepped forward to stand at the railing beside her.
Thia's heart skipped a beat, her nerveendings going on high alert as her senses were instantly filled with the light smell of lemonshis cologne?accompanied by an insidious maleness that she guessed was all him.
She turned to look at him, tilting her head back as she realised how much taller he was than her, even in her four-inch-heeled take-me-to-bed shoes. Taller, and so broad across the shoulders, with dark hair that rested low on the collar of his white shirt and black evening jacket. His face appeared to be all hard angles in the moonlight: strong jaw, chiselled lips, long aquiline nose, high cheekbones. And those pale and glittering eyes
Piercing eyes, that she now realised were looking at her in admiration rather than at the New York skyline!
Thia repressed another quiver of awareness at having this man look at her so intently, realising that she was completely alone out here with a man she didn't know fromwell, from Adam.
'Have they all stopped licking Lucien Steele's highly polished handmade Italian leather shoes yet, do you think?' she prompted in her nervousness, only to give a pained grimace at her uncharacteristic sharpness. 'I'm sorrythat was incredibly rude of me.' She winced, knowing how important Lucien Steele's goodwill was to Jonathan's success in the US. He had certainly emphasised it often enough on the drive over here!
'But true?' the man drawled dryly.
'Perhaps.' She nodded. 'But I'm sure that Mr Steele has more than earned the adoration being showered upon him so effusively.'
Teeth gleamed whitely in the darkness as the man gave a hard and humourless smile. 'Or maybe he's just so rich and powerful no one has ever dared to tell him otherwise?'
'Maybe,' she conceded ruefully. 'Cynthia Hammond.' She thrust out her hand in an effort to bring some normality to this conversation. 'But everyone calls me Thia.'
He took possession of her handthere was no other way to describe the way the paleness of her hand just disappeared inside the long bronzed strength of his. And Thia could not ignore the jolt of electricity zinging along her fingers and arm at contact with the warmth of his skin.
'I've never been particularly fond of being a part of what everyone else does,' he murmured throatily. 'So I think I'll call you Cyn '
Just the way he said that word, in that deliciously deep and sexy voice, was enough to send yet more shivers of awareness down Thia's spine. Her breasts tingled with that awareness, the nipples puckering to tight and sensitive berries as they pressed against the sheer material of the clinging blue ankle-length gown she wore.
And it was a totally inappropriate reaction to a complete stranger!
Jonathan might have done yet another disappearing act with Simone forty minutes ago, but that certainly didn't mean Thia was going to stand here and allow herself to be seduced by some dark-haired hunk, who looked sinfully delicious in his obviously expensive evening suit but so far hadn't even been polite enough to introduce himself!
'And you are.?'
Those teeth gleamed even whiter in the darkness as he gave a wolfish smile. 'Lucien Steele.'
Thia gave a snort. 'I don't think so!' she scoffed.
'No?' He sounded amused by her scepticism.
'No,' she repeated decisively.
He raised one dark brow. 'Why not?'
She breathed her impatience. 'Well, for one thing you aren't nearly old enough to be the self-made zillionaire Lucien Steele.' She estimated this man was aged somewhere in his early to mid-thirties, ten or twelve years older than her own twenty-three, and she knew from the things Jonathan had told her about this evening's guest of honour that Lucien Steele had not only been the richest man in New York for the last ten years, but was also the most powerful.
He gave an unconcerned shrug of those impossibly wide shoulders. 'What can I say? My parents were wealthy to begin with, and I'd made my own first million by the time I was twenty-one.'
'Also,' Thia continued, determined, 'I saw Mr Steele when he arrived.'
It had been impossible to miss the awed reaction of the other guests. Those incredibly rich and beautiful people had all, without exception, fallen absolutely silent the moment Lucien Steele had appeared in the doorway. And Felix Carew, a powerful man in his own right, had become almost unctuous as he moved swiftly across the room to greet his guest.
Thia gave a rueful shake of her head. 'Lucien Steele is in his early forties, several inches shorter than you are, and stocky, with a shaved head.' In fact on first glance she had thought the man more resembled a thug rather than the richest and most powerful man in New York!
'That would be Dex.'
'Dex ?' she echoed doubtfully.
'Mmm.' The man beside her nodded unconcernedly.
'He takes his duties as my bodyguard very seriouslyto the point that he always insists upon entering a room before I do. I'm not sure why,' he mused. 'Perhaps he expects there to be an assassin on the other side of every door.'
Thia felt a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach as she heard the amused dismissal in this man'sin Lucien Steele's?voice. Moistening her lips with the tip of tongue before speaking, she said, 'And where is Dex now.?'
'Probably standing guard on the other side of those French doors.' He nodded down the balcony to the same doorway Thia had escaped through minutes ago.
And was Dex making sure that no one came outside, or was he ensuring that Thia couldn't return inside until this man wished her to.?
She gave another frown as she looked up searchingly at the man now standing so near to her she could feel the heat emanating from his body on the bareness of her shoulders and arms. Once again she took note of that inborn air of power, arrogance, she had sensed in him from the first.
For all the world as if he was used to people licking his highly polished handmade Italian leather shoes.
Lucien continued to hold Cyn's now trembling hand and waited in silence for her to gather her breath as she looked up at him between long and silky lashes with eyes a dark and mysterious cobalt blue.
Those eyes became shadowed with apprehension as she gave another nervous flick of her little pink tongue over the moist fullness of her perfectly shaped lips. 'The same Lucien Steele who owns Steele Technology, Steele Media, Steele Atlantic Airline and Steele Industries, as well as all those other Steele Somethingor-Others?' she murmured faintly.
He shrugged. 'It seemed like a good idea to diversify.'
She determinedly pulled her hand from his grasp before tightly gripping the top of the balustrade. 'The same Lucien Steele who's a zillionaire?'
'I believe you said that already.' Lucien nodded.
She drew in a deep breath, obviously completely unaware of how it tightened the material of her dress across her breasts and succeeded in outlining the fullness of thosearoused?nipples. Nipples that were a delicate pink or a succulent rose? Whatever their colour, he was sure they would taste delicious. Sweet and juicy, and oh so ripe and responsive as he licked and suckled them.
He had noticed the woman he now knew to be Cynthia Hammond the moment he'd entered Felix and Simone Carew's penthouse apartment a short time ago. It had been impossible not to as she'd stood alone at the back of the opulent room, her hair a sleek and glossy unadorned black as it fell silkily to just below her shoulders, her eyes that deep cobalt blue in the beautiful pale delicacy of her face.
She wore a strapless ankle-length gown of that same deep blue, leaving the tops of her breasts, shoulders and arms completely bare. The smoothness of her skin was a beautiful pearly white unlike any other Lucien had ever seen: a pale ivory tinted lightly pink, luminescent. Smoothly delicate and pearly skin his fingers itched to touch and caress.