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Their eyes met across the boardroom table and out of nowhere Nicole could feel electricity in the air between them, so hot it almost sizzled. Hurriedly she looked away.
'So, as you can see, gentlemen,' she said as she tried to focus back on her notes, 'the figures are good. If there are no further complications the takeover should soon be complete and RJ Records will be ours.'
There was a ripple of applause around the long table and a lot of satisfied smiles. But Luke wasn't smiling. He was still looking at her with that gleam in his dark eyes as if he could read her mind and look directly into her very soul.
She wished he wouldn't look at her like that. It made her pulses race it made her hot all over it made her forget what she was thinking, what she was saying.
'So ' She shuffled the papers in front of her and forced herself to think businesslike thoughts. 'What we need to do now'
'What we need to do now is adjourn this meeting,'Luke cut across her swiftly, his tone quietly commanding.
Nicole frowned, and was about to tell him that there were a few more important points to run through, but he was already pushing back his chair from the long polished table. 'Thank you for your attention, gentlemen, but I think with our goal in sight we all deserve an early finish tonight. We will reconvene early tomorrow morning.'
Nicole glanced surreptitiously at her watch. It was five-thirty. Not exactly early by normal standards, but compared with the hours they had been working for the last week this was a veritable half-day.
Everyone started to relax and follow the boss's lead, pushing their chairs back from the table. A babble of conversation broke out as the tension of the last few days was put aside. The whole office had been under pressure with work on the proposed takeover.
Nicole gathered her papers and put them back into her briefcase. Across the room she could see Luke chatting with Sandy, his PA. He was leaning against the window-sill, the panoramic view of the Miami skyline spread out behind him. But it wasn't the view outside that held Nicole's attention. It was the span of his shoulders in the charcoal-grey suit the casual way he had pushed his jacket back to rest one hand against his white shirt, showing the taut lines of his narrow hips.
No man had a right to be as good-looking as her boss, she thought distractedly. Luke Santana was thirty-six and six-foot-two of sheer male perfection. His hair was thick, blue-black, and just a shade too long against his collar, and his eyes were so dark and intense that they seemed to slice into her. He was of Portuguese origin and you could see the continental lineage clearly, even if his accent was sometimes more mid-Atlantic. She liked the way he talked, with just an occasional hint of a Portuguese accent, and she liked the way he looked. In fact just glancing at him made her stomach tighten in a strange kind of way. But she was fighting that In fact she was getting better at dealing with it, she told herself firmly as she turned her attention away from him. At least she was able to maintain a brisk, businesslike veneer around himeven if he made her heart speed up to the rate of an engine in overdrive.
A fellow colleague stopped to have a word with her and then she turned to leave. Luke was standing between her and the door now.
She pushed a strand of long chestnut hair back from her face and tried not to notice how his eyes flicked over her, taking in her slender figure in the white blouse and black pencil skirt.
'The deal seems to be coming together nicely, Nicole,' he drawled.
'Yes, I think we're making good progress.'
He nodded, before adding casually, 'However, there are a few points I think we should clarify, and one figure that I'd especially like to go over again in detail.'
Nicole's green eyes narrowed on him. She had been meticulous in her calculations how could he not be completely satisfied? 'Which figure were you thinking of?'
'Don't worry about it now. Just make sure you are in here bright and early tomorrow.'
His tone held an abrasive edge, but she was kind of used to that. When Luke wanted something he wanted it then and there. Patience wasn't one of his virtues.
She nodded. 'Of course, boss.'
There was a slightly sardonic gleam in his eye now as he looked at her. 'See you tomorrow, Nicole,' he said.
She smiled and headed for the door.
The corridor outside was silent; she stepped into the lift to head back up to her office and collect her bag.
Before she reached her floor, her mobile rang. 'So, your place or mine?' an arrogant male voice demanded.
Her boss's cool, confident tones made a shiver of excitement race through her. 'I'm not sure I've got time to see you tonight,' she teased huskily. 'I've got figures to redo.'
'So have I one figure in particular.' Nicole could hear the amusement in Luke's voice, but she could also hear the heat of desire. 'I'll be round at your place in half an hour.'
'Make it three quarters of an hour,' she said, thinking that she wanted time to get ready for him. 'I'll make us something to eat if you like?'
There was a silence at the other end of the phone, covered only by the distant babble of conversation from the boardroom. It was no wonder Luke was a bit surprised. She had never offered to cook for him before. Nicole frowned, surprised by the offer herself. Why had she said that? This was a strictly carnal affairyes, OK, sometimes he took her out to eat, but that was in the impersonal surrounds of an expensive restaurant, and usually a restaurant where they wouldn't bump into anybody they knew. A home-cooked meal sounded somehow a little cosy.
'OK, but I'd better warn you I'm ravenous.'He said the words in a low, rasping tone and she had an immediate mental image of him arriving at her apartment and ripping her clothes off. That was what usually happened. Their time together was always wildly seductive absolutely frenzied. Just thinking about it made all her senses reel with anticipation.
'I gather you are not talking about food now?' she said with a laugh.
'Got it in one.'
She could hear somebody talking to him in the background.
'Got to go,' he said swiftly. 'See you later.' Nicole hung up with a frown. Why had she offered to cook for him? She wasn't a particularly domesticated person.
The lift doors opened and she walked through to her office. It was a fabulous space, with its own private lounge area, and behind her desk the Miami coastline sparkled clear and beautiful, like a jewel in the September sunshine. When the Santana Record Company had offered her a transfer out here eighteen months ago she had grabbed the opportunity with both hands. She had been delighted to leave London with its painful memories and start afresh.
During her time in America Nicole had dedicated herself entirely to her work, and it had paid off. Six months ago she had earned herself the position of Contracts Manager. It was no mean achievement at thirty-one. A record label like Santana was part of a hard-hitting business, and in order to rise so high she'd had to brazen it out in the boardroom, pretending to be the cool, invincible, perfectionist Ms Connell. It still stunned her that she had succeeded to convince people that this was the true her. Sometimes she found it amusing that her diminutive five-foot-five slender frame could be in command of anyone.
Everything had been going well. After a painful divorce it had suited her to put work first and relationships second. She had liked the fact that she only had an occasional date. She didn't want to get involved with anyone, had liked keeping everything uncomplicated. And then five months ago Luke Santana had flown into town. He'd been in Europe for the last eighteen months, and apparently they'd only narrowly missed meeting each other in the London office; she'd left for America the day before he arrived. Now he had returned to Miami to negotiate the takeover of another rival record company, RJ Records, and he had chosen Nicole to assist him. Suddenly life had veered off track.
Having an affair with the boss was probably not smart, and she had desperately tried to fight the attraction she felt for him. But from the first moment she had walked into his office and their eyes had met a sort of madness had descended on her.
'Hi, Nicole,' he had said easily as he stood up to shake her hand. 'I've been hearing great things about you.'
Nicole had heard things about him as well; she had heard that he was a ruthless entrepreneur who put the business of making money above everything else. According to the NewYork Times he bought and sold companies as if life was a game of Monopoly. Sometimes he kept the businesses and built them up; sometimes he just ruthlessly tore them apart in a game of asset-stripping. Luckily for her job, his record company was one that he was intent on building up.
Another thing she had heard about Luke Santana was that he had never married and, according to the gossips, had broken more women's hearts than there were days in the year. She had reminded herself of all those things as she had felt tingles of awareness just from his handshake. And because she had been determined to keep her distance she had made sure that around him she was extra cool and businesslike.
Luke had seemed to find this amusing, and a bizarre game of cat and mouse had ensued for a few weeks. The frostier she was, the more charming he became. He hadn't come on to her, in fact he hadn't done anything that could be considered improper and yet there'd been a sizzling undercurrent that had grown stronger by the day. She'd tried everything to keep her distancedressed in overly severe suits, scraped her hair back from her face, a sardonic disapproval when he had tested her knowledge of the business to the hilt. She had even told herself that she didn't like him very muchtold herself and other people that he was overbearing and far too sure of himself.
But the tension between themwhatever it washad just seemed to build and build. Then, during a late meeting of the board, her hand had accidentally brushed against his and the feeling had been electric. Such a trivial thing, and yet she'd hardly been able to think straight for the rest of the meeting. Later Luke had accompanied her back to her office to pick up some papers.
'You were very quiet tonight,' he said. 'Well, I've got a lot on my mind.' She found the papers in double-quick time. 'There you are,' she said as she handed them across. 'You'll find everything in order.'
'Yes, I'm sure I will. So, do you fancy having dinner with me some time?' he asked.
'To discuss these papers?'
He shook his head. 'No, to discuss this '
Then he had kissed her.
The memory of that steamy kiss was enough to make her go hot inside now.
One moment she had been cool and reserved, the next she had melted like an ice-cube in the desert.
He had made love to her right here in her office, and it had been wild and incredible. Never in her life had she experienced such passion!Afterwards there had been a moment when she had been horrified by what she had doneespecially when she remembered that he had been prepared for sex and had had a condom with him. But then he had kissed her so tenderly that the feeling had turned to elation.
She had been bewildered by her reaction, had reminded herself that she was a career girl who put emotional entanglements second.
The thought had made her pull away from him. 'I hope you are not going to read anything into this,' she said as she hurried to straighten her clothes and cover her nakedness. 'I've really no inclination to get involved with you. I've no time for a relationship right now.'
It was probably a stupid thing to say to a man like Luke. And certainly when she looked over at him he seemed somewhat amused.
'That suits me fine,' he drawled. 'I'm not cut out for relationships, Nicole.'
'Good. Well, we'll just forget all about this, then shall we?'Somehow she managed to sound cool and composed, but really she was far from it. All she could think about was getting out of there. She had never felt more embarrassed in her life.
'I don't think so!' His voice was firm as he reached to take her hands away from the buttons on her blouse. 'I'm not finished with you yet, Ms Connell.' There was a playful, husky growl to his words, and she thought for one wild moment that he wanted to make love to her all over again What was even more worrying was the fact that she wouldn't have been averse to the idea. But he was merely adjusting her clothing, refastening the buttons that she had mistakenly fastened crookedly. The touch of his fingers against her body was erotic.
'I suggest that we have an affair,' he said calmly. 'No complications, no strings just perfect sex.'
And for the last few months that was what they'd had. So far they had managed to keep it a secret, so that it wouldn't complicate things at work. In public they were cool and deferential, but in private Well, in private their affair was so hot it was on fire.
Nicole had never had a liaison like it before. Casual sex was something she had never indulged in. But then she'd had five years in a deeply committed relationship with her husband, and that had ended badly, so she told herself there was no harm in having a little fun. She was a thirty-one-year-old woman, for heaven's sake, and these were modern times.
Nicole's secretary, Molly, came into the room and put some letters on her desk. 'I didn't expect to see you back from that meeting so soon!' she said in surprise.
'Luke called a halt to proceedings and declared an early finish.'
'Wow! He must be in a good mood.'
'Indeed.' Nicole smiled and reached for her bag. 'So I suggest you take advantage and finish now, Molly.'
'Great! I'll have time to go down to the florist and sort out my flowers.'
'Can't be long now to the big day?' Nicole perched against the edge of her desk for a moment. She liked Molly, a bubbly twenty-five-year-old who was so much in love with her fiancé Jack that it warmed Nicole's heart just hearing about their plans. And in some ways it restored her faith in love as well a faith that had been badly shaken when her husband had walked out on her.
'Five weeks on Saturday.' Molly's eyes sparkled with happiness. 'In fact ' Molly disappeared back into her own office and then returned a minute later with an em-bossed envelope. 'I may as well give you your invitation now,' she said with a smile. 'I was going to post it, but I'm on the last minute getting them out anyway.'
'Thanks, Molly.' Nicole opened the envelope and looked down at the pretty card with two hearts interlinked by a gold wedding band on the front. Inside, the invitation was made out to 'Nicole and partner'.
Her first thought was that there was no way she could turn up accompanied by Luke. And then something strange happened the knowledge seemed to sow a seed of sadness inside her.
With a frown, she pushed the feeling away. What on earth was the matter with her? Her relationship with Luke was just what she wanted, she told herself firmly as she put the invitation into her bag.