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The almighty crack of shattering glass sent Eden Foley's heart shooting like a bullet to her throat. 'Flight or fight' reflex pushed her to her feet as the Swarovski chandelier seemed to jingle overhead and the entire room jostled and gasped.
Good Lord! Had someone dropped a bomb on Sydney central?
Heartbeat racing, Eden peered out beyond the restaurant's massive glass frontage. Outside, stooped on the footpath, a woman gripped a baseball bat. A luxury sports car parked on the kerb glistened with the litter of its smashed windscreen. Now the woman swung again, ready to go to town on the gleaming black bonnet.
Her outfit might've been a nightdress, floating out when she put her all into the next big blow. As a boutique owner, Eden conceded that retro florals were in this season. Bad language and gnashing teeth were not.
At the same time the bat thwacked the bonnet, a tall, impressively built man ripped around the back of the car. With an effortless motion, he wrested the weapon from the attacker. Then, to block and shield some curious passersby, he stretched out his free arm. Like the closing scene from a thriller, a police car screeched up, its high-pitched siren cranking Eden's nerves up another notch. Two officers bounded out as the woman in her flowery garb crumpled, a sobbing mess, to the ground.
Weak with relief, Eden withered into her seat.
She knew the darkly attractive owner of that car. He was her luncheon date. A lifetime ago he'd swept her off her feet. For four blissful months she'd come alive and apart in Devlin Stone's arms.
Although their affair had ended badly, she wouldn't deny that they'd shared a special kind of bond—a connection a young woman with stars in her eyes had believed would last for ever. Six weeks ago Eden's sister had fallen into a similar trap. Sabrina had begun dating Devlin's younger brother, the well-publicised playboy, Nathan Stone.
Just as Devlin had cut Eden loose when his interest in her had waned, so too would bad-boy Nathan dump poor Sabrina when he'd had his fill of her. Hoping Sabrina would listen to reason and accept that her love affair would be short-lived was a waste of time. Having sampled the delights of a Stone herself, Eden knew from experience how hard facing facts could be. Still, Eden couldn't—and wouldn't—stand by and wait for her little sister's heart to be crushed.
The only likely solution lay in appealing to Devlin's compassionate side, asking him to speak with Nathan, as only a big brother could. Someone had to ask Nathan to let Sabrina off the hook—and now, before her emotions flew too much higher and her inevitable fall from grace hit any harder. After the torment he'd put her through, surely Devlin owed her that much.
Not that she gave a hollow hoot about Devlin Stone now.
From her seat, Eden glanced over the leather-bound menu while keeping an eye on the situation outside. His jacket flicked back, hands low on lean hips, Devlin spoke with the police officers, sometimes with a dark expression that made him look formidable, at others smiling as if he were catching up with old friends.
Devlin could charm the moon down from the sky.
Twenty minutes and two lime and sodas later, the police car pulled away. Eden had finished typing a message in her PDA—a reminder to check all her insurances were up to date—when her handsome ex walked in.
Anyone else might've looked dishevelled, but Devlin appeared only cool and controlled as he stopped at the desk, straightened his gold cufflinks, and ran an assessing eye over the room. Any spikes in his raven's-wing hair were stylish and deliberate. His lidded gaze was the same intense twilight blue she remembered. How she'd melted whenever those eyes had smiled at her—she'd felt so alive and adored.
And when they'd parted…
Setting her jaw, she reached for her cold glass.
Well, when they'd parted, she'd picked up the pieces and had never looked back.
After a directive tip of the maître d's head, Devlin wove between the tables. The flanking walls warped and shrank until he stood before her, a human tower, in more ways than one.
His features were both classically balanced yet haunt-ingly unique—a high forehead denoting intelligence, long straight nose suggesting inherent pride, squared-off jaw showing more than a hint of a sexy afternoon shadow. The word beautiful sprang to mind, in a mesmerising, purely masculine sense. His aura of strength and authority was so tangible, the female heads angled this way weren't likely to resume normal viewing any time soon.
Clearly Devlin Stone was dangerous.
Hell, that was half the attraction.
'Eden. Good to see you.'
Eden's nerve-endings reached out and purred at the familiar cadence of his rumbling low voice. Although her heart hammered against her ribs, she managed an unaffected smile.
'Sorry to keep you.' He retracted his chair. 'I was held up.'
Held up was right. Seemed women were still losing their minds over Devlin Stone—literally. The lesser part of her wanted to know the details—curiosity was, after all, a universal emotion. But Eden took the safer option: aloof good manners.
'That looked like quite an ordeal. I'm surprised the media didn't show up.'
His lip curling, Devlin shucked out of his jacket.
Well, well. Seemed he still disliked the paparazzi. Odd, when his brother seemed so fond of their attention.
'If you'd rather make this another time,' she offered. 'Tomorrow, perhaps—'
'Frankly, after that episode, I'm looking forward to unwinding with some pleasant company.' Above the tug of a lazy grin, his twilight gaze darkened. 'I'm glad you called.'
She felt her eyes widen as her insides squeezed and looped.
Hadn't he listened when she'd called yesterday? This meeting was not about them. 'Them' was dead and buried. No curtain call. No for old time's sake. He could work his charm all he liked, but she wasn't that naïve bright-eyed young thing any more. She wasn't here to flirt.
Devlin tipped his deeply cleft chin, beckoning a waiter who hurried over. 'Do you have Louis Roederer Cristal?'
The shorter man's eyes rounded in respect. 'We do indeed, sir.'
'Excellent. Chilled glasses, please.'
As Devlin surrendered his jacket for the cloakroom, Eden nibbled her lip. Exactly how much cloth did a tailor need to accommodate a set of shoulders like that?
'At last.' Devlin folded into his chair, clasped his big bronzed hands on the table and leant forward. 'I'm all yours.'
Her grin was wry.
'I appreciate your time, Devlin. I'd hoped we could discuss—' Cutting herself off, she frowned and touched her cheek. He was staring. 'Is something on my face?'
'On your lip.' He reached then stopped, his all-too-kissable mouth slanted at an amiable angle. 'May I?'
Eden's cheeks burned. Worse, so too did the tips of her breasts. She wanted to tell him to keep his hands to himself. But he'd already leaned over two sets of silverware… his thumb was already grazing the sensitive sweep of her lip… his hot fingers were already cupping her jaw…
And suddenly she was transported back to that fairy-tale summer long ago. She could hear his deep-throated laugh and her shrieks as they bumped around Luna Park's ghost-train tracks. She could feel the butterflies brushing her tummy the first time his warm giving mouth had tasted her in his bed. Three lost years faded and melted into now…
Then his hand drew away and her eyelids drifted open. The tinkling of cutlery and aroma of sautéed greens then chocolate soufflé hauled her back the rest of the way.
'Lime pulp,' he explained, nodding at the slice wedged on her glass before gesturing for her to continue. 'You were saying?'
I was saying something?
She set two fingers against her giddy forehead.
Sabrina. Nathan Stone. Heartache.
Although she cleared her throat, her voice sounded tellingly deep. 'I wanted to talk to you about our siblings' situation.'
'You mean the fact they're dating?' Sexy creases—not quite brackets, not quite dimples—cut either side of his mouth. 'Have you seen them together?'
'Nathan's collected Sabrina from the lobby of our apartment a few times, but… no, she hasn't brought him up to meet me.'
No doubt Sabrina was worried about big sister's reaction. Sabrina knew all about Eden's ill-fated affair with Devlin. She'd listened to her lectures on staying away from heartless 'love 'em and leave 'em' types, the Stone brothers a classic case in point.
As though recalling something both wistful and amusing, Devlin chuckled and sat back. 'From what I can gather, they're hopelessly in love. I've never seen Nate like this before.'
'They've only been dating for six weeks,' she pointed out.
'I suppose,' he agreed. 'How long did we date? Fourteen, fifteen weeks?'
A hot chill dropped through her centre. Sixteen weeks, two days, eleven hours, if he really wanted to know. Long enough for Devlin to fall out of love rather than into it.
She fastened her hands together on the tabletop, her knuckles turning as white as the centrepiece roses. 'Can we please keep on track? We're talking about my sister—an impressionable girl in her final important year of university, spending time with a man who is best known for his rave parties on Mykonos.'
'One rave party.' His rumbling voice held a reproving note. 'And that was a year ago.'
'And twelve months is such a long time.'
'Not everyone.' When his brow furrowed, she exhaled heavily. 'I didn't come here to insult you, Devlin.'
'Of course not.' His gaze gleamed with unadorned mischief. 'I'd hoped it might be to confess that you'd missed me.'
Her heartbeat skipped and she coughed out a bitter laugh. He was incorrigible. Conceited. And so frighten-ingly close to irresistible…
She knotted her arms over her chest and studied him through narrowed eyes. 'You really are an arrogant son of a—'
And you're just as gorgeous as I remember.'
His gaze brushed her face, as intimate and thrilling as a lover's touch. Needing to make believe the flames licking her belly were shards of ice, she sat further back in the Glastonbury chair and crossed her legs. Are you going to help me or not?'
One big shoulder rolled up, then down. 'I'm not sure I know what you want.'
Fine. She'd spell it out. 'I want you to speak with your brother. Tell him to back off and leave Sabrina alone. She's delicate, Devlin. Easily hurt.' The couple at the next table slid over an enquiring glance. Reminded of their public setting, Eden tipped forward and dropped her voice. 'If this goes on any longer, she'll be shattered when Nathan ends their affair.'
'Who says he'll end it?'
She deadpanned back, 'How about the scores of heartbroken souls he's loved then left before now?'
Devlin held her gaze for a long considering moment as a muscle in his jaw popped. 'Admittedly Nate's had a few girlfriends—'
'More than a few,' she muttered.
'—but you're forgetting one thing. My brother is an adult. And your sister, I gather, is over twenty-one.'
'We have no place interfering in their affairs.'
'That's easy for you to say. It's not your flesh and blood who'll spend months crying into her pillow every night—'
When his eyes flashed with interest, her cheeks caught light and she pressed her lips together. Way too much information.
Reaffirming the goal in her mind—to save her sister suffering the same pain she'd endured at the hands of a Stone—Eden tried again. 'I'm asking for your help.'
His pupils dilated until the deepest blue of his eyes became black. 'They're not kids, Eden. It's none of our business. It's nobody's business but theirs.'
At the implacable set of his jaw, she held her breath but couldn't stop the energy and hope seeping from her body.
So, that was that. She should've known this was useless. Worse than useless. Devlin Stone lived for two things: his next adventure and his next seduction, in that order, which didn't leave room for the compassion she'd hoped to find.
He'd probably instructed little brother more than once on the moves required to lay off a girl without accepting any blame. How dense to believe she might be able to talk to him. Worse, she'd put herself in this vulnerable position. He'd sent out the vibes, baiting her, testing her.
Tears born of frustration prickled the backs of her eyes.
She'd sooner scale the Harbour Bridge in a hailstorm than succumb to Devlin Stone's magnetism again.
'I'm sorry for wasting your time.' She pushed up on rubbery legs and calmly collected her purse. 'But I'm sure I'll feel sorrier for Sabrina.'
Devlin acknowledged and immediately dismissed the overwhelming urge to grab Eden's arm and haul her right back. She'd wanted to meet. He was here to talk. Yet ten minutes into their reunion he was watching the most exquisitely infuriating woman he'd ever known walk out on him.
Eden wanted him to step into the middle of his brother's affairs. Tell Nate who he should or should not see. She chose to ignore the fact that Nate and Sabrina were adults, old enough to make up their own minds, whether she approved or not. She might be slightly built, but Eden Foley entertained an Amazonian mentality.
She liked to be in control.
The waiter appeared and poured the champagne. Devlin sipped, barely tasting the fruity bubbles. His thoughts were stuck on the determined set of Eden's shoulders, the defiant passion in her apple-green eyes…
His gut muscles clenched and his line of vision darted to the restaurant's glass frontage at the same time Eden came into view. She looked edible in that cream-and-black dress, her chin and arm lifted high as she hailed a passing cab. That yellow didn't stop, but another would roll by soon enough. In a few minutes she'd be out of his life.
He ran a finger around his inside collar then, growling, pushed aside the crystal flute and strode towards the exit, tossing enough cash on the desk as he passed.
Damnation, what was it about that woman? Her exceptional figure? Her sharp wit? That glossy honey-blonde hair?
Yes, yes and yes.
And something more. Something that gnawed at him whenever he woke and wondered in the still dead of night.
The remnants of a need to tame her?
He claimed his jacket from the brunette at the counter, threw it over a shoulder and headed out.
No, submission wasn't the prize. He'd never had the desire to tame any woman—only enjoy them. Spoil them. In his younger day the world had seemed full of alluring possibilities. Then his offshore oil and gas support company had taken off and he'd met Eden—a woman who possessed the contradictory seeds of both natural innocence and darkest temptation… a curious and, as it'd turned out, addictive combination.
Yesterday, when his secretary had said Eden Foley was on the line, his palm was damp by the time he'd picked up. He'd accepted Eden's invitation and had spent a restless night anticipating their coming encounter. When he'd jumped out of that cab earlier, God help him, he'd wanted to shirk civic duty and bypass that whacko hitting a home run on some poor bastard's car. Her husband's car, so that officer had said.
Stepping outside, Devlin sucked in a cleansing breath while thunder grumbled overhead.
Marriage. What a racket.