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Nick woke up alone.
Which was strange, because he was pretty sure he hadn't been alone when he'd fallen into a satiated asleep several hours ago.
Something about a goddesses'?
Ah, yes, Hebe, the goddess of youth.
Tall, slender, with a long, straight curtain of silver-blonde hair and eyes of so pale a brown they were gold. Strange magnetic eyes, that gleamed with a multitude of secrets.
Not that he was interested in learning those secrets. Hebe had merely been a distraction, a way of putting the past and all the pain and the significance of the day behind him. He had wanted to forget, be diverted, and the presence of Hebe Johnson had certainly provided that. For a few hours, at least.
So where was she? It was still dark outside, and the tangled sheets beside him were still warm, so she couldn't have been gone long.
He frowned slightly at the thought of her having just disappeared into the night. That was usually his privilege! Wine, dine and bed a woman, but never ever become involved"least of all allow them into the inner privacy of his life.
Of course that was slightly more difficult when it was his bed they had shared!
Because she didn't live alone, he remembered now. Something about a flatmate. So after dinner he had brought her back to his apartment over the gallery for a drink instead"and other things!" breaking his cardinal rule in the bargain.
Two rules, in fact, he acknowledged with a grimace as he remembered that Hebe actually worked for him, two floors down, in the Cavendish Gallery on the ground floor.
But desperate times called for desperate measures, and so he had brought Hebe back here, needing to lose himself in the lithe beauty of her perfect, long-limbed body.And he had. He'd found himself dazzled, bewitched"the fact that she wasn't one of the sophisticated women who usually had a brief place in his life, adding to the excitement of the evening. To the point that his pain had been anaesthetised, if not completely erased.
Nick gave a groan as he remembered what yesterday signified, moving to sit up in the bed, needing to get away from the scene of that heated lovemaking now, and standing up to turn his back on those tumbled sheets before walking out of the bedroom.
Only to come to an abrupt halt as he saw he wasn't alone after all.
Hebe, the goddess, was just switching the light off as she came out of the kitchen with a glass of water in her hand, her nakedness only shielded by the fine silver-blonde hair that reached almost to her waist.
Nick instantly felt a stirring of renewed arousal as he looked at that golden body"legs long and silky, hips and waist slenderly curvaceous, breasts firm and uptilting, the nipples rosily pouting.
As if begging to be kissed. Again. He had noticed her at the gallery several months ago, her beauty such that it was impossible for her not to stand out. But he hadn't so much as spoken to her until yesterday.
And now he wanted her. Again. "What are you doing?" he prompted huskily as he padded softly across the room to join her, with only a small table-light for illumination.
Hebe's breath caught in her throat just at the sight of him. She was still not quite sure how she had ended up in Nick Cavendish's apartment. In his bed. In his arms.
She had been captivated by him since the moment she'd first seen him. In love, or more probably in lust, she acknowledged ruefully as she easily remembered each kiss and caress of the previous night, having been totally lost from the first moment Nick had held her in his arms and touched her.
Or perhaps she had been lost before that An American, the charismatic Nick Cavendish owned the London art gallery where she worked, as well as others in Paris and New York. His time was equally divided between the three, with apartments on the top floor of each building always ready for his use.
Hebe had been working at the gallery for several weeks before she'd first caught a glimpse of the elusive owner.
When he'd walked forcefully into the west room of the gallery four months ago, seemingly filled with boundless energy as he fired instructions one of the managers, Hebe had felt as if all the air had been knocked out of her lungs.
Over six feet tall, his body lithe and muscular, with overlong dark hair swept back from his olive-skinned face, and eyes a deep, deep blue, there was a wild ruggedness about him that spoke of the energy of a caged tiger. With the same threat of danger!
But she had never in her wildest dreams imagined he would notice her, a lowly junior employee. She had been leaving the gallery the evening before when she'd accidentally walked straight into him, but instead of getting a scornful look, as she had expected, they had both laughed and apologized. Still, she'd been totally stunned when he'd asked if she would join him for dinner, on the basis that she had worked at the gallery for some months now and it was time the two of them became acquainted.
They had become a lot more than that last night. Hebe was sure that not an inch of her body hadn't known the intimate touch of his hands or lips.
Her cheeks were flushed now with the memory of that intimacy.
And at the naked perfection of his body now. A body, as she had discovered the previous evening, that had that olive tan all over, a light covering of dark hair on the muscular width of his chest, and down over powerful hips and thighs.
As she saw the renewed state of his arousal, she felt a liquid melting between her own thighs as heat coursed through her already languorous body.
"I hope you don't mind"I was thirsty," she answered him huskily, holding up the glass of water she had been drinking from.
Nick was thirsty too"but not for water. Taking the glass out of her hand, he placed it on a table, his eyes darkening as his head lowered to kiss one enticing nipple. He looked up into Hebe's face as he stroked his tongue moistly over that sensitive tip, feeling the increasing hardness of his own body as she groaned low in her throat, eyes gleaming like molten gold as her body arched against him, dark lashes sweeping low over her flushed cheeks.
She was beautiful, this goddess of youth, and he wanted to lose himself in her once again. Not to blot out the painful memories of yesterday this time, but because he wanted her with a fierceness that told him he wouldn't be gentle with her. That he couldn't be. He needed to drive his body into hers, but knew she would meet that desire with a heat of her own. As she had before.
He straightened to swing her up into his arms, capturing her mouth with his, tongue plundering, as her arms moved up about his neck, her fingers becoming entangled in the darkness of his hair.
Hebe was trembling as he laid her down amidst the twisted sheets, his mouth deepening its possession of hers as one of his hands caressed the burning tip of her breast, the nipple already hard and aroused, sending sensations of heat and liquid fire through the rest of her body.
She restlessly caressed the broad width of his back, before trailing a path to the firmness of his thighs, touching him there, loving the feel of his hardness against her hand. The groan low in his throat assured her that he approved too.
Nick fell back against the pillows as Hebe began to kiss his chest, down to the hollow of his flat stomach, and even lower over the hardness of his thighs. His breath caught in his throat as he felt the sensuous flick of her tongue against his heated flesh, and at the same time he knew that he wouldn't be able to take too much of this, that he wanted to be between the engulfing warmth of her thighs, inside her, stroking them both to that shuddering climax that he remembered so clearly twice from the night before.
He moved above her, looking down into her aroused face as he slowly entered her, her hips moving up to meet his, taking him deep inside her as she began to move slowly against him.
Hebe gasped minutes"hours?"later, as she felt the pleasure pulsing hotly through her, her body shuddering and quivering as that pleasure erupted out of control, taking her with it.
Taking Nick with it too, pulsating deep and deliciously inside her as he surrendered to the sensations of his body.
Hebe lay with her head resting against his chest in the aftermath, his arm about her waist, holding her loosely at his side.
She had never experienced anything like this. Their bodies seemed completely in tune, their lovemaking almost balletic in its intensity of emotion.
She smiled to herself as she realised how happy she felt, how totally relaxed and fulfilled. She really could so easily fall completely, mindlessly, in love with this man. If she wasn't already!
Which, considering her uninhibited response to him, she had a feeling she just might be.
Whatever, she felt closer to him than she ever had to anyone before, and wondered what the future held for them. Would they spend the day together? It was Sunday, so neither of them had to be at work today. Maybe they would make breakfast together? Before making love. Then perhaps they would go for a walk in the nearby park. Before making love. And then they could.
Hebe, exhausted and happy, drifted off to sleep. Nick lay sleepless beside her, his body filled with satiation but his mind suddenly crystal clear.
Hebe Johnson was beautiful and desirable, and responded to him in a completely uninhibited way that he found irresistable. But it was her lack of control that warned him he had to resist her. Not for him the silken shackles of any woman, the cosy togetherness that tightened those ties until no thought or action could be called his own. Never again. That way lay all the pain and despair he had tried so hard to blot out the night before.
And she was still his employee. Untouchable, in fact. Though he had already done a hell of a lot more than touch her!
Creating a situation he had always avoided in the past.
Since his divorce two years ago he had known lots of women, had wined and dined them, bedded them, and moved on without any regrets. None of those relationships had lasted long enough to forge any sort of bond, least of all an emotional one. But an employee, as he had always known and therefore avoided, was going to be a little more difficult to walk away from.
But he was going to do it anyway. Walk away and not look back.