Determined to prove herself to her illustrious family, Eleanore Harrington accepts an offer to create a glittering new ice hotel. The catch? Her new boss is Lukas Kuznetskov, a man as cold and unyielding as the ice she works with.
Lukas assumed that Eleanore would melt to his every command. But his blood is fired by the white-hot embers smoldering between them, and his focus shifts from professional to pleasure! When he discovers Eleanore's body is as pure as the driven snow, the ruthless Russian makes her virginity his final demand
Welcome to The Chatsfield!
About the Author
From as far back as she can remember Michelle Conder dreamed of being a writer. She penned the first chapter of a romance novel just out of high school, but it took much study, many (varied) jobs, one ultra-understanding husband and three gorgeous children before she finally sat down to turn that dream into a reality. Michelle lives in Australia, and when she isn’t busy plotting she loves to read, ride horses, travel and practise yoga. Visit Michelle: www.michelleconder.com
Read an Excerpt
'You're breaking up, Petra. Who did you say quit?' Lukas Kuznetskov pressed his mobile phone closer to his ear, straining to hear as his PA explained the latest issue to befall the supposedly creative genius who had been hired to build his ice hotel. Apparently the man had stormed out after Lukas had questioned his latest set of drawings, complaining that Lukas was too controlling and stifled his creativity. Creativity?
Lukas swore under his breath.
So far he had come up with the overall concept of the hotel himself while the architectural wizard he'd hired had done little more than fill in the technical details and organise the preliminary build. With only a month left until the most anticipated project in Russia was due to open it was fair to say Lukas was a little agitated. 'Please tell me he at least redesigned the interior of the guest bedrooms like I asked,' he growled, grinding his teeth when Petra confirmed that no, he had not.
Useless, lazy, good for nothing Lukas sucked in a sharp breath as he strove for calm and told Petra he'd handle it. As if he wasn't busy enough.
Having momentarily forgotten his Italian ship engineer was in the room Lukas turned away from the splendour of Italy's Adriatic coastline and glanced at the plans laid out on a scored wooden table. They had just finished going over Tomaso's design for a supertanker that could carry twice as much cargo as any other on the market and go at twice the speed. If they could pull it off it would be another feather in Lukas's already well-plumed cap.
Tomaso Coraletti was as close to a friend as Lukas had ever allowed himself to have and the older man stroked his neat beard as Lukas updated him on his pet project.
Turning, Lukas replaced his scowl with a smile when he saw Tomaso's sweet wife, Maria, standing before him with a silver tray of freshly made biscotti in her hands. Tomaso reached across and took a piece before Lukas could respond and got his hand swatted for his efforts. 'Bah!' she scolded. 'Lukas is a growing boy. He needs it more than you.'
Tomaso scoffed and Lukas chuckled. He'd stopped growing a long time ago and they both knew it. 'Grazie mille, Maria.' He took a slice of the treat even though he didn't want it and pocketed his phone.
'It is the best biscotti in the whole of Italy,' Tomaso boasted. 'Maybe one day you will be lucky enough to enjoy biscotti like this. If you're good.'
Lukas chuckled at Tomaso's pointed comment. He'd known Tomaso ever since he'd joined his first container ship as a deck boy. In fact, it had been Tomaso who had gotten him the job. He had been the ship's engineer and had convinced his brother, the captain, to give Lukas a trial. Lukas had been sixteen years old and living off the putrid streets of St Petersburg at the time but unlike the other street kidshis fellow troublemakershe'd had ambition. Something the older man had recognised when Lukas intervened while a group of young thugs tried to fleece Tomaso of his pocket change. And maybe even his life.
Of course, Lukas hadn't trusted Tomaso's goodwill straightaway. While most of his peers sought safety in numbers, joining or forming gangs to keep them safe, Lukas kept to himself, learning at a young age that needing others was a one-way street to misery.
His loner days had started at the age of five when his mother had put him on a train from St Petersburg to Moscow and told him she'd meet him there. At the time he'd been terrified and young enough to believe she'd meant it. It had taken him another five years to make his way back to St Petersburg in his search for her. A wasted trip if ever there was one.
Realising he'd entered an almost trance-like state he gave himself a mental shake. Why dwell on all that now? So his architect had quit. It wasn't the worst that could happen and he'd succeed in the end. He always did. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
'No doubt you are indeed a lucky man, Tomaso,' he concurred, patting the old man on the shoulder. But really, Lukas knew that he was the lucky one. He was footloose and fancy-free and if he wanted biscotti he could go down to Harrods when he was in London or Gos-tiny Dvor in St Petersburg any time he wanted and buy an enormous amount. Not that it would be warm. And maybe not as flavoursome, but he was sure, if he ever wanted it, it would be decent. Biscotti was biscotti no matter how many ways you sliced it.
Maria pushed another three slices into his hand, told him he worked too hard and needed to make babies instead of ships and left. He could have laughed. His last mistress had muttered the same complaint as she'd accepted the diamond necklace and Porsche Carrera on their final night together. 'I might know someone.'
Tomaso's statement brought Lukas's mind back to the job at hand. 'To make biscotti?'
'No.' He gave him a look. 'I leave the baby-making comments to mia moglie. I mean to help with your ice hotel.'
Lukas set the biscotti aside. 'At this point I'd hire a cartoon character if I thought he could do the job.'
Tomaso laughed. 'She's not a cartoon character, I can assure you, but she is good.'
'Who is she?'
'An ex-student of mine from Cornell and the daughter of the late boutique hotel owner, Jonathan Harrington.'
Lukas knew of the wealthy hotelier. He'd stayed in one of his hotels once and been less than impressed. He didn't know anything of his family except that they had no doubt lived a pampered existence. 'I know of the name.'
Hearing the shadow of scepticism in his voice, his friend said, 'Eleanore is the youngest of three daughters and extremely talented.' He stroked his beard again. 'And from what I can tell, drastically underutilised in her current role at Harrington's.'
'She works for her family?' Lukas had never respected nepotism.
'Yes and I doubt it's nepotism if that's what you're thinking. Since her father passed away her sister Isabelle has run the show and she's one tough cookie.'
Lukas still wasn't convinced.
'If you don't believe me Eleanore just completed an ice bar in Singapore. It opens tomorrow as it turns out. I have an invitation but since her operation Maria doesn't like to travel.'
Lukas's ears pricked up. If the woman had designed an ice bar, then she understood the concept behind such an endeavour, and as he had the build in hand and only needed someone to fine-tune the design and do the internal fit-out she might just be what he was looking for.
And he respected Tomaso more than he did a lot of people which was why, the next day and despite some reservations as to her suitability, he was making a detour to Singapore on his way back to St Petersburg.
He glanced at the employee profile he'd pulled up on Eleanore Harrington en route. She was marginally pretty with her creamy complexion and brownish coloured eyes, her wide smile that had probably financed some dentist's second holiday house. And there was something infinitely refined about her features that spoke more to hosting dinner parties in large houses than designing them. Then getting naked in some man's bed. His bed.
Lukas's brows drew down at the rogue thought. Where had that come from?
There was nothing special about Eleanore Harrington and he never mixed business with pleasure. Why complicate his place of solace with a woman bemoaning his perceived weaknesses as a man. 'You're too cold ' 'You're completely heartless ' 'You care about nobody but yourself ' All true and nothing he hid from any woman who occupied his bed. The trouble was they hid who they were from him. Right up until the end when they accepted his gifts and looked for another rich man to milk. Frankly the whole experience had started to pall.
He read further down Eleanore Harrington's profile. Graduating university with a major in architecture and a minor in interior design she had worked in her family's company from the get-go. Personal interests were reading, art, history, collecting shoes and volunteering at her local animal shelter.
Fascinating, Lukas thought dryly, thankful that he wasn't interested in her personally. She'd bore him to tears within minutes.
'We've started our descent into Singapore, Mr Kuznetskov. Can I get you anything else before we land, sir?'
'Nyet.' He stared out the window as the bright lights of Singapore came into view and hoped he wasn't wasting his time. He had a personal interest in making this venture a success so if Eleanore Harrington was half as good as Tomaso claimed she was he'd pretty much give her anything she wanted to get her on board.
Eleanore glanced at her watch for the hundredth time that night before swivelling around on her bar stool to stare at the main door. It opened and for a minute her heart lifted but it was only a merry group of Singapore's young urbanites who looked like they'd sipped one too many of Lulu's Yummy Yetis.
'You waiting for a lover?'
Eleanore pulled a face at Lulu's hopeful question and turned back to the bar, her eyes automatically drawn to Lulu's newly streaked purple hair that stood out even more beneath the colourful strobe lighting in the ice bar.
Lulu was the best bartender in New York City. She had also become a friend over the years she'd worked at Harrington's and Eleanore had brought her over especially for the opening night of their newest bar where everythingthe bar top, the chairs, the stools, the walls and even the glasseswas made completely of compacted ice and snow. Quite the marvel in sultry Singapore and a roaring success according to the media heads who had come along for the free drinks and cocktails earlier on.
'My sisters,' she informed Lulu glumly.
Both Olivia and Isabelle had promised to attend the opening night of Glaciers to share in Eleanore's success but it was fairly safe to say that at close on midnight neither one was intending to show up. Not that Eleanore minded so much about Olivia not showing. She knew Olivia was busy with a new play about to open but Isabelle Isabelle had the power to promote her to Harrington's executive team or not and being an integral part of her family's company was the most important thing in the world to Eleanore. It was what she strove for. It was what she got out of bed for in the mornings. And she'd been hoping that once Isabelle saw the incredible job she had done in designing the ice bar she would see that she was wasting her time redesigning cushion covers in hotel foyers or organising the latest colour schemes in the guest bedrooms, and offer her more.
Lulu put a frothy red concoction with a tiny umbrella sticking out the top in front of her and gave her a look that said she was a bitter disappointment to her friend. 'I knew a lover was too good to be true. Maybe you need to write it on your list of goals to make it happen.'
Eleanore pulled a face at Lulu's dig at her need to map her life out. It was her way of keeping her world in order and meeting a man was way down on the list at this stage of her life. 'I told you once before, career and men don't mix. Either they become snooty at how many hours I put in at work or they're so boring they make me want to stay at work for longer.' She glanced at the drink. 'What's this you've whipped up for me? After the last one I hope it has a low alcoholic content.' Especially since she couldn't remember if her last meal had been lunch or breakfast or dinner the night before.
She'd been running on adrenaline all day and guzzled coffee to keep herself going. Which was probably why she felt both buzzed and completely exhausted at the same time.
Lulu leaned one svelte hip against the bar, enjoying the lull in what had been a madcap night. 'I'm calling it "Don't Poke the Bear." Let me know what you think.' She gave the icy bar another vigorous wipe. 'But don't get me wrong. I'm not saying you should settle down.' She gave a shiver as if the mere thought were horrifying and pulled her ski gloves back on. 'But fun? Sex? When was the last time you went out on a date?'
'Nineteen sixty-five,' Eleanore deadpanned.
Lulu laughed and pointed her cleaning rag at her. 'I'd believe that. And it's exactly my point. You need to get out more. Live a little.' Having delivered her standard lecture she started lining up more shot glasses on the bar. 'So where are your esteemed sisters anyway?'
It wasn't in Eleanore's nature to be pessimistic but to assume they were stuck in traffic or sitting on the tarmac at the airport was even a stretch for her. 'Busy.' She heaved a sigh. 'Olivia is no doubt auditioning for some play somewhere and this whole drama of the Chatsfields trying to take us over seems to have consumed every one of Isabelle's waking hours.' And even now Eleanore could picture Isabelle holed up with the horrible Spencer Chatsfield in some argument.
Probably Eleanore needed to be a little more understanding. Only it was hard to indulge her understanding side when she had been to almost every one of Olivia's opening nights and every important event in Isabelle's calendar.
'Well, that's good,' Lulu said briskly. 'It gives you time to play. And sex will definitely make you feel better.'
Eleanore raised a brow and caught sight of her disgruntled expression in the mirrored wall behind the bar. She thought about texting Isabelle and then changed her mind. What was she going to say? That she was disappointed with her no-show? Her sister would likely frown and ask why. It wouldn't occur to her that Eleanore had always felt like she was on the outside looking in. It wouldn't occur to Isabelle that Eleanore questioned her place in the family because Isabelle was always so smart and successful and Olivia so beautiful and talented. And as for sex making her feel better She rolled her eyes at Lulu's suggestion. 'So will a hot bath,' she said. 'And a tub of Ben & Jerry's Cookies and Cream.'
Lulu waggled a dark eyebrow. 'But can a hot bath give you a screaming orgasm and then make you a cup of hot cocoa afterward?'
Eleanore sipped her cocktail. 'If you've found a man who will make you a cup of anything after sex I suggest you keep him. Most of the stories I've heard are from women who are screaming at their man who rolls over straight after sex and goes to sleeporgasm not guaranteed.' Not that she had any personal experience with that. The timing, the opportunity and the desire to have sex just hadn't come together for her yet.
'Speaking of orgasms ' Lulu's voice lowered by about ten octaves. 'Have a look at what the cat just dragged in.' She leant her elbows on the bar. 'A sexy, lonely businessman looking for some company for the night.'