Gabriel intended to take care of Mallory, leaving her no choice but to succumb to his wishes. But that didn't mean she couldn't try to tame her keeper .
About the Author
Caroline Cross will never forget the first time she read a Silhouette Desire. A then inveterate reader of everything except category romance, she found herself swept up in the magic that happens when two strong people fall irrevocably in love against all odds.
It was both a moving and exhilarating experience, and one she does her best to recreate for her readers.
Caroline was born in eastern Washington State. Horse crazy from the age of two, she drove her parents nuts for the next eight years begging to be allowed to own her own horse. Eventually she wore them down, and spent the next years riding all over the county, daydreaming, and making up stories when not training and attending horse shows.
She later attended college, learning all sorts of interesting things while never really figuring out what she wanted to do. After majoring in political science (a really practical choice!), she held a variety of jobs from working on the prototype of the first floppy disk to being assistant manager at a fabric store.
She got married to a very special guy on a hot summer day, and in the next few years had two wonderful daughters. When her kids got the chicken pox--first one, then the other--she found herself housebound with nothing left to read but the instructions on the lid of the washing machine.
A kind neighbor brought her a bag of books and that was her introduction to the romance genre. Hooked from the very beginning, within a month she decided to try writing herself. Three years later, she made her first sale.
She feels blessed (not to mention relieved, as is her family) to have finally found her niche. It's a sentiment echoed by readers and reviewers. She was thrilled to be the Romance Writers of America 1999 RITA Award-winner for her short contemporary, The Notorious Groom. She's also been the recipient of the Romantic Times Magazine Reviewers' Choice Award for Best Silhouette Desire, and has twice been the choice of Pacific Northwest readers for Emerald City Keeper Awards.
She now lives outside Seattle with her husband and daughters, one very large hairy dog, and one picky little Siamese cat.
For Caroline, every new book is an adventure. She loves strong, larger-than-life heroes, heroines with the courage to take chances, the roller coaster ride of two special people coming together--and always, happy endings.
Read an Excerpt
Once upon a time when she'd still had a life, Mallory Morgan would've described Gabriel Steele as tall, dark and delicious.
That was before he'd cost her everything. Now, as she opened her flimsy apartment door and found him parked in the dingy hallway outside, the words that came to mind were hard, heartless and not-to-be-trusted.
"Mallory." As always his voice was quiet but commanding, the perfect match to his lean, powerful body and reserved green eyes.
"What do you want, Gabriel?"
"We need to talk."
"Do we?" To her relief she sounded calm and in control, something that had eluded her earlier that day when a chance meeting between them at Annabelle's, one of Denver's trendier restaurants, had resulted in her behaving badly—and paying a price she could ill afford. "Gosh, let me think." Tipping her head to one side, she pretended to consider for all of two seconds, then straightened. "No."
With a flick of her wrist, she sent the door swinging shut. It would just be too bad if it smacked him in his autocratic chin.
He didn't so much as blink. Probably because the cheap panel moved barely an inch before bumping against his big booted foot. "Look, I get that you're angry—"
Her free hand tightened on the scarlet satin of the robe that she'd thrown on over her bra and jeans at his unexpected knock, bunching the thin, slippery fabric at her throat. "What was your first clue? When I crossed out your reservation and refused to seat you even though the dining room was half-empty? Or when I quit my job rather than apologize?"
"Don't be insulting. I caught on with your pig at the trough comment."
"Then I believe we're done. Because I've certainly got nothing more to say."
A grim smile touched his lips. "You don't want to talk? Fine. You can listen then." Like the poster boy for overbearing men, he slapped his palm against the wood and pushed.
Instinctively she started to push back, only to check herself as she realized he was already widening the gap between jamb and door as if she didn't exist. Deciding she'd be a fool to engage in another battle she was sure to lose, she abruptly changed tactics.
"Well, since you insist..." Letting go of the doorknob, she gave a nonchalant shrug and took a giant step back. "By all means, come in."
To his credit, he didn't gloat. But it wasn't much consolation when the instant he crossed the threshold and the door shut behind him, she realized she'd miscalculated once again. No matter how big a hit her dignity had taken, she should have kicked, cried, screamed—done whatever she could to keep him out.
Because with Gabriel in it, her already minuscule studio apartment seemed to shrink. He not only took up all the available space, but also all of the air, making her feel small, breathless and far too...aware. Of his height, his power, his body heat. Of the jolt she felt when he looked at her.
It was hard to believe she'd once thought nothing of flirting shamelessly with this man. Not that it had meant anything—and not just because she'd had a carefully crafted reputation as a frivolous party girl to maintain. But because, her own shortcomings aside, she'd known early on that he was far too formidable for any involvement beyond a little lighthearted fun.
Still, whenever they'd bumped into each other at one or another of the Denver A-list's glittering soirees, she'd delighted in the subtle sizzle of mutual awareness that would envelop them, the way the air seemed to heat just a little with their proximity.
Inevitably, they'd wind up dancing, and she'd delight in leaning in close, in whispering outrageous suggestions in his ear, in watching the dangerous smile that would tug at his mouth when she trailed a fingertip along his jaw. The only thing better had been the proprietary way his hand would tighten on her waist when she rubbed her thigh against his as they circled the floor. That, and the amused glint of warning that would spark in his eyes, igniting a sharp little thrill she'd feel down to her toes.
All part of that other life, she reminded herself sharply. The one before Gabriel and his bedamned Steele Security had gone after her father and she'd lost her home, her friends, the last of her illusions and most of her self-respect.
Not to mention a fortune so large that up until it disappeared, her most pressing concerns had been along the lines of whether she should spend the weekend shopping in Paris or skiing in Gstaad.
It already seemed like a hundred years ago. And a distinct contrast to now, when she was already sick with worry about whether she'd be able to find another job that would allow her to both eat and keep a roof over her head.
That, however, was nobody's business but her own. Sure, Gabriel could barge in here, looking like a fallen Armani angel with his inky, razor-cut hair, beautifully tailored clothes and calf-length black leather coat, displaying the style she'd once jokingly dubbed "elegant badass." He could disturb her peace and stir up memories of a life she'd spent the past months trying to put behind her.
But he couldn't touch the core of her. She'd had years to perfect her defenses, to learn how to keep people in general at arm's length—and males in particular off balance.
The realization calmed her, allowed her to steady her bottom lip, which, infuriatingly, was threatening to quiver. Quietly blowing out a breath, she released her grip on her robe, knowing full well the effectiveness of a little insouciant sexuality as she reached up with both hands, gathered the long, unruly mass of her hair and tossed it behind her back.
"So?" She crossed her arms beneath her breasts, doing her best to look bored. "Are you just going to stand there? I thought there was something you simply had to say to me."
"Yeah. So did I." His expression gave nothing away as his gaze flicked from her eyes to her throat to the creamy V of her exposed cleavage before settling squarely back on her face. "I was wrong."
"You? Wrong?" She waited a beat, then smiled insincerely. "Surely not."
He didn't smile back. "I'd rather hear you talk. Why don't you tell me what the hell you're playing at, Mallory?"
"I realize the past months must've been tough, but—"
"Tough?" Her voice started to climb; she wrestled it back down. "Please." She flicked her fingers dismissively. "I was a debutante, and everyone knows that once you've learned how to waltz in high heels and make a perfect curtsy, you can handle anything. Having my home foreclosed on, my belongings auctioned off, my car repossessed, the family name dragged through the dirt by the press? No sweat. Learning the city bus routes, now, that's been a real challenge—"
"Don't," he said flatly. "I'm not trying to downplay the seriousness of the situation, and you know it. There's no excuse for what Cal did, ripping off the Morgan Creek investors, then bolting the way he did. But that doesn't explain what you're doing working at Annabelle's—"
"Formerly working at Annabelle's, thanks to you," she murmured, ignoring his reference to her father.
"—or living here, like this." He made a dismissive gesture that encompassed the kitchen with its single scarred counter and old hot plate as well as her living room-bedroom, where the nicest thing in the space was the pair of mismatched TV trays she'd lugged home from the Goodwill nine blocks away.
"I know, isn't it ridiculous? Just because I have limited funds, no job experience and a woeful lack of references, employers and landlords seem reluctant to take me on. Who would've figured?"
This time the jab hit home and that sensual mouth tightened, if only for an instant. "The last time I checked," he said evenly, "you had a trust fund that the courts and the banks couldn't touch."
"Ah, yes, my trust fund." Knowing she was on dangerous ground, she made a moue of regret—and shrugged, making no effort to stop the robe as it slid dangerously low on her shoulders. "The sad truth is, between travel and partying and my inordinate fondness for Jimmy Choos, Dom Pérignon and silk lingerie...it's gone."
"Are you serious?" He stared hard at her, clearly not certain whether to believe her or not.
She looked steadily back. "As a heart attack."
"And...this?" With a twirl of one long forefinger he indicated the shabby little room with its Texas-shaped water stain on the wall between the two narrow windows.
Before she could stop herself, she raised her chin a notch. "The best I can do."
He went utterly still, his impossibly green eyes seeming to spear right through her as he appeared to weigh her words. Then he uttered a single searing expletive and turned away, his coat billowing out as he paced three strides into her living room before running out of space.
"Get your things together," he commanded, his back still to her. "Whatever you'll need for tonight. I'll send someone for the rest tomorrow."
He couldn't have surprised her more if he'd fallen to the floor and declared he couldn't live without her. "What?"
He pivoted. "I said, pack a bag. You're not spending another night here."
Okay. This had to be a dream. She might feel wide-awake, but the truth was she'd fallen asleep on the lumpy little pullout sofa and everything that seemed so real—the chill of the worn linoleum against her bare feet, the faint, heady scent of Gabriel's aftershave, the jump of nerves in her stomach that his presence always provoked—was just a product of her imagination.
She cocked her head, wondering what would happen next. "And where, exactly, am I supposed to go?"
Wrong again—definitely not a dream. Because no matter how wild and crazy her subconscious got, no matter how alone or desperate or frightened she felt, she would never consider moving in with him a solution to her problems.
It would be like agreeing to share a cage with a tiger. Fascinating for maybe half a second. Totally terrifying after that.
So why, just for a moment, did she want more than anything in the world to take him up on his offer? Why did she want to close her eyes and step into the hard circle of his arms and say, yes, Gabriel, please take care of me?
Habit, she told herself angrily. Twenty-eight years of careless living, of always taking the easy path, of giving away her power and allowing others to dictate her fate.
Something she'd sworn on the day she'd been evicted from the estate that had been in her family for ninety years she'd never let happen again. A vow she refused to forsake, no matter how many jobs she lost or how many meals she had to skip to make ends meet or how long she had to live in a place like this.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Love this book. One of the few paperbacks I keep and re-read. Just read it again and loved it!