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No good deed goes unpunished.
When would she ever learn? Kira wondered. With her luck, never.
So, here she sat, in the office of oil billionaire Quinn Sullivan, too nervous to concentrate on her magazine as she waited to see if he would make time for a woman he probably thought of as just another adversary to be crushed in his quest for revenge. Dreadful, arrogant man.
If he did grant her an audience, would she have any chance of changing his mind about destroying her family's company, Murray Oil, and forcing her sister Jaycee into marriage?
A man vengeful enough to hold a grudge against her father for twenty years couldn't possibly have a heart that could be swayed.
Kira Murray clenched and unclenched her hands. Then she sat on them, twisting in her chair. When the man across from her began to stare, she told herself to quit squirming. Lowering her eyes to her magazine, she pretended to read a very boring article on supertankers.
High heels clicked rapidly on marble, causing Kira to look up in panic.
"Miss Murray, I'm so sorry. I was wrong. Mr. Sullivan is still here." There was surprise in his secretary's classy, soothing purr.
"In fact, he'll see you now."
"He will?" Kira squeaked. "Now?"
The secretary's answering smile was a brilliant white.
Kira's own mouth felt as dry as sandpaper. She actually began to shake. To hide this dreadful reaction, she jumped to her feet so fast she sent the glossy magazine to the floor, causing the man across from her to glare in annoyance.
Obviously, she'd been hoping Quinn would refuse to see her. A ridiculous wish when she'd come here for the express purpose of finally meeting him properly and having her say.
Sure, she'd run into him once, informally. It had been right after he'd announced he wanted to marry one of the Murray daughters to make his takeover of Murray Oil less hostile. Her father had suggested Jaycee, and Kira couldn't help but think he'd done so because Jaycee was his favorite and most biddable daughter. As always, Jaycee had dutifully agreed with their father's wishes, so Quinn had come to the ranch for a celebratory dinner to seal the bargain.
He'd been late. A man as rich and arrogant as he was probably thought himself entitled to run on his own schedule.
Wounded by her mother's less-than-kind assessment of her outfit when she'd first arrived"Jeans and a torn shirt? How could you think that appropriate for meeting a man so important to this family's welfare?"Kira had stormed out of the house. She hadn't had time to change after the crisis at her best friend's restaurant, where Kira was temporarily waiting tables while looking for a museum curator position. Since her mother always turned a deaf ear to Kira's excuses, rather than explain, Kira had decided to walk her dad's hunting spaniels while she nursed her injured feelings.
The brilliant, red sun that had been sinking fast had been in her eyes as the spaniels leaped onto the gravel driveway, dragging her in their wake. Blinded, she'd neither seen nor heard Quinn's low-slung, silver Aston Martin screaming around the curve. Slamming on his brakes, he'd veered clear of her with several feet to spare. She'd tripped over the dogs and fallen into a mud puddle.
Yipping wildly, the dogs had raced back to the house, leaving her to face Quinn on her own with cold, dirty water dripping from her chin.
Quinn had gotten out of his fancy car and stomped over in his fancy Italian loafers just as she got to her feet. For a long moment, he'd inspected every inch of her. Then, mindless of her smudged face, chattering teeth and muddy clothes, he'd pulled her against his tall, hard body, making her much too aware of his clean, male smell and hard, muscular body.
"Tell me you're okay."
He was tall and broad-shouldered, so tall he'd towered over her. His angry blue eyes had burned her; his viselike fingers had cut into her elbow. Despite his overcharged emotions, she'd liked being in his armsliked it too much.
"Damn it, I didn't hit you, did I? Well, say something, why don't you?"
"How can Iwith you yelling at me?"
"Are you okay, then?" he asked, his grip loosening, his voice softening into a husky sound so unexpectedly beautiful she'd shivered. This time, she saw concern in his hard expression.
Had it happened then?
Oh, be honest, Kira, at least with yourself. That was the moment you formed an inappropriate crush on your sister's future fiance, a man whose main goal in life is to destroy your family.
He'd been wearing faded jeans, a white shirt, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows. On her, jeans looked rumpled, but on him, jeans had made him ruggedly, devastatingly handsome. Over one arm, he carried a cashmere jacket.
She noted his jet-black hair and carved cheekbones with approval. Any woman would have. His skin had been darkly bronzed, and the dangerous aura of sensuality surrounding him had her sizzling.
Shaken by her fall and by the fact that the enemy was such an attractive, powerful man who continued to hold her close and stare down at her with blazing eyes, her breath had come in fits and starts.
"I saidare you okay?"
"I was fineuntil you grabbed me." Her hesitant voice was tremulous
and sounded strangely shy. "You're hurting me, really hurting me!" She'd lied so he would let her go, and yet part of her hadn't wanted to be released.
His eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Sorry," he'd said, his tone harsh again.
"Who the hell are you anyway?" he'd demanded.
"Nobody important," she'd muttered.
His dark brows winged upward. "Wait
I've seen your pictures
You're the older sister. The waitress."
until I get a new job as a curator."
"Right. You were fired."
"So, you've heard Father's version. The truth is, my professional opinion wasn't as important to the museum director as I might have liked, but I was let go due to budget constraints."
"Your sister speaks highly of you."
"Sometimes I think she's the only one in this family who does."
Nodding as if he understood, he draped his jacket around her shoulders. "I've wanted to meet you." When she glanced up at him, he said, "You're shivering. The least I can do is offer you my jacket and a ride back to the house."
Her heart pounded much too fast, and she was mortified that she was covered with mud and that she found her family's enemy exciting and the prospect of wearing his jacket a thrill. Not trusting herself to spend another second with such a dangerous man, especially in the close quarters of his glamorous car, she'd shaken her head. "I'm too muddy."
"Do you think I give a damn about that? I could have killed you."
"You didn't. So let's just forget about it."
"Not possible! Now, put my jacket on before you catch your death."
Pulling his jacket around her shoulders, she turned on her heel and left him. Nothing had happened, she'd told herself as she stalked rapidly through the woods toward the house.
Nothing except the enemy she'd feared had held her and made her feel dangerously alive in a way no other man ever had.
When she'd reached the house, she'd been surprised to find him outside waiting for her as he held on to her yapping dogs. Feeling tingly and shyly thrilled as he handed her their tangled leashes, she'd used her muddy clothes again as an excuse to go home and avoid dinner, when her father would formally announce Quinn was to marry her sister.
Yes, he was set on revenge against those she loved most, but that hadn't been the reason she couldn't sit across the table from him. No, it was her crush. How could she have endured such a dinner when just to look at him made her skin heat?
For weeks after that chance meeting, her inappropriate attachment to Quinn had continued to claim her, causing her much guilt-ridden pain. She'd thought of him constantly. And more than once, before she'd returned his jacket to Jaycee, she'd worn it around her apartment, draped over her shoulders, just because his scent lingered on the soft fabric.
Now, retrieving the magazine she'd dropped, she set it carefully on the side table. Then she sucked in a deep breath. Not that it steadied her nerves.
No. Instead, her heart raced when Quinn Sullivan's secretary turned away, saying, "Follow me."
Kira swallowed. She'd put this interview off to the last possible momentto the end of the business daybecause she'd been trying to formulate a plan to confront a man as powerful and dictatorial and, yes, as dangerously sexy, as Quinn Sullivan.
But she hadn't come up with a plan. Did she ever have a plan? She'd be at a disadvantage since Sullivan planned everything down to the last detail, including taking his revenge plot up a notch by marrying Jaycee.
Kira had to sprint to keep up with the sleek, blonde secretary, whose ridiculous, four-inch, ice-pick, gold heels clicked on the polished gray marble. Did he make the poor girl wear such gaudy, crippling footwear?
Quinn's waiting room with its butter-soft leather couches and polished wainscoting had reeked of old money. In truth, he was nothing but a brash, bad-tempered upstart. His long hallway, decorated with paintings of vivid mini-malistic splashes of color, led to what would probably prove to be an obscenely opulent office. Still, despite her wish to dislike everything about him, she admired the art and wished she could stop and study several of the pictures. They were elegant, tasteful and interesting. Had he selected them himself?
Probably not. He was an arrogant show-off.
After their one encounter, she'd researched him. It seemed he believed her father had profited excessively when he'd bought Quinn's father out of their mutually owned company. In addition, he blamed her father for his father's suicideif suicide it had been.
Quinn, who'd known hardship after his father's death, was determined to make up for his early privations, by living rich and large. Craving glamour and the spotlight, he never attended a party without a beauty even more dazzling than his secretary on his arm.
He was a respected art collector. In various interviews he'd made it clear nobody would ever look down on him again. Not in business; not in his personal life. He was king of his kingdom.
From the internet, she'd gleaned that Quinn's bedroom had a revolving door. Apparently, a few nights' pleasuring the same woman were more than enough for him. Just when a woman might believe she meant something to him, he'd drop her and date another gorgeous blonde, who was invariably more beautiful than the one he'd jilted. There had been one woman, also blonde, who'd jilted him a year or so ago, a Cristina somebody. Not that she hadn't been quickly forgotten by the press when he'd resumed chasing more beauties as carelessly as before.
From what Kira had seen, his life was about winning, not about caring deeply. For that purpose only, he'd surrounded himself with the mansions, the cars, the yachts, the art collections and the fair-haired beauties. She had no illusions about what his marriage to Jaycee would be like. He had no intention of being a faithful husband to Kira's beautiful, blonde sister.
Rich, handsome womanizer that he was, Kira might have pitied him for being cursed with such a dark heartif only her precious Jaycee wasn't central in his revenge scheme.
Kira was not gifted at planning or at being confrontational, which were two big reasons why she wasn't getting ahead in her career. And Quinn was the last person on earth she wanted to confront. But the need to take care of Jaycee, as she had done since her sister's birth, was paramount.
Naturally, Kira's first step had been to beg her father to change his mind about using her sister to smooth over a business deal, but her father had been adamant about the benefits of the marriage.
Kira didn't understand the financials of Quinn's hostile takeover of Murray Oil, but her father seemed to think Quinn would make a brilliant CEO. Her parents had said that if Jaycee didn't walk down the aisle with Quinn as agreed, Quinn's terms would become far more onerous. Not to mention that the employees would resent him as an outsider. Even though Quinn's father had been a co-owner, Quinn was viewed as a man with a personal vendetta against the Murrays and Murray Oil. Ever since his father's death, rumors about his hostility toward all things Murray had been widely circulated by the press. Only if he married Jaycee would the employees believe that peace between the two families had at last been achieved and that the company would be safe in his hands.
Hence, Kira was here, to face Quinn Sullivan.
She was determined to stop him from marrying Jaycee, but how? Pausing in panic even as his secretary rushed ahead, she reminded herself that she couldn't turn back, plan or not.
Quickening her pace, Kira caught up to the efficient young woman, who was probably moving so quickly because she was as scared of the unfeeling brute as Kira was.
When his secretary pushed open Quinn's door, the deep, rich tones of the man's surprisingly beautiful voice moved through Kira like music. Her knees lost strength, and she stopped in midstep.
Oh, no, it was happening again.
She'd known from meeting him the first time that he was charismatic, but she'd counted on her newly amassed knowledge of his despicable character to protect her. His edgy baritone slid across her nerve endings, causing warm tingles in her secret, feminine places, and she knew she was as vulnerable to him as before.
Fighting not to notice that her nipples ached and that her pulse had sped up, she took a deep breath before daring a glance at the black-headed rogue. Looking very much at ease, he sat sprawled at his desk, the back of his linebacker shoulders to her as he leaned against his chair, a telephone jammed to his ear.
She couldn't, wouldn't, be attracted to this man.
On his desk she noted a silver-framed photograph of his father. With their intense blue eyes, black hair and strongly chiseled, tanned features, father and son closely resembled each other. Both, she knew, had been college athletes. Did Quinn keep the photo so close out of love or to energize him in his quest for revenge?
"I told you to buy, Habib," he ordered brusquely in that too-beautiful voice. "What's there to talk about? Do it." He ended the call.
At least he was every bit as rude as she remembered. Deep baritone or not, it should be easy to hate him.
His secretary coughed to let him know they were at the door.
Quinn whirled around in his massive, black leather chair, scowling, but went still the instant he saw Kira.
He lifted that hard, carved chin, which surprisingly enough had the most darling dimple, and, just like that, dismissed his secretary.
His piercing, laser-blue gaze slammed into Kira full force and heated her throughjust like before.
Black hair. Bronze skin. Fierce, brilliant eyes
With a single glance the man bewitched her.
When his mouth lifted at the edges, her world shifted as it had that first eveningand he hadn't even touched her.
He was as outrageously handsome as ever. Every bit as dark, tall, lean and hard, as cynical and untamedeven in his orderly office with his efficient secretary standing guard.
Still, for an instant, Kira thought she saw turbulent grief and longing mix with unexpected pleasure at the sight of her.
He remembered her.