The couple behind the headlines

‘Jack Taylor.’ He held out his hand.‘Imogen Christie,’ she said, taking it.For a moment she was so startled by the feel of his hand wrapped around hers and the energy that suddenly spun through her that the name didn’t register. She was too busy marvelling at the way every nerve-ending she possessed tingled, the way her whole body was suddenly coming alive, and thinking about how much fun dinner was going to be.But when it did, seconds later, her smile froze and her stomach disappeared. Her heart sank and the heat pounding through her turned to ice.Jack Taylor? NottheJack Taylor? Not the one she’d read about? Heard about … Been warned about …How typical was that? She reluctantly pulled her hand out of his as disappointment washed through her.According to the financial press the man was some kind of investment superstar. He made millions on a daily basis, backing ventures most people wouldn’t touch with a bargepole and taking risks considered to be either insane or genius, depending on one’s point of view. His funds were huge and his successes were global.As, apparently, were his extra-curricular activities.According to her friends, and the kind of press that favoured gossip over finance, Jack Taylor was legendary. He was gorgeous and charming. Smooth and charismatic, yet ice-cool and elusive. He was, by all accounts, a true heartbreaker.About the AuthorLUCY KINGspent her formative years lost in the world of Mills & Boon®romance when she really ought to have been paying attention to her teachers. Up against sparkling heroines, gorgeous heroes and the magic of falling in love, trigonometry and absolute ablatives didn’t stand a chance.But as she couldn’t live in a dream world for ever she eventually acquired a degree in languages and an eclectic collection of jobs. A stroll to the River Thames one Saturday morning led her to her very own hero. The minute she laid eyes on the hunky rower getting out of a boat, clad only in Lycra and carrying a three-metre oar as if it was a toothpick, she knew she’d met the man she was going to marry. Luckily the rower thought the same.She will always be grateful to whatever it was that made her stop dithering and actually sit down to type Chapter One, because dreaming up her own sparkling heroines and gorgeous heroes is pretty much her idea of the perfect job.Originally a Londoner, Lucy now lives in Spain, where she spends much of the time reading, failing to finish cryptic crosswords, and trying to convince herself that lying on the beach reallyisthe best way to work.Visit her at www.lucykingbooks.comRecent titles by the same author:SAY IT WITH DIAMONDSTHE CROWN AFFAIRPROPOSITIONED BY THE BILLIONAIREBOUGHT: DAMSEL IN DISTRESSDid you know these are also available as eBooks?Visit CoupleBehind theHeadlinesLucy WilliamCHAPTER ONETWOhundred and fifty thousand pounds?Two hundred and fifty thousand pounds?Imogen gaped at the catalogue, her jaw practically hitting the floor. It had to be a mistake. A typo or something. Because surely no one could be expected to fork out a quarter of a million pounds for that … thatthing.Bracing herself, she turned back, stared at the canvas hanging on the wall, and winced. ‘The Sting in Society’ was so eye-poppingly ugly it made every cell in her body shrivel in protest. So primitive it looked as if it had been executed by her five-year-old nephew in one of his tantrums. So absolutely hideous that not even the copious amounts of vintage champagne on offer could dent its impact.And it was enormous. The artist, who’d splashed a blaze of clashing colours onto the canvas in a seemingly random fashion, clearly felt his creativity was too great to contain, which while undoubtedly satisfying some sort of artistic bent for himself, was excruciating for everyone else.It would be one thing if ‘The Sting in Society’ were a one-off. That she could just about deal with while fulfilling her aim to take every advantage of the free-flowing champagne. But it wasn’t. The plain white walls of the gallery were littered with the things. Beneath unforgivably bright lights hung two dozen canvases, all splattered with the same great swathesof colours, all equally dreadful, and all going for the same mind-blowing sums of money.Imogen grimaced. She was the first to admit that she was no expert on modern art, but in her opinion whatever its worth, the whole lot should be consigned to the Thames.Not that anyone else appeared to think so, she thought, glancing around at the trendily dressed throng. Everywhere she looked, people milled about, tilting their heads and tapping index fingers against their mouths while spouting esoteric nonsense about allegory and metaphysics.Swinging her gaze back to the piece she was standing in front of, Imogen stifled a shudder. It was madness, she mused, narrowing her eyes as she tried to work out its appeal and failed. Complete insanity.Who in their right mind would pay that amount of money for such a horrendous thing anyway?She mentally ran through a list of all the things a quarter of a million pounds could achieve. Only yesterday her department had had to allocate exactly that sum to one of the projects run by the Christie Trust, and the options were still fresh in her memory. Spending it on an eye-watering splatter of colours had not, strangely enough, been one of them.But then what didsheknow about anything?Imogen took a step back, bit her lip and frowned. Recent events had proved that her judgement sucked. Big time. So who was she to decide whether or not this stuff was any good? As bizarre as she might think it, little red dots were popping up next to the paintings like chicken pox, so the evidence appeared to be speaking for itself.Which only hammered home the painful realisation that her judgement was indeed still in bits.Not thatthatwas any surprise.Only two months had passed since Connie, her once-upon-a-time partner-in-crime and best-friend-since-school had run off with Max, Imogen’s then boyfriend, and, although thepain had ebbed to a dull ache instead of the agony it had once been, it still hurt.More so this evening, thought Imogen morosely, her already battered spirits taking a nosedive. The last time she’d been to a private view, Connie had been with her. They’d laughed and talked loudly and pompously about light and depth and perspective, ransacked the canapés and then hit the latest club.Tonight, however, she was alone, and Connie, the sneaky snake-in-the-grass, was in all likelihood at home, snuggling up to Max on the sofa and hatching wedding plans.Imogen’s heart twanged. She’d told herself to get over it a million times and she reckoned she was making good progress, but from time to time—usually when she was least expecting it—the whole sorry affair swooped down and smacked her around the head.Like this afternoon.Like now.The backs of her eyes prickled but she blinked the sting away and yanked her shoulders back. What did she care what Connie was up to? So what if the friendship they’d had, the one that had started at kindergarten and had continued for the past twenty-five years, had disintegrated in the ten seconds it had taken to read Max’s note? And so what if her ex-boyfriend and her ex-best friend were getting married?She didn’t give a toss, did she?No. She’d had plenty of time to reflect on the betrayal, and with hindsight she’d come to realise that actually they’d done her a favour. Because who needed friends who could do something like that to you?And as for Max, well, yes, he was undeniably gorgeous—all dark floppy hair, twinkling eyes and oodles of charm—but he was a complete waste of space and she was well shot of him.If the press had levelled the same waste-of-space accusationat her—which they had, frequently and not entirely unfairly—that was fine because she had plans to reverse that and to prove to herself and her critics that shedidhave something to offer the world.Max, on the other hand, seemed happy to spend the rest of his life perfecting his air of insouciant ennui. So if Connie wanted to spend the rest ofherlife massaging that ego, she was welcome to it.Imogen shook her head at her own naïve foolishness. Far from being the perfect couple she’d always assumed she and Max had been, they were, she now knew, chalk and cheese. The really astounding thing about their relationship was not how it had ended, but how it had limped along for so long in the first place.Truly, the mind boggled, she thought, casting another glance at the monstrosity calling itself ‘The Sting in Society’. And she was through with it all. Bored, rich playboys, fickle best friends and staggeringly pretentious so-called art.She’d got what she’d come for. Two glasses of ice-cold bone-dry champagne had done an excellent job of obliterating the shock and torment of learning of the engagement. Her body was buzzing and her mind was numb, and she had better things to do than waste any more time in front of this kind of rubbish.Determinedly banishing the blues and reminding herself that she was far luckier than most, that she had no business wallowing in misery and that she ought to focus on what shedidhave rather than what she didn’t, Imogen gritted her teeth and spun on her heel.And crashed into something hard and unyielding.Something that let out a soft ‘oof’ and flung its arms around her for balance.For a second it felt as if the world had stopped. She stood there, stunned, crushed up against whoever it was she’d cannonedinto, the breath whooshing from her lungs and her head spinning with shock.Then the shock receded and her surroundings settled and other things filtered into her brain. Like the fact that he was male. Tall. Broad. Solid. Warm. And strong. His arms were like bands of steel around her back and she could feel the restrained power in the hardness that was wrapped around her. Plus he smelled amazing.Imogen couldn’t remember the last time she’d found herself in such close proximity to a man like that—if ever—and to her horror her body automatically began to respond. Her stomach quivered. Her heart lurched and her temperature rocketed. For one crazy split second she wanted to press herself closer. Wanted to snuggle up to him and feel those arms wrap themselves tighter around her. Enveloping her. Protecting her.Which was nuts. Completely nuts.Imogen blinked as sanity put in an appearance and nudged aside the fancifulness. She could stop that right now. She’d been through the emotional wringer recently and the last thing she needed was to fall head first into the arms of another man. Metaphorically speaking, of course.And what on earth made her think she needed protecting anyway? She was perfectly capable of doing that herself. Heaven knew she’d had enough practice.Summoning up every ounce of self-control she possessed, Imogen gulped in a breath and forced herself not to react to the intoxicating waft of soap and sandalwood that shot up her nose.‘Oh, sorry,’ she muttered, jerking back and looking up to see who it was that was having such an odd effect on her.And nearly swooned all over again.All thoughts of Connie and Max and self-protection vanished as she found herself staring up into the most gorgeous eyes she’d ever seen.To begin with he had the kind of thick, dark eyelashes she’d give her designer wardrobe for. Then there were the fine lines that fanned out from their corners and suggested he laughed a lot.
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Swallowing back the lump in her throat at the reminder of how littleshelaughed at the moment, Imogen focused on the colour of his irises instead. That kind of blue was unusual. It made her think of the sky in summer and the shallows of the Mediterranean Sea. Which would have had her envisaging long, languid summer afternoons and the long languid ways in which one might spend them with a man like this had she not ruthlessly shut down that strand of her imagination for ever.And as if all that weren’t potentially sense-scrambling enough, there was the glint. The glint lurked in the depths of his eyes and suggested danger and excitement and naughtiness. The glint promised fun. A lot of fun. For a woman who was into that sort of thing, which, being too emotionally scarred, she wasn’t. But if shehadbeen, the heat sweeping through her would have been down to instant chemistry, and not what must surely be a fault with the air-conditioning.Whatever it was that was causing her to overheat, Imogen hauled herself back under control as she dragged her gaze over the rest of his face, which would have more than lived up to her expectations if she’d had any. His dark hair looked as if it were made for rumpling and his mouth looked as if it would deliver the most devastating of kisses.All in all, the combination of that face and that body was lethal, she thought, suppressing a shiver. If you were interested in that sort of thing. Which, dammit, she wasn’t. She really wasn’t.‘My fault,’ he said with a smile that had her stomach somersaulting before she could stop it.He unwound his arms from around her and she took a hasty step backwards.‘And not a drop spilt,’ she said, glancing at the glasses of champagne that had only moments ago been flung around her. ‘Impressive.’‘I’ve had plenty of practice.’Of having random women barrel into him? She could just imagine. ‘How fortunate.’The smile deepened and Imogen felt something inside her melt. Her pathetically weak resistance probably. ‘For you it is.’She raised her eyebrows. ‘For me?’He held out a glass to her. ‘One of these. You looked like you could do with it.’Had he been watching her? Checking her out?At the thought of those eyes roaming over her, Imogen’s heart began to race and she swallowed hard to combat the sudden dryness of her mouth. ‘I was just leaving,’ she said a lot more breathily than she’d have liked.His mesmerising gaze slid to the painting behind her and then back to hers. The glint twinkled. ‘Not because of the scorpion, I hope?’ he said.‘Is that what it is?’He nodded. ‘It is.’‘I’d never have guessed.’‘It’s obscure.’‘Very.’‘It represents man’s fight against the injustice of capitalism.’Imogen tilted her head and frowned as she finally managed to locate her brain. ‘It seems a bit hypocritical to charge a quarter of a million pounds for a piece of canvas and a few brush strokes that apparently represent the injustice of capitalism, don’t you think?’‘To be honest I hadn’t given it much thought,’ he said dryly.Vaguely wondering what was happening to her intention to leave, Imogen took the glass he was holding out and lifted it to her lips.‘Thank you,’ she murmured and took a sip.‘You’re welcome,’ he said, watching her as she parted her lips and let a mouthful of champagne slide down her throat. ‘So what do you think of it?’She thought she heard a trace of hoarseness in his voice and it sent a shiver down her spine. ‘The painting?’He nodded. Then cleared his throat a little.‘Honestly?’‘Oh, I’m all for honesty,’ he said.Hmm. If he was, and frankly she doubted it because he was, after all, a man, then it was more than Max had been, the lying, cheating scumbag. ‘Then honestly,’ she said a touch more tartly than she’d intended, ‘it makes my eyes bleed.’Without warning he threw his head back and let out a roar of laughter and her stomach tightened at the sound. ‘And there was me thinking it had great light, searing depth and imaginative perspective,’ he said, shoving a hand through his hair and grinning.Imogen went still for a second, her eyes colliding with his, and her heart stuttered. The warm amusement in his voice that suggested he thought the exact opposite reminded her of the gaping hole in her life left by the treacherous Connie, and her eyes stung again.And then an appalled thought crossed her mind and she snapped herself away from the memories. ‘Oh, no, you’re not the artist, are you?’His eyebrows shot up. ‘Do I look like the artist?’Imogen let her gaze run over him from head to toe, felt her blood begin to simmer and managed to convince herself it was a perfectly normal reaction to an extremely handsome man and there was no need to get her knickers in a twist over it.He certainly didn’t look like any artist she’d ever met, she reflected, vaguely distracted by the thought of her knickers getting, not just in a twist, but totally removed, slowly and seductively, by the man smouldering down at her. He lookeddark and dangerous and wicked. The sort of man that could make a woman lose her head if she wasn’t careful. ‘Come to think of it,’ she said as coolly as she could manage, which wasn’t coolly at all, ‘no.’‘Thank heavens for that.’Ignoring the odd fizzing of her veins, Imogen pulled herself together. If he’d gone to the trouble to bring her a glass of champagne, the least she could do was engage in a minute or two of conversation before leaving. After all, his smile might be lethal and the glint was downright criminal, but conversation had never killed anyone, had it? ‘So how do you know so much about this particular—ah—piece?’‘I own it.’‘God, why?’ she asked aghast, rapidly revising her opinion of him. He might be gorgeous but his taste in art left alotto be desired.His eyes gleamed. ‘I won it at a charity auction.’Her eyebrows shot up. ‘Someone else was bidding for it?’ That at least two people had wanted the thing was astounding.He nodded and grinned. ‘A friend of mine.’‘Some friend.’‘One of the best. It was quite a tussle.’‘But he eventually bowed out?’‘He did.’‘Sensible man.’He shrugged. ‘He didn’t have much of a choice. I like to win.’Hmm. She cast him a sceptical glance and noticed the determined set to his jaw as well as the now decidedly ruthless glint in his eye. Oh, yes, he liked to win. And, she deduced, at any cost.‘Well, it seems to me that on this occasion you lost,’ she said, stifling a shudder at the dangerously enticing thought of being pursued and conquered by someone like him.He gazed at her for so long and so intently that her mouthwent dry and her body began to buzz. ‘You know, you could be right,’ he murmured.She tried to blot out the buzzing by telling herself that the man was an idiot who had more money than sense, but it didn’t appear to be working. ‘So really you acquired it by accident?’He tilted his head and grinned. ‘It would seem so. Although not an unhappy one, given the increase in its value over the years.’She lifted her eyebrows. ‘And that’s important?’‘Profit is always important.’Imogen frowned. ‘Well, I suppose in this case the simple appreciation of something beautiful doesn’t really come into the equation.’At that his eyes gleamed and her heart unaccountably skipped a beat. His gaze suddenly dropped and then slowly roamed over her. ‘Oh, I don’t know,’ he murmured, and to her alarm she felt her cheeks going bright red. Heat shot through her and she began to tingle in places she’d thought she’d never tingle in again.Didn’t intend to ever tingle in again, she reminded herself, straightening her spine and lifting her chin. ‘Nevertheless you have my commiserations.’He smiled that smile of his and to her irritation she could feel her blush deepening. ‘But not an offer to buy it?’Right now, what with being on the verge of becoming putty in his hands, Imogen thought she could well end up offering him anything he asked for.And didn’t that bring her up short?Forcing herself to imagine the painting on her wall, having to stare at the hideous thing day in day out, and concentrating on not turning into that putty, she shuddered. ‘You must be joking,’ she said, adopting a look of horror for good measure. ‘This isn’t my kind of thing at all.’‘Pity,’ he said, then sighed and rubbed a brown hand along his jaw. ‘I have a depressing feeling it’s never going to sell.’‘Are you surprised?’‘Not particularly. But if it doesn’t, Luke, that friend of mine who bowed out of the bidding, will never let me forget it. He needles me about it enough as it is.’He looked so cross that Imogen couldn’t help smiling. ‘Well, that’s what comes of indulging in silly displays of competitive pride,’ she said solemnly, tutting and shaking her head in mock admonishment.‘You’re probably right.’‘And can you blame him?’He arched an eyebrow as he gazed at her, his mouth eventually curving into a rueful smile. ‘Not really. If the roles had been reversed I’d do the same.’‘Of course you would.’‘So,’ he said, draining his glass and handing it to a waiter who was weaving past, ‘I know why I’m here, but, if this isn’t your kind of thing, why areyouhere?’Imogen went still, her smile fading and her temperature plummeting as her fingers tightened around the stem of her glass.Oh, heavens. What could she say? No way could she tell him the truth. That only half an hour ago she’d learned about Max and Connie’s engagement, on Facebook of all places. That she’d been so stunned, so thrown off balance and tossed upside down, and so hurt by the fact that they hadn’t bothered to call her up and tell her personally that she’d fled the office in search of the nearest source of alcohol, which happened to be the gallery next door to the office where she worked. No way. That kind of revelation she’d be keeping to herself.So, aware that he was waiting for an answer and not liking that probing gaze one little bit, Imogen shrugged and fixed a bland smile to her face. ‘I’ve decided lately that my horizonsneed broadening,’ she said, thinking it was, after all, at least the partial truth.‘I see.’ He gave her a sexy kind of half smile and his eyes glittered. ‘Need any help?’She stared at him as shivers raced up and down her spine. Help? Oh, goodness. From the way the glint was glinting she could guess exactly the sort of help he was offering. The sort she wasn’t interested in, she reminded herself. Not. Interested. In.‘Thank you, but no,’ she said, sounding a lot firmer than she felt.‘Are you sure? Because I’m good at broadening horizons.’‘I’ve no doubt you are.’He smiled into her eyes, and even though he hadn’t moved it felt as if he’d somehow got closer. ‘Have dinner with me and I’ll show you how good.’CHAPTER TWOIMOGENblinked, faintly stunned, although why the invitation should be quite such a surprise was beyond her. It wasn’t as if she’d never been asked out to dinner before.Maybe it was the fact that the intensity of his attention was so all-encompassing it had robbed her of reason. Or maybe it was simply the fact that, as he’d apparently stolen all the air around her, her brain was being starved of oxygen. ‘Dinner?’ she murmured.He nodded. ‘That’s right. Dinner. Comes after lunch and before breakfast. Around this time.’‘Ah,thatdinner.’‘That’s the one. So?’Imogen was almost certain her answer ought to be no. More than almost certain, actually, because hadn’t she just been telling herself that she’d had enough of men for the foreseeable future, the whole lousy lot of them? Wasn’t she just the tiniest bit unhinged at the moment? And didn’t she need to concentrate on repairing her poor battered emotions instead of letting herself be dragged under the spell of such a dangerously magnetic man?But it was so tempting, she thought, her common sense beginning to unravel beneath his unwavering gaze. After two months of miserable soul-searching, her self-esteem couldreally do with the attention, and after nearly three glasses of champagne her stomach could really do with the food.Besides she hadn’t sworn off all men, had she? She blotted out the little voice in her head jumping up and down, waving its arms in alarm and demanding to know what on earth she thought she was doing, and concentrated on justifying the decision she was pretty sure she was going to make. She might have had her fingers burnt recently but she wasn’tthatjaded. And dinner didn’t have to go anywhere, did it? How could a couple of hours in the company of a gorgeous attentive man hurt?
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Feeling her spirits creeping up, Imogen laughed for what seemed like the first time in weeks and felt lighter than she had in months. ‘I don’t even know your name.’‘Jack Taylor.’ He held out his hand.‘Imogen Christie,’ she said, taking it.For a moment she was so startled by the feel of his hand wrapped around hers and the energy that suddenly spun through her that the name didn’t register. She was too busy marvelling at the way every nerve ending she possessed tingled. The way her whole body was suddenly coming alive, and thinking about how much fun dinner was going to be.But when it did, seconds later, her smile froze and her stomach disappeared. Her heart sank and the heat pounding through her turned to ice.Oh, hell.Jack Taylor? NottheJack Taylor? Not the one she’d read about. Heard about. Been warned about …How typical was that? She reluctantly pulled her hand out of his as disappointment washed through her.Random snippets of information started whipping round her head. Facts she must have subconsciously gleaned over the years that now spun and whirled and settled into one long list.According to the financial press, the man was some kind of investment superstar. He made millions on a daily basis,backing ventures most people wouldn’t touch with a bargepole and taking risks considered to be either insane or genius depending on one’s point of view. His funds were huge and his successes were global.As, apparently, were his extra-curricular activities.According to her friends and the kind of press that favoured gossip over finance, Jack Taylor was legendary. He was gorgeous and charming. Smooth and charismatic, yet ice cool and elusive. He was, by all accounts, a true heartbreaker.As poor wretched Amanda Hobbs had eventually found out, she recalled. The story of Amanda, who she didn’t personally know but was the friend of a friend of a friend, had recently taken the grapevine by storm, causing hands to be clapped to mouths and gasps of shock and pity. Poor, tragic Amanda, who’d been going out with him until he’d callously ditched her, and had had to flee to Italy to recover.With all the details of the whole saga zooming to the forefront of her mind Imogen bridled, and the disappointment turned into something colder, harder and stonier because, apart from the work aspect, Jack Taylor was exactly the sort of man Max was. Exactly the sort of man she’d vowed to steer well clear of.Rumour had it that a few years ago he’d even engaged in an Internet bidding war over some woman. From what she could remember he’d opted forgreatsexguaranteedas a user name and didn’tthattell her everything she needed to know? And not just that he was a fan of online auctions.As she stared up at him standing there oozing self-confident charm, his eyes gleaming with that wicked glint, she wondered how on earth she could have missed it. It was there for anyone with half a brain to see. The laid-back insouciance. The unmistakeable air of wealth. Of innate arrogance. The dazzling smile of a man who knew he had the ability to make women fall into his bed like dominoes.Well, not this woman, thought Imogen grimly, gatheringher scattered wits and pulling herself together. In targeting her he’d chosen badly. Really badly.The little part of her that was deeply flattered at being hit on by the infamous Jack Taylor, that wondered if he really could guarantee great sex, could forget it. So could the gleam of expectation in his eye, because she wasn’t falling into his bed or anywhere else. She was immune. And dinner was most definitely off.‘I know a great little place just round the corner,’ Jack was saying, and Imogen dragged herself back to the conversation.Oh, she just bet he did, she thought, going numb. She bet he knew great little places round every corner of London.‘Actually,’ she said smoothly, drawing her shoulders back and giving him a tight smile, ‘I don’t think dinner is such a good idea after all.’There was a pause. A flicker of surprise in his eyes as he tensed a little. ‘No?’He sounded distinctly put out and satisfaction surged inside her. Hah. He probably hadn’t been turned down in his life. Well, the experience would do him good. ‘No,’ she said, lifting her chin a little higher and injecting a hint of steel into her voice.He tilted his head and regarded her with that disconcertingly probing gaze. ‘Why not?’‘I’m busy.’‘Then how about another night?’‘Thank you, but no.’‘Sure?’God, he was unbelievable. Why had no one ever mentioned his persistence along with everything else? ‘Tell me, Jack,’ she said, delighted to hear that she was sounding as withering as she’d intended, ‘has anyone ever said no to you?’He grinned, her arch tone clearly rolling off him like water off a duck’s back. ‘Not recently.’Typical. ‘Well, there’s a first time for everything,’ she said deliberately waspishly.And that ought to have been that. By now he should have got the message that she wasn’t interested and should be shrugging, turning away and going off in search of easier prey.But much to her irritation, his smile barely faltered. If anything, it turned more seductive, and for some reason her mouth went dry. Something about the way his eyes were glittering, the way he’d shifted his weight sent warning bells tinkling around her head.Which started clanging violently when without warning he reached out, put a hand on the side of her neck and leaned forwards.Imogen couldn’t move. At the feel of his hand, singeing her skin where it lay, the thudding of her heart turned to a hammering and her breathing shallowed, and to her horror there wasn’t a thing she could do about it. Not when her feet seemed to be rooted to the floor and her body had turned to stone.Every one of her senses, pretty much the only part of her that hadn’t been stunned into immobility, leapt to attention and zoomed in on Jack and what he was doing.And what exactly was that? she wondered dazedly as she gazed up at him. The ghost of a smile played at his lips, lips that parted a fraction and dragged her attention down, robbing her of what little of her breath remained and flipping her stomach.Oh, God, he wasn’t going to kiss her, was he? Not now. Not right here among all these people.Not that an audience was her greatest concern. No, her greatest concern was what she’d do if he did.But just as she was trying to work out what that was and panicking at the idea that she even had to think about it, just as her heart was about to stop and she thought she might be about to pass out, he angled his head and murmured right intoher ear, ‘OK, if you’re tight for time, how about skipping dinner and moving straight on to dessert?’For a moment there was a kind of vibrating silence while his words made their way to her brain. Long heavy seconds during which everything but the two of them and the electric field that they generated disappeared. Imogen was so wrapped up in not responding to his nearness, in not shivering as the warmth of his breath caressed her cheek, and so preoccupied with not closing the minute distance between them and winding her arms around his neck to kiss him that his proposition took quite a while to arrive.Then it did, and she thought she must have misheard. Misunderstood or something, because surely he couldn’t be suggesting what she thought he was suggesting.But when he drew back and she saw the glimmer of intent and desire in the depths of his eyes she realised she hadn’t misheard. Or misunderstood. And he was suggesting exactly what she’d thought he’d been suggesting.‘That’s outrageous,’ she breathed, although whether this was directed at his audacity or at the sharp thrill that was spinning through her she wasn’t sure.He took a step back and ran his gaze over her face, slowly and thoroughly as if committing every square millimetre to memory before letting it linger on her lips. Which, to her horror, automatically parted to emit a tiny dreamy gasp.‘Is it?’ he murmured.Barely able to breathe, she watched his smile become knowing and the gleam in his eyes turn to something that looked suspiciously like triumph and quite suddenly Imogen had had enough.Of everything.All the pain and frustration of the past few months wound together in one great knot in the pit of her stomach and began to pummel her from the inside out. So hard, so relentlessly that she nearly doubled up with the force of it.Memories and thoughts and feelings cascaded into her head, each one tumbling over the other, fast and furious and unstoppable.Of her own battered heart carelessly ripped from her chest and then stamped all over by two people she’d cared so much about.Of poor Amanda weeping and wailing her way across Italy.Of the cool arrogance of the man standing before her. Of the God-given right he thought he had to seduce people—women—into falling in with his plans. The idea that anyone, he of all people, had the nerve to guarantee great sex.As the whole gamut of emotions swept through her with the force of a tidal wave, the urge to strike a blow for every woman worldwide who’d had her heart broken by a lothario like Jack surged up inside her.It was overwhelming, overpowering. It overrode any sense of civility, of politeness, of reason, and obliterated the lingering heat and any trace of desire.Dimly aware that she was out of control but unable to do anything about it, Imogen lifted her chin and said coldly, ‘If you’re hungry, I suggest you find some other poor victim to devour.’And with that, she spun on her heel and marched off.When it came to ways of occupying himself on a Tuesday night, Jack had options. Lots of options.Last Tuesday he’d accompanied a sleek blonde to a classical concert in aid of medical research. The Tuesday before that he’d wined and dined a rumpled brunette at a newly opened restaurant so sought-after it already had a six-month waiting list. And the Tuesday beforethathe’d been discussing investment strategy with clients over cocktails in Geneva.ThisTuesday night, however, was apparently payback for all that fun.It hadn’t started well. For one thing he loathed modern art.Absolutely loathed it. The pretension of the paintings and the people who waffled on about them invariably made him want to hit something hard. This allegedly exclusive one-night-only art exhibition in the West End of London was one of the worst he’d ever encountered and the only reason he’d come was to see his own unforgivably awful contribution sell.And eventhathadn’t been going his way. While a number of the other exhibits had attracted buyers, his hadn’t, and it had started to occur to him that he might be forced to take the bloody thing back home with him.With the evening plumbing depths he could never have anticipated, Jack had decided to write the whole episode off as a complete disaster and had been on the point of leaving when he’d spotted Imogen.She’d been standing with her back to him in front of his six-foot-by-four-foot painting, gazing up at it, utterly still, her head tilted to one side. Something about her had caught his eye and held it. Made his muscles contract a little and his heart beat a fraction faster. And not just because she was the only person to display any interest in his painting.Out of habit, he’d checked her out. He’d run his gaze over her, taking his time as he registered long, wavy, gold-streaked hair fanning out from beneath her black beret, generous curves moulded by a figure-hugging black knee-length coat, and the best pair of calves he’d ever seen encased in sheer silk and tapering down to sexy black high heels.He’d felt a fierce stirring of attraction, his body tightening with awareness and his mouth going dry. His pulse had picked up and the blood rushing through his veins had heated.And then, just as he’d been wondering why he was responding so strongly to a woman whose face he hadn’t even seen, just as he’d managed to dredge up some kind of self-control and get his heart rate and breathing back to normal, she’d turned to hold the catalogue up to the light, and he’d lost his breath all over again.She was quite simply stunning. Light from the spotlight overhead had spilled over her face, illuminating high cheekbones, a straight nose and creamy skin. Her mouth was wide, her lips full and pink and extremely kissable.It had struck him then that, despite her considerable assets, his response to her had been startlingly unusual in its intensity. He’d never lacked for female company—quite the opposite in fact—but the immediacy and the strength of it had been new. And actually not just new. He’d found it intriguing. Tantalising. Deliciously unsettling.Which was why, thinking optimistically that despite its inauspicious start the evening had started to look up, he’d levered himself off the pillar he’d been leaning against and had gone in search of a couple of glasses of champagne.
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Well, that had been a spectacular waste of time, Jack thought darkly, rooted to the spot as he stared at Imogen’s retreating figure, shock reverberating through him as he tried to work out what had happened.Victim?Victim?Where the hell hadthatcome from?All he’d suggested was dinner and what on earth was wrong with that? Where had all that vitriol sprung from? Anyone would think he’d suggested slinging her over his shoulder and carting her off somewhere dark and private so he could have his wicked way with her. Which he hadn’t, quite.He dragged in a breath, shoved a hand through his hair and scowled after her as the latter part of their conversation rattled around his brain.Up until the point Imogen had gone all psycho on him, he’d thought things had been progressing marvellously. Even their initial collision, though unplanned, had worked to his advantage. His head might have gone momentarily blank at the feel of her body plastered up against his and at the scent of her winding through him, but he’d heard her breath catch.He’d seen the flash of interest in her eyes. And felt the hammering of her heart against his chest.And it had been all the encouragement he’d needed. He’d done what came as naturally as breathing, and flirted with her. And she’d flirted right back. She’d shot him sexy little smiles, let out breathy little sighs and he’d instinctively had the feeling that she was as attracted to him as he was to her. Inviting her to dinner to see how the attraction—and the evening—might develop had seemed an entirely logical step forwards.Jack rubbed his hand along his jaw and frowned as he remembered the moment his radar had picked up her unexpected switch in mood. He’d been holding her hand, recovering from the jolt of electricity that had shot through him the moment their palms had met and wondering whether he should be feeling disconcerted or delighted by the obvious chemistry.He’d been vaguely asking himself whether the floor really was tilting and whether he ought to be concerned by the way the words ‘thisone’ were flashing in his head in great neon letters when he’d felt her tense. She’d whipped her hand out of his as if his touch had suddenly scorched her, and he’d realised that something had changed. Dramatically.To say he’d been wrong-footed was the understatement of the century. He’d always believed he had an uncanny ability to read women, but never in a million years would he have seen the chilly, supercilious air that she had adopted coming.His jaw tightened as the disdainful expression on her face and the scorn in her voice when she refused his offer of dinner slammed into his head. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been rejected. People—women in particular—generally didn’t, and, ever since his mother had pretty much abandoned him at birth, rejection was something he’d taken great care to avoid. Which was why he only ever issued dinner invitations to women he was convinced would say yes.Until now.But what the hell had gone wrong?OK, so he probably shouldn’t have made that comment about dessert, but he’d been so disconcerted by her change in attitude, and, if he was being honest, disappointed, that winding her up as much as she’d wound him up had proved irresistible.Which meant that when she’d accused him of being outrageous, she might have had a point. But he’d never anticipated that she’d react in quite such a melodramatic way. Why should he? He’d seen the flicker of desire in her eyes and he’d heard her shallow breathing. For a split second he’d thought that perhaps he’d got away with it after all. That mutual attraction might have come to outweigh her indignation.And that made her rejection, her parting shot, all the more devastatingly brutal.Jack glowered after her. So much for thinking the evening had been looking up. He’d just crashed and burned spectacularly and he didn’t like it. Any of it.Ignoring the smattering of interested glances being cast in his direction, he let the anger and frustration that had been simmering inside him surge through his veins.How dared she assume he had victims? How dared she assume he devoured anyone? How dared she make him feel he’d been harassing her?And what exactly was so off-putting about him anyway? He’d never had any complaints before. He’d never had anything but sighs of appreciation and requests for repeat performances.So what was her problem? And frankly why was he bothering to try and work it out? Imogen clearly had it in for him and he wasn’t a masochist. The best thing he could do would be to forget the last half an hour and get the hell out of here.The rational part of his brain told him to chalk this evening up to experience, that, apart from everything else he’dhad to endure, no woman was worth the hassle. Especially not one as shallow as Imogen Christie.He knew who she was. The minute he’d heard her name he’d recognised it. It would have been hard not to, given the number of times it had appeared in the press. Imogen Christie was nothing more than a vacuous socialite. The kind of pointless woman who did nothing but flit from party to party and hit the headlines with her antics. The kind of pointless woman his mother was.So what if during their brief conversation she’d made him laugh? So what if she’d made his body respond so intensely that all he could think about was how much he wanted to wrap her round him and keep her there for hours? She was the sort of woman he despised, the sort he’d spent most of his adult life avoiding, and if he ever bothered to look back on this evening he’d be grateful he’d had such a lucky escape.That was what the sane, logical part of his brain was telling him.However, another louder, more insistent part of his brain, the part that housed a deeply ingrained, deeply hidden craving for approval, and the part that would, if he let it, wonder what was wrong with him, demanded to know why she’d said what she had and why she’d changed her mind.Not because he wanted to change it back. No. Now he was finally listening to that warning voice inside his head, he had no intention of pursuing her. He just wanted to know what she thought gave her the right to be so rude, and what exactly it was that she had against him.There was no way he was allowing someone like Imogen Christie to just waltz off with the last word and no explanation, he thought grimly, watching her push through the door and disappear into the night. No way.So forget the gold-streaked hair that made him want to tangle his hands in its silky softness. Forget the eyes of such a deep brown that looking into them was like falling into a vatof molten chocolate. Forget the curves that his hands itched to caress. He really didn’t need the distraction.What he needed were answers, and he’d get them, whether she liked it or not.CHAPTER THREEWHATan idiot, Imogen told herself for the hundredth time as she stood on the street and shivered in the chilly February breeze.What on earth had possessed her to saythat? Why, oh, why hadn’t she just smiled serenely, told Jack she had a boyfriend or something and left it there?Whatever had happened to her decision to stay cool and collected at all times? To do absolutely nothing that might attract the attention of the press? It was a good thing she hadn’t given in to temptation and flung that glass of champagne all over him. That really would have been the pits.Maybe the whole Connie/Max engagement thing had affected her more than she’d thought, because the way everything inside her had merged into one hot seething tangle of emotion and then swooped up, seizing control of her brain and her senses, had been weird.How could she have been sorude? she asked herself yet again, stamping her feet in an effort to inject a degree of heat into her body and scouring the shadowy, empty street for a taxi. Jack might be everything she detested in a man—well, aside from his considerable physical attributes, of course—but that was no excuse. She was never rude.Imogen winced with shame as her words flew back into her head. What had she beenthinking? OK, so she’d barelybeen thinking at all, let alone rationally, but that was no excuse, either.Not that there was anything she could do about it now. She couldn’t rewind time and she could hardly go back and apologise, could she? An apology—even assuming he’d be willing to listen—would lead to conversation and undoubtedly a request for an explanation, and she really didn’t want to go into the reason for her temporary mental meltdown.No. All she could do was hope that Jack had written her off as bonkers, slope off home, open a bottle of wine and forget all about the entire excruciating afternoon.If her brother and his family had been around she’d have invited herself over for supper and let herself be plied with wine and sympathy, clambered all over by her niece and nephew, and maybe let herself not feel quite so lonely and messed up for a while. But unfortunately they were skiing in the Alps.And yes, there were a couple of parties that she’d been invited to, but having to dodge the inevitable loaded questions about the newly betrothed couple didn’t appeal in the slightest.The worst thing was that with the defection of Connie she no longer had the sort of girlfriend she could call up and drown her sorrows with. Not for the first time, Imogen asked herself how it was possible to feel so alone in a vast city like London, where she knew loads of people and there was always something going on.Pushing that thought aside before she became even more maudlin, she hauled her spirits up. Home—a cosy mews house in Chelsea—wasn’tsucha bad option, she thought dryly, spying the yellow light of a cruising taxi and throwing her arm up to hail it. It had always been something of a haven, a place to shut herself away from the occasional unpleasantness of life. A scathing newspaper report, a deliberately awful paparazzi photo, a lousy boyfriend … She’dlicked her wounds there many times, and would probably do so many times in the future.Tonight she’d run a bath, pour herself a glass of wine, light a few candles and relax. She might even allow herself to contemplate the press-free and purposeful life she’d have in the States if her application to study there was accepted.She watched the taxi execute a U-turn and pull up at the pavement where she was standing, and chewed on her lip as a flicker of optimism flared into life inside her.Yes, that was what she’d do, she thought, leaning forwards to give the taxi driver her address and then reaching for the door handle. She’d package everything that had happened this afternoon and stuff it in the cupboard called Denial, and wallow in that blissful daydream. And then she’d—‘Just a minute.’At the sound of the deep, dry voice behind her and the sudden scorching heat of the hand covering hers, Imogen jumped, and then, as her back brushed against him, froze. Her heart leapt into her throat. Pure terror shot through her and as her head went fuzzy she automatically jerked her elbow back. Up and hard.She heard a growl of surprise, of pain, and with adrenalin whipping through her veins she snapped round. Instinctively, braced herself.And crashed back to reality as she clapped eyes on the man who’d sneaked up on her.Oh, dear.As all the adrenalin and energy drained away, Imogen bit her lip and grimaced. Jack was almost doubled up, one hand planted on the window of the taxi, the other clutching his stomach as he gasped for breath.‘What on earth did you do that for?’ he said when he was finally able to speak.‘It was an automatic reaction. You startled me. Sorry.’‘Remind me never to dothatagain,’ he muttered and, witha wince, straightened. Which brought him almost as close as he’d been when he’d crept up on her in the first place.A shiver that this time had nothing to do with the cold or fear or adrenalin scuttled down Imogen’s spine, and she sighed. So much for hoping that Jack might decide to write her off and forget what she said. It was stupid of her to think he would. To think that anyone would. ‘Did you want something?’ she said, blinking with what she hoped looked like innocence.‘You walked off in the middle of our conversation,’ said Jack, rubbing his ribs and glowering at her. ‘That wasn’t very polite.’‘As far as I was concerned,’ she said, lifting her chin and giving him a cool smile, while determinedly ignoring the stab of guilt that she might have hurt him, ‘it was over.’‘I’m sure you think so,’ he said, clearly disagreeing.Actually, maybe it was no bad thing he’d followed her, because now would be an excellent time to apologise. She could clean the slate, clear her conscience and draw a line under their brief but surprisingly turbulent acquaintance. And then she could nip into the taxi and disappear into the night and put an end to what had been a day she hoped never to repeat.‘OK, look,’ she said, making herself keep eye contact, while groping behind her for the door handle. ‘I apologise for the whole victim-devouring-comment thing. It was uncalled for. I’m sorry.’
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He frowned. ‘What prompted it?’Imogen swallowed. No way was she going to go into the frightening cocktail of emotion that had surged through her and obliterated every shred of common sense. Instead, she recalled the ‘skipping straight to dessert’ remark, and raised her eyebrows. ‘You have to ask?’‘I wouldn’t if I didn’t.’‘I don’t do dessert.’‘Ever?’‘For the time being.’His mouth curved into a faint smile. ‘Don’t tell me you’re sweet enough.’Imogen rolled her eyes. ‘Oh, please.’‘I thought not.’ He paused. Then frowned as the smile faded. ‘Nevertheless, that was quite an overreaction.’Very probably. ‘For which I apologise. Again.’ She stopped, tilted her head as she waited for some kind of response. Which appeared to be a long time coming. ‘You could do the gentlemanly thing and accept it,’ she said archly.‘What makes you think I’m a gentleman?’Imogen shrugged and ignored the way her body hummed with anticipation at the idea of Jack being very ungentlemanly indeed. ‘Suit yourself,’ she said with as much indifference as she could muster, which wasn’t a lot. ‘As delightful as it’s been to have this little chat, I have somewhere to be. So if there’s nothing else, I’ll say goodnight.’‘Nothing else?’ he murmured, fixing her with a hypnotising glance as the frown disappeared and his lips curved into that lethal smile. ‘Imogen, darling, we’ve barely begun.’Imogen swallowed as she stared up at him, her heart suddenly thumping with something other than anticipation and her mouth going dry. ‘Well, I guess it’s possible we’ll bump into each other again.’ Although given that they hadn’t to date it didn’t seem likely. Which was something of a relief because she had the feeling that too much of Jack would be so dangerous to her health he ought to come with a government warning. ‘But for now, goodnight.’Suddenly desperate to get away, she flashed him a quick smile, yanked on the handle and pulled the door open. She clambered in and turned to close the door behind her, but to her dismay saw that Jack had planted one hand on the edge and the other on the taxi, and was showing no signs of getting out of the way.‘What?’ she muttered, catching the determined look in his eye, her pulse fluttering with nerves.‘Would you mind if I joined you?’Imogen started. He wanted to join her? In the close confines of the taxi? For how long? Oh, no. No way. That would be nuts. With the skittish way she was feeling, it would be inviting trouble, and she’d had more than enough of that already. ‘I doubt we’re going in the same direction.’‘We will be,’ he countered, and she had the feeling he wasn’t talking about their respective geographical destinations.‘I’m sure another taxi will come in a minute.’‘It’s starting to rain and I don’t have an umbrella.’At his woeful expression, cracks appeared in her resistance. Jack didn’t look like the sort of man to be bothered by a few drops of water, but deliberately leaving him standing there in the rain would be plain cruel and while she might have many failings cruelty wasn’t one of them. Besides, if she protested any longer it would look as if she had a problem with him. Which of course she did, but she didn’t want him to know that.And as if those weren’t reasons enough, the glint in his eye was turning ruthless and his comment about winning at all costs crossed her mind. Jack clearly wanted an explanation for her behaviour earlier and he probably deserved one.So how could she refuse? With a fresh wave of the shame that was never far away washing over her, she couldn’t. It would be churlish and immature and she hoped she was neither.With a sigh she gave in. ‘I’m heading west.’‘Great. So am I.’‘Then jump in,’ she said, scooting across the leather to the far side of the taxi.As Jack climbed in, slammed the door shut behind him and threw himself onto the seat beside her, Imogen felt faintlyfoolish. What was there to worry about? It was a taxi ride and a short one at that. There were at least a couple of feet between them and absolutely no need to breach the distance. It would be fine.And it was until the taxi pulled away with a sharp swerve. Caught unawares, Imogen let out a gasp of shock as she was flung sideways and thrown against him. Her head banged against his shoulder and her hand landed on his upper thigh, perilously close to his groin. She felt him jolt. Heard him inhale sharply. And felt herself go beetroot as she peeled herself off him, muttered an apology and twisted back and away.‘That’s the second time that’s happened this evening,’ said Jack, slanting her a glance, a grin playing at his lips as he shifted and started undoing the buttons of his coat. ‘If it wasn’t for that parting shot of yours earlier, I might be tempted to think you’re finding it hard to resist me.’Seriously, could today get any worse? Imogen inwardly wailed as mortification joined all the other emotions crashing around inside her. ‘You’re the one who followed me and wanted to share my taxi,’ she muttered, and then because she was in such mental disarray added, ‘and, you know, that could be construed as stalking.’At that, Jack tensed. The hands busy at the buttons of his coat stilled. With her heart beating a fraction faster, she met his suddenly chilly gaze and noticed an almost imperceptible tightening of his jaw.‘Stalking … devouring …’ he said in a dangerously low voice. ‘You want to watch where you throw those accusations, Imogen.’ Drawing the lapels of his coat apart, he tugged at the knot of his tie. He pulled it off, rolled it up and put it in his pocket, then undid the top button of his shirt.Ignoring the fact that he might have a point, Imogen bristled and told herself that staring at the wedge of flesh now exposed at the base of his neck wasn’t going to achieve anything. ‘And you ought to know that I don’t use the term lightly.I had a stalker a few years ago andheended up in jail.’ The memory of the man who for six long months had followed her, sent her horrible emails and repeatedly ignored the restraining order imposed on him flashed into her head and she shuddered.He shot her a quick glance and the odd look in his eye made her pulse leap. ‘A stalker?’‘A stalker.’‘I guess that would explain your elbow in my stomach.’‘Would it?’ she replied sweetly. Whatever that look had been it had better not have been pity. ‘Maybe I just don’t like you.’He smiled. ‘Yes, you do. You might not want to, but you do.’ And then his expression turned serious. ‘I’m sorry if I scared you.’She frowned and decided that getting into a no-I-don’t-yes-you-do kind of tussle about whether she liked him or not, which she didn’t of course, wasn’t going to get her anywhere. ‘You didn’t. You startled me. There’s a difference.’‘If you say so.’‘I do.’‘As a matter of interest, whereareyou going?’‘That’s none of your business.’‘Now, now, darling,’ he said with a grin. ‘You’re not being very friendly.’‘You’ve practically hijacked my taxi. I’m not feeling very friendly.’Although to be honest she wasn’t quite sure what she was feeling. Edgy, definitely. Skin-pricklingly aware of every inch of him as he sat back and ran his hands through his hair. All weirdly quivery, too.Those ‘darlings’ had her wondering what it would be like to have him say them and mean them. They had her imagining him saying them in a whole load of other scenarios, all of which involved her naked and in his arms.How on earth did he do it? she wondered dazedly. Yes, he was extraordinarily good-looking and his body was something else, but she’d met loads of handsome well-packaged men over the years and none of them had made her go fluttery and molten and teenagery like this.All she wanted to do was clamber onto his lap, yank up his shirt and get her hands on him. While planting her mouth on his and kissing him as if her life depended on it. In fact it was taking every ounce of self-control she possessed not to slide across the leather and do precisely that.Even more confusing was how she could react to him like this when she knew who he was and what he was really like. It was perverse.But perhaps that was what chemistry was, she reflected, surreptitiously letting her eyes drift over him and almost scientifically noting her body’s inevitable response. A searing attraction that had no regard for logic or reason or circumstance.Well, that was fine, she told herself, sliding her gaze down over the powerful muscles of his thighs, remembering the feel of those muscles tensing beneath her hand and wishing she could just switch herself off. She might be as attracted to him as an iron filing to a magnet, but she was simply going to have to defy the laws of physics and resist. It was a question of control. That was all.‘If you’re not feeling very friendly, why are you eyeing me up?’Jack’s voice jerked her out of her musings and Imogen felt her face blush a bright red. Thank goodness it was dark inside the taxi, she thought, and leaned forwards to lower the window a little. ‘No particular reason,’ she said and hoped she wouldn’t be struck down for the whopping lie. ‘I’m simply trying to work out what I’m—’ She stopped. Hmm. On reflection, ‘up against’, which was what she’d been about to say, didn’t seem all that prudent. ‘I’m simply trying to assess an adversary,’ she said instead.Jack’s eyebrows rose. ‘You see this as a battle?’Only an internal one, she thought darkly, pulling herself together and crossing her arms as if that might provide some kind of defence against his impact. And one she had to take control of. Now. Before the conversation headed down an avenue that led who knew where? ‘What do you want, Jack?’‘What do you think I want?’‘I have no idea,’ she said, lying for the second time in minutes.‘I’d like an explanation.’‘Oh? What for?’ As if she didn’t know.‘All I did was ask you out for dinner.’‘Really?’ she said, arching an eyebrow as she mentally revisited their conversation at the gallery. ‘It seemed to me like you were asking for a whole lot more than just dinner.’‘Yes, well, it seemed to me that a whole lot more than just dinner was on offer.’Imogen let out a gasp and her jaw nearly hit the floor. For a second she just gaped at him, her mind reeling. ‘My God,’ she breathed, ‘you really are incredible.’‘Now why doesn’t that sound like a compliment?’‘Because it isn’t,’ she all but snapped, feeling her temper beginning to stir as much at her own hopelessness as his outrageousness, and banking it down.Jack shook his head in mock exasperation. ‘Imogen, Imogen, Imogen, whatisyour problem?’She wished he wouldn’t say her name like that. She’d never thought of it as a particularly sexy name, but on his lips it sounded like every wicked thought she’d ever had. ‘Idon’t have a problem.’ Although actually, she did. Because the way she was actually enjoying this whole conversation was just plain odd. ‘Is it really so hard to believe that I just don’t want to have dinner—or anything else—with you?’He stared at her for a while, his expression utterly unfathomable, and then to her consternation a smile curved hismouth and his eyes took on a dangerous gleam. Achingly slowly, he began to run his gaze over her. Lingering on her face, then moving down, drifting over her breasts, her waist, her hips and her legs, right down to her toes.Her body tingled, fizzed beneath the smouldering gaze, and the beat of something hot and achy thudded deep inside her. Helpless to do anything to stop him, Imogen watched him look, her heart pounding. As his gaze roamed back up her in the same languid way, flames of desire licked at her stomach and her bones melted. If it hadn’t been for the wool of her dress rubbing over her sensitised skin, she’d have thought he’d just stripped her naked and then set her on fire.‘Frankly, yes,’ he murmured, and she bristled because the realisation that not even several layers of winter clothing could disguise the reaction of her body was frustrating in the extreme.‘Well, believe it,’ she said sharply.He gave her a knowing smile. ‘You might not want dinner, but you definitely want me.’Imogen blinked as his words hit her brain and she yanked herself out of the rapidly unravelling sensual web he’d woven around her.There it was again, she thought, giving herself a mental slap. The rock-solid conviction of a man who thought he knew everything about everything. Including her. And, quite suddenly, instead of wanting to scoot across the leather and snuggle up to him, she wanted to smack him across the head.‘In your dreams,’ she said, jutting her chin up to add strength to her words. But all that did was jerk his gaze down to her mouth, which instantly tingled.
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‘You know I could prove you wrong, don’t you?’ he murmured.‘You could try,’ she said, arching a challenging eyebrow. She didnotwant to know what his mouth would feel like on hers. Definitely not. She’d focus on the button beneath thatwedge of chest instead. ‘But I wouldn’t fancy your chances of success.’‘I would.’Barely able to believe his cheek, Imogen snapped her eyes to his face, all thoughts of focusing on his shirt button vanishing. It was the smile playing at his lips that did it. A knowing, confident smile that acted like a match tossed onto the smouldering embers of her indignation.Forget that he was probably right. This wasn’t about rightness. This was about him and those like him. Anger suddenly raced along her veins and her head went fuzzy with the intensity of everything she’d thought she’d packaged away but evidently hadn’t.But then, just as she was about to lean over, jab him in the chest as she told him exactly what she thought of him, something made her pause. Made her ask herself what losing her temper would get her. She’d already exhibited more emotional volatility in the last six hours than she had in her entire life, and a further display would simply reinforce the impression, on both herself and Jack, that she was seriously unstable. And recent events aside, she wasn’t. Much.Losing her temper now, getting all hot and fiery while he sat there as cool as an ice sculpture, would merely give Jack more ground. She’d be far better off staying calm and collected and in some sort of control.Closing her eyes, Imogen inhaled deeply and went to her happy place where the sun warmed her skin and Martinis flowed.How hard could it be?CHAPTER FOURNOWwhat was she doing?Jack frowned as he stared at Imogen, who was sitting with her head bent, pinching the bridge of her nose and muttering to herself.She really was peculiar. Intriguingly peculiar, but peculiar nonetheless. He didn’t think he’d ever met anyone so mercurial, who smouldered and sizzled one minute and bristled and bridled the next. No wonder he found himself caving in to the compulsion to needle her; her mood swings were enough to drive a man to drink.Was she meditating? Or mentally preparing herself for battle?Whatever it was, maybe he ought to cut his losses and leave her to it, because intentions were all very well, but forgetting about the frantic urge to run his hands over her curves when she was sitting a couple of feet away was proving harder than he’d anticipated. Especially now that, thanks to the taxi driver’s desire to get going, he knew what she felt like.But when she eventually opened her eyes and gave him a serene smile his senses tumbled into such chaos that any idea he’d had of cutting and leaving completely vanished.‘You really want to know what my problem is?’ she said silkily.‘I do,’ he said, vaguely wondering why he was so keen toknow when every instinct was telling him it wasn’t going to be good.‘Well,thisis exactly it.’‘Exactly what?’She gave him another beguiling smile and his stomach clenched. ‘There’s so much I barely know where to start.’‘You could always try the beginning.’‘You’re right. I could.’ She nodded and he had the unsettling feeling he’d just handed her a knife with which to eviscerate him. ‘OK, well, for a start you have a seriously over-inflated ego.’An over-inflated ego? Jack felt his eyebrows shoot up. Of all the accusations she could have hurled at him that was the most inapplicable. ‘What makes you think I have an over-inflated ego?’‘Outside the realm of this evening’s conversation, you mean?’Now why did that sound as if she knew something he didn’t? Jack tilted his head as he regarded her, and racked his brains. ‘Have we met before?’‘No.’‘I thought not.’ If they had, he’d definitely have remembered. And come to think of it— ‘Why not?’‘Oh, just lucky I guess.’‘Ouch,’ he said, muttering and rubbing his chest. ‘Tell me, what precisely do you have against me? Or do you have it in for men in general?’‘No, no,’ she said with a dazzling smile. ‘At the moment, just you.’‘I’m flattered.’ He tilted his head and narrowed his eyes. ‘So?’Imogen arched an eyebrow.‘Greatsexguaranteed?’‘What?’ His jaw dropped and his pulse spiked. ‘Are you offering?’Her eyes flashed for a second and relief spun through himbecause all that cool detachment had been faintly disconcerting. ‘No, of course I’m not offering,’ she said witheringly. ‘I’m referring to the eBay incident.’Ah, that. Four years ago he’d prodded Luke into getting over the death of his first wife by entering into a bidding war over the woman who eventually became his second. Interesting how, of all the things Imogen could have started with, she’d chosen to focus on the user name he’d chosen in a moment of flippancy. Almost Freudian. ‘Oh, yes, I remember.’She sniffed. ‘An over-stated claim if ever I heard one.’Jack grinned, fascinated despite himself. ‘What makes you so sure?’He’d never received any criticism of his performance in bed and Imogen was just too easy to wind up. Steam was whooshing out of her ears and she was rolling her eyes.But that didn’t stop the blush creeping into her cheeks. Nor did it stop his gaze dipping to her mouth, where the tip of her tongue darted out to sweep along her lower lip.His body contracted with a sudden powerful wave of desire. The air inside the taxi thickened and vibrated with an almost tangible tension and a series of X-rated images slammed into his head. Of Imogen panting and writhing as he moved on top of her, with her, buried deep inside her. Having sex. Great sex.His head went fuzzy, his mouth went dry and his pulse thundered. The urge to haul her into his arms and set about making the fantasy a reality took him completely by surprise and he had to curl his hands into fists to stop himself from reaching for her.‘Which only goes to prove my next point.’As the cool tone of her voice filtered into his head, Jack blinked and willed his pulse to slow down.Point? What point? He could barely remember his own name, let alone think about any point. He was rock hard and aching. He’d never felt such an overwhelming need to possess,such a primitive urge to claim. And it scared the living daylights out of him.Telling himself not to be absurd, that physical attraction—even when it involved someone who had it in for him—was nothing to worry about, he cleared his throat. He ran his hands through his hair. Went to adjust the knot of his tie before remembering that he’d already removed it.‘Which is?’ he said, eventually folding his arms across his chest and hoping he sounded calmer than he felt.‘I’ve heard that you’re arrogant and presumptuous.’What?Jack frowned as Imogen paused and raised her eyebrows, evidently waiting for some kind of response. What was she expecting him to do? Apologise? Deny it? Or confirm she was right?‘Oh, please don’t hold back on my account,’ he said dryly, having no intention of doing any of that and deciding to see what else she threw at him before responding.She smiled a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. ‘I wasn’t going to.’‘Then do continue.’‘I’ve also heard that you’re callous, cold and emotionally bankrupt.’Jack kept a neutral expression fixed to his face but behind it he was reeling. Forget knife in the singular. Imogen was attacking him with an entire kitchen drawer full of the things, and to his surprise her accusations stung.Being calledarrogantandpresumptuoushe could just about deal with. There might even have been a smidgeon of truth in the charges, although he’d have preferred ‘confident’ and ‘spotting an opportunity and taking it’.But callous, cold and emotionally bankrupt? That was going too far. He wasn’t either callous or cold. And so what if he kept his emotions to himself? Not everyone liked flaunting them left, right and centre.‘I didn’t realise dinner called for much emotional depth,’ he said, his voice not betraying a hint of what he was thinking.‘I doubt anything you do calls for much emotional depth,’ she said with faint amusement that did nothing to soften what sounded rather like an insult.And where had she got this stuff from anyway? ‘You don’t even know me.’‘I know men like you.’‘Men like me?’ The idea he was a type was oddly distasteful. And wrong.‘OK,’ she conceded. ‘Men with your reputation.’Jack went still. ‘That’s what you’re basing your accusations on?’ he said deceptively mildly. ‘Gossip, rumour and hearsay?’She shrugged. ‘It’s as good a place to start as any.’No, it wasn’t. He wasn’t nearly as notorious as his reputation liked to make out. Not that he’d ever done anything to contradict it. Most of the time it suited him to have people—women especially—think the worst of him. Then unattainable expectations were less likely to arise. On either side.Now, however, having people—Imogen—think the worst of him didn’t seem appealing at all.‘You seem to have judged me exceptionally quickly,’ he said, unaccountably irritated by the notion because it had never bothered him before.Imogen bit her lip and frowned. ‘Possibly. But I do have grounds.’Oh, this he’d love to hear. ‘Which are?’‘Amanda Hobbs, for one thing.’Amanda Hobbs? He frowned as he racked his memory. Oh, yes. ‘What about her?’‘You broke her heart.’‘Did I?’ he said, knowing perfectly well he hadn’t because he never let things ever get to the stage where hearts became involved.Her jaw dropped and she stared at him. ‘You mean you don’tknow?’‘I mean I really don’t know.’Imogen spluttered in outrage, her grip on her control clearly unravelling. ‘I can’tbelieveyou could be so callous as to not even acknowledge what you did.’As far as he was aware he had nothing to acknowledge, but Imogen’s outrage and the way it made her eyes flash was utterly absorbing, and besides he was intrigued by what fresh rumours the mill had been grinding. ‘So enlighten me.’‘Are there really so many women you can’t remember them?’ she said scathingly.Not nearly as many as rumour would have it. But she didn’t need to know that right now, so Jack merely shrugged and smiled in a ‘what can I say?’ kind of way, which made her eyes flash even more.‘OK, fine,’ she said, nodding and pushing herself upright. ‘You went out together. For three months.’Three months?Jack’s eyebrows shot up. ‘You were about to move in together but then you ditched her. By text. Of all the rotten, lousy things to do.’ She glared at him, her chin up and her body quivering with emotion.‘Anything else?’ he said.‘Isn’t that enough?’‘I’m sure you have more.’‘Did you evencarethat the poor girl was heartbroken? That she was a complete wreck and had to flee to Italy to recover?’Well, no, he didn’t. Why would he? And what was it to her anyway? Why was she so offended? Were they friends? They certainly shared the same melodramatic tendencies.‘So you’re some sort of avenging angel? Getting your own back for all the crimes I’ve supposedly committed?’ he said. Was that really why she’d flung the ‘victim devouring’ commentat him? ‘Because let me assure you, sweetheart, there’s absolutely no need.’‘Really,’ she said witheringly, obviously not believing him for a second.Right. That was enough, Jack decided, twisting round and giving in to the increasingly pressing desire to set her straight. ‘Look, here are the facts. The facts,’ he repeated, fixing her with a stare, ‘not some twisted third-hand gossip.’She opened her mouth to say something, but he was fed up with the accusations and the scorn so he uncrossed his arms and clamped a hand over it. ‘Quiet.’Ignoring the feel of her soft skin and her mouth beneath his palm and the way her eyes were widening with shock and something else, Jack made himself focus on the facts.‘Amanda and I went out two or three times,’ he said. ‘Four at the most.’ And even that was several times too many. Although beautiful, Amanda had been a drama queen with a penchant for flouncing, which was one of the reasons he’d stopped seeing her. ‘We didn’t have a relationship and we certainly never discussed moving in together.’
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Which he knew was true because relationships and cohabitation didn’t feature in his game plan. Never had done and never would, even if he wanted them to. Which he didn’t.Jack watched Imogen blink as her brain processed the information, and he felt her mouth move. Without taking his eyes off hers for a second he leaned a fraction closer. ‘That’s right,’ he said silkily. ‘Whatever Amanda is doing in Italy, it isn’t getting over me. OK?’She tilted her head a little, stared at him for what felt like ages, then nodded.‘And while we’re at it,’ he murmured, thinking he might as well set her straight on a few other things, too, seeing as he had her here, ‘my reputation, unlike my ego,isover-inflated.’That was evidently one fact too many to digest, Jackthought, watching as Imogen’s eyes widened. ‘You don’t believe me?’ he said, tutting in mock disappointment.She narrowed her eyes then shook her head.‘I see,’ Jack said, nodding and frowning as if in deep thought. ‘I’ve heard that you’re shallow and vacuous. Nothing more than a party girl who leads an utterly pointless life.’ She tensed and narrowed her eyes even further. ‘I guess that’s all true, too.’At the fiery dagger-shooting glare she gave him, he added with feigned ignorance, ‘You mean it isn’t?’She shook her head again.‘I see. So why would things be different for me?’He waited while she thought it over. And when she shrugged, he leaned forwards a fraction and murmured, ‘Perhaps I’m not as bad as you’d like me to be.’He felt a shudder run through her. Saw her eyes darken, thought he felt her mouth open, and lust burst through him.Visions of what might happen if they were both as bad as could be bombarded his head, and again he wanted to slide his hand down her neck round to her nape and pull her head towards him. He wanted to slam his mouth down on hers and wrap her in his arms and assuage this desire that itched inside him.Which would be the worst idea on the planet.Quite why, Jack couldn’t fathom. If his reputation was largely fabricated, there was every chance hers was too. Despite what he’d heard, Imogen certainly didn’t come across as shallow and vacuous. She came across as spiky, fearless and utterly intriguing.So if her reputationwasas fabricated as his, there wasn’t anything stopping him from suggesting dinner again. Nothing to stop him persuading her to acknowledge the attraction that sizzled between them and nothing to stop them pursuing it.Nothing, that was, apart from the weird warning flag that was waving frantically in his brain. The one that had takenup residence the minute the words ‘thisone’ had popped into his head when he’d first shaken her hand and was now insisting on being noticed. The one that had his blood chilling and his stomach clutching with something that felt suspiciously like panic.Not that he ever suffered from panic, of course. No. On reflection, that odd sensation was undoubtedly hunger. But still …Jack cleared his throat and drew back a little. It would probably be an idea to bring this whole evening to a close. He’d found out what Imogen’s problem was, and had rectified it. He’d done what he’d set out to do and there was no need to stick around. In fact, he should get out. Now. While the taxi was stationary at the lights.‘OK,’ he said with a firmness designed to convince himself as much as her. ‘Is that it? Are we done with the accusations?’She nodded.‘Sure?’She nodded again.‘Then I’ll say goodnight.’And before he could change his mind, he whipped his hand from her mouth, opened the door and leapt out.CHAPTER FIVETHATJack had got out of the taxi when he had was a good thing, Imogen told herself, pummelling her pillow into shape a few hours later, then flinging herself back and staring up at the ceiling. Definitely a good thing.Because if he hadn’t …As the scene in the taxi slammed into her head all over again, she shivered beneath the thick duvet and threw her arms over her head in frustration. What might have happened if he hadn’t was precisely what she’d been tryingnotto think about all evening. And failing miserably.Not that that was any surprise. She could still feel the imprint of his hand clamped over her mouth. Her lips still tingled. Her skin still burned. She could still remember how dizzy with desire she’d been at the intoxicating nearness of him. Desire that had been whipping through her long before he’d leaned forwards and touched her, and still was.The moment she’d got home, she’d decided she might as well try to get on with the things she’d planned. She’d poured herself a glass of wine and run herself a bath, but neither had had the intended effect. The wine had tasted like acid in her mouth and the bath had merely heightened the buzzing in her body to such a degree that not even the bubbles could disguise the effects of the lingering traces of desire.And as for daydreaming about life in the States, well, thathad been utterly pointless. Every time she told herself to concentrate on what might happen if she was really lucky and they accepted her, she’d found herself fantasising about Jack instead.It hadn’t helped that her brain kept rehashing the latter part of their encounter, starting with the minute she’d brought up the wholegreatsexguaranteedthing. Of all the places she could have begun … Imogen let out a soft wail and threw one arm across her eyes. Who knew what he must have made ofthat?Naturally, once she’d mentioned it, it was all she’d been able to think about. Great sex. With Jack. Guaranteed. Even when she’d been calling him arrogant and cold and callous she’d been going so hot and tingly that she’d wanted nothing more than to hurl herself onto his lap and ravish him.Once he’d covered her mouth she’d tried to concentrate on all those questions, all those very valid points of his, but his voice had been so soft and so low that she’d felt hypnotised and she rather thought she couldn’t have said a word even if his hand hadn’t been in the way.In fact, the only things that had stopped her tearing his fingers away and launching herself at him right there and then had been the presence of the taxi driver and her distaste of exhibitionism.Imogen sighed again and gave up, because there was little point in denying it. She wanted him and had done from the moment they’d met. He’d certainly been right aboutthat.Not that it mattered one way or the other any more, she thought, scowling up at the ceiling. There she’d been, going all soft and swoony, coming to the realisation that struggling to control the desire racing through her body was like trying to paddle against the current, and wondering if giving in would really be so bad, and he’d been planning his escape.Which with hindsight was completely understandable. Her behaviour, rattled by the effect he had on her and the eventsof the afternoon, had been unbelievably deranged and if she’d been in his position she’d have done exactly the same.Imogen screwed her eyes tight shut and pulled the duvet over her head as if that might somehow obliterate the memories and the images because all in all the whole evening had been mortifying and she’d give anything to be able to forget every ghastly second.The only reason she wasn’t going to give in to the temptation to barricade herself in her bedroom for the next ten years was the knowledge that she had no need to lay eyes on him ever again.Something was wrong, thought Jack the next day, running a finger around the inside of his collar, and shifting on his chair as he tried to concentrate on the menu.Very wrong.Maybe he was coming down with something. A cold. The flu. Pneumonia perhaps. Whatever.Somethinghad to account for the achiness and the restlessness that had invaded his body some time during the night.Usually he had no problem sleeping. Usually he crashed out the minute his head hit the pillow and fell into a deep dreamless sleep. But last night he’d slept terribly. He’d tossed and turned, then prowled and paced around his bedroom until he’d finally given up and gone to the office.However, given that he’d been in since six, he’d achieved remarkably little. All morning he’d been feeling on edge. He’d growled at his secretary, when he never normally growled, barked unfairly at one of his traders, and had made some stupidly rash investment decisions.Eventually, unable to stand the four walls of his office and the tension any longer, and realising he could do some serious damage to his funds—and his team—if he stuck around when he was in this perplexing mood, he’d called Luke and dragged him out for lunch.‘So what’s up?’At the sound of Luke’s voice, Jack jerked himself out of his dark thoughts and glanced up to find his friend staring at him with avid curiosity.‘Nothing’s up,’ he said. ‘What makes you think anything’s up?’‘Well, the fact that you haven’t been listening to a word I’ve been saying for the past five minutes is a bit of a clue.’God, had it been that long? ‘Sorry,’ Jack muttered and frowned.What was going on? He never felt like this. Never lost track of conversations. On the contrary, his ability to stay focused at all times was legendary. It was what had made him millions. And he never normally had such trouble ordering off a menu, either.Hmm. Maybe he ought to grovel to his secretary and ask her very kindly to make an appointment with the doctor, because he couldn’t go on like this. He’d drive himself demented and his business into the ground. ‘I was miles away.’‘Clearly,’ Luke said. ‘Visiting anywhere interesting?’Feeling distinctly uneasy at the glint in Luke’s eyes, Jack pulled himself together. He had no intention of discussing his symptoms. He’d sound nuts. Besides, it was probably nothing. Everyone had a bad night once in a while, didn’t they? He was just suffering from lack of sleep and overwork. That was all. And he’d have the steak.‘Nowhere at all,’ he said, snapping the menu shut and fixing the easy life’s-a-breeze smile that he’d mastered from an early age to his face. ‘So what were you saying?’‘Just checking you’re still on for Saturday.’Ah. At the thought of Saturday and Daisy, Jack’s smile turned genuine. In a moment of recklessness he’d offered to babysit his god-daughter while Luke and Emily went to a wedding in Cornwall.What he thought he’d been doing he had no idea. He hadzero experience of looking after three-year-old girls and had no desire to do so on any kind of a regular basis. But Luke’s parents were out of the country, and Emily’s sister was busy, and when, with a slightly desperate note to her voice, Emily had told him that she didn’t trust anyone else but him, he hadn’t been able to resist.Personally, Jack thought her trust in him was highly misplaced, but, although he’d never admit it, he’d do pretty much anything for Luke and Emily, and sacrificing a Saturday night for his gorgeous god-daughter wasn’t exactly a hardship. ‘Of course I’m still on for Saturday.’‘Because if you had other plans,’ said Luke conversationally, ‘I’m sure we could work something out.’‘I don’t.’‘Are you sure?’‘I’m sure.’‘OK.’ Luke grinned and turned his attention to his own menu. ‘But if you change your mind all you have to do is let us know.’‘Thanks, but I won’t.’‘Just offering you a get-out clause if you need one.’Jack fought the urge to grind his teeth. What the hell was this? He didn’t need a get-out clause. He might have his faults, but backing out of an arrangement—especially one that concerned the only two people in the world whose loyalty and friendship he could count on—wasn’t one of them.And Luke knew that, which meant that this conversation had some sort of agenda.‘If there’s a point you’re trying to make, Luke,’ said Jack, sitting back and bracing himself, ‘why don’t you come out and make it?’‘Fine.’ Luke grinned and looked up. ‘I was just thinking that if you wanted to take a certain Imogen Christie out on Saturday night instead of babysitting Daisy, all you have to do is say. I’m sure we can make other arrangements.’Jack went still, any semblance of relaxed ease evaporating. ‘What makes you think I’d want to take Imogen Christie out on Saturday night?’‘Only that this morning Emily had a call from a friend of hers who spotted the two of you at an art exhibition last night. Chatting and then getting into a taxi and looking extremely cosy.’Cosy?Cosy? Cosywas the last thing it had been. This friend had clearly missed the ‘victim devouring’ comment. ‘I see.’‘Apparently she was after all the gory details.’
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‘There aren’t any.’Luke arched an eyebrow and grinned. ‘That I find hard to believe.’Jack shrugged. As far as he was concerned, Luke could believe what he liked. ‘Why are you so interested?’‘You’re my oldest and best friend. Why wouldn’t I be interested?’Ah, thought Jack wryly. How could he have forgotten? Of course Luke would be interested. Ever since he’d married three years ago, he’d been dropping not very subtle hints that Jack should think about following his example and settle down himself.Hah. As if. As much as Luke and Emily might wish otherwise, the last thing he wanted was what they had. They had each other, and Daisy, and another baby on the way. Which was great for Luke, but that kind of family set-up wasn’t for him. Never had been, never would be.‘So Emily put you up to this?’ he said, stifling a shudder at the thought of settling down.‘She asked me to get the low-down,’ said Luke, completely without shame.‘Well, you can tell her to tell her friend that there’s nothing to report. Imogen and I met at the gallery and had a conversation,which continued in a taxi. Then I got out and she carried on to wherever she was going. That was it. End of story.’‘OK, great.’ Luke grinned and sat back, his mission clearly accomplished. ‘Because if you weren’t up for babysitting, I’m not sure what we’d have done.’Which only went to prove how subtly Jack had been finessed. Not that he cared about that at this particular moment. The sudden contraction of his muscles had nothing to do with being skilfully finessed. Nor did the pounding of his head and the rocketing of his heart rate.No. The cause of all that was the thought now ricocheting around his brain to the annihilation of everything else: what if itwasn’tthe end of the story?Jack went hot, then cold, and felt a bead of sweat trickle down his spine as the idea stopped racing round his head and began to take root.Wow, he thought, his stomach churning. If it wasn’t and he did in fact consider Imogen unfinished business, then that would certainly explain his unease and his restlessness over the past twelve hours. Was it a coincidence that he’d started feeling like this the minute he’d left her? He didn’t think so.As realisation dawned all the thoughts his subconscious had been keeping at bay broke though the fragile barrier it had erected and rained down on him.If he’d done the right thing by getting out of that damn taxi last night, why had it felt the exact opposite? Why had he marched down that street towards his flat feeling as if he had hundred-tonne weights attached to his ankles? Why had the broken dreams he’d had during the moments of sleep hehadmanaged to snatch been filled with such erotic images? Why did his blood heat and desire race though him at the mere thought of her? And why couldn’t he get the memory of her sprawled against him as the taxi had pulled away, her mouth inches from his and her hand clamped to his thigh, out of his head?Oh, yes, he thought grimly, that definitely sounded like unfinished business.‘But I can’t help wondering why.’‘Why what?’ said Jack, dazed by the intensity with which he ached to finish what he’d started with Imogen.‘Why you aren’t seeing her again. I’ve heard she’s very pretty.’Imogen was more than pretty. She was beautiful, contrary, fascinating and as sexy as hell, and there was no point in denying it. A wave of heat rocked through him and he shifted on the chair to ease the pressure building in his lower body. ‘She is.’‘Then what’s wrong with her?’Jack inwardly winced. ‘She’s just not my type,’ he muttered, thinking that Luke might be his best friend but there was no way he was about to confess how badly he’d crashed and burned.‘Not your type? She has a pulse, doesn’t she?’‘Ha-ha.’ Jack frowned and tried to ignore the sting of the seriously lame joke.‘Sorry. I couldn’t resist.’‘Well, try.’Luke’s eyebrows shot up at the sharp tone of Jack’s voice, as well they might. Luke, who was one of the few people who knew Jack wasn’t as dissolute as he’d have everyone believe, often took the mickey. Usually it never bothered him, so why did it now?Telling himself to get a grip, Jack shot his friend an apologetic smile. ‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘Just knackered.’‘No problem,’ said Luke with a quick smile of his own. ‘I shouldn’t have brought her up in the first place.’Jack sighed and pushed his hands through his hair. ‘If you must know, I did ask her out. She turned me down.’‘God, why?’‘She disapproved of my reputation.’‘I see.’ Luke nodded. Tilted his head and frowned. ‘Didn’t you set her straight?’‘Of course.’‘Then I don’t get it. What happened?’Jack resisted the urge to grind his teeth. That was a billion-dollar question, and the one he’d been avoiding ever since he’d made the decision to get out of that taxi, if he was being brutally honest.The truth of it was that he’d got spooked. He’d known that Imogen was as attracted to him as he was to her. He’d seen and heard the evidence. Hell, he’d even told her she wanted him.But had he taken advantage of it? No. Instead, he’d opted for the easy way out, dogged by the weird sensation that Imogen was somehow dangerous. That she could very easily pose some kind of threat to his peace of mind if he got involved with her.Which was absurd, he thought, conjuring up the image of her sitting there eyes wide and darkening with heat as he leaned in close to set her straight. The woman was as much of a threat as a marshmallow, and his overreaction had been melodramatic to say the least.But then why wouldn’t it have been? Over the course of a matter of hours he’d had to endure agony-inducing art, been struck by the severest case of lust he’d had in a long time, had had an invitation to dinner hurled back in his face, suffered a jab to the ribs and then been accused of being arrogant and cold.With such a battering assault on his senses was it any wonder his equilibrium had been somewhat off?But now, however, he could see that Imogen was just one in a long line of women who’d caught his eye. She was business he badly wanted to finish, that was all.‘I was an idiot,’ said Jack, feeling the restlessness and tensionease from his body at the burgeoning notion of pursuing and capturing Imogen.‘So what are you going to do?’‘Track her down.’And when he did he’d make her acknowledge the attraction that flared between them if it was the last thing he did. He’d employ every tactic he knew—and he knew plenty—and by the time he was through with her, she’d be begging him to take her in his arms and assuage the ache he’d stir up in her.‘How?’‘I have absolutely no idea,’ Jack said, telling himself that with the energy and focus suddenly spreading through him it wouldn’t present too much of a problem.‘Need any help?’Jack caught the trace of yearning in Luke’s voice and grinned. Years ago the two of them had been a lethal double act in their pursuit of women, but now he operated alone. ‘Thanks,’ he said and glanced over at the approaching waiter, ‘but I should be able to manage.’CHAPTER SIXTONIGHTwas going to be grim, thought Imogen for the billionth time that Friday. Utterly grim, and if she hadn’t been the only person available to represent her family at tonight’s Valentine’s Day Ball, she’d have stayed at home, curled up with a good book and a glass of wine.For one thing she was exhausted. Not because she’d been putting in sixteen-hour days at work or anything. Her lowly nine-to-five job in the funding department at the Christie Trust—which she’d only been given because of who she was—wasn’t, unfortunately, hugely demanding.And not because she’d been out until the early hours, either, as in an effort to avoid Max and Connie she’d largely shunned the social scene ever since they’d got together.No. The cause of her restless nights was Jack.To her intense, teeth-grinding frustration, she hadn’t been able to get him out of her head. The minute she closed her eyes at night, there he was, frazzling her brain with his voice, his eyes, his scent and the feel of his hand on her mouth.As if disturbing her dreams wasn’t bad enough, he had an annoying tendency to invade her thoughts during the day, too. Often at the most inconvenient times. Like yesterday when she’d been in the supermarket contemplating what to buy for supper. She’d been lurking in the frozen food aisle and eyeingup the pizzas when, completely apropos of nothing, the image of him in the back of the taxi had flown into her head.However, in her now hyperactive imagination, Jack hadn’t got out. In her mind’s eye the driver had magically disappeared and Jack had stayed put. With a smouldering smile, he’d pulled her towards him and kissed her until her stomach disappeared and she forgot her name. And then he’d done all manner of indescribably delicious things to her with his hands that had had her temperature rocketing and her knees turning to jelly right there by the frozen peas.If it hadn’t been for the shop assistant asking if she was all right and bringing her crashing back down to earth, she’d have found herself hopping into the freezer to cool off.It really had to stop because she’d come to the unwelcome and disturbing conclusion that she was developing a seriously unhealthy obsession with Jack.Why else would she have got hold of Amanda Hobbs’ details in Italy the morning after the art exhibition and called her to wheedle out the truth?Why else had she spent hours fantasising about him when she’d managed to convince herself that she’d never be seeing him again?Why else had she had to unplug her laptop and stuff it in a cupboard at home if not to stop herself from doing a Google search on him relentlessly?And why else had she endlessly tortured herself with the acknowledgement that her wanting him wasn’t the only thing he’d been right about?Imogen sighed and nibbled on her lip as once again her thoughts helplessly barrelled off in that direction. Jack had been right about everything else he’d pointed out too. Shehadmisjudged him. Even in her frazzled state she’d managed to work that out. Her reputation was hugely exaggerated—if not completely inaccurate—so why wouldn’t his be, too? Franklysome of the stuff she’d heard had been so outlandish she’d thought at the time that it had to be fabricated.Not that that made him a saint, of course, but if Jack really was a louche layabout he wouldn’t be heading up one of the most successful investment companies in the country, would he? And yes, he might have had more than his fair share of women, but a man who looked like that, had a voice like that and such charismatic magnetism would.And that meant that perhaps she’d made a mistake in rejecting his offer of dinner quite so out of hand.The taxi she’d called to take her to the five-star hotel overlooking Hyde Park hurtled round a corner as if on two wheels and Imogen, too lost in thought to grab onto the handle in time, crashed into the side. Which didn’t hurt, but did bring her careering back to her senses.God, she was doing it again, she thought, rubbing her shoulder and then checking her hair. Obsessing over Jack when there was absolutely no point. Even if shehadreached the realisation that he was nothing like Max and might quite like the idea of joining his bevy of conquests, it was far too late.Besides, Jack Taylor was way out of her league in every respect, and she hadn’t exactly put herself across in the best of lights that evening.Imogen closed her eyes and pressed her fingers to her temples as she fought a rising blush and tried to calm down. Not that there was much hope of that when her stomach was churning, her head was pounding and her nerves were wound so tight she thought they might be about to snap.Because her sense of impending doom about this evening wasn’t entirely down to exhaustion. Or her frustration at her inability to wipe Jack from her brain.As if either of those factors weren’t enough to tempt her to tell the taxi driver to take her back home and dive under her duvet, she also had to deal with the fact that tonight itwas almost inevitable she’d come face to face with Max and Connie. She’d seen their names on the guest list, and in a crowd of a hundred there’d be little place to hide. And she wouldn’t be able to avoid the whispers and sidelong glances that were bound to be cast her way, either.Sensing the taxi coming to a halt, Imogen opened her eyes and took a deep breath. Never mind, she told herself, getting out and stiffening her spine. All she had to do was keep her cool and remain poised, and everything would be fine.Adjusting her stole and rubbing her teeth to remove any errant lipstick, she opened the door and, with a grace that years of practice had bestowed on her, got out. She flashed a blinding smile at a loitering photographer and then made her way up the wide stone steps and through the huge glass doors.
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This was an important night for the trust, she reminded herself, holding her head high as she shrugged off the stole and handed it to the waiting attendant. Stashing the ticket she received in return in her clutch bag and giving the attendant a beaming smile of thanks, she walked across the black-and-white-chequered marble floor towards the handful of people who’d already arrived. The annual Valentine’s Day Ball raised thousands, if not millions, for good causes, and she wouldn’t do anything to jeopardise that.She’d given herself a string of hearty pep talks and gone over how she’d behave and what she’d say a thousand times. Should she happen to bump into either Max or Connie, or heaven forbid the two of them together, she’d resist the urge to claw their eyes out and instead would be charming, witty and chatty. The life and soul of the party, in fact. She’d show everyone that she couldn’t care less about what they’d done, or how much they’d hurt her, because she was over it.‘Imogen?’At the sound of the familiar female voice behind her, Imogen froze. Her heart thumped and her blood roared inher ears before shooting to her feet. As if in slow motion, she turned.And there they were. Max and Connie. Standing right in front of her, arms linked, clinging to each other like limpets and grinning like maniacs. Connie’s hand was wrapped around Max’s arm and the whopping diamond on the third finger of her left hand sparkled as if on fire.Feeling as if someone had walloped her in the solar plexus and then sucked all the air from around her, Imogen looked from Connie to Max and back again. And to her horror, her vision blurred, her throat closed over and her head went completely and utterly blank.Aha, thought Jack with a surge of satisfaction as he scanned the lobby of the hotel and spotted Imogen. There she was. Over there by the fireplace. Standing next to a tall, dark-haired man and a short blonde woman.Excellent.It seemed that his mother, for once in her shallow, flaky life, had actually come up with the goods.Calling her to make discreet enquiries about when and where he might find Imogen had been something of a last resort. However, despite assuring Luke he’d manage perfectly well alone, tracking Imogen down had proved trickier than he’d thought.After lunch he’d gone back to the office, his mind trawling through the options and discarding each one almost as soon as it entered his head. Chasing around London on the off chance of bumping into her he’d deemed inefficient and unlikely to result in success. Obtaining her contact details and sending her an email or giving her a call would give her the chance to ignore him. And if he’d pitched up on her doorstep, her stalking accusation might actually have held some merit.Which had left him with no alternative but to try his mother. He’d figured that no one knew the London socialscene better—with her penchant for partying ‘til dawn with men younger thanhewas, she’d had enough practice—and if anyone knew where Imogen was going to be it was her.Not that he’d needed to be subtle when making his enquiries, he thought, adjusting his bow tie as he weaved his way towards Imogen. His mother was so self-absorbed she’d never spare the time to wonder why her son would be asking about the whereabouts of a girl.Of course, there wasn’t anything particularly newsworthy about the fact that he had. His wanting to track Imogen down wasn’t a big deal. So what if he’d never cared in the past about who knew who he was dating? And so what if he’d previously sought a girl’s contact details from friends and acquaintances without a care for the gossip doing so might generate?With the possibility of Imogen’s resistance being a large obstacle in his intention to make a conquest of her, this operation required delicacy. Subtlety. A different approach.And one that required his full focus, he reminded himself, keeping her in his line of sight. Focus that mustn’t be derailed at any cost. Especially not by the spectacular way she looked.As he got closer he could see that she was wearing a strapless black full-length dress that clung everywhere and had a split up to the top of her thigh. Her hair was swept up and looked like spun gold. Diamonds glittered at her throat and ear lobes.A weaker man would have been dazzled. A weaker man would have cast aside any tactics he might have had, fallen to his knees at her feet and begged her for a smile. Luckily for him and his life-long adherence to strategy, Jack had self-control and strength in spades and didn’t possess one iota of weakness.Although actually, he thought, narrowing his eyes as something about the tense set of her shoulders snagged his attention, Imogen wasn’t looking quite as radiant as she shouldbe. In fact, she was looking rather pale. Somewhat stunned. And increasingly as if she was going to pass out.He quickened his pace, concern rushing through him at the realisation that something was badly wrong.‘Imogen?’ he said, coming to a halt a foot from her and steeling himself against the effect she’d have on him if he let her. ‘Are you all right?’For a moment she simply stared at him, her eyes huge and troubled, and he had the strangest feeling that she was looking straight through him. But then, just when he was beginning to get really worried by her pallor, she blinked. Pulled her shoulders back, gave herself a quick shake and then shot him a stunning smile.‘Jack, darling,’ she purred, and to his astonishment reached up, wrapped a hand around his neck and planted a kiss at the corner of his mouth. ‘You made it.’At the brush of her lips so soft and full and so tantalisingly close to his own and at the touch of her hand on his neck, Jack felt as if he’d been electrocuted. Her breast was squashed up against his arm, her body was warm and soft against his, and her scent was intoxicating. She shot every one of his senses to pieces and blew his strategy to smithereens, and he wanted nothing more than to haul her into the shadows and tug that mouth to his properly. So he could explore it with his, thoroughly and at length.She drew back, her eyes dark and now sparkling, and Jack ruthlessly stamped out the urge. Strength and self-control, he reminded himself. Strength and self-control. Because right now he wasn’t here to show her how pointless denying the chemistry they shared was. He was here to help.Catching the flicker of pleading in her eyes, he ignored the voice inside his head demanding to know what made him think he could help when he didn’t have a chivalrous bone in his body. Whatever was going on, Imogen clearly needed him to be attentive, so attentive he’d be.After all, he reflected, belatedly gathering his scattered wits and switching to Besotted Lover mode, he’d planned on being extremely attentive to Imogen this evening and he’d envisaged having to put in a lot more groundwork. If circumstances expedited matters he’d be a fool not to take advantage of them.Wrapping an arm around her waist and pulling her tight against him, he smiled down into her eyes and murmured, ‘Did you really think I wouldn’t?’He felt her relax. Saw the clouds drift from her eyes, the trouble gradually fade, and as heat and desire crept in to take its place all he could think about was how much fun getting Imogen to unravel in his arms was going to be.‘I wasn’t sure.’‘Such little faith.’‘Forgive me?’Right now, with her voice all soft and breathy and her body moulded to his, he thought he’d probably forgive her anything. Faintly disconcerted by the thought, Jack released his grip on her slightly and dragged his gaze from hers to cast a quick glance at the couple she was with. ‘Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friends, darling?’Imogen blinked. ‘What? Oh. Yes. Of course. Jack, this is Max Llewellyn.’ Her smile faltered and it made Jack wonder iffriendswas quite the word. ‘And Connie Nicholson.’‘Jack Taylor,’ he said, nodding briefly and shaking their hands in turn.Something about Max made his hackles shoot up. Made him take an instant dislike to the man even though he couldn’t for the life of him work out why. Maybe it was the fact that he was altogether too smooth. His teeth were too white, his hair too perfectly coiffured, his nails too manicured.‘Max and Connie are engaged,’ Imogen said with a tightness that confirmed his earlier suspicion that whatever the three of them were they weren’t friends.‘Congratulations,’ said Jack.‘Thanks,’ said Connie, her wide smile fading as she shot a quick glance at Imogen, whose own smile was now so brittle it looked as if it might be about to shatter.An awkward kind of lull fell, during which no one apart from Jack looked at anyone else. As long seconds passed, the strained silence worsened and he sensed Imogen’s anxiety grow.Deciding that, as fascinating as the dynamics of this group were, someone needed to do something to ease the situation, Jack was just about to lob in a polite but inane comment about the weather when Imogen pulled herself together and did the job for him.‘Well, isn’t this nice?’ she said brightly.‘Delightful,’ Jack murmured, thinkingnicewasnotthe word.‘I must say,’ said Connie enthusiastically, clearly overcompensating for the palpable tension vibrating around their little group, ‘your events department has done an excellent job.’He followed her gaze as it skipped around the tastefully lavish Valentine’s Day decorations that adorned both the lobby and, from what he could see through the giant half-open doors, the ballroom.‘And so it should have with tickets costing four figures each.’ Imogen let out a laugh that sounded high and false, and, to his ears, verged on hysterical. ‘You see the rose petals?’ she said, waving a hand in the direction of the petal-strewn floor. ‘Damask. Flown in from Morocco, would you believe? All two hundred thousand of them. And the candles? Bought from the same people that supply Westminster Abbey. And let’s not forget the casino. I understand the croupiers have been specially brought in from Monte Carlo. You must try it later. There’s roulette, not of the Russian kind, luckily, ha-ha-ha.’‘Are you a gambling man?’ Jack said, cutting into Imogen’s rapidly spiralling-out-of-control rambling, not because he wasthe slightest bit interested in Max’s gambling habits, but because he thought she might thank him later.‘No.’ Max laughed and Jack inwardly winced. The man sounded like a horse neighing. ‘Far too risky. Modern art’s more my thing.’Idiot. ‘Really?’‘Yes. In fact, I recently picked something new up.’ He waited, evidently expecting to be asked all about it, and when no one did, went on, ‘Well, when I sayI, I mean I instructed my man to buy it on my behalf, of course, haw-haw-haw. Very exclusive. Very exciting.’‘I’m sure,’ Jack muttered, fervently hoping that whatever Imogen’s relationship was with this pompous prat, it wasn’t close.‘Cost me a bomb, naturally, but I always think you can never put a price on truly great art, don’t you?’‘Oh, I couldn’t agree more,’ he said.‘Yes,’ said Connie, loyally picking up the conversational thread. ‘Apparently, it’s supposed to represent man’s fight against the injustice of capitalism, but personally I can’t see it. I just like the colours.’Jack stilled as a horrible thought darted across his mind. No. It couldn’t be …But with the way Imogen was tensing at his side, apparently it just possibly could. He glanced down at her to find out if she’d come to the same conclusion he had and at the same time she turned her head to look up at him.Their eyes met. And locked. He saw a flash of amused horror sparkle in the brown depths. Felt a corresponding smile tug at his lips, and for one heady moment everything receded. The brightly coloured mass of people gathered around them … The low hum of conversation … The crackling and spitting of the fire … The gentle clink of glasses and the fizz of champagne … It all faded away until the only two things he wasaware of were Imogen’s warm, soft and pliant body clamped to his side and the growing sense of need clawing at his gut.‘Well, that’s always important,’ Jack murmured, his voice sounding strangely hoarse as desire began to hammer through him.‘And I’m sure it’ll make a great investment,’ said Imogen, nodding gravely, her eyes still glued to his.‘So they tell me,’ brayed Max from somewhere that sounded miles away.And quite suddenly Jack had had quite enough of Max and Connie and this excruciating conversation. And quite enough of sharing Imogen with them. With anyone, for that matter.His pulse was racing and his mouth was dry. He’d come here with one purpose in mind, and his hard, aching body was telling him to get on with it. He’d come to her aid. Now it was time she repaid the favour.‘Darling,’ he murmured, heat whipping through him so fiercely his body pounded with the force of it, ‘I think we should circulate, don’t you?’His hand tightened around her waist, bringing her in closer contact with his hard, aroused lower body and she blinked, her eyes darkening and her breath catching.
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‘What?’ she breathed. ‘Oh, yes. You’re right. Absolutely right. Circulate. Good idea.’ She flashed Max and Connie a bright smile and raised her hand in a jaunty wave. ‘Well, we must be off. So lovely to see you both. Toodle pip.’CHAPTER SEVENTOODLEpip?Toodle pip?Oh, good Lord.Still clamped to Jack’s side as he whisked her out of the lobby, around the corner and along a corridor, Imogen stifled a wince and wished she could go back and redo that conversation with the cool, collected poise she’d intended.How could she have crumbled quite so hideously? How could she have forgotten every word of those pep talks? And how could she have behaved so recklessly?As she sneaked a glance at Jack and the stern set of his face, her body buzzed with a mind-altering combination of adrenalin, desire and wariness. What must he bethinking?When he’d first materialised, she’d thought she must have conjured him up. Because having exchanged a series of stilted ‘how are you?’s and ‘what have you been up to lately?’s with her bêtes noires, she’d been racking her brain for some way out of the desperately awkward situation she’d found herself in and had come up with nothing that would allow her to extricate herself with any kind of dignity.And then there he’d been, all dark and gorgeous and gazing down at her with that mesmerising look of concern on his face, and with barely a thought for the consequences, and because it had struck her that Jack outclassed Max in every way, she’d decided to use him. Quite shamelessly.Not that he’d seemed to mind. After what must have been considerable initial surprise Jack had thrown himself into the role of besotted lover with admirable aplomb, and if she hadn’t known better she’d have been totally convinced.Of course, unlike herself, he’d merely been putting on a performance, and it was little wonder he’d borne her off. After the way she’d been gabbling on about the decorations like an interior designer on acid, on top of everything she’d done on Tuesday night, he must think her completely nuts. In fact, he was probably removing her for her own safety.But wherewerethey going? she wondered as alarm began to trickle through the adrenalin, the desire and the wariness. Wanting to give her time to collect herself in private was one thing, but he’d better not be planning to stash her in a cupboard or something. She had a speech to give.Just as she was toying with the idea of wrenching herself from the tight embrace of his arm and legging it, Jack drew to a halt at the far end of the corridor. He set her against the wall and, shoving his hands in his pockets, took a step back. His deep blue gaze fixed on hers, pinned her there and in the silence that ensued all she could hear was the rapid thump of her heart.Dimly aware that the guests were far away and that the corridor was dusky and completely deserted, she realised that they were completely alone and Jack wasn’t nearly as relaxed as she’d imagined. And her heart beat even faster.‘So,darling,’ he said, leaning in a fraction and apparently stealing all her oxygen, ‘what exactly was that all about?’At the low seductive tone of his voice and the glitter in his eyes, her mouth went dry. Resisting the urge to run her tongue along her lips, Imogen swallowed. ‘Would you believe me if I said I behaved like that with every man I’m pleased to see?’‘No.’‘I didn’t think so.’ She sighed and bit her lip as shame,which had been an embarrassingly long time coming, struck her square in the chest. ‘I’m sorry.’Despite the tension in him one corner of his mouth hitched up. ‘Don’t be. I actually found the whole thing hugely entertaining.’Imogen blinked in surprise and not a little pique. Entertaining? That was not what she’d been expecting. ‘I’m delighted you enjoyed the show,’ she said tartly.Jack raised an eyebrow and grinned, then twisted round to lean one shoulder against the wall, far too close for her peace of mind. ‘You don’t really behave like that with every man you’re pleased to see, do you?’‘Of course not.’‘Good.’‘I was just a little—ah—jumpy.’‘I’d never have guessed.’She ignored that and sought refuge in manners. ‘Anyway, thank you for coming to my rescue.’‘It was my pleasure. I’m glad I was able to help out. Why the jumpiness?’Imogen tried come up with a suitable explanation but it was tough when she only had a variety of unsuitable ones to choose from.She could attribute her nerves to the awkwardness that had hit her when she’d first laid eyes on Max and Connie. But that had disappeared the minute she’d seen Jack. From then on her jumpiness had been firstly down to the feel of his body against hers and the corresponding desire that had swept through her and wiped out every scrap of self-possession she had, and then the sense of connection she’d had when their eyes had met over the realisation that Max could well have bought Jack’s painting.But as she had no intention of giving him the pleasure of knowing how jumpy he made her, she was going to have to explain about Max and Connie. Which wouldn’t exactlyput her in a good light, but then given the nature of their acquaintance to date she doubted she could sink any lower in his estimation.‘If you must know,’ she said, straightening her spine against the wall and ignoring the twinge she felt at the notion of sinking lower in his estimation, ‘I used to go out with Max.’She turned her head in time to see Jack’s eyebrows shoot up and a flicker of something flare in the depths of his eyes. ‘I see.’Hmm. Intriguing. What had that been? Disappointment? Anger? Jealousy? Imogen’s heart fluttered for a second and then she told herself not to be so absurd, because why would he be any of those things?When he didn’t say anything else, she shifted round to face him and folded her arms across her chest. ‘What?’ she asked, jutting her chin up partly in response to the frown creasing his forehead and partly because she was annoyed with herself for actually wanting him to be jealous.‘I must say I’m surprised.’‘Why?’‘Well, for one thing, he has abysmal taste in art.’At the memory of how dazed she’d felt when her gaze had locked with his and they’d just stared at each other while coming to the same conclusion her heart gave a little lurch. ‘Did he really buy your painting, do you think?’ she said.Jack shrugged the shoulder that wasn’t propped against the wall. ‘I had a phone call from the gallery the morning after the show, and apparentlysomeonebought it, so it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.’A tiny smile tugged at her lips. ‘Oh, dear, poor Max.’From the way Jack grunted, she guessed he didn’t share the sentiment.‘So what’s the other thing?’ she asked.He arched one dark eyebrow. ‘What other thing?’‘You said “for one thing”, which would imply there’s another.’‘He’s a jerk.’Imogen frowned, faintly put out that Jack had deduced in five minutes what it had taken her the last two months to figure out. ‘Well, yes, but he wasmyjerk. Now he’s Connie’s jerk and that hurts.’‘Why? I’d have thought you’d be glad to be rid of him.’‘Oh, I am.Now.’ She bit her lip. ‘But I wasn’t for a long time.’‘What happened?’Imogen sighed and decided that she had nothing to lose by telling him. ‘We went out together for about a year. I thought everything was going fabulously, until one weekend a couple of months ago when I got home from staying with my parents and found a note, telling me he was leaving me to shack up with Connie.’His jaw tightened. ‘Like I said, he’s a jerk. And she’s not much better.’‘She was my best friend.My best friend. How could she?’ Imogen frowned and shook her head at her own naiveté. ‘I thought I knew her inside out. We grew up together. Started at the same school on the same day. Hung out all the time in the holidays. That sort of thing. It’s the ultimate betrayal.’‘It sounds like you’re more upset at the loss of a friend than a boyfriend.’Imogen snapped her gaze up to find him looking at her thoughtfully. Maybe he had a point. Connie’s betrayalhadcut far deeper than Max’s. ‘I’m upset full stop,’ she muttered, slightly thrown by the realisation.Although actually she wasn’t all that upset, was she? At least not about the disgustingly happy couple. Not any more.Now that she thought about it, over the last couple of days she’d been so caught up with thoughts of Jack and the wayhe made her feel that Max and Connie and their forthcoming nuptials had barely crossed her mind.She cast her memory back to the traumatic afternoon she’d discovered they’d got engaged, and to her bewilderment she felt nothing. Not a pang, not a twinge, not an ache. Which was as unnerving as it was a relief.‘Or at least I was,’ she added, thinking that since Jack had come to her rescue so splendidly and as it no longer appeared to hurt perhaps she owed him the rest as well. ‘The afternoon we met at the gallery when I was a little, ah …’ She paused as she searched for any word that wouldn’t make her sound demented.‘Unhinged?’‘Vulnerable,’ she corrected, flashing a glare at him, ‘I’d just found out they’d got engaged.’‘I see.’‘And it kind of threw me.’‘Well, that explains a lot,’ he said with a satisfied nod.‘Don’t look so pleased with yourself,’ she said archly. ‘You didn’t exactly help.’‘Oh?’‘You reminded me of Max.’Jack’s eyebrows shot up and then he scowled. ‘I’m nothing like Max.’He looked so affronted she couldn’t hold back a smile. ‘Well, I realise that now, but I didn’t know that at the time, did I? All I could see then was that you were both good-looking, charming with a fine line in banter, and heartbreaking players.’Jack flinched. ‘You jumped to an awful lot of conclusions.’‘And you didn’t?’ she countered as she thought of the character flaws he’d flung at her.He frowned. Tilted his head as he stared at her with such an intense expression on his face her stomach squeezed. ‘You’re right. I did. I’m sorry.’Mollified, Imogen gazed up at him until something that had been niggling away at her ever since he’d pitched up at her side struck her again. ‘What are you doing here anyway?’ she said. ‘I don’t remember seeing your name on the original guest list.’‘It wasn’t. My ticket was a last-minute thing.’‘Why?’‘I wanted to see you.’His eyes darkened and the glint appeared. As the air seemed to thicken around them Imogen gulped, her heart rate rocketing.‘What for?’ she said a little huskily. ‘You must think I’m insane.’He pushed himself off the wall and turned so that he was standing so close she could feel the heat radiating off him. ‘I don’t think you’re anything of the sort.’‘Really?’‘Really.’ He tilted his head and gave her a smile that frazzled her senses. ‘Would you like to know what Idothink?’She’dloveto. ‘I’d be fascinated,’ she said evenly, trying not to sound too desperate.‘I think you must have had a rough time recently.’‘Oh, I have.’ That he appeared to understand was doing strange things to her brain.‘And I think you’re beautiful.’Every bone in her body melted. ‘You do?’‘I do.’ His gaze dropped to her mouth and his eyes darkened to navy. ‘I also think that you and I have unfinished business.’Oh, heavens. Perhaps she hadn’t sunk quite as low in his estimation as she’d imagined. ‘Do we?’‘I think so.’‘In what way?’‘We started something on Tuesday night. Something that got held up by misunderstandings and assumptions.’ Hereached out to tuck a stray lock of hair behind her ear and she jumped. ‘But now,’ he added, lowering his hand to her wrist and slowly stroking it up to her shoulder, ‘it seems to me that there isn’t anything standing in the way of the basic facts any longer.’‘What basic facts?’ she breathed because, although she was getting a pretty good idea, she was finding it hard to concentrate with his hand gliding over her skin.‘That I want you and you want me.’Relief flooded through her. ‘Ah, those facts.’ His fingers were now spreading over her skin where her neck met her shoulder and his thumb was on the pulse that hammered there. ‘I hope you’re not going to try and dispute them again.’
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Imogen swallowed. ‘I wouldn’t dream of it.’ What would be the point? He was right. She did want him. More than she’d ever wanted anyone ever before. Had done for ages. And right now she wanted every smidgeon of danger, excitement and fun that that glint had to offer, because the realisation that he wanted it, too, was destroying what little was left of her self-control.‘Jack—’ she said hoarsely.But as his thumb circled relentlessly over her skin her head swam and she couldn’t remember what she’d been intending to say. Still only touching her along her collarbone, he reached behind her and opened the door and backed her into whatever lay behind it.‘What are you doing?’ she breathed as she stepped into darkness.‘Finishing that business we started. Do you have any objections?’Somewhere through the fog swirling around her head, she was pretty sure she did. Not least because of where she was and what she was supposed to be doing. Reason made onepathetic last-ditch attempt to do the right thing. ‘Dinner’s about to begin.’His gaze dropped to her mouth. ‘You’re so right.’She shivered at that. ‘I’m the guest of honour. I can’t hide out in a—’ she glanced round, her eyes adjusting to the dimness ‘—in a broom cupboard.’‘Five minutes,’ he murmured, holding her transfixed with a look of pure need.Oh, God, she thought, her heart beginning to thud crazily. Her nerve endings were sizzling so manically that the idea that she might be able to resist him was laughable. ‘Two.’‘We’ll see.’And then he lowered his head to hers and all Imogen could see was him. Enveloping her and intoxicating her.Her breath caught, her heart stopped and just when she thought she might pass out with the sheer weight of anticipation, his lips brushed hers. Lightly. Fleetingly. She trembled and let out a breathy little sigh. So he did it again. And again. The third time her moan was one of frustration because surely after all the build-up he wasn’t planning to spend the whole two minutes doing that, was he?But just in case thatwashis plan, just in case hewasintending to give her only a tantalising hint of what he had to offer and truly drive her insane, Imogen reached up and wound her arms around his neck. She threaded her fingers through his hair, then tilted her hips and wiggled.Which seemed to do the trick.The hand that was on her shoulder whipped round to the nape of her neck while his other arm snapped around her and then to her delight and relief she was being hauled against him. Stunned by the speed and suddenness with which he moved, Imogen let out a startled gasp, which he took advantage of immediately by slamming his mouth down on hers.The minute his lips met hers, properly this time, the remaining fragments of her brain disintegrated. As theirtongues tangled and devoured, heat shot through her from head to toe. Her heart crashed against her ribs while her stomach swooped.Barely able to control her movements, she pressed herself closer and he deepened the kiss. She heard him groan, felt the hot, hard evidence of his arousal against her and every inch of her body throb with need. He was all hard, powerful muscle and strength and the idea that right now every drop of it was hers was making her head swim. It was a good thing he had such a tight hold of her. If she hadn’t been clasped so tightly in the strong, warm circle of his arms she’d have crumpled to the floor in a quivering, molten heap.‘You pack quite a punch,’ Jack muttered, dragging his mouth from hers to explore the skin of her neck and upper chest.‘So do you,’ she said raggedly as a series of uncontrollable shudders ripped through her. ‘You know, never have I been so glad to be wearing a strapless dress.’She was even more so when he slid his hand up her side to cup her breast. At the jolt of desire, Imogen let out a whimper of pleasure.‘Shh,’ Jack murmured.‘Make me,’ she said, desperate for his mouth to find hers again.Which, to her fevered relief, it did. While he continued his devastating assault on her mouth, he pushed the top of her dress and her bra down and, taking the weight of one breast in his palm, he rubbed his thumb over her nipple.Beneath his touch her nipple hardened and ached and Imogen groaned and arched her back. And then his mouth moved down to her other breast, closing over that nipple, and she screwed her eyes tight shut and dug her teeth into her lower lip, because, wow, she’d never felt pleasure like it.Sparks showered through her, straight down to the hot,aching centre of her, and she shuddered against him, trembling with the desire to have him thrusting up hard inside her.But just when she thought she was about to collapse with need, Jack lifted his head and stared down at her, breathing heavily, his eyes blazing and dark and his face tight with restraint. Swallowing hard, he dragged in a ragged breath and took a step back.‘No,’ Imogen muttered in protest.‘We have to stop,’ he said roughly, drawing her dress and bra back into place with shaking fingers.‘Why?’His eyes dropped to her mouth and for a moment she thought he would declare he was joking and drag her back into his arms.But he didn’t. Instead, he backed away even more and set his jaw. ‘Because we’ve already been more than five minutes,’ he said grimly, ‘and if we carry on like this I might very well end up getting us a proper room.’‘A proper room?’ she echoed dazedly.‘Well, thisisa hotel, and beds are in dangerously close proximity.’Imogen went dizzy at the thought of her and Jack hot and sweaty and naked in bed. ‘That would be fine by me.’ In fact, the sooner, the better.‘What happened to you being the star of the show and all that concern about being missed?’Oh. Damn.She blinked as reality crashed back into her head and obliterated the heat. Yes. Of course. The Ball. Dinner. Her speech. She blanched. Her speech! In a matter of minutes, she had to get up in front of a hundred people and speak. Agh. ‘You’re right.’‘You’d better go. Now. Before I change my mind and book that room.’‘What about you?’ she said, wishing she didn’t have to leave.‘I’ll follow in a few minutes.’‘Will I see you after dinner?’Jack hauled her into his arms and gave her a swift, hard kiss that made her head reel, and then shot her a look full of hot, dark promise before nudging her through the door and pointing her in the right direction. ‘You can count on it.’CHAPTER EIGHTCOUNTon it?Hah. She couldn’t count on anything, thought Imogen, stalking into the conservatory after dinner with as much speed and force as her dress would allow, which infuriatingly wasn’t a lot. Ideally, she’d have liked to pace and stomp but all she could do was totter over to an armchair and throw herself into it.At least the glowering she could manage, she thought, staring gloomily out into the softly lit gardens.Where had the evening gone so wrong?After leaving Jack, she’d sailed into the dining room as if she were floating across the floor, aware that the electricity still flowing through her must be evident to anyone with eyes in their head, but unable to summon up the energy to do anything to hide it.She’d taken her seat and smiled a hello to the other people at her table. She’d murmured her appreciation of the food and dipped in and out of the conversation. And all the while her thoughts had kept drifting back to that broom cupboard.How she’d managed to get through the short speech she’d had to give thanking the sponsors and the guests she’d never know. Even as she’d been elaborating on the causes the trust had recently supported she’d felt a self-destructive urge to rip up her prompt cards and ask the audience, in a choose-your-own-adventurekind of way, what they thought might have happened next if Jack hadn’t stopped when he had.Which would reallynothave impressed the illustrious gathering. Nor the trust’s board. And had it made its way into the press, it certainly wouldn’t have gone down well with the submissions committee at the university she’d applied to in the States.Imogen let out a sigh and frowned. Oh, who was she kidding? She knew exactly when the evening had started to go downhill. It had taken a turn for the worse the moment she’d stepped down from that podium and spotted the woman Jack was sitting next to.She’d been a blonde of indeterminate age. Beautiful in a ravaged kind of way. The sort of woman who commanded the centre of attention and revelled in it. And, judging by the way her hands had been all over him, one who’d clearly set her sights on Jack.Not that he’d seemed to object, she thought sourly. Throughout dinner her gaze had kept sliding to him and every time she’d looked, he’d just been sitting there, letting himself be pawed to pieces.Probably still was, because where was he anyway? Dinner had been over for ages and she’d hung around but there’d been no sign of him. So much for his promise to come and find her after supper.Logic and common sense told her that there were a dozen different reasons he might have been delayed, but neither stood a chance against the overwhelming suspicion that he could well be checking out the broom cupboard with the blonde.And how had he known about that anyway? Imogen frowned and swung her feet up to rest on the window sill. The way he’d steered her out of the lobby and down that corridor, as if he knew exactly where he was going …She nibbled on her lip, vaguely aware that her mind wascareering off in a dangerously extravagant direction, but too wound up to stop it. Why was she even bothering to wonder? For all she knew Jack was acquainted with the whereabouts of all the broom cupboards in every top London hotel.That little voice hammering away inside her head and insisting she was wrong, that he wasn’t like that, was all very well but, despite what he’d told her that night in the taxi, and despite what she’d told herself over the past few days, she couldn’t get what she knew of his reputation entirely out of her mind.Irrational, undoubtedly, but there it was. What with the betrayal she’d suffered recently and the knowledge that Max and Connie’s affair must have been going on right under her nose was it any wonder she was predisposed to mistrust?Imogen glanced at her watch and sighed. Five more minutes to compose herself and then she’d be saying her goodbyes and getting out of here, because the night had turned out to be just as grim as she’d thought—although for entirely different reasons—and she’d had enough.Jack scoured the ground floor of the hotel for Imogen. The things he had to suffer in the pursuit of a date!As if having to bring ferocious desire and the memories of those scorching kisses under control hadn’t been trial enough, Jessica had been on particularly demanding form this evening.From her behaviour at dinner one would never guess she’d ignored him most of her life, but it had taken Jack less than two minutes to figure out that his mother’s brief foray into lavish maternal affection was nothing more than an effort to impress her latest conquest, who happened to work in the same field as he did.Which couldn’t have bothered him less. Jessica, who’d had him when she was a teenager and had promptly handed him over to her parents to raise him so that she could carry onpartying, didn’t have a maternal bone in her body, and he’d never deluded himself into thinking otherwise.So the stabbing at his gut was nothing more than indigestion, although if someone had asked him what had been on the menu he couldn’t have said. All he’d been able to think about for course after course was what had gone on in that broom cupboard and what might have happened if he hadn’t heard the echo of the gong announcing dinner.Jack strode through the lobby, his temper beginning to simmer. He didn’t think he’d ever had such an uncomfortable couple of hours and Imogen’s disappearing act wasn’t helping.Where was she? Did she think playing hard to get would somehow reel him in even more? Well, he thought, setting his jaw grimly, she needn’t have bothered. He was reeled in quite comprehensively already.Or at least he would be if only he could find her.Right. This was it. The last room. If she wasn’t here, he was going home. Yes, he very much wanted to continue where they’d left off but there was only so much volatile behaviour he was prepared to take and hers was hitting his limit.Jack pushed open the door to the conservatory and scanned the space. Tall, lush palms brushed the walls, the subtle lighting casting long, dark shadows over the cane furniture, the pillars and the marble floor. But other than the fixtures and fittings, that was it. There was no sign of her here, either.Disappointment walloped him in the stomach, roiling and churning and making him go all light-headed.
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He shoved his hands through his hair and pulled himself together. So that was that, then. He’d be off. He’d forget all about Imogen and the insane notion that he somehow wouldn’t survive if he didn’t finish the business they’d started, and get back to being in control of his life.It had been an absurd idea anyway. When had he ever chased a woman he was interested in quite so determinedly?When had he ever had to? And as for not surviving, well, that was ridiculous. Of course he’d survive. He always did.Calling himself all kinds of fool, Jack turned on his heel and was about to march out, when something caught his eye and made him freeze.It was a pair of feet. Clad in black high-heeled shoes and propped up on the window sill.They could be anyone’s, of course, but what the hell, it was worth checking out. He strode over to the huge armchair that faced away from him and stopped in front of it.And there she was, calmly sitting there, her elbows resting on the arms of the chair, her hands clasped, her fingers entwined and tapping against her mouth. Her legs stretched out, one exposed where her dress had fallen open, and as his gaze travelled the length of it from hip to ankle and back again all thoughts about leaving and forgetting about her vanished beneath a tidal wave of relief. ‘So this is where you got to.’She glanced up at him and it was then he noticed the frown and the lack of warmth in her eyes. ‘Top marks for observation.’The relief ebbed and he inwardly flinched. That didn’t sound like the voice of a woman keen to continue where they’d left off in the broom cupboard. In fact, it sounded like the voice of a woman who was grumpy and fed up. Very possibly—although he had no idea why—with him.‘Are you all right?’‘Fine,’ she said, clearly anything but.‘So what are you doing here all by yourself?’‘Well, I was hoping to have a few moments of peace …’Jack rubbed a hand along his jaw and frowned. If that was a not-so-subtle hint that he should leave, then she was going to be disappointed because he wasn’t going anywhere. Instead, he pulled up a chair and sat down facing her. ‘I did say I’d come and find you after dinner.’‘You took your time.’Jack’s eyebrows lifted in surprise. Was that what was annoying her? The fact that he hadn’t come looking for her the minute coffee had been served? Was she really that high maintenance? ‘I got waylaid by someone wanting to invest in one of my funds.’‘Oh.’ Her gaze jerked to his and he saw something flash in her eyes. Something that looked a little like relief and Jack inexplicably felt like grinning. Imogen might be hard work at times, but he had no doubt she’d be worth it.‘And you didn’t exactly make it easy by hiding out here.’‘I wasn’t hiding.’ She sniffed. ‘I was merely taking a little time out to think.’‘About what?’‘Things.’‘Where I was being one of them?’She flushed. ‘Possibly.’‘And what conclusion did you draw?’ he asked, intrigued because whatever it was she’d been thinking about it was highly likely to be the cause of her frostiness.‘It occurred to me you might have been … how shall I put it … otherwise engaged.’‘What?’‘Oh, nothing,’ she said with an airy wave of her hand. ‘It’s irrelevant now anyway. Have you had a pleasant evening?’His smile tightened a little at the thought of the ordeal he’d had to endure so far this evening and still was.Pleasantwas not the word he’d have used. ‘Not particularly.’‘Oh?’ She raised her eyebrows and regarded him coolly. ‘From where I was sitting it looked like you were having a whale of a time.’‘Believe me, I wasn’t.’‘The blonde virtually sitting in your lap certainly looked as if she was enjoying herself.’Jack frowned. What on earth was she talking about? What blonde? There hadn’t been a blonde.Unless she meant Jessica.Jack went still as the memory of his mother’s overblown behaviour at dinner flew into his head. Shedidmean Jessica.As realisation dawned he felt like laughing because if he wasn’t mistaken Imogen was jealous. It wasn’t an emotion he’d ever experienced himself, of course—that weird tightening of his body when she’d told him she’d once gone out with Max had been nothing but surprise—but he could recognise it in others.‘Ah, the blonde,’ he said, feeling the tension ease from his shoulders as he leaned forwards and, unable to resist any longer, wrapped his hand around her ankle and slid it up her bare calf.With a sharp gasp Imogen snatched her legs away and clutched the edges of the lower half of her dress together.‘Don’t think you’re going to get out of this by virtually sitting inmylap,’ she said tartly, although, with her breath catching the way it was, it didn’t come out as tartly as he imagined she’d have liked.‘I’m not trying to get out of anything,’ he said, grinning. ‘But I can see how it must have looked.’‘Really? I’m surprised you could see anything at all what with that cleavage constantly being shoved in your line of sight.’‘Jessica can be a little over-demonstrative at times.’‘A little over-demonstrative?’ said Imogen. ‘Hah. I’ve never seen anyone so tactile. Honestly, it was appalling. All that pawing and leaning over you. I’m surprised she didn’t have a wardrobe malfunction.’Jack’s grin widened as he watched her eyes flash and colour rise in her cheeks. ‘Yes, well, I don’t think it was quite as bad as that, but she’s always been on the tactile side. It’s part of her whole “dahhhling” persona. It drives me insane but, seeing as she’s the one who wangled me the space at her table, it seemed rude to cause a scene.’Imogen scowled. ‘Do the two of you have history?’‘You could say that.’She harrumphed. ‘And a future?’‘Unfortunately, that, too.’‘Well, then, don’t let me keep you.’‘You aren’t,’ he said, sitting back, stretching his legs out and crossing them at the ankles as he looked at her. ‘My mother’s currently strutting her stuff on the dance-floor with her latest boyfriend and I doubt she could care less what I’m up to.’For a moment Imogen thought she must have misheard. That, despite being so cross with him she’d been so caught up in white-hot jealousy, so thrown off balance by the searing jolt of electricity that had shot up her leg when his hand had caressed it, that she’d completely lost the plot.Either that or he was joking.But Jack didn’t look as if he was joking. Far from it. His expression was one of faint distaste and the blue of his eyes looked strangely flat.In the long seconds of silence that stretched between them, all she could do was stare at him in astonishment while he looked unwaveringly back. The strains of music coming from the ballroom and the distant buzz of conversation barely registered as the realisation that he was one hundred per cent serious dawned.‘Your mother?’ she said once she’d regained the power of speech.Jack grimaced, his eyes dark and unfathomable. ‘I’m afraid so.’‘That was yourmother?’‘So she claims.’‘But she can’t be.’ She thought of her own mother, who was in her fifties and favoured tweed. Her mother, who was happiest on her knees in a flowerbed, trowel in hand, and wouldn’t be seen dead with a neckline that plunged to hernavel or a hemline that skirted her buttocks, let alone shaking her groove on the dance floor.Jack let out a deep sigh. ‘That’s what I’ve wished for many times over the years, but she is, and unfortunately there isn’t a thing I can do about it.’So many questions raced around her head that she didn’t know where to start. ‘But how …?’‘Oh, the usual way, I should imagine.’‘I mean she looks about twenty-one.’‘I’ll tell her you said so. She’ll be delighted.’‘How old was she when she had you?’‘Sixteen.’‘Crikey.’ She paused. ‘And how old are you?’‘Thirty-three.’Imogen did the calculation, then blew out a breath. Jack’s mother might not be twenty-one, but she was spectacularly, and no doubt expensively, well preserved. ‘Goodness.’His eyes glittered. ‘Quite.’She blinked. ‘Well, I must say, I’m speechless.’ And more relieved than she could possibly have imagined.‘Good, because I don’t particularly want to talk about my mother.’That was a pity because she did. She really ought to have given in and searched him on the Internet, because she’d bet her entire shoe collection that it would all be there. ‘No?’‘No.’‘But—’ There was so much more she wanted to know. Who was his father? Who’d brought him up? What had his childhood been like? How did he feel about having a mother who behaved like that?‘I said no.’And presumably just in case she was thinking of pressing the point, which she was, Jack sprang to his feet and, taking hold of her elbows, pulled her out of the chair and up into his arms. Barely before she could work out what was happeninghe was winding her arms around his neck, then hauling her tight against him and lowering his head to capture her mouth with his.The minute their lips melded and tongues met, Imogen was lost. As ways of shutting her up went, she thought a second before her brain addled, this one was pretty effective. No doubt exactly as he’d intended, all traces of her idiotic jealousy and every drop of curiosity about his mother vanished in a wave of lust.‘That dinner was agony,’ she mumbled when Jack broke for breath.‘I’m sorry you got the wrong impression about Jessica,’ he muttered, trailing a series of hot kisses along her jaw.Imogen shivered. ‘It wasn’t just that.’He lifted his head to shoot her a quizzical glance before turning his attention to her ear lobe. ‘What else was it?’ he muttered.‘I kept thinking about that broom cupboard.’She felt his mouth curve into a slight smile against her skin. ‘You, too?’Biting her lip to stop herself from whimpering, Imogen whispered, ‘How did you know about it?’‘What?’‘How did you know it was there?’‘Sign on the door.’‘Oh,’ she said on a shuddery sigh, her head falling back to allow him better access to her neck. ‘How did you know it would be unlocked?’‘I didn’t. Just got lucky.’ He paused. Lifted his head and stared down at her, his brows drawing together in a faint frown. ‘That’swhat you were thinking about? The extent of my knowledge of the whereabouts of hotel broom cupboards?’‘A bit,’ Imogen said, bringing her head back up and fervently hoping he wasn’t going to ask her why, because having to explain would certainly kill the moment. So she gave himwhat she hoped was a mind-boggling smile and deliberately seductively said, ‘What about you?’Which, judging by the glint that appeared in his eyes, worked beautifully. ‘Nothing so complicated,’ he murmured. ‘I simply kept wondering what might have happened if I hadn’t stopped.’Imogen’s heart tripped at the heady realisation that they were as muh at the mercy of this as they were of each other and that just maybe he wasn’t completely out of her league. ‘Oh.’‘Want to know what I came up with?’Watching his eyes darken, she nodded, and then he was leaning forwards, pressing her into the back of the chair and murmuring into her ear.As what he told her filtered into her brain, Imogen’s temperature shot so high she went dizzy. All she could think about was dragging him off and demanding he fulfil every one of the exotic scenarios he suggested.‘So what do you think?’Think? She could barely breathe. ‘Is some of that even anatomically possible?’ she managed shakily.‘I have no idea. But we could have a hell of a lot of fun finding out.’‘Well, as you know,’ she said gravely, ‘I’m all for fun.’‘I was hoping you might say that.’ He stared down at her and the desire and need she saw in his eyes nearly brought her to her knees. ‘Are you done here?’Definitely, yes. She nodded. ‘All done.’‘Then let’s go.’CHAPTER NINEGOINGanywhere, however, when her bones had melted and her body had turned to one great quivering mass of need, was easier said than done, and by the time they reached the huge glass-and-steel building that housed Jack’s flat, Imogen was a mess.
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