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Authors: Abby Green

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Jesse knew it was just sales patter, but for a brief moment she’d felt something close to how she’d felt when Luc had looked at her naked body: beautiful and sensual.

Luc
. Jesse shut the closet door on her reflection with force and hunted for the shoes she’d bought to go with the dress, resolutely pushing thoughts of him out of her mind with an effort. She was going to a charity auction tonight, in aid of a cause she supported. It was her first opportunity to
be
the kind of woman she’d always envied … And just like that her rebellious thoughts zeroed in on Luc again.

Ever since that Friday, which she’d dubbed Black Friday in her head, she’d been waiting for Luc to appear, thumping on her door or storming her offices. Demanding retribution. But the days and weeks had passed and he hadn’t materialised.

Jesse had battled with a maelstrom of emotions when it had become clear that Luc had clearly washed his hands of her. If she’d needed confirmation of how little he would have cared for her under normal circumstances this was it. He didn’t even care enough to punish her for thwarting his own plans for revenge.

Adding to the mix of emotions was the evidence she’d sought that had confirmed Luc’s story was real. Every word. His father had been the poor but proud Spanish foreman at one of her father’s construction sites and his wife a quiet
Frenchwoman. And his sister did indeed have special needs. Jesse had unearthed some pictures of him attending charity functions in aid of research into autism.

As for her father—he was well and truly finished. He was in hock to too many people, and a trial looked increasingly likely as all his various tax and fraud transgressions came to light. Not to mention mounting lawsuits from various employees who’d been intimidated into silence before, and were now coming forward with stories of harrassment, unfair dismissal and worse.

Even his wife was selling her story to the papers, depicting a tale of violent abuse for years. All his assets had been seized, and he was being watched to make sure he didn’t flee the country.

Jesse had expected at least a feeling of euphoric triumph to know she’d finally seen to her father’s end, but since it had happened she’d felt curiously empty and flat. On some level she did finally feel a sense of peace as if all that anger and rage and hurt had dissipated at last and been rendered impotent, but with shameful predictability her mind kept deviating not to her father or to the new lease of life she now faced, but to someone else …

The night after Luc had returned from the island he’d been splashed all over the news, appearing at a royal gala auction in aid of numerous charities with a stunning and recently Oscar-nominated actress on his arm. Since then he seemed to have been wining and dining a steady stream of women, each more beautiful than the last.

The press were in a frenzy. Luc Sanchis had never gone so overtly public before, and they couldn’t get enough of it.

For a second Jesse stopped and closed her eyes, putting a hand to her chest as pain gripped her—she
had
to stop thinking about him. But it was impossible. She saw him everywhere, but paler imitations of him: today in the shop she’d
nearly had a heart attack when a tall, dark, broad man had come in with his lover, a hand low on her back in a sexy caress. But it hadn’t been him.

At night it was worse, when in dreams she relived in lurid detail every moment of those days on the island. She’d told him
everything
. Nothing had been sacred when she’d been indulging in a fantasy world and had forgotten why they were there in the first place.

Just then she felt a tugging sensation on the end of her dress and looked down to see Tigger about to sink a claw into the material. Jesse caught him up in her hands.

‘Oh, no, you don’t …’

She snuggled her face into his fur, relishing his warmth. He’d already grown and put on weight. She’d taken him to the vet and he’d been microchipped, vaccinated and even issued with his own passport. He was now a fully registered pet.

Jesse did feel pangs of guilt that she’d taken him from Luc, but she’d been in such turmoil that night as she’d got ready to leave that she hadn’t been able to ignore the visceral impulse to take him with her. She needed him.

When he scrambled to be free again Jesse followed him out of her bedroom to the main living area. She took in the couch and table that had been delivered that week. And the TV.

Emotion made her chest tight. Finally she was beginning to move on with her life. She had a level of closure. What she’d always wanted. But, as much as she’d have liked to ascribe this long-overdue metamorphosis to seeing her father brought to justice, Jesse had to face the very uncomfortable suspicion that it had a lot more to do with Luc Sanchis and the change he’d precipitated within her on the island.

She heard the intercom announcing that her taxi had arrived and turned away from her thoughts with relief. She tried to ignore the giant-sized ache of loneliness in her chest. She
also tried to ignore the fluttering of anticipation in her belly that just possibly Luc might have been invited to the event …

Luc looked out over the crowd in the thronged room. Men were in tuxedos and women were in long glittering dresses. He wanted to claw his own eyes out rather than be here at this charity auction, but he’d promised his sister he’d bring her and she was here somewhere now, with his mother, ogling as many A-list celebrities as they could.

Jesse
. Her name was like a ghostly whisper across his skin and everything within Luc tensed. He could have laughed. He’d been tense since he’d left that island. Since the night
she’d
left the island. Since the night she’d taken his confidences and trust and ground them beneath her feet.

He was angry. It was like a cold, hard piece of granite in the centre of his chest that had the potential to explode at any moment.

Once he’d known that O’Brien was well and truly finished—news he’d been furnished with on his recently returned phone somewhere over the Mediterranean Sea on that private plane two months ago—Luc had felt something within him shutting down and closing off.

Closing off the memory of standing in front of Jesse and spilling his guts about his sad life story. Closing off the memory of losing sight of
why
he’d wanted to seduce her, because once he’d tasted the nirvana of her body the last thing on his mind had been getting off that island.

He thought of how he’d assured himself that he knew what he was doing. But all along he’d been deluding himself … weakened by the taste and touch of a woman. Letting her seduce him,
fool
him.

So he’d closed off those ten days on the island as effectively as if they had never happened.

Luc had returned to Britain and become an icy automaton.
Any rogue thoughts of Jesse were ruthlessly crushed at the merest whisper. His frenzy of socialising over the past couple of months had morphed into a blur of faces and places. But nothing had touched him. Nothing and no one had pierced through his shell.

His libido had spectacularly flatlined. But he didn’t care, because the icy cold inside him was keeping his anger from exploding into a terrible fearsome thing.

Jesse
. That ghostly sensation again, prickling across his skin. Luc cursed. It was as if that ice enclosing him was starting to melt away.

And then his eyes snagged on a head in the crowd. Short strawberry-blonde hair. Bare shoulders. A
dress
.

Jesse
. She was no ghost. She was here, feet away. In a dress he’d never seen and holding a glass of champagne. The fact that she was alone and looking as vulnerable as she had the first time he’d seen her in a very similar milieu didn’t penetrate.

All he could see was the pale expanse of bare back and a hint of the swell of her breast at the side of her ridiculously revealing dress. The way the silk clung to those lithe curves.

And suddenly his anger woke from its icy slumber and started to explode. And Luc knew in that moment what he wanted and what he needed.

Revenge
.

As if Jesse had heard him thinking, felt the intensity of his gaze on her, she turned and saw him. Her eyes widened and the grey depths immediately darkened. Luc’s libido surged back to life.

Revenge. And it would be sweet.

Luc
. Here in this room. Her flutters of anticipation became tremors of reaction. The entire crowd became a blur of faceless people and the chatter a dim hum. All Jesse could see
was that arresting rugged face. Unsmiling and more stark than she’d ever seen it. The lines of his body looked leaner, harder. His shoulders looked broader.

She felt weak all over. And emotion was bubbling upwards like a joyful fountain she couldn’t control.

He came towards her and Jesse was rooted to the spot. When Luc was close enough for her to reach out and touch Jesse had to clench her hand into a fist by her side. The other hand was in a white-knuckle grip around a glass of champagne.

The air seemed to quiver with electric energy between them—but just then a young woman came up to Luc, taking his arm. The spell was broken and Jesse blinked. The woman was very pretty, with a long fall of glossy brown hair, dressed in a floor-length dress that was a little more demure than those worn by the other women around them.

She looked at Jesse in a way that wasn’t polite, but wasn’t exactly rude either. It was so open and guileless, almost childlike. And Jesse hadn’t failed to notice how Luc’s hand had come up to the woman’s arm, as if to protect her. Jesse felt a crazy dart of hurt.

‘Your hair is too short.’

Jesse looked at the woman. For a second her blunt words didn’t sink in, and then Luc said stiffly, ‘Eva, this is … someone I know. Jesse Moriarty.’ He speared Jesse with a dark look. ‘This is my sister—Eva Sanchis.’

Someone I know
. The hurt spread outwards a little and Jesse avoided Luc’s eyes. She could see the family resemblance now, and put out a hand to Eva. ‘It’s nice to meet you.’ Her voice was husky with emotion.

Eva smiled and shook Jesse’s hand. ‘It’s nice to meet you too. I’m sorry … about your hair.’

Jesse couldn’t help a wry smile at her bluntness, not sure if she was apologising for what she’d said or because Jesse had
such short hair. When Eva let go of her hand Jesse touched her hair lightly, and this time she really avoided Luc’s eyes, because she could already feel a blush rising. ‘I’m going to let it grow … I agree that it’s too short.
You
have gorgeous hair.’

The woman grinned and looked up at her brother. ‘She likes my hair.’

He smiled down at her indulgently, but Jesse could see his jaw was tight with tension. ‘You do have beautiful hair, Eva. In fact I think you have the most beautiful hair in the room.’

His sister was practically bursting with pride, and Jesse felt acutely vulnerable. Naked. Which wasn’t helped by the flimsy dress. She cursed herself for the weak impulse now … hating that she’d wanted to explore this hitherto hidden side of her nature … hating that Luc was here to witness it in such a fledgling and delicate stage.

She thought of the myriad women he’d been photographed with in the previous two months and stiffened her spine. Glancing at him without really looking at him, and encompassing his sister in her glance, she said, ‘It was lovely to meet you, but if you’ll excuse me there’s someone I need to catch before they leave …’

Jesse stepped back, and as luck would have it someone cut in front of her at that moment. Without waiting for Luc or his sister to respond she turned and fled.

Luc swore under his breath when he saw Jesse dart away with a quicksilver flash of her blue dress. He heard Eva gasp at his side at his language, and forced his eyes off Jesse’s progress to look down at his sister. Familiar feelings of love and protection swelled in his chest, and he welcomed them as an antidote to the extreme intensity of the much darker emotion he’d just been feeling.

His sister said, ‘She was nice. I liked her. She’s pretty, but she needs to grow her hair.’

Luc found himself smiling at his sister’s remarkably simplistic
take on meeting Jesse, and wished for a second it could be that easy. He reflexively searched for Jesse again but couldn’t see her, and something within him solidified.

He wasn’t finished with her. Not by a long shot.

CHAPTER TEN

W
HEN
Jesse got back to her apartment she kicked off the high heels and paced her wooden floor, the silk dress swirling around her feet. She’d been terrified she wouldn’t get out of that function and away from Luc. She was not even sure why she’d been so terrified, but there had been something so
unforgiving
about his expression.

Now she felt all jittery, and ridiculously energised. Tigger was curled up on the couch, and had just raised a sleepy head for a second before miaowing softly and going back to sleep.

Jesse hugged her arms around her body. The fact was when she’d seen Luc she’d had to battle an almost overwhelming urge to run straight into his arms. It was as if she’d blocked it out as soon as she’d felt it, but now it was crystalline in its intensity. Along with an aching yearning for him to have pulled her into his arms and hugged her close.

When he’d looked at his sister with such obvious affection jealousy had risen inside her like bile, almost choking her, but she’d kept it down with that superficial social nicety that had cloaked everything bubbling under the surface.

Jesse went and put her forehead against the glass of the huge window. London was spread out before her.

Seeing Luc again tonight had made her realise the cataclysmic revelation she’d been denying to herself ever since she’d left the island.

She was in love with him. Completely and irrevocably in love with him. No wonder she’d run …

A harsh knock sounded on her door and Jesse jumped and turned around, her heart almost pumping out of her chest. She could see Tigger standing on the couch, looking at the door too, as if he sensed something.
Or someone
.

Jesse walked over to the door and asked hesitantly, ‘Who is it?’

‘You know damn well who it is. Open up.’

Jesse sprang back and bit her lip, and then said, ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea, Luc.’

His voice came back, low and guttural through the wood. ‘I don’t think it’ll be a good idea to break this door down, but I fully intend to unless you open it right now.’

Little shards of sensation were racing up and down Jesse’s body. Her skin felt hot, tight. What was he doing here?

With the utmost reluctance, and yet a treacherous excitement, Jesse walked forward and slid back the bolt before turning the latch and opening the door.

Luc was standing there, arms outstretched, hands resting on either side of the door. His bowtie was undone, top buttons open, jacket hanging loose. He looked dangerous and blisteringly angry. And sexier than she’d ever seen him.

‘Damn you to hell, Jesse Moriarty. I hoped I’d never set eyes on you again.’

Jesse hitched up her chin, hoping he wouldn’t see the hurt she felt on her face. But before she could say anything he’d closed the space between them, kicked the door shut and she was in his arms and his mouth was on hers, grinding soft skin into teeth. Suddenly Jesse didn’t care. He was here, and his intensity told her that what had happened on the island, at least physically,
had
been real. That knowledge was heady.

She wound her arms around his neck and clung on for dear
life. Their mouths fused together, not even kissing properly, just touching as if starved of contact.

She could feel his hand on the back of her head, and her lungs were screaming for air, but she said nothing.

Suddenly Luc broke away. Jesse realised she was off her feet, lifted against his body. ‘Damn you,’ he said again throatily. And then, ‘Where is your bedroom?’

Jesse couldn’t seem to focus on anything rational. All she could feel were Luc’s arms around her and his chest crushing her breasts. She wanted this. She needed this. She loved him.

‘Behind me …’

Luc walked them into the bedroom. Jesse shivered at the tension in his body. Her nerves were tingling, her blood sizzling in her veins. When they got to her room Luc put her down and started to take off his jacket and bowtie to undo the buttons on his shirt, ripping it off.

Jesse was mesmerised by his chest, amazed at his sheer beauty—again.

‘Take off your dress.’

It was a rough command. Jesse looked at Luc and tried to read his expression, but she couldn’t. His eyes were so black. Something was amiss, but she couldn’t put her finger on it and her brain was too overheated to work it out.

She reached behind her to where the ingenious fastening held the straps of the dress together. Immediately she could feel it give way, and brought her hands up to hold it in place.

‘Let it go.’

Another rough command.

Jesse took her hands away and the dress fell to her waist. She could feel her breasts swell and tighten into sharp buds under Luc’s gaze. She saw dark slashes of colour enter his cheeks.

He reached for his belt buckle and undid it, and then his trousers and pants were gone and he was naked. And aroused.
Suddenly he was kneeling at Jesse’s feet, pushing up the silk skirt of her dress, pulling down her knickers at the same time, lifting her feet free of them one by one.

She felt his hands come to her thighs and push them apart. She staggered slightly, but kept her balance as Luc touched her intimately with his mouth.

Jesse gasped, her head thrown back, as Luc remorselessly relearned her most intimate parts. Her hands were on his head, fingers clutching at his hair. One of Luc’s hands reached around and grabbed Jesse’s buttock, squeezing its fleshy firmness.

Jesse was overwhelmed. Sensations were piling on top of sensations and her legs were like jelly. As if sensing how wobbly she was, Luc took his mouth from her and tipped her legs gently, so that she came down on the rug on the floor at the end of her bed.

As she watched Luc reached for the pocket of his trousers and took out something in a foil wrapper, ripping it with his teeth. She saw him take out protection and roll it onto his body. And then he came back and took her hands, held them together in one of his. He put them above her head and with his body spread her legs. The dress was bunched around her waist.

Jesse was so hot and aching inside that she rolled her hips and pleaded, ‘Luc …’

‘Yes,’ he said gutturally. ‘Say my name again.’

‘Luc …’

And then he was there, pushing inside with ruthless intent, drawing a keening moan out of Jesse’s mouth as her body accepted him and took him in greedily. He set up a rhythm that was designed purely to torture Jesse, she decided, as little beads of sweat broke out on her skin. She was shaking with the effort it took to hold on to whatever sliver of sanity she retained.

She felt wild and feral. Untamed. There was something so animalistic about this union. And then it broke over her—the sheer ecstasy she remembered. Except it was more, even more intense. With a shout Luc’s movements became more frantic as the powerful pulsations of her body drove him over the edge too.

For a long moment Luc held himself suspended above Jesse, his hand still clasping hers, and then he let her go. Jesse lowered her arms and reached out to touch Luc’s waist, but abruptly he pulled away from her, making her wince because her body was sensitive.

He stood up with a lithe movement and Jesse watched as he went into the bathroom. She felt exposed, lying on the rug with her dress bunched around her waist, and she had a prickling sensation of foreboding. Pushing her dress down and pulling it up over her breasts, she got up and sat on the end of her bed. She felt dizzy.

Just then Luc emerged from the bathroom, gloriously naked and utterly self-confident. Without looking at her he started to pull on his clothes.

The foreboding was growing. Jesse asked hesitantly, ‘Where are you going?’

Where are you going?

Jesse’s voice was soft, but it felt like rough sandpaper on Luc’s skin. He called himself every name under the sun. He’d lost it completely as soon as Jesse had opened the door and he’d seen her standing there. All of his good intentions to be cool and icily controlled had fled, and been replaced by heat and lust. He’d had to have her. And so he’d taken her on the floor of her bedroom like some rutting animal. Once again proving her power over him, turning him into a base creature.

‘Luc …?’

He gritted his jaw and finished buttoning up his shirt. He picked up his bowtie and jacket and turned to face her.

‘Yes?’ His voice was harsh.

He saw her expression falter … and even now he wanted her, with her kiss-swollen lips and flushed cheeks, her tousled hair … which was getting longer and making her look softer, even sexier. He thought of his sister and how Jesse had been so easy with her, not recoiling the way most people did when they realised that she wasn’t quite … what they’d expected.

‘What do you want, Jesse?’ His voice was even more curt now. He wouldn’t allow any weakness to invade him again. He welcomed his resolve and the banked anger within him. He drew on it.

Jesse stood up, holding her dress. She felt ridiculously vulnerable. Luc was acting like a cold stranger. ‘I just … You’re going …’ It wasn’t a question.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I didn’t come for cosy catch-ups and chats, Jesse. I came for one thing.’

Jesse fought not to wince. ‘Sex.’

He shrugged minutely. ‘In a word … yes. But not quite just sex.’

Jesse struggled to retain her dignity, even though it felt as if it was crumbling all around her. ‘What else?’

He came close and ran a finger around the line of Jesse’s jaw, and then his eyes rose to meet hers. ‘Revenge, Jesse. You didn’t seriously think you’d get away with what you did, did you?’

‘What are you talking about?’ It was a struggle to get the words out. Jesse’s chest felt tight.

Luc’s jaw clenched and he dropped his hand, but he didn’t move back. ‘What I’m talking about is retribution. A rebalancing of the scales, if you will. You single-handedly disrupted
the course of my life and ruined plans I’d been working on for years.’

‘But you know why that was,’ Jesse reminded him painfully.

‘Yes … just as
you
know what my reasons were for wanting the same outcome. But you didn’t seem to think them compelling enough to take me with you when you left like a thief in the night.’

Jesse looked away, guilt lancing her. ‘I’m sorry for leaving you on the island like that … but I couldn’t afford to trust you.’

Luc’s hand forced her face back to him, and she shivered at how stern he looked.

‘Trust?’ he spat out, as if it were a dirty word. ‘Trust never came into it. Trust would imply that there was a relationship of some sort.’

Jesse’s heart squeezed painfully, as if a vice were closing around it. She could feel her own anger rising at Luc, for being so cold and remote. Cruel.

She jerked her chin out of his hold and jabbed a finger towards his chest. ‘
You
seduced me just so that you could manipulate me into letting you go. I had
no
idea what your motives were.’

Luc smiled, and it was utterly bereft of emotion. ‘I may have seduced you, Jesse, but it didn’t take much persuasion …’

If Jesse hadn’t been afraid of her dress falling down she would have hit Luc. He stepped back and turned to walk out of the room. Jesse rushed after him, anger boiling over and mixing with hurt.

‘It’s true what they said about that poor woman you ruined, isn’t it? You weren’t happy just to see her destroyed professionally. You had to make sure she had a breakdown because she had the gall to get one over on you.’

Abruptly Luc stopped, and Jesse almost ran into his back.
He turned around and she stepped back. The fact that he was so emotionless was worse than if he’d been breathing fire.

Icily he said, ‘You know absolutely
nothing
about that woman or what happened at that time.’

Jesse ignored the voices in her head urging her to be quiet. She tossed her head and goaded him. ‘So tell me—what do you have planned for me, Luc? Some similar dastardly fate for daring to cross you?’

Luc came towards her, menacing, until Jesse felt her back hit the wall. He loomed over her, and then Jesse felt him grab her dress in one hand and pull it down. She gasped but much to her shame and horror it wasn’t fear she felt but a wild excitement. She tried to grab the dress back, but Luc was remorseless. He easily swatted her hands away and cupped her breast, his thumb lazily teasing the peak to embarrassing stiffness. Jesse fought back a moan and willed the heat in her body down.

‘What I have planned for you, Jesse, is to be my very public companion, mistress, lover—whatever you want to call it—until such time as this annoying lust between us is burnt out and I’m satisfied. I’m going to take great pleasure in disrupting your life as much as I can.’

Jesse managed to pull Luc’s hand off her breast and haul her dress back up. ‘No. Tonight was a mistake and it won’t be happening again. I can’t believe that I was duped into thinking you were something different. That you were—’

Luc laughed out loud, throwing his head back for a moment. He looked down at her, ‘What, Jesse? The besotted fool of the island?’ He shook his head and smiled. ‘So naive it’s almost cute …’

Jesse managed to slither out from under his arm and stand apart from him. She was beginning to feel seriously undone, and she was afraid if he didn’t leave right now she’d start crying or something equally pathetic.

She couldn’t help blurting out, ‘It’s true, then? It
was
all an act—a grand seduction to try to force my hand.’

To her horror Luc merely started to look around her apartment, taking in the various furnishings and things.

Then he turned around and said coolly, ‘What else could it possibly have been, Jesse? I had to use whatever means I could find, and I merely used the convenient chemistry between us. Any fool would have taken the same advantage.’

Feeling numb and hurt beyond belief at the man Luc had morphed into, she said, ‘I should have left you there as soon as I’d got you into the villa.’

He came closer to her but she couldn’t move. He touched her jaw with a finger and then smiled. ‘Ah, but then you would have missed all that bedroom fun.’

Jesse jerked back as if he’d slapped her. And he might as well have.

BOOK: Exquisite Revenge
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