Authors: Faye Avalon
Tags: #contemporary romance;erotic;reunion;businessman hero;fitness studio;bondage;video;London;Paris.
She’s gotten herself into hot water, and the heat just keeps on rising.
Gina McKenzie didn’t make the same mistakes her mother made with men. She just made different ones. Like letting a good one get away—and trusting a bad one to keep her kinky tastes private.
With an ex-lover holding a naked bondage video over her head, she’s forced to reunite with an old college crush to get the dirty on him. Back then, she resorted to humiliating Mitchell Coleman to keep her heart safe. Now she has no choice but to compromise him in the worst possible way.
When Gina walks back into Mitchell’s life and starts seducing him, desire wars with suspicion. Last time this happened, she tossed him to the wolves. If she’s going to serve herself up on a plate, he intends to make her see exactly what she missed by rejecting him all those years ago.
But Mitch soon realizes that Gina has an agenda other than heating up the sheets—and this time he’s not going to let her play him for a fool.
Warning: A bad girl trying to be good, a good guy determined to be bad. Naughty goings-on with a stability ball, lunchtime quickies, and a Parisian hotel room where nobody plans on sleeping.
For AJ—as always.
And for Holly, my lovely editor. With thanks.
At the sight of the glitterati filling the ballroom, Gina McKenzie fought back the desire to run. The sanctuary of her fitness studio or small apartment seemed pretty appealing right now, but since running wasn’t an option, she forced herself forward into the throng of people. The velvet clutch bag brushed her outer thigh, a reminder that she hadn’t worn a dress this short since she turned sixteen. Thankfully, Pilates classes had kept her in shape, and meant she could hold her head, or rather flash her leg, with confidence.
She couldn’t see her prey—damn, when had she started thinking of him as prey?—but caught sight of her mother waving unobtrusively from across the ballroom. Before Gina could respond, Cheryl McKenzie was whisked away by her personal assistant, no doubt to engage in beneficial conversation with people who could assist her mayoral campaign.
Grabbing a glass of champagne from a passing waiter, Gina watched her mother for a few more moments. It was great to see her so happy and fulfilled, contented even. Not only because she was a definite contender for borough mayor, but because of the man whose arm stole possessively around her shoulders while they chatted with the beneficial couple. Gina had met him a couple of times and he seemed nice enough. He was obviously besotted with her mother, which made a change from the cheating apology of a man who was Gina’s father. After many years of heartbreak, her mother deserved happiness and Gina was determined nobody would take it away from her.
Which was precisely the reason she stood alone in the glitzy ballroom of a swanky hotel in the center of London, seeking out the one man who could help her ensure her mother’s continued happiness—and prevent Gina from becoming a media joke and worse.
She took a fortifying swig of champagne, scanning the beautiful people in all their finery. She was about to take another slug of bubbly when she saw him.
Mitchell Coleman. The man she’d spent most of her college years avoiding.
Over the years, she’d seen photos of him in the financial newspapers, but they hadn’t done him justice. Taller now, more imposing, and while he still bore those impressive shoulders she remembered so well, he seemed sleeker, more polished. Probably because a boardroom table didn’t offer the same opportunity for physical excellence as the sports field he’d once favored. Not that the man she covertly appraised had lost an iota of physical excellence in the intervening years—no way in hell had he done that. He filled his no doubt designer suit to perfection. His white shirt juxtaposed with the tanned skin, and when he smiled at something the woman currently clinging to his arm said, he displayed teeth as white as that shirt.
Some things hadn’t changed, Gina thought as she watched the woman virtually plaster herself to him. Mitchell Coleman had always drawn women to him like the proverbial fly to honey. Not only because of his masculinity, his sheer raw power, but because of his charm and magnetic personality.
Briefly, she wondered why she couldn’t allow herself to pick a man like him, but dismissed the thought as she swallowed down the last of the champagne.
Mitchell had always been one of the good guys, which was precisely why she’d steered clear of him in college, and why she’d steer clear of him now, had she the option. Which she didn’t.
She popped her empty glass onto a side table and glanced over to where her mother remained deep in conversation. Gina had hoped to procrastinate a little longer by going over to greet her mother first, but with that course of action denied her, she took a deep breath and steered her course directly to her target.
Her heartbeat picked up as she weaved her way through the crowd, heat pushing into her face which had nothing to do with the warmth of the packed ballroom. She couldn’t dwell on the reaction she anticipated when he saw her again, or consider if he’d bear a grudge because of what happened between them all those years ago.
She had a purpose. She was out of options. There was nothing for it but to bite down on the bile rising in her throat. This was not the time to remonstrate with herself, again, for her stupidity. What was done was done, and now she had to face the consequences and put things right.
As she came near, Gina took another steadying breath and smoothed down the front of her simple black shift dress. She could do this.
With a hard swallow, she moved to Mitchell’s free side and gripped her clutch tighter. It seemed she couldn’t stop swallowing, but before she could back away, Mitchell turned his head and looked straight at her.
The punch of his gaze hit her full center. She’d forgotten how blue his eyes were, how they had the ability to push deep into a person and hold on. She felt her knees go weak, swallowed again, and managed a shaky smile. “Hello, Mitch.”
He continued to stare at her, then something flashed in his eyes. Recognition? His gaze traveled insolently up and down her body, lingering for telling seconds at her thighs and breasts, before that dazzling blue met her eyes again.
“Gina McKenzie,” she offered when he remained silent. “We were at college together.”
He nodded, almost imperceptibly, and continued to subject her to that steady, mildly insulting, perusal.
Gina resisted the urge to swallow. “I was wondering if I could buy you a drink.”
He raised his eyebrows. “It’s a free bar.”
Damn and blast the man. This was not going to be easy.
The woman on his arm clung more desperately. “Have we met?” she asked, her gaze flicking to Gina before settling back on Mitchell.
“I don’t think so,” Gina said and offered a smile. “And I’m so sorry to intrude, it’s just that I recognized Mitch and thought I’d say hello. It’s been a long time.”
Gina wanted to duck as daggers flew in her direction.
“Mitchell.” Pointedly, the woman turned away from Gina. “We should take the opportunity to speak with Derek and Jennifer before dinner is called.”
Gina’s fragile spirits dropped. The woman obviously saw her as a threat and the last thing she wanted to do was cause any misery or upset to an innocent party. But she was on a mission with no choice but to see it through.
Another glance at her radiant mother renewed her resolve. She turned back to Mitchell, opened her bag and took out her business card. “I really would like to speak with you sometime. Perhaps I could give you a call and buy you that drink.”
Mitchell took the card, but kept his eyes on hers for seconds longer than comfortable. Then he glanced down. “Are you scouting for business?”
“No. Nothing like that. I’d just like some advice.”
Mitchell slipped the card into his jacket pocket. “Call my office,” he said. “They’ll arrange for an appointment.”
Gina flinched at the dismissal. While she hadn’t expected an open arm greeting, she hadn’t anticipated a brush off. He wasn’t much like the old Mitchell she remembered.
“Okay. I will. Thank you.”
He nodded and gave her a last derisively slow perusal, then turned as the woman at his side almost yanked him away from Gina’s company.
A thought pushed into her head and she glanced down at the woman’s hand before they disappeared into the crowd. No ring. Her initial relief was tempered by the realization that some long-term relationships could be just as solid as marriages. Hell. She hadn’t even given a thought to the possibility that Mitchell would be unavailable to that degree. What if he was? How on earth would she go through with this if it meant driving a wedge between him and a woman he truly cared about?
She couldn’t do it. Wouldn’t.
As bile rose again, burning her throat, she reminded herself she had no bloody option. People did what they had to do. When it was over, she could maybe mend fences in some way. Not that she knew how she would manage that. But still.
During dinner, she snuck glances toward Mitchell, suffering pangs of disappointment when she never once caught him looking back at her. It never used to be like that. Once, he hadn’t been able to take his eyes off her.
Thankfully, her mother was drawn too deeply into conversation to comment on her daughter’s silence during dinner. It left Gina free to contemplate ways of getting Mitchell alone.
The opportunity arose when, after dinner, Mitchell’s woman disappeared into the ladies’ room.
Gina hotfooted it over to the bar and managed to head off a portly man about to vie for Mitchell’s attention. “I wanted to apologize for intruding earlier,” Gina said as she stood next to him. “I hope I didn’t speak out of turn.”
“Now why would you do that?”
“Bringing up business at a civic function.”
His humorless laugh tickled her nerves. “Sweetheart, bringing up business is the reason for a civic function.”
Okay, now she felt stupid. She wasn’t a dunce, but the nitty-gritty of business held the least appeal of just about anything in her life. Her harassed accountant would testify to that.
“In which case, maybe I could run something past you.”
He ordered a glass of chardonnay and a whisky from the bartender, then turned back to her. “I told you to call my office.”
“Yes, I know. But I don’t have your number.”
He appraised her with cool blue eyes. “It’s in the book.”
Heck. He seemed hell bent on making it difficult for her. “Look, I know back in college we had our problems, but that was a long time ago. Can’t we put it behind us?”
He raised his eyebrows. “Which is exactly what you told me to do back then. Put it behind me. Or more precisely, shove it up my ass.”
Her face flushed at the memory and she glanced around. “I was embarrassed.”
“Shove my own cock up my ass were your precise words. Because for sure my cock had to be a damn size bigger than my intellect.”
“I can’t believe you remember that, let alone bear a grudge.”
“Who said anything about bearing a grudge? As it happens, my intellect and cock even out about the same size. My business associates attest to the former, while my lovers would confirm the latter.”
Well, this conversation was not exactly going how she’d planned. Talk of certain areas of his no doubt impressive anatomy was not doing her confidence levels any good, nor her ability to focus. And she had to keep focused.
“Regardless of that, I really hope we can let it go. Can we start again? Pretend what happened between us never happened?”
“I got ribbed for bloody weeks,” he said and took a swig of whisky. “And, while we’re on the subject, you never gave me back my pants.”
Because he looked so fierce, she bit back a smile. “Sorry. Maybe I overreacted. We tended to do stupid things back then.”
“And you never did anything to be sorry for?” Gina held his steady gaze. “Pulling me out of that room like you would a kid sister who didn’t know her own mind.”
“He was a damn moron. Not only would he have had his fingers inside you in ten seconds flat, he would have fed you alcohol, drugs and involved you in God knows what else.”
A shiver ran down her spine as she remembered the college sleazebag she’d almost let seduce her. Only later did she learn that he had a reputation for sharing his conquests with his friends. And not always with the conquest’s permission.
She shivered again. Considering her current predicament, she hadn’t learned much since those days. Her reckless behavior and attraction to bad boys had gotten her into such deep water this time, that she really didn’t know how to resolve it. Mitchell didn’t seem inclined to let the past rest, although the way his eyes kept flickering over her suggested he wasn’t entirely immune to her charms.
She had to milk that for all it was worth.
“I’m sorry for the way I behaved.” She looked up at him from beneath lowered lashes. “Will you forgive me?”
He narrowed his eyes. “Cut the bullshit. It may have worked on me back then, but I like to think I’ve learned a thing or two since.”
She raised her chin and held his gaze steady. “Okay. Then let’s keep this strictly business. I need advice and I’m willing to pay for it.”
He laughed. “If you’re prepared to pay my fees, it must be some pretty hefty advice you’re needing.”
“It’s of a financial nature.”
“Then find yourself an accountant.”
“Well, it’s more investment. And you’re an investment banker.”
“I don’t come cheap.” Something flickered in his eyes. “Sure you can afford me?”
No. She wasn’t at all sure. She had a purpose, a job to do, if you like. But she wasn’t at all sure she could afford to get involved with Mitchell Coleman. She wasn’t at all sure her heart would survive it. Which was the reason she’d pushed him away all those years ago.
She sucked in a surreptitious breath and leaned toward him. “I’ll take my chances.”
His nostrils flared a little, then he reached in his pocket. “Give me a call first thing tomorrow. I’ll fit you in.”
Gina took his card and conflicting emotions stormed through her. What she was doing was so out of character, it made her feel like the worst kind of woman. Not only was she about to use Mitchell in the cruelest way imaginable, but she was likely going to ruin his current relationship and maybe even break that woman’s heart.
“Your partner. She’s very beautiful,” Gina muttered as she looked up at Mitchell. “Have you been seeing each other long?”
He looked as if he was about to tell her to mind her own business, but glanced over his shoulder toward the ladies’ room. “We hook up now and again.”
“Is it serious?”
“That goes under the heading of keep your nose out.”
“Fair enough. Just curious.”
As if on cue, Mitchell’s woman came back, glaring at Gina. “I’ll call you tomorrow,” Gina whispered. Then when the woman was in earshot, “Enjoy the rest of your evening.”
As she headed back to her table, she knew she couldn’t stand any more socializing. After saying her goodbyes to her mother, and with a promise to call the next day, she headed out.
She took a cab back to her apartment and used the drive through the busy city evening traffic to take stock. Closing her eyes, she leaned her head back against the seat and thought of Mitchell. Of those blue eyes, the thickness of his dark hair, the width and breadth of his shoulders. She’d seen him semi-naked once, and had never quite managed to shake the memory of his toned perfection. It was hard not to wonder if the years had sculpted those muscles harder and leaner.