Authors: Jacqueline Baird
Lorenzo was right about the factory. It only just about broke even, and after the taxes were paid there was little or no profit. So basically the only income she had was from the gallery, which barely covered the two mortgages she’d have to pay until she sold the house in
Dessington. Any delay in selling and she’d very quickly go bust, she knew.
A frustrated sigh escaped her.
‘That was a big sigh, Lucy. Something troubling you?’
She cast Lorenzo, her nemesis, a furious look. Lost in her troubled thoughts, she had not realised his heavy-lidded eyes were narrowed, assessing her much like a spider studied a fly caught in its web, she thought, as he smiled.
‘I suppose you find it amusing, trying to wreck my plans. Excuse me if I do not.’
‘Not trying—I have done,’ he said, draining his coffee and cup and placing it on the occasional table. He straightened up. ‘Fifty five percent of Steadman’s now belongs to me. I can keep it open or shut it down. The decision is mine. As for your aspirations to develop the land adjacent to your old home—that depends on me also. Apparently your friendly lawyer called a town meeting to reassure the people and the workers you and Johnson had agreed not to close the factory. He went on to explain how a new development had been proposed and it was going to be sited in some of the eight acres of garden at your family home, donated very generously by you. That was a big mistake, Lucy.’
‘I don’t think so,’ she muttered.
‘Ah, Lucy—you should stick to art. Trust me, finance is really not your thing,’ he said bluntly. ‘Have you heard the term “asset-rich but cash-poor"? That is now you—because you have two mortgaged properties and a factory that makes little money and you cannot sell. The land you own could have been sold or even leased, but instead you’ve given away your only asset,’ he drawled mockingly, casting a blatantly suggestive glance over her
body before continuing. ‘The outlined plan is for luxury housing, shops, a swimming pool and sports centre, and some less expensive housing to be available only for locals to purchase. The development to be named the Delia Steadman Park in honour of your mother. The whole town was delighted, apparently.’
‘How on earth do you know all this?’ Lucy asked.
‘I made it my business to know,’ he said, rising to his feet and pacing the length of the room. He turned and stopped beside her chair, staring down at her.
Refusing to be cowed, she met his dark eyes head-on. They were unreadable, and she placed her coffee mug on the floor as an excuse to look away from his harshly attractive face.
‘I also know that—unlike when
asked you, Lucy—this time you
sign a legally drawn-up partnership agreement with your developer friend. But your smalltown lawyer—who is, by the way, really more interested in his position as town mayor than lawyer—omitted to make it non-negotiable, and Johnson sold out to me. I am now your partner in everything except the mortgaged house in Dessington and this gallery, which you have also foolishly mortgaged. By my reckoning you won’t have this much longer.’
It was worse than she’d thought, and she looked up at him again. A cruel, sardonic smile twisted his mouth.
‘I’m sure I don’t have to spell it out to a woman like you what that means. I own you—for as long as I want.’
A woman like her … Was there no end to his insults? Her shocked glance saw his eyes were no longer unreadable. She recognised all too well the emotion that now blazed in them: dark desire, barely leashed.
want you, Lucy,’ he said, and she could not
suppress the shiver of revulsion his comment caused. An imp of devilment in her head defied her to name it for what it really was—excitement, desire, anticipation.
He stared down into her face, reading her reaction, and his hands reached for her, sliding under her arms. He lifted her bodily out of the chair, holding her high, her feet not touching the ground, and involuntarily she clutched at his shoulders to steady herself.
His smile was cruel. ‘Ah, that’s better,’ he said, putting her down and moving his hands around her back, drawing her closer.
The layer of fabric between them was no protection against the shower of electric sensations that tumbled through her at the feel of his warm muscular chest against her breasts, his flat stomach and muscular thighs as he slowly lowered her down his long body to her feet. Aware of his arousal, she gasped and tried to wriggle free. But his hands tightened on her hips in a grip of iron and hauled her hard against him.
‘Feel what you do to me and know what you are going to do for me.’ He deliberately ground his hips against her, enflaming her senses, but she made her hands fall to her sides rather than touch him as they ached to do, all her will-power going into fighting her own rising need.
His hands lifted from her hips to link lightly around her back, and she managed to draw away a little from the seductive warmth of his great body—but not free. She had a sinking sensation she might never be free of him.
He watched her. She could feel the intensity of his dark eyes even though she’d averted her face. And then he resumed speaking in a clipped tone, as though addressing some underling.
‘You, Lucy, will be my lover whenever I want you. And you will do exactly as I tell you on the single occasion you will visit my mother.’
‘Visit? Why? I gave you the painting—surely that is enough?’
‘I have not given it to her yet. I realised she would insist on thanking you personally. If you recall, before you shoved the painting in my hands I had offered you a very good deal to refuse all contact with her—which you turned down spectacularly.’
Lucy couldn’t believe her momentary loss of temper had led to this. ‘What if I change my mind and agree now?’ she asked.
‘Too late, Lucy. The circumstances have changed. Thanks to Teresa Lanza, the August edition of a popular Verona society magazine has a full-page spread of her nephew’s wedding—including pictures of you and I and an article about our tragically linked family histories. The so-called accident being once again in the press necessitates a change of plan. You and I will visit my mother as a couple, and you will present the painting to her as a personal gift. She will be delighted, and any speculation on the accident will fade away. Then, after a suitable period, when I tell my mother we are no longer an item she will understand the reason for no further contact and we need never meet again. In return Steadman’s will be yours, and as for the rest I’ll find you another partner.’
She looked up at him with horrified eyes. ‘You can’t possibly mean what I think you mean.’
‘To qualify—I mean a partner in the building development,’ he drawled sardonically, and she saw the way he was looking at her, his eyes running over her in an insolent masculine fashion that insulted rather than
approved. ‘I am well aware you are more than capable of finding another sexual partner, but for as long as you are with me I insist on exclusivity. Don’t worry, it is not a long-term commitment. I have never kept a woman I liked for more than six months. With a woman like you it will probably be a lot less, and you will be free and clear.’
‘You really are a first-class despicable bastard.’ Her eyes flashed her contempt at him. ‘You must be out of your tiny mind to think for a second I’d agree to such a proposition.’
Lorenzo shrugged. ‘Take it or leave it,’ he said, his hands dropping from her waist. ‘I can stand the heat. I doubt if you can. But if you don’t mind going bankrupt and losing everything, do what you like.’ He glanced around the room. ‘This is a nice set-up you have here, and I doubt your artist friends will be happy to see it close.’
Lucy was free, but frozen to the spot. ‘You can’t possibly do that.’
‘Yes, I can. I can close the factory, for a start. I’m a wealthy man, and its monetary loss is negligible to me. And every attempt you make to move on with the housing development I can block for as long as I choose—certainly long enough to see you go broke. Lucky for you,’ he drawled mockingly, ‘I choose to have you in my bed.’
Colour ran up her neck and face, and her eyes sparked with frustrated rage. But he was right, damn him. Lorenzo was a powerful banker with contacts all over the world. He could pull any strings he liked and make strong men quake. What chance did she have against him? Virtually none …
She looked at him with hatred, and yet she knew deep
down she was going to accept his offer. The factory, the development plan—all that she worked for—was out of her hands. He could wreck everything—even cause her to lose her home, her gallery and the friends that were her life … a life she loved.
‘So what’s it to be, Lucy? As if I need to ask.’ His sardonic eyes took in her small taut figure with mocking amusement. ‘You know you are going to agree.’
‘Yes, but first I want a binding contract with—’
‘Oh, no,’ he cut in. ‘This is strictly between you and I, and—as you once so memorably said—you will have to take me on trust. But we can shake on it in the English way.’ And he held out his hand.
She looked at his strong tanned hand, the long elegant fingers, and then up at his hard, expressionless face. She had the strangest notion he was not as sure of himself as he appeared. She lowered her eyes, her lashes sweeping her pale cheeks, and called herself a fool for trying to read more into his offer than what it was—sex for money, but on a large scale—and reluctantly placed her hand in his.
‘So polite, so prim, so British,’ he mocked as his hand tightened around hers, pulling her closer. She tried to pull away but he wrapped her hand behind her back, jerking her hard against him. ‘That’s better,’ he said, his free hand unfastening the buttons of her shirt.
‘Why are you doing this?’ she asked helplessly. The brush of his fingers in the valley of her breasts as he deftly opened her shirt aroused a pulsating sensation deep inside her that she fought to control. ‘I won’t enjoy it, and you will get no pleasure from me.’
‘Oh, I will, Lucy.’
He stared down at her, reading her reaction as he trailed long fingers over the curve of her breasts,
dipping beneath the lace of her bra to graze a nipple. She gasped.
‘You see, sweetheart?’ He mocked her with the endearment as he teased a taut nipple between his long fingers. ‘Your pleasure is my pleasure.’ His mouth lowered to hers. The burning pressure of his kiss ignited her fiercely controlled feelings and she trembled helplessly. ‘I am
going to pleasure you, Lucy,’ he murmured against her mouth. ‘What we had before will seem like a mere taste, and you will be begging me for more.’
‘Never!’ she cried, but her body seemed to have a will of its own, and she had a terrible desire to touch him, to surrender herself to the sweet agony of his kiss, his caress.
He slipped the shirt from her shoulder along with her bra strap, so he could bend his head to kiss the curve of her neck. She swayed, whimpering in protest, but as he lowered his head further, peeling down her bra to tongue her hardening nipples, the whimper changed to a moan of pleasure.
He lifted his head and she stared up at him, her eyes fixed on his hard, irresistible mouth.
‘Still think you won’t enjoy it?’ he prompted and, dropping his hand, he removed her shirt and bra completely. His black eyes flicked over her from her pink lips, swollen from his kisses, over her slender shoulders to her breasts and the pale rose nipples betraying her arousal. ‘Your body is telling me otherwise.’
Naked to the waist, and shamed by her own weakness, Lucy made an attempt to fold her arms in front of her. But he caught her hands and held them at her sides, bent his head, his mouth finding hers again.
The slow, seductive pressure of the kiss coaxing her lips apart was irresistible, and she could feel herself
weakening, responding, wanting him—and suddenly she was transported back to the first time they’d made love … the heady excitement … the swirling senses … the exquisite delight of his touch.
Without removing his lips from hers, he swung her up in his arms. With a sense of
she grasped his shoulder, her hand curving around his neck to touch his hair. Her tongue was curling with his, and any lingering thought of resistance was swept away by the flood of desire raging through her.
He carried her into the bedroom and lowered her on to the bed, removing her shorts and briefs in one deft movement. He straightened up, staring down at her with hot hard eyes as he shed his clothes, letting them fall in a heap on the floor.
Lucy did not move. She was mesmerised at the sight of him. It was still daylight outside, and every muscle, every sinew of his great body was perfectly defined. But his facial muscles were tense, his strong jaw clenched as if to control some strong reaction. She had no time to wonder why as he joined her on the bed. The press of his hard body against her, the heat and the strength of him, made her tremble. Leaning over her, he brushed his lips against her brow, the curve of her cheek, and finally her mouth, to kiss her with an oddly gentle passion that was utterly beguiling.
He moved and laid his head against her breasts, turning his face to nuzzle their creamy fullness, suckling and licking the pouting tips as his hands stroked and caressed the quivering flesh down her hips, her thighs, and between her trembling legs. Every nerve in her body was screaming with tension almost to breaking point. Perspiration broke out on her brow, her body, and
her small hands clutched at his biceps, his shoulders, roaming restlessly.
Suddenly Lorenzo rolled over onto his back, lifting her over him, his strong hands grasping the top of her legs. With one mighty thrust he impaled her on the rock-hard length of him, and stilled.
‘I want to watch you fall apart,’ he grated.
Eyes wild, she looked down and saw the molten passion in the black depths of his.
She splayed her hands on his chest and tried to move, his thickness filling her. She needed to move. But a finger slid between the velvet lips where their bodies joined and her head fell back, a long groan escaping her as he delicately massaged the swelling point of pleasure until she shattered into a million pieces. His grip tightened, holding her firm as she convulsed around him in a mind-blowing orgasm.