Sweet Surrender with the Millionaire (5 page)

BOOK: Sweet Surrender with the Millionaire
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And talking to yourself was the first sign of madness.


wasn’t a man given to second-guessing himself. In fact he’d built his small empire by going for the jugular and to hell with it if he’d got it wrong—which, it must be said, he rarely did. He was at the top of his game professionally and comfortingly satisfied with life in general. So why, he asked himself as he sat absently ruffling the fur on Bella’s head, the rest of the dogs piled round his feet, was he regretting inviting Willow to stay the night? It didn’t make sense.

A muscle knotted in his cheek and he swallowed the last of the Negroni he’d made for himself after coming downstairs. The bittersweet cocktail was one of his favourites and he usually took his time and enjoyed it in a leisurely way, but tonight the mix of Campari, sweet vermouth and gin barely registered on his taste buds. He was all at odds with himself and he didn’t like it.

He set the squat, straight-sided glass he always used for his pre-dinner cocktails on the small table beside him, frowning. He would have bet his bottom dollar she was no older than twenty, but if she was to be believed you could add practically another decade to that. And he didn’t doubt
her. What woman would add years to her age, after all? No, she was nearly twenty-nine.

He raked back a quiff of hair that persisted in falling over his forehead, and the restrained irritation in the action brought Bella’s eyes to his face as she whined softly.

‘It’s all right, girl.’ He patted the noble head reassuringly even as a separate part of his mind asked the question, but was it? He didn’t like the way his new neighbour made him feel, that was it in a nutshell. He was way past the sweaty palms and uncontrollable urges stage, damn it. That had died a death after Stephanie and since then he’d made sure his head was in full control of his heart and the rest of him. He had a couple of friends who’d let their hearts rule their heads and both of them were paying for it in hefty alimony payments and only seeing their kids every other weekend—if they were lucky. Women were another species, that was the truth of it. Love, if it even existed, was too fragile a thing to trust in, too weighted with possible pitfalls. Like another wealthier, more successful patsy coming along.

Knowing his thinking was flawed, he rose abruptly from his seat and walked across the room to stand looking out over his grounds. OK, there were men and women who loved each other for a lifetime—maybe. But how many of these ‘perfect’ relationships were for real? How many merely papered over the cracks for reasons of their own? Thousands, millions.

‘Ten minutes to dinner.’

Kitty interrupted his thoughts and as he swung round and nodded it was as though the small, plump woman standing in the doorway was a challenge to his thoughts. He couldn’t
doubt the strength and authenticity of what Jim and Kitty had, but they were the exception that proved the rule. There were hundreds of millions of men and women in the world; you had more chances of winning the lottery than finding what the women’s magazines called a soulmate.

‘The lass not down yet?’ Kitty asked cheerily.

‘No, not yet.’ He hoped she’d take the hint and disappear.

Kitty came further into the room, her voice dropping as she murmured, ‘I wonder what’s made a young lass like that buy Keeper’s Cottage? Someone of her age should be sharing a flat with friends and having fun. Tisn’t right to bury yourself away like she’s done.’

His voice dry, Morgan said, ‘She’s older than she looks.’

‘Oh, aye?’ Kitty nodded. ‘That makes more sense. How old is she, then?’

‘Nearly twenty-nine,’ Morgan said expressionlessly.

‘Is that so?’ Kitty nodded again. ‘Fancy that.’

Morgan grinned. Kitty was trying very hard to appear nonchalant but he could see the matchmaking gleam in her eye. The little woman had been on a mission to find a ‘nice’ wife for him for years; it was an irresistible challenge to her despite knowing his views on the subject. Walking across to her, he gently tucked a strand of grey hair behind her ear as he murmured softly, ‘Forget it, Kitty. Between you and me Miss Willow Landon doesn’t like me very much so there’s no hope in that direction, OK?’

It clearly wasn’t. Visibly bristling, Kitty stared at him. ‘I don’t see why after the way you’ve helped her.’

‘Personality clash,’ he said briefly. ‘That’s all.’

‘Personality clash? And what’s that when it’s at home?’

Wishing he’d kept his mouth shut, Morgan took a deep
breath, then let it out. ‘She’s been polite and grateful so don’t get on your high horse, woman. I just meant I’m clearly not her type any more than she’s mine.’

A slight noise in the doorway brought their heads turning. Willow was standing there and he suspected she’d heard his last remark from the colour in her cheeks. As if that weren’t enough the sight of her—hair falling to her shoulders in silken strands, eyes as green as emeralds and her soft, half-open mouth—sent a jolt of desire sizzling through his veins. Mentally cursing Kitty and her matchmaking and not least the primal urges this young red-haired woman seemed able to inspire so easily, Morgan decided prevarication wasn’t an option. As Kitty beat a hasty retreat he said quietly, ‘Sorry, you obviously weren’t supposed to hear that.’

‘Obviously.’ The green eyes were as cold as glass.

Damn it.
Following the line that honesty was the best policy, Morgan shrugged. ‘The thing is, Kitty tries to pair me off with any and every woman who strays across her path. It must be her age. Menopausal hormones out of control or something.’

The attempt at humour was met with a steely face. ‘Let me endeavour to make one thing perfectly clear, Mr Wright. I wouldn’t have you if you were the last man in the world and came wrapped in gold encrusted with diamonds.’

Certainly clear enough. ‘The very point I was attempting to make to Kitty.’ His mouth took on a rueful quirk. ‘I was trying to save you any embarrassment because Kitty can be a little…persistent when she gets a bee in her bonnet. In the event I seem to have made a pig’s ear of things.’

The green gaze continued to study him for a moment.

Morgan felt he understood how an insect felt when impaled on a pin. Then he saw her head go back as she strolled further into the room. ‘No problem,’ she said coolly. ‘Just so we are absolutely clear.’

Morgan was well versed with women and he knew he was still in deep water. ‘Cocktail?’ he offered as Willow held out her hands to the blazing fire in the deep, ornate fireplace, her back to him. ‘I always indulge when I’m at home at the weekends.’

She didn’t look at him when she said, ‘Thank you, a margarita would be nice.’ Her voice verged on icy.

Morgan prided himself on his margaritas. After filling a mixing glass with ice and stirring with a spoon, he tipped the ice away before topping up the glass with fresh. A dash of dry vermouth and he continued stirring, aware the figure by the fire had turned to watch him. After straining the liquid he again added more ice, along with a large measure of vodka.

It was when he strained the cocktail into a frosted martini glass rimmed with salt that Willow said, ‘Don’t tell me. You used to be a cocktail waiter in your youth.’

His youth? He wasn’t exactly at the age to push up daisies yet. Smiling, he handed her the cocktail. Her fingers touched his for a moment and a light electric current shot up his arm. ‘I worked in a cocktail bar for extra money during my uni days,’ he admitted easily. ‘It was a good job. I enjoyed it.’

‘One of those where you throw the bottles over your head and at each other?’ she asked with sweet venom.

His laugh was hearty and he saw her lips twitch in response. ‘The very same. At the weekends we put on quite a show.’

‘Dream job for a student, I should imagine?’

‘You better believe it. On lean days we’d fill up on the snacks and stuff the owner put out for the clients; he knew but he didn’t mind, not while we were pulling the punters in. The tips were great too; lots of rich Americans looking for some fun and entertainment with their drinks.’

‘Lady Americans?’ she enquired too casually.

His smile deepened. ‘Is that disapproval in your voice?’

‘Of course not.’ She tossed her head. ‘Why would it be?’

He watched with interest as her blush became brilliant. Putting her out of her misery, he busied himself fixing his second Negroni as he said casually, ‘Myself and the other guy in the bar were propositioned now and again as it happens. Ladies looking for a holiday fling with no strings attached, mainly.’

He turned and saw the look on her face before she could hide it. His voice amused, he drawled, ‘You’re shocked.’

This time she didn’t deny it. After taking a sip of her drink, she said, ‘It’s your life.’

He decided not to tell her he’d got a steady girlfriend at the time and had left the women to his friend who’d worked with him. This idea she’d got of him being an English gigolo was too entertaining. ‘And it’s been a rich one to date,’ he said, deadpan.

This time she almost gulped at her cocktail.

It was mean perhaps, but he found he got a buzz from teasing her, probably because he’d felt off kilter since the first time he’d set eyes on his red-haired neighbour. Ridiculous, but Willow Landon bothered him deep inside, in a small private place no one ever reached. It was irritating and inconvenient, he told himself, but it would pass. Everything did.

‘So you’ve been here ten years?’ Her voice sounded a little desperate as she made an obvious attempt to change the subject. ‘You’re not bored yet? No plans to leave?’

‘None.’ He gestured for her to be seated as he added, ‘Disappointed?’ just to rile her a little more.

‘Why would I be concerned whether you live here or not?’ she said stiffly, sitting primly on the edge of a chair.

Her skin was the colour of honey peppered with spice and the red hair was a combination of endless shades. Fighting the urge to touch her, Morgan walked to the chair furthest from Willow’s and sat down, stretching out his legs and taking a swig of his Negroni. There was a short silence and as he looked at her he found he’d tired of the game. Leaning forward suddenly, he said quietly, ‘We got off to a bad start, didn’t we? And it hasn’t improved since. Can we come to a truce? I promise I’ll try not to annoy you if you try and relax a little. If nothing else it will make life easier the next time I rescue you from a burning building or whatever.’

For a moment he thought she was going to freeze him out. Then a shy smile warmed her face, her eyes. ‘Do you think there’s going to be a next time?’ she murmured ruefully. And before he could answer, went on, ‘In spite of my track record so far I promise I’m not an arsonist in the making.’

He grinned. ‘I never thought you were. Unlucky maybe…’

She inclined her head. ‘Thank you for that—you could in all honesty have said stupid. It must appear that way.’

His smile died, a slight frown taking its place. ‘Why would I be so crass? We all make mistakes. Life is a series of learning curves. It’s when we
learn from them the problems start.’

She nodded, but as Morgan stared at her there was something deep and dark in the clear green eyes that disturbed him. ‘You don’t believe that?’ he asked gently.

She finished her cocktail before she spoke and a slow heat had crept into her cheeks. ‘
believe it. It’s just that…’

‘Yes?’ he prompted quietly, wanting to know more.

‘I suppose I’ve found others aren’t so generous. Some people expect other people to be perfect all the time.’

Some people?
It had to be a man who had hurt her enough to cause that depth of pain. Telling himself to go lightly, he said softly, ‘I guess you get flawed individuals in every society who are either selfish enough or damaged enough to expect perfection. Personally I’d find being with a “perfect” person hell on earth, having enough faults myself to fill a book.’

‘That sort of person doesn’t see their own faults though.’

Her voice had been curiously toneless. Morgan kept all emotion out of his voice when he said, ‘Are you speaking from experience? And you don’t have to answer that if you don’t want to.’

Her eyes flickered and fell from his, but her voice was steady: ‘Yes, I am.’ She glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. ‘That’s a beautiful clock. Unusual.’

Morgan accepted the change of conversation with good grace although he found he was aching to know more. ‘It’s a French timepiece I picked up at an auction in France some years ago. The clock itself is mounted in a stirrup and horseshoe. I like unusual things. Things that don’t follow a pattern. Unique things.’

Her gaze moved to the two bronze figures either side of the clock, each in the form of dancing fauns. ‘I can see that. Are the fauns French too? They’re very beautiful.’

‘Italian, eighteenth century.’

They continued discussing the various objects of art in the room in the couple of minutes before Kitty put her head round the door to say dinner was ready, but Morgan found it difficult to concentrate. Who was this man who’d hurt her so badly? If it was a man. But it had to be; he felt it in his bones. What had he been to her and how had she got mixed up with him in the first place? Not that it was any of his business, of course.

He took Willow’s arm as they walked through to the dining room where Kitty had set two places. She had lit candles in the middle of the table and the lights were dimmed; clearly their discussion about her matchmaking had had no effect at all.

Willow’s hair smelt of peach shampoo, which was fairly innocuous as perfume went; why it should prompt urges of such an erotic nature the walk to the dining room was a sweet agony in his loins, he didn’t know. He glanced down at the sheen of her hair as he pulled out her chair for her and resisted the impulse to put his lips to it.

Pull yourself together.
The warning was grim. He was acting like a young boy wet behind the ears and on his first date with a member of the opposite sex, not a thirty-five-year-old man who had shared his bed and his life with several women in his time; some for a few months, some longer. Experience told him Willow Landon was not the sort of woman who would enter into a light relationship for the hell of it, she was too…

BOOK: Sweet Surrender with the Millionaire
4.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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