Read Sweet Surrender with the Millionaire Online
Authors: Helen Brooks
What was she? the other section of his mind, which was working dispassionately, asked. Clingy? Trusting? Stifling?
No. None of those. The opposite in fact. She didn’t
strike him as a woman who had marriage and roses-round-the-door in mind. From what he could ascertain so far the male of the species didn’t feature highly in her estimation. But neither was she the kind of woman who would enjoy an affair for however long it lasted and then walk away with no tears or regrets. He didn’t know how he’d come by the knowledge but he was sure of it.
‘This is lovely.’ Willow glanced round the dining room appreciatively. ‘Do you always eat in such style?’
Morgan glanced round the room as though he were seeing it for the first time, his gaze moving over the table set with fine linen, silver and crystal. ‘Always. Kitty takes her duties very seriously,’ he added dryly, reaching for the bottle of red wine. He poured two glasses and handed Willow hers, raising his as he murmured, ‘To chimney sweeps and the good work they do.’
It was the first really natural response he’d had and he had to swallow hard as his heart began to hammer in his ribcage. He drank deeply of the wine, needing its boost to his system. It was a fine red; enough complexity showing from the skilful blending to bring out the cherry and berry flavours without spoiling the soft oaky flavours of the French and American wood. He’d drunk enough cheap plonk throughout his university days to always buy the best once he could afford to do so.
Kitty bustled in with the first course, cajun-spiced salmon with honey crème fraîche. It was one of her specialities and always cooked to perfection so the flakes of flesh fell apart when pressed with a fork.
He watched Willow take her first bite and saw the green
eyes widen in appreciation. She ate delicately, like an elegant, well-mannered cat, her soft, full lips closing over the food and tasting it carefully. With a swiftness that surprised him he found himself wondering what it would be like to feel her mouth open beneath his, to bury his hands in the silken sheen of her hair and thrust his tongue into the secret recesses behind her small white teeth. To nibble and suck and tease her lips…
‘This is delicious.’ She glanced up and saw him looking at her and immediately her face became wary even though her smile was polite. The withdrawal was subtle but there nonetheless.
What the hell had gone on in her life?
Morgan nodded, his voice easy when he said, ‘She’s a strange mixture, is Kitty. She and Jim only like the plainest of food, no frills or fancies, as she puts it, but her main interest in life is cooking fantastic dishes that are out of this world. Her tofu miso soup has to be tasted to be believed and likewise her baked Indian rice pudding with nuts, fruit and saffron. I do believe she and Jim are probably sitting down to steamed white fish and three veg as we speak, though. Good solid northern food that sticks to the ribs.’
‘Don’t they ever eat with you?’ she asked in surprise.
‘Not when I have guests. Another of Kitty’s set-inconcrete ideas.’ Deliberately keeping his voice casual, he said, ‘Do you like cooking?’
Her small nose wrinkled. ‘I suppose I don’t mind it but I’m not the best in the world by any means. I do experiment at weekends now and again, but I rely on my trusty microwave during the week when I’m working. Ready meals mostly, I’m afraid.’
Aware he was itching to know more about her—a lot more—Morgan warned himself to go steady. ‘Tell me about your job,’ he drawled as though he were merely making polite conversation. ‘What do you do and where do you work?’
He ate slowly as she spoke, pretending he wasn’t hanging on every word. When she came to a natural pause he asked the question he’d been working round to all evening. ‘So what made you buy Keeper’s Cottage? It’s a bit remote, isn’t it?’
The barrier that went up was almost visible. ‘I liked it.’
‘There must have been other places you liked closer to your work, surely? Places you could have shared with friends, perhaps?’
For a moment he thought she was going to tell him to mind his own business. He couldn’t have blamed her. Instead, after a long pause, she said coolly, ‘I’ve done the sharing-with-friends thing for a while and I decided I wanted my own house now. I…I like my own company. Being independent is important to me.’
Neat hint for the future. Morgan smiled. ‘There’s a hell of a lot wants doing to the cottage as far as I understand.’
Willow shrugged. ‘I’m in no rush. Things will happen in time.’
‘And it’s tiny. Charming,’ he added hastily. ‘But tiny.’
‘It’s more than big enough for one.’
He’d finished his salmon and took a long swallow of wine, blue eyes holding green when he murmured, ‘What if you meet someone?’
‘I meet people all the time, Morgan, and it doesn’t affect my living accommodation.’
Her voice had been light, even suggesting amusement, but her fingers were gripping the stem of the wineglass so tightly her knuckles showed white. Vitally aware of her body language, he gave the required response of a lazy smile but found he wasn’t ready to do the socially acceptable thing and leave well alone. ‘I mean someone special,’ he said softly. ‘You’re a very attractive young woman and most women in your position want a partner eventually, maybe even children one day. It would be a shame to work at getting the cottage exactly how you want it only to have to move to a bigger place.’
Her pupils had dilated, black showing stark against the clear green. Slowly she took a sip of wine, then said, ‘For the record I’ve done the partner thing, OK? Husband, everything. I didn’t like it and I have no intention of repeating what was a mistake now I have my freedom again.’ Rising to her feet, she added, ‘I just need to pay a visit to the cloakroom. I won’t be long.’
He rose with her but didn’t say a word because he couldn’t. He felt as though someone had just punched him hard in the stomach. And the ironic thing, he acknowledged soberly, was that he had probably asked for it.
fled to the downstairs cloakroom, berating herself with each step. Stupid. She’d been absolutely stupid to reveal what she had. And to add that bit about her freedom…
She closed the door of the cloakroom behind her and stood with her hands pressed to her hot cheeks in the cool white and grey room. Staring at her face in the large oval mirror above the washbasin, she saw her cheeks were fiery.
He’d think she’d been insinuating she was on the market again but this time for a no-strings-attached affair or something similar. Any man would. She should just have stated she had no intention of concentrating on anything other than her career for a long, long time. That would have been enough. Impersonal and to the point. Instead she’d launched into an explanation that had embarrassed them both. And Morgan
been embarrassed, she could tell from the look on his face. He hadn’t known what to say. In fact he’d done a goldfish impression as she’d left.
Which was probably a first.
The thought came from nowhere but in spite of her agitation it made her smile for a moment. She dared bet
Morgan Wright was never taken by surprise and usually had an answer to everything.
Shutting her eyes tightly, she groaned under her breath. He really must think she was a nutcase now. First she nearly set his summerhouse on fire and covered his garden in ash, then she nearly set her own house on fire and now she was bending his ear about her disastrous marriage. What on earth was the matter with her? But he
Her eyes snapping open, she shook her head at herself. No excuses. He’d been making friendly dinner conversation, that was all. He hadn’t asked for a precise of her lovelife to date, for goodness’ sake. She hadn’t been thinking clearly enough, that was the trouble. When he’d mentioned children he’d touched a nerve. She had always thought she’d be a mother one day; she’d never really imagined anything else. Perhaps she’d hung in there with Piers long after she’d known she should have left because of the dream of babies and a family? By the time she’d petitioned for divorce she’d known she’d rather be barren for the rest of her days than have Pier’s child though.
Of course you didn’t have to be married or with someone to have a baby these days—the world was full of single mothers who’d got pregnant knowing they had no intention of staying with the father of their child for ever. One of her city friends had been quite open about the fact she’d purposely conceived knowing she didn’t even want to see the man again once she was pregnant. A high-powered businesswoman who was as ruthless in her lovelife as her worklife, Jill had already hired a full-time nanny before her baby was born and, now little Lynsey was six months old, appeared as happy as a bug in a rug with life.
But she wasn’t like Jill. Sighing, she brushed her hair back from her face. And what was right for one person wasn’t necessarily right for another. She wouldn’t want Jill’s life, which consisted of seeing Lynsey for an hour or two in the morning and even shorter time in the evening, and weekends. She knew herself well enough to realise she was an all-or-nothing kind of girl, and if she couldn’t have it all—a permanent relationship, babies, roses round the door—she’d rather have nothing. Not that her life was empty; it wasn’t. She had loads of good friends, a job she enjoyed and a home she’d fallen in love with the minute she’d seen it. Beth being pregnant had unsettled her, that was all. But it would be fun being an aunty and she could slake some of her maternal longing on the poor little thing in due time.
Willow continued to give herself a stern talking-to until she left the cloakroom a few minutes later, by which time she was in control of herself once more. Feeling slightly silly at the way she’d panicked and left the table, admittedly—but reason had reasserted itself and she was confident Morgan hadn’t assumed she was inviting herself into his bed. She was out of practice at conversing over dinner with a member of the opposite sex, that was the trouble, she told herself ruefully as she retraced her steps. Despite offers, since Piers she hadn’t dated.
When she entered the dining room Morgan was sitting where she’d left him, staring broodingly into his wineglass. For a second she studied his face, noticing the strength in the square-boned jaw, the cleanly sculpted mouth and straight nose.
His attractiveness went far beyond looks, she thought
with a sudden jolt to her equilibrium. In spite of being a very masculine male, there was nothing bullish or brutal about him. It would be easier to dismiss him from her mind if there were.
Morgan looked up, the brilliant blue eyes unreadable. ‘Did I offend you just now? And please be honest, Willow.’
‘What?’ Completely taken aback, she stopped in her tracks before recovering and taking her seat at the table as she said, ‘No, of course not. You didn’t, really.’
‘Upset you, then? And again, be honest.’
She stared at him. He clearly didn’t believe in pushing awkward issues under the carpet. She was about to make a dismissive reply and change the subject when she saw there was real concern in the hard face. She hesitated, colour creeping up her cheeks, and then said in a rush, ‘You didn’t offend
upset me, Morgan, I promise you. It’s just that—’ she took a deep breath ‘—I don’t normally wear my heart on my sleeve.’
He nodded slowly, his voice soft when he said, ‘Is it still painful to talk about?’
He had refilled her wineglass while she’d been in the cloakroom and she took a long sip to gain some time. She wanted to say she didn’t wish to discuss this any further so it was with something akin to surprise she heard herself say, ‘I don’t love him any more if that’s what you mean.’
He took the wind out of her sails for the second time in as many minutes when he said quietly, ‘I don’t know what I mean, to be truthful. I hadn’t imagined…’ He shook his head at himself. ‘I guess because you
so young I hadn’t considered something like marriage. Nothing so serious or…permanent.’
Tonelessly, she said, ‘I met Piers six years ago and we married eight months later. I—I was very unhappy.’ She stared into the wineglass, swirling the ruby-red liquid as she spoke. ‘He wasn’t who I thought he was before we married. I knew I’d made a terrible mistake within the first few months but—’ she shrugged ‘—I thought I could make it work if I tried. I was wrong. Something happened—’ a few drops of wine escaped the glass, staining the linen tablecloth like blood ‘—and I left. We’re now legally divorced. End of story.’ She raised her eyes, her smile brittle. ‘Just one of many said little tales happening up and down the country.’
‘Perhaps. But this is
tale and marriage.’
‘Was.’ As she spoke Kitty bustled in with the main course, and Willow had never been so glad of an interruption in all her life. ‘Something smells wonderful,’ she said brightly.
‘Steak with red-wine butter,’ said Kitty cheerfully. ‘You don’t go in for all that slimming carry-on, do you?’
‘Not me.’ She had lost so much weight in the aftermath of the break-up with Piers she’d fought for months to gain weight, not lose it, having gone down to skin and bone—as Beth had put it. She’d never been voluptuous but she liked her curves.
‘Good. Can’t abide lettuce eaters. There’s toffee-ripple cheesecake with fudge sauce for dessert. It’s quite rich so you won’t manage much but it’s one of Morgan’s favourites.’
‘All your desserts are my favourites, Kitty.’
Kitty gave a rich chuckle. ‘Go on with you.’ But she was red with pleasure as she left them.
Willow looked at him. She was beginning to realise Morgan was more complex than she’d initially thought.
She’d felt comfortable putting him down as a wealthy bachelor with a different girlfriend for each day of the week and a jumbo ego the size of a small mountain. The first part was probably still true, but he didn’t act like a man who had an inflated opinion of himself. He was obviously intelligent and determined—no one got to where he had without possessing such qualities along with a healthy dose of tenacity and intuitiveness—but he wasn’t brash or conceited. And the way he was with Kitty was lovely.
She frowned to herself. She would have preferred he stayed in the box she’d put him in; it was far more comfortable. Determined to deflect more searching questions, as the door closed behind Kitty she said, ‘Well, now you know all about me, how about you? Ever been tempted to walk up the aisle or are you much too sensible for that? You strike me as the confirmed-bachelor sort.’
Morgan smiled as she’d meant him to. ‘I got my fingers burnt a long time ago when I was knee-high to a grasshopper,’ he said lightly. ‘I decided then I wasn’t a for-ever-after type.’
‘Then we’re two of a kind.’ That sounded too cosy and, feeling flustered, she took a big bite of her steak. It was wonderful. ‘I’m surprised you aren’t as big as a house if you eat like this all the time,’ she said, raising her head.
The piercing blue eyes were waiting for her. ‘Ah, but I’m only here weekends,’ he pointed out softly. ‘Weekdays I live in London in a very modern, functional apartment, the kitchen of which, I must confess, is rarely used.’
‘You eat out all the time?’
‘I work out at the gym most nights and they have a good
restaurant, which prides itself on the healthy options. I feel I can indulge at weekends. That’s my excuse, anyway.’
‘That doesn’t sound as though you leave much time for a social life.’ The words had popped out before she realised how nosy she sounded. She just hoped he didn’t think she was prying.
There was a sexy quirk to Morgan’s mouth when he murmured, ‘Oh, I manage fairly well. On the whole.’
She just bet he did. Her gaze fell to his hand as he drank from his wineglass. His hands were like the rest of him, powerfully masculine, and his forearms were muscular and dusted with dark hair. The room was large and impressive and yet he dominated it with his presence. She could imagine he would be devastating to come up against in the business world. Devastating altogether. Not a man you could easily forget.
Even more flustered, she concentrated on her meal for the next little while, which wasn’t hard because every mouthful was heavenly. Morgan did the same, eating with obvious enjoyment and making amusing small talk, which needed very little response on her part. Nevertheless she was aware she was as taut as piano wire and conscious of every little movement from the hard male body opposite her, even when she wasn’t looking at him. He was an…unsettling man, she decided as Kitty cleared away their empty plates and brought two helpings of toffee-ripple cheesecake, Morgan’s being large enough for half a dozen people.
He saw her glance at his plate and smiled the crooked grin that was becoming familiar to her. ‘Kitty thinks I’m a growing boy. And I don’t want to disillusion her, now, do I?’
It was somehow disturbingly endearing, and to combat
the quiver of something she didn’t want to put a name to Willow’s voice was deliberately dry when she said, ‘Be careful you don’t grow too much. Those extra pounds creep up on you, you know.’
‘Not me. Fast metabolism.’
‘All in the genes?’ she asked, just to make conversation and echoing what he’d said to her earlier.
‘Probably.’ His voice was pleasant but dismissive.
‘Your father’s or your mother’s?’
He stared at her for a moment and Willow saw what she could only describe as a shutter come down over the brilliant blue of his eyes in the second before he shrugged. ‘Your guess is as good as mine. They died when I was too young to remember them.’
Quickly, she said, ‘I’m sorry. Mine died a few months before I got married but I still miss them dreadfully. So does my sister. She’s expecting a baby soon and it would have been nice for Mum to be around to see her first grandchild.’ She was gabbling but the look in his eyes had thrown her. ‘Do you have any brothers or sisters?’ she added weakly.
He shook his head. ‘No, there’s just me. The one and only original. Like that clock you liked so much.’
Willow smiled because she knew he wanted her to and for the same reason didn’t pursue what was clearly a nogo area. Her tenseness had given her the beginning of a headache, but she felt every moment in Morgan’s company was electric so perhaps it wasn’t surprising. She didn’t think she had ever met anyone who was such an enigma.
They took coffee in the drawing room where Kitty had placed the tray on a low coffee table pulled close to the fire, a box of chocolates and another of after-dinner mints next
to the white porcelain cups. When Morgan sat down on a two-seater sofa in front of the table Willow felt she had no option but to join him, anything else would have appeared churlish, but she took care no part of her body touched his.
She declined cream or sugar in her coffee; the cocktails had been potent and so had the wine and suddenly she felt she needed all her wits about her. The coffee was strong but not bitter and the chocolate she chose was sweet and nutty. The red glow from the fire, the mellow light in the room, the different tastes on her tongue and not least the dark man sitting quietly beside her created a whole host of emotions she could have done without. She felt tinglingly, excitingly alive and had to force her hand not to shake when she replaced her cup on the saucer and turned to Morgan. ‘Thank you for dinner and everything you’ve done,’ she said steadily. ‘I’ll try and be out of your hair as soon as possible tomorrow.’
‘No need.’ His voice was deep, smoky. She had to clench her stomach muscles against what it did to her. ‘Stay as long as you like. I wasn’t doing anything special this weekend.’
‘Nevertheless I’d like to make a start on clearing up as soon as I can,’ she prevaricated quickly. ‘Get it over with.’
‘I’ll help you,’ he offered softly.
‘No, that’s all right, you’ve done enough already.’
‘Two pairs of hands will make lighter work.’
‘No, really.’ She could hear the tightness in her voice herself. Swallowing hard, she forced a smile. ‘But thank you.’
‘Is it me or are you like this with all men?’
His voice had been calm, unemotional, but the effect of his words brought her pent-up breath escaping in a tiny swoosh. Feigning a hauteur she didn’t feel, she said, ‘I’m sorry?’