Authors: Elizabeth Lennox
“Would you like a drink?” he asked and started walking toward her.
She accepted the glass of champagne nervously, trying to relax when he smiled reassuringly at her. “Thank you.” She took a sip and looked away, unable to hold his gaze with the heat behind his.
“Your home is lovely,” she said and took several steps into the room. “How long have you lived here?”
Max watched in fascination as she walked around the room, touching various knick knacks and generally trying to force herself to relax. He liked that about her, he realized. She couldn’t hide her reaction to him. Yes, they would get along very well, he thought. As long as she never wore that kind of dress in public. He took a long swallow of his drink, his eyes moving up and down her gorgeous, slender figure clad in the clinging silk that left nothing to the imagination. He almost groaned when his eyes skimmed over her breasts, realizing that she wasn’t wearing anything underneath. His fingers ached to pull the material away and see what her breasts would look like, what color her nipples were and if they would peak in his hand when he touched them.
He pulled his eyes away and looked at her face. “I’ve had the house for about five years. Would you like some appetizers?” he asked, indicating a platter of delicacies on the table in front of the fire place.
Clarissa looked down at the platter and shook her head. “No, thank you,” she replied. She couldn’t eat a thing being this nervous. “How was your day?” she asked, desperate to find a neutral topic.
They talked about his latest business deals and she told him about the plot to the latest book she was translating. She was thrilled when he laughed at some of the dialog she’d translated because of the idioms of the French language, his amusement reinforcing to her that the words would come across well.
As they talked, Max picked up one of the small hors’douevres and walked over to her. “Open your mouth,” he said and Clarissa obeyed despite the fact that she was in the middle of a sentence.
The crab quiche pastry was divine. The succulent appetizer was the perfect size and texture, letting her stomach know that she really was hungry. “Oh, goodness, that’s delicious,” she said when she’d finished chewing.
“Tell me more about your story,” he said and picked up another bite, popping it in his own mouth.
They chatted for about an hour before one of the servants brought in two plates covered with silver covers. The servant quickly disappeared and Max took her hand to lead her over to the table. He lifted the silver covers himself, then sat down opposite her. “I don’t know what your favorite meals are, or I would have requested that for tonight. I hope this is adequate.”
Clarissa looked down at her plate and suddenly, her mouth started watering. There was a perfectly broiled steak with delicious, cheesy looking potatoes and steamed broccoli. “This looks wonderful,” she gushed, picking up her knife and fork to eat. “I’m actually starving.”
They chatted about so many subjects during the meal and Clarissa was astounded by how many opinions they had in common and how many books they had both read. The meal was wonderful and she couldn’t help but see the desire kindling in his eyes. It made her feel pretty and seductive, something she’d never really felt before. It was exhilarating to have a man this amazing want her.
Clarissa ignored the dessert, her stomach was too nervous to even touch the delicious looking raspberry tort in front of her.
“You’re not in the mood for something sweet?” Max asked, standing up and coming around the table.
Clarissa was only in the mood for him to take her into his arms and wipe away this silly nervous feeling she was experiencing. “No. Not really.”
“Good,” he replied. He took her hand and brought her over to the sofa, sitting down next to her. “I wanted to talk to you about something.”
She licked her lips and could feel her heart rate increase significantly. Could a person faint from anticipation? She was seriously worried about that possibility but she wasn’t going to miss this experience by being silly and passing out on the man she felt like she’d been waiting to be with for years. “What did you want to discuss?” she asked carefully, not bothering to push her skirt down over her knees as she normally would have done. A thrill shot through her as she saw his eyes flash to her knees and then back up to her face.
“I like you and respect you very much. I believe you’re intelligent and witty.”
Clarissa blinked. This wasn’t what she’d been hoping to hear. “Well… thank you,” she finally got out. “I like and respect you very much as well.”
“Good. Then this won’t be a surprise,” he said mysteriously as he pulled out a small, velvet box. “Will you marry me?” he asked and flipped open the box to reveal a beautiful, square cut diamond ring.
Clarissa gasped, her hand covering her mouth, then dropping to her heart as confusion set in. “You want to marry me?” she whispered, her anxious eyes snapping back to his, completely ignoring the ring. She tried hard to fight the steel band that seemed to have formed across her chest. She wanted Max in a painful way, but marriage was abhorrent. She couldn’t imagine being married and being miserable like so many of the couples she knew. No, that definitely wasn’t what she wanted. And she’d said as much to Max, on several occasions. How could he have misunderstood her so completely?
“Yes. I think we’d make a very good couple. I take it from your surprised expression that your answer is yes?” he replied, more as a statement than a question.
She stood up and took several steps away from him, her hand going to her hair as she tried to figure out where she’d gone wrong. “Max, I thought we’d already discussed this and you understood my position regarding marriage. I’m not interested in getting married. Not to you or to anyone.”
Max chuckled at her comment, arrogantly dismissing it. “Yes, but that was before you had an offer on the table.” He pulled her against his hard body and looked down into her soft, blue eyes. “You don’t have to pretend you’re not interested in marriage anymore. I’m more than willing to marry you.”
Clarissa’s eyes snapped with blue fire at that statement. “So you thought I’d be so overwhelmed by your proposal that I would just completely change my mind and fall into wedding planning?” She pushed against his chest and stepped back, relieved when he allowed her the additional space. “Or were you just so arrogant that you thought all of my comments about not wanting to get married were a lie, or…” she gasped, “a way to trick you into proposing?” She hated the idea that he thought she was just playing games.
His amusement vanished immediately to be replaced by irritation. This cynical rejection wasn’t the reaction he’d been expecting at all. Max put his hands on his hips and glared right back. “Something along those lines, yes.”
“Well I hate to surprise you...” she started to say.
“Too late for that,” he interrupted.
“But I’m genuinely not interested in marrying. I don’t like marriages in our level of society. I’d rather stay single for the rest of my life than to be tied to a man who doesn’t love me and who is most likely in the relationship for a business reason.”
“You’re being ridiculous!”
“Am I?” she countered, not intimidated by him at all even though he was now towering over her, his glare enough to terrify anyone.
“You are. Every woman wants to get married and have children.”
“As I said to you last week,” she grated out, “I’m not one of those women so stop lumping all women into the same category. How would you like it if I did that to men? Perhaps I could say that any man who hadn’t been married by the time he was thirty two was probably gay? Would that make you feel good?”
Max rolled his eyes. “I think it is probably safe to say that I’m not gay.”
She shook her head in exasperation. “Max, you’re only proving my point!”
Crossing his arms over his chest in a very arrogant manner, he glared down at her. “I want you. You want me just as much. What’s the issue here?”
She couldn’t believe he was simplifying something so complicated. This wasn’t an itch that needed to be scratched. This was a life-long commitment that had repercussions on every aspect of their lives. She’d thought this through and wasn’t going to back down just because he wanted to show off his machismo.
“The issue is, I’m not going to marry!” she practically shouted at him. She took a deep breath trying to calm down. “Look Max. I don’t want to marry. I don’t want to be tied to a man who will most likely move on to the next woman just as easily as he buys a new car. I’ve seen it happen too often.” She paused to look around the room and put a little space between them. “Think about the people at my father’s birthday party two weeks ago. Can you name a single couple who is not on their second, or even third marriage?” she challenged. “And what about those who aren’t divorced yet, are the people in that marriage faithful to each other?”
Max was livid with her comments. “Are you saying I would violate my wedding vows?” he demanded.
Clarissa shook her head. “I don’t know you well enough to be able to say that, Max. What I am saying is that I want a relationship that is based on mutual attraction, respect and emotions. And I definitely want business to stay out of it. Most marriages in our circles are based on what each person can gain from the relationship instead of what each can give.” She looked at him pleadingly. “I just want to have an affair with you and leave the legalities out of the relationship. I honestly don’t want to end up cynical and hurt because I found out I couldn’t hold your attention, or never had it to begin with and I was only a negotiating tool. I’m not compromising on this. It’s too important to me.”
He crossed his arms over his chest and glared at her. “And I’m not willing to compromise on my stand either. We will just have to get to know each other better so you can prove to yourself that I am not like those others. We will have a good marriage, Clarissa.”
She glared right back at him, her eyes shooting darts in his direction but he’d appeared to calm down much more easily than she had. “Then I guess there’s only one thing left to do.”
“Exactly. You set a date.”
Her fists curled into balls at her side. “No. It means you’ll call your driver and he’ll take me home. Or I’ll call a cab.”
Max shook his head as well. He was leaning toward her, trapping her against the sofa in an effort to press his will upon her. “I won’t allow you to fall into another man’s arms, Clarissa. You’re mine.”
She gasped in shock, her hand coming up to cover her chest as if to ward off his horrible words. “I’m not!”
He took an intimidating step closer. “Want to challenge me on that?”
His anger hadn’t scared her but the new look in his eyes, the one that told her she should be very careful about what she said for the next few minutes, definitely made her wary now and she took a step back, shrinking slightly as his height and breadth seemed to take up all the available breathing room. “No. But you don’t control me. I won’t fall under your commands. Save your orders for your employees. I think you have enough of them.”
His smile was slow and seductive and Clarissa’s stomach muscles clenched as he walked forward. “You’re going to marry me, Clarissa,” he stated firmly. “But in the mean time…” he started to say but didn’t finish his sentence. Instead, he pulled her gently but firmly into his arms, one finger under her chin as he lifted her head to kiss her.
As soon as his mouth touched hers, Clarissa was lost. His mouth moved slowly over hers, causing her senses to swim and her body to move closer to his. When he felt her give in, his arm wrapped around her waist, pulling her closer and Clarissa could feel his arousal, which only heightened hers. This was what she’d been anticipating and she wasn’t disappointed.
He didn’t touch her in any other way but Clarissa’s arms lifted so her hands tentatively touched his shoulders. As his mouth slanted across hers, his tongue touched her lips and she happily opened her mouth, granting him access. His tongue moved in, seducing just as his body was doing.
Clarissa could hardly breathe and her arms crept up higher, her fingers daring to touch the skin above his collar. He felt hot to her touch and the combination of his body against hers, her fingers on his skin and his mouth ravaging hers, she whimpered with her need to find out more, to learn more and discover the next step. She wanted to feel it all and know how it would feel to have Max touch her, move his hands along her body.
Instead, he pulled away. “Come out with me tomorrow,” he said with a husky voice, his hands resting on her waist only long enough to ensure that she was able to stand before he stepped away from her.
Clarissa watched in frustration and confusion as he moved to his cell phone and called his driver. “Tomorrow?” she asked, still not sure why he’d stopped kissing her. She reached behind her, placing her hands on the sofa in an effort to steady herself.
“Yes. I have tickets to the ballet tomorrow night. I’ll pick you up at eight. Will that be okay?”
She shook her head, trying to follow along with the conversation. “I don’t understand. You want to marry me; I don’t want to get married. I want to have an affair with you but you won’t do that. And yet you still want me to attend the ballet with you?”
He spoke into the phone for a moment before snapping it shut and turning back to her. “That about sums it up.” He tossed his cell phone onto the sofa and came back to where she was standing, still looking dazed and confused.