An Heir to Bind Them
BOOK 3 in the Makricosta Dynasty
Off the boss’s payroll…and into his bed
Jaya. Her name reverberates around Theo Makricosta’s head in time to the whirring blades of his private helicopter. He must find her; only Jaya can help with the care of his infant niece and nephew…. It’s not because he hasn’t stopped thinking about the single night of mind-blowing passion he shared with the exotic beauty.
Jaya Powers couldn’t refuse her gorgeous millionaire Greek boss when she worked for him, and she can’t refuse him now! Only this time she has a secret. Their night together had consequences that will change Theo’s perfectly ordered existence forever!
"My new boss isn’t nearly as hands-on as you were..."
— Jaya to Theo, An Heir To Bind Them
When it came to the Makricosta siblings, I knew what had happened to Nic in No Longer Forbidden? and I knew what had happened to Adara in More Than A Convenient Marriage? I knew Demitri, the youngest brother, was a hellion and I had a very good idea where his story would go.
Theo was a dark horse. I didn’t know his story. I only knew he needed a very special type of heroine, one who would bring out the kind of tenderness he didn’t know he possessed.
Jaya left India with some very bad memories. That gave her the right kind of reserve that, oddly, Theo is most comfortable with. And because he was so aloof, yet adhered to his own self-imposed standards, she trusted him and even fell for him a little bit.
This might have been the most distant pair of people in romance writing history if I hadn’t added one special ingredient to bring them together. Babies! Lots of them.
I didn’t intend the Makricosta series to even be a series, but once I had them in mind, I knew there had to be an arc through the four stories. Somehow these siblings all had to come together and make peace with their past. Adara is attempting to do that, inviting everyone onto Gideon’s yacht, when the boat is attacked. Theo must fly the babies to safety.
He doesn’t know where to turn, except to Jaya, but she has a baby of her own, and it’s his!
I love this story for the way Theo and Jaya create their own world. They aren’t capable of loving anyone else, so it’s very fortunate they found each other.
Nic and Rowan, from Book One, No Longer Forbidden? make an appearance along with Adara from Book Two, More Than A Convenient Marriage? (Gideon is still stuck on the ship.) But we get our first glimpse of Demitri and he’s a tomcat of the worst variety. Look for him in Seduced Into The Greek’s World.
share this excerpt!
An Heir to Bind Them
Theo Makricosta blinked sweat out of his eyes as he glanced between his helicopter’s fuel gauge and the approaching shoreline. He was a numbers man so he didn’t worry at times like this; he calculated. His habit was to carry twice the fuel needed for any flight. He’d barely touched down on the yacht before he’d been airborne for his return trip. A to B equaled B to A, so he should have enough.
Except in this case B stood for boat, which was a moving point.
And he’d made a split-second decision as he lifted off the Makricosta Enchantment to go to Marseille rather than back to Barcelona. It had been an instinct, the type of impulse that wasn’t like him at all, but uncharacteristic panic had snared him in those first few seconds as he took flight. He had wheeled the bird toward what felt like salvation.
It had been a ludicrous urge, but he was committed now.
And soaked in perspiration.
Not that he was worried for his own life. He wouldn’t be missed if he dropped out of the sky. But his cargo would. The pressure to safeguard his passengers had him so tense he was liable to snap his stick.
It didn’t help that despite the thump of the rotors and his earmuffs plugged into the radio, he could hear both babies screaming their lungs out. He already sucked at being a brother. Now he might literally go down in flames as an uncle. Good thing he’d never tried fatherhood.
Swiping his wet palm on his thigh, he pulled his phone from his pocket. Texting and flying was about as smart as texting while driving, but if he managed to land safely, he would have a fresh host of problems to contend with. His instincts in heading north instead of west weren’t that far off. The perfect person to help him was in Marseille.
If she’d help him.
He called up the message he should have deleted a long time ago.
This is my new number, in case that’s the reason you never called me back. Jaya.
Ignoring the twist of shame the words still wrung out of his conscience, he silently hoped her heart was as soft as he remembered it.
Eighteen months ago…
Jaya Powers heard the helicopter midmorning, but Theo Makricosta still hadn’t called her by five, when she was technically off the clock. Off the payroll in fact, and leaving in twelve hours.
Ignoring the war between giddiness and heartache going on in her middle, she reminded herself that normal hours of work didn’t confine Mr. Makricosta. He traveled so much that sometimes he couldn’t sleep, so he worked instead. If he wanted files or records or reports, he called despite the time and politely asked her for them. Then he reminded her to put in for lieu or overtime and thanked her for her trouble. He was an exceptionally good man to work for and she was going to miss him way beyond what was appropriate.
Staring at herself in the mirror, packed bags organized behind her, she wondered why she was still dressed in her Makricosta Resort uniform. She gave herself a pitying headshake. Her hair was brushed and restored to its heavy bun, her makeup refreshed, her teeth clean. All in readiness for his call.
After everything that had sent her running from her home in India, she never would have seen herself turning into this: a girl with a monumental crush on her boss.
Did he know she was leaving and didn’t care? He’d never overstepped into personal, ever. If he had any awareness that she was a woman, she’d be shocked.
That thought prompted her to give a mild snort. If she hadn’t seen him buy dinner for the occasional single, vacationing woman, always accompanying her back to her room then subsequently writing off her stay against his personal expense account, she’d have surmised he wasn’t aware of women at all.
But he hooked up when it suited him and it made her feel…odd. Aware and dismayed and kind of jealous.
Which was odd because she didn’t want to sleep with him. Did she?
A flutter of anxious tension crept from her middle toward her heart. It wasn’t terror and nausea, though. It wasn’t the way she typically felt when she thought of sex.
It wasn’t fireworks and shooting stars, either, so why did she care that she might not have a chance to say goodbye?
Her entire being deflated. She had to say goodbye. It wasn’t logical to feel so attached to someone who’d been nothing but professional and detached, but she did. The promotions and career challenges alone had made him a huge part of her life, whether his encouragement had been personal or not. More importantly, the way he respected her as useful and competent had nurtured her back to feeling safe in her workplace again. He made her feel like maybe, just maybe, she could be a whole woman, rather than one who had severed herself from all but the most basic of her female attributes.
Did she want to tell him that? No. So forget it. She would leave for France without seeing him.
But rather than unknotting her red-and-white scarf, her hand scooped up her security card. She pivoted to the door. Stupid, she told herself as she walked to the elevator. What if he was with someone?
A few minutes later she swiped her damp palms on her skirt before knocking on his door. Technically this fortieth floor villa belonged to the Makricosta family, but the youngest brother, Demitri, wasn’t as devoted to duty as Theo, flitting through on a whim and only very seldom. Their sister, Adara, the figurehead of the operation, timed her visits to catch a break from New York winters, not wasting better July weather elsewhere when it was its coolest here in Bali.
Theo—Mr. Makricosta, she reminded herself, even though she thought of him as Theo—was very methodical, inspecting the books of each hotel in the chain at least once a quarter. He was reliable and predictable. She liked that about him.
Licking her lips, she knocked briefly.
The murmur inside might have been “Come in.” She couldn’t be sure and she had come this far, so she used her card and—
“I said, Not now,” he stated from a reclined position on the sofa, shirt sleeves rolled up and one bare forearm over his eyes. In the other hand he held a drink. His jaw was stubbled, his clothes wrinkled. Papers and file folders were strewn messily across the coffee table and fanned in a wide scatter across the floor, as though he’d thrust them away in an uncharacteristic fit. His precious laptop was cocked on its side next to the table, open but dark. Broken?
Blinking at the mess, Jaya told herself to back out. Men in a temper could be dangerous. She knew that.
But there was something so distraught in his body language, in the air even. She immediately hurt for him and she didn’t know why.
“Did something happen?” she queried with subdued shock.
“Jaya?” His feet rose in surprise. At the same time he lifted his arm off his eyes. “Did I call you?” Spinning his feet to the floor in a startling snap to attention, he picked up his phone and thumbed across the screen. “I was trying not to.”
The apology sounded odd, but sometimes English phrasing sounded funny to her, with its foreign syntax and slang. How could you try not to call someone?
“I don’t mind finding whatever paperwork you need,” she murmured, compelled to rescue the laptop and hearing the door pull itself closed behind her. “Especially if you’re dismayed about the way something was handled.”
“Dismayed. Yeah, that’s what I am.” He pressed his mouth flat for a moment, elbows braced on his wide-spread thighs. His focus moved through her to a place far in the distance. With a little shudder, he skimmed his hands up to ruffle his hair before staring at her with heartrending bleakness. “You’ve caught me at a bad time.”
For some reason her mouth went dry. She didn’t react to men, especially the dark, powerfully built, good-looking ones. Theo was all of those things, his complexion not as dark as her countrymen, but he had Greek swarthiness and dark brown hair and brows. With his short hair on end, he looked younger than his near thirty. For a second, he reminded her of the poorest children in India, the ones old enough to have lost hope.
Her hand twitched to smooth his disheveled hair, instinctively aware he wouldn’t like anyone seeing him at less than his most buttoned-down.
He was still incredible. His stubbled jaw was just wide enough to evenly frame his gravely drawn mouth while his cheekbones stood out in a way that hollowed his cheeks. His brows were winged, not too thick, lending a striking intelligence to his keen brown eyes.
They seemed to expand as she looked into them. The world around her receded….
“We’ll do this tomorrow. Now’s not a good time.” The quiet words carried a husky edge that caused a shiver of something visceral to brush over her.
She didn’t understand her reaction, certainly didn’t know why she was unable to stop staring into his eyes even when a flush of heat washed through her.
“I can’t take advantage of your work ethic,” he added. “It could undermine our employer-employee relationship.”
Appalled, she jerked her gaze to the floor, blushing anew as she processed that she’d been in the throes of a moment and hadn’t even properly recognized it as one until her mooning became so obvious he had to shut her down.
How? In the past few years, any sort of sexual aggression on a man’s part had stopped her heart. Terror was her reaction and escape her primary instinct. Wistful thoughts like, I wonder how his stubble would feel against my lips, had never happened to her, but for a few seconds she’d gone completely dreamy.
Her body flamed like it was on fire, but not only from mortification. There was something else, a curiosity she barely remembered from a million years ago when she’d been a girl talking to a nice boy at school.
If she had the smarts she always claimed to, she’d let his remark stand. She’d excuse herself to Marseille and never be seen again.
At the same time, as discomfited as she was, her ability to have a moment was so heartening she couldn’t help standing in place like someone testing cold waters, trying to decide whether to wade farther in.
Not that she’d come here for that. No, she wanted to say goodbye and he’d given her an opening.
“Actually, we don’t have that kind of relationship anymore.” With jerky movements she set his laptop on the coffee table and pressed the lid closed. “Today was my last day. I should have changed, but I’m having trouble letting go.”
He sat back, hands on his knees, taken aback. “Why wasn’t I informed? If you’re moving to the competition, we’ll match whatever they’re offering.”
“That’s not it.” She sank onto the seat opposite him and grasped her hands together so she could portray more composure than she actually possessed. Emotions rose as she realized this was it, no more uniform, no more career with the Makricosta hotel chain, no more Theo. Her voice grew husky. “You—I—I mean the company—have been so good with training me and offering certifications. I would never throw that in your face and run to the competition.”
“We believe in investing in our employees.”
“I know, but I never dreamed I could go from chambermaid to the front desk in that kind of time, let alone manage the department.” She remembered how frightened she’d been of getting in trouble for leaving her cleaning duties when she’d brought a lost little boy to the office, hovering to translate until his parents were located. Theo happened to be conducting one of his audits and was impressed by her mastery of four languages and ability to keep a little one calm.
“My confidence was at a low when I began working here,” she confessed with a tough smile. “If you hadn’t asked me if I planned to apply for the night clerk job I wouldn’t have thought I’d even be considered. I’m really grateful you did that.”
There. She’d said what she had wanted to say.
“My sister would disown me if I turned into a sexist,” he dismissed, but his gaze went to his phone. His despondency returned to hover in the room like a cloud off dry ice. She sensed that whatever news was affecting him, Adara Makricosta had delivered it.
“Where are you going, if not two doors down?” he asked abruptly.
She lifted her gaze off the strong hands massaging his knees. He wasn’t as collected as he was trying to appear. For some reason, she wanted to take those hands and hold them still and say, It’ll be okay. You’d be surprised what a person can endure.
“France,” she replied, not wanting to talk about her situation, especially when it appeared he was only looking for distraction from his own troubles. “Marseille. It’s a family thing. Very sudden. I’m sorry.” She wasn’t sure why she tacked on the apology. Habits of a woman, she supposed, but she was sorry. Sorry that she had to leave this job, sorry she was inconveniencing him, sorry that her cousin was dying.
She felt her mouth pulling down at the corners and ducked her head.
“You’re not getting married, are you? This isn’t one of those arranged things?” He sounded so aghast she had to smile. Westerners could be so judgmental, like all his relationships were love matches rather than practical arrangements.
“No.” She lifted her head and he snagged her into another moment.
It occurred to her why she didn’t feel threatened by this. They’d had a million of these brief engagements, all very short-lived. For over four years, she’d been glancing up to catch him watching her and he had been looking back to his work so smoothly she had put the charged seconds down to her imagination, convincing herself he didn’t even know she was alive.
Our employer-employee relationship…
Was that what had kept him from showing interest before? It wouldn’t surprise her. He held himself to very high standards, never making a false move.
But if that was what had held him back, what did it mean for her right now, when she was alone with him in this suite and he knew she was no longer off limits?
Ingrained caution had her measuring the distance to the door, then flicking a reading glance at him.
The air of masculine interest surrounding him fell away and her boss returned. “This is a blow to the company. I’ll provide you a reference, of course, but would a leave of absence be more appropriate? Should we keep your job open for you?”
His sudden switch gave her tense nerves a twang, leaving her unsettled. Men never seemed to get her messages to back off. Having Theo read her so clearly was disturbing.
“I—No.” She shook her head, trying to stay on topic, tempted to say she’d return, but Saranya’s cancer made it very unlikely. She hated to even think about it, but she’d been through it with Human Resources and had to get used to reality. “I’m moving in with my cousin and her husband. She’s very ill, won’t survive. I’m close with their daughter and she’ll need me.”
“I’m sorry. That’s rough.”
She absorbed the quiet platitude with a nod.
“I don’t mean to sound crass, but would money help?” he added.
“Thank you, but that’s not the issue. My cousin’s husband is very well-off. They were extremely good to me when I left India, taking me in until I was able to support myself. I couldn’t live with myself if I wasn’t with them through this.”
Did he? His family seemed so odd. Estranged almost. His remark about his sister a few minutes ago was as personal as she’d ever heard him speak of her. The few occasions when she’d seen any of them together, none had shown warmth or connection.
Who was she to judge, she thought with a jagged pain? She’d been disowned by her family.
He seemed to have equally dismal thoughts. His gaze dropped to the papers still scattered across the floor. He picked up his drink, but only let it hang in his loose fingers.
“Do you want to talk about…whatever is troubling you?” she asked.
“I’d rather drink myself unconscious.” He sipped and scowled, “But I only have watered down soda, so…” He set it aside and stood, giving her the signal that heart-to-heart confessions were off the table.
She tried not to take it as a slight. He was a private man. This was the most revealing she’d ever seen him.
“I’m sorry we won’t be working together any longer, Jaya. Our loss is the hoteliers in Marseille’s gain. Please contact me if you’re interested in working for Makricosta’s again. We have three in France.”
“I know. Thank you, I will.” She swallowed and wondered if she would turn into a complete fool and start to cry. Standing, she put her hand in his and tried for one firm pump with a clean release.
He kept her hand in his warm one. His thumb grazed over the backs of her knuckles.
Her skin tingled and her stomach took a roller coaster dip and swoop.
She looked at his eyes, but he was looking at their hands. Her fingers quivered in his grip as he turned her palm up. She almost thought he was going to raise it to his lips. He looked up and the swooning dip hit harder. That was a sex look.
But it was Theo’s eyes, Theo’s expression that was always so aloof but now glowed with admiration and something else that was aggressive and hungry. He skimmed his gaze down her cheek to her mouth and sensations like fireworks burst through her. Zinging streaks of heat shot down her limbs and detonated her heart into expansive pumps.
She was experiencing sexual excitement, she interpreted dazedly, and the sensations grew as he stepped closer and lowered his head. He was going to kiss her!
She stiffened with apprehension and he straightened. Her hand wound up hanging in the air ungrasped as he pulled in a strained breath from the ceiling. “You’re right. It’s not appropriate.” Weary despair returned like a cloak to weigh down his shoulders. “I apologize.”
“No, I—” Please let her dark skin disguise some of these fervent blushes. “You surprised me. I came in here reminding myself not to call you Theo. I didn’t think you thought about me like that. I would—” Was she really going to risk this? She had to. She’d never get another chance. “I’d like it if you kissed me.”
The gentle let-down in his tone made her cringe. She’d lost him to her habitual rejection of male closeness, but wanting a man to touch her was so new. She couldn’t help that it scared her.
He searched her face with his gaze. “You have to know how pretty you are. Of course I’ve noticed you. I’ve also noticed you don’t party like the rest of your age group. You’re not the one-night stand type.”
“I said a kiss, not that I wanted to sleep with you.”
Her swift disdain amused him. He quirked his mouth and tilted back his head. “So you did. You can see what a philanderer I am, it didn’t occur to me you weren’t offering to stay the night.” He made a noise of disparagement that seemed self-directed. His wide shoulders sank another notch.
He appeared so tired and in need of comfort. Conflict held her there another minute. She wanted him to see her as available, yet wanted to self-protect. It was frustrating.
“What age group?” she challenged, pushing herself as much as him. “I’m twenty-five. What are you? Thirty?”
“Are you? You look younger.” His mouth twitched again as he reassessed her in a way that incited more contradictory feelings all through her.
Just go, her timid self said. It’s safer. Her more deeply buried self, the girl who had grown up determined to make something of herself, believing in things like equal rights and reaching her own potential, stood there and tried to make him see her as someone who shouldn’t be dismissed. Someone with value and values.
“Having a career is important to me. Makricosta’s has been a second chance to build one and I haven’t wanted to do anything to jeopardize it. You won’t be surprised to hear I send money to my parents. I can’t afford to drop shifts because I’m hungover.”
“I’m not surprised at all. You’ve always struck me as very loyal. And sweet. Virginal even.” It was almost a question.
The backs of her eyes stung and she lowered her gaze to her clenched hands. “I’m not,” she admitted in a small voice, not wanting those memories to intrude when she felt so safe with him.
“And you’ve been judged for that? Men and their double standards. I hate my sex. Judge me. I sleep with women and never talk to them again. I really do that, Jaya,” he confessed with dark self-disgust.
She heard the warning behind his odd attempt to reassure. She appreciated the effort—even though he had it all wrong. Yes, she had been judged, but for a man’s crime against her, not any she’d committed.
“I hate men, too,” she admitted. But not you, she silently added.
“Ah, some bastard broke your heart. I excel at being the rebound guy, you know.” Here was the generous tycoon with the hospitable expression who asked a guest if she was enjoying her stay and wound up sharing her table along with further amenities.
“Is that why you pick up those tourists?” she couldn’t help teasing, amused by this side of him in spite of her exasperation. “You’re offering first aid?”
“I’m a regular paramedic. ‘He cheated? He’s a fool.’” He shook his head in self-deprecation. “I should be shot.”
“Are you really that shallow?” She didn’t believe it. The women were always relaxed and euphoric, never morose, when they checked out. She was envious of that. Curious.
“I’m not very deep.” He rubbed his face. “But I don’t lie. They know what they’re getting.”
“One night,” she clarified, wondering why he thought he had nothing to offer a woman beyond that.
“One night,” he agreed with an impactful look. His hands went into his pockets and he rocked back on his heels, saying, “And apparently you restrict to one kiss. But I’ll take it if you’re still offering.”
The craving in his gaze was so naked, she blushed hard enough her cheeks stung. Covering them, she laughed at herself and couldn’t meet his eyes. “I’m not a certified attendant.”
“There’s not a woman in the world with enough training to fix me. Don’t try.” Another warning, his tone a little cooler.
She shook her head. This was about fixing herself, not him. “I just keep thinking that if I leave without kissing you, I’ll always wonder what it would have been like.”
That sounded too ingenuous, too needy, but his quietly loaded, “Yeah,” seemed to put them on the same page, which was remarkable. He stared at her mouth and hot tingles made her lips feel plump. She tried to lick the sensation away.
His breath rushed out in a ragged exhale. He loomed closer, so tall and broad, blocking out her vision, nearly overwhelming her. But when his fingers lightly caressed her jaw and his mouth came down, she was paralyzed with anticipation.
There’d been a few kisses in her life, none very memorable, but when his mouth settled on hers, unhurried and hot, she knew she’d remember this for the rest of her life.
The smooth texture of his lips sealed to hers. He didn’t force her mouth open. She softened and welcomed his confident possession, weakening despite the nervous flutters accosting her. He rocked the fit, deepening the kiss so she opened her mouth wider, bathed in delicious waves of heat. Their lips dampened and slid erotically. His tongue was almost there, then not, then—
He licked into her mouth and she moaned, lashed with exquisite delight. This was the kind of kiss she’d only read about and now she knew there was a reason they called it a soul kiss. Her hand went to his shoulder for balance. She lifted on her toes, wanting more pressure, more of him settling into her inner being.
With a groan, he slid his arm around her and pulled her tight against him, softly crushing her mouth while digging his fingers into her bound hair. It was good, so good. She reached her arms around his neck, loving how it felt to be kissed and held so tightly against his hard chest and—
He was hard everywhere.
Like hitting a wall, she pushed back, perturbed by how intensely she had been responding and the dicey situation she’d put herself in.
He didn’t let her go right away, kind of steadied her first while staggering one step himself, then he ran a hand through his hair and swore under his breath. “Hellfire, Jaya. I suspected it’d be good, but I didn’t know it’d be that good. Are you sure you don’t want to spend the night?”
“I—” Say no. Go. But what if he was the one? The man who would get her past the hurdle of burying her sexuality out of fear? “I really wasn’t expecting this.” Liar, an inner vixen accused. “You’re right that I don’t have affairs. I don’t know if that’s what I want right now, but…” She found herself wringing her hands like the virgin he’d accused her of being. “I really liked kissing you.”
“Are you trying to let me down gently? Because it’s not necessary.”
“No! I’m genuinely confused about what I want.” It was almost a wail of agony she was so frustrated with herself.
His mouth pulled up on one side in a half grin that might have been patronizing if he hadn’t softened it by saying, “You’re not the one-night stand type, but your life has been derailed and sex would take your mind off things. Believe me, I sympathize.”
She cocked her head, intrigued by these glimpses into the man behind the aloof mask. “Is that why you’re asking me to stay?”
“That obvious, am I?”
“You’re making me worry for my friends. Is there a problem with Makricosta’s?” she probed.
“No,” he assured promptly, then sighed and scratched at his hair like he could erase whatever was going on inside his skull. “Mine is a personal derailment. A family thing, not an illness like yours. I’ve been angry with someone for a very long time and learned today that I have no reason to be. I’m running out of people to hate and blame. I don’t know what to do about that.”
Kiss me, she thought. She couldn’t believe he was opening up to her like this and way in the back of her mind, she suspected he would regret it, but right now it softened her into wanting to heal him. Madness. She was more broken than he was.
“You told me not to try fixing you,” she reminded gently. “It’s good advice. I honestly don’t know if I can be what you’re looking for tonight.” She wanted to be, but the thought of that kind of intimacy opened such a gaping vulnerability in her, she could hardly breathe. “I keep telling myself to leave.” She gestured toward the door.
“But you’re still here.”
She lifted a shoulder. “It sends the wrong message, I know.”
Their gazes tangled and all she could think about was the heart-racing kiss they’d just shared. He claimed he was the opposite of a gentleman, but she sensed that despite his rock-hard physical power and authoritative command, he was capable of gentleness.
“Give up on me at any point. It won’t bother me a bit,” he coaxed with surface nonchalance, but she sensed a tighter intensity beneath. Because he wanted her that badly? Or the mental escape?
“Really?” She folded her arms, highly skeptical.
“It’s a lady’s prerogative to change her mind,” he said with a fatalistic shrug, then grinned with surprising wickedness. “But I’ll do my best to keep it interesting.”
Her equilibrium rolled and dipped again, making her unsteady on her feet.
“I can’t believe I’m having this conversation,” she said, shaking her head at her own waffling forwardness and his sexual arrogance. “With you.”
“I’ve trained myself not to fantasize about women wearing that uniform. It’s pretty surreal for me, too.”
She chuckled, then sobered as she met his avid look. He was holding himself under tight control and she suspected she’d always been aware of his ruthless self-discipline, that it was one of his qualities she was most attracted to.
“I really can’t decide, Theo.”
His expression eased a little. “You don’t have to.” He snagged her hand and led her to the sofa, his manner laconic. “We’ll take it one kiss at a time. See how it goes.”
“You really want to take your mind off things.”
“I really do,” he admitted, dropping onto the sofa and bringing her down beside him. “Will you take your hair down for me?”
After a tiny hesitation, she did, feeling incredibly vulnerable, like she was removing her clothing. Her severe appearance was a shield. Freeing her hair invited him to stroke his fingers through it. He fanned it out from her ear, creating tickling sensations in her scalp as he marveled at the length.
“It’s so silky,” he murmured.
No product or bleach to make it brittle, she almost said, then decided this would go better if she didn’t compare herself to other women whose hair he had petted.
His patience surprised her. She didn’t know why, seeing as he was the most unflappable man she’d ever met, but his contentment to take his time combing her hair with his fingers when he seemed so intent on getting physical almost made her worry he was changing his mind. Just when she grew restless, however, he flicked the tie at her throat.
“Can we take this off?” He tugged to loosen the bow.
“Are you going to tie me up with it?” she asked, trying to sound light, but filled with trepidation.
“Do you want me to?” His gaze skimmed over her as though he was reassessing all his preconceptions about her.
“No.” Firm. Prudish even.
His lips twitched, but when his gaze came up from watching the scarf trail down her lapel, his lids were heavy and his voice laconic. “Good, because I want to feel your hands on me.”
The scarf floated away and he moved in, settling a lazy, drawn-out kiss on her mouth that was reassuringly tender and sweet.
And, after a while, a tiny bit frustrating. She wanted more than this slow pace. She wanted the hand climbing her waist to quit stopping at the underside of her breast. Touch me, she willed, breasts feeling swollen and achy. She wanted the space where they leaned into each other to close so she could press herself to his wide chest. He’d come out of the private lap pool here once, when she’d arrived with a file. Even though he’d shrugged on a shirt immediately, his washboard abs had been full-on. He was gorgeous and she wanted to see his naked chest again.
She plucked at the buttons on his shirt, not quite nervy enough to tug them open.
He broke away to look down at where her indecisive fingers lifted away from his breastbone. Without a word, he one-handedly yanked, disregarding the exceptional quality by tearing its holes, pulling it free of his waistband at the same time so it hung loose on his shoulders.
Gasping at his near savagery, she touched her fingertips to her sensitized lips.
He caught her hand and bit softly against the plump pad at the base of her thumb. “I’m dying for you to touch me. Don’t worry, I won’t rip your uniform. We’d have to account for the loss.”
His husky comment made her laugh. Half of her dry chuckle was mild terror because he was taking her hand to his chest. She caught her breath as her fingerprints made contact with the heat of his skin, taut over his hard muscles.
He shivered under her touch.
“You’re so hot,” she murmured.
“Thank you. I’ve always thought the same about you.”
Smiling, she did something she hadn’t imagined she could. She leaned in and kissed his mouth while both her hands skimmed over the intriguing ripples of his upper chest, exploring the texture of a light sprinkle of hair and satin skin over muscles that flexed under her caress.
He groaned, but rather than gather her into a tight crush, she felt a tickling graze of fingers between her breasts. A second later, she was the one to draw back and watch as he finished opening her white-and-red Makricosta blouse.
Her ivory bra beneath was practical and almost adolescent. She didn’t have much to support and had never seen the point in spending money on something only she would see. An urge to apologize rose to the back of her throat, but the way he traced the top of one small cup, caressing the upper slope of her breast, had her holding her breath.
“I have a wicked addiction to cocoa,” he told her as he took his time spreading the shirt wide on her shoulders, patiently tugging it free of her skirt. His returning touch was whisper-soft as he grazed her ribs and found his way to the clasp in the middle of her back.
Her back arched from his caress and her bra loosened. She drew in a breath, hesitant, but his hand came around and cupped her breast. The sensation blanked her mind, holding her in thrall. So much heat. He was like an inferno, and so masculine, but reverent. There was aggression, she could feel the possessiveness in the way he enclosed her like he had every right, his touch firm, but he was gentle at the same time. Softly crushing, as if he knew she would enjoy the sensation of pressure increasing by degrees. He massaged flesh that felt heavy and achy and prickling in one tight spot.
His touch shifted as he leaned in to capture her mouth. Muscle flexed under her hands as she met his searching kiss with welcome. Sensations overwhelmed her, but a particularly sharp one pierced through her psyche. He thumbed her nipple, making it feel knotted and tighter and more sensitive. And so vulnerable, yet excited.
She whimpered, distressed by the rocketing spikes of pleasure going straight through her abdomen into a place that had retreated to hibernation a long time ago.
“God, Jaya, let me taste you.”
He pressed her onto her back on the cushions, covering her so smoothly she didn’t realize how she’d wound up under him, her bra pushed up and his weight pinning her hips, one leg between his, the other dangling off the edge of the cushions.
A gasp of shock scraped her throat as she pulled in air, trying to catch up to this new circumstance, trying to decide if she was okay with it.
Damp heat closed over the pulsing tip of her breast. Knifing spears of delight pulled upward from her flesh.
Be scared, she told herself, but the scariest thing was how devastating this pleasure was. Her hands couldn’t get enough of roaming his back. His bunched shirt kept getting in the way, irritating her. His weight on her should have terrified her, but when she bucked, it was slowly, because she couldn’t help herself. Her leg couldn’t find purchase alongside his so she let her ankle curl behind his thigh.
And she moaned. Aloud. Even though a distant voice said, Don’t. Don’t be sexual, don’t encourage him, don’t embarrass yourself. She couldn’t help it. He had both her breasts cupped into mounds that he sipped and licked and tortured. It was incredible.
“Theo, I can’t stand it.”
He lifted to kiss her, swooping like a predator to ravage her mouth as he shifted their position and was fully between her legs. The layers of her wrinkled skirt had climbed so his fly came into firm contact with the cotton of her underpants.
Panic began to edge out her arousal.
She pressed his shoulders and he broke their kiss to set his damp forehead against hers. “I know, I’m pushing it, but this is as far as we’re going. I’ve just realized I don’t have any condoms.” He smoothed her hair back from what must have been a stunned expression and kissed her once, quite hard. “You have no idea how sorry I am.”
She did. Her hips wriggled involuntarily and he shuddered, pressing that most assertive part of himself to her vulnerable softness, pinning her motionless as he released a dry laugh.
“Okay, maybe you do.” Kissing her with regret, he grazed his lips over her cheekbones and eyebrow. “You feel so good. You’re so pretty. I don’t want to stop touching you.” His hand skimmed the outside of her thigh, making her trembling muscles contract to tighten her leg against him. “Will you let me make it good for you, at least? Can I know what it feels like to touch you?”
He set a sweet kiss on her chin while his hand climbed under her gathered skirt and learned the style and texture of her mood-killing matronly underpants.
She opened her mouth, thoughts scattering in a dozen directions by arousal and conflicting misgivings. Her mind refused to fix on anything let alone a clear yes or no.
Before she could form words, he shifted enough to cover her mound with a compelling rock of his hand. Stars shot behind the backs of her eyes.
“Like that?” he murmured, licking her neck and easing his touch to a lighter caress through the layer of cotton. Just a soft trace against a very intimate place that made her pulse with need. “Softer? Tell me what you like.”
“I didn’t come here for this,” she managed to whisper, aware that she was becoming completely abandoned, letting her legs fall open to his incredible facility with a woman’s body. Wanting whatever he’d give her. “But it feels so good.”
“I know. Hate me later, but right now can I keep doing this? You’re so incredible…”
He kissed her neck and sidled his touch beneath the cotton, knowing exactly what he was doing in a way that should have alarmed her, but she didn’t care. At this moment, she really didn’t care about anything except that he keep his attention on that exquisite bunch of nerves tangled into a signal that sent ripples outward through her abdomen. He wasn’t in any hurry, seeming to luxuriate in circling and stroking, driving her crazy.
She bit at his lips, dying, wild, loving his touch and him for giving her this amazing build of pleasure, this incessant desire for physical contact with a man.
He said sinful things about what he wanted to do to her, sucked her nipple and said, “Let me kiss you here. I want to lick you. It’ll be so good, Jaya—”
“No,” she gasped. Her horror was pure, latent shyness, but the idea of him doing that was so wickedly intriguing her arousal spiked to something she couldn’t contain. Convulsively trying to close her legs, she could only squeeze his wide, masculine hips, unable to stop what he was doing. She couldn’t catch back her uninhibited response. Her only choice was complete surrender to him and her body’s sharp need.
Her reward was a deep throb of sheer joy expanding through her in shuddering waves. Her throat filled with a cry of release that was more than just physical. It was emotional triumph. Freedom from the past. Joy at a man’s touch.