When I completed and submitted my thirtieth book, I decided to celebrate by offering a taste from each one. This is part of a trilogy I wrote with Maya Blake and Victoria Parker about the ultimate elite (and secret!) club for billionaires, QVirtus. Enjoy!
The Ultimate Seduction was my first collaboration with other Harlequin Presents authors and we had so much fun with this premise!
The club is anonymous, so the members wear masks, and yes, somedo hook up. I won't give you too many spoilers, but my heroine has reasons for taking advantage of what she thinks is a singular opportunity to be with the hero. She doesn't know who he is, however, and their next morning is quite something. She has just realized he's the man who took her virginity last night and he has just realized she is married. (She's actually widowed.)
Here's part of that scene, in his POV.
~ * ~
Ryzard tossed the folder into the empty chair and hooked his hands in his pockets to keep from strangling the woman who wanted to play him for a fool. Her being married was bad enough. She might shrug off little things like extramarital affairs, but he did not.
The fact she thought she could buy his business was even more aggravating, partly because he was so affected by last night. As much as he wished he wasn’t, his body was reacting to her even though she was dressed very conservatively. Her loose, sand-colored pants grazed the floor over heeled sandals he’d glimpsed when she had moved. They were clunky-looking things, but their height elongated her legs into lissome stems he wanted to feel through the thin fabric of her pants. Her yellow top was equally lightweight and cut across her collarbone, hiding skin that had seemed powder white last night.
What he’d seen of it, anyway. He couldn’t see much today and found that equally frustrating. He might have detected her nipples poking against the fine silk of her top, but while her flat green jacket nipped in to emphasize her waist, it also shielded her breasts from his view.
Nothing about her appearance hinted at the exciting, sensual woman he’d met last night. Even her wild curls had been scraped back, which might have been an elegant display of her bone structure if he could see her face.
“Take off your mask,” he ordered, irritated that his voice wasn’t as clear as he’d like.
The quietly spoken word blasted into his eardrums. It was not something he heard often.
“It’s not a request,” he stated.
“It’s not open for discussion,” she responded, body language so hostile he could practically taste her antagonism.
No. He wouldn’t allow himself to be intrigued by her. Pulling himself together, he did his best to reject and eject her from every aspect of his life in one blow.
Glancing away as if his senses weren’t concentrated upon her every breath and pulse, he said dismissively, “Tell your husband you failed. My business can’t be bought. He might enjoy your second-rate efforts that offer no real pleasure, but I’m more discerning.”
Her sharp inhale, as if she’d been stabbed in the lung, drew his gaze back to her. Her lips were white and trembled just enough to kick him in the conscience.
He forced himself to hold her hurt gaze, surprised how effective his insult had been. Her startling blue eyes deepened to pools of navy that churned with angry hatred. He didn’t flinch from it, but instead held her gaze as if he was holding a knife in a wound, ensuring he would fully sever himself from a repeat performance of his weakness.
“How do you propose I tell him?” she asked with a bitterness that bludgeoned him, implacable and final. “Hire a psychic? He’s dead.” She pivoted to the door.
A blinding flash, like white light, shot through him. Not an external thing, but an inner slice of laser-sharp pain that he felt as an echo of hers. He knew that sort of grief—
Before he realized what he was doing, he’d moved to catch her arm and spin her around to him.
She used her momentum to bring her free hand up, sending it flying toward his face. He caught her wrist and jerked back his head, his reflexes honed by war and a natural dominance that always kept him on guard. Still, a heavy blanket of regret suffocated him as he held her while she wordlessly struggled. He’d insulted her because he was angry, but he would never wound someone by dangling such a loss over them. An apology was needed, but holding on to her was like trying to wrestle a feral cat into a sack.
“Stop fighting me,” he ground out, surprised by her wiry strength and unflagging determination.
“Go to hell!”
He got her wrists in one hand behind her back, her knee scissored between his own tightly enough to prevent it rising into his crotch. Squeezing her enough to threaten her breathing, he loosened off as she quieted.
“Big man, overwhelming a helpless woman,” she taunted in a pant.
“You’re not that helpless,” he noted, admiring her fighting spirit despite his inherent knowledge that he shouldn’t like anything about her.
She was widowed. That was tremendously important, even though he refused to examine too closely why he was so relieved. Or why he was now determined to learn more about her. He’d been serious about not being corruptible, no matter how his body longed to be persuaded.
Her shaken breaths caused her breasts to graze his chest, increasing the arousal their struggle had already stimulated. She recognized his hardness and squirmed again, forcing him to pin her even closer to hang on to her.
“Let me go,” she said in a furious voice that provoked more than intimidated.
“In a minute.” He reached to remove her mask—
She tried to bite him. He narrowly snatched his fingers from the snap of her teeth.
“You little wildcat.” He couldn’t help but be amused by her streak of ferocity. Her bared teeth were perfect, her pinched nostrils as refined as a spoiled princess’s.
“I’m reporting this assault,” she told him.
“I have a right to see whose body I was in last night,” he told her, unconsciously revealing with the low timbre of his voice how disturbed he was by the memory.
“No, you don’t. I’m discerning about who sees any part of me. And maybe I didn’t bring my best game last night because I was bored and wanted it over with. Did you think of that?”
“I suppose I deserved that,” he murmured, but her insult still landed like a knee in the gut, making his abdominal muscles clench in offense.
Digging his fingers around the knot of her hair, he tugged lightly, deliberately overwhelming her with his strength, exposing her throat and making her aware she was at his mercy. Not because he got off on hurting women. Never. But she needed to understand that even though she was utterly vulnerable to him, he wouldn’t harm her. “Now we’ve both said something cruel, and neither of us will do it again.”
Her outraged “Ha” warmed his lips, making him deeply conscious of the shape of her kewpie-doll mouth with its peaks in her top lip over a fat strawberry of a bottom one. Her scent, like saponaria, somewhere between dewy grass and sun-warmed roses, threatened to erase all thought but making love to her again.
“I only said what I did because I thought you were married. And you tricked me. I don’t like your trying to take advantage of me. To even the playing field…” He reached for the tailing ribbon that held her mask.
“Noooo.” The sharp anguish in her voice startled him. She was genuinely terrified, straining into a twist to escape his loosening of the mask.
He let go of the ribbon and her, horrified that he’d scared her so deeply, but he couldn’t help reaching to steady her when she staggered as she tried to catch the falling mask. Her shaking hands fumbled it before her, turning it around and around, trying to right it so she could put it on again. A desperate sob escaped her.
It was too late. He’d seen what she was trying to hide, and the bottom dropped out of his heart. He touched her chin, wanting a better look.
She knocked his hand away and flashed a look of fury at him. With her jaw set in livid mutiny, she stopped trying to replace her mask and stared him down with the kind of aggression that would make him fear for his life if she’d been armed.
“Happy?” she charged.
Not one little bit.
As he took in the mottled shades of pink and red, all he saw was pain. He’d been in battle. He knew what bullets and flames and chemicals could do to the human body. That’s why his world had stopped last night when he’d thought a bomb was landing on the ramparts of the club.
But these were healed injuries, as well as they’d ever get anyway. The ragged edge of the facial scar followed a crooked line like a country’s border on a map, sharply defining rescued flesh from the unharmed with a raised pink scar. It hedged a patch from over her left eye into the corner of her lid—she might have lost her sight, he acknowledged, cold dread touching his internal organs. Under her eye, it cut diagonally toward her nose before tracing down to the corner of her mouth and under her jawline, and then wound back to her hair.
The side of her neck was only a little discolored, but the way the color fanned at the base of it made him suspect the scarring went down her arm and torso too, maybe farther.
As he brought his gaze back up to her face, he met eyes so bruised and wounded, he was struck with shame at causing her to reveal herself. He hadn’t been trying to humiliate her. This wasn’t meant as a punishment.
The hatred in her eyes took it as such anyway, stabbing him with compunction.
“I wouldn’t work for you if your country was knocked back into the Stone Age and we were overinventoried in animal fur and flint. I’m leaving. Now.”
He didn’t try to stop her, sensing he’d misjudged her on a grand scale.
She tied her mask into place without looking at him. When she pressed the button to open the doors, they didn’t cooperate, remaining closed while she swore at her watch.
“Tiffany,” he cajoled, pulling her name from what he’d read, but not sure what he would say if he could persuade her to stay.
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