by Maggie Cox
Tasked with procuring Rosa, a painting that has sentimental meaning to her kindly old employer, companion and housekeeper Serena Hammond attends an auction in London -- only to be outbid by handsome, but arrogant, millionaire Ethan Galbraith!
Now Serena must devise a plan to get Ethan to agree to sell the work of art back to her -- but will she lose her heart in the process?
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Ethan had invited Serena to spend the rest of the evening with him by having dinner at this stylish London hotel, and he must have known when he’d suggested it that she could do nothing else but refuse.
Having dinner with Ethan Galbraith would be like agreeing to jump into a lake full of sharks! She didn’t like him and he didn’t like her and whatever was going on in that calculating, impenetrable mind of his, Serena was sure it wasn’t going to assist her in getting the portrait, Rosa, back for her employer, Godfrey.
Now as she regarded his cool guarded expression as he sat across from her in the hotel’s elegant, discreetly illuminated bar, she also knew she needed to decline for another reason. Somehow, at some imprecise point in the conversation, Serena had become too aware of Ethan’s potent attraction.
It scared the life out of her that she could be even remotely succumbing to the idea of prolonging her time in his company when her feet should be burning a hole in the carpet to get away! He’d told her yesterday that she wasn’t his “type” and lord knew, he was so far away from hers that it was almost preposterous!
She didn’t date much because of the demands of looking after Godfrey, but when she did, Serena went for much more down to earth and nice men. Had any sane person ever referred to Ethan Galbraith as nice?
“You can’t be serious?” she said, taking sudden refuge in the glass of wine she’d so recently abandoned.
“Is it so impossible for you to imagine that I might find you interesting enough to invite to dinner?” Ethan questioned her, a hint of irritation in his deeply modulated voice.
“Yes, frankly...it is. I don’t think you find me ’interesting’ at all, Mr. Galbraith. Consequently, I have to deduce that you’re maybe just using this opportunity to satisfy a more ulterior purpose.” Even as she finished her sentence, Serena sensed fierce heat rush into her face with a vengeance. To her humiliation, he threw back his head and laughed.
“And what, pray, might that ’ulterior’ motive be, sweet Serena? I’d love to hear your theory.”
“I’m sure I don’t have to spell it out for you! This is just some kind of sophisticated, annoying little game that men like you indulge in and I’m not remotely interested in playing! I told you before -- all I want you to do is to think about selling the portrait back to Godfrey. Apart from that, there’s not one thing about your hateful company that I crave!”
Before Serena could gather her wits and intuit his intention, Ethan plucked the glass of wine from her fingers, put it on the table and getting to his feet, hauled her forcibly up into his arms. As his hard warm chest imprisoned her and the smell, touch and feel of him descended on her body in a veritable cyclone of sensation -- Serena felt his demanding, unforgiving lips on hers and her mouth opened irresistibly to allow the hot velvet entry of his beguiling tongue.
She swayed and Ethan held her tight so that she wouldn’t fall. What was happening to her? Had she completely lost her mind, letting him kiss her like that? And in public, too! But even though she was furious, her outrage vied with a deeply overwhelming need to experience more of the same. The idea that she didn’t want the kiss to end shocked Serena to her boots.
Surely it wasn’t normal to so dislike a man, yet yearn for his touch so implicitly that you thought your very survival might be under threat if you didn’t have it?
A woman that blushed so easily and so prettily was a rare creature indeed in Ethan’s experience and he’d found himself feeling more and more turned on by the idea of taking her to bed as the minutes ticked by. He’d already sampled her passionate nature and if she was resisting him because of her anger at his intractable stance about the portrait -- then that could actually be turned to his advantage. That simmering rage of hers could definitely be put to good use. It could ignite the kind of sparks that developed into an arousing inferno in the bedroom!
Despite his interest in the arts, Ethan wasn’t a man with a proclivity for poetic licence -- yet while kissing Serena he couldn’t help but unleash a creative streak within him that would match Keats himself! The very realization unbalanced his equilibrium as powerfully as though a deep fissure had cracked open beneath his feet. He knew it would be futile to pretend it was nothing more than a hot hungry kiss that he had callously stolen because he couldn’t help himself. Touching this woman, making intimate contact with her enticingly curvaceous body and her tender, entrancing lips, Ethan knew he had to have her in his bed or risk being frustrated forever.
At the end of the kiss her sweet warm breath feathered softly over his mouth and she didn’t immediately break away from him, all “guns blazing,” as he had suspected she might. Instead she stared up at him, those transfixing hazel eyes of hers appearing distinctly dazed.
“Why did you do that?” she asked, her voice almost lowered to a whisper.
“Come now...you can’t be that naive!”
“What are you suggesting?” Serena looked alarmed. “That I wanted you to kiss me?”
Ethan’s smile was mocking. “You didn’t exactly fight me off, darling!”
“Why don’t you do the world a favor and just drop dead!”
He caught her hand as she raised it to slap his face and his grip on her fine-boned wrist bit with a chastening but possessive brand. A dizzying leap of anticipated pleasure and excitement shuddered through him at the knowledge that her spirited nature was as wild as he’d guessed.
A soft-footed waiter appeared carrying a tray. Glancing from Serena to Ethan, his eyes reflected concern. “Is everything all right, madam? Sir?”
Immediately Ethan dropped Serena’s wrist and provocatively stroked his fingers across the fierce rosy glow on her cheek instead. “Yes, of course everything’s all right! My wife and I had a little tiff, that’s all. You know how it is?”
“Yes I do, sir”
With a glimmer of sympathy and a conspiratorial male smile, the waiter moved discreetly away. Serena’s heart was pounding so thunderously in her chest that it seemed to crowd out any other sound in the room. Her wrist and her cheek felt nothing less than scalded where Ethan had touched it -- like he had left his brand on her for the rest of her life.
He shrugged dismissively at her display of outrage. “What else should I have called you? My escort, my paramour -- my lover?”
“You are so bloody arrogant, it’s beyond belief!”
“Forgive me if your little insult doesn’t wound me, but I’ve heard worse, Serena, believe me! Now why don’t we stop all this arguing, hmm?” Straightening the immaculate cuffs on his suit jacket, Ethan met Serena’s furious glance. His expression had visibly softened to something far more beguiling than she had ever witnessed on his handsome face. All the strain and mockery of the past few seconds seemed to dissolve and from the moment she’d registered the impact of that disturbing glance deep in her belly -- she knew she was in deeper trouble than she’d even first suspected.
“If passionate feelings are going to be aroused... why don’t we go back to my place and arouse them together... in bed?”
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