Harlequin Mills & Boon Sexy ~ December 2012 (Australia/NZ)
When online gaming writer, Nic Russo, witnesses a beautiful woman being harassed by the media at Melbourne airport, he pretends she's with him, and kisses her to prove it. She's happy to play along and when a volcanic ash cloud grounds all flights, they share one amazing night before going their separate ways.
Media-shy heiress, Charlotte Dumont, is taking a vacation to reassess life and love, and Nic's the perfect one night stand - the kind you never see again… until she discovers he's staying at the same Fijian resort.
Nic can't resist tempting Charlotte to loosen up and play a little while she's staying at his luxury resort because that one night was nowhere near enough.
Nic Russo always planned for contingencies. The volcanic ash cloud from Chile sweeping across southern Australia had already disrupted air travel and any moment all flights out of Melbourne's Tullamarine would be grounded.
His instincts were always spot on and Nic didn't intend being one of those passengers caught up in the chaos.
In line at the airline's business check-in, he speed-dialled Reception at the airport hotel, heard Kerry's familiar, but somewhat distracted voice on the other end and smiled. "Hey, babe. It's Nic."
"How's it going there?"
"I bet. Reckon I'm going to need that reservation after all."
"You're not the only one. There's a waiting list a mile long."
"Ah, but they don't know the receptionist like I do." He grinned. "Connections, Kerry babe."
"Are everything. Right." He could hear the clatter of her fingers flying over her keyboard. "So…that's for one guest?"
"Depends…" He deepened his voice and drawled, "What time do you get off?"
The muffled cough was laced with friendly amusement. "You're incorrigible, Nic."
"So you keep telling me." He could envision the humour in her eyes and knew Kerry and her partner, Steve, would have a laugh over it later tonight. "If I'm still grounded when you get off, do you want to come by for a thank-you drink?"
While he talked, his attention was drawn to the slim brunette in line ahead of him. She'd been a passenger on his flight from Adelaide earlier in the day. He'd noticed her perfume then and he noticed it now - French and expensive but cool and light and refreshing.
Was it only her perfume that captured his interest? Neat and conservative wasn't his type but there was…something about her. Something timeless.
The notion tickled him for a moment. But only for a moment, because Nic didn't do that nostalgic sentimental nonsense where women were concerned. In fact, he didn't do sentimental, period.
But it was exactly how she made him feel, and that was weird. He could imagine standing behind her just this way on the edge of a still lake and watching the stars come out. Flicking aside her single strand of pearls and the glossy hair that had escaped its knot and putting his mouth right there, on that slender neck-
"I'd love to catch up," he heard Kerry say, jolting him back to the noisy, over-crowded terminal. "…But at this point with everything so uncertain I don't know how long my shift's going to be."
"No worries. You're busy; I'll let you get on with it. Maybe I'll see you shortly. Ciao."
He disconnected, his eyes still focused on the back of the woman's neck. Shaking away the odd feeling she'd invoked, he studied her from a purely objective viewpoint. Who wore pearls these days? Unless she'd dressed for a royal garden party.
His gaze wandered over her shoulders covered in a slippery-looking fade-into-the-background jacket then down to a matching knee-length skirt over a well-rounded, caressable bottom. A sexy little handful. Warmth flooded his palm - and other places. He could do a tea party if it meant taking her home after…
Tea party? Pearls? Hell, if that turned him on, his libido needed some serious attention. It had been a dry couple of months, after all.
She'd been in the aisle seat one row back and across from him, plugged into her Ipod, eyes glued shut every time he looked, fingers stiff on her lap. No rings on her left hand, he'd noticed, but a heavy chunk of bling on her right. Maybe she suffered from the same affliction he did? But the suffocatingly claustrophobic effect of being hermetically sealed in a flying tin can was a tedious necessity in his life.
Whatever the reason for her tension, she'd been an intriguing distraction. Her apparent disinterest had given him the opportunity to glance back every so often and wonder whether that peach-glossed mouth would taste as luscious as it looked. How she'd respond if he put his theory to the test. The expression he'd see if she opened those eyes and saw him watching.
He grinned to himself - yeah, that was more like him. The excitement of the chase, the inevitable conquest. And temporary. None of that timeless sentimental rubbish.
He shuffled forward with the line.
So she was also travelling to Fiji and flying Tabua Class. She didn't look like a businesswoman; not in that insipid suit that whimpered 'don't look at me', but she didn't look like a tourist either. Maybe she'd have the seat next to him and he could spend the next few hours finding out what colour her eyes were and whether or not a hot-blooded woman lay beneath that drab, conservative exterior.
Assuming the aircraft got off the ground.
She stepped up to the counter and slid a high-end brand-name suitcase onto the conveyer. A moment later, he watched her walk away, those mystery eyes hidden behind a pair of supersized sunglasses. A celebrity or a wealthy socialite? he wondered, swinging his own travel-battered bag onto the conveyer and reaching for his documents. Whoever she was, he didn't recognise her.
He proceeded to Immigration and Customs, unable to keep his eyes off the enticing sway of her backside a few metres ahead. Forget it, Nic, she's not your type, remember? Except his body didn't want to listen. So he deliberately stopped, shrugged off his jacket and stowed it in his cabin bag and studied the Departures board a moment. He was supposed to be using the flight to brainstorm the ins and outs for his current computer game, not lusting after some unknown woman. Who wasn't his type.
He'd not gone far when he caught sight of her again amongst the milling crowd. And all casual, carnal thoughts vanished. A reporter he recognised from one of the local gossip rags stood in her way. She was shaking her head and attempting to move on, but the guy, easily twice her size, was blocking her progress, shadowing her steps as he towered over her. Intimidating her.
Nic's gut tightened reflexively as his own childhood images charged back. And now, as then, not a single person intervened or came to her assistance. No-one cared, no-one wanted to get involved.
No way. He swung his cabin bag over his shoulder and moved fast, the hand on the strap jammed into a fist. No way would he stand by and allow the bully to get away with it.
"Leave me alone," he heard her say as he neared. She was standing her ground, one palm thrust in front of her, then she shook her head again, trying - and failing - to pass. "I've already told you, you've mistaken me for someone el-"
"There you are." Nic said the first thing that came to mind. "I've been looking everywhere for you." Keeping his hands easy and non-threatening, he touched her rigid shoulders and turned her to face him.
Beneath her flawless complexion she looked pale and stunningly fragile, a vanilla rose facing the dawn of summer's first heatwave. Up close her skin-warmed perfume was even more sensuous. Damn, what were her eyes saying behind that sun-glass shield?
He didn't take his eyes off her face, willing her to give him a chance to show he meant no harm and said, "Clear off, mate, she already told you, you've got the wrong woman."
Charlotte blinked. One moment she was trying desperately to deny her identity, the next, she was being swept against some dark-shirted stranger with abs of steel who seemed to think she was someone else.
Large hands held her in place and a deep voice against her cheek murmured, "Trust me and play along."
She froze, her already hammering heart tripping against her ribs, her insides trembling. She couldn't have freed herself anyway; she was gripping the handle of her cabin wheel-bag in one hand, her documents and hand bag in the other, and his arms were like prison bars. Well, not quite, because they were big and warm and somehow protective rather than restrictive.
As if he knew she'd had a recent run-in with the press and was desperate to avoid another. But he didn't appear to recognise her so she grabbed the lifeline he seemed to be offering with a vengeance, met his eyes and forced her lips into a smile. "And here I am… Honey Pie."
His brows lifted a fraction at that, then nodding once, he returned a co-conspiratorial grin, his hands sliding off her shoulders and down her back.
And before she could draw another breath, his mouth touched hers. Tender yet firm but not hard and controlling. Trust me and play along. His words played back to her in that wholly masculine rumble that still echoed in her breasts making them swell and throb with a tantalising heat.
For an instant, a whole other 'play along' scenario scorched the back of her eyeballs as his lips teased and toyed with hers. She was vaguely aware of the voices around them blurring into one meaningless hum. This guy could kiss. Somewhere an inner voice warned her that she didn't know him…except instead of easing away like she should be doing, she kissed him back.