CHAPTER ONE EXCERPT
Why do we always have to be dazzled by the things we can’t have? The things that could destroy us? Ruin us? Tear us into pieces and turn us into something that we no longer even recognize? Why does human nature have to be so goddamn destructive?
These are the thoughts that run through my head the second I set eyes on him. I don’t know his name. He’s just a gorgeous stranger dressed in an immaculate, high-priced gray suit, looking completely out of place in the same stuffy, stifling London Underground carriage I’m traveling in. An unknown male who’s the embodiment of what my subconscious desires dream up in the heavy darkness of night, but never actually want in the light of day. I avoid his type for too many reasons to count, the least of which being that I have a low tolerance for egotism and the typical I’ve got a big dick and money so I’m a god bullshit that men like him pull so well.
But I can sure as hell look and enjoy.
I’m sitting in one of the grungy seats on the right of the carriage, while he stands no more than five feet away, one arm lifted as he holds on to the metal overhead bar. I know he’s watching me, because I’m watching his reflection in the window, only pretending to be reading the steamy romance book on my e-reader. I imagine what he would look like stripped of all that expensive silk and feel my face heat, which is ridiculous. I’m not some willy-nilly virgin who’s hung-up about sex. Haven’t been one since I slept with my boyfriend in my freshman year of college. But my sexual experiences have never been with a man like him. I steer clear of the mouthwatering alphas, no matter how handsome they are. I’m not their type anyway. With my shortish, curvy bod, honey-gold curls and dimples, I look neither like a fuck bunny nor a trophy wife. Which leaves me to spend my time with close friends and focus on my fledgling career in the art world.
But a bit of fantasy never killed a girl. And he would be prime material for a midnight session with my vibrator. So I use what brief time there is before my stop to watch him as carefully as I can.
The jacket that stretches across his broad shoulders no doubt cost more than a month’s rent on my tiny apartment back in San Diego. It’s dark charcoal with a light pinstripe, clearly tailored for his tall, muscular build. I can’t see those muscles under the jacket, but from the way he fills it out, I know they’re there. Yum. I like imagining Mr Hotshot Corporate Player in nothing but a scraggy pair of gym shorts, that tall body slick with sweat, muscles bunching and flexing beneath his dark skin as he works out. His complexion is more olive-toned than most British, which probably means he has some beautiful Italian or Spanish countess somewhere in his ancestry – unless he’s not a local at all, and is actually a foreigner like myself.
Wherever he’s from, those sharp blue eyes look amazing with his skin tone, and the gods were obviously feeling generous when they molded that bone structure. Bold, straight nose. Wide, firm mouth. Straight, dark brows and ink-black hair that has that naturally tousled look that’s so outrageously sexy on the right kind of man. Oh yeah, this guy is definitely going to play front and center in my vibrator sessions for a while.
Feeling warm, I shift in my seat and grab my long hair, twisting it over one shoulder to get it off the back of my neck. He’s still watching me, and it makes about as much sense as a guy like him traveling on the Tube in the first place. I’m usually good at reading people, and I don’t get that ‘creepy crawly’ feeling from him. The one that makes me steer clear of a man and make sure I have other people around me in case he turns out to be a nutcase. Living as a single woman in the city, you either hone that sense or run the risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But Mr Hot and Gorgeous isn’t freaking me out. At least, not in a bad way. I just don’t like how my body is reacting to him – my pulse pounding and my skin glowing with a sheen that has nothing to do with the muggy summer heat – because I know it isn’t going anywhere. I’m not his type.
I frown as that last thought echoes around in my head, wondering why I keep repeating myself. It isn’t like me, and as much as I enjoy looking at this particular male, I’m ready to put some distance between us and get my equilibrium back.
A craggy voice comes through the speakers, telling us that the next stop is Canada Water, so we’re not far from Canary Wharf. I’m getting off there to meet up with Lola, one of my local friends and a fellow art lover. Lola and I met during the semester I spent in London four years ago, through a study abroad program at my university. We were roommates, and hit it off right away. And thanks to FaceTime, we’ve been able to stay close over the years. She’s even coming to San Diego next summer to visit me, and we’re planning to drive up Pacific Coast Highway to spend a week in San Francisco.
Despite her art history degree, Lola works as a receptionist at one of the swanky high-rise office buildings on the wharf, and there’s a Starbucks in the lobby, so that’s where I’m meeting up with her for a coffee during her afternoon break.
We pull into the Canada Water station, and when the driver comes over the PA system again to tell us that we’re going to be delayed for a second time, I pull my phone out of my bag and hook into the Wi-Fi so that I can text Lola to let her know I’m running late. But just as my phone connects, it starts belting out an ear-piercing sequence from QOTSA’s ‘Go With The Flow’, and I quickly fumble for the volume control, embarrassed that I’d forgotten to turn it down.
‘Hey,’ I murmur, knowing from the quick peek I took at the screen that it’s Lola. ‘We’ve had a couple of delays on the line, so it’s going to be about another fifteen minutes before I get there.’
I can feel the weight of Mr H & G’s (Hot and Gorgeous is too much of a mouthful, even in my head) attention like a physical touch, and know he’s listening to my every word. If he hadn’t already figured out I’m an American – though I’m not sure how he could have just from looking at me – he knows now. You could take the girl out of Georgia, but you couldn’t ever take Georgia out of the girl. I might have spent the last six years of my life attending school in California, but I still have that molasses-covered drawl that I grew up with.
‘No worries,’ Lola says. ‘Someone called in sick, so I won’t even be able to get away for another twenty minutes. Did you bring the notes you want me to look over?’
‘Yeah, I’ve got all the notes. But the Harrison Trust refused my request again.’ J.J. Harrison is a cantankerous, reclusive modern artist who has more twisted hang-ups about women than Venice has canals, which makes him a prime focus for the piece I’m writing on the role of the dominated female subject in modern art. ‘So unless I hit gold somehow, this article is going to suck and the editor at Luxe is going to laugh her ass off at me.’
Thanks to one of my professors, I’ve been lucky enough to be asked to submit an article to one of the premier art magazines in the business – but if I don’t uncover some groundbreaking material soon, they aren’t going to look twice at me ever again. I usually visit England to catch up with the friends I have here, but this trip is for business instead of pleasure. I’m in the UK for a few weeks to research Harrison, who’s British, and if I don’t get an in-depth perspective on him now, I’m not ever going to get one. Others have tried before me and failed, but I’m counting on the fire in my gut to help me get what I want.
Lola pops a bubble in my ear, making me jump. ‘Just come find me at the desk when you get here. We’ll figure something out, sweet cheeks.’
I smile, because she’s one of my most favorite people in the world, and say goodbye, then disconnect the call and slip the phone back in my bag, along with my e-reader. I can still feel Mr H & G watching me, but my worries over the article are doing their best to eclipse the lust this man inspires. I find myself choking back a husky chuckle as I wonder what ol’ J.J. Harrison would make of him. As a rule, Harrison’s male forms are as powerful and arrogant as his females are vulnerable and weak.
When the train finally pulls into the Canary Wharf station, I move to my feet, and the man shifts toward me, standing so close I can actually smell the mouthwatering tang of his expensive aftershave. Something thick and sexual sweeps through my veins, warming me from the inside out, and I know my face is flushed. When I flick a quick glance in his direction, I find him staring right at me, which only makes me burn hotter. I bite my lip, and I swear his eyes get heavy as he watches, that hooded gaze capable of rendering even the most cynical female into a drooling, breathless mess.
The Tube carriage pulls to a stop at the platform, doors swishing open, and I have the strangest feeling he’s going to say something to me, but a group of young, rough-looking guys shoves between us, earning a low grunt from the suit. I pay them little attention as I disembark, too busy wondering if I’m disappointed or relieved that he’s missed his chance to say whatever he wanted to say. For some reason, the idea of talking to him is unnerving, even though I’m not shy. He just isn’t the type of man I usually interact with, and I don’t like feeling uncertain. He’s thrown me off balance, probably because I know my personality doesn’t mesh well with that of a cocky, money-driven suit. I’m too outspoken and suck at simpering. Am I being judgmental? Perhaps. But I’ve been around my father’s family enough times to know exactly how much I don’t like that kind of man, no matter how incredible-looking he is.
The sexy Brit might be the epitome of my deepest, darkest fantasies in the flesh, but like I’d been thinking when I first saw him, he could leave me broken in ways I didn’t need if I let him get too close. Ways I’ve spent years working hard to protect myself against. He would know all the right things to say. All the right moves to make. And it’s an unarguable fact that I have flawed DNA in my bloodline when it comes to resistance. Which is why I’m going to put him out of my mind and keep him there.
Walking as fast as I can in the swarm of people exiting the carriage, I don’t pay attention to what’s happening around me until I’m yanked into one of the narrow passages that connect the platforms. I’m wondering what the hell is going on, when my head suddenly smacks into the brick wall on my left. Fuck, that hurt!
‘Don’t be stupid and try to fight,’ a man grunts in my ear, his accent East End. ‘Just give us the purse, bitch.’
My purse? I have a hobo bag looped diagonally across my body and can feel a hand tugging aggressively at the strap. I can’t believe this is happening in the middle of the day, surrounded by crowds of people. What are these idiots thinking? But as I flash a quick look left and right, I realize they must have done this before. A guy stands guard at each end of the small passageway, blocking the view of those rushing by, the masses too focused on getting where they’re going as quickly as possible to notice what’s happening.
‘Get the fuck away from me!’ I scream, but the noise of an approaching carriage on the northbound platform drowns out the sound. The guy holding me snarls something and grips a fistful of my hair, slamming the side of my head into the wall again, and I think Oh, shit, this is bad. Blinding pain shoots through my skull, and I can feel my thoughts splintering. As my eyes roll back in my head, I dimly hear a low growl just before what sounds like a powerful fist crunching bone. The brutal grip on my arm and hair loosens, leaving me to crash to the floor, my head hitting the ground so hard I’d probably be seeing stars if my eyes were still working, and a deep voice curses so viciously I’m sure someone’s going to die. I just hope it isn’t me!
I listen to more punches being thrown through a fog of pain and confusion, pissed at myself for not getting in at least one groin shot on these jerks. And then, the next thing I know, I’m being carefully lifted from the floor, in a pair of solid, silk-covered arms that smell so good I moan in a way that has nothing at all to do with the pain in my head.
There’s something divinely familiar about this particular scent that I know I need to place.
But I lose consciousness before I can figure out what it is.
* * *
With a startled gasp, I blink my eyes open, trying to figure out why my head feels like someone’s used it for boxing practice. I make a rough, strangled sound of confusion when I realize I’m lying on a sofa, my hands digging into the butter-soft leather beneath me as a kind face slowly comes into focus.
‘Hello, miss. I’m Martin, Mr Beckett’s personal assistant,’ the man says with a crisp British accent. He’s sitting in an antique chair that’s been drawn up to face the sofa, wearing a suit over his thin frame, and looks like the highly competent sort who could balance the national budget with one hand while cooking a gourmet meal with the other. Sunlight from the windows glints against his silver hair. ‘Try not to move too quickly. From what Jase has told me, you took quite a few knocks to your head.’
Jase? Who the hell is Jase? ‘Where am I?’ I ask, surprised by the throaty rasp of my voice.
‘In Jase’s – that is Mr Beckett’s – private office.’
Licking my lips, I replay the last things I can remember through my aching head, but still can’t come up with an explanation for my current situation. ‘How did I get here? I remember a group of jerks trying to mug me at the station…but that’s it.’
I have a feeling the pink tinge blooming in Martin’s cheeks means I’m not going to like his answer. ‘Er, well, he carried you here.’
Ohmygod, I mutter to myself, so mortified I could die. I suddenly know exactly who this man means by he, my poor brain finally figuring out who that intoxicating scent had belonged to when I’d been lifted from the floor. And he’d carried me all the way here? Just…no, I think, shuddering with embarrassment. It’s too much. I mean, I was probably drooling all over his priceless suit!
Oh…and Jesus, I hope I didn’t say anything. I’ve been told by my friends that I talk in my sleep, but who knows if that extends to blacking out. With my luck, I could have spent the whole trip up to his breathtaking office mumbling about how gorgeous he is. Or how I planned on using him for inspiration during my next date with my vibrator!
Honestly, if there were a hole in the floor right now I would freaking crawl right into it.
Martin clears his throat, drawing my attention back to his friendly face. ‘Do you mind if I ask your name, miss?’
‘Emmy. Emmy Reed,’ I murmur, managing to get myself up into a sitting position and swing my legs down to the floor without Martin’s assistance, even though his hands are lifted, as if he expects me to tumble back over at any moment. I can only imagine how wrecked I look. My skirt is twisted around my knees and my slouchy cream shirt is hanging off one shoulder, showing the strap of my camisole.
‘Emmy’s a lovely name,’ he says with a smile, once he seems confident I can sit up without toppling. He leans back in his chair with his elbows braced on the armrests, his hands clasped before him. ‘If you’ll just stay put, we’ll have you better in no time, Miss Reed. The doctor is already on his way.’
‘What doctor?’ I wince as my sharp words ring through my head.
‘The Beckett family’s personal physician, Dr Riley.’
Panic starts to sweep through me in a slow, dizzying surge, killing the embarrassment. ‘Why do I need a doctor?’
A faint crease appears on his brow. ‘You’re lucky no skin was broken, but I’m afraid you might have a concussion. Before you move around, it’s best to have the doctor take a look at you.’
‘Shit,’ I blurt, then immediately wince again. Martin doesn’t look as if he’s ever cussed a day in his life. He probably thinks I’m an uncouth, potty-mouthed American redneck. ‘Uh, sorry,’ I murmur, biting my lip.
Another gentle smile tugs at his mouth. ‘No apology necessary. I’m afraid you could curse until you were blue in the face and it wouldn’t even put a dent in the mountain of foul language I’ve heard during my years with Mr Beckett.’ He leans toward me and lowers his voice. ‘I might have actually picked up a few of his more colorful phrases over the years, but don’t tell anyone.’
I laugh, and his eyes twinkle. It’s a relief that ol’ Martin isn’t as stiff-upper-lipped as I’d suspected. And speaking of Mr Beckett, I’m about to ask where he is, hoping I can get out of there before he returns, when a movement across the room catches my eye. He stands on the other side of the expansive office, his deep voice clipped as he says something into a cell phone that I can’t make out. But I hear enough to confirm that he’s definitely British – and he sounds irritated.
Oh, dear. My rescue has probably kept him from something important, like trashing some poor country’s economy, I think snidely, and I’m more than a little surprised by my vehemence. I guess there’s just something about this guy – and all the obvious signs of his extreme wealth that are currently surrounding me – that’s really setting me on edge.
‘Are you in a relationship, Miss Reed?’
I start, swinging my gaze back to Martin. ‘Why on earth do you need to know that?’
‘I don’t.’ He grins a bit shyly. ‘But I know Jase – that is, Mr Beckett – is wondering, so I thought I’d help the boy out.’
I give a soft snort. ‘He’s hardly a boy. And I can assure you that I’m the last woman he’d be interested in.’
As if to validate the fact that I have the worst luck in the world, Beckett chooses that precise moment to end his call and head our way. He’s removed his jacket and rolled up the sleeves of his crisp white dress shirt, and he casually pushes his hands into the front pockets of his trousers as he walks toward us. When he finally comes to a stop, I have to tilt my head back to keep looking at his face. He’s tall, and seriously gorgeous, but he does not look happy. ‘Why would you say that?’ he asks in a deliciously masculine voice, standing no more than a few feet from where I’m sitting on the sofa.
‘Uh, say what?’ I sound like an idiot, but his husky voice is so incredible it’s left me a little stunned. Tyler, my best friend back in San Diego, would be freaking drooling right about now. But then Tyler is all about the testosterone-oozing, rough-voiced alphas.
Beckett comes even closer, the tips of his polished dress shoes touching the toes of my ballet flats as he towers over me. ‘That I wouldn’t be interested in you.’
Laughing off my unease, I scoot a bit down the sofa so that I’ll be able to move to my feet without brushing against him when I finally feel stable enough to stand. The guy apparently has some kind of problem with personal space, since he’s invading mine. And here I thought the British upper class were supposed to be all stuffy and reserved. Beckett could give any hard-core, hot-blooded American male a run for his money. The sexy-as-hell accent is just overkill. He probably has women at his beck and call, triple booked and ready to preen and pounce to whatever tune he chooses – which makes me really want to know what he’s messing with me for.
‘Sir, this is Miss Emmy Reed,’ Martin interjects, clearly trying to relieve the tension that’s arcing in the air between his employer and me.
‘You know damn well that any man would have to be blind not to be interested,’ Beckett says in a quieter tone, as if his assistant hasn’t even spoken.
‘Oh, sure,’ I scoff, not liking the way this ass is screwing with my head. ‘And I bet this is the part where I’m meant to melt all over you, making a fool of myself. You put that smoldering vibe in a woman’s face and she normally just drops her panties. Am I right?’
Martin’s trying not to laugh, but failing miserably, while Beckett gives me a slightly crooked, impossibly wicked grin…and slowly drops his gaze to my lap. ‘Apparently not, seeing as how you’re still wearing yours.’
I give another feminine snort, a little relieved to realize he’s every bit as arrogant as I’d assumed he would be. ‘Trust me, I don’t count. But I can definitely see how you must affect the women in your crowd.’
‘My crowd?’ His brows nearly lift to his hairline, his eyes turning dark with some indecipherable emotion.
‘Oh, you know. All the “divine” and “dahling” and “kiss kiss” on the cheeks kind of girls. I bet you have them all panting for it, don’t you?’
With a low, dry laugh, he sticks a big, masculine hand toward me and says, ‘I’m going to ignore that for the moment and just introduce myself. Jasper Beckett, but my friends call me Jase.’
‘Emmy Reed,’ I practically croak, my throat working with a hard swallow the moment his large hand envelops mine. How can I be so attracted to someone who’s the antithesis of everything I know I should want in a man? My more devout Women’s Studies friends would be shaking their heads at me in disgust, but there’s no hiding from the hormone frenzy going on inside my overwhelmed body.
‘And your friends call you?’
I pull my hand back out of sheer self-preservation. ‘That’s none of your business.’
He shakes his head a little as he holds my gaze, probably at a loss for how to handle a woman who isn’t fawning all over him. A heavy silence settles between the two of us – three of us, actually, since poor Martin’s still sitting there all proper-looking in his chair – until I finally relent. ‘My friends call me Em, and you don’t look at all like a Jasper.’
‘Yeah, I get that a lot.’ His beautiful mouth twitches as he slides his strong hand back into his pocket. ‘The only thing I can think is that my mother must have hated me.’
‘She died when I was six.’
‘Oh.’ Now I feel like a bitch moron who’s just stuck her foot in her mouth. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘Don’t be,’ he murmurs. ‘It was obviously a long time ago.’
There’s something there, in the things he isn’t saying, that tells me his mother’s death is anything but a blasé, forgotten part of his past.
Changing the subject, he asks, ‘How are you feeling?’ A hard, sharp-edged glint flashes through his sinful blue gaze. ‘I could have dismembered those little shits for touching you.’
‘I’m fine, except for a slight headache. It could have been so much worse if you hadn’t helped me, so thank you.’
‘In the future, you need to keep an eye out for men like that when you’re on your own,’ he lectures.
I clench my jaw, since I can’t very well tell him that I normally would have been doing exactly that, but I’d been too busy thinking about him to pay any attention to what the thugs were doing. But the smirk sneaking on to his lips says that he’s already guessed where my attention had been focused. I roll my eyes, mouthing the word ‘ass’ at him, which for some reason makes his smirk slip into a full-fledged grin. Seriously, what is up with this guy?
‘The doctor will be here soon,’ Martin says, sounding a bit worried now. He is no doubt at a loss over what to make of Beckett and me.
I catch my lip in my teeth, hating the idea of an unknown doctor coming here to check on me. ‘I really don’t think—’
‘Don’t bother arguing,’ Beckett cuts in, ‘because you are seeing him.’
I bristle, but don’t kick up a stink. Instead, I just glare at him and ask, ‘Where’s my bag?’
He jerks his chin toward the far side of the room, where his massive desk sprawls before the wall of windows, the summer sky becoming a gray blur of rainclouds beyond the tinted glass. My bag is sitting on a corner of the desk, looking completely out of place. Make that my recently opened bag, since my phone is lying beside it.
As I swing my gaze back to Beckett, I’m wondering where he gets off thinking he can just go through my personal things like that. Then I find myself wondering what his cock looks like, and color floods my face. What in the world is wrong with me? Yeah, I have as many hormones as the next girl, but I don’t let them rule me. Not when it comes to men. That’s what I have my vibrator for, damn it.
‘Have dinner with me tonight.’
I blink, positive I’ve heard him wrong. ‘Excuse me?’
‘Have dinner with me,’ he says again. ‘It’s going to take a few hours for your new bank cards to arrive. In the meantime, you don’t have any money to go anywhere. What will it hurt to spend that time with me?’
‘What are you talking about? What happened to my cards?’
‘Everything’s being taken care of.’ He stares down at me with an inscrutable expression that’s impossible to read, but the palpable force of his intensity makes my chest tight, my breath quickening. ‘So there’s no reason we can’t enjoy a meal together.’
I fist my hands as I realize what’s happened. ‘Are you telling me those jackasses stole my cards?’ I’d brought two debit cards and a credit card with me when I’d left San Diego, which I’d meant to keep in separate places, in the event anything like this happened while I was traveling. But like an idiot, I hadn’t gotten around to separating them yet. They’d been in a card holder in the inside pocket of my bag.
‘One of the men pulled some cards from your purse while I was dealing with the bastard who hurt you,’ Beckett explains, rubbing a hand across the dark five o’clock shadow on his jaw.
‘Son of a bitch!’ Now I’m pissed.
He narrows his eyes, as if he doesn’t like seeing me lose my temper. Not that I give a damn. ‘Don’t worry about the cards. I’ve called your bank and they’re already issuing new ones. Plus, they’ve safeguarded your accounts.’
‘They let you do that?’
He shrugs. ‘I had to pull a few strings.’
I want to shout that my bank accounts are none of his fucking business, but choke it back, seeing as how I would have probably had to wait a few days for the bank to move at its usual leisurely pace. ‘Are the cards being delivered here? I’m meant to travel to Surrey tonight and stay in a B&B.’
Instead of answering my question, he asks, ‘Where are your things?’
He merely raises his brows at me. ‘Surely you planned to take your clothes with you to Surrey.’
‘Oh. I left my suitcase with a friend,’ I mutter, this emotional rollercoaster making my head hurt even worse. I lift my fingertips to my temples and rub. ‘I’m meant to pick it up before leaving town.’
‘Give me the address and I’ll send someone for the case. Then, this evening, you and I can have dinner and I’ll get a room for the night.’
I slowly lower my hands to the sofa, digging them into the plush leather. This man might have helped me out, but I’m not going to use that as an excuse to spread my legs for him. ‘You think I’m just going to spend the night with you? I don’t even know you.’ And I’m not his type! Which makes this whole situation seem like a farce. Is he playing some kind of game with me?
His head tilts a bit to the side in response to my strained, get-a-clue tone. ‘All I’m asking for is dinner. My family owns a hotel in Chelsea. The room will be yours alone, Emmy.’
Oh. Now I kinda feel like a fool.
Mentally running through my options, I realize I don’t actually have any. Lola lives with her boyfriend, who I can’t stand. And Ben, the friend whose flat my suitcase is currently stored at, has his mother visiting him for a few days, which means he’ll be sleeping on the sofa I usually crash on when I’m in London. I met Ben at the same time as Lola, when he was living in the university flat just below ours, and we bonded over our love of the Foo Fighters and Thai takeaway.
Beckett is still waiting on a response, so I clear my throat a bit and say, ‘Then, um, thanks. But I’ll pay you back for the room and the meal as soon as I have my cards and find a cash machine. Then you can be on your way and I’ll be out of your hair.’
He laughs, and this time I’m the one who narrows their eyes. ‘What’s so funny?’
‘Not funny. Just –’ he seems to be searching for the right word – ‘refreshing.’
My voice is almost painfully tight. ‘Because?’
Another shrug lifts his broad shoulders. ‘You’re not interested in my money. And you honestly don’t want to spend time with me. It’s not what I’m used to.’
‘Wow,’ I laugh, shaking my head. ‘Ego much?’
He grins, showing his straight, white teeth. ‘Not ego, sweetheart. It’s just the way it is. But I like this – that you’re not like the other women I know. Which is why I want to make you an offer. One you’re going to find impossible to refuse.’ The heat in his blue eyes has me full-on blushing, my heart beating so hard I know he can see my pulse pounding at the base of my throat. ‘I’ll see to it that you have complete access to J.J. Harrison’s private collection of his work, and if we’re lucky, an interview with the man himself,’ he says in a low, deceptively casual tone. ‘And in exchange, you’ll agree to be my date at a family wedding this weekend in Kent.’
I jolt to my feet, forced to place a steadying hand on Martin’s chair. Date? Family wedding? An offer I can’t refuse? ‘What the hell are you talking about?’
Beckett had started to reach for me when I wobbled, and only lowers his arms when he sees that I’m not going to fall. ‘You want information about Harrison, and I don’t want to spend an entire weekend listening to another woman prattle on about shopping or her nails and making catty comments about everyone she sees.’
My eyes are wide. ‘How do you know about my research?’
‘Your phone call,’ he answers simply.
I think back, remembering that he’d overheard my conversation with Lola on the Tube. ‘Oh.’ I try to get my thoughts straight, but my head is still pounding. ‘Um, I need to—’
As though he’s reading my mind, he says, ‘Don’t worry about your friend. I used your phone to call her. She knows you’re all right.’
I screw my face up, wanting so badly to tell him that he didn’t have any right to go snooping through my phone – not to mention using my thumbprint to unlock it when I’d been unconscious – but stop myself at the last second. The man did save me, so I’m going to sound like a raging bitch if I call him out for contacting Lola for me. But it still rankles.
‘So about this weekend?’ he prompts, and there’s the slightest edge of command in his deep voice that makes me bristle, as if he’s fighting his natural instinct to tell me what’s going to happen between us, instead of waiting for my response.
Taking a shaky breath, I say, ‘Aside from the obvious fact that I would have to be crazy to go somewhere with someone I don’t even know, you mentioned that you didn’t want to spend time with a woman who makes catty comments.’
He lifts his chin in that way that men do. ‘That’s right.’
‘And how do you know I wouldn’t?’ I ask with a baffled note of exasperation, my attention so focused on the gorgeous male staring me down that I’m only vaguely aware of Martin sliding to his feet and escaping the office. Not that I blame him. Things are getting pretty weird in here.
Another grin suddenly curls Beckett’s mouth, and I can see the shift of powerful muscle beneath his white shirt as he shoves his hands back into his pockets. ‘Something tells me that smart-arse mouth of yours would only be cutting me. Not anyone else.’
Huh? Is this guy for real? ‘And that sounds like fun to you?’
His low laugh melts down my spine, settling with liquid warmth between my thighs. ‘Don’t ask me to explain it.’
I cross my arms over my chest, giving him a steely stare. ‘And how exactly do you plan on getting me in to see Harrison’s private collection?’ I ask, not even bothering to mention the interview, since I know that will never happen. ‘Because you had better not be bullshitting me. I’m not lying when I say that I have zero interest in being your go-to-girl for a weekend surrounded by a bunch of posh snobs.’
‘I’m not bullshitting you.’ I can tell from his tone that he doesn’t like what I’ve said. He’s obviously the kind of man who’s used to women jumping to do what he wants as quickly as possible. Too used to it. And I’m so not the subservient type.
‘Then how?’ I press, more than a little surprised by how bitchy I sound. To hear me at this moment, you would never guess that I’m considered a really nice person who easily makes friends. I might not be great at relationships, but it usually takes a lot to rile me. There’s something about Beckett, though, that just sets me on edge.
I can sense he’s about to blast me with something stunning as he steps closer, tipping his head down so that he can hold my stare, his blue eyes gleaming and hot. ‘I’m going to give you a clue,’ he murmurs, the husky notes of his voice sliding through me like a physical touch, making my body feel heavy and damp. ‘My full name is Jasper John Beckett, and my mother’s maiden name was Prescott.’
‘Ohmygod,’ I whisper, my thoughts spinning as I finally put it all together. I have to reach out and grab the back of Martin’s chair again. J.J. Harrison’s full name is Jasper John Harrison Prescott!
‘I was named after the artist, because that’s the way it’s done in my family,’ he adds, and his wide smile is the cockiest damn thing I’ve ever seen. ‘The misogynistic old bastard you’re so interested in is my maternal grandfather.’
From the book: LONDON AFFAIR: THE WEEKEND by Rhyannon Byrd
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The edition published by arrangement with Headline Eternal