‘Wait.’ His hand came down on her arm and held her still, leaving her no choice but to meet his dark brooding gaze. ‘Don’t go.’
She dragged in a ragged breath, her head telling her to get the hell out while she still could, but somehow her treacherous heart insisted she stay.
‘Jake…’ Her voice sounded as if it had come through a vacuum, it didn’t sound at all like her own.
His hand cupped her cheek, his thumb moving over the curve of her lips in a caress so poignantly tender she immediately felt the springing of tears in her eyes.
She watched as his mouth came down towards hers and, in spite of her inner convictions, did absolutely nothing to stop it.
Her body felt frozen in time, her lips waiting for the imprint of his after four and a half years of deprivation. Her skin begged for his touch with goose-bumps of anticipation springing out all over her, her legs weakening with need as soon as his mouth met hers.
Heat coursed through her at that first blistering touch, her lips instantly swelling under the insistent pressure of his, her mouth opening to the command of his determined tongue as it sought her inner warmth.
She felt the sag of her knees as he crushed her close to his hard frame, the ridges of his body fitting so neatly into the soft curves of hers as if made to measure.
Desire surged through her as if sent on an electric circuit from his. She felt its charge from breast to hip, her body singing with awareness as his body leapt in response against her. She felt the hardening of his growing erection, the heat and length of him a heady, intoxicating reminder of all the intimacies they had shared in the past.
Her body was no mystery to him. He had known every crease and tender fold, had explored and tasted every delicacy with relish. Her body remembered with a desperate burning plea for more. She ached for him, inside and out, her emotions caught up in a maelstrom of feeling she had no control over. It was as if the past hadn’t happened; she was his just as she had been all those years ago. He had only to look at her and she would melt into his arms and become whatever he wanted her to become…
She jerked herself out of his hold with a strength she had not known she was capable of and, thankfully for her, he was totally unprepared for.
‘You have no right.’ She clipped the words out past stiff lips. ‘I’m engaged. You have no right to touch me.’
His eyes raked her mercilessly, his expression hinting at satire. ‘You gave me the right as soon as you looked at me that way.’
‘What way?’ She glared at him defensively. ‘I did not look at you in any way!’
His mouth tilted in a cynical smile. ‘I wonder what your fiancé would say if he saw how you just responded to me?’
Ashleigh felt as if someone had switched on a radiator behind her cheeks. Guilty colour burnt through her skin, making her feel transparent, as if he could see right through her to where she hid her innermost secrets.
She had to turn away, her back rigid with fury, as she glared at a painting on the wall in her line of vision.
‘Oh, my God…’ She stepped towards the portrait, her eyes growing wide with amazement, incredulity and what only could be described as gobsmacked stupefaction as realisation gradually dawned. Her eyes dipped to look at the signature at the bottom of the painting, even her very fingertips icing up with excitement as she turned around to look at him.
‘Do you realise what you have here?’ she asked, her tone breathless with wonder. ‘That painting alone is worth thousands!’
He gave the painting a dismissive glance and met her eyes once more. ‘You can have it,’ he said. ‘And everything else. There’s more in the other rooms.’
She stared at him for at least five heavy heartbeats. ‘What?’
‘You heard,’ he said. ‘I’m giving it to you to sell; everything in this house.’
She felt like slapping the side of her head to make sure she wasn’t imagining what she’d just heard. ‘What did you say?’
‘I said I’m giving you the lot,’ he said.
She backed away, her instincts warning her that this was not a no-strings deal. ‘Oh, no.’ She held up her hands as if to warn him off. ‘You can’t bribe me with a whole bunch of priceless heirlooms.’
‘I’m not bribing you, Ashleigh,’ he said in an even tone. ‘I’m simply giving you a choice.’
‘A choice?’ She eyeballed him suspiciously. ‘What sort of choice?’
His eyes gave nothing away as they held her gaze.
‘I told you I wanted to see you again,’ he said. ‘Regularly.’
Ashleigh’s heart began to gallop behind the wall of her chest. ‘And I told you I can’t…’ She took a prickly breath. ‘Howard and I…’ She couldn’t finish the sentence, the words sticking together in her tightened throat.