The suite was dark, but she could see the ceilings were two stories high. The furniture was stark and modern, but she barely saw it amid the shadows before her gaze was transfixed by the wall of floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the sparkling lights of nighttime Monaco, and beyond that, the vast dark Mediterranean.
Kassius set her down slowly, letting her body drag against his, falling in a cascade of tulle. For a moment, he looked down at her, then with a low growl, he whirled her around so he was looking at her back. She blinked at the view. She saw a few lights of ships floating through the dark sea, like stars in the sky.
She shouldn’t be here. She should go. But she felt like time and reality had fled, as if she were someone else entirely. Someone reckless...
He slowly unzipped her dress, dropping it to the floor. The cool air licked at her skin as he turned her back around to face him. She was almost naked, wearing only a strapless white bra and plain white lace panties. He slowly looked her over. “You are so beautiful.”
And even in the shadows of the penthouse suite, she saw in the hard lines of his face, of his body, that he did desire her. Fiercely.
She should leave. Her brain and heart were begging her to leave—leave now. Because there was only one way this could end. Badly.
But for some reason, her body refused to budge as he pulled off her shoes, one by one.
Rising to his feet, Kassius slipped off his black tuxedo jacket. Taking her hand, he drew her into the bedroom.
Translucent gauze curtains covered the windows and sliding glass door to the balcony. He opened the balcony door, and she took a deep breath of the cool, hard wind, scented of salt sea and golden mimosa flowers in bloom.
Laney stood nearly naked in front of Kassius Black—this handsome, dangerous billionaire who was so much larger than she, in every possible way. She lifted her face to his.
His dark eyes were hungry as he came back toward her, and, nervously, she backed away from him, falling back softly onto his enormous king-size bed, against the large white pillows on the white comforter. Standing over her, he deliberately pulled off his black tie.
Wearing only his white shirt and black tuxedo trousers, he kicked off his shoes and reached toward her on the bed. Slowly, he ran his fingertips down her cheek, then her throat, then the hollow between her breasts. She could not move as his fingertips lightly stroked downward, past her silky strapless white bra to her rib cage and the bare skin of her belly. His hand traced downward, ever downward, to the top edge of her lacy white panties.
She suddenly stopped him with her hand.
“Don’t,” she choked out.
His forehead furrowed. “Why?”
“I’ll only disappoint you.”
“You’re a virgin. How do you know?”
Silvery moonlight streaked through the windows, frosting the gauzy curtains and the hard lines of his cheekbones and jaw as he leaned back, staring down at her incredulously. “You actually think you’re frigid, don’t you?”
“I know I am.”
“The boy who took me to prom...he told me.”
“And you believed him?”
“He would know. He kissed a lot of girls.” A lump rose in Laney’s throat. “Look, it’s almost midnight. You should go back to the party. Find someone who knows how to kiss—”
“I have the one I want.” His fingertips changed course, skimming over the curve of her hips to her bare thighs.
“Look—” she swallowed “—I don’t know why you chose me, whether you’re just slumming or—”
He abruptly dropped his hand.
“You spoke earlier about games, Laney. Let’s play a game now, you and I.”
His gaze locked with hers. “I will prove to you that you are not frigid. That you are a warm, desirable woman. A woman made for pleasure.”
“What if you can’t?”
He gave a low laugh. “I will. All I have to do is touch you—even look at you—to know I am right.”
“And if you’re wrong?” she said desperately, remembering the humiliating night of prom when she was eighteen.
“Then I will pay a forfeit.” He smiled. “Shall we say—one million dollars?”
She gaped at him. “Is that a joke?”
“That’s the second time you’ve offered me a million!”
“Is it not enough?” he said lazily, looking at her beneath heavily lidded eyes. “Two million, then. Ten. I am so sure that I can make you gasp with desire, so sure I can make you explode with pleasure, that if I am wrong, Laney, I will pay you ten million dollars.”
A noisy burst of wind flew through the open balcony door.
Ten million dollars.
The amount staggered her. She thought of what it would mean. No more abuse from her horrible boss. She could go back to New Orleans and hire full-time caregivers for her father. Her grandmother, who’d worked her fingers to the bone for fifty years, could finally relax and enjoy her life. Laney could be with the family she loved.
“But the amount I’ll pay if I lose doesn’t matter.” Kassius looked down at her, his eyes glinting wickedly in the moonlight. “Because I will win.”
Laney licked her lips. “Just for the sake of argument, if you do make me, um...if you prove I’m not frigid, then what would you want in return?”
“Beyond the sweet prize of your body?” He moved suddenly, leaning over the bed, running his wide hand in a sensual stroke down her body. His expression was deadly serious. “You would be completely mine.”
Her mouth went dry. “What do you mean?”
He ran his hand softly against her cheek. “I am tired of the bachelor life. I want a family. I want a wife. Children.”
Now she really did feel dizzy. Could the half a glass of champagne she’d drunk at the party be affecting her brain? “You can’t possibly mean—”
“If I cannot give you pleasure, Laney, I will give you ten million dollars and you will walk out of here a wealthy woman. But if I make you explode with joy, you will surrender everything. You will allow me to take possession of your body and fill you with my child. You will be mine—forever.”
LANEY SAT UP straight on the king-size bed, her eyes wide. Before, she’d thought she was dreaming, or possibly drunk.
Now she wondered if she’d lost her mind.
“Let me see if I understand,” she said faintly. “If you make me come, I must marry you and have your baby?”
Kassius’s expression was unreadable. “What is your answer?”
“It’s either a ridiculous joke, or else you’re crazy!”
“I’m perfectly sane, and I’ve never been more serious.”
“But risking marriage—children—based on sex? That is insane!” Her eyes went wide as he pulled off his shirt, dropping it to the floor. She stared at his hard, muscular chest, laced with dark hair. She licked her lips and tried to remember what she’d been saying. She stammered, “We’d need to be in love. We’d need to be compatible partners. You have to be sensible—”
Leaning over the bed, he stopped her with a kiss. His lips were hard and hot, his muscled chest pressing against her. She was suddenly very aware she was wearing only a strapless bra and panties.
He drew back, searching her gaze. “Your answer.”
No would be the sensible response.
Hell, no would be even smarter, while running out of here like her hair was on fire.
Ten million dollars.
Though inexperienced, Laney knew quite a bit about sex, of course. She’d seen her share of R-rated movies, so it wasn’t like she was a total innocent. When Bobby Joe Branford, the football hero of her high school, had asked her to prom, she’d been excited at the thought of her first kiss.
But the night had been a disaster. Halfway through the dance, he’d pushed her out into a dark school hallway and kissed her against the lockers. His lips had been rubbery and cold, and she’d nearly choked when she’d tasted sour whiskey on his breath as his tongue shoved down her throat. It was so horrible she knew she must be doing it wrong. She’d tried to remain perfectly still, until finally she could take no more and she tried to push him away. He wouldn’t let her, so she’d given him a hard shove with all her strength. He’d fallen to the floor in drunken surprise just as some of his friends walked by. They’d laughed, and Bobby Joe had glared at her.
“Frigid little virgin.” He’d wiped his mouth. “I should have known I’d be wasting my time with you.”
Bobby Joe had caught up with his friends and found another girl to dance with, leaving Laney in her wrinkled secondhand prom dress and wilting corsage to find her own way home.
But it had gotten even worse. She’d returned to school Monday to find herself a laughingstock. She’d already been unpopular, the short, chubby girl who lived in that ratty house near the bayou, who wore outdated clothes from the thrift shop, whose blind father was in a wheelchair and whose mother had abandoned her family, to run off to California with her lover.
But now the high school quarterback had rendered final, fatal judgment, and the entire school thought of her in his terms: frigid little virgin. The other students didn’t just think it, either. They called her that. To her face.