He wanted her.
Who ever she was, whatever it took, Jude Stone knew he would have his way. He always did.
She was dressed in a calf-length, black-sheathed dress, with its broad straps crisscrossing over her shoulders. She filled out the outfit nicely, her ample curves hugging the thin fabric. He drew in a breath of sexually charged awareness at this voluptuous beauty that stood in the middle of the room; totally clueless about the effect she was having on his long-deprived hormones. Her generous bust seemed to strain against the bodice, with its heart-shaped cut and revealed a delicious deep shadow of cleavage. She had to be a 40D, Jude’s well-trained eye decided – and her five-foot frame served to emphasize further her deliciously buxom proportions. He took his time to trail his eyes from the top of her top-knotted hair to her heeled feet, and decided that he hadn’t seen anything so alluring, so utterly desirable, in a long time.
“Who is she?” he heard himself ask tersely, cutting through the words of his assistant who was standing next to him.
His assistant, the long-suffering Carly, followed the line of his gaze and narrowed her eyes in recognition.
“Sir, why do you ask? Because if Miranda Quinn has caught your eye, then I’m going to have to disappoint you.”
Carly couldn’t help the trace of satisfaction in her voice. She knew her boss – for whom she’d been working the last nine years – too well. She knew that look in his eye, understood exactly what he was thinking even without it being spelled out for her. It was rare, but when she saw that dark, purposeful glint in his eye, she knew it meant that he’d set his sights on a potential female acquisition. And he was the type who never could understand that not everything – or everyone – had to fall into his lap.
Jude Stone was not just her long-time employer, but he was one of the richest men in the city. He was known as the “Bust-up Billionaire” because of the way he’d made his fortunes on ruthlessly leveraged takeovers – turning a thriving family business into a goldmine. Now, at age thirty-four, he was running a billion-dollar business empire left to him by his tycoon father when Jude had been only twenty-five. In the ten years since then, Jude Stone had become a billionaire several times over – and he didn’t seem ready to slow down yet.
And if that wasn’t enough, he had the looks of a god. His face had graced enough magazine covers, both in the field of business and of style. He was nothing short of a celebrity thanks to his undeniable physical attributes as well as his money. People were intrigued by his corporate savvy, and were even more pulled in by his handsome looks.
He had links to the top-most politicians, movie stars and business moguls. His last girlfriend had been one of the top three supermodels in the world – and the break-up of their one-year relationship had been fodder for the gossip sheets for months.
Carly carefully analyzed the target of his interest, and had to admit she was certainly a voluptuous beauty. Certainly on the curvy side, and was hardly what Carly would consider his ‘usual’ type. And yet Carly could see where the appeal lay. The woman known as Miranda Quinn looked confident, at ease in her own skin. Her poise was evident in every inch of her carriage. Yes, she was certainly quite lovely, with regular, striking features. Her dark hair was swept up, leaving her shoulders bare. She stood in her group and talked and laughed, oblivious of the scrutiny from across the room.
“Her name is Miranda Quinn? Why does that sound familiar?” her boss mused.
Carly turned to face him. “Well, for one thing, because you were responsible for taking over her father’s company,” She told him bluntly. “Her father was Jepson Quinn, and his company was just another of your bust-ups of last year. So really, you can’t expect to have any luck with his daughter, can you?”
“Why do I have the funny feeling you sound pleased about this?” he asked, his tone still thoughtful. He hadn’t torn his eyes from the subject of their discussion. Just then, she’d accepted the offer of a dance from a bespectacled, burly-looking man whose suit seemed to hang on his beefy frame awkwardly. Jude felt himself scowling, especially when the man drew her closer into his huge arms than was necessary. She seemed uncomfortable, though she smiled with forced brightness. Jude saw a grimace cross her face and he figured Mr. Hulk had trod on her.
“Here,” he told Carly shortly, handing her his glass.
“What…Jude,” she said through gritted teeth, watching him stride purposefully away. In the direction of Miss Miranda Quinn and her dance partner. Carly sighed impatiently. In the past nine years of being his most trusted employee, she’d gone through many emotions: fury, exasperation, and then affection. He now seemed like her naughty younger brother that she was consigned to keeping away from trouble whenever she could.
Though one thing was certain: She wasn’t sure how successful she’d be at keeping him away from Miranda Quinn.
Miranda wasn’t even sure why she was here. She hated these sorts of “do’s”. After her family’s near-ruin, she hadn’t been much of a social butterfly. But her brother had insisted she showed face at this fundraising gala, for the same reason she had wished to avoid it: to show that the Quinn family was still alive and kicking. Ever since her father had lost his beloved company a year ago, he’d withdrawn on a much-needed vacation to South America, and now her brother and her had been left to pick up the pieces. It had been an uncomfortable situation to live down, but here she was, being social – and getting her feet smashed in the process.
She tried not to grimace one more time as her dance partner stepped on her toes – again. She hoped she wouldn’t be crippled before the night was through. Kirk was a big beef of a man, and a very nice guy though he couldn’t dance for squat. However, he was a big-shot financial advisor with all the right contacts – contacts that Miranda was dearly in need of. But befriending him was getting to be too much of a risk to her wellbeing, she discovered, feeling crushed too strongly against his massive frame. He was taking much advantage of the slow, swaying music to practically squelch her against him, and she gritted her teeth. If only her brother Jeffrey could take her position right now. Where the hell was he anyway, she fumed, her eyes scanning the crowded room.
“May I cut in?”
Miranda felt herself pause at the sound of that voice. It was deep, clipped and very refined. A James-Bond kind of voice; more of take-charge mixed with a little bit of black silk smoothness. She looked up quickly, and jammed eyes with the hottest specimen of male flesh she had ever seen.
He was smiling at her, his hunky quality further magnified by that sexy tilt of his lips. His aquamarine eyes were startling in his gorgeous face, which had finely chiseled planes and edges. He was also quite tall, at least six feet, and dressed impeccably in a dark jacket that looked like it was molded to his athletically built frame. Miranda blinked, unable to register much except: holy shit, he’s gorgeous.
“Sorry pal, not happening,” Kirk, her partner, said with a cool smile, looking over his shoulder at the blonde-haired man behind him.
“Oh I insist,” the newcomer drawled. “Because someone needs to spare the lady years of physiotherapy after you’ve finished crushing her feet.”
Miranda bit down the giggle that almost burst from her lips, seeing Kirk’s furious expression. “Now look here…” blustered Kirk, but Miranda chose that moment to slip out of his arms.
“I’d be honored to dance with you,” she murmured, meeting the triumphant gaze of her “rescuer”. She saw Kirk’s face go red, before he stalked off angrily. Well, there goes my hope of ever winning aid from Kirk’s firm, she realized – and decided she didn’t feel even a twinge of regret. Her brother, Jeffrey would have to do his own dirty work and make his own contacts.
Besides, it was all worth being able to glide into the arms of the best looking man in the room. She looked up at him as they drew closer, the proximity necessary due to the tight squeeze on the ballroom dance floor. It took moments for her to realize he was a great dancer, as he moved with manly grace while keeping her in a dangerously intimate embrace. She could feel every outline of his powerfully built frame, her own soft body reacting in ways she couldn’t remember it doing in a long time. Kirk had held her just as closely and she hadn’t felt this breath-stealing sensation, like she was running short on oxygen supply. She felt his fingers dip into the flesh of her waist, seemingly searing through the fabric. Her hand on his shoulder itched to dig deeper, savor the play of muscles that hinted from beneath his tailored jacket.
“Thank you,” she finally said, hoping her voice didn’t sound as breathless as she felt. Up close, he was almost painfully good-looking, every feature appearing to have been carved by loving hands. There was something familiar about him, and she wondered why that was. She was certain that she wouldn’t have forgotten if they’d ever met before. This wasn’t the kind of man that could ever slip from memory, she felt.