Yes yes yes, she heard him chant, the sound of his voice far away as her brainwaves seemed momentarily devoid of any sense of time or place. Still he hammered into her, his growls deepening as he too, finally succumbed to his own epic release. He held on tight to her in those moments when the world seemed to go the other way round, and she sank against him, unable to move as he ground into her with one last, belly-ripping thrust.
Finally, spent, he reached up to untie the blindfold, pulling out of her as they fell to the bed in a collective heap. His breath was coming out in gasps, and she turned into his arms, feeling the need to soothe him with her kisses. Their lips joined moistly, and his arm wound around her in that strong, possessive way of his. His face had that warm, sweat-beaded flush, and now that she could look into his eyes, she drank in the strange expression that crossed his eyes. But before she could search further, he reached up and kissed her forehead, and told her to sleep. She closed her eyes obediently, and in the next moment, she was off like a light.
It had happened. She’d done what she’d feared, prayed she wouldn’t do. She’d fallen in love with Jude Stone.
Nothing on earth could have been worse than discovering that he’d stolen her heart. She hated herself for it, but she couldn’t stop it from happening. It had crept in on her and now she had only herself to blame. From one day to the next, she kept imagining and even wishing that the feeling would ebb, that he wouldn’t be able to move her as before.
But it never happened; with each hour she spent around him, she buried herself in even deeper.
They’d arrived on Monday, and now this was the third morning, a Thursday. There was barely three days left till they’d have to return to London. After they breakfasted together down in the hotel’s prestigious restaurant, he suggested mildly if she’d like to spend the day with him.
“Don’t you have any important appointments to attend?” she asked in surprise.
“I’ll cancel them,” he said with a shrug. “I want to get more time with you. I’ve enjoyed having you here with me, Miranda.” His eyes held hers piercingly. “And I wouldn’t want to give the impression that I consider you no more than a sex toy, to be used only for my pleasure.” He grinned suddenly, the flash of white making her breath catch at how gorgeous he looked.
“How kind of you to be so...thoughtful. But there really is no need for you to change your schedule to suit me. I don’t mind being left alone.”
“Ouch. Nice. I guess I shouldn’t expect you to want me around all the time. You need your breathing space. I get it.”
Miranda looked away from his ironic smile. She didn’t mind his mocking tone; keeping things this way helped insulate her from what was inevitably happening. For him, this was just sex. Great sex it must be said, but that was all there was. The last thing she needed was for him to feel he had to further “compensate” her with more of his presence. Also, the less time they spent around each other, the easier it would be to keep pretending she was still aloof to him.
“How about Carly?” she asked quickly, curious about his assistant whom she hadn’t been seeing as often.
“Actually, I gave her the day off,” he said wryly, and Miranda felt like an idiot when she realized he really had meant to spend the day with her. Her heart almost began to lift with hope, but then she squashed it down. Jude was the ultimate charmer; it cost him nothing to be nice. Again and again she had to remind herself, it doesn’t mean anything.
And yet, she couldn’t help feeling a pang as she looked up and met his steady gaze. She wondered what he was thinking, and why he was staring at her like that.
“Miranda...” he began, but his sentence was cut off by the sound of her name coming from the entrance.
Miranda turned in amazement to find her brother stalking into the restaurant, and she saw Jude rise, his face expressionless.
“You son of a bitch!” Jeffery snarled, reaching their table, his eyes fastened on Jude. “I want you to let my sister go.”
The few other diners glanced their way in curiosity, and Miranda wanted to sink into the ground. “Jeff, what are you doing?” she hissed, her fists clenching.
Her brother barely glanced her way, holding Jude’s gaze angrily as he gritted out, “I’m trying to get you out of this asshole’s clutches. I don’t give a damn what he may have offered you, Miranda. You’re worth far more than any stupid company. I don’t even care about that anymore.” And this time, he turned to look at her, his expression pained. “I felt like such a dick for the way I attacked you over Kirk. I never meant to push you into doing something like this.”
“This was never your fault,” she said quickly. “I...” But his earnest words cut her off.
“No, Miranda, listen to me; I flew straight here as soon as I could to tell you this: it doesn’t matter. The company, getting it back; it doesn’t count as much as keeping our dignity. And that’s why you’re coming back with me. I’m definitely not leaving you behind.
“No, he’s right.
Miranda stopped short, turning to Jude when he spoke up for the first time. She looked at him to find his face was an expressionless, marble mask
“Everything your brother says is true,” he went on calmly. “It was wrong, you being practically blackmailed into this.
“I’m an adult, Jude; it was my decision to make.
“Miranda, it isn’t a decision if you were coerced into it. You’d never have agreed to be with me if I hadn’t promised you the company. And for that, I’m sorry.
“What do you mean, you’re sorry? Are you backing out of this?
“Don’t worry; you’ll still get what we agreed upon. I’ll get the relevant papers signed and delivered to you,” he said, his lips thinning in a humourless smile. “You’ve more than earned it. And I release you from any obligation, Miranda. As from right now, you owe me nothing.
“Go to hell, Jude Stone,” Jeff growled, grabbing his dazed sister by the elbow and dragging her from the restaurant. Miranda made no protest, her mind in a whirl as she looked back for one last glance at Jude’s handsome face set in stone.
“So what are we going to do?”
Miranda was standing in the middle of Jeffery’s office. She had the just-delivered sheaf of documents on the desk in front of him. He stared at it, and then looked up at her. “Rip it to shreds.”
“What?” she gasped, staring at him aghast. It was less than a week since he’d practically had to haul her home from London. In that time, she’d waited with bated breath to hear from Jude. She’d always known he would keep his word, but she’d been looking forward to more than just the pile of papers that now lay there before them.
Jeff rose, his face rigid with anger. “I meant what I said back there, Miranda. Our dignity is more important. It’s bad enough that you thought you needed to sell yourself to him –”
“I don’t need you judging me, okay?” she said with flashing eyes. “Last time I checked it was a free country. And besides...it never felt like I was selling myself or anything. Because I wanted it, Jeff. I wanted him.” Her eyes held his defiantly. “I think I always did. But I guess I needed that excuse of telling myself it was for the company – even though it was never about that.”
“Oh my God,” her brother gasped in almost comical dismay. “You’ve fallen in love with him.”
Miranda turned away, sighing deeply. He came up to where she stood, taking her shoulder and spinning her round to face him. “How could that happen? You know it’s not going to pan out, right? Jude Stone is...”
“I know what he is.” But what Jude was had been different from what she’d expected. She hadn’t expected to enjoy being with him as much as she had – and she certainly hadn’t expected to miss him as much as she now did.
“Then you’ll know it’s best to forget him,” her brother said, his voice gentling as he placed a hand on her shoulder. “You made a silly mistake, but let’s put it behind us if we can.”
“How can I put it behind me if you refuse to consider taking hold of the company?” she asked, glaring up at him. “I know you said it didn’t matter, but...”
“We’re not going to talk about this, okay? I’ve made up my mind. I’m sorry if it feels like you went through it all for nothing.”
You have no idea, Miranda thought as she looked away, her eyes downcast. She couldn’t say it was completely accurate. She had come away with a lot more than she’d bargained for. With Jude, she’d felt real, fiery passion. And beneath the cold, hard facts of their agreement, there had been times when she’d seen a spark in his eye when he looked at her. And the way he’d made love to her...she could never, ever believe it had all just been part of the game. But it didn’t matter now. It was over. The only thing thing left to do – and this was the hardest part of all – was to try and forget he ever existed.