“Trust me, it’s my pleasure,” he said in that skin-tingling voice of his. He could tell her anything in that voice, and Miranda had the funny feeling she’d instantly obey. For example, if he suddenly asked her something crazy, like “will you go to bed with me – tonight?” she was sure she’d comply first, think later.
For goodness’ sake, girl! Miranda told herself with hidden annoyance. He might be the most handsome face you’d seen in a long time, and he’s certainly packing a lot of appeal – but you need to keep your feminine urges in check. Whoever this guy was, he was probably way out of reach, totally out of your league in many ways. Everything about him seemed to exude power, magnetism, and an almost predatory undertone, which warned her to instinctively be on her guard.
Easier said than done.
“Do we know each other?” she asked lightly, eyes scanning his gorgeous face for any clues. He seemed to look thoughtful for a moment.
“You’re not a woman I’d let slip from memory easily,” he told her in like tone, and she shivered to feel his startling eyes rake swiftly over her. “So no, I’m sure we don’t.”
“Maybe on TV, then,” she added teasingly. “You certainly have the face for it.”
He chuckled, eyes narrowing even further in intent as he looked at her. “I’m not sure whether that’s a compliment or not.”
Oh, it’s certainly a compliment, Miranda thought, her heart beginning to pound. With every look, and even with the slight pressure in his touch as he guided her in the slow, swaying waltz – she could tell he was going in for the kill. The problem was, Miranda had a crazy feeling she was going to be very, very easy game…
“It would be nice to at least know the name of my dance partner, and the man responsible for rescuing my toes from bruising,” she purred, surprised at her audacity.
Here she was, flirting with a total stranger…and yet, a man thrilling enough, gorgeous enough to make her forget every one of her personal principles – a man dashing enough to make her kick her good-girl image right out of the window. She wanted to leave. Right then. Just grab his hand and run off to somewhere they could be alone, all alone – and she could do with him all the unspeakable things her mind was telling her body to do…
“My name is Jude. Jude Stone.”
Miranda paused, his words sinking in like lead. And in moments, her wild, wanton attraction to him was checked, shattered – before finally shriveling to nothing as she went to ice in his arms.
“Jude Stone? The billionaire?” she breathed, eyes flashing with anger and disbelief.
“Yes,” he said calmly.
Miranda gasped, arching away from him in distaste and anger. “Jude. I should have recognized you for a snake the moment I saw you.”
“It was business, nothing personal.” Jude replied with curling lips. “Just like how you found yourself dancing with Kirk. Was that not purely a business strategy? Whatever you think he can offer you, I can provide ten fold. I destroy men like him every day, Miranda.”
“Just like you destroyed my father?” she asked through thin lips. “You bastard. Well let me tell you this: the day I ever give in to a man like you will be the day I dishonor my family and all it stands for. And that’s something that’s never going to happen.”
“My affairs with your father have nothing to do with you and I,” he growled.
“There is no ‘you and I’ Mr. Stone,” she bit out clearly, finally able to wrench herself from him. “I hope I never have to lay eyes on you again.”
“That didn’t go well.”
Jude didn’t need to turn around to know that it was Carly at his elbow. He could hear the smugness in her tone, but didn’t look her way as he kept his narrowed gaze on the disappearing figure of Miranda Quinn.
“Obviously,” he replied at last, his tone wry.
“You’ll forget her, of course?”
“Never,” he said simply, softly, raising the glass Carly had handed him, to his lips as he saw Miranda exit the ballroom, his last glimpse of her being the gorgeous swaying roundness of her curvy bottom. He felt the beast in his rise to the surface. Getting to talk to her, holding her soft, curvy body close in his arms – had got him wanting her more than ever. In fact, at this point he was ready to do whatever it took to get the luscious Miranda in his clutches – and in his bed.
He faced his assistant at last, his eyes gleaming with intent. “As to be expected. But now I simply have to give her an offer she can’t refuse.”
He heard Carly sigh deeply, and heard the resigned note in her voice as she asked, “So what do you have planned?”
Miranda couldn't think of last night without shuddering - especially when she'd been so close to making the biggest mistake of her life. The instant attraction, the burn of desire... It had fizzled in a heartbeat when she'd found out his name. Jude Stone.
To think of how thrilling it had felt to be held in his arms, innocuously in a dance and yet, with a far from innocent burst of lust burning between them...She'd looked into his eyes and had known; he had but to say the word, and she would do his every erotic bidding. Those notions had been so unlike her, totally different from the woman Miranda really was. But in the few moments that the fog of attraction had swirled around her, as briefly as it had lasted, she had known true, animal desire.
It was a good thing then that she had been flung back down to earth on time. Her father - her brother too, would have had respective fits if they heard that not only had she been dancing with the hated Jude Stone, she had also been willing to bed him. Very willing. And he hadn’t even had to do a thing.
At that moment, she was staring down at a recent cover of Time magazine, and the bold image displayed there. Ever since last night she'd been doing some serious digging. Prior to the incident of the night before, she'd never had much interest in finding out much about the man who'd hurt her family. It was enough that she knew his name. It had been far too painful to trouble herself with the details. All she could remember was that she had been at University, about to finish up her finals when her father called to tell her that he'd lost the company.
That was more than a year ago. And now, for the past several months, she'd been home, trying to be there for her father and yes, her brother too. Wasn't that why she'd agreed to go to that high-flying fundraiser that night? In a show of solidarity, she'd accompanied her brother, had even allowed him to foist her on that creepy man, the financial consultant whiz who was meant to have been a potential backer.
All that had been pushed to the sight the moment she'd set eyes on the handsome, blonde-haired stranger. Only to discover he was the very snake in the grass.
She stared down at the magazine cover, seeing those same aquamarine eyes, those sculpted lips, that finely structured nose. The rich and powerful Bust-up Billionaire, Jude Stone. He lived true to his name: crushed rivals and peers with the same ruthless hardness. He was as implacable as granite, and as immovable as a rock. How could she for one second believed herself attracted to him
Once again, she shuddered, thanking her stars that Jeffery had not been present at the time to see her in the arms of the man he hated so much. Just the mention of Jude Stone’s name was enough to make Jeffery see red. And only that morning, he’d vented his terrible temper on her
“Why did you do it?” he’d asked in a calm, yet angry voice.
Miranda had turned to face him, her face burning with guilt. Had he found out? She’d wondered frantically. Had he somehow got to know about her almost-lapse with the hateful Jude Stone? But his next words calmed her – somewhat
“All you had to do was be nice to him,” he’d growled, referring to Kirk. “He’s a good guy, one of the few who were willing to find a way to get us out of this mess. And you just had to offend him.”
“Jeff, it wasn’t like I meant to,” she’d said with a sigh. “Someone else asked me to dance, that was it. Besides, Kirk was a terrible dancer.” She’d smiled playfully, hoping Jeffery’s mood would change.
“You selfish brat,” he’d said coldly, eyes narrowing down at her. “All you think about is what’s best for you. You never cared about what happened, it never bothered you that dad lost control of the company he’d spent almost all his life to build. When mother died years ago, the company became his life. All I asked was for you to do one simple thing, be nice to a prospective financier, and you blew it.” His expression was furious.
“Kirk is not even picking up my calls now. He’s not interested in hearing any of my proposals. Way to go, sis. You’ve been a great help, as always.”
“But what had you expected of me? Why do I have to be offered up like a…a vestal sacrifice just so you could get what you want?”