“Not what I want,” Jeffery bit out, his eyes hardening, “But what’s best for the family. If we can get back on track, then dad can come home, piece his life back together. The takeover of the company broke him, Miranda. You know that. And it’s the only thing that can bring him back.”
With that, he’d shaken his head exasperatedly at her, and then swiveled around to leave the room.
“I’m sorry, Jeff,” she said quietly, and he turned around with a look of that cut through her heart.
“That’s just not good enough,” was his soft reply, and then he was gone.
Now, back in the present, Miranda couldn’t help staring at the face on the cover page. He was the sexiest – and most dangerous – man she’d ever met. And they’d danced, flirted…his eyes had blazed with a dark heat she’d been powerless to ignore. No man had ever looked at her like that. It had thrilled yet frightened her – scared her to know that she had felt the very same; she’d been open to any of his overtures or propositions.
And she wondered…if she hadn’t been so rash and quick to damn him, could she have used her position to an advantage? He’d desired her; she could feel it coming across in waves. If she’d had any kind of sense, she could have used it as leverage of some sort…
But then Miranda snorted at herself. What did she know about leverage and all that kind of stuff? What did she know about men, period? She was twenty-five, not exactly a cherub, but far from experienced when it came to the male species. She didn’t even have a boyfriend. Not recently, anyway. She couldn’t even remember the last time she’d been on a proper date.
Miranda had never tried to “conform” herself with what others thought or said about her. She felt fine with her looks; she loved her full figure, and made sure she stayed fit and healthy without needed to go on a starvation regime just to fit in. She made sure she took care of her appearance, and knew that though she may never fit certain people’s mold of what was the ‘perfect’ shape or size, she was happy with herself.
Friends kept trying to hook her up, but Miranda had just not met anyone who could vaguely catch her interest.
That was why she’d been so unprepared with Jude Stone. He was far, far different from any of the guys in college she’d known. His charisma had a steel-sharp edge, one she knew could cut deep if she came too close.
Well, that wasn’t going to happen, she knew. Once she’d established who he was, any chance of a “dalliance” was totally scrapped – permanently.
Sighing deeply and telling herself she felt not a single twinge of regret, Miranda turned away from the window as the phone on her desk began to ring. It was Heather, her secretary.
“There’s a Carly Johnson here to see you. Should I let her in?”
The name didn’t sound familiar, and Miranda frowned. “Just what does she want?”
“She says she’s here on a private matter.” Heather paused, then added, “She’s Jude Stone’s personal assistant.”
Miranda blinked in surprise, and then tried to calm the now unsteady beat in her chest. Finally, she said calmly enough. “I’d like to see her. Send her in, Heather. Thank you.”
Miranda was seated behind her desk when the woman came into her office. She was lovely, slim and efficient-looking. She had a small smile on her face as she held a folder in her hand. Miranda took note of the wedding finger on her left hand, and wondered why she would be conscious of a detail like that. Jude Stone had a very pretty, attractive-looking female personal assistant – who was married. For some reason, that seemed like an interesting point to ponder.
“Thank you for agreeing to meet me, Miss Quinn,” the woman called Carly Johnson said with a charming smile as she took the seat Miranda indicated, in front of the desk.
“It was strictly out of curiosity, Miss Johnson,” Miranda said coolly. “Not courtesy. I simply want to find out what in the world I could have to do with Jude Stone’s personal assistant.”
“I’m here to make an offer, Miss Quinn,” Carly Johnson said, her smile still easy, full of charm. “And to discuss terms.”
“An offer? Terms?” Miranda huffed, sitting back in her chair. “I can’t imagine I understand what on earth you’re talking about.”
Carly’s eyes fell to the magazine placed on the desk in front of her, her smiling curving higher when she saw the face on the cover. And then she looked up shrewdly at Miranda, who had followed her gaze and seemed to grow slightly pink in the cheeks.
“For some reason, Miss Quinn, I think you do….”
He was standing there, at the table in the very prestigious restaurant, a slant in his smile. Miranda looked at him, and felt a strange pang. He looked no less devastating than that first night they’d met. If anything, he seemed all the more lethal now that there weren’t that many distractions around them, just the few other patrons in the ultra elegant restaurant.
“Jude,” she nodded slightly in return, clutching her small purse in front of her.
“You look ravishing,” he said deeply, his eyes never leaving hers for a moment. She swallowed imperceptibly. Why did she feel so many mixed emotions when he looked at her that way? She wanted, dearly needed, to loathe him. She wasn’t even supposed to be here.
But here she was, meeting Jude Stone. When his PA Carly had come to see her, Miranda had sworn to herself there could be nothing they could have to discuss. Turned out she was wrong.
“Thank you,” she said, all composure now as she took the seat held out by the hovering waiter. She remembered her inner vow back at the office when she’d agreed with Carly to meet him. Her plan was to come, listen to what he had to say, and then leave. There was no harm, she’d decided, in hearing him out.
Some minutes later, their orders made, Miranda was speared once more by his piercing, darkly gleaming eyes. “I wasn’t quite sure, until I saw you walking in the door, that you’d come.”
“Your assistant was very…convincing,” Miranda murmured, taking a sip of her wine as she stalled for time. She quelled herself to lift her eyes to hold his gaze again. “On one part, at least. My coming here…was just to find out for myself if this all wasn’t just some crazy ruse. To look you in the eye and discover if it’s really true what she said. That you’re willing to hand back the company on a platter.”
He shrugged. “I wouldn’t make the offer if it wasn’t possible, Miranda. I don’t make empty promises.”
“But why would you do that? Why would you even want to?”
She couldn’t keep the confusion from her tone, and saw him smile. “Why? Do you really need to ask? Miranda, have you looked in a mirror? I mean, really?” His smile widened as her discomfort increased, her neck flushing. His eyes scanned her swiftly, and it was like a laser passing over her skin.
“I want you,” he said simply, shrugging one hard-packed shoulder. “Right from the moment I set eyes on you, I knew exactly how it could be between us. Everything about you, your sexy curvy body, your feminine air of assertiveness, showed me that you were just the type of woman with the power to drive me wild.”
Miranda chewed on her lip, wondering if her complexion was ever going to shift back from pink to normal. “That doesn’t explain why you’re willing to give up a company you’d taken such time, effort and resources to acquire in the first place. I mean, who does that?”
He lifted his shoulders in a Gallic shrug. “That’s just me. Nothing stands in the way of getting what I want."
His fingers were drumming lightly on the tablecloth, and Miranda felt her eyes unable to shift from his intense gaze. Each word seemed to scald unto her senses like hot wax.
“What I’m trying to say, Miranda is that we have this thing in the way, keeping us apart. And I’m willing to make the obstacle disappear, if that’s what it’ll take.”
“So you’re trying to buy me, is that it? My body for the company.” Miranda’s tone was conversational, meant to hide the turmoil within her. “How dare you think I can be bought?”
“It’s not about buying anyone,” he said with equal mildness, eyes narrowing to slits. “It’s about give and take. Something I’m sure you can understand plainly.”
She watched him coolly take a sip of his wine, and she shivered deep inside. It was becoming clear to her that the man called Jude Stone was calm and calculating in every way – even in matters that were nothing to do with business. Here he was, methodically asking her to give him her body in exchange for returning power of her father’s company to her family. How was she meant to wrap her head around that?
“Oh, I do understand. Perfectly,” she said at last. “I understand that just because you have all that money and power, it means you can acquire whatever you want. But you seem to have the erroneous belief that the only reason I’m resisting you is simply because of the way you took over my father’s company. Has it ever occurred to you that you’re actually not my type? Even without all this bad blood between you and my family, I still wouldn’t be tempted to have anything to do with you. You’re cold, calculating and cocky. Definitely not my kind of man at all.”