There was a disbelieving look in his eye that made her grit her teeth. “You can tell yourself all the lies you want, Miranda. But if you decide to refuse my offer, then you’re not the smart woman I first thought you to be. Besides – I can’t seem to credit your claim that I’m so loathsome to you. If I remember correctly, you were melting in my arms well enough that night.”
Her lips tilted slightly in a sardonic smile, though once again, he made a pinkness rise in her face. “I guess you’re free to tell yourself all the lies you want,” she murmured, throwing his earlier words back at him. She raised her glass of wine to her lips, noting the slight tremble in her fingers. Damn it! How could she be letting him get to her this way? She could keep putting up the act but she knew in her heart she was no match for him when it came right down to it. Perhaps it was time she stopped thinking she could best him – because it wasn’t going to happen.
“It was a mistake to come here,” she mumbled, laying down the glass and reaching for her purse.
“Your father hasn’t been well, has he?” Jude asked in an unhurried tone, making her pause unconsciously. His eyes were downcast, his expression veiled by his dark, enviously thick lashes. “From what I hear, he’s taken an extended holiday somewhere in Rio de Janeiro. He took the loss of the company very hard, I must imagine. And then there’s your brother, well-meaning but still, misguided. Trying to find ways to set things right but lacking the capital and the cunning.”
“Now look –”
“No, you look, Miranda,” he said, his voice chilling unexpectedly as he flashed his aqua-blue eyes to meet hers. “With just one word, you can make both their troubles go away. You could be the family heroine, doing what needs to be done to set things right. This might be the only chance available for the Quinn name to save face and get back on the ground. And all this with little or no cost to anyone.”
“Hearing you talk, one would think you were asking to do all this for nothing,” she couldn’t help but sneer, jarred by his cold facts.
Jude smiled slightly, relaxing back in his chair. “One week, Miranda. That’s all that’s required. I will be leaving for London in two days on a weeklong business trip. I will want you with me. To be at my beck and call, in a manner of speaking. Pleasing me in every way that I know that you can. Giving yourself to me again and again, with the same passion and desire that ignited between us that first moment we came face to face. I know you felt it – though you deny it with your eyes and lips, I know the truth. You want me just as badly. I’m simply making it easier for you this way.”
Miranda wanted to think up something cutting and sarcastic to say, but couldn’t. Besides, the waiter had reappeared with their first course, and she had to bite back any retort. Just thinking about his proposition: one week alone with him in another city, there to satisfy his every whim. And in return, the company would be her family’s again. Her father could come home. Her brother Jeffery would have the weight off his shoulders that had turned him into such a mass of worry the past few months.
In short, Jude Stone was presenting her an offer that was almost too good to be true.
And one she might forever regret not taking up when she had the chance...
Miranda still had that funny feeling everything that was happening was actually happening to someone else, not her. It was two days later and she was on her way to London with Jude Stone. He had a private jet – or course. And they had left the city two hours ago, en route to London. It was happening; she was officially taking the biggest, wildest step she’d ever taken in her life.
Once she’d agreed to go along with his scheme, everything seemed to have happened in a blur. She’d barely had the time or even the presence of mind to pack. In any case, Jude had already made it clear that she wouldn’t need that many clothes anyway.
He was seated across from her on the jet, looking through some papers. Next to him was his trusted PA, Carly. Their words as they discussed seemed to pass over Miranda’s head in a fog.
I can’t believe I’m doing this, she thought. But she was doing it. She was on her way to London with Jude to be his sexual plaything for a week. By day he would do his business deals, and by night, she was to be willing and ready to fulfil every one of his perverted desires.
In her slim case, which lay on the seat beside her, was her copy of the papers that would Jude would sign by the end of their weeklong arrangement. With his signature, the company would be handed back to her father. Her family would be okay again, and everything would be back to normal.
And yet, was that the only reason she was here?
Miranda knew she would be lying if she said that. She looked surreptitiously at Jude, dressed impeccably as always in his sharp-fitting, stylish suit, hair waving in sleek golden locks across his forehead. He was all business, not sparing her much attention beyond asking if she wanted more champagne, or another tasteful, perfectly prepared dish to be provided by the on-flight chef.
Funny how the moment she’d accepted his highly unconventional, fiendish proposition, he’d seemed to cool off into his untouchable persona. Almost as if, now that he knew the deal was in the bag, so to speak, he’d virtually lost interest.
The very notion pricked. Which was annoying in itself. What had she expected, that he’d be drooling over her? He’d made an offer, she’d taken it. This was merely business, just like all the other corporate schemes he negotiated every single day. The sooner she phased herself into that concept, the easier this ordeal would be.
Ordeal...well, that was what she’d like to tell herself this was going to be. Spending a whole week with the billionaire hunk Jude Stone – a man she was supposed to hate with all her mind and body – was going to be a chore, certainly. A man who treated everything, even people, like commodities to be priced and tagged. How on earth could she stand to be so objectified, agreeing to play the part of his paramour for seven whole days?
Miranda thought of the letter she’d left, on her brother’s desk. It had been vague somewhat, but she’d tried as best as she could to explain her decision. “Jude Stone made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” she’d written. “I’m off to London with him for a week. I’m trying to do what’s best for the family, and not just me, this time. I sure hope it will be good enough.”
She wondered what he would make of it – but then she didn’t really care. She was showing him in her own way that she was far from the selfish brat he thought she was.
Here she was, willing to take the bullet for the team. That had to count for something.
She sighed deeply, turning to look out of the window, her heart torn between heaviness and a strange, twisting excitement at what was to come. And then she felt it.
It was a warm, tingling sensation, and it grew stronger by the second. She turned her gaze instinctively in Jude’s direction, and had to suck in a breath.
He was looking at her. It was just a brief glance, lasting no more than five seconds at most. But in that one look, she’d felt transported right into his mind, saw the blazing gleam that darkened his aqua-blue eyes almost to navy. It was a look so bad, so ferociously filthy, that she had no doubts of exactly the thoughts going through his head in those moments.
And for the first time in her life, Miranda now could understand the feeling like her clothes were being stripped off her, in a trice. Knew what it meant to be desired so deeply that she could taste his want on the tip of her tongue; could almost catch a heady whiff of it in the air as their eyes held for those brief, searing seconds.
In that one, long, lasing look at her, she had a glimpse of the hot, blinding flash of lust that reminded her exactly why she was here – and left her in no more doubt as to whether he’d cooled off interest. Now she knew that was far, far from the truth. The spell was broken when he turned once more to Carly, who had been busy reading out a paragraph from the papers in her hand and had been blissfully unaware of the very heated exchange that had just been made between Jude and Miranda. He was back to being business-like Jude, his tone crisp as he pointed out a line to Carly on the document.
It took a while for Miranda to remember that she’d stopped breathing, as she forced air back into her lungs, willing her heart to beat less thunderously as she grabbed the glass of champagne at her elbow and took a long, grateful gulp.
How the week ahead was going to go, had now been officially verified, Miranda realized. And it was going to be one hell of a long, stomach-squelching ride...
Keeping his hands off her had been a proper task in the past few hours. What with Carly’s constant, chaperoning presence, and then with his own sense of propriety – slim though it was because he was the least proper person he knew – it had truly been difficult.
Having her sat there across from him, her beautiful features creased slightly with a troubled expression that made him want to kiss the little frown away...Knowing she was right there, within reach – and soon to be in his passionate clutches, had been enough to keep him hard as a plank all through the long trip. Even in her stern-looking suit, her body was just as gorgeously inviting as ever, her delightful curves encased lovingly by the outfit’s well-fitted lines. Her legs were creamy, smooth, and she unconsciously gave him a decidedly enchanting glimpse of inner thigh whenever she crossed and uncrossed them.