Miranda huffed to herself. Guest? Well, that had to be one way of putting it. But she did feel silly for ranting at Carly. It had nothing to do with the woman.
“I suggest you take the opportunity to have fun, enjoy the city,” Carly was saying lightly. “The chauffeur knows loads of places you can visit. It’ll definitely beat sitting in the hotel suite all day.”
“Oh, certainly,” Miranda murmured with a sugary tone, and then hung up fuming to herself. She wasn’t even sure why she was angry, but she was. With every minute that passed, she couldn’t help thinking that this all felt like something out of a really cheesy old movie...
The chauffeur arrived, and she did go out. Sightseeing in a limousine was certainly a perk worth savouring, she had to admit. But even with the lovely sights she visited, she couldn’t help feeling that same inner anger – at herself mostly. She then had to keep reminding herself the main reason she was here, and tried to let things percolate far beneath so as not to ruin her day. But then when, at a few minutes past three pm, she was in the limousine and the phone rang, she knew at once that it was Jude. And her irritation rose up from the surface in a flash.
“How’s your day going?” he enquired smoothly. “I’m having a hectic one of it myself – and we just had a brief break for a late lunch so I decided to ring you up. Carly mentioned something about you being a little...offended about something.”
“Offended? How could I possibly be?” she said airily, even as her heart seemed to strum at hearing his voice. The tinted partition between her and the chauffeur was up, and she could talk freely. She knew Jude could at least detect the steel in her voice. “I know exactly my position as far as this arrangement is concerned. I’m not surprised if you wish to further demean me by throwing your money around in my face.”
“I’m sorry that it looks that way to you,” he said, and the coolness in his tone pricked her. “It was not my intention to insult.”
“No, it wasn’t, was it? Because insulting is what you do naturally,” she said cynically.
“Even when you don’t mean to, you still manage to make other people feel even lousier about themselves. I guess that comes with being a hotshot corporate mogul billionaire.”
There was a pause, and Miranda wanted to kick herself. What was her problem? Showing emotions where he was concerned was not how she’d planned to handle things. The sex had been high-octane, yes, but she’d sworn that the strictest level of disengagement should be maintained on all levels. The last thing she wanted to happen was to do something stupid like...like fall in love with him.
Was that why she felt so irked? She wondered frantically. Was she developing feelings for Jude, and could she be wishing that she didn’t have to be in the situation? Did part of her wish that they were on level playing ground, and not this increasingly uncomfortable sense she was having of being nothing better than a paid whore?
It was a few seconds more before he replied, and his tone was devoid of emotion.
“Apparently, we “hotshot corporate mogul billionaires” are the ones most prone to being too easily misunderstood,” he drawled. “But that’s no problem. We both know the score, Miranda. Maybe it’s time we stuck to it. Which brings me to the other reason why I called.”
Miranda wasn’t sure how to respond to this, though something in his tone made her feel a little ominous.
“We’ll be having dinner with a few very important business associates of mine and their partners. It’s very high-profile, so I’ll imagine you’d want to go out and look for something appropriate to wear.”
“Trust me, I’m no Cinderella, Jude,” she said stiffly. “I’m certain I have a dress worthy of your hallowed clique of...”
“Oh, but I insist,” he drawled, tone chilly. “Considering my status, I wish any woman that’s seen with me to look the part. You’re a very beautiful, stylish woman, Miranda. I’m sure you’ll easily create an outfit and jewellery to match the occasion. Use the card, get anything you need. Never mind about the cost. And oh...don’t forget to get some really sexy lingerie as well. I like red, keep that in mind will you?”
“Would there be anything else your majesty would be requiring of me?” she enquired with steely sarcasm, her teeth aching from gritting them so hard.
“Nothing else...for now,” he returned mildly. “We’ll need to be ready by seven. Let’s try not to be late.”
He hung up, and Miranda would have smashed her receiver murderously down unto its cradle, but restrained herself. She knew it would be futile to fume. He was right, she knew the score. No matter what she thought or felt, he was the one in charge here. And it looked like he was going to make sure that this time, she didn’t forget it.
Miranda had been sure that the dinner to be harrowing. But to her surprise, it turned out quite be more exciting and enjoyable than she’d expected. Jude had been right about it being a very high-powered event. They were seated at a long table in the exclusive restaurant, and there were at least eight of them, including her and Jude. The men were mostly elderly, but looked just as rich and powerful as Jude – and some were certainly more, she sensed. The women were exquisitely attired, their bodies dripping with jewels.
Miranda was in no way shabby herself. She’d been quite furious with Jude for his insistence that she spend his money – but it had certainly proved interesting to walk into the most exclusive stores and pick just what she wanted. However, she had opted for understated, yet tasteful elegance. Her dress was designer, and it had been a thrill to put it on and see how well it draped over her frame. It was in a black, slimming style, the waist cinched in right beneath the bodice, the neckline draping low to reveal just a tempting glimpse of bust.
Jude’s bank account certainly had far more commas than hers, but Miranda would certainly not wish to give him the satisfaction in thinking she was enjoying this...extravagance. She was no way in the least happy that she’d had to trawl a high-end lingerie boutique in search of his so-called favourite red-coloured under things. No, it hadn’t been fun in the least...
One buy she could never regret making though, was the diamond necklace she wore. She’d been walking past the window of the jewellers and had backed up when she’d caught a glimpse of it in the display. It was nothing gaudy: and yet even in its simplicity, it was devastating. She’d walked into the glamorous store, and had tried it on. Seeing its intricately set edges laying upon her neck in a glittering mantle, with its tip projecting to nestle within her cleavage, made her know that this was what she needed to finish off her look.
It turned out she was right. Once she’d been dressed and Jude had seen her, he’d had the look in his eyes she was coming to recognize easily. He’d come forward, hands cupping her shoulders as he swept his gaze over her from head to foot. “Ravishing,” he’d murmured, dipping his head to nuzzle her neck lightly, even as he drew in a deep, appreciative breath. “It would be so unfashionable – and downright rude, to be late. If it wasn’t for that...”
He didn’t finish his sentence, but the woman in her knew exactly what he was thinking. And the woman in her had ached with an answering need. And it was one that never eased throughout the evening. Even with the distinguished company, the fine food and dazzling wine, she never lost consciousness of the virile, gorgeous man at her side. It didn’t seem possible, but he looked even more handsome than ever that night. His perfectly fitted suit moulded his dashing frame like a glove, and her eyes felt constantly drawn to his face. When he laughed, or his smile... or listening to him converse comfortably with the people of power seated with him at table, she got a deeper explication into the man he was, and how much she was drawn to him.
At first it had seemed only physical; he turned her on and that was a fact. But if her heart fluttered every time he looked at her or held her gaze briefly, she knew it was something deeper than sexual desire she felt. He aroused her body, and thrilled her mind.
When he spoke, on whatever topic, she loved to listen, admired the way his sharp mind worked and how he analysed things. It wasn’t hard to see why he was so successful, and why he commanded so much respect.
Since leaving university and joining her brother in trying to pick up the pieces of their family finances, she’d come to understand a little bit of the cold, steel-hard reality of the business world. And she remembered one of the first things Jude had told her that night they’d met, after she’d found out who he really was. About how he made no apologies for what he’d had to do in the name of business – such as the takeover of her father’s company. Was she wrong to have hated him for what had simply been a corporate call?
But then, wasn’t she betraying her family by beginning to have certain feelings for him that she shouldn’t? She’d already spent one night of pleasure with him –and even when she kept reminding herself it was all for the good of those she cared about, she knew there was more.