Authors: Janice Maynard
Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance, #Contemporary Romance
t was all Larkin could do not to laugh out loud at Winnie’s mortified expression. “Relax,” he said quietly, sliding an arm around her waist. “I’m a grown man. She’s just doing her job.”
Winnie didn’t look in the least reassured. “What did you tell her?”
For a moment, he thought about teasing. The temptation was almost irresistible. Especially when he imagined what it would be like if he and Winnie were actually lovers sharing a bed. The image made him hard. But Winnie was going to have a tough enough time assimilating into the large Wolff clan. No point in torturing her.
He sighed. “I said you were a good friend and that you would prefer your own room.”
His answer appeared to mollify Winnie’s misgivings, especially when the housekeeper stopped at the doorway of one of the larger guest suites. As the driver followed them in with luggage, Winnie’s soft exclamation encompassed admiration and astonishment. “This is amazing,” she said softly, walking forward to set her purse on the bed and turning in a circle. “I’ll feel like a princess.”
Larkin knew that Winifred Bellamy was accustomed to the finer things in life. But he had requested this room for his guest because it contained a touch of whimsy. And he wanted to spoil her. The enormous bed was covered in celadon-and-ivory brocade. Matching fabric hung from the canopy and flanked the large windows. Underfoot, sinfully soft carpet in a deep moss-green spread from wall to wall, broken up by a collection of feminine antiques that ran the gamut from chests to chairs to a chaise covered in ivory silk.
The housekeeper and driver had discreetly disappeared. “Well,” Larkin said, “what do you think? I asked her to put you here. My quarters are just across the hall.”
Ignoring him, Winnie flung open the French doors and stepped out onto the small stone balcony. Larkin couldn’t have resisted following her if he had tried. The view of the surrounding forest intensified a feeling of complete privacy. Even birdsong ceased for a moment. The afternoon sun bathed them in gentle light.
He put his hands on her shoulders, feeling the warmth of her body, even through the thin fabric of her sweater. “I want you to be happy here,” he murmured, nuzzling the back of her neck.
She stiffened. “Is all of this supposed to seduce me?”
The tart bite in her words nicked his pride. He turned her to face him. “I don’t need help convincing a woman to share my bed. If you don’t want me, all you have to do is say no.” In the unforgiving light he couldn’t find a single flaw. Her skin was luminous, her large, beautiful eyes mesmerizing. “Tell me
and I’ll leave you alone.”
They were so close he could feel the rise and fall of her chest as she breathed. “I never lie,” she whispered. “Not even to myself. I do want you. But I fear we’ll both regret it.”
He took her hips in his hands, pulling her body flush to his, making her feel what she did to him. “I’ve thought the same thing. I can’t give you the promises most women expect. But have you imagined pleasure for pleasure’s sake? We’re here now…alone. Why wait?” Though he hadn’t planned it, he found himself kissing her. It was achingly sweet, particularly when her lips trembled and heated beneath his.
Slender arms encircled his neck. He felt her fingers sift through the hair at his nape. Something akin to an electric shock ricocheted through his body with a force that was as much pain as pleasure. The wanting overwhelmed him. Reason gave way to urgent passion and he lifted her and sat her on the stone railing. They were only on the second floor. He had her wrapped in his embrace. Safety wasn’t an issue. But the eyes that looked up into his were clouded with apprehension. And that stopped him cold.
He rested his forehead on hers. “You’re saying no, aren’t you?”
“I want to say yes. But I can’t. Not yet. It’s too soon. I need time to understand this. One of us has to be reasonable.” She played with his ears, an innocent caress that might as well have been her mouth on his flesh, so keenly did he feel the stimulation.
“What are you afraid of, Winifred Bellamy? God help me, I want to know.” It was more than that. He
to know. And soon. Or he might lose his mind.
“I came here for a reason. To draw attention away from my home and to make sure the innocents in my care are safe. That’s all.”
“Let me make love to you,” he muttered.
“Put me down, please.”
He’d wanted to treat her like a princess, so surely he couldn’t complain when she bossed him around. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her back into the bedroom and set her on her feet. “I know you want me,” he said stubbornly. “You can’t hide it.”
She faced him bravely, her stylish shoes lending her extra height. “Yes, I do. But mature rational adults know that some things we want are bad for us.”
“Let me be the judge of that.” He kissed her roughly, letting her feel the full force of his need. A hunger that made him a slave to her whims. Never had he felt so out of control with a woman, so unsure of the outcome. And suddenly, that knowledge enraged him. He’d spent most of his adult life creating an existence that was simple, easygoing.
Winnie had destroyed his peace of mind without even trying.
She was so damned unsure of herself. Not in life. She set goals and met them, doing work that few people would want to attempt. But when it came to her feminine appeal, her sexuality, she thought she would disappoint him.
The notion was ludicrous. Her vulnerability got under his skin and made him want to protect her in a very personal way. He should be running without looking back. But he was trapped by his own emotions.
He didn’t need this. Not when in a very short time his entire family would have him under a microscope. Forcing himself to release her, he backed away. The expression on her face was as shattered as he felt. But it was her own fault.
“Dinner’s at six-thirty,” he said. “Can you find your way to the dining room?” He was being a horse’s ass, and he didn’t care. Sexual frustration did that to a man. He wanted to punish her for making him feel this way.
“But what, Winnie?”
She wrung her hands. “Maybe I should eat in my room. Your first meal at home should probably be just family.”
“Oh, no,” he said. “Your hiding up here won’t accomplish a thing. And besides, I’m tired of being the only one without a date.”
“You’re a grown man. Surely you’re capable of holding your own.”
His mood lightened fractionally. “You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” He decided his plan could backfire if he left her to her own devices. She might not show up. “Actually, why don’t I stop by for you at 6:15?”
“What do I wear?”
“What you have on is fine…or something similar. It won’t be so bad, Winnie. I promise.”
“I still think it would have been less complicated for you to stash me in an anonymous hotel.”
“But not nearly as much fun.”
“If you flirt with me, they’ll get the wrong idea,” she pointed out.
“They’ve been decrying my single lifestyle for months. Maybe you can be my smoke screen.”
“That’s not a very nice thing to do to the people who love you.”
“I’m not feeling very nice at the moment.”
She had kicked off her heels and now stood in her bare feet, toes curling into the carpet. He’d never considered himself to have a foot fetish, but something about her small, narrow white feet seriously did it for him.
Winnie hopped up on the side of the bed, her legs dangling like a child. “What are you going to tell them about me?”
He shrugged. “That’s your call.”
“The truth is fine.”
“Well, in that case, I’ll just say you’re a friend who’s having some trouble. And that I wanted to show you Wolff Mountain. All of that is true.”
She raised an eyebrow. “We’re friends?”
“What would you call it?” He stared at her, not bothering to hide what he felt.
Her face went pink. “I’d be honored to be your friend. As long as you don’t expect me to…” She trailed off.
“To share my bed?”
“Larkin!” She put her hands to her cheeks. “Quit saying things like that. You told me you don’t get involved with clients.”
“That was before I met you.”
He could see in her eyes that she believed it. She wasn’t fishing for compliments, but he offered them anyway. “You’re beautiful and sexy as hell. I could spend twenty-four hours in that bed with you and not be done.”
“Is that even possible? I thought men…well…”
Her artless confusion amused him. “I might have to rest now and again, but you wouldn’t be disappointed.”
She wrapped her arms around her waist, rocking slightly. “I never said that was an issue. I’m trying to make you believe I’m not the kind of woman you’re used to. And it would be embarrassing and awkward when you find out my shortcomings between the sheets.”
This endless argument was getting them nowhere. He’d simply have to rely on proximity and the magic of Wolff Mountain to win her over. “We’ll drop the subject for now. But it’s not going away, I promise. Sooner or later, I’ll convince you. So you might as well get used to the idea. Bringing you here was not one of my better ideas, yet here we are. I’m selfish enough to want to take advantage of the situation. Tell me you don’t want me, and I’ll leave you alone. But I don’t think you can say that, can you?”
“Has anyone ever told you that you’re arrogant?”
He grinned, looking forward to the days ahead. “I’m a Wolff. It comes with the territory.”
* * *
Winnie fell back on the bed, her arms outstretched. What had she gotten herself into? Larkin Wolff was a charismatic, masculine man with enough macho hormones to put any female’s heart in jeopardy. But she was a pragmatic woman. And she had discovered long ago that her life would be spent in the service of others.
The art of deep personal relationships was not something she had ever mastered. Even with her parents there had existed a distance created by devotion to their life’s work and by Winnie’s inability to express to them what she needed emotionally. In the aftermath of their deaths, she had lost her way for a time…with disastrous consequences. After that experience, she decided to pour her heart, time and money into something bigger than herself.
Knowing that she was protecting women and children who had few resources, either financially or otherwise, gave her a deep sense of satisfaction. The money in her various bank accounts had never meant much to her, other than the freedom to help those in need. Her personal fortune had complicated her life, and that same money was to blame for her misgivings when it came to Larkin.
For most of her life, she had been judged by the size of her financial bottom line. No one looked at Winifred Bellamy and saw a young woman with potential. All they cared about was what her net worth could do for them.
Larkin was different. He had no interest in her money. So why couldn’t she believe him when he said he wanted her? She knew she carried scars—deep ones. But was she so damaged that the interest of a virile, appealing man threatened her somehow?
For the next hour and a half, she prowled the room, unable to sit down. The spacious apartment was peaceful and serene. Winnie’s thoughts were anything but. She dreaded meeting the entire Wolff clan. Large groups made her nervous.
She doubted anyone would really believe the two of them were close friends. Larkin was the kind of man who went for sleek and sophisticated women. By his own admission, Winnie wasn’t his type. She could hold her own in society settings. Her parents had included her in their entourage by the time she was ten years old. Charity events were old hat. Not that her mother or father had actually paid attention to her during the dinners and dances and auctions.
Winnie had always attended in the company of a nanny, seen but not heard. Nevertheless, she had learned what it meant to move gracefully through the world of movers and shakers.
Tonight’s dinner, however, was different, more personal. And it was important to Larkin that his family believed he was happy. The thought made her laugh softly despite her inner turmoil. Surely they understood his renegade nature. His eyes betrayed his inner intensity.
Larkin was like a wild stallion masquerading as a civilized beast. When he touched her, she felt it. Whether tender or demanding, his intent was clear. He wanted to mate with her. But unlike his wolf namesake, not for life. Which meant she had to be on her guard until she knew her own mind.
She shivered as she undressed in preparation for a quick shower. Wrapping her hair in a towel, turbanlike, she caught a glimpse of her flushed cheeks in the mirror. Her pupils were dilated. Her breasts felt full and achy, the nipples painfully erect.
The outcome of this scenario was inevitable. She and Larkin would be lovers. Sooner rather than later. And it wouldn’t be because of any coercion on his part. Her downfall would be the hunger that churned low in her belly, the writhing swirl of arousal that made her legs part restlessly and sent moisture to bloom in the folds of her sex.
Her entire body was on fire with longing. A deep, visceral need that had seemingly come from out of the blue. The life she lived had been pleasing to her, the days filled with purpose and activity. It was sobering to realize that meeting Larkin had exposed a gaping hole in her existence. She had friends, but no confidants. Acquaintances, but no one on which to bestow love.
The shower was quick. She could hardly bear to touch herself with soapy hands. In her imagination, it was Larkin bathing her, Larkin stroking her legs, her arms, her quivering belly.
By the time she made it back to the bedroom, her entire body was trembling. If he saw her like this, he would know. And knowing would demand her submission to the erotic flame that danced between them.
Her throat raw with emotional tears, she drew back the covers on the bed and climbed in, wanting to pull them over her head. She had willingly walked into Wolff Castle. As a bolt-hole, the security was absolute. And it was a measure of her trust in Larkin that she had no fears at all about the charges she had left behind in Nashville.