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Sweet Surrender With the Millionaire(9)

By:Helen Brooks



He decided not to tell her he'd got a steady girlfriend at the time and  had left the women to his friend who'd worked with him. This idea she'd  got of him being an English gigolo was too entertaining. 'And it's been a  rich one to date,' he said, deadpan.

This time she almost gulped at her cocktail.

It was mean perhaps, but he found he got a buzz from teasing her,  probably because he'd felt off kilter since the first time he'd set eyes  on his red-haired neighbour. Ridiculous, but Willow Landon bothered him  deep inside, in a small private place no one ever reached. It was  irritating and inconvenient, he told himself, but it would pass.  Everything did.

'So you've been here ten years?' Her voice sounded a little desperate as  she made an obvious attempt to change the subject. 'You're not bored  yet? No plans to leave?'

'None.' He gestured for her to be seated as he added, 'Disappointed?' just to rile her a little more.

'Why would I be concerned whether you live here or not?' she said stiffly, sitting primly on the edge of a chair.

Her skin was the colour of honey peppered with spice and the red hair  was a combination of endless shades. Fighting the urge to touch her,  Morgan walked to the chair furthest from Willow's and sat down,  stretching out his legs and taking a swig of his Negroni. There was a  short silence and as he looked at her he found he'd tired of the game.  Leaning forward suddenly, he said quietly, 'We got off to a bad start,  didn't we? And it hasn't improved since. Can we come to a truce? I  promise I'll try not to annoy you if you try and relax a little. If  nothing else it will make life easier the next time I rescue you from a  burning building or whatever.'

For a moment he thought she was going to freeze him out. Then a shy  smile warmed her face, her eyes. 'Do you think there's going to be a  next time?' she murmured ruefully. And before he could answer, went on,  'In spite of my track record so far I promise I'm not an arsonist in the  making.'

He grinned. 'I never thought you were. Unlucky maybe … '

She inclined her head. 'Thank you for that-you could in all honesty have said stupid. It must appear that way.'

His smile died, a slight frown taking its place. 'Why would I be so  crass? We all make mistakes. Life is a series of learning curves. It's  when we don't learn from them the problems start.'

She nodded, but as Morgan stared at her there was something deep and  dark in the clear green eyes that disturbed him. 'You don't believe  that?' he asked gently.                       
       
           



       

She finished her cocktail before she spoke and a slow heat had crept into her cheeks. 'I believe it. It's just that … '

'Yes?' he prompted quietly, wanting to know more.

'I suppose I've found others aren't so generous. Some people expect other people to be perfect all the time.'

Some people? It had to be a man who had hurt her enough to cause that  depth of pain. Telling himself to go lightly, he said softly, 'I guess  you get flawed individuals in every society who are either selfish  enough or damaged enough to expect perfection. Personally I'd find being  with a "perfect" person hell on earth, having enough faults myself to  fill a book.'

'That sort of person doesn't see their own faults though.'

Her voice had been curiously toneless. Morgan kept all emotion out of  his voice when he said, 'Are you speaking from experience? And you don't  have to answer that if you don't want to.'

Her eyes flickered and fell from his, but her voice was steady: 'Yes, I  am.' She glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. 'That's a beautiful  clock. Unusual.'

Morgan accepted the change of conversation with good grace although he  found he was aching to know more. 'It's a French timepiece I picked up  at an auction in France some years ago. The clock itself is mounted in a  stirrup and horseshoe. I like unusual things. Things that don't follow a  pattern. Unique things.'

Her gaze moved to the two bronze figures either side of the clock, each  in the form of dancing fauns. 'I can see that. Are the fauns French too?  They're very beautiful.'

'Italian, eighteenth century.'

They continued discussing the various objects of art in the room in the  couple of minutes before Kitty put her head round the door to say dinner  was ready, but Morgan found it difficult to concentrate. Who was this  man who'd hurt her so badly? If it was a man. But it had to be; he felt  it in his bones. What had he been to her and how had she got mixed up  with him in the first place? Not that it was any of his business, of  course.

He took Willow's arm as they walked through to the dining room where  Kitty had set two places. She had lit candles in the middle of the table  and the lights were dimmed; clearly their discussion about her  matchmaking had had no effect at all.

Willow's hair smelt of peach shampoo, which was fairly innocuous as  perfume went; why it should prompt urges of such an erotic nature the  walk to the dining room was a sweet agony in his loins, he didn't know.  He glanced down at the sheen of her hair as he pulled out her chair for  her and resisted the impulse to put his lips to it.

Pull yourself together. The warning was grim. He was acting like a young  boy wet behind the ears and on his first date with a member of the  opposite sex, not a thirty-five-year-old man who had shared his bed and  his life with several women in his time; some for a few months, some  longer. Experience told him Willow Landon was not the sort of woman who  would enter into a light relationship for the hell of it, she was too …

What was she? the other section of his mind, which was working dispassionately, asked. Clingy? Trusting? Stifling?

No. None of those. The opposite in fact. She didn't strike him as a  woman who had marriage and roses-round-the-door in mind. From what he  could ascertain so far the male of the species didn't feature highly in  her estimation. But neither was she the kind of woman who would enjoy an  affair for however long it lasted and then walk away with no tears or  regrets. He didn't know how he'd come by the knowledge but he was sure  of it.

'This is lovely.' Willow glanced round the dining room appreciatively. 'Do you always eat in such style?'

Morgan glanced round the room as though he were seeing it for the first  time, his gaze moving over the table set with fine linen, silver and  crystal. 'Always. Kitty takes her duties very seriously,' he added  dryly, reaching for the bottle of red wine. He poured two glasses and  handed Willow hers, raising his as he murmured, 'To chimney sweeps and  the good work they do.'

She giggled.

It was the first really natural response he'd had and he had to swallow  hard as his heart began to hammer in his ribcage. He drank deeply of the  wine, needing its boost to his system. It was a fine red; enough  complexity showing from the skilful blending to bring out the cherry and  berry flavours without spoiling the soft oaky flavours of the French  and American wood. He'd drunk enough cheap plonk throughout his  university days to always buy the best once he could afford to do so.                       
       
           



       

Kitty bustled in with the first course, cajun-spiced salmon with honey  crème fraîche. It was one of her specialities and always cooked to  perfection so the flakes of flesh fell apart when pressed with a fork.

He watched Willow take her first bite and saw the green eyes widen in  appreciation. She ate delicately, like an elegant, well-mannered cat,  her soft, full lips closing over the food and tasting it carefully. With  a swiftness that surprised him he found himself wondering what it would  be like to feel her mouth open beneath his, to bury his hands in the  silken sheen of her hair and thrust his tongue into the secret recesses  behind her small white teeth. To nibble and suck and tease her lips …

'This is delicious.' She glanced up and saw him looking at her and  immediately her face became wary even though her smile was polite. The  withdrawal was subtle but there nonetheless.

What the hell had gone on in her life? Morgan nodded, his voice easy  when he said, 'She's a strange mixture, is Kitty. She and Jim only like  the plainest of food, no frills or fancies, as she puts it, but her main  interest in life is cooking fantastic dishes that are out of this  world. Her tofu miso soup has to be tasted to be believed and likewise  her baked Indian rice pudding with nuts, fruit and saffron. I do believe  she and Jim are probably sitting down to steamed white fish and three  veg as we speak, though. Good solid northern food that sticks to the  ribs.'

'Don't they ever eat with you?' she asked in surprise.

'Not when I have guests. Another of Kitty's set-inconcrete ideas.'  Deliberately keeping his voice casual, he said, 'Do you like cooking?'

Her small nose wrinkled. 'I suppose I don't mind it but I'm not the best  in the world by any means. I do experiment at weekends now and again,  but I rely on my trusty microwave during the week when I'm working.  Ready meals mostly, I'm afraid.'

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