Unlocking the Millionaire's Heart, page 9
Jemma was standing by the uncovered window, staring at the twinkling view. He ought to pour their drinks. Instead he walked up behind her, and knew she’d sensed him by the hitch in her shoulders.
‘Would you like to go outside?’
Spinning round, she nodded. ‘Yes, please.’
‘It’ll be windy. You might need to wear something warmer.’
She sped off to her room, and he went to put the steaks on a slow grill, then unlocked the glass door leading out onto the balcony. As Jemma returned, pulling on a navy zip-up jacket, his firm intentions began to crumble. Her face was flushed and her eyes as bright as the city lights.
Images of numerous kisses, stolen with the excuse of protecting or keeping a girl warm, flooded his mind. The memories of fighting to control rampant teenage hormones had dimmed, and couldn’t compare to the burning desire of a mature man coursing through his body.
He steeled his resolve, and made sure Milly was nowhere near before pushing the door open enough to allow them to slip through, shutting it behind him.
A LIGHT BREEZE caught her hair as she moved over to the glass and metal railing, lifting the ends to make them float behind her, tempting him to fulfil that secret wish. He followed, leaning on his arms by her side, the railing cold on his skin. She didn’t seem to notice, her fingers gripping it as she peered over and swivelled her head to take in the full view.
‘It’s even better out here. I checked through the window of my room just now—it has a balcony, but no way onto it.’
‘There’s a sliding door on three sides, and the kitchen wall is the divider between the two apartments on this level.’
She walked towards the corner and he followed, knowing the wind might pick up there, ready to steady her if it did. She was occupied with the view and continued round, noting the rooms they passed after the lounge.
‘This one’s mine, and the corner one has windows on two sides and a door. Lucky devil.’
Nate tamped down the temptation to admit it was his room, and show her. She’d already invaded his nights; how much hotter would his dreams be if he had an image of her inside his bedroom?
She stopped at that corner, her features animated as she picked out buildings and landmarks. Her enthusiasm was contagious, making him feel as if he was seeing it all from a new and different perspective.
Unable to resist, he placed his hands on the railing either side of her, telling himself it was to protect her from the wind. Leaning in, he breathed in the fresh lemon scent of her hair as it blew across his face, and had to tighten his grip to prevent himself from running his fingers through the silken strands, all the way to the ends near her waist.
* * *
For Jemma, seeing the iconic view from pictures and movies was like living a dream. So incredible from this height, and such a vast array of lights in every conceivable colour, blinking and pulsing as if alive. A spectacle for her...a common scene for Nate.
She’d paused here to breathe in the aroma of the harbour. Instead her lungs were filled with Nate’s special blend of vanilla, citrus and musk. Three scents that would haunt her for ever.
She glanced at his hands, firm and strong, one on each side of her, enclosing; protective. Heat flared in her core at the thought of those long, tanned fingers tangling in her hair, caressing her cheek and stroking her body until she melted against his. Crazy. Impossible. Taboo.
For a second she thought the low guttural sound of need she’d heard came from her. But it was Nate, his mouth close to her ear, his hot breath fanning her lobe. He surrounded her, yet there was no physical contact. Foolish to desire any.
Her heart beating as if she’d climbed the twenty-seven flights of stairs, she swung round, her breath catching in her throat at the fire in his storm-grey eyes as his head jerked back. They both froze. If an earthquake had struck she wouldn’t have moved, wouldn’t have been able to break the spell.
Nate leant in again, his intent obvious, and a flashback triggered in her brain, causing her to echo his recent movement away. He stopped, eyes narrowing and brow furrowing. His chest rose, and his breath was audible as it fell.
Stepping back, he allowed her room to leave the railing. ‘We’d better go in. I need to check on the steaks.’
* * *
Jemma watched a quiz show while he served up dinner, taking little notice of the screen in front of her. Why would a man of Nate’s status, with two homes and the means to support himself while he wrote a long novel—he’d mentioned how time-consuming his research and revisions had been—want to kiss her? She wasn’t sophisticated, didn’t do social chitchat, and hadn’t the flair to host dinners or parties like Vanessa. She could never even begin to compete with her sister, had never wanted to.
All she had to offer was her talent to imagine and describe believable relationships between a man and a woman.
Her fingers balled into fists in her lap, and she bit her lip to prevent any sound escaping. Was that why he’d come so close? Had appeared to be going to kiss her? Did he intend to use charm to keep her sweet and willing to help him? Her ex had had no qualms on that score, and there was no doubting Nate had plenty to spare.
She knew nothing of his personal life. Maybe there was someone—a woman who didn’t live with him—or perhaps they had a casual mutually satisfying relationship.
‘Dinner’s ready, Jemma.’
It took a moment for his words to penetrate as she suddenly realised he’d never asked her about any ties either. She clicked off the television, stood and walked over to the dining table. The overhead lights in the whole open-plan area went on and off automatically, leaving the dining area with a surprising sense of privacy as they faced each other. She refused to think intimacy.
‘Are you okay having white wine? I opened the bottle for pasta last night, but we can take it with us if you’d prefer red with the steaks.’
‘Purists would be shocked. But I don’t mind.’ She thanked him as he filled both glasses, waited until he’d taken his seat, then lifted her drink towards him in a gesture that was becoming a habit.
‘Thank you for cooking dinner.’
He dipped his head, returned the salute, and after drinking began to eat.
Jemma’s steak was tender, cooked exactly to her taste. The salad was crisp and the dressing tangy without being overpowering. She’d be happy to do all the cleaning and let him cook every meal if he kept up this standard.
‘You enjoyed being outside? Great setting for a romance scene, huh?’
Looking up, she met a guarded expression. His tone didn’t quite match the casual words. But if he wanted to ignore the episode outside she’d play along, and ensure she never found herself in the same situation again.
‘One that’s been used so many times, in so many locations around the world. The trick is in finding a new angle. How about for your rough and tumble scenes?’
His eyes softened and she sensed his shoulders relax, caught a hint of a smile.
‘That was one of my grandmother’s favourite sayings when Sam, our friends and I came into her kitchen, grubby from playing and wrestling. I’ve got a couple of fights on balconies, even guys falling off. If you feel any of those is a better place for any of the interactive scenes, go ahead and relocate them.’
She stared at him, and the hand holding her fork in front of her parted lips stilled. Less than three weeks ago he’d vehemently opposed her having any access to his manuscript, and since then they’d spent limited time together, spread over four days, before her flight this afternoon. Now he was saying he’d allow her to change a location?
Her hand dropped, the food left uneaten. He seemed oblivious to the enormity of his statement, and then his lips curled.
‘I’m impressed with those scenes in your novel—and I do still have right of veto.’
He was t
‘I stocked up with enough fresh fruit and vegetables for a few days this morning. Any time you want anything I’ll drive you into town, or you can take the SUV. I’m—’
‘Whoa. Are you referring to that monster down below, or do you have another vehicle in the mountains? I’ve never driven anything that big, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable trying it on unfamiliar country roads.’
Mouth agape, he blinked and his brow furrowed. Her stomach tensed and she wished she’d said nothing, just ensured the situation never arose. She assumed the women he associated with were competent in all fields of life, and she had many failings.
‘I’m sorry, Jemma. I’m so used to it I didn’t consider its size. Alice won’t use it either—claims it’s hard to park. I’ll take you anywhere, any time, and if I’m not there you can call a cab from town.’
Grateful for his understanding, Jemma thanked him, and they finished their meal talking about the tourist attractions of Katoomba.
Nate insisted on cleaning up, grateful that there’d been no repercussions from his inexplicable behaviour earlier. Berating himself as he’d mixed the salad and turned the steaks, he hadn’t been able to explain why he’d come so near to wrecking everything for a moment’s pleasure in a moment’s madness, caused by her scent and the soft sigh he’d swear he’d heard as he’d craved her lips under his.
The pain in her startled eyes as she’d pulled back had cleared his head and fired up his guilt. Her issues with men ran deep, and he had no intention of exacerbating them. He had enough personal issues of his own. And with her now on her guard, keeping control should be easier.
He went looking for her to suggest coffee, and found her in the hall between the bedrooms and the laundry. She was staring, transfixed, at the massive built-in bookcase that reached to the ceiling, every shelf filled with books of various sizes and piles of magazines.
There was no sense of order or filing system, no attempt to line up by height or writer’s name. This was generations of his family, taking books out and putting them back, rereading them and returning them to any available space.
He stood behind her and watched for a moment, empathising with her joy. As if mesmerised, she scanned the books, running her fingers over remembered titles and authors and sighing with happiness.
‘We’re all avid readers, and there’s a lot of old favourites on those shelves. Wouldn’t part with them for the world.’
She pivoted, and laughed, oblivious to the rapture evident on her face.
‘Oh, I envy you. Children’s books to science fiction, with every genre in between. For years I relied on libraries, and hated having to return those books I loved.’
‘You now have quite a collection yourself.’ He grinned. ‘One of the first things I noticed in your lounge room. I’ve put the jug on if you want a hot drink.’
‘What time do you want to leave in the morning?’
‘Is six too early? I’ve learned it’s the best time for getting clear of the city and avoiding multiple traffic hold-ups. No guarantees, but... And, like I said, I know the best places to stop for breakfast.’
‘Six is fine. It’s been a long day, so I’ll put Milly in the laundry and go to bed. We’ll have to shut her in, otherwise she might wander and hide.’
‘Leave her to me. She can keep me company for a while.’
‘Okay.’ She crouched down to stroke the kitten, who’d trotted over to join them, then stood up. ‘I’m very grateful for the opportunity you’re giving me, Nate.’
‘Works both ways, Jemma. You have a good night’s sleep and we’ll talk on the way, once we hit the highway. Goodnight.’
Jemma didn’t move—couldn’t as Nate’s grey eyes locked with hers, holding her entranced. His arms lay rigid at his sides, fingers curled, and she was acutely aware of his Adam’s apple bobbing, and the steady movement of his chest in the rhythm of his breathing.
She licked dry lips, her heart pounded and she could swear the air shimmered between them.
Suddenly from nowhere the sharp pain of her ex’s infidelity cut deep inside, breaking the spell.
She dropped her gaze, scrunched her eyes shut for a second to regain control and faced him again. ‘Goodnight, Nate.’ Only the slight tremor in her voice betrayed her.
He moved aside and she walked past him to her room.
Alone in the shower, she tried to compare the two men and failed. It seemed that over the years images of her ex had blurred, leaving behind only the deep-rooted anguish of betrayal, making her treat any handsome man with charm and aspirations of becoming wealthy as if they were in the same mould. It was because of his and her brother-in-law’s social climbing endeavours that she avoided mixing with anyone she deemed prosperous or elite.
Nate fell into both of those categories, though she couldn’t imagine him cheating for money. But his literary aspirations were different, strong, maybe even obsessional; he had a drive to prove he could achieve his goal. What would he do and who would he manipulate to have a copy of his published novel in his hand?
Some time later she vaguely heard music—soothing, classical. Groggy with sleep, she turned over, snuggling deeper under the quilt.
Woken by her alarm in the morning, she was dressed and packing her suitcase when she heard a clatter through the adjacent wall. From the big corner bedroom. Where Nate must have slept.
* * *
Nate had hoped for a six o’clock getaway, would have settled for six-thirty, and was pleasantly surprised to be exiting the car park at ten to six—an hour or so before sunrise. Jemma looked relaxed and rested, which shouldn’t have irked him but did, seeing as it was she who’d kept him awake for most of the night.
It had been one of those rare occasions when low music and the night sky view through open drapes had failed to lull him to sleep. Trying to equate the demure woman in the room through the wall behind his head and the sensual scenes she’d written had rattled his brain. Had they been penned from imagination or experience?
She used her pain as a shield, which was something he understood and emulated, along with his compelling desire to purge his own dark memories in his story. It never quite worked—merely pushed them a little further into the deep recesses of his mind.
Love scenes were different. Passionate and personal. He’d done with feelings and emotions, which explained his stilted written relationships. But was describing their sexual encounters cathartic for women?
In frustration, he’d turned the overhead light on and accessed her full manuscript, the relevant scenes highlighted in his tablet. He’d scrolled to each one, concentrating on the interaction, physical and verbal, and the varied ways she’d depicted loving gestures and emotions. Not his business, but his gut had tightened as he’d speculated on how she’d gained so much knowledge.
Waking from a restless sleep, he hadn’t been able to remember his dreams, yet knew they’d been hot and steamy. Dressed, bed made and suitcase ready, he’d reached for his watch on the bedside cabinet—and knocked his clock radio onto the tiled floor.
Now, even with a meal break, they’d be at his property by mid-morning. Unless Jemma wanted to, there’d be no need to stop in the town.
‘Do you mind if I listen to the news, Jemma?’
‘No worries. Is keeping up to date with the news important for your writing? I assume you’ve started a second novel?’
‘It’s more for the effect current events might have on the share market. But, yes, I’m in the planning stage with different settings.’ He gave her a quick smile and turned the radio on. ‘I’ll contact you for help when I get to a schmaltzy scene.’
‘Schmaltzy? That, Mr Thornton, sells million
The chuckle he tried to hold back came out as a splutter. ‘I surrender, Jemma. For now. One day we’ll debate the pros and cons over a good bottle of wine.’
The news began and Nate adjusted the volume. Jemma took a book from her handbag on the floor, wriggled a little until she was comfortable and began to read. Discussion followed the news, and as the traffic was building up Nate tuned to a more relaxing music station and gave his full concentration to the road.
Being in control of a reliable vehicle on good roads was a unique feeling—power with responsibility. Rattling along potholed dirt tracks in uninhabited areas overseas, wrestling with a clapped-out wreck and with no certainty of reaching your destination safely, was empowering—with the added pungency of danger.
Jemma was the perfect companion in peak traffic, occasionally looking up at the road or checking on Milly, otherwise absorbed in her reading. Nothing in her gentle demeanour even hinted at those torrid scenes he couldn’t get out of his head. Even the milder ones raised his suspicions over where and how she’d researched them. And with whom.
THEY ATE IN a highway fast food outlet and shared a daily newspaper. Before setting off again he gave Milly a few minutes’ freedom in a safe area behind the building.
The traffic was light now, and he was familiar with the road, and still those questions were drumming in his head. Having a fervent dislike of banal small talk, he broached the subject full-on—a habit from his reporting days.
‘That him/her stuff you write, Jemma—how do you do it? Where does it come from?’
He sensed her eyes on him, figured he was getting the usual penetrating scrutiny, and surprisingly didn’t mind at all.
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