When a feisty 21st century girl shakes hands with 400 years of history, what happens next? Jo Farrer runs a fashion shop from her home, a country barn conversion. In London on a buying spree from rag trade wholesalers, she wanders into an ancient churchyard and is mesmerized by an epitaph on a gravestone immortalizing a notorious seventeenth century French highwayman and womanizer, Claude Du Vall.
Pre-occupied by him, her van skids in an unfamiliar residential area, demolishing the original cast iron railings of an upscale, Victorian town house. Dazed and shaken, she’s rescued from the wreckage by charismatic Edmund D. Amery, a tycoon. She recognizes him as the man who hounded Kim, her former fiancé, out of office.
An unlucky gemstone, a masked ball, a fashion shoot, unsavory disclosures, equestrian sketches, a bloodstock auction and the enduring, Casanova legend of the mesmerizing highwayman who, it transpires, is Ed’s ancestor, mingle to play an intriguing role in the clashes between Ed and Jo. The storyline is set against an idyllic English backdrop of hawthorn hedges, bluebell woods, and may blossom. Happily ever after.
Jo flicked through the brochure and let out a yelp. “The rent. Christ, we’re talking telephone numbers.” The going would be brutal, but hopefully with the right sort of stock and the right sort of mark-up, things would take off and become less of a financial struggle once she was established. She made a few rapid calculations in her head—right now, she could only afford it if—she paused, mentally touching wood—the bank played ball.
“I’ll take it,” she said decisively. “Would you reserve it for me? I’ll ask Uncle’s lawyer to get the legal formalities under way so that I can sign the lease next week.”
The man grinned. “If it’s soon enough for you, it’s soon enough for me.” He fixed a large sticker to the unit’s plate glass window announcing “Under Offer.” Jo beamed, feeling slightly intoxicated, as if she’d quaffed rather too much champagne. She watched him drive away and drifted out into the garden that had been reclaimed out of all recognition from weed-ridden wilderness and the carcasses of rotting tractors. She perched on a stone bench near the sundial, admiring the clipped topiary and koi pond, feeling exhilarated. What a find! Idly, she wondered who owned the hotel and leafed through the brochure’s glossy pages. In small print below some tedious technical jargon was the name Oceanwave BV, a company registered in the Bahamas that meant nothing to her.
Her gaze wandered over the restored beauty of the ancient place and came to rest on the charmingly restored orangery, and her heart flipped. It can’t be! What ghastly coincidence brought Ed here? What common internal antennae made them both home into the same place at the same time? She blinked rapidly, but it was not a trick of the light or her senses. He’d seen her and even from this distance, which he was covering rapidly with long strides, she had the immediate impression of authority in the swing of his body.
He stopped squarely in front of her. “This has become a habit.”
The deep, dark voice made her go weak at the knees. “Yes, we must stop meeting like this. I’ve acquired a new retail outlet,” Jo felt oddly impelled to say, but at the same time kicking herself for having given an explanation he wasn’t entitled to and hadn’t invited. Back in her life for less than two minutes, he’d already become master of the situation and of her.
“Of course, your burgeoning empire…” He broke off as his eyes fell on the brochure and something in his casual glance made her feel tense. “Forget it,” he said crisply. His eyes were suddenly a north Atlantic gray. “You can’t afford it.”
She flashed him a stormy glance. “I was making a statement, not seeking your opinion, and if you don’t like what you hear then that’s the exit.”
His voice was very quiet, but there was no mistaking the tone. “It’s out of your league, sweetie, so take my advice. Quit while you’re still ahead.”
Jo felt the blood drain from her face. Hold it, she told herself, although she knew she wouldn’t. She sprang to her feet—staying seated made her feel at a disadvantage—and faced him, her eyes snapping. “I don’t need your commendation, consent or approval. You enjoy playing to win. I can’t see any reason why I shouldn’t at least try.” She folded her arms across her. “But thanks, guru, for the words of wisdom.” The cool, puncturing speech she’d rehearsed in her mind emerged as something quite different.
“Let me tell you what I really think, Miss high-and-mighty Farrer.” He took her elbow and hustled her to her van. “The difference between you and me is that I win, and you just play at it. ‘
She shook his hand off her, feeling sandbagged. Now she knew exactly how what it felt like when he wasn’t on one’s side, and something in her snapped. “Fuck. I’ve better things to do than listen to your endless sermonizing.”
He took her chin in his fingers. “You’re going to hear what I have to say. Your folksy, frumpish stuff won’t sell here. The hotel clientele sets the bar very high—they demand class, style, exclusivity—not a ruddy cottage industry. And lack of sales doesn’t pay the rent, so that means your little hobby, your precious little project, will end up on the scrap heap. I can stand the heat, but I doubt if you could. Don’t go in over your head.” He paused, and his mouth descended on her, tasting her lips. “And as for the invitation, yes, I accept. When do you want me to come round and fuck?”
Jo wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and struck his hand away angrily, her nails catching his cheek in a long, red scratch. “That’s…” she stopped. She was about to say “malicious slander,” but realized it was pointless telling him that her stock was upmarket and bore no resemblance to the dire picture he’d painted. Instead, she consoled herself with the thought that actions speak louder than words. Just you wait, Ed Amery, just you wait. She felt unexpected glee envelop her like a shawl.
Ed made a disgusted sound in his throat and Jo seized the moment to jump into the van, moving off in a floundering crash of gears.
Ed pulled her gently towards him. “Straker cared shit-all about robbing me. I propose to pay him back in his own coin.”
“What do you mean? How?” Even before the words were spoken, she knew what he meant to do.
His mouth covered hers, his lips searching. She was shocked at her own eager response as she yielded to his embrace, the way his caress set her body aflame. “You’ve dreamed of this moment. You’ve dreamed of fucking with Du Vall,” he said quietly, “and you shall.”
Part of her wanted to cut and run. “Hell will freeze over before that happens.”
He hesitated, then said very quietly, “ Not according to your body language,” and moved closer and in that moment she knew she yearned to be imprisoned by his body, to yield to the searing need inside her, to taste his cock.
“What does it tell you?”
“That you want us to fuck every which way. Bedroom?” He picked her up and started down the hall.
“ Through there. First on the right.”
He kicked the door shut. “Can’t have that pesky Du Vall getting ideas.”
She giggled and he tossed her onto the bed and followed her down, trapping her beneath him, one long, powerful, muscled leg lying over her own, his fingers dipping through her lacy panties into her folds.
“Hush, sweetie.” He leaned in and kissed her, his expression dissolving all her stupid defenses.
She shut her eyes and drank him in. He tasted of peppermint and musky male and she savored his tongue in her mouth, in her swelling cunt as he swept off her clothes, stroking a warm palm across her belly and up to her breasts. He jerked up and yanked himself free of his clothes, flinging them to the floor, her body reacting violently to his glorious nakedness, tightening her nipples, flooding her.
Ed traced his tongue over her nipples, and she arched into him with a little moan of pleasure as he squeezed the breasts gently and took them in his mouth.
“We’ve wanted each other like this from the start.”
“What stopped you?” teased Jo.
He straddled her body. “I could take you over my knee for that.”
“You’re welcome.” Her clit throbbed as he pushed a powerful thigh between her legs and sensation rippled through her, almost sending her over the edge. She gazed deep into those warm, gray eyes, the pale cedar carving of his face.
He spread her wide with his thigh, and she pulsed and thrust against him, desperate for him inside her as orgasm built. He loved the carnal sight of her, her flushed face, her swollen breasts, her low moans of pleasure, her slow smile, her wetness and velvet heat, the perfume of her arousal mingled with the orchid that he’d come to associate as her signature, loved the way her eyes drank him in to linger on his balls and dripping, engorged cock. She was all woman, his woman, ready and waiting for him and him alone.
“Mmm, there dangles a juicy watermelon, so no invitation needed.” Jo’s eyes glittered as she gripped his thickness, caressed his heated cock with her tongue, milking its essence, licking its silk, sealing it with her mouth, swallowing him down.
Ed threw back his head and hissed, grabbed her ass, pulling her in tighter, loving the feel of her pussy against him, and plunged into her quivering cunt, pulled out and thrust in again, deep and hard.
Jo writhed and yelped beneath him, meeting him thrust for thrust, raw and primal and ecstatic as he seated himself inside her, filled her, branded her with his possession. Two halves a perfect whole.