Defying the Billionaire’s Command

Posted on Jan 16, 2017 in Books

Hardened cynic Dare James is furious. Some woman has gotten her claws into his grandfather. He returns in a blaze of fury to the family estate to lay down the law… only to find himself attracted to the woman he had every intention of evicting.

Carly Evans is horrified – she’s his grandfather’s doctor, not a gold digger! She can’t wait to wipe the smug smile from Dare’s frustratingly handsome face. Only before she knows it, Carly is caught in an inescapable web of attraction… and suddenly defying the billionaire’s command is the last thing she wants to do!

Chapter One

It was often said that Dare James was a man who had everything, and most days he’d be hard pressed to disagree. Blessed with bad-boy good looks, and the stamina and physique any star athlete would envy, he enjoyed expensive cars, even more expensive women, and homes that spanned the globe.

A self-made billionaire by the age of thirty, he had started with nothing and now, thanks to sheer hard work and old-fashioned grit and determination, he pretty much had anything a man could want.

What he didn’t have was the ability to handle fools lightly, especially pompous, fat-cat fools who understood that the stock market went up and down as long as their own wealth wasn’t affected.

Dare propped his feet on his desk and leaned back in his chair. ‘I don’t care if he thinks we should dump the stock,’ he told his CFO over the phone. ‘I’m telling you to hold it. If he wants to question my judgment again he can take his business elsewhere.’

Clicking off the call, he thumbed through to the next issue he had to deal with.

‘Trouble?’

Dare glanced towards his office door to find his mother framed in it. She’d flown from North Carolina to London the previous night, stopping overnight at his before she headed to Southampton to visit an old friend.

Dare smiled and dropped his feet from his desk. ‘What are you doing up this early, Ma? You should still be asleep.’

His mother strolled into his office and perched on one of his sofas in the sitting area. ‘I needed to talk to you before I head off today.’

Dare glanced at his watch. Business always came first in Dare’s world, except when it came to his mother. ‘Of course, what’s up?’

If she wanted to borrow Mark, his driver, to take her to Southampton he’d already arranged it.

‘I received an email from my father a month ago.’

Dare frowned, now that he hadn’t expected. ‘Your father?’

‘I know.’ Her brow quirked. ‘It was a surprise to me too.’

Dare wasn’t sure what shocked him more, the fact that she’d received an email in the first place, or the fact that she’d taken so long to tell him about it. ‘What does he want?’

‘To see me.’

Her hands twisted together unconsciously in her lap and Dare’s gut tightened. When a man who had kicked his daughter out of her home for marrying someone he didn’t approve of contacted her thirty-three years later you could bet something was up. And Dare doubted it would be good.

‘Bully for him,’ he said without preamble.

‘He invited me up to the house for lunch.’

The house being Rothmeyer House, a large stone mansion set on one hundred and twenty-seven acres of lush English countryside.

Dare made a derogatory sound in the back of his throat. ‘Surely you’re not considering it,’ he dismissed. Because he couldn’t think why she would. After the way the old man had hurt her, it was the last thing he deserved. And the last thing his mother should risk.

Unfortunately he could already tell that she was not only considering the invitation, but that she wanted to go.

‘The man’s done nothing for you,’ he reminded her, ‘and now he wants to see you?’ Dare knew he sounded contemptuous on her behalf and he was. ‘He has an ulterior motive. You know that, right? He either needs money or he’s dying.’

‘Dare!’ his mother exclaimed. ‘I didn’t realise I’d raised such a cynic.’

‘Not a cynic, Ma, a realist.’ He softened his voice. ‘And I don’t want you getting your hopes up that he’s suddenly regretting his decision to cut you off all those years ago. Because if he’s not dying it will be some kind of power play, mark my words.’

Dare knew he sounded harsh but someone had to look out for his mother, and he’d been doing it for so long now it had become second nature.

‘He’s my father, Dare,’ she said quietly. ‘And he’s reached out.’ Her hands lifted and then fell back into her lap. ‘I can’t explain it really but it just feels like something I should do.’

Dare was a man who dealt in facts, not feelings, and as far as he was concerned his grandfather, Benson Granger, Baron Rothmeyer, was offering far too little far too late.

His mother could have used his help years ago. She didn’t need him now.

‘He mentioned that he’s tried to find me before,’ she said.

‘He couldn’t have tried very hard. You didn’t exactly hide out.’

‘No, but I have a feeling your father might have had something to do with that.’

Dare’s eyes narrowed. He hated thinking about his father, let alone talking about him. ‘Why do you say that?’

‘Once when you were young and I still believed in him he said he’d made sure my father would always understand what he’d lost. I didn’t think much of it at the time but now I wonder what prompted him to say that. And you know my father had no idea that you even existed until I mentioned it.’

‘Well, he’ll know I exist if you decide to take up his invitation because you won’t be going alone.’

‘So you think I should go?’

‘Hell no. I think you should delete the email and pretend you never received it.’

His mother sighed. ‘You’re one of his heirs, Dare.’

Dare scowled. ‘I don’t care about that. I have no interest in inheriting some old pile of rubble that probably costs more money to run than it’s worth.’

‘Rothmeyer House is very beautiful but… I can’t help but think I made a mistake keeping you away from him after your father died. He is your only remaining relative on my side of the family besides your uncle, and your cousin, Beckett.’

Dare rounded the desk and took his mother’s tightly clasped hands in his. ‘Look at me, Ma.’ He waited for her to raise her blue eyes to his. ‘You did the right thing. I don’t need him. I never did.’

‘He changed after my mother died,’ she said softly as if remembering something painful. ‘He was never the most demonstrative man, but he became almost reclusive. Distant with everyone.’

Dare raised a brow. ‘He sounds like a real gem.’

That brought a smile to his mother’s lips, softening the deep lines on either side of her mouth and making her look more like her relaxed self. At fifty-four she was still a strikingly attractive woman, and finally seemed to have embraced life again and shaken off the many tough years she’d had to endure..

Which was one of the reasons Dare resented this communication from her estranged father now. His mother was happy and didn’t need any reminders of the past; which was called the past for a reason.

‘And our estrangement wasn’t all his fault,’ she continued. ‘I was impetuous back then and…in the end he was right about your father and I was too proud to admit it.’

‘You can’t possibly blame yourself.’ Dare frowned.

‘No, I don’t, but…’ She looked up at him. ‘You know, it’s the strangest thing but right before he emailed me I started having dreams that I was back in the house. It’s almost like a premonition, don’t you think?’

Dare believed in premonitions about as much as he believed in fairy tales.

‘What I think is that you probably need closure. And I’ll support you any way I can. Even going with you if that’s what you want.’

She beamed him a smile. ‘I was hoping you’d say that because after I mentioned you, he said he’d like to meet you.’

Great, Dare thought, just what he needed: a family reunion. ‘When is this lunch?’ he asked.

‘Tomorrow.’

‘Tomorrow!’

‘Sorry, darling, I should have given you more warning, but I wasn’t sure I was even going to accept until today.’

Dare still wished she hadn’t but his mind was already turning to the logistics. ‘Who else will be there?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Has he remarried? Do you have a stepmother by chance.’ His lips twisted cynically.

‘No, but he did say he had a guest staying with him.’

‘A woman?’

His mother shrugged. ‘He didn’t say. Our communication has been a little formal to this point.’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ Dare dismissed. ‘I’ll have Nina rearrange my diary.’ He frowned. ‘We’ll leave at—’

His mother shook her head. ‘I promised Tammy I’d see her later today and I can’t cancel on her. Nor can you to drive to Southampton and back in a day. Why don’t I meet you at Rothmeyer House tomorrow just before twelve?’

‘If that’s what you want.’ He sat down at his desk. ‘I’ve organised Mark to drive you today. I’ll ask him to stay overnight to make things easier.’

‘Thank you, Dare. You know I couldn’t have asked for a better son, don’t you?’

He stood up as she approached his desk and he enfolded her in his arms. ‘You know I’d do anything for you.’

‘Yes, I know. And I appreciate it.’

Sensing a lingering sadness in her voice, Dare wondered if she was thinking about his father. Thinking about what a roller-coaster ride it had been with him right up until his death when Dare had just turned fifteen.

At best his father could be called a drifter chasing one dream after another in search of the big time, at worst he had been a conman with feet of clay. The only valuable lesson Dare had ever learnt from him was how to spot a con at fifty paces.

But it had been a good lesson that had helped Dare make more money than he could ever have imagined. And he had imagined a lot growing up in the poorest suburb in a small American town.

It had also stood him well when it came to relationships. For a while Dare had run with a rough crowd, but he’d soon learned that brothers were only brothers as long as you toed the line.

Since Dare didn’t like toeing anyone else’s line but his own, he kept to himself and trusted very few people.

Finding out when he was eighteen that his mother had an aristocratic lineage had only been interesting in that it had made Dare even more resentful of the family who had turned her away, thus forcing her to take three jobs just to make do. He’d never wanted to meet any of them and he still didn’t.

But meet them he would and it wouldn’t be tomorrow when his mother turned up for lunch. It would be today. This afternoon.

If Benson Granger thought he could insinuate himself back into his daughter’s life only to hurt her all over again, he had another thing coming.

And while it wasn’t at all convenient to take a trip to Cornwall that afternoon, Dare decided it would give him a chance to take his new toy out on the open roads.

He smiled, but it wasn’t the charming, devil-may-care smile that made women swoon and men envious. It was a hunter-with-his-prey-in-his-sights smile, and for the first time since his mother had given him the disturbing news Dare thought he might actually enjoy setting his grandfather straight on a few things.

*

The locals at Rothmeyer village said that the summer they were having was the best in the last thirty years. Warm, balmy days, and light, breezy nights straight out of a Beatrix Potter fable.

Up at Rothmeyer House, the grand estate that bordered one side of the village, Carly Evans braced her spent arms on the edge of the deep blue swimming pool and hauled her tired body out of the water.

‘Whoever said they got an endorphin rush out of exercise was either lying or dead,’ she muttered to no one but the baron’s Pekinese, who snapped at passing insects as he lay like an untidy mop in the shade of the terrace.

Carly had been doing laps of the pool and jogging during her free time at Rothmeyer House since she’d arrived three weeks ago and she’d yet to feel anything other than exhausted and sore.

Not that she should be complaining on a day like today. Or any day. Working as the elderly Baron Rothmeyer’s temporary doctor had been a real coup. Not only was the location spectacular, but, due to the baron having to undergo a life-threatening operation in two weeks, it was also live-in. As in, living in the main house, live-in.

But the job would be over soon and she’d have to move on. Which was fine with Carly who, much to her parents’ distress, had become something of a wandering gypsy this past year.

She pulled a face at the thought and squeezed water out of her long red hair, flicking it back over her shoulder. She was about as much like a gypsy as a nun was a circus performer, and up until a year ago she had led a very conventional life as a hard-working doctor in one of Liverpool’s best hospitals.

That was until the bottom had fallen out of her world and ruined everything.

Grabbing a towel, Carly briskly swiped at her face and body. She grabbed her phone and settled onto a lounger, determined that with the baron gone for another few hours she was not going to waste her free time thinking about the past.

‘If you don’t face things,’ her father had said, ‘they become mountains instead of molehills.’

As far as Carly was concerned hers had started out as a mountain and when it became a molehill she might consider returning home. Which was just as hard for her as it was her loving family because at heart Carly was a homebody who loved her parents. And her sister.

A familiar lump formed in her throat as the past lurched into her consciousness.

To distract herself she grabbed her cell phone. She had one new email from her parents, who would no doubt be subtly trying to find out if she really was okay, one from her old alma mater, and another from her temp agency, Travelling Angels.

Clicking to open her work email, she read that they had another job lined up for her as soon as this one was finished and did she want it. Being one of only three fully qualified doctors on their roster, she had so far not been without work. Which was fine with Carly. Busy meant less time for contemplating past mistakes.

But she wasn’t ready to think about her next move yet so she closed that email and tapped on the one from her parents. Yes, there it was, the question of when they would see her next, and whether she’d made any decisions about her future.

Carly sighed and closed that email as well.

A year ago her beautiful, kind and gregarious sister had died of a rare and aggressive form of leukaemia. To add insult to injury, Carly’s über-successful boyfriend had been cheating on her instead of being by her side to support her.

Not that she’d really turned to Daniel for support during those months. Being an important cardiologist, he was generally busy and, if she was being honest with herself, their relationship had never been like that.

He had pursued her because he respected her and she had accepted his invitation to go out because she’d been flattered by his attention. Then Liv had become sick and everything had fallen apart. Daniel had become resentful of the time she spent with her sister, questioning her about her movements at every turn and accusing her of cheating on him and using her sister as a ruse.

No matter what she had said, he hadn’t believed her and then she’d discovered that in fact he had been the one cheating on her. On top of all that, everyone at her hospital had known about it and no one had said a word to her. The whole experience had been mortifying.

Feeling the sun burning into her skin, Carly yanked on a pair of cut-off denim shorts, dislodging the slender black velvet jeweller’s box that had arrived for her earlier that day.

Still not quite believing what was inside, she opened it and once more marvelled at the divinely expensive ruby necklace nestled against the royal blue silk lining.

‘To match your hair,’ the card had read, followed by a swirling signature that denoted the sense of importance Benson’s grandson, Beckett Granger, cloaked himself in.

Carly shook her head as she took out the necklace. For a start her hair was more orange than ruby red so if Beckett had thought to impress her with his cleverness he’d be disappointed.

If he thought to impress her with the amount he must have spent on the necklace he’d be disappointed as well. Carly was too practically minded for jewellery and hadn’t changed the diamond stud earrings her parents had bought her for ten years, much to Liv’s disgust.

But she did have to give him points for his approach. The necklace was undoubtedly the most expensive attempt a man had ever made to get her attention and she’d had a few offers over the years. Some had been patients, or relatives of patients, others had been doctors—but Benson’s pompous grandson had taken the biscuit.

Even if she weren’t still getting over a bad relationship with a doctor with a God complex she would never have gone for Beckett. There was something a little bit slimy about the man. He also had a sense of entitlement a mile wide and at one point, when she’d declined yet another invitation to dinner, she’d been sure he’d been about to stamp his foot.

Since Benson didn’t want anyone to know about his illness, Beckett believed her to be the daughter of an important friend of his grandfather’s but that hadn’t stopped him from cornering her one night when he’d been two drinks past his limit. His attempt at seducing her had been more a nuisance than anything else, and Carly felt sure he would have been embarrassed about it the following morning.

It also spoke volumes that Benson trusted his staff with the information about his illness, but not his own grandson.

Still, the man could have been a god amongst men and she wouldn’t have accepted his attention. She hadn’t exactly sworn off men forever, but she couldn’t think of anything worse than dating right now. Not with the memory of Daniel so fresh in her mind.

Her father assured her that all she needed was a plan to get herself back on track, maybe finish her surgical studies, but Carly wasn’t even sure she wanted to remain in the medical profession, let alone become a surgeon.

The ruby necklace lay heavy in her palm, the sun hot on her shoulders. She’d have to get it back to him as soon as possible, but, while Beckett had entrusted it to the postal service, Carly wasn’t so trusting. She’d much rather hand it back in person.

Spying her cotton shirt under a nearby lounge chair, Carly was about to fetch it when Gregory started yapping as if the Grim Reaper were bearing down on him.

Carly frowned at the pretentious little dog. All her life she’d brought home orphaned children and injured animals to take care of, her mother even complaining that she would save a caterpillar from a broccoli stalk if she’d let her, but when it came to Benson’s prized Pekinese she had to admit she struggled. The pampered pooch had more of a sense of entitlement than Beckett, but she supposed it wasn’t entirely his fault. Not with the way Benson doted on him.

‘Okay, Gregory,’ she said to him, ‘you’re going to bring the fire brigade if you keep making that racket.’ She frowned as he pulled against his leash. ‘What’s got you so riled up anyway, boy?’

He was looking off towards the forest and Carly made the mistake of following his gaze because while her gaze was averted he did his funny little twist manoeuvre she’d been warned about and slipped his collar.

‘Gregory. No,’ Carly called in frustration. ‘I mean heel. Dammit,’ she muttered as the dog tore off across the lime-green lawn, his caramel and black coat flying back in the breeze. ‘Come back here!’

The last thing she needed was the baron’s beloved pet getting lost right before his operation. She’d never forgive herself.

Muttering a string of curse words, she shoved her feet into her flip-flops and took off after the cantankerous animal.

Halfway across the lawn she was glad she’d been exercising because she was gaining on him when he ducked through a border of shrubs and into the forested area. Cursing her bad luck, she vowed she’d give him to Mrs Carlisle to make potluck soup with when she got him.

The baron would never complain about tofu again!

The thought made her smile. He’d been complaining about her menu plan ever since she’d arrived, trying to convince her that French fries and battered fish were fine in moderation for a man in his condition.

‘Gregory, you little pain in the backside.’ Carly shoved low-hanging branches aside and tried not to scratch her bare arms and legs any more than she had. ‘If you get prickles in your coat I’ll send you to that nasty dog groomer again! Gregory, dammit, come on, there’s a good boy.’ She tried to inject warmth into that last command but she wasn’t sure he bought it.

A slight movement had her turning left and she stopped at the edge of a clearing. A family of rabbits lay sunning themselves on a small patch of grass as if they didn’t have a care in the world. It was so lovely she forgot about Gregory until he burst out from behind an old oak tree like a bullet from a gun, scaring the daylights out of her and the unsuspecting rabbits.

‘Gregory, no,’ Carly shouted, rushing after him. The rabbits scattered, the largest—most likely the mother—dashing through the brush. Cursing the cranky dog for real now, Carly tried to keep pace with them. No way was he going to kill the mother rabbit on her watch.

In no mood to chase the baron’s insubordinate dog, Carly didn’t hear the gunmetal-grey motorcycle bearing down on her around the bend in the long driveway until it was too late. In what seemed like slow motion she realised that she wasn’t going to be able to stop her forward momentum in time and, irrelevantly, that she was going to die with Beckett’s silly necklace still gripped in her hand.

Half waiting for the sleek machine to barrel into her, Carly skidded on the gravel and landed on her bottom, rolling down the grassy embankment that ran alongside the road.

Winded, she lay unmoving, blinking dazedly up at the china-blue sky above.

She heard a choice curse word before a male head abruptly blocked out the light. The man was little more than a huge outline against the bright sun and then he went down on bended knee, leaning over her.

If she’d thought she was breathless before it was nothing compared to how she felt staring up into eyes so strikingly blue she could still have been staring at the sky. Combine those with chestnut hair that curled forward over his forehead, a square jaw, and strong nose and he had the kind of face Carly bemusedly thought she could look at forever.

‘Don’t move.’ He had quite the voice too. Deep and low with just the right amount of authority to it. Which surely explained why she did exactly as he bade.

It wasn’t until his large hands ran down her arms and over her legs that she tore her eyes from the way his black leather jacket hugged his wide shoulders and impressive chest.

‘What are you doing?’ she asked.

‘Checking if you’ve broken anything.’ The cold censure in his voice immediately put her back up.

‘Are you a doctor?’

‘No.’

She hadn’t really expected that he would be—she’d never met a doctor encased in black leather before. ‘I’m fine,’ she huffed, not really sure if she was but, heck, she was a doctor!

‘Keep still,’ he ordered as she struggled up onto her elbows.

‘I said I’m fine.’ She pushed at his hand on her leg and he rocked back on his heels. Carly could feel her heart beating hard behind her chest as he silently surveyed her.

‘Good,’ he finally said, standing up so that he once again towered over her. ‘Perhaps you can explain what the hell you were doing running across the road like that. You could have been killed.’

Carly glanced at the sleek motorcycle waiting in the middle of the road like something out of a Batman movie. A flash of the motorcycle skidding in a graceful arc right before hitting her made her stomach pitch. The man had been riding that thing as if he were in the Indie 1000—or whatever that silly race was called—and now he wanted to make it her fault?

‘Really?’ she murmured pleasantly. ‘If I could have been killed it was only because you were driving like a maniac on a narrow, unpaved road.’

Dare gazed down at the redheaded goddess spitting fire at him from eyes that were too grey to be green and too green to be grey. Olive perhaps.

‘I was hardly driving like a maniac.’ He’d barely been pushing fifty.

‘Yes, you were and you were also on your phone!’

She said the last with wide eyes as if he’d been traversing a high wire at the same time.

‘Don’t get hysterical,’ he told her. ‘I wasn’t on the phone. I was checking my GPS.’ And in complete control the whole time.

‘You had a phone in your hand while you were on a motorcycle! That’s illegal!’

‘Calm down, would you? I handled it.’

‘Only just. And it’s still illegal!’

Dare glanced down at her skimpy attire, a smile entering his voice. ‘So what are you going to do? Arrest me?’

She glared up at him as if she’d like to do exactly that but not in the way he’d just been imagining. ‘Who are you anyway?’ she said haughtily.

He felt like saying the big bad wolf, given her snooty tone, but a better question was who was she? Surely not Benson’s mystery guest. He glanced again at her cut-off denims and bright pink swimsuit that should have clashed with her bright hair but somehow didn’t immediately dismissing the notion that she was his elderly grandfather’s guest. She looked more like the pool girl.. The very hot pool girl.. ‘Who’s asking?’

Her lips pursed into a flat line. ‘I am.’ She went to push up to her feet and paused when Dare automatically stuck his hand out to assist her. It didn’t surprise him when she tried to ignore his offer of help but Dare was in no mood to put up with some holier-than-thou girl who had just taken a few years off his life when she’d come flying out of the trees and into his path.

‘Take it,’ he growled, grabbing onto her elbow as she tried to avoid him.

The way she wrenched her arm out of his grip as soon as she was vertical made his teeth gnash together. He could also see by the way she filled out her swimsuit that she was more a woman than a girl.

‘I don’t need your help,’ she huffed.

‘Listen, lady, it’s only thanks to my quick reflexes that you’re still here at all. You could show a little gratitude.’

‘Don’t you “lady” me. It’s thanks to your crappy driving that I now have a sore—’ She stopped as his eyes followed her hands to her bottom as she brushed it off.

He arched a brow. ‘Behind?’

‘Never mind,’ she said primly.

‘How did you not hear the bike anyway?’

‘This is a private lane and I was chasing after a dog.’ She gave his bike a contemptible look. ‘I was hardly expecting Evel Knievel to come barrelling down the road.’

‘A dog, huh?’ Dare unzipped his jacket and planted his hands on his hips. ‘What kind of dog?’

He noticed her gaze slide down his chest, his flat abdomen, his zipper and heat poured through him as his body responded as if she’d actually touched him.

As if gauging his reaction she started inching away from him as if he were some would-be rapist and he scowled.

‘Yes.’ Her voice had grown husky and she cleared it. ‘A very big dog, if you must know.’

If she used her brain, Dare thought with rising annoyance, she’d realise that if he was going to grab her he wouldn’t be standing around arguing with her.

But even as he thought it his eyes dropped to her high breasts pushing up against the straps of her one-piece suit and those long, lightly tanned legs shown to glorious perfection in cut-off denims. He’d seen many girls dressed similarly on a hot summer’s day in his youth but he was quite sure he’d never seen legs as good as hers.

‘What are you looking at?’

His eyes lifted to hers. Moss green, he decided, and full of awareness of how appreciative he had been of her figure.

‘Your legs.’ He smiled, seeing no reason to deny the obvious. ‘You have them on display. You can hardly blame a man for looking.’

‘Excuse me?’ Her eyes shot daggers at him and he supposed he deserved it. He wasn’t here to come onto the pool girl—or woman—and he was hardly desperate for female company.

‘Listen—’

‘How dare you?’ She stabbed a slender finger at his chest. ‘I’m wearing a bathing suit because it’s hot and I’ve just been for a swim.’

‘And you were looking for a dog. I get it. But—’

‘Not that I need to explain myself to the likes of you,’ she vented.

Dare’s eyes narrowed dangerously. ‘The likes of me?’

‘That’s what I said. Are you hard of hearing? Oh, no!’ She gave a cry of dismay. ‘My necklace!’ She turned quickly, her russet cloud of hair swinging around her shoulders. ‘I can’t have lost it.’

Dare sighed. He was tired after driving hours to get here on top of already putting in what felt like a full day’s work at the office, and in no mood to be insulted by some sexy little shrew. ‘What does it look like?’

‘It’s a ruby pendant, on a gold—’

‘This it?’

He reached into the longer grass where it circled a bush. He’d noticed a glint of something before when he’d first rushed over to her and now held a very expensive little trinket in the palm of his hand. He let out a low whistle of appreciation. She definitely wasn’t just the pool girl if this was hers.

Dare flashed a smile. ‘A pretty piece. I’m not sure it goes with the outfit though.’ She stiffened as he looked her over. ‘Might I suggest a string bikini next time?’

‘I wasn’t wearing it,’ she said hotly. ‘It was a gift.’

Dare laughed. ‘I hardly thought you paid for it yourself, baby.’ In his experience no woman would.

She stared at him mouth agape. ‘Did you really just call me baby?’

Yeah, he had, but for some reason having discovered the necklace his mood had taken another dive. ‘Look—’

‘Listen? Look?’ Her finger stabbed in his direction again. ‘You are one condescending piece of work,.’ She stepped forward, her cheeks pink with annoyance. ‘Give me that.’ She reached for the necklace in his hand but Dare reacted instinctively and raised it above his head. She was medium to tall in height but there was no way she was close to his six feet four.

Realising it, she pulled up short, her hands flattening against his white T-shirt to stop herself from falling against him. Her eyes grew wide, her soft mouth forming a perfect ‘O’, and his eyes lingered before returning to hers.

Dare would have said the whole ‘time standing still’ thing was just hogwash, but right then he couldn’t hear a leaf rustling, or a bird calling, his mind empty of everything that didn’t include getting her naked and horizontal as soon as possible.

Instinctively his free hand came around to draw her closer when the sound of yapping at his feet broke the spell. Disconcerted, Dare looked down into the upturned face of an ugly little mutt the size of a cat with its tongue hanging out. He grinned. ‘This the big dog you were chasing?’

The redhead stepped back and threw him a filthy look as she reached for the small dog that danced just out of her reach.

‘Gregory,’ she growled in a warning voice. ‘Heel.’

Dare would have laughed at her futile attempts to stay the dog if his senses weren’t still clamouring for him to reach for her.

‘Here.’ He held the necklace out impatiently as she made to run after the dog. ‘Don’t forget your gift.’

Turning on him with a malevolent look, she snatched the necklace from his hand and took off after the mutt. He doubted he’d have cause to see her again but strangely he found he wanted to.

Shaking his head, he walked back to his bike and shoved his helmet on, dismissing the pool girl from his mind as he gunned the engine and headed to the main house.

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