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Мортимер Кэрол

Taming the Last St Claire

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CHAPTER TWO

‘WHERE are you going?’ Gideon questioned sharply as he turned and saw that, instead of following him down the hallway to his own office, Joey had stopped outside the office usually reserved for Lucan’s PA. It wasn’t currently occupied, because Lexie had become Lucan’s PA three weeks ago, and the two of them were now happily honeymooning together on a private Caribbean island for a month.

Mocking green eyes met his. ‘I believe it was an attempt at diplomacy on Lucan’s part when he suggested I might like to use Lexie’s vacant office rather than your own.’

After the bombshell Lucan had dropped on Gideon at the wedding reception on Saturday evening, he didn’t have too much faith in his older brother’s ‘diplomacy’!

‘And how did you know that particular office was Lexie’s?’

‘You mean apart from the fact her name is printed on the door?’

Gideon scowled darkly at Joey’s obvious sarcasm. ‘Apart from that, yes,’ he gritted out.

She shrugged slender shoulders. ‘I came over on Thursday afternoon, so that Lucan could explain exactly what it is he wants me to do while he and Lexie are away.’

Thursday afternoon. The one afternoon in the week when Gideon didn’t work at the St Claire Corporation but instead went to the small office he kept across town and dealt with private legal matters needing his attention. A fact that Lucan would have been well aware of, damn him.

Maybe Gideon had been overly generous concerning that ‘little’ amount of pain he had considered inflicting on his older brother the next time he saw him!

‘And exactly what is it he wants you to do here while he and Lexie are away?’ Besides be a damned nuisance to him, of course!

Joey shrugged. ‘Well, Lucan seemed to have a pretty good idea that you aren’t going to release too much of the legal side of things to me.’ Those jade-green eyes danced knowingly. ‘But obviously I’ll be only too happy to take up the slack. There’s also the fact that with Lexie away too you’re without a PA.’

‘My own secretary—’

‘Is now my secretary,’ she reminded him pertly.

Damn it, this situation was just getting worse—made even more so by the fact that he suspected Lucan and Lexie were sitting on their private Caribbean island right now having a really good laugh at his expense. Falling in love hadn’t just made his older brother unpredictable; it had also brought out a distinctly warped sense of humour in him!

‘If you would prefer, I can use your office rather than this one,’ Joey said as she once again tapped the toe of one stiletto-heeled shoe to mark her impatience. ‘Could you make your mind up soon, Gideon; this box is getting heavy!’

His mouth pursed with frustration. He had always thought of the office down the hallway as being his own personal space: all wood-panelled walls, floor to ceiling bookshelves containing his reference books on English and foreign law, all in alphabetical order. And the top of his mahogany desk was always completely cleared at the end of each working day, with none of the personal clutter that so many people seemed to surround themselves with during working hours.

The two bursting boxes they had carried upstairs seemed to imply Joey intended surrounding herself with exactly that sort of reprehensible clutter for the next four weeks, he mused. No, he didn’t relish the idea of having his office personalised by this woman. But knowing that Joey McKinley’s disturbing presence was in the office next door to the one he intended using would be just as unacceptable—

‘Too late,’ Joey announced decisively, and she lowered the door handle to Lexie’s office with her elbow before breezing inside. ‘Very nice,’ she could be heard murmuring appreciatively.

Gideon reluctantly followed her into the office Lucan had decorated before Lexie became his permanent PA three weeks ago, seeing again that the desk of mellow pine, the cream walls and gold-coloured carpet were all a perfect foil for Lexie’s long black hair.

But he couldn’t help noticing against his will that they were equally complementary to Joey’s rich auburn-gold-cinnamon-red hair and jade green eyes.

‘What on earth do you have in here—rocks?’ Gideon muttered bad-temperedly as he crossed the room to drop the box he was carrying down onto the desktop beside Joey’s own.

Not a happy bunny, she recognised ruefully as she saw his dark scowl. Not a bunny at all, actually. No, as Gideon began to prowl restlessly about the office he looked more like the predator Joey had likened him to earlier.

‘Not quite,’ she answered, as she flipped up the lid of one of the boxes to start taking out the objects and unwrapping them from protective newspaper.

The usual predictable clutter, Gideon recognised. Her law degree. A couple of framed photographs—one of her parents, the other of Stephanie and Jordan at their wedding. A paperweight with a perfect yellow rose inside. A golden dragon.

Hold on a minute—a golden dragon?

‘Yes?’ Joey continued to hold the small golden ornament almost defensively in the palm of her hand as she turned to look at him.

It was Gideon’s first indication that he had actually made an exclamation out loud. But, damn it, a dragon! Even one as romantically beautiful as this—with the creature’s scaled body beautifully etched in gold, its wings extended as if it were about to take flight, and two small yellow sapphires set in the fierceness of its face for eyes—didn’t quite fit in with the abrasive image he had formed of this woman.

Any more than that angelic singing voice, he suddenly recalled.

Joey looked across at him and frowned; really, you would think from his disgusted expression that she had just produced a semi-automatic rifle and intended mounting it on the wall!

‘Stephanie had this made for me when I got my law degree.’

Her twin had always known that the dragon meant something to Joey. A golden dragon had been a feature in Joey’s dreams since she was seven years old. Whenever she’d had a problem—difficulties at school, or with friends—and when she and Stephanie were ten and had been involved in the car accident that had left her twin unable to walk for two years, Joey had dreamt of her golden dragon and instantly felt reassured that everything would work out.

Consequently, where she went, this dragon went too.

She placed it firmly in the centre of the empty desk. ‘It has great sentimental value.’

‘If Stephanie gave it to you, then I’m sure it does.’ Gideon acknowledged softly.

Joey looked up at him, looking for this man’s usual cold distance whenever he spoke to her. Instead she sensed almost an affinity…’Do you miss Jordan?’

Gideon looked taken aback by the question. ‘There’s hardly been time for that when he only left this morning.’

‘I meant before that, of course,’ Joey said impatiently. ‘He’s been in LA how long now? ‘

He frowned. ‘Ten years.’

Stephanie had only been gone for two months, but Joey was still deeply aware of the void her twin had left in her own life. ‘Did you miss him when he first left?’

‘You’re still missing Stephanie?’

‘There’s no need to sound so surprised, Gideon,’ she said ruefully.

Gideon was surprised, and yet he knew he shouldn’t have been. Just because Joey appeared to enjoy mocking him at every opportunity, there was absolutely no reason for him to assume she didn’t have the same deep emotional connection to her own twin that he had with Jordan.

‘Yes, I missed Jordan very much when he first went to LA,’ he acknowledged gruffly. ‘It does get easier,’ he added.

The two of them stared across the office at each other for several long minutes. As if each recognised something in the other that they hadn’t been aware of before. A softness. A chink in their armour. A vulnerability…

Whilst Gideon found this insight into Joey’s emotions faintly disturbing, he found it even more so in himself; revealing vulnerability of any kind was not something Gideon did. Ever.

‘The dragon is very beautiful,’ he said, in a swift change of subject. ‘But personally I prefer to believe in the things I can see and touch,’ he added.

‘Maybe that’s your problem,’ Joey said as she turned away to continue unpacking the contents of the box.

Gideon’s jaw tightened. ‘I wasn’t aware that I had a problem.’

Joey raised auburn brows as she sat on the edge of the desk behind her, her pencil-slim skirt hitching up slightly as she did so, exposing more of her shapely legs. ‘You don’t see the fact that you have absolutely no imagination as being a problem?’

Gideon ignored that bare expanse of skin and kept his gaze firmly fixed on her beautiful heart-shaped face. ‘I have always found basing my opinions on cold, hard reality to be the better option.’

‘Don’t you mean the boring, unimaginative option?’ she taunted.

‘I believe I know myself well enough to know exactly what I mean, Joey.’ He glared down at her.

Joey had regretted telling him how much she still missed Stephanie almost as soon as she had started the conversation. But she had been surprised when Gideon admitted missing his own twin just as much.

He gave every impression of being self-contained. A cold and unsentimental man. To imagine him feeling the same ache of loneliness for his own twin as she felt for Stephanie suddenly made him seem all too human.

But perhaps he felt the same about her? The thought suddenly seemed much too intimate. ‘There’s no need to get your boxers in a twist, Gideon,’ she murmured, being deliberately provocative to hide her uneasiness.

‘My boxers?’ Gideon’s nostrils flared in distaste.

‘That’s always supposing you wear boxers, of course,’ Joey continued outrageously. ‘Yet I somehow can’t see you going commando—’

‘I would prefer that we not discuss my underwear, or lack of it, if you don’t mind,’ he bit out with an incredulous shake of his head. ‘You really are the most irritating woman I have ever met.’

‘Really?’ Joey smiled appreciatively.

Gideon eyed her in exasperation. ‘It wasn’t meant as a compliment!’

‘I didn’t think for one moment that it was,’ she said dryly. ‘But can I help it if I feel honoured that the coolly aloof Gideon St Claire has lowered his aristocratic brown eyes far enough to even notice my existence, let alone to actually form an opinion about me?’

Gideon realised it was this woman’s impulsiveness that made him feel so uneasy in her company. So unsure and definitely wary of what she was going to do or say next. It wasn’t a comfortable admission from a man who usually maintained a tight control over his own emotions. Not comfortable at all.

His mouth compressed into a hard line. ‘Now who’s being insulting?’

‘Was I?’ she came back airily. ‘But you do have brown eyes.

And you are an aristocrat. Lord Gideon St Claire, to be exact,’ she added, as though he’d forgotten.

Neither he, nor his two brothers ever used their titles. In fact most people were completely unaware that Lucan was the current Duke of Stourbridge, or that his younger twin brothers were both lords. A fact that Joey was well aware of.

Instead of answering her, Gideon glanced down at the plain gold watch on his wrist. ‘I’m afraid I don’t have any more time to waste on this. I have an appointment at nine o’clock.’

She smiled unabashedly. ‘Does that mean the welcome speech—you know…the usual glad to have you with us, don’t hesitate to ask if you need anything, blah, blah, blah—is now over?’

Gideon drew in a harsh breath. Both of them knew there had been no welcome speech from him at all—not even a brief, unenthusiastic one. Which was obviously the whole point of her remark.

‘I’m sure you’re fully aware by now that I would be happier not to have you working here at all,’ he said honestly.

‘Life can be cruel that way, can’t it?’ she said, her smile undimmed.

Gideon gave her one last frustrated frown, before turning on his heel and going into the adjoining office and all but slamming the door closed behind him.

Joey’s breath left her lungs in a relieved whoosh once she was alone in Lexie’s office. That last conversation about Gideon’s underwear had no doubt completely restored the opinion he’d obviously held of her before her earlier lapse in admitting that she deeply missed Stephanie.

Joey was well aware of what people thought of her lawyer persona—aggressive, forceful, too outspoken. She was a shark circling her prey when she defended her client in a courtroom—and it was a reputation she had deliberately nurtured.

Not too many people were ever allowed to see past that veneer of professional toughness to the real Joey beneath, as Gideon had when she’d talked of missing her twin.

Joey had deliberately donned her professional toughness a couple of years ago, after one too many slights, because she was a woman in the male-dominated career she had chosen to enter. And after one too many men, less capable than she believed herself to be, had been given jobs because of their gender rather than their ability. The third time Joey had been passed over in that way was when she had decided that if she couldn’t beat them then she was going to join them and beat them at their own game.

Consequently, before she went for her interview at Pickard, Pickard and Wright two years ago, Joey had gone out and bought herself half a dozen of what she considered to be power suits, had had her hair styled unfemininely short, and adopted an abrasive and aggressive personality to match. The changes had proved to be successful, and she had managed to land the job with that prestigious firm of lawyers.

Once she had been given the job Joey had softened her attitude and appearance slightly, recognising that in some circumstances femininity—showing a little cleavage and wearing stiletto-heeled shoes for example—could be just as effective as abrasive aggression.

But she couldn’t say she was altogether comfortable with the fact that her highly professional persona had slipped slightly when she had been talking with Gideon St Claire.

‘I’m taking a break now, and going to the coffee shop down the street to get a hot chocolate. Do you want anything while I’m there?’

Gideon scowled his irritation as he looked up from the figures he had been studying on his computer screen to where Joey stood in the now open doorway between their two offices. A door she had opened without even the courtesy of knocking first.

‘Surely there’s a coffee-making machine in Lexie’s office?’

‘I don’t drink coffee.’

‘There are drinks machines on each floor, and a company restaurant on the eighth floor.’ Gideon should have known that the past hour and a half of relative peace and quiet wasn’t going to last with Joey McKinley in the building! ‘I’m sure you can get hot chocolate there.’

‘But not with whipped cream on top, or served by a buff twenty-year-old male with shoulder-length blond hair, I bet.’

Gideon’s frown deepened as he thought of the three slightly plump, kindly middle-aged women who usually worked in the restaurant two floors below. ‘Well…no.’

‘There you go, then.’

‘I take it this “buff” vision of manhood does work in the coffee shop down the road?’

‘Oh, yes.’ She smiled at him. ‘So, do you want anything? Something to drink? Muffin? Pastry?’

‘No, thank you,’ he answered, with a barely repressed shudder.

‘No to just the drink, or no to all of it?’

Gideon gritted his teeth at her persistence. ‘All of it.’

‘They do a really great lemon muffin—’

‘I said no and I meant no!’ Gideon was growing more and more irritated. If he wanted coffee he had his own pot, already made on the percolator, and if he wanted something to eat then he would send his secretary—Lucan’s secretary, now that Joey McKinley had commandeered his own—down to the restaurant to get it for him.

Joey lingered in the doorway, seemingly unperturbed by his irritability. ‘Tell me, Gideon, have you ever been into a coffee shop? ‘

‘No,’ he bit out tersely.

‘How about a burger place?’

‘If by that you are referring to a fast food restaurant, then the answer is no. Neither have I ever been roller skating, hang-gliding or scuba-diving—and I feel no more inclination to do any of them than I do to go to the coffee shop down the street!’

‘Nix to the scuba-diving—I’ve never been too sure what’s lurking down there in the depths,’ Joey said with a contrived little shudder. ‘But I’ve been roller skating and hang-gliding and loved both of them. As for fast food places and the coffee shop—you have no idea what you’re missing!’

‘In the case of the coffee shop, apparently a twenty-year-old male with shoulder-length blond hair.’ His mouth twisted. ‘Who obviously isn’t my type. And isn’t he a little on the young side for you?’ he added with disdain.

‘Younger men are all the rage at the moment.’ Joey McKinley was completely undaunted as she wiggled suggestive auburn brows at him. ‘Probably has something to do with the fact that they have more stamina in bed than older guys.’

Gideon stiffened. Who on earth had conversations like this one? Joey McKinley, apparently! Personally, he never discussed any of his own brief physical relationships with a third party, and he wasn’t enjoying these insights into Joey’s private life, either. Especially when she included slights to older men in her blunt commentary. He couldn’t help wondering—and he was severely annoyed with himself for doing so—whether she meant men of his own age!

He leant back in his chair to look across at her from between narrowed lids. ‘I would have thought experience would win over stamina every time.’

Joey almost shouted her yes! out loud, at having actually managed to engage the aloof Gideon St Claire in this slightly risqué conversation. His whole I-am-an-island thing was like a red rag to a bull as far as she was concerned;

she wanted to say outrageous things purely to shock him out of it!

With the weak February sun shining through the huge window behind him Gideon’s hair was the colour of pure gold. It looked as if it would be soft and silky to the touch. His eyes were dark and enigmatic between those narrowed lids, and there was a slight smile curving the sensuous line of his lips—as if he were enjoying the conversation in spite of himself.

Joey’s hands clenched at her sides as she resisted the urge she felt to cross the office and see if his hair really would be soft and silky to the touch. This was Gideon St Claire, she reminded herself impatiently. The man she had believed—until earlier this morning, a little voice reminded her—to be completely immune to all emotional feeling.

‘Don’t knock the stamina until you’ve tried it,’ she said wickedly.

That sensuous mouth thinned immediately. ‘Which you obviously have.’

As it happened, no…

Oh, Joey knew she gave off an image of eating up men of all ages for breakfast, and that most people assumed she lived alone and was unmarried through choice. But the truth of the matter was she had been too busy, too single-minded in attaining her law degree during her late teens and early twenties, to have much time left over for relationships. In fact, she’d had no time for them at all. There had been the occasional date, of course—the one with Jason Pickard six months ago being the most recent. And look how successfully that had turned out! But she had never been in the sort of long-term and loving relationship she felt necessary, and longed for. Her parents had been happily married for over thirty years, and Joey had decided at a young age that she wasn’t going to settle for anything less.

Unfortunately, the downside of the tough, uncaring image she had deliberately adopted was that it tended to completely overwhelm weak men, and the strong ones just felt threatened by her. Which was probably why, at the age of twenty-eight, abrasive, driven Joey McKinley hadn’t yet managed to find a man she could love completely and who loved her in the same way.

And the same reason she was still a virgin…

Something she was sure the cynical Gideon St Claire would find very hard to believe.

‘Not yet—but I’ll be happy to let you know when I have,’ she came back provocatively.

Gideon winced as he sat forward to lean his elbows stiffly on the desktop in front of him. ‘Do I take it that there’s some sexual connection between the whipped cream and the buff twenty-year-old?’

Those green eyes widened, and for an instant Gideon could have sworn he saw a slight blush to those creamy cheeks. As if the outspoken Joey McKinley was actually embarrassed by his comment. He was intrigued at the thought…

‘Whew—I think I’m having a hot flush, just thinking about it!’ She waved a hand in front of her face.

Gideon sighed. ‘If you’ve quite finished interrupting my morning, I have a business meeting to go to in a few minutes, followed by a luncheon appointment,’ he told her.

The provocative smile instantly disappeared, to be replaced by professional interest. ‘Do you need me to come with you to either of them?’

Did he need to spend any more time today with this irritating, outspoken and highly disturbing woman? ‘No,’ he assured her firmly. ‘The business meeting isn’t going to last long, and the luncheon appointment is personal.’

‘Okaaay …’ She eyed him speculatively.

‘As in none of your business,’ he said grimly.

‘Fine.’ She gave an unconcerned shrug. ‘Well, you know where to find me if you need me.’

‘Either in the office next door, or at the coffee shop down the road having fantasies about whipped cream and attractive young men, apparently,’ Gideon drawled with cool derision.

‘Hey, I think you’re finally starting to enjoy my sense of humour!’ Joey murmured appreciatively.

‘Lord, I hope not,’ he muttered with feeling.

She gave a husky laugh, before turning to go back into her own office and closing the door softly behind her.

Gideon drew in a sharp breath. Three weeks, four days, six and a half hours—and counting.

Until Joey McKinley was out of the St Claire Corporation building.

Out of the office next door.

Out of Gideon’s life altogether…

.

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