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Мортимер Кэрол

Taming the Last St Claire

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CHAPTER THREE

JOEY was still so unsettled by the manner in which Gideon had neatly turned the tables on her with his remark about whipped cream that she completely forgot to ask for any on her hot chocolate—and didn’t even notice that it was a young girl serving today, rather than the golden-haired god!

Maybe Gideon really wasn’t as uptight as she had always thought him to be if he could make sexual references like that? After all, Stephanie hadn’t been able to stop laughing when Joey had asked her if Gideon was gay. Just because Joey had never seen him with a woman it didn’t mean Gideon didn’t have one in his life—perhaps there was. Just not someone he wanted to take to a family wedding.

To her intense discomfort, just imagining lying naked on a bed with white silk sheets and having the heat of Gideon’s tongue lapping whipped cream from her bare breasts was enough to make Joey’s nipples go hard inside her bra.

This was so not a good idea—

‘Get you anything else …?’

Joey looked up blankly at the young girl behind the counter, a blush darkening her cheeks as she realised her hot chocolate was sitting there, ready for her to collect, and there was a queue of people behind her still waiting to be served.

‘No. That’s fine. Thank you,’ she muttered awkwardly as she grabbed up the hot chocolate and made a quick about face, instantly bumping into the bearded man standing directly behind her in the queue. ‘Sorry.’ She grimaced awkwardly.

‘No problem,’ he replied.

Joey hurried out of the coffee shop before she did anything else to embarrass herself, breathing deeply once she was outside on the pavement and grateful for the cold February wind to cool her hot and flushed cheeks. She was aware that her hands were trembling slightly as her fingers curled tightly about the warmth of the cup containing the hot chocolate.

What the hell was wrong with her? Well…she knew very well what was wrong—she’d been aroused by a sexual fantasy about Gideon St Claire and whipped cream in the middle of a coffee shop! He was the very last man Joey should ever think of in that way—especially as they were going to be working closely together for the next four weeks.

Gideon didn’t even like her, and certainly didn’t approve of her, so what on earth—?

‘Are you feeling okay?’

Joey looked up to see that the bearded man from the coffee shop had collected his order and was now standing beside her on the pavement. Was she feeling okay? Well, she didn’t know about that—she was hot, bothered and aroused! Something she hadn’t felt for a long time—if ever.

‘You’re looking a little feverish,’ the man continued. ‘Perhaps you’re coming down with a cold? There’s a lot of it about. It’s the weather, of course. One day it’s cold and the next it’s sunny.’

‘Yes, probably,’ Joey answered awkwardly, looking up at the man for the first time.

He looked to be aged in his late thirties, and was quite handsome from what she could tell through the dark beard that hid most of his lower face. His eyes were a deep and pleasant blue. He also looked vaguely familiar…

‘Do I know you?’ she asked politely.

‘I’m sure I would have remembered you if we had met before.’ He gave her a brief, noncommittal smile.

Joey accepted the compliment. ‘Sorry to have held you up in there. I was miles away.’ On a bed with silk sheets, with Gideon. No! She had to stop thinking about that!

‘As I said, no problem,’ the man assured her lightly. ‘Do you work around here?’

Joey frowned slightly; it was one thing to apologise to this man for holding him up, but she wasn’t about to tell a complete stranger where she worked. A stranger who still looked vaguely familiar, despite his denial.

‘Yes. And it’s time I was getting back.’ She smiled again, to take the sting out of her dismissal, as she turned to walk away.

‘Enjoy your hot chocolate,’ he called after her.

‘Thanks.’ Joey was a little disconcerted to realise that the man must have been aware of her enough earlier to have noticed she had ordered hot chocolate to go. And she was sure she felt his blue eyes following her as she walked back down the street.

Paranoid.

She was becoming paranoid. The man was just being polite to show that he wasn’t annoyed at being delayed, for goodness’ sake. She was probably just feeling oversensitive after indulging in that steamy fantasy.

Probably? She was definitely feeling oversensitive. And in all the wrong places too.

‘Good lunch?’

Gideon had only just arrived back in the office, and he drew in a sharp breath as he turned and saw Joey, once again standing in the connecting doorway between their two offices.

‘I think we need to lay down a few ground rules, Joey,’ he rasped as he removed his jacket and hung it in the closet before moving to sit behind Lucan’s imposing desk. ‘The first one being that in future I would prefer you to knock before you come barging into my office.’

‘Why?’

He clenched his teeth. ‘Because I would prefer it,’ he repeated evenly.

She twinkled at him. ‘Are you going to be doing something…private in here that you don’t want me to walk in on?’

Three weeks, six days, two hours—and counting!

Gideon felt a nerve pulsing in his tightly clenched jaw. ‘I just don’t like you coming in here unannounced.’

Joey had decided, during the three hours since she had last seen Gideon, that the best way to deal with her earlier lapse into fantasyland was to face it head on. To face him head-on.

Looking at him now, as he sat behind Lucan’s desk, golden hair slightly ruffled from the cool breeze outside, his jacket removed and the width of his shoulders and muscled chest clearly visible beneath that white silk shirt, suddenly she wasn’t so sure…

Oh, get a grip, Joey, she instructed herself impatiently. So she’d had a sexual fantasy about the man? So what? Yes, Gideon was as handsome as sin, but he had just been out for a minimum two-hour lunch with another woman. No doubt a woman only too happy to cater to his sexual preferences, whatever they were…

‘My mother sends her regards, by the way.’

Joey blinked. ‘Your mother?’

Gideon gave a mocking smile—almost as if he had known exactly what she was thinking. ‘I had lunch with her before she caught the afternoon train back to Edinburgh.’

The still beautiful and very gracious Molly St Claire. Dowager Duchess of Stourbridge now, following Lucan’s marriage to Lexie on Saturday. And apparently the woman Gideon had just had a two-hour lunch with.

Was that relief Joey was feeling? If it was, then it was totally inappropriate. Ridiculous, even, when he had already made it perfectly obvious she was the last woman he would ever be attracted to.

And was she attracted to him?

Well, she was a woman with a pulse and a heartbeat, wasn’t she?

Maybe she was—but she wasn’t a stupid woman with a pulse and a heartbeat! Being attracted to Gideon—a man who showed no interest in her, and no emotion whatsoever for anyone other than those he considered his close family—would be the height of stupidity on her part.

She might choose to present an outer shell of sophistication, but inside Joey knew herself to be as soft as marshmallow—as emotional and vulnerable, in fact, as her outwardly softer twin. She really wasn’t about to get her heart broken by falling for the coldly unattainable Gideon St Claire.

‘What an attentive son you are, to be sure,’ she commented.

Gideon visibly stiffened. ‘Maybe you aren’t aware of it, but the wedding on Saturday was a difficult time for my mother.’

Joey instantly felt guilty at this reminder that Lucan and Lexie’s wedding must have been something of an ordeal for Molly St Claire; Lexie was the granddaughter of Sian Thomas—the woman Molly’s husband, Alexander St Claire, the previous Duke of Stourbridge, had left Molly for twenty-five years ago.

Some sort of truce on the past had been called between the two older women before Lucan and Lexie’s wedding on Saturday, but even so it couldn’t have been an easy time for Gideon’s mother.

‘I am aware of it.’ Joey grimaced in acknowledgement of her faux pas. ‘Sorry.’

Gideon continued to eye her coldly for several seconds, before giving an abrupt nod. ‘Let’s move on, shall we? What did you want to see me about?’

What did she want to see Gideon about? Oh, yes. ‘Jordan rang while you were out; he and Steph have arrived safely back in LA.’

Gideon nodded. ‘He left a message on my voicemail.

It still felt slightly odd to him that he and this woman were connected by the marriage of their twin siblings. Not that he and Jordan were identical twins. But Joey and Stephanie were—even if they chose to be completely different in appearance. Gideon had always thought Stephanie to be warm and charming, while her sister had all the softness of a porcupine. An impression that had been shaken earlier that morning, when he’d heard the aching loneliness in Joey’s voice as she’d admitted how much she missed her twin.

Gideon had actually found himself thinking of Joey during lunch, as he and his mother ate dessert. Well, it had been his mother’s dessert that had actually triggered the memory—fresh strawberries covered in whipped cream. To his horror and intense discomfort he had found himself imagining Joey lying back on red satin sheets—they would have to be red; he already knew how beautiful her exotic-coloured hair looked against red—while he sensuously licked cream from every inch of her naked body.

The image had been so startlingly vivid that Gideon had felt himself harden, his erection hot and aching beneath the table where he and his mother sat eating together! He’d had to discreetly drape his napkin across his thighs in case anyone noticed that throbbing bulge in his trousers.

‘How did your visit to the coffee shop go earlier?’ His tone was all the harsher because of his unprecedented reaction to just imagining Joey naked.

There was no way she could have prevented the blush that warmed her cheeks as she was instantly reminded of her drift off into fantasyland earlier. Her breasts became fuller, the nipples hard and sensitive as they chafed against the black lace of her bra.

She moistened dry lips. ‘It was—good, thanks.’

Gideon gave her a tight smile. ‘Any luck with the buff young god?’

Joey wasn’t sure she would have noticed him earlier, even if he had been on duty today. Not when her thoughts had been so vividly fixed on Gideon.

Those images of the two of them in bed suddenly flashed into her brain again, so that she couldn’t even look him in the face as she answered.

‘I’m still working on it.’

Gideon stood up as Joey turned to leave the office, crossing the distance between them in long, purposeful strides. She turned round to face him as he spoke.

‘Thank you for passing on the message that Jordan and Stephanie arrived back in LA safely.’ His voice was now huskily soft.

‘A superfluous message, as it happens,’ she commented, very much aware of how close Gideon was now standing to her.

‘But you didn’t know that,’ he said. ‘And, despite my earlier comments, I appreciate you coming to tell me as soon as I returned from lunch.’

Joey smiled. ‘Even if I did come barging into your office?’

‘Even so,’ Gideon allowed ruefully, realising how tiny she was as he stood only inches away from her; her manner was always so mocking, so forcefully independent, that she had somehow always seemed…more fiercely substantial to him.

Her admission earlier of missing Stephanie had given Gideon a different insight into her—had hinted at that forceful independence being a defensive veneer rather than an intrinsic part of her nature. Perhaps a defence mechanism that came into play to hide the vulnerability that lay beneath her surface bravado—the same vulnerability that had enabled Joey to sing with such beauty and depth of emotion at Jordan and Stephanie’s wedding, maybe?

Joey was shorter than Gideon had thought too. The top of her head only reached up to his chin—no, that couldn’t be right. This morning, in the underground car park, he distinctly remembered that her eyes had been level with his mouth as they’d talked.

Gideon stood back slightly to look down at her feet. ‘You aren’t wearing any shoes …’

Even Joey’s feet were beautiful—her ankles shapely, her toes gracefully slender, with pearly pink nails at their tips.

‘I have a habit of taking them off whenever I sit down,’ Joey admitted.

‘It’s a little…unorthodox when you’re at work.’ It also, Gideon realised with a frown, gave an intimacy to this situation that he would rather didn’t exist.

She tossed her head. ‘Haven’t you noticed? I am unorthodox!’

Gideon had noticed far too many things about this woman today! Such as the softness of her hair. The creaminess of her skin. The fullness of her breasts beneath the silk of her blouse. The delicious curves of her hips and bottom. The slight vulnerability to those sensuously full lips when she wasn’t being smart-mouthed…

Joey was very aware of the sudden tension that surrounded herself and Gideon. She was also aware, so close to him like this, that his chest appeared as hard and muscled as she had imagined it would be, and her senses were being bombarded equally with the heat of his body and his smell: an elusive spicy aftershave mixed with hot and heady male.

She was almost afraid to breathe, and she resisted the impulse she had to step closer to him, to put her arms about his waist and feel the ripple of muscles beneath his shirt as her palms rested against his back. She was certain that he would feel good to touch. Hot and hard. Like steel encased in velvet.

It was a dangerous impulse—especially after the erotic thoughts Joey had had about him earlier on today. And yet she couldn’t move away. Could feel the mesmerising pull of his seductive heat. Couldn’t take her gaze from those hard and chiselled features. Except they didn’t look quite so hard any more. Gideon’s mouth was more relaxed than Joey had ever seen it—lips slightly parted, his breath a warm caress against her brow—and his eyes…oh, God, his eyes.

They were no longer just that dark and brooding bitter chocolate brown, but now had shards of gold fanning out from the pupil. That gold deepened, increased as his gaze shifted from her eyes to her parted lips. As if he too were imagining what it would feel like if they were to kiss—

.

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