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Authors: Elizabeth Power

Back in the Lion's Den

BOOK: Back in the Lion's Den
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‘… if you think I’d consider making a match with Niall’s brother, then I’m afraid you’re going to have to think again. He’s far too arrogant, overbearing, and too darn cocksure of himself ever to qualify as a contender for my affections, and—’ Sienna broke off, then enquired of her friend, ‘What’s wrong with your mouth?’

When Jodie didn’t answer, however, she went on, ‘He’s too rich, he’s got a freezer cabinet for a heart, and is about as approachable as a turned on water cannon. I wouldn’t sleep with Conan Ryder if he was the last man on …
What?

Jodie’s eyes had come into the equation now. But even as it dawned on Sienna what her neighbour was trying to tell her, too late she felt that prickling awareness she had always felt when Conan Ryder was close, and she caught his deep voice, low in her ear, as he told her, ‘Don’t worry. You won’t have to. We have enough rooms in Provence for the family not to have to share with the guests.’

Those cool words were at variance with the warmth of his breath against her hair—an unintentional caress that sent tingles along her very nerve-endings. Or was it? she wondered, her pulse quickening ridiculously, because she didn’t think he’d miss a single trick to try and unsettle her.

About the Author

ELIZABETH POWER
wanted to be a writer from a very early age, but it wasn’t until she was nearly thirty that she took to writing seriously. Writing is now her life. Travelling ranks very highly among her pleasures, and so many places she has visited have been recreated in her books. Living in England’s West Country, Elizabeth likes nothing better than taking walks with her husband along the coast or in the adjoining woods, and enjoying all the wonders that nature has to offer.

You can visit her at www.elizabethpower.net

Recent titles by the same author:

SINS OF THE PAST
FOR REVENGE OR REDEMPTION

Did you know these are also available as eBooks?
Visit www.millsandboon.co.uk

Back in
the Lion’s Den

Elizabeth Power

www.millsandboon.co.uk

TO ALAN
with love always

CHAPTER ONE

H
E
could hear the music coming from the fitness class before he reached it. A strong pulsing rhythm reverberating down the corridor.

On either side of him, behind glass partitions, enthusiasts were treading rubber and pumping muscle. He knew he cut an incongruous figure in his dark business suit, white shirt and tie, and was aware that two young women playing squash on one of the courts he was passing had stopped their game to watch him.

At six feet three and powerfully built, with the sleek black hair and rugged features of a Celtic heritage, he was used to the attention his presence elicited from the opposite sex. But while he might usually have spared a glance towards an admiring female today Conan Ryder’s mind wasn’t distracted from its purpose.

Ignoring their blatant interest, he strode determinedly on, the green-gold of his eyes remaining focused on the partly open door to the room where the beat was coming from. His broad shoulders were pulled back in a deliberate attempt to stem the adrenalin that was coursing through his body.

No one made him feel like this! The fight for the composure he prized pulled his jaw into a grim cast. Especially not a woman—and particularly not a woman like Sienna Ryder! He had a request to make—that was all. A request she’d probably refuse so that would mean a verbal battle with her to get her to do what he wanted. But he would win in the end. After
that it was a matter of making the necessary arrangements and getting out.

‘That’s good, Charlene! Let your hips do the work! That’s lovely! You’re a natural! Let it f-l-o-w …’

He heard her voice above the beat as he pushed open the door with the flat of his hand. Clear. Encouraging. In control.

The lively rhythm was still pounding as he met the class head on and twenty pairs of female eyes turned his way, but his interest lay only with the petite figure of the young woman in a sleeveless red leotard and black leggings who was still directing the class with her back to him.

Her short dark hair was expertly shaped into the nape of her neck, its boyish style only adding to her femininity. Skin lightly tanned, the perfect proportions of her small, slim body were clearly outlined by the clinging clothes, yet there was a remarkably lithe fitness about her that hadn’t been so apparent when she had been married to his brother.

Coming up behind her, he let his gaze sweep over the graceful line of her neck and shoulders to the small butterfly tattoo he recognised just above her right shoulderblade, and felt a tug of unwelcome awareness at the very core of his masculinity. He found himself having to clear his throat before he stooped to make himself heard.

‘I’m sorry to interrupt your workout, but you were proving far too elusive. How does anyone get in touch with you? By carrier pigeon?’ Past hostilities gave a hard edge to the deep resonance of his voice. ‘Or would I have had more luck trying telepathy?’

Shock had registered in her eyes as she’d swung round—big blue eyes that met the green-gold of his now with a spark of contention, acknowledging the coldness in his tones.

‘Hello, Conan.’ Her smile was bright and forced, her small oval face assuming that look of cool detachment he remembered so well. ‘It’s lovely to see you again too.’

Her sarcasm wasn’t lost on him, but then he saw the blood
drain from her cheeks as she said starkly, ‘Daisy? Is she all right?’

Her concern for her child was obvious, even if she hadn’t shown the same regard for his brother.

‘How would I know?’ he lobbed back across the fading beat. ‘I haven’t seen her in nearly three years!’ Censure stiffening every inch of his strong, lean body, he watched her dark lashes come down as that moment of panic gave way to undisguised relief as it dawned on her that he couldn’t possibly know anything about the welfare of his niece. ‘I’ve been trying to reach you for days, but your landline’s ex-directory, and each time I’ve called at the house you’ve never been around.’

She looked almost startled. Perhaps she had never expected him to find out where she lived. ‘We’ve been busy.’ It was a flat refusal to enlarge upon anything concerning her private life. ‘Why did you want to see me anyway?’

Tension pulled in his jaw at the rising level of female hormones in the hall. Now that the music had stopped he could feel those twenty pairs of eyes looking him up and down, as though they had never seen a man before in their entire lives.

Impatiently he demanded, ‘Can we talk somewhere else?’

Gesturing for her class to continue as another track started to play, Sienna simply jerked her head towards the open door.

Reaching it first, Conan caught the scent of the freshness of her skin as she stepped past him into the corridor. He noticed the sway of her slim hips as he followed her out, and with another stab of something way down in his loins noticed the shape of her firm buttocks, tantalisingly separated by the deep lines of the leotard, the narrow span of her waist as she went ahead of him with her head high, her back as proud and straight as any ballerina’s.

‘What do you want?’ she challenged, swinging to face him.

Her blood was racing just at the sight of seeing Conan Ryder on her turf. He was as hard and handsome as she remembered him. Business entrepreneur. Billionaire. And her late husband’s half-brother.

He was right, though. It
had
been three years—or as good as—since she had fled from Surrey to her home town just outside London, escaping his cruel taunts and his accusations with an eighteen month old toddler in tow. Three years since that tragic accident of Niall’s that had left her widowed and her child fatherless.

It was clear from Conan’s disparaging manner that his opinion of her hadn’t changed. Now, alone with him, she felt less like the confident, self-sufficient woman she had become, and more like the emotionally dependent girl who had taken the lash of his tongue with no means of defending herself. Nothing that would explain her actions, why she had lied, her obvious guilt. Not without baring her very soul to him, and there was no way she was ever going to do that.

Closing her mind against the bitter pain that threatened to well up inside of her, she murmured in a voice that was near to cracking, ‘For what reason could you possibly want to see me?’

‘Not you.’ Those incisive words cut across her with the precision of a scythe. ‘Daisy. I’m here to insist you let Daisy come back with me.’

‘What?’
Her stomach muscles tightened at painful echoes of the past.
‘I’d do everything in my power to take Daisy away from you.’
Yet her hackles were rising too, at the sheer arrogance of his statement, making her respond with, ‘Insist? You
insist,
Conan?’

‘She’s my brother’s child,’ he reminded her harshly. ‘She also has a grandmother she hasn’t seen.’

‘She also has a mother who wasn’t good enough for any of you—remember?’ It was a pointed little cry. Poignant, bitter and accusing.

Conan’s black lashes swept down over the glittering green of his eyes—thick long lashes, she’d always thought, that most women would give their eye teeth to achieve. His face was lean and hard, high cheekbones stark against the proud nostrils that flared momentarily above his angular, darkly shadowed
jaw, and the taut line of his wide, uncompromising mouth was compressed.

‘All right,’ he breathed heavily at length. ‘I know we’ve had our differences.’

‘Our differences?’ She almost laughed in his face. ‘Is that what you call them, Conan? Being accused of being an unfit mother and an unfaithful wife?’

His penetrating eyes hardened like chips of green glass, but all he said was, ‘Yes, well …’ It was clear he didn’t want to discuss the accusations he had made. ‘That doesn’t alter the fact that you had no right to deprive Daisy of her family.’

‘I had every right!’ The star-shaped studs in her ears glinted as she brought her head up sharply, colour touching her cheeks at his glaring audacity. A confrontation with him was bad enough, but being so scantily dressed made her feel at even more of a disadvantage—especially since he was so big and so potently male. ‘Niall was all the family she had. Niall and me!’ That wasn’t strictly true, Sienna thought, because there were her parents, although she didn’t see them that often since their move to Spain.

‘Niall was my brother.’

‘Yes, well … a pity you didn’t remember that when he was alive!’

She had hit a raw nerve. She could see it in the way that sensuous mouth of his hardened, and in the way his irises seemed to darken like woodland pools at dusk. Perhaps being reminded of how he, a self-made billionaire, had refused his own brother help when he’d been in desperate financial straits didn’t sit too comfortably on his conscience. With lethal softness, however, he said, ‘You still want to goad me with that?’

Something warned her to be on her guard and not to antagonise him unnecessarily. Even so, the raw pain to which he had subjected her three years ago, with his implacable assumptions and his inexorably cruel accusations, had her uttering tautly, ‘I don’t want to do
anything
with you, Conan Ryder.’

His gaze grazed over her shoulders, touching briefly on the swell of her small firm breasts. He was unpitying and unscrupulous and she didn’t like him, and yet she felt the sick stirrings of a ridiculous heat lick along her veins.

‘Did I ever ask you to?’ he enquired silkily, the cruel mockery that played around his mouth leaving her in no doubt as to what he meant.

No, he hadn’t, she thought with an inexplicable little tingle along her spine, and she had never thought of him as anything other than her husband’s elder brother. Of course she’d been aware of his countless attributes during those two and a half years she had been married to Niall. What woman wouldn’t have been? she reasoned resentfully. He was good-looking, dynamic, and unbelievably wealthy. He was also a dark and silent entity she’d never quite been able to fathom out, although his ruthlessness and insensitivity had been all too apparent at the end. She would have had to be an android not to have
noticed
him, at least. But she’d loved Niall. Loved him with a passion that had nearly driven her insane …

‘If I remember correctly,’ he was saying icily now, ‘you were too busy breaking your marriage vows without any help from me—though I doubt it would have taken much more than a snap of my fingers, even with your lover in the picture.’

‘He wasn’t my lover! And you’re still as misguided as you ever were if you think I would ever have thought about setting my sights on a man like
you!
’ Memories of the last time she had stood and faced him like this clawed at her consciousness, the ugly scene forever etched on her memory. ‘For your information, Conan—’

I loved your brother,
she had been about to say, but broke off as the door to her gym class opened, enveloping them in a pounding rhythm.

A young woman came out, her smile for Conan openly inviting before she crossed behind him to the women’s cloakroom, forcing him to move closer to Sienna.

In her tight, revealing clothes she suddenly felt naked beside
him, and the air left her lungs so that it felt difficult to breathe.

This close to him she could smell the lemony fragrance of his cologne. It didn’t help either that he was so formally dressed, probably having just come from some high-flying meeting, she guessed grudgingly, where he’d made multi-million-pound decisions that would increase his global fortune tenfold! But his nearness was stifling, and Sienna took a step back—which was so obvious that he couldn’t have failed to realise why.

Apart from the lift of an enquiring eyebrow, however, fortunately he made no comment.

‘My mother needs to see Daisy,’ he stated as the cloakroom door closed quietly behind him. ‘So do I.’ Sombre lines were etched around his mouth and jaw and a deep groove corrugated the healthily tanned skin of his forehead. ‘My mother hasn’t been herself lately …’ He couldn’t bring himself to tell her what was really wrong, how worried he was about Avril Ryder; he wasn’t going to beg. ‘And I feel she would benefit from a visit from her only grandchild. She hasn’t seen her since she was eighteen months old. Neither of us has.’

‘And you think you can just come here and take Daisy away? Just like that? That I’d even allow it?’ Fear rose in her again but she forced it back. ‘She doesn’t know you, Conan.’

‘And whose fault is that?’

‘She doesn’t know you,’ she reiterated, ignoring his censuring demand. ‘Neither of us does.’ Or did, she amended bitterly, reminded of his heartlessness, his lack of compassion—not just towards her, but towards his own brother.

‘I’m the child’s uncle, for Pete’s sake! Not that you’ve ever given her the chance to find out. There have been no photos. No contact. Do you know what that’s been like for Avril? Her
grandmother?
Don’t you think she’s had enough to contend with in losing Niall—without losing his baby daughter as well when you took her away?’

‘I was driven away,’ she breathed fiercely. ‘And you seem
to forget … I lost something too.’ Her eyes were shielded, their lids heavy with the pain of remembering. ‘I lost a husband. And I had to contend with a lot of accusations and blame. Don’t you think I felt bad enough without being made to feel I was responsible for what had happened to him? That I was responsible for his drinking and getting into debt? I knew what you thought of me—both of you. You made it clear often enough that you thought Niall had married beneath him.’

‘I’ve never said that.’

‘You didn’t have to! It was there in every last criticism of everything I said—everything I did. Your mother could scarcely contain her shock at him marrying a barmaid! Albeit a temporary one, until I could get my career on track! But that was the crux of the matter, wasn’t it? You were determined not to like me from the start.’

‘I’m not responsible for my mother. As for me, I only acted on what I observed with my own eyes.’

‘And what was that? Besides my supposed infidelity, that is?’

Condemnation set his features in harsh lines, so that he looked like one of the warring Celts whose blood still pumped through his proud, pulsing veins. ‘You know very well. Niall was weak where money was concerned. He was living above his means and you did nothing but encourage him.’

BOOK: Back in the Lion's Den
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