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Authors: Lauren Smith

Climax

CLIMAX

HER BRITISH STEPBROTHER

Lauren Smith

New York Boston

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For my brother Grant, he reminds me every day to chase my dreams and always supports me because he's one wonderful guy.

T
hey're not going to find out about us.” A deep masculine voice cut through Kat Roberts's muddled thoughts.

She jerked her gaze away from the street view through the town house's kitchen window. It didn't feel like home, but it was her father's fiancée's house, and she would be coming here for future holidays while studying at Cambridge. She would have to get used to it, even the servants appearing around the corner unexpectedly. Maybe after a while it would feel like home if she spent enough time here.

“Kat.” That voice, with its sexy British accent, was the reason she'd gotten into this mess. That voice and its owner were completely irresistible, impossibly seductive.

A tall, dark, and sexy dream. No woman could resist that. She hadn't been able to. Since their kiss in the middle of a pub one snowy night, she'd been falling hopelessly in love with him more and more each passing day. With a man she couldn't have.

Tristan Kingsley
. He was a twenty-five-year-old bad boy, a business student at Cambridge, and the future Earl of Pembroke. He was a heartbreaker, and she couldn't stay out of his bed. But most importantly, he was her future stepbrother. Her father had just gotten engaged to his mother, and they were planning their wedding, much to Kat's and Tristan's dismay.

If Dad finds out I've been sleeping with my future stepbrother…

Tristan cleared his throat. “Don't worry. I promise no one will know.”

When she looked his way, her mouth went dry and her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth, making it hard to form words. He always had that effect on her, and she finally understood that expression about a man being a tall drink of water. He made her thirsty just looking at him.

He was leaning one hip against the kitchen counter, arms crossed over his chest. The black trousers showed off his long, muscled legs, and the white dress shirt he wore was unrestrained by a tie, the open collar revealing his throat. She loved to grip that collar when she dragged his head down for a kiss. She glimpsed the sensitive patch of skin she'd spent last night kissing because it made his hips jerk when he was inside her. But her feelings for him were so much more than just physical.

There was something about him, the way he stood at ease, yet every part of his body was hard as steel, like he carried the burden of the responsibility for others on his shoulders. Tristan tried to hide that part of himself when he was with her, but she sensed it was never far from the surface. His sculpted features were undeniable in their beauty and brought to life by his intense, often quiet study of the world around him. He had an air that said he was a cut above others, but what she'd thought was arrogance was actually confidence. She loved that he wasn't afraid to be himself in a world that put too much pressure on a person being someone they weren't. His strength gave her strength, too, which was something she desperately needed after yesterday.

When they'd gone to Harrods to buy a Christmas tree for his mother's town house, paparazzi had tracked Tristan down inside the store. Kat had been overwhelmed by the flashing cameras and questions shouted, but Tristan had kept his calm, and they'd hidden in a broom closet until the reporters lost them.

She'd tasted the pressures of Tristan's position and the nonstop involvement of the news in his personal life. It was apparent that she didn't fit into his glittering world of titled men and women with grand estates, lofty expectations, and an existence that was open to public scrutiny.

Yet when they kissed…well, it was a case of a match meeting a keg of gunpowder, and all the fears and worries of not belonging with him faded away. She just went up in flames whenever he touched her. No man had ever made her feel so wild…so alive. She couldn't walk away from him, even knowing how risky their situation was. She and Tristan weren't blood related, but her dad would freak out if he found his nineteen-year-old daughter sleeping with a man like Tristan. He was a notorious playboy who'd broken hearts and spent nights in the beds of some of London's most famous bachelorettes.

He was her sex god. The man who made every hot, wild fantasy come true. And she was not supposed to be with him.

It was a nightmare.

“What are we going to do?” Kat slumped into a chair at the kitchen table. The house was quiet this early in the morning, except for the occasional creaks and groans of the wood settling.

“We'll explain the photos, but we'll keep the truth about us buried.” Tristan pushed away from the counter and took the chair beside her. It seemed so easy for him to talk about hiding their relationship. She knew he didn't take this as seriously as she did. She was falling in love with him, but he wasn't in love with her. This was more of a game for him, a sexy game of hide-and-seek. But the stakes were too high now. Their dirty little secret had just gone public because of the photos.

The photos
.

If only there hadn't been evidence, they might've kept their relationship secret a little while longer. A photographer named Jillian had talked them into portraying Snow White and Prince Charming in a fairy-tale-themed charity photo competition at Harrods department store. The set had been lifelike, a glass coffin shimmering with frost and snow. She'd rested her head on a white satin pillow and lay waiting for Tristan to kiss her awake. As magical as that experience had been for her, the fallout had been worse than she could have imagined.

The photographer had led them to believe the winning photo would not be made public and that the stills would be seen only in her portfolio. Early this morning, the winner had been announced on TV. Their photo in a snowy glen, their mouths a hairsbreadth apart from a kiss, their eyes locked in desire and longing, with
SOME LOVES LAST FOREVER
beneath them, was going to be plastered on every flat surface in London from bus stops to billboards.

How would she explain this to her dad? The last thing Kat wanted to do was create a problem between her father and Tristan's mom.

“Did you call Jillian?” she asked Tristan.

“I did call her. She said it would blow over soon. She didn't think they'd do a news feature about it.” Tristan scrubbed a hand though his dark hair and sighed. “Maybe we'll get lucky and Prince Harry will visit Las Vegas again and the press will chase him for a bit and lose interest in us.” Tristan's laugh was hollow.

Her heart gave a little tug inside her chest. He looked defeated and anxious. From the moment she'd met him, he'd been cool and seductive and playful. A force of nature in some ways. Nothing had cut through that hardened bad-boy exterior.

Until me
. She'd pushed him away twice, trying to deny the intense attraction between them, but she'd only made them both miserable. She'd decided that being with Tristan was worth all the consequences, so she'd asked him to come home from his father's estate. They'd spent all night in bed. It was the kind of lovemaking that changed a person's life forever.

Then they'd woken up to this nightmare. Jillian's photo was everywhere, and the story was out. Their parents would connect the dots.

“We'll tell them a half-truth.” Tristan reached under the table and placed a reassuring hand on her thigh. It was a sensual touch, but she could see in his eyes he wasn't thinking about sex.

The wildfire that burned between them was unstoppable, and the intensity had deepened in a way she'd never imagined. The attraction that had drawn her to him like a moth to a flame was growing. Her beautiful, brooding Tristan, with his guarded heart, was trying to comfort her. It wasn't just about sex anymore. Even if he didn't love her, he cared for her, and that was enough for now. And that was why she adored him, because even though the lust burning between them was unrelenting, he also cared about her, proving that he wasn't just thinking about sex, not when she was worried about other things.

How do we get out of this mess?

“What will we tell them?”

“We couldn't say no to a charity event. We just did what the photographer told us to.” He leaned over and pressed his lips against her neck. Tiny waves of comfort from that slow, tender brush of his mouth overrode her panic, if only for a moment. Tristan's kisses made her fall through time and space until she lost herself in his private universe.

“I'll tell them first thing. If we're open about it, they won't think we're hiding anything. Trust me, Kat.” He cupped her face, and just like that, she was trapped in his blue-green gaze.

“I trust you.” And she did.

“Good.” He pressed a featherlight kiss to her lips, then jerked away as the kitchen door opened.

Tristan's mother, Lizzy, stood there, eyes darting between the two of them. Her long blond hair was pulled back in a fashionable chignon and she was dressed for the cold weather, her gloves damp with snow and her boots shiny with water.

“Tristan! When did you get back? I thought you were going to stay with Edward for the remainder of the holidays.”

“Well, I was half-tempted to tell Father to stuff it, but then I decided I didn't care to speak to him about it all and just came back here without telling him. I'd much rather be with you for Christmas.”

Lizzy's shoulders dropped in relief. “I hope your father doesn't get too angry.”

They all hoped that. Tristan's coldhearted father was continually dragging Tristan home to the Pembroke estate whenever it suited him, regardless of Tristan's plans. He'd risked his father's fury coming home earlier than he promised, and Kat still feared that Tristan would suffer for it.

“I saw the most unusual…photograph this morning.” Lizzy's face turned red as her gaze darted to Kat and then back to her son, betraying the nature of her thoughts. She fidgeted slightly, her lips parting as she licked them nervously.

Kat blinked, then swallowed hard as she took in Lizzy's attire and realized Lizzy must've already gone out, which meant she had seen…

Tristan stood, smoothed his sweater, and offered his mother a smile. “You saw the charity photograph, didn't you? You see, it's quite the story. Kat and I were Christmas tree shopping, and a photographer begged us to be models for the shoot. We felt obligated to aid her, for charity, of course. Isn't that right, Kat?” His tone implied she ought to join in their little game of secrets.

Secrets
. She hated them, but she wanted Tristan, at any cost.

Kat got to her feet, keeping a safe distance from Tristan, even though she wanted to reach for his hand.

“Yes. Jillian was very sweet. We couldn't turn her down, even when she told us we'd have to reenact Snow White. We're happy she won the contest. There were two other photographers involved in the fairy-tale photo shoots.” She did her best not to sound too falsely excited.

“Oh?” Lizzy's voicing of that one syllable seemed to be a challenge—not a threatening one, but a worried one.

“Yes, the whole situation was far too awkward, but we endured it for the sake of charity, didn't we, Kat?” Tristan walked over to the fridge as he spoke and retrieved a pitcher of orange juice, calmly pouring himself a glass.

Lying seemed so easy for him, but it wasn't for her. Her palms got sweaty and she licked her lips every time Lizzy looked at her.

“Well, it was certainly nice of you to help with something that goes toward a good cause.” Lizzy continued to stare at Kat, her brow furrowed, apparently deep in thought, but she was stopped from saying anything further when Kat's father strolled into the kitchen.

He was smiling and humming.

“Only one day until Christmas,” he announced, and leaned over to press a kiss to Lizzy's cheek before he hugged Kat. “Morning, sweetheart.” Then he nodded at Tristan. “Tristan, back from your father's for Christmas?”

“Yes. I got in late last night and didn't want to wake anyone.” Tristan inclined his head; then his gaze darted to Kat.

“Everyone have their shopping done?” Clayton asked.

Lizzy cleared her throat. “Actually, I need to grab a few things. Kat, would you like to join me?”

“Mum, I could take you—” Tristan took a small step toward his mother, as though to protect Kat from her.

“I'd love to go,” Kat said. With a hand on Tristan's hip, she nudged him aside. He moved reluctantly. If she had to pick a parent to be around for the next few hours, Lizzy was a lot less scary than her dad when it came to keeping her secrets.

“Kat, how much time do you need to get ready? I'm able to leave as soon as you are.” Lizzy already held a casual black clutch purse in one hand.

“A few minutes. I just need to grab my shopping list.” She glanced at her father and then Tristan before bolting for the door.

Heart racing, she ran up the stairs and slid to a halt just inside the room. Blood pounded in her head, drumming against her temples. Keeping secrets had never been a talent of hers. She'd never had actual secrets to safeguard before, and now she had the mother of all secrets building into a violent storm inside her.

The question was, who would survive the fallout?

She'd taken two steps farther into her room, when a hand settled on her waist from behind and she sucked in a little shriek. Another hand clamped around her mouth, cutting off the sound. A tall, lean, muscled body pressed against her back.

“Shh…You have to calm down, Kat.” Tristan's too-sexy accented voice rumbled against her right ear, his breath tickling the fine hairs on her skin. He was so warm…and hard behind her. The pounding of his heart tapped against her back between the thin layer of their clothes, and she felt that inexorable pull toward him.

Like gravity. God, the man was the personification of sinful temptation. She never stood a chance.

He dropped his hand from her mouth. He dominated her whenever he touched her, and she craved that more than anything. She leaned back against him, absorbing his heat and strength. Being with him, even secretly, made her feel so alive, so feminine and sexy, but it wasn't just about the sex.

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