Heiress Behind the Headlines (7 page)

BOOK: Heiress Behind the Headlines
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“Drink?” Jack was already moving toward the bar in the corner.

“By all means, anesthetize yourself,” she said coolly. “I prefer a clear head while making huge mistakes.”

Jack laughed, and ice cubes rattled against crystal. “Since when?”

She could only take that hit, which she’d walked right in to, and pretend it didn’t sting.

“It’s a recent affectation,” she replied after a moment. “Didn’t you rush to remind me that I just spent time in rehab?”

He threw her a dark, shrewd look. “Are you suggesting you took any of that seriously?” he asked, his voice too even. “You?”

Because that would be impossible,
she thought bitterly. Larissa Whitney could never change. She would never want it, she could never do it even if she did want it, and—more to the point—no one would let her try. Why did she keep telling herself otherwise?

“I don’t see why you’d bother,” he continued far too easily, though when he turned, a tumbler of amber liquid in his hand, there was that dangerous light in his cool brown eyes.

“Maybe I’m following in your footsteps,” she said, forcing herself not to look away. Forcing herself to raise her
brows in challenge. “Maybe I’m refashioning myself, rehabilitating my tarnished image and starting all over. Brand-new. Just like you.”

“I don’t see why,” he said, with an insulting flash of irritation in his gaze, as if he could not possibly imagine that anything she’d just said could have the slightest shred of truth in it. She was too far gone. Too lost.

She thought the same thing often enough, but Larissa found that when
he
concurred, she didn’t like it. Not at all. It made something itchy and hard move through her, kicking the despair out of the way.

“Yes, well,” she murmured, hating him—for a searing moment, even more than she hated herself. “There’s a great deal you don’t see, isn’t there?”

He looked at her for a long moment. The tension between them pulled tight, crushing the air out of the room, out of her lungs. He didn’t cross to her—but then, he didn’t have to. He only kept that cool, too-astute gaze on her, and Larissa had to fight to keep all her rolling, storming emotions inside, locked away.

“I think I see all too clearly,” he said. “You need a new, appropriate fiancé and you think you can manipulate me into doing your bidding. Why not? You’re good at it, and we both know you’ve done it before.”

There was no hint of heat now. There was only that cool assessment, that shattering calm. This, Larissa realized in a kind of panic, was the man he had become in the past five years. Perhaps the man he had always been. And he was not in the least bit blind.

“Did I manipulate you that weekend?” she managed to ask. She thrust aside any notion of Jack Sutton as her fiancé. It was too … much. She made herself smile, as if she felt cocky and amused. “I only remember leaving.”

Something moved across his face then, but still, he only
gazed at her for another long breath. She felt that shaking deep inside her, as if her very foundations stuttered when he was near.

“I will never do anything that might shake my grandfather’s faith in me,” he said and then smirked. “Tenuous as that faith may be, given the way I used to behave. It took me far too long to be the man I should have been, and I won’t give him reason to doubt it. Do you understand me?”

She thought she understood him all too well. It made her feel sick. Despair and shame and a hard kick of temper collided inside her, knotting her stomach.

“Like, for example, if you were seen with the likes of me,” she forced herself to say, amazed at how clear her voice was, at how calm she managed to sound. “That would soil you beyond redemption, surely.”

He only watched her for a moment, as if he was waiting for a certain reaction. A temper tantrum? Something violent and shocking? Or perhaps he thought she might simply roll her eyes and shrug it off? Make some light little remark—make it flirtatious and somehow safe? Or perhaps all of the above?

“I’m sorry if that hurts your feelings,” he said, in the way men did when they were not, in fact, the least bit apologetic. When they were only sorry that you hadn’t genuflected in gratitude as they eviscerated you. “But it’s the simple truth. You won’t get what you want from me, Larissa. Not tonight, not ever. No matter what happens.”

“What is it you think I want?” she asked, her voice a bare thread of sound. “And what do you think I’m willing to do to get it?”

And Jack only smiled, those dark eyes burning into her, the heat between them unmistakable. He stood there, so impossibly beautiful and so cruel, so confident that he could insult her like this, that she thought so little of herself that
she would take it. That she would even use her body to try to sway him to her side—because he believed this was all some grand scheme of hers. That she was as obsessed with fortunes and spread sheets and inheritances as her family was—as he was.

That she would prostitute herself for it.

Another flash of temper ignited in her, setting off a chain—a wildfire. She had to take a breath to keep from letting it out in a scream of fury. At him, for believing such a thing. At herself, for having lived the kind of life that allowed for that impression.

She had never really gotten mad before, not really. She had always made certain to be too numb for that kind of thing. She’d always pushed unpleasant emotions off into other things—hidden them, or translated them into some other behavior, or acted them out in some other, inappropriate way.

But she wasn’t that person anymore, no matter what Jack Sutton seemed to think. She wasn’t. She wouldn’t be.

There was something freeing, she thought in some detached part of her brain, that she could be
this
angry at
this
man right here, right now, in
this
moment. Surely that was progress, however scraped raw she felt.

But she knew, on some deep level, that simply screaming at him was not the answer. He would only see it as some kind of confirmation. So she forced herself to take a breath, and then she bared her teeth at him, not her pretty little public smile at all.

“I don’t see the point of this conversation,” she said. “If you’re not going to play, why get in the game at all?”

“I want to see how far you’ll go,” he said at once—too quickly, she thought. His dark eyes were condemning now. His mouth twisted. “I want to see just how little shame you really have, Larissa.”

God, how she hated him. What a hypocrite he was. As if his own past didn’t look remarkably like her own! But if he wanted to play a game of chicken, she could do that, too. Because she knew that he was no more in control of the electricity sizzling between them than she was. She remembered that, if nothing else. And clearly he remembered it, too, or why else would he have brought her here to punish her?

He wasn’t the only one who could call a bluff.

She stood then, slowly. Sinuously. Making sure his eyes tracked her every move—and smiling when they did.

“I’m shameless,” she told him huskily, meeting his gaze. “But you know that already.”

She hooked her fingers beneath the soft wool of her sweater, and then pulled it up and over her head.

She heard a quiet curse. And then the sweater was off. She tossed it to the side and then she stood naked to the waist before him, without so much as a bra between them. She’d never needed one, and so her breasts jutted out, proud and full as the cooler air caressed them, and she felt more powerful in that moment than she had in years. Like some kind of avenging goddess, the kind men like Jack Sutton should know better than to toy with.

“Put on your clothes,” he rasped at her, a harsh command.

But she could see the bright, hard desire that glittered fierce and wild in his dark eyes. She could see the way his body tightened, the long, corded muscles in his neck and the long lines of his powerful body pulling taut. The way he clenched his hands. He tossed back the rest of his drink with a quick jerk and then slapped the tumbler down on the nearest table—but he didn’t move away from her.

“Poor Jack,” she taunted him, glorying in his weakness, thrilled that she could use it as a weapon against him—that
she had any weapon at all. “There are so few things you want that you can’t have, aren’t there? Too bad for you I’m one of them.”

CHAPTER FIVE

“Y
OU’VE
lost your mind,” Jack bit out icily, ordering himself to step away from her—though he did not move so much as an inch. He made his voice even colder, even crueler. She should have frozen where she stood—but instead she seemed to shimmer with more heat than the fire in the fireplace. “I’ve already had everything you’re offering. You’re embarrassing yourself.”

But she was Larissa Whitney, and he should have remembered that she could not be embarrassed. That she was incapable of feeling such a thing. There was a hard look in her emerald eyes, more like precious stones tonight than he remembered them being before. She only smirked at him, and leaned back against the arm of the sofa, putting that lithe, lush little body of hers on display.

And he, God help him, could not look away. She was as perfect as he remembered. Her skin looked like spun sugar, peaches and cream, and the warm vanilla scent of her rose in the air, making him uncomfortably hard. Ready. He wanted to pull her into his arms. He wanted to suck those pert, dark nipples into his mouth, and lick them until she writhed against him. He wanted to make her climax, screaming his name.

But he wouldn’t allow himself to do anything like that,
no matter how hard he was. No matter how much he wanted her. She was toxic.

“I’m not embarrassed,” she said, her voice so disarmingly, distractingly sweet. Just one more of her lies, he told himself. Harshly. “Isn’t this what you wanted? Me—naked and prostrate before you? Begging for your help so you can piously, self-righteously turn me away?” That crook of her lips twisted further, and something seemed to twist in him, too. “Or maybe you don’t like to do things halfway,” she murmured suggestively, and her delicate hands went to the low-slung fly of her jeans.

“Stop!” The word was out before Jack knew he meant to speak, ringing in the air between them. Her eyes narrowed, and he realized with an uncomfortable start that she was very, very angry.

“I don’t understand,” she said, her voice too crisp. Too pointed. It made something hard and uncomfortable move through him. “How am I supposed to trap you with my wiles and complete lack of self-respect if my clothes stay on?”

That sat there for a moment between them, ugly and unobscured. Jack felt his teeth grind against the mounting tension, against his own urge to close the distance between them and finish this conversation in a far more direct manner.

“What do you want, Larissa?” he demanded. Because he could not have what he wanted from her, and if he was the kind of man he was supposed to be, he wouldn’t want it. Her.

“I thought you already knew,” she threw at him. “I thought you just took great pleasure in telling me. You, on your high horse, because you decided to change your life and everyone played along. Lucky you. It must be nice to breathe such rarified air.” She straightened from the couch,
all elegant lines and tempting flesh, and made everything worse by stepping even closer, her hands wide at her sides. “Well, here I am, Jack. Prostituting myself. Just as you predicted.” Her head tilted to one side. “But if I’m a prostitute, what, I wonder, does that make you?”

“You said I couldn’t have you,” he reminded her, trying to keep himself from reaching over and putting his hands on her. “And yet now you’re half-naked and prostituting yourself? Which is it?”

“You all but called me a whore,” she snapped at him. “Yet you’re the one who kissed me. You’re the one who can’t keep his hands to himself. At the end of the day, I’m still the one who walked away from you.”

“It would be smarter not to keep reminding me of that,” he told her, too softly, denying the kick of temper in his gut. “It’s not one of my favorite memories of you.” He could pretend as well as she could, he told himself. That he was angry simply about her presence here, in his one sacred space in all the world. That he would feel the same about any other specter of the New York social scene.

“Isn’t that what this is all about?” she demanded. Again, that hard, glittering look in her usually sad eyes. “Isn’t that what makes you so bound and determined to lord yourself over me? I had the temerity to walk out on the great Jack Endicott Sutton. A dirty, shameless whore like me.”

He hated those words. That she would use them, that she meant them. That she believed he thought them. More than that, he had the strangest urge to protect her from them, as if they were blows. He wanted to make her take them back. He didn’t know what the source of that feeling was, but it washed over him like another kick of temper.

“I never called you a whore—” he began.

“Didn’t you?” Her eyes flashed at him, green fire. And still she stood there so nonchalantly, gloriously half-naked,
and he wanted her so badly he ached with it. He found himself drifting closer. She only watched him, a certain sharp amusement and a deeper anger clashing in her gaze. It should not have felt like an aphrodisiac.

“Larissa.” His hands bunched into fists at his sides—when he knew he could simply reach over now and cup those small, delectable breasts in his palms. “Put that sweater back on.”

“I’ve worn less than this on the covers of magazines,” she said with a sniff, moving her hips in a way that made her whole body sway—and made his mouth run dry. “When did you become such a prude?”

When you walked onto my island,
he thought grimly.
When you walked back into my life. I don’t even care why you’re here, I just—

But he could not allow himself to finish that thought.

He reached down and scooped up her sweater, holding it out toward her, more or less ordering her to take it from him. The back of his hand brushed the silky skin just south of her collarbone, sending sensation rioting through him. She inhaled, sharply, and he felt it as if she’d used that mouth directly on him.

They stared at each other, the air itself erotic all around them, the tension unbearable.

BOOK: Heiress Behind the Headlines
7.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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