Authors: Jessica Gray
This is a work of fiction. All characters, names, and places in this book exist only within the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons or locations is purely coincidental.
Surprised by Love – The Armstrongs Book 4
All Rights Reserved
Copyright © 2015 Jessica Gray
This book is copyrighted and protected by copyright laws.
No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without prior written permission from the author.
All characters, names, and places in this book exist only within the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons or locations is purely coincidental.
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Douglas Armstrong rolled over and opened his eyes, squinting until the clock on the bedside table came into view. Three a.m. It took him a moment to remember where he was.
Right. I’m in Kuala Lumpur
He glared at the clock on the bedside table again. Back home, it was now four p.m. – yesterday.
The flight between Chicago and Kuala Lumpur had been over twenty-seven hours long, including layovers and plane changes. He’d lost almost an entire day travelling, and his head ached something fierce.
Wide awake now, he got up and opened his laptop, preparing to get in a few hours of work, but he couldn’t concentrate.
Jet lag? Or something else?
Closing his laptop, he got up and paced to the large window. There was just too much going on inside his head.
His suitcase sat, still unpacked, in one corner of the serviced apartment that would be his home for the next few weeks. It was nothing special, a modernly furnished one-bedroom apartment, a fully equipped kitchen and a bathroom with shower and tub. It was perfect for his stay here. It provided more space and comfort than a hotel room, but had the same amenities.
There was only one thing about the apartment that puzzled him – none of the windows could be opened. He’d found that slightly disconcerting as he was the type of guy who liked having fresh air blowing through his space. The night before it had been only a slight annoyance, but this morning, it bothered him. A lot.
He wasn’t in the mood to unpack his suitcase. That could wait. He’d been too tired to check out the building last night, but he knew there was a gym upstairs.
Might as well go up to the gym and get in a workout. I’ll be able to concentrate much better after that.
He grabbed some workout clothes from his suitcase in the living room and pulled on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. Returning to the bedroom, he pulled on socks and then fastened his tennis shoes on his feet.
The elevator took him up to the top floor of the building, which housed the gym, a sundeck with a swimming pool and plenty of sun chairs and loungers for those who wished to worship the sun and get a tan.
When he stepped off the elevator, he had to stop for a moment and stare out the glass walls across the skyline of Kuala Lumpur. A magnificent view! The sky was still dark, but the city lights sparkled in white, green, red, yellow and lilac. Even at that time of the night, the streets were bustling with cars.
The workout gym with state of the art equipment lay to his right, and he stepped into the workout area, not surprised to see that he was the only one making use of the equipment this early in the morning.
What did you expect at this hour?
Normal people are still sleeping.
He worked out steadily for over an hour, pushing his muscles a little extra. As he’d intended, the physical exercise calmed his thoughts and his headache slowly disappeared. When he finished, he grabbed a towel off a rack and then pulled open the door, which led to the sundeck and pool beyond.
Almost immediately, he felt his breathe seize in his lungs as he struggled to adjust to the hot humid air.
Inside the air conditioned workout area, he had been unaware of how miserable it actually was outside. The idea of getting fresh air suddenly didn’t seem that good anymore. Even at five-thirty in the morning, the air outside was like a physical assault. His body, already heated from the exercise, broke out in a sweat. He didn’t even want to think about how miserable it would be once the sun came up.
Douglas stepped completely outside, taking shallow breaths as his lungs adjusted to the raging humidity. It was overwhelming compared to what he was used to back in Chicago. Back there, autumn had come, and the weather had already cooled off considerably.
But the breathtaking view compensated for the humidity. The gorgeous infinity pool spread before him. The edges of the pool disappeared and gave the appearance that the water wasn’t contained inside the walls of a structure. Instead, it seem to flow seamlessly into the breathtaking skyline with the landmark Petronas Towers rising up behind the pool.
He inhaled deeply and remembered his arrival in Kuala Lumpur yesterday afternoon. He’d stepped out of the airport and had smelled the lush tropical plants. The mass of people, everywhere he looked, had amazed him.
His thought had been typically American –
guess I’m not in Chicago anymore.
Taking another breath, he decided to take a plunge into the pool before heading back to his apartment. The water looked so inviting, and the sun was just starting to come up over the city, giving the sky a wash of colors that ranged from oranges, purples, and pinks. He kicked off his shoes and pulled his t-shirt over his head.
The pool was tiled, almost in a mosaic style, with small individual blues and aquamarines stones that gave the basin a pleasant and inviting appearance. Surrounding the pool, and bordering the edges of the rooftop, was a clear glass wall that rose up several feet above the water’s surface.
Before he could stop it, his mind was in ‘working mode’. Constructions were his passion and his work, although he’d never before built an infinity pool. His curiosity awoke, and he wanted to experience the amazing effect of sitting in the pool and looking out over the city.
With this task in mind, he dove into the pool and then rose, shaking the water from his face as he did so. The water was cool and refreshing. Exactly what he’d needed. He swam to the edge and had a moment of vertigo as he looked down from the brink. He focused on the sky and the streaks of color growing brighter by the moment. It was a glimpse of heaven, he felt sure of it.
Just when he was about to finish, he heard a splash behind him. Curious about the new swimmer, he treaded water as a woman rose from beneath the water and began swimming laps the long length of the pool. She moved fluidly, at one with the water. And she was fast. Very fast.
I’m sure I can keep pace with her.
Douglas tried to get her attention, wanting to get a better look at her facial features, but she blatantly ignored him. He swam faster, but so did she. He tried to keep up with her, but every time he almost caught her, she increased her speed again. After thirty minutes, he was exhausted and forced to stop to catch his breath.
Damn, how can that woman beat me?
He paused mid-pool to catch his breath and watched as she poured on even more speed, racing ahead of him to the edge of the water, where she quickly left the water.
Douglas looked up at her and gasped.
She’s the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever seen.
His eyes traveled her slender and firm legs. Legs that went on forever. Her light skin almost glowed against the morning sky and he became aware of the effect she had on him.
She was wearing a dark blue one piece swimsuit, which covered her entire torso, but on her it was the most sensual swimsuit he’d ever seen. It was simple, sporty, but enhanced her figure perfectly. It was skin tight and left nothing to his imagination.
When he felt her eyes on him, he raised his eyes to her beautiful face and caught her staring back at him. Before he could speak or get out of the pool himself, she gathered up her towel and quickly headed into the changing rooms.
He hadn’t been able to get a good look at her face, she’d still been wearing her swim goggles. But that didn’t deter from the beauty of what he had seen. The most amazing woman. Her long blonde hair fell down past her shoulders, the long lengths dripping water down her body. She was so sexy; she took his breath away.
When she disappeared inside the building, he felt disappointed. He’d hurried to the edge and was partially out of the water. If he was quick enough, he could say hello, but no such luck. She ignored him and ran off.
As he dried off, he decided that he would come back tomorrow morning, and every morning thereafter until he saw her again. He had to see her again.
He draped the towel around his shoulders, picked up his clothes and headed towards the elevator.
Antonia Barkin – or Toni as she was known to her friends – stood under the rainfall shower trying to clear her head.
Who was that man in the pool?
She closed her eyes as the water ran over her face and an image of him immediately appeared. He was by far the hunkiest man she’d ever seen. He’d shown a definite interest in her.
She’d glanced at his legs and thighs under water, while he was pacing her, and found herself transfixed by the power and strength he displayed. So much, she almost hadn’t been able to continue swimming. Well over six-feet tall, he had a shock of dark brown hair and a broad muscular back, he proved to be in excellent physical shape. And his arms. She’d always been a sucker for a man with strong, firm arms and a broad chest.
Despite the cold water raining down on her, she felt her body heat as she remembered the blatant interest in his eyes. He’d practically devoured her, and she’d felt his stare even under the water.
Toni poured shampoo into her hand and massaged it into her hair, thinking how glad she was that she’d been wearing her goggles.
At least I had a little protection from his scrutinizing stare. God, he looked at me as if I’d been completely naked.
She couldn’t remember having felt so exposed in front of a man, especially when she’d been clothed. Well, not exactly fully clothed, but all the important parts had been covered, with the minor detail that a skin tight bathing suit left little to the imagination. She was glad she’d chosen to wear a one piece suit instead of a bikini, but she also knew that with it clinging to her every curve, he would have had no trouble learning every line and curve on her body.
She rinsed the soap from her hair and then applied some conditioner. Closing her eyes again, she tried to remember a time when a man’s gaze had affected her so strongly.
Her favorite sport was swimming, and she’d practiced it regularly for most of her life. She considered herself to be in excellent shape and being seen by men in a bathing suit wasn’t unusual. There was no reason to be self-conscious about her body.
And yet, beneath his stare, she’d felt so vulnerable. Sexy, but vulnerable in a way that had her heart racing and her brain questioning their brief encounter.
His gaze hadn’t tried to hide his interest, or the fact that he liked what he saw. Strangely enough, knowing that he found her sexy had aroused her. Even in the cool water, she’d felt the heat rushing through her body.
When she’d tried to swim away, he’d paced her in the pool, and each time she’d caught sight of him, little bolts of energy had pulsed through her body. She hadn’t had that type of reaction to a man since…forever.
Heck, she hadn’t had a relationship in more than two years. Earlier, as she was just beginning her career, she’d tried having liaisons with colleagues or other ex-pats she would meet. But they never lasted. They were shallow, built on nothing more than a fleeting attraction or momentary loneliness. Toni didn’t like shallow. She preferred no relationship at all to one that would soon be forgotten.
She hadn’t even missed it. She was what most people would consider a workaholic, working seventy to eighty hour most weeks. Her job kept her moving all the time.
I’m not cut out for relationships. Not my thing. Not a real loss because I probably can’t love someone anyways.
Her life had been living proof of that.
The only people she’d gone out with socially in the last two years were colleagues and clients, and after her first year in the business, and some not so bright experiences, she’d placed both types into the ‘no-go’ relationship category. It just made for problems down the road. Better steer clear. No clients. No co-workers. Less trouble.
And yet she couldn’t take her mind off of the man in the pool.
He moved with the elegance and force of an albatross in the water. I wonder if he moves with that same controlled energy and grace on land.
She turned the shower off and reached for a towel. A part of her had wanted to stop swimming and see what would happen if she let him get close to her in the water. But she hadn’t given into the temptation. No need to complicate things. She was here for a few months at most and probably would never see him again.
Wrapping a towel around her hair, she used another one to dry the water from her body, scolding herself in the process.
Toni, stop thinking about that man. In any way! You’re here for business. Not pleasure.
She stepped up in front of the mirror and grimaced at her reflection. She had a meeting with Douglas Armstrong this morning and needed to focus!
Stop thinking about that stranger from the pool.
Toni was due in his office at nine a.m., and based upon the information she’d been given by her colleagues at the bank, the meeting would be tense. She worked for Asia Bank as a business consultant and financial controller.
The bank had given Douglas’s company a huge loan and demanded he work with a loan manager of their choosing. Clients never liked that part of the contract, but according to her colleagues, this man had been downright hostile in his opinion.
Great! Just what I need to start a new job – a man who wants to get rid of me from the get go. He won’t even wait until I’ve earned his resentment.
Donning a robe, she stepped out of the changing room, but not without first making sure he wasn’t lingering around the pool area anymore. In a rush, she entered the elevator and punched the button to her floor. It wasn’t until she entered her serviced apartment that she relaxed and breathed normally again.
She headed for the kitchen and put a teakettle with water on the stove to make herself some tea. A habit she’d picked up several years ago while working in China. Drinking tea was the perfect medicine for many little ailments, and it always helped to calm her nerves.
While she waited for the water to heat, she began unpacking her suitcase and putting things away in the dresser and closet. She’d been too tired yesterday to manage the small task.
Hearing the teakettle, she picked up the empty suitcases and carried them back into the living space, stowing them inside the small coat closet.
Two suitcases. That’s the sum total of my life.
She shook her head to dispel the irony of that observation. She managed multi-million dollar loans, and yet all she owned fit into two small suitcases.
She possessed a few larger pieces of furniture and a handful of boxes she kept in long-term storage back in the States, but those weren’t things she would have used every day.
No, her every day belongings fit neatly into two small suitcases. They weren’t even over-sized bags. Just normal every day suitcases.
She chose which tea she’d drink and carefully placed it into tea strainer, put the strainer into a cup and poured the hot water. While she waited for it to steep, she walked over to the window and looked out over the city skyline.
Her lack of material possessions didn’t upset her. It just was. With her lifestyle, she couldn’t be dragging around lots of stuff. She’d lived in fifteen different countries in the last six years. Toni sighed and returned for her teacup.
I don’t even have a place to call home.
She took a sip of the hot beverage and sighed again. Her life was exciting and glamorous. And fun! She absolutely loved her work, and there was always plenty of it. More than enough to satisfy her need to work all the time. But in the last few months, she’d felt an emptiness creeping into her soul. She couldn’t pinpoint the feeling, but something was missing in her life. Just what?
Glancing at the clock, she realized it was time to get ready for her first meeting with her new client. A new project. Like always, she was excited. Every new project had that effect on her. But something was different this time; she felt a fatigue in her mind that she hadn’t experienced before.
The need to slow down? Take a break?
Toni quickly dismissed those thoughts; her fatigue probably stemmed from having travelled the day before.
At least you know something about the city this time.
The headquarters of Asia Bank were in Kuala Lumpur and she came her every few months for a week or so. It was her favorite city in Asia and she knew that her love for the city would ease the way for this new project.
And Tricia, her best friend, lived here. Thinking of seeing her friend made her feel better. Yes, this would be a good trip. A good job. Things wouldn’t be nearly as complicated this time around. Surely.