Isabella Caplan arrives in New York City with one goal. To make hotel magnate Theron Anetakis fall as hard for her as she’s fallen for him. It doesn’t matter that he’s older or that he’s practically engaged. All’s fair in love and war, right?
Theron’s attracted to her, and he’s battling it hard, but Bella isn’t about to make it easy. When one passionate night results in Bella’s lost virginity, Theron proposes. She’s got everything she wanted… almost. She can make him want her, but can she make him love her?
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Isabella eyed Theron suspiciously, wondering if he’d suddenly developed a sense of humor.
“You intend to do what?” she asked.
“You want a husband. After my initial misgivings, I’ve decided it’s a sound idea. A woman in your position can’t be too careful,” he continued, obviously warming to his subject. “So I’ve taken the liberty of drawing up a list of suitable candidates.”
She burst out laughing. She couldn’t help herself. As absurdities went, this might well take the cake.
He blinked in surprise then frowned as she continued to chuckle. “What do you find so amusing?”
She shook her head, the smile not dropping from her lips. “I’m in the city all of two days, and already you’re planning to marry me off. And tell me, what do you mean by a woman in my position can’t be too careful?”
“You’re wealthy, young and beautiful,” he said bluntly. “You’ll have every man between the ages of twenty and eighty plotting to wed and bed you, not necessarily in that order.”
She sat back in mock surprise. “Wow. And not a word about my intelligence, wit or charm. I’m glad to know I don’t plan to wed for superficial reasons.”
Theron sobered then reached over and took her hand. Warmth spread up her arm as his fingers stroked her palm. “This is precisely why I felt I should be involved in your search for a husband. Men will try to take advantage of you by pretending they’re something they’re not. Fortune hunters will pretend they know nothing of your wealth. They’ll be swept away by your kindness and generosity. It’s important that any man we allow close to you to be carefully vetted by myself.”
Her lips twitched, but she dare not laugh. He was utterly serious, and she had to admit that his concern was endearing. It would be quite sweet if he weren’t so intent on marrying her off to another man.
“Don’t be disheartened, pethi mou,” he soothed. “There are many men who would give you the world. It’s a matter of finding the right one.”
It was all she could do not to cringe. If that wasn’t a painful lecture, she’d never heard one.
“You’re right, of course,” she murmured.
Because what else was she going to say? What she really wanted to do was lean over and ask him if he could be that man. But she already knew the answer to that. He couldn’t be that man. At least not yet. Not until he had time to get used to the idea.
Theron smiled his approval and slipped his fingers from hers as he leaned back in his chair. She glanced down at her open hand, regretting the loss of his touch.
“So tell me, what are your requirements in a husband?” he asked indulgently.
She gazed thoughtfully at him, her mind assembling all the things she loved most about him. Then she started ticking items off on her fingers.
“Let’s see. I’d like him to be tall, dark and handsome.”
Theron rolled his eyes. “You’ve described the wishes of half the female population.”
“I also want him to be kind and have a sense of responsibility. As I’d prefer not to have children right away, his agreement on that matter would also be important.”
“You don’t want children?” he asked. He seemed surprised, but then he likely thought all women aspired to pop out a veritable brood as soon as she got a ring on her finger.
“I didn’t say I didn’t want them,” she replied calmly. “Let me guess, you’d want them immediately?”
He arched one brow. “We aren’t discussing me, but yes, I see no reason to wait.”
“That’s because you aren’t the one having them,” she said dryly.
For a moment it looked as though he would laugh, but then he waved his hand and urged her to continue with her wish list.
She pretended to consider for a moment. “I want him to be wealthier than I am so that my money is a non issue.”
Theron nodded his agreement.
Then she let her voice drop, and she leaned forward. “I want him to burn for me, to not be able to go a day without touching me, holding me, caressing me. He’ll be an excellent lover. I want a man who knows how to please me,” she finished in a husky, longing-filled voice.
He stared at her, his eyes sharp. For a moment she imagined that there was answering passion in his eyes as they flickered over her exposed skin.
“Do you not agree that these are things I should expect?” she asked softly as she studied him.
He cleared his throat and looked briefly away. Was she affecting him at all or was he completely immune? No, there was something in his eyes. His entire body emanated sexual awareness. She might be young, but she wasn’t naïve, and she certainly wasn’t stupid when it came to men. She’d certainly had her share of interested parties. She could read harmless, flirty interest, and then there was the dark, brooding intensity of a man whose passions ran deep and powerful.
Never before had she felt the intense magnetism that existed between her and Theron. She’d spent years searching for something that even came close to the budding awareness that had begun in her teenage years.
She’d experimented with college dates. Kisses, the clumsy groping that inevitably led to her showing the guy the door. There was only one who ever came close to coaxing her to give him everything. In the end, it had been him who’d called a stop to their lovemaking. At the time, she’d been embarrassed and certain that she’d made some mistake. He’d kissed her gently, told her that he was greatly honored by the fact that he would be her first, but that perhaps she should save her gift for a man who held a special place in her heart.
Then, she’d seen it as a copout, a man running hard and fast from a woman who obviously equated sex with commitment or at least a deeper relationship. Now, she was just grateful that she hadn’t blithely given away her innocence. Travis was right. Her virginity was special, and she’d only give it to a special man.
She blinked again when she realized Theron was talking to her.
“I think you are wise to place emphasis on… these qualities,” he said uncomfortably. “You wouldn’t want a man who’d mistreat you in any way, and of course you’ll want someone who shares your vision of marriage and a family.”
“But you don’t think I should want a good lover?” she asked with one raised eyebrow.
His eyes gleamed in the flickering lamp situated in the middle of the table. Her breath caught and hung in her chest, painful as her throat tightened. She swallowed at the raw power radiating from him in a low, sensual hum.
“It would indeed be a shame if a man had no idea what to do with a woman such as yourself, Bella.”
He looked up in relief when the waiter came bearing the tray with their food. Isabella, on the other hand, cursed the timing.
Theron surprised her, however, when after the waiter retreated, he caught her eye and murmured in his sexy, accented voice, “your mother died early in your childhood, did she not? Has there been no one else to speak to you about… men?”
She gaped at him in astonishment. Did he honestly think she’d reached the ripe old age of twenty-two without ever hearing the birds and the bees talk? She wasn’t sure who was more horrified, her or Theron. He looked uncomfortable, and hell, so was she.
Picking up her fork, she cut into her fish and speared a perfectly cooked piece. It hit her tongue, and she nearly sighed in appreciation. It was good, and she was starving.
Theron was clearly waiting on her to answer his question. His really ridiculous question aimed more at a fourteen year old, pimply faced girl than a twenty-two year old woman.
“If I say no are you volunteering to head my education?” she asked with a flash of a grin.
He shot an exasperated grimace in her direction. “I’ll take that as a yes that someone has spoken to you of such matters.”
“Next you’ll be offering to buy my feminine products,” she muttered.
He choked on the sip of wine he’d just taken and hurriedly set the glass back down on the table. “You imp. It’s not polite to make someone laugh as they’re taking a drink.”
“I’ll remind you that you started this conversation,” she said dryly.
She watched him take a bite and then wipe his mouth with his napkin. He had really gorgeous lips. Perfect for kissing.
“So I did,” he said with a shrug. “I merely wondered if you’d spoken to another woman about men and husbands and of course which men make the best husbands.”
“And lovers,” she added.
“Yes, of course,” he said in resignation.
She sat back in her seat and stared at him in challenge. “You don’t want the woman you marry to be a good lover?”
He gave her what she could only classify as a look of horror. “No, I damn well do not expect my wife to a good lover. It’s my duty to…” He broke off in a strangled voice. “We’re not discussing my future wife,” he said gruffly.
But her curiosity had been well and truly piqued. She sat forward, and placed her chin in one palm, her food forgotten. “It’s your duty to what?”
“This is not a conversation that is appropriate for us to have,” he said stiffly.
She sighed and nearly rolled her eyes. He sure didn’t mind playing the guardian card when it suited him, and the last thing she wanted was to plant any sort of parent role into his brain. But she desperately wanted to hear just what he considered his duty to be to the woman who’d share his bed.
“You’re my guardian, Theron. Who else can I talk to about such matters?”
He let out a long-suffering sigh and took another sip of his wine. “I don’t expect my wife to be sexually experienced when she comes to my bed. It’s my duty to awaken her passion and teach her everything she needs to know about… lovemaking.”
Isabella wrinkled her nose. “That sounds so medieval. Have you ever considered that she might teach you a thing or two?”
He set the glass down again, a look of astonished outrage on his face. Clearly the thought had never occurred to him that any woman could teach him anything when it came to sex. So he fancied himself a good lover then. She had to fight off a full body shiver. She wanted his hands on her body so badly. She’d be more than willing to be an eager pupil under his tutelage.
“I assure you, there is little a woman could teach me that I am not already well acquainted with,” he said with a thread of arrogance.
“That experienced, huh?”
He grimaced. “I don’t know how our conversation deteriorated to this, but it’s hardly an appropriate conversation between a guardian and his ward.”
And up went the cement wall again. At least he was struggling to put her back on a non threatening level which meant he considered her just that. A threat.
She dug cheerfully into the remainder of her meal, content to let silence settle over the table. Theron watched her, and she let him, making sure not to look up and catch his stare. There was curiosity in his gaze but there was also interest, and not the platonic kind. He might fight it tooth and nail, but his eyes didn’t lie.
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