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A Ruthless Proposition(8)

By:Natasha Anders

She was ridiculously grateful to him for handling the situation even though he had made her the butt of the joke to do so. The incident was soon forgotten, but as the dishes grew progressively more unappetizing—gah! sea urchin—her queasiness and exhaustion made her feel more ill with every passing moment. Lunch stretched on for ages, and when it finally ended, Cleo, who had barely touched a morsel, had a huge headache and felt a little punch-drunk.

“Miss Knight, contact the driver and head back to the hotel to draft those e-mails we discussed earlier,” Dante said as the group got up from the booth. She stared up at him blankly, wondering what she’d missed this time. He waved the other three ahead of them, and Cleo tried to focus on his face and what he was saying, which was difficult when she felt like a zombie.

“I’m sorry, I don’t recall the e-mails you’re referring to,” she said, hating to reinforce his already low opinion of her.

“There are no e-mails, Knight. Go back to the hotel, take a shower, order room service, and get some sleep. The jet lag, combined with the busy evening and”—his eyes darkened and his voice lowered sexily—“exhausting night you had yesterday, has taken a toll on you. Rest up. I need you to be more alert tomorrow.”

Oh, thank God.

“Thank you, sir,” she whispered, for once feeling something akin to affection and gratitude toward the man.

“Go on now, Knight,” he said, the words brusque and the tone businesslike. “Before I change my mind.”

She resisted the impish urge to salute, and after he’d followed the other three people out onto the humid, bustling sidewalk, she got out her cell phone to contact the driver.

Half an hour later, she was back in the air-conditioned splendor of the car and happily chatting with the driver, Daisuke. He spoke fluent English and very sweetly pointed out a few of the interesting sights to her, giving her a brief history lesson while he was at it. Cleo was disappointed when they arrived back at the hotel. She was tempted to venture out on her own, since she had this unexpected free time, but hunger and exhaustion had really taken their toll on her, and by the time she got back to her room, she was dragging so badly that eating didn’t even occur to her. She discarded her clothes on her way to the bed and fell facedown onto the covers. She was asleep seconds later.

“Miss Knight?” The regrettably familiar masculine voice resonated through Cleo’s pleasant dream. She frowned and turned away from it, happily rejoining the cotton-candy sheep she’d been frolicking with just moments before. The sheep were cute, friendly, and delicious . . . she took a bite out of a particularly friendly fellow’s sugary-pink fleece and relished the sweetness. The sheep baaed and—“Miss Knight!”

“Sheep can’t talk,” she muttered.

“What?” the voice asked impatiently. Cleo sighed and reluctantly opened her eyes.

“Oh. It’s you,” she groused when she met her boss’s intense gaze. She blew her hair out of her face and pushed herself up, only to realize she was wearing just a pair of panties and no bra and didn’t have so much as a sheet covering her. She squeaked and grabbed a pillow to cover her front. She scampered back against the headboard and pulled her knees up to her chest, sandwiching the pillow between her lap and torso. She glared at Dante, who stared back at her impassively from his position at the foot of her bed.

“I’ve seen it all in exquisite detail before,” he reminded her, and she blushed.

“What are you doing in my room?”

“The concierge told me you didn’t order any room service, and Daisuke informed me that you didn’t stop for food en route to the hotel.”

“And?” she asked belligerently, despite the fact that his words brought her hunger screaming painfully back.

“I ordered you a late dinner. I figured you might want to freshen up or something before it got here.”

“A late dinner?” she repeated, trying hard not to be charmed by that sweet gesture. It was the least he could do, after all, since he was the reason she was starving in the first place. “What time is it?”

“Just after midnight. I got in about half an hour ago.”

“The meeting ran that late?” she asked, surprised.

“No, but we got a lot done, and the Japanese wanted to celebrate with a night on the town followed by some . . .” He grimaced and then shook his head. “Never mind.”

Intrigued by the slight flush darkening his cheekbones, she leaned forward, forgetting momentarily that only a pillow shielded her from his view.

“Followed by some what?” She pictured strip clubs or those hostess bars she’d read up on, maybe something even kinkier. What else could make him look so uncomfortable?

“Nothing. It’s none of your business,” he dismissed rudely, but sitting there nearly completely nude, groggy from hours of sleep, and with the room only half-lit, Cleo lost all inhibition and sense of self-preservation and refused to heed the warning in his voice.

“It can’t be that bad. I mean, everybody knows about the hostess bars and stuff over here. Was it something like that? Did you have some pretty young thing sitting on your lap all evening telling you how handsome and strong you are?”

“I don’t need to pay a woman to tell me I’m handsome and strong.”

“True, I’m sure Ms. Inokawa was happy to do that for you,” she said snidely.

“Jealous, Knight?”

She laughed incredulously at the question and waved a hand, the pillow slipping dangerously low.


“You’re having a bit of a—how do you say this?—wardrobe malfunction?”

She gasped when a quick look down confirmed one of her nipples was indeed peeking up above the pillow. She hastily adjusted before looking back up to meet his avid gaze.

“Stop staring at me like that,” she snapped.

“Like what?”

“Like you’re hoping it’ll happen again.”

“But I am hoping it’ll happen again.” She gasped again, sounding, even to herself, like some outraged Victorian maiden.

“That’s a highly inappropriate thing to say,” she pointed out, and he covered his mouth with his fist and coughed slightly, making her wonder if he was hiding a laugh behind the cough.

“And me standing here in your bedroom while you lounge around in only your panties isn’t inappropriate?”

“There are levels of inappropriate behavior,” she informed him primly, not even sure herself what the hell she was talking about. How could she be rattling on about appropriate behavior after everything they’d done the night before?

“Oh?” He sat down at the foot of her bed. “Please do educate me. Sitting on your bed, how inappropriate is this? On a scale of one to ten? Ten being highly inappropriate.”

“Uh. Five . . . maybe?” she whispered.

“And if I moved a little closer?” He shifted up until his butt rested beside her feet.

“Five and a half.” The words were barely audible, but he nodded before running the back of his large hand over her feet, then her slender shins, before turning his hand over so his palm did the downward stroke back to her feet.

“What about that?” he rasped as his breathing got a little heavier. He cupped her small feet in his hand, his thumb caressing the instep of the top foot. She fought to gather her scattered thoughts so she could respond.

“Six and a half.”

“A full point up?” he mused. “Impressive.”

He shifted even closer, and before she knew it, he tugged the pillow away, leaving her without the precious barrier. She yelped in protest, but he paid her no heed, and Cleo’s heart slammed into her rib cage as he slid his broad chest into the space that had just been occupied by the pillow. And he was nowhere near as soft and comfortable. He was hard and hot and smelled much too good. Suddenly all Cleo could think about was last night and how fantastic he had felt above her, inside her, all around her . . . and all she wanted was more of the same.

He dropped his head and nuzzled the sensitive spot on her neck, just below her ear, his lips grazing against the rapid pulse there. He sucked lightly, then bit, and when she groaned, he licked away the sting.

“I don’t like doing things by half measure,” he muttered into her ear, his hot breath sending goose bumps careening across every inch of her skin and tightening her nipples painfully. “I want a perfect score.”

With that he lifted his head and planted a deep, hungry kiss on her lips, and Cleo happily opened up for him, drinking him in, wanting him desperately. Every hot, hard, sexy, arrogant, unlikeable part of him.

She whimpered, once again fighting with that reasonable part of her that kept trying to insert itself into her business. She dragged her lips from his, a little shocked she could get this turned on from just one kiss.

“I thought we weren’t going to do this again,” she whispered, and for a moment, while he continued to nuzzle and suck on her neck, she thought he hadn’t heard her.

“But that would be a waste of some perfectly good sex, dulzura.” He ran his large hand down her naked back as he said the words, and Cleo found herself purring like a kitten in response to the caress.