THE BURLINGTON MANOR AFFAIR a contemporary erotic romance novel, HQN books, May 2014. ISBN: 0373778627
A legendary family estate.
A mutual longing.
A bargain struck.
Carmen Shelby wants what's been left to her — the valuable estate that she once called home. Rex Carruthers is the heir to Burlington Manor, a ruthless playboy who enjoys playing games, and all he wants is for Carmen to surrender. There can be only one winner….
Before she reached the end of the hallway Rex overtook her and blocked her path. "Come now, we haven't even finished negotiating."
Clinging on to that hope, she met his stare. "Oh, so you're suddenly willing to negotiate, now that I'm walking away?"
Glancing past his arm, she gauged the distance to the front door.
"Carmen, be reasonable. I didn't want to air all my private thoughts in front of the family solicitor." That seemed rational, which put her earlier misgivings under the spotlight. Why did he unnerve her so?
"Okay, spit it out. What's the deal?"
"The deal is this... I'd really like us to spend some quality time together."
"Rex, please. Stop messing around." She gave him her best warning glance. "Email me when you want to talk sense." She attempted to shift past his arm, but he moved closer still, locking her in against the wall of the corridor with the bulk of his body. Her skin tingled, her senses responding wildly to his proximity.
"Let me pass."
"Not until you agree to hear out my terms."
She threw him a querying glance.
"You want Burlington Manor,” he continued. “I don't. We can come to a mutually satisfying arrangement."
She tried not to react too overtly and met his gaze steadily while she waited for him to explain himself.
Rex gave an exaggerated sigh. "You've changed, Carmen, you're so stern and business like." He moved one hand and ran his finger down the length of her neck.
Arousal surged through her. The way he touched her was so suggestive. It made the pulse in her groin thud wildly.
"Maybe some time chilling out at Burlington with me would do you good."
Bastard. He was winding her up. This was just a game to him.
"I want to buy you out," she repeated. "When you're ready to discuss it get in touch with me." She ducked under his arm and darted out the door and down the steps outside, heading across the pavement to where her Mini was parked on the street.
Rex strode along at her side.
He was determined. That rattled her even more.
Opening her bag, she snatched her keys. He reached out and clasped her wrist, drawing her to a sharp halt as she reached the car door.
"Let me go." She uttered the words as authoritatively as she could, given that her whole body was instantly hot because of his strong fingers locked around her wrist.
Rex didn't let her go. Instead, he backed her against the side of her car. "Not until you consider my offer."
"Offer? What offer?" Her attention sharpened. She was already convinced he didn't want the house. Perhaps he needed the settlement to keep his company afloat. Maybe there was a chance for her to claim it, after all. Then he pressed closer still, so that his body covered hers, hard, virile and demanding. The feel of him stole her breath away.
A woman walked past and she tutted loudly as she peered at them. She had a glamorous Saluki hound on a leash. Carmen ignored the woman and the hound as best she could, praying to god it wasn't somebody who knew her. She had a reputation to keep. Unlike her assailant who'd done everything he could to destroy his reputation over the years.
Rex ran one finger down the side of her face, lifting her hair free of her cheek. "I like your hair this way," he said, running it through his fingers as he admired it. "The last time I saw you it was different." He locked eyes with her. "Don't you think it would be interesting, the pair of us, together and alone, up at the house?"
"No." She blurted it out, and then wished she hadn't. He'd always had the upper hand, teasing her when she was gauche and vulnerable.
Undeterred, he moved his hands, embracing her around the waist.
Even through her suit the pressure of his grip made her legs weak. When she was seventeen and he'd been home for Christmas, she'd longed for him to hold her this way. Instead, he teased her relentlessly—making her horribly aware of her fragile confidence—and then he'd seduced one of her friends. That had hurt. If he'd held her like this back then, instead of Amanda, it would have been a dream come true. Now...now it got her back up and made her angry. He was asserting his power over her because he was a man who assumed he could toy with people for his own entertainment.
The aroma of his cologne hit her and the insistent presence of his body against hers made her falter as she spoke. "Rex, stop playing games. If you're going to make an offer, please do so."
He seemed so much more in control than she was, and his mouth was now set in a determined line. "Two weeks," he stated, definitively. "We live together at the house for two weeks, and then you can have it."
"Live together?" It had to be a joke.
Besides, why did he even want that? He'd never wanted to be at the house. There was more to it, there had to be. It couldn't be as simple as that. She stared up at him and his intense blue eyes were so vivid they seemed to burn into her. "How much do you want for your share?"
A slow smile spread across his face, his eyes gleaming as he gazed at her, looking at her lips as if he was about to devour them. "I don't want money."
Lord, he was more irritating than ever.
Then he moved his hands higher, and squeezed the underside of her breasts. Carmen couldn't stifle her gasp. His touch knew no bounds, no protocol. It was breathtaking.
He licked his lips. "But I want it all, for two weeks."
Confusion gripped her. "All? How much?"
"No financial exchange. Just you," he locked eyes with her, "in my bed, refusing me nothing."
In his bed?
Carmen stared up at him, shocked to the core. The man would do anything for a thrill. And yet—even though she was appalled by his proposal—a deep part of her responded to it. In his bed? Images flashed through her mind, images of them, naked and locked together in fierce passion. Desire flooded her. Fighting the rising tide back, she shook her head, attempting to move aside.
That was futile. He wasn't letting her go anywhere.
"Surely you can't be serious?" she blurted.
"Ah, but I am, entirely so." As if to emphasize his point, he moved one hand inside her jacket, where he cupped her breast and ran his thumb over her nipple.
The only barrier between his skin and hers was her shirt and the sheer lace bra she wore beneath it. Her nipple knotted and tingled. Carmen had to swallow hard to steady herself. Her emotions were in chaos, and her trust in her body and its responses was fast waning. "So, you think that you can have any woman you want, is that it?"
"Not necessarily. But I want you, and you want the house. I see this as the perfect opportunity for us both to get what we want." His voice was husky, his message insistent.
Carmen was totally unable to respond. At her back the hard surface of the car was the only thing holding her up.
"Come on, why deny it now?" The lust in his eyes was tempered by humor. "I touched you like this before and you liked it then. It was in the conservatory. I haven't forgotten, have you?"
Carmen's eyelids fluttered down, but her attempt to deny the images that assailed her was futile. They were scored on her memory, relived many times. She'd been seventeen at the time and he was back from University in Oxford. He'd been flirting with her in the conservatory, where she used to hang out and read, and then out of the blue she found herself in his arms and they were kissing. Their lust unleashed was dangerous, moving like wild fire. In hungry, eager embraces they'd almost gone all the way. Thankfully a noise from the house had broken them up.
"I was young and easily led and I won't be played with again— and certainly not on some ridiculous promise of ownership of the house."
"I give you my word. In fact I can have Chris make up a contract if you don't trust me to deliver the goods after you have...served up your side of the bargain."
Carmen was stunned. Even though she knew him—and she'd spent days trying to figure every possible outcome from this meeting—this eventuality had never figured in her thoughts. "The whole suggestion is outrageous. I don't intend to humor you in any way."
"Why? I'm only asking for two weeks of your time, for the Manor. Outright."
What surprised her more—that he claimed he still wanted her, or that he knew she wanted the house so much? She wasn't sure. What she did know was that she despised him for putting her in this position, and even more than that she despised herself for considering the idea.
His hand on her breasts felt good though, and she hadn't pushed him away, hadn't been able to. That old sense of longing had risen up inside her, a simmering fire that she thought she had quashed long ago. She forced it back, refusing to let him take charge of her.
It wasn't easy, but fury had its call on her too. She turned her face away and stared at the lines of the windows and pillars of the building they had just left, taking strength from the symmetry of it as she struggled for reason. The house, she wanted the house.
"Give it some thought." He brushed his thumb over her erect nipple one more time before removing his hand. "Come to the house this weekend, we'll take it from there."
Perhaps it would be good for her to spend time at the house with him, for closure. Perhaps it would kill off all those idiotic teenage fantasies she'd had once and for all.
Or joining him there could be the biggest mistake of my life.
"I'll come to discuss the deal, but you can't force me to sleep with you."
He cocked his head to the side and smiled, apparently amused.
She shook her head, denying it, one hand covering her mouth in case she said the wrong thing.
"Two weeks of your company is all I ask. Then Burlington Manor is all yours."
Carmen clung to what logical thought remained. It was hard to do so. "Even if I wanted to, I can't just take two weeks away from my business to play house with you."
"Weekends it is then." He stepped away and glanced at his watch, suddenly businesslike. "If you're in agreement, make arrangements to be away from London for the next four weekends. Our time together will begin on Friday evening."
His arrogance was infuriating. The fact it was also a massive turn on angered her even more. How was it that he could push her buttons so easily? He was so self-assured, so knowing, while she clung to the side of the car, filled with torrid imaginings and confused thoughts and needs. Her blood pumped hard, her pulse wildly erratic. She glared at him, hating him for his power and for his ability to suggest such an outrageous bargain. "You bastard, you know I want the house but that doesn't mean you can just buy me."
"Consider this, if you don't agree...well, if you don't agree we'll have to share the house...forever." With that final comment he inclined his head and then strolled back up the steps into Montague's office, leaving her standing there with one hand gripping the car to hold her up—her clothes awry, her body awash with heat, her heart thundering in her chest.
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