AN INCONVENIENT LOVER
A Contemporary Romance
“But beyond a satisfying love story, it is a well-written book. It reminded me of why I fell in love with reading in the first place.” — eBookConnections
Winner of the Romance Writers of Australia’s Emma Darcy Award
It would be too inconvenient to like him.
When Anastasia’s fiancé’s best friend, David, returns to Seattle after years of living overseas, her nice, stable, orderly life is turned upside down. In denial about her own nature and the truth about her parents’ notorious and flamboyant marriage, Anastasia shuts down her attraction toward David.
Even though digging up her family history will cause pain, David is determined to coax Anastasia’s true nature out of dormancy. If Anastasia reverts to her real character, marriage to Hugh will become impossible and David’s best friend will be hurt. Yet if David doesn’t succeed in setting Anastasia’s soul free, he will lose his own chance at winning her heart.
First published under the title Eyes of a Stranger.
“This book was a wonderful read. She dangled the happy ending like a carrot until the very last page.” —Romantic Times Magazine
She was aware that people who knew her would be astonished by her appearance tonight. She normally restricted herself to well cut business suits and ensembles. An impulse had pushed her into taking her father’s unused charity theatre ticket. The same urge had also driven her to wear the outfit she had been fingering longingly for nearly a year.
“What were you doing down here tonight?” he asked from behind her.
“I went to see a play near here.” She reached for the towel to dry her hands, keeping her back to him. She didn’t want to look him in the eye again.
“On your own?” There was an implied disbelief in his voice.
“On my own.” She tried to sound as if it was a natural occurrence for her, despite his tone telling her he already knew it was not. She turned to face him. “It’s quite normal for people to go on their own, you know.”
“Not you,” he replied, confirming her assumption. It didn’t surprise her he had guessed that much. He could see everything in her—she knew that as surely as she knew the back of her own hand.
He was watching her again. His eyes were shadowed by the thick silk of his hair, where one weighty lock fell to touch the smooth skin above thick brows. The eyes were grave and knowing. “I don’t believe no one wanted to go with you tonight.”
It was a simple, non-threatening observation but it still stung because it was too close to the truth. She responded to the sting, not the intention. “I wanted to be alone.”
“Ah…” he said, as if that explained it all to him. She was sure it really did explain a lot to him. The inevitable knowledge he was delving from her would have supplied the answer. She had nowhere to hide and it was only the ethereal atmosphere that prevented her from caring that he could see so much of her.
With an equally direct gaze, she studied his face. He looked to be in his early thirties. His face was tanned, as if he spent a fair amount of time outdoors. Combined with the square, clean-shaved, almost heavy jaw and the depthless eyes, he took on the aura of rock-like steadiness and control. Mastery, even.
She tore her gaze away from him and looked for a place to put the damp towel, instead.
“Who would normally go with you, then?” he asked.
She thought of Hugh and her father. Hugh hated anything “arty” but Anastasia was used to that attitude. Her father had the same barely concealed intolerance for the arts—although his prejudice stemmed from an entirely different source. Neither of them would have willingly come with her tonight.
“No one,” she replied, not hiding the resignation in her voice. There was no point in trying to disguise it.
“What upset you tonight, then? What pushed you into going to the theatre alone?”
She knew she should tell him to mind his own business but there was a note of compassion in his voice that prompted her to answer truthfully. “I…had an argument.”
“Besides,” she hurried on, suddenly hating the knowledge in his voice. “I enjoy being alone.”
“Do you?” He lifted a single brow in query, as if demanding more information.
She frowned. She wasn’t marrying Hugh solely for his artistic taste or lack of it and she was independent enough that she didn’t need him to go with her just for companionship’s sake. Although she loved Hugh and was always happy in his company, this night of solitude was a small island of stability in the frenetic whirlpool her life had become since she had agreed to marry him.
Between her busy work schedule in her father’s architectural business and the hectic social activities she’d had to squeeze in for Hugh’s sake, there was precious little time left for simple introspection. She had lost contact with her inner self for a while.
Which was one reason why she had been so shaken by her response to the poor albatross’s plight and to this strange man with remarkable eyes. Uncalled for passionate reactions disturbed the careful balance of her life. Their emergence meant she was overdue for some self-examination.
Her body was still tingling with the after-effects. Her breasts felt full and heavy and she knew she had been aroused to an extraordinary level by a simple look. No, not simple, she corrected herself. There was nothing simple about what his expression had been telling her. There were profound connotations—connotations that could embroil her in dangerously deep waters, if she lingered to explore them. It was dangerous to remain here.
She retrieved her shoes and straightened. She had to leave. She glanced at the hatchway, then dared to look back at him. He was standing quite still, watching her with fierce concentration.
“I have to go.”
“Not yet,” he murmured, moving closer to her. His clear gray eyes were mesmerizing up close.
She found her breath catching in her throat. His size dwarfed her, making her feel weak and defenceless. “I have to,” she repeated.
“Just one more minute,” he said and it might have been a plea, except his strong hand was gripping her upper arm and he was drawing her toward a long wide seat built into the other side of the cabin. He sat her down and sat next to her, swivelling sideways so he was facing her. He delved into a pocket of his leather jacket, pulled out a white handkerchief and shook out the folds.
“Let me,” he told her and she sat still as he gently wiped her cheeks dry of the last of her tears. He dabbed carefully beneath her eyes, avoiding smudging her makeup. She could feel warmth radiating from him, along with a good clean male smell, a spicy scent mixed up with the leather of his jacket and the crisp linen of the handkerchief in his large hand, which stole its way into her senses, making the pit of her stomach roil and her nerve ends zap. His inner thigh, encased in denim, was pushing against her knee as he ministered to her face. She closed her eyes for a moment, clenching her jaw against the power of the swell of desire within her. The urge to reach out and draw him to her was making her tremble.
“I knew you had something else driving you tonight besides one distressed albatross.” His voice was low and even and she knew he was fighting for control just as she was. She could feel a minute tremble in his hand. “It’s my guess that you don’t always behave this way. Am I right?”
“Yes.” It didn’t feel shameful to confess the truth to him. He had already seen that and much more. She sighed and looked up at his face again, drawn by his wonderful eyes. The lock of hair resting against his brow was a dark, dark brown, not black as she’d assumed. Without thinking, she lifted her hand and brushed it back up into the rest of his hair, her fingertips burrowing into the heavy silken mass.
His breath checked and his hand came up to rest against the back of hers, his fingers cupping hers. Holding her arm still, he turned his head to press his lips to the delicate, sensitive skin of her inner wrist. At his hot touch, she felt a deep tremor run through her body. He closed his eyes and his nostrils flared a little as if he were sampling her scent. She gasped at the images that leapt into her mind—of lovers entwined, of his soft hair against her skin as he tasted her body, of sensual pleasures she had never considered before but now seemed infinitely desirable, as long as he provided them.
He groaned and opened his eyes, lowering their entwined hands. “Dear God,” he muttered thickly. “Who are you? Or have I conjured you up from the depths of my soul?”
She took a deep, slow, steadying breath and tried to still her racing heart. “I must go.”
“When can I see you again?” His eyes were staring into her soul again.
“No. Never… It’s impossible.” And she shook her head a little. “We can’t.”
“I’m engaged,” she whispered and the words that normally fell proudly from her lips tasted like ashes to her.