CHAPTER ONE

Blake Adams had been watching the women for some time without her being aware. It had been an instant compulsion since she stepped out of the lift. The overhead light had washed over her tanned skin and glistened off her chocolate brown hair that spilled down her back, framing a face that had high, exotic cheekbones in a delicate oval face; she had a rosebud mouth. Her head had been tipped at an odd angle as she had bitten her full lower lip, her gaze sweeping around the room, searching for something or someone. The air of casual disarray surrounded her as she split out of the lift. The oversized black coat covered her from head to toe, its loose fit camouflaging her. He hadn’t been looking for a distraction, but he had found one. At first, he had only attended the party at the hotel as a courtesy. The host was a client who later turned into a friend, and both men bonded over common interests. However, if he was honest, this was also an opportunity to view the work of the artist Emily Wilde. Her work stirred his curiosity and Gerald had pulled one over him, getting the last of the Queenscape pieces for his hotel collection. The reason for the party was to create an opportunity to show off the new artwork as a soft launch of the new hotel on Queenstown’s lakefront.

He was trying to keep his wits about him while working out how long he would stay, but she was changing his mind. From his vantage point, being over six feet three, he had a good view across the heads of most party goers and positioned himself next to the floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking Lake Wakatipu. He knew the late day sun hid him from his pray.

His quarry had a white-knuckled grip on her coat as she moved to the cloakroom. His hard mouth almost fell open as she whipped it off in a dramatic fashion, displaying her body side-on to him. Wearing a deep-red, velvet, strapless number, her soft ivory shoulders beckoned to him. The dress hugged her full breasts and showed a body that would give a Page Three girl a run for her money, curves for miles; her skin flawless.

The dress finished below the knee, giving her a sophisticated look that suited her to a tee. She had heavily made-up eyes that made the green in them spark, but she appeared to prefer little other makeup and kept her lips and skin natural. Her feet were encased in heels, making her quite tall compared to most of the women in the room.

He smiled as he saw her teeter down the stairs from the entry, the only sign she was uncomfortable in the spiky heels. He continued to view her as she made it to the bottom and smile at the waiter as she reached for a wine glass from the tray, unaware that the waiter almost tripped as he stared at her.

To his astonishment, he felt his body suffuse with heat. Hell, he thought grimly. It had been too long since he’d been with a woman–maybe that was his problem. The instant reaction she had provoked was just neglected hormones.

Blake examined her as she interacted with the surrounding people. She was refreshing, almost unaware of her impact on people. A reserved smile pinned to her face. She listened to the older lady talking to her. Her body appeared to be full of tension as she shifted from foot to foot while engaging in the conversation; all her attention focused on the lady.

She’s not the usual type I’d go for, he thought. His preference ran to women who knew the score. He looked for a good time, not a long time-a woman who was not looking for commitment but understood his world and was happy to play their part in it. There was something in his gut as he glanced at her that he couldn’t put his finger on. Fearing he could be wrong in his judgment, he glanced away from her decision made.

Over the next hour, he kept an eye on her as she worked her way around the party. She had an aura of suppressed energy. Her eyes were moving around the party like she was waiting for someone. Her brooding sense of purpose intrigued him. He could eliminate the theory she was a nervous gatecrasher. She would never have got past the tight yet discreate security without an invitation. What was she searching for? Who was she meeting, a lover? His brows lowered as the tension gripped him. Another young man introduced himself to her. She was like honey to the bees. He smiled smugly to himself as the young man moved on, not having been successful in his purpose. Almost all the males who tried to chat her up had now moved on, clearly puzzled at being dismissed.

He studied her again. There was something about her, he felt, and wanted to take her home and do all sorts of intriguing and foolhardy things. The urge was most unlike him; he was an experienced man–the need to prove his worth by sowing his wild oats was long behind him. These days, he was more discerning about who to let into his life.

Suddenly, he was interrupted by the lady standing to his left. Having taken his smile to mean something more in response to whatever she had been talking to him about, he listened with half an ear. She placed her hand on his arm and leaned into him. He moved her hand away slowly so as to not offend her. He was not vain; he knew he was not classically handsome, but he never encountered any problem attracting women to him. His wealth and power also helped. It took him some time to discourage the lady. He thought he was going to have to be very blunt with her as she was stopping him from keeping an eye on his distraction; all the same, he liked to do the hunting.

When he next glanced up again, after discouraging the lady at his side, with a jolt of disappointment he realized that the women seemed to have disappeared. He scanned the room when suddenly the short hairs on the back of his neck began to prickle–a sign of impending trouble–one that served him well. In his previous life, in the military, his time in the Special Air Service had honed that skill. He and trouble were intimate acquaintances. A talent for handling trouble had made him successful in both business and life.

**

She should never have accepted the invitation, and after that morning’s fiasco, what was she even doing there? She felt like she wanted to wring her hands like some old aunt; she needed to pull it together. I couldn’t believe I’d gone there. The anger that had propelled her out of the car was now waning; if only she hadn’t promised Gerald she would be there. He had bribed her good and proper, making the Glen Point Trust the benefit of the night, and as the only Trustee around, it was her duty to attend. 

Emily took a deep breath as she made another visual sweep around the hotel ballroom to check that she hadn’t overlooked anyone.

She wasn’t looking for the most handsome man in the room, or even the most charming–she wanted that man. The most dangerous man in the room–the one other men looked up to and any woman would want to spend a night in his arms. She had already discounted all the men who were with wives or significant others, as well as the party animals. There’d been quite a few men who tried to strike up a conversation; however, she wasn’t looking for character, personality, or a long-term relationship.

Emily had wanted to pull at her dress when quite a few of their eyes had drifted down. Ignoring her face during conversation, they were quickly dismissed.

The shop assistant had told her she looked classy and sophisticated. Her praise a balm to her ego. Yet, she still felt constricted and uncomfortable. She lifted her chin. There was nothing she could do about her dress. She was going to have to brazen it out.

Her eyes drifted back to the broad shoulders of the man she’d been studying a few moments ago. His height singled him out from the crowd. Well over six feet tall, by her calculations, she noticed his body was covered in what she thought was a tailor-made dark gray suit. It fit him to such perfection, and with a body like his, there was no way it was off the rack. He turned slightly, and she caught a glimpse of his scowl, her pulse picking up as she recognized his face.

Blake Adams

He certainly could not be described as safe; she could see that he was bored to within an inch of his life by whatever his companions were saying, the trademark scowl on his face growing larger. His collar-length hair was black as sin. He had thick black brows to match, and his nose had one hit too many over the years, giving his face a hard edge, his chiseled jaw very masculine. A lived-in face, not classically handsome, but a mature face for a man who knew what he wanted and got it. He seemed like a man who gave no quarter in a fight; someone who was equally at home in a back alley or a boardroom. His face caused her blood to race. Her heart fluttered at the delicious thrill he created. Outshining every man in the room, he had a monopoly on virility.

Face it, Emily. He’s not the type to be interested in you. Men don’t notice you. He’s out of your league.

Emily grimaced at the intruding voice, her racing blood and stomach cramping, reminding her that she’d not had anything to eat since breakfast, having skipped lunch to go shopping for that reckless dress. Emily wanted to pull it away from her hips as it clung to her. Regretting the impulse that made her buy a new dress, she should have just worn her usual one, but she couldn’t do it. The ghastly scene of that morning was still a shock, even though she had been sort of expecting it. But she thought she knew better. Her gut had been right; she’d been fooling herself all along. She had been dumped for a younger model at 26 years old, although she didn’t know how many he’d gone through before she had caught him. Her lips compressed. Anger boiled up inside of her like a lava flow, spilling through her, thinking about all the wasted time trying to fit into a normal life to be the perfect girlfriend for Paul, molding herself into the woman she thought he wanted. He was supposed to be safe; the least likely to cheat. 

From now on, she was going to be herself. Starting that night, she was not going to be second best. She’d prove that she was all women, hence, the stupid dress and heels. She looked down at them.

A man likes a bit of variety in his life before he settles down. You’re such a cold fish when it comes to the bedroom. Emily, you never want to experiment or take any risks; you had to know this was going to happen.

Emily seethed over the words that he had thrown at her when she caught him this morning at his flat with his bit on the side. The shock of actually seeing him with another woman rendered her mute. 

The images of that morning flashed through her brain. She had been so excited to see Paul but things had gone south when she let herself into his apartment in town.

She had noticed the black court shoe laying abandoned on the hallway carpet first, then the discarded clothing and the bra hanging over the lampshade in the living room. She pressed back on the bedroom door.

“Paul?” Emily called out, moving the door further open. It was then that she saw the half-naked couple passionately entangled on the rumpled bed.

Her attention firmly lodged on the tousled male head lifting off the white pillow. Her heartbeat tripled in beat and she needed air to breathe as she recognized Paul on the bed.

“Oh my god,” Paul had groaned, trying to roll off the bed towards her.

It was clear what had been going on in the room. The woman on the bed was naked, her blonde hair wildly mussed up, her mouth swollen, and her blue eyes wide with puzzlement.

When she thought about it, all the signs had been there, but she ignored them as she thought Paul was everything she wanted in a man. Her eyes were drawn back to Blake Adams; he was everything Paul wasn’t.

Almost everyone in New Zealand would have heard of Blake Adams, the owner of New Zealand’s biggest construction company, which had projects ranging from commercial up and down the country to the high-end residential division that had constructed some of Queenstown’s most luxurious houses.

Considered to be definitely unpolished, Blake was an ex-military man who had turned a small house building company into a multi-million dollar company on the back of his ferociously hard-working nature. If she remembered the newspaper article she had read on him recently, he was ice-cold under pressure, a bit of a maverick taking on projects others wouldn’t consider while turning the financial establishment on its head. The article had made much of his bachelor status and his bad-boy reputation with women.

This man was so far out of her league. He was brilliant!

A man who neither looked for commitment nor reading between the lines of the article, was great in the sack. A shiver went down her spine. She remembered that, at the time, she thought the author had been a bit in love with her subject, and after seeing him, she could understand why; he had an aura of power about him, kind of like a leashed tiger–a pretty collar on but waiting to pounce.

What she was contemplating was sheer madness, but she was sick of being herself? she had nothing to lose and everything to gain; after all, love is an illusion. So, what if she tried to flirt a little, try some seduction? What’s the worst that could happen? He snubbed her, so what could be more humiliating than that morning’s scene, and she lived through that. But if she succeeded, her imagination spiked.

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