Excerpt from Chapter One
“That’s me, a constant disappointment.” My words were laced with sarcasm and just the right amount of bite to annoy him.
“Why are you determined to fight me, Juliet?” All six foot two inches of Christos Constantine loomed over me. Dark hair, brilliant green eyes and unbelievably gorgeous in that hard, intimidating type of way that made women question the point of moral purity.
I hated him.
Even as I thought the words, my heart pounded against my rib cage and desire pulled at me. Damn chemistry. I hated that too. Hated even more that I had it with him of all people.
He’d beaten me again when few men ever did. Even fewer experienced a repeat victory. And every time Christos won he became that much more irresistible.
I didn’t even want to contemplate what that said about me.
“When you know I’ll win?” His rich voice rumbled from his throat and my knees weakened.
Why did I like this? The arrogance? It was as if I were genetically hardwired to respond to everything he said. The more dominant he acted the more I salivated. Like Pavlov’s dog.
He’d first popped onto my radar screen a year and a half ago when he’d shown up on the Chicago scene and stolen the Pennington bid right out from under me. Around forty, power poured off him. He had the kind of commanding presence other people noticed. When Christos was in the room, men stood straighter and women, well, they practically melted into a puddle at his feet.
Once, I’d had the unfortunate experience of being stuck in a reception area with him for over an hour. The sweet, little grandmother receptionist blushed and stammered over him like a schoolgirl.
I might not be immune, but ice queen was second nature.
I put my hands on my hips, standing tall in my white blouse and black pencil skirt. I tapped the toe of my three-inch-high slingbacks. “You might win the business, but you’ll never win me.”
He laughed. The sound traveled through my body like the most intimate of touches. But I stood firm, not giving in to the shudder that wanted to overtake me.
He raised one dark brow. “Who are you trying to convince? You or me?”
His broad shoulders blocked out the ray of sun from the lobby windows as he stepped closer. The urge to retreat had my foot twitching, but I fought the desire. My shoulders squared. He will not win, I thought fiercely as I dug in my heels both figuratively and literally.
He crowded in on me, mere inches away. I held my breath. Afraid to move, to swallow—he’d never gotten this close to me—and my heart pounded. The heat of his body slid over my skin. My lungs burned and I sucked in a fast burst of air, my head swimming at the intoxicating scent of him, spice and man.
Jesus. I wanted no part in this kind of lust. This kind of hunger.
I don’t know how I did it, but I stood my ground even though a desperate desire to flee beat at me.
He could not win, not at this.
His long fingers touched the side of my neck. I jumped, flinching under him.
What could only be pleasure sparked in his gaze.
His palm skimmed over the slender cords as he curled his hand around my neck, his thumb stroking where my pulse thumped wildly. “Mine.”
A gasp escaped from my throat. I shook my head.
“Yes. You know it and I know it.”
“You’re wrong,” I managed in a strangled whisper. I needed to escape, but I didn’t budge. I refused to let him see my fear, my almost unbearable excitement.
And I was excited.
His thumb pressed against the hollow of my neck. Primal need, unlike anything I’d ever experienced pounded through me like a stampede. Slick, wet heat warmed my inner thighs.
God, help me. I was powerless. I’d made a grave error. With him, retreat was always the smarter option.
His lips curved into a slow, wicked smile. “How wet are you?” A shift of his hips and his erection nudged my belly. “How hot?”
“Stop it.” The words were stilted with no force behind them. A plea when I wanted a curse.
“No.” He shook his head. “Stop fighting it. Stop fighting me.”
“You’re going to lose.” He leaned down and his lips brushed the soft skin at the curve of my neck. I ached to lean in to him. Let him take me. The way I felt right now, I’d do anything to have his mouth on me. Anywhere I could get it.
Thank god I had more pride than I knew what to do with. It had kept me safe more than once, and this was no exception. It was the only thing that stopped me from begging.
His tongued flicked against my pulse, and I couldn’t stop the groan from slipping past my lips. I clenched my hands into fists, digging my nails into my palms. Forced my lids to remain open when they wanted to drift closed. His teeth scraped my flesh and I jolted, my entire body humming with sensation.
He raised his head to the shell of my ear. “You want me to win, Juliet.”
He was right. I did.
By my own design, no man had ever bested me. Not my ex-husband, not the lovers I’d had since. For thirty-five years my relationships with men had been coolly confident and distant. I had the control. I responded if I wanted to, choose to. But there’d never been any question that it had been my choice. And I never let anyone get too close.
That was for weak women. Not me.
On some primitive level I knew distance wouldn’t be possible with Christos. Under the all-consuming jumble of emotions of lust and fear, was the certain knowledge that he’d change me irrevocably. That when I lost, I’d be stripped of everything.
That alone was worth every ounce of fight I had.
“No.” My tone surprised me with its steadiness.
He raised his head, his green eyes piercing. “Stubborn.”
“I’ll never give in.” Confidence growing as I regained my equilibrium.
Once again his fingers tightened on my throat. The power in his grasp not lost on me. An assertion of his dominance. “I’m patient, and if you insist, we’ll do it the hard way.” His hand fell away, leaving behind the imprint of his touch like a brand.
A cold chill of loss blew through me like the most frigid of Chicago wint