The Billionaire's Defiant Acquisition

By: Sharon Kendrick

CHAPTER ONE

IN THE FLESH she looked more dangerous than beautiful. Conall’s mouth hardened. She was exquisite, yes...but faded. Like a rose which had been plucked fresh for a man’s buttonhole before a wild night of partying, but which now lay wilted and drooping across his chest.

Fast asleep, she lay sprawled on top of a white leather sofa. She was wearing a baggy T-shirt, which curved over her breasts and bottom, ending midway along amazingly tanned legs which seemed to go on for ever. Beside her lay an empty champagne glass—the finger-marked crystal upended and glinting in the spring sunshine. A faint breeze drifted in from the open windows leading onto the balcony, but it wasn’t enough to disperse the faint fug of cigarette smoke, along with the musky scent of incense. Conall made a barely perceptible click of distaste. Cliché after cliché were all here—embodied in the magnificent body of Amber Carter as she lay with her head pillowed on her arm and her black hair spilling like ink over her golden skin.

If she’d been a man he would have shaken her awake with a contemptuous hand, but she was not a man. She was a woman. A spoilt and distractingly beautiful woman who was now his responsibility and for some reason he didn’t want to touch her. He didn’t dare.

Damn Ambrose Carter, he thought viciously, remembering the older man’s plaintive appeal to him. You’ve got to save her from herself, Conall. Someone has to show her she can’t carry on like this. And damn his own stupid conscience, which had made him agree to carry out this crazy deal.

He listened. The apartment was silent—but maybe he should check it was empty. That there were no other bodies sprawled in one of the many bedrooms and able to hear what he was about to say to her.

He prowled from room to room, but, among all the debris of cold pizza lying in greasy boxes and half-empty bottles of vintage champagne, he could find no one. Only once did he pause—when he pushed open a door of a spare bedroom, cluttered with books and clothes and a dusty-looking exercise bike. Half hidden behind a velvet sofa was a stack of paintings and Conall walked over to them, his natural collector’s eye making him flick through them with interest. The canvases were raw and angry—with swirls and splodges of paint, some of which had been highlighted with a sharp edging of black ink. He studied them for several moments, until he was forced to remember that he was here for a purpose and he turned away from the pictures and returned to the sitting room, to find Amber Carter lying exactly where he’d left her.

‘Wake up,’ he growled. And then, when that received no response, he repeated it—more loudly this time. ‘I said, wake up.’

She moved. A golden arm reached up to brush aside the thick sweep of ebony hair which obscured most of her face, offering him a sudden unimpeded view of her profile. Her cute little nose and the natural pout of her rosy lips. Thick lashes fluttered open and as she slowly turned her head to look at him he realised that her eyes were the most startling shade of green he’d ever seen. They made the breath dry in his throat, those eyes. They made him momentarily forget what he was doing there.

‘What’s going on?’ she questioned, in a smoky voice. ‘And who the hell are you?’

She sat up, blinking as she looked around—but not creating the kind of fuss he might have expected. As if she was used to being woken by strange men who had walked into her apartment at midday. He felt another shimmer of distaste. Maybe she was.

‘My name is Conall Devlin,’ he said, looking at her face for some kind of recognition, but seeing only a blank and shuttered boredom on her frozen features.

‘Oh, yeah?’ Those amazing eyes swept over him and then she yawned. ‘And how did you get in, Conall Devlin?’

In many ways Conall was the most old-fashioned of men—an accusation levelled at him many times by disappointed women in the past—and in that precise moment he felt his temper begin to flare because it confirmed everything he’d heard about her. That she was careless. That she didn’t care about anything or anyone, except herself. And anger was safer than desire. Than allowing himself to focus on the way her breasts jiggled as she moved. Or to acknowledge that as she rose to her feet and walked across the room she moved with a natural grace, which made him want to stare at her and keep staring. Which made his groin begin to harden with an unwilling kind of lust.

‘The door was open,’ he said, not bothering to hide his disapproval.

‘Oh. Right. Someone must have left it open on their way out.’ She looked at him and smiled the pretty kind of smile which probably had most men eating out of her hand. ‘I had a party last night.’

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