“Mia, the doorman just buzzed to say a car is here for you,” Caroline called from the other room.
Mia’s breath hiccupped, and she reached for the contract that was lying beside where she sat on the edge of the bed. It was slightly rumpled and was showing signs of wear for all the times she’d read over it.
She’d memorized every word of it, and it played over and over in her mind. Along with it, images fired by her imagination. Of her and Gabe together. Him controlling and possessing her. Owning her.
Shoving it into her purse, she stood and hurried to her dresser to look in the mirror one last time. She showed signs of little sleep. There were dark smudges under her eyes that makeup couldn’t disguise. Her color was off as well. Even her hair had refused to respond and had a rumpled look to it.
There was little to do now except go.
Taking a deep breath, she left her bedroom and walked through the living room toward the door.
“Mia, wait!” Caroline said as she ran to where Mia held the door open.
Caroline hugged her tightly and then stood back, her hand going to push Mia’s hair behind her ear.
“Good luck, okay? You’ve not been yourself this entire weekend. If it’s stressing you out this much, don’t do it. ”
Mia smiled. “Thanks, Caro. Love you. ”
Caroline made an exaggerated smacking sound with her lips as Mia turned and left.
When she left the building, the doorman opened the car door for her and ushered her inside. Mia leaned back against the comfortable leather seat and closed her eyes as the car pulled away, heading from her apartment on the Upper West Side to Midtown, where the HCM building was located.
Her brother, Jace, had called her the day before, and she felt terribly guilty about keeping this from him. He’d apologized for missing her at the grand opening and told her that if he’d known she was coming he would have made certain he was there.
The two had talked for half an hour. Jace had asked how things were with her and then told her he was going to be in California with Ash for the next several days. They’d made a date to spend an evening together when he returned and then she’d rung off, melancholy descending, because she and Jace were close. She’d never hesitated to share anything with him. He’d always been there, willing to listen and offer comfort even through her girly teenage-angst years. She couldn’t ask for a better big brother, and now she was keeping secrets—huge secrets—from him.
She barely tuned in to the drive, the typical stop and go of traffic, until the car stopped some time later.
“We’ve arrived, Miss Crestwell. ”
Her eyes flew open and squinted against the wash of the bright autumn sun. They were indeed just outside the HCM building. The driver had already gotten out to go around and open her door for her. She rubbed her hands over her face in an attempt to revive her dulled senses and then she stepped out, a cool breeze ruffling her hair.
Once again she found herself walking into the building and riding the elevator up to the forty-second floor. There was some serious déjà vu going on. Same butterflies. Same sweaty palms. Same attack of nerves. Only there was more panic involved because this time she knew what he wanted. Knew exactly what she’d be getting into if she agreed to this.
When she entered the reception area, Eleanor looked up and smiled and then said, “Mr. Hamilton says you’re to go straight back. ”
“Thank you, Eleanor,” Mia murmured as she headed past Eleanor’s desk.
Gabe’s door was open when she arrived. She hesitated just outside and stared in to where he stood, hands in his pockets, staring out the large window overlooking the Manhattan skyline.
He was gorgeous. Beautiful to look at. Even relaxed there was so much raw power emanating from him. She was suddenly struck by why she was so drawn to him—or at least one of the many reasons. She felt safe with him. Just being near him gave her a measure of comfort. She felt secure and…protected.
In essence, the relationship he’d proposed would provide her with all of those things. Safety. Security. Comfort. Protection. He’d guaranteed all of those things. All she had to do was agree to cede ultimate power to him.
Any reluctance evaporated, leaving her lighter and almost euphoric. There was no way she was walking into this agreement scared to death. It was no way to begin a new relationship. She would be confident and she’d embrace the things that Gabe had promised her. And in return, she’d give her all to him and be confident that he would cherish the gift of her submission.
Gabe turned, seeing her standing in the doorway. She was astonished to see relief in his eyes. Had he been afraid she wouldn’t come?
He strode toward her and then pulled her inside his office, shutting the door firmly behind her. Before she could say a word, he hauled her into his arms and crushed his mouth to hers.
She moaned softly as his hands ran possessively up her arms to clasp her shoulders and then upward again, to her throat, and finally to cradle her face. He kissed her as though he were starved for her. Like he’d been held away from her and had finally broken free. It was the kind of kiss that lived only in her fantasies. No one had ever made her feel so…consumed.
It wasn’t just a show of dominance. It was a plea for capitulation. He wanted her. He was showing her just how much. If there had been any doubt as to whether he truly desired her or whether he was simply bored and looking for a new challenge, she was convinced now.
One hand moved from her face and his arm curled around her, anchoring her tightly against him, his arm a steel band across her back.
She could feel his hardness against her belly. He was rigidly erect and straining against the expensive slacks he wore. His breath exploded over her as he broke contact with her lips and they both gasped for air.
His eyes glittered as he stared down at her. “I didn’t think you’d come. ”
FOUR DAYS EARLIER…
Gabe Hamilton was going to burn in hell and he didn’t give a damn. From the moment Mia Crestwell walked into the ballroom of the Bentley Hotel where HCM Global Resorts and Hotels was holding its grand opening, he hadn’t taken his gaze from her.
She was forbidden fruit. His best friend’s little sister. Only she wasn’t so little anymore, and he had definitely taken notice. She’d become some kind of twisted preoccupation for him. He’d fought it but found himself unable to resist her powerful lure.
He wasn’t fighting it any longer.
The fact that she was here, tonight, and Jace was nowhere around, only confirmed to Gabe that the time was right and it was time to make his move.
He sipped at the glass of wine he held and listened politely to the group he was conversing with. Or rather that he was mingling with since he rarely engaged in anything more than polite pleasantries as he made his rounds through the crowd.
He hadn’t known she was going to be here. Jace hadn’t said a word. Had Jace even known? Gabe thought it was likely he hadn’t because, not five minutes earlier, Jace and Ash had slipped away, a tall, leggy brunette between them as they headed to one of the luxurious suites on the top floor.
Jace wouldn’t have bailed—even for a woman—if he’d known Mia would be here. But it was just as well Jace wasn’t here. It made things a lot easier.
Gabe watched as Mia’s gaze swept the room, her brow furrowed in concentration as if she searched for someone. A server stopped and offered her wine, and she took one of the elegant, long-stemmed glasses but she didn’t put it to her mouth.
She was outfitted in a killer dress that hugged her in all the right places, complete with fuck-me shoes and an upswept hairstyle that practically pleaded for a man’s hand to tug it down. Dark tendrils floated softly down her neck, drawing attention to the slender column that begged for a man’s lips. He was damn tempted to stride across the room and wrap his coat around her so that no one else would see what he considered his. Jesus, and if that didn’t make this even more insane. She wasn’t his anything. But that too was going to change.
The off-the-shoulder cocktail dress drew attention to her breasts, and he damn sure didn’t want anyone else looking. And men were looking. Already she’d drawn the attention of others. They stared—like he did—their gazes predatory.
She wore a delicate chain with a diamond solitaire around her neck, and diamond studs adorned both ears. Both had been a gift from him a year earlier. For Christmas. It gave him satisfaction to see her wearing the things he’d bought for her tonight. For him, it was one more step in the inevitable direction of her being his.
She didn’t know it yet, but he’d waited long enough. He’d endured enough time feeling like the worst sort of criminal for lusting after his best friend’s baby sister. When she’d turned twenty, it had marked a huge difference in the way he viewed her, but he’d been thirty-four and he knew she was still far too young for what he expected from her. And so he’d waited.
She was an obsession, and it made him uncomfortable to admit, but she was a drug in his veins he had no desire to cure himself of. Now that she was twenty-four, the age difference didn’t seem so insurmountable. Or so he told himself. Jace would still go ballistic—after all, Mia would always be his baby sister—but Gabe was willing to take the risk to finally taste forbidden fruit.
Oh yes, he had plans for Mia. He had but to put them into action.
• • •
Mia took a cautious sip of her wine—a glass she’d only taken so she didn’t feel quite so out of place in a sea of beautiful, rich people—and she looked anxiously around for Jace. He said he’d be here, and she’d decided to surprise him by popping in for the grand opening of HCM’s newest hotel.
Located in Union Square, it was modern and lush, obviously catering to an upscale clientele. But then Jace—and his two best friends—lived and breathed in that world. They’d worked damn hard to get there, but they’d achieved success beyond most people’s imagination, and they’d done it by the time they reached their thirties.
At thirty-eight, they were touted as some of the most successful hoteliers in the world. But they were still just her brother and his best friends. Well, except Gabe, but perhaps it was time to get over her embarrassing teenage fantasies where he was concerned. At sixteen, it was understandable. At twenty-four, it just made her desperate and deluded.
Ash and Gabe had been born into wealth. She and Jace had not, and she still wasn’t entirely comfortable in the circles her brother moved in. But she was inordinately proud of Jace for making such a success of himself, especially since he’d been saddled with a younger sibling after the unexpected deaths of their parents.
Gabe was close to his parents, or at least he had been when they’d been married. In a shocking move, his father had divorced Gabe’s mother right after their thirty-ninth anniversary. Ash…his was an interesting situation at best. That was the most diplomatic word for it. He didn’t get along with his family—any of them. He’d gone his own way young, spurning the family business—and money—and perhaps his success was all the more infuriating to his family because he’d done it without them.
Mia knew that Ash never spent any time with them. He spent most of his time with Jace and Gabe, but in particular Jace. Jace had made it clear to Mia that Ash’s family were, in his words, assholes, and she’d left it at that, not that she’d ever have occasion to meet them. They pretended that HCM didn’t exist.
She wanted to turn and flee when two men approached her, smiling like they were about to score for the night. But she hadn’t found Jace yet, and she wasn’t going to leave so quickly when she’d spent a ridiculous amount of time getting ready. Just in case she happened to see Gabe, which was pathetic enough, but there it was.
She smiled and braced herself, determined not to embarrass her brother by acting like a twit on his big night.
And then, to her complete surprise, Gabe appeared, wading through the crowd, a scowl marring his face. He stepped in front of the two approaching men and took her arm, effectively herding her away before the men got to her.
“Hello to you too, Gabe,” she said shakily.
There was something about the man that just made her stupid. She couldn’t talk, couldn’t think, couldn’t form a single coherent thought. He probably thought it a miracle that she actually completed her degree and graduated with honors. Even if he and Jace thought it was a perfectly useless degree. Jace had wanted her to pursue a business degree. He wanted to bring her into the “family” business. But she wasn’t sure yet what she wanted to do. Which was another source of exasperation to Jace.
That made her feel guilty. Because she had the luxury of taking time to make decisions. Jace had always provided generously for her. An apartment, whatever she needed, even though after graduating she’d made the effort not to rely on him for support.
The people she’d graduated with had already moved into jobs. They were making careers. She was still working in a pastry shop part-time and dragging her feet as to what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.