* * *
Sophie let him lead her through a maze of corridors lined with paintings hung on the richly painted walls. This had to be a dream: to be escorted through a mansion lit by dim golden lamps and pools of moonlight spilling through windows, leaving pearly puddles of light across the floors. Her hand was tucked securely in Emery’s, the contact comforting. She’d never been one for touching, hugging, any of that. But Emery’s large elegant hand curled around hers was soothing and yet completely mystifying.
Emery was like a phantom of the past, a gentleman whisking his lady toward a distant bedchamber. Sophie was only too eager for his seduction, but everything around her was a distraction. There were statues and art in odd places. She couldn’t help stopping in front of carved marble figures or running her fingertips over the glossy polished wood of what had to be priceless antiques. After she paused for the tenth time, Emery sighed.
“What is all of this?” Sophie stood transfixed by a marble figure of Poseidon that was tucked into a corner.
“Over the years I’ve collected and rescued many pieces from original houses built in the first half of the last century on the island.”
“Why?” Sophie turned her face up to his.
He was silent for a long moment, his gaze crossing the expanse of years. “Back before the Depression, this coast was covered with castles and palaces. American fortunes were lavishly spent on homes that rivaled those of the European royals. But after the Depression and every decade since, those same houses have slowly decayed, been destroyed, sold. Just last year some developer beat me out in an auction. He bought one of the houses four miles from here.” Emery’s eyes sharpened, the lines of his face tightening as he popped his jaw. “He bulldozed the whole place and built some cheap condominiums. Americans have never respected history.” Emery spat the last few words. Irritation tinged with a hint of despair consumed his hazel eyes.
How true it was. Too many landmarks, too many places with history had been destroyed in the wake of American growth.
Emery tightened his grip on her hand. “I’ve devoted much time and personal resources to preserving any land I can and I rescue everything possible from demolition sites and bring it here.”
Shock rippled through her at the thought of this man hunting for bits of Americana, that he could care so much for the broken dreams of a golden age long past. Her heart clenched tight. He was unlike anything she’d expected. He was haunted, yes; tortured, yes. But whatever hold his past had on him, he seemed determined to protect it. Like a king in a bewitched land where time could never move forward and he never aged. There was something sad and beautiful in seeing this about him. She couldn’t help but wonder if he thought his preservation of the past in some way preserved his brother, too.
“It seems like you’re a romantic, Emery.” She gripped his hand tighter, squeezing his palm.
His hands suddenly curled around her arms, shaking her a little. Fine lines around his eyes creased as his gaze hardened.
“Never mistake me for a romantic, Sophie. Especially not when I am fighting off the desire to bend you over my bed, naked and open for my possession. I’ve done nothing but devise a thousand ways in which I’d like to take you, restrain you, own you. Does that sound romantic to you?”
Sophie’s mouth went dry. Rather than be repulsed, his words shot fire straight to her womb, and she blinked slowly, barely able to move.
“Any more of those delightful little hungry looks of yours, and I’ll forget the bed and take you against the wall right here,” he warned.
“Promises, promises,” she muttered, inwardly amused she could find air to breathe. At twenty-four years old she’d never been all that interested in sex, had actually dreaded intimacy of any kind. Yet, here she was panting like a cat in heat after a stranger, wanting him to make love to her until she forgot her name, until her legs gave out and her vision hazed.
I’m shameless, completely shameless and I don’t even care.
Was it possible to go from prude to wanton in a mere hour? Apparently it was.
She eyed Emery with open hunger, the way his dark suit molded to his muscles and clung to him as he moved. He was like a leopard: sleek, graceful, powerful. He could corrupt a legion of the purest angels, have them tearing their wings from their backs and throwing themselves prostrate at his feet for just a touch or a husky whisper. The devil could make bargains with the body of this man, and she was more than willing to sign on the dotted line to give her soul up for another of his all-consuming, soul-stealing kisses.
It was only after a moment that she caught him watching her. His eyes shimmered with summer heat, scorching and dangerous.
“I think we’ll save a tour for later. You look too tempting and I don’t think my great Uncle Timsworth—” he pointed to a painting over her shoulder, of a gray-haired, solemn-looking man seated in a chair, cigar in hand— “would appreciate me fucking you against the wall next to him.”
Sophie blushed; her breath halted for a second. Why did the idea of that make her want to melt into a puddle on the floor?
“Are you hungry?” He raised her hand to his mouth, feathered his lips over her knuckles, locked his eyes on her the way an artist might focus on a blank canvas. Visions, dreams, each step of a masterpiece placed in the artist’s mind’s eye all before he set a brush to canvas. Sophie wondered what he saw in her, what masterpiece he sought to create.
Please let it be something dark, carnal, sinful.
As though able to read her thoughts, Emery smiled. It wasn’t just any smile, but one that knocked her behind the knees, sent her tumbling into his arms. It was a smile that drove her to a place emptied of all else save need for him and what he promised with a simple look.
Trouble. She was in so much trouble. Sophie tilted her head back to look up at him, the heat of his chest against hers hot enough to make her sweat despite the fact that she should have been cold in her leather miniskirt and corset top. She sucked in a breath when his head descended toward hers.
AFTER BEING TAKEN TO THE HOSPITAL AND TREATED, FRANCESCA ESPINA, THE BOYS’ NANNY, RECOUNTED WHAT SHE COULD REMEMBER OF THE CRIME. SHE STATED THERE WERE AT LEAST THREE MEN IN BLACK MASKS WHO CAME IN THROUGH THE BACK KITCHEN DOOR. DURING THE FIGHT, ONE OF THE BOYS TRIED TO DISTRACT ONE OF THE KIDNAPPERS BUT WAS HURT. BLOOD SAMPLES FROM THE SCENE WERE MATCHED TO THE YOUNG VICTIM AS WELL AS TO THE NANNY.