She'll play his game-but only by her rules!
Alex Lancaster is an adrenaline junkie. He's also a sexy British billionaire who should come with his own warning signs. When Libby insists she is done with men who live on the edge, Alex coaxes her out of her comfort zone-professionally and very, very personally. Libby's taking a high-stakes gamble, but the pay-off could win her everything...
Alex Lancaster stopped the treadmill and reached for the towel he’d thrown over the handrail, using it to the wipe the sting of sweat from his eyes. He preferred to run in the Oxfordshire countryside, or along the banks of the River Thames. But on the nights when he stayed in the city his office treadmill just had to suffice. And today he needed to push himself twice as hard to out‑ run the restlessness.
Despite his forty‑minute workout, thoughts of the enigma that was Olivia Noble had dogged his every step.
Briefly checking his phone for urgent messages, he clicked off the TV that dominated one wall of his spacious office, silencing the business news, and headed for the en‑suite shower.
Alex ducked his head under the pounding spray, ignoring the flicker of interest from his cock—a renewed flicker brought on by the curvy, sophisticated brunette. He’d admired her enough from afar, but in person she’d blown him away. Sassy, shrewd, cutting through his bullshit, as she’d no doubt call it.
He closed his eyes, recalling the sexy timbre of her husky voice. She spoke as if she had a bad case of laryngitis or a lifelong smoking habit. She didn’t have either. He’d scoured every detail he could find about her on the internet, filling in the blanks with his vivid, slightly perverted imagination.
An imagination inspired by the thick, glossy dark hair she wore fastened at her nape in an elegant pony‑ tail, by the provocative curve of her rounded hips concealed by the figure‑hugging pencil skirts she wore and the tiny glimpse of pale, creamy cleavage he’d seen that morning when she’d moved away from him, her blouse tugging across her breasts and revealing just enough to make him hard for the rest of the day. Of course their verbal spat on the phone hadn’t helped either.
He scrubbed shampoo into his scalp, his fingertips punishing. He’d never had to work so hard to entice someone to work with him. His employees loved him. He gave them stellar health insurance cover, more holidays than were legally required and fat bonuses for a job well done. He even offered his top software designers and their families a week’s stay a year at his boutique winery in Oxfordshire as a loyalty inducement. Consequently, he retained his best staff in what was a highly competitive global industry. Olivia Noble had almost sounded insulted when he’d discussed her fee. Surely she wasn’t that naive? Like it or not, money made the world go round—any good businessperson knew that. And, from his research,
Olivia certainly deserved the title—something that doubled her allure in his mind.
She had graduated first in her year with a Bachelor of Commerce degree, had a master’s degree in marketing, and in four years had taken her company from a start‑ up to one of the top ten marketing firms in New York. Her work on the high‑profile Kids Count charity had dragged her from obscurity to his attention.
Did her reluctance have anything to do with the sparks of chemistry that seemed to arc between them? Did she feel it too? That almost frenzied pull? He soaped himself more vigorously, turning the dial on the shower down to tepid, to cool the blaze she’d evoked.
She’d wanted nothing to do with him earlier today. He’d planned to woo her to work with him over the lunch put on by the Business School. But she’d acted as if she couldn’t get away quickly enough. Straight talking, no simpering or inane flattery.
And hadn’t that been a big fucking turn‑on? Another point in Ms Noble’s favour.
Most women he met struggled to conceal the spark of excitement in their eyes, as if in meeting him they’d been handed a winning lottery ticket. Sadly, regardless of how attractive they were or how much they shared in common, he could never quite be sure their interest was in him the person or him the young entrepreneur listed on Forbes.
Not that Olivia had been able to fully conceal the flush of her chest or the rapid flutter of the pulse in her neck. He’d felt it too. The immediate slug of fascination that had had his head swivelling in a double‑ take the minute she’d stepped onto the stage to deliver her speech to the packed auditorium of keen under‑ graduates.
And close up… He’d had to discreetly adjust his cock in his slim‑fit trousers as she’d walked away from their frustratingly brief interaction, trailing a light floral scent in her wake. He’d wanted to follow her, his nose to the ground like a bloodhound, sniffing at her sexy four‑inch stilettos.
Roughly towelling himself dry, he analysed their arduous phone conversation. Why was the delectable Ms Noble so reluctant to take the account? He’d seen her body of work. She was amply capable of running both the Able‑Active marketing strategy and that of Lancaster IT. The majority of her current client base was situated in the States. Surely she saw the benefits of expanding globally? And why had her initial refusal stung his modest ego? Lancaster IT ranked in the Financial Times ‘Global 500’, so it couldn’t be his professional credentials.
He slipped into jeans and a clean shirt, selecting a blazer from the supply he kept at work. He grabbed his phone, frustration mounting. He’d grown accustomed to getting what he wanted, and if things went against him, he made them work. Refused to give up.
Perhaps Olivia’s aversion was to him personally.
No, that didn’t make sense. She hadn’t been able to hide her body’s unconscious reaction any more than he’d been able to hide his. She must share his personal interest—her reluctance was for mixing the two. But they were similar in many ways. Driven. Career‑focussed.
He’d just have to convince her they could have the best of both worlds. That they needed to scratch this itch and then put it aside and focus on the important work ahead. Rewarding work. Work that would make a real difference and allow him to put some of his wealth into creating change. Or at least help him atone for Jenny… He swallowed, forcing his mind away from a well‑ worn, unwanted path. He had to move forward. Use past mistakes to make good future decisions.
He blew out a slow, controlled sigh, his mind returning to Olivia. She’d eventually relented, her manner turning brisk, putting him in his place. His cock twitched again, and impatience urged him to fire a brief text to his driver.
By the time he was seated in the back of his car, speeding through the streets of London, now devoid of rush‑hour traffic, he’d formulated a charm offensive. If a lucrative business deal couldn’t tempt out her reluctant smile, he’d have to find other inducements.
Libby sighed. Her fingers absently swirled the stirrer in her martini and the general hubbub of the hotel bar behind her faded to background noise.
She’d longed to sleep, to enjoy the luxurious tub in her deluxe room and put today behind her. But, jet‑ lagged, fractious and horny from her encounters with Alex, sleep had drifted further out of reach with each passing minute.
The alcohol wouldn’t help—not with the sleeplessness or the horniness—but sitting in the impersonal confines of her beige room, thinking about Alex and his offer, wasn’t an option. It was a good offer. Before meeting him she’d have jumped at it. But now…? The more time she spent with the captivating business man, the greater the risk of her succumbing to her attraction to him. An attraction as alarming as it was alluring. Alex Lancaster wasn’t the type of man to take no for an answer, and her yes wasn’t given lightly these days.
Someone invaded her personal space.
‘Why don’t you drink that so I can buy you another one?’ the man in the suit said, leaning too close and wafting her with beer‑fume breath.
Great, this was the last thing she needed. She looked up, unsmiling. Why did guys assume a woman alone in bar must clearly be waiting for them? He was cute enough, if you ignored the leer and the breath, but her body couldn’t muster one drop of enthusiasm for the predictable stranger.
The same body that had spent the entire day lusting after Alex Lancaster. The same body that still reminded her with soaked panties and chafed nipples that it had been three long years since she’d sought pleasure with another. Perhaps that was the reason Alex had got to her with little more than a raised eyebrow or the twist of his kissable lips.
Impervious to her go‑away stare, Beer Breath slid one hand to the centre of her back and leaned over to reach for her phone, which was on the bar beside her untouched martini. Her hand beat his there. Just.
He pouted, swaying closer to bump shoulders with her.
‘I was only going to give you my number, so you can call me when you’ve finished stirring that one to death and I can buy you another.’
He raised bushy eyebrows, the leer widening.
‘Right…’ Libby shrugged, shaking his hand from between her shoulder blades. ‘But I’m fine.’ He grinned, signalling the barman. Damn. He wasn’t going to give up without a fight. That bath and the beige walls of her room looked in‑ creasingly appealing now. She should at least try to sleep. She’d need all her wits tomorrow—dealing with Alex would sap every scrap of resolve she possessed.
‘I’m so sorry I’m late.’
The man occupying her thoughts swept up beside her on a cloud of freshly showered deliciousness, his hand taking a proprietorial hold of the back of her barstool and his smoky, heavy‑lidded smile stripping her naked.
‘Hi.’ Libby closed her slack‑jawed mouth and swiv‑ elled to face him, turning her back on the stranger, never one to pass up a golden opportunity. She hated rudeness, but if Beer Breath was too stubborn or thick‑skulled to take the hint…
Alex kept his stare on her, his smile genuine and warm enough to melt her underwear clean off, and then signalled the waiter with a flick of his wrist. Libby sensed the moment when Beer Breath slinked away, and the hairs on the back of her neck settled—but only temporarily, because Alex hadn’t taken his eyes off her.
In fact, he was looking at her as if he was sec‑ onds from devouring her whole. She shivered, delicious tendrils snaking to all her erogenous zones. ‘What are you doing here?’ Libby took a slug of her previously untouched drink, the burn calming her enough to meet his bold stare with one of her own.
‘I came to invite you out for a late supper. I was on my way to Reception and then I spotted you here.’ His hand slid from the back of her stool, and he settled into the one next to her, passing his order to the waiter be‑ fore returning his disconcerting focus to her.
She stared back, lost for words and missing the prox‑ imity of his hand on her chair. He was close enough that his warmth traversed the space between them, but far enough away that she battled her body’s urge to sway closer.
And keep on swaying. ‘What?’
One corner of his mouth kicked up.
‘What kind of host would I be if I left you to fend for yourself on your first night in a strange city?’ She couldn’t help the snort that left her. ‘The non‑ stalker kind…?’ He took the jibe with a cocksure arch of one brow, sipping wine while his poised stare flicked over her face from feature to feature.
Libby flushed hot all over. The ‘stalker’ comment had been beneath her. He hadn’t once touched her, hadn’t bought her drink, hadn’t tried to grab her phone, hadn’t even chased away her unwanted admirer—he had simply given her the out she’d wanted. The rest was all her.
What was wrong with her? Rudeness to a generous host and influential employer? All because he’d awo‑ ken needs within her? Needs too long dormant. Needs she’d never had before. Needs threatening to overwhelm her in their intensity.
Hardly his fault. He dropped the bland smile, and a small frown crinkled the skin between his brows. ‘It’s a public bar, Olivia. I’m being a gentleman. But if you don’t want company, just say so and I’ll leave.’
Of course he would. Alex Lancaster didn’t need to stalk women. They probably lined up, forming a polite, orderly, English queue.
She swallowed, her throat tight. ‘Thank you.’ She tilted her head in the direction of Beer Breath’s exit path. ‘He was about to become a persistent pain in my ass.’
He barely acknowledged the man in the suit, and his continued casual perusal made her limbs jittery and lodged a ball of restless energy low in her belly. ‘So, have you eaten? Dinner?’ One eyebrow lifted and he licked red wine from his plush lower lip. A simple invitation. One she’d offer herself to a vis‑ iting business colleague new in town. Why, then, did it feel like more than an offer of a shared meal? Or was that simply her overactive libido filling in the blanks?
‘I’m not hungry.’ Her voice emerged as barely a croak.
No argument, no persuasion.
‘Tell me…’ He leaned a little closer, his stare a little more penetrating, searching hers. ‘Why the reluctance to work for Able‑Active?’
Alex cut straight to the heart of an issue. She admired that. But no way could she explain her reticence with‑ out giving away a whole heap of personal stuff. Stuff she did her best never to think about.
She ducked her head away from his intensity, her sleeveless, lightweight blouse as cloying as a thick, woolly sweater.
He ploughed on. ‘You think I’m arrogant.’
She shot him a glance, surprised to see amusement lingering on his face.
He gave another shrug, as if he had her all worked out. ‘I see it in your eyes.’ He rested his elbows on the bar, leaning closer. ‘I’d like you to extend your stay. All expenses covered, of course.’
‘Why?’ Her head spun, reeling from the arrogant request.
Hadn’t they already established that she wouldn’t roll over and do whatever he asked? If he didn’t seem to have a hotline to her long‑dormant libido she’d laugh in his sinfully handsome face.
‘Able‑Active doesn’t happen inside an office. I want you to experience it, to really understand my vision. I’d like you to stay a fortnight.’
He took another sip of wine, giving her time to re‑ spond. Her jaw fell, her fidgety hand stilling around the stem of her martini glass. ‘Are you nuts?’
Clearly Libby was nuts, too, because for a fleeting moment she considered it. Then she sobered. Even if she wanted to jump when he clicked his fingers, she couldn’t. She had Sonya, her heavily pregnant partner, to consider. Yes, she could work from anywhere in the world with a Wi‑Fi connection for short periods and, yes, she’d cleared her desk before flying to the UK, but a fortnight away from the office…
He laughed—a deep rumble that curled her toes and transformed him from sexy, assured businessman to sexy boy‑next‑door, all grown up. He turned his stool to face her, leaning back in a relaxed slouch, his thighs spread.
Libby’s eyes burned with the effort of maintaining eye contact and not succumbing to a visual tour of his denim‑clad crotch. Time to be clear. If this working relationship was to be successful, he needed to under‑ stand a few things.
‘You know, I’m sure you’re used to it, but you can’t always have your own way.’
She plucked the olive from her drink, holding it be‑ tween her teeth while she stared him down. Two could play Mr Lancaster’s game. If he thought she’d simper at his flattery, drop to her knees no questions asked, he wasn’t as smart as she knew him to be.
She bit into the salty olive, allowing her tongue to linger on her lips.
His pupils dilated—a subconscious tell over which he had no control. Then he shrugged, as if he didn’t care either way. But she knew that wasn’t true. Like her, he’d likely achieved his success by expanding con‑ trol over all areas of his life. Personal and professional. But did he need that control, like her? Did he feel as if he was spinning off into the inky blackness of space without it, like her?
He tilted his head, his astute gaze leaving her mouth at last. This time when he met her eyes she wanted to curl up and hide.
‘I’ll make you a proposition.’ He lifted the glass to his lips, taking a sip while his words sank in.
Libby shook her head, determined to wrestle back the upper hand. ‘I’ve conceded enough to you in our short acquaintance.’
Alex bit his lip, hiding a smile.
He flared his nostrils, sucking in a breath and tilt‑ ing his head back to consider the ceiling. Good. She posed a challenge—no doubt a novelty to someone in his position. She could almost hear the cogs working in his head.
‘Fair point.’ He rubbed his index and middle finger along his lower lip. ‘How about for every concession you make, I’ll make one too?’
He shifted, his thighs parting a fraction more, as if he were growing uncomfortable. Was she having a similar effect on him as he had on her?
His voice dropped. Slow. Deep. Intimate.
‘Equal. Mutually satisfying.’
He took another sip of wine. Waiting. Watching her over the rim.
Libby recrossed her legs, her thighs clammy. ‘A ne‑ gotiation? I warn you, I’m good.’
Not that she had any experience with this kind of deal. How to be a high school sweetheart, how to be a girlfriend, how to be a fiancée—yes. But how to handle this searing sexual chemistry and keep enough distance to emerge unscathed? Could he tell she was making this up as she went along?
Thought he had this in the bag, did he? He gave a slow nod. ‘I know that. Research, remem‑ ber? The best.’ He leaned forward, closing the distance between them, his voice a low whisper, eyes aglow. ‘What do you say? Up for a little…adventure?’
Her mind raced, her heart beating its way into her throat.
Were they even still talking about work? Did it mat‑ ter? Perhaps Sonya, Vinnie and her hormones were right. A no‑strings dalliance was exactly what she needed—slake this intense thirst she’d thought long extinguished, then finish a rewarding and lucrative job and move on.
As if he’d read her mind, he said, ‘Come on.’ Libby leaned closer. His low voice called to her, zing‑ ing straight between her legs. From this distance, she could see his pulse flicking in the notch at the base of his throat, the dark hairs peeking over the open neck of his shirt, could smell the detergent he used on his laundry His voice continued—persuasive, tempting.
‘You’re a perceptive, intelligent woman…’
She braced one foot on the floor, her body swaying towards his as if she was hard of hearing and needed to lean closer to his tantalising mouth. Her hand landed on his thigh, steadying her balance, but the denim was a poor barrier to the heat and bulk of his taut muscles. ‘You feel this insane chemistry too.’ His stare smoul‑ dered, his breath tickling her neck.
She practically sagged into him. She wasn’t alone. Wasn’t imagining this. But should she act on it? Did she dare? ‘I want you.’ He held eye contact, his stark statement hanging in the crackling air between them. ‘Physically, professionally.’
He spoke as if he was negotiating a business deal. Calm, collected, poker‑faced.
A tiny shrug of one shoulder. ‘Stay.’
He made it sound so easy—a foregone conclusion. And she was sorely tempted.
All the time they’d talked, he hadn’t touched her. His hands were still relaxed on the arms of the barstool when all she wanted to do was slide her fingers through his silky dishevelled hair and angle his head until he kissed her. Kissed away the doubt. Kissed away the memories. Kissed away the loneliness.
She sat back, her hand slipping from the rock‑hard muscles of his thigh. Time to wrestle this back under her command. Get a grip of herself and this situation. Give him a taste of his own medicine.
The trouble was, lust had robbed her brain of its usual quick wit and all the negotiating skills she’d bragged about. Every single comeback or demand had fled her mind like sand falling through the holes of a sieve. Perhaps she’d transmitted her thoughts telepathically to him, because he said, ‘You need control?’
Could he see her that clearly? Were her fears, her hang‑ups, so clearly displayed on her face?
He’d dropped the smile, his expression now serious, as if he understood the momentous battle raging inside her. She wanted him too—had spent the day thinking about him, about what it would be like to feel his touch, feel his mouth, feel him move inside her…
The urge to give in to that curiosity, that need, was overwhelming.
He dipped his chin, ensuring that she saw him—saw both the sincerity in his stare and the flare of the same battle inside him.
‘I’m man enough to concede it. What can I do to give you what you need so we can both win?’
A silent groan had Libby’s eyes drooping as she took in a long, ragged breath. What an intoxicating offer. Could she do this? Separate business from pleasure? Keep things casual between them? On her terms? Give him a concession or two and take what he was willing to concede?
She opened her eyes to his continued stare. The slight flare of his nostrils was the only sign that he too expe‑ rienced the anticipation that fluttered in Libby’s belly, bringing her to life.
Until she spoke, she was clueless as to how she’d re‑ spond. ‘I’ll give you a week.’
He nodded. So accommodating. So skilled at nego‑ tiating this fragile truce.
But she, too, could strike a pretty deal. Time to see how much he was willing to relinquish. Could he be a man of his word? Was he really interested in a deal?
Did he want her enough to agree to her terms?
There was only one way to find out.
She leaned closer, her lips parting on a barely there gasp as their knees made contact. She dropped her voice, as he’d done. ‘If we’re working together…’ her eyes flicked to his crotch, still displayed before her ‘…and fucking, I won’t be bossed around.’
Another nod. Another delicious concession.
Her mind raced, searching for a compromise that, as he’d put it, would allow them both to get what they wanted. She’d never fought so hard. Her self‑ preservation demanded every inch of ground acquired.
The ultimate test of his mettle would come. Could he withstand what she had planned for him? Would her nerve hold?
Libby’s temperature reached boiling point, seconds away from spontaneous combustion. She shook her head slowly, commanding his full attention. ‘You won’t get your own way all the time.’ He shrugged again, the small half‑smile returning. ‘If I had my way…’ he lifted his wine glass, taking a sip, his eyes slowly raking over her mouth ‘…I’d have fucked you at the top of The Shard this morning. Had you screaming my name with that sexy voice of yours.’
Her gasp sounded so loud she expected the whole population of the bar to turn in their direction. He quirked a scornful brow. ‘Seems to me, you are the one getting her way, Olivia.’
Danger. He reeked of it. Not that her personal safety was in question. But she should run all the same. Still he stared, his eyes flicking between hers. Still her breaths gusted in and out through parted lips. She held his searing eye contact. A challenge. Battle lines being drawn.
Finishing her martini in one swallow, she slid from the stool, coming to stand between his still spread thighs. She leaned close, her heavy ponytail falling for‑ ward, a few strands of hair getting caught in the stubble covering his strong jaw.
With her lips mere millimetres from his ear, she whispered, a thrill tingling up her spine.
She could almost feel the fine hairs on his earlobe tickle her lips.
Leaning back, she took the key card from her purse and pressed it into his palm, turned on her heel and left the bar on shaky legs.