But she wasn’t that girl any more. She didn’t want to be. Because that girl had given everything to her father until there had been nothing left for her.
A recklessness she’d never known before pulsated through her. Urging her to throw caution to the wind and admit that his touch on her body was welcome and she wantedmore. Much more. Because when had she ever been selfish? Or allowed herself to behave any way rather than steadfastly, working out the pros and cons first?
Once was the simple answer. Once when she’d packed her suitcase, ready to run away with Akeem, and he’d gone without her...
She had nothing to lose by spending the night with him.
Only pleasure—however fleeting.
Every muscle in her body strained as she moved towards him and stood on tiptoe.
‘One night?’ she hissed and waited, nose to nose, eye to eye, for him to respond—like a boxer squaring off against an opponent before a fight, just as her dad had done in his youth.
The only time her father had fought for anything it had been for those few trophies on the mantelpiece at home. He’d never fought for her. For their family. The only things he’d taken pride in had been his boxing achievements. And what did she have to be proud of? A few awards for her portraits from secondary school? An unconditional place to study for a diploma at college she’d never taken up because she’d had to get a job instead? She’d had to take care of her dad...
‘Yes.’ Akeem agreed, his eyes hungry, his breathing shallow. ‘One night.’
It was desire. That was all. Right now, she needed to connect, and she was reacting to the havoc of the day and to the storm of emotions he was evoking inside her. The indulgence of being impulsive was equally as exciting as it was frightening, but she was surrendering to it. To a spontaneity she’d never been allowed to have.
Her hands had made their way to the solid wall of his chest. The fabric of his shirt was cushioning her fingers. She pushed away and stepped out of his embrace.
‘Let’s get it over with,’ she said, trying on for size the indifference she wanted to project. But she wasn’t indifferent. She was excited. Scared. Slick in places she shouldn’t be.
His eyes narrowed. ‘As you wish. But we will not “get it over with”. It will be long and gratifying.’
Tingles shot through her. ‘One night and one night only. Then we part ways. Nothing changes. We’ll be the same as we are now. A distant memory in each other’s life.’
‘Yes,’ he agreed, his beautiful face carved in granite.
Charlotte hesitated. He was lying. Again. Or was she? Because it would change everything. It would change her. But wasn’t that what she wanted? To be completely brand-new and forging forward into a shiny future, not beholden to the past?
‘No more thinking, Charlotte,’ he said, his voice gruff, and he extended his arm. ‘Take my hand.’
With bated breath, she did.
Blindly, she followed him. Took his hand, without pause and without question. To be deposited neatly into a waiting car.
She looked at him, folded against the leather interior, seemingly oblivious to her presence, and her traitorous heart did a double beat. Her hand still burned. Her palm still radiated the heat of their hands’ union. And her mouth...oh, her mouth...it throbbed with the memory of his lips so close to hers.
Her heart threatening to explode, she looked away from him. Sweat beaded her palms and she smoothed them down her black pencil skirt. There was a ladder in her tights. A run where thigh met knee. She pulled at it. She didn’t belong here, with her cheap skirt and ninety-nine pence tights.
This wasn’t how a woman should look on her way to a hotel to be seduced.
She turned to the window. The scene beyond was a whizzing blur.
Her clothes didn’t matter. She wanted this. She wanted him.
Keeping her back to him, she felt the warmth of his breath hit her nape before he moved his mouth to her ear.
A soft but firm finger traced the outline of her spine, and she shivered as a heavy sensation dragged through her in its wake.
‘I have every intention of easing this tension.’
She hadn’t been touched in almost a decade. She didn’t need to ask what he meant. Of course there’d been dates. She’d worked in endless jobs, and meeting people hadn’t been the problem. But she’d never connected with them, never wanted them, because their lips hadn’t been his lips.
They hadn’t given her this. Whatever this was stillburning hotly between them.
Arching her neck, she leaned into him and closed her eyes. One night—that was all—and his hands would be everywhere... On her—in her. They’d be naked and anonymous in some swanky London hotel. She needed this. He was right. She needed him.
The car slowed to an almost-crawl. Or was she slowing down? She didn’t seem to be breathing—just feeling.
‘Does it scare you?’ she asked.
He pressed his chest against her back. Strength surged from him. Solid and all-consuming confidence.
‘Does what scare me?’
She twirled in his embrace, splaying her hand against his seemingly impenetrable chest, keeping him at bay, although every instinct told her to pull him in. Grab him by the lapels and pull him in. Closer.
‘This energy between us?’
‘What I feel is excitement,’ he admitted, ‘not fear.’
‘Me too,’ she whispered truthfully. ‘But it’s been nearly ten years.’ She grappled with her tongue. ‘We are strangers, and yet...’
‘We are strangers?’
‘How can we not be? I was only sixteen when we met at St John’s Children’s—’
‘I was nearly eighteen.’ His eyes widened. ‘We were both innocents, finding solace in each other.’
‘But the trajectory of our lives since then has been...’ She wanted to say different, but it didn’t feel right.
He vibrated luxury. The suit caressing his body. The car. He’d moved on to bigger and better things and she—