he walked in, blond, small, tanned, smelling of monoÃ¯, the tiare-infused coconut oil from the islands. Luc recognized the scent because he smelled and tasted everything that passed through his hands, good or bad.
It wasn't a policy he usually applied to people, but . . . she looked like someone a man wouldn't mind tasting, certainly. A sun goddess you might pick up off a beach on a tropical escape, feel the sand sticking to her skin when you made love to her, shake it out of the sheets in the morning with a smile on your face.
Or so he imagined. He had never escaped to a tropical island, not even once, but his ability to imagineâand realizeâimpossible things was world famous.
She looked tired, around-the-world-in-eighty-days tired, with a pinch around her eyes that went beyond jet lag. But when she looked up and met his eyes, she pulled out a smile so bright it was several minutes before Luc realized she had no idea who he was. She hadn't recognized him. She had just seen the symbol of the hotel under his name on his shirt and thrown him the same bright smile she would have given anyone.
So right from the start there was a problem. A conflict within him, perhaps. Luc knew with certainty that she had arrived on the edge of nerves and exhaustion. That she needed tolerance and compassion.
Yet he couldn't quite forgive her for that split second when he had fallen for that bright smile, and it hadn't been for him.
She probably thought he was the bellboy.
That was one hot bellboy, Summer noticed. Standing near the polished mahogany reception desk, framed by marble columns, light glimmering on his face from a gold chandelier.
Welcome, Madame, to your mausoleum.
thought this place was a gorgeous palace.
Black-haired, probably about thirty, the man curled like a whip around her attention and yanked it to him.
How? She hadn't slept more than ten hours in the past four days, some of which she had spent hanging sick over the side of a cargo ship. How could he wake her up enough to notice him? Even if he was gorgeous, radiating sculpted, precise elegance, with a perfect, coiled tension in him. Tall and lean and lovelyâand watching her.
Maybe someone at the hotel had checked out her dating history, figured out her type, and placed him there to keep her distracted and malleable.
How thoughtful of them.
She smiled at him because she was almost never too far gone to smile at someone as if he was special. The gift cost her nothing, certainly not any iota of herself, so why be stingy with it?
The bellboy, or whatever he was, stood perfectly still, a hotel logo embroidered on his stylish white shirt, with an open collar and up-to-the-minute cut. For a moment the power of his presence forced every detail on her: a honed, startlingly handsome face, the copper tone of his skin, the black hair, the black eyes that fixed her as if he had just spotted water in a desert.
“Monsieur.” She put a hand on his wrist, smiling up at him, and a little flick ran up that matte skin. Great. She definitely needed a man who was putty in her hands right now; she didn't have the strength for anyone who could resist her. “Could you show me to my room, please?”
Tricky, for a bronze statue to stiffen further, but he managed it. Maybe not such putty after all. Wow, his eyes were so . . . intense. Greed kicked through her, a desire to grab that intensity and wallow in it.
Mine, mine, all mine.
God, she must be out-of-her-mind tired.
“I think you have me mistaken for someone else,” Gorgeous said with distinct hauteur. He kept cutting his way through every blurring of her brain, the one clear thing in her fatigue. He looked like a Greek god. A real Greek god, not those heavy-lipped marble things. Born out of Chaos, hardened by fire, ready to go fight some Titans.
Summer Corey,” she retorted firmly. Top that, Greek God. “Come on. Here.” She dove into her purse and came up with a handful of fifty-euro bills, fresh from the airport distributor, and lowered her voice as she pressed them into his palm. “Just get me to my room before anyone else realizes I'm here, okay? I need a nap.”
Preferably in a hammock on the beach, but she wasn't going to get that. She was going to get some opulent bed that gave her hives. “I promise I won't let you get fired for sneaking me in.”
Black eyebrows went up. “I promise you I won't be fired.”
Oh, for God's sake, couldn't he take extravagant tips for discreet favors to rich clients gracefully? He was working at the top hotel in Paris, for crying out loud. Maybe she was going about this the wrong way. “I
Summer Corey.” As in, the person who could do the firing, so stop arguing and get moving. Before she just fell over into his arms. She swayed a little at the thought of someone lifting her, carrying her, taking her away from all this.
“Congratulations.” He left his hand open so that the bills scattered over his feet. “I'm Luc Leroi.”
If she had had one iota more energy, she might have gasped and genuflected, just to subvert his arrogant tone.
the King. She hadn't forgotten any European princes her mom was trying to set her up with, had she? No one came to mind. “So what are you king of?” she asked him with a little grin, which she was pretty proud of. Not everyone could pull out friendly grins for indiscreet bellboys when she felt ready for her own funeral.
His lips parted as if he had taken one to the gut, and his eyes went obsidian.
“Here,” he said finally, with an edge to his voice. “Welcome to my kingdom, Summer Corey.”
That couldn't be right. According to her father, this was
kingdom now. Her parents had always had trouble telling the difference between what might be their daughter's fairytale kingdom and her own personal hell. She curled her hand around his arm and leaned into him confidingly and then had a hard time not just letting him take all her weight. He took a soft, sudden breath as her body got close to his. Oh, yeah, so maybe he would like having her weight plastered to his body. She swayed just a bit more into him. “Here's some advice. When the owner of âyour kingdom' asks to be discreetly shown to her room, it's probably a good idea to help her out if you want to keep your throne. No matter who you think you are.”
His eyes glinted. “That's thoughtful of you. The advice. Can I return the favor?”
Hard arms swept her off her feet and up against his chest, one arm under her legs, the other her back, the iron grip shocking her. He moved so fast it took her brain a few seconds to catch up and realize he had just saved her from this cold marble hall. And longer still to realize that she was probably supposed to be alarmed that he'd caught her, not overwhelmed with relief. Her body wanted to go limp as a rag doll.
“If you think your daddy's buying a hotel makes you queen of it, you might want to do some research on your new subjects before you come sweeping into your queendom. Thierry, mademoiselle's key.”
A young man gaping at them from behind the mahogany desk blinked at the crisp command, fumbled, and finally slipped a card into Luc's fingers.
Black eyes glittered down at her. “And you might want to know a little bit more about a man before you ask him to escort you to your room.” Her captor strode into the nearest elevator and dipped her enough to press a button without loosening his grip.
Summer stared up into night-black eyes as the doors shut them in.
Never get caught with a strange man by yourself in an elevator.
Especially if that strange man has literally grabbed you off the floor and hauled you into that elevator.
Oh, what the hell. It was better than being clawed to shreds by rage and loneliness and anxiety. She laid her head down on his shoulder and went with it.
His fingers spasmed into her, a tiny, quickly controlled pressure. His chest moved in a long breath under her cheek.
A strong shoulder. She curled her face into it, concentrating on the male strength and delicious scent of him. Such a strange, complex mixture of scents, whispers and promises of the entire world. Her eyes closed, tension draining out of her body.
His fingers flexed into her again, gentler, longer.
Good. He wasn't going to drop her. That was about all she needed to know at this point. She snuggled her face against his muscles, her mouth curving faintly as she drifted toward sleep.
The elevator's stop and his long, smooth stride as he left it nudged her awake again. Why was he walking so fast? Was he really carrying her off?
Her heart beat harder, adrenaline trying to break through her fatigue. She told her adrenaline to shut up. She liked this, plunging into erotic danger just where she had thought to be buried in deadly, merciless elegance. Kidnapped by a gorgeous strangerâyou couldn't ask for a better distraction than that.
She wondered what he was planning to do with her, and how much she might like it. The muscles of his chest and abs flexed hard against her as he walked. It had been three years since anyone had held her, and he smelled so good.
Dimly, she grasped that fatigue and emotional stress had sent her right off the deep end, but she had no strength left to haul herself back up into a sane reaction. Besides, the scents in his shirt lured her like a fairy story. There, that vivid freshness, like strawberries growing in a wood, peeking under leaves. There, a crisp, bright, almost stinging scent, like limes gleaming on a tree in the sunlight. There, something rich and opulent she could sink into, curling up and letting its darkness velvet over her.
Her thoughts skated over the lean, hard muscles against which her body rested as he inserted her room card into the lock. She buried her face extra tightly in his shoulder to shut out the room. Goddamnit, but she hated hotels. Hated them with an intense and utter passion that made her want to scream their walls downâscream herself free.
Please don't leave me alone in this hotel.
An irrational plea.
He set her down on the bed. For a second his arms caught under her, his body low over hers. Her eyes flickered open to his face, close enough that it was the only thing in the world she needed to see. “What's your name again?” she asked fuzzily. Probably best to know, since she was about to let him do whatever he wanted to her. Later, who knew, she might regain sense and have to track him down and punish him for taking advantage of her collapse. Find out if he had a deadly disease, or if she should acknowledge his paternal rights, or . . .
Shut up, brain. Let me just go with this.
His mouth compressed so hard she only then realized how much it had softened in transit. “Luc Leroi,” he said, like nails into her brain. “It's on my shirt.” He picked up her hand and drew her index finger over the first swirl of the L. “Here. Maybe you're a kinetic learner.”
The shirt had a thick, tough texture, almost like an apron, not the usual silk-cotton blend. The thick, high-quality embroidery slid under her finger, the looping curve, the smooth fabric of the shirt, the muscles underneath. Down and around the loops of the L, the gentle wave of the U, curl the C, another L. She kept going after he stopped moving her hand, kept tracing the letters.
The hardness melted slowly from his face, his mouth softening, his eyes growing more intense. Maybe it was just her brain blurring.
As her focus faded, his sharpened. The thought of being at the center of that focus lured her like the one bright light deep in a tangled forest. No. Like the possibility of
the one bright light in a dark forest, of sinking into its depths and secrets, of being held as its one pure heart.
She took a breath. How did you keep a focus like that on you? Men with focus never focused on her for long. Luc, the king of something. Kings could be bought. Her dad did it all the time. If she bought him, then he would owe her his focus, right? She could pack him and his scents up with her and take him with her to her island. Clearly, he was worth more than a few bills from her purse, though, and he wanted her to know it.
“I could give you a Bugatti,” she murmured to the fold of his shirt, because she couldn't keep her eyes open. Wait, what was she talking about? What use would a Bugatti be to him on that island? “Or a yacht.”
His hand closed over her shoulder, hard enough to hurt.
She brought a hand to his, pushing at that painful grip, and he released her as if she stung, straightening away.
Well, damn. Her eyes flickered open enough to notice he looked furious. Gorgeous fury framed by the opulence of gray and rose silk draping above the bed.
Fuck. She threw her arm over her eyesâthe next best method of shutting out the world she had been thrown back into. Apparently, being hauled off by a Greek god wasn't going to work out for her. The cold loneliness of the hotel room laughed, stretching little evil fingers toward her.
I'm going to get you.
Maybe it was confusing the Greek god for her to keep trying to bribe him that way. You would have thought a god would be used to being offered tribute, but maybe not. She was slaphappy, wasn't she?
“I'm really tired,” she said suddenly from under her arm.
A tiny silence.
“Oui, j'ai vu.”
He sounded as if he was in some kind of pain.
A strong sure hand closed over her calf, and deft fingers released her sandal. Those same strong fingers hesitated and then closed briefly around her toes, wrapping them in warmth. “And freezing,” he said low.
Maybe he could warm her up. She peeked out from under her arm hopefully. He gave her an incredulous, hard look and released her toes. Damn.