“This is different Isabelle.” Elle flinched. The deliberate mention of her real name was a harsh reminder that she was way out of her depth tonight. She couldn’t pull this off.“In your world, where you play the single mother living in a modest end-terrace, working a job for a mediocre salary, and driving a company car, no one recognizes you. But you’re in his world right now and you’re playing with fire if you think you can decorate the arm of the guest of honour and have no one figure out what’s going on here.”
“There’s nothing going on here!” Elle’s gaze leaped up to meet Anastasia’s glare in the mirror’s reflection.
“Look at you, Elle.” Anastasia hissed, keeping her voice low. “You’ve gone all out for this and there isn’t a woman in the room who isn’t talking about you. Did you really think the elusive Isabelle Tyler-Richards could show up tonight? Do you want people to find out? Do you want all that dragged up again? Think of Daniella. She doesn’t even know about the Tyler-Richards and if you want to keep it that way you need to leave and you need to leave right now.”
Anastasia was right. Elle knew the people attending tonight’s function from school. They were her classmates, her parent’s friends, or her grandmother’s employees. If just one of them recognised her, they would call her Isabelle too, and then what would happen?
If she reacted in any way to that name they would reveal she belonged to a powerful family and she was the heiress of an international chain of luxury spa resorts. She’d already escaped one encounter with Richard and Elaine. But she was here for Adam. How did she leave him?
“Elle” Anastasia’s hand rested against her forearm, her warmth spread through Elle as she let out a deep sigh. “You need to be careful with this boy.” Once again, their gazes locked in the mirror’s reflection. But this time she felt like the pregnant lost teen who’d been taken under Anastasia’s wing all those years ago.
“He’s only after one thing. He’s a master at getting it and he has had his eyes on you for a very long time.”Elle gasped “You think that’s why I’m here?” She shook her head. The very thought was preposterous.
“Nu-huh” She told her best friend he’d probably missed his eight a.m. appointment because he’d met someone in a bar last night. She hadn’t known she was on speakerphone or that his girlfriend was in the room. Adam was not happy Melanie had broken up with him over Elle’s mistake. But she’d never been wrong in the ten years she’d worked for him and she was certain she wasn’t this time either. “This is my punishment for not keeping my mouth shut.”
“Elle, you’re smarter than this!” Anastasia said. “How many other single ladies could he have called upon for tonight’s so-called emergency? But instead, he chose you. Haven’t you noticed the way he’s looking at you, touching you, flirting with you.”
“It’s harmless, surely?”Anastasia gasped. Her eyes widened “Oh dear lord! Child, you’re falling for it.”
She was right. Where Adam Lacey was concerned there was no such thing as harmless flirting. It was a disguised master plan executed over an unsuspecting victim.
“No” Elle shook her head and stepped back. “No” He’d been cooking this up since he undressed her with his eyes earlier that evening. “That’s not happening.” Elle turned away from the mirror. “Anastasia, I’m not sleeping with my boss!”
“Let me think.” Anastasia paced the square room. She stopped. She stared at the phone on the sink edge. “Elle, miss call my phone. I’ll ring you back and pretend to be Danni. Get the timing right.” Anastasia unlocked the door “Don’t do it too soon or Adam will think you’ve made a call in the bathroom.” She pushed the door open and looked out the door like she was an undercover CIA agent. She looked back at her, the warning was clear in her eyes as said “Elle whatever you do, do not get on that dance floor.”
Elle waited a few more moments before she left the bathroom. She kept her head down and didn’t make eye contact with anyone. When she returned to the champagne reception Adam was in full conversation with someone she recognised from her days as a competitive gymnast. Elle knew the likelihood of the person recognising her was far greater than anyone else in the room. He was one of the people she spent most of her life with until her parents had left Elle in her grandmother’s care.
“Caribbean with Connery Smith?” Elle shook her head as she vaguely eyed the steady stream of people passing by and heading into the main function room. Elle recognised too many faces. “…Me? Again?” He cheered, but her attention wasn’t attracted to him “Wow Elle, twice in one night, I am truly honoured.”
She didn’t reply. That was open flirting. It was so easy to recognise now. But their relationship had been like this for years. Did Anastasia really mean Adam had waited for this moment for years or had the woman who’d been like a mother to her for most of her life read this situation wrong? Either way the evening had barely begun but it was time for Elle to leave.
Adam would be angry, of course he would… but… he’d find someone to fill in Elle’s shoes for the first dance. Elle really didn’t care who but one thing was for sure, she had to get out of there.“If you don’t snap out of it…”
His whisper trickled into her ear. Without touching her, his hand slipped between her waist and arm. The awareness of his closeness and the anticipation of his pending touch sent an excited chill up Elle’s arm and a shiver down her spine. The experience was pleasantly uncomfortable as she tried to fight it. “…I’m going to do something you really don’t want me to do.”
Elle dragged her bottom lip between her teeth. She didn’t want to feel like this, didn’t want to forget what she needed to do, didn’t want Adam to be her undoing. But… he made it too easy to give in. “I, um…”Her eyelids fluttered closed as his breath caught the sensitive bare skin at the curve of Elle’s neck. Her head tilted in the opposite direction to allow him more room. When had he managed to place himself so incredibly close that she could feel his body heat? “I don’t think …”
This is new, Elle thought, the escape plan sidetracked by the unnerving yet pleasurable wonder of what it would feel like if his lips were to touch where his breath still caressed. He was good.
Like a twig snapping in a silent forest, the fog cleared in Elle’s mind and she was alerted to the imminent danger. Of, course Adam was good at it! He’d had lots of practise and she had no intention of becoming his next victim! What was he playing at? This was the second time in as many hours he’d come on to her. Anastasia was right. He was trying to get her into bed!
How did she play this now? As horrified as she was, at him, at herself! She couldn’t tell him he was out of line. He’d laugh at her. Call Anastasia. It was the perfect interruption. Where was her bag? Damn it. He was too close. He’d notice her fidgeting. The graceful exit would have to wait a little longer. But somehow, Elle had to extinguish—A warmth tickled her senses as his fingers teased the satin at her waist. Elle yielded at the touch. Pleasure registered at the slight curve of Adam’s mouth and he grasped her hips and turning her to face him fully, hiding them both from the eyes of stragglers yet to make it into the function room in the process.
Elle swallowed. She forced her gaze to meet his as she pushed against the moment of weakness. She was still – his eyes smouldered, her blood stream set alight by the desire she saw there and her heart galloped. She could still keep control of this. She could.Adam sealed the hairs breadth distance between them. His intent was clear but she couldn’t let him. She had to keep her head above water somehow. She couldn’t become this person. Elle lowered her eyes to the expanse of white beneath the black tuxedo jacket. She gave in to the temptation to touch him and felt the rhythm of his heart match hers.
Adam didn’t have as much control as it appeared? Her gaze lifted to his. It was a heady rush to know he was lost in the moment too, that she had more control over the situation than he did. The temptation to test the theory pushed her hand over his shoulder and curled her fingers around his neck. She drew him towards her. He bowed to her command. His eyes closing as the distance between them slowly melted away.
“Adam” She purred and hovered at a tempting yet teasing distance from kissing him. “Please don’t make promises to me that you don’t intend to keep.”
He leaped away from Elle so fast he left a refreshing cool backdraft. “Jesus Elle!” A rainbow of expletives followed in a tone that matched the horror in his expression. “It’s freaking Valentine’s Day not Halloween!”
Elle snickered. “Was I supposed to believe that moment was real?” Even if it was she was brushing under the carpet as fictitious and they were never going there again.
“You are pure evil.”
Elle cackled with sheer delight. “No, I’m not at all. It’s just that I’m, well, I’m obviously more than you can handle.”