Naughty Nights in the Millionaire's Mansion. Robyn Grady
a friend of mine has a large aquarium,’ he admitted. ‘He says nothing’s more relaxing at the end of a long, hard day. No fuss, no bother. No noise.’ The impressive breadth of his chest expanded beneath its dark wool blend shirt as he retrieved his wallet from a back pocket. ‘Do you take Visa?’
But before he could extract the card, his attention shifted to a nearby glass pen and its excited scramble of Rottweiler pups. Aware her scent was Perfume de la Birdcage from the tray she’d cleaned earlier, Vanessa swiped both hands down her jeans and moved closer. ‘They’re pretty special, huh? Only came in this morning.’
When the lines of his classically cut profile intensified, as if he were considering a change of tack, she subtly tested, ‘Have you owned a dog before?’
Attention fixed on the pups, the dark slashes of his brows fell together. ‘I grew up with dogs…’ His Hollywood jaw shifted. ‘Kind of.’
She grinned. ‘Kind of grew up, or kind of dogs?’
His crystalline gaze met hers again; the contact rippled through her blood like the aftermath of a fiery liquid touch.
‘Poodles.’ His gaze dipped to her mouth, traced the sweep of her lips, then flicked back to her eyes. ‘I grew up with poodles. The tiny, yappy ones.’
Only half recovered from the sizzle of his gaze, she dug her hands into her pockets and rocked back on her Reeboks. ‘Whatever size, poodles are a highly intelligent breed.’
‘They certainly know how to get what they want.’
‘The family pooches were pampered?’
‘Like every other female in the house.’ His brows crunched together again. ‘Sorry. Too much information.’
She didn’t mind. She was intrigued.
So he had a mother as well as sisters, sounded like. The fine lines branching from the corners of his eyes said late twenties, early thirties at the outside —too old to live at home with the brood. Had he grown up overrun by female siblings and a domineering matriarch? Perhaps his father had been away often, a foreign diplomat for some exotic far-off land; the dreamy slant to his eyes and coal-fringed lashes suggested a Mediterranean connection maybe.
She smiled at herself.
And maybe she needed to get a life. Whatever his background, she wouldn’t get to know him well enough to hear it.
‘These pups are only eight weeks old. They’ll grow a whole lot bigger. I’d suggest a good quality bed.’ She selected one from a nearby display. ‘We recommend this brand.’
Close to where her hand rested, he rubbed and pinched the foam. ‘Hmm. Firm yet soft.’
As if on direct dial, the tips of her breasts picked up, tightening to responsive beads beneath her T-shirt. Vanessa surrendered to the delicious undercurrent before managing to shake herself free.
Good Lord, Josie was right. She needed a holiday. But with her most recent business crisis breathing down her neck, sipping piña coladas beneath palm fronds wasn’t likely any time soon. She’d take a holiday when she was back on her feet, when her business was back in the black. She wasn’t about to give up on her dream.
She set the dog bed down and cleared the thickness from her throat. ‘Rotties make great guard dogs as well as companions.’
On cue, the only male pup set his big front paws on the window; his tail whipped around back so hard, the motion almost knocked him over. Anyone who thought dogs didn’t smile didn’t know dogs.
She weaved around a giggling toddler, who clapped as Mr Cheese went hell-for-whiskers on his mouse wheel. ‘He’ll need walks. And puppy school to help socialise him.’
‘Like kindergarten for dogs.’ His arms crossed, then he scratched his temple. ‘How much time are we talking about? I get home late. I work most weekends too.’
Vanessa’s heartbeat slowed. She should have guessed. His aura exuded energy and no-nonsense efficiency. Not that ‘handsome high-powered executive’ was a turn off. Just everyone seemed so busy these days—the twenty-first century treadmill gone mad. No one had time to walk their dogs and smell the flowers any more.
Her gaze flicked to his left hand—large, tanned but no gold ring. Still, not all those who were taken wore bands. As she’d found out.
‘Perhaps your wife could help.’
‘I’m not married.’
She was curious—only for the dog’s sake. A workaholic man-god descended from warriors wouldn’t be interested in an ordinary girl working her way up the ladder…lately one rung up, three rungs back.
‘My housekeeper comes in once a week.’
She cut him a wry grin. Not the same.
She had a thought. ‘If a dog’s too much responsibility and a fish maybe isn’t enough, perhaps a—’
‘Don’t say cat.’ His chin and its deep cleft came down. ‘I don’t do cats.’
She almost rolled her eyes. What was it with men and moggies?
‘A bird then? We have some lovely budgies. Or a parrot? You can teach them to talk. Sit on your shoulder.’
The nostrils of his hawkish nose flared. ‘I don’t think so.’
She indicated a cage. ‘What about a reptapet?’
‘You mean a snake?’ He visibly shuddered, a full body shiver. ‘Pass.’
He skirted around an elderly man in a grey fedora squeaking at the guinea pigs to return to that tank and scrutinised the fish. Hovering above its yellow and blue bed stones, the fish blew a bubble and stared back. Looking closer, he lifted a hand to knock on the glass.
When she touched the platinum watch on his wrist—fish and tapping was a no-go zone—the fiery sensation of his skin on hers released a crackling zap hurtling up her limb. The scrumptious shockwave carried an arrow straight to her chest and stole the air from her lungs.
He straightened and looked at her oddly—a curious glint in his eye as if he might have felt the charge too. Or maybe that look simply said hands off.
Stepping back, she drew her tingling hand away. ‘Plenty of people have satisfying relationships with fish,’ she said in an unintentionally husky voice.
An intrigued smile swam in the depths of his eyes. ‘Do you?’
Her glance took inventory of the wall of tanks behind them. ‘We have scores of fish here.’
‘But do you have fish at home?’
‘I’m not allowed.’
His brows jumped. ‘You live with your parents?’
She blinked twice. ‘I rent.’
‘But you have family close by.’
Her stomach lurched at his assumption. Orphaned at a young age, she’d been brought up by an aunt on the rural east coast of Australia. She had no brothers or sisters, grandparents or cousins. Other than Aunt McKenzie, she had no one.
She swallowed against a flush and regained control. ‘I’m not sure that has anything to do with you buying a fish, Mr…’
‘Stuart. Mitchell Stuart.’ As if annoyed at himself, he waved a dismissive hand. ‘And, no, it doesn’t. Totally off track.’ He narrowed his focus on the gaping fish again and slowly grinned. ‘I think he’ll do nicely.’
She forced her thoughts away from family—or lack thereof—and back onto business.