Excerpt from An Intriguing Proposition

     
     "You wanted to speak privately," he reminded her, taking a single step and reaching out his hand as if to take hers.
     However, she ignored his gesture, keeping her hands firmly clasped in front of her. Walking by him, she continued along the hallway. Having spent time in similar homes belonging to her parents' friends, she knew the layout of the townhouse instinctively.
     Toward the anterior of the foyer by the main door, she looked left, and then went right into the parlor.
     * * *
     Michael watched her walk down the hallway of his home, and he knew he would do anything to make this a common occurrence, an everyday one in fact, and to keep her for himself.
     It was easy to imagine her as his wife, his mate for the rest of his life, bringing her beauty and her woman's touch to his home. He could not lose her to whatever was pulling her away from him.
     He followed her, ducking only his head around the corner to see her standing in the middle of his sitting room, looking surprised to be there and not at all relaxed.
     "Would you like a cup of coffee?" he asked.
     For a moment, she only stared at him, her intense blue eyes showing alarm—perhaps because there were no safeguards of bank customers and office staff outside the door, perhaps because of his personal knowledge that she would have grimaced if he'd offered her tea. In any case, she refused his offer.
     "Nothing, thank you. Let's talk, Mr. Bradley, and then, I should go."
     So they were back to 'Mr. Bradley.' Well, he could remedy that. He moved toward her before she knew what he was doing, slipped his arms around her slender waist, and lowered his head to her stunned face.
     "I am going to kiss you," he told her a second before he did. He felt her hands reach up to press against his chest, perhaps to push him away, but as his lips touched hers and then slanted against them, she relaxed.
     Her hands stopped warding him off and began grasping at his suit coat, holding him in place. She needn't have bothered. He wasn't going anywhere, unless it was upstairs to his bedroom with her.
     He smiled against her lips at that wild thought and felt her smile, too.
     This was so precisely right, he wondered how they could have gone so long without doing it before yesterday.
     Many moments later, he lifted his mouth from hers. He needed to see her lovely blue eyes framed by thick ebony lashes. She had a delightfully soft pink flush to her cheeks. He couldn't help himself as he bent to kiss her again.
     "Michael," she said, the word coming out on a gasp for breath. "You must stop. We must stop. This is wrong."
     "Yet impossibly perfect," he added.
     She sighed. "Maybe so, if it were just the two of us. Alone," she began.
     "But we are alone—"
     "I mean, alone forever, without consequences, but we're not. And you're wet," she added.
     She was correct. He slipped off his damp coat and tossed it over a chair, then shook his hair like a dog and ran his fingers through it.
     "Probably not so neat," he said, "but not dripping on you anymore either."
     He took her in his arms once more, leaning away so he could watch her face while keeping her in his embrace.
     "How can our love—?" he broke off as he felt her startle at his words, and he nearly laughed. "Yes, love, for I swear I am unreservedly and wholly in love with you, Elise Malloy, and have been from the moment I first met you. I want to shout it." And he did. He tipped his head back and yelled, "I love Elise Malloy."
     His words echoed slightly in the empty three-story townhouse.
     Her eyes were as large as saucers, but she didn't look scared of his enthusiastic outburst. In fact, she seemed amused by his antics.
     "I think you feel the same way?" he conjectured.
     She looked down at his chest but nodded ever so slightly.
     That small gesture, her admission that she had the same feelings for him, caused a flood of warmth to cascade through him.
     "I ask you, then," he said, tipping her chin up so he could look into her eyes, "how can our love have consequences that are anything but good? How are we wrong?"
     "Jonathon—"
     "Don't speak to me of that ninny. You already told me you don't even like him. Just tell him, 'thank you, you damned puffed peacock of an attorney, but no thank you'. Or tell him to go to hell. I don't care."
     "I can't," she said, her voice a miserable whisper.
     He wanted to make her smile again, but he had a feeling that a simple kiss wouldn't do.
     "Why not? You have feelings for me, even if you can't quite declare them aloud. I can tell when I look in your eyes or whenever I'm close enough to touch you."
     Her cheeks reddened.
     "You don't deny it?" he urged her.
     She shook her head. "No, but I'm afraid I have a situation on my hands. Jonathon refuses to let me go."
     "The hell he won't," he said before he could stop himself.
     She jumped at his tone, and he was immediately sorry to have frightened her. However, he'd felt his own flash of fear at her words. They sounded so final, as if she were already Amory's wife, and there was nothing she could do about it.
     He looked down into her sweet face. "Explain what you mean by refusing to let you go."
     "Blackmail," she said, and her eyelids swept closed, shutting him out as she hung her head low. However, before she did so, he had seen tears. He led her to the settee.
     "Sit," he ordered and watched her sink down onto the cushions.
     At the sideboard, he poured them both a glass of red Spanish wine. Holding a glass out to her, he waited. She lifted her gaze to him, an eyebrow raised.
     "I'm not trying to make you inebriated, Elise. I just want you to relax and tell me what's going on."
 
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