The C.O.O. Must Marry (The Valente Series #2)(9) by Maxine Sullivan

“Er…what are you doing?”

“Joining you.” He discarded shoes and socks, then his hand went to his belt buckle. Soon he had stripped down to black boxer briefs that fitted him like a second skin, leaving nothing to her imagination.

Her heart thumped erratically. “It’s getting a little cold in here.”

He gave her a wicked grin. “Then I’ll warm you up.”

He dove into the pool and she watched him come toward her in the water like a torpedo. The urge to turn and swim for the other side was strong. The temptation to stay and have her defenses annihilated was more exciting.

In one whoosh he came up close to her body and rose to the surface, so close she felt him like a caress. He shook the water from his face and smiled, his wet hair plastered to his head, his sooty lashes spiked with moisture.

“Fancy meeting you here,” he drawled, looking what he was: a drop-dead gorgeous male who’d caught the biggest fish in the pool.

Her.

Of course, she was the only fish in the pool.

“Yes, fancy that.”

The late afternoon sun showed a mischievous gleam in his eye and all at once she knew he was up to something. “Nick,” she warned, trying to escape, the water hindering rather than helping.

He laughed playfully and caught her by the waist, before lifting her in the air and tossing her backward. She took a breath just as she went under the water, her mind already on sweet revenge.

She’d get him back, she promised herself as she burst through to the surface. “Nick, you’d—” She gasped. “My bikini top’s come off!”

“Really?”

She ignored the relish in his voice and started looking around. Then she saw a pink blob of material near the edge of the pool.

“There it is.” She started to swim toward it, aware that Nick was swimming with her. She thought he was merely trying to help her, until they reached it at the same time and he snatched it up and threw it onto the concrete outside of the pool.

“Nick!” She glared at him as she covered her br**sts with her hands.

“What?” His eyes danced with the devil.

“How am I going to get out of the pool now?”

“No one’s around. Iris is in the kitchen and Leo’s gone into Richmond for supplies.”

“I’m not a prude but—”

“Yes, you are.” He chuckled. “Look at you. I know your body intimately now and yet you’re still covering yourself from me.”

“You’re still a stranger, Nick,” she said without thinking.

His smile disappeared. “Am I?” His blue eyes deepened in color. “Then we’d better do something about that.”

Without hesitation, he caught her by the waist and pressed her up against the side of the pool.

And then he kissed her.

At first his lips were cold from the water but they soon turned warm enough to have her melting against him. For long, languid moments she reveled in having his mouth take advantage of hers, but eventually he eased back from the kiss.

“Still think of me as a stranger?” he said, a very masculine expression of satisfaction on his face.

A minute ago she’d felt very feminine, but now his words brought her back to reality and she didn’t feel in the least like being coquettish. “There’s more than knowing a person physically, Nick.”

His face closed up. “It’ll do for now,” he said and turned away. “Stay here. I’ll get us some robes.”

Sasha watched him heave himself out of the water and stride over to the cabana, all male muscle and sinew. She swallowed hard. What on earth had made her say something so deep like that? Maybe she really was a prude and saying that had been her only defense?

He came out wearing a thick white robe and carrying one for her. “I’ll cover you as you get out.”

Thankful he was still being conscious of her sensitivity, she began climbing up the ladder. It was probably silly to be overreacting but she’d never been one to flaunt her body outrageously and merely because she was no longer a virgin didn’t change her way of thinking.

Just as she reached the top of the ladder she looked up in time to see Nick’s eyes flicking over her na**d br**sts. Unable to stop herself, she flushed.

“Put your arms in here,” he said huskily, and she did as she was told, feeling more secure once she had the robe cinched in at the waist.

Nick cleared his throat and stepped away from her. “It’s still balmy. Would you like to have dinner out here?”

She’d half-expected him to make some excuse to retire to the study. After all, he’d frozen up when she’d started talking about feelings. Fool that she was! The last thing she needed to bring out in the open was any sort of feelings.

To hide her surprise, she pushed back her wet hair. “That would be lovely.”

“Good. I’ll tell Iris.”

“And I’ll go dress.”

“Let’s not bother.”

“Er…okay.”

He started toward the house, detoured slightly and stopped to pick up something, then came back and handed her the pink bikini top.

Their eyes met and she blushed. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” He turned and walked back toward the house.

She watched him for a moment with her heart thudding, unable to stop herself from admiring those firm legs beneath the bathrobe. She liked the dark hair that was just-so-manly and just-so-touchable and if she dared, when he came back she would love to run her palms up his legs, caressing them, caressing him.

All at once she realized she was squeezing her bikini top. Giving it one last squeeze she dropped it in the pocket of her robe, then went to sit down at the table, her own legs kind of shaky.

And he’d called her a prude?

Not any longer.

A few minutes later Nick came back. “Iris will bring out dinner shortly. In the meantime…” He held out two glasses of wine and passed one to her, then went to sit in the chair opposite.

Made selfconscious by her thoughts, she looked away, pretending to concentrate on the guest cottage and glasshouse that could easily been seen from here. Mercifully, the gazebo where they’d shared their kiss was on the other side of the house.

The sound of clinking glass from behind told Sasha that Iris had come out on the patio area. She turned around and smiled as the other woman came toward them pushing a trolley. Before too long she’d left and Sasha and Nick were tucking into their steak and salad.

“How are the designs going?”

She glanced up and saw he’d noticed the paperwork on one of the small tables. She’d been working on them before deciding to take a swim.

“Really well.” She hesitated. “Would you like to look over them after dinner?”

“Sure.”

After that she turned the conversation to some of the problems she was having with one of the contractors, then they began to talk of the family and other general things.

Nick stood up as soon as they’d both finished eating, and walked over to her designs. Sasha followed him, her heart thumping, wondering if he’d like them. She’d gone to great lengths making sure everything suited the house just right.

“I’m very impressed with these. You’ve kept the charm of the place without taking too much away from it all.”

A swell of relief filled her. “My intention was never to make major changes. I love this place as it is, too, Nick.”

His eyes riveted on her face. “Yes, I can see that.”

She flushed with pleasure, feeling her cheeks turn almost the same pink as the bikini she wore.

Or didn’t wear, she mused, pulling the robe tighter over her br**sts, seeing his gaze drop to where she pretended she wasn’t na**d underneath.

“You surprise me,” he murmured, lazy seduction seeping into those blue eyes. “I’d have thought you’d put your bikini top back on.”

All at once she felt a touch defiant. “Maybe I’m not quite the prude you think I am.”

Taking her by surprise, he placed the tip of his finger at her chin. “Hmm, maybe not,” he murmured, sending her heartbeat thudding into a mad gallop. Then his finger slithered down her throat to rest on her wildly beating pulse. “You look so damn sexy in that robe.”

She moistened her lips. “Nick—”

“I could strip it off you here and now and you wouldn’t stop me…would you?”

She was very much afraid he was right.

“And I could slide those tiny bikini bottoms off you and you wouldn’t say a word…true?”

Heavens, yes! He could take her this very moment and she’d let him. He made her want to do things she normally didn’t do.

How she wished she could lie. “Nick, you know you’re right but—”

He dropped his hand away from her throat. “But?”

“Afterwards I would feel totally embarrassed if I thought Iris or Leo had seen us.”

His eyes filled with satisfaction. “So you are a prude?”

She started to frown. “Are you pleased because I’ve admitted it? Or because you’re right?”

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