Ravensdale’s Defiant Captive
Series: The Ravensdale Scandals
Holly Perez has one last chance to sort out the train wreck her life has become. But being housekeeper to reclusive CEO Julius Ravensdale is as close to a prison as Holly could imagine. Julius may be devastatingly gorgeous, but he’s also brooding, formal and completely off-limits!
Julius is renowned for his ironclad control, but provocative whirlwind Holly pushes him to his breaking point! Especially when he discovers the vulnerabilities behind her wild-child bravado. With every touch, he wants Holly more, and once he’s had her in his bed, holding her captive there becomes an irresistible temptation…
An Excerpt from Ravensdale’s Defiant Captive
Julius Ravensdale knew his housekeeper was up to something as soon as she brought in his favourite dessert. ‘Queen’s pudding?’ He raised one of his brows. ‘I never have dessert at lunch unless it’s a special occasion.’
‘It is a special occasion,’ Sophia said as she put the meringue-topped dessert in front of him.
He narrowed his gaze. ‘Okay, tell me. What’s going on?’
Sophia’s expression was sheepish. ‘I’m bringing in a girl to help me run the house. It’s only for a month until this wretched tendonitis settles. The extra pair of hands will be so helpful and I’ll be doing my bit for society. It’s a win-win.’
Julius glanced at the wrist brace Sophia had been wearing for the last couple of weeks. He knew she worked far too hard and could do with the extra help but he liked to keep the staff numbers down in the villa. Not because he was mean about paying them. He would pay them triple to stay away and let him get on with his work. ‘Who is it?’
‘Just a girl who’s in need of a bit of direction.’
Julius mentally rolled his eyes. Of all the housekeepers he could have chosen, he had employed the Argentinian reincarnation of Mother Teresa. ‘I thought we agreed your lame ducks were restricted to the stables or the gardens?’
‘I know, but this girl will go to prison if—’
‘Prison?’ he said. ‘You’re bringing a convicted criminal here?’
‘She’s only been in trouble a couple of times,’ Sophia said. ‘Anyway, maybe the guy deserved it.’
‘What did she do to him?’
‘She keyed his brand-new sports car.’
Julius’s gut clenched at the thought of his showroom-perfect Aston Martin housed in the garage. ‘I suppose she said it was an accident?’
‘No, she admitted to it,’ Sophia said. ‘She was proud of it. That and the message she sprayed on his lawn with weed killer.’
‘She sounds delightful.’
‘So you’ll agree to have her?’
Julius took in his housekeeper’s hopeful expression. His sarcasm was lost on her. Sophia was the most charitable person he knew. Always doing things for others. Always looking for a way to make a difference in someone’s life. He knew she was lonely since both her adult children had moved abroad for work. What would it hurt to indulge her just this once? He would be busy with fine-tuning his space software. He had less than a month to iron out the kinks in the programming before he presented it to the research team for funding approval.
He let out a long breath. ‘I don’t suppose you’ve ever thought of taking up knitting or cross-stitch instead?’
Sophia beamed at him. ‘Just wait until you meet her. You’re going to love her.’
Holly considered making a run for it when the van stopped but the size of the villa and its surrounds made her pause. It was big. Way big. Massive. It probably had its own area code. Maybe its own political party. It was four storeys high, built in a neo-classical style with spectacular gardens and lush, rolling fields fringed by thick forest. It didn’t look anything like the detention centre she’d envisaged. There was no twelve-foot-high fence with electrified barbed wire at the top. There was no surveillance tower and no uniformed, rifle-toting guards—or, at least, none she could see—casing the joint. It looked like a top-end hotel—a luxurious and very private resort for the rich and famous. Which kind of made her wonder why she’d been sent here. Not that she’d been expecting chains and bread and water or anything, but still. This was seriously over the top.
‘It’s only for a month,’ Natalia Varela, her caseworker, said as the decorative wrought-iron gates opened electronically, allowing them access to the long, sweeping limestone driveway leading to the immaculately maintained villa. ‘You got off lightly considering your rap sheet. I know a few people who’d happily swap places with you.’
Holly grunted. Folded her arms across her breasts. Crossed her right leg over her left. Jerked her ankle up and down. Pouted. Why should she look happy? Why should she act grateful that she was being sent to live with some man she’d never heard of in his big, old fancy villa?
Thirty-one days of living with some stranger who had magnanimously volunteered to ‘reform’ her. Ha-ha. Like that was going to work. Who was this guy anyway? All she’d been told was he was some hotshot techie nerd from England who had made the big time in Argentina designing software for space telescopes used in the Atacama Desert in neighbouring Chile. Oh, and he was apparently single. Holly rolled her eyes. He’d agreed to take on a troubled young woman for altruistic reasons? And the correctional authorities had actually fallen for that?
Yeah, right. She knew all about men and their dodgy motivations.
After being given the all clear from the security intercom device, Natalia drove through the gates before they whispered shut behind the car. ‘Julius Ravensdale is doing you a big favour,’ she said. ‘He’s only agreed to this—and very reluctantly at that—because his housekeeper has tendonitis in her wrist. You’ll be her right-hand helper. It’s an amazing opportunity. This place is like a five-star resort. It’ll be great vocational training for you. I hope you’ll make the most of it.’
Vocational training for what? Holly thought with a cynical curl of her lip. No one was going to make a housekeeper out of her just because she’d made a few mistakes, which weren’t even really mistakes, because her pond-scum stepfather had seriously had it coming to him. It was just a dumb old sports car, for pity’s sake. So what if he had to have it re-sprayed and his precious lawn re-sown after the weedkiller incident?
Holly was not going to be some rich man’s lowly slave scrubbing floors until her knees grew callouses as big as cabbages. Her days of being pushed around were long over. Julius Ravens-whatever-his-name-was would be in for a big shock if he thought he could exploit her to suit his nefarious needs.
What if it wasn’t the kitchen he planned to have her slaving in? What if he had more salacious plans? In her experience men with money thought they could have anything and anyone they wanted. All that nonsense about him ‘reluctantly’ agreeing to take her on was just a ruse. Of course he would say that. He wouldn’t want to look too eager to take in a prison statistic waiting to happen. He would be ‘doing his bit for society’ by trying to do her.
Bring it on, she thought. Let’s see how far you get.
‘Oh, I’ll make the most of it, all right,’ Holly said as she sent the caseworker a guileless smile. ‘You can be sure of that.’
Natalia let out a world-weary sigh as she put her foot back on the accelerator. ‘Yeah, that’s what I’m afraid of.’
The housekeeper whom she had met a few days before greeted Holly at the door of the villa while Natalia took an urgent call from one of her other charges.
‘It’s lovely to have you here, Holly,’ Sophia said. ‘Come in. Señor Ravensdale is busy just now so I’ll show you to your suite so you can settle in.’
Holly wasn’t expecting a welcoming committee with banners and balloons and a brass band or anything but surely the very least her host could do was make an appearance? If he’d agreed to have her here then he could at least do the polite thing and greet her face to face. ‘Where is he?’ she asked.
‘He’s not to be disturbed,’ Sofia said. ‘I’ll show you to the suite I’ve pre—’
‘Disturb him, please,’ Holly said. ‘Now.’
Sophia looked a little taken aback. ‘He doesn’t like to be interrupted while he’s working. He doesn’t allow anyone into his office unless it’s an emergency.’
Holly gently elbowed her way past to the door she took to be the study. It was the only door that was closed along the long, wide corridor. She didn’t knock. She turned the handle and barged in.
A man looked up from behind a desk where he was tapping at a computer keyboard. His fingers stalled as she came in, the last click echoing in the silence as his gaze met with hers.
Holly drew in a breath to speak but for some reason her voice wasn’t on active duty. It had locked behind her shock at how different he was from her expectations. He was nothing like she had envisaged. He wasn’t old or even middle-aged. He was in his early thirties and movie-star handsome, athletically lean and tanned. His hair was a rich dark brown with light waves running through it. It looked as if it had been recently styled with his fingers, for she could see the roughly spaced plough marks that gave him a sexily tousled look, as if he’d just tumbled out of bed after vigorous sex. He had a determined looking jaw, a straight nose and a firm but sensually sculptured mouth that for some reason made the ligaments at the backs of her knees weaken alarmingly.
He pushed back his chair and the room instantly shrank as he stood. ‘Can I help you?’ he said with the sort of tone that suggested he was not in the least motivated to do so.
Holly had never been one to beat about the bush. Her tactic was to get in there with a verbal weed-whacker. ‘Don’t you know it’s impolite to ignore your guests when they arrive?’
His eyes held hers with steely focus. ‘Strictly speaking, you’re not my guest. You’re Sophia’s.’
Holly hitched up her chin, flashing him an I-know-what-you’re-up-to glare. ‘I want to let you know straight from the outset I’m not here to be your sex toy.’
His dark brows rose in twin arcs over his impossibly dark-blue eyes. With his black hair and olive-skinned complexion, she had been expecting them to be brown. But they were an astonishing sapphire-blue fringed with thick black lashes. He seemed to measure her for a moment; his gaze taking in the tiny diamond nose piercing and the pink streaks in her hair with a tilt of his mouth that was unmistakably mocking.
A knot of bitterness inside Holly tightened. If there was one thing she loathed, it was being made fun of. Belittled. Mocked.
‘How do you do, Miss, er…?’ He glanced at his housekeeper, who had come in behind Holly, for a prompt.
‘Miss Perez,’ Sophia said. ‘Hollyanne.’
‘Holly,’ Holly said with a black look.
Julius offered his hand. ‘How do you do, Holly?’
She glared at his hand as if he’d just offered her a viper. ‘Keep your hands to yourself.’
Natalia entered his office sounding a little flustered. ‘I’m terribly sorry, Dr Ravensdale, but I had to take an urgent call about another client—’
Holly swung around and frowned at Natalia. ‘Doctor? You didn’t tell me he was a doctor. You said he was a computer geek.’
The caseworker gave Julius a pained smile before addressing Holly. ‘Dr Ravensdale has a PhD in astrophysics. It’s polite to call him by his correct title, if that’s what he prefers.’
Holly swung back to look at Julius. ‘What do you want me to call you? Sir? Master? Oh Mighty Learned One? Your Royal Tightness?’
His lips twitched as if he was fighting back a reluctant smile. ‘Julius will be fine.’
‘As in Caesar?’
‘As it turns out, yes.’
‘You’re into Shakespeare?’ Holly said it as if it was a noxious disease from which she had so far managed to escape contamination. No point letting him think she was anything but what he had already judged her as: uneducated and unsophisticated. Trailer trash.
‘No, but my parents are.’
‘Why’d you agree to have me here?’ she said, eye-balling him.
‘I didn’t want you here,’ he said. ‘But my current domestic circumstances made it impossible for me to refuse.’
Holly folded her arms across her chest. ‘I can’t cook,’ she said with an obdurate “so what are you going to do about that?” look.
‘I’m sure you can learn.’
‘And I hate housework,’ she said. ‘It’s sexist expecting women to clean up after you. Just because I’ve got boobs and ovaries doesn’t mean I—’
‘Point taken,’ he said quickly. So quickly Holly wondered if he was worried she was going to list all of her feminine assets. ‘However, you need to do your stint of community service,’ he continued. ‘I need some help around the house until Sophia gets better. It’s win-win.’
Holly made a harrumphing noise and unwound her locked arms, turning her gaze to the caseworker. ‘Have you done a police check on him to make sure he’s the real deal?’
‘I can assure you, Holly, Dr Ravensdale is a totally trustworthy guardian,’ the caseworker said.
Holly pushed her bottom lip out like a drawer as she swung back to size Julius up. ‘Do you drink?’
Holly upped her brazenness another notch. ‘Sex?’
‘Holly…’ the caseworker began.
‘What?’ Holly asked with a petulant scowl.
‘You’re embarrassing Dr Ravensdale.’
‘I’m not embarrassed,’ Julius said. ‘But I’m also not going to answer such an impertinent question.’
Holly coughed out a laugh. ‘Which means you’re not getting any, right?’
He stared her down with a look that made her insides feel wobbly. He didn’t look the type of man to go too long between drinks. He looked the type of man who could take his pick of women. She could feel his sensual allure like a force field. Her mind ran wild with images of him getting down to business. He wouldn’t be one for a quick, sleazy grope. He would take his time. He would know his way around a woman’s body. He would know how to send female senses spinning into the stratosphere. She could see it in the darkly confident glint of his gaze. ‘While we’re on the topic,’ he said. ‘I would appreciate it if you would abstain from bringing men here for the purpose of having intimate relations with them.’
‘So…you get to have sex but I don’t? That is…’ Holly dropped her voice to a deliberately husky purr ‘…unless we have it with each other?’
‘I have to get going,’ the caseworker said as her phone buzzed with an incoming message. ‘Holly, I hope you’ll behave yourself while you’re here. This is your last chance, don’t forget. If this fails you know where you’ll be going.’
‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ Holly said with a bored flicker of her eyelids as she turned to look at the view from one of the windows next to a wall of bookshelves. She didn’t want to go to prison but neither did she want to be exploited by yet another man who assumed he had some sort of power over her. If Julius Ravensdale wanted a plaything, why hadn’t he cut one from the herd? The herd he belonged to—the ‘beautiful people’ herd. She wasn’t even his type. How could she be, with her cheap chain-store clothes? Not to mention her background. The background she was still trying to escape. It clung to her like thick axle grease. No amount of washing and cleansing and sanitising would remove it.
Julius Ravensdale came from money. She could see it in the way he dressed, in the way he held himself with supreme confidence, with cool and collected authority. She could see it in the furnishings he surrounded himself with: the priceless paintings, the books and the hand-woven floor coverings. He hadn’t lived his childhood in sweat-soaked fear. He hadn’t had to fight for survival. He’d had everything handed to him on a gilt-edged platter. Why was he agreeing to have her here if not to make use of her? She clenched her back teeth in determination. He would not use her.
She would use him first.
‘I’ll call each day to see how she’s getting on,’ the caseworker said to Julius as she shook his hand. ‘It’s very good of you to commit to this programme. It’s helped many people turn their lives around.’
‘I’m sure everything will be fine,’ Julius assured her. ‘Sophia will do most of the mentoring.’
‘All the same, it’s very kind of you to open your home like this.’
‘It’s a big house,’ he said. Maybe not big enough.
Julius turned once Sophia had escorted the caseworker out of his office to find Holly looking at him with a flinty gaze. ‘How much are they paying you to have me?’ she said.
‘I’ve told them to donate the fee to charity.’
‘Big of you.’
He leaned against the windowsill behind his desk with his hands balanced either side of his hips to study her. It was a casual pose that belied the havoc her presence caused to his senses. He could feel the blood humming through his veins in a way it hadn’t since he’d been a teenager. He looked down at her upturned, defiant face with its flashing caramel-brown gaze and sulky cherry-red mouth. A tiny diamond winked from the side of her right nostril. The bridge of her retroussé nose was dusted with freckles that reminded him of nutmeg sprinkled on top of a dessert. But that was about as far as he could go with the sweetness description. She looked sour and bitter and ready for a fight.
Something about her blatant rudeness made everything that was cultured in Julius stiffen. Not, perhaps, the best choice of word, he thought wryly as he scanned her impudent features. But her rudeness wasn’t the only thing that was blatant about her. She had an earthy, raw sensuality about her. The way she moved her body. The way she inhabited her body. His body recognised it like a stallion scenting a potential mate.
He forced his mind out of the gutter. Clearly he needed to get some work-life balance if this little upstart was attracting his attention.
Her face was not what one would call classically beautiful but there was an arresting quality to it that made him want to study her for longer than was socially polite. He noted the high and haughty cheekbones you could slice a Christmas ham on. Eyelashes that were thick and long without the boost of mascara. Her skin—apart from the freckles and the diamond piercing—was creamy and make-up-free. Her hair was a mass of springy shoulder-length curls and was a mid shade of brown, apart from some rather vivid streaks of pink.
Julius was still waiting for her to make the connection between him and his parents. It didn’t usually take this long. He had got used to it over the years. Well, almost: the wide-eyed wonder. The delighted shock that produced a sickening number of gushing comments: Oh, you’re the son of the famous London West End actors Richard Ravensdale and Elisabetta Albertini! Can you get me their autographs? An invitation to opening night? Front-row seats? A back-stage pass? An audition?
But Miss Holly Perez had either never heard of his parents or was not impressed by his lineage.
Julius had to admit he found her forthrightness strangely appealing. It was such a refreshing change. He’d had his share of sycophants. People who only wanted to be associated with him because of his connection with London theatre royalty. Women who wanted to be squired by him on the red carpet in the hope of catching the eye of a casting agent. It was refreshing to be in the presence of someone who didn’t give a toss for the shallowness of his parents’ celebrity.
Julius didn’t care too much for the word ‘guardian’ the caseworker had used in reference to him. It made him sound decades older than his thirty-three years. Holly was younger than him certainly but only by about seven or eight years at the most. Twenty-five, but hardened by her experiences. He could see it in her eyes. There was no sheen of innocence in that thickly fringed brown gaze. It was full of cold, hard cynicism. A mess-with-me-at-your-peril gleam. What had led her to a life of petty crime? He’d seen the list of her offences: theft; wilful damage to property; graffiti; vandalism.
Sophia’s rescue mission was perhaps going to be a little more challenging than he’d bargained for. He’d agreed to it because he trusted his housekeeper’s judgement. But Sophia’s judgement was clearly not what it used to be. Holly had come striding in like a denim- and cheap cotton-clad whirlwind—asking him about his sex life, for God’s sake.
He knew he was acting and sounding like a stern schoolmaster. But he figured it was best to get the ground rules in early. He wasn’t going to stand by while Holly conducted drunken parties or all-night orgies under his roof.
Julius didn’t care how many impertinent questions she asked, he wasn’t going to admit to his current sex drought. He’d been busy. He was working on some new top-secret software. He wasn’t like his twin brother Jake who had sex as if he were training for the Olympics. Nor was he like his father, who had a reputation as a womaniser that was regrettably well deserved.
Julius enjoyed the company of women. He dated from time to time. He enjoyed the physicality of sex but he didn’t care for the politics of it. The agenda women brought to the bedroom irked him. If he wanted to marry and settle down, then he would make the decision when he was good and ready. Although he seriously wondered if he would ever be ready. Having witnessed his parents’ turbulent marriage, acrimonious divorce, remarriage and ongoing drama-filled relationship, he wasn’t sure he wanted to sign up for the potential for so much disruption and chaos.
‘I know why you’ve agreed to have me here, so don’t bother pretending otherwise.’ Holly’s look had a bad-girl gleam to it that messed with his hormones. He felt a stirring in his groin. A lightning flash of unbidden lust that made his blood throb and pound in his veins. He was surprised—and deeply annoyed—by his reaction to her. She was obviously well aware of her effect on the male gaze, exploiting it for all it was worth. Her unusual beauty, even though it was currently downplayed, was the sort that could stop a bullet train in its tracks. She had a sensual air about her. A way of moving her body that made him ache to see what she looked like naked. He kept his expression masked but he wondered if she sensed the impact she had on him.
How had he got himself into this? Julius thought. He should have called an agency. Employed someone who had credentials. Someone who had training. Manners. Decorum. Why had he allowed Sophia to talk him into taking on someone as cheeky and wilful as Holly Perez? She was going to be living under his roof. For a month!
‘You are mistaken, Miss Perez,’ he said coolly. ‘My taste in women is far more sophisticated.’
She adopted a femme fatale pose, all slinky hips and shoulders, her mouth in a come-and-get-me moue. ‘Of course it is,’ she said with a devilish little twinkle that matched the diamond in her nose.
Julius felt the swell of his flesh at her brazen sexuality. The pounding and purring of his blood drove every rational thought out of his brain. Sex was suddenly all he could think about. Hot, sweaty, bed-wrecking sex. Mind-blowing caveman sex. Driving himself into her tight, wet warmth and exploding like a bomb. How long had it been? Clearly too long if he was getting jumpy at this outrageous little flirt. Holly Perez was a troublemaker. It might as well be branded across her forehead. He wasn’t going to fall for it. He was not at the mercy of his hormones…or at least he hadn’t been before now.
Holly moved around his office with cat-like grace. Slinky, silent, sensuous. Dangerous, if stroked the wrong way. Although when he checked he noticed she didn’t have claws. Her fingernails were bitten down to the quick. When she lifted her hand to push her hair back off her face he noticed a long white scar on the fine blue-veined skin of her wrist. ‘How did you get that scar?’ he asked.
A mask came down over her features as she pushed down her sleeve. ‘I broke my arm when I was a kid. I had to have it pinned and plated.’
Julius let a silence slip past. He watched as she fiddled with the hem of her sleeve, her fingertips tugging and twisting the light cotton fabric as if it irritated her skin. Her eyebrows were drawn together, her forehead pleated, her expression broody. It intrigued him how quickly she had switched from impudent vamp to bad-tempered brat.
‘Would you like to look around the villa?’
She gave an indifferent shrug. ‘Whatever.’
Julius had intended to get Sophia to give Holly a guided tour but he decided he would do it. He told himself it was so he could check she didn’t pilfer any of his belongings or carve her initials or a curse word into one of his antiques. Why on earth had he agreed to this? God knew what she would get up to once out of his sight.
He led the way out of his office. ‘I detect a trace of an English accent,’ he said as they walked along the hall. ‘Are you originally from the UK?’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘We moved out here when I was young. My father was Argentinian.’
‘He died when I was three. I don’t remember him, so there’s no need to get all soppy and sentimental and feel sorry for me.’
Julius glanced down at her walking beside him. She barely came up to his shoulder. ‘Is your mother still alive?’
Holly threw him a hardened look. ‘Didn’t Natalia show you my file?’
Julius was a little ashamed he hadn’t read it in more detail. But then he hadn’t planned on having anything to do with her. Apart from Sophia, he didn’t have much to do with his staff on a personal level. They did their job. He did his. He’d focussed on Holly’s rap sheet without looking at the story behind the miscreant behaviour. Some people were born bad, others had bad things happen to them and they turned bad as a result. Where did Holly fit on the spectrum? ‘I’d like you to tell me.’
‘She killed herself when I was seventeen.’
She gave another careless shrug. ‘So what about your parents?’
‘They’re both alive and well.’ And driving him nuts as usual.
Holly stopped in front of a painting. It was a landscape he’d bought at an auction his sister Miranda had given him the heads-up on. Miranda was an art restorer, yet another Ravensdale sibling who had disappointed their parents by not treading the boards.
Holly resumed walking, idly picking up objects he had on display, turning them over in her hands and putting them down again. Julius hoped she wasn’t sizing them up for later theft.
‘You got any brothers or sisters?’ she asked after a long silence.
Julius was finding it a novel experience, meeting someone who knew nothing about his family. Didn’t the girl have a smartphone? Internet access? Read newspapers or gossip magazines? ‘I have a twin brother and a sister ten years younger.’
She stopped walking to look up at him. ‘Are you identical?’
Her eyes suddenly danced with impish mischief, dimples appearing either side of her mouth, completely transforming her features. ‘Ever swapped places with him?’
He put on what his kid sister called his “I’m too old for all that nonsense” face. ‘Not for a very long time.’
‘Can your parents tell you apart?’
‘They can now but not when we were younger,’ he said. Mostly because they hadn’t been around enough. Their fame was far more important to them than their family. Not that he was bitter. Much. ‘What about you? Do you have any siblings?’
‘No.’ Her dimpled smile faded and the frown reinstated itself on her forehead as she resumed walking along the corridor. ‘There’s just me…’
Julius heard something in her tone that suggested a resigned sense of profound aloneness. He hadn’t expected to feel sorry for her. He had strong values on what constituted good and bad behaviour. The law was the law. Breaking it just because you’d had a difficult childhood wasn’t a good enough excuse, in his opinion. But something about her intrigued him. She was light and dark. Moon shadows and bright sunlight. She reminded him of a complicated puzzle that would need more than one attempt to solve it.
Maybe his housekeeper’s mission would prove far more interesting than he’d first thought.
Holly stopped in front of the windows overlooking the formal gardens. ‘Do you live here alone?’ she asked.
‘Apart from my staff, yes, but they have separate quarters. Sophia is the exception. She has a suite on the top floor.’
Holly turned and looked at him with a direct gaze. ‘Seems a pretty big place for a single guy.’
‘I like my own space.’
‘Must cost a ton to keep this place ticking over.’
‘Yeah, well, money and possessions don’t impress me,’ she said, turning to look at the gardens again.
She swivelled to face him and tilted one of her hips, lowering one shoulder lower than the other so her thin chain-store sweater slipped to reveal the creamy cap of her shoulder. She looked at him through eyes half-shielded by the thick dark fans of her lashes. ‘Let’s see…’ She pursed her full lips in thought before releasing them on a breath of air. ‘I’m impressed by a man who knows his way around a woman’s body.’
Julius was doing his darnedest not even to think about her luscious little body. Or that full-lipped mouth and the mayhem it could cause if it came too close to his. He had a feeling she was testing him. Testing his motives. Seeing if he was going to exploit her. Had she been exploited before? Was that how she viewed all men? As manipulators and bullies who forced their will on her?
He might be a man who liked his own way but there was no way he would ever describe himself as a bully. He could be arrogant at times—stubborn, even—but he was a firm believer in treating women with respect. Having a shy and reserved much younger sister had instilled in him the importance of men taking a stand against all forms of violence against women and girls.
‘That’s it?’ he said. ‘Just whether he can perform?’
‘Sure,’ she said, eyes gleaming with pertness. ‘How a man has sex tells you a lot about them as a person. Whether they’re selfish or not. Whether they’re uptight or casual.’ She tapped two of her fingertips against her mouth in a musing manner. ‘Let’s take you, for instance.’
Let’s not, he thought. ‘This theory of yours is imminently fascinating but I think—’
‘You’re a man who likes to be in control,’ she said. ‘You like order and predictability. You don’t do things on impulse. Your life is planned, timetabled, scheduled to the nth degree. Am I right?’
Julius didn’t feel too comfortable at being so rapidly written off as a boring stereotype, as nothing more than a cliché. He liked to think he wasn’t that predictable. He had nuances; sure he did. Layers to his personality that were there if you took the time to find them. He might spend a lot of time in the land of logic and reason but it didn’t mean he couldn’t use the right side of his brain. Well…occasionally.
He stepped towards the nearest door. ‘This is the library,’ he said. ‘You’re welcome to help yourself to books as long as you don’t dog-ear them or leave them outside.’
‘See?’ She gave a bell-like laugh. ‘I was spot-on.’
He gave her a look before he moved to the next door further down the corridor. ‘This is the music room.’
‘Let me guess,’ she said with another one of her impish smiles. ‘You don’t mind if I play the piano as long as my fingers aren’t sticky or I don’t drop crumbs between the keys. Correct?’
Julius found the picture she was painting of him increasingly annoying. What gave her the right to sum him up in such disparaging terms? She made him sound like some sort of house-proud obsessive. ‘Do you play an instrument?’ he asked.
‘Would you like to learn?’ Music was supposed to tame wild things, wasn’t it? He could engage a tutor for her. What was that saying about the devil and idle hands? Piano lessons would at least keep her out of his way.
‘What?’ she said, the cynical glint back in her gaze. ‘You think you can teach me the piano in a month?’
‘I have other instruments.’
‘I just bet you do.’
He gave her a droll look. ‘Flute. Tenor recorder. Saxophone.’
She looked at him, one side of her plump mouth curved in a mocking arc. ‘Impressive. Gotta love a man who’s good with his mouth and his hands.’
Julius put his hands deep in his trouser pockets in case he was tempted to show her just how good he was. Why was she being so damn brazen? Winding him up for what reason? To prove he was as predictable as all the other men she’d dealt with? What did she hope to gain? Would he be just another male trophy for her to gloat over? Another man she had slayed with her sensual allure? He wasn’t going to fall for it. He had no time for vacuous game playing. She might think him predictable and a walking, talking cliché but he was not when it came to this. She could flirt and tease and taunt him as much as she wanted but he wasn’t going to fall into her honey trap. He might be his father’s son by blood, name and looks but he wasn’t like him by nature.
‘I’ll leave Sophia to show you around the rest of the house,’ he said, his tone formal, clipped. Dismissive.
Her mischievous gaze danced. ‘Aren’t you going to show me where I’ll be sleeping?’
‘I’m not sure where Sophia has put you.’
But I hope to God it’s nowhere near me, Julius thought as he turned and strode briskly away.