It was much busier outside than it had been earlier. Several other groups sat and chatted at the tables on the lawn. Mitch steered Julie toward a small table tucked away at the side of the lawn, and they sat looking out across the harbour.
The evening breeze had dropped and the still harbour reflected the lights of the city like a mirror.
“So, is that your usual brand of aftershave?” asked Julie. She was usually circumspect when asking personal questions, but the smell was overwhelming. It also broke the silence that was in danger of becoming awkward.
“Believe it or not, there’s a very good reason as to why I’m doused in the cheapest and nastiest of aftershaves. It’s Hope’s fault. She’s my five-year-old niece. It was my birthday last week and according to her mother she chose this for me herself. I couldn’t disappoint her, so I told her it was wonderful and promised to wear it to the ball.”
“But couldn’t you have just said you wore it or something?” Julie asked.
“I would never lie to a five-year-old,” he said in mock offence. “Anyway, I’m staying at my sister’s place, and Hope was helping me get ready. She put it on me herself.”
As Julie listened, she studied his broad, handsome face. His dark eyes glinted in the low light and his short, dirty blond hair fell across his forehead. As he talked and smiled, dimples put in an appearance, softening his high cheekbones and strong jaw.
“And that,” he concluded, “was how I came to be hiding in the shadows earlier. I was just trying to stay downwind of anyone else.”
The champagne sat forgotten on the table. The energy that flickered between them was more potent than any alcohol. Their conversation was casual, but their senses sparked, awareness flowed, unspoken and unacknowledged. They were so absorbed in each other that everything around them simply faded away.
After a while, Mitch reached out and casually twisted the fine hair that floated just behind her ear, gently around his finger. Julie had trouble concentrating. Heat flowered beneath her skin as the sensitive spot tickled and the sensation traveled relentlessly through her body.
Apparently relaxed, Mitch shifted, laid his warm hand along the back of her neck and began to very gently massage just below her ear. She shuddered delicately, unable to focus on anything but his touch. He seemed to ignore the tension between them and continued with his easy banter, chatting about inconsequential things. Julie couldn’t look away from him. There was a message in his eyes, a look of possessive desire that held her spellbound. She bit back a low moan as longing coursed through her.
Feeling Julie tremble slightly as he touched her, Mitch suppressed a victorious smile, confident the evening was destined to end in a very pleasant and satisfying manner. He ignored the slight qualm he felt, refusing to acknowledge the power of his attraction to her made him feel distinctly out of control. Mitch hated to be out of control, especially around women. Brought up in a life of affluence and privilege, he’d become vastly cynical about the type of women who were attracted to wealthy bachelors. He’d purposefully made his own way in the world, leaving his sister to follow his father into the family business. But this still didn’t deter some who saw the income from his trust fund and the fact that one day he’d be the heir to millions.
It was obvious Julie was no gold digger, but her apparently close association with the incredibly wealthy and corrupt Charles Tregaskis puzzled him. “Do you know Mr. Tregaskis well?” he asked, trying not to appear too curious about their relationship. Mitch had heard many things about Charles, none of them good.
She started, a wary expression on her face. “Charles and I have been friends for years,” she replied with a distinct edge in her voice. “Only friends,” she repeated, looking steadily at Mitch as if he ought to be getting the message to back off loud and clear.
He shifted in his seat, aware he’d touched a nerve and curious to see where it led. Julie sounded suspiciously defensive. “I’ve heard some odd rumours about your Mr. Tregaskis recently.” He pushed her just a little.
Julie’s eyes narrowed. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” she said as she rose to make a polite departure.
“Don’t go,” said Mitch, catching her arm. “I’m sorry, I guess you know more about it than me. Anyway, I shouldn’t be passing on rumours.” He brought out his most charming and endearing smile.
“I’m quite aware of Charles’ womanising reputation,” she said archly, but made no move to leave.
“Oh, I wasn’t talking about that,” said Mitch, taken aback. “I just heard some investment scheme he ran was in trouble.”
“I don’t know anything about it.” She relaxed and sat beside him once more. “We never talk about his legal work. You know, the client-lawyer privilege thing.”
Nodding, Mitch let the matter drop. He had his own opinions about Charles Tregaskis and his dodgy business dealings, but apparently Julie was the wrong person to discuss them with.
Julie relaxed when Mitch stopped talking about Charles and began to flirt in earnest, flashing his heart-melting smile and entrancing her with his dark gaze. She was once again captivated, and he began a slow but precise seduction of her senses. A small strand of her hair had floated loose, and quite casually, he reached out and tucked it behind her ear. At his touch, the electricity hummed between them, her lips parted and desire burned. He caressed the back of her neck with his fingers, running his thumb down her throat to the top of her collarbone and back.
Julie shuddered as animal heat blossomed from the contact of his caress and flowed through her. He leant toward her and for the second time that evening she thought he was going to kiss her. He didn’t. Instead he dropped his hand to her hip, just barely touching her tight nipple as it skimmed past, sending an electric jolt through her. “Let’s get out of here,” he whispered, his breath tickling her ear.