Forbidden Merger(8)

By: Emilie Rose

“I lost a friend to breast cancer last year. I spent time with her during her treatment. Quite a few of your paintings hang in the Women’s Health Center. The Daylily is my favorite, but Jane liked The Gardenia best.”

Jane, her father’s personal assistant for as far back as Aubrey could remember, had lost her life to the disease after a long, valiant struggle. The heartbreaking shame of it was that if Jane had gone for the mammograms her doctor had been recommending for the past two decades they might have caught the cancer in time to save her life, but Jane had been afraid the procedure would be uncomfortable and embarrassing so she’d put it off only to learn too late that the hell of chemotherapy was much worse than the slight discomfort of a mammogram.

Grief reopened in Aubrey’s chest. She pressed a hand over her aching heart and turned back to the artwork to blink away her tears. For as far back as she could remember she’d talked more to Jane than to her socialite mother or workaholic father, and Aubrey still missed Jane, her confidante and hero.

It had been Jane who’d realized something was wrong after Aubrey’s mother had remarried and Jane who’d pried the confession out of Aubrey about her stepfather’s inappropriate advances. And it had been Jane who’d gone to her boss and revealed the sordid truth. Aubrey had been swiftly removed from her mother’s home and she hadn’t been allowed to visit again. When her mother wanted to see her she’d had to come to the Holt apartment. She hadn’t come often.

Gilda joined Aubrey beside the painting and tipped her head to indicate Liam.

“Do you think he gets it?”

Aubrey blinked away the past and looked over her shoulder at Liam. The careful neutrality of his face confirmed he didn’t understand the nuances behind the flower. And then she met Gilda’s skeptical gaze. “I can explain it to him.”

Gilda cackled and nodded. “Yes, I’m sure you can. All right, then.”

And just that quickly the deal was done. Minutes later the artwork had been packaged and placed in the trunk of a taxi and Aubrey and Liam were on the way to Liam’s apartment—a decision Aubrey considered both wise and foolhardy. Wise because she might be able to glean more information from Liam, but also foolhardy because she was only tormenting herself with what she couldn’t have.

The cabbie drove as aggressively as the first even without the added incentive of a double fare. He swerved to avoid a bicycle messenger at the last possible second, pitching Aubrey practically into Liam’s lap. Liam’s strong hands steadied her.

She lifted her gaze to his. “Excuse me.”

The blue of his eyes darkened and his gaze dropped to her lips. “No problem.”

Aubrey ordered her muscles to move her away from the warmth and strength of Liam’s grasp. They mutinied. Liam’s hand lifted from her upper arm to cup her jaw. He stroked her cheekbone with his thumb and then threaded his fingers through her hair. Aubrey shivered and inhaled a shaky breath.

Why oh why did this man have to be the one to awaken every feminine instinct in her body? Before she could force herself to retreat, Liam’s head lowered. Instead of scooting back to her side of the slippery vinyl seat Aubrey lifted her chin and met him halfway.

His lips brushed hers, softly at first and then more insistently. Her pulse raced. Her lungs seized. And then his slick tongue parted her lips and she tasted him. Delicious. Aubrey covered his hand on her face, determined to remove it, but somehow her fingers threaded through his and her other hand clenched the lapel of his jacket.

The movement of the car rocked her breast against his bicep, stroking with each swerve and bump in the road and causing her nipples to tighten and warmth to puddle low in her belly. And then Liam’s arms banded around her and he lifted her across the seat and into his lap. She gasped at the suddenness of the action, at the heat of his thighs beneath hers and his groin against her hip.

A second of sanity prevailed, and she drew back to gasp for breath, but she didn’t go far. Her forehead rested on his. Their noses touched. His heart slammed beneath her palm and his breath swept her skin.

“What are we doing?” she whispered.

“Damned if I know.” One of his hands raked up and down her spine. The other settled on her hip and stroked downward until he found skin. The hem of her knee-length skirt had ridden up to midthigh. She wasn’t wearing stockings. His hot palm glided over her knee, down her calf and back up again, edging beneath the fabric.

This really had to stop…in a minute. Aubrey couldn’t remember ever being so aroused so quickly and in such an inappropriate location—a cab, for pity’s sake, in plain view of the driver up front. Liam kissed one corner of her mouth and then the other, and then he took her bottom lip into his teeth and gently tugged. His tongue laved the sensitive inner skin.

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