This time her father had gone too far.
Chloe Bradford threw open the window, grabbed the open
bottle of Cristal, and walked out onto her third-floor
bedroom balcony. After a few minutes of pitiful acrobatics
and a long string of curses, she managed to pull herself up
onto the roof. For some reason, the climb had seemed much
easier when she was sixteen.
â€śDamn, my glass.â€ť Chloe carefully placed the bottle down
and climbed back into her bedroom.
â€śWhere did it go?â€ť She scanned the pink and white walls
in disgust. Chloe had loved the color scheme back when her
mother had picked it out. Then again, she'd been only eight
at the time. Now, at thirty-two, it made her think of a
bottle of Pepto-Bismol. When she'd gone off to college, she
thought she'd never see this place again. She'd been wrong.
Funny how some things come full circle.
Frowning, she crossed her arms in front of her chest. No
glass. Maybe she left it downstairs. Too bad.
She'd much rather drink from the bottle than go back down
there and subject herself to that humiliation again. It was
a â€śdrink from the bottleâ€ť type of night, anyway.
She shimmied back out to her champagne on the roof. The
Spanish-style mansion was like a lot of the other houses in
the area. The roof was very flat and a nightmare during
times of rain, but it was perfect for a teenager or two to
get away from their parents for a few hours.
Or for a middle-aged woman to hide from a marriage
Chloe took a seat and placed her almost-full bottle next
to her. It had been a long time since she'd come out here to
wish on the stars and dream of her future.
Now she just wanted to escape it.
She sighed and held up the bottle of Cristal to the full
moon hanging low in the sky. She wasn't much of a drinker
and wasn't exactly a fan of champagne, but desperate times
called for desperate measures. After the huge fight, she
just wanted to get out of there. She had grabbed the
closest bottle and left her parents and boyfriend gaping in
the dining room below.
She brought the champagne to her lips. The bubbly liquid
tickled her throat as she gulped it down. What happened to
When she was a little girl, she had dreamed of becoming
a concert pianist. Her senior year in high school, she'd
gotten accepted into a program at Juilliard. A few months
later, she'd become engaged to her high school sweetheart.
For a while it seemed like everything was going great.
Then, a semester before she was due to graduate, her
life changed forever.
Chloe blinked back tears and took another sip of
Marcus, her older brother, and her fiancĂ©, Zach, had
gone backpacking in Montana. They never returned. A frenzied
search turned up her brother's body but not Zach's. She
shivered as she thought back to that day when they had
heard the news. The autopsy revealed that Marcus was mauled
by some large animal, a bear or a wolf or something. Zach's
body was never found.
Marcus had been groomed to take over the family business
and control the bulk of their inheritance. Chloe would
receive a small stipend from the family coffers to live on,
but she could otherwise do as she pleased. After that day,
she was the sole heir to the Bradford family fortune. Now
it was now up to her, not Marcus, to keep the business going
when her father retired.
That meant no more school.
No more friends.
No more life.
She should've told her father to shove the inheritance,
but Chloe loved her parents and knew they were grieving.
She'd only intended to stay in Texas for a short time, but
somehow she had ended up being her father's shadow for the
past eleven years.
She took another sip of champagne and leaned back on her
elbows. Clouds had moved in, hiding the stars and blanketing
the moon. She remembered when she and Zach used to climb up
here at night to have sex underneath the night sky. It had
been so wonderful back then. Before her new
responsibilities. Before Karl.
â€śWhy did Karl have to propose tonight? On Christmas
Eve?â€ť she asked the moon.
It didn't answer.
Her father was behind the proposal; she knew it. They
were all expecting her to say yes, but the words caught in
her throat. She just couldn't.
She refused to spend the rest of her days as boring Mrs.
Karl Radcliffe, heiress to the Bradford billions. Karl was
nice enough, but there was no chemistry between them, at
least not the type of chemistry she had shared with Zach.
But Zach was gone, and it was her duty as daddy's girl to
carry on the family name. At least with Karl, there was a
warm body beside her at night. But she wanted more for her
life. She wanted adventure, excitement.
Get over it, Chloe. It's time to move on.
Accepting Karl's proposal was like giving up on the idea
that Zach would return and free her from this miserable
life. After a marriage to Karl, there would be no more
going back. No more hope. No more dreaming of what could
have been. The young, innocent, fun-loving Chloe would
finally be dead.
â€śI wish I could escape this place.â€ť She stood and swayed
slightly. â€śEscape my family.â€ť Tilting her head back and
raising her arms, she shouted at the moon. â€śI don't want
this life anymore, do you hear me? Take it back.â€ť
â€śWhat's wrong with me?â€ť Chloe dropped her arms and
pushed her curly mop of hair from her face. â€śWhy can't I
just tell them to take the inheritance and shove it?â€ť
She knew why. She was chicken. Her parents were the only
family she had left. They'd been through so much with her
brother's death, and she didn't want to add to their grief.
â€śFor once I wish I didn't have to do what was expected of
me,â€ť she said to the moon. â€śI just want to be me.â€ť
Who was she, anyway? At one time she thought she knew.
She was a dreamer, an artist, a lover. Nowâ€¦
Now she was just going through the motions. Sighing, she
took one last slug from the champagne bottle and tossed it
over the side of the house.
As the bottle left her hand, guilt immediately took
hold. Good girls didn't throw bottles of Cristal. Nor did
they yell at the moon.
A giggle welled up in her throat, and she covered her
mouth. She knew she would eventually have to marry boring
Karl to appease her parents, but for tonight she'd pretend
she was that hopeful teenager, and Zach was once again by
Wait a minute.
Chloe frowned. No crash. If you throw a bottle of
champagne over the edge of the house, you would expect it to
crash when it hit the ground, right? She made her way over
to the edge of the roof and peered down. It was so hard to
see anything in the dark. Sinking to her hands and knees,
she squinted into the darkness below.
There was movement, a shifting of shadow. Thenâ€¦nothing.
â€śWho's there?â€ť And where's my Cristal? She bent
farther over the side of the house.
There it was again. Something was down there.
â€śCome out into the streetlight where I can see you.â€ť
She counted to ten, or maybe it was three. It was hard
to tell in her present state. Still nothing happened.
â€śI know someone is down there. Show yourself.â€ť
The wind picked up, rustling the wind chimes on the
front of the house. The unseasonably cool Texas night gave
her a chill. She shivered and pulled the shawl her mother
had made for her over her strapless blouse.
â€śShouldn't you be with your family?â€ť
Chloe jumped up and whirled around. A large, muscular
figure stood on the rooftop behind her, just a few feet
away. His hair hung loose around his shoulders, and the
bottom of his open trench coat lifted slightly in the
breeze. Shadows fell over his face, masking his identity. He
tilted his head to the side, as if to study her.
How did he get up here?
Her eyes shifted to the large tree, looming behind him.
Okay, one question answered. Now for another oneâ€¦
â€śWho are you?â€ť
â€śI think a more relevant question is: why are you out
here on Christmas Eve when your family is having dinner
inside?â€ť His low voice sounded gravelly, as if he had a
cold or sore throat, yet it seemed strangely familiar. The
stranger took a step closer to the tree and deeper into the
â€śHow did you knowâ€¦?â€ť She crossed her arms in front of
her chest. â€śWhat I do up here is my business. You're
â€śYou asked me to come up here.â€ť
Chloe snorted and put her hands on her hips. â€śI did
â€śYou did. You said 'show yourself.'â€ť
Oh yeah, she did say that, didn't she? â€śWhat are you
doing out here? A late-night stroll?â€ť
He chuckled. â€śYou could say that.â€ť
Chloe shifted her gaze down to the long, winding
driveway below them. It led from the front steps, down
around a sculpture her father had commissioned long ago,
between two thin rows of trees, and stopped at the gate
leading into the property.
Late-night stroll, her ass. Nobody got on or off this
property unless it was approved. How did he get past the
guards? â€śYou must have gotten lost, then. This is private
property, you know.â€ť
He laughed again, a deep, rich laugh that sent tingles
over her skin. â€śI see you haven't changed much.â€ť
So, he knew her. The voice sounded familiar, but with
the man's face in shadow, Chloe couldn't tell his identity.
He didn't mean her harm; she knew it instinctively.
There was something about the way he spoke, the way he
moved, that didn't seem threatening. Then again, maybe it
was just the Cristal that made her less wary. She closed
her eyes in concentration. That voiceâ€¦ It was rough
and sensual, like silk sheets against bare skin. So
â€śDo you know my father?â€ť
â€śYou could say that, yes.â€ť His voice caressed her ears,
making her heart flutter. â€śI knew your whole family, once.â€ť
â€śHa! I knew it.â€ť This man worked for her father. He'd
probably been over to the house numerous times. It explained
why he was in the driveway, how he knew her, and why the
voice sounded so familiar. â€śSo does my father know you are
up on the roof with me?â€ť She opened her eyes.
Where did he go?
A light breeze blew over her, ruffling her blonde curls.
She spun around in a circle. â€śIs this some sort of joke?â€ť
â€śNo, Chloe. No joke.â€ť The stranger's warm breath brushed
against the back of her neck. She shivered as the faint mix
of sandalwood and spice reached her nose.
She knew that smell. Chloe started to turn, but firm
hands grabbed her shoulders and faced her forward again.
â€śI never thought I'd see you again,â€ť the stranger
No, he wasn't a stranger. He knew her. That
voiceâ€¦ If she could just clear the fog of Cristal in
her brain, she just knew she'd be able to identify him.
â€śWho are you?â€ť she asked again.
He tugged the shawl from her hands and let it drop
between them. Desire filtered through her as he slid his
fingertips down over her bare arms. â€śYou feel even better
than I remember.â€ť
Chloe closed her eyes. Heat tickled underneath her skin
where he touched. It shot straight to her core and burned
between her legs.
â€śI have a confession to make.â€ť The low, harsh voice
rippled over her ears.
He shifted behind her, pressing his hard chest up
against her back. â€śI was hoping you would come home for
â€śI live here, so I'm around most of the time. Last week
I was in Europe, checking up on my father's hotels, but I'm
done with that now.â€ť Good Lord, stop babbling. She
couldn't help it. For the first time in her life, Chloe was
excited, perhaps a little nervous. If that made her babble,
so be it.
â€śI know,â€ť the stranger said.
â€śYou do?â€ť Chloe shivered as he ran his hands over her
hips. Need bubbled inside her, like water in a teapot.
Hidden, yet turbulent and ready to spill over the edge.
â€śI've been watching you all week, Chloe, waiting for the
â€śYou could've seen me anytime.â€ť Especially if he was one
of her father's employees. Maybe he was someone else, a guy
from town? His name was there on the edges of her mind,
just out of reach. There was something oddly familiar about
this guy's rough, sexy voice and wicked fingers.
He removed one hand from her hip and brushed the hair
from her neck. â€śI don't think visiting would've been wise.â€ť
â€śWhy not?â€ť She gasped as his lips pressed against the
sensitive skin between her neck and shoulder.
He straightened behind her, letting his fingers drop
down to her hip. Silence stretched between them for one
intense moment before he responded. â€śYour father doesn't
like me very much.â€ť
â€śYeah, well. He doesn't like me very much right now
either. So I guess we can both be in the doghouse together.â€ť
â€śI'm sure you can think of a better place than a
doghouse.â€ť He reached around her front and laced his fingers
Heat surged in her core as the stranger guided her hands
up to the moonlight.
â€śSuch beautiful fingers,â€ť he whispered. â€śDo you still
This was one hell of a man, whoever he was. Chloe fought
down the urge to wrap herself around him and purr like a
cat. â€śNo,â€ť she said. Goodness, she hadn't touched a piano
â€śPity.â€ť He guided their hands around her middle and
tugged her back into his hips. His hard cock pressed
through their thin clothing and against her backside. â€śYou
played very well.â€ť
His heat penetrated her Cristal-induced haze, muddling
her thoughts. Chloe struggled to form a coherent thought.
â€śHow do you know me?â€ť
He kissed her neck. The soft press of his lips sent a
vibration of desire through her body, as if striking a piano
chord. Pulling her hands from his grasp, she gripped his
forearms and leaned on him for support.
â€śDo you really want to know?â€ť Keeping his arms crossed
over her middle, he stroked her hips.
Making a tsking noise, he curled his fingers
into her skirt, inching it up over her thighs. â€śCome now,
Chloe. I know when you're lying.â€ť
â€śI'm not lying.â€ť
Her skirt bunched around her waist, exposing her thong
and thigh-high tights. Her thoughts shattered as he ran his
fingers up her thigh. Chloe groaned and closed her eyes as
pleasure filtered through her body.
â€śAdmit it. You're lying.â€ť He nibbled her neck, making
her gasp with pleasure. â€śYou find this exciting.â€ť
She did. There was something about his voice, his scent,
something about him, that made her feel safe,
loved. â€śYeah, I do.â€ť
He ran his hand down her leg. â€śThen open up for me,
Chloe, and let yourself go. Show me the real you.â€ť