Breaching the Billionaire: Alethea's Redemption
Page 16

 Ruth Cardello

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Somehow that doesn’t make me feel better.
Chapter Eleven
After thoroughly testing every aspect of the security system and attempting every mode of communication with the outside world, Alethea sat down on the bench in the grassed area beside the waterfall.
“Give up?”
“Go to hell.”
“Come on, let me enjoy this moment. You thought escape would be easy. Your comprehensive testing was impressive, but why not just admit that you’re stumped? Did you try the vents?”
“Yes.”
“Genius the way I looped them back through the air purifier, wasn’t it? They lead exactly nowhere.” He sat next to her on the bench.
“I noticed.”
“Each pod has its own air system in case one fails. Working with an unlimited budget helps.”
“Do your victory dance. You beat me. This time.”
He put an arm around the back of the bench and played with one of her curls, even though she shifted away from him when he did. “Does it have to be a competition between us? I earned this gloat, but I’d rather relax and enjoy this time together.” He pushed the hair off the back of her neck, exposing its curve and blowing gently on it. He took a remote out of his pocket and, with a click, the ceiling of the bunker became a twinkling night sky.
Alethea fought a smile, then looked at him, shaking her head with humor. “Seriously?”
He gave her a shameless grin and wiggled his eyebrows.
“A fake night sky will not get me to forget that you’ve locked me in against my will.”
Marc shrugged and stood up. “You can focus on the details, but I intend to enjoy this unexpected day off.” He took off his shirt and laid it on the bench beside her, then stepped out of his shoes.
Alethea hated to admit it, but unlike most people, Marc looked even better with his clothes off than on. His chest was perfectly cut and lightly dusted with hair. She wanted to reach out and touch his firm abs. “I told you I’m not interested.”
He turned away from her, dropped his pants to the floor, and dove into the deep water in front of the waterfall. The image of his perfectly toned ass momentarily stole her breath. Wiping the water from his face when he surfaced, he smiled at her. “There you go, making it all about sex again. You’ve never gone skinny-dipping just for the pleasure of it?”
Alethea folded her arms across her chest. “No.”
There was very little that she did simply for the pleasure of it. She didn’t relax her guard long enough to.
He swam to the edge in front of her and rested his arms on it. “You’re quite a puzzle, you know that? I used to think you were a badass. Next you’ll tell me you’re a virgin, and I’ll drown from the shock.”
“Of course I’m not a virgin. I’ve had plenty of sex—alone and with others. I just don’t want to have it with you.”
A lusty smile spread across his face. “That’s not the impression you gave me in the elevator.”
His comment soured her mood. “That was a mistake.” She said more quietly, “One I don’t want to talk about.”
“Then come swim,” he suggested. “I promise to keep my hands to myself.”
“You expect me to believe that?”
“Yes,” he said seriously.
When she didn’t move, he said, “People can’t disappoint you if you don’t trust them, can they? Beneath all that bravado, you’re not very brave at all, are you, my little warrior?”
Not brave? Ha. She stood up and stripped naked, slowly, enjoying the fact that his jaw dropped open and his eyes widened with pleasure. She stood proudly before him and smiled, then dove in and surfaced beside him, close enough to hear his breathing change and see his eyes dilate with excitement. “I told you—I’m not afraid of you,” she said, and shook her hair, loving how it drew his attention to her bare shoulders and lower.
He took a deep breath and said, “Yes, you are.” He leaned forward as if he would kiss her, but didn’t. “But you shouldn’t be, because I’m on your side.”
Thankfully, he swam off to do laps, leaving Alethea aroused and angry at the same time—a condition she was beginning to associate with being around Marc. She started swimming too, if only to give herself something to do besides gawk at a man she wasn’t sure whether she wanted to kiss or strangle.
Having her so close and not being able to touch her was torture, sweet torture. Thank God I didn’t promise not to look. Watching her beautifully toned arms slice through the water, and the glimpse of her breasts just beneath the water, had him painfully aroused. He gave up trying to pretend, swam to the edge, and propped himself up with an arm on either side to savor the view.
If mermaids look anything like her, no wonder sailors dive to their doom.
Her delightful bare ass arched above the waterline each time she reached the end of the fake river and dove to turn. As she swam by him, he saw what looked like a half smile on her face and chuckled. She knows exactly what she’s doing to me and she’s waiting for me to give in and chase her. That’s what she’s used to.
She tempts.
The man chases.
She gives only what she wants to.
Safe.
I could let her win, agree to her terms, and the reward would be a night between those sweet thighs. One night of sex would be no different than any hookup I’ve ever had.
And that’s the problem.
I don’t want just one night. I want to know what scares a woman the FBI considers more of a liability than an asset. Someone to hire when they need her, but not someone they want on their payroll.
Someone so good at what she does that, like NASCAR, people watch in fascination, waiting to see her crash, even as they cheer her on. Like Dominic, she made more enemies than she did friends.
He had to admit that he’d spent more than a few evenings imagining how good it would feel to humble her a bit. Her bold, take-no-prisoners and win-at-all-costs attitude elicited a strong emotion in many people.
And I’m only human.
The more time he spent with her, however, the more he saw that she didn’t want to win—she needed to. She wasn’t driven by fame; in fact, even in the midst of intense public scrutiny of those near her, she’d managed to stay under the radar. Keenly intelligent with the ability to read most people, she was a master manipulator.
But to what end?
Money didn’t impress her.
She could have parlayed her connections into a position of power, but she hadn’t.
Every once in a while, if he looked closely enough, he glimpsed, what he’d bet his life on, was fear. Not the I’ve-had-my-heart-broken surface shit, but the wake-up-terrified-and-sweaty kind of mental scar that comes from being brutally thrown into hell and then deposited back on earth. A scar you hide, even from those you love, because some things are too ugly to share.
He understood scars, internal as well as external.
Watching Alethea tirelessly swim back and forth before him gave him time to come to a decision. Sometimes you have to tear something down before you can build it up stronger.
She shot him another look as she swam by. Their eyes met and fire sprang between them.
You’ll be mine, Alethea.
But not on your terms.
Marc smiled, turned, and hauled himself out of the pool. Not bothering to conceal how much he’d enjoyed watching her, he waved to her when he caught her checking out his erection. She turned her face away and coughed as she swallowed water unexpectedly. He laughed and picked up his clothing, tucking it under one arm.
Lesson one: Laughter heals.
He scooped up her clothing and rolled it into his. He’d only made it a few feet away from the pool, and was still chuckling, as he imagined what she’d say when she stopped drowning and realized what he’d done.
Suddenly she was before him, gloriously angry, dripping wet, and blocking his way. He didn’t think he’d ever seen anything sexier than the defensive jujitsu stance she took. “Drop my clothes before I drop you.”
He stopped, but, even though he wanted to do as she asked—if only to free up his hands to pull her to him—he didn’t. Instead, he looked her over slowly and said, “I wonder if they make martial-arts porn. I never thought it could be sexy until just now.”
A red flush started between her breasts and spread up her neck and across her face. “I’m deadly serious.”
Despite her angry tone, her nipples were pursed in hard little nubs that were nearly impossible to look away from. Looking down didn’t help. Lean, muscular legs led upward to an exquisitely trimmed line of pubic hair. He swallowed hard and shook his head. When his eyes met hers, he was fighting to keep his breathing normal. “As much as I’d love to wrestle with you, I said I wouldn’t touch you. But you’re making that a hard promise to keep.”
Her eyes dropped at the word hard, and his dick twitched and throbbed, growing more beneath her perusal. She referenced his eager erection and said, “Could you cover that up?”
He looked down, then back up with a smile. “Find it distracting? You should be on this side of it.” The red on her cheeks deepened. He tossed her clothing to her. She slipped her dress over her head and stepped into her underwear. “We both know I want you—hiding it won’t change that. And you can cover up as much as you want, but every last inch of you is burned into my memory now and will keep me up many nights.” When her eyes dropped back to his penis, he laughed out loud again. “I love that dirty mind of yours, Alethea. I really do.”
She stepped back angrily.
He turned to walk away, then stopped. He caught her eyes over his shoulder. “Try to keep your eyes off my incredible ass as I walk away.” He turned from her, then looked back and caught her still watching him. “I knew you couldn’t help yourself. Fine, look all you want. And just so you know, unlike you, I don’t have a no-touching policy. Touch all you want.”
She said something rude under her breath.
He laughed as he reentered his fake house.
Swimming in the heated pool had been excruciatingly wonderful, but for the sake of his sanity, he was going to take a shower.
An ice-cold one.
Two, if that’s what it took.
Fully dressed again, Alethea paced the inside of Marc’s bunker home. It was almost midnight. I’m not sleeping here. I’m done. I have been more than understanding. But I refuse to stay here one more moment with that . . . that . . . streaker.
No matter how gorgeous he is.
This is kidnapping. Illegal detainment.
There has to be some way to contact the outside world from here.
None of the phones worked, and the computer wasn’t linked to anything. He’d taken his cell phone, along with hers, into the shower with him. She thought back to the scene at the pool and groaned. I should have smiled sweetly and taken his phone while he wasn’t looking. Why the hell did I strip and dive in with him?
The truth was painful to admit to herself.
Because a part of me wants to finish what we started on the way down in the elevator. I want to test out that bed beneath the river. She thought back to how he’d stood naked and exposed, not to mention fully aroused, while talking to her. I guess if you’re that well endowed, why not wave it around? Who does that? He’s ridiculous, and irritating, and . . . sexier than any man I’ve ever met. His easy confidence was a relief from men with fragile egos who were easily intimidated when they realized what she did for a living.