Christmas Love-Child

By: Jennie Lucas

CHAPTER ONE




JUST when Grace Cannon thought her day couldn’t get any worse, she came up from the Tube carrying £1,000 worth of lingerie for her boss’s fiancée and got splashed in the face by a passing Rolls-Royce.

Mid-December in London was frosty in the violet twilight. The rain had turned to sleet, but the sidewalks in Knightsbridge were still packed with shoppers. The icy spray of gutter water hit Grace’s body like a slap. She stumbled and fell down, her hip hitting the pavement as the shopping bag tumbled into the street. She cried out, holding up her hands to protect her face from the endless crush of feet pushing forward.

“Get back. Get back, damn you.”

A tall, dark stranger pushed apart the crowds with his broad arms, giving Grace space to breathe. He towered over her on the sidewalk, black-haired and broad-shouldered in an expensive black cashmere coat.

He turned to face her.

Electric gray eyes stood out sharply against his olive-hued skin. Every inch of him whispered money and power, from his Italian shoes to the muscular shape beneath his black coat and gray pin-striped suit. His lush masculine beauty was like none she’d ever seen before. He had chiseled cheekbones, a strong jawline and a Roman profile. Her gaze fell unwillingly to his mouth, to the sensual lips that curved as he looked down at her.

A bright halo of sunlit clouds silhouetted his black hair as he extended his hand.

“Come.”

Dazzled, Grace reached up and placed her hand in his far-larger one. As the handsome stranger pulled her to her feet, she felt a current run through her body more startling than the icy water that had splashed her.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

Then she recognized him and literally lost her breath.

Prince Maksim Rostov.

Her throat closed.

She looked again. There could be no mistake.

Prince Maksim Rostov was the man who had saved her.

The lavishly wealthy prince was the most famous Russian billionaire in a city that was full of them. He was so ruthless in his business and personal life he made Grace’s boss look like a saint in comparison. For the past two months, since the prince had broken up with his famous fiancée, he’d been photographed with a new woman every night.

Prince Maksim Rostov. Her boss’s main rival. His worst enemy.

And that had been before last month, when Alan had stolen both the man’s fiancée and his merger!

“Forgive me.” The prince’s cool gray eyes looked down at her gravely, searing through her like a laser. “It was my car that splashed you. My driver should have been more careful.”

“That’s…all right,” Grace managed to say, utterly conscious of his larger hand still closed over her own. A few minutes before, she’d been icy cold. But her body was rapidly thawing.

Warming.

Boiling.

She tried to pull away. She shouldn’t let him touch her. She shouldn’t even let him talk to her. She was two blocks away from the Knightsbridge town house she shared with her boss. If Alan ever found out that his most trusted secretary had been speaking in private with Prince Maksim, he’d never forgive her. And Grace desperately needed Alan in a good mood, tonight of all nights!

But even knowing this, she found herself unable to pull her hand from the prince’s grasp. He was like a rugged, brutal, smooth old-style movie star. Like Rudolph Valentino from the 1920s, seducing women ruthlessly in a savage world of blood and sand. Like a dark angel, sent to lure innocent, helpless virgins to their destruction!

His grip tightened over hers, sending little sizzling currents up her arm, warming her beneath her wet coat.

“I will take you home.”

Her teeth chattered. “I…” She shook her head. “No. It’s really not necessary.”

Prince Maksim pulled her close. He stroked the length of her arm, languorously brushing excess water from her coat sleeve. Feeling his hand move over her clothed body, she suddenly felt so hot she might as well have been lying naked on a California beach. Her skin burned where he touched, as if whipped by a fierce Santa Ana wind.

“I insist.”

Beads of sweat formed between her breasts. “No, really,” she managed. “I live close. It won’t take me long to walk.”