Sold into Marriage(3)

By: Ann Major


Her skin the color of light brown sugar, Brianna was as tall and thin as a supermodel. She had huge dark eyes and straight black hair. Not that Bree had ever relied on her looks to get her where she wanted—except maybe when it came to snagging Jacques, a super-rich art broker she’d met at an art fair in London.

Josie had turned Bree down cold.

But that had been before Barnardo’s exhibit had opened in a prominent New Orleans museum, starring Josie in the nude.

Suddenly the air in the little cubicle of Brianna’s apartment felt bleak and stale and too heavy with the scent of her oils and Josie’s own dying dreams.

Focus on today. On tonight. Not past or present failures.

She whirled on her canvas. Bits of stone bird and gigantic teeth seemed to be scattered all over the place. The brilliant colors that had fit so right last night confused her suddenly.

Thinking that fresh air and a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower might inspire her, Josie left the painting and went to the tall living-room window.

Without looking down at the snow-slicked cobblestones or across at the dark courtyard windows, she slid her window up. Then she leaned out, arching her long, slender neck, searching for the tower through the bare branches of the one-hundred-year-old trees.

Nothing.

Determined, she plopped down on the windowsill and eased her bottom farther out onto the icy ledge. Digging her heels under the radiator and gripping the wall with a hand, she leaned out some more.

Snowflakes landed on her cheeks and melted. Teeth chattering, butt freezing, snow dribbling down her face like teardrops, she smiled up at the iron lady glimmering above the roofline.

“Just like a gigantic Christmas ornament in a snow globe.”

Forgetting the chill and her exhaustion and her suicidal, gravity-defying perch, she was in the process of leaning out even farther when a man whistled at her.

“Oh, my God! You’re real!” Josie screamed.

Whirling wildly, she lost her grip on the wall.

For a dizzying instant a man’s darkly handsome angular face spun crazily. Then she was falling toward bricks and cobblestones.

Grabbing for the wall, she latched on to the copper drain-pipe that snaked up the building instead, and clung.

Her heart thundered. Instead of scooting back inside, she stayed in the window, never considering how the glow of the lamp behind her might silhouette her breasts, her narrow waist and her derriere.

Searching the windows for him, her temples began to pound. She felt a hairpin stabbing her scalp. Reaching up, she unpinned her hair. Then she shook her head, so that her red curls spilled in a shimmering mass over her shoulders.

Looking up, her gaze sought the long, black window opposite hers again.

The shade was up. For a second she was almost sure she saw a tall man moving about in the shadows.

A rush of heat coursed through her veins.

“Hello?” Holding her breath, she leaned out farther. “Is anybody there?”

Just the thought of him and the skin on her throat and shoulders prickled hotly. Her nipples grew tight and hard.

Was a stranger really watching?

Her blood beat faster. Blushing, she backed inside the window.

The strange feeling that a man really was watching her persisted. Waves of heat sizzled through her.

She should move away from the window. Instead her heartbeat sped up as she gazed across the courtyard. Hugging herself, imagining a dream lover, she forgot not to smile.

As she envisioned a man in the window, who had height and strength, who was somehow essential, a man who was enjoying this as much as she, her mind began to weave a fantasy.

Was he there? Her skin began to glow until soon she felt as hot as molten flame. Her heart raced.

A fierce, wild hunger swept her, for what, she did not know.





Two



A dam Ryder hadn’t intended to be a voyeur, but when Miss Navarre’s light snapped on across the courtyard, he instinctively moved closer to his own tall window. Then, like a hunter after prey, he waited in the dark.Maybe if the overly warm room hadn’t smelled moldy when he’d first walked in, he wouldn’t have raised the shade or opened his window. None of that mattered now.

The instant he saw Josie Navarre take that tumble across her threshold and then start nibbling blueberries, one by one, the eroticism in her every gesture had made him burn.

Not that his taste ran to voluptuous redheads with masses of untamed curls. No, he preferred Abigail’s rich black hair that was shorn in a short cap, and her exquisitely trim body that cut through any room she entered with such feminine class and precision that all male eyes turned to admire her…and him.

Nor did his taste run to the kind of exhibitionist who would pose nude for some enfant terrible of the art world, no matter how famous the bastard was. But was she an exhibitionist? Had she cooperated fully in the making of the raw, edgy video portrait of her taking a shower that had embarrassed her wealthy family?

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