Rule's Property (The House of Rule Book 2)(5)

By: Lynda Chance

His eyes snapped opened and they stared at each other, both drawing in oxygen as if they'd just run a marathon.

Even through her confusion, Courtney immediately saw his expression change when he realized what he'd done. The residual pleasure on his face dissolved and a tortured expression of horror and disbelief etched across his features.

"It's okay," she whispered, trying to soothe away his look of anxiety.

"No, it's not," he fired back, but still, he didn't release her.

"It was an accident," she said softly.

He let out a hiss of air and shook his head in refutation. "An accident I've been thinking about for weeks."

The blood drained from her face as her nerves took a jolt.

"Shit. I ought to be shot." Abruptly, he pulled away from her, releasing her completely, and stepped back. He turned away, and just as quickly, turned back to face her. "I bet your Christian, all-girls school education didn't prepare you for that, did it?" he asked with an anger that she somehow knew was directed at himself and not at her.

She shook her head, not even considering lying to him.

He took another step away and she immediately felt bereft, almost desolate.

He studied her, so many different emotions crossing his face that Courtney didn't try to identify any of them. After a moment, he let out a deep breath and ran his fingers through his hair, messing it up completely. His look softened as he watched her. "Sweetheart, I'm sorry. Please don't let what just happened scare you. It won't happen again. You're safe with me, I promise." He shook his head. "I can't believe I was so careless."

"It's okay," she said again, reacting more to his tone of voice than his actual words.

"It's not okay. I'm a stupid shit." His jaw clenched. "I want you to forget it happened, okay?"

All Courtney was capable of doing was standing upright without falling over and watching him while her brain continued to short-circuit.

"Okay?" he asked again, obviously wanting her compliance about something.

"Okay, what?" she asked, confused, her senses overloaded.

He gritted his teeth. "I want you to forget what just happened, can you do that for me?"

Forget his kiss? No way. Uh-uh. Not going to happen. "Okay," she lied in a whisper.

"Good." He cleared his throat and changed the subject. "So, you like your present?"

Remembering the charm, she nodded her head, picking it up again and rubbing it between her fingers as pleasure from his gift permeated her shock and rushed through her system.

"Happy birthday," he said in a stiff tone.

"Thank you," she replied a bit awkwardly.

He watched her in silence for a moment too long, and then he let out a defeated sound. "I need a drink." He walked to the sideboard and began mixing a cocktail.

A few seconds later, Courtney heard the front door open. After a moment, Erin flounced into the room with a grin. She threw her brother a smile and then made a beeline for Courtney.

"Happy eighteenth birthday, little sister," she teased as she enveloped Courtney in a warm embrace.

Hugging Erin, Courtney peeked over the girl's shoulder and saw Nick watching them with ill-concealed irritation. Her nerves took another hit. Surely she wasn't reading his expression correctly; his features reflected a maddened look of resentment. His legs were braced apart and his teeth were clenched, as tension seemed to hold him in its grip.

As she continued to watch him over Erin's shoulder, his frown only intensified. He stared back at her, holding her gaze captive. Watching her intently, locking her eyes with his, he lifted his glass and threw back the liquor, swallowing it down in one shot.

Chapter One

Six years later

Nick glanced up with a scowl as Damian pushed into his office and tossed a folder on his desk. Not appreciating the interruption, Nick threw his pen aside and rasped, "What the hell am I supposed to do with that?"

Ignoring Nick's sour mood, Damian tilted his head toward the folder. "Garrett's fishing for property on the East Coast again. I need you to look it over and make a decision when you get a chance. It looks good to me, but you've got the Florida real estate experience, not me."

Silently acknowledging the real reason he'd taken so many trips to Florida, Nick flipped open the folder. With a questioning grunt, he scanned the title page and glanced down at several photos in bold color. "Another hotel? What's so different about this one that I have to make a decision? I trust his judgment. Don't you?"

"Yeah, but this time there's a little more to it than buying, restructuring and selling for a quick profit."

His attention arrested with that statement, Nick glanced back up and looked at Damian. "What's up?"