An enemies-to-lovers story about second chances and risking it all for love.
Of all the people to be here, why does it have to be him? As if this isn’t hard enough for me already.
Sarah Bryant hasn’t let her traumatic past stop her from achieving number one status in the modelling world. She will do whatever necessary to fight for opportunities for her wheelchair-bound brother-even if it means facing her fears. When a scandal threatens to destroy everything she has worked for, Sarah must play ball with a man she detests. But everything is not as it seems. Could she have been wrong about Nick Henderson? And what does that mean for the undeniable chemistry between them?
She might make my heart race, but there’s something about Sarah Bryant that I just can’t trust. She’s hiding something, and I’m going to uncover the truth.
Nick might not like Sarah, but he needs her. She is the perfect choice for the documentary that will raise the profile of his ocean conservation charity. Nick’s urge to unwrap her secrets–and her clothes–gets stronger every time he sees her. But Sarah is holding onto a bombshell that has the potential to hurt his family, ruin his reputation … and destroy any growing feelings he might have for her.
Nick Henderson was hit by an arrow.
It wasn’t Cupid’s arrow either—nothing quite so tame. This fiery arrow was from the sexually-charged bow of Eros and it shot flames of desire straight to Nick’s groin as the tempo of the music accelerated and Sarah Bryant stepped into the spotlight.
Thunderous applause erupted from the gallery.
Nick cursed inwardly because every part of his body stood up and took notice as the world’s highest paid model started down the long fashion runway with a provocative sway to her hips. Each step she took was in time with the adrenaline-pumping beat of the African bongo drums—the perfect music for the daringly sexy garment she wore.
Nick’s mouth dried and he grappled with acute primal need surpassing any attraction he’d known.
The designer’s leopard skin print hugged the model’s feminine curves lovingly and plunged revealingly between her full breasts. The skirt was slit several times allowing tantalising glimpses of long, shapely legs below her narrow waistline.
‘How stunning! Every woman in this room will want to buy that dress,’ Nick’s sister, Jocelyn, whispered from beside him. ‘And, I’ll bet there isn’t a heterosexual male in the room whose testosterone levels aren’t exploding.’
Unconsciously, Nick ran a finger around the collar of his business shirt as he swallowed.
Jocelyn was right. He wouldn’t be the only guy fantasising about taming the wildness in this woman and reducing the leopardess to a satisfied, purring cat. Everything about Sarah Bryant reinforced an elemental need to take her to his bed and brand her as his own in a hot, erotic tangle of limbs.
The model’s wet, blonde hair had been combed away from her face and hung sensuously down her back. Her make-up was bold, accentuating high cheekbones and giving her stunning eyes an almost feline appearance. Topping it all off, blood red lipstick drew attention to her full lips which pouted slightly, begging to be kissed.
‘She’d make a potato sack look good,’ Joss enthused quietly. ‘Imagine her in my designs—especially my swimwear!’
‘Oh, I’m imagining.’ He only wished he could banish the image from his mind.
‘I shouldn’t encourage you.’ Jocelyn elbowed him in the ribs. ‘To think I had to work at convincing you to come with me.’
Initially, Nick had declined his sister’s spur of the moment invitation. But when Jocelyn mentioned that Sarah Bryant would lead the group of internationally acclaimed models down the catwalk and mingle with guests afterwards, Nick had cancelled all his afternoon appointments.
Sarah Bryant mightn’t know it, but they had business to discuss.
It wasn’t thoughts of business, however, that made it necessary for Nick to clear his throat before he confided, ‘Max and Luca want her to film a documentary for our conservation foundation.’
Jocelyn’s eyebrows shot up. ‘Good luck. It’s not her usual line of work and she’s known to be very choosy.’
‘We’ve each tried to contact her through her agent this last week but haven’t had a reply.’
‘I’m not surprised. Rose Harris guards Sarah more ferociously than a pit bull guards its pups. You should try to speak to Sarah today because it could be your only chance. She’s rarely accessible.’
The model had a reputation for being reclusive. It struck him as odd that a model hid herself away at the peak of her fame, denied all press interviews and rarely made publicised public appearances. Max and Luca had declared that her air of mystery only increased her public appeal.
Jocelyn’s lips compressed for a moment before she added, ‘After five years, I’m close to signing Sarah. I don’t want to blow the deal by being pushy and trying to come at her from multiple angles but if the opportunity presents itself, I’ll try to introduce you to her and Rose.’
‘No need. I’ll find a way to approach her. It’s the reason I came.’
‘Thanks a lot. So much for thinking you were here for the pleasure of my company!’
Nick’s thoughts snagged. ‘You’ve been trying to sign her for five years?’
‘Yes. This is the first interest I’ve had.’
The question niggled at him.
‘You said this is only her third live fashion show?’
‘You were listening!’ she teased before confirming, ‘She’s been at the top of the game for seven years solely on her photo shoots.’
‘Why the sudden change in direction?’
‘I’m not sure.’
His sister’s tone indicated she didn’t care, but Nick was puzzled.
Why would the world’s number one model only recently take to the catwalk, announce a heavy involvement with a charity and suddenly make herself available to meet the general public?
It reeked of a PR exercise.
‘It doesn’t feel right,’ he said half under his breath.
He looked at Sarah critically. She looked confident and untouchable as she continued down the long runway. She wore the slightly haughty expression models seemed to prefer as she looked directly ahead and didn’t make eye contact with anyone in the gallery.
‘No need to be so suspicious. Models have a limited shelf-life. Perhaps she’s trying to cash in on her number one spot before the next new face and body comes onto the scene and eclipses her?’ Jocelyn suggested with a shrug. ‘All I know is if I can seal this deal, my sales are going to rocket.’
There was no denying Sarah’s marketing appeal. Every product the supermodel advertised had turned to gold.
Mid-stride and only several feet away from him, Sarah lost her rhythm. For a split second it seemed her confidence slipped. Instead of fixating on some point beyond the crowd at the end of the runway, she looked directly at Nick and stopped dead.
Their gazes locked.
Sarah’s eyes widened.
Her chest hitched on an intake of breath and tension stiffened her shoulders.
What the hell?
The bongo beats reverberated through his skull as he tried to make sense of it.
She looked at him as though she recognised him …
As if she was shocked to see him …
As though she detested him!
What the bloody hell is this all about?
Then the moment passed and she visibly pulled herself together.
But unlike all the other models before her, Sarah didn’t continue to the end of the catwalk. She twirled around abruptly and the ends of the multiply split skirt flew out like ribbons on a Mayflower pole.
Another strong spike of lust had Nick shifting uncomfortably in his seat but was quickly overridden as he replayed her reaction. In that micro second of making eye contact, he’d sensed recognition and loathing.
He was used to women being attracted to him, not repulsed by him.
Surely it hadn’t been his imagination?
Something had made the model turn around on the spot, break with the rhythm of the drums and lengthen her stride to leave the catwalk. Something had made her cut her appearance short instead of walking to the end of the runway to give all in the gallery the best view of the garment.
Photographers tried to capture images of the modelling star from every angle before she disappeared behind the curtains.
Everyone was hungry for more of her.
‘Have you met Sarah?’ Jocelyn asked above the applause as Sarah left the stage.
‘I don’t understand it. I thought she looked straight at you, appeared shocked and fled.’
He hadn’t imagined it, then.
Discomfort stirred in his stomach.
A new model took to the catwalk.
Nick looked away from the newcomer and tried to gloss over the incident. ‘Jocelyn, if I knew her she’d hardly be running in the opposite direction!’
‘Huh! Ever the playboy.’
‘Not true.’ He feigned indignation. ‘You know I’m a saint.’
‘Don’t try to tell me your thoughts haven’t bordered on the Neanderthal since the moment Sarah Bryant appeared.’ Then, with the power of a close sibling who knew him all too well she added, ‘For God’s sake, don’t pursue Sarah Bryant.’
‘Joss!’ He arched an eyebrow at her and allowed a smile to play around his mouth. ‘I am not in the habit of pursuing women.’
‘Of course you aren’t,’ came the acidic rejoinder. ‘The problem is they chase you and fall at your feet.’
‘Surely it’s the chivalrous thing to do—to see a fainting woman safely into bed?’ he teased.
‘Her bed, not yours.’
‘Either works for me.’
‘Oh, stop goading me! I know you’re trying to get a rise from me but I wish you’d be serious about this.’
Even though the entire playboy tag she’d labelled him with was undeserved, Nick didn’t bother suppressing a grin at Jocelyn’s sisterly irritation. ‘You can’t have it both ways,’ he argued. ‘Yours was one of the strongest voices in my ear for years telling me it was time to move on.’
‘I meant move on to a new relationship, not a perpetual series of flings. I wouldn’t have been so encouraging had I known you’d be in contention for a Guinness Book of Records entry that gave Casanova a run for his money.’
Her disapproval shook him because it no longer seemed playful. Now she sounded serious and … disappointed. Surely she didn’t really believe what the papers reported about him?
‘Joss. Stop and think,’ he said firmly. ‘Common sense should tell you it’d be a physical impossibility to fit a playboy lifestyle around my work schedule and personal commitments.’ Yes, there’d been some women over the last four years but not many. And, he was definitely not a heartless player.
‘I want to see you settle down. I hate this playboy reputation you’re garnering.’
Shit! ‘I can’t believe you’re buying into the tabloid stories.’ His quiet words held an edge of steel. ‘Each of the very few affairs I’ve had has ended because there’s been a mutual acknowledgement that a more permanent relationship wouldn’t work.’
Jocelyn’s jaw dropped and she stared at him for a minute before she shook herself out of her apparent astonishment. ‘Are you telling me you’re open to another serious relationship?’
Oh no. Give his sister an inch and she’d take a mile. ‘Don’t play matchmaker!’
A heavy weight settled in Nick’s chest. He’d been celibate for years after Mandy’s death. Every day during that time had been spent burying himself in his responsibilities and trying not to dwell on his soul-shattering loss.
When his grief and guilt still hadn’t subsided, he’d finally succumbed to the endless nagging of his friends and family and gone out on the town with Luca and Max. Inevitable matchmaking had followed, but he preferred to steer clear of any woman his family or friends thrust in his path.
While the brief affairs had eased his physical needs, they’d only magnified the gnawing cavern of emptiness in his soul. While he wanted the closeness of the loving relationships his friends enjoyed with their wives, there was a larger part of him that was holding back against the prospect of more heartbreaking loss.
‘I haven’t met a woman I’ve cared for enough to continue the relationship for more than a couple of months,’ he admitted.
Life was more complicated now than it had been when he’d married Mandy. Besides, he still carried an enormous sense of guilt. If only he’d been home more in the weeks leading up to her death …
‘If you say you haven’t had an endless parade of women through your bed, I believe you. All I can think is that you must have a double because my friends tell me frequently that they’ve see you out on the town with another new beauty draped all over you.’
A double …
That was it! Sarah Bryant must’ve mistaken him for someone else when she’d looked at him. It was said everyone had a Doppelgänger.
Having arrived at the obvious answer, the tension in his shoulders began to ease.
But even though her reaction to him would be explained by a Doppelgänger, Nick still sensed a mystery behind the model. There was obviously someone out there who looked like him who had the power to make her flee in the opposite direction.
Who was that person and what had he done to her?
The last model departed the catwalk and stood at the curtains. The curtains drew back and all the models stood together. Spectators in the other private boxes got to their feet in a standing ovation for both the models and the designer. Nick and Jocelyn stood and added to the applause.
Jocelyn leaned closer to him and warned, ‘Don’t make a personal play for Sarah Bryant, Nick. I don’t want you messing up my chances of signing her tomorrow.’
‘We want to sign her ourselves.’
‘Then don’t mix business and pleasure.’
Jocelyn was right, but he was compelled to let the model know he wasn’t whoever it was she’d mistaken him for. Maybe she’d never look at him with passion in her eyes but if they were going to work together, he sure as hell didn’t want to see loathing either.
From the line-up of models, Sarah’s gaze darted in his direction and for a moment—even from this distance—he saw an unmistakable flicker of fear before she directed her attention beyond him and masked her expression with a bright smile.
What did she have to be afraid of?
His sixth sense nagged again.
Sarah Bryant was hiding something.
The notion came to him with blinding clarity. It insisted he extinguish any lingering fantasies he had about taming the leopardess and urged him to dig deeper before he and his friends—and his sister—signed her up for a contract.
‘Did you finally get through to Rose Harris with the offer of a contract for Sarah, or did Rose contact you?’
Tearing her attention away from the catwalk, Jocelyn turned to him with a frown. ‘Actually, Rose contacted me.’
A lick of unease grazed down his vertebrae. ‘You don’t find that strange?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Why, after five years, is she suddenly seeking out your fashion label? Could Sarah be on the way out of the modelling game?’
‘Thanks very much! You make it sound as though she’s coming to me because she’s desperate.’ Her spine stiffened and she looked as though she wanted to poke her tongue out at him. ‘Not only is my label worn by all the younger members of the royal family, but Sarah still commands higher fees than any other model.’
Even as he wondered whether Sarah’s meteoric rise and record number of years at the top was at an end, one look at her confirmed why she was still the world’s hottest model. So, if she still had what it took …
‘Any rumours that she’s been involved in some type of scandal that’d tarnish her marketing appeal?’
‘None. She’s still the face of the House of Eduardo and the star in Eduardo’s brother’s premium perfume range. You don’t get any more successful than working for Eduardo and Manuel.’
Although Nick took little interest in the world of fashion, he knew that much was true. ‘It all seems good on the surface, but something has to have made her decide to increase her public exposure.’
‘Her life away from the cameras has always been extremely private. I’ve heard she makes visits to charities and hospitals or disability facilities from time to time but the press don’t find out about it until after it’s over.’
‘She doesn’t seek publicity from the visits?’
‘Never. She shuns media attention and seems to make the visits for genuinely altruistic reasons. As for relationships, I know she’s dated a few guys but the word is she’s a bit of an ice maiden.’
Seeing Sarah in this leopard print outfit, Nick found it hard to believe any ice ran through her veins. But, if it was true … He couldn’t help but think how satisfying it would be to ignite the fire to melt her ice, to kiss those pouting lips and have her enjoy hours of passion in bed—in his bed.
Slamming the lid down on those images he pressed, ‘There must be a reason so little is known about her—something she’s hiding.’
Jocelyn waved to someone in another private box. ‘Personally, I believe it’s part of why the public are so insatiable for her. Maybe the mystery surrounding her has been a deliberate marketing strategy. Rose Harris is very clever. The change in tactics could be part of a long-term plan. That Sarah’s only begun appearing on catwalks relatively recently has added an extra dimension to extend her industry use-by date. She’s now prepared to do the odd public appearance and again it fuels public interest in her.’
‘Making a television documentary would be one avenue she hasn’t explored.’
‘It would. You guys might be lucky, or Rose might want to keep that idea up her sleeve to use at a later date.’
Nick intended to find out whether Sarah Bryant’s elusiveness was a clever marketing ploy or whether there was something more going on behind the scenes.
Jocelyn hooked her arm through his. ‘Let’s get to the function and you can meet her—for purely business reasons—and form your own opinion.’
‘A word of brotherly advice,’ he cautioned. ‘Hold off on that contract tomorrow, Jocelyn.’
‘Are you mad?’
He shook his head. ‘Just a hunch.’
‘Sorry, Nick, no way am I backing your hunch. I’ve waited too long.’
‘Then, at least build in a thirty day cooling-off period while I do some digging.’
Jocelyn looked at him as though she was considering calling men in white suits to take him away.
Unfortunately he held no sway over his sister’s business. For all that he was a younger brother and could still goad his sister relentlessly, Nick was also very protective of Jocelyn. She’d worked hard to build up her fashion empire and he wanted to make sure there was nothing about Sarah Bryant that would put Henderson Haute Couture at risk, but Jocelyn’s mind was obviously made up.