Erin walked across perfectly kept grounds, heading for the stream where she always went when she needed to cool off. Her hands were shoved deep in the pockets of her jacket, her face flushed with anger as well as the brisk Spring air and her thick mass of blonde curls tumbled down her back.
“I don’t know why I let him get under my skin,” she fumed. Pierce Hudson was the most infuriating man she had the misfortune of knowing. He was nothing like his brother, Carter. Carter was such a wonderful man whom she met when she was in university. They bonded immediately and it wasn’t long before they got engaged. It was over the Christmas holidays, two years before the wedding when he brought her here to meet his family. Everyone was so warm and welcoming, except his older brother, Pierce.
From the moment she met him, she disliked him. Granted, he was extremely handsome with his jet black hair, swarthy complexion, smoldering dark brown eyes and athletic build but his manners were atrocious. He was cold and unfriendly towards her, making her feel like an interloper instead of someone who would soon be a member of his family.
She couldn’t believe that this was the same brother of whom Carter sang such high praises. Still, she kept her resentment to herself, not wanting to ruin things for Carter. She was such a wonderful man. She was lucky to be marrying him. Yet, something was missing. She believed that she loved him. Why else would she marry him? When she was with him, she felt safe, warm and relaxed but when she was around Pierce, she felt anxious, uptight and other emotions she would rather not acknowledge. It was interesting that when she saw Carter interacting with other women, it didn’t bother her. She told herself that it was because she trusted him implicitly and was very secure in their relationship but whenever, she saw Pierce with another woman, it nettled her. She found herself paying far too much attention.
She was afraid to be alone with Pierce and tried to convince herself that it was because she didn’t want to get into a row with him. She wanted to avoid any unpleasantness but deep down inside she knew that wasn’t the case. As the wedding approached, she tried to busy herself with the arrangements and avoid thinking of or being around Pierce as much as possible.
Then, an unexpected tragedy occurred. A month and a half before the wedding, Carter was killed in an automobile accident. He was on his way home for the weekend. Erin was overcome with grief. She had lost someone she loved dearly. He had been her best friend. His poor mother was inconsolable. And Pierce, he was stone-faced, not betraying any emotion–at least not in public. She remembered getting up one night and leaving the guest room at the mansion where she was staying for a few days, not ready to return to London and be alone in her flat. She couldn’t sleep. It was a hot summer night.
She went quietly down the stairs to the kitchen to get herself a drink of water to cool down. After she drained the glass, she quickly rinsed it and placed it in the drainer. She left the kitchen and was about to head back to her room when she thought she heard a noise in the study. Curious, she tiptoed there. The door was slightly ajar, the lamp on the desk was on and she could see that someone was sitting in the armchair. She pushed the door open and went inside. What she saw completely floored her. Pierce was hunched over the desk, with his face buried in his hands and his shoulders were shaking. My goodness, she thought, he’s crying. Without, thinking she went up to him and put her hand on his shoulder.
He started as if she had burned him and his eyes narrowed when he glanced up at her. Immediately, he dragged his knuckles across his face in an attempt to wipe away the tears. “What the devil are you doing here?” he exploded. “What you mean sneaking up on my like this?”
Her mouth tightened. “I wasn’t sneaking up on you,” she retorted. “I heard a noise and came in here and then I saw you and–”
“And you thought I might need comforting from you?”
“Well, in a way, yes.”
“The kind of comforting I need I can get from someone else.”
“By someone else, you mean Ayla?”
She looked away, her face flushed, so that he wouldn’t see the jealousy in her eyes. “Well, it’s too bad she isn’t here, right now, isn’t it?”
He got up. “Well, I can always go to her, can’t I?”
She swung around. “But, it’s past midnight,” she exclaimed.
“So, what?” he retorted. “I’ve been to Ayla later than this.”
“All right, then, go. If you’re so bloody hard up. I’m going back to my room. Goodnight!”
She would have walked past him if he didn’t reach out and grab her arm. Her head swung around and her startled gaze met his inscrutable one. Her heart was pounding and her breath was unsteady. She could feel his warm breath on her temple, stirring the gold tendrils and she could smell his aftershave. “Why does it bother you so much that I’m going to Ayla?”
“You’re mistaken,” she informed him tightly. “I don’t care what you do.”
“That isn’t the impression I got a few minutes ago. You were ticked off.”
She tugged her arm free, her eyes flashing at him. “I was not! Don’t flatter yourself that I care what you do and whom you do it with. You should be ashamed, talking this way to your dead brother’s fiancee.” And with that, she turned and stormed out of the room. When she was in the safety of her room, she collapsed on the bed, trembling and buried her hot face in the pillow. He was right. What he did and whom he did it with mattered more to her than she cared to admit.
That incident took place two weeks ago. This morning, at breakfast, Pierce hardly acknowledged her. And when she asked him if he would care to take a walk with her, he reminded her that she was his dead brother’s fiancee and besides, he had personal business to attend to. No doubt that business had something to do with Ayla. Furious, she had left the table and come out here to blow steam.
Leaning against the tree, she gazed at the stream. It was a glorious day. The beginning of Spring. She ran her fingers through her unruly curls, thinking that it might be best for her to stay away from here for a while. Perhaps a trip to Barcelona or Athens would do her some good.
She didn’t know exactly what it was that alerted her but she suddenly looked over her shoulder and saw Pierce coming towards her, his tall figure formidable in the open tan coat over a black shirt and faded jeans. The breeze ruffled his hair. Erin raised her chin, trying to look defiant in spite of her racing heart and the knot in her stomach. “What are you doing here?” she demanded. “I thought you had business to attend to.”
“It can wait,” he replied, his eyes intent on her face. “This can’t.” He took a step closer, his expression unreadable. “You’re wrong about Ayla and me.”
“Not that I care but you implied that there was something going on between the two of you that night in the study and I’ve seen how you act around her.”
“That was for your benefit.”
“My benefit! You flaunt your relationship in my face every opportunity you get and that’s for my benefit? I’m sorry, Pierce, but you’re not making any sense.”
He moved closer. “I wanted to make you jealous.”
She gulped. “You wanted to make me jealous?”
“Yes. I thought that if you were jealous of Ayla, it meant that you have feelings for me. I wanted to believe that you did but I wasn’t sure.”
“You’re the most insufferable man I’ve ever known. You drive me up the wall and you get under my skin. When we met, I disliked you immensely.”
He moved closer. “You’re attracted to me, aren’t you?”
“Yes!” she cried. “I wish I weren’t but, I am.”
His eyes darkened. “I’m attracted to you too,” he admitted. “I was from the moment I first saw you. I tried to fight it for Carter’s sake but it was no use. That night in the study, I wanted to take you in my arms and kiss you but I felt like I was betraying Carter’s memory.”
Erin was fighting for air now. She felt like she was drowning in those incredible brown eyes. “So, where do we go from here?” she managed to ask.
“It’s up to you,” he said, his gaze dropping to her parted lips.
Her response was to reach up, grip his hair at the nape and drag his head down to hers. When their lips touched, she felt like she was on fire.