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Extrait de Un jeu très troublant - Miranda Lee

Ajouté par Underworld

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Par Underworld le 05-09 Editer
Un jeu très troublant
** Extrait offert par Miranda Lee **

Ryan Armstrong never mixed business with pleasure.

His was very much a case of once bitten, a zillion times shy. Not that the word 'shy' fitted Ryan's confident and outgoing personality. So cross out 'shy' and put 'wary' instead.

Ryan was wary of the complications and consequences which came from mixing business and pleasure. Very wary.

When he'd been younger and not involved in the business world there'd been no need to resist temptation when it had come to the fairer sex. If he'd been attracted to a girl, he'd never stopped to think before his male hormones had sent him off in pursuit. He was usually successful in that pursuit, Mother Nature having endowed him with the sort of tall, broad-shouldered and extremely athletic body which women lusted after and which had seen him rise to become one of the world's most successful and well-paid goalkeepers. From the ages of twenty-three to twenty-nine, during which he'd played international soccer for several European clubs, he'd had more girlfriends than he'd saved goals.

When injury had forced early retirement at the age of thirty, and he had set up his own sports-management company back in Sydney, Ryan unfortunately had not developed the good habit of either controlling or ignoring his sexual urges. So when one of his first female clients—who was very attractive as well as a great athlete—started flirting with Ryan, it was inevitable that they would end up in bed together. Given she was nearly thirty and totally dedicated to her sports career, Ryan never imagined that she would want anything more from him than a casual fling.

By the end of their second date, however, Ryan had seen that he'd made a huge mistake. The girl had constantly sent him text messages raving about his love-making abilities, then saying how much she was going to enjoy being his wife. When he'd tried to finish things—very tactfully, he'd thought—she had gone all out to destroy his business. She'd released confidential information to the papers, plus had tried to drag his name through the mud in every possible way.

Unfortunately, by then he'd deleted all those revealing messages and it had been a case of her word against his. He'd come out the winner in the end, but it had been a close call. Ryan shuddered whenever he thought how close he'd come to losing everything he'd worked for. His business had still suffered for a while, hence his rule about mixing business with pleasure.

These days, he only dated mature, sensible women who had absolutely nothing to do with the Win-Win Sports Management Agency. He steered well clear of female clients and employees. He even trod carefully when it came to any kind of close business-colleague. His current girlfriend was a public-relations executive from a firm whose services he never used. Erica was blonde, thirty-five years old, divorced, childless and ruthlessly ambitious.

Thankfully, she was no more interested in marriage than he was. Or falling in love, for that matter. She'd been there, done that and it hadn't worked out. She suited Ryan's needs admirably, being attractive, intelligent and sexy. Ryan had discovered over the last few years that driven career-girls were usually hot between the sheets—and not given to huge tantrums when he wanted to move on.

Ryan moved on every few months. Occasionally, a relationship would last a little longer, but usually not. Often they ended earlier, once or twice after only a few weeks. Ryan always opted out very quickly if he thought he was becoming involved with a potential problem. He'd reached an age—he would turn thirty-eight next birthday—by which most guys had given up their bachelor days in favour of marriage and a family. He'd seen it happen time and time again. All his male friends were now married, even the ones whom he'd thought would never succumb to the urge to settle down and have children.

Ryan could well understand why members of the opposite sex saw him as a suitable target for marriage. Because he never talked about his past, what they didn't know was that he'd decided a long time ago that he would never become a husband and father. And he hadn't changed his mind about that.

A sharp tap-tap on the office door interrupted his thoughts and sent his eyes to the clock on his desk. Exactly three p.m.; right on time as usual, Ryan thought with illogical irritation. He actually admired punctuality. He hated wasting time waiting for people, especially when he'd made an appointment. So why didn't he admire it at three p.m. every Friday afternoon?

'Come in, Laura,' he called out through clenched teeth.

She came in, looking exactly the same as she always looked: severely tailored black suit with black hair up in an equally severe French pleat. No make-up. No jewellery. No perfume.

As she crossed the room towards the chair she always occupied during their weekly meeting, Ryan looked her up and down and wondered why she did that to herself. Did she imagine that this was how a female lawyer should look—tough, hard, and totally sexless?

Anyone could see that she could be a very attractive woman if she tried. She had a good figure and an interesting face with high cheekbones and exotically shaped grey eyes. Admittedly, those eyes were usually as cold as an arctic sky, especially when they looked at him.

So Ryan was startled when their eyes met and he glimpsed not chilly indifference for once but a type of pained regret. She even stopped walking for a second to stare at him.

'What?' he said straight away.

'Nothing,' she replied, and shook her head. 'Sorry. Let's get straight down to business, shall we?' She sat down, crossed her legs with her usual crisp modesty then leant forward to pick up the first of the contracts which were sitting on the edge of his desk waiting for her perusal.

It was a lucrative endorsement deal he'd personally negotiated for an up-and-coming young male tennis-player whom Win-Win had been lucky enough to sign up the previous month. A lot of Ryan's work involved negotiating contracts of one sort or another, all of which he always had checked over by one of the best legal brains in the whole of Sydney—which Laura had.

She wasn't an employee of Win-Win; Ryan didn't need a lawyer to work for him full-time. His company was more of the boutique variety. She worked for Harvey, Michaels and Associates, an American-owned legal firm with a Sydney branch which was conveniently located in the same building as Ryan's business and which boasted a stable of brilliant criminal and corporate lawyers.

When Ryan had become one of their clients several years ago, they had originally sent him a young male lawyer at Ryan's request—a smart guy, but a very bad driver who'd wrapped his car around a tree two years back. When the firm had suggested a female replacement, Ryan had been hesitant at first, especially when he had found out she was only thirty and single. But as soon as he had met Laura Ryan had realised there was no chance of his becoming involved with her. Or vice versa.

She still wasn't a problem in that regard. But she could be irritating all the same. Ryan wasn't used to being treated with such patent indifference by members of the opposite sex. It irked his male ego, which was considerable. Sometimes her disinterest seemed to border on outright dislike. It crossed his mind occasionally that she might not be interested in men, but he had no real evidence of this. It seemed more likely that past experiences had turned her into a man-hater—either that or she'd never met a man capable of melting her frozen exterior.

Once, a couple of weeks ago when she'd been particularly frosty with him, he'd been taken by the sudden urge to pull her into his arms and kiss her silly, just to see if he could get a reaction out of her.

He hadn't given in to that urge, of course. Ryan knew if he did any such thing he'd have a world of trouble on his hands faster than a world-class striker could score a goal—amazingly fast.

Besides, he had a lot more control over his testosterone these days. On the surface, that was. His mind, however, had given way to fantasies about the infernal woman all that afternoon.

A wry smile curved his lips as he recalled what he'd done to her in his head, and how avidly she'd responded.

In your dreams, Ryan!

'What's so funny?'

Ryan's head snapped clear at her caustic question, his amusement replaced by surprise. It wasn't like Laura to notice anything when she was reading through a contract. She almost never glanced up until she was finished, which she obviously wasn't. By the look of things, she'd only reached the second page of the five-page document.

'Nothing to do with you, Laura,' he lied. 'Just looking forward to the weekend. I'm going sailing with some friends tomorrow.' Which he was. Erica was away this weekend in Melbourne, attending a conference.

Laura's sigh also surprised him. It sounded…envious.

'Lucky you.'

'Want to come?' The invitation was out of his mouth before he could snatch it back.

She blinked with shock before dropping her eyes back to the contract. 'Sorry,' she said brusquely. 'I'm busy this weekend.'

Wow, he thought. That was a narrow escape. Whatever had possessed him to invite her? Still, his ego was slightly stroked by her not having said no outright. Maybe she wasn't as indifferent to his charms as she always seemed.

Ryan knew most women were attracted to him, as they were to most tall, good-looking, successful men.

No false modesty about Ryan.

He didn't interrupt her as she finished reading the contract but his mind remained extremely active. So did his eyes.

She really did have great legs. He liked women with shapely calves and slender ankles, and feet which weren't too big. Laura's feet were quite daintily small...
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