The cuckoo clock above the mantel was chiming eleven. It was a big, expensive timepiece from Austria, gifted by his mother when Andrew bought his London apartment, and it lent an elegant touch to the otherwise rugged decor. He also liked how the chirp broke the silence every hour.
But tonight he was not watching the cuckoo go about its job. Since he returned home from the bakery, he had laid in the recliner with a pack of beer and tried to forget about the day with every bottle he emptied. There were only two bottles left but he was nowhere near drunk. Not enough to stop thinking about Olivia at least.
He should have gone to his sailing club’s annual dinner and dance and had fun with friends. But the thought that Olivia would be crowding his mind while he danced with some other woman had made him sick. Solitude had seemed a better choice, but it had not been of much help either.
It was uncharacteristic of him. If there was anything he had picked up from his father, besides business acumen, it was his sexual appetite. He never had any need to chase a woman. His charm and physical appeal and his indulgent lifestyle had always made women throw themselves at him. He could not deny that he enjoyed it. Taking a new woman to bed every other night helped take the edge off and relieved his carnal cravings. But not this time. He could have all the women and he knew it still would not douse the fire that Olivia had started.
Cursing, he swiftly rose from the recliner and paced the length of the sitting room, feeling himself crumble under the pressure of the twisting, writhing feelings inside him. It had been hours, but her heartbreaking gaze when she refused his offer still haunted him and made him feel like a terrible person. Olivia would never throw herself at him. And he was beginning to realise he did not want her to. Perhaps that was what made her different from all other women of his acquaintance. Despite the desire he saw in her eyes for him, the obvious signs of need that matched his, she would not be a wanton. She had it in her to resist him.
It made her more fascinating, and him, more frustrated.
Downing the remaining beer in the bottle, Andrew headed for the bathroom, yanking off his clothes and tossing them on to the floor. On the way to the shower stall, he stopped to look at his reflection in the mirror. How many cold showers had he taken since he first saw Olivia? He had lost count.
The chill of the water directed at him from three showerheads made him flinch. Closing his eyes, he sagged against the cool tiles, letting the sweat and grime of the day get washed away. He sighed and reached for the soap, keeping his eyes closed as he scrubbed his body and then proceeded to turn on the hot water until the steam was so thick that he could barely see or breathe. As his skin burned in the sticky heat, an image of Olivia formed in his mind, both of them sharing the heat and the steam. His heart raced and he leaned back against the wall again, instinctively wondering if she was asleep at that moment and how soft and warm her body would feel pressed to his.
Grabbing the soap again, he lathered his body until his hands reached his erect manhood. The thoughts coursing through his mind made him throb.
This was madness! Without thinking anymore, Andrew spread his legs and supported himself with a hand on the opposite wall as his other hand closed around his arousal. His head fell backwards in a low groan, water dripping from his hair and trickling down his skin. Squeezing his eyes shut, he stroked himself to alleviate the tension that had been accumulating for weeks. He imagined Olivia in front of him on her knees, her red hair soaked, her big eyes glazing over with pleasure as her full lips took him in.
He wanted to see her naked. Wanted to be inside her. To know the taste of her skin when he devoured her.
His head bowed as he roared harshly, letting himself go in the midst of an intense release that rocked his body. He stroked faster and harder, spilling on the floor, surrounded by the scent of soap and steam. Ragged breaths filled the shower stall, his loins twitching as he recovered from the climax.
This was wrong. She was far too beautiful, too precious to use as a piece of flesh. And she was a mother. He saw in her the dedication and selflessness that he had hoped and failed to find from his own parents. His gut clenched at the thought of the man who had been lucky to experience that joy with her.
Wrapping a towel around his waist, he returned to the recliner and grabbed another beer, hoping drunken forgetfulness would drown the confusion.
The next few days passed with painful slowness. Contrary to what he had expected, Olivia made no attempt to avoid him after their moment of closeness. She talked easily to him, made tea for him religiously, and for the first time seemed comfortable around him. That day, she was smiling more and there was a spring in her step as she walked around the bakery, sending in tickets, refilling the display shelves, and taking orders. Much to Andrew’s surprise, Eric managed to get away without admonishment after dropping his food on the floor.
He stared, but she never once turned to catch his eye. She hadn’t spared him a glance all day.
Andrew turned his attention to the oven, trying hard but failing to ignore the colour of her cheeks, the subtle swing of her hips, the luminosity of her big, brown eyes. As a marked difference from the other days, she wore a knee-length skirt that flaunted the beauty of her legs, riding up her thighs whenever she crouched in front of the oven or sat on the barstool at the counter. It was more than he could handle. If she kept up at it, he would not be able to make it through the next two weeks.
Ha! That was not what he was known for. Andrew Maxwell made women swoon, and not the other way around.
“Are you alright?”
The soft, inquiring voice made him turn. Olivia was behind him, eyebrows raised as she stared at his face. His jaw unintentionally stiffened.
“I’m fine.” The gruffness of his words surprised him. “The brownies need another five minutes. Simone is handling the sandwiches.”
“Oh. Okay.” She disturbed the air around them when she moved, filling him with her scent. His pants tightened uncomfortably. “You did not look too well for a moment there. I wanted to check on you.”
“Check on me?” Andrew spun around to meet her eyes. “Is this some kind of a joke? I thought you hate having me here.”
Olivia frowned. “I never said that.”
“Not to my face. But it was always clear from your attitude.”
“What’s wrong with you?” she sighed. “I’m not in the mood for a fight.”
“Neither am I.” He turned his back to her again. “Please go. I’ll send the brownies out when they are done.”
Andrew let out the breath he did not know he had been holding when she sauntered to the other side of the kitchen. A minute later, he watched her head out with a tray full of sandwiches, the skirt twirling as she walked.
He steeled himself, resolving to keep away from Olivia no matter how hard it was. Andrew Maxwell did not beg anyone, least of all a woman who did not want him working there in the first place.
His resolve took mere moments to wither when he opened the door of the kitchen and found Olivia sharing a laugh with another man. They were standing in close proximity next to the door of the bistro, engaged in what seemed like a lighthearted conversation, Olivia’s head dropping back every time she laughed. The clenching in his chest turned to rage when she put her arms around his neck and allowed him to kiss her cheek.
Andrew fisted his hands but had the good sense to keep them behind his back. Without catching her eye, he returned to the kitchen, barely restraining himself from beating that blonde head into a bloody pulp. But worse was the extent to which he cared and how badly he wanted Olivia to not see the acidic jealousy eating at him.
“Who was that?”
She had just entered the kitchen when the low, accusatory voice drew her attention. Olivia slowly lifted her head to meet the dark blue eyes staring at her, a small frown sitting in the middle of his brow. Arms crossed and shoulders pushed back, Andrew looked like a man ready to take down an enemy.
“Who?” she said. “Harry?”
“I don’t care what his name is.” He gritted his teeth. “I’m talking about the guy you were getting cosy with.”
“Mind your language,” she seethed. “He’s an old friend. And who I talk to is none of your business.”
She stopped on her way to the pantry. “Why does it bother you so much?”
“Because you keep running away from me,” he breathed. “But allow another man to touch you.”
“That’s because no one else incites the turmoil that you do!” Her voice rose of its own accord and dropped just as quickly. It seemed pointless to hide her feelings anymore, but she wished they were somewhere more private.
Andrew inched closer with slow, confident steps. Although aware of their surroundings, Olivia remained unmoved, holding his sullen gaze without blinking. He undid his apron and tossed it to the side, and slowly pulled off the gloves. Before she knew it, Andrew was lifting her and locking them inside the pantry room. In the tight space, all sounds were silenced and the air turned hotter.
“What are you doing?” The helpless squeak did nothing to stop him from pinning her against one of the shelves. With his aroused body pressing into hers, she was hardly able to breathe. He raised his arms to frame her, and she closed her eyes. “There are people outside.”
Without a word, he slid one hand under her thigh and hooked her leg around his hip, opening her wide. Her eyes opened and she gave out the smallest sound of need.
“Show me,” he whispered against her ear. “Show me what I do to you.”
“Andrew…” Her voice was only a breath under the weight of his electrifying presence. “Please, not here…”
“No?” he growled. “Want me to let you go? Want me to believe how you hate having me here when your eyes betray you?”
“I don’t hate you.” She let her head fall back and licked her lips. “Quite the opposite. I like you too much for my own good.”
His body throbbed when her quiet voice, husky from longing, poured into his ears and flowed through his veins. He dipped his head and she arched into him, their lips meeting in a possessive kiss. His hand closed on her nape and pulled her closer, the evidence of his arousal grinding against her mound.
She tasted sweet and intoxicating. He knew people came into the pantry every five minutes and the locked door would cause suspicion, but he was past the point of caring. And he realised so was she when her tongue curled around his and pulled him in deeper.
“Do you have any idea what you’ve been doing to me for weeks? Weeks.” He pressed his mouth to the side of her neck, leaving a wet trail with his tongue until he reached her shoulder. “You get me hot and bothered with a simple glance. I can get high on your smell alone.” His hands found the buttons of her shirt and he had to exert a great deal of control to resist tearing the garment off her body. Olivia whimpered, responding to him with unmistakable need.
“Don’t stare.” A hoarse laugh rumbled in her throat when he held her shirt open and gaped at her black bra. “You have seen countless female undergarments in life.”
“Countless?” He tilted his head. “How loose do you think I am?”
“Enough to be doing this right now.”
“I can let you go.” He framed her again with one arm, letting the other stroke the smooth skin of her leg until his fingers met her wetness. “But judging from the heat you’re giving off, you probably don’t want me to.”
Olivia’s mouth dried at the contact. Since the night she turned down his offer to take her out, she had pleasured herself every day⎼ in bed, in the shower, in the restroom. Being around Andrew had been torture. Even when they were in different parts of the bakery, he awakened in her sensations that she had not felt in years. Her thirty-year-old body reacted to him as though experiencing its first rush of desire ⎼ riotous, desperate, maddening.
“Isn’t that why you wore a skirt today?” His mouth ghosted across her lips, the humid warmth of his ragged breaths tingling her skin as his fingers stroked gently through her knickers. “So I could easily lift you up, spread your legs, and pound into you until neither of us could move?”
A heady cocktail of emotions wracked her to the core when he exposed one of her breasts and rolled his tongue around an erect nipple. Olivia found herself reaching for his belt.
“You aren’t the only one doing all the touching here,” she murmured when he pulled away. “I can see you straining your pants.”
“If you touch me, I will be gone in moments.” He reclaimed her lips, holding her tight while they burned in unspent desire. Andrew ground against her and she moaned into his mouth, aching to touch him. “We can’t do this here.”
“You brought us here!” She nearly screamed in frustration, unable to believe he was backing out after arousing her. Like the devil that he was.
“Yes, but you are right. There are people outside and I cannot let you appear in public looking completely ravished.”
“How thoughtful of you,” she sniggered breathlessly, running a hand across his twitching muscles. Andrew smirked, pressing a soft kiss to her breast before tucking it back inside her underwear.
“Only I get to see you like that,” he said. “No one else.”
“You were jealous,” she sighed with a smile.
“And you were doing it on purpose. Teasing me, riling me up.” His eyes smouldered as his voice turned a shade darker. “Do not challenge my virility, Livia. As everyone knows, I’m a very sexual being.”
“You will have to prove it.” She moved away from the shelf and started to straighten her attire. Then she pressed a wet kiss to his lips. “I’m not running anymore. Let’s see what you can do.”
“What changed your mind?” he frowned. “After you turned me down that night⎼”
“I know what I’m doing.” Smoothing her hands on her skirt, she looked up at him. “You would never violate me.”
“Why would I need to?” he raised an eyebrow. Olivia smiled, nodding in agreement.
“No, you would not need to.” With a flick of her hair, she unlocked the door and peeked to check if the coast was clear. Slowly, she let herself out and kept her head down while making her way to the door, almost bumping into Eric. He wore an unusually wide-brimmed Oriental hat secured by ties under his chin. It made his face look smaller.
“You are not supposed to run around in the kitchen,” she exclaimed. “It’s dangerous.”
“I was looking for Andrew,” he said. “Is he here?”
Olivia’s heart thudded when she heard the door of the pantry quietly shut. Looking over her shoulder, she saw a bag of hazelnuts in Andrew’s hands, which he passed on to Richard. Eric beamed as he ran to him.
“Mum, ask Andrew to join us for dinner tonight,” he implored. “Please.”
Their eyes met in quiet hesitation. Andrew saw her struggling to decide, but he remained silent, loath to encourage Eric. Olivia looked away, torn between her son’s request and the possibility of the night rolling into something else. He called to her on a physical level, and she could hold out for only so long.
It scared her. Andrew was used to bedding women all the time, but it had been years since she was with a man and it was never like that. No other man had been able to prove, just with a look, that she was not immune to need or longing.
“I’m not sure if he’s going to like our dinner,” she finally answered. “Besides, he might have other plans…”
“I don’t.” Andrew smiled down at Eric before looking at her again. “And I’m not picky about what I eat.”
“Mum usually makes beef broccoli in ginger garlic sauce and steamed rice for me on Thursday nights,” Eric added. “I love it.”
“For you alone?” Andrew looked surprised. “Not for both of you?”
“Nah. She eats grilled chicken and steamed veggies every night.”
“That’s exactly why I don’t think we should have guests, Eric,” she sighed. “Our dinners are pretty routine.”
“I have no problem,” Andrew shook his head. “I’m more interested in seeing his hat collection.”
“He does take pride in his collection,” Olivia chuckled.
“I can’t say I’ve ever met a hat collector.” Laughing, he tussled Eric’s hair. “I would not want to impose, though. You’re tired and⎼”
“You are not imposing.” She took a deep breath and gave him her bravest smile. “We’d love to have you.”