Megan has it all. A great legal career, a fabulous apartment and boyfriends who have always been modern, metrosexual types who understand Megan’s independent, self-sufficient ways.
Then she meets Luke Anderson. Self-assured and dominant, and with old fashioned values, Luke represents everything Megan had told herself she didn’t want in a man. But working together on a merger, Megan can’t deny the attraction that develops between them, despite Luke’s eagerness to apply a firm hand to her bottom whenever and wherever he thinks she needs it.
Megan has to battle her own insecurities and reconcile her intellectual resistance to his dominance with her emotional and physical needs. Can she find a way to accept Luke’s loving discipline without compromising her independence?
Megan sat at the desk in her small study and rubbed her eyes wearily. She had been staring at the same document on her computer screen for what seemed like hours. As a corporate lawyer, she was used to working on long documents, and accustomed to the long hours that went with her job, but recently her mind just kept wandering and her concentration span was verging on non-existent.
Exasperated with herself, she pushed the keyboard away and rose to her feet, moving towards the kitchen of her apartment, the idea of making another pot of coffee beginning to form at the back of her mind. She’d moved in just over a year ago, although she knew that a stranger looking round the apartment could be forgiven for thinking she’d been there only a few months. Although she’d bought a few things here and there, she still hadn’t found the time to shop properly for the soft furnishings and knick-knacks that she wanted in order to turn her apartment into a cosy home.
She supposed she’d been spoiled, living with her three sisters for so long. Together, they’d shared their old family home in Richmond, a wonderfully leafy green and peaceful area of London. Their parents had decided to move to the coast to enjoy their retirement and had left their four adult daughters with the run of the house for as long as they wanted it. It was an old, large rambling house, cluttered and probably slightly shabby now in d?cor but full of history and love, and Megan missed it.
More than the house, however, she missed the reassurance and comfort of being around her sisters, knowing that whenever she came home from work there was a good chance that at least one of them would be around. They’d spent countless evenings sprawled on the large, over stuffed sofas, watching movies or just talking about work, life and men ? well, most often men, Megan acknowledged wryly ? over a few glasses of wine. It had been a wrench to move away from her childhood home, but she’d known that it was finally time to make that step and get her own place, and her sisters were all doing the same.
The sound of the coffee machine that, in her auto-pilot mode, she’d flicked on and was now gurgling startled her and jerked her out of her internal thoughts. With a grimace she poured the coffee into a mug and padded through to the living room to curl up on her sofa, resting back against the eclectic mix of brightly coloured cushions that she’d scavenged from the Richmond house and drawing her legs up under her. She stared out of the large window with its views of the Tower of London in one direction, and the Houses of Parliament in the other. It was a beautiful night, but in her current state of mind she couldn’t even appreciate the postcard perfect scene in front of her.
She was tired. That morning, she’d arrived at work even earlier than usual, determined that today she would force herself to concentrate and review again the contract that would secure for her client the purchase of one of Europe’s biggest advertising agencies. It was a high profile, important transaction, not just for her but also for the law firm that had employed her for the last five years. Her boss, David Delaney, one of the most senior partners at the firm and a friend of the client, was relying on her to do a good job. He had told her himself that he trusted her and knew she was an excellent lawyer, but Megan had recognised the implicit warning in his voice that she could not let either him or the firm down on this. He had hinted, not particularly subtly, that if she did a good job and showed him that she could handle a deal of this magnitude, then her chances of being made a partner at Delaney, Riley and Prichard LLP in the next few years would increase significantly.
Not that it was easy. This particular client, Frank Ramone, was unpleasant in so many ways. Not only was he demanding, expecting his lawyers to be available pretty much 24-7 in order to be at his beck and call, but he also had a nasty track record of harassing some of the female lawyers who worked for the firm, usually the young, pretty ones whom, she suspected, he thought were more vulnerable and therefore easier targets.
Already, two of the more junior female lawyers on the team had been removed from the transaction as he had behaved so inappropriately around them. Poor Julie, a pretty young attorney just starting out, had been cornered by him when she had been sent to deliver some papers to his office, while Louise had received similar treatment when she had arrived at a meeting early, before the other members of their team had been there. Megan had done her best to support the other young women, but was now shouldering what would have been their work load on the transaction, as well as her own, so that they did not have to face that kind of situation with Ramone again.
Slowly, Megan exhaled a deep breath and rolled her eyes at herself. She really should stop kidding herself, she thought. Frank Ramone might be an unpleasant individual but she knew that he wasn’t the reason why she was so distracted recently. It wasn’t worries about her client that kept her awake at nights or led to her staring at the same clause in a contract for hours on end. That would have been far easier to deal with. On the contrary, it was thoughts of the lawyer on the other side of the transaction who was responsible for her losing her sleep. Luke Anderson acted for the seller of the advertising agent that Frank Ramone was buying. He was a partner at Lamberts LLP, probably only in his mid thirties but dynamic and very much a force to be reckoned with. He was also exactly the kind of man that in the past she had gone out of her way to avoid.
Luke Anderson, she had discovered to both her body’s delight and her brain’s dismay, was formidable. Naturally dominant and commanding, he took charge of situations effortlessly. He was completely over-protective, and determined to get his way when it came to certain things he felt strongly about. And that, she admitted to herself honestly, was the problem. Intellectually, it annoyed her that she could be so attracted to a man with his kind of domineering, authoritative manner. She’d always preferred safer options; the modern ‘metrosexual’ man that cities such as London prided themselves in churning out. Men who would admire her independent ways and not question the decisions she made in her life, respecting the fact that those decisions were hers and hers alone. But there was nothing metrosexual about Luke Anderson. He was pure, unadulterated masculinity, self-assured without being arrogant, traditional in his values and firm in his manner, particularly when it came to Megan.
She sighed to herself. For the last month, her interaction with him had escalated far beyond that of two professionals working together. She’d fallen headlong into a relationship with the man, leaving her body and her mind at war with each other in trying to reconcile her intellectual resistance to his dominance with her body’s fierce, intense responsiveness and emotional needs.
One month earlier….
Megan walked into the imposing conference room confidently, knowing that she was well prepared for the initial meeting with Luke Anderson and his client. She had never met either of them before, although she knew from colleagues who had worked with Luke Anderson that they regarded him very highly and he had a reputation for being an excellent lawyer, and also very easy to work with ? not a combination that was particularly common in the legal world! This meeting was very much a preliminary session for them all to meet and iron out some headline points so that they could plan the next steps. Although the clients had reached a deal verbally, the lawyers hadn’t even started yet to thrash out the details of the documents, and that could come later.
Luke Anderson and his client were already there, seated at the long table and clearly relaxed. It was immediately apparent to Megan that they knew each other well and were on friendly terms. As she stepped into the room they both stood up from their seats and moved round the table to greet her.
“You must be Ms Bentley,” the younger man said, extending his hand out, “I’m Luke Anderson – allow me to introduce my client Michael Hayes.”
“Pleased to meet you both,” she responded automatically, shaking their hands. As her eyes skimmed over Luke Anderson, she suddenly felt like a gawky teenager again rather than a grown woman and a professional as she felt the beat of her pulse quicken. At well over six foot, he towered over her petite five-foot frame, although she saw that he was careful to give her space and not crowd her. He had thick dark hair that was beginning to show a sprinkling of grey at the sides, and his eyes were a dark grey. Of course, he was impeccably dressed and she subconsciously began to smooth down her skirt that she knew was likely showing the creases from her morning spent rushing round the office.
She saw a hint of a smile make his lips twitch and a stain of pink washed over her cheeks as she realised not only that she had been caught staring, but also that he was returning her unsubtle visual assessment. Quickly she swung her attention away from him and to his client.
Flustered, she turned to Michael Hayes, deciding that she was better off ignoring the handsome lawyer for the time being until she got her herself under control, “I’m very sorry,” she said, “it looks like my client must be running a few minutes late. I’m sure he’ll be here very soon.”
“Not a problem at all, Ms Bentley,” Michael Hayes responded easily. “Luke and I were enjoying catching up. He’s godfather to my daughters, and I was filling him in on their latest exploits.”
“Please, call me Megan,” she responded. “How old are your daughters?” she asked Michael, making conversation as she moved over to one side of the table to place her papers down.
“The eldest, Katherine, is twelve, and Imogen, the younger, is approaching nine. But they seem to think that they are ten years older than they really are, and aging fast.”
“Ah.” Megan responded, understanding. “Young girls can be quite a handful. I’m the eldest of four daughters, and I think we gave our parents a lot of grey hairs over the years!”
Michael laughed again, but Luke wryly raised an eyebrow as he went back to his seat at the table.
Megan looked puzzled. “I’m sorry,” she quickly said, “I didn’t mean to imply?” her voice trailed off with worry that she had offended Michael by suggesting that his daughters were troublesome!
“No, no. Not at all,” Michael interrupted, still laughing. “In fact, you hit the nail on the head. My girls are very much a handful, but whilst they love their godfather dearly,” he said, turning to Luke, “they are well aware that Luke refuses to stand for their tantrums or little pranks.”
“After their latest exploits, they could do with a bit more reinforcement of that fact, if you ask me,” Luke muttered darkly.
Michael sighed. “Yes, that’s probably true. But since, their mother died I’ve just been too inclined to turn a blind eye.”
He turned back to Megan, “That’s why I’m selling the company, you know,” he explained. “My girls need me now. I spent so many years building up the company, and Sarah was at home with the girls. I was building us a future. But now Sarah isn’t here anymore and my girls need me.”
“I’m so sorry,” Megan said softly. “I had no idea that that was why you were selling.” She paused a moment, and then added, “I know it’s none of my business, but I’m sure that if your girls are acting a bit, well, out of character, it is just their way of trying to get your attention. That’s certainly what me and my sisters used to do, and we hadn’t even been through the loss that you and your girls have suffered.”
Michael looked a bit brighter. “Yes. I think you’re right. I hope you’re right. But they do need a steady hand at the moment, which involves me being at home with them to rein in their exploits rather than leaving them to their own devices to run rings round the housekeeper.”
Luke explained, “They’re wonderful girls, and they’ll grow up to be wonderful women, but the way they’ve been going if they don’t have a firm hand to control them now, they’re going to get themselves into trouble.”
Megan raised her eyebrows, although she wasn’t entirely surprised to find that he was the kind of person who would refuse to allow anyone, let alone two young children, to run riot around him.
“I think the dressing down you gave them after they ran away from school last time is still in their minds,” Michael responded heavily. “They’ve been as good as gold since then.” Michael explained that the girls had taken it upon themselves to skip school and instead travel on their own into central London to visit their much loved godfather. When they turned up at his office, asking at reception to see Luke, Luke had been horrified at the thought of such young girls taking all manner of public transport to get themselves across London. Anything could have happened to them! Like any big city, you had to take sensible precautions in London. Luke had taken them up to his office and read the riot act to them about safety, responsibility and the possible consequences of their actions, before calling Michael to alert him to their escapades and driving them back home to face their father’s anger and disappointment in their behaviour.
As she listened to the story, Megan drew in a deep breath. She was definitely glad she hadn’t been the one on the receiving end of THAT lecture. Luke Anderson clearly cared deeply for his two young goddaughters, but she guessed that he would be a formidable force if he felt that someone had stepped out of line. She also thought it was a safe bet that the kind of lecture he’d given to the girls would be extended to any others in his personal life who he thought would benefit from it. Fleetingly, and without quite knowing where the thought came from, she wondered how he would handle any wife or girlfriend who didn’t abide by what were clearly his pretty high expectations for safety and responsibility.
She shivered, but not with cold. Instead, it was anticipation that had her shifting slightly in her seat. Some innate, elemental part of her called out to the man seated opposite her even though she barely knew him. Her body recognised the dominant, protective instincts that radiated from him and was inexplicably drawn to him, despite having spent most of her life avoiding men like him!
She felt his eyes on her again, assessing, and felt her entire body blush once again.
At that moment, sparing her embarrassment, the door swung open and Frank Ramone barged into the room, blustering about the traffic, but offering no apology for his lateness.
“Afternoon, all,” he said, making no effort to personally greet anyone or shake hands. He lowered his wide girth into one of the chairs. “Meggy, ? did you bring along any coffee for me, sweetheart?” Megan winced visibly at his words as he made no attempt to hide his chauvinistic, and generally obnoxious, manner from their audience.
She could see Luke’s eyes narrow fractionally as he mentally took stock of Ramone, although his face remained neutral. He got up and said evenly, “Allow me,” and went to the phone in the corner of the room to call his secretary and politely ask her to arrange for coffee to be brought in.
Frank had the grace to look a little abashed, “Oh, yes, sure. Thanks. Megan knows that I like to be looked after, don’t you sweetheart?” as he reached over and patted her shoulder, his hand lingering a fraction longer than it needed to in the process.
Luke pointedly ignored the comment and the gesture, as Megan wished the ground would swallow her up and was thankful that Luke deliberately moved the discussion on to the business at hand.
The hours whiled away, as Megan and Luke mapped out for their clients the information they needed in order to document the proposals, and the paperwork that would be involved. There were times when they disagreed about the provisions that should be in the legal documents, but Megan was surprised at how reasonable Luke was, willing to listen and consider her proposals, and accept those that were fair. Given the air of authority she had sensed in him earlier, she had expected him to try and bulldoze proceedings to suit his liking, but on the contrary he was utterly courteous with a friendly manner and no sign of being over-bearing or arrogant. In fact, she had the distinct feeling that Luke Anderson suspected how difficult Ramone could be as a client and was going out of his way to make the meeting as painless for everyone as possible. Sure, she couldn’t deny that Luke was certainly firm and commanded the attention of the room, but he was also completely professional ? the polar opposite of Ramone, who sat there looking bored by the whole process, tapping his watch expectantly.
By the time it reached six o clock, they were nearly done and everyone was breathing a sigh of relief. Although the meeting had been really quite productive, going far beyond the preliminary matters Megan had predicted, even the seemingly mild mannered Michael was looking worn down by Frank’s personality. Luke had given up any pretence of neutrality and, as the meeting had progressed, had looked increasingly disgusted, not least when Frank had demanded that Luke’s secretary find a different kind of coffee from the one she had brought down for him; he’d made a face at the organic coffee and demanded a blend from a major chain instead. Megan also doubted that Luke had missed the way Frank’s beady eyes had run their way over Luke’s secretary, a shy young girl who couldn’t be much older than twenty and for whom Megan guessed this was likely her first job.
They all began to pack up their papers, and Frank turned round to Megan, wiping the shimmer of sweat of his face with the back of his hand, and said, “So, Meggy, you’ll be joining me for dinner then this evening?”
Megan gulped back the automatic, panicked refusal that came to her lips and, flustered, began, “Uh? well? that’s really nice of you Frank but, that is?.”
“Oh come on now Meggy,” he interrupted, “We’ve got a lot to talk about after all this legal chat today. I’m sure you’re going to have to give me the ? what’s the word ? oh yes- “debrief”,” he said with a lewd wink at her, “of what the next steps are.”
Luke cut in smoothly, “Actually, Mr Ramone, it would be very helpful if Megan and I spent a couple of hours following up on the legal points this evening so that we can then make a start on progressing matters for you and Michael.”
“But,” Megan protested. “Really?”
He ignored her and turned to Michael, “That is, of course, if that works for you Michael? Did you need to speak to me about anything else this evening?”
“No no, not at all,” Michael responded. “I’m going to get back home and see what mayhem the girls have managed to work up today. Let’s catch up tomorrow instead.”
“Really,” Megan protested hotly, “it’s not a problem. Frank, if you’d like to have a follow-up meeting now, then I’m sure Luke and I can congregate again tomorrow morning.”
“Actually, I unfortunately have a meeting tomorrow morning, Megan, so if we want to make progress it would be much better if we could do it right away. That is, of course, unless you have other plans or engagements that you need to get to?” Luke’s tone was steady but there was an implicit warning in his eyes that she didn’t know how to read, and even though her anger was mounting at his peremptory manner, she was confused.
“My evening is free, but it depends on what Frank wants to do,” she responded frostily. “Frank?”
“Yes, of course,” Luke didn’t give Ramone a chance to respond immediately. “Frank, would you mind very much if Megan and I used the time to discuss the legal formalities so that we can then progress things more smoothly for you?”
“Humph. Well? if it’s really necessary,” Ramone blustered.
“Great. That’s settled then,” Luke said, not giving Megan the opportunity to interrupt again, and cutting Frank off, “Megan and I will come up with an action plan this evening, and we can speak to you and Michael tomorrow about next steps.”
Megan could see that Frank Ramone looked distinctly annoyed but also that he didn’t want to create a scene in front of the other men and he reluctantly agreed that Luke’s plan was probably fine. With another swipe at the beads of sweat piling up on his brow, Ramone muttered his goodbyes and, with a final swig of coffee, stalked out.?
Michael and Luke exchanged a knowing look at each other and, wishing both Megan and Luke a pleasant evening, Michael followed Frank out the door.
As soon as the door was shut and they were alone, Megan turned on Luke angrily and exclaimed, “What the hell are you doing! That’s my client you’ve just insulted and effectively thrown out.”
The look on Luke’s face resembled what could only be described as thunder. “Ramone’s insulted! You’re kidding aren’t you?” Angry incredulity was evident in his voice.
“After the way he treated you for the last few hours, don’t tell me you’re actually defending the man? He may be your client, but he’s little more than an animal. The way he was sizing you up all afternoon was appalling. Is Delaney aware of what he’s like?” he asked, referring to her boss David Delaney.
Megan’s anger – both at him, and the situation she’d been placed in by her boss ? overflowed, “That’s none of your fucking business,” she reacted hotly. “I’m his lawyer and I have a duty to my client to make sure that he gets the best possible legal representation, and that includes meeting with him as and when required. You of all people should know how it works. “
“You should watch your language young lady,” he interrupted. “I know you’ve probably been put in an unacceptable situation with Ramone, but there’s no point hitting out at the people who are trying to help you.”
“Help?” she exclaimed. “I didn’t see you doing much to help. In fact, all I saw was you deliberately interfering with my client and undermining me. If Frank wants to talk confidentially to me about the purchase of the company then it’s his right. In case you’ve forgotten, you’re acting for the other party in this deal and have no right to interfere with the legal representation of my client!”
Now, Luke was towering over her, and despite her anger, she knew her treacherous body was responding to his proximity; she could feel her nipples tightening and pressing insistently against the thin cream silk of her blouse. That knowledge heightened her anger, although this time it was directed more at herself and her body’s reactions than at the man looming over her.
He reached out to her and grasped her shoulder authoritatively, “You really need to calm down and see sense.” He uttered the words that made her see red and, without thinking about what she was doing, she swung her arm up to slap him hard across the cheek. Except that he didn’t give her hand the chance to connect. His other arm rose up with swiftly, with a lightning reflex, and grasped her hand before it was even half way through the air, his eyes now glittering with barely restrained fury.
“I’ve really had enough of this,” he bit out. “I’ve watched you sit in that chair all afternoon pretending not to notice that Ramone was salivating over you, watched you shudder every time he tried to paw you, and now when I find a way for you to avoid having to spend the evening in the man’s company, you tell me I’m undermining you and hit out at me?” he questioned disbelievingly.
Before she could comprehend what was happening, he’d steered her over to the nearby chair she had recently vacated, sat down and, in one smooth manoeuvre, pulled her down across his lap.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” she struggled wildly, pushing against him as best she could with her fists, but to no avail.
He grimaced. “I like you Megan. I liked you from the moment you walked through the door this afternoon, but there’s no way I’m going to let you make excuses for Ramone or avoid the issue. And I also won’t have you try to raise your fist to me ? there are other men out there who would react in a very different way to that kind of provocation and you could find yourself in a situation you can’t handle. You need to learn to be more careful.”
With those words, and with her still struggling face down over his knee, he pulled up the demure black skirt she had been wearing and sucked in his breath when he saw the lacy black briefs that she had chosen that morning. His hand hovered over them, but he knew he couldn’t remove them. Not this time. She was on the edge of melting down already, and he didn’t want to go too fast too soon with her. Next time, perhaps. He knew from what he’d seen so far of her that there would certainly be a next time with this tiny spitfire of a woman. He couldn’t believe that he’d had to sit back and watch her try to ignore Ramone’s obvious sleaze all afternoon, knowing that he couldn’t be seen actively to interfere in their professional relationship.
He rarely reacted to a woman the way he had reacted to her when she had entered the room that afternoon. He’d had to sit back down almost immediately in order to hide the erection straining at his trousers. He was like a teenager, he thought wryly. Not that that was going to stop him. He knew that he had a naturally dominant personality and that extended to his relationships. He wasn’t chauvinistic by any stretch of the imagination. On the contrary, he went out of his way to make sure that at his law firm women were treated equally in all respects, and were given every opportunity to progress in their careers, offering free child care and flexible working to all his employees. However, he wouldn’t stand for disrespect from anyone, man, woman or child, and he certainly had no tolerance for the lack of self-protective instincts that Megan was demonstrating. Suffice to say, he knew he was old-fashioned in his approach to the women he cared for and relationships, and he was honest enough with himself to know that, even though he barely knew Megan, he wanted very much to spend time with her and get to know her much better.
With that thought, he turned his attention back to Megan’s delightful derriere that was now visibly quivering over his lap even while her legs continued to kick out at him angrily.
“You wouldn’t dare,” she protested hotly. “You have no right to do this.”
“I have every right to do this,” he pronounced. “It appears that my god children aren’t the only ones in need of a little reminder about safety and responsibility.”
“Safety?” she squawked, “I’ve been safe all day! Here! In your fucking office!”
“With language like that you’re only making it worse for yourself,” he rebuked mildly, “and as for safety, you think agreeing to go off on your own for dinner with Ramone would really have been putting your safety first?”
“I know what I’m doing. I’m not some little girl.”
“Unfortunately your actions haven’t really supported that, have they now?”
And with that he brought his hand down sharply, with an audible thwack, on her bottom.
“OWWW,” she cried out, “Stop it, that hurts, you brute.”
He didn’t stop at all. Instead, he brought his hand down again&