THE REDEMPTION OF DARIUS STERNE
January 20, 2015
THE REDEMPTION OF DARIUS STERNE
Mills & Boon
1 Feb 2015
So innocent. So tempting…
Having built a global empire synonymous with excellence, formidable tycoon Darius Sterne is a man who gets what he wants. Always. And right now? He wants ex-ballerina Miranda Jacobs…in his bed and sighing his name in pleasure.
Virginal Miranda can't resist the allure of the brooding billionaire. But the closer he pulls her, the more Darius threatens the barriers she's carefully constructed to conceal the scars of her past. Yet Miranda isn't the only one with pain to hide…
Can her pure love dance into his heart and redeem the dark and damaged Darius Sterne?
'Who is that?' Andy exclaimed as she glanced towards the doorway of the exclusive restaurant and bar, Midas, in which she was currently celebrating with her sister and brother-in-law.
Her glass of champagne raised halfway to her lips, Andy openly stared across the elegant restaurant at the man standing just inside the doorway. Tall and grimly unsmiling, he removed his dark outer coat, before handing it off to the waiting maitre d'.
Andy estimated him to be in his early to mid-thirties, and he was so dark and arrestingly handsome that Andy couldn't have looked away if her life had depended on it.
Everything about the man was dark, she noted as she continued to watch him.
The elegant black suit and the shirt and tie he wore under it, the perfect tailoring emphasising rather than hiding the muscled perfection of his well over six feet height.
His tousled hair gleamed the colour of dark mahogany under the light of the overhead crystal chandeliers. His complexion was olive. As for his expression?
The longer she stared at him, the more Andy realised that grim didn't even begin to describe the look on that hard and chiselled face. He had a high, intelligent forehead, glowering dark brows over narrowed eyes, blades for cheekbones, a sculptured and firmly unsmiling mouth, his jaw square and arrogant.
Overall the combined effect was best described as electrifying.
There really was no other word that quite described the man as he now glanced disinterestedly about the elegant restaurant, while at the same time continuing his conversation with the man accompanying him. A piercing glance, which now moved over and past Andy, and then slowly moved back again, before stopping.
Andy's breath caught in her throat, her mind going completely blank as she found herself the focus of that piercing gaze.
For some reason Andy had expected that the man's eyes would be as darkly arresting as the rest of him, but instead they were a clear and beautiful topaz in colour, with darker striations fanning out from the pitch-black pupils.
They were mesmerising eyes, which continued to hold Andy's gaze captive even as he raised one questioningly dark brow at her obvious interest.
Aha!' her sister murmured beside her as she saw the direction of Andy's gaze and realised the reason for her earlier comment. 'Absolutely gorgeous, isn't he?'
'Sorry?' Andy was still held captive by that compelling gaze as she answered Kim distractedly, her heart pounding in her chest, her pulse racing.
'The man you're currently ogling, darling,' her sister teased dryly. 'Don't you just want to rip his clothes off and—?'
'Hello? Husband sitting right next to you,' Colin reminded Kim ruefully.
'That doesn't stop me from window-shopping, my love,' his wife replied pertly.
'There's window-shopping, and then there's just completely out of your price range!' Colin muttered teasingly.
'That's the whole point of window-shopping, silly!' Kim chuckled affectionately.
Andy was barely aware of the bantering between her sister and brother-in-law, the stranger's gaze continuing to hold hers captive for several more, heart-stoppingly long seconds, before he gave a curl of his top lip in the semblance of a smile. Then he turned away, as he and his dining companion now followed the maitre d' to their table.
Andy drew in a ragged breath, although her heart was still pounding, her pulse racing.
A small shiver waved over her body, a reminder of her unexpected physical reaction to that darkly delicious man.
And she was far from the only one watching the two men as they made their way through the restaurant, nodding acknowledgement to several acquaintances as they passed, before stopping at a table for four near the window. They greeted an older couple already seated there, before the maitre d' himself pulled back the two empty chairs so that the two men could join them.
In fact, now that Andy was no longer completely under his spell she realised that the other diners weren't just surreptitiously watching those two men, but that conversation in the room had become a hushed whisper; the very air seemed to be filled with tense expectation.
Which, considering this fashionable restaurant, was frequented only by the rich and the famous, who were usually too full of their own self-importance to be aware of anyone else's, she found distinctly intriguing.
In fact, Andy had been slightly overwhelmed by the clientele when she'd first arrived.
The only reason that Andy and her sister and brother-in-law were able to dine in such exalted company at all was because Colin worked in the London office of Midas Enterprises. As an employee of Midas he was allowed to book a table at one of the Midas restaurants for himself and three guests once a year, and given an employee discount; none of them would ever have been able to afford to eat here otherwise!
The same didn't apply to the Midas nightclub on the floor above; that was reserved for members only. And to become a member, you had to be approved by both the Sterne brothers, the billionaire owners of Midas Enterprises.
As well as most of the known universe, it seemed to Andy.
Social hermit that she usually was, even she had heard of Darius and Xander Sterne's success. Her brother-in-law had told her that the brothers had burst onto the business scene twelve years ago, when they had launched an Internet social media company, which had rapidly grown and grown, until they'd sold it just three years later for several billion pounds. After that there had been no stopping them, as they'd bought up several electronic companies, an airline, media and film-production companies, hotel chains, and opened up exclusive restaurants and clubs just like this one, all around the world.
Everything they touched, it seemed, did turn to gold.
Which was probably the reason they had decided to name their company Midas.
'Don't let it worry you, Andy.' Her sister now gave her hand a reassuring pat as she saw that grimace. 'Everyone, male or female, reacts in exactly the same way the first time they set eyes on the Sterne brothers.'
'The Sterne brothers?' Andy repeated breathlessly, eyes wide; no wonder everyone in the restaurant was staring!
'The Sterne twins, to be exact,' Kim corrected knowledgeably.
'Twins?' Andy's eyes widened incredulously. 'Are you saying that there's another one just like him at home?' There couldn't possibly be!
The man who had just walked into the restaurant was—well, he was utterly unique. In a dark and compelling way Andy could never imagine anyone else ever being. Certainly not in the form of an identical twin.
She knew little of the Sterne brothers' personal lives. When they had first rocketed into the public eye she had only been thirteen and at ballet school, and totally caught up in that world. She had paid little attention to the world of business, or society photographs in newspapers and glossy magazines of the rich and the famous.
And after her accident she had been too busy trying to rebuild her future to be too aware of what was going on in other people's lives.
She had known her brother-in-law had worked for Midas Enterprises for the last few years, of course, but the bachelor billionaire Sterne brothers inhabited a totally different world from her own—no doubt they could eat at a different one of their own restaurants every night around the world, and fly there on their own private jet!
But she would certainly have remembered it if she had ever seen so much as a photograph of the man seated across the restaurant.
'Hardly, darling. That's his twin sitting beside him,' Kim explained softly.
Andy's gaze shifted to the man who had walked in with Mr Dark and Compelling—Darius or Xander Sterne?—and now sat at the table with him talking to the older couple.
Definitely not an identical twin!
If one of the twins was dark and compelling then the other was light and magnetic; the second man's fashionably tousled hair was a pale blond, his skin golden, a sexy grin lighting up his handsome and chiselled features, laughter lines fanning out from warm brown eyes, as if he smiled often. He was as tall and muscled as his brother, his impeccably black evening suit also tailored to perfection.
Under any other circumstances Andy knew she would have found the second twin the most handsome man in the room, but the dark twin was just so breathtaking she had to admit to having barely noticed his brother until now.
Dark twin. Light twin.
Andy's gaze moved inexorably back to the dark twin. 'Which one is he?'
'Mr Gorgeous? That would be Xander,' Kim supplied lightly.
'Hello? I'm still sitting here,' Colin put in pointedly, his own dark-haired and blue-eyed looks better described as homely rather than gorgeous.
'You know how much I love you, love,' Kim assured him warmly. 'But no woman in her right mind could stop herself from looking at someone like Xan-der Sterne.'
Again, Andy was barely listening to her sister and Colin as they bantered back and forth. Mainly because the dark twin had just glanced her way again. And given another raise of that dark and mocking brow as he'd found her still watching him. Causing Andy to quickly look away, the warmth of embarrassed colour flooding her cheeks.
'—all that gorgeous golden hair and those warm brown eyes. As for the delicious and toned body underneath that wonderful designer-label suit?' Kim continued to sing the man's praises.
'I'm going to go to the bathroom, leaving you two ladies to continue drooling, before I develop a complex,' Colin excused dryly as he stood up and left the table.
'Xander is the blond one?' Andy questioned her sister sharply once the two of them were alone, instantly revising her thoughts as she realised it was Darius she had been staring at, not the light twin, Xander.
'Well, of course he's the gorgeous blond,' Kim teased dismissively. 'I would hardly be drooling, as Colin so elegantly put it, over Darius.' She gave a shiver. 'All that dark, cold broodiness makes him just too scary for words!'
Dark, cold and scary.
Yes, Andy acknowledged, Darius Sterne was definitely scary. But, as far as she was concerned, not in the cold and brooding way her sister meant.
If Xander was light and good humour, then Darius was the opposite; a man as dark as sin—inside as well as out. His chiselled features were so grimly forbidding it looked as if he rarely found occasion to smile, let alone laugh.
But when he did?
How would it feel to be the woman responsible for putting a smile on that coldly arrogant face? To bathe in his appreciative laughter? To be the one responsible for putting the warmth of that laughter into those beautiful topaz eyes?
Or the heat of desire!
And on that note Andy brought her thoughts to a screeching halt.
Men like Darius Sterne, successful billionaires like Darius Sterne, she corrected herself ruefully, did not look at women like her. Women who so obviously did not even belong in a restaurant like Midas, let alone the rarefied world of extreme wealth that the Sterne brothers inhabited.
And yet Darius Sterne had certainly looked at her.
Only briefly, Andy admitted, but he had definitely returned her gaze.
Maybe that was because she had been caught staring at him eyes wide, mouth agape?
Well, yes. Maybe. But to be fair, everyone else in the restaurant had also been staring at the Sterne twins. Maybe not in quite the lustful way she had been staring at Darius Sterne, but they had all been looking, nonetheless.
Lord, yes, her feelings were lustful, if the tingling fullness in her breasts and the heat surging through her body was any indication!
And Andy was sure it was.
Though she had never, ever, responded in such a visceral way to any man before tonight. Before she'd looked at Darius Sterne and been unable to look away again.
Until the age of nineteen, her life and her emotions had all been totally dedicated to ballet and her career, with no time left for romance. After the months of recovering from the accident, Andy had had necessarily to concentrate on making something else of her life.
Her dream of one day becoming a world-class ballerina had been over, but she was by no means a quitter, and had no intentions of just sitting around feeling sorry for herself. Consequently she had known she had to do something with her life.
It had been a lot of hard work, and taken most of her own share of the money left to her and Kim by their parents when they'd died almost five years ago. But three years after making that decision, Andy had finished her training to teach and been able to open a ballet studio for five-to-sixteen-year-olds. Ballet was what she knew, after all. And maybe one day, if she was lucky, she might actually be responsible for discovering and training a world-class ballerina.
Her personal life had been the casualty of all those years of hard work, both as a ballerina and latterly her training to teach others to dance. As a consequence she'd had no intimate relationships before her accident. Or since?
The loss of both her beloved parents had been a terrible blow, and Andy had buried herself even more in her love of ballet as a way of coping with that loss. The accident just months later, putting an end to her career in ballet, had shaken her to her very core.
Oh, she had recovered some of her previous confidence these past four years, on the outside at least. But the physical scars that now marred her body were undeniable. She certainly hadn't ever wanted to share those with any man.
Most especially a man as handsome and sophisticated as Darius Sterne, who no doubt dated some of the most beautiful women in the world. He certainly wouldn't be interested in someone like Andy, who was scarred emotionally on the inside, and visibly on the outside.