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Seduction and Surrender
By C.C. Gibbs
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Power. Passion. Pleasure beyond imagining. Billionaire playboy Rafe Contini offers all this–and more–to the beautiful Nicole Parrish, a young American traveler with a taste for adventure that matches his own. From the private yachts of Monte Carlo to the palatial estates of Geneva to the glittering penthouses of Bangkok, Rafe has shown her a world of unimaginable sensual delights. Now, he is ready to take her to the next daring level. Of danger. Of desire. Of deliciously erotic self-discovery.
Nicole has never known a man as sexy, as strong–or as commanding–as Rafe Contini. Night after steamy night, he turns up the heat, tests her boundaries, and pushes the limits of her body and soul to the point of sweetest agony. But when this masterful lover sweeps her away to a secluded island getaway–where anything can and will happen–Nicole must decide just how far she wants to take this game. And just how much she can bend Rafe’s rules . . .
August, Split, Croatia
The Adriatic Coast in summer was idyllic, a playground of the rich and famous and everyone down the line. Although Rafe Contini’s party that had just flown into Split on his private jet wasn’t here for fun.
They’d come because his private island was safe and defensible.
Rafe had brought Nicole with him. He shouldn’t have. But for the first time in his life he hadn’t been able to walk away from a woman. So he was seeking sanctuary in more ways than one before taking the offensive against Zou Yao, the man who’d tried to destroy his company.
Until then, he’d see about keeping Nicole happy in his own special way.
“Fuck.” Rafe stared at his fixer, Carlos, standing beside him on the airport tarmac. Everyone knew taking down Zou Yao was going to be a bitch. But the latest news ripped a hole in their initial planning. “When did they skip town?”
“Sometime last night. The Hong Kong apartment was tossed, so we’re not the only ones looking for Zou’s mistress and child. Small compensation for missing them, but—”
“Useful,” Rafe said softly.
“Right.” A scrap of satisfaction in Carlos’s voice. “Zou’s going to be fighting on two fronts—with us and with those in his government who want him dead.”
Rafe Contini, billionaire CEO of Contini Pharmaceuticals, and his party were waiting for their luggage to be transferred to a chopper that would ferry them to his island, where the operation against Zou would be finalized. The two tall men standing off to one side were keeping their voices down. Rafe’s girlfriend—a term everyone would have regarded with irony only days ago—was talking to her mother on the phone, nodding as she listened, responding mostly with yeses and okays, taking her Uncle Dominic’s advice, and being super agreeable.
After a quick glance at Nicole to check that she was still engrossed in her conversation, Rafe raised a brow in query. “Does Ganz have any idea who went after Zou’s second family?” Zou’s young mistress and child were critical to the success of their mission.
“Uh-uh. He says the possibilities are endless. Especially with the premier’s new anticorruption campaign, which has everyone covering their asses by pointing fingers at their rivals. Even politburo membership isn’t protection against indictment, prison, or worse. It’s insanity over there.”
“Understatement. How about word on the street?”
“So far nothing. Leo’s monitoring the chatter.”
Rafe almost smiled. “At least we’re not the only ones with an unpleasant number of enemies closing in for the kill. When Ganz destroyed the unit’s cyber system, Zou’s blood in the water brought out the sharks.”
“No shit. If we’re lucky, one of Zou’s enemies might take him out first and we can all go home.”
“Wouldn’t that be sweet,” Rafe drawled. “In the absence of that dream being realized,” he added, a sudden coolness in his voice, “tell Gina we’re putting on a special team of analysts to help her narrow the search for Zou’s mistress and child.” Gina, an ex-Mossad agent, and Rafe were old friends. “Webster’s ready, right? He’s unstoppable, analyst and otherwise. Zou couldn’t have sent his secret family far. He didn’t have time.” Rafe’s face suddenly lit up as Nicole approached, long-legged, curvy, fuck-me gorgeous in a summery, sleeveless, mini-skirted dress that had him thinking about finding a quiet corner, flipping up that little purple skirt, bending her over, and making them both happy. Sucking in a breath of restraint, he smiled instead. “So is your mom all content and pacified?” As she came within reach, he wrapped his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. “Everything good back home?”
Looking up, she gave him a relaxed grin. “Everything’s cool. Dominic spoke to Mom, so I didn’t have to give many details about our holiday. She asked me to send pictures.”
A lift of one brow. “Yeah?” He’d recently gotten the impression from Dominic Knight that he wasn’t exactly boyfriend material.
“Not of you.” Nicole smiled at the dark-haired, wildly handsome man looking at her, his amber gaze watchful. “Even though you light up my world. But I know you like your privacy. I just said there’s a bunch of us here. No lie, right? Anyway, my mom likes shots of scenery. She’s never been to Croatia.”
For a man who’d been touted as one of the most eligible bachelors in the world his entire adult life, it was a novel experience to be invisible. It wasn’t a problem, just a data point. He understood. “Scenery we have,” Rafe said with a warm smile. “Picture postcard stuff I’m told. It looks like the chopper’s almost loaded. Give me a minute to say good-bye to Milo, the custom’s guy. He’s always been so accommodating.”
The small group looked like anyone else on holiday, the men in shorts and T-shirts, Nicole’s designer dress simple enough to have come off the rack, everyone in sandals—including the pilot. It wasn’t even so unusual to fly in on a private jet; the Adriatic was popular with the privileged set in August. Not everyone had a 1.2-billion-dollar helicopter at the Split airport however, or a personal acquaintance with the young customs official who’d greeted them. But then Rafe actually liked Milo and he traveled here a lot. The buildings on his island had been more or less under constant construction for years. He was one of the major employers in the area.
Rafe explained to Milo that he had a large contingent of guests arriving, smiled, and agreed that a good many had already flown in. “It’s high season,” Rafe said with a little eye roll. “Try to keep them away, right? Are you playing at the music festival next week?”
“Wouldn’t miss it.”
“Good. No one handles a keyboard like you. Thursday, right? I think Simon’s bought tickets for us. Thanks again for your help. It’s always appreciated.” They had an arrangement: Milo never asked for passports or went through their luggage and Rafe had seen that a large gambling debt Milo had incurred with the wrong people had been paid, leaving Milo’s fingers intact.
Twenty minutes later, the helicopter banked steeply to the right, the pilot pointed, and Rafe’s private island rose out of the Adriatic Sea, spreading slowly across the horizon—a sizable expanse of mountainous landscape visible through the shimmering mist, a faint silhouette of a distant castle materializing out of the haze.
Nicole’s brows shot up in surprise. “A castle?” Leaning in close to Rafe so he could hear her over the rhythmic thump, thump, thump of the rotors, she felt a shiver run up her spine. “You didn’t mention a castle.” Castles had dungeons! Kink and dungeons were practically a stereotype, her overactive imagination pointed out, even as a flashback of images from way too many horror films suddenly had her heart tripping. Jesus, get a grip! She was on holiday with the most ridiculously beautiful, shamelessly lovable, wet dream of a man; life couldn’t be better. Okay?
“It’s not exactly a castle yet.” Rafe smiled. “It’s closer to a rock pile that’s burning through money. I call it my hobby. My accountant calls it a nightmare.”
“Speaking of nightmares,” Nicole said, her apprehensions flaring again at the reference to things that go bump in the night. “Reassure me about dungeons. Don’t ask. It’s stupid, I know, but…”
Taking note of Nicole’s trepidation, Rafe chose a marginal lie rather than argue reality versus her wild imagination. “No dungeons. Don’t worry. And you’ll love the room that’s been restored in the tower,” he offered, avoiding further discussion of dungeons. “You can pretend you’re a twelfth-century demoiselle. I’ll pretend I’m the crusader who never reached the Holy Land, built this castle instead, and chose the lucrative life of a pirate.” He grinned. “So wanna play? I’ll make it worth your while.”
A small frown mirrored her lurking anxiety. “I don’t know—maybe, probably, let me think.” Rafe’s unencumbered views on wealth always gave her pause to consider—how he could buy anything and anyone, pleasure and perversion alike, no hassle, no questions. And the words pirate and play weren’t particularly reassuring on this remote island with its spectacular limestone cliffs, wind-swept twisted pines, and medieval ruins.
“Maybe?” A teasing query.
“Look, if you must know—and don’t you dare laugh—your castle ruin is kinda creepy. It reminds me of Frankenstein’s monster.”
Rafe’s brows rose. “Seriously? You believe in that shit?”
“I’m trying not to— oh God, is that the tower?” As the distance to the island narrowed, the castle tower loomed, half derelict, dark and gloomy against the blue sky. She squinted, took a small breath, and muttered, “That’s scary.”
He stared at her. “You’re kidding.”
“Okay, how about it makes me a little unsettled?”
His smile was so wide, his goddamned dimples showed. “Meaning?” she said, half guarded, wishing she hadn’t watched so many spooky movies.
“Come on, pussycat, relax,” he said pleasantly. “I promise you’ll have fun.”
Nicole gave him a hard, steady look. “No offense, but I’m in the middle of fucking nowhere. I’m allowed to wuss out.”
He flicked a glance at the passengers behind them. “You’re in the middle of nowhere with beaucoup bodyguards. You’re safe as hell.” A small smile. “If that’s what you want.”
“They’re your bodyguards.” Her eyes grew wide. “Jesus, don’t look at me like that.”
His smile was pure, bad-boy brilliance. “Like what?”
“Like you’re going to eat me alive.”
“As I recall, you like—”
She put her hand over his mouth because the pilot was grinning and she wasn’t anywhere near as blasé as he was.
He licked her palm and she jerked her hand back and tried to glare at him, but he was smiling at her now like she was the best thing that had ever happened to him and her frustration fell away before the flat-out beauty of his smile.
Recognizing her capitulation, he leaned in, tucked a dark curl behind her ear, and kissed her cheek softly. “Consider me your guardian angel,” he murmured, and at her skeptical look, amended it to “Personal guardian—how about that? And we’ll have privacy once we land.” He flicked a glance toward the pilot. “Just you and me. No one else.”
“Except for those people down there.” She pointed at a small village of whitewashed, blue-roofed houses spilling down the hillside from the castle gates. “And the staff required for that.” A sprawling peach-colored Venetian palazzo surrounded by gardens came into view beyond the castle walls.
Rafe touched her ear with his lips. “Everyone will keep their distance. I’ve given orders. So you’re free to scream as loud as you like, wherever and whenever you like.”
She turned, grinning. “Appreciate your foresight and planning.”
“I’m here to make you happy, Tiger.” Dropping a kiss on her nose, he turned to the pilot as the landing pad came into sight. “Take it easy, Davey. No showboating.”
The pilot gave Rafe a thumbs-up. And instead of skimming the tops of the large palms bordering the pad as usual, he set the chopper down so gently it practically floated to the earth.
The small party alighted into the brilliant sunshine, Rafe first so he could help Nicole down. Then Ganz, Rafe’s childhood friend, Mongolian hacker extraordinaire, and current target for Shanghai’s assassination squads. Carlos stepped out next, followed by Dominic’s and Rafe’s security men—Leo and Simon respectively.
After deplaning, Simon glanced at Rafe. “I’m assuming guests are allowed up to a point.” Simon had a girlfriend in Split.
“As long as she’s willing to leave on short notice.”
“Understood. Not a problem.”
“Go for it then.” Rafe nodded at Carlos. “We’ll see you tomorrow. My phone’s on.” He’d insisted on twenty-four uninterrupted hours with Nicole, or as uninterrupted as possible considering the circumstances. Rafe gave Ganz a narrowed look. “That means you’re not to bother me unless the sky’s falling. Got it?”
Ganz frowned, looking at Rafe through a tumble of straight black hair. “Am I allowed to decide when the sky’s falling or am I at the mercy of my minders?” Jerking his chin up, he flipped his hair out of his eyes and stared at Rafe through fully dilated pupils.
“All you have to do is limit the blow, dude,” Rafe drawled, “and you won’t have minders.”
“If only,” Ganz drawled back.
Rafe laughed. “Gotcha. Then listen to Carlos. And if you need coddling, I believe some of the women at the spa might be willing to help you out.”
Ganz flashed a broad smile. “You really do love me, don’t you?”
“Fucking A,” Rafe murmured. “You’re the love of my life. Now play nice with the ladies and behave okay? I know you can do it.”
“Ration my blow, behave, don’t piss off the women at the spa. Fuck, I’m gonna have to set my timer so I know there’s an end to the fucking rules. Twenty-four hours, right?” Party to Rafe’s conversation with Carlos, Ganz punched his timer icon a couple times and shoved his cell phone toward Rafe.
Rafe arched one brow. “Cute. Now remember to eat something.” He took Nicole’s hand. “Come on, Tiger. We’ve got things to do.”
“Such as?” she murmured playfully as he drew her away from the men.
His grip tightened on her hand. “Such as anything your little heart desires. I’m all yours.”
She glanced up. “For twenty-four hours.” She’d noticed the grim-faced look on Carlos when Rafe said, We’ll see you tomorrow.
Rafe shrugged. “It’s a half-assed deal. My phone’s still on.”
“You don’t have to coddle me. I understand you’re dealing with…” She paused, quickly discarding several comments on precarious reality. “Lots of stuff.”
“It can wait until tomorrow.” His smile was a slow unfurling of tenderness. “That’s my gift to myself. Twenty-four hours. Fuck the world till then.”
“I shouldn’t be so selfish, but thanks. Really.” Her heart beat harder and faster because she knew how little time they had. “Thanks a lot.”
“I’m totally selfish myself, but, hey, why change now,” he said with a grin. “Ready for a climb? I’m going to take you to the best view on the island.”
Ganz twitched his broad shoulders, gave his head a shake, and surveyed the grounds beyond the landing pad for a second as though getting his bearings. Then he turned to Carlos and spoke crisply and clearly. “Who came in before us?”
“The tech team. Or most of them. Three security teams. A couple cleaners.”
Ganz frowned. “Zou’s mobilizing every fucking resource at his command. So tell me more are coming or I might as well shoot myself now.” Ganz and Zou had a history even before he’d blown Zou’s cyber unit to dust.
“No need for that,” Carlos said with a tic of a smile. “A fucking army’s on its way. Ours, Dominic Knight’s, Gora’s—his includes every mafia thug in Eastern Europe. He’s called in his markers back to the Dark Ages.”
“For Rafe’s mother.”
“Yeah. Word has it Gora would take on the world single-handedly for Camelia.” Carlos smiled faintly. “And apparently has; maybe even her late husband.”
“So Rafe’s new step-daddy, Gora, got tired of waiting for his happy ending?”
“Their happy ending, the story goes. This from a man who’s racked up more professional hits than he can remember,” Carlos murmured. “Love is strange—or maybe not so strange.” A slice of laughter. “Gina volunteered to help; I’m guessing she’s on board to help protect her favorite lover boy.”
“Then don’t tell her Rafe might be considering a change in his role as stud to the world,” Ganz said with a grin. “Cause we need Gina’s mad skills. Hell, her intelligence contacts are almost as good as yours, Sanz. She found Timur when no one else could.”
“And slit his throat after he fucked her; talk about dying happy,” Carlos noted with a flicker of his brows. “She might actually be half in love with Rafe, though, so keeping him alive is real personal.”
“Love?” Ganz snorted. “It’s just raw sex.”
“Au contraire,” Simon interposed, catching the last of the comments. “Not that Rafe doesn’t give her what she wants, but she’s really into him. He is fucking lovable. I don’t often say that of a guy. Never as a matter of fact.”
Carlos grunted. “Love, sex, kink up the ass—who cares. Right now, we need to focus to survive.”
“Then show me our tech capacity and I’ll let you know if it’s adequate, fixable, or we’re totally fucked,” Ganz said, sharp, tight, fast.
Carlos recognized the C-rush in that staccato delivery. “Think you can make it up the hill? It’s steep.”
“No problem. I’ll be wired for”—Ganz glanced at his watch and grinned—“at least three hours. Wanna race?”
“Save your fucking energy,” Carlos said drily. “You’re gonna need it.”
By the time the men reached the castle gates, Rafe and Nicole had disappeared. The huge, iron-strapped doors were open, the inner court fully restored to the last polished cobblestone, the entrance hall equally resplendent, the high, timbered ceiling a hybrid Gothic-Saracen design so intricate it could have been patterned on a spider web. And the painting, alone, of the ceiling timbers had taken six Florentine workmen two years. Other artisans also had been hard at work on the castle; not that the project was anywhere near finished, but portions of the castle were livable. Carlos led the men to the back of the entrance hall, then down a flight of stairs to an elevator. “The tech equipment can withstand a nuclear attack,” he explained. “We’re five stories down in the dungeons.”
While the four men were descending underground, Rafe and Nicole were climbing a circular staircase winding up the inner walls of the tower. In contrast to the original design built for defense, a railing had been installed for safety.
Rafe held Nicole’s hand as he guided her up the stairs, explaining the various restoration projects in detail, his obvious reverence for the historic structure gradually eliminating the last vestiges of Nicole’s paranoia. By the time they reached the small landing at the top of the stairs, she was relatively satisfied no monsters lurked and acutely aware of the tower’s antiquity, the sense of history in the weathered stones so vivid she could almost visualize the previous occupants who’d traveled these stairs. “Do you ever think of all those who’ve lived here before? You must,” she said, answering her own question.
“It’s impossible not to.” Turning the large key in the lock, Rafe pushed open the centuries-old, iron-studded door and waved Nicole in. “I don’t believe in ghosts, but you can feel the spirits in these old walls, in the worn stair treads, in this room that served as the last bastion against enemies.”
“Seriously?” She scanned the large, airy, elegant space. “Here?”
“Yeah. This was the final sanctuary from attack, the top floor the ultimate defensive position. The stairway was deliberately narrow in order to thwart invaders. And this door”—he rapped his knuckles on the much-worn, four-inch-thick oak—“shows evidence of some hard-fought battles.” He smiled. “No sword marks on the inside though. The castle survived intact until the Venetian palazzo was built in 1507; after that the comte’s descendants allowed this to fall into decay.”
He spoke in an inconsequential tone, so she took her cue from him and answered as mildly. “You must have had a decorator,” she said, surveying the circular area, carpeted with layers of antique rugs, the walls hung with colorful tapestries, the furniture richly carved, gilded, and upholstered in sumptuous Venetian velvets. “This is posh for a medieval interior.”
“Not in this part of the world. Byzantium’s trade with the East was flourishing, every luxury was available. The furniture is original, although most of the fabrics had to be replaced. Miraculously, the tapestries were transferred to the palazzo and escaped destruction. Legend has it the original French comte had an eye for beauty and extravagance.” And lush women whom he’d housed in this, his tower harem. With Nicole’s declared misgivings about the tower, Rafe chose not to mention that bit of history. “Apparently, the comte’s freebooting life gave him the wherewithal to live in comfort. Take a look at the view though,” he added, changing the subject. “It’s the reason I had this room finished first.”
Resting his shoulder against the doorjamb, Rafe watched Nicole cross the room to the windows overlooking the sea and briefly considered locking the door, shutting out the world with all its lethal consequences, and indulging his sexual appetites as the original comte had. It was only a fleeting thought; those on Ganz’s trail were tenacious. They had to be. The price of failure was high.
With a soft sigh, Rafe eased the door shut and resolved to forget the precarious future for the next twenty-four hours and simply gratify their wild, mad, soul-stirring desires until the clock ran out.
Sharply aware of the limited time, Rafe followed Nicole to the new large windows he’d had installed, wrapped his arms around her, and drew her back against his hard body. “God, you feel good,” he whispered, tightening his grip. “We should just stay here. Fuck everything. What do you think?”
Recognizing the faint tiredness in his voice, a fainter melancholy in his mood, she turned slightly to meet his gaze and smiled. “Count me in.”
He laughed. “Wouldn’t that be nice.” He slid his fingers through hers, smooth and easy, his voice when he spoke so soft she had to strain to hear. “If only the world wasn’t ready to wreck everything good, grind it up and throw it away. If there actually was a second first time.” Or better yet, a way to overcome their numerical disadvantage in this war, he thought, a muscle in his jaw twitching. “As if, right?” He shrugged, then winced; his shoulders were coiled tight. “Screw it. Let’s just play hard till we flame out and go down for the count. Whaddya say?” No beat beforehand, no advance notice, a raw-edged flaring pressure in his voice. “Oh shit, forget it. I shouldn’t have asked.”
You shouldn’t have asked like that, she wanted to say. But he was breathing fast, like he’d been running, and his fingers were folding and unfolding around hers in taut restraint. “I don’t mind,” she said, feeling the urgency too, the swirling danger spinning in the air, the reeling sense of imminent loss. “How about a small wager on who flames out first?” she added, wanting to make him smile even for an instant.
“You can’t be serious.”
The smile she was looking for drifted through his words. “So far I’ve been able to keep up, Contini.” Her voice was soft as silk, a hum of pleasure beneath her words, the smallest hint of backward thrust against his crotch.
Anyone less familiar with her impatience would have missed the slight movement of her ass. “We’re talkin’ pro leagues, Tiger.” A playful note rang in his voice now, the sharpness and tension gone.
“Sign me up.”
His husky laugh warmed her to her toes, sent a spiraling heat racing downward, brought a flush to her cheeks.
He liked that she blushed; his barely chained testosterone liked it even more. “No ground rules,” he said softly. “You okay with that?”
"Rafe and Nicole's story is almost too hot to handle in the first book of Gibbs' new series. Readers will get a kick out of the characters' cat-and-mouse game...But there is no denying their sexual chemistry. Only time will tell what can happen to two people who are used to being in control all the time, and thankfully there's room for more of their story."
--RT Book Reviews on Power and Possession
"Sadly, the All or Nothing trilogy has come to an end, but happily it's everything readers have been hoping for. Gibbs' writing ability and imagination never falters. This final installment will take readers' breath away and keep them up through the entire night until they reach the very last page. The super-hot sex, unforgettable characters, and interesting, drama-filled story make for a total nail-biter. A bittersweet symphony!"
--RT Book Reviews on All He Desires
"This electrifying follow-up to the debut of the All or Nothing trilogy will satisfy readers across the map. Gibbs' writing has a way of connecting with one's libido and keeps readers wanting more. Our hero and heroine's relationship seems stronger than ever since they've been apart, and their explosive meetings together will stay embedded in erotica fans' memories for a very long time. All He Needs is suspenseful, emotionally driven and will keep Gibbs' fans wondering how in the world she will be able to top this installment."
--- RT Book Reviews on All He Needs
"4 1/2 stars! Book one of the All or Nothing trilogy will be remembered. This sensational debut will spark interest among the most dedicated erotica fans. Gibbs doesn't beat around the bush, gets straight to the point and will leave readers gasping for breath...this story will take readers to heights they never even believed existed."
--- RT Book Reviews on All He Wants
"Knight is not your typical fictional brooding billionaire. He's open, garrulous, tender and caring. He wants to dominate Kate right from the start but he knows that he needs to bide his time, tread on eggshells and slowly woo her until she's a hot wet mess for him and can no longer resist."
--- Sinfully Sexy Book Reviews on All He Wants
"I absolutely loved this book! It was a keep-me-up-at-night sort of read! The steam in this book is very hot, and well written!"
--- Roxanne Reads Romance on All He Wants
- On Sale
- Mar 1, 2016
- Page Count
- 416 pages