One Night of Misbehavior
Author:Shelley Munro

CHAPTER Eight



Ash scowled at the photo in the paper. A photographer had managed to get a shot of him and Charlotte at the grave site, their hands clasped with Charlotte gazing up at him. A reporter had contacted him, asking about the funeral, and he’d told her it was for a family friend. He’d thought they’d show a little respect, but no. The headline shouted, The Beast and the Mystery Redhead.

Laura walked into his office and glanced at the newspaper. Her nose wrinkled. “They don’t respect privacy. Rather you than me, boss.”

“They’ve manipulated a shot from the funeral and blanked out the people who were standing around us.” Disgust filled him, and he hoped Charlotte didn’t see the photo.

“Matheson rang again this morning. He said you’d put him off about his weekend party. He wants to know if you’re attending and if you have a plus one.”

“Damn, I don’t want to leave Auckland right now. Okay, leave it with me. I’ll ring him this afternoon. Do we have any new jobs?”

Laura rattled off several. “Okay, put me down for the Hudson and the Shrewsbury accounts and email the relevant details to me. I’m going out for an hour.”

“Righto, Ash.”

Ash sneaked out the back door, walked three blocks and caught a passing cab to Remuera. He rapped on the door, and a few minutes later, Charlotte stood in front of him.

“Ash.”

Charlotte stood aside to let him enter. She’d been crying, her eyes red and swollen. Tear tracks streaked her cheeks, but to him she was beautiful.

“Where is everyone?”

“They’ve gone to Taupo for a couple of weeks.” Charlotte’s voice was dead without nuance.

“They left you alone?” Anger burst through him. Damn Elizabeth and her callous behavior. All she needed was a pointy black hat and a broom and she’d be set.

“With instructions to clear Gran’s room and sort out her possessions,” Charlotte said.

This time her expression read pissed and he cheered inwardly. “I have to travel to Napier on business this weekend. Would you come with me?”

“For the weekend?”

“We’d share a room,” Ash said, wanting her to have no doubt as to his intentions. “And a bed.”

Her gaze zapped to meet his, searching, weighing. “I’ve never been to Napier.”

Not the reply he’d expected. “Well, here’s your chance. What do you say?”

“What sort of clothes will I need?”

“Mainly casual, but they’re having an art deco theme party on Saturday night. I was intending to grab something to wear while I’m down there. We could go earlier and do our shopping together. What do you say?”

She nodded, not with the enthusiasm he’d prefer, but at least it wasn’t a straight rejection. “I need to finish emptying Gran’s room, but I’d like to escape the memories for a few days.”

“How does Thursday sound?”

“Yes, Thursday is perfect.”

Ash worked to hold back his cheer. “Pack a swimsuit and comfortable shoes for walking. Oh, and bring your laptop. I have two more accounts for you to work on. We can discuss those too.”

She bounced her weight from foot to foot, and her brown eyes sparkled. “Really?”

“Really,” he said. “We were impressed by your work on the bakery account, and Laura has contacted the client to make an appointment to see your designs.”

“Thank you.” Charlotte threw her arms around his neck, squeezing him tight.

Ash hugged her back, wishing her affection was more than excitement about the accounts. Still, she hadn’t argued about sharing a bed, and he had a long weekend to work his masculine magic. A heady sensation, one he recognized as the thrill of the chase, blossomed inside him. An unusual feeling, since women stalked him, but one that filled him with anticipation. Charlotte wouldn’t know what hit her.




* * * * *

Ash wanted her to work on more accounts. The knowledge buoyed her spirits and put pep in her steps—a temporary job to fill her empty hours plus a weekend away. Probably a good thing since she didn’t have to be a brain box to realize getting away from this house with the layers of memories and sadness wouldn’t hurt. She attacked Gran’s room with new vigor, sorting possessions into three piles—those to donate to charity, a pile for the rubbish and a pile of things she wanted for keepsakes. She focused on the good memories, the times of laughter and fun she’d had with Gran and Esther.

But a few times Ms. Feisty shooed her thoughts over to Ash and sharing a bed with him. A tickle of heat slid along her veins. A little hot, no-strings sex with Ash would celebrate the start of her new life.

Hell, yeah! Ms. Feisty pumped her fist in the air. Charlotte grinned, inhaled a couple of deep breaths and continued her task.

When she came to Gran’s jewelry box, she paused before deciding to leave it in Elizabeth’s room. Gran had owned some lovely pieces, and she was sure Elizabeth would want to keep them. She tucked the box under a pile of sweaters in one of Elizabeth’s drawers.

It took her the rest of the day to clear the bedroom, working late into the night. The distant shrill of her cell phone broke the silence, making her start.

Charlotte went down to the kitchen to answer it, deciding to stop for something to eat since her stomach let out an ominous rumble.

“Hello,” she said.

“What are you wearing?” a husky voice asked.

“Ash?”

“Do you have other men calling to ask what you’re wearing?”

She pursed her lips to stem the urge to giggle. “Not on a regular basis. What are you wearing?”

“I’ve just returned from a run,” he said, and she held her breath, hoping he’d keep talking. The man had a raspy voice, and every word caressed her skin, her senses. He’d sound sexy reading a dry legal document.

“And,” she prompted.

“I got hot and sweaty.”

Charlotte ran the words through her mind, pictured him with a sheen on his skin, his dark hair tousled. “Hot enough to take off your shirt?”

A huff containing an edge of laughter strummed her ear. “All I’m wearing is a pair of boxer-briefs. I’m about to jump into the shower.”

“Take them off,” she said.

“You’ve hijacked my game. I’m the one with the bad-boy reputation.”

“You’re wearing fewer clothes,” she countered. “We’ll get to the good stuff sooner.”

“Tease,” he said in a low purr.

Excitement prickled through her, and she shifted her weight, the pull of her cotton shirt across her bare breasts setting her nipples tingling. She fanned her face, her free hand gripping her cell while she waited for him to say something else. The rustle of clothing traveled down the line.

“I’m naked,” he announced. “And my cock is hard enough to hammer a nail. What are you going to do about it?”

Her stomach did a dip and twirl. Heat punched at the juncture of her thighs. “If I were there, I’d sink to my knees and learn the shape of your penis with my hands and fingers. I’d stroke the crown and tease you until drops of pre-come started to form at your slit.”

“Go on.” His raspy voice filled her with yearning.

“Then I’d use my mouth on you, cleaning away the moisture with my tongue.”

“I’m very sweaty,” he whispered. “We should probably do this in the shower with both of us naked. I’d want to run my fingers through your hair and hold your head while I make shallow thrusts into your hot mouth.”

She gulped. “Um, we could do that.”

“And I’d watch the water as it poured over your breasts. Maybe, I’d pinch your nipples because I know you don’t mind a shot of pain with your loving.”

Charlotte closed her eyes, letting his deliberate words flow through her, over her in a gradual wash of arousal.

“By then my patience would’ve hit breaking point. I’d probably haul you to your feet and press you against the wall of the shower. When I do, the tiles are cold against your back, a contrast to my mouth at your breasts, the heat of the water and my hands skimming your body.”

Charlotte squeezed her legs together and felt her clit jump once. The friction wasn’t enough. She wanted…needed him, his hands, his mouth.

“Are you still there, Charlotte?”

“Yes.” Ms. Feisty did a lusty rock of her hips then pumped a fist. “I wish you were here.”

He laughed. “Tomorrow night,” he promised. “I’m going to make love to you all night long.”

“That’s hours away.” Charlotte realized she was pouting and gave herself a shake.

“And meantime, you’re going to go to bed and think of me. You’re going to touch yourself until you come, and tomorrow, you’re going to tell me all about it.”

“I…” What was the wretched man doing to her?

“Do you have a vibrator?”

“No.”

“Maybe we’ll go shopping for one of those too,” he said in a silky voice. “I’m going to jump in the shower now. I’ll pick you up at ten tomorrow. We’ll get an early start and do some sightseeing when we hit Napier.”

The phone clicked in her ear, but she didn’t move, her mind full of Ash. Just a little fun sex between consenting adults, she reminded herself. They came from different worlds, were at different places in their lives. No, she’d enjoy the moment, and when the time came, she’d move on with her life and embrace her independence.

Edginess and arousal nipped at her heels while she went through the motions of eating and drinking. On reaching her bedroom, she gave in to her body’s insistent demand, throwing off her clothes and slipping between the sheets, naked. A few strokes of her fingers and she exploded into climax. Gradually, she floated down from the cloud of pleasure and stretched. That will work even better when we’re with Ash, Ms. Feisty purred.



Ash arrived in a cab, promptly at ten. He jumped out, taking her bag from her and stowing it in the rear.

A blue sedan with a dent in the passenger door pulled up to the curb with a shriek of brakes.

“Excellent,” Ash muttered, settling in the rear seat beside her. “The reporters are getting smarter. Hide your face so they don’t get another photo. That’s if you want to do that,” he added. “It’s up to you.”

“I prefer to keep under the radar,” she said quickly and buried her face against his chest. His arms wrapped around her until his scent and strength surrounded her. She sighed, a soft sound of appreciation. Gran had liked him, encouraged her to go out with him, so she figured she should enjoy every moment of this weekend. Besides, if she holed up at the house and made herself miserable, she wouldn’t put it past Gran to come back and haunt her.

“Damn, they’re following. Vultures.”

Charlotte peeked through the rear window for an instant and scowled at the vehicle trailing their cab. “Are we driving?”

“No, we’re flying and hiring a car when we get there. I hope you don’t mind flying.”

“My parents took me to the Gold Coast theme parks in Australia when I was six. I had a ball. Mind you, it helped that the air hostesses made a huge fuss over me, and I got to visit the flight deck.”

“Good. I didn’t think to ask if you were okay with flying. It also has the added benefit of getting rid of my entourage of photographers.”

The flight took less than an hour, and they were soon zipping toward the center of Napier.

“Where are we staying?”

“We have two nights at a hotel on the other side of Napier, then we’ll shift camp and move in with my client for Saturday and Sunday nights. They’re a bit out of Napier, near a town called Clare. We’ll fly back to Auckland on Monday morning.”

“Sounds good.” Heck, it sounded awesome. Excitement ricocheted inside her like a misdirected ping-pong ball.

“I thought we’d take care of our costumes for the party first, and after that we can have lunch at a vineyard and take a walk on the beach. We’ll have dinner at the hotel and then I intend to keep you busy in the bedroom. Any questions?”

“Can I take my camera with me? What sort of costume do you think I should look for? And will you explain the wine to me because I find the entire topic baffling. Jenny and Rachel are always poking fun at me because I can’t tell the difference between a Chardonnay and a Sauvignon Blanc.”

Ash sent her a lazy grin before directing his attention back to the road. “Definitely bring your camera. I’m not sure about the costume but something sexy, and the only good wine is the one you enjoy.”

He never made her feel stupid, and she appreciated this trait in him. Well-pleased, she turned her attention to the passing scenery. “I love the straight lines of the art deco buildings. I’m itching to take photos,” she said as Ash drove past a fountain on the waterfront. Closer to the main street, the number of art deco buildings increased, and she wound down the window and went crazy with the shutter button.

He laughed at her enthusiasm, the sound joyful and teasing. The lack of jeers and putdowns—the type of comments she’d come to expect from Elizabeth and her stepsisters—made her enjoyment in the day and his company increase.

“We’ll try the art deco shop first. If they don’t have what we want, I’m sure they’ll point us in the right direction.”

The elderly ladies manning the store were helpful without being pushy.

“That one,” Ash said, pointing to a straight apricot dress in a slip style. An apricot rose sat on the low waistband at hip level. It was a similar shade to the one she’d worn the night of the charity ball and the only decoration on the dress.

Charlotte cocked her head as if considering Ash’s choice. “You don’t think it will clash with my hair?”

“Oh, no, dear,” one of the ladies said. “Add a long string of pearls and wear your hair in a chignon. Paint your lips in a pale lipstick, highlight your eyes and you’ll look as if you belong in the thirties. And for you, sir, I think this white dinner jacket and these trousers. A white shirt and a black bow tie. Smooth your hair back with some styling cream, and you’ll make all the ladies’ hearts flutter.”

Ash reached for Charlotte’s hand and pressed a kiss to her inner wrist. “This is the only lady I want to impress.”

“You’re a lucky girl,” one woman said.

“I keep telling her that. Sweetheart, do we have everything we need for the party?”

“I think so.” Her stomach gurgled, and Charlotte clapped her hand over her belly, color flooding her cheeks. “Pardon me.”

“Did you have breakfast this morning?”

“Just coffee,” she said.

“That’s everything, thanks,” Ash said, producing a credit card from his wallet.

“I’ll pay—”

“No, this is my treat,” Ash said. “You’re doing me a favor going with me to meet my client.”

“But I—”

“Please,” Ash said.

Charlotte opened her mouth to argue, but he handed over the card to forestall further discussion. He took the packages from the woman serving them, snared Charlotte’s hand in his, tugging her out of the shop and back to the rental car.

People they passed stared at them both. He was used to everyone gaping at his scars, and mostly, he didn’t pay any attention to them unless they edged too far into rudeness. Today it seemed different. There were no members of the press jumping out at him, and Charlotte was holding his hand, arguing about paying her share. Most of his girlfriends would have pouted at the lack of press and prettily requested more expensive jewelry. More than ever Ash was convinced Ivy and his grandmother maneuvering them together was a stroke of genius and the best thing that had ever happened to him.

Throughout lunch and during their walk along the beach, he touched her constantly. He tugged on a lock of her silky red hair, admiring the way it glinted full of autumn colors under the summer sunshine. He kept his hand at the small of her back to guide her through doorways. Held her hand, his fingers laced with hers. And he kissed her whenever the urge struck him, savoring the softness of her lips beneath his, the way she responded to him, her eyes darkening with passion whenever he upped the ante and pushed into erotic territory.

But lust and desire were weapons capable of backfiring, and they created chaos in him. His skin tingled where they touched, blood pounded through his veins, tightening his dick while his heart sang with the promise flickering between them.

“I can’t remember the last time I walked along a beach,” Charlotte said. “It was when my father was still alive, I think.”

“How old were you when he remarried?”

“Thirteen,” Charlotte said, some of the life fading from her. “He died when I was sixteen.”

“And you stayed with your stepmother?”

“I had nowhere else to go. Dad was an only child, as was my mother. My sole remaining relation is a cousin who is still in Africa doing missionary work.”

“Has Elizabeth always been so cold?”

“She changed after my father died. Before then I remember lots of laughter.”

“Grief affects people in different ways.”

“Yes.” A shudder went through Charlotte. “It was a dark period for everyone. Things improved once Gran moved from Taupo to live with us.”

“But?”

Charlotte laughed and the sound held little humor. “Elizabeth made it clear I had to pull my weight since she needed to go back to work.”

“Why didn’t you leave once you left school?”

“Someone needed to look after Gran, and better me than a stranger, so I volunteered. It wasn’t a difficult decision because I loved her, and Gran made sure Elizabeth gave me a little money once I took full responsibility for the household.” Her eyes were glassy when she looked at him, but she didn’t cry.

“I understand.” And he did. His father was healthy and independent, but if there came a time when he needed help, Ash would be there. He owed his father a lot. If his father had coddled him after his burns, let him withdraw from his friends and new experiences, he’d be a very different man now. “Would you like to go to the hotel? I’ve stayed there before. They have beautiful gardens and a spa pool with a view.”

Only half an hour later, Charlotte padded from the en suite, dressed in a royal-blue bikini. His breath emerged in a whoosh. “You look stunning.”

“I haven’t seen you clearly without a shirt before,” she said. “Turn around.”

Bemused, he turned as she bid.

She reached out to place the palm of her hand on his scarred torso. “You were lucky with your burns. I mean they must have been painful, but they’re not disgusting.”

“They don’t bother you?”

“I’d prefer you didn’t have them, only because I know how painful it is burning my hand on a hot pan. I don’t like thinking about how much you must have suffered, but I suspect their presence helped shape the man you are today.”

“No one has ever said that to me before.” Except his father.

She let her hand fall away from his scarred shoulder. “You promised to take me swimming.”

His gaze roved the curves of her breasts, her trim waist and the flare of her hips. “You expect me to concentrate on swimming when you look like that?”

“I look even better wet.” Her sassy wink zapped straight to his cock.