Sophie Pembroke.

Stranded with the Tycoon






The man who sees her beauty

Ben Hampton is the last man in England that workaholic historian Luce would ever choose to be stranded with. Tall, dark and infuriatingly arrogant, hes also a reminder of her not-so-glorious romantic historysomething shes spent the past few years burying herself in work to forget.

Hotel tycoon Ben knows theres fire behind Luces buttoned-up exterior, and fanning its flames is an irresistible temptation. Luckily, getting snowbound in the countryside gives him the perfect opportunity to tempt out the real Lucinda Myles!

All right. Whats the plan?

A night off. With me. You put on your best party dress, let me take you out to dinner. You talk about yourself, not the things youre supposed to be doing. You let me take responsibility for showing you a good time. You relax. We have a nightcap in my suite, then you get a good nights sleep.

In my own room? Luce stamped down on the corner of her mind that was happily imagining what might happen if they were both in his room. Bens smile grew a little wolfish. Well now, thats up to you.

Really, Luce said, flatly.

Of course. Ben looked mildly offended. Im not saying I wont give it my best shot. Youre a beautiful woman, and I enjoy the company of beautiful women. But at the end of the night, you get the choice of my bed or the spare room. Either way you have a bed for the night.

Luce found her gaze caught on his. He thought she was beautiful? Ben Hampton actually wanted her. Sober, all grown up, not obviously crazyand he wanted her. She could have dinner with him, flirt, kissmore. All she had to do was say yes.

Dear Reader,

Theres something magical about snow. Especially when youre sitting inside by a warm fire, mug in hand, watching it fall and cover the land. Or crunching through the first fall, leaving crisp footprints in your wake. Building snowmen, sledging, running inside to warm up againor just enjoying the hush that a good snowfall brings to the world.

Of course if youre trying to drive through mid-Wales, U.K., in a snowstorm, like Luce and Ben are in this book, its a whole lot less fun. Especially if it traps you in a cottage in the middle of nowhere with someone you havent seen in ten years and didnt like very much even then.

But the magic of snow cant be resisted, and the power of a romantic, secluded cottage shouldnt be underestimated. Until the inevitable thaw, when the world returns to normalbut leaves Ben and Luce changed forever.

I grew up on the Welsh bordernot very far from Chester, where this story startsand I had so much fun setting this book in familiar locations. Bens cottage is, Im afraid, fictional, but based on many cottages Ive spent very happy holidays in over the years. And while the restaurant where they first eat dinner together doesnt exist in the real world, the one that sits in the same spot on the Chester Rows in reality is a favorite for Mum and me to stop at for lunch when indulging in a little retail therapy!

I hope you enjoy Ben and Luces snowy adventuremaybe even as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Best wishes,

Sophie

Stranded with the Tycoon

Sophie Pembroke


www.millsandboon.co.uk

SOPHIE PEMBROKE has been dreaming, reading and writing romance for yearsever since she first read The Far Pavilions under her desk in Chemistry class.

She later stayed up all night devouring Mills & Boon books as part of her English degree at Lancaster University, and promptly gave up any pretext of enjoying tragic novels. After all, whats the point of a book without a happy ending?

She loves to set her novels in the places where she has livedfrom the wilds of the Welsh mountains to the genteel humour of an English country village, or the heat and tension of a London summer. She also has a tendency to make her characters kiss in castles.

Currently Sophie makes her home in Hertfordshire, with her scientist husband (who still shakes his head at the reading-in-Chemistry thing) and their four-year-old Alice-in-Wonderland-obsessed daughter. She writes her love stories in the study she begrudgingly shares with her husband, while drinking too much tea and eating homemade cakes. Or, when things are looking very bad for her heroes and heroines, white wine and dark chocolate.

Sophie keeps a blog at www.SophiePembroke.com, which should be about romance and writing but is usually about cake and castles instead.

This is Sophie Pembrokes fabulous first book for Mills & Boon!

For Holly.

Im proud of you all the way to the moon, too.

Contents

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER ONE

LUCINDA MYLES WASNT the sort of woman to panic, usually. But the prospect of being without a bed for the night five days before Christmas, in the midst of the coldest December the north-west of England had seen in decades, was decidedly unappealing. The city of Chester was booked solid by Christmas shoppers and by the other unfortunate academics attending the badly timed Bringing History to the Future conference. If the Royal Court Hotel didnt find her booking...well, she was going to need a new plan. But first shed try dogged persistence. It had always worked for her grandfather.

I understand that youre fully booked, Luce said, in her most patient and forbearing voice. The one she usually saved for her brother Tom, when he was being particularly obtuse. But one of those room bookings should be for me. Dr Lucinda Myles. She leant across the reception desk to try to see the girls computer screen. M-Y-L-E-S.

The blonde behind the desk angled the screen away from her. Im afraid there is no booking at this hotel under that name for tonight. Or any other night, for that matter.

Luce gritted her teeth. This was what she got for letting the conference staff take charge of her hotel booking. She really should have known better. Take responsibility. Take control. Words to live by, her grandfather had always said. Shame she was the only one in the family to listen.

As if to echo the thought, her phone buzzed in her pocket. Luce sighed as she reached in to dig it out, knowing without looking that it would be Tom. And there are absolutely no free rooms in the hotel tonight? she asked the blonde, figuring it was worth one more shot. Even the suites are booked? She could make the university reimburse her. They wanted her here at the conferencethe least they could do was give her a decent room for the night.

Everything. Every room is booked. Its Christmas, in case you hadnt noticed. And now, if I cant be of any further assistance... The blonde looked over Luces shoulder.

Glancing back herself, Luce saw a growing queue of people waiting to check in. Well, they were just going to have to wait. She wasnt going to be intimidated by this fancy hotel with its marble floors, elegant golden Christmas tree, chandeliers and impatient businessmen. Shed had one hell of a day, and she was taking responsibility for making it better. Actually, perhaps you could check if any of the other local hotels have a free room. Since youve lost my reservation.

We havent the blonde started, but Luce cut her off with a look. She sighed. Ill just check.

While the blonde motioned to her colleague to come and assist with the check-in queue, Luce slid a finger across the touch screen of her phone to check her messages. Three texts and a voicemail. All in the last twenty minutes, while shed been arguing with the receptionist. A light day, really.

She scrolled to the first text while the disgruntled businessman behind her checked in at the next computer. It was from Tom, of course.

Has Mum spoken to you about Christmas Eve? Can you do it?

Christmas Eve? Luce frowned. That meant the voicemail was probably from her mother, changing their festive plans for the sixth time that month.

The next text was from her sister Dolly.

Looking forward to Xmas Eveespecially chocolate pots!

That didnt bode well. Christmas Day was planned and sorted and all due for delivery from the local supermarket on the twenty-thirdapart from the turkey, which was safely stored in her freezer. Christmas Eve, howeverthat was a whole different proposition.

The final text was Tom again.

Mum says we have a go! Fantastic. See you then.

Luce sighed. Whatever Mums new plan was, apparently it was a done deal. Youre the responsible one, Lucinda, her grandfather had always said. The rest of them couldnt take care of themselves for a minute out there in the real world. You and I know that. Which is why youre going to have to do it for them.

Apparently they needed looking after again. With a Christmas Eve dinner. And chocolate puddings. Presumably in addition to the three-course dinner shed be expected to produce the following day. Perfect.

Luce clicked the phone off as the blonde came back. The voicemail from her mother, hopefully explaining everything, could wait until Luce had a bed for the night.

Im sorry, the blonde said, without a hint of apology in her voice. Theres some history conference in town, and with all the Christmas shoppers as well Im afraid the local accommodation has been booked up for months.

Of course it has, Luce wanted to say. Im here for the damn conference. I booked my room months ago. Ive just spent all morning discussing how to bring history into the future. I deserve a room.

But instead she clenched her jaw while she thought her way out of the problem.

Right, then, she said after a moment. Im going to go and sit over there and try calling some places myself. She motioned to the bar at the side of the lobby, where discreet twinkling fairy lights beckoned. This day would definitely be better with a gin and tonic. In the meantime, if you have any cancellations, Id appreciate it if youd book the room under my name.

Of course. The blonde nodded, but her tone said, Youll be lucky.

Sighing, Luce turned away from the desk, only to find her path to a G&T barred by a broad chest in an expensive shirt. A nice chest. A wide, warm chest. The sort of chest you could bury your face in and forget about your day and let the owner of the chest solve your problems instead.

Not that she needed a man to fix her problems, of course. She was perfectly capable of doing that herself, thank you.

But it would be nice if one offered, just once.

Raising her gaze, she saw that the chest was topped by an almost unbelievably good-looking face. Dark hair brushed back from tanned skin. Golden-brown eyes that glowed above an amused mouth. A small scar marring his left eyebrow.

Hang on. That scar was familiar. She knew this man. And she should probably stop staring.

Is there a problem with your reservation, madam? he asked, and Luce blinked.

Um, only that it doesnt seem to exist. She glanced back at the reception desk to discover that the blonde, rather than assisting the next guest in the queue, was practically hanging over the counter to get in on their conversation.

Daisy? The man raised his scarred eyebrow at the blonde.

Luce definitely recognised that expression. But from where? A conference? A lecture? Somebodys ex? Hell, maybe even from TV? One of those reality shows about real life in a hotel? Except Luce didnt usually have time to watch such programmes. But the subconscious was a funny thing. Maybe his image had been imprinted on her brain, somehow, in eerie preparation for this moment.

Theres no reservation in her name, sir, and the hotels fully booked tonight. I tried the usual places, of course, but everyones booked out.

For the first time Daisy sounded helpful and efficient. Obviously this guy was someone who mattered. Or Daisy had a huge crush on him. Or, most likely, both. After all, Luce could tell from the way he stoodfeet apart, just enough to anchor him firmly to the earththat this was a man used to the world bending around him rather than the other way round. And really, even with the scarespecially with the scar, actuallywhat young, healthy, straight woman wouldnt feel a certain ping of attraction to him?

Except Luce, of course. She had too many bigger things to worry about to waste time on attraction. Like where she was going to sleep that night. And who the hell he was.

Luce frowned. So annoying. Normally she was good at this stuff. Of course the man hadnt given any indication that he recognised her, so maybe she was wrong. Or just less memorable than he was.

Suddenly Luce was rather glad she couldnt put her finger on his identity. How much more embarrassing would it be to have to explain to him how he knew her while he stared at her blankly? Much better to get this whole interaction over with quickly. Shed probably figure out where she knew him from when she was on the train back to Cardiff on Thursday morning, by which time it wouldnt matter anyway.

What about the King James Suite? he asked.

Luce was amused to see Daisy actually blush.

Well, I didnt think... I mean... she stammered.

Luce, seeing her chance, jumped in. You thought I couldnt afford it? she guessed. Firstly, you really shouldnt make such assumptions about your guests. Secondly, since you lost my reservation Id expect that a free upgrade would be the least you could do. So Im very interested to hear your response to the gentlemans question.

Arms folded across her chest, just like her grandfather used to do when he was disappointed in her, Luce stared Daisy down and waited for an answer. This was it, she was sure. The moment her luck turned for the day and she got to spend the night in the best luxury the Royal Court Hotel had to offer. Never mind the gin and tonicshe was having champagne in the bathtub at this rate.

Daisy, redder and more flustered than ever, turned wide blue eyes on her boss. But, Mr Hampton, sir...I didnt offer her the King James Suite because youre staying there.

Mr Hampton. Ben Hampton. The memory fell into place just as Daisys words registered.

Luce winced. Apparently her day wasnt improving after all.

* * *

Ben Hampton couldnt keep from smirking when he saw his potential suite-mate roll her eyes to heaven and turn folded arms and an accusing stare on him. This was going to be fun.

Five minutes earlier hed been about to head out for the evening when hed seen the brunette holding up the reservations queue in the lobby. His first instinct had been to intervene, to get things moving again. Being one half of the sons in the Hampton & Sons hotel chain meant that he fixed things wherever he saw them. He kept the guests happy, the staff working hard and the hotel ticking over, wherever he happened to be staying at the time. That was his job: keep things moving. Including himself. But of course staff evaluation was also important, his brother Seb would have said, and this had looked like the perfect opportunity to observe how the Royal Courts reception staff dealt with a difficult guest.

So hed stayed back, trying not to look as if he was loitering behind the ostentatious golden Christmas tree in the lobby, and watched. Hed heard the woman give her name as Lucinda Myles and a jolt of recognition had stabbed through him. Lucinda Myles. Luce. Theyd teased her about that, hadnt they? Such an absurd nickname for someone so uptight. Ben knew from six months of dating her university roommate that Luce Myles had been the twenty-year-old most likely to be doing extra course reading on a Friday night, while the rest of them were in the pub. And hed been able to tell from three metres away that she was still the most tightly wound person hed ever met.

Luce had vibrated with irritation and impatience, just as she had whenever he and the girlfriend had emerged from their bed at noon on a weekday. Ben frowned. What had her name been, anyway? The girlfriend? Molly? Mandy? Hell, it had been eight years agoeven if six months was something of a relationship record for him. Was he supposed to remember the name of every girl hed ever dated? But Luce Myles...that wholly inaccurate name had stuck with him down the years.

Casually, hed turned his head to get a better look at her. Dark hair, clipped at the back of her head, had revealed the creamy curve of her neck down to her collarbone, shoulders, tense under her sweater. The heel of her boot had been tapping against the marble as she waited for Daisy to finish calling around for a room Ben knew wouldnt exist. Shed been knotted so tight she might have snapped at any moment, and hed wondered whypassing acquaintance asidehe was even vaguely interested in her. Yes, he liked a woman who knew what she wanted, but usually she wanted a good timeand him. Lucinda Myles didnt look as if shed gained any conception of what a good time was in the last decade, let alone a desire to have one.

In fact, hed realised with a jolt, he knew exactly what she looked like. That permanent frown etched in her forehead, the frustration around her eyesthey were familiar. Hed seen them on his mothers face often enough.

But that hadnt explained his sudden interest. Hed studied her closer and eventually decided it was her clothes. Despite the stay away vibes her demeanour gave out, her clothes were just begging to be touched. Straight velvet skirt in the darkest plum, a navy sweater that looked so soft it had to be cashmere. Even her sensible brown boots were suede. She certainly hadnt dressed like that at university. Ben appreciated fine fabrics, and the sight had made his fingers itch to touch them.

Hed wondered what she had on underneath.

A woman couldnt wear clothes that strokeable if she didnt have something of a sensual nature under them. Even if she didnt know it was there yet. Maybe Lucinda Myles had an inner sensuality just begging to be let out after all these years. Ben had thought he might like to help her with that. For old times sake.

Daisy had returned to report on the utter lack of available hotel rooms in the local area, and Luce had moved awaywhich simply didnt fit in with Bens plans. So hed stepped forward and suggested the King James Suite, which had had the added bonus of enabling him to watch Luces face when she realised who shed be sharing with.

Except her reaction wasnt quite what hed been expecting.

Thered been no sign that she recognised him, for a start, which was a bit of a blow to the ego. He liked to think he was a fairly memorable guy. But then, hed grown up in eight years. Changed just as she had. Would he have recognised her without hearing her name? Probably not. So he could forgive her that. No, the cutting part was that instead of flushing red or widening her eyes, like Daisy did, or even giving him a glimpse through her armour of tension and irritation like any other woman would have, Lucinda Myles had winced.

Winced. At the prospect of spending the night with him.

Daisys eyes grew wider than ever and Ben decided it might be better for his reputationand egoif they moved this conversation elsewhere.

Before you get entirely the wrong idea about my intentions, he said, angling an arm behind Luce to guide her towards the bar, I should point out that Im the owner of this hotel rather than an opportunistic guest. Ben Hampton, by the way. A slow blink from Luce. Recognition? Ben pressed on anyway. And you should also know that the King James Suite has two very finely appointed bedrooms.

Luce pursed her lips and eyed him speculatively before giving a sharp nod. Buy me a gin and tonic and you can explain exactly what you did mean by propositioning me in that manner while I try and find somewhere else to stay tonight.

It wasnt entirely what hed intended, but it would do. It would give her time to remember him, or for him to introduce himself all over again. And getting her even more tightly wound than usual would only make it more glorious when she fell apart under his touch.





: 1 2 3 4