Book 2 in the Filthy Rich Billionaires Series
“You need to be absolutely certain you want to open this door, Jenny. Because once it’s open, I don’t think you can close it again…”
Random spontaneity is not Lady Jenny Markham’s style. Her blue-blooded self-possession permits her to think with her head—never her heart. It’s precisely why she’s engaged to the perfect man she doesn’t love. And yet Jenny just flew ten thousand miles to Sydney, Australia. On a whim. To see the green eyes and wholly Irish, devilish grin of her best friend, up-for-it Dylan Kilburn…. and forget the words ringing in her head. You’ve never been shagged properly.
Of course, that’s exactly why Jenny’s here. It’s why easy, laid-back Dylan suddenly looks so much harder, wilder, and more fierce. Why Jenny’s body is engulfed by hot, aching need. Because she wants Dylan to show her what she’s missing… before she locks herself into a loveless marriage.
Jenny promised that nothing would change between them. Dylan promised that he wouldn’t fall in love with her. But the moment his mouth takes hers, all hunger and raw, molten lust, Jenny knows that there’s no going back. Not from this. And now she’s well and truly screwed. Because just as Jenny finally starts thinking with her heart, she’s realizes she’s about to lose it… to her best friend.
It wasn’t until she’d landed in Sydney after the long-haul flight from London, pale from all the recycled air and a bit drunk from the mess of time zones, that it occurred to Lady Jenny Markham to worry about her welcome.
“Don’t be silly,” she told herself, astonished by the raspy sound of her own voice in the too-bright corridor, lost somewhere deep in the Sydney Airport. “It’s Dylan.”
And the one thing she knew to be true, no matter what else happened or how life kicked her around, was that Dylan Kilburn was always happy to see her. Always. That was why she always kept her visa to enter Australia current. On the off chance she might pop off down under and visit the man who’d been her best friend since their university days.
In all the years since Dylan had moved to Australia, she’d never done it. But here she was at last. Wilted straight through, but here.
Jenny had packed light, mostly because she’d been in denial about what she was doing. She’d thrown a few things in a shoulder bag in her flat in Central London, that was all, because she wasn’t taking a trip. She’d set off on a happy little lark and could as easily have simply wandered about London for a while, playing tourist. Maybe she’d pretended that was exactly what she was doing.
Though she didn’t usually head off to enjoy the sights and sounds of the city with her passport in hand.
She was being spontaneous, and that felt weird only because Jenny was rarely spontaneous. Make that never. But she was an engaged woman now and her life was changing, and there was no time like the present to do things she’d never done before—because she never would again.
She certainly wasn’t running from anything, she assured herself as she made it through customs and immigration and officially entered Australia for the first time.
Everyone deserved a little time to themselves before getting married. An engagement ought to come with bit of reflection and preparation, surely, before standing up before all and sundry and making vows to become legally bound forever. Some people went off to extreme yoga retreats or some such at times like these, where they could twist themselves into alarming shapes and slug down green concoctions that tasted of mud and self-righteousness. Jenny accidentally found herself at Heathrow.
But thinking about her own impending marriage was depressing, so she busied herself with finding and hiring a cab when she wasn’t sure she had access to her own brain. It was possible she’d left it somewhere over the northern hemisphere.
Once she located a taxi and climbed in, she directed the driver to take her to Dylan’s address. Assuming he still lived in the house he’d bought on the coast, south of Sydney proper.
Jenny doubted he would have moved without telling her. They texted all the time. When Dylan had bought this place, right after what he’d called his wee start up went public, he’d sent her pictures.
Just bought nauseatingly posh bachelor pad, complete with ocean views, he’d written. Guest room always available, should milady find herself in NSW.
Who wants to visit a bachelor pad? she’d texted back. That sounds medically questionable. Also, it’s lovely.
She remembered white, stark, modern lines and a gorgeous view of the sea, everything sunny and sweet and bursting with vivid color. As everything Australian always was when she thought of it. That or the red hot desolation of the outback.
Sydney had always been on Jenny’s list of places to see, but she’d spent most of her time, before and after university, filling the role of her father’s hostess and companion. Her mother had died when Jenny was twelve, and she’d considered it an honor that she got to accompany her father to his business events. There was a part of her that would always be that grief-stricken twelve-year-old in a pretty dress and her mother’s pearls, pretending to be grown up while her father’s usually dour friends and associates acted as if it was a great privilege to meet her.
Lord Markham was not a man given to having feelings, much less expressing them. Jenny rather thought what few emotions he’d had must have died with her mother. But she always remembered those first few years. And how he’d included her when it would have been so much easier to leave her at home. She always remembered that he’d cared for her as best he could, in a way that had made them both breathe a bit better, for a time.
Maybe it wasn’t surprising she felt duty bound to do the same for him, now it was her turn.
She had gone on all the dates he’d set up for her. She had smiled and had awkward conversation—or, more often, listened in appropriately reverent silence as her date banged on about himself. It was better than subjecting herself to a dating app. At least the men her father set her up with were vetted, in some form or another. They weren’t pretending to be someone else—they really were that boring.
But Jenny didn’t mind. Her passion wasn’t for men, it was for her work. Once she’d left uni she’d gotten a job in a worthy charity—meaning, one that supported something that wouldn’t embarrass her father at a business dinner. Jenny’s provided aid and care to children in war zones. And that meant that most of Jenny’s trips were to places that did not glitter or attract highflyers like Dylan.
She’d always told herself—and him—that it was her work that kept her from coming down under. No matter how many times Dylan told her she was more than welcome to come and make an adventure out of it.
You’re making an adventure of it now, she told herself a bit wryly as she settled into her seat, the cab lurching a bit as it headed away from the airport.
For the first time in years, she hadn’t given the charity a thought. She’d simply…gotten on the plane.
It had to be an adventure because she couldn’t take it back.
She blew out a breath and looked out the window. It was coming up on half six in the morning in Sydney, and the sun was only just making its appearance. Jenny was sure that once it rose, her head would feel less fuzzy. That the strange weighted feeling tugging on all her limbs, and the odd sensation that she was scraped raw, was a gift of her long plane ride. No one could possibly spend nearly twenty-four hours on two planes and not feel like an alien. Even her feet felt as if they belonged to someone else.
You felt equally worn out in London, a voice inside her piped up. It wasn’t the flight.
The voice sounded suspiciously like Erika Vanderburg, her other best friend.
Erika had looked at Jenny almost pityingly the last time they’d seen each other. Jenny had been perhaps too enthusiastic about Erika’s plan to return to Oxford to finish her degree course, all these years after she’d left her degree course.
Geography isn’t going to cure anything but your location, Erika had said gently.
Because the new version of Erika was not the messy creature Jenny was used to, always drunk and inappropriate, scandalous and fun. The new version of Erika was settled in her relationship with the intimidating Dorian Alexander, best friend to Erika’s older brother, Conrad. Easygoing in a way Jenny would not have believed possible if she hadn’t seen it with her own eyes. Even having seen it, she wasn’t sure she believed it. How could she? The new Erika was so self-possessed it made Jenny’s lifelong pretense of self-possession look like exactly what it was. A sham.
But as the cab navigated the early morning streets, she stared down at the enormous ring on her hand that she kept meaning to get fixed so it wouldn’t slide about so much, blinding unwary passersby, and wondered if it was as simple as the fact Erika was in love.
Love was something not even Jenny could fake.
Luckily, her engagement—to Conrad Vanderburg, Erika’s chilly older brother, whose success in business made Lord Markham as close to giddy as a man not given to such displays could get—was practical, not passionate. No faking required.
“Dylan will sort it all out,” she told herself, muttering staunchly beneath her breath so as not to alarm the driver. “He always does.”
Erika had always been Jenny’s most vivid friend, the mad one who could go out for chips and end up dancing on tabletops in a different city at dawn. She was ardently loyal, she was passionate about everything and Jenny had wanted to be her, some years. But Dylan had always been her stalwart. He listened. He gave good advice. He’d been keeping Jenny grounded as long as she’d known him.
If he couldn’t help her, no one could.
Not that she needed help, she corrected herself as the cab continued east. She was fine. Her life was carrying on according to plan. Some people—Erika, for example—might think that was a bad thing, but Jenny knew better. This was life.
Dylan would take the rawness inside of her, name it and laugh at it, and in so doing, make it feel better. And make her feel better.
She looked around as they drove, trying to take in architecture that looked both brand-new and comfortingly familiar at once. It was like looking at proper British streets, but with a certain overlay that was distinctly Australian. She couldn’t have said what that was. The extra filigreed bits on the gratings and railings, perhaps? Or all the years she’d spent sneaking episodes of Neighbours, more like. Everything was Ramsay Street, if she squinted.
Eventually, the car went around a bend and she realized that wasn’t only sky in the distance, it was the sea. And Jenny had to remind herself, with a kick of wonder, that it was the Pacific, deep and blue. Not the gray North Atlantic she knew better.
And for the first time since she’d jumped on a plane in Heathrow, on a whim, the fact that she’d taken herself off across the planet hit her.
Hard enough that she found herself quite glad she was sitting down.
She worried that huge ring on her hands instead of thinking about all the likely reactions back home, turning it around and around and telling herself that she was exhausted. Obviously. And that was why the weight of the ring, which had never been light to begin with, seemed more like a brick.
The cab wound around through narrower streets, with houses built up high on hillsides that sloped toward the sea. All of them made mostly of windows, to make the best of the view from every angle. And what a view it was, with neighborhoods clinging to rugged cliffs, and sandy beaches stretching in between. It was nothing at all like an English seaside.
The driver pulled up before a sleek, white building. The street was at garage level, and the only thing to see was the wooden door to the garage and beside it, a closed entryway. Jenny paid the driver, climbed out with her small case and stood there as the cab drove off.
There were butterflies leaping around inside her, and she told herself she didn’t know why.
It was only Dylan. One of her two best friends from her Oxford days. They’d been first years on the same stair, along with Erika, and Jenny had been close with both of them ever after. She and Erika saw more of each other, it was true, but only because Dylan had relocated here, built himself a fortune and liked to call himself an accidental billionaire.
Before anyone else can, he’d told her when she’d asked him why. And then had texted something incomprehensible about Californian tech giants.
Jenny had spent several hours on the plane thinking about when she’d seen Dylan last. In person. She was sure it had been in Cape Town, a year or so back. She’d been at a charity ball and he’d been in town for business meetings. They’d met up at a lovely restaurant with panoramic views of Signal Hill, had a typically uproarious dinner, had laughed until Jenny had tears streaming down her face and had parted on their usual merry, friendly terms. Because that was Dylan. Always easy and fun, and the most undemanding person in her life.
Which meant there was absolutely no reason for her to be standing there as the rising sun streaked the sky in the colors of candy floss, wracked with…nerves.
But then, though she’d seen Dylan in all sorts of places over the years, she’d never actually come to his home. Not since his home had been a room in college, same as hers.
And even then, now that she thought about it, they had spent most of their time together out and about, studying, or taking in Oxford, eating or drinking, or going on long walks.
It was funny that she’d never really thought about how intimate it was, really, to turn up at a person’s house.
Ten thousand miles away, without warning.
She took a deep breath, then shivered, because it was cold. It was August, which meant she’d flown out of a surprisingly warmish England straight into an Australian winter. The air was crisp, chilly and almost sweet. Dylan’s house sat across from a green park that ambled its way out to the cliffs and then down to the beach, with nothing blocking the sea air. Or the views.
If Dylan wasn’t home, another very real possibility she hadn’t allowed herself to consider before boarding the plane, she could go down and stick her feet in the water. Then set about finding herself an appropriate hotel.
And the minute Jenny started thinking about hotels, it seemed obvious that she should have started there. She should have found herself a place to stay, had a nap and a bite to eat, maybe not in that order. And then when she got her bearings, maybe even tomorrow, she could try to figure out where Dylan might be.
Instead of appearing on his doorstep, in all her long-haul state.
She laughed, under her breath, staring out at all that gleaming, deep blue. What was she like? She’d told no one in England she was leaving, she had simply gone. She’d been sitting in her flat, supposedly looking through some or other book of wedding-related items, but she couldn’t concentrate on any of it. Invitations, flowers, the lot.
She’d found herself on her mobile instead, texting Erika in Berlin. They’d been discussing one of their favorite television shows, but something Erika had said to her before Jenny’s ornate engagement party had rung about inside her head, like a bell gone mad.
You’ve never been fucked properly.
Jenny had been mulling that over, torn between outrage and curiosity, ever since Erika had said it.
What she’d concluded was that she’d actually never fucked anyone at all. She’d had sex. More often, she been forced to contend with declarations and talk of lovemaking—a word she found deeply embarrassing. The boyfriends she’d had in the past had all been decent enough. But sex had always been a pleasant afterthought. Never the main parts of any relationship.
There had never been fucking.
And the more she thought about what fucking properly would entail, the more she thought about Dylan. Who’d had more sex—phenomenally addictive sex, if the girls who followed him around, desperate for more of his attention, were any guide—than Jenny had had in her entire life.
Dylan, who made women swoony. Dylan of the dark hair, green eyes and wholly Irish, devilish grin. It had never been hard to understand why women got silly around him, but Jenny had always felt a bit smug that she wasn’t a part of that mess. That her relationship with Dylan was purely platonic, always had been and always would be.
But as her wedding date drew closer, it dawned on her that she really was going to be expected not only to marry Conrad in all his icy, intimidating splendor, she would also be expected to sleep with him. It would be her job to produce heirs to the Vanderburg and Markham fortunes and whatever she might have begun to think—or worry—about her own deficiencies in the bedroom, since apparently none of it had been proper, she was absolutely certain of one thing. A man like Conrad, with the personality of an iron spike encased in a glacier, could not possibly introduce her to proper fucking.
Out there in the dawn of a new day in Sydney, Australia, a literal world away from almost everything and everyone she knew, Jenny found herself gripping that stone he’d put on her finger.
Conrad was the man her father wanted her to marry. And luckily, Conrad was not cruel. Erika liked to pretend that he was, but Jenny knew that her friend tended toward the overdramatic. In all the time that Jenny had known Conrad, he had never been vicious. He had always been the same as he was now. Measured. Controlled. And very, very focused—on other things.
All of these things would likely make him an excellent husband. And hadn’t Jenny read a thousand articles about how arranged marriages were far more stable than romantic ones? It was entirely possible that she’d fall head over heels in love with Conrad someday, since they had so much in common and he was her father’s first choice for her. It was just that she would have to see if that was possible after the wedding, not before.
Something inside her shook a bit, and she pressed a hand to her belly, wishing that she’d eaten something a little more substantial than airline food.
And wishing that her first holy spontaneous action in recent recall hadn’t been quite so over-the-top. Surely she could have gone out and hit up a yoga retreat, or gotten quietly pissed somewhere. Rather than leaping on a plane and flying all this way.
Suddenly, she felt foolish. Jetlagged, famished, exhausted, a bit dizzy from all of the above and deeply silly as well.
Had she really flown all the way to Australia so she could quiz her best friend on what constituted proper fucking?
Jenny let out a laugh, and the sound of it was loud on the quiet street. The hotel idea was looking better and better. She tried to stand up straighter, wishing she hadn’t sent her cab off. She raked a hand through her hair, deciding to be kind to herself and not imagine how limp and wrung out she must look. Instead, she tied it up in a knot on top of her head.
She had come all the way to Australia to learn about proper fucking—and to let Dylan bolster her spirits the way only he seemed to be able to do, sometimes. But she was still Lady Jenny, raised to be proper in all ways—except the one.
That struck her as funny too, and she was thinking about how she would have liked so much to horrify her strict governess, back when she’d been a girl, with questions about fucking as opposed to the manners, comportment and ballroom dancing her father had deemed so important. If she could have built a time machine on the spot, she would have.
And if there was time travel going around, she could also go back and turn Conrad down. Then she wouldn’t have to worry about the long, slow dive into an ice bath that she assumed her marriage would be.
But that was disloyal. Not to Conrad so much, as she doubted very much he thought about her much, but to her father.
She heard a sound, then. Low, male laughter. A higher-pitched, feminine voice. Then the door of the entryway next to the garage opened.
The door swung inward, and Jenny was standing right there. On the curb only a few feet away. For a moment, she couldn’t make sense of what she was seeing. She was too tired, maybe. It was as if she was looking through a kaleidoscope, all bright colors and strange shapes…but then she blinked and it all came into focus.
Searing, distinct focus.
She would know Dylan anywhere, even through a cracked open door, with his dark head bent over the woman he had up against the narrow wall of his entryway. She was clinging to him, wearing extraordinarily high heels, and what Jenny thought was a tiny miniskirt, though it was hard to tell. The woman’s leg was lifted in the air, and wrapped around Dylan’s waist.
And they were kissing.
Though kissing seemed a rather tame word to describe what Jenny was witnessing.
It was too…carnal. The heat was so insane Jenny forgot it was winter. The woman was making little noises, moans even, and her hands snaked up to dig into Dylan’s hair. Or maybe the point was to arch her body into his.
For his part, Dylan was wearing nothing but a pair of low-slung jeans. Everything else was bare skin, acres and acres of golden, perfectly packaged male beauty. It wasn’t that Jenny hadn’t noticed that Dylan was shockingly attractive, because of course she had. She wasn’t blind. It was just that he was Dylan. And normally, when she saw women leaving him, she saw the women looking starry-eyed.
She’d never seen an actual action scene before.
The kiss went on and on. Dylan’s hand, which Jenny had never noticed was so big or quite so strong looking, was on the woman’s ass, holding her in the perfect place for him to—
But surely that was breaking the bonds of friendship. Surely she shouldn’t imagine what he was doing with that part of his body. Particularly not what was making them both make those sounds.
And Jenny felt as if she’d been cast in stone and made into a statue of foolish astonishment, right there outside his house. Because she couldn’t move. She couldn’t pick up her bag and slink off in shame to hide off around the corner, at the very least, until this ended.
One way or another.
The embarrassment was so great that she felt her entire body heat up, and a melting sort of sensation sink through the center of her, seeming to pool down low.
She told herself it had to be shame. Because what else could make her cheeks so hot?
He murmured something into the woman’s ear that Jenny couldn’t hear. It made the woman sigh a little, then nod. The leg she had hooked over his hip slid to the ground, and Jenny watched as Dylan kept a hand on her body, steadying her.
“All right, then?” he asked.
“All right,” the woman said softly, then smiled in a way that made something curl around and around inside Jenny.
All that heat and the melting, too, until she wasn’t sure she could breathe.
Then they both turned, and of course, Jenny was still standing right there. Her cheeks so crisp and bright they hurt.
But that didn’t hold her attention. What did was the way Dylan was looking at her.
Because for a moment, she didn’t recognize him.
There was something in that green gaze of his that she had never seen before. Something fierce. Hot and dark and dangerous, when Dylan was the least dangerous man she’d ever met. His face changed, too. He seemed bigger, harder, wilder—
And as long as that kiss had gone on, this moment stretched out even longer.
Jenny had the strangest notion that she had lost something. That something had shifted, permanently. It was that seismic. It was that terrifying.
Nothing will ever be the same, a voice in her whispered.
But he blinked.
Then he smiled, and was Dylan again.
“Christ, Jenny,” he said, his voice filled with laughter and charm and above all, safety. The way it usually was. “What the bloody hell are you doing in Australia?”
End of excerpt
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is currently available in digital format only: