If there was one thing I was sure of, it was this: that damned gardener wasn’t going to get away with having the last word. The next morning, despite my attempts not to expend any more time or thought on him, he was still there wearing at my mind.
I found him trimming bushes, his deadly-looking shears slicing the twigs and leaves, making them fly everywhere. His gorgeous mouth twisted into a scowl when he noticed me. Damn him. He even looked good scowling. I wanted to slap him. Or to kiss him so hard it hurt.
I stopped in front of him with my fists on my hips, my chin thrust into the air. “Hey,” I said with as much authority as I could.
But he didn’t stop snapping away. A few seconds of being ignored and already I felt like a twit. Pride forced me to step right up to him, risking the loss of my fingers. “I said hey,” I yelled in his ear.
He snapped his shears shut and threw them down blade first where they embedded in the grass. Almost a full head taller, he towered over me as he glared down at me. “What do you want, hime?”
For a second I was so taken aback I couldn’t speak. Hime is the Japanese word for princess. My chichi − my father − called me hime.
My surprise turned back into anger when I realized he was using the term as an insult. “I demand you show me around my gardens.”
He laughed. “I’m not your personal tour guide. Ask your husband to do it.” He turned to walk away.
Of all the rude, arrogant, insolent, rude−
I was so furious I just reacted. I grabbed his arm, whirling him around to face me. Our eyes locked. He froze, his mouth slightly parted, air sucking back into him.
His eyes were the richest, deepest brown I had ever seen, like melted chocolate with flecks of a lighter pecan brown. His lashes were so naturally thick and black that they seemed almost rimmed with kohl. They drew me in and held me like a lover’s grip. I forgot what I was about to yell at him. I forgot why I was even mad. I almost forgot how to keep myself breathing.
He glanced down and I followed his gaze. He was staring at my hand still on his arm, my fingers barely reaching halfway around his forearm. I felt the strength in his marble-sculpted muscle, the smoothness of his skin under my palm, the heat radiating from the blood that flowed through his veins.
Oh God. I was touching him.
I snatched my hand away. His eyes darted back up to my face.
“Yes?” he said, the word filled with impatience.
“You work for my husband,” I said.
“That’s right. I work for your husband. I don’t work for you.”
“If he were here−”
“He’s not here.”
“If he were here,” I said louder, “he would tell you to take me around the gardens. So do it. Now.”
He glared back at me, defiance flaring in his eyes, his cheek twitching as he tensed his jaw. The air between us filled with a thick, hot electricity. I got the distinctive feeling I had met my stubbornness match.
“And if I don’t?” he said.
He was challenging me. How far would I go to get what I wanted?
“You wouldn’t like that answer,” my voice slid out with menace.
His eyes flashed with…disappointment and the corners of his mouth flicked down for a split second. I had just proven him right; I was just a spoiled princess brat.
I felt ill. I didn’t want him to think that of me. But my pride refused to let me take it back. What did I care what a gardener thought of me?
“Fine,” he said. “The faster I take you around, the quicker I can get back to my real work. Have it your way, hime.”
Hime. My father’s affectionate nickname for me had become a curse in his mouth. It insulted my father’s love for me and my love for him.
“Don’t call me hime,” I said with a hiss.
“Whatever,” he said like he didn’t care.
“And I demand to know your name.”
Was he going to fight me with everything? “Would you prefer I call you boy?”
“I’m not a boy.”
“Then give me your name, boy.”
I had never heard that name before. Keir. I tested his name out in my head. It sounded like the call of a wild bird rising up through the wind.
“I’m Noriko,” I said, only realizing afterwards I already told him my name yesterday.
“I don’t care,” he muttered.
I hated him. I really, really hated him.
Released 19th September
Pre-order now at the special price of 99c!
(will revert to US$3.99 after release)