Fractured (Not Quite a Billionaire #2) - Rosalind James

Hope

So you know how, in the fairy tale, the poor but beautiful girl marries the handsome prince, and they live happily ever after?

Let me tell you how that really goes.

How much can a person really change, even with the best will in the world? How far can a heart really open after it’s been closed for so long? How many steps backward does a person have to take to move forward, and how much trust does it take to be the partner in that dance?

And I’m not just talking about Hemi.

I didn’t ask those questions that night, of course. It was June, the beginning of the New Zealand winter, and I was nine thousand miles and almost a year away from the hot August day in New York City when a controlling, arrogant, absolutely infuriating Maori fashion tycoon and force of nature named Hemi Te Mana first walked into my boss’s photography studio, caught me at a disadvantage, and set out to keep me that way.

By the time Hemi had walked out that day, he’d been well on his way to changing my life for good, and my teenage sister Karen’s along with it. And by the end of that tumultuous year, we’d gone from having nothing to being promised everything, and from having nobody to maybe having…somebody.

And Hemi was some somebody. The truth? By that winter night when my CEO proposed to me as we lay together in his teenaged bedroom in his grandfather’s house in the sleepy New Zealand settlement of Katikati, I’d started to believe that this really could be my life, and that fairy tales really could come true.

You know what they say, though. Be careful what you wish for.

That night, there were no doubts. We slept curled so close together in the undersized bed that I could barely tell where my body ended and his began, and all my dreams were sweet. And in the gray winter morning, when I half-woke to liquid birdsong in the trees outside the window and the feeling of Hemi’s strong hand running down my back and over my hip, it was the most natural thing in the world to sigh, murmur something vague, and turn onto my back so he could touch me better.

I lay, still inside the warmest, most languorous dream, not needing even to wake while Hemi pleased me with his hands, his hard mouth, and every bit of his warrior’s body. Until I was finally being rocked into full wakefulness, the pleasure swirling through my body while my hard, fierce Maori lover murmured words in my ear that I knew the meaning of now.

“Toku aroha,” he whispered. “Taku e aroha nei.”

My love, he was saying. My darling.

I rode that river of shivery, silken pleasure all the way to the sea as Hemi lay over me, filled me in the way that nobody else could possibly match, and let me know where I belonged. I kissed his chest, stroked the breadth of his muscular back, smoothed my hands over the bulge of shoulder and bicep, and could have sworn I felt his heart beating in time with mine. I drifted along with him until his harsh breaths sounded loud in my ears and the whimpers I couldn’t help were escaping with every hard thrust, every slow withdrawal. Until my hands were clutching his biceps and I was saying his name, urging him on, begging him for more, and he took my hands in his, threaded his fingers through mine, dragged my hands up by my head, and held me there.

When he did that, I couldn’t drift any more. Harder and faster, and then, when I was so close, starting to get frustrated, to labor too hard, Hemi was shifting, grabbing both my wrists in one hand and using his other hand to help me out. Giving me all his focus, all his attention, all his effort, until he was taking me with him, pulling me up higher and higher still until the waves took us over, the net pulled us in, and we were both shuddering, crying out. Caught, and tumbling hard.

I was his, but then, I’d been his from the beginning, hard as I’d tried to deny it. More incredibly—he was mine.

An hour later, when his grandfather and my sixteen-year-old sister Karen came through the back door from their night out, Hemi and I were finishing breakfast at the kitchen table and looking out the window past emerald fields all the way to the Pacific Ocean below,