Princess in the Iron Mask - By Victoria Parker Page 0,1
prepped through the night. Even her walk today came with a rattle, courtesy of a bottle and a half of stress-relieving tablets. But through it all she’d managed to convince herself that twenty minutes of spine-snapping social networking would be worth it.
Hot and wet, a single teardrop slipped down her cheek, and each framed article covering the walls—announcing her as a top biochemist in her field—blurred into insignificance. Because she was mere weeks away from a cure for JDMS—a childhood condition close to her heart—and her budget had careened into the red. Now fifteen months of development and testing would scream to a juddering halt. And the fault was hers alone.
Before the habitual thrash of self-loathing crippled her legs, she commanded her body to move and stumbled through the sterile white room, throwing the contents of her arms atop the stainless steel workbench. Shrugging out of her coat, she let the sodden material fall to the floor in a soft splat and collapsed onto one high-backed stool. Ripping the glasses from her face, she hurled them across the table and buried her head in ice-cold hands.
‘Could this day get any worse?’
‘Excuse me, miss...?’
Claudia bolted upright, swivelled, and nigh on toppled off her perch.
‘Who are you?’ Slamming a hand over her riotously thudding heart, she slid off the plastic seat and righted her footing before the mere sight of the man, almost filling the doorway, all but knocked her flat on her back. Hand uneasy, she brushed at her lab coat until the damp cotton fell past her knees in a comforting cloak. ‘And how on earth did you get in here?’
She was surprised the floors hadn’t shaken as he’d walked in. In fact it was quite possible they had. Because Claudia felt as if she were in the centre of a snowglobe, being shaken up and down by an almighty fist.
Of course it was just shock at the unexpected interruption, blending with the disastrous events of the morning. It had absolutely nothing to do with the drop-dead gorgeous specimen in front of her. Claudia had never been stirred by a man, let alone shaken.
Strikingly handsome, smothered in bronzed skin and topped with wavy dark hair, he stood well over six feet tall. Dressed to kill in a dark grey tailored suit and a white shirt with a large spread collar, he exuded indomitable strength and authority. But it was the silk crimson tie—such a stark contrast—wrapped around his throat and tied in a huge Windsor knot that screamed blatant self-assurance. Her stomach curled. Whether with fear or envy she couldn’t be sure.
‘Apologies for the intrusion. You left the door open when you came in just now,’ he said, in a firm yet slightly accented drawl that shimmied down her spine, dusting over her sensitised flesh like the fluff of a dandelion blowing in the breeze.
Gooseflesh peppered her skin and she glanced down at her soggy lab coat, convinced her strange reaction was nothing more than the effect of rotten British weather.
With a deep, fortifying breath, she raised her gaze to meet his. Perfectly able to look a giraffe in the eye, she felt a frisson of heat burst through her veins at the mere act of looking up to a man. Yet the chilling disdain on his face told her she was wasting vital body heat and energy reserves.
Who on earth did he think he was? Coming into her lab and looking at her as if she’d ruined his day?
‘You shouldn’t be in here,’ she said, her tone high, her equilibrium shot.
Claudia had not only ruined the day for thousands of children, she’d gambled with their entire future, their health and happiness. Unless she could think of a way to reschedule the meeting. Oh, God, why had they left so soon? Twenty minutes wasn’t so long, and—
Her brain darted in three different directions. ‘Wait a minute. Are you here for the budget meeting?’
Maybe he was one of the money men. Claudia could appeal to his better nature. If he had one. Because the customised perfection of his appearance couldn’t entirely disguise a nature that surely bordered on the very edges of civilised.
His jaw ticked as he shook his head, the action popping her ballooning optimism.
‘My name is Lucas Garcia,’ he said, striding forward a pace and announcing his name as a gladiator entering the ring would: fiercely and exuding pride. With the face of a god—intense deep-set eyes the colour of midnight, high slashing cheekbones and an angular jaw—he seemed