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Chapter One

“Ms. Hogan, there’s a gentleman waiting to see you in the reception area.”

Frankie raised her eyebrows at Vincent, her head of security, as she stepped out of the elevator from her penthouse apartment in the Bellwether Club. “I don’t have an appointment this afternoon,” she said, surprised that her protective staff members would let an unknown, non-member into her ultra-exclusive club.

“Donal vouched for him.”

Frankie’s curiosity stirred. Her head bartender wouldn’t override her head of security without a damned compelling reason. She strode across the hallway and into the waiting room. It was empty, which meant the mystery man had entered her office without permission.

She stalked through the door to see the silhouette of a man standing with his back to her as he gazed through the French doors at the snow-covered garden.

“My office is private,” she snapped. “You may enter it only at my invitation.”

“That’s not the greeting I had hoped for.”

Shock crackled through her, making her stomach flutter with nerves. She knew that dark voice with the lilt of Ireland flowing in it. It rippled through her like a tide, sucking her back into places she didn’t want to go.

“Liam,” she whispered.

Sun-glare from the snow dazzled Frankie’s vision, so even though Liam turned, she couldn’t see his face. But she recognized the coiled energy of his athlete’s body, ready to explode in whatever direction the football—no, in her adopted country, it was a soccer ball—flew. But he was broader now, his muscles filled out and solid, rather than lean and ropey like a boy’s. The flutters in her stomach settled and warmed and moved lower, setting off sensations inside her that she’d forgotten she’d ever felt.

“Good to know you recognize an old friend,” he said.

“I couldn’t see you against the light from outside,” she said, forcing her voice to remain normal.

He glanced toward the window, and she saw the strong lines of his profile limned against the light. His blade of a nose with the bump partway down the bridge from the break he’d gotten when he’d come to her rescue in a dirty Dublin alley. The clean jut of his chin, signaling the determination that had hauled him out of the slums of their childhood and into international glory as Arsenal’s star center midfielder.

“I was admiring your view.” He started around the desk with that long-legged grace that sent a shudder of remembered desire through her.

His movement seemed to unlock her muscles so that she could take a step toward him, her hands held out in affectionate greeting, as though she didn’t want to hurl herself into his arms. “Sure, and it’s good to see you, Liam,” she said, letting the full Irish into her voice.

She had only a brief glimpse of his face before he took her hands and drew her against the warm, solid wall of his chest, wrapping his arms like iron bands around her back. “A stór,” he said, his voice husky.

My treasure. He’d called her that the day he’d left for the football…soccer academy in England. The day he’d kissed her with all the frustrated arousal in his 18-year-old body. Her 26-year-old body had answered with a leap of ecstasy, as his big, powerful hands roamed over her back and his hot, firm lips slanted against hers. She’d yearned to give in to the pleasures of his beautiful muscles and sinews, wanted to feel his skin slide naked against hers. But he was still a boy in years, if not experience. And they both had grand plans, without any room for love in them.

Yet she felt the same searing hunger now, the liquid desire spreading when he shifted against her. More than two decades evaporated as she pressed against the hard, curving muscles beneath the layers of suit and shirt. “Prince,” she breathed the nickname she’d given him for his pride. The neighborhood kids had picked it up because it suited him so well.

She felt a shiver run through him. “No one’s called me that in years,” he said.

She turned her cheek to rest against him for just a second more, inhaling the scent of clean cotton and warm male and hearing the deep, even rhythm of his heartbeat. Then she wedged her hands between them and pushed until he released her.

She stepped back and looked up, bracing herself for the slash of his high cheekbones, the deep auburn of his waving hair, the dark blue burn of his gaze. She forced her voice to remain level. “Are you in New York to meet your new team?”

Disappointment flickered in his eyes. “Aye. And to inspect the facility. There are some changes that need to be made. I’m looking at apartments as well since I’ll be settling here now.” He surveyed her. “You look grand, Frankie. Beautiful.”

She looked as she did every day, dressed in her usual uniform of a pantsuit custom-tailored for her short figure, her silver hair smoothed into a conservative pageboy style. Today’s suit was dark red in a nod to the holiday season. She smiled a careful smile to hide the flush of pleasure that surged through her. “You look more like a king than a prince now. As befits the new head coach of the New York Challenge.”

His smile deepened the lines etched around his mouth and at the corners of his eyes. “As befits an old man in the world of soccer. I’m learning to call it that instead of football.”

“You’re only forty-one. That seems young to me.”

The smile vanished. “So we’re back to that again.”

“Unless you’ve found a way to warp time,” Frankie said. She didn’t pretend to misunderstand. One of the reasons she’d pushed him away over and over again in their youth was that she was eight years his elder. Of course, she’d felt about a century older in experience, despite the fact that he lived in the same slum neighborhood she did. But he didn’t have a drunkard for a father nor did he have seven younger siblings to take care of. For all that Liam’s mother, Kathleen, complained that his father had bolted so she had to raise her son alone, Frankie thought Kathleen was lucky in her solitude.

Pushing the ugly memories away, she moved to the sleek, built-in bar. “Would you like a drink?”

“Would you be havin’ some good Irish whiskey?”

“Redbreast 21,” she said, setting out two cut-crystal tumblers and splashing the golden whiskey into them.

She handed him one glass. “Here’s to the future,” he said, holding her gaze as he touched his glass to hers with a musical clink.

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