Cassandra swore that every eye in the hotel lobby was on her. She was, after all, one of the timber Faulks and that meant her photograph was often in the society pages. And this glorious hotel was the place to lunch.
But she had carefully chosen a route to the elevators that did not take her past the Timber Room. She knew her father would not be there today, though he was, more often than not, to be found lunching with one or another of his cronies at the Faulks table.
Not all of the big timber families had their own tables. Her father prided himself on being one of the few and cursed the fact that his arch-rivals—the Elliots of the Elliot Timber Company—were one of those.
The maitre d’ of the Timber Room, who had been with the restaurant ever since Cassandra could remember, had wisely supervised the recent renovations to ensure that there were two best tables and that those tables were separated by the width of the big room. Philip Elliot had one and Sam Faulks had the other and, she grinned to herself, never the twain shall meet.
Except, here she was, two o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon in the depths of the November gloom, a small bag in hand, hurrying up to Room 1217 to meet the son of her father’s most hated rival.
Cassandra had met William Elliot many times over the years. Despite her father’s edict, it was impossible to avoid him. They attended the same parties, the same weddings, the same events of all kinds.
And she, unlike her father, was unwilling to publicly snub someone who had done her no harm, so they got to know each other. Slowly, almost by accident. She had watched him with other girls, then other women. She knew he had done the same with her. Neither of them had ever been in a serious relationship; she wasn’t sure what she would have felt, what she would have done, if that had happened.
It was as if, without acknowledgement, they were waiting for each other, for the right moment. Now, she was no longer sure there would be one; certainly not in the eyes of her father.
His feud was of such long-standing that no one—including him, she thought—knew what had started it. But he was bull-headed stubborn, and he would never forget that Philip Elliot had bested him sometime in the far distant past.
The funny thing was that the two of them were the men who dominated the industry, who had, between them, all the power and money that flowed from the timber of the west coast forests. Together they would rule their world.
Yet they were enemies, implacable enemies.
And here she was, sneaking up to the twelfth floor of the Hotel Vancouver to meet William Elliot. They should have chosen a different place to meet. She should have said no when he pleaded with her to come to the hotel and spend an afternoon with him.
The meeting that led to this moment had been, as usual, brief and purely social, thought something had flared between them during the few words they had spoken to each other.
“Miss Faulks,” William had said, his voice low and intimate. “I saw you last week at the Smith wedding. I had wished to speak to you but…” His shrug was eloquent.
Both of their fathers had been at that reception, their mothers as well. The room had been divided right down the center, allies of the Faulks on one side, allies of the Elliots on the other.
“I had wished to speak to you as well,” Cassandra replied, color rising in her cheeks as he continued to hold her hand. She had to force herself to pull it from his grasp and to turn, ever so reluctantly, away from him.
That was the first night she had caught herself watching him across the room, watching him as he watched her. Each time they passed in the crowd, he had touched her, discreetly, carefully, their hands sliding together, their shoulders bumping.
They had met again the following week, a more intimate gathering at the house of a mutual friend—a young married woman who had gone to school with Cassandra but was not a member of any of the timber clans. She was certain William had engineered an invitation—this was not his normal crowd—though she saw no hint of it on the face of the hostess or the other guests. They had been seated next to each other at the dinner as if it were perfectly natural for an Elliot and a Faulks to enjoy each other’s company.
William had once again been discreet, at least above the cloth. But beneath the white damask, he had touched her. And she had touched him in return.
His hand had rested on her knee, and she had felt the heat of it all over her body. She had dared to place her hand on his thigh, marveling at the strength and warmth of the skin and bone and muscle beneath the fine wool trousers.
After dinner, the hostess had suggested they take a walk in the gardens to enjoy the twilight and the last of the fall foliage. William had maneuvered them across the lawn and into the gazebo in the corner while the rest of the guests had scattered elsewhere.
“Cassandra,” he said, and she trembled as he spoke her name.
He took her hand and raised it to his lips and she knew, in that moment, that her world had changed, that she had changed. It frightened her. It excited her.
“William.” She had never used his given name except in the privacy of her bedroom, when she dreamed of him in the night. His response was everything she had imagined in those dreams and more.
“Cassandra,” he said again, turning her hand until his mouth rested on her palm. “Cassandra.”
His tongue flicked out to touch the delicate skin, and her body responded. She was still technically a virgin, but she was not uneducated about the ways between a man and a woman. Cassandra had many married friends who had spoken freely to her of their sexual experiences.
She had attended an all-girls boarding school and had read Fanny Hill and Justine and many other books her parents would be appalled to know of. She had, on a trip to New York a few years earlier, bought her very own copy of the Kama Sutra and certain items her friends and the books had recommended to her attention.
So Cassandra knew exactly what William intended with that touch, and she knew exactly what it meant when her nipples tightened and her vagina dampened and clenched. And she was fairly certain that she would feel no pain when…