He rolled the words out so glibly, Ivy couldn’t really feel complimented. The playboy was playing and some deep-down sense of self-worth resented his game. She should be feeling happily flattered that Jordan Powell was attracted to her, delighted that her dress-up effort had paid off. Yet, despite the charismatic sexiness of the man, she was inwardly bridling against the ease with which he thought he could claim her company. Everything was too easy for him and she didn’t like the idea of him finding her easy, too.
She halted in the midst of the gallery crowd, unhooked her arm and turned to face him, her eyes focussed on burning a hole through his to the facile mind behind them. ‘Are you chatting me up?’
He looked surprised at the direct confrontation. Then amused. ‘Yes and no,’ he replied with a grin. ‘I speak the absolute truth about your fabulous hair but I am…’
‘I’m more than red hair,’ she cut in, refusing to respond to the heart-kicking grin. ‘And since I’ve had it all my life, it’s quite meaningless to me.’
Which should have dampened his ardour but didn’t.
He laughed, and the lovely deep chuckle caressed all of Ivy’s female hormones into vibrant life. Her thighs tensed, her stomach fluttered, her breasts tingled, and while her eyes still warred with the seductive twinkle in his, she was acutely aware of wanting to experience this man, regardless of knowing how short-term it would be. Nevertheless, resentment at his superficiality still simmered.
‘Would you like me to rave on about your hair or how handsome you are?’ she asked with lofty contempt. ‘Is that the measure of you as a man?’
His mouth did its sensual little quirk. ‘I stand corrected on how to chat you up. May I begin again?’
‘Acquainting myself with the person you are.’
That was good. Really good. It hit the spot of prickling discontent. Nevertheless, Ivy couldn’t bring herself to surrender to his charm without a further stand.
‘Don’t be deceived by this trendy get-up. It’s for my mother. And Henry, who’s a snob of the first order, not welcoming the common herd into his gallery. I’m simply not your type.’
He raised a wickedly arched eyebrow. ‘Care to expound on what my type is?’
It was best for business not to reveal how she knew what she knew about him.
She cocked her head to the side consideringly and said, ‘From what I observed last time we met, I’d say you specialise in beautiful trophy women.’
His brow creased thoughtfully. ‘Perhaps they’re the ones who throw themselves at me. Wealth is a drawcard so it’s difficult to know if anyone actually likes you. It’s more about what you can give them. I tend to sift through what’s offered and…’
‘May I point out it was you who grabbed me. I didn’t throw myself at you.’
He smiled. ‘Wonderfully refreshing, Ivy. Please allow me to learn more about you.’
It was impossible to muster up any more defences against that smile. Ivy sighed and gave in to the desire to have him at her side, at least for a little while. ‘Well, my mother will be impressed if I have you in tow,’ she muttered and curled her arm around his again. ‘Lead on. Can you see her anywhere?’
He glanced around from his greater height, not that Ivy was short in these high-heeled platform shoes, but the top of her head was only level with his nose.
‘To our right,’ he directed. ‘She’s talking to a couple who appear interested in one of her paintings.’
‘Then we mustn’t interrupt, just hover nearby until she finishes with them and is free to notice me.’
‘I think she’ll notice you whether she’s free or not,’ Jordan said dryly.
Ivy didn’t see anyone else in sequins. ‘I hope I’m not too over the top in this outfit,’ she said worriedly. ‘The aim was to pleasantly surprise her with an up-to-date city version of me.’
‘She didn’t like the country version?’
Ivy rolled her eyes at him. ‘When someone makes an art form of glamour, anything less offends their sensibilities, so no, she didn’t care for my lack of care.’
‘No problem tonight. You look as though you stepped right off the page of a fashion magazine.’
Ivy couldn’t help laughing, her eyes twinkling at him as she explained. ‘Saw a photo of these clothes, bought them, and hey presto! Even you’re impressed!’
‘You wear them well,’ he said, amused by her amusement at her magic trick.
‘Thank you. Then you don’t think I’m over the top?’
‘Not at all.’
She hugged his arm. ‘Good! I’ve got you to protect me if my mother attacks.’
‘I’m glad to be of use.’
He was a charmer. No doubt about that. Ivy was suddenly bubbling over with high spirits, despite knowing his track record with women. It wouldn’t hurt to enjoy his company at the gallery, she decided. Much more fun than being on her own.
Her mother was dressed in a long flowing gown that fell from a beaded yoke in deepening shades of pink. Unlike Ivy, she wore pink beautifully, but then she wasn’t like Ivy at all except for the curly hair. No one would pick them as mother and daughter. Sacha Thornton had grey eyes. Her hair was dark brown—almost black—and cascaded over her shoulders in a wild mane of ringlets, defying the fact she was nearing fifty. Though she didn’t look it. Artful make-up gave her face the colour and vivacity of a much younger woman.
Bangles and rings flashed as her hands talked up the painting she was intent on selling to the couple. The expressive gesticulation halted in midair as Ivy—linked with Jordan Powell—moved into her line of vision. A startled look froze the animation of her face.
Ivy barely clamped down on the hysterical giggle that threatened to erupt from her throat. She wished Heather was here to see the outcome of her pushing—first Henry, then Jordan Powell and now her mother totally agog. Heather would be dancing around and clapping her hands in wild triumph. And Ivy had to admit that even her tortured feet did not take the gleeful gloss off this moment.
It was ridiculous, of course.
All to do with image.
An image that didn’t reflect who she was at all.
Nevertheless, she would happily wear it tonight for the sheer fun it was bringing her.
Her mother swiftly recovered, flashing an ingratiating smile at the prospective buyers. ‘You must excuse me now.’ She nodded towards Ivy. ‘My daughter has just arrived.’