“He’s not my type,” Bella said.
“Gorgeous and wealthy isn’t your type, plus, he’s been wonderful to us. It won’t hurt you to be nice to him in return,” Charlotte said firmly.
“It won’t?” Bella asked. Charlotte met her eyes and instantly knew what Bella was talking about.
“This is not the same situation as your mother. Get that thought out of your mind. Michael isn’t married to a woman.”
Bella closed her eyes, struggling with guilt and shame. “He’s not Stephen.”
“No, he’s not,” Charlotte said. “Michael Medici is a stronger man than Stephen ever was. I never was quite sure Stephen was the best match for you, anyway.”
“Charlotte,” Bella said in shock. “You always liked him.”
“I like dogs, too. Doesn’t mean I want you to marry one. Now go on out with Michael and enjoy yourself. It hurts me knowing that you aren’t having any fun in your life right now. Life is short. You need to live it while you can.”
Charlotte pulled out some magazines and product catalogs and put them into Bella’s hands. “Here, take these.”
“What are you going to tell Michael about them?”
“I’ll figure out something,” Charlotte said.
An hour later, Bella sat silently in Michael’s Viper as he drove the luxury car. Drumming her fingers on her denim-clad thigh, she looked out the window, still upset.
“Would you like seafood?” he asked.
“It doesn’t matter, but I’m not dressed for a four-star restaurant since this was a surprise invite.”
Michael pulled up to the valet desk at one of the more exclusive, popular restaurants he owned in the Atlanta area. “It doesn’t matter how you’re dressed. You’re with me and this is my restaurant,” he said and got out of the car.
He escorted her inside the restaurant where the host immediately greeted him. “It’s good to see you, Mr. Medici. We have a corner alcove for you.”
“That will be fine,” he said, touching Bella’s arm as they walked to the table. She was so prickly he half expected her to swat him off.
Baffled by her reaction, he shook his head. Many women he’d dated had done everything but taken out a billboard ad announcing their involvement.
“For goodness sake, why are you so cranky? You’d think I murdered one of your relatives,” he said after they sat down.
“I told you that I didn’t want my aunt to know about our arrangement. You agreed.”
“She doesn’t know about any arrangement. All she knows is that I wanted you to join me for dinner.”
“We were supposed to keep this secret.”
“That was before she started interfering in order to get you dating. Why did she get so worked up anyway?”
“She knew about my breakup. She knew the guy I was involved with and how much I—” She broke off and shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. I just didn’t want her to know. And you agreed.”
A server appeared, eager to please. He explained the evening specials. Michael ordered a whiskey double for himself and a Hurricane for Bella.
“Hurricane?” she said after the waiter left.
“It seemed to fit with your frame of mind.”
Her lips twitched, albeit reluctantly.
“So tell me why you changed your mind about letting your aunt know I want to ask you out for dinner. And I want to know more about this man who you dumped after you got back from your year in Europe.”
“First, I didn’t dump him. He broke it off with me before I arrived home.”
“Really?” he said. “What an idiot.”
Her lips twitched again as the server returned with their drinks. “Very flattering. Thank you.”
“Lobster or steak?” Michael asked. “Or both?”
“I’m not that hungry.”
“Both for the lady,” he said, deciding for her. “Make the filet medium. I’ll take the same, but make my steak rare.”
“Of course, sir,” the waiter said.
“I want to know more about this imbecile who dropped you,” he said. “I’ll bet he’s kicking himself up and down the street for his stupidity now.”
She gave a reluctant chuckle and shook her head, sighing. “He’s engaged to a beautiful blonde.”
“Oh,” he said and took a sip of his whiskey. “Lucky for me.”
“You are the very devil himself,” she said, shaking her head again and taking a sip of her potent drink. “End of discussion about my ex.”
Not likely, he thought, but shelved the subject for the moment. “Fine. Why are you overreacting about your aunt knowing we’re seeing each other?”