“And you admire him?”
“Yeah. He came up the hard way. Not the same way I did. But he had it tough.”
The waiter appeared and took their food order. Midway through their meal, a portly middle-aged gentleman approached their table. “You are enjoying your dinner?” the man asked.
Michael rose. “Delicious, Anthony. I know where to take someone I want to impress.”
Anthony laughed and clasped Michael’s hand with both of his. “You are too kind. No matter what you say, I will not sell.”
Michael sighed. “I had to try. The lady here is quite impressed. Bella St. Clair, may I present Anthony Garfield.”
Anthony turned to her and extended his hand. “Bella, Bella. I can see why you would want to bring her to my restaurant. Such a woman doesn’t deserve second best.”
“You’re too kind,” Bella said. “Your restaurant is fabulous.”
Michael cocked his head to one side. “You’re not referring to my restaurants, are you Anthony?” Michael said, sending Bella a knowing glance.
Anthony shrugged and his eyes twinkled with competitive humor. “I would never say that. I’ve sent several of my customers to you.”
“When you were already booked,” Michael said.
“As you have done to me,” Anthony said. “You’re a master competitor, but you need to be kept on your toes.”
“And you’re just the man to do it. A great dining experience.”
“Thank you. High praise from such a man.” He turned to Bella. “You keep him in line, okay?”
Me? Bella opened her mouth. “I’m not sure it’s possible to keep Michael in line.”
Anthony gave a quick nod. “Every man has his Waterloo. Good evening to both of you.”
Michael sat down. “We trade top restaurant pick every other year. As much as I hate getting second place to anyone, I don’t mind as much to him.”
“He seems to respect you, too,” she said. “I’m surprised you didn’t take me to one of your restaurants.”
“Didn’t you hear me say that I know where to take someone I want to impress?” he asked.
She met his gaze, feeling lightning race through her. He couldn’t possibly want to impress her. She wasn’t that important to him. And if she were…Why did the air seem to squeeze out of her lungs?
They left the restaurant and the limo drove them to Phillips Arena. Michael led her to a private box with an unbeatable view of the court.
She looked at him. “I guess I shouldn’t ask how you managed this.”
“I have standing box seats. I often give them away to VIP clients,” he said.
“I don’t know what to say.”
“How about go Hawks?” he said and she felt another ripple race through her.
Throughout the game, she was super-conscious of every time he touched her. First her shoulder, then her hand. His thigh rubbed against hers, distracting her from the game. Once, he slid his hand behind the nape of her neck, and she could have sworn she felt sparkles down her back.
The game ended far too early, and before she knew it they were in the limo again.
“Do you want a nightcap, or are you ready to go back to your apartment?” he asked.
Frustration twisted through her. He had confused the living daylights out of her. A heavy sigh poured from her.
“Problem?” he asked.
She bit her lip, wondering if she should say anything. Wondering if she could. “Do you not want me anymore?” she blurted out.
He held her gaze for a long moment that made her stomach knot. He took her hand and slid his fingers sensually through hers. “Not want you? What makes you say that?”
In for a penny. In for a pound. “Because we haven’t been together in days. And you were ready to leave me at my apartment tonight.”
He paused again. “I want you willing. I want you wanting me. Or not at all.”
Whoa. Bella’s mind reeled with his words. He wasn’t going to require her to be with him? What about their deal? What about her debt to him?
She stared into his dark eyes and felt as if her inner core was shifting. This was her chance to turn away and brush her hands of him. She could go back to her apartment and lick her wounds as long as she wanted. She could buy Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and eat it every night. By herself.
Or, she could be with the most exciting man she’d ever met in her life. Even though she didn’t love him. Suddenly she felt as if she were a runaway train on a track she had to take. At some point, there would be a terrible crash, but for some reason she couldn’t miss being with him.
“Are you saying that you would continue to support my aunt’s business even if you and I never see each other again?”