She tried to be irritated but couldn’t. He’d apologized and put them back on even ground effortlessly. No point in sulking about it. “I’ll be downstairs at six. I’ll expect you about ten after.”

Chuckling, he left and shut the door behind him, sucking all the vibrancy out of the room. She took a not-so-hot shower and washed her hair twice but couldn’t erase the feeling of Lucas’s fingers laced through it. The towel scraped across her still-sensitized flesh, and she cursed. She couldn’t give him any more openings. It was too hard to fake a nonreaction.


In deference to Lucas’s parents, she spent an extra couple of minutes on her hair and makeup. Lucas would likely complain about her lack of style regardless, so it certainly wasn’t for his sake. The less she encouraged the trigger on his libido, the better.

With a small sigh, she twisted Lucas’s diamond ring onto her finger, the only jewelry a man had ever bought her, and pretended she hated it.

Four

After firing off at least half a dozen emails and scheduling a couple of walk-throughs for early Monday afternoon, Lucas descended the hardwood and wrought-iron stairs at six sharp. Dinner was important to Mama, which meant being on time, plus he’d already done enough to provoke Cia today. Though she should be apologizing to him for the solid fifteen minutes it had taken to scrub the coconut and lime from his skin.

Why did that combination linger, like a big, fruity, tropical tattoo etched into his brain? Couldn’t she wear plain old Chanel like normal women? Then the slight hard-on he’d endured since being in Cia’s bed, her luscious little body twisted around his, would be easy to dismiss. Easy, because a blatant, calculated turn-on he understood.

This, he didn’t.

He shouldn’t be attracted to her. Keeping his hands to himself should be easy. Besides, he scared the mess out of her every time he touched her. That was reason enough to back off, and there were plenty more reasons where that one came from. He’d have to try harder to remember them.

Cia had beaten him to the living room, where she paced around the sofa in a busy circle. The demons drove her relentlessly tonight. There must be a way to still them for a little while.

“Ready?” he asked, and caught her hand to slow her down. It was shaking. “Hey. It’s just dinner with some old people. It’s not like barging into a birthday party and proposing to a man you’ve never met.”

“My hands were shaking then, too.” She actually cracked a tiny smile. “It’s not just dinner. It’s a performance. Our first one, and we have to get it right. There’s no backup parachute on this ride.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, darlin’. I always have a backup parachute in my wallet.”

“Only you could twist an innocent comment into an innuendo.” Her eyes flashed deep blue with an unexpected hint of humor. How had he ever thought they were brown?

“If you don’t like it, stop giving me ammo.”

Her bottom lip poked out in mock annoyance, but he could see she was fighting a laugh. “You really are juvenile half the time, aren’t you?”

And there she was, back in the fray. Good. Those shadows flitting through her eyes needed to go. Permanently. He’d enjoy helping that happen.

“Half the time? Nah. I give it my all 24/7.” He winked and kissed her now-steady hand. A hand heavy with her engagement ring. Why did that flash on her finger please him so much? “But you’re not nervous about dinner anymore, so mission accomplished. Before we go, can we find you some matching earrings?”

Fingers flew to her ears. “What? How did that happen?”

“Slow down once in a while maybe. Unless of course you want my parents to think we rolled straight out of bed and got dressed in a big hurry.”

She made a face and went back upstairs. The plain black dress she wore, the same one from the other night, did her figure no favors. Of course, only someone who had recently pressed up against every inch of those hidden curves would know they were there.

He groaned. All night long he’d be thinking about peeling off that dress. Which, on second thought, might not be bad. If she was his real fiancée, he’d be anticipating getting her undressed and the other choice activities to follow. No harm in visualizing both, to up the authenticity factor.

Imagining Cia naked was definitely not a chore.

When she returned, he tucked her against his side and herded her toward the garage before she could bolt. Once he’d settled her into the passenger seat of his car, he slid into the driver’s seat and backed out.

Spring had fully sprung, stretching out the daylight, and the Bradford pears burst with white blooms, turning the trees into giant Q-tips. Likely Cia had no interest in discussing the weather, the Texas Rangers or the Dow, and he refused to sit in silence.

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