Anger. It was so foreign, so wrong on Lucas, she didn’t know what to do with it.

“I think so.” She swallowed against a weird catch in her throat. So, maybe he wasn’t quite the horn dog she’d assumed. “Are you clear on my position?”


“Crystal.”

Relieved he wasn’t going to push some macho, possessive sexual agenda on her, she nodded. “Great. I’m glad we talked this out. It’s incredibly important that we handle this fake marriage like rational adults. Now we can go forward as we’ve discussed, as pure business associates, without any additional complications. Agreed?”

Reflected torchlight danced in his eyes, obscuring his true thoughts. He leaned in and motioned her closer.

With his lips almost touching her earlobe, he said succinctly, “Sweetheart, the only thing I plan to do going forward is regroup. And then, my darlin’ Mrs. Wheeler, all bets are off.”

He turned on his heel and left her on the patio. She had the distinct impression he was both mad and plotting how to get even.

Six

Lucas waited almost a week before cornering the lioness in her den, partially because he’d been hustling his tail off eighteen hours a day to secure at least one elusive client—which had failed miserably—and partially because Cia needed the distance. Pushing her was not the right strategy. She required delicacy and finesse. And patience. God Almighty, did she ever require patience. But when her thorny barriers came tumbling down...well, experience told him she’d be something else once she felt safe enough to let loose. He’d gladly spent a good chunk of unrecoverable work hours dreaming up ways to provide that security.

He did appreciate a challenge. No woman he’d ever romanced had forced him to up his game like she did. He’d have sworn on a stack of Bibles that kind of effort would have him bowing out before sunset. Not this time.

Cia’s routine hadn’t varied over the past week, so she’d be home from the shelter around four. Usually, he was mired in paperwork in the study or on a conference call or stuffing food in his mouth while doing research as he prepared for a late meeting with a potential client—all activities he could have done at the office.

But he’d developed the habit of listening for her, to be sure she and her zero-to-sixty-in-four-point-two-seconds car made it home in one piece.

Today, he waited in the kitchen and talked to Fergie, who so far only said “hello,” “goodbye” and imitated the microwave timer beep so perfectly he almost always turned to open it before realizing she’d duped him. He’d been trying to get her to say “Lucas,” but Fergie might be more stubborn than her owner.

When Cia walked in the door, hair caught up in a sassy ponytail, he grinned but kept his hands by his sides instead of nestling her into his arms to explore that exposed neck.

A woman named Dulciana had to have a sweet, gooey center, and he itched to taste it.

“Hey,” she said in wary surprise. They hadn’t spoken since she’d laid down the law during his aborted celebratory poolside dinner. “What’s up?”

“I have a favor to ask,” he said. It was better to get to the point since she’d already figured out he wanted something. Being married to Mrs. Psych Minor kept him honest. When the woman at the heart of the challenge was onto him, it made things so much more interesting.

Guarded unease snapped her shoulders back. “Sure. What is it?”

“WFP sold a building to Walrich Enterprises a few months ago, and they’re having a ribbon cutting tonight. I’d like to take you.”

“Really?” Her forehead bunched in confusion. “Why?”

He swallowed a laugh. “You’re my wife. That’s who you take to social stuff for work. Plus, people would speculate why I attended solo after just getting married.”

“Tell them I had to work.” She cocked her head, swinging that ponytail in a wide pendulum, taunting him. So she wanted to play, did she?

“I used that excuse at the last thing I went to. If everyone was curious before, they’re rabid now. You don’t have much of a social presence as it is, and you’re going to get labeled a recluse if you keep hiding out.”

“You didn’t ask me to go to the last thing.” She smiled sweetly enough, but he suspected it was a warning for what would be an excellent comeback. “If I get a reclusive reputation, seems like we might revisit who’s to blame.”

Yep. She got the first point in this match. But he was getting the next one. “The last thing was boring. I did you a favor by letting you skip it, so you owe me. Come to the ribbon cutting tonight.”

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