Elaine Bennett’s beaded black evening dress glittered in the light as she approached. “Your father must be so happy you’re here.”
Ignoring the urge to contradict her, Carly submitted to an air kiss from the woman. “Mrs. Bennett, you look lovely.”
The woman eyed her with the critical affection of one who had known Carly since she was five, and when the lady lifted a perfectly plucked brow Carly knew it would be followed by a carefully targeted reproof. “Since you moved back to Miami we hardly see you. Your father isn’t getting any younger, you know,” Mrs. Bennett said, almost as if aging was a sin. “You shouldn’t be such a stranger, Carly.”
Nerves stretched tight, Carly murmured a noncommittal response and took a fortifying sip of her champagne as she watched Mrs. Bennett return to the other guests, dreading the thought of a run-in with her father. Their relationship had always been tenuous, at best, but since the Thomas Weaver Affair it had been as fragile as Abby’s good humor.
She wouldn’t have accepted her father’s invitation—except not coming would suggest she was too ashamed to show. Or, worse, paint her as petulant. The elegant party was in honor of Brian O’Connor, not her—God forbid her father should ever celebrate his daughter. No, it was Brian O’Connor who had delivered a surge in ratings with the shocking history behind Hunter Philips’s app—a scoop that had been avidly sought by others. The host had even secured a third show, which was now being hyped in the media as guaranteed to be a monumental success. And there was nothing William Wolfe admired more than success.
Hence his strained relationship with his disappointing failure of a daughter.
Carly gripped her champagne flute, refusing to let old emotions from her teenage years drag her down. She’d make her appearance, hold her head high and prove to her father she wasn’t ashamed of her life, avoiding any one-on-one conversations. Because, after six sketchy nights of sleep, unable to keep her mind off of making love to Hunter, she didn’t have the energy for a confrontation tonight.
She scanned the growing crowd, spying Brian O’Connor schmoozing with her father, and tension snaked between her shoulders. She longed for the appearance of a few naked actors, Harley-riders or drag queens—anything to liven up the party and get her mind off her current train of thought.
And then, as if the powers that be had heard her wish, Hunter entered the room, wearing a beautiful tuxedo. Her heart did a double take and her mind slipped back to the moment her world had collided with a new reality...
Stunned, Carly had clung to Hunter after they’d made love, pulse pounding, chest heaving. She wasn’t quite sure what had happened, only that her body had been taken to heights that normally would require rocket fuel—and her ability to recover from the event had been greatly impaired by the knowledge of how aggressive she’d been. She’d wanted him, and had no regrets, but she’d all but hunted him down and backed him into a corner. So it had been hard to maintain that easy-breezy attitude when it was over. Especially when Hunter had retreated behind his wall.
He’d been coolly polite but decidedly detached as they’d spent an awkward few minutes getting dressed, the silence in the locker room consuming every available oxygen molecule. Carly had considered asking why he’d bothered obtaining a second condom, but her chance had ended when Hunter, ever the protector, had escorted her to her car and calmly walked away without a backward glance.
But right now he was headed in her direction.
Shoulder propped against the doorjamb, she gripped her clutch purse, smoothing a damp palm down the silk of her crimson spaghetti-strap dress. A dress that showed off way more leg than it should. At least she was appropriately attired.
Pushing aside the nerves, she said, “Mr. Philips—”
His demeanor was über-cool, untouched, his gaze as sharply alert as ever—a far cry from the man who’d briefly come unhinged in her arms. He eyed her over his glass as he sipped his champagne, the absurdity of her use of his last name radiating from his gaze.
“Nice house,” he said, nodding at the lavishly furnished living room, the moonless night obscuring its view of the Atlantic.
“Don’t let it fool you.” Her gaze swept across the imported tile and Brazilian cherrywood walls that gave off a warm, welcoming glow, carefully designed by an interior decorator with the blessing of her father. “It was decorated for effect,” she went on dryly. “To create the illusion of warmth and comfort.”
They spent a few tension-filled seconds staring at one another, until Hunter’s gaze roamed down her body, lingering briefly on her legs, and a surge of remembered desire suffused her in heat. By the collected look on his face she knew it was a deliberate act.