Don’t go there. Don’t let the emotion get the best of you.

But her aggravation was evident in her hardened tone. “I wonder if your doubt is a reflection of my past—” she moved closer, ignoring his wonderful scent and the hard physique encased in an elegant tuxedo “—or yours.”

His gaze didn’t waver, but a muscle in Hunter’s cheek twitched. Four pounding heartbeats later he went on. “Before this conversation continues, I think a break is in order. I’ll get us more champagne,” he said as he took her empty glass, the heat smoldering in his eyes searing her to the bone, “but I’ll be back.”

She watched him head toward the bar and let out a breath, unaware she’d been holding it. But before she could relax another masculine voice spoke from behind.

“Hello, kitten.”

At the sound of her childhood nickname her heart took an abrupt turn in her chest, speeding south. She briefly closed her eyes, preparing to face the man who doubted her more than most.

* * *

As Carly braced to face her father her stomach bunched into a knot. She was dreading his simmering judgment about her career, her life choices—and her mistake. She was used to the disapproving tone in his every comment. No matter how hard she tried, her efforts had never been good enough. But she was an adult now. She didn’t need his praise. And she sure wouldn’t beg him for approval.

Her moody, miserable, misunderstood teen years had been rough, and she’d constantly butted heads with her father. Unfortunately traces of that rebellious adolescent were reappearing more and more of late in his presence. She didn’t like herself much when he was around. Which was the main reason she’d avoided him for the last six months.

Keep your cool, Carly. Keep it easy. And, whatever you do, don’t let him see you cry.

Turning on her heel, she plastered a smile on her face. “Hello, Dad.”

His hair now more gray than black, he was a striking figure of a man in his sixties. Tall. Fit. With his sharp features, he was imposing via the sheer volume of his eyebrows alone. And twenty-five years as head of a mega news corporation had honed his hard stare to a cutting edge.

“I assumed you wouldn’t come,” he said.

Good to see you too, Dad. I’m fine, thanks. How have you been?

She pushed aside the disappointment at his less than welcoming greeting. She knew better, and she really had to stop hoping for more. “Is that the only reason I was included on the guestlist?” she asked.

The muscles around his eyes tightened a touch. “If I didn’t want you here I wouldn’t have invited you.”

Well,” she said, trying to keep it light, “I suppose it would have looked bad if you’d invited everyone from the show except your own daughter.”

His eyes grew wary and he frowned at her too-short dress, creating a flush of guilt-tinged resentment. Okay, so the hem length was a bit much. But she didn’t need any more proof that he disapproved. Of course her father must have felt a sarcastic comment was in order.

“You’ve outdone even yourself tonight,” he said. “Who’s the poor guy this time?”

Her stomach balled tighter as she blinked back the pain. “I didn’t bring a date.” She tipped her head. “Disappointed?”

Her father’s mouth went flat. “Can’t say I’m eager to meet the latest good-for-nothing.”

“Good-for-nothing?”

“Face it, Carly,” he said, scanning the room before turning his gaze back to hers. “You should give your choice of men more thought before you hook up with them—or whatever you young folks call it these days.”

Inhaling a calming breath, Carly straightened her shoulders, forcing an even tone. “Every guy I’ve dated,” she said, mustering her patience, “has been a decent man.”

“Every one of them has lacked ambition.”

“I don’t choose my dates based on the man’s ambition for his job and his fat bank account.” As a matter of fact, those attributes usually sent her screaming in the other direction. Hunter Philips was the single exception—for all the good it did her.

The displeasure in her father’s eyes tunneled the hole deeper in her heart. “You set your standards too low, kitten.”

“Maybe yours are set too high?” she countered.

The pause in the conversation was loaded as they regarded each other warily, and she wondered—again—why she’d bothered to come.

When her father went on, this time his tone was full of bewildered frustration. “The worst part is I don’t think you care about your boyfriends that much. Instead you try on one fellow after another, and then wonder why they treat you so poorly in the end.”

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