Keeping a straight face was hard. “The money is excellent.”
He could tell his response ticked her off even more. The slight flattening of her full lips was a dead giveaway. But eight years ago he’d painstakingly begun the process of rebuilding his life. The main benefits of the business he’d started were financial, and he wasn’t about to apologize to anyone for that.
“The real question is...” She stepped closer and the crackling electricity was back, heating him up and breaking his train of thought in a disturbing way. “How much has your humiliating app made you?”
“Less than you’d think.”
“I’d settle for less than I’d hoped.”
He tipped his head. “And how much would that be?”
She planted a hand on a hip that displayed just the right amount of curve. “How far below zero can you count?”
This time he didn’t hold back the small smile as she tried to restrain her anger. “Depends on the incentive,” he said, feeling an irresistible need to bait her further. “You can try hiking your dress higher again and see how low I can go.”
At the mention of her previous maneuver she didn’t flinch or seem sorry—which for some reason pleased him.
“What would be the point?” she said, and her smile leaned more toward sarcasm than humor. “You aren’t the type to get distracted by a little leg, are you?”
He couldn’t afford to get distracted. Getting used by a woman twice in one decade would qualify him for a lifetime achievement award for stupidity. However, his body was taking notice of Carly in every way possible. Despite the years of practice, this time, with this particular woman, he struggled to seize the wayward responses and enclose them in steel even as he appreciated the sun-kissed skin, the silky brown hair and the slip-dress-covered figure built to inspire a man’s imagination.
She leaned closer, as if to get his full attention. Which was ironic, seeing as how he was struggling not to notice everything about her. “I’m still waiting on an answer,” she said.
“To which question?” he said. “If I’m susceptible to a woman openly flirting to gain an advantage or whether I have a heart?”
“I’m certain you don’t have a heart,” she said, and he recognized the silky tone she adopted when anger sparkled in her eyes. “But you know what else I think?”
Hunter stared at Carly. The bold challenge in her face reminded him of how far she’d gone to hunt him down. He’d pulled his punches tonight, because anything more would have agitated a crowd that was already against him. But right now they were alone, so he wrapped his tone in his usual steel. “What do you think?”
Her lids widened slightly, as if she was having second thoughts. Her words proved otherwise. “I think you’re a soulless, cold-hearted bastard whose only concern is the bottom line,” she said. “The very sort of man I can’t stand.”
He dropped his voice to dangerous levels. “In that case you shouldn’t have dared me to come back.”
Her chin hiked a touch higher. “It was a last-minute decision.”
“Having trouble controlling your impulses?”
Her chest hitched faster, as if she were fighting to control her anger. “I have no regrets.”
“Not yet, anyway.”
“I suspect your reasons for appearing tonight were less about convenience and more about the free advertising for your heartless app.”
His pause was slight, but meaningful. “But I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.”
He was certain she was smart enough to decode his message.
A message that must have infuriated her more, as her eyes narrowed. “If you benefit financially because of tonight, you should send me flowers to show your gratitude.”
The thought brought his first genuine smile. “Perhaps I will.”
The muscles around her beautiful mouth tensed, as if she were biting her cheek to keep from spilling a retort. “Orchids, not roses,” she said. “I like a bouquet that’s original.”
She crossed her arms, framing her brea**sts and tripping up his thoughts. Hunter wasn’t sure if it was intentional or not.
“I’m easily bored,” she said.
As he stared at his lovely adversary, her face radiating a mix of amusing sass, honest exasperation and barely caged antagonism, he realized why he’d agreed to come back. It wasn’t just his inexplicable restlessness of late. Despite the threat she posed, he was enjoying their duel. In truth, he was in danger of liking her—and, with all his money, it was one of the few things in life he couldn’t afford to do.