Their kiss might have lasted seconds, minutes, months or years, Jaci had no idea. When Ryan finally pulled his mouth away, strong arms still holding her against him, all she was capable of doing was resting her forehead on his collarbone while she tried to get her bearings. She felt as if she’d stepped away from reality, from time, from the ornate lobby in one of the most renowned hotels in the world and into another dimension. That had never happened to her before. She’d never been so swept away by passion that she felt as if she’d had an out-of-body experience. That it had happened with someone who was little more than a stranger totally threw her.

“Leroy, it’s good to see you,” Ryan said, somewhere above her head. Judging by his even voice, he was very used to being kissed by virtual strangers in fancy hotels. Huh.

“I was hoping that you would be here. I was on my way to find you,” Ryan blithely continued.

“Ryan,” Leroy replied.

Knowing she couldn’t stay pressed against Ryan forever—sadly, because she felt as if she belonged there—Jaci lifted her head and tried to wiggle out of his grip. She was surprised when, instead of letting her go, he kept her plastered to his side.

“I see you’ve met my girl.”

Jaci’s head snapped back and she narrowed her eyes as she looked up into Ryan’s urbane face. His girl?



Her mouth fell open. Bats-from-hell, he didn’t remember her name! He had no idea who she was.

Mr. Toad pulled a thin cheroot from the inside pocket of his jacket and jammed it into the side of his mouth. He narrowed his eyes at Jaci. “You two together?”

Jaci knew that she often pulled on her Feisty Girl mask, but she’d never owned an invisibility cloak. Jaci opened her mouth to tell them to stop talking about her as if she wasn’t there, but Ryan pinched her side and her mouth snapped shut. Mostly from indignant surprise. “She’s my girlfriend. As you know, I’ve been out of town and I haven’t seen her for a couple of weeks.”

Weeks, years... Who was counting?

Leroy didn’t look convinced. “I thought that she was leaving.”

“We agreed to meet in the lobby,” Ryan stated, his voice calm. He brushed his chin across the top of her head and Jaci shivered. “You obviously didn’t get my message that I was on my way up, honey.”

Honey? Yep, he definitely didn’t have a clue who she was. But the guy lied with calm efficiency and absolute conviction. “Let’s go back inside.” Ryan gestured to the ballroom.

Leroy shook his head. “I’m going to head out.”

Thank God and all his angels and archangels for small mercies! Ryan, still not turning her loose, held out his right hand for Leroy to shake. “Nice to see you, Leroy, and I look forward to meeting with you soon to finalize our discussions. When can we get together?”

Leroy ignored his outstretched hand and gave Jaci another up-and-down look. “Oh, I’m having second thoughts about the project.”

Project? What project? Why was Ryan doing business with Leroy? That was a bit of a silly question since she had no idea what business Ryan, or the amphib, was in. Jaci sent her brand-new boyfriend an uncertain glance. He looked as inscrutable as ever, but she sensed that beneath his calm facade, his temper was bubbling.

“I’m surprised to hear that. I thought it was a done deal,” Ryan said, his tone almost bored.

Leroy’s smile was nasty. “I’m not sure that I’m ready to hand that much money to a man I don’t know all that well. I didn’t even know you had a girlfriend.”

“I didn’t think that our business deal required that level of familiarity,” Ryan responded.

“You’re asking me to invest a lot of money. I want to be certain that you know what you are doing.”

“I thought that my track record would reassure you that I do.”

Jaci looked from one stubborn face to the other.

“The thing is... I have what you want so I suggest that if I say jump, you say how high.”

Jaci sucked in breath, aghast. But Ryan, to his credit, didn’t dignify that ridiculous statement with a response. Jaci suspected that Leroy didn’t have a clue that Ryan thought he was a maggot, that he was fighting the urge to either punch Leroy or walk away. She knew this because his fingers were squeezing her hand so hard that she’d lost all feeling in her digits.

“Come now, Ryan, let’s not bicker. You’re asking for a lot of money and I feel I need more reassurances. So I definitely want to spend some more time with you—” Leroy’s eyes traveled up and down her body and Jaci felt as if she’d been licked by a lizard “—and with your lovely girlfriend, as well. And, in a more businesslike vein, I’d also like to meet some of your key people in your organization.” Leroy rolled his cheroot from one side of his mouth to the other. “My people will call you.”