Leroy walked toward the elevators and jabbed a finger on the down button. When the doors whispered open, he turned and sent them an oily smile.
“I look forward to seeing you both soon,” he said before he disappeared inside the luxurious interior. When the doors closed, Jaci tugged her hand from Ryan’s, noting his thunderous face as he watched the numbers change on the board above the elevator.
“Dammittohellandback,” Ryan said, finally dropping her hand and running his through his short, stylishly messy hair. “The manipulative cretin.”
Jaci took two steps backward and pushed her bangs out of her eye. “Look, seeing you again has been...well, odd, to say the least, but you do realize that I can’t do this?”
“Be my girlfriend?”
Ryan nodded tersely. “Of course you can’t, it would never work.”
One of the reasons being that he’d then have to ask her who she was...
Besides, Ryan, as she’d heard from Neil, dated supermodels and actresses, singers and dancers. His old friend’s little sister, neither actress-y nor supermodel-ly, wasn’t his type, so she shrugged and tried to ignore her rising indignation. But, judging by the party in his pants while he was kissing her, maybe she was his type...just a little.
Ryan flicked her a cool look. “He’s just annoyed that you rebuffed him. He’ll forget about you and his demands in a day or two. I’ll just tell him that we had a massive fight and that we split up.”
Huh. He had it all figured out. Good for him.
“He’s your connection, it’s your deal, so whatever works for you,” she said, her voice tart. “So...’bye.”
Ryan shoved his hand through his hair. “It’s been interesting. Why don’t you give him ten minutes to leave then use the elevators around the corner? You’d then exit at the east doors.”
She was being dismissed and she didn’t like it. Especially when it was by a man who couldn’t remember her name. Arrogant sod! Pride had her changing her mind. “Oh, I’m not quite ready to leave.” She looked toward the ballroom. “I think I’ll go back in.”
Jaci saw surprise flicker in his gorgeous eyes. He wanted to get rid of her, she realized, maybe because he was embarrassed that he couldn’t recall who she was. Not that he looked embarrassed. But still...
“Interesting seeing you again, Ryan,” she said in a catch-a-clue voice.
A puzzled frown pulled his brows together. “Maybe we should have coffee, catch up.”
Jaci shook her head and handed him a condescending smile. “Honey, you don’t even know who I am so what, exactly, would be the point? Goodbye, Ryan.”
“Okay, busted. So who are you?” Ryan roughly demanded. “I know that I know you...”
“You’ll work it out,” Jaci told him and heard him mutter a low curse as she walked away. But she wasn’t sure if he would connect her with the long-ago teenager who’d hung on his every word. She doubted it. Her mask was intact and impenetrable. There was no hint of the insecure girl she used to be...on the outside, anyway. Besides, it would be fun to see his face when he realized that she was Neil’s sister, the woman Neil, she assumed, wanted him to help navigate the “perils” of New York City.
Well, she was an adult and she didn’t need her brother or Ryan or any other stupid man doing her any favors. She could, and would, navigate New York on her own.
And if she couldn’t, her brother and his old friend would be the last people whom she’d allow to witness her failure.
“Then how about another kiss to jog my memory?” Ryan called out just as she was about to walk into the ballroom.
She turned around slowly and tipped her head to the side. “Let me think about that for a minute... Mmm...no.”
But hot damn, Jaci thought as she walked off, she was tempted.
Jaci slipped into the crowd and placed her fist into her sternum and tried to regulate her heart rate and her breathing. She felt as if she’d just experienced a wild gorge ride on a rickety swing and she was still trying to work out which way was up. She so wanted to kiss him again, to taste him again, to feel the way his lips moved over hers. He’d melted all her usual defenses and it felt as if he was kissing her, the real her. It was as if he’d reached inside her and grabbed her heart and squeezed...
That had to be a hormone-induced insanity because stuff like that didn’t happen and especially not to her. She was letting her writer’s imagination run away with her; this was real life, not a romantic comedy. Ryan was hot and sexy and tough, but that was what he looked like, wasn’t what he was. As you do, everybody wears masks to conceal who and what lies beneath, she reminded herself. Sometimes what was concealed was harmless—she didn’t think that her lack of confidence hurt anybody but herself—and occasionally people, including her ex-fiancé, concealed secrets that were devastating.