After checking that Ryan was still asleep, Jaci rolled her shoulders and looked around Ryan’s room, taking in the details she’d missed before. The bed, with its leather headboard, dominated the room and complemented the other two pieces of furniture: a black wing-back chair and four-drawer credenza with a large mirror above it. Jaci tipped her head as she noticed that there were photograph frames on the credenza but they were all facedown and looked as if they’d been that way for a while. Curious, she padded across the room, past the half-open door that led to a walk-in closet, and stood in front of the credenza. Her reflection in the mirror caused her to wince. Her hair was a mess. She had flecks of mascara on her eyelids, and on her jaw she could see red splotches from Ryan rubbing his stubble-covered chin across her skin. Her eyes were baggy and her face was pale with fatigue.
The morning after the night before, she thought, rubbing her thumb over her eyes to remove the mascara. When the mascara refused to budge, she shrugged and turned her attention back to the frames. Silver, she thought, and a matching set. She lifted the first one up and her breath caught in her throat as the golden image of Ben, bubbling with life, grinned back at her. He looked as if he was ready to step out of the frame, handsome and sexy and so, well, alive. Hard to believe that he was gone, Jaci thought. And if she found it hard, then his brother would find it impossible, and she understood why Ryan wouldn’t want to be slapped in the face with the image of Ben, who was no more real than fairy dust.
And photograph number two? Jaci lifted up the frame and turned it over, then puzzled at the image of a dark-haired, dark-eyed woman who looked vaguely familiar. Who was this and why did she warrant being in an ornate, antique silver frame? She couldn’t be Ryan’s mother. This was a twenty-first-century woman through and through. Was she one of Ryan’s previous lovers, possibly one who got away? But Ryan, according to the press, didn’t have long-term relationships and she couldn’t imagine that he’d keep a photo of a woman he’d had a brief affair with. Jaci felt the acid burn of jealously and wished she could will it away. You had to care about someone to be jealous and she didn’t want to care about Ryan...not like that, anyway.
Jaci replaced the frame and when she looked at her reflection in the mirror, she saw that Ryan was standing behind her and that a curtain had fallen within his fabulous eyes. Her affectionate lover was gone.
“Don’t bother asking,” Ryan told her in a low, determined voice. He was as naked as a jaybird but his emotions were fully concealed. He might as well have been wearing a full suit of armor, Jaci thought. She couldn’t help feeling hurt at his back-off expression; she found it so easy to talk to him but he, obviously, didn’t feel the same.
Maybe she’d read this situation wrong; maybe they weren’t even friends. Maybe the benefits they’d shared were exactly that, just benefits. The thought made her feel a little sad. And, surprisingly, deeply annoyed. How dare he make incredible, tender-but-hot love to her all night and then freeze her out before she’d even said good-morning?
The old Jaci, Lyon House Jaci, would just put her tail between her legs, scramble into her dress and apologize for upsetting him. New York Jaci had no intention of doing the same.
“That’s it?” she demanded, hands on her hips. “That’s all you’re going to say?”
Ryan pushed a hand through his dark hair and Jaci couldn’t miss his look of frustration. “I am not starting off the morning by having a discussion about her.”
“Who is she?” Jaci demanded.
Ryan narrowed his eyes at her. “What part of ‘not discussing this’ didn’t you hear?” He reached for a pair of jeans that draped across the back of his chair and pulled them on.
Jaci matched his frown with one of her own. “So it’s okay for you to get me to spill my guts about my waste-of-space ex and his infidelities but you can’t even open up enough to tell me who she is and why she’s on your dresser?”
Jaci blinked at him.
“Yes, it’s okay for you to do that and me not to,” Ryan retorted. “I didn’t torture you into telling me. It was your choice. Not telling you is mine.”
Jaci pressed the ball of her hands to her temples. How had her almost perfect night morphed into something so... She wanted to say ugly but that wasn’t the right word. Awkward? Unsettling? Uncomfortable? She desperately wanted to argue with him, to insist that they were friends, that he owed her an explanation, but she knew that he was right; it was his choice and he owed her nothing. He’d given her physical pleasure but there had been no promises to give her his trust, to let her breach his emotional walls. His past was his past, the girl in the photograph his business.