One dark brow quirked. “Do what?”
Once again, she floundered, and there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it. Something about receiving the full impact of all that intensity rendered her slow and half-witted. To add insult to injury, another bout of the clumsies hit her just then. For no particular reason, the book in her hand slipped, and she bobbled it to keep it from hitting the floor.
Did he really want her to stay here, in his house?
Did he really want to treat her with this cool indifference?
Did he really want to infect her mind the way he did?
Trapped, as usual, behind her fear, she asked none of those questions.
“The, ah, mural,” she said. “Are you sure you want me to paint over it? A good conservationist could probably—”
His face closed off, telling her she’d have a better chance convincing him to hire a chimp with a box of crayons to work on his precious mural.
“I’m positive.” His expression was dark and unreadable. “You’re exactly the person I need.”
This plan of his, Tony privately conceded the next morning, might have a kink or two in it.
Which, given his attraction to Talia, shouldn’t come as any major surprise. Still, it did. Or maybe his turmoil was simply a sign of how bad he had it for the woman.
The plan was, of course, brilliant in its simplicity. He had lured Talia here, to his beautiful seaside home, with an offer he knew she as an artist couldn’t refuse. They would get to know each other under the safe and nonthreatening (he hoped) pretext of working together. They would grow closer without him pressuring her in any way and he would give her the space she seemed to need. Their relationship would deepen over the course of the project, culminating in a romantic relationship that would include enthusiastic and, if he was lucky, frequent sex.
The end, right?
For one thing, he hadn’t factored in the difficulty of sleeping in the same house with Talia. The fact that she was under his roof, sleeping in one of his beds, within walking distance, was really doing a job on his mind.
Really ate away at him. Really made him crazy.
Then there was the whole giving-her-space thing, which was, let’s face it, a hell of a lot easier said than done. Why did she need space? How much space was appropriate? What if he ate breakfast when she was eating breakfast? Was that a violation of the space rule?
Thus far, he thought he’d done an excellent job of giving her space.
Hadn’t he let Marcus handle the whole auction house visit even though Tony had been dying to spend the time with her? Hadn’t he hustled himself off to bed last night rather than linger, talking with her into the wee hours, which was what he wanted to do? Hadn’t he feigned minimal interest in her?
Oh, yes, he had, and there was more.
Hadn’t he let her eat breakfast alone in the dining room this morning? Hadn’t he exiled himself to the weight room off his bedroom, pumping iron until his muscles burned? Hadn’t he tried to ignore the scenery out his weight-room window, his spectacular view of the beach, including a spectacular view of Talia trying to paddleboard?
But he’d ended up watching her anyway.
She’d been a tiny figure against the sand, wearing a black string-bikini bottom and, unfortunately, a black long-sleeved skin shirt. The ensemble also included a purple swim cap, which was perfect for her. The distance was a problem, but he’d been able to see the shapely length of her brown legs, the curve of her hips and her exceptional heart-shaped ass.
A really great ass.
The image of her laughing and splashing in the waves as she tried to get her balance and actually paddle on the board further ate its way under his skin. Talia was out there on his beach—with Chesley the dog, by the way—having fun.
But, hey, he was giving her space. That was part of the plan.
Why was that part of the plan? He couldn’t remember.
Anyway, he’d finished his weight lifting, come down to the beach and was now ready to commence the second part of his usual physical fitness routine, which was a jog along the beach. And here was that whole giving-her-space thing again, rising up to bite him in the ass. Should he pretend he didn’t see her over there in the water? Just head on his way? Would that be rude?