‘Actually, no, I don’t need help getting dates. But I am surprised to find you standing alone like this. Where’
s your posse of admirers?’
‘Yeah.’ Suddenly all humour was gone. His eyes had gone like daggers. ‘Ever thought you might be better off with quality rather than quantity?’
Liss clammed. Exactly what was he implying? She’d learnt to be careful when it came to men. There were guys out there more than happy to kiss and tell—packs of lies. While she didn’t much care what the rest of the world thought, she did find it easier to go out with an assortment of men—allowing none of them too close. It kept them, and everyone else, guessing and none of them were able to assume privileges or presume intimacy.
But it did upset her that those who were supposed to be closest to her—who ought to know her better than anyone—chose to think the worst. This was why her brothers’ heavy-handedness rankled. She might be a party girl, but she wasn’t promiscuous. Was that what James thought?
That kiss had been a colossal mistake. She’d never reacted like that before—never wanted someone with that rough and ready and right-now-before-the-excitement-kills-me kind of wanting. Did he think that she’d be like that with just anyone? Staggered at the idea, she painfully recognised what it meant—he really did only see her as a shallow party princess.
The silence had gone on and she was too thrown to think of a comeback. But then it seemed he lowered his sword. He looked back around the room again. ‘OK. What else can you tell me? How else could this do be better organised?’
She focused on the question. ‘There isn’t enough seating—the age range here is wide and frankly most women like to sit down and have a good old gossip now and then. Getting the balance right between too much seating and making the guests move and mingle can be tricky. I don’t think they’ve got it right here.
And not only is the music a little too loud, it’s not a great selection—I know we’re in an avant-garde gallery and they’re setting the scene, but even a little melody would be good. This stuff is just noise and it’s not helping people relax. On the other hand, I think the lighting is excellent—it draws your eye to the pieces on show, which is the point of the party after all. Lastly I think the cocktails are delicious.’
She actually saw a smile on his face—a genuinely warm one. But in the next instant the softness left his eyes and caution re-entered.
‘About the other day…’ His voice lowered, became serious.
He wasn’t going to do a post-mortem, was he? She’d dissected and analysed every moment of that kiss enough already. That and his subsequent speedier-than-lightning escape. She wasn’t about to have him shovel another pile of dirt on an episode she’d already tried to bury. So she cut him off.
‘Like I said, let’s forget about it.’ She spied someone she could beaver over to and engage in meaningless conversation. ‘I already have.’
For a moment something flashed in his eyes, then he battened whatever it was down, so the light dimmed and it was all cool darkness staring at her.
‘Is that so?’
‘Of course.’ She dug deep for a synthetic smile. ‘It was just a kiss, James. Nothing to get too excited about.’ With that flippant remark she left him, off to find a few of those cocktails and drown the taste of the great big lie she’d just told.
James stared after her for a few seconds and then turned away in disgust as she nabbed a glass from a clearly wowed waiter and walked, all smiles, up to some jerk with purple spiked hair. If that had been ‘just’
a kiss then he was more of a fool than he’d realised. How could she be so blasé? As if that sort of meltdown happened any old day? Not to James it didn’t. Kisses sure, but not a full-throttle combustion that had nearly had him on his knees and begging for more.
Hell, she really was just like his ex, Jenny. Shallower than an inflatable paddling pool and more fake than half the boobs in Brazil. But she hadn’t felt like a fake. Her kiss had been hot and surprisingly sweet and he ’d immediately wanted more—more kisses, more contact. The feel of her lithe body, tight but softening against his, the way her fingers had held him close, the little moans of lust—all had combined to make him lose it completely.
It hadn’t been ‘just’ anything. She’d gone up in flames and he’d nearly been burnt alive. He’d been shaking with the effort to stop ripping clothes aside and plunging deep into her body the same way he was thrusting his tongue into her hungry, melting mouth. She’d been willing and compliant and offering everything. He’d wanted to take her up on it in a way that was instant and painful. It had only been the cool concrete he’d been pressing his curled fists on that had stopped him—the hard reminder of where they were. Once he’d been free of her wild embrace, reason had returned.