He wouldn’t take his eyes off her. ‘You blew the budget, you failed to invite half the necessary people, you totally screwed up the point of the party, but other than that it was an OK night.’
The vague compliment tacked onto the litany of failures got to her. An OK night? OK? For everyone else in that room it had been brilliant. And he knew it. Her defence mechanisms slowly started to crank up.
‘I’ll give you one last chance.’
She didn’t know whether to be pleased or to laugh in his face. ‘Last chance?’ Didn’t he get it yet? She’d failed. She was never going to ‘get’this.
His stance looked indolent but his eyes were intent. ‘Do it again.’
‘Pardon?’ She just wasn’t following his conversation.
‘I want another party. Bigger, better. With everyone we need here.’
Her attention snapped to his words.
‘You have a quarter of the original budget and one week to do it.’
Another party? Another gala ball with all those people plus the media? With no money? ‘You’re kidding.’
‘That’s what I want. That’s what you’ll do.’
‘I can’t do it. Do you know how hard it was to get all those flowers shipped here? I can’t repeat any of it.
Most of the guests will be the same. They’ll expect different. They’ll expect more.’
‘You better come up with something else, then, hadn’t you? Something better. Something cheaper.
She stared. The full reality of what he was asking hit her. ‘I can’t,’ she whispered.
He stood, drawing up to his full height, and walked nearer. ‘I didn’t think you’d be one to turn down a challenge, princess.’
There were challenges and there was asking the impossible.
But as he came closer her body tightened, and her fighting spirit returned. Maybe it was the rush of adrenalin at his proximity, but suddenly she was sick of his escalating demands. Tonight had been a good party; he could at least admit that.
‘I know you can do this.’ He put his hands on her shoulders. ‘You can, Elissa.’
It was those softly spoken words, and his rare use of her name, that really got her back up.
‘I’m not a child, James. You don’t need to jolly me into it.’ She shrugged her shoulders and his hands lifted off. Determined to get at least some credit from him, she went into battle mode. ‘Tonight was a success.
So I screwed up a couple of things. But it was still a damn good party.’
He said nothing and she rallied to press the point. ‘The food was incredible.’
Wow. A concession. She pushed for another. ‘The ballroom looked amazing.’
‘The guests were all A-list.’
‘The champagne fountain was just awesome.’
She glared at him, all the more irritated because he’d agreed with her so easily, so calmly, so less than effusive. Now she really felt like a good argument. She wanted to win, damn it.
His mouth twitched. ‘So. You’ll be organising the next one, then?’
She tossed her head back. Looked him straight in the eye. ‘You’re all challenge, aren’t you, James?’
His eyes flared, flickered down. Then he drawled in that soft way that had all her senses on alert, ‘So, my princess, are you.’
Instantly everything changed. The underlying cause of their intent awareness was pushed fore-front. She forgot the party, forgot the job, could focus only on the here and now—on him and her and how they were going to sort each other out, finally. ‘How are you going to handle this challenge, then?’
‘You mean you?’
Her nod was slight, her body held still by the fiery, physical promise of his—so close but not quite there.
She was sick of the way he held back.
‘The way I always like to handle a challenge.’ And suddenly he wasn’t holding back. His fingers touched her shoulders again but it was different this time—firmer, more forceful. Sizzling. ‘Hands on and in control.’
‘Hands on is good.’ She tilted her head back to look right into his face—to invite, to dare. ‘But I don’t believe you’ll be in control.’
‘Who’ll be in control, then?’ His head lowered, his gleaming eyes mesmerising her as he whispered the question.
‘Neither of us,’ she whispered back.
Amusement. Appreciation. Anticipation.
From his expression, he felt it too.
‘I guess that way we’ll be even.’ His fingers traced over her collarbones. ‘There’s still one outstanding problem, though.’