Why would being yelled at and then sent away be what she needed or wanted? But she hid the pain, shrugged off his gentle ribbing with a playful smile. ‘Maybe.’
He spent a moment concentrating on his freshly steamed fish, then asked, ‘If you weren’t a princess what would you do? What would you want to be?’
She sensed a trap. And she decided not to answer in the way he wanted—things were the way they were.
‘There’s no point thinking that way. It’s what I am. The princess thing is literally bred into me. It’s the way I was born—like the colour of my eyes and hair.’
‘You can change the colour of your hair. And the style.’
‘Why would I want to?’ She put her fork down and pushed the plate away. ‘Why are you so determined to change me? I am what I am, James. This is it.’
‘Is it? It feels to me like there’s more to you than the party image you project.’
‘Don’t go looking for things that aren’t there.’ She needed to listen to her own advice. Not go looking for friendliness or tenderness or understanding—the elements she was all too tempted to read in his expression.
‘You make out like you’re so surface, so selfish, and yet you give of yourself in ways that I don’t think even you’re aware of.’
Her laughter was brittle. ‘Give what, James? I shop, I party. That’s it.’
‘You also like helping people. You like putting them at their ease. You’re generous with your time and spirit.’ He paused. ‘You’re generous with me.’
Of course she was. She liked him—but right now she wished he’d let her be at ease. She didn’t want to peel back whatever other layers were there. Soon, probably very soon, he would send her away. She already knew that—even if he hadn’t made it clear that this wasn’t anything more than a playful fling, she knew to expect it because it was what always happened. She wasn’t wanted—not long term, not by anyone. Not her family. Not her lover.
And if she revealed everything to him, his rejection would hurt all the more. And she didn’t need the humiliation of the pity and embarrassment he’d feel if he found out what he was starting to mean to her. It was best to keep up the front so he wouldn’t discover how much more she wanted—to love and be loved.
But still he probed. Leaning in, asking the question with an air of invitation, of intimacy. ‘What’s the one thing in the world you don’t have but that you want?’
For an infinitesimal moment she closed her eyes, seeing it immediately. A house she could call her own. A collection of cafés and cute boutiques on the corner of the street. A sense of permanence. A place to belong. And no threat of ejection or rejection.
A home—something she never seemed to have had.
He’d laugh, of course. And if she bared her secret dreams to him, she bared her hurts as well. She didn’t need those sharpened and highlighted by his sarcastic wit. So quickly she came up with an answer appropriate for a superficial party princess. ‘An unlimited supply of designer dresses and shoes—for free.’
He leant even closer, eyes laser-sharp. ‘That wasn’t the first thing that came into your mind.’
‘What makes you say that?’
‘Because for a moment your face went all soft and wistful. Then you thought up the answer you gave me and you closed over again.’
She flinched. Abandoned the idea of eating altogether. Damn him for being so observant.
‘What was that first thought?’
‘You’re so clever, you work it out.’
He sat back and regarded her with that look of mocking challenge. She hoped he didn’t mean it too seriously. ‘Maybe I will.’
SOME things were falling into place. Others weren’t. And Liss’s brain was becoming too scrambled to work properly. In the last few days she’d had the wildest, sweatiest sex she’d ever experienced. James hadn’t been kidding—he never stopped until she screamed. Time and time again he made her orgasm until her whole body ached and she was begging for a break. But inside she was begging for more: more physical and for more than just physical. The stress of both the party-planning nightmare and coping with his potent sensuality was exhausting her.
James was becoming her total focus. She really liked him. He didn’t have to give her this chance. Anyone else would have sacked her weeks ago. And she knew it wasn’t just because they were sleeping together that he was giving her another opportunity to redeem herself. He wanted to believe the best in people. He wanted people to be the best they could be. He expected it of himself and he expected it from everyone else too. But he was fair enough to understand that people might need more than one shot at it. That not everyone was as capable as he.