Page 17 of Rags to Riches Baby

Lucy’s expression hardened as she came to realize that he was just messing with her and her plans had failed. Her jaw tightened and her hand curled into a fist again. Thankfully, he was out of her reach if she tried to take a swing at him a second time. “Are you kidding me?” she asked.

Oliver smiled wide and prayed his erection was hidden by his buttoned suit coat. “Not at all. I told you I wasn’t attracted and then I proved it. That was skill, not attraction. Nothing more. Anyway, I’m glad we were able to clear that up. I wouldn’t want there to be any other confused encounters between us. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to get back in to the party. It appears as though they’re about to do a toast for the new parents.”

Lucy stood motionless as he nodded goodbye, brushed past her and headed back inside the ballroom.

* * *

What a pompous, arrogant jerk-face.

Lucy stood alone on the patio for a few minutes just to get her composure. The last twenty minutes of her life had thrown her for a loop and she just couldn’t go back inside and act like nothing had happened.

First, she was too angry to return to the party. She knew she was flustered and red, and the minute one of the girls saw her like that, they would swarm her with questions she wasn’t ready to answer. In addition, her hand was still aching from when she’d popped him in the face. She’d probably bruised her knuckles, but her only regret in hitting him was that it was premature. He’d certainly earned a pop in the nose with the nasty things he’d said later.

Second, she wasn’t ready to run into him again so soon. It was a big room filled with a lot of people, but she knew that fate would push them together repeatedly until one of them surrendered and went home. The alternative was another fight, this one more public, ruining the party. She didn’t need that. It was bad enough that whispers would follow about them being alone on the balcony together for so long. Or if they came back inside together. Or came back in separately.

There was no winning in this scenario, really. Tongues would wag and there had already been enough tongue wagging on the patio tonight. At best, she could make sure she was presentable before she went back inside.

Reaching into her small purse, Lucy pulled out her compact. Her hair and makeup were fine, save for her lipstick that was long gone. She wasn’t surprised. That kiss had blown her socks off. Oliver could yawn and say it was as much fun as getting an oil change, but she knew better. She could feel his reaction to it in the moment. Men lied. Words lied. Erections…those were a little more honest. And his had been hard to ignore.

What was his angle, anyway? Yes, she’d kissed him. It was possible she’d read the signs from him wrong, but she really didn’t think so. He responded to her. He held her like a man who wanted to hold her. But then he’d turned around and laughed the whole thing off like it was nothing and made her feel stupid for thinking it was anything else.

She felt the heat in her cheeks again as her irritation grew. Why would he toy with her like that? Was it because he was determined to think she was some sort of crook? Why couldn’t he just get to know her and make up his mind that way instead of jumping to hurtful conclusions? Didn’t he trust Harper’s judgment at all?

Lucy finished putting on her lipstick and returned it to her bag. She might as well go back inside. If she waited until she wasn’t angry any longer, she’d sleep out on the patio. Instead, she took a deep breath, pasted on her best smile and headed back into the house.

Apparently, she’d missed the toast. The string quartet was playing music again and the crowd had returned to mingling. Her trio of girlfriends were together and looked her direction when she came in the door.

Lucy stopped short in front of them. “What?”

Emma arched a brow at her. “Seriously?”

“I’m sorry I missed the toast. I had to get some air,” she said, making a lame excuse so she wouldn’t hurt Emma’s feelings.

“Air out of my brother’s lungs,” Harper quipped.

Lucy froze. “What? How did you—”

“That’s a wall of windows, Lucy.” Violet pointed over her shoulder. “Anyone who looked that direction could see the two of you playing tonsil hockey on the veranda.”

Lucy turned and realized that she and Oliver had been far more visible on the patio than she’d anticipated. She’d thought for certain that the dim lights of the patio and the bright lights of the ballroom would’ve given them a little privacy. “Uh, we were having a discussion.”

Emma snorted. “Quit it. Just tell us what’s really going on.”