She had once come into the cafe, and Slade, who had been in the middle of a business dinner with several suppliers from Laramie, had abruptly stopped speaking and clutched his chest, saying, ‘I think my heart just skipped a beat.’ In another afternoon, he had caught her shyly chatting with the local priest (who was, of course, extraordinarily handsome as the rest of Hartland’s menfolk) and had immediately swooped in, wrapping his arms around her waist from behind with a none-too-subtle warning. ‘Hands off, Ryder. You’re already promised to Christ.’
And when the man of cloth had reminded Slade that Anglican priests like him were allowed to marry, Kady’s boss had promptly turned to Kady, saying, ‘From now on, we’re switching to Buddhism. Got that?’
It was always one outlandish thing after another, and it never seemed to matter to Slade who or how many would end up witnessing his antics. It was as if…well, it was almost as if he was genuinely proud to claim her as his, and for someone who had spent her entire life feeling like the ugly odd duckling, the amount of attention Slade devoted to her certainly made Kady feel giddy and cherished.
She had always known she was rather plain, but every time Slade told her she was beautiful, she couldn’t help believe it was so.
Unlike with Eric.
The thought made her wince, and she took a deep breath. Today, she promised herself once again. The very moment we’re alone, I’m going to tell him. But when that moment did come, with Slade insisting as always to drive her to Laramie, she found herself clutching the door handle and unable to get the words out.
Because what if he—
Slade, sensing the sudden tension in Kady’s frame, asked right away, “Is anything wrong?”
Slade scowled. “Is it Humbug?”
Her eyes widened. How had he guessed?
The billionaire saw Kady’s expression, and his lips tightened. “So is it him. He’s been bothering you at uni, isn’t he?”
“He probably tried making you feel guilty about dating me, hasn’t he? He probably said something like you having no future with me, since I’m a lot older—”
“You’re not that old,” Kady, sidetracked by her need to come to his defense, immediately protested.
“If he bothers you again,” he said grimly, “call me, and I’ll take care of it.”
“Promise me, Kady.”
She bit her lip. “I…promise.” And just like that, she had lost the chance to tell him the truth.
Ten minutes later, and Slade was pulling his truck right in front of the university’s main gates, and as soon as he helped her out of the truck, he had her against the door and his mouth closing over hers in a deep, hungry kiss.
Her toes immediately curled, and with a helpless little moan, Kady kissed him back.
When he lifted his head, Slade was satisfied to see her gaze full of yearning…for him.
He saw her hesitate before lifting her hand, and he kept still, curious to see what she planned. A moment later, and she was tentatively touching his beard—
“Does it?” He bent his head to nuzzle her cheek with it, and she giggled. Lifting his head again, he murmured, “If you want me to get rid of it—”
Kady quickly shook her head. “No, of course not. I…”
His eyes laughed at her. “Go on.”
She squirmed, and he smirked.
Taking pity on her, he said lazily, “You like me however I look, is that it?”
His beautiful little chick blushed even as she nodded, and she was just too fucking adorable that he had to kiss her again.
After, Kady felt like she was still floating as she made her way to class. Slade was just so—
“I never thought you’d be that kind of girl.”
Kady came to a startled halt, and looking up, she saw Eric standing right in front of her. “Excuse me?”
“I saw you and your old man kissing—”
“He’s not my old man,” Kady said patiently, “and you know it.”
“Whatever.” Eric’s lips pursed in disapproval. “I saw the look on your face. You never looked like that when I kissed you—”
Because you never made me feel the way Slade makes me feel, she thought.
“You can’t seriously think he’s good for you, Kady.”
“I do think so—”
Eric let out a sound of exasperation. “And your parents? What about them? Have you ever thought of what they’d do once they discover your boyfriend—” Eric’s lip curled at the word. “—isn’t just a small-town hick but a predatory older man who’s obviously brainwashed you into acting out—”
“I’m kissing my boyfriend, and I’m acting out?” she couldn’t help bursting out. “What about the times you and Margaux were seen everywhere making out almost right after our breakup – was that Margaux making you act out?” Kady was hoping to shame him into backing down, but instead Eric’s expression turned triumphant.
“I knew that had to be it,” Eric exclaimed. “You’re doing this to try and make me jealous—”