“What about after the New Year?” Bridget asked. “If we ‘break up’ afterward, wouldn’t that be bad press for him?”
He was kind of surprised that Bridget even cared if it was, but then again, he didn’t really know why she agreed to do this in the first place. He’d thought for sure she’d have told Miss Gore to take a flying fuck and slammed the door in her face. Only a true wacko who craved attention would want to join this three-ring circus. Chad frowned.
“There will be no public statement, but eventually the press will catch on to you two not being seen together. At that point, I will release a statement that you two remain good friends.” Her dark gaze landed on him. “After this month is over, it doesn’t mean you go back to your old ways.”
“I figured as much,” he said dryly, wondering if the woman thought he was an oversexed idiot.
“If by the end of the year, the Club is happy with the changes in your behavior, your contract won’t be canceled.” She paused, and he knew she was thinking about her own reputation, not that he could blame her. “And hopefully you will take this as a learning experience.”
What he’d learned so far was that the press greatly overexaggerated the truth and generally sucked ass.
Miss Gore went over a couple more ground rules, all really just common sense, and a general breakdown on what you do when you like someone. If it hadn’t been for the fact that Miss Gore must’ve believed he was an imbecile when it came to women, he would’ve laughed.
When it seemed like his publicist had run out of things to say, he wanted to ram his head into the wall. “So are we ready to do this?”
Miss Gore nodded, but he didn’t really care what she thought. The other woman was sitting on the couch, pale and stiff, her fingers clenched in her lap. As he stared at her, he felt a pang of regret. He had no idea why she was doing this, but it was clear she really didn’t want to. It was fucked up, but the more upset she appeared the happier it made him. He hadn’t liked a version of Bridget as attention seeking. Now he wanted to call this whole thing off. It wasn’t right. His career shouldn’t be more important than her comfort.
But then Bridget stood and looked at him, and he was immediately drawn into those green, green eyes. Everything he was thinking was thrown out the damn window, replaced by the need to see those eyes heated until they looked like shining emeralds.
“You ready?” she said, her voice surprisingly steady.
Damn, he was ready, in more ways than one, but he also wanted to run. And Chad had never wanted to run before.
Bridget half expected Miss Gore to play chaperone on their first “date,” so when it appeared they were doing this all on their own she was caught between being relieved and nervous. She hated how bitchy she had been toward Chad, really embarrassed by it, but this was his fault.
The ride to the upscale restaurant had been quiet. Not so much awkward as it was tense. Neither of them knew what to say. What kind of icebreaker did you use when you were pretending to date each other?
Bridget was never good at pretending anything. Once in high school, she had tried out for the annual play and was so bad during the auditions, she had run off the stage. There had to have been another woman in the long list of the ones he’d been seen with recently who would’ve been a better choice for this part.
As they pulled up to valet and her door was opened, she couldn’t help but notice how different they were. First, she wouldn’t even attempt to have her busted-ass Camry parked by valet. Secondly, she didn’t eat at places like this. If she had to know what the correct fork was to use for her salad or spoon for her soup, she was so screwed.
Chad appeared in front of her, offering his hand like the dutiful boyfriend. There was a half smile on his face, part teasing and part smug. She stared at him and the third reason why she shouldn’t have been on the list was so glaringly obvious.
Dressed in dark jeans and a V-neck sweater that clung to his trim sides and hard stomach, he looked like he’d stepped right off the pages of a GQ magazine. Even his hair, artfully messy, looked like it had been professionally styled for this event.
Bridget tilted her head back and met those incredibly blue eyes. She felt like a troll standing next to him. Not because she thought of herself as that ugly or that fat. Her self-esteem wasn’t completely in the shitter, but she was realistic. Guys like him didn’t date girls like her.
This whole thing was just going to end in humiliation for her.
Chad took the initiative and threaded his fingers through hers. “While I like that you’re just standing there and staring at me, we should go in. You’re not wearing a coat.”
Bridget flushed and started to pull her hand free, but he held on.
“Nuh-uh,” he murmured, voice light and playful. “Miss Gore said we must hold hands, and I’m following the rules.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Now you’re going to listen to her?”
A look of pure innocence crossed his face. “I’m going to be a good boy…right now.”
The heat that intensified had nothing to do with the fact she’d been caught staring at him. What she’d seen so far of “naughty Chad” was probably nothing to what he was actually capable of.
Nothing out of the ordinary happened on the way into Jaws, but Bridget was surprised by the fact the place didn’t smell of seafood. They were seated immediately in the back, at a table lit by a single candle.
Heads turned like they did in the movies as he pulled out the chair for her and she sat. Being wholly conscious of her surroundings, she told herself not to look, to act as if this were totally normal, but she quickly scanned the restaurant and found that half of the tables were staring at them. Some of the expressions were just curious. Others were staring at him in open wonder and awe. Then, among them, were looks of confusion as their gazes bounced back and forth between the two of them, as if they couldn’t figure out how they were having dinner together.
She took a deep breath. “Everyone is staring.”
“You’ll get used to it.” He took the seat across from her and gave her a little smile, a tight one that showed no teeth and didn’t reveal those dimples of his. “Or they’ll find something else to stare at.”
She hoped they found something soon, since her face was flaming a thousand shades of red. “Did you call ahead?”
Chad unfolded his napkin. “No. But they make sure I always get a good seat.”
Her brows rose. The restaurant was pretty packed, so they had to have kept certain seats open for “special” clients. She couldn’t remember the last time she was seated immediately at a nice restaurant.
A waiter appeared at their table, dressed in a white shirt and black pants. “Chardonnay, okay?” Chad asked.
Bridget nodded, almost wishing for something harder. As the waiter bowed and rushed off to fulfill the order, she searched desperately for something to say, anything, but her mind emptied. She stared at the white votive candle hopelessly, until her eyes must’ve crossed because Chad chuckled deeply.
She forced her gaze up. “What?”
“Nothing,” he replied, smiling slightly. “It’s just that before this, we talked for three hours straight without a moment of awkwardness.”
Bridget bit down on her lower lip. “We did.”
“So what’s changed?” He leaned back and the sweater stretched over his broad shoulders.
“Well, the fact that both of us are pretending to be dating is different.” Bridget glanced over and saw someone at a few round tables over holding a cell phone up. “And I think someone is taking our picture.”
Chad smirked. “It’ll be on Facebook within seconds.”
“Does this happen all the time?”
God, she couldn’t imagine living like that. Then again, she was living like that now, and she really hoped her hair looked great and she didn’t end up with a double chin from holding her head down. The waiter appeared, and she quickly scanned the menu while Chad ordered some kind of surf and turf.
“I’ll have the scallops,” she said, folding the menu and handing it back.
The waiter bowed once more and then dashed off again. Bridget watched him, wondering if he always moved that fast.
“Is that all you’re going to eat?” Chad asked.
She faced him and wished he weren’t so damn good-looking. Couldn’t he at least have a snaggletooth? Was that really too much to ask for? “That’s enough.”
Chad looked doubtful but wisely didn’t pursue that particular road to hell. “So, I’m dying to know something.”
“I’m afraid to ask.” She picked up her glass and took a sip of wine.
“When we met at the club, why didn’t you tell me you knew Maddie and Chase?”
She cringed inwardly at that question. “I…I didn’t think it was a big deal at the time.”
“I’d think that’s one of the first things people would say.” As he spoke, he ran a fingertip along the rim of his wineglass in a slow, idle circle that drew her attention. “Especially since there is no way that Maddie hadn’t spoken about me.”
“Maybe she didn’t talk about you.” Bridget forced her gaze away from his fingers. “Did you ever think about that?”
His laugh was low and sent a shiver down her arms. “Oh, I know Maddie would’ve talked about me.”
“Your ego never ceases to amaze me.”
Chad smiled, and it appeared he was about to follow that up with a real winner of a response that would’ve reluctantly amused Bridget, but the waiter arrived and steaming plates were placed on their tables. The moment the waiter backed away, Chad was right back on track.
“So, why didn’t you say anything?”
Bridget dropped the napkin in her lap and tugged it into place with quick movements. No way was she going to admit to the real reason. “I didn’t think it mattered.”
“Just like you’re not attracted to me?”
She sighed. “Back to that again?”
“No.” He smiled and—her little heart jumped—there were the dimples. “You’re just a terrible liar. “
Truthfully, she was.
Chad cut his medium-rare steak as she chased a buttery scallop across her plate. “The answer is yes,” he said.
Her fork froze. “To what?”
He peered up through thick lashes. “Even if I knew you worked with Maddie and you knew my brother, I still would’ve taken you home.”
Bridget’s heart did another cartwheel as she stared at him. How had he known the truth? She didn’t want to look too closely into that. Silence fell between them and as they ate, she noticed he barely drank any of the wine and stuck to the water while he ate with a zest she envied.
She looked up when someone approached the table. It was a cute brunette, barely into her twenties, who wore the cutest red dress with cap sleeves. Her cheeks were flushed as Chad put down his silverware.