Jane blinked, but Christian calmly returned her gaze.
“I think I need another cup of coffee,” Jane said faintly, “and this time, black will do.”
“Coming right up.” But when Christian returned to the table, he had presented her with another macchiato, and it was decaf.
Jane gave him a dour look. “Really? What am I? Five?”
“Too much truth serum will kill you,” was the placid reply.
She gave the coffee a sip.
Not as bad as most decafs, she acknowledged reluctantly.
“Good, isn’t it?”
Jane shrugged. Bad behavior was never to be reinforced with positive words. Christian Ravenhearst had to learn early on that she did not do decaf. “Anyway…we were talking about—-” She suddenly couldn’t say it.
“My fake wife?”
“It’s mainly due to the fact that I’ve become inundated—-”
“Can I just say you have the most awesome vocabulary?”
“Noted, ma’am, and thank you,” he drawled.
“Carry on, sir,” she drawled back.
His lips twitched, but he continued, “I’ve recently become inundated with invitations, and the majority of them translate to social obligations that the board of my corporation would rather I didn’t ignore. These invitations were a result of one of my recent products enjoying breakthrough success.”
“Have you heard about H?”
Jane’s eyes widened. “The game?”
“What about it?” Then she paused. “Oh.” Then her eyes widened. “Oh my God – you made H?” And then she frowned. “But I thought this other corporation—-”
“A dummy corporation,” he revealed, “put up for the sole purpose of acting as my spokesperson. It’s an open secret, however, which is why there are instances when it’s my presence that’s specifically required.”
His lips compressed. “And that’s where the problem comes into the picture. I dislike attending any kind of public event. I have a rather hard time controlling my temper when I’m confronted with individuals I find contemptible.”
She thought about Merry. “That’s an understatement.”
He acknowledged the words with a rather arrogant nod. “The board worries that I will end up alienating more people than our company can afford to.” And then he looked at her.
“I still don’t get what you need a wife for,” Jane confessed. “Can’t you just hire a P.R. guy—-”
“I have done that on numerous occasions, but I always end up firing them.”
Temper, Jane thought again.
“I eventually realized that the conventional setup wouldn’t work for me. Moreover, I need someone who I won’t merely tolerate.”
The weight of his azure stare made Jane straighten involuntarily, anxiety prickling under her skin.
“It has to be someone I also trust to speak her mind to me.”
And he believed I was that person, Jane wondered numbly.
Jane Cooper, a woman who could be trusted to speak her mind?
As if sensing her uncertainty, Christian murmured, “When I marry you—-”
She shook her head. “IF I marry you—-”
“When I convince you that marrying me is a matter of ‘when,’ you will be my perfect foil.”
She shook her head more profusely. “No, I won’t.”
“Yes, pet.” Christian’s words took on an unshakable resolve. “You will. You are good with people.”
“No.” Jane was beginning to feel guilty. “Are you sure you have the right woman?” Had she somehow misled Christian about who she was? Was it because she had asked him to make out with her?
“Please, pet. I’m not the type to make such mistakes—-” His voice lowered. “Especially not when it comes to you.”
Listening to his voice, feeling his words, had Jane feeling like she was in a trance, and she found herself halfway to believing him.
“When I meet new people, most of the time I either feel a lack of empathy or contempt. But you were different.” One corner of Christian’s lips went up as he murmured, “You had this feel about you I rarely sense in other people, a way of looking at the world.”
Jane slowly closed her eyes, feeling like she was being serenaded even though her mind told her she was being silly.
“A way of looking at yourself…”
“And whatever it was, it made me pay attention, and that rarely happens.”
Her eyes opened, and her breathing became uneven when she found Christian gazing at her intensely.
“Trust me, pet. You’re good with people.”
Her throat bobbed as she swallowed. His words painted a picture of herself that Jane didn’t recognize, but oh – was it bad that she wanted it to be true?
“You’ll be perfect in keeping everyone off my back, but you’ll also be able to keep me in line if necessary.”
“When,” Jane couldn’t resist pointing out sweetly. “Now’s the time you should use ‘when.’”
She thought she had scored with that, but then he smirked. “You’re already doing it now.”
“Keeping me in line.”
Jane started in her seat. He was right! She mulled it over, and Jane realized something.
And she started to laugh.
“What is it?” Christian’s British accent became pronounced in his puzzlement.
“Since I’m the one keeping you in line—-” Jane’s laughter threatened to bubble past her lips once more, but she managed to keep it down, saying, “Doesn’t that make me your master and you my pet?”