Living the Charade(5)

By: Michelle Conder

She might be pert and blessed with an angel’s face, but she was also waspish, uptight and controlling. Definitely not his type after all.

‘Aren’t you taking a client out on Dante’s yacht this weekend?’ He reminded his brother of the expedition both he and Dante, their older brother, had been trying to drag him along to.

Sam groaned as if he’d just been told he needed a root canal. ‘Damn, I forgot.’

‘Oh, really?’ Ruby sounded as if she’d been given the same news.

‘Okay—well, time to go,’ Miller interjected baldly.

Tino wondered if she was truly thick, or just didn’t want to see what was clearly going on between her friend and his brother.

‘You do it.’

Tino’s eyes snapped to Sam’s.

‘You said you were looking for something different to do this weekend. It’s a great solution all round.’

Tino looked at his brother as if he had rocks in his head. His manager and the team owner had told him to take time out this weekend and do something that would get his mind off the coming race, but he was pretty sure posing as some uptight woman’s fake partner was not what they’d had in mind.

‘I don’t think so,’ Little Miss Sunshine scoffed, as if the very idea was ludicrous.

Which it was.

But her snooty dismissal of him rankled. ‘Have I done something to upset you?’ His gaze narrowed on her face and he almost reached out to grip her chin and hold her elusive eyes on his.

‘Not at all.’ But her tone was curt and her nose wrinkled slightly when her eyes dropped to his T-shirt.

‘Ah.’ He exhaled. ‘It’s just that I’m not good enough for you. Is that it, Sunshine?’

Her eyes flashed and he knew he’d hit the nail on the head. He wanted to laugh. Not only had this chit of a woman not recognised him—which, okay, wasn’t that strange in Australia, given that the sport he competed in was Europe based—but she was dismissing him out of hand because he looked a bit scruffy. That had never happened before, and the first real smile in months crossed his face.

‘It’s not that, I’m just not that desperate.’

She briefly closed her eyes when she realised her faux pas and Tino’s smile grew wider. He knew full well that if she had recognised him she’d be pouting that sweet mouth and slipping him her phone number instead of looking at him as if he was about to give her a fatal disease.

‘Yes, you are,’ her friend chimed in.

Tino casually sipped his beer while Miller glowered.

‘Ruby, please.’

‘I can vouch for my brother,’ Sam cut in. ‘He looks like he belongs on the bottom of a pond but he scrubs up all right.’

Now it was Tino’s turn to scowl. He was about to say no way in hell would he help her out when he caught her unwavering gaze and realised that was just what she expected—was actually hoping—he would say, and for some reason that stopped him. He wouldn’t do it, of course. Why enter into a fake relationship when he had zero interest in the real deal? But something about her uppity attitude rattled his chain.

Before he could respond Sam continued. ‘Go on, Valentino. Imagine Dee facing the same problem. Wouldn’t you like some decent guy to help her out?’

Tino’s glare deepened. Now, that was just underhand, reminding him of their baby sister all alone in New York City.

‘It’s fine,’ the fire-eater said. ‘This was a terrible idea. We’ll be on our way and you can forget this conversation ever happened.’ Her voice was authoritative. Calm. Decisive.

He took another swig of his beer and noticed how her eyes watched his throat as he swallowed. When they caught his again they were more indigo than aquamarine. Interesting. Or it was until he felt his own body stir in response.

‘You don’t think we’d make a cute couple?’ He caught the wild flash of her eyes and his voice deepened. ‘I do.’

Her tipsy friend was practically clapping with glee.

Miller held her gaze steady on his, almost in warning. ‘No, I don’t.’

‘So what will you do if I don’t help you out?’ Tino prodded. ‘Let the client have another crack at you?’

He ignored his brother’s curious gaze and focused on Miller’s pained expression at his crude terminology. Man, but she was wound tighter than his Ferrari at full speed, and damn if he didn’t have the strangest desire to unravel her.

He tried to figure out his unexpected reaction, but then decided not to waste time thinking about it.

Why bother? He was about to send her packing with four easy words.

He threw her his trademark smile as he anticipated her horrified response. ‘Okay, I’ll do it.’