Rich Man's Fake Fiancee(10)

By: Catherine Mann


Then there was the worst of the crop. A telephoto-lens shot through one of the downstairs bay windows when he and Ashley had been in the hall, on their way to her room, ditching clothes faster than you could say “government cheese.”

Had she seen or heard about the pictures yet? He would find out soon enough.

The elevator jolted to a stop. Door swished apart to reveal a nurse waiting for him with a speculative gleam in her matronly eyes. He managed not to wince and gestured for her to lead the way.

The nurse’s shoes squeaked on the tile floors as he strode behind her, the sounds of televisions and a rattling food cart filling the silence as people stopped talking to stare when he walked past.

He understood well enough the ebb and flow of gossip in this business. For the most part, he could shrug it off. But he wasn’t so sure someone as private and reserved as Ashley could do the same.

Matthew nodded his thanks to the nurse and knocked on Ashley’s door. “It’s me.”

The already cracked open door swooshed wider. Ashley sat in the chair by the window, wearing jeans and two layered shirts, all of which cupped her curves the way his hands itched to do.

He shoved the door closed behind him.

Ashley nodded to the paper in his fist. “The political scoop of the year.”

Well, that answered one question. She’d already seen the paper. Or watched TV. Or listened to the radio.

Hell. “I am so damn sorry.”

“I assume your campaign manager hasn’t rolled out of bed yet,” she said quietly, as stiff as the industrial chair.

“He’s been awake since the phone rang at 4:00 a.m. warning him this was coming.”

“And you didn’t think it would be prudent to give me a heads-up?” While her voice stayed controlled, her red hair—gathered in a long ponytail—all but crackled with pent-up energy as it swept over her shoulder, along her pink and green layered shirts.

“I would have called, but the hospital’s switchboard is on overload.”

She squeezed her eyes shut, a long sigh gusting past her lips. Finally, she unclenched her death grip on the chair’s arms and looked at him again. “Why does the press care who you’re sleeping with?”

She couldn’t be that naive. He raised an eyebrow.

“Okay, okay.” She shoved to her feet and started pacing restlessly around the small room. “Of course they care. They are interested in anything a politician does, especially a wealthy one. Still why should it matter in regards to the polls? You’re young, unattached. I’m single and of legal age. We had sex. Big deal.”

As she passed, a drying strand of hair fluttered, snagging on his cuff link and draping over his hand. Each movement of her head as she continued talking shifted the lock of hair without sliding it away.

Why couldn’t he twitch the strand free? “You may or may not have read about how my last breakup ended badly. My ex-girlfriend didn’t take it well when I ended things and she let that be known in the press. Of course the media never bothered to mention she was cheating while I was in D.C.”

Her answer dimly registered in his mind as he stared while the overhead light played with the hints of gold twining through the red lock. He kept his arm motionless. The strand slashed across his hand the way her hair had played along his chest when she’d leaned over him, her beautiful body on display for him.

Naked.

He cleared his throat and his thoughts. He needed to prepare her for what she would face once she left this room. “The media are going to hound you for details. You can’t comprehend how intense the scrutiny will be until you’ve lived with it. Do you have any idea how many reporters are out there waiting for a chance to talk to you right now?”

“When my sister gets here, we’ll slip out the back entrance.” She eyed the door with a grimace. “I’m sure the hospital staff will be happy to help.”

He scratched behind his ear. “It’s not that simple. And your sister’s not coming.”

She pointed to his hand. “Stop scratching.”

What the hell? “Pardon?”

“Scratching. It’s your poker tell. You only do that when you’re trying to think of a way around a question. What are you hiding—” She paused, scowled. “Wait. You told my sister not to come, didn’t you?”

Matthew dropped his arm to his side. Damn it, he’d never realized he had a “tell” sign. Why hadn’t he or his campaign manager picked up on that before? At least Ashley had alerted him so he could make a conscious effort to avoid it in the future.

Meanwhile, he had to deal with a fired-up female. “Her husband and I thought it would be safer for her to stay out of the mob outside.”