Rich Man's Fake Fiancee(6)

By: Catherine Mann

This had to be hell for the woman, seeing her sister in danger and watching her business burn. At least the flames hadn’t spread next door to Starr’s home.

“Thank you for going in there.” Starr blinked back tears and shoved a hank of wild curls from her face. “We’ll never be able to repay you.”

Matthew tugged at his tie, too aware of Ashley a few inches away, close enough she could overhear. He doubted Starr would keep thanking him if she knew the full story about what had happened last night and how it had ended.

He settled for a neutral, “I’m just glad to have been in the right place at the right time.”

“What amazing good luck you were around.” Starr smoothed a hand over her sister’s head. “Why were you here? Beachcombers doesn’t open for another hour.”

His eyes snapped to Ashley’s. He didn’t expect she would say anything here, now. But would she be sharing sister girl talk later? He sure as hell didn’t intend to exchange locker-room confidences with anyone about this. Keeping his life private was tough enough with the press hounding him and everyone around him for a top-dollar tidbit of gossip.

Starr frowned. “Matthew?”

“I came by for—”

“He came to—” Ashley brushed aside Starr’s hand and lifted the oxygen mask. “He needed to pick up contracts for the fund-raiser. Please, don’t worry about me. What’s going on with Beachcombers? Is that another police siren?”

She tugged the blanket tighter and tried to stand. No surprise. While he hadn’t known Ashley for more than a few months, she clearly preferred people didn’t make a fuss over her. A problem for her at this particular moment, because he wasn’t budging until he heard the all-clear from her EMS tech.

Matthew turned to the burly guy who tucked a length of gauze back into a first-aid kit. “Shouldn’t she be in a hospital?”

“Congressman Landis?” a voice called from behind him, drew closer, louder. “Just one statement for the record before you go.”

Holy hell. He glanced over his shoulder and took in the well-dressed reporter holding a microphone, her cameraman scurrying behind her with a boom mike and video recorder. He recognized this woman as an up-and-coming scrapper of a journalist who was convinced he would be her ticket to a big story this election season.

How could he have forgotten to look out for the press, even here, at a restaurant buried in an exclusive stretch of beachside historic homes? He’d been a politician’s son for most of his life. A South Carolina congressman in his own right. Now a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

He might not always be able to keep his private life quiet, but he would make sure Ashley’s stayed protected. He’d hurt her enough already.

Matthew pivoted and before he could finish saying, “No comment,” he heard a camera click. So much for his resolve to close the book on his time with Ashley.

Showering in the hospital bathroom, Ashley finished lathering her soot-reeking hair and ducked her head under the spray. The tap, tap, tap of the water on green tile reminded her of the sound of cameras snapping photographs earlier. At least the EMS technicians had hustled her into the ambulance and slammed the doors before any members of the media could push past Matthew’s barricading body.Still, no matter how long she stood under the soothing spray, she couldn’t wash away the frustration burning along her nerves. Matthew Landis had only blown through Charleston a few times and already he’d turned her life inside out, like a garment tugged off too quickly.

Had he really stared at her for a second too long when the blanket slipped? Part of her gloried in his wide-eyed expression, especially after his hasty retreat earlier that morning. Then tormenting images came to mind of him risking his life to save her when she’d been trapped in the powder room. Ashley grabbed the washcloth and scrubbed away the lingering sensation of smoke and Matthew’s touch.

Once she’d dried off and wrapped her hair in a towel, she felt somewhat steadier. She slipped into the nightgown and robe her sister had brought by her hospital room, giving only a passing thought to the ruined pink peignoir. Yes, she was well on her way to putting the whole debacle behind her. She had more important things to concentrate on anyway—like the fiery mess. Ashley yanked open the bathroom door.

And stopped short.

Matthew Landis sat on the hospital room’s one chair, stretching his legs in front of him. He wore a fresh gray suit with a silver tie tack that she could swear bore the South Carolina state tree—a palmetto. How he managed such relaxed composure—especially given today’s circumstances—she would never know.