Rich Man's Fake Fiancee(8)

By: Catherine Mann

He pulled the chair in front of her and sat. “The structure is intact, the fire damage appears contained to downstairs, but everything is going to be water-logged from the fire hoses. That’s all I could tell from the outside.”

“Inspectors will probably have more information for us soon.”

“If they show any signs of giving you trouble, just let me know and I’ll get the family lawyers on it right away.”

“Starr said pretty much the same when she came by earlier. She just kept repeating how glad she is that I’m alive.”

Their other foster sister, Claire, had echoed the sentiment when she’d called from her cruise with her husband and daughter. Insurance would take care of the cost. But Ashley still couldn’t help feeling responsible. The fire had happened on her watch and she’d been so preoccupied with Matthew she may well have screwed up in some way. How could she help but blame herself?

Matthew shifted from the chair to sit beside her on the bed and pulled her close before she could think to protest. His fingers tunneling under her damp hair, he patted between her shoulder blades. Slowly, she relaxed against his chest, drawn by the now-familiar scent of his aftershave, the steady thud of his heart beneath his starched shirt. After a hellish day such as the one she’d been through, who could fault her for stealing a moment’s comfort?

“It’ll be okay,” he chanted, his husky Southern drawl stroking her tattered nerves as surely as his hands skimmed over her back. “You’ve got plenty of people to help.”

His jacket rasped against her cheek and she couldn’t resist tracing the palmetto tree tie tack. Being in his arms felt every bit as wonderful as she remembered. And here they were again.

Could she have misread his early departure this morning? “Thank you for stopping by to check on me.”

“Of course. And I was careful not to be seen.”

Her heart stuttered and it had nothing to do with the whiff of his aftershave. “What?”

He smoothed her hair from her face, his strong hands gentle along her cheeks. “I was able to dodge the media on my way inside the hospital.”

She thought back to the barrage of questions shouted their way as she’d been loaded into the ambulance. Uneasily, she inched out of his arms. “I imagine there will be plenty of coverage of your heroic save.”

Matthew scrubbed a hand along his jaw. “That’s not exactly the angle the media’s working.”

Apprehension prickled along her spine nearly managing to nudge aside the awareness of his touch still humming through her veins. “Is there a problem?”

“Don’t worry.” His smile almost reassured her. Almost. “I’ll take care of everything with the press and the photos that are popping up on the Internet. Once my campaign manager works his magic with a new spin, nobody will think for even a second that we’re a couple.”


N ot a couple? Wow, he sure could use some lessons on how to let a girl down easy.

Ashley shoved her palms against his chest. His big arrogant chest. So much for assuming he’d been attracted to her after all. It would be a cold day in hell before she fell into those mesmerizing eyes again. “Glad to hear you’ve got everything under control.”Matthew eased to his feet, confidence and that damned air of sincerity mucking up the air around him. “My campaign manager, Brent Davis, is top—”

Ashley raised a hand to stop him. “Great. I’m not surprised. You can handle anything.”

He searched her with his gaze. “Is there something wrong? I thought you would be pleased to know about the damage control.”

Damage control? Her experience with him fell under the header of freaking damage control? Her anger burned hotter than any fire.

But the last thing she needed was for him to get a perceptive peek into her emotions. She scrambled for a plausible excuse in case he picked up on her feelings. “I’m dreading going over to the store tomorrow, but at the same time can’t wait to set things in order. It’s a relief to know I don’t have anything to worry about with the press.” Damn it all, she was babbling now, but anything was better than an awkward silence during which she might do something rash—like punch him. “So that’s that then.”

He didn’t leave, just stood, his brows knitting together. Her heart tapped an unsteady beat in spite of herself.

Okay, so he was hot and confident and sincere looking. And he didn’t want her. She shouldn’t be this pissed off. It was just an impulsive one-night stand. People did that sort of thing.

She just never had. But she wasn’t totally inexperienced. Why then did a single lapse against his chest plummet her into a world of sensation that a bolt of silk couldn’t hope to rival?