Rich Man's Fake Fiancee(9)

By: Catherine Mann

She wanted, needed, him gone now. “Thanks again for visiting, but I have to dry my hair.”

Oh great. Really original brush-off line.

He massaged his temple beside the bandage. “Promise me you’ll be careful. Don’t rush into Beachcombers until you get official notice that it’s safe.”

“I pinky swear. Now you really can go.” Why wouldn’t he leave the hospital? Better yet, return to Hilton Head altogether.

“About this morning…Ah, hell.” He stuffed his hands in his pockets. “You’re still okay with everything. Right?”

Full-scale alert. The man was rolling out the pity party. How mortifying.

If he said anything more, she might well slug him after all, which would rumple his perfectly tailored suit and show far more than she wanted him to see concerning his effect over her. “I have bigger concerns in my life right now than thinking about bed partners.”

“Fair enough.”

“I have to deal with the shop, my sisters, insurance claims.” She was a competent businesswoman and he should respect her for that. No pity.

“I’ve got it.” He held up his hands, a one-sided smile crooking up. “You’re ready for me to leave.”

Sheesh. How had he managed to turn the tables so fast until she felt guilty? Blast his politician skills that made her feel suddenly witchy.

She softened her stance and allowed herself to smile benignly back. “Last night was…nice. But it’s back to real life now.”

He arched one aristocratic brow. “Nice? You think the time we spent naked together was nice?”

Uh-oh. She’d thrown down a proverbial gauntlet to a man who made a profession out of competition. A chill tightened her scalp.

She shuffled to the window, offering him her back until she could stare away the need to explore the heat in his eyes again. Her poise threatened to snap. Matthew’s return had already left her raw, and today she had little control to spare.

“Matthew, I need for you to go now.” She toyed with the satin bow in a potted fern, the ribbon’s texture reminding her of the gown she’d foolishly donned earlier.

“Of course.” His voice rumbled, smoother than the ribbon in her hand or the fabric along her body.

Two echoing footsteps brought him closer. His breath heated through her hair. “I’m sorry about the media mess and for not keeping my distance when I should have. But there’s not a chance in hell I would call last night something so bland as ‘nice.’”

If he touched her again, she’d snap, or worse yet, kiss him.

Ashley spun to face him, the window ledge biting into her back. His gaze intense, glowing, he stared down at her. The bow crumbled in her clenched hand.

Forget courtesy. “My sister is on her way with a blow-dryer. She forgot to bring one when she brought by my other things.”

He nodded simply. “Call me if you have any unexpected troubles with the press or the insurance company.”

The door hissed closed behind him. Snatching up the rose he’d held, Ashley congratulated herself on not sprinting after him. Especially since her lips felt swollen and hungry. She’d always been attracted to him. What woman wouldn’t be?

Her body wanted him. Her mind knew better—when she bothered to listen. She’d vowed she wouldn’t be one of those females who lost twenty IQ points when a charming guy smiled.

She sketched the flower against her cheek, twirling the stem between two fingers. How would she manage to resist him now that she’d experienced just how amazing his touch felt on her naked skin?

Straightening her spine, she stabbed the long stemmed bud back into a vase. The same way she’d done everything else since her parents tossed her out before kindergarten.

With a steely backbone honed by years of restraint.

It took all his restraint not to blow a gasket when he saw the morning paper.Matthew gripped the worst of the batch in his fist as he rode the service elevator up to Ashley’s hospital room. He’d known the press would dig around. Hell, they had been doing so for most of his life. Overall, he took those times as opportunities to voice his opinions. Calmly and articulately.

Right now, he felt anything but calm.

He unrolled the tabloid rag and looked again at the damning photos splashed across the front page. Somehow, a reporter had managed to get shots of his night with Ashley. Intimate photos that left nothing to the imagination. The most benign of the batch? A picture of him with Ashley at her front door, when she’d been wearing her robe. When he’d leaned to kiss her goodbye.

The photographer had gerrymandered his way to just the right angle to make that peck on the cheek look like a serious liplock.