Seduced:The Unexpected Virgin(3)

By: Emily McKay

“I hope you don’t mind. The paparazzi followed us from the airport. I’m sorry I’m late.” And then, he winked at her. “I didn’t even have time to pick up any free-range kelp.”

Ward waited for the enticing brunette to laugh at his teasing—after all, her quip about snorting kelp had nearly had him guffawing. He didn’t meet many people willing to laugh at his fame. It was refreshing.

Instead, her posture stiffened making her appear slightly taller than he’d first thought, though she still couldn’t have been more than five-six. She blushed, which made her skin glow a gorgeous peach. With her luxurious tumble of dark hair, her wide smile and her high cheekbones, she looked lushly exotic.

However, she was also simmering with anger.

“Sorry I had to sneak in the back,” he said, trying again to massage her into a more amiable frame of mind. “We made it all the way to the San Diego airport unnoticed. But Drew Barrymore and that guy from the Apple ads were there, flying off on some vacation. Unfortunately, they made it through security just as we were coming out, so there was already a swarm of photographers there.”

He made light of it, but SUVs of camera-toting leeches had followed for nearly thirty miles. His driver had almost lost them in the maze of streets in the business district of Vista del Mar. In fact, his assistant and publicist had stayed in the car when he hopped out, both to speed things up and in hopes that the paparazzi would see the figures still in the back of the car and keep following it.

Since Ana didn’t seem amused by his joke, he flashed a smile at her companion. The woman returned his smile faintly. She had that fluttery look fans sometimes got.

He extended his hand. “Hi, I’m Ward Miller.”

“Hi,” the older blonde woman said in a breathy voice, before clearing her throat. “I’m Christi Cox. I’m the assistant director here at Hannah’s Hope.” As she slipped her hand in his, she gave a giggly squeak and elbowed Ana in the side. “See, he’s not pretentious or preening.”

Christi returned his wink with an exaggerated one of her own. Instantly, he liked her. He wasn’t going to have any trouble getting along with her. The jury was still out on the prickly other woman.

She stepped forward and extended her own hand along with a tight smile. “I’m Ana Rodriguez. The director of Hannah’s Hope.”

She shook his hand for only an instant before she pulled it back and tucked it close to her side. Good thing he hadn’t been expecting any more warmth in the greeting.

With a frown, she nodded toward the window. “It looks like you didn’t do such a good job shaking them after all.”

He looked out the front window at the street beyond. A white SUV sat in front of the building, parked at a haphazard angle. A second later, another SUV squealed to a halt beside the first. And then a third.

His cell phone vibrated and then hummed the seven-note bridge in the “Falling Hard” ringtone his aunt bought him for his birthday last year as a joke.

Ana’s brows snapped together in a frown at the sound of his phone ringing. Automatically, he glanced down at the caller ID. It was Jess, his assistant. “I better take this. He won’t be long.”

“Sorry, man,” Jess launched into speech without preamble or introduction. “We lost them at the hotel. I told Ryan we should keep driving, but he was eager to check in.”

“No worries,” Ward said into the phone, keeping his tone casual. Ryan, Ward’s publicist, could steamroll the pope. And since he was a believer in the old as-long-as-they-spell-your-name-right axiom, Ryan had probably demanded he and Jess check into the hotel precisely to engineer the press finding Ward. “You guys get settled in there. I’ll text you when I want you to send the car back.”

He ended the call and slid the phone back in his pocket with a pained smile. “Well, looks like they’re here to stay. Shall we go out and answer some questions?” He gave her shoulder a friendly clap. She looked at him with such surprise, he found himself leaving his hand there. “If we throw them a bone, maybe they’ll leave us alone.”

For a moment, he had the urge to slide his hand to the nape of her neck. Before he could stop himself, he did. With a gentle touch, he steered her toward the door. “Come on, let’s get out there.”

She skittered away from his touch. “Why should I go?”

“Free press is good press. Might as well make this work for Hannah’s Hope.”

“I—” Then she broke off, seeming to consider his words. “I guess you’re right.” With a shrug, she approached the door, carefully slanting her shoulders so she slipped through the door.