Seduced:The Unexpected Virgin(4)

By: Emily McKay

However, her thick, long hair nearly brushed his chest as she passed. Her hair smelled warm and fragrant. Like cinnamon left in the sun. A breeze drifted in through the open door, mixing her scent with the briny tang of the ocean. It was like eating snickerdoodles at the beach.

Longing stabbed at him, so sharp it nearly sucked the air out of the room. The combination was both homey and exotic. Welcoming and erotic.

It was a damn inconvenient time for his body to respond so strongly to a woman.

At least he didn’t have to worry about getting his heart involved, as well. As he’d sat at Cara’s deathbed, he’d made a promise to himself. He’d never love again.

Cameras snapped the instant Ward stepped outside. As a recent denizen of Hollywood, Ana was no stranger to the buzz of gossipmongers. If there was one thing her four years in the movie biz had taught her, it was that celebrities came alive in front of the camera and lived for the attention of the press.

Ward’s attitude only reaffirmed that impression. She barely had a chance to acclimate to the horde of reporters stewing on the street. And, good Lord, where had they all come from? She would have sworn they arrived in clown cars, rather than SUVs.

However, Ward was already smiling with practiced ease and answering questions with a rakish smile.

“No, today is just a business meeting,” he was saying. He started to gesture toward Ana.

She had an instant of hoping he’d steer the questions toward Hannah’s Hope. Readying herself to step forward and talk, she gave her slim skirt a tug, secretly longing for the familiarity of the more flamboyant clothes she wore when she wasn’t trying to look so professional. But then a brunette from the back of the crowd edged her way forward. Ana recognized Gillian Mitchell, a reporter from the local paper, the Seaside Gazette. She called out a question. “I heard you’d booked time at a recording studio up in L.A. Are you working on a new album?”

“Of course, there’s always a possibility I’ll return to my recording career.” He rolled up onto the balls of his feet.

With his hands tucked into his pants pockets, he exuded a sort of good ol’ boy, aw-shucks enthusiasm that implied that possibility was more of a reality. “But for now I’m just producing an album with a local musician, Dave Summers, who just signed with my label. It’s important for me to let other young musicians have the same opportunities that I had.” Then he leaned a little closer and winked at the reporter. “But a songwriter is always a songwriter. I still have stories to tell.”

Ana tried to resist rolling her eyes. Her lips felt stiff from the forced smile, her teeth brittle from biting back her sarcasm. Sneaked in the back, indeed. He’d probably engineered this whole thing. What a jerk.

Finally, just as some of the reporters were starting to drift off, he said, “But it’s my work for charity that brings me here today. Let me tell you about Hannah’s Hope….”

Ana tried to smile with more enthusiasm now. The charity he’d started in honor of his wife, the Cara Miller Foundation, was world-renowned for its work with underprivileged children. Though CMF had no formal relationship with Hannah’s Hope, Ward was a board member for both organizations. He was known for his philanthropic works, and was reclusive enough that any appearances piqued the public’s interest. At the appropriate moment, she said a sentence or two about the services Hannah’s Hope provided and their mission statement. She’d barely had a chance to rattle off the web address when the first of the cars loaded up and pulled out.

As the last of the reporters wandered off, she turned to look at Ward. His expression was tight, his lips pressed into a thin line of strain. For a second, she wondered whether this had been harder on him than he’d let on. But then he caught her looking at him and he smiled.

That smile, so up close and personal, seemed to suck the air right out of her lungs. She felt that same heady breathlessness she had when he’d introduced himself earlier. Like her blood had suddenly warmed by a few degrees.

“That went well,” he said, flashing those white teeth at her like the barely tamed big bad wolf his press kit made him out to be.

She caught herself wanting to simper in response. Self-consciously, she ran a hand over her hair. She dropped her hand to her side as soon as she realized what she was doing. She would not be distracted by him. No matter how charming he was.

“Just great,” she said with forced cheer.

He raised his eyebrows, his steady gaze unnerving her. “Is it all celebrities you don’t like or is it just me? Because if you have a problem with me, I’d rather know it now.” After a moment, he cocked his head toward her just slightly, lending a sense of intimacy to the hushed conversation. There had been a subtle sexual undercurrent to all his words. The gentle teasing, the low voice, the heat of his hand on her neck.