Seduced:The Unexpected Virgin(9)

By: Emily McKay

“Certainly,” she muttered, hoping her tone didn’t sound as false to him as it did to her. Her office was little more than a repurposed closet. Between her desk sitting flush against one wall and her bookshelf against the opposite wall, she barely had room for more than her desk chair and the chair she’d set by the door for guests.

He sat down in the extra chair, scooting it back as he did to stretch out his long limbs. She nudged her own chair back a couple of inches to keep from bumping into his legs. His sheer size seemed to swallow up the empty space of her office. Just as the very air seemed permeated by the woodsy scent of his…his what? It wasn’t strong or overpowering like a cologne. It was something more subtle. Maybe his soap. Or maybe his skin just naturally smelled like freedom and afternoons spent hiking in the woods. Like—

She gave her head a little shake, trying to free herself from the grasp of her senses. She realized abruptly that he was watching her, his gaze dark and mysterious. She felt awareness skitter across her nerve endings.

She was used to being hit on by men. She had a voluptuous figure and a pretty-enough face. Men often had certain expectations about hot-blooded Latina women and loose morals. Never mind that she’d never once lived down to that stereotype, she was used to having strange men check her out. But this was different.

Ward’s stare wasn’t leering. He seemed to be assessing her personality rather than her flingability. She feared that if he was sizing her up, he’d find her lacking somehow.

And yet, underneath that, there was a spark of awareness. She’d almost swear to it. Of course, what was more disconcerting was her reaction to him. Why did his mere presence make her feel so much more aware of herself? Of the lock of hair that had slipped free of her clip and sat heavy against her neck. Of the way she’d kicked off her shoes when she’d first sat down and then scooted away from her desk without slipping them back on. Aware of her bare toes, with their silly blue nail polish, mere inches from his expensive leather loafers.

As if sensing her thoughts, he glanced down at her feet. He stared at them long enough to make her uncomfortable. And then swallowed noticeably. She jerked her feet under her chair and curled her toes under. He looked back up at her, his expression carefully blank.

When he spoke, his tone brooked no argument. “We need to talk.”

Ah, crap. He had been sizing her up. Here it comes. She was unprofessional. She was unqualified. She was disrespectful. He hated blue nail polish and her feet repulsed him.

She felt as though he could see right through her. As though any defense she might make would be fruitless. Not that he gave her a chance to state her case.

“There’s one thing I don’t tolerate,” he stated blandly. “That’s people who aren’t honest with me. You obviously don’t like me and I need to know why.”

She didn’t…what? She blew out a long breath, trying to process his words. He was worried she didn’t like him?

“It’s not—”

“Either you don’t like me or you don’t trust me. Something. Let’s get it out on the table right now. And don’t throw out that crap about not trusting celebrities. Because I don’t believe for a second that you’d let that get in the way of making Hannah’s Hope a success.”

She blew out a deep breath, trying to gauge just how honest she dared to be. Yes, she didn’t like celebrities. Ridley Sinclair had made her life horrible and she knew that most male celebrities wouldn’t think twice about acting that way. But in all honesty, nothing Ward had done since she’d met him indicated he was anything like those men. Which, somehow, almost made it worse.

She could dismiss someone like Ridley Sinclair. But hardworking, straight-talking Ward? He was much harder to ignore.

Since she couldn’t admit any of that aloud, she grasped at straws and pulled the first one that came away in her hand.

“Okay,” she said. “For starters, I don’t like the way you’ve stormed in here and taken over. You’ve been in town less than a day and you’re already blowing our budget on whiteboards and catered fruit trays.”

“I didn’t spend the charity’s money on those things.”

“Oh.” He’d spent his own? She suppressed a groan. Hot and generous? She was so screwed. Still, he was looking at her expectantly. So she yanked out another straw. “You think that makes it better? That if you throw around money, the things you want will get done?”

He flashed a smile with just a tinge of charming chagrin. “Generally, that is the way it works.”