‘So?’ My breath hitches in my throat. I almost choke on it. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘I’m here to broker a new deal.’
My eyes narrow; my heart races. ‘Because our last one was such a success?’
‘Yeah, actually, I think it was.’
I make a snort of derision. Yes. I snort—in front of Ethan sex-god Ash. For Christ’s sake. I think I’ve reached pretty much the lowest ebb of my life.
‘It was a spectacular failure?’
‘Why? Because we exceeded expectations?’ He arches a brow. ‘I wanted to fuck you and instead I fell in love. You don’t think that’s commendable?’
‘Commendable?’ I repeat, my jaw dropping. ‘This isn’t a grade school assignment, for God’s sake, Ethan!’
‘Yeah, well, obviously... I think the school board would have a thing or two to say about it.’
Again he smiles, and I feel like he’s laughing at me.
I square my shoulders, staring at him with what I hope comes over as distaste. ‘I want you to get out. This is bordering on stalking, you know.’
‘Not until you’ve heard what I came here to say.’
He’s not joking now. His expression is hardened by intent and his eyes dare me to challenge him.
But mentally I brace myself for the inevitable. I will walk away from him. I will draw new boundaries. I will run from this as fast as I can.
Panic fills me.
‘Fine. Say what you want and then leave me alone.’
* * *
She’s still pissed off. Any hope I had that she might have mellowed over the last week has evaporated. Everything I planned to say, the arguments I wanted to level, the jokes I wanted to make about planting a peach orchard at my home disappear. I stare at her and I am lost. I am lost in the sea of what we were, and what we could be, and everything I am hinges on how I do this.
‘You’re scared of how much you love me. I understand that.’
She makes a scoffing sound of disbelief. ‘You’re so arrogant! I walked away from you, remember? And you’re standing there telling me I’m in love with you?’
She glares at me.
‘Tell me you’re not,’ I challenge. ‘Say that you don’t love me and I’ll go. Right now. If that’s what you want, say it and I’ll walk out that door.’
Her eyes sparkle and then drop lower, mutiny in every line of her body. I hold my breath without realising it, but then I relax. Because she does love me. And she’s not a liar.
‘It was two weeks,’ she says angrily, as though the shortness of time we’ve known each other makes a damned bit of difference.
‘So you hardly know me!’
My temper rises and I want to shake her. No—scratch that. I want to kiss her and I want to fuck her. I want to rip that dress up around her waist and push her against her desk and do the only thing I can do to make her understand how perfect we are.
‘You think I don’t know you?’
Again she doesn’t meet my eyes.
Challenge accepted, Miss Douglas.
I pace towards her, so close that we are almost but not quite touching.
‘I know that you love to go running in a way that I will never understand but will try to come to terms with. I know that you love Neil deGrasse Tyson. I know that you drink gin and tonic and live with Eliza and Cassie and that you think of them as sisters.’
I’ve got her attention—if only because I’m moving infinitesimally closer with each sentence, closing what little gap remains between us.
‘I know that your parents are conservative and that you don’t want to disappoint them. I know that you feel about art the way I do about music. I know that you are brilliant and respected and intelligent, and as rare as any of my favourite Impressionist masterpieces.’
She sucks in a breath and my eyes drop to her lips, to the way they’re parted, revealing her white teeth and warm mouth. But I cannot be derailed from my argument. Not yet.
‘I know that you always eat your burger before you touch your fries—that you never eat them both at the same time—and I know that you like coffee first thing in the morning, even before I’ve spoken to you. I know that watching you eat a peach is the sexiest damn thing in the world. I know that you sing in the shower and, I’m sorry to say it, that you have one of the worst singing voices I’ve ever heard. Seriously...you couldn’t find the right key even if it landed on your head.’