Jared had offered her a drink and snacks after takeoff, but her stomach was too jumpy for either. Was she crazy? What if there were press at the charitable event? What if somebody recognized her?
As the jet began its descent, Jared reached across the aisle for her hand. “The ball’s at the Ritz-Carlton, so I booked us a suite. Royce is staying in my apartment.”
Melissa nodded. She’d have loved to see Jared’s apartment, but she understood he wanted them to be alone. And so did she. She wanted a night with him to herself-no Stephanie up the hill, no ranch hands next door and definitely no Royce in the neighboring bedroom.
Maybe heartache would hit her afterward. And she might be weeks recovering. But she knew a stolen fling with Jared would be worth it.
“You have a spa appointment tomorrow,” he continued. “And we can wander down North Michigan Avenue and find you a dress.”
“You do know how to spoil a girl.” She had several perfectly acceptable dresses at home, but she couldn’t admit that to Jared.
She felt another twinge of guilt over the deception. But it would end soon. And Jared might never read the article. Even if he did, he’d have to be pleased with it, she told herself. She intended to show him in a very good light.
His gaze was warm. “I’ll spoil you for as long as you want.”
“You don’t need to spoil me at all.” She brought his broad hand to her lips. “What I want from you is free.”
“I’d rather give it to you at the Ritz-Carlton.”
She affected a deep sassy drawl. “You can give it to me anywhere you like, cowboy.”
He pursed his lips and hissed a drawn-out exclamation. “I sure hope Royce plans to entertain himself after we land.”
“What are you doing now?” Stephanie’s voice came through Jared’s cell phone while he sat in a comfortable armchair by the window in St. Jacques boutique overlooking the lake.
“Watching Melissa try on dresses.” He’d made three overseas calls and consulted with his finance department while Melissa had paraded past in about a dozen dresses. She looked great in them all.
“I bet she looks gorgeous.”
Melissa walked out of the changing room in a short gold sheath with spaghetti straps and a diaphanous scarf. He wasn’t crazy about the scarf, but he liked the dress.
He held up four fingers. He’d been giving rankings out of five, since he’d been holding his PDA to his ear through the entire fashion show.
Melissa leaned forward and pointed to a looped gold-and-diamond necklace the salesclerk had fastened around her neck. He simply gave a thumbs-up to that.
“Did you have fun last night?” Stephanie asked.
“None of your business.”
“It’s quiet here. I miss you and Royce.”
“We miss you, too. Come to the party. Royce will pick you up.”
“I can’t.” She sighed. “We’ve got our first junior elite rider starting tomorrow. He’s been blowing them away on the young rider circuit.”
“That’s a good thing, right?”
“It’s a great thing.”
“Then quit your whining.”
Melissa pranced back into the changing room, and he wished he’d thought to comment on the shoes. Black, sleek and high, with flashing rhinestones around the ankles. He definitely wanted her to keep the shoes.
“Is this tough love?” Stephanie asked.
“What’s going on with Melissa?”
“She’s going to blow them away tonight.”
“Will she blow you away?”
“Don’t get your hopes up, Steph.”
“You have to fall in love sometime.”
But then Melissa appeared again. This time she was wearing an emerald-green strapless party dress. The bodice was tight satin, stretched snugly over her breasts, while the skirt puffed out around her thighs, showing off her toned calves and sexy ankles. It was perfect for a late-night club. It was also dress number thirteen, and he realized he wanted to take her out in all of them.
“Gotta go,” he said to Stephanie, needing to end the conversation.
“Keep an open mind,” she called into the phone.
“Don’t worry.” No point in Stephanie worrying. Jared was the one who needed to worry.
He was starting to think about jobs for Melissa again, jobs at Ryder International. Or better still, jobs at affiliated companies in the city, so she wouldn’t work directly for him. But she’d still be around to date him.
He was starting to think about her skill set and who owed him favors. They had one more night together, then maybe half of tomorrow. But he knew that wasn’t going to do it for him. And that was a very worrisome development.