Seduction And The CEO - Page 43

“She’s a knockout,” came Royce’s voice as he dropped into the armchair beside Jared. “No kidding.”

Melissa gave Royce a welcoming smile and a little wave.

Royce’s long lecherous look at her legs irritated Jared, worrying him all over again. Just how deep had he let himself fall?

“You serious about her?” Royce asked.

“Why?” Jared demanded, wondering what might have given him away.

Royce gave a smug grin. “Guess that answers my question.”

“She leaves for Seattle tomorrow.” And that was the disappointing truth. He’d suggested she stay longer, but she’d insisted she had to get back on her trip. Whatever feelings might be building inside Jared, this was the time to shut them down.

“You want me to fly her out?”

“No.” Jared did not. He might not be pursuing anything with Melissa himself, but that didn’t mean the field was open to his brother.

Royce’s grin widened. “This is fun.”

“Back off.”

“Not a chance.”

Melissa floated out in a calf-length ivory gown. It had snug, three-quarter-length, flat lace sleeves and a sweetheart neckline gathered with a line of jewels at mid-bust. There was a wide ribbon waist band and a two-layered, flowing skirt that flirted with her legs. She grinned and gave a twirl. Her diamond earrings twinkled under the bright lights.

Jared felt a tightening in his chest. A small bouquet of flowers, and she’d be the perfect bride. Her open smile told him she was oblivious to the image, but he wasn’t, and he drank in the sight for several long minutes.

He gave the dress a five, and she turned to walk away.

“Do I need to say it?” asked Royce.

“No.” Jared kept his focus on Melissa until she disappeared again.

“So how’re you going to keep her here?”

Jared gave up lying both to himself and to Royce. “I haven’t decided yet.”

They’d chosen a black silk dress with spaghetti straps and a metallic gold thread that made it shimmer under the ballroom lights. The skirt of the dress was full enough to make Melissa feel like a princess as she whirled around the dance floor in Jared’s arms to the music of a five-piece string band. Her rhinestone sandals were light on her feet. Her hair was upswept, and Jared had insisted on buying her the looped gold necklace and a set of matching earrings.

He looked roguishly sexy in his tuxedo. Having seen him in blue jeans, chaps and dust, she realized the formal clothes barely disguised the rugged man inside.

Champagne flowed, and the crystal chandeliers glittered around them as they moved past marble pillars, magnificent floral arrangements and the kaleidoscope of designer gowns. At one point, the mayor paused to chat. And everyone in the room knew and obviously respected Jared.

Though Melissa had promised herself the night was off the record, she’d decided to use a few of her impressions in the article. Jared was an intelligent, insightful man, with an amazing grasp of local issues and Chicago economic trends. There was no way she could leave that side of him out of the article.

Though she’d spent the first hour with an eagle eye out for press and anybody else who might recognize her, it turned out to be a private party. No press, and Jared’s social circle was far from hers. While she might recognize the notable figures from their pictures and television appearances, she knew they’d never recognize her.

She felt like Cinderella when they finally made their way out of the ballroom and into the promenade. Her arm was linked with Jared’s, and Royce was by their side.

“Barry left them at the front desk,” Royce was saying, thumbing a button on his PDA before he tucked it back into his breast pocket.

“I don’t want to work tonight,” said Jared, and he raised Melissa’s hand to his lips, giving her knuckles a tender kiss.

Royce sent Melissa a mock frown. “See what you’ve done? I’m usually the irresponsible brother.”

“Not tonight,” said Jared.

“Apparently not,” Royce growled.

“Is it important?” asked Melissa. She was anxious to get Jared alone in their suite, but his conversations at the ball had taught her his time was valuable. His business interests were even more significant and far-reaching than she’d realized.

“Yes,” said Royce.

“No,” Jared put in over top of his brother.

“Do you want to get up early, instead?” asked Royce.

“No,” Melissa quickly put in. She’d have to pretend to get on a plane to Seattle sometime tomorrow, but she’d been entertaining a glorious vision. One that featured a leisurely breakfast in bed with Jared, maybe a dip in their whirlpool tub and a long goodbye before they went their separate ways at, say, noon.