“I want her. Only her.” I clear my throat, realizing how that sounds. “For the project,” I add weakly.
“Good luck. I doubt you’ll get her, but more power to you.”
Gage’s words are just the challenge I need to hear.
“CHICKEN, I NEED your help.”
Icy shock moves through my veins at the first sound of Archer’s familiar, deep and sexy-as-hell voice. The very last person I expected to call me at my office on an early Wednesday afternoon—and just how did he get my work number anyway?
Duh, your brother.
“No, ‘Hello, Ivy, how’s it going?’ And I really, really wish you wouldn’t call me chicken.” I’m trying to joke. Or more like trying to figure out if he really does need my help. I mean, come on. Like hearing from him out of nowhere nearly a month later, after what happened between us, is no big deal.
It’s such a big deal.
“So nice to hear from you, Archer. What’s it been, a couple days?” Almost twenty-five days, not that I’m keeping count.
“Very f**king funny, Ivy. I’m not kidding,” he growls irritably. “I need your help, and I needed it yesterday.”
“And you’re calling me? Why? How exactly can I help you?” Wow, I sound remarkably cool and calm, but deep within my insides are trembling. And for whatever crazy reason, my n**ples are hard. All from his gruff, commanding tone. So ridiculous, but it’s like the second I hear his voice, my body reacts. I haven’t been able to get that night out of my mind. Images of a nak*d Archer above me, kissing me, buried deep inside me are burned on my brain.
“You’re still single, right?” he asks, knocking me from my thoughts.
“How is that any of your business?” My heart lodges in my throat. As if he would care. “And who told you that?” Fine. I so am. I haven’t talked to Marc, the jerk, since I broke it off with him. And I haven’t talked to any other guy either, let alone gone out on a date since my night with Archer.
Has he somehow ruined me forever? God, I hope not. I’m only twenty-four. I don’t want to die a shriveled up old lady pining for a man who had sex with me once and then walked away.
“Gage told me.”
I’m going to kill my brother. “Why do you care if I’m single or not?”
“I have a proposition for you.” He pauses and my heart falls into my stomach with hope. “A business proposition.”
Of course. Not that I expected a sexual one. Hello, been down that road once before and look where it got me? A lot of lonely, achy nights waking up after sweaty, too-graphic dreams involving me and him nak*d. “What sort of business proposition could you possibly have for me?”
“We’re getting ready to open a new set of suites at Hush. There’s only a handful, but they’re bigger, much more exclusive—and expensive—and I need someone to design the interior.” He pauses and my heart squeezes. “I want you.”
Hearing his familiar, deep voice say he wants me in that commanding way of his sets my legs shaking. And I’m sitting down. Ridiculous. “Maybe I’m busy,” I say haughtily, which is true.
“Come on, Ivy. You’re not too busy for me, are you?” He’s teasing me, but there’s a sexual edge to his voice. One I want to ignore.
“Actually, I am. I have a lot of projects I’m working on currently for clients.” I sound like a prim schoolteacher, but damn it, I know I have an appointment I need to get to soon. I really don’t have time to listen to him go on and on about how much he needs me. Getting my hopes up only for them to come crashing down when he never contacts me again.
He’s real good at that.
“I’ll make it worth your while.” His voice lowers, deceptively soft yet edged with smoky, sensual heat.
Tingles sweep over my skin. “I’m sure you will,” I say sarcastically. I refuse to let him know how much he still affects me, especially after he so callously ignored me this past month.
We got nak*d together. We had sex. And he acts like it never happened. I do too, because how else should I handle it? Confront him?
Hey, what the hell was that night all about anyway? I felt the earth move and thought maybe . . . you felt the same?
Can’t go there. No matter how badly I want to. And wasn’t he the one who called it a mistake?
Yeah, so not going to bring any of that up to him. He’d rather forget. Just like I would.
I wish he hadn’t called. Just hearing his voice works me up. Archer Bancroft is dangerous for my well-being and I know it. Delicious. Wicked. Appealing. Wrong. At least, he’s wrong for me.
“I have to go, Archer.” I keep my tone brusque as my gaze lands on my computer screen. My to-do list mocks me, it’s so long. And my calendar app dings, reminding me I have an appointment with a client in thirty minutes.
Which means I need to leave now if I want to make it on time.
“Listen, I’m in town and I want to see you,” he says, shocking me. I didn’t expect him to say that. “Let me take you to dinner tonight and I’ll explain everything. How about we go to Spruce?” He refers to an ultrapopular restaurant not too far from my office. I’ve been there before and it’s amazing. Amazingly intimate too—the perfect restaurant for a date. Not that we’re going on a date.
“I’ll pick you up at your office, we can have a few drinks first, then dinner,” he continues.
“No,” I say vehemently, rendering him completely silent. I’d bet a million dollars not many women utter that word in his presence, but the very last thing I want is Archer invading my private workspace, spreading his devastating charm all over it.
I really don’t need that reminder lingering around long after he’s gone. Some things should remain sacred from the Archer effect. “How about I meet you at the restaurant?”
He’s silent for a moment. Like he doesn’t approve of my suggestion. As if I care. “That should work,” he finally says, his words clipped.
“Is seven too late?” I glance at my calendar, see that I have one last meeting with a new client at five-thirty to go over wallpaper samples, but the restaurant he suggested isn’t too far from the office. I could probably make it on time.
“I’m staying the night in the city so seven’s perfect.” He pauses, the silence heavy with unrecognizable . . . tension. “It’ll be good to see you again, Ivy.”
Clutching the phone tight, I close my eyes for the briefest moment, all those unwanted memories bombarding me. The way he kissed me, the taste of his lips. How he’d touched me, his big hands everywhere, settling between my legs, teasing me while he murmured the hottest, sexiest words I’d ever heard.
And that was only the moment out on the terrace. Never mind later, when we ended up nak*d in a bed. I can’t even go there. Not now, with his velvety deep voice in my ear.
“Seven o’clock at Spruce,” I confirm, opening my eyes to glare unseeingly at the computer. “See you then.”
I hang up before he can say another word, proud of myself. Women don’t hang up on Archer either. Hell, no one really hangs up on him. He’s a force to be reckoned with.
And now he calls me out of nowhere declaring he needs me—please. He’s stringing me along, I’m sure. Why, I haven’t a clue.
But when do my past experiences with Archer ever make sense?
Deciding my client can wait a few minutes, I bring up Google and type in Archer’s name, waiting breathlessly as a list of recent articles pop up. Talk of Hush and how he made it such a huge success. One article written a week ago catches my interest, about the expansion of the Hush brand and how he’s refurbishing a location in Calistoga.
Frowning, I click on the link, reading the few details they have about the new Calistoga spot. He never mentioned it during the phone call. Or when we were last together and we were actually at Hush. He’d been so proud showing me everything. You think he would’ve at least mentioned a new location.
So why didn’t he tell us about it?
I close out Google and gather my things, my mind awhirl with what I read. Was this the job he referred to, the one he so desperately needs me for? All logical thought flowing through my brain is telling me not to bother meeting him. Cancel via text with no explanation. He would totally deserve it.
Curiosity rules me though, it always has. There’s no way I can pass this dinner up. Despite how difficult it will be, sitting across from him for hours in a dark, intimate restaurant, gazing adoringly at his beautiful face. Wondering yet again how stupid could I be, hav**g s*x with him. Nursing this renewed crush of old that can go absolutely, positively nowhere.
I GLANCE AT my watch for what feels like the millionth time, wondering where the hell Ivy is. She’s close to twenty minutes late, and I know for a fact she’s ridiculously punctual.
With the exception of tonight when she’s meeting me. Shit.
Drumming my fingers atop the white tablecloth in a steady rhythm, I glare at the entrance to the restaurant. I hate it when people make me wait. In business, I flat out don’t tolerate it. That this woman I’ve known since she was a gangly teenager with a mouthful of metal leaves me waiting almost desperately for her arrival blows my mind.
And rarely is my mind blown. Funny, how the one person who keeps doing it on a regular basis is Ivy.
She’s angry with me. I could hear it in her voice when I spoke to her on the phone. It had taken me two days to work up the courage to call her. Like a complete wuss, I rehearsed that conversation in my mind a thousand times.
The reality had turned out worse than my imagination. At least I got her to agree to see me. But what if she decides not to show and leaves me hanging?
I push the thought from my mind, refusing to acknowledge it for even a minute.
“Another drink, sir?” The waitress appears, her gaze full of sympathy. She probably thinks I’ve been stood up.
Hell, I’ve never been stood up in my life. “I’m fine,” I mutter.
“Perhaps you’d like to order dinner? An appetizer, maybe?” She sounds hopeful and I’m beyond ready to crush her dreams.
Shaking my head, I glare at her. “I’ll wait a few more minutes.”
She takes off after flashing me a wan smile, leaving me to brood. If Ivy doesn’t show, I can hire someone else to do this job. It wouldn’t be a problem, there’s a goddamn list of designers who would give up their first born to work with Bancroft.
But damn it, I trust her. I want her. And not just for her amazing design skills.
She isn’t just Ivy. Could I really fall for her? Why else would I act like such an anxious a**hole? This woman has me so twisted up in knots I’m ready to do anything to have her back in my life.
Scowling, I glare at the door, as if that’ll make her magically appear. I’m thinking like a chick but I can’t deny it. I want her with me all the damn time. It’s scary how bad I need her. Trying to ignore her didn’t work. I went almost an entire month without contacting her, but she’s all I could think about. The moment I get into the city, I’m reaching for the phone, demanding that she meet me.