“This is the first time. I’ve only known Gage for a short time so . . .” I smile at her and she smiles warmly in return. “I had no idea Gage had a sister, so it’s wonderful to meet you.”
“I had no idea Gage was seeing someone, so the feeling’s mutual.” Her smile fades as her gaze turns assessing. “I don’t believe I’ve heard my brother mention you before. How did you two meet exactly?”
“Um . . .” My voice trails off and I feel silly. I sought him out that night. I wanted to meet the man who’s trying to buy out my family.
But I can’t tell Ivy that. I’d sound like a cold, callous bitch.
“I’m so curious. Gage never lets me meet any of the women that he dates.” Ivy’s just about as determined as her brother. Scary.
And have there been a lot of women? There had to have been. He’s charming, sexy, rich, and influential. What woman wouldn’t find him a catch?
“At that wine- and beer-tasting event I went to in Archer’s place,” Gage answers for me.
“That was only a few nights ago,” Ivy says, frowning.
Gage shrugs. “Right. That’s what I said. We met, and I asked her out. Now here we are.” He sends Archer a pointed look, who just smirks at him in return, and I don’t know what to think.
There’s an undercurrent flowing between these three, unspoken messages, and I’m the one left out. I knew this would happen. I have no idea what’s going on, and I don’t like it. I wish we could go back to the car, where it’s just the two of us. Wrapped up in our own little bubble, touching each other, kissing each other . . .
Getting lost in one another.
“I DON’T KNOW if I want to go to your bakery,” Ivy says with a laugh, making me glare at her. She waves her hand, dismissing me easily, considering she’s been doing it since we were kids.
But damn, I don’t want her to offend Marina. She’s sensitive enough about her family business.
They’re laughing though. Having a good time together. Archer leans back in his chair with an arrogant expression on his face. Like he has me all figured out and knows that I’m already halfway whipped when it comes to this woman.
Not that I’d ever admit he’s right.
“Trust me, I feel the same way sometimes! God, the things my aunt can create. Her breakfast muffins are to die for. If I didn’t watch myself so carefully, I’d end up fat as can be.” Marina laughs, the sound warming me deep inside, and I chance a look at her.
She’s beautiful. Her eyes are sparkling and her smile is wide. My sister looks happy. This was exactly what I wanted to avoid and look at the two of them. Hitting it off and acting like they’re old friends.
What a night it’s been. We’ve actually been getting along, making conversation that didn’t involve us calling each other names or me saying something infinitely stupid.
I had one minor slipup. Well, a few, if I count the most recent blunder me confessing that Ivy is my sister. I think that sort of blew Marina’s mind.
We’re getting along now. Everything’s rockin’. I still can’t believe the way she attacked me in my car. Talk about the hottest experience of my life. I’ve never done something that wild, never had a woman jump me after becoming aroused by my driving my freaking car.
I barely know her, and yet I feel like this woman sitting at my side was made for me.
Marina’s had a couple of glasses of wine, and the alcohol has loosened her up. Maybe the sex earlier did too, I don’t know. She’s pretty damn easygoing, and I like it.
I like her.
The scent of her hair drives me crazy. It wafts toward me every time she turns her head, her ponytail swinging. I love the sound of her laughter. I haven’t heard it very often, but I plan on changing that. I love her smile too. She’s very expressive, all that cool blonde mystery from the first night I met her seemingly evaporated. In its place is an open, smiling woman. Full of laughter and easy conversation, sexy as hell wearing that thin, glittery black top that dips low in the front, offering me a generous view of her cl**vage.
Breasts I had my hands all over not an hour ago. Her n**ples were in my mouth. I can still hear her ragged moans when I sucked them deep. I remember her nak*d body, wrapped all around me as she rode me hard.
Yeah. Fuck. This woman . . . she’s blowing my mind.
Ivy had been wary at first. I don’t normally bring women around her, and we threw her for a loop when she found out we’d only just met. She knows I haven’t been serious about a woman in a long time. If ever.
“We should definitely do that,” Marina says with an enthusiastic nod.
Her words bring me back down to earth. “Do what?” I ask her, glancing from my sister back to Marina.
She turns to look at me, those sparkling blue eyes trained on my face, making my blood burn. For her. “Oh, your sister suggested we go on a shopping trip together soon. I was just telling her how it’s been forever since I went clothes shopping, and she offered to go with me into San Francisco for the day. Sounds like fun, don’t you think?”
Reality butts its ugly head into my mind, and I frown. The two of them are almost getting too close when this . . . thing between Marina and I will go nowhere. Because that’s what always happens. Yeah, I’m into this woman more than I’ve been with any woman, but I know my patterns. This won’t last. It never does. “You’re not constantly shopping, huh? I thought that’s what all women do.”
“Oh my God,” Ivy mutters while Archer full-out groans.
Marina glares at me, her eyes narrow, her lips tight. “I cannot believe you just said that. Are you for real?”
There I go again, saying the worst thing ever and offending Marina. Thought I had it under control since we’ve been getting along so well tonight, but I guess not. I swear it’s like my brain shuts down when I’m around her, and I blurt out the stupidest things with absolutely no thought. “I was kidding?” I offer weakly.
“Yeah right,” she mumbles, her eyes hot with anger as they shoot daggers at me.
If looks could kill . . .
Hell, I can’t tell if she’s really mad or not.
Archer stands. “Hey Gage, come with me for a minute. I want to show you something.”
“What do you want to show me?” Now I’m confused. Maybe I’m the one who’s had too much wine. Or maybe I’m just drunk on Marina . . .
“Let’s go outside,” he says with a giant smile on his face, but it looks fake as hell.
I follow him outside wordlessly, the front of the restaurant still crowded with people waiting for a table. We end up around the side of the building, the cool night air washing over me as a breeze blows over us, relieving my overheated body and brain.
“What the hell is going on in there?” Archer asks.
Shrugging, I glance around, making sure no one is paying attention to us. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m confused. You seem way into Marina, and I thought you weren’t interested in her. Marina and Ivy seem to like each other. Which is great, I’m glad to see the two of them getting along so well so quick, but I thought . . . I thought this dinner was all about Marina wanting to talk to me about some proposition she has,” Archer says, running a hand through his hair.
“I think she’s nervous. That’s why she hasn’t mentioned anything to you yet,” I suggest. Hell, I’d told her not to say anything, and here’s Archer asking why she’s not. I’m just making up excuses, and it’s not like we can call her out on it at the table. That would just be flat-out rude.
Since when do you care if you’re rude to Marina or not?
It irritates that she hasn’t even told me what she wants to talk to Archer about. I’m just as much in the dark as he is. Doesn’t she trust me enough with the information?
Of course not, a**hole. Remember? She doesn’t even know you.
“Well. She’s hardly said one word to me, but that’s fine. Maybe she doesn’t want to talk about it in front of your sister, which I totally get.” Archer pauses, studying me. “And then there’s you.”
“What about me?” I’m immediately defensive.
“If this is, and I quote, ‘a business proposition,’ and you’re just using her, and I quote again, ‘to get what you want,’ then you’re doing a damn good job of being the attentive, googly-eyed date.”
“‘Googly-eyed?’ Nice description,” I mutter. We’re obvious. I didn’t think it would matter in front of Archer and Ivy, but what the hell was I thinking? It didn’t help that we just had sex before we stumbled into the restaurant. I still had a postcoital glow going on, for fuck’s sake.
“It’s true! Every time you look at her, you’re like a lovesick puppy. I think you like her,” Archer says.
“I do not,” I answer way too quickly. Misery courses through me. Do I like her? I shouldn’t like her.
You f**king like her, moron.
“I’m attracted to her,” I finally say. “How could I not be? She’s beautiful.”
Archer shakes his head. “Then you better be up-front with her about this real estate deal you want to make with her dad.”
“No way. She’ll hate me for it.” She called me a scum-sucking shark or whatever the first time we met, when she discovered who I am. She finds out I want to sweep in on the property the Molinas hold on St. Helena’s Main Street—including the very bakery she’s running—she’ll hate me for life.
Shit. She probably already suspects this. She has to. Marina’s no dummy. She’s smart and beautiful and—
“She’ll hate you more if you keep the truth from her.”
I absorb Archer’s words, remaining quiet. Since when did he get so good at doling out advice? That’s always been my thing. Now I’m the one making idiot moves, and he’s the stable, secure one full of logic.
“You could always lease the property back to her,” he suggests when I don’t say anything. “Give her a deal and let her run the bakery that seems to mean so much to her.”
“How do you know what it means to her?” I ask incredulously.
“Weren’t you listening to what she said? She was talking about running the bakery, her aunt, and the amazing cakes she makes. I’ve tasted them, so has Ivy. She was totally engrossed in the conversation, offering Marina all sorts of marketing ideas to try.” Archer shakes his head. “Are you oblivious or what?”
I look at Marina and all I can think about is the next time I can get her nak*d. I guess . . . I was tuning her out like a self-absorbed a**hole.
“I’m going back in there and asking her what she wants to talk about. I’m not in the mood for a bunch of p**syfooting anymore. I’m too damn curious,” Archer finally says, starting to head back to the front of the building.
I walk with him, the both of us striding side by side toward the restaurant entrance. “Come on. Let her segue into it on her own. I think she just needs to build up her courage.”