Excerpt (appropriate for any audience)
Deep inside his chest, his heart stirred with protectiveness. He didn’t want to hurt her. If he had had his way, she would be his wife. But he hadn’t had his way. She had deceived him, manipulated him into falling in love with her, treated him as a summer plaything, and disappeared one day without saying good-bye. But, regardless of how she had felt about him, he had loved her. That’s why her leaving had hurt so badly, why it still hurt. Five years wasn’t that long ago, only a heartbeat in time.
“Jacques, we really need to leave. We have dinner with Jenkins then our flight back to New York. We can’t—” Kevin ended his statement with a broad gesture of frustration.
He nodded and shoved his hands into the back pockets of his jeans. If ever he needed an escape, it was now. “Bring the car around. I’ll meet you outside.”
“Well, if you’ve got to go, I’ll get out of your way,” she said.
“People are waiting for me.” He winced at the verbal acknowledgment of his compromises.
A tentative smile curved her lips. “I always knew you’d have your day to shine. It was inevitable.”
His gaze drifted over her again. “Corporate America treating you well? Let me guess…you always work late, are committed only to your career, have given up art, have a stable boyfriend who wears suits and talks about the stock market, are still trying to please a mother who never understood you, have compromised to the point of losing yourself completely…am I close to the truth?”
Her smile faded. “Five years is a long time to hold a grudge.”
“It isn’t long enough.” He wished this rendezvous could go differently, but bitterness tainted his words. He reminded himself of his immunity to her. Cool. Aloof. “I never said I had a grudge against you. Why would I? That would mean I think about you and I haven’t in years.”
“I can see that you haven’t given me a thought at all. You must have forgotten who this was, then?” She held his book up to his face.
Brains and beauty, a combination he now avoided.
“Perhaps I did forget it was you. Hundreds of women and even more photographs…” He ripped his gaze from the cover of his book. He had used that photograph hoping she would see it some day and be hurt by the memory.
The cover photo had been taken the morning after their night in Rome after he had proposed to her and foolishly believed her when she had said yes. Questions pummeled him aching for release—and, oh, he had fantasized about seeing her again and letting them fly without restraint—but he hadn’t expected to be blindsided with heartache.
“Why are you lying? We both know damn well—”
“Of the two of us, you are the expert liar.” He thrust the book back into her hands. “What do you want?”
She slid the book into her messenger bag. Unshed tears glistened in her eyes. When she looked away, he could almost see the fight for control within her. When she looked back, eyes were dry. Scary control. When had she learned that disturbing skill? Not that he should care, he didn’t. Her life. Her choices.
“You’re good at that, aren’t you?” he asked despite himself.
“Good at what?” Her gaze slid to his chest.
“Hiding what you’re really feeling. What an actress you are.”
Her blue eyes hardened like a frozen glacial lake. She stood tall. “I almost didn’t come inside, but now I’m glad I did. You’ve turned into a real ass. Fame must have warped your brain. It’ll be much easier to forget you now.”
“You’ve had years to forget me,” he said.
“I failed.” Her chin trembled. She shrugged in defeat. “I failed, okay? Is that what you need to hear? I haven’t forgotten Florence, Rome, our apartment, you…any of it. I think about it all daily.”
“Do you ever stop lying?”
Their gaze connected and held.
Irritated by her presence, his lack of control and life in general, he strode toward the door. Time to leave.
He stopped in the doorway and turned, unable to simply leave her behind even though he knew he should. “You were going to run away from me again when you realized I was still here, weren’t you?”
Guilt for his behavior settled in his heart and sickened him. She’d mattered to him, had been the center of his world…once upon a time not too far in the past. “I’m sorry for treating you badly. You took me by surprise.”
She walked toward him, a hesitant grin on her trembling lips. She looked foreign to him in her crisp white blouse, red skirt and high heels.
“I wish we had more time, we could talk, get a drink, catch up. That wouldn’t be so terrible, would it? I have so much I want to say to you, to explain—”
“I need to go before Kevin has a nervous breakdown.” Irritation snapped through his nervous system. He wanted to take her to dinner and force her to eat pasta, mess her hair up, make her laugh and see…well, see what had happened to the woman he had loved, find out the real reason she had given up on their future together. But getting involved in her life again—even in a small way—would be detrimental to his heart health. So why did he want it so badly? “Kevin’s like you, always worried about being late.”
“How do you stand him?” Her tentative grin became a smile.
“I fire him daily but he refuses to go away.” He would not meet her eyes again as they walked together onto the street. Awkwardness stretched between them in the warm June evening.
“You don’t have a few minutes? Just to talk? Catch up? We could have coffee or a drink? After your dinner?” She kept his pace, stood too close, looked at him with those big blue eyes. Damn her.
He wanted more than a drink. He wanted hours. He wanted an explanation.
When she rubbed the back of her neck, he noticed the ring on her finger. Hurt and anger took their rightful place in his heart. Resolve restored, he looked down the block for any sign of Kevin and the get away car.
“We have said all there is to say,” he said.
“Could what? Talk about old times over a cold drink in a crowded bar?” He closed the space between them. “Do you know how many women want to have a drink with me, Jess?”
“I’m not a stranger.” She stood her ground, straightened her spine and tilted her chin as if willing to go toe-to-toe with him. Maybe she hadn’t changed so much after all.
“What do you want from me?” His gaze pierced hers looking for a glimpse of truth beneath the facade.
“I don’t want anything from you.”
“What did you expect when you came here? You expected something. Deny it.” The temptation to yank the ring from her hand boiled beneath his skin. She had no right to wear it.
“I don’t know what I expected.”
“No? I think you expected me to be happy to see you.”
“You’re wrong. I knew this would be hard. I—”
“And you couldn’t come during scheduled hours, you waited to catch me off-guard, to…” he struggled for the right word. A native French speaker, sometimes English escaped him when he needed it most.
“I worked late. I thought I’d missed you, hoped I had.” She stepped within inches of him. “I was scared, is that what you want to hear?”
He silently cursed Kevin for taking so long with the car. “That was your problem in Italy, too. Scared little Jessica. Haven’t you grown up yet?”
Her head jerked back as if he’d slapped her.
“I shouldn’t have come.” She stepped backward.
“No, you shouldn’t have. I’m better for not knowing you.” He shook his head. He had had enough. Of all the scenarios he had played out in his mind, this conversation was all wrong. He hated himself for the words he said.