My words have precisely the effect I want on her. A delicious blush spreads on her neck, visible even from here. I smile long after she leaves, remembering her outburst when she entered the office. I discover something new about her every day. During our first lunch, I had a sneak peek of the vulnerable layers hiding behind her laughter. Today, I learned she also could be a complete goofball, which is adorable and hilarious, since she works so hard to keep up her image of consummate businesswoman. I like that she doesn’t have a stick up her ass. I cannot help but relax in her presence. She’s playful, without playing mind games. Most of all, I am the one pursuing her. I’m so tired of women pursuing me, their eyes on my wallet and social position.
My phone rings. Dad is calling. I pick up immediately. “Hi, Dad.”
“Hello, son. Am I interrupting you?”
“Not at all. I have time for a little chat.”
“Well, it won’t be long. Your mother wants to know if you’re bringing anyone to our anniversary.”
I grimace. “You’re kidding, right? How did Mom and Pippa get you into this matchmaking thing?”
“You know what they say, happy wife, happy life.”
Smiling, I refrain from commenting. My father never does anything he doesn’t want to. He can’t be coerced or convinced. If he does something, it’s because he thinks it’s the right thing to do. I’ve learned many things from my father. He instilled in us from a very young age the importance of family and hard work. No matter how tired he was from work, he never complained, and he always made time to listen to us. Above all, he always took care of Mom and spoiled her. However, he never got into her matchmaking games before.
“I’m coming alone. I was expecting Mom to keep nagging. Since when did you go over to the dark side?”
“Since I think it’s high time my son got married.”
Right. Time to make up an excuse. “My assistant sent me an important report. I’ll call you later, okay?”
I smile, and I swear I can hear Dad’s smile on the other end. “I’m sure you will.”
When I hang up, my smile widens. Maybe because Ava is so complex, or maybe because her presence is so refreshing—it’s addictive, but I want to know more about her.
I should be more careful; I’ve been burned enough times. Women have a way of hiding their true intentions very well. Ava isn’t like that, though. She can’t be.
I want to know what she fears, what makes her cry, and what makes her laugh. After today’s incident, I want to know what kind of lingerie she wears, only to remove it, and find out what makes her come apart in bed.
Logan and I attend the meeting with the marketing department in the afternoon, and Ava presents her proposals. Everyone is impressed, including Logan, who usually plays devil’s advocate.
“I have to admit,” Logan tells her afterward when it’s just the three of us left in the meeting room, “I was skeptical when we brought you in.”
The three of us sit at the long table, Logan and me on one side, Ava on the opposite.
Ava narrows her eyes. “And why is that?”
“Consultants usually rip you off. I imagined marketing consultants to be even worse.”
“Wow. You do know how to compliment people, don’t you?” She says that with a smile and a headshake.
“There goes your nice brother facade,” I tell him. “You can never keep it up for long. Told you to find another angle.”
“It does work in negotiations,” Logan counters.
Ava has her hair down today, and sweeps it on one side, baring her neck. It takes all my self-control not to imagine kissing her there. Or anywhere else.
“Tell me more about that,” she says, looking at me. She has a curiosity about everything that reminds me of the way I was years ago, when I first started out. “Let me guess, Logan is the good cop, and you’re the bad one?”
I nod, still eyeing her neck.
“Plays well, right?” Logan says. “He always keeps out of the limelight, so people already assume he’s an ogre. Don’t tell anyone he isn’t, or we’ll have to find another negotiation strategy.”
“Your secret is safe with me.” Ava laughs, and Logan joins in. That’s how I know I’m not the only one who feels at ease around her. For my brother’s sake, I hope he isn’t fantasizing about her neck or underwear too. A vein pulses in my neck at the thought, and I turn to watch him. He leans back in his chair, lacing his fingers on top of his head. I’ve seen my brother when he’s after a woman, and this isn’t how he acts.
“I want more secrets,” she says.
“Okay, enough secrets,” I interject when he opens his mouth. “Logan, you’ll be late to your dinner appointment.”
“Right, yeah. I’ll get going.”
“I love this banter between the two of you,” Ava says after he leaves. “You were right; this doesn’t feel like a corporation at all. Thank God neither of you is a brooding ogre.”
“You haven’t tried to talk budgets with him. He’s not the good cop at all when it comes to that.”
“Is the rest of your family like the two of you? Pippa and Alice seemed funny.”
“You’ll meet all of them at some point. I’ll let you make up your mind. How was your weekend? Did you do any sightseeing?”
“Not much. I was tired and didn’t feel like drawing up itineraries and running around town.”
“I can take you this weekend.”
Ava drops her eyes, rubbing the side of her neck. “Maybe not such a good idea.”
“You were open to it during lunch last week.”
“Yeah, but now I’m not.”
“You know why.”
She says this in a final tone, and we both get up from our chairs. At the door, I grasp her arm and whisper in her ear, “You do realize I won’t give up, right?”