“Big talk. I suspect you’re all talk.”
“I am not all talk,” she huffed.
“Then take your best shot.” Jack grinned nastily. “But you’d better make it count, because what goes around, comes around.”
Her eyes flicked over him from head to toe. “Such macho trash talk from coming from a guy who’s dressed like he just stepped off the cover of GQ. ”
“Says the woman who’s a candidate for What Not To Wear,” he volleyed back.
“Ooh.” Keely snapped her fingers in a Z shape. “You told me, girlfriend. Will your boyfriend be jealous we’re tossing bitchy banter back and forth?”
Jack laughed. “That’s your best shot? Accusing me of being gay?”
Keely snorted again. “Accusing? Dude. My gaydar goes haywire around you.”
“And you’re an expert in all things gay because you live in Buttfuck, Wyoming?” he said with amusement.
“Why, Jack-off… You actually have a sense of humor! You should share that playful side more often.
Guys really go for it.”
He laughed again. “Name one thing about me that sets off your finely honed gaydar sensors.”
Her gaze dropped to the floor. “Your shoes. Straight men don’t wear tasseled loafers.”
“Okay. Straight men in Wyoming don’t wear tasseled loafers. But since you’re from South Dakota, maybe you missed the memo.” Keely studied him helpfully. “I’ll even impart a bonus reason why my gaydar goes off.”
Fascinated by her twisted logic, Jack murmured, “This ought to be stellar.”
“Remember what happened at Colt and India’s wedding reception? Or should I say what didn’t happen? That proves you’re not attracted to—”
“It only proved I’m not attracted to you, cowgirl.” He was such a liar. And a sucker. The immediate hurt look in Keely’s eyes almost weakened him into apologizing for being a jerk now and being an idiot back then.
But Keely rallied. “If you are so hetero, why haven’t I ever seen you with a woman?”
“Because we don’t exactly run in the same social circles.”
“Justin let it slip you’ve never brought a woman home. So I’m just saying…”
Jack hadn’t brought his girlfriends home due to his never-ending embarrassment about being raised on a farm. “Unlike my little brother, I don’t drag every skank home to meet Mom.”
Keely’s jaw dropped. “Are you calling me a skank?”
“Are you denying you had a threesome with my brother and his best friend?”
“No, but if that makes me a skank then you’re one too! I overheard Carter bragging to Colt about you guys having threesomes all the damn time in college!”
The woman had balls. Keely didn’t apologize, justify or explain her past sexual behavior. Strange to think he would’ve thought less of her if she had.
Several brutal moments passed.
Finally, something clicked with her and she backed up. Way up. A look of mortification entered her eyes. “I’m sorry. God. I don’t know what it is about you that pushes all my wrong buttons, Jack. Insulting you… Lord. I’m usually way more professional than that and I apologize. Profusely.”
The sincerity of her regret surprised him.
She sighed and crossed her arms over her chest. “It’s not your fault everything is so screwed up. It’s also not your problem that I naively pinned all my hopes on Full Circle Consulting to get me back on track.
I know better. I-I just wish there was something…” Her voice dropped and she bit her lip.
Oh fuck no. Was tough as nails Keely McKay about to burst into tears?
Don’t fall for it.
But he found himself drawn to her anyway. “Hey. Cowgirl. Don’t cry.”
“I’m not.” She expelled a watery laugh. “Although, you should know I was prepared to throw myself at your feet and promise I’ll do anything if you’ll help me.”
Anything? Now we’re talking.
A preposterous idea began to form. One so…crazy she might actually go for it. Maybe they could help each other out.
“Anything?” he prompted.
Keely’s steely, yet teary-eyed gaze met his. “Yes. Anything.”
Jack leaned forward. “Then marry me.”
“M-marry you?” Keely sputtered. “Is this some kind of sick joke?”
“No. I’m dead-ass serious.”
“Why the fuck would I marry you? I don’t even like you.”
“Back atcha, babe, but this could solve both of our problems.”
“You are my problem,” she grumbled.
“Just hear me out, okay?”
“I’ll listen until the guys with the straightjackets arrive, because you are certifiable.”
Jack loomed over her, his vibrant green eyes blazing. “Didn’t you just say you’d do anything to get me to oversee your project?”
“Then shut up and listen.”
Damn man. Bossing her around.
You like it. You like that he doesn’t fall in line.
“Last week I was shut out of consideration for a huge restoration project because of my marital status…or lack thereof.”
Keely blinked at him. “Why would it matter whether or not you were married?”
“It just does,” he said testily.
“Is the remodel job in a nunnery or something?” Heaven knew Jack Donohue would tempt a nun into tasting the sins of the flesh. Repeatedly. With absolute gusto and zero repentance.
“No. But you’re thinking along the right lines. The committee choosing the overseeing company for this project is very conservative, very traditional and they have the money to be choosy.” He sighed.
“Might seem weird, but religious organizations often select their contractors based on their religious preference.”
He nodded. “Say the Catholic church is adding on. They have the right to consider only Catholic contractors. This group set up parameters that might seem unusual, but I’ve dealt with far worse constraints, believe me.”
“Is it an issue of the consultant having to live in this conservative town for the duration of the project?
Is the committee afraid a hot single guy will pose a threat to the unattached ladies?”
“Hot single guy?” he repeated, tacking on a bad-boy grin. “Careful, Keely, you might give me the wrong idea that you’re somewhat attracted to me.”
Instead of saying, You are all that hotness and a bag of chips, baby, Keely rolled her eyes.
“After I visited the site and met with the committee last week, I knew they were interested in my ideas. But when it came to my personal life…their enthusiasm waned.”
Her brain warned, Don’t ask him if the committee thinks he’s gay, but it was no use; her mouth ignored the directive. “Are they afraid you have a male lover hiding in the closet at home?”
With that snarky comment, she’d pushed Jack too far.
He crowded her against the wall. “You looking for a firsthand demonstration of my heterosexual prowess, cowgirl? Because I’m more than up for the challenge.”
Please. Your body is hot and hard and you smell so damn good and it’s been ages since I’ve had a real man this sexy this close to me. “Umm…”
“Jesus.” Jack leapt back and rubbed the squished section of skin between his dark eyebrows. “You can rile me up in no time flat.”
“Which is why this marriage idea would never work. We’ve come to verbal blows more than a few times.”
“Plus we don’t even live in the same state.”
“Let me think.” He paced, muttering to himself. He stopped in front of her with a triumphant gleam.
“A wedding is out. How about if we announce we’re engaged?”
“Engaged in what? Battle? Not a newsflash, Jack.”
He scowled. “Smartass. I’m serious.”
“So am I. How is an engagement any better?”
“It’d explain why we’re living apart.”
Keely stared at him. “You are insane. How do you propose we explain the fact we can’t stand each other?”
“We’d have to change that. In public we’ll have to moon around in love or some such sappy shit.
Pretend we rock each other’s world.”
She swallowed her immediate response— never fucking happening— and said, “That’s impossible.”
Those piercing green eyes narrowed. “Why? Are you in a relationship?”
“No. What about you?”
“It’s been three years since I found my girlfriend fucking my business partner and I ended up getting fucked.”
Whoa. Some woman was stupid enough to cheat on Jack Donohue? Keely wanted the down and dirty details, but Jack stalked off. He jammed his hand through his hair as he stared out the dirt-caked window.
“Jack? What happened?”
“My personal and professional life went up in flames. None of that garbage matters now. But this job in Milford? It’s more than a job. It’s like I have a chance to get back what I lost.”
His embarrassment sparked a feeling scarily close to real sympathy. And empathy. Salvaging pride was something she understood. “Look, before I scream no fucking way and run, spell out exactly what I gain from this devil’s bargain, if I decide to do it.”
“I’ll personally oversee your restoration project. After I examine the renovation plans from your contractor, I’ll call the head of the Wyoming Historic Preservation Committee and officially sign on as your consultant. They’ll expect me to monitor compliance frequently since this will be a rush job.”
Her head buzzed with a mix of excitement and fear. Maybe her life wasn’t in the toilet. But she played it cool. “What would you expect from me?”