“I’ll need a minimum of one month commitment from you. During this engagement you’ll travel to Milford with me and convince the committee we’re madly in love.”
“Didn’t you tell me the committee is aware you’ve been single for a while?”
Jack paced again. “I didn’t share specifics on my personal life. I more or less sidestepped the question. But there has to be a way we can convince them we’ve secretly been together for the last few months…” He snapped his fingers. “Aha! I’ve got it.”
“The reason we didn’t go public with our relationship—even with families—was because of our rocky past. I saw you as my best friend’s pesky little sister; you were dumped by my little brother. But we crossed paths again when you needed my help with this restoration project. It turned into something more than a working relationship. Each hour we spent together built on our past as a bridge to our future until bam—change of heart.”
Keely began to clap.
Jack gave her that devil-may-care grin and bestowed a deep bow.
“I have no doubt the story is plausible for the Milford crowd, but you’re forgetting one teensy tiny detail. We can’t be selective about who we tell. We have to tell everyone. Which means we have to convince my entire family that we’re a couple.”
A look of horror crossed his face.
“See what I mean? No one who knows us will ever believe we put our differences aside. Not for an hour, not for a day and certainly not forever. Neither one of us can act that well. So thanks for stopping by personally and ruining my life.” Keely ducked under his arm and started walking away.
“Yep. Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out. Literally. It might fall and crush you.”
His deep, sexy laugh unfurled an unwanted reaction low in her belly.
“What’s so funny?”
“I thought you said you weren’t all talk. I never imagined wild child Keely McKay was afraid.”
Keely wheeled around. “Excuse me? What am I afraid of?”
“For Christsake! That’s ridiculous. Why would I be afraid of you?”
“Maybe you’re afraid I can make you fall in love with me for real.”
“Make me fall in love with you? Dude. The only thing you make me want to do is punch you in the face.”
“See? Sarcasm is a defense mechanism to mask your fear.” With each word he’d closed the distance between them. “So it’s easier to slink away.”
“Oh. My. God. I knew you had a big ego, but—”
Jack clamped his hands on her butt. Keely shrieked but he held tight, jerking her lower body to his.
“An ego isn’t the only thing that’s big about me, baby. Want to ride on the Jack-hammer? Guaranteed to rev you up all night long.”
Eww. Eww. Eww. “Let go!”
“There’s no shame in admitting you want me.” He nuzzled the skin in front of her ear and a shiver trilled down her neck.
“Is this greasy used car salesman act supposed to be turning me on? Because it ain’t working, bucko.”
He laughed softly. “Not trying to turn you on, just proving I can act. You really believed I’d morphed into a creepy scuzzball, huh?”
Yes, dammit. Jack won that round.
“We can do this, Keely. If you say yes, we’ll both get what we want: you’ll get the building remodel approval, I’ll have a chance at the Milford project and we’ll both have our pride. After it’s over we can go back to hating each other, same as always.”
Keely admitted there was a certain appeal in his off-the-wall proposal. She’d kept her family in the dark about the purchase of the building and her career plans. If she confessed the reason for her secretiveness was also due in part to her intimate relationship with her former nemesis, Jack Donohue…that would make perfect sense.
Jack whispered huskily, “I can tell you’re warming to the idea.”
“You’re pressing yourself into me instead of away from me.”
She was? Holy crap! What was wrong with her? Keely put her hands on his firm chest and tried to shove him. The damn solid man didn’t budge. He squeezed her closer. “Now, is that any way to treat your intended?”
“I intend to scour myself with bleach when this is all over.”
“Fair enough. But for now…do we have a deal?”
Say no. Scream no. It’s not worth it.
Jack held up his hand and dug out his cell phone. He dialed. Waited with a smug grin. “Henry? Jack Donohue. I just wanted to thank you for your hospitality last week. Milford is a great town and I appreciate the chance to talk with you and the committee about my ideas. Anyway, the reason I called… Did you perchance find a gold watch in your office? Oh. No, that’s fine. I’m just wondering how to explain the loss of it to my fiancée, since it was a gift from her.”
No going back now.
He locked his gaze to hers. “Really? I thought I’d told you about Keely. No? Well, we’ve kept it under wraps, but the cat is out of the bag now.” Jack’s teeth gleamed a victorious smile. “Of course I’d love to bring her to Milford. Sure. Call me after you talk to the committee and have a firm date.”
He hung up, punching the air with a loud “Yes!” the most juvenile gesture she’d witnessed from stick-up-his-ass Jack Donohue. “It’s on.”
“So I gathered. What now?”
Jack looked at his watch. “As much as I don’t want to drive back to Denver, I’ve got no choice. But I’ll be back tomorrow with my stuff.”
“Stuff? What stuff? Work stuff?”
“And personal stuff. I’ll be working out of the apartment for a while. There’s wireless Internet, right?”
“Whoa whoa whoa. Working out of the apartment? As in my apartment?”
“Remember who owns the building? Now it’s our apartment,” he corrected with an edge to his voice.
“Not only will I be working here, I’ll be living here.”
“What? No! Oh, hell no. You can’t just move in with me.”
Cue his wolfish grin. “Oh, cowgirl, I most certainly can.”
Holy shit. He could. She was so monumentally screwed.
“Have the building plans ready for me to look at day after tomorrow.”
“Don’t boss me around, Jack.”
“Get used to it, Keely.”
Did he honestly expect her to play the part of docile little wifey-to-be when they weren’t in the public eye?
Before Keely voiced a protest, Jack tucked her hair behind her ear, letting his sure, yet teasing touch linger on the curve of her cheek. God. He had the most amazing hands.
“Why don’t you set up dinner with your parents? So we can tell them our good news. Hopefully that’ll pave the way to convincing your family we’re head over heels in love.”
She wrinkled her nose. Right. If Cam leveled his nasty cop stare at her, she’d spill her guts. Carter would cajole and tease her into admitting it was a sham. Colt could pin her down and tickle the truth out of her. Colby would tie her to the corral until she confessed the hard facts. Cord would just send his wife AJ to nag her. Her best friend would never believe Keely was knocking loafers with Jack, let alone letting those loafers reside under her bed permanently.
This so wasn’t going to work.
Jack retreated and pointed at her. “That’s exactly what I’m talking about, Keely. You’d better get used to gazing at me with adoration, not disgust.”
“Yeah? Then you’d better bring me a big goddamn engagement ring as an incentive to pretend I love you.”
Late the following afternoon, Jack yelled, “Honey, I’m home.”
Keely gaped at him as he scaled the stairs. “Jesus, Jack, why don’t you scream that a little louder so AJ, India and Domini all come barreling up here?”
An oversized duffel and an enormous suit bag hit the landing at the top of the stairs. “But their feminine squealing about your good luck landing me as your mate might be a tad embarrassing for you, buttercup.”
“You are about four seconds from me knocking you off this landing, bucko.”
“No big, wet, sloppy kiss for your traveling man? Fine.” Jack adjusted the backpack straps and bent down to retrieve his other bags.
She elbowed him in the gut as soon as his hands were full. “There’s your kiss—Irish style, honey.”
“Dammit, Keely. That was uncalled for.”
“Probably. But it was fun.”
“Payback’s a bitch. Remember that.”
She had a feeling it was going to be a long night.
They decided to stick to basics about the engagement. Keely had contacted Jack for his expertise on her concerns about buying the building. They met in Denver and Cheyenne, talked, one thing led to another…blah blah blah. Instant love.
Too bad she’d had to suck down two slugs of whiskey before her “love” drove them out to her folks’ house.
Jack parked by the barn and faced her. “Ready?”
“No. We’re forgetting something.” She pinned him with a dubious look. “Crap. I don’t have an engagement ring. They won’t believe you can’t live without me if you—”
“I bought a damn ring, Keely.” He opened the glove compartment and pulled out a blue velvet jewelry box. “We should’ve done this earlier, so I hope it fits. May I have your hand?”
Keely closed her eyes as the cool metal slid up to her knuckle. This was not how she imagined the magic moment when the man of her dreams slipped a ring on her finger.
“You afraid to look?” he prompted.
Jack chuckled. “Come on, cowgirl, give me some credit. I didn’t dig it out of a Cracker Jack box.”