“I-I wondered if you’d like a glass of wine?”
“Actually, I’m more of a beer girl.”
“Did the hotel provide a full service cash bar tonight?”
“Umm…no. Sorry. Just wine.”
“Snooty bastards. Nothin’ wrong with beer and we are in Coors country after all.”
Keely placed her hand on Fabio-aka-Ichabod’s arm. “Thanks for asking. I’d love a glass of ice water.”
He beamed. “Be right back.”
“I disappear for a few minutes and you’ve got someone else playing fetch and carry for you?”
Jack’s sexy husky voice caused a ripple of desire. She turned; Jack’s handsome, perfect face was right there. Green eyes rapt, full mouth curved into a smile. Without preamble, he pressed his soft, warm lips to hers, kissing her soundly.
Keely melted into him.
“You’re stunning as always, cowgirl. Except I’m disappointed you’re not wearing your lasso.”
“I left it upstairs on the bed.” She winked and hip-checked him. “For later.”
More laughter. Man. She was on a roll.
“I see you’ve met some of my colleagues.”
“Baxter was thoughtful enough to provide introductions to the gentlemen I missed last night.”
“Now, Baxter, don’t you be trying to steal another woman from me,” Jack chided.
The guys in the group didn’t know whether to laugh.
Baxter finally grinned. “If I would’ve known Keely was in your future, Jack, I might’ve waited to steal her instead.”
“Nice to know I’m that expendable,” Martine said drolly behind them.
“Martine. Sweetheart. You know we were joking,” Baxter said, drawing her into the circle.
The others in the group scattered, leaving the four of them alone together.
Martine ignored Baxter, granting Keely a head to toe inspection. “How sad you thought this was a costume party, Kelly.”
“It’s Keely, not Kelly, but I’m sure at your age it’s hard to keep names straight.” Keely flashed her teeth. “And thank you for noticing my outfit, although these are my everyday clothes. No point in wearing my best duds when there’s no one here I need to impress.”
“I’m most impressed with you when you’re wearing nothing at all,” Jack mock-whispered.
She half-shoved him. “You are insatiable, Jack Donohue. Behave in public.”
“Always, but never in private. If you’ll excuse us, I need a minute alone with my beautiful bride-to-be.” Jack steered her to an alcove that wasn’t private in the least.
Keely smiled. “Surprised to see me?”
“Very.” He curled his hand around her neck, stroking his thumb along her jawline before smooching her lips with softness and sweetness. “I’m very happy to see you.”
“Yeah? What is on the agenda tonight?”
“Dinner, followed by a long, boring annual meeting. Then I take you up to the room and fuck you until you scream my name.”
Jack frowned. “Never when it comes to you, buttercup.”
Whoa. Not a response she’d anticipated.
“Let’s mingle so we can get the hell out of here as soon as possible when it’s over,” Jack said.
During dinner they sat with a couple from Chicago, as well as Jack’s other colleagues who’d ragged on him for his hermetic state in the last few years. Keely enjoyed herself more than she’d expected. Jack was attentive, not overtly obvious, but acting as if he genuinely cared for her.
She and Gina slipped out when the business meeting started, intending to hit a downtown toy store.
Since Gina had forgotten her purse in her room, Keely waited in a quiet reception area around the corner from the main bank of elevators.
The quiet didn’t last long.
“Well, if it isn’t the wannabe queen of the rodeo.”
Keely counted to ten before she deigned to glance up from her cell phone. “Well, if it isn’t Mrs.
Ducheyne.” More like Mrs. Douchebag.
“You think you’re brave and cool showing up dressed like that?” A dismissive gaze flickered over her.
“Wow. You really have nothin’ better to do than to try and harass me? Why do you care what I wear if I’m so inconsequential to you?”
“I couldn’t care less. You’re embarrassing yourself again.”
“Sort of like your little pep talk in the bathroom was supposed to embarrass me? Did you believe your lies had the power to send me packing? Wrong. Wyoming women are made of sterner stuff.”
“Tackier stuff for certain,” she sniffed.
“Ooh, and it was so classy to have your jealous rant about Jack…in the crapper?”
“Jealous? I don’t—”
“I don’t know which we laughed about more, your ridiculous yarn about Jack bringing bimbos to this conference, or your bizarre belief Jack’s still carrying a torch for you. Talk about being embarrassed for you, lady. Jack was over you three years ago.”
“And how do you know that?” Martine snapped.
“Because Jack and I ended up together at my brother’s wedding reception in Wyoming a month before you ‘left’ him for Baxter.”
Yep. But it served Martine right. “I’ve known Jack since I was sixteen, Mrs. Ducheyne. I found it…enlightening at our engagement party last month that his mother and brother knew zilch about you. If Jack couldn’t be bothered to tell his family about your relationship, really, how important could you have been to him?”
Martine glared but she didn’t storm off. Probably trying to formulate a snarky comment about Keely’s hair or clothes, since that was the extent of her insult repertoire.
“The truth is: it bugs the living shit out of you that you made a mistake dumping him. You can’t help but compare sexy as hell Jack Donohue, to the stodgy, pudgy old timer you settled for. Especially when you see Jack is happy and successful without Baxter.”
“Successful?” she sneered. “That’s a stretch.”
“Wrong. I’d bet your matronly purse Jack gets the Milford restoration project because I was there when he pitched it. They love him and they loved his ideas.”
Her eyes turned shrewd. “You were there?”
“Yes. And besides that project, Jack is contracted for my historic building, a courthouse in Montana and two projects in Iowa. That’s just through the end of this year.”
“What do you mean ‘my historic building’?” Martine demanded.
“Jack is supervising the restoration of a historical building which will house the rehabilitation clinic I’m opening in Moorcroft.”
“A freebie for you? How charitable. I doubt he’s spending much time on it since he’s so…busy.” She made quotes in the air with the word busy.
“Since he’s been working out of our apartment in Sundance, it’s not a long commute for him to Moorcroft.”
“You’re living with Jack in Wyoming?”
“Didn’t know that, did you?”
Martine’s face darkened.
“Jack and I have a history. We have a future. So I’ll say this as simply as I can. Stay away from me.
Stay away from Jack. If you ever corner me in a bathroom again? Be prepared for me to come out swinging.”
The elevator pinged and Gina rounded the corner. Once she saw Martine she tried to backpedal. “Oh, sorry, I’ll just wait over—”
“No, I’m ready for some fresh air.” She walked away, head held high.
Inside the elevator car, Keely laughed. “What a pretentious bitch. I can’t believe I almost let her get to me.”
Gina said, “She scares me. She scares everybody in this organization.”
“Not me. Not anymore.”
As Keely said it, she really believed it.
After she’d purchased gifts for her nephews and nieces, and a surprise for Jack, Keely returned to the hotel room. She had no idea how long Jack would be stuck in the meeting.
To kill time, she filled the garden tub and added scented oil. She slipped beneath the bubbles, sighing at the rare indulgence. Nestling her neck into a towel, she sipped the beer she’d liberated from the room fridge.
Keely blanked her mind to everything except the hot water caressing her skin. The soft popping of soap bubbles. The tart taste of the cold beer.
But her conversation with Martine bobbed to the surfaced like a rotten apple. She’d met plenty of people in her twenty-seven years who didn’t like her. But always for a reason, not simply because she existed.
No, Martine doesn’t like you because you have Jack.
What a laugh.
How much did it suck she was in love with a man she couldn’t have? Sure, she could have him tonight, his body, his undivided attention, his sexual expertise. But come tomorrow morning, they’d say goodbye. He’d be gone for the next three weeks. During which the majority of her building remodel would be completed. During which he’d most likely be awarded the Milford project. During which she’d have a breakdown, knowing she’d never find a man who’d hold a candle to Jack Donohue.
In retrospect, that’s what she’d always been afraid of—falling in love with him. It’d been easier to hate him.
“Now there’s a pretty sight,” Jack drawled.
Keely jumped. In the depth of her forlorn thoughts, she hadn’t heard him come in. But she didn’t open her eyes, not wanting him to recognize her melancholy.
“But what’s put the frown on your face, buttercup?”
The thought of losing you. When I never really had you.
She absentmindedly waved the half-empty bottle at him. “I figure you’d be pissed when you saw me drinking a ten dollar beer out of the mini-bar.”