“The bottom line is, I didn’t like Jack personally, but professionally, I knew no one was better qualified to help me with historic renovation project than Jack Donohue. I swallowed my pride and called him. He swallowed his disbelief and met with me. And miracle of miracles, we didn’t exchange one insult at that first meeting. Once we hashed through the business end…well, two years of no contact gave us an entirely new appreciation for one another. We saw each other in a whole different light. Because our past history was so…volatile, we didn’t tell anyone we’d fallen in love. No one in our families would’ve believed it.”
“Keeping our feelings private allowed us time to understand and accept how deep those feelings really are.”
Hell, that sweet story choked Jack up and he knew it was a damn lie. He didn’t care if the committee disapproved of a PDA; he had to kiss her. He pressed his lips to hers, letting her warmth and sweetness flow through him.
“Oh my, that is about the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard,” April gushed.
When Keely stared into his eyes, for a second, Jack believed every word she’d uttered was the gospel truth. He murmured, “Keely—”
“Was his proposal as romantic?” April interrupted, breaking the moment.
“Not even close.”
“Hey, it wasn’t that bad,” Jack argued.
Keely lifted a brow. “Shall we let them decide?”
April clapped her hands. “Oh goodie, yes, tell us, tell us!”
Jack suspected April didn’t get out much. Or didn’t have romance in her life. He shot a sideways glance at Henry, discreetly picking his nose.
“It was late afternoon in my decrepit old building,” Keely began. “We were dusty and dirty from working all day. I was sweeping up the millionth dustpan full of mouse droppings, when Jack yelled across the room, “Hey, buttercup, marry me.”
Jack grinned. “Keely, my love, that wasn’t how it went down at all. We had been working hard all day. But when I looked at you, the golden glow of the late afternoon sun shining on your hair and face, I didn’t care you were dusty and dirty. I didn’t care you were sweeping up mouse droppings. All I saw was the most beautiful woman in the world. I knew right then I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you.”
He brought her hand to his mouth and kissed her knuckles.
Keely blinked at him. Repeatedly.
Shit. Was she blinking back tears?
“Jack definitely wins as the most romantic version.”
He broke eye contact with Keely to smile at Henry’s wife. “See? It’s all about perception.”
Keely set her left hand flat on the table. “It also helps he bought me a huge engagement ring.”
Jack was frustrated Henry insisted on talking politics and sports, not about the restoration project.
Keely had held her own tonight, but she looked wary when April volunteered to walk her back to the hotel.
After they left he managed to sneak away to make a phone call.
Half an hour later, his cell phone rang as he entered his hotel room. “What’s up, buttercup?”
“Imagine my surprise when I heard a knock on my door. I was hoping you’d snuck past the guards to have your wicked way with me. I wasn’t expecting room service.” He heard the smile in her voice. “I certainly wasn’t expecting steak, a side of bacon and a gooey chocolate brownie. If you were here, Jack Donohue, I’d kiss you.”
Making her happy made Jack grin like an idiot. “What else would you do?”
“Snarl if you tried to snatch even one small bite. Sometimes you are so sweet I can’t believe…” She cleared her throat. “Anyway, thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” He stretched out on his bed. “Now about that phone sex…”
“Not tonight dear, I have a headache.”
“Seriously. Two days of us not making—” she paused, “—loud noises as we’re fucking like animals would be good for us.”
Had Keely almost slipped up and said…making love? It wasn’t love between them, just great, raw, anything-goes sex. Just a byproduct of their deal. She knew that, right? She hadn’t actually believed any of the romantic crap they’d spewed tonight, had she?
Didn’t you believe it?
“No changing my mind on this. And can I just say you looked absolutely yummy tonight? You sure do fill out a suit, GQ.”
“I’ll see you sometime tomorrow, Jack. Sweet dreams.”
The second day in Milford had gone better than the first. The committee was enthusiastic about the additional changes Jack suggested. He’d nailed the presentation.
Once again he and Keely were separated during the formal dinner. Afterward, she was surrounded by various women, leaving him no chance to speak to her alone. When he’d finally returned to the hotel two hours after she’d left, Keely hadn’t answered her cell phone. He asked her about it this morning, she claimed she’d forgotten her charger and the battery was dead.
Jack looked at her, sleeping in the passenger seat of his car. She’d slept the entire way from Milford to Salt Lake City. Ditto for the short flight to Denver. Keely had wandered off by herself in the Denver airport to browse the gift shops. On the flight from Denver to Rapid City she’d stared out the window. And she’d fallen back asleep shortly after he’d pulled onto I-90. Jack was frustrated because this…retreat wasn’t like her.
Outside of Spearfish, he said, “Do you want to stop someplace and eat?”
“No. I’m not hungry.”
“You sure? You haven’t eaten much today.”
“I think I know when I’m hungry.”
“Maybe I’m hungry.”
“Then stop the goddamn car and get something to eat. You’re drivin’.”
Surly cowgirl speak. Yeah. She was pissed all right.
Jack ignored her until they reached Beulah. He exited off the interstate. The only thing open was an Exxon station. Scratch that idea.
As he stopped at the lone stop sign, he noticed a gravel road. Posted on each side with a DEAD END
sign and a Beulah Municipal Cemetery sign.
He hung a sharp right.
“If you hafta take a piss, there was a gas station right back there. You don’t seem like the type to whiz in the weeds anyhow.”
Jack didn’t answer. He drove past the cemetery to where the road ended. He shut off the car, pocketed the keys and climbed out.
A few minutes later Keely bailed from the car and lashed out at him. “What the fuck is goin’ on, Jack?”
“You tell me.”
“You’re the one who drove us out here.”
“You’re the one who hasn’t said more than two dozen words to me since we left Milford.”
“You complain when I don’t talk as well as when I talk too much? I guess there really is no pleasin’ you.” Keely started down the road at a good clip.
“Where are you going?”
“It’s a long walk,” he yelled.
Jesus. The woman spiked his temper from zero to furious in less than sixty seconds. He took off after her.
Her body language gave no indication she noticed.
When Jack caught her, he immobilized her and widened his stance so she couldn’t knock him off balance when she started to thrash.
And she fought him like a wet cat. She cursed, screamed and flailed against him. To no avail. Jack held his ground. They’d have it out right here, right now.
When Keely stopped struggling, he breathed a sigh of relief, even when he suspected her submission would be short lived at best. “You done fighting me?”
“Let me go, Jack. Right now.”
“Why won’t you talk to me, buttercup?”
“Don’t call me that anymore!”
“Fine. Why won’t you talk to me, Keely?”
“Because there’s no point. It’s over.”
Jack frowned. “What do you mean it’s over?”
“All of this.” She tried in vain to gesture with her trapped hands. “This stupid fake engagement is over. Us bein’ nice to each other is over. Done.”
He spun her around to face him but kept hold of her biceps. “What in the hell ever gave you that idea?”
Keely dropped her chin to her chest.
He shook her a little. “Look at me goddammit.”
When she finally opened her eyes, Jack saw a sheen of tears. “Keely.”
“You got what you wanted, Jack. We both know the trip to Milford was a total success. They’ll award you the contract, guaranteed. And after next week you can sign off on my project, with the exception of the final inspection. There’s no reason for you to stick around Sundance.”
He gaped at her. Keely really believed she wasn’t reason enough for him to stay?
She’s right. You don’t need to stick around.
But he wanted to stay. The thought of leaving her left an ache he couldn’t explain. Or justify. But he sure as hell needed more time to figure it out what the hell it meant.
“See? You can’t argue with my logic.”
“Don’t tempt me to argue with you, cowgirl, because you know how much I get off on it.”
Keely didn’t even crack a smile.
“We’re not done. Far from it. Have you forgotten I demanded a minimum of a month from you for this engagement? We’re at what…three weeks? And don’t you think it would be suspect if we broke off all contact the same week I signed off on your project? Right after we returned from Milford? You ready to deal with the explanations on that?”
“Listen. Can we just let this…relationship fade away on its own? Spend as much time together as we can this week in Sundance?”