“How is it any different than sponsors fawning over you?”
He scowled over his shoulder. “Big difference. Trust me.”
At a loss of how to deal with his reaction to their economic disparity, she retreated to the opposite sitting area. Less than fifteen minutes ago they were as physically close as possible. Chase had looked her in the eye and assured her he knew her. Were those just babbled words uttered in a moment of lust?
She’d shared every facet of herself with him. Ava never lied about her family background. Could he only deal with her when she was in his world? A transplanted city girl who had to rely on him for everything?
It didn’t matter if he didn’t want her to be this Ava. Truth was, this was the real her.
Chase had known her family had money.
To think he’d been afraid a Hollywood actress was out of his league? That was a drop in the bucket compared to seeing her as the billion-dollar baby.
He needed a drink. He correctly guessed which cabinet held the minibar and opened it, snagging the first beer he found. Fucking Heineken. He drank it anyway. Damn thing probably cost twenty bucks.
Two knocks sounded and Ava went to the door. “Come in. That looks amazing. Chef Delacorte truly outdid himself.”
Chase wandered over to see what type of feast management laid out for a member of the royal Cooper family.
A small Asian man draped a pristine white tablecloth over the table and arranged the first rectangular platter. “Pink sweet potato soufflé topped with tapenade.”
Chase waited for the man to serve up more than two spoonfuls.
But he revealed the next plate with a flourish. “Arugula salad with roasted beets, feta and toasted pumpkin seeds.”
Beets? The greens looked like wilted dandelion leaves. That whole dish resembled something his mom served when she was cleaning out the fridge.
The Asian man said, “Polenta with shallot dill sauce.”
A rubbery yellow disk with what looked like a splotch of ranch dressing and a skinny piece of ditch weed sticking from the center.
What the hell kind of appetizers had Ava ordered? Where were the nachos? Chicken wings? Fried pickles, okra and cauliflower?
“Pulled pork sandwich with ginger mango slaw.”
Now, he could eat pork. But calling that one bite wonder a sandwich was stretching it. Chase counted five more covered dishes. Which probably equaled another five ounces of food.
“Bruschetta with heirloom tomatoes and anise-flavored basil.”
He snorted softly. Chopped tomatoes on toast.
Ava glanced at him sharply and he gave her an innocent look.
“Spicy yellow fin tuna rolls with lime-pickled onions. And salmon on a bed of black diamond coconut rice.”
Two sushi dishes. Fucking awesome.
The waiter lifted the last two lids. “Crimini mushroom ravioli with kale pesto. Baked brie with caramelized fresh fig.”
Maybe he’d find a bag of peanuts in the minibar.
Ava gushed, “This looks and smells absolutely amazing. Give my sincerest thanks to Chef Delacorte and tell him I’ll pop into the kitchen while I’m here to thank him personally.”
“Ah. But he sent you one more token, Miss Cooper.” From beneath the cart he presented a small plate and lifted the silver dome. “Your favorite dessert. Lavender-infused crème brulee’ with sugared pansy petals.”
“Oh. I can’t believe he remembered.”
I can’t believe you don’t see this for what it is: a total suck up.
Chase felt somewhat guilty for that thought. How could he fault people for liking Ava so much when he felt the same?
After she let the server out of the room, she picked up a vivid red rectangular plate and scrutinized the food. “There’s so much to choose from.”
She couldn’t be serious.
He hoped the beer would drown out how loud his stomach growled.
“Grab a plate and dig in,” Ava said.
“Nah. You go ahead.”
Ava faced him. “What’s going on with you?”
“Nothin’.” He sipped his beer. “That kinda stuff is not really my thing.”
“So we have all this delicious food and none of it sounds good to you?”
“First, dime-sized helpings don’t qualify as all this food. Second, if I don’t know what’s in something, I don’t eat it. Period.”
She lifted her chin with a look of determination. “If I fix you a plate, will you at least try some?”
“If you feed me,” he said silkily. “While you’re sitting on my lap. Nekkid.”
“You are such a brat sometimes.”
Chase stiffened and turned away.
A minute or so of silence hung in the air.
Then Ava’s hand lovingly followed the contour of his spine. “Sorry. Me pushing food on you is bratty. Will you try some of these dishes if I hand-feed you? Could be sexy and fun. Very upscale 9 ½ Weeks.”
She’d finally convinced him to watch that flick on her computer—not that they’d made it to the end. “Fine. But no sushi.”
“Because where I’m from? We call raw fish bait, not food.”
Ava rolled her eyes and bit into a tuna roll. “Mmm. More for me. Sit.” She began loading a plate.
After she straddled his lap, he curled his hands around her ass cheeks, murmuring, “For balance,” as he kissed her strong, stubborn jawline.
“Here. This is your speed.” She pinched the tiny pork sandwich between her forefinger and thumb, popping it in his mouth.
He chewed. Swallowed. “Not bad. Coulda been a whole lot bigger. Something that small just pisses my stomach off.”
“I know you like cheese.” She loaded her fork with a gooey white substance and then dragged it through some kind of sauce. She held the fork close to his lips. “Open.”
He obliged, and as soon as he finished chewing, he swooped in for a kiss. “I liked that one. But my favorite part of this is you feeding me.”
Her beautiful turquoise eyes glittered with triumph and she waggled the fork at him.
“What’s that? Christ. Oh hell no. Food is not supposed to be pink.”
“It’s sweet potato soufflé.”
Chase hoped his gag reflex wouldn’t kick in. He closed his mouth around the fork tines, letting the glob sit on his tongue. Swallowing, he withheld a shiver of disgust. “Next.”
After he’d appeased her and tried several samples, he carried her to the bedroom. Spreading her out on the thick white comforter, he stripped her to skin.
“I’m still hungry and needing something sweet. So I’m gonna eat my fill of you.” His finger followed the creamy slit between her thighs. “And like any fine dining experience, I plan on taking my time. Enjoying the experience.”
After he’d brought her to the edge three times, he finally sent her soaring. He kissed his way up her trembling body; humbled he affected this woman so strongly. He tucked them under the covers, spooning behind her and whispered, “Thank you.”
“What for? I should be thanking you, Chase.”
“Thank you for sticking by me the last week. I ain’t been the easiest guy to be around.” How did he tell her he’d never opened himself up to anyone like he had with her?
“Easy is boring.” She turned her head and kissed his arm. “I missed the cocky, bossy bull rider part of you. Although everything that happened with Ryan is beyond tragic and it’s still in the forefront of both our minds, I’m really glad you came to New York with me.”
Seemed he didn’t have to tell her anything. Seemed Ava already knew. And for the first time in his life, that didn’t scare him to death.
A nap refreshed them both. Chase would’ve preferred to stay in for the rest of the night, but Ava kept tossing out comments about the city that didn’t sleep.
He stretched out on the bed, watching her get ready, which was a new experience. The Ava he’d traveled with was low-maintenance. This Ava went all out with hair, makeup, snappy clothes. Chase didn’t want to know where she’d gotten all the extra stuff.
“The first day we hung out in Sundance, you bought me the world’s best chili dog.” She rubbed glittery gunk on her cheeks. “So I wanna take you out for the best burger in New York.” Her eyes met his in the mirror. “I imagine you’re hungry.”
“Starving. But you sure the place will be open? It’s almost ten o’clock.”
“It’s Friday night in New York City. The place closes at midnight and we have reservations at eleven.”
Chase frowned. How had she known he’d agree? Did she assume he’d just go along with everything she planned?
Ava misread his scowl. “I had Jason make the reservation while you were in the shower.”
“This ain’t just a place you can walk in?”
“Most of the good restaurants aren’t.”
Good restaurant. Hah. Probably wouldn’t be the type of burger joint he preferred. He envisioned their time in New York entirely different than she did. Was she anxious to be in the spotlight again? Because she sure as hell dressed for a photo op.
Ava Dumond’s comings and goings wouldn’t necessarily attract attention in a city of ten million, but Ava Cooper’s might. Didn’t she see that? Or didn’t she care?
“Chase? You’re quiet.”
“I’m quiet more often than you realize.”
She lifted a brow.
“Anyway, you sure us going out is a good idea?”
“It’ll be fun.”
“I’m assuming it’s kosher to wear jeans to this burger place? Because I’m low on Armani suits.”
“It’s fine for tonight. But we can look at adding to your wardrobe tomorrow when we’re—”
“Don’t say it, Ava. I am not goin’ shopping with you.”
“Why not? We’re in the fashion capital of the world. It’ll be fun.”