Page 12 of The End of Faking It

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‘Okay, I’ll come up with something,’ he said, bitten by a random need to reassure her. ‘An elaboration on the truth. We met at work.’

She nodded.

‘And there was an instant spark.’

She nodded again.

‘We were powerless to fight it.’

Her nod was slower that time.

‘And we’ve been inseparable since,’ he muttered.

She gazed into his eyes. Hers were so dark he couldn’t tell where her pupils ended and her iris began. Black with longing. Right? He leaned closer, feeling unrestrainable longing himself. He wanted to kiss her. Had to. And never stop until she was right back with him. Right here.

Because the sadness in those deep, secretive eyes was unbearable.

He’d seen the attention she got from other men. He wasn’t the only one to notice her combination of hotness and vulnerability. She unleashed both passion and protectiveness with just a look. And if they had any idea how she kissed, she’d need a posse of bodyguards to fight them off. Was it just her attention-grabbing trick? He grimaced ruefully; he didn’t think so, because she already had him on a three-inch leash.

‘Penny with the perfect plait.’ He slipped his fingers into the tight, glossy braid at the back of her head and massaged gently. ‘Relax. I’ll be the perfect boyfriend. Attentive, caring, funny…’

Why he was saying that he didn’t know. He was supposed to be the perfect investigator. He was supposed to be in his office right now working through all the files and finding the point when the discrepancies occurred. Not planning how he was going to spend the evening pretending to be her lover. But she still looked so anxious and he ached to reassure.

‘We can laugh and make small talk. Wow the brother and then leave.’ He liked the leaving idea. He liked the idea of dressing up with her, going dancing and then dancing some more in private. Yeah, he was a complete fool.

He dropped his hand and stood—a little test of his own strength. ‘Are you going to swim first?’ He’d learned that was her routine.

She shook her head. ‘No time.’

‘You want to go home and change?’

‘I’ve got something here,’ she mumbled.

‘You always have a party-going outfit with you at work?’

She looked surprised he’d even asked.

He went back to his desk for the last hour but all he did was think about her. She was nervous. Why? He didn’t think it was because of him—in fact she was relying on him to carry her through this. So why? What was the big deal about her brother? That prickle of protectiveness surged higher. Why hadn’t she been back in such a long time? It clearly was a long time. He couldn’t wait to go and get some answers.

Penny stood under the hot jet in the gym shower until the warmth finally seeped into her skin. Over and over she reminded herself that it was going to be okay because Carter was coming and he’d keep it social.

She met him in Reception. He was back in black and another tee that skimmed his hot frame. Pirate Carter. How little she knew about him. How much she wanted to find out.

‘You really don’t have a girlfriend?’

‘Do you think I’d act like this with you if I did?’ His expression shut down. ‘I don’t cheat, Penny. One on one. I expect the same from you.’

She swallowed. ‘But this is just for tonight.’

His grin bounced back. ‘Oh, sure, you can think that if it’ll make you feel better.’ He took her hand as they walked along the street, the summer sun still powerful on their backs.

Penny hated public displays of affection. She hated being touched unless she was in a bed and the instigator or lost in the crowd on a dance floor. But Carter ignored all her unsubtle body language. He wouldn’t let her pull her hand back, he measured his stride to match hers, drawing her close enough for her shoulder to brush against his arm as they walked. But she tried once more to slip her fingers out of his.

He stopped walking and jerked on her hand so she stumbled near him. His other hand whipped round her waist and his lips caught hers in a very thorough kiss.

She jerked her head back and glared at him. ‘What—?’

‘If you keep trying to get out of holding my hand, I’m going to keep kissing you. If you want me to act like your boyfriend, I’m going to act like your boyfriend. That includes lots of touching.’

‘No, it doesn’t,’ she hissed.

‘I’m an affectionate lover,’ he said smoothly. ‘I like to touch.’

‘Kissing in public is exclusive, rude behaviour.’

‘Passionately snogging for hours in front of everyone would be. So you’d better let me hold your hand, then, hadn’t you?’

Otherwise he’d passionately snog her for hours? She so shouldn’t be tempted by that. ‘Don’t tease.’

‘Why? Did you think I was here to make this easier for you?’

‘Of course that’s why you’re here,’ she said completely honestly. ‘Be charming, will you?’

‘You think I can be charming?’

‘You know you can.’

‘Why, Penny—’ he ran the backs of his fingers down her cheek ‘—thanks for the compliment.’

‘Stop playing with me,’ she begged through gritted teeth. ‘Please come and talk nicely to him.’

But as they walked closer the cold feeling returned. Until the only warm bit left of her was the hand clasped inside Carter’s.

Already seated at the table, Matt watched them approach—correction, he watched Carter.

‘Hi, Matt,’ Penny said.

Her brother took his steely gaze off Carter and he looked at her. He almost smiled.

An hour or so into the evening, Carter was wondering why she’d been so insistent about his attendance. And why she’d been so anxious. It didn’t seem as though her brother was about to bite. If anything he’d looked fiercely protective when he’d greeted them, as if he’d take a piece out of Carter if he made the wrong move. He’d totally given him the ‘Big Brother is watching’ look. Which was a bit of a laugh, given he had to be the best part of a decade younger. And then he’d started a less than subtle grilling about Carter’s background and prospects. Carter had really felt like laughing then, but Matt’s questions were astute and intelligent and in less than two minutes he was on his toes and respecting kid brother for that. And he’d gotten no help at all from the woman he was here to socially save. She’d stared intently as he’d answered. She’d probably learnt more facts about him in those minutes than she had in the past couple of days. He’d like to do the same.

So now he willed time to go by triple

speed. It refused—in fact he was sure it slowed just to annoy him all the more. Because he wanted to be alone with her. Alone and in his apartment. But there were the mains to be eaten, and more conversation.

‘So what do you do, Matt?’ Too bad if he should have known already.

‘I’m based in Wellington. I’ve just finished my law degree.’

‘So you’re going into your first law job?’

‘Matt’s going to work as a researcher for the judges at the Supreme Court for the year,’ Penny interrupted. ‘They take three honours grads. Only the best.’ Her pride for him glowed.

‘I’ve deferred the law firm job for the year.’ Matt shrugged off the accolades.

So he had his future mapped.

‘You want to specialize in criminal law?’

‘That’s right.’

Yeah, that explained the cross-examination he’d just survived. Carter hoped Matt hadn’t scoped out the lie right in front of him. Although it wasn’t a total lie— Carter did want to be Penny’s lover. Just not for ever as ‘the man’. He’d settle for just the night. Tonight. Now.

But he forced himself to listen politely as the conversation turned to home and Matt caught her up on the happenings. She was interested, asked a tonne of questions, making him wonder all the more why she hadn’t visited in so long. What was so awful about the place when her brother made her laugh about some woman who ran the annual floral festival in their small home town?

‘I saw Isabelle the other day.’

It took Carter a moment to register the total silence. The temperature must have dropped too because he could see goose bumps all over Penny’s arms again.

‘Did you?’ she finally answered, her voice more shrill than a rugby coach’s whistle. She reached for her water. ‘How is she?’

‘She’s okay.’ Matt had stopped eating and was watching her too. ‘She’s working at the city library.’

Carter had no idea who Isabelle was, but what he did know was that Penny had totally frozen over. Icing over to cover up—what? He tilted his head and looked into her obsidian eyes.

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