Page 7 of The End of Faking It

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‘How about honest, then, can you manage that?’ he asked quietly.

‘Not if it’s going to really hurt someone,’ she muttered. Utterly honest.

‘No.’ He shook his head. ‘That’s the coward’s way out.’

Well, what would he know about anything? For all his cruel-to-be-kind cliché, she’d bet her last cent he’d never hurt anyone the way she once had.

She blinked back her sudden tears, focused on his eyes instead. Close up now she saw even more colours in them—not just green and blue but shots of gold as well. All of a sudden she was trying really, really hard not to think of that kiss and how incredible she’d felt. Trying really, really hard not to notice how his mouth looked fuller today.

The atmosphere changed completely. It seemed he’d forgotten his anger too. But there was no less emotion in the air—it just transformed and intensified as it swirled around them. Somehow it made her feel even worse than when he’d been so rude on the phone. Somehow she was more afraid. She couldn’t move, couldn’t speak.

‘Do you want me to kiss you again, Penny?’ he asked. ‘Is that the real problem here?’

That brought her voice back. ‘You are so conceited.’

‘So you really can’t do honesty,’ he jibed.

She bent her head and fished for the last few files, needing to find her moxie more than the damn data. He so easily tipped her balance, she needed her defensive sass back. But all she could manage now was the silent treatment.

‘So what should that guy have sent you—a big box of Belgian chocolates?’ His tone lightened.

‘I don’t eat chocolate,’ she said shortly, not looking up.

‘Maybe you should, smooth off some of those sharp edges. Isn’t chocolate better than sex?’

‘You’re obviously not doing it right if the women you know say that.’

He yelped a little laugh. ‘Throw out a challenge, why don’t you?’

She slammed the file drawer shut.

‘And now you’re backing away from it again. See, you are a tease. You just like having men want you.’

She faced him full on, to put him firmly in his place. Oh, so arrogant Carter Dodds could definitely cope with that—he wasn’t exactly crushable. ‘You wanting me is not a compliment.’

‘You don’t think?’ He grinned. ‘Well, I’m not going to chase after you with a billion flowers or calls. If you want to follow through on this, just let me know.’

‘And you’ll come running?’

He shook his head. ‘I don’t run after any woman.’

‘Because they all fall at your feet?’

‘Much like the men do at yours, darling,’ he murmured. ‘But I already know how much you want me so maybe I’ll make you beg for it.’

‘Cold day in hell, Carter.’

‘Don’t protest too much, you’ll only regret it later.’

She held a breath for a sanity-saving moment. ‘You always get everything you want?’

‘I already have everything I want. Anything extra is purely for fun.’ His lips curved so slowly and his eyes twinkled with such a teasing expression she fought hard not to let her lips move in response. They wanted to smile all of their own accord. To mirror the magic in his smile. How could she want to smile when she was mad with him?

Because the fact was, he was honest—and, yes, more honest than her. He might be teasing but he wasn’t saying anything that wasn’t a bit true.

‘Admit it, you love the fun of it.’ Both his eyes and voice invited.

‘The fun of what?’

‘Flirting.’

‘Is that what you’re doing?’

‘That’s what we’ve been doing from the moment we saw each other.’

‘Oh, please.’ This wasn’t flirting, this was a full-scale, high-impact, brazen sexual hunt. There was nothing subtle about it.

‘You can’t deny it,’ he said. ‘You like what you see. I like what I see.’

She dropped her gaze. Yes, that was all it was. A superficial animal attraction—based on instinct and what the eye found beautiful. They were each a pleasing example of the opposite sex with whom to practise procreation.

‘That doesn’t mean we should do anything about it. You need to concentrate, you’ve got a job to do here.’ And she needed him to give her some breathing space.

‘And I’ll do it well. Doesn’t mean I can’t have a few moments of light relief here and there.’

Light relief was all she ever did. But she didn’t think Carter would walk as lightly over her as she would him. ‘You don’t think this is a distraction?’

‘I think it’s more of a distraction not to give in to it.’

‘Oh, right, so really I should be saying yes for Mason’s sake.’

He chuckled. ‘You should be saying yes because you can’t keep saying no—not to this.’

He had the sledgehammer thing down pat.

She’d known many cocky guys. Had heard many lines—hell, she’d even delivered a few herself. But while Carter was confident, she could also tell he meant every word—and not in some deluded way. He really wanted her. And the truth was, she wanted him too—but to a degree too scary. This kind of extreme just couldn’t be healthy.

He leaned a little closer and, despite her caution, Penny couldn’t help mirroring his movement. She had to part her lips just that tiny fraction—to breathe, right?

He smiled wickedly and lifted his head away again, his eyes dancing with the delight of a devil. He picked up the files she’d thumped on the top of the cabinet. ‘I’ll see you at the bar later.’

‘You’re going tonight?’ She whirled away to hide the sudden rush of blood to her face. Oh, yeah, all her blood rushed at the thought of him being there.

‘Good opportunity to meet and mingle with the staff socially.’

She could hear his smile as he answered. But she frowned, forgetting her feelings about spending social time with him and thinking of Mason instead. ‘I can’t believe any of them could be stealing.’

‘Greed. You never know who has what addiction, what need that’ll push them past moral boundaries.’

‘But it’s not William.’ It was the analyst’s last day; he was heading overseas to take on the financial markets in Singapore. ‘It couldn’t be him.’

‘I’m checking everyone,’ Carter answered, suddenly cool. ‘As he’s leaving, I’m checking his deals first.’

Penny went straight to the bathroom and spent several minutes touching up her face—pressing powder over her forehead, cheeks and chin with deliberate, dispassionate dabs. She concentrated on her lipstick, not letting her mind think of her mouth as anything other than a colouring-in challenge—certainly not a hungry bundle of nerve endings yearning to feel the pressure of Carter’s mouth on hers again.

But then she stared at her surface-repaired reflection. Was he right? Had she been stringing Aaron along? She hated the way Carter had spoken to him but had she been any better? She could have made it clearer—interrupted him and spoken firmly. Only she had that memory, when she’d inflicted so much pain. It was why she was always so careful to establish the ground rules before she entered any kind of affair now. It was why her affairs were so few and far between and super-brief. She had to be careful because she couldn’t handle anything more than easy. Anything more than carefree. No pain, just frivolity and superficial pleasure. She enjoyed sex. She didn’t have it anywhere near often enough despite her many nights out dancing, preferring to keep safe in all kinds of ways. But this attraction to Carter was the most extreme thing she’d ever experienced.

He’d offered all she wanted—only the physical—no strings, no messiness. There was certainly no fledgling friendship there, not when he obviously thought she was a manipulative tease. She saw how he looked at her, as if she made him as angry as much as she turned him on. Well, she knew exactly how he felt.

But her reaction to him was too strong to be safe. When emotions were out of control, people got hurt. She wa

sn’t hurting anyone or being hurt ever again. That was her one hard-and-fast rule. And this attraction threatened every ounce of control she had—therefore was too dangerous to engage.

But he was absolute temptation.

She shook her head, overruling her warring instincts. He wasn’t that overwhelming. Her attraction to him was simply a case of it having been too long. Of course she swooned for tall, dark and handsome, any other red-blooded female would too. Except Carter didn’t just have those three attributes, he also had a carefree lack of cut to his hair, wicked brilliance in his eyes and the devil in his smile….


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