“I don’t have it anymore. I took it to a jeweler during my lunch hour. I needed the money to pay off some bills.”
Jared rubbed the back of his neck. Although he hadn’t much cared for seeing Cord’s ring back on her finger, that ring symbolized their engagement. “Where did you take it?”
“Garbella Jewelers. Do you think they still have it?”
Jared inhaled as he checked his watch. Garbella was a well-known jeweler that was frequented by a lot of high-profile individuals. “Even if they do, chances are the shop is closed now. I’ll check with them first thing tomorrow. If they still have it, I’ll get it back.”
“And if they don’t?”
Jared inhaled again. “Then I’ll get you another one.”
“B-but your family saw that ring. They will think it’s odd for me to start wearing a different one.”
Jared nodded, knowing that was true. “Then I’ll have to think of a good reason to tell them why I changed it.”
Dana nodded. Whatever reason he came up with would have to be good. “All right.”
He checked his watch again. “I need to leave if I’m going to be on time to meet my brothers for dinner.”
Dana focused on putting one foot in front of the other as she walked him to the door. Concentrating on him was too mind-boggling.
They stopped when they reached her door. She lifted her gaze to his. His eyes appeared darker, the same color they had become right before he’d kissed her yesterday.
“I’ll call you tomorrow,” he said huskily. “Will there be a problem with me calling you at work?”
“No, there won’t be a problem. Wait, I’ll give you my business card.”
Jared watched as she quickly crossed the room to a table, tempted to let out a low whistle. Heat flared through him as his gaze wandered down her hips, thighs and legs. He took a deep breath and released it. Dana looked particularly sexy in her short skirt. She definitely had all the right body parts for it.
“This has all of my contact information,” she said, returning to where he was standing.
He took the card from her and felt her shiver when their hands touched. “Thanks.”
She cleared her throat when he didn’t make a move to leave. “Is there anything else, Jared?”
Her question made him realize that, yes, there definitely was something else on his mind. “It would be a good idea to seal our agreement and I think this way is more appropriate than a handshake.”
Before she could gather her next breath, he leaned down, slanted his mouth across hers and captured her lips in his, tasting her the way he had wanted to since entering her home. He heard her purr, felt her nipples tighten against his chest, all the way through his jacket, which only made him intensify his hold on her mouth as his tongue continued to devour her.
His heart missed a beat with every stroke of his tongue and the multitude of sensations he encountered while kissing her washed over him, short-circuiting whatever functioning brain cells he needed in order to think straight. As if they had a mind of their own, his fingers inched downward to touch her thigh and to trace his fingertips along the hem of the short shirt that had been driving him mad for the past half hour. A warning flared in his mind that this woman was pure, unadulterated temptation.
He released her slowly and fought to control his breathing, his desire and his lust. The only word he could think of was—wow! Seducing Dana Rollins was not part of his proposal but…
“Do you think that was wise?” she asked in a low whisper.
His gaze went to her lips, lips that were still moist from his kiss. He liked the sight of them and a smile touched the corners of his mouth. “Yes, in all honesty, I think that was the smartest thing I’ve done all day.”
Jared glanced around Chase’s Place as he sipped his drink. The meeting with his brothers had gone rather well and everyone was in agreement that they wouldn’t hover over their mother as they had the last time. They’d also agreed that Jared’s engagement had been perfect timing, although they were glad it was him and not them.
He glanced up and stared into the dark eyes of his cousin Dare. He and Dare were only months apart in age and had always shared a rather close relationship. “Yes, I’m fine, considering everything.”
Dare took the chair across from him. “Durango told me and Chase what’s going on with Aunt Sarah. You know the family is here if you need us for anything, but I know things are going to be fine.”
Jared nodded as he rubbed a hand down his face. “God, I hope so. I don’t even know how Mom’s appointment went today. I stopped by earlier but it was like getting blood out of a turnip. The only thing she wanted to talk about was my engagement.”
Dare chuckled. “Well, you have to admit that has given the family something to talk about. Who would have thought that you of all people would decide to finally tie the knot?”
Jared frowned. “It’s just an engagement, Dare.”
Dare nodded. “Yes, but unless you know something that I don’t, most engagements are the prelude to a wedding. You’ll be marrying Dana eventually.”
Jared took another sip of his drink as he met Dare’s gaze over the rim of his glass. One thing he’d learned as a successful attorney was knowing whom he could trust to keep their mouths closed and whom he couldn’t.
“The engagement isn’t real.”
Dare straightened in his chair. “Excuse me?”
Jared spent the next ten minutes telling Dare the entire story, including how he and Dana had originally met.
“Damn, a pretended engagement. You know what happened when Shelly and I tried pretending a courtship. It became the real thing,” Dare said, remembering that time.
Jared stared at Dare. “That won’t happen to me. You know how I feel about marriage.”
Dare chuckled. “Yeah, and you know how I felt about it, too. But I can’t imagine not having Shelly in my life now.”
“The two of you had a history. And then there was AJ.”
Dare nodded when he thought of the son he hadn’t known about until Shelly had returned to town after having been gone ten years. “But even with all that, Shelly and I had to get reacquainted, find ourselves all over again. It was only then that we discovered that we still loved each other.”
Jared snorted. “At work I see marriage at its ugliest—when two people who’d vowed to love each other till death do them part, face each other in a judge’s chamber with hatred in their eyes, wanting to strip the other bare of anything and everything.”
He chuckled before continuing. “The man I’m representing in court tomorrow is fighting his soon-to-be ex-wife for custody of the dog.”
Dare shook his head sadly. “Don’t let what you see in your profession discolor your opinion of marriage, Jared.”
Jared sighed deeply. “It already has, Dare. This thing with Dana is for Mom’s sake and there’s no way I’m going to forget it.”
D ana glanced up from her desk and smiled when Cybil walked in. “Good morning.”
“Umm, I don’t know how good it is when you find out your best friend has been keeping secrets.”
Dana raised an arched brow. “Excuse me?”
Cybil frowned as she crossed the room to stand in front of Dana’s desk. “I don’t know whether you’re excused or not. News of your engagement made the society column today,” she said, waving a section of the Atlanta Constitution in front of Dana’s eyes.
“What!” Dana snatched the paper from Cybil to read the article. “I didn’t know.”
Cybil lifted a confused brow as she crossed her arms over her chest. “What didn’t you know? That you’re engaged to one of Atlanta’s most eligible bachelors or that news of it would appear in today’s paper?”
Hearing the hurt in her best friend’s voice, Dana lifted her gaze from the article to meet Cybil’s gaze. “I can explain.”
Sighing deeply, Dana stood and crossed the room to close her door. She turned to Cybil. “You better sit for this.”
It took a full twenty minutes to explain everything. It would have taken less time had her best friend not interrupted every five minutes to ask so many questions.
“Boy, this is unreal. The entire office is buzzing. I hope Jared gets you a different engagement ring. People will have a lot to say if they see you wearing the same ring Luther gave you.”
Dana blinked. Jeez. She hadn’t thought of that since she hadn’t expected news of their engagement going public.
“Who do you think tipped off the papers?” Cybil asked.
“I’m not sure but it really doesn’t matter at this point.” Dana knew it had to have been someone in Jared’s family, probably his mother. The article had been nicely written, letting all Atlanta know that one of the city’s most sought-after bachelors had gotten engaged to Dana Rollins over the Easter weekend. “I wonder if Jared has seen it.”
Cybil smiled that little knowing smile that meant her mind was churning and usually in the wrong direction. “My guess is that he has.” She chuckled. “I can assure you that everyone in this office has.”