She bit her lip and tried not to look at him. “Yes.”
After a brief pause he said, “Dana?”
The way he said her name only forced her to look at him. “Yes?”
“Why does the thought of making love to me bother you?” he asked softly.
She felt a tiny pull in the pit of her stomach at the silky timbre in his voice. The thought of making love to him didn’t bother her but it did keep her constantly off balance and made her imagine some wild and purely wicked things. It also had her conscious of her sexual state more so than ever.
She hadn’t slept with a man in almost four years. That fact hadn’t bothered her before. It had seldom crossed her mind. Now it did. She was experiencing wants and desires for the first time and had a feeling that a sexual experience with Jared would obliterate her long-standing belief that sex was highly overrated. She knew to ask for a purely platonic relationship would not be realistic. After all, she was a woman and he was a man unlike any other she’d ever known. He had a way of making her feel attractive, wanted and desired.
The silence between them had stretched long enough and she knew that he deserved an answer. “It doesn’t bother me, Jared. It confuses me.”
He didn’t say anything for a long moment, and then he said, “Although I want to share a physical relationship with you, would it help to give you my word that I won’t push you into doing anything you aren’t ready for?”
She frowned. “That’s just it, Jared. How will I know when I’m ready for anything? All of this is rather new to me.”
“You’ll know, Dana. You’ll know better than anyone,” he said softly. “I’d be telling a lie if I said I didn’t want you. Even now, I want you so bad I ache with the thought of having you. I’m not Luther Cord. But since our engagement is not the real thing, I won’t expect or assume anything. How far we take things will always be up to you.”
A warm shudder of awareness passed through them as well as an understanding and acceptance of their predicament. Jared recognized the depth of desire in her eyes although he knew she did not.
A part of him wanted to curse the two fools that had made her think that lovemaking wasn’t worth losing sleep over. There was no doubt in his mind that if he ever made love to her, sleep wouldn’t be involved. just constant pleasure, gratification and enjoyment all night long.
“And as far as the kisses,” he said. “They can be dangerous but necessary. Engaged couples do kiss, so a certain degree of open affection will be expected. And although we don’t have to kiss when we’re alone, I enjoy kissing you and hope you enjoy kissing me, as well. But if you prefer that—”
“Kissing is fine,” she interrupted. “Now that we have an understanding. Like you said earlier in the car, our pretended engagement is only temporary.”
The drive back to her job was done mostly in silence. There really wasn’t a whole lot left to be said. They understood each other and the situation they were in.
“Here’s the new ring,” he said, when he parked the car in front of her office building and she’d unsnapped her seat belt.
She accepted the gray velvet box and opened it up. He heard the gasp that escaped her lips and watched as she blinked then blew out a long whistle. “Wow!” She quickly looked over at him. “Don’t you think this is a bit too much?” She took it out of the box and slipped it on her finger. It was a perfect fit.
Jared’s mouth tilted into a smile. For some reason he liked seeing that ring on her finger instead of the one Luther had given her. “No. If I’m going to convince my family there was a good reason for me to change rings then seeing is believing. I’ll just tell them that I saw this one and thought it would look better on your hand. They’ll buy that story.”
Dana nodded. Anyone would. Jared hadn’t just given her a ring, he had given her a rock. It had to be the most beautiful ring she had ever seen and the design was unique. She knew it most have cost him a fortune. Of course she’d return it when their fake engagement was over. She held her hand out in front of her. “It’s simply beautiful, Jared.”
Smiling at her, Jared reached out and captured her hand in his and brought it up to his lips. “I’m glad you like it.”
Dana swallowed when he released her hand. Jared kissing her hand had been totally unexpected and she felt a sizzle all the way to her toes.
“Now I have a question for you,” he said quietly before she could gather her wits.
“Are those two people friends of yours? They have been standing there and staring at us ever since I pulled up.”
Dana followed his gaze and saw Mary Bonner and Helen Fisher standing at the entrance of the building, pretending to be engaged in deep conversation. “They’re co-workers, not friends, and two of the biggest gossips in the building.”
A mischievous glint appeared in Jared’s eyes. “Then how about if we gave them something to gossip about.”
Dana smiled. She knew where he was coming from although she also knew his plan included another kiss. But they had said at lunch that engaged couples were expected to publicly display a certain degree of affection. And if she was totally honest, she wanted to feel his lips against hers again. “Okay.”
Dana’s breath hitched when Jared reached over and nearly pulled her out of the seat into his lap and captured her mouth with his. Her body respond instinctively. The kiss was soft, gentle, slow and hot. It was also thorough—so methodically complete that she felt blood race all the way down to her toes. Kiss number three was everything the last two had been and more. He was making her concentrate on his taste and the slow buildup of desire that was flowing through her. His tongue tangled with hers and she felt desire and urgency consuming him and overtaking her, as well. His hard shaft was pressed against her stomach and she knew for him to have gotten that aroused meant they were definitely putting on a show.
He slowly pulled back and she placed her hands against his muscled chest as she tried to restore her breathing to a normal pattern. Her insides felt like mush and heat, and an intensity she had never felt before settled smack between her legs.
“So…do you think that worked?” he asked, lowering his head to lightly taste the sides of her mouth while placing her back in her seat.
His breath was warm, his tongue moist and her control was steadily slipping. “Yes,” she said, barely able to get the single word out. “I’m sure they won’t be able to stop talking about us.”
L anterns furnished a translucent glow to the Westmorelands’ backyard. Chairs and tables were assembled in front of the lake and an area had been cleared for dancing. There was the mouthwatering smell of ribs and chicken cooking over charcoal, and a huge tent covered a number of tables that were loaded with all kinds of delectable foods.
In addition to Jared’s brothers and cousins, former classmates and friends had been invited to the cookout. Dana sighed as she glanced around. She had been introduced to everyone as Jared’s fiancée and when asked when the wedding would take place she would smile and say they hadn’t set a date, but doubted it would be anytime that year.
“I can certainly see why Jared preferred this ring,” Madison was saying, pulling Dana’s attention back to the conversation around her. Jared had been right. His family had accepted the reason he’d given about the change in rings without question.
“It certainly makes a statement, doesn’t it?” Tara inserted. “It’s such a beautiful ring. The other one was really nice but this one is more like Jared.”
Dana was about to ask Tara what she meant when Jared’s mother appeared by her side smiling. “Are you enjoying yourself, Dana?”
Dana returned the older woman’s smile. “Yes, and thanks for inviting me.”
“No thanks needed. You’re family now.”
Dana nodded. She hated deceiving the older woman.
“You’ve been Jared’s best-kept secret. Not once did he let on that he was seeing anyone seriously, in fact I assumed the opposite. For the longest time he claimed that he would never marry. That just goes to show what can happen when a person falls in love. And it’s plain to see that he’s fallen hard,” Sarah added chuckling. “He hasn’t taken his eyes off you all evening. I’ve never seen him this attentive to anyone before, and I’m supremely happy about it.”
The thought crossed Dana’s mind that continuing that “supreme happiness” was the only reason Jared had propositioned her to take part in this sham of an engagement. She wondered why that had her feeling oddly let down.
“What do you think of Jared’s theater room?” Jayla asked a few minutes later when the topic had switched from Dana and Jared to the movies that were now playing at the theaters.
Dana looked puzzled, not knowing what Jayla was talking about but knowing it was something that she should. “His theater room?”
Shelly grinned. “You mean he hasn’t told you about all the remodeling he’s done? When was the last time you were over at his place?”