Authors: Jessica Hart
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy, #Literature & Fiction, #Contemporary Fiction, #Series, #Harlequin Romance
‘Or—I know! This is perfect for you, and in keeping with the baking theme…cream puff?’
‘Don’t you dare!’
‘Cream puff it is,’ said Phin, as if I hadn’t spoken. ‘All crispy on the outside, but soft and delicious in the middle. It couldn’t be better for you,’ he said. ‘That’s settled. So, what are you going to call me?’
I looked at him. ‘You really—
—don’t want to know,’ I said.
only smiled and took my hand. ‘Come along, my little cream puff. Let’s go and find some lunch. If you don’t want to celebrate our non-engagement, let’s just celebrate the fact that it’s a beautiful day. What more reason do we need, anyway?’
I tried to imagine Jonathan suggesting that we celebrated the fact that the sun was shining, but I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t that he was a killjoy. Jonathan would celebrate a promotion, a rise in profits, a successful advertising campaign, perhaps. But a lovely day? I didn’t think so.
And if he did celebrate he would want to plan it. Jonathan would book the very best restaurant, or order the most expensive champagne. He wouldn’t just wander along the King’s Road the way Phin did, and find the first place with a table in a sunny window.
But that was why I loved Jonathan, I reminded myself hastily. I loved him precisely because he
spontaneous, because he was the kind of man who would think things through and plan them sensibly, instead of dropping everything when the sun came out, and because he didn’t act on a whim the way my mother and Phin did.
On the other hand, I have to admit that I enjoyed that lunch—although that may have been largely due to the large
glass of wine that came with it. I asked for water, but the wine came, and then it seemed too much of a fuss to send it back, so I ended up drinking it. I’m not used to drinking in the middle of the day, and I could feel myself flushing, and laughing a lot more than I usually do.
Perhaps it was relief at having got through the interview. Perhaps it was the sunshine.
Or perhaps it was Phin sitting opposite me, making me believe that there was nowhere else he would rather be and no one else he would rather be with. Having spent months having to be grateful for any time Jonathan could spare me, it was a novel sensation for me to be the focus of attention for a change.
It was so little, really—to feel that Phin saw
when he looked at me, that he was listening, really listening, to what I was saying—but I’d have been less than human if I hadn’t responded, and I could feel myself unfurling in the simple pleasure of having lunch with an attractive man on a sunny day.
It was very unlike me. I’m normally very puritanical about long lunches in office time. I wasn’t myself that day.
I felt really quite odd, in fact. Fizzy, is the best way to describe it, as if that kiss had left all my senses on high alert. I was desperately aware of Phin opposite me, scanning the menu. I could see every one of the laughter lines around his eyes, the crease in his cheek, and that dent at the corner of his crooked mouth which always seemed on the point of breaking into a smile.
I was supposed to be looking at the menu, too, but I couldn’t concentrate. My eyes kept flickering over to him, skittering from the prickle of stubble on his jaw to his hands, to his throat and then back to that mobile mouth. And my own mouth dried at the memory of how excitingly sure his lips had been.
My whole body still seemed to be humming with the feel
of his hands, of his mouth, but at the same time it seemed hard to believe that we could have kissed like that and yet be sitting here quite normally, as if nothing had happened at all. I shifted uncomfortably as I remembered how eagerly I had kissed Phin back. What must he think of me?
On the other hand, it hadn’t been a
kiss, had it? It hadn’t meant anything. Phin had made it clear enough that he had only been kissing me for effect, and I wondered if I ought to make it clear that I had been doing the same. And, yes, I know, that wasn’t exactly how it was, but a girl has her pride.
Or perhaps I should pretend to ignore the whole issue?
I was still dithering when Phin looked up from the menu. ‘Have you decided? I’m going to have a starter, too. I don’t know about you, but all that kissing has given me an appetite!’
Now that he had raised the subject, I thought I might as well take the opportunity to make my position quite clear.
‘Speaking of kissing,’ I said, and was secretly impressed at how cool I sounded, ‘perhaps we ought to discuss what happened earlier. I understand
you kissed me—’ I went on.
Phin’s brows lifted and his smile gleamed. ‘Do you, now?’
‘Of course. It created a convincing effect for Imelda, and I can see that it worked, but I hope there won’t be any need to repeat it,’ I said, at my most priggish.
Much effect it had on Phin. ‘Now, there we differ, cream puff, because I hope there
. I enjoyed that kiss very much. Didn’t you?’
My eyes darted around the table and I longed for the nerve to lie.
‘I just don’t want to lose sight of what we’re trying to do here,’ I said evasively. ‘And don’t call me cream puff.’
‘That wasn’t quite an answer to my question, though, was it?’ said Phin with a provocative smile.
I might have known he wouldn’t let me get away with it.
We locked eyes for a mute moment, until he gave in with a grin and a shake of his head.
‘Look, don’t worry. I haven’t forgotten that for you this is about getting Jonathan back.’
‘And it’s promoting Gibson & Grieve,’ I added quickly, not wanting it to be all about me. ‘Not to mention keeping Jewel at arm’s length!’
‘All very fine causes,’ Phin agreed with a virtuous expression. ‘But since we’re going through this pretence, it seems to me we might as well enjoy it. We’re not going to look like a very convincing couple if we never touch each other, are we? Touching is what couples do.’
Jonathan and I had never touched in public. But then we hadn’t been a real couple, had we?
‘OK,’ I said, ‘but only when necessary.’
‘Only when necessary,’ he confirmed, and held up crossed fingers. ‘Scout’s honour. Now, let’s get serious and talk about lunch…’
I felt that I had made my point, and after that I was able to relax a little. I suppose that glass of wine helped, too. I don’t remember what we talked about—just nonsense, I think—but I was still in an uncharacteristically light-hearted mood when we made it back to the office.
We waited for a lift in the glossy atrium, with the sun angling through the building to lie across the floor in a broad stripe. Phin was telling me about a disastrous trip he’d been on for one of the
Into the Wild
programmes, where everything that could possibly go wrong had done, and I was laughing when the lift pinged at last and the doors slid open to reveal Lex and Jonathan.
There was a moment of startled silence, then they stepped
out. I had a sudden image of myself through Lex’s eyes, flushed and laughing and dishevelled. Somewhere along the line I had mislaid my clip, and my hair was still tumbling to my shoulders. In my silky red shirt I must have looked almost unrecognisable from my usual crisp self.
My smile faded as I encountered first Lex’s stern gaze, then Jonathan’s astounded look.
‘Hello,’ said Phin cheerfully. ‘Don’t tell me you two are sloping off early?’
‘We’ve got a meeting in the City.’ Pointedly Lex looked at his watch and, like Pavlov’s dog, I looked at mine, too. My eyes nearly started out of my head when I saw that it was almost three o’clock. How had it got that late?
‘I see you’re not letting your new position here change your work ethic,’ he added, with one of his trademark sardonic looks.
Phin was unperturbed. ‘Less of the sarcasm, please,’ he said. He was the only person I knew who wasn’t the slightest bit intimidated by Lex. I suppose it helped that Lex was his brother. ‘I’ll have you know we’ve been busy promoting Gibson & Grieve all morning.’
‘It’s some time since morning,’ said Lex, less than impressed.
‘We’ve been recovering from the stress of persuading the media of my family friendly credentials. Summer did an absolutely brilliant job.’
I wished he hadn’t mentioned me. Lex’s cold grey gaze shifted back to me, and it took all I had not to squirm. I was unnervingly aware of Jonathan’s astounded gaze fixed on me, too. I managed a weak smile.
‘Remarkable,’ was all Lex said.
‘Isn’t she?’ said Phin fondly, putting an arm around me and pulling me against him. I could feel the heat and weight of
his hand at my waist, making the slippery material of my shirt shift over my skin. ‘That’s just what I’ve been telling her.’
‘We’re so late,’ I wailed as soon as we got in the lift. I could feel myself winding rapidly back up to my usual self. I was
late. Well, there had been yesterday, after the pomegranate martinis, but that had been exceptional circumstances. I couldn’t believe that I had actually sat there in the sun and let time tick by without even thinking about getting back to the office.
‘We’re not late,’ said Phin. ‘We haven’t got any appointments this afternoon.’
‘I should have been back earlier,’ I fretted, remembering Jonathan and Lex’s raised brows. ‘I wish they hadn’t seen me like this,’ I said as I tugged my shirt into place. ‘I look so unprofessional.’
‘Nonsense. You look fantastic,’ said Phin. ‘We couldn’t have planned it better if we had tried. Did you
I nodded. ‘He was horrified,’ I said gloomily.
‘He wasn’t horrified. He was absolutely amazed.’ Phin spoke with complete authority. ‘He looked at you and saw exactly what he could have had if he’d ever taken the trouble to kiss you senseless on a sofa and then take you out to lunch. He didn’t like me touching you either,’ he added.
‘How on earth do you know that?’
‘It’s a guy thing.’ Phin smiled smugly. ‘Trust me, Summer, our little plan is working already.’
I know I should have been delighted, but actually I spent the rest of the afternoon feeling scratchy and unsettled. It was impossible to concentrate. It wasn’t fair, the way Phin could be so casual about it all. How could he kiss me like that and then turn round and sound pleased at the idea of handing me on to someone else?
Easily, of course. It was a guy thing, just like he had said. Phin was perfectly happy to enjoy a kiss, or a long lunch, as long as there was no suggestion of any long-term commitment.
I’m not the settling down type
, he had said. Well, no surprises there. And no reason for his cheerful admission to leave me feeling not
, exactly, but just a bit…flat.
I told myself not to be so silly.
So there we were, in this ridiculous situation, working together as boss and PA during the day, and at night pretending to be madly in love.
Whenever I stopped to think about what we were doing I wondered what on earth had possessed me to agree to such a thing, so it was easier to carry on as if it were perfectly normal to spend your days talking to your boss about brand marketing or strategic development or the logistics of taking twenty people to Africa to help build a medical centre, and your nights holding his hand and leaning into his warm, solid body as if you knew it as well as your own.
It was a strange time, but the funny thing was it really did seem quite normal after a while. I couldn’t understand why everybody else didn’t see through the pretence right away, but they all seemed to accept it without question. It was bizarre.
I was so unlike Phin’s normal girlfriends, most of whom he still seemed to get on excellently with. To a woman, they were lushly glamorous and prone to extravagant kisses, with much ‘mwah-mwah’ and many ‘darlings’ scattered around. Next to them, I felt prim and boring. I tried to loosen up, but every time Phin put his arm around me or took my hand my senses would snarl into a knot and I would prickle all over with awareness. It wasn’t exactly relaxing.
The first night we appeared as a couple we went to a party,
to launch some perfume, I think. Something unlikely, anyway. I can remember wondering why on earth Phin had been invited, but he seemed to be on hobnobbing terms with all sorts of celebrities. That was also the first time I realised quite how many ex-girlfriends he had, and I was glad I hadn’t done anything silly like let myself wonder if that kiss might have meant something to Phin, too.
Still, I was nervous. It was all so strange to me, and I was feeling very self-conscious in a short dress with spaghetti straps which I had borrowed from Anne. It showed rather more flesh than I was used to, and when Phin let his hand slide down my spine I shivered.
He clicked his tongue. ‘You’re too tense,’ he murmured in my ear. ‘You’re supposed to like me touching you.’
‘Anyone would be tense, meeting all your ex-girlfriends like this,’ I said out of the corner of my mouth, while keeping my smile fixed in place. ‘They’re all wondering what on earth you’re doing with me.’
‘Their boyfriends aren’t.’ His smile glimmered as he ran a knuckle along the neckline of my dress. ‘You look delectable, in a behind-closed-doors kind of way.’
I hated the way every cell in my body seemed to leap at his touch. It made it very hard to remember that I was in control.
‘What kind of way is that?’ I asked, squirming at the breathlessness in my voice.
‘You know—all cool on the surface, but making every man feel that if only he were lucky enough to get you on your own you’d be every hot-blooded male’s fantasy.’
‘Oh, please,’ I said edgily, moving away from him. ‘And stop stroking me!’
‘Nope,’ said Phin as he pulled me easily back against him. ‘You’re my girlfriend, and I can’t keep my hands off you!’
‘You’ve clearly got the same problem with your ex-girlfriends too,’ I said waspishly. ‘I notice you’re still very touchy-feely with them.’
‘Could it be that you’re jealous, cream puff?’
‘I’m hardly likely to be jealous, am I? I’m just keeping in character, like you. I’m sure if I really was your new girlfriend I wouldn’t want to see quite how chummy you still are with them.’
‘I’m just saying hello to old friends.’
I sniffed. ‘I can manage to say hello to friends without sticking my tongue down their throats!’
‘You do exaggerate, Summer—’ Phin began, amused, and then broke off. ‘Uh-oh. Do you see who I see?’
I followed his gaze to where Jewel Stevens was wrapped around a young guy who looked vaguely familiar to me. I wondered if I’d seen him on television. He was very pretty, but had a vacuous look about him.