Sheltered by the Millionaire (10 page)

BOOK: Sheltered by the Millionaire
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“There’s a pear tree that’s producing, thanks to the climate control in here. When Evie told me you like chocolate, it all came together.” He plucked a pear from a branch. “Why the suspicious look?”

“I’m trying to figure out why you’re going to so much trouble to win me over?”

“You’re worth it.” He set the pear on a stone pottery plate and sliced through it with a paring knife.

“I’m appreciative, but why me when you could expend far less effort for any number of women around here?”

“I don’t want them.” He swirled the piece of fruit through the chocolate. “Just you.” He offered her the dripping slice.

She bit into the end, the sweet fresh pear and gooey chocolate sending her taste buds into a flavor orgasm. She sank into the chair. “Okay, totally amazing,” she said, reaching for another slice. “And I’m totally surprised.”

“How so?” he sat across from her, their knees bumping under the small table.

“Well,” she said, swirling the slice in the chocolate and stroking her toes along his ankle. “I wouldn’t have expected you to be so...thrifty.”

“I think I was just insulted.”

“You’re wealthy. Filthy-rich wealthy.”

He resisted the impulse to get defensive and forced himself to answer logically. “That doesn’t mean I’m wasteful. I’ve worked damn hard to get to where I am, but there are plenty of people who work just as hard for a lot less, like my mom did. I recognize that there was luck that partnered up with my work ethic.”

“Well, your gardener has really outdone himself here.” She picked up one of the heavy silver spoons laid out in the fondue display and swirled it through the sauce.

“The hits just keep coming.” He laughed. “I don’t have a gardener.” He popped a slice of fruit in his mouth.

She dropped the spoon in surprise. “You tend all of this yourself?”

Her gaze roamed the neat rows of tomato plants again. The bins of gardening tools and the bags full of potting soil tucked under the plant shelves affirmed that all this work had been done right here. He hadn’t just grabbed a bunch of plants from a nursery to decorate his greenhouse. What a lot of work. And patience. She remembered all the times she’d mentally accused him of not caring about the environment and felt a pang of guilt.

“Having money doesn’t mean I should stop taking care of things myself.” He held up a hand. “The catering service is a survival thing. I may have a green thumb, but my skills in the kitchen suck. It was less expensive to hire out than to continue throwing away food. Makes economic sense.”

“But you don’t have to pinch pennies.” So much about this man was different than what she’d assumed for the past three years. She hadn’t expected him to be so generous and thoughtful, and now to find this “green” side to him? Her head was reeling.

“I grew up in a feast-or-famine kind of childhood. When my dad had a job, we lived well, really well.” He tugged an orange from a low-hanging branch and began peeling the ripe fruit. “And then he inevitably got fired and we skipped town, chasing a fresh start. At one point we lived in an RV for about eight months. Even at ten years old, I knew if we’d lived more frugally at the place prior, we would have had enough to carry us through the lean times.”

Her heart ached for that little boy with so much upheaval in his life. “How is it that’s never shown up in your official bio—or at least the grapevine gossip?”

“My life story is no one’s business,” he said with the brash confidence she’d seen so often in the past.

Now she saw that confidence with new eyes, saw the man who’d taken adversity and let it drive him to success. She couldn’t help but respect that.

She scooped the peels into her hand. “A thrifty woman like myself would recycle this into potpourri.”

“Hmm, I’m beginning to see merits in your recycling drive.” He brought an orange slice to her mouth.

She held it in her teeth, tugging his tie until he leaned across the table to share the bite with her. The fruit burst in her mouth just as their lips met. His eyes held hers as they both ate and watched each other. He kissed a dribble of juice off her chin.

She loosened his tie. “You’re a naughty man.”

“Lady, I haven’t even gotten started yet.” He sank back in his seat again, yanking his tie the rest of the way off.

The night outside and the steamed windows inside provided more than enough privacy. It also helped that the greenhouse was tucked away in a cluster of pine trees. They were alone. Truly alone.

Megan’s body came alive with anticipation and possibility.

This humid greenhouse was like a tropical retreat in the middle of their everyday small town. What a gift to have such a lush hideaway from the world nestled right here in Whit’s backyard.

Standing, he draped his tie over a branch and shrugged out of his coat. She couldn’t look away, wondering how far he would go. He flung his coat over the back of his chair and the swoosh of it landing snapped something inside her.

Without taking her eyes off him, she tugged her polo shirt from work over her head. His eyes widened in appreciation and then she lost track of who got undressed faster. She just knew somehow her bra had landed alongside his tie on the orange tree.

She would never again be able to eat an orange without tingling all over.

Whit reached behind a stack of bags full of soil and pulled out a quilt. He’d clearly thought this through and prepared. He shook it on the ground beside the table and took her hand in his. She stepped into his arms and savored the feel of masculine skin against her bare flesh. The rasp of bristle and muscle. A hum of pleasure buzzed through her, melting her as he lowered her onto the blanket.

She trailed her fingers along his shoulders. “This is the most perfect night. You’re an ingenious man.”

“You inspire me.” He pulled an orange slice from the table and held the piece of fruit over her stomach with slow deliberation.

Delicious anticipation shivered through her a second before he squeezed the juice onto her one sweetly torturous drip a time.

“Whit,” she gasped just as he dipped his head to sip away each drop.

He glanced up the length of her. “Should I stop?” he asked, kissing his way upward.

Her elbows gave way and she sank back. He snagged the rest of the orange from the iron table and drizzled more juice along one breast, his mouth soon following. She arched up into his caress and gave her hands free rein to enjoy this intriguing, sexy man who’d found his way into her life.

She let herself be swept away in sensations and desire. He was an intuitive lover, lingering when she sighed, in tune to the cues of her least sound or movement. His mouth skimmed lower and lower still until her knees parted and...yes...he sipped and licked, nuzzling at the bundle of nerves drawing tighter. He coaxed her pleasure closer and closer to the edge of completion.

For so long she’d been alone, and while she’d told herself she didn’t need more in her life, right now she knew that was a lie. She needed this. This man.

The thought sent a bolt of ecstasy through her. Her fingers gripped his shoulders and dug in to let him know just how much she needed him to stay with her for every wave of pleasure. And he did, as each wave rippled through her.

Her arms fell to her sides as she breathed in ragged gasps, her mind still in a fog. But even in her afterglow haze, need already built inside her again.

Soon, the goal of having Whit reach those heights with her had her reaching for another orange.

Ten

T
ucking Megan to his side, Whit trailed his fingers up and down her arm, making the most of their last minutes together tonight. He understood she had to be home soon to relieve the sitter, but he wanted more time with Megan. He’d never dated a single mother before.

More importantly, he’d never been with anyone who captivated him the way she did, dressed or undressed. Although right now he was enjoying the hell out of the undressed Megan. Her silky hair teased along his arm in a fan of red. He’d explored every inch of her soft, pale skin.

He kissed a smudge of chocolate off her nose. Chocolate and oranges would long be his favorite flavors. He’d discovered a lot about her this evening, and intended to make the most of the time they had left before she sent the sitter home at midnight. “Penny for your thoughts.”

Megan rubbed her foot along his calf. “Why do you have a greenhouse full of fruits and vegetables if you order your food catered?”

He propped up on one elbow and gestured at the plants on either side. “There’s a theme here, if you look closer,” he said, surprised at her question but glad to have a chance to extend the evening. “Fresh fruits and vegetables for a salad or salsa. I may not be able to cook, but I can chop. Plus, free tomatoes are a great way to make friends with your neighbors.”

“Just being neighborly?” she pressed. “I think there’s more to your answer than that.”

“Believe it or not, I like roots.” If he wanted more from her, he would need to give more of himself. “I moved around so much as a kid, this place reminds me I’m here to stay.”

One of those happy-sad smiles played on her lips, which were still plump from kissing. “You break my heart sometimes.”

“How so?” He tensed. He didn’t want her pity. Part of him wanted to pull back, but that would mean letting her go. And with her hands sketching lazy circles all over him, staying put seemed a better option.

“With those images of you as a kid longing for a home.” One of her hands slid up to cradle his face.

“You’re a nurturer.” He kissed her palm.

“You’re a builder and tender too, you know.” She gestured to the greenhouse. “You just have to learn to see that in yourself.”

Okay, enough of this kind of talk. It was one thing to share parts of their past. It was another altogether to submit to a cranial root canal. “This conversation is getting entirely too serious.”

“Then why did you bring me out here and show me this part of your life?”

Why had he? Every time he got close to that answer, he mentally flinched away as if he were getting too close to a flame. He settled on the easy answer. “Because I had been fantasizing about making love to you out here, about tasting the fruit on your skin.”

She paused and he could see in her eyes she wasn’t buying into his dismissal of her assessment. Then she nodded as if conceding to give him space on the issue and arched up to nibble his bottom lip. “You taste mighty delicious yourself.”

“I’ve developed a new appreciation for fondue.”

She flicked her tongue along his chin before pressing her mouth to his collar bone, then settling back into his arms. “I appreciate the dessert and the thought that went into arranging such an amazing evening, and all you’ve done for Evie and for the shelter as well.”

“I would like to pamper you every day if you would let me.” He massaged along one of her narrow shoulders, then down her back, skimming along her curves and around her hip where he knew her tattoo trailed across her skin. He could get so used to this. “The way I see it, you don’t get much time to relax between work and being a mom.”

“I love my daughter and my job. That’s always been enough.” Yet as she said that, her eyes fluttered closed and she melted against him.

“That doesn’t mean you can’t have recreation.”

“Is that what you are?” She tipped her face to look at him. “My recreation?”

“I’m just trying to be a help. We all need a break every now and again, right?” He couldn’t hold back the burning question any longer. “Where does Evie’s father live?”

Her body went rigid under his touch and she rolled away, sitting up and gathering her clothes. “Not here. He’s not a part of her life and chances are he never will be.”

“But he knows about her.”

“Of course,” she answered indignantly, tugging on her panties, then her bra. “I would never keep that a secret. The minute he found out, he cut ties and ran.”

The bastard. Whit wanted to find the guy and pummel him for the pain he’d caused Megan and her amazing daughter.

“He doesn’t pay child support, does he?” Whit tugged on his suit pants.

She shrugged and pulled on her shirt. “He snowed me. Completely. Last I heard he was in the Keys heading for the Bahamas.”

“Hey.” Whit cradled her face in his hands. “It’s not your fault he’s a loser. He missed out on an amazing family.” Whit’s own father may not have been much of a provider but at least he’d been there.

“My fault or not,” she gripped his wrists and stared straight into his eyes, “Evie will grow up knowing her father didn’t want her and there’s nothing I can do to change that.”

She pulled away to slip on her khakis, her rigid back telling him she was holding on by a thread while rebuilding defenses he’d apparently blasted with one simple question.

Whit could see he didn’t just need to be careful for Evie’s sake. Megan was every bit as wounded by the past as her daughter. She just didn’t wear the costumes.

And now he prayed like hell his idea to help with Evie wouldn’t backfire.

* * *

“What’s the matter with you?”

Beth’s question cut through Megan’s fog as she picked at her lunch salad the next day. Evie had taken her lunch box and joined Miss Abigail at the front desk.

Megan sagged back in her office chair, the squeak in the old seat mixing with the muffled sound of a couple of dogs in the play yard. The kennel runs were quieter today than usual thanks to some new calming CDs brought in by one of the volunteers. If only that music could help calm her spinning thoughts.

Even the salad reminded her of Whit’s greenhouse and how hard he was trying on her behalf. Yet she couldn’t shake the jittery feeling that things would fall apart, and the closer she let herself get to him, the worse the breakup would hurt.

Tossing aside her fork, Megan reached for her water instead, staring at the photo on her desk of beach day in Galveston when Evie was two. She’d scrimped and saved for that trip, convinced she needed to start making special memories with her toddler. “I’m just preoccupied.”

“Because of Whit?” Beth unpacked her navy blue lunch sack that could have passed for a purse. “How did it go last night?”

“Did you know he has this massive greenhouse where he grows fresh fruits and veggies?”

Beth’s eyebrows shot up. “No, I didn’t know. And you think he would have told me since I have an organic farm. We could have shared clippings—” She stopped. “Wait. This is about you.”

Megan tapped the catnip plant. “He brought this for the kitties. And he’s rolling out all the stops romancing me and I have to admit, he seems so sincere.”

“Seems?” Beth absently thumbed her engagement ring, spinning it around on her finger.

Admitting her insecurities, even to her close friend, was tough for Megan. But God, if she didn’t work through this and she blew it with Whit without even trying... “I don’t trust my instincts when it comes to men. And he’s known for being ruthless.”

“In the work world,” Beth pointed out. “That’s different.”

“Is it?”

“He adores Evie. He’s not faking that. Evie would sense that a mile off.” The natural blonde beauty smiled. “Remember that banker guy who pretended to be in the market for a dog so he could hit on you about six months ago? Evie made a point of getting peanut butter and jelly on his ties so you would see him freak out over kid germs.”

Megan laughed at the memory. “She’s a great little bodyguard.” But even that thought was sobering in light of her daughter’s fears since the storm. “Can I afford to let Evie grow any more attached to Whit when I’m not sure where the relationship is headed?”

“Unless you intend to spend your life alone, at some point you have to trust again,” Beth said with undeniable reason.

“I could wait until Evie’s eighteen.” Except after last night’s sex, fourteen years felt like an eternity.

Her friend stayed diplomatically silent and bit into an apple.

The noise level in the lobby grew. New voices and a squeal from Evie drew Megan’s attention away from her pity party, thank heaven, because talking was just making her feel worse today.

She rolled back her chair and stood. “Beth, I should see what’s going on out there.”

She stepped into the lobby, her eyes drawn immediately to Whit. What was he doing here in the middle of the workday? Then she noticed Evie petting a golden retriever. Megan’s instincts went on alert at the thought of her daughter petting a possible stray with an unknown vaccination history. Except then she saw the dog was wearing a “service dog” vest. What did all of this have to do with Whit’s arrival?

He turned to face her—and he wasn’t alone. A sleekly pretty woman with dark hair stood at his side. Jealousy nipped. Hard.

Megan smiled tightly and knelt beside her daughter. “Sweetie, that vest means this is a working dog. We don’t touch dogs with this special vest.”

Her daughter—dressed as a Ninja Turtle today—grinned. “I asked. She said it was okay and Mr. Whit said it was okay. He brought the dog for my preschool class.”

Megan glanced up at him, confused. “What’s going on?”

Whit set his Stetson on the receptionist’s desk. “I talked to the day-care director about bringing in a therapy dog for the kids given all they went through with the tornado. The local school psychologist recommended this group in Dallas and contacted the other parents to clear it. I said I would check with you to save her a call, and well, here we are. The dog handler said she’s even interested in evaluating the dogs here for training.”

Introductions were made in a blur and the next thing she knew her wonderfully intuitive friend Beth was offering to walk the dog handler—Zoe Baker—back to the play yard.

Megan’s head was spinning in surprise. Of course it was a great idea, but having someone take over decisions for her daughter so totally felt...alien. But there wasn’t much she could say since he’d gone straight to the school and she didn’t want to cause a scene that would upset Evie.

Still, she ducked her head and said, “Could we talk for a minute. Alone.”

Miss Abigail knelt beside Evie. “Would you like to come with me to play with the cats? Your mom told me a new litter of kittens was just brought in.”

Evie skipped alongside Abigail with a new spring in her step Megan hadn’t seen in a month.

Whit swept his hat off the desk and followed Megan to her office. “I meant this to be a surprise, to show you I care about you and Evie, that I respect your work with animals.”

“Okay,” she said cautiously, “but why not consult me? This is my child. And animals are my area of expertise.”

He scratched his head, wincing. “You’re right. I should have. I was thinking about Evie’s fear of going back to school and then I saw this article about the group in Dallas and I got caught up in the moment wanting to surprise you. Like with the catnip.”

“This is a much bigger deal than catnip.”

She couldn’t help but feel defensive. “I don’t want to push her before she’s ready.”

“Hey,” he took her shoulders in his hands, “I’m not questioning your parenting. Thinking of her made me wonder about the other kids. So I spoke with some of the dads at the Cattleman’s Club and asked if their kids were having trouble this past month. This is for all of them. Not just Evie.”

“You talked to the other parents...about their children?” Her lips went tight, anger nipping all over again.

But she couldn’t help but remember how carefully he’d studied the instructions for taking care of Tallulah. Thinking about that kind of thoughtfulness applied to her daughter touched her. “Which other children?”

“Sheriff Battle said every time his son hears a train he thinks the tornado’s coming back.” He turned his hat around and around in his hands. “When I saw that article about therapy dogs going into nursing homes and schools, it got me thinking. Ms. Baker uses shelter dogs, which I knew would be appealing to you. I even learned there’s a difference between service dogs, therapy dogs and emotional support dogs. Anyhow, what do you think? Aside from the fact I’ve been pushy, when I should have consulted you.”

“I actually think that’s a great idea. I’m kicking myself for not thinking of it.” She sagged back against the edge of her desk. “You sure acted on this quickly.”

“You’ve had your hands full. And I figured why wait. The day-care staff is expecting us this afternoon. I’m hoping Evie will be excited to take the dog to show off to her friends.”

“I still wish you’d consulted me. We talked about this yesterday.”

He flinched. “Guilty as charged and I truly am sorry. It seemed like a good surprise in my head. Would you have said no if I told you?”

Sighing, she conceded, “Of course not.”

But that wasn’t the point.

He scratched the back of his neck. “My buddies thought it was funny as hell that I was asking about kid stuff so word got around fast. The press is involved now too, planning to cover it. I figured it would be a good chance to talk about shelter dogs and how full your rescue is.”

And he’d done all this for her when she’d given so little of herself in return. She’d just held back and questioned and worried. “You’re really going all out to win me over.”

“Busted.” He slid his arms around her waist. “I want to be with you.”

She toyed with his tie and knew he wouldn’t give a damn if Evie painted it with jelly. “I’m still the same pain-in-the-butt person who’s fighting with you over what parts of Royal you choose to develop.”

“And I’m still the same guy who’s going to argue there’s a way around things.”

“We’re going to argue,” she said with certainty.

“At least you’ll be talking to me rather than ignoring me.”

BOOK: Sheltered by the Millionaire
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