Wendy was heading back into the Ritz Carlton to have concierge call her a cab when Joe Kessler walked out, the after-party still in full swing in the Grand Ballroom behind him. Glittery models, industry people, and paparazzi filled the place, including the foyer and the hallways.
In a sharp tux, he looked good enough for the runway. No, not the runway. He had those wide shoulders, that easy cop walk of his, that athlete’s body. He looked good enough for a spy-thriller blockbuster. The zing she’d felt the first time they’d met was still there, which annoyed the living daylights out of her.
“Can I give you a ride home?” He had a smile that should have been on billboards. Lips that put sinful thoughts into a woman’s mind.A playful glint in his eyes that a person should simply turn away from unless heartache was her hobby.
She put on her coolest, most unaffected model expression. “I’m not going to sleep with you.” Her life was plenty complicated already.
“There’s always next season.”
“Is that some clever football expression?”
He shoved his hands into his pockets and looked her over, took his time, missing no detail of her floor-length gown, not the slit over her thigh or the neckline’s dangerously low dip. His gaze had a life of its own, leaving tingles on her skin.
A cocky smile flickered over his masculine lips. “Odd how sex is the first thing you think of when you look at me.”
As a model, she was good with facial expression, so she managed to keep her unaffected smile.
“A ride?” he offered again. “Nothing implied.”
She glanced through the glass doors at the concierge, where people waited ten deep. Somewhere behind them, Keith was searching for her. He’d shown up unexpectedly.
She turned back to Joe. “Fine. But I’m not inviting you in for a nightcap.”
He nodded, then handed the valet attendant his ticket and a generous tip.
She half expected a police cruiser, but the car brought up was a souped-up black Camaro with red racing stripes, the engine a throaty rumble. The car fit him. When he opened the door for her, she slipped into the black leather bucket seat with appreciation.
“You attend charity balls a lot?” she asked after she gave him her address.
His lips stretched into a mysterious smile.
She refused to acknowledge the tingles. The guy had BIG MISTAKE stamped all over him. She’d already made her big mistake with Keith. She was determined to be smarter going forward, if it killed her.
“Look, I know you probably came because of me. It’s flattering. And, okay, there’s an attraction here, I’m not going to pretend there isn’t. I’m just saying I’m not going to go with it. Under any circumstances. You look like a nice guy. I don’t want to waste your time.”
His smile turned devilish. “You admitted to being attracted to me. And you care. Otherwise, why worry about wasting my time? Attraction and caring.” His dark gaze cut to her with an amused glint. “Sounds like you’re half in love with me. You might be going too fast. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
She might have responded with some travel advice, recommending a hot, dry climate.
“I won’t take offense,” he told her causally. “I know city girls can be a little brash. They lack that sweet hospitality of a good country woman.”
“Maybe you should stick with those country women. Could be you’re out of your league here.”
“Could be,” he agreed, but didn’t look the least disturbed.
In the end, she did invite him in. For a cup of coffee, because it was two in the morning and he still had a long drive ahead of him to get back home to Broslin. He’d given her a ride. She’d been rude to him, presumptuous too, and she wasn’t normally like that. She didn’t know why he got her hackles up so thoroughly.
And then there was the fact that he’d walked her to her door to make sure she was safe, then pulled a small police car from his pocket. “For Justin.”
He’d brought a gift for her son. So really, she couldn’t just say, Go away.
But she gave him the coffee in a travel mug. She wanted him gone and her equilibrium back.
As she handed him the mug, he gently folded his long fingers around her wrist, pulled her to him, and brushed his lips against hers. “Thank you.”
His gentle touch was like a whisper against her skin. Then he pulled back. “I’d like to give you a proper good-night kiss,” he said, asking for permission, and then he waited patiently for her answer.