Twelve

The jets taking off from JFK squealed above Hunter’s head as his driver circled his way through the terminals. He had his PDA set to calculator, running the numbers he knew he needed banking software to properly compute.

But the mini screen kept blurring in front of his eyes. He was seeing Sinclair in her white and red dress. The piping along the neckline. The teardrop diamonds. The ruby neck lace. Her expression when she’d realized the massive ruby was real.

He chuckled at that, particularly the part where he realized she still liked the goldfish bracelet better.

He wondered if she’d worn it tonight.

He wondered if she’d got her makeup just right.

Had her hair behaved?

Were her feet getting tired?

She’d gamely practiced for hours in those high shoes, but he knew she didn’t like them.

He wondered who she was dancing with right now, and quickly acknowledged that he cared. Something pulled tight inside him at the image of someone else holding her, their broad hand splayed across her back, another man’s jacket nearly brushing her breasts, the jerk’s lips whispering secrets into her ear.

If he was in the room, he’d probably rip her from the guy’s arms.

His cell phone beeped.

“Hunter Osland,” he greeted.

“Hey, Hunter.”

“Sinclair?” His heart lifted.

“It’s Kristy.”

“Oh.”

“Were you expecting Sinclair?”

“No.”

“Because I think she’s at that ball tonight.”

“She is.” He shifted in the backseat of the car. All alone at the ball.

“I just talked to Jack,” said Kristy.

Sinclair was all alone, because Hunter had let her down.

“Jack’s cell was running low on battery power,” Kristy continued.

It wasn’t like he’d had a choice. Osland International needed him, and his grandfather was always after him to be more dependable. That’s what he was doing by helping Jack.

“Jack wants you to call Richard for him.”

This was being dependable-and patient and methodical. Those were the other things his grandfather wanted.

Kristy’s words rambled together on the other end of the phone without making a whole lot of sense. “He said you’d know why.”

Though he’d also been patient and methodical when he convinced Sinclair to get a makeover, then when he took her to Europe, then when he bought her clothes, then when he taught her to dance. He also made sure she was completely ready to face Roger and the rest of Lush Beauty.

“Hunter?” prompted Kristy.

And…then he’d abandoned her for the first exciting project that came along.

Oh no.

He pictured her in his mind, stunningly gorgeous and all alone, other men circling like wolves.

Was he out of his mind?

“No!”

“What?” came Kristy’s worried voice.

The Sinclair project wasn’t over. There were things left to do for her. A whole lot of things left to for her, patient and methodical things left to do for her, some of them involving the rest of their natural lives.

“Hunter? What’s going on.”

“Tell Jack I’m sorry.”

“Huh?”

“Tell him I can’t call Richard. I can’t go to London. If he can’t work it out himself, well, tell him there’ll be other cruise ships.”

“Other cruise ships?” Kristy parroted in confusion.

“For once in my life I’m not going to be reckless and impulsive. I’m going to be dependable.” Why hadn’t he thought about that before? He was such a fool.

“What are you talking about?” Kristy was obviously trying to be patient.

“I have to go see Sinclair.”

“How’d Sinclair get into this?”

“Because,” Hunter hesitated. Part of him didn’t want to say it out loud, and part of him wanted to shout it from the rooftops. “I’m in love with your sister,” he admitted to Kristy. “I’ll have to call you back.”

Then he disconnected and caught the driver’s amused gaze in the rearview mirror.

“The Roosevelt Hotel,” he hollered.

The driver’s face broke into a full fledged grin.

“No, wait,” said Hunter. “Make it the apartment. I have to change.”

If he was going to do this, he was going to do it right.

It was Sinclair’s job to stay for the entire ball, not to mention the after party at the Castlebay Spa. While the orchestra played on, she looked longingly at her watch, then over to the exit. Maybe she could lay low in the lobby for a while. At least then she wouldn’t have to dance with men she’d rather be talking promotions and P and L statements with.

What was it about a pretty dress and bit of makeup that turned men into babbling idiots? And why didn’t Chantal care? Her life must be exhausting.

Mind made up, Sinclair headed for the lobby exit. At the very least, she deserved a break.

“Going somewhere, Sinclair?”

She whirled toward the familiar voice, sure her mind must be playing tricks.

He was dressed in a classic black tux, with a black bow tie and a matching cummerbund. His hair was perfect, his face freshly shaven, and his smile was the most wonderful thing she’d seen all day.

“I thought you’d be on the jet,” she blurted out.

“I changed my mind.”

“About going to London?”

“About a lot of things.” He held out his arm. “Dance?”

Her spirit lifted, but her heart ached. Still, there was no way she’d turn him down.

“You look stunning, by the way,” he mumbled as they moved toward the dance floor. “Zeppetti should pay you to wear his dresses.”

“You’re good for me,” she said.

“No, you’re good for me.”

They attracted a small amount of attention as they moved through the crowd, probably more Hunter than her. People recognized him, and knew his position in the company.

When they reached the other dancers, he drew her into his arms. It felt like the most natural thing in the world, and she had to caution herself against reading anything into his actions. He was probably off to London tomorrow morning. When you had your own plane, you could do things like that. And Hunter enjoyed every facet of his freewheeling, billionaire lifestyle.

But, for now, she couldn’t seem to stop herself from melting into his arms and pretending, just for a moment, that things could be different. They were still drawing glances from the other dancers. She could only hope her expression wouldn’t make her the office gossip topic tomorrow.

Hunter drew her tight against his chest.

She wasn’t sure, but she thought she felt a kiss on the top of her head.

Risky move in this crowd.

“You leaving after the ball?” she asked, hoping to keep some semblance of professionalism between them.

“Here’s the thing,” Hunter muttered, leaning very close to her ear. “I’ve gotten rather used to seeing you naked.”

She coughed out a startled laugh. Then she tipped her head back to play along. “Why, you sweet talker.”

He smiled down at her. “I’ve also gotten used to waking up with you wrapped in my arms.”

Sinclair sobered. That was the part she thought she’d miss most-Hunter first thing in the morning, unshaven, unguarded, and always ready for romance.

“An office affair still isn’t going to work,” he went on.

She nodded and sighed. “I know.” They’d talked about all the reasons why. And they were right about them.

“It would make us crazy to keep the secret. Plus, we’d eventually get caught.”

Sinclair followed the steps as Hunter led her through the dance. He wasn’t telling her anything she didn’t already know.

“So, I was thinking,” he said. “We should get married.”

Sinclair stopped dead.

He leaned down. “Sinclair?”

She didn’t answer. Was that her fevered imagination, or did he just…

“Better start dancing,” he advised. “People are beginning to stare.”

She forced her feet to move. “Did you just…”

“Propose?”

She nodded.

“Yes,” he growled low. “I’m proposing that you and I get married, so we can spend every minute together, and nobody in the office will be able to say a damn thing about it.”

Her brain still hadn’t made sense of what he was saying. “Is this one of those reckless, impulsive things of yours?”

He shook his head. “Absolutely not. I’ve been considering this for at least an hour.”

Despite the serious conversation, his tone made her chuckle.

“Okay, probably twenty-four hours,” he said. “Ever since leaving you became a reality.”

Sinclair blinked back tears of emotion.

“Or maybe it’s been ten days, ever since I walked into that boardroom. Or,” he paused. “Maybe since the first second I laid eyes on you.” He wrapped her in a hug that didn’t resemble any of the waltz moves she’d learned.

“It feels like I’ve loved you forever,” he said.

“I love you, too.” Her voice was muffled against his chest.

He drew back. “Is that a yes?”

“If you’re sure.”

“I am one-hundred-percent positive. I blew off the London deal for this.”

“You’re not going to London later?”

“Actually, I’m never leaving you again.” He kissed her mouth, and she caught Roger’s astonished expression as he danced by.

“Uh oh,” she said.

“Well, we can separate occasionally. You know, during the day. But not overnight. I’m not-”

“Roger just saw you kiss me.”

“Who cares?”

“He thinks I’m your floozy now.”

“Don’t worry about Roger. I caught him kissing Chantal behind the pillar when I walked in.”

Sinclair was shocked. “Roger and Chantal?”

Hunter nodded.

It actually made sense. It explained a whole lot of things. But, strangely, Sinclair didn’t care.

She shrugged.

Hunter sobered, looking deeply into her eyes. “You, me, us, your job. You know none of it has anything to do with the other, right?”

Sinclair glanced at Roger a few dance couples away, straining his neck for a view of her and Hunter. “Roger doesn’t.”

In response Hunter kissed her again, longer this time.

Roger’s eyes nearly popped out of his head.

“Wait till he gets a look at the rock on your finger.”

“You have a rock?”

“Actually, no. I have nothing at the moment.”

“Reckless and impulsive.”

“Not at all. This is good planning.” He took her hand in his, rubbing the knuckle of her ring finger. “We can glam this up as much as you want. But I was thinking something custom-made, to match you bracelet.”

Sinclair held up her wrist. “I do seem to have developed a fondness for the fish.”

Hunter fingered the delicate gold and jewels. “I always assumed I was the diamond one, and you were the ruby.”

“I never thought about it,” said Sinclair.

“Liar.”

“Takes one to know one.”

“Well, whatever we do, it better be fast.”

“Good idea. Since that last kiss totally trashed my reputation with my coworkers.”

Hunter glanced Roger’s way. “He looks at you like that one more time, I’m making him president of the Osland button factory in Siberia.”

“You don’t have a button factory in Siberia.”

“I’ll buy one. It’ll be worth it.”

Sinclair’s phone buzzed in her little purse.

“That’ll be Kristy,” said Hunter, nodding toward the faint sound.

“How do you know that?”

“Because she knows I’m here. I bet it’s killed her to wait this long.”

“You told her…”

“That I loved you? Yeah. I’ll be telling everybody soon.”

Sinclair snapped the clasp on her purse and retrieved the phone, putting it to her ear.

“Is he there?” Kristy stage-whispered.

“Who?” asked Sinclair innocently.

“You know who. What’s going on? Tell me everything?”

“We’re dancing.”

“And?”

“And, I think we’re getting married.”

“You know we’re getting married,” Hunter called into the phone.

Kristy squealed so loud Sinclair had to pull it away from her ear.

“When? Where?” asked Kristy.

“Hunter seems to be in a hurry. Could you maybe give us the name of that place you and Jack used in Las Vegas?”

Hunter scooped the phone. “Negative on Vegas,” he told Kristy. “I’ve reformed my impulsive ways. We’re doing some methodical planning on this one.” He glanced softly down at Sinclair. “I want it to be perfect.”

Then he handed the phone back.

“I’m designing the dress,” said Kristy.

“You bet you are,” Sinclair agreed, watching the heat build in Hunter’s eyes. “I better go now.”

“Okay. But I’m flying out there as soon as possible.”

“Just as long as you don’t come tonight,” said Sinclair, hanging up the phone over Kristy’s laughter.

“Good tip,” said Hunter.

“Excuse me, Sinclair,” Roger interrupted, his mouth in a frown and a determined look in his eyes. “Can I speak with you-”

Hunter jumped in. “You might want to know-”

“This will only take a moment,” said Roger.

“Really?” asked Hunter, brow going up.

Roger nodded.

Hunter anchored Sinclair to his side. “Sinclair has just accepted my marriage proposal.”

Roger blinked in confusion, clearly the words were not computing.

“And I’d like to talk to you about a job opportunity for you,” said Hunter. “My office? Tomorrow? Sometime in the afternoon.”

Roger’s brow furrowed. “I don’t…You’re getting married?”

Hunter nodded slowly.

Roger took a step back. “Oh…” Another step. “Well…” A third. “In that case…” He disappeared into the crowd.

“Funny that he didn’t congratulate us,” said Sinclair.

“He can send a card from Siberia.” Hunter smoothly drew her into his arms and picked up the dance.

“Is Chantal going with him?”

“It would only be fair. Who am I to stand in the way of true love?”

“Who, indeed?” asked Sinclair, snuggling close to his broad chest. “And now you and I get to live happily ever after.” She sighed.

“Just me, you and the twins.”

“You believe the gypsy?”

Hunter nodded. “It has to be true. Jack’s probably out there right now losing the family fortune. I just found out the Castlebay Spa in Hawaii has a golf course. And with your red hair, twins would make it a clean sweep.”

She laughed with joy over everything.

“I love you very much,” Hunter whispered.

“And I love you,” she whispered in return. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”

He hugged her tightly. “Happy Valentine’s Day, sweetheart.”

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