Only on His Terms(5)By: Elizabeth Bevarly
He shook his head almost imperceptibly, as if he were trying to physically dispel the thoughts from his brain. “Now I think maybe you do seem like the wholesome girl next door.”
This time, it was Gracie’s turn to look abashed. “You know, the last thing a girl wants to hear when she’s trying to impress a beautiful man she’s just met is how she reminds him of a glass of milk.”
That, finally, seemed to break the weird enchantment. Both of them laughed lightly, but she suspected it was as much due to relief that the tension had evaporated as it was to finding humor in the remark.
“Do you have to go back to work after this thing?” he asked. “Or would you maybe be free for a late lunch?”
In spite of the banter they’d been sharing, the invitation came out of nowhere and caught Gracie off-guard. A million questions cartwheeled through her brain, and she had no idea how to respond to any of them. How had her morning gone from foreboding to flirtatious? Where had this guy come from? How could she like him so much after only knowing him a matter of moments? And how on earth was she supposed to accept an invitation to lunch with him when her entire life was about to explode in a way that was nothing short of atomic?
She tried to reply with something that made sense, but all that came out was “Lunch...? I...? Work...?”
He was clearly enjoying how much he continued to keep her off-kilter. “Yeah, lunch. Yeah, you. As for your work, which firm do you work for?” He glanced around the room. “Maybe I can pull some strings for you. I’ve known most of these people all my life. A couple of them owe me favors.”
“Firm?” she echoed, the single word all she could manage in her growing confusion.
“Which law firm, representing which one of my father’s interests?” For the first time since they began chatting, he sobered. “Not that they’re my father’s interests anymore. Not since that trashy, scheming, manipulative gold digger got her hooks into him. Not that my mother and I are going down without a fight.”
It dawned on Gracie then—dawned like a two-by-four to the back of her head—that the man to whom she had been speaking so warmly wasn’t one of the many attorneys who were here representing Harry’s former colleagues. Nor was he one of those colleagues. It was Harry’s son, Harrison Sage III. The man who had assumed he would, along with his mother, inherit the bulk of his father’s fortune. The one whom Gracie had prevented from doing just that. The one she had earlier been thinking might be furious, vindictive and homicidal.
Then his other remark hit her. The part about the trashy, scheming, manipulative gold digger. That was what he thought she was? Her? The woman whose idea of stilettos was a kitten heel? The woman who preferred her hemlines below the knee? The woman who’d nearly blinded herself that morning with a mascara wand? The woman who intended to give away nearly every nickel of the fourteen billion—yes billion with a b—dollars with which Harry had entrusted her?
Because even without Mr. Tarrant’s having told her about Harry’s wish that she give away the bulk of his fortune to make the world a better place, Gracie would have done just that. She didn’t want the responsibility that came with so much money. She didn’t want the notoriety. She didn’t want the pandemonium. She didn’t want the terror.
Maybe she’d been struggling to make ends meet before last week, but she had been making them meet. And she’d been happy with her life in Seattle. She had fun friends. She had a cute apartment. She was gainfully employed. She was working toward her degree. She’d had hope for the future in general and a sunny outlook for any given day. Since finding out about her inheritance, however, she’d awoken every morning with a nervous stomach, and had only been able to sleep every night with a pill. In between those times, she’d been jumpy, withdrawn and scared.
Most people would probably think she was nuts, but Gracie didn’t want to be a billionaire. She didn’t even want to be a millionaire. She wanted to have enough so that she could make it through life without worrying, but not so much that she spent the rest of her life worrying. Did that make sense? To her, it did. To Harry’s son, however...
She searched for words that would explain everything to Harrison Sage III quickly enough that he wouldn’t have time to believe she was any of the things he’d just called her. But there was still so much of it she didn’t understand herself. How could she explain it to him when even she couldn’t make sense of it?