Under the Tycoon's Protection(7)By: Anna DePalo
“But it is Connor, dear.” Ava paused. “Unless you’re suggesting something is going on between the two of you?”
“Of course not!” The thought was ridiculous. “The Kiss” didn’t count. “I was just arguing the what if? Is it so beyond the realm of possibility that Connor and I would find living together—” she searched for the right words, then gave up “—sexually awkward?” Not only that, it was too intimate, too personal, too everything!
A gleam came into her mother’s eyes. “Oh, I see.”
She knew that gleam. The last time her mother had it, she’d just found out Liz and Quentin were having a baby.
Frustrated, Allison slumped back into her chair in defeat. “No, you don’t see, Mom.”
She’d meant to use the co-habitation issue as a hook to gain some maternal support by making it clear why Connor living with her in the townhouse was an untenable situation. Unfortunately, the plan had backfired: her mother was looking pleasantly surprised.
“Well, what I do understand,” Ava said, “is that there’s a perfectly nice young man in there.”
Allison stared moodily out at the lawn and wondered idly how Connor would have liked being called “a nice young man.”
“And, if someone were interested, I’d say she couldn’t do better.”
Allison nodded at Liz. “Can you see her counting the grandbabies? You and Quentin have opened the floodgates.”
Liz righted the baby, who’d finished feeding. “Well, you have to admit, Connor is a catch.” She added, at Allison’s look, “If you were interested, I mean.”
“Speaking of grandbabies—” Ava took Nicholas from Liz and placed him over her shoulder to burp. “As much as I love this little sweetheart, my only regret is that Quentin and Liz didn’t have time to plan a formal wedding.” Ava stood up and started pacing, looking at Allison over the baby’s head. “So, my darling, I suggest you make sure to take those long, hot showers by yourself. Leave the cold ones to Connor.”
Liz looked momentarily shocked and then started giggling.
Ava headed to the doorway, a smile on her face.
“We don’t even like each other!” Allison called to her mother’s retreating back. “We mix like oil and vinegar!”
She turned back to Liz. “Why am I explaining myself?”
“I think you’re protesting too much.”
She grabbed a pillow from a nearby chair and tossed it at Elizabeth, who laughed and ducked.
The next week was a blur for Allison. Connor had finished seeing to the security system installation at the townhouse, and she and Connor had settled into a regular routine. Each morning, no matter how early, she made it to the front door only to discover Connor was already waiting for her, car keys in hand. If she didn’t call him at the end of the day, he’d phone her and ask when he needed to pick her up at the office.She tried to dodge him on Wednesday, but he just showed up at her office anyway and waited a half-hour for her to finish working. She’d felt like a heel, no matter how much she told herself he deserved it for barging into her life and her house.
Yet, despite doing her best to treat him as if he were no more than a speck of dust on the wall, the two of them continued to rub up against each other. His papers and computer were set up in a corner of her study and his personal belongings were in her house.
But what really bothered her, she admitted to herself, was the intimacy of their living situation. She’d been trying to make a point to her mother when she’d used the words sexually awkward, but the truth wasn’t far afield.
On Thursday morning, as she was getting ready for work, she’d realized the shirt for the outfit she was putting on was hanging in the hall closet. Knowing Connor was showering, she’d dashed out of her bedroom clad only in her bra and skirt.
She’d just turned to head back to her bedroom, pleased to have found the shirt she’d sought, when the bathroom door had unexpectedly opened and her gaze had collided with Connor’s.
His only covering was a towel riding low on his hips. Half-naked, he paradoxically loomed even bigger and more imposing than he usually did.
Her gaze moved downward, taking in lean but sculpted muscles and a line of hair that traveled down a flat stomach and disappeared from view at the top of his towel.
When her gaze connected with his again, she felt herself flush. But whether it was from embarrassment at being caught in her curiosity, or from his hot look at her nearly topless state, or both, she wasn’t sure.
She’d involuntarily hugged the shirt to her breast in a protective gesture and marched past him, slamming her bedroom door shut behind her without turning around.
By Friday night, when Connor had picked her up at work and brought her back to the townhouse, the tension between them was so thick, she felt like a boiling pot with a shaking lid.
After changing out of her business suit and into some jeans and a fitted top, she headed downstairs to fix something simple for dinner and then curl up on the couch to go through some files she’d brought home with her from the office.
Unfortunately, Connor was downstairs in the front hall when she got there. He was loosening his tie and obviously headed upstairs to change out of the business suit he still wore. Somehow he managed to look rough around the edges even in conservative business attire.
He stopped when he saw her and his gaze raked over her, settling on the files she was holding. “What? No plans on a Friday night?”
She stiffened and her chin came up. “I have work to do.” Then she added, even though she knew it was ridiculous to feel defensive, “Otherwise I’d have had plans.”
“Since when does work mean giving up Friday nights?”
“Sometimes it does.” She shrugged. “Besides, I’m not in the mood to head out tonight.” That was partly true. She also wasn’t involved with anyone at the moment.
Normally, she’d be heading out anyway, but—and she’d rather eat chalk than admit this to Connor—the truth was that the death threats had nibbled at her self-confidence. So, spending Friday night cocooned at home—even with someone as annoying as Connor—was more appealing than hitting the social scene.
He arched a brow. “Maybe you’d feel differently about staying home if the guys you dated were more interesting.”
Her chin came up. “Back off, Rafferty.” As if he knew much more about her love life these days than what could be gleaned from the occasional mention about her in the society pages. She set her files down on the console table in the entry hall, where she could find them later.
He looked displeased. “You know what your problem is, petunia?”
She affected a bored tone. “I’m sure you’re going to tell me.”
“Damn straight, I’m going to tell you. Your problem is you can’t deal with a guy who has a brain in his head.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I’ve watched you, princess. I’ve seen all the Tom, Dick, and Harrys that have gone trooping in and out of your life.”
She tossed her hair over her shoulder. “I’ve never dated a Tom, a Dick—that’s with a capital D—or a Harry.”
Connor’s lips twisted. “Of course, I knew I didn’t have a chance unless I surgically removed a large segment of my brain.”
She wrinkled her nose. “That’s a lovely image. Anyway, it’s not true. The guys I date are not dumb.”
“What about the guy who accidentally bonded his fingers together with glue?”
She sighed impatiently. “Why does everyone bring up Lenny? That was high school and I still can’t live that one down.”
“In your book, the guys have to look and talk tough but be as thick as a plank,” Connor persisted. “Your problem is you’ve never dated a real man.”
“Like you, you mean?”
He smiled slowly, wolfishly. “I haven’t heard any complaints.”
“You wouldn’t. That criticism-proof room your ego dwells in doesn’t let you hear any.”
His eyes narrowed. “Maybe there aren’t any to be heard. I didn’t hear any complaints from you about our kiss. In fact, you seemed to enjoy it.”
She flushed. “I’ve had better.”
His lips curved into a humorless smile, his jaw hardening. He moved closer. “Really?” he asked, his voice low and silky.
She lifted her chin up another notch. “Yes, really. And, for the record: I didn’t enjoy that kiss.”
“Hmm.” He reached out and clasped her arms with his hands, drawing her closer, his hands moving up and down in a slow caress. “Are you sure?” he murmured.
“Because I could have sworn you were enjoying it.”
“Then you were wrong.” Was that breathy voice hers?
His gaze dropped to her mouth and he murmured, “Then I must have been imagining those soft lips moving underneath mine.”
He thought her lips were soft?
He bent his head and drew in a breath, turning his head to whisper in her ear, “And dreaming that subtle scent of pure woman.”
Her body heated.
He drew her flush up against him, his head bending to nuzzle her neck. “I must have fantasized that soft body pressed up against me….”