Reunited with the Lassiter Bride(4)By: Barbara Dunlop
“You figured you were right and everyone else was wrong?” he asked.
“It seemed so at the time.”
His steps toward her appeared automatic. “You slept in my arms, told me you loved me, and then accused me of defrauding you out of nearly a billion dollars.”
All the pieces had added up in her mind back then, and they had been damning for Evan. “Seducing me would have been an essential part of your overall plan to steal Lassiter Media.”
“Shows you how little you know about me.”
“I guess it does.”
Even though she was agreeing, the answer seemed to anger him.
“You should have known me. You should have trusted me. My nefarious plan was all inside your suspicious little head. I never made it, never mind executed it.”
“I had no way of knowing that at the time.”
“You could have trusted me. That’s what wives do with their husbands.”
“We never got married.”
“Your decision, not mine.”
They stared at each other for a long moment.
“What do you want me to do?” she finally asked. Then she realized her question was ambiguous. “About Conrad.”
An ironic half smile played on Evan’s lips. “Don’t worry. I know you’d never ask what I wanted you to do about us.”
He backed off a couple of paces. “Come with me to see Conrad. Tomorrow night. Pretend we’re pals, that everything is terrific between us, and he doesn’t have to worry about any public fights.”
The request brought a pain to Angelica’s stomach. Nothing was remotely terrific between her and Evan. He was angry and she was sad. Because now that their dispute over Lassiter Media was over, she missed so many things about their former life.
“Sure,” she agreed, forcing her misery into a small corner of her soul. “I’ll do whatever it takes to help Kayla.”
“I’ll pick you up at seven. Wear something feminine.”
She glanced down at her slim, navy skirt and the collared, white blouse. “Feminine?”
“You know, ruffles or flowers, and some pretty shoes. Maybe curl your hair.”
“Curl my hair?”
“You don’t want to look like my rival. He’s an old-fashioned guy, Angie. He remembers a different time, a different kind of woman.”
“When? The 1950s?”
“That sounds about right.”
“You want me to simper and giggle and bat my eyelashes to get a wedding venue for Kayla and Matt.”
“In a word, yes.”
She’d do it. She’d definitely do it for her best friend. But she wasn’t going to like it, and she wasn’t going into it without a protest. “Shall I cling to your arm as well?”
“Cling to anything you want. Just sell it to him.” With that pronouncement, Evan turned on his heel, left the gazebo and disappeared along the pathway.
Evan stood in the high-ceilinged foyer of the Lassiter mansion, gazing in amazement as a transformed Angie descended the grand staircase. She looked beautiful, feminine and deceptively sweet. Her chestnut hair was half up, half down, wisps dangling at her temples and curling enticingly along her shoulders in a silk curtain. The color was lighter than he remembered it, and he instantly realized he liked it this way.
“You’re wearing pink,” he couldn’t stop himself from observing.
“Now who’s stating the obvious?” As she covered the last couple of stairs, Evan noticed her simple, white pumps that matched a tiny purse tucked under her arm.
“I’ve never seen you in pink.” The dress was snug in the bodice, with cap sleeves and flat lace across the chest. It had a full silk skirt and a discreet ruffle along the hem. She wore simple diamond stud earrings and a tiny diamond pendant on a delicate gold chain. She truly could have stepped out of the 1950s.
“I hate pink,” she noted as she came to a halt on the ground floor. Then she donned a brilliant if slightly strained smiled and pirouetted in front of him. “But do you think this outfit will get Kayla the dream Malibu wedding her mother wants for her?”
Evan wasn’t sure the outfit would get them a wedding. But it was definitely getting him turned on. He’d seen Angie in no-nonsense suits, opulent evening gowns and the occasional classic black cocktail dress. But he’d never seen her looking so alluring and demure, and so incredibly kissable.
“If it doesn’t,” Evan found himself responding, “nothing will.”
“Good.” Her expression relaxed, and her smile looked more natural. “Then let’s get this over with, shall we?”
He held out his arm to escort her, but she didn’t take it. She walked pointedly past him, drawing open the front door and marching onto the porch.
“He needs to believe we’re still friends,” Evan cautioned as he trotted down the staircase after her.
His dark blue Miata convertible was parked halfway around the circular driveway. He’d picked Angie up in this spot countless times, taking her to dinners, to parties, occasionally away for the weekend. And for a few heartbeats, it felt exactly like old times. He had to stop himself from taking her hand or putting an arm around her shoulders. Touching her seemed like such a natural thing to do.
“I can act,” she responded breezily.
He slipped past her to open the passenger door. “I’m sure you can.”
She slid into the low seat, pulling her dainty shoes in behind her. “Conrad knows we’re coming?”
“He knows. I imagine we’ll get an earful about some of the stories in the tabloids.”
“I can cope with upset people.”
“Can you keep your cool when they come after your family?”
“Of course, I can.”
“Angie?” Evan cautioned.
She stared straight ahead. “Don’t call me that.”
“You want me to call you Ms. Lassiter?”
“My name is Angelica.”
He waited for a moment, until curiosity got the better of her and she raised her eyes to look his way.
“Not to me it isn’t,” he told her firmly. Then he pushed the door shut and rounded the hood of the car.
He knew he shouldn’t goad her, and he probably shouldn’t use her nickname either. But they’d been lovers once, best friends, engaged. They’d been mere hours away from getting married. They’d laughed. They’d fought. And she’d cried naked in his arms. He wasn’t about to pretend it had all never happened.
They both stayed silent as he pulled onto Sunset, pointing the sports car toward the Pacific Coast Highway.
“You can do it for one night,” she told him as he navigated traffic beneath the bright streetlights.
“Do what for one night?” He wondered if she was aware of the many interesting ways that statement could be taken.
She’d probably slap his face if she knew what he was picturing right now.
His mouth flexed in a half smile at his own thoughts. If this really were the 1950s, she would slap his face, but he’d kiss her anyway, pinning her hard against the nearest wall. Then she’d quickly capitulate and kiss him back, because she was only protesting out of a duty to be a good girl, not because she was unwilling.
“Call me Angie,” she answered, startling him out of the daydream.
“I can call you Angie for one night?”
“While we’re at Conrad Norville’s pretending to be friends. But that’s it.”
“I don’t think you can control what I call you,” he countered casually.
She fussed with the hem of her skirt, and there was something defiant in her tone. “I can control what I call you.”
“Call me anything you like.”
“What about incompetent and irresponsible?”
“Excuse me?” He swung a glance her way for a second before returning his attention to the winding highway. “You’re planning to insult me in front of Norville?”
“Not Norville. I had a phone call this morning. Somebody looking for a reference on your work with Lassiter Media.”
“Who?” Evan immediately asked.
“Lyle Dunstand from Eden International.”
Anger clenched his stomach, and his tone went iron-hard. “You’d actually undermine my business out of spite?”
She was silent for a moment. “Relax, Evan. I told them you’d done a fantastic job under trying circumstances. I gave you complete credit for last year’s expansion into Britain and Australia, and I said your instincts for people were second to none.”
His anger dissipated as quickly as it had formed.
“My point is,” she continued. “I’m treating you with respect and professionalism. You could at least do the same for me.”
“I didn’t give anyone your contact information,” he assured her. “I was hoping they’d avoid checking with Lassiter.”
“I can’t see that happening. You were with us for several years.” She angled her body to face him. “So, you’re opening up the consulting agency again.”
“I have to earn a living.”
“My father left you a lot of money.”
Evan coughed out a cold laugh. “Like I’m going to touch Lassiter money.”
She seemed to consider his words. “Are you angry with him?”
“Hell, yes, I’m angry with him. He used me. He messed with my life like I was some pawn in his private game.”