Marriage Terms(9)By: Barbara Dunlop
He thanked Taylor sincerely for joining them.
When he returned to the living room, Amanda was still curled up on the couch, sipping a second cup of coffee.
“I hope you had a nice time,” he said, retaking his seat in the armchair across from her.
“Nice coincidence, you running into him at Boca Royce.”
Daniel nodded. “It was.”
“And so interesting, all those little details about his business,” she continued.
He met her eyes. “I know I found them interesting.”
“I had no idea corporate law was so easy and so lucrative.”
“Makes me wish I’d become a lawyer,” he joked.
“Me, too. Wait. I did become a lawyer.”
Daniel grinned. She was fun when she relaxed.
“And, you know…” Amanda snapped her fingers. “Listening to Taylor makes me wonder why I’ve spent my entire career on criminal defense.”
Daniel tried not to act too interested. “It does?”
She nodded vigorously. “Think about it, if I’d gone into corporate law right off, I could have a new Mercedes by now.”
“You could,” he agreed, with what he hoped was a thoughtful nod. He’d have to thank Taylor again tomorrow. The man had obviously hit exactly the right note.
“And I could sleep in every morning, get the best theatre tickets from clients and shop for clothes on Fifth Avenue.”
Daniel rested his hands on the arms of his chair, trying not to look too eager.
“Snap would be happy to give you some business, and an excellent recommendation.”
Amanda bobbed her head up and down. “That would help. And I bet you could get me some uptown office space, too.”
“Sure,” said Daniel. He was surprised, delighted, actually, by the turn of the conversation.
“And you could rent a van, maybe pack up my files.”
“I’d be happy to help in—”
“Heck, you could probably hire somebody to blow off my existing clients.”
Uh-oh. Her dark eyes began to glitter, and Daniel’s stomach slid down a few inches. “I…”
“And find me a new receptionist.”
Daniel felt like a supreme fool. “You’re yanking my chain, aren’t you?”
She came to her feet. “Of course I’m yanking your chain! Did you really think that setup would work?”
Yeah, actually. Daniel rose. “I’d—”
“That Taylor Hopkins is a one-man press gang.”
Okay, salvage time. What could he say? What could he do? “I was only thinking—”
“Yeah, yeah.” She waved a hand. “You were only thinking about me. Tell me, Daniel, were Cullen and Misty ever really invited?”
He flinched. He hadn’t expected that to come up again. He’d thought about inviting them, but it just seemed simpler to go straight to Taylor.
Amanda’s hands went to her hips. “I knew it. Will you lay off my life? I’m doing perfectly fine, thank you very much.”
“No buts.” She jabbed a finger at him. “You back off.”
“Okay.” At least temporarily.
She dropped her hand, a look of surprise coming over her face. “You will?”
He shrugged. “Sure.” It wasn’t as if arguing with her tonight was going to get him anywhere.
She gave a sharp nod. “Good choice.” Then her voice dropped to a mumble. “It’s not like your life is working out so well.”
Daniel squared his shoulders. “Excuse me?”
“That wasn’t nothing.”
“Fine. I said it’s not like your life is working out so well.”
“You’re going to have to explain that one.”
“Look around you,” she gestured with her hand.
He looked around, and what he saw was—not to put too fine a point on it—pretty darned decent. “What exactly about this isn’t working out so well?”
“It’s pristine. It’s perfect. There’s absolutely no life in your life.”
He squinted. “You win many court cases with arguments like that?”
She cocked her head and crossed her arms over her chest, pushing up her breasts.
Cleavage. Okay, that was helpful. He’d really be able to concentrate now.
“I’m beginning to think you need professional help,” she said.
For a moment he was speechless. She was worried about him?
“You’re the one whose life is out of control,” he pointed out.
“At least I know what I want,” she countered.
Ha. He had her now. If there was one thing Daniel’s life had, it was direction.
“I know exactly what I want.”
He took the easiest answer. “To be CEO of Elliott Publication Holdings.”
“Do you, Daniel?”
“Of course.” Just because success wasn’t on Amanda’s to-do list, didn’t mean it wasn’t on his. “Can we go back to talking about you now?”
“No. I’m not the one with the problem.”
Daniel scoffed. “I’ve seen your office.”
She scoffed right back. “And I’ve seen your apartment.”
He opened his mouth, but then he paused, an idea twigging in his mind. She seemed fixated on his apartment. Maybe there was room to maneuver here. A deal of some kind. A swap. His apartment for her office.
“Tell me what you’d change,” he said.
Her dark eyes narrowed.
He moved closer, lowering his voice. “Really. Tell me. I’m ready to take your advice.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Yeah, I am.” He moved closer still. If he took her advice, she might feel honor bound to take his. “Give it to me straight, Amanda. I can take it.”
She was silent for a moment, but then her gaze turned pitying. “Okay. You want it straight? You’ve stopped feeling.”
That just plain wasn’t true. Especially not now. Especially not at this particular moment.
She placed her small hand on his shoulder, and his muscle contracted beneath its warmth. “Feel,” she urged.
“I am,” he rasped.
Then her eyes turned mocha, and she came up on her toes. She tilted her head, parted those deep ruby lips and took his mouth against hers.
Memories saturated his brain, longing, passion, desire. He was catapulted back decades. His arms went around her, dragging her against him. He slanted his head, kissed her back, inhaling her familiar scent.
He reveled in the tender moisture of her mouth. Her body was imprinted on his brain, and his hands slid down the curve of her back, remembering. Oh, how he’d missed this. How he’d missed her.
He felt every molecule in his body hum to life. Colors and emotions swirled around in a kaleidoscope.
He let his mouth roam, and she twined her arms around his neck, her breaths puffing against his skin, nearly driving him out of his mind. He longed to lose himself in her, to tear off her clothes and lay her back right there and then on the soft carpet and relive every ounce of love they’d ever found in each other.
Her small moan vibrated against his mouth.
He whispered that he wanted her, so much, too much.
She drew back at that, blinking her big brown eyes in obvious confusion. Her
cheeks were flushed. Her lips were swollen. And her chestnut hair was a messy halo of filtered light.
There’d never been a more desirable woman. Ever.
But she wasn’t his.
She hadn’t been his for a very long time.
He forced himself to release her.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I had no right…”
He didn’t know what else to say. He never got carried away. He was the master of self-control.
An ironic half smile grew on her face. “Don’t be sorry. We’re making progress.
You felt something.”
He dropped his arms and stepped completely away. “That was therapy?”
She shrugged. “Of course.”
Something inside him froze. That was what the kiss was to her? A point in her argument? He’d been out there on memory lane all by himself?
Yeah, he wanted her to change careers. But there was a limit to how far he’d go.
And he had a feeling he’d just reached it.
Amanda tipped her head back against the smooth headrest as the limo eased into traffic. Kissing Daniel had been therapy.
It was only the years of practice, keeping her control in front of sharp-eyed judges, that kept her from swooning, or begging, or worse.
Daniel had always been a great kisser. From that very first night, he’d made the earth shift beneath her and pyrotechnics shoot off inside her brain.
As the limo accelerated away from a red light, she sighed her way into the memory. Their very first kiss—prom night.
Amanda had been more of a nerd than a jock back then, more likely to be found at photography club or the social activism office on a Saturday night than at an A-list party. So when her friend Bethany had wrangled an invitation to Roger Dawson’s after-prom party in the Presidential Suite of the Riverside, there was no way in the world she was missing it.
The event was a crush. The music was loud, the punch was spiked with something bitter and the snacks were being used as missiles. Amanda had been quickly separated from Bethany, so when she spotted Daniel standing alone near the door, she was thrilled to see a semifamiliar face. She’d eased toward him, squeezing her way between dancing couples and chattering groups of friends.