“I do, but—”
How could she explain that it wasn’t Jack she didn’t trust, but herself? The biggest mistakes she’d made in her life had been about giving and losing love.
“Every day I had to work with him shattered another little piece of me. It’s taken a long time to heal those cracks.”
He reached for her hands and threaded their fingers together. “I promised to try to be patient, and I couldn’t live with myself if I broke my promise to you.”
She’d never met anyone like Jack. He had such respect for the meaning of a promise…not to mention such respect for her as the model that so many people had discounted over the years as nothing more than just a pretty face.
“You know what you want and what you need to do to get it,” she said softly, “but you never compromise your values—or your word—to get there. How do you do it?”
“I could ask you the same question. You’re so beautiful that you could have anything you want, but you earn everything through hard work.”
“You make me sound better than I am. Especially when I know it’s not fair to want so badly to kiss you after I’ve just laid down the rules again…but I can’t figure out a way to stop myself from asking.”
“Nobody’s perfect,” he said with a smile that didn’t do a thing to mask his desire.
It was just the right thing to say after the pressures she’d faced while building a career based on perfection. “In that case, I hope that means you’ll forgive me for what I’m about to ask.” She moved closer again, putting her hands on his chest and slowly sliding them up to wind around his neck.
“Ask me anything, Angel.”
Her insides turned to liquid heat at his endearment. “Kiss me, Jack.”
She was still saying his name when his mouth covered hers in a kiss that stole her breath away entirely. Both of them fed greedily from each other’s lips, their days apart having fueled their hunger for each other and bringing it to new heights.Mary had been kissed at the top of the Eiffel Tower. She’d been kissed in a horse-drawn carriage in the middle of Prague. She’d been kissed on the Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro. But this kiss with Jack, in his garage surrounded by cables and machines and stale cups of coffee, was the most romantic, most thrilling kiss she’d ever shared…and one she knew she’d remember forever, regardless of how things turned out between them.
He backed her up into one of the tables, and the next thing she knew, he’d lifted her up onto it so that she could wrap her legs around his waist. Again, she felt like a naughty teenager making out with her off-limits boyfriend as she locked her ankles together behind his hips and pulled him even closer.
The fireworks sparking off inside her were on the opposite scale from fine, from content. On the contrary, she felt as if she wasn’t just on the edge of Jack’s worktable, but teetering on the edge of something deliciously dangerous. Shockingly wicked.
And absolutely wonderful.
For all of her protests that they needed to keep business strictly business, yet again it was Jack who retained enough sense to lift his mouth from hers. Not once had she been the one to stop their kisses. If he had been any other man, they would already be stripping off each other’s clothes, promises be damned.
But as desperate as she was physically to take things to the next level, Mary knew in her heart of hearts that though her body was ready, her heart wasn’t.
Forehead to forehead, they each worked to catch their breath. As a new rush of longing swept through her, Mary closed her eyes tight. Reminding herself that his partners could walk in at any moment, she took a deep breath, then lifted her lids to find Jack’s dark gaze on her.
His eyes were extraordinarily beautiful, a deep brown with flecks of green and blue throughout. He also had naturally thick eyelashes, the kind that women spent too much time and money trying to replicate with makeup. Up close like this, finally letting herself look her fill, she realized he had a small scar just at the top of his left cheekbone, and his nose looked as if it had been broken a long time ago.
As he’d said, no one was perfect, and his imperfections only made him more beautiful to her. He had the dangerously good looks of a heartbreaker, but the more time she spent with him, the less she believed that he could ever break anything, let alone someone’s heart.
Mary had told Jack the truth about Romain, but what she hadn’t admitted was that she’d been trying to put the pieces of her broken heart back together ever since the day her mother had disowned her.
When, she wanted to know, would she be ready to let the broken pieces go so that she could finally start over and be whole again?
As Jack gently helped her down from his worktable, he said, “There’s something I need to tell you.”
Not sure she could yet trust her voice, she simply nodded for him to continue.
“I like you.” He brushed a lock of hair away from her cheek, tucking it gently behind her ear. “More than I’ve ever liked anyone else. Much, much more.”
Many times over the years men had declared their love for her, but Jack’s simple statement that he liked her was a million times sweeter.
When they’d been kissing on his desk, she’d felt like a naughty teenager. Her parents had been protective enough that she’d been an untouched virgin when she’d left Italy. Being with Jack made her feel giddy, as if she were having her first truly important crush with a boy she couldn’t stop thinking about.