A moment later she felt Jack’s gentle caress on her cheek.
“Don’t shut me out, Angel. Not now.”
She’d been brave enough to give him her body. Knowing she should have the courage to answer his questions now, she made herself meet his gaze head-on.
“You’re right that almost no one has ever seen me looking like this, or as anything less than the perfect model they’re expecting to see.”
“Then that makes me the luckiest man in the world. Which,” he added with a sexy grin that made her heart skip a beat in her chest, “I already knew.”
But wait—what had he just said?
“Lucky?” she repeated. “But my hair is knotted and my makeup has rubbed off all over the pillowcase.”
“Every time you’ve been in front of a camera, I’ve been stunned by your beauty and by how well you do your job. But getting to see you now, a little messy, all of your stunning features a little out of focus while you’re still catching your breath from making love with me—” He picked up one of her hands and put it over his breastbone. “It does something to me. Right here.”
Feeling his heart beat strong and steady against her palm steadied hers, too.
“You’ll always be beautiful to me, Mary. Especially now.”
His sweet words meant more to her than any jewel, than any expensive gift, than any poetic words possibly could have.
No one but Jack had ever truly wanted her the way she really was.
“You’re right,” she murmured as she wrapped her naked limbs around his, “breakfast can wait.”
* * *Unlike most models, Mary ate a healthy diet. Part of staying slim enough for the camera was genetics. The other part was that she loved being in motion. Walking, swimming, dancing…making love. Besides, she loved eating too much to ever consider giving up delicious food.
But as she sat at her breakfast table across from Jack an hour later, she couldn’t manage even the tiniest bite of the eggs, crisp bacon and toast he’d just whipped up for them while she’d spoken briefly with Janeen on the telephone. Mary supposed it stood to reason that a bachelor in his early thirties would have to know how to cook or else he might starve, but this was a breakfast that under other circumstances she would have wolfed down.
She’d loved every second in Jack’s arms. He’d made her feel cherished and safe while giving her pleasure she’d never known before. She’d never been with a man like Jack, one who held nothing back, and gave even when he couldn’t guarantee getting anything in return for himself.
And yet, somehow, she still wasn’t sure what her next step should be…and she hated herself for it.
But just because she was horribly afraid he was going to hate her, too, that was no excuse for ignoring the two-thousand-pound elephant in the room. She’d never been a coward and she wouldn’t start now, not when she had far too much respect for Jack to willfully hurt him.
“You mean so much to me,” she began in a soft voice as she twisted the napkin on her lap, “and last night was incredible.”
Her breakfast table was small enough that he could easily reach for her hand. “Being with you made it the best night of my life,” he told her, his voice gentle and sincere. “But that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten what you said about taking it one day, and one night, at a time. Or about keeping what’s between us just for us to know about.”
In her experience, men heard what they wanted to hear, regardless of what she actually said to them. She’d been pretty sure by now that Jack was different, but after what they’d just shared, what man wouldn’t have assumed she’d changed her mind about going slow and not mixing up business with pleasure if they could help it?
“I haven’t forgotten what you said, either, about wanting more than one night.” Even though he didn’t look at all angry with her, she felt terrible about taking what he’d offered when she herself had given him so little in return. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, why I—”
“There’s nothing wrong with you.” He tugged her onto his lap and said, “You make me happy. Happier than I’ve ever been.”
His sweet acceptance of her just the way she was made her heartbeat settle and the knot in her stomach uncoil. Framing his face in her hands, she told him the one thing she knew for sure.
“You make me happy, too.”
The next few days followed in a blur of meetings and promotional activities, while the nights were a dazzling rush of sweet and sinful lovemaking. Somehow, Jack managed to keep his promise to Mary, not only about keeping their relationship a secret but by holding back the one small but very meaningful word that was burning a hole inside of him.
Love, his mother had once told him, might not always be easy, but whatever struggles or pain that might come with it, true love was always worth it.
Jack had seen the truth of that in his parents’ marriage. Now he understood that for all these years he’d been waiting for Mary. She was his destiny. And whether or not she was ready to accept it yet, he was hers.
But just because they were meant to be together, he knew better than to think he could simply sit back and let things take their natural course. He wanted to give her everything—not just pleasure but romance, too. Apart from that first evening in the diner, he’d never taken her out on a date. And though they’d been extremely busy working on the campaign, that was a poor excuse.