Jack had a good feeling about things, too, but for different reasons. Because, while he was happy that their business was going well, solidifying his future with Mary now took precedence over everything else.
“I’m glad to hear things are going well,” Jack said, and then in his characteristically direct way, he said, “I need an advance on my earnings, Allen. This afternoon, actually.”
“You need money this afternoon?” The other man raised an eyebrow. “How much?”
Jack told him the number, and Allen stared at him for a long moment before finally nodding. “Excuse me while I call my personal banker to let him know to have a cashier’s check for that amount waiting for you immediately.”
“Thank you.” Jack had never asked anyone for a loan before, and he’d very rarely asked for a favor, either. But his pride could take a backseat for a few hours. Mary was more important.
After concluding the call, Allen sat back in his chair. “You don’t strike me as the kind of man who would get himself into trouble gambling, Jack.” Clearly, he was dying for more details, but in the end he simply said, “Whatever you’re planning to use that money for, I hope it’s worth it.”
“I don’t have a single doubt about that.” Jack decided that Allen’s vote of confidence in him deserved one in return. “I’m going to ask Mary to marry me. Your generous advance on profits has just made it possible for me to buy her the ring she deserves.”
Allen’s eyes grew big. “You’re with Mary? Our Mary?” When Jack nodded, Allen had to clarify one more time, “Mary Ferrer?”
“I’m in love with her.”
“Of course, you’re in love with her. Who isn’t?” Allen replied, but his shock was already shifting to admiration. “I couldn’t have written the headlines better myself: An Unexpected Christmas Romance Between Our Brilliant Inventor and the Gorgeous Model. She was already the golden touch we needed for this campaign, but if she says yes to your proposal, the two of you together will be the best story we could ever have—”
Jack cut Allen off. “I appreciate your cashier’s check, and that you’re so excited about things working out between Mary and myself. But we’d like to keep things private between us for as long as we possibly can.” The chairman had just done him a great favor by issuing the check, but Jack’s gratitude didn’t extend to selling their “love story” to the press, especially not given Mary’s past with Romain. “I would never exploit our relationship for increased profits.”
After a long silence, Allen spoke. “Very few people stand up to me anymore. I’m richer, smarter, and more powerful than all of them. But you’ve surprised me from the start, Jack.” Allen suddenly grinned, looking ten years younger as he waved Jack out of the room. “Go get your ring and the girl. I’d wish you luck, but I have a feeling you’re not going to need it.”
Jack thanked Allen again and was just getting into the elevator when Howie and Larry stepped out of it.
“Where are you going?” Howie asked. “Isn’t Allen waiting for all of us in his office?”
“You two can take this meeting without me. I’ll see you all tomorrow at the final shoot.”
Where, hopefully, he’d arrive as a newly engaged man.
* * *
Mary had really enjoyed the mix of photo shoots and interviews while working on Jack’s campaign, but tonight was her favorite moment so far. The ad agency had booked her to be a part of the Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Union Square, and she would be giving away twenty-five free Pocket Planners as early Christmas gifts to people in the crowd.
Already, Mary had spotted several people who she guessed would really benefit from one. A young mother trying to simultaneously hold the hands of three rambunctious children. A businessman who had arrived tense and harried but who, when he saw his kids in the crowd, immediately dropped his briefcase to the ground to catch their hugs. Even the teenage girl with the heavy backpack who was clearly dreaming of finishing her classes for the semester so that she could enjoy winter break with her friends.
The night air was crisp and the sky was clear and sparkling with stars. The only thing that could make Mary’s night better was if Jack were here to share it with her.
For the dozenth time that day, she worked to push back her impatient longing for him…especially when there was only an hour left to go before she could meet him at her house.
Though the night was cool, remembering their lovemaking from the night before made Mary warm all over. How sweet Jack had been as he whispered “I love you” over every bare inch of her skin, then followed up his words with heated kisses that stole every last rational thought from her brain. Again and again they’d loved each other, until they’d finally fallen asleep in each other’s arms. They’d awakened to tangled sheets and a sensual hunger that hadn’t even come close to being sated. Mary had never known pleasure so sweet, so decadent or so overwhelming.
Deep inside, the still-wary part of her heart kept trying to warn her not to let bliss blind her to the possibility of future pain. But she refused to listen.
Jack was different. Yes, they were working together on his campaign, but every step of the way, he’d reassured her that his feelings for her had nothing to do with business.
And that he loved her.
Still, nothing soothed her lingering fears better than being in Jack’s arms. Yet again she wished he were—