the way you look tonight - Page 53

But he hadn’t asked her to marry him until that evening. And on top of that, they’d agreed to keep their relationship private, just between the two of them. In fact, Jack had been the one who’d said he wanted to keep things private a little while longer once they’d declared themselves to each other.

So how could all of them have already known?

“It’s been the perfect plan from start to finish,” Larry agreed happily.

Plan. Mary felt as if her heart was tearing in two right where she stood. It had been the perfect plan.

She braced herself against the wall and forced herself to take a deep breath. Now that she knew what a fool she’d been, it would be easiest to run, to leave, to get on a plane to somewhere, anywhere, and never see Jack again.

But even bigger than her shame at how easily she’d been duped was her anger. And, right now, fury was all that stood between her and the bitter pain of a broken heart.

She moved quickly from the hallway to where Jack was standing with several Walter Industries board members. “We need to talk.”

She didn’t wait for him to respond as she headed back into her dressing room. When she heard the door close behind her, she whirled.

“When did you tell everyone we were together? Did you brag about it the first time we kissed? Did you give them a play-by-play of the first time we made love? Did all of you toast the way you’d gotten me to be both the face of your product and your pretty little plaything—two for the price of one?”

“Mary?” He started to reach for her, but when she flinched away from him, he dropped his hands. “What’s going on? What happened?”

“How dare you act like you don’t know what’s going on!” The words erupted like a snarl from her lips. “I thought you were such a gentleman, that you were one of the rare men who actually cared about what I wanted. What I needed. I thought I was more than a pretty face to you, more than just another couple of digits added to your bottom line.” Her chest was so tight she felt as if she could hardly breathe. She took several steps away from him, as if that might help her find some oxygen. “When were you going to ask for the ring back? Were you going to wait until sales were steady enough that it wouldn’t matter to anyone that we weren’t together anymore?”

“Damn it, Mary, what are you talking about?” A muscle was jumping in his jaw. “Why would I want the ring back?”

He started toward her again, but she knew the moment he put his arms around her she’d forget to protect herself again…and that she’d give in to her foolish heart and keep loving him anyway.

Panicking, with her Italian temper rising up and clouding her better sense, Mary took off the beautiful engagement ring and threw it at him.

Chapter Nineteen

What the hell had just happened?

Jack stood in the middle of Mary’s dressing room, stunned that she had yelled at him about using her and then nailed him in the head with the engagement ring he’d given her.

He had never been an angry man, had never fought at school or raised his fists for anything but the boxing training at the gym. Most disagreements, he figured, could be worked out with a rational conversation or two. But Mary hadn’t even come close to trying to talk to him about what was bothering her. She’d flat out erupted.

Though he’d often seen and felt the flashes of fire while they were making love, he’d never seen her like this. So furious—and so hurt—that she seemed to have shut herself down to him completely.

His eyebrow was throbbing from where she’d nicked him with the ring, but it was nothing compared to the heavy twisting in his gut at the thought that she might leave him.

Her hand was already on the doorknob when he caught up with her. Fear that he was losing her made it hard to think, to do anything but grab her around the waist and pull her against him.

Her breath rushed out in surprise at the hard press of his arms around her. “Tell me what happened to make you so upset with me.” Her fury had stirred up his, but he worked to keep his voice even. She tried to push out of his arms, but he wouldn’t let her go. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

“You used me.”

Her sentence ended on a sob, and even though he knew she was furious at him, he had to kiss the top of her head. When she was hurting, all he wanted was to help her. To ease her pain. Even if he was suddenly the last person on earth she wanted doing that.

“I’ve spent so long staring at circuit boards and computer screens that I know I often miss what’s happening in real life.” Gently, he turned her in his arms so that he could look into her eyes. He put his hand beneath her chin and tilted her face up to his. “If I’ve made a mistake with you, I want more than anything to make it right. Please just tell me what I did and how I can make it right.”

But as she looked up at him, her eyes went wide. “You’re bleeding.” She covered her mouth with a trembling hand, and her eyes filled with new tears.

A knock came, the door opening before Jack could warn whoever was outside to stay there.

“There you two are.” Larry was too high on the thrill of success to notice that anything was wrong as he said, “A journalist and photographer from the San Francisco Chronicle were hoping to get some shots and an interview with you both. I figured you two lovebirds were stealing some time alone.”

Jack didn’t take his eyes from Mary’s as he said, “We’ll be out in a few minutes.”