Jared remained behind in the conference room with Felicity as he gathered up the contracts he had revised during negotiations.
“Your boss drives a stiff bargain for her design fees,” Jared mused softly as he ruffled the papers before slipping them into his briefcase.
Felicity raised a brow, feeling her temperature rise as she sensed he was challenging her somehow. Not in a bad way, but he was…testing her.
“Sabine is one of the best interior designers in the country, and with her master’s in the arts, she is unparalleled in her profession.”
His lips twitched. “I’m not disputing that, sweetheart, but she’s expensive, and a good lawyer always tries to trim costs for his clients.” He sidled a step closer to her, and her entire body tensed with anticipation. They weren’t arguing, not quite, but the way he said “sweetheart” in that dark, soft, seductive voice while disagreeing with her… Felicity had the sudden desire to drag him into the nearest coat closet and shred his clothes to get to him. But this was work; she couldn’t be caught with Jared. She’d promised Sabine she would keep things professional.
“You could hire someone else, but you’d sacrifice quality,” Felicity replied.
“We could, but the Worthingtons want the best, and I believe Sabine is it.”
She tried not to look his way, but it was impossible to resist. When she peeped at him from beneath her lashes, he was watching her, a narrow-eyed expression hardening his features. For a long second Felicity feared neither of them would speak. A thousand things to say came to her lips, but never left them as she struggled to find the right words. Would they talk about last night? Did he feel the tension of working together like this, too? The tightness in her chest eased as he opened his mouth.
“What was with the note this morning?” He gripped the back of one of the conference chairs, knuckles white as he leaned on it.
Damn, Layla should have warned her that Jared had a scary lawyer-style scowl. Was this how he was at all business meetings when he wanted answers? His intensity was sucking up in all the air in the room.
She swallowed hard. “I…I’m sorry about the note.” She shored up her confidence, knowing she had to own up to the fact that she had run this morning. “I had to leave because I was running late to get here. There wasn’t time for—”
“For goodbye?” He cut her off, and the way he whispered the word, she heard the hurt in his voice, the wounded acceptance of what they’d shared coming to an end. He shrugged, as though trying to rid himself of a great weight that rested there.
“Yes.” It felt like she was sinking into the floor. She’d just left him without an explanation, yet it felt as though they were talking about something deeper, a more permanent issue that lay between them. It was scary as hell to think about.
“It’s just one little word, Felicity.” His tone was still soft, hurt, and it shocked her. Her leaving really had upset him.
It was supposed to be this way, this goodbye…but suddenly the idea was unbearable.
“I’m sorry,” she replied, her voice shaking. “We both know that this thing…whatever it is…won’t work out in the long run. I’m not staying in Chicago, not if I get the job I want in Los Angeles, and you’ve built your career here. The deeper we go, we can’t…” She struggled with the words. “So I thought I’d just make a clean break.” There, she’d said it.
“You never even gave us a chance. You don’t know what it would have been like between us.” Jared released his grip on the chair and raked a furious gaze over the room before settling on her.
“What would have been the point of that? I’ll be leaving next year. This isn’t permanent for me.” Each word hurt as she spoke, but it was the truth. She’d never planned on staying here, no matter how much she’d fallen in love with the city and the friends she’d made. She hadn’t found any museums willing to take her on here, or she would have stayed.
“What’s the point? When you have feelings for someone, there’s always a point, Felicity. You don’t walk away from the chemistry we have. When I touch you? It makes my entire body burn. I’ve never felt that way about anyone else.” He spoke so desperately, a quiet rage in his eyes as though he fought to hide how much he was hurting. “Shouldn’t we have at least given it a shot? Hell, we might have been terrible together, but I wanted to take that chance.” His jaw clenched as he swallowed whatever else he had planned to say.
“You really wanted me?” She couldn’t believe it. A guy like him could have anyone. Why did he want someone like her? She wasn’t good enough for him. She was… Dark voices from her past slithered through her. Hateful words she knew couldn’t be true, yet she still believed them anyway. She wasn’t good enough for him. Just a mousy little girl from a small town in Nebraska. She’d been a waitress at an Applebee’s in high school while he’d probably been studying in law school. It just didn’t…fit. They didn’t fit.
His eyes darkened. “There you go again, with that look on your face.”
“What look?” she demanded, irritation and pain prickling her inside like deep-rooted thorns digging into flesh.
Jared walked around the table to stand in front of her. She’d almost forgotten how tall he was, but as he towered over her, forcing her to tilt her head back, she remembered the way his long, lean body had curled around hers in bed. Protective, warm, seductive. A combination that was fatal to her heart.
He cupped her chin and turned her face to the right where a gilt-framed mirror hung on the wall. Embarrassment hollowed her out inside as she saw her face. Eyes wide, lips trembling, a heavy sadness painted its broad brush across her features, which now flamed red with shame.
“That look,” he breathed in a disappointed sigh. “Like you can’t believe that anyone would want you.” Anger snapped and burned in his eyes like hungry flames devouring tinder. He didn’t unleash it though, didn’t hurt her. He only muttered a strangled curse before his fingers dropped from her chin to the back of her head, his fingers fisting into her hair as he dragged her into his arms.
Mouth open in shock, Felicity was unprepared for his punishing kiss. The edge of violent desperation that sparked from his lips and the way he savaged her heart and soul with the pain she tasted in that kiss. His pain and hers. She had hurt him. But she couldn’t take it back, could not turn back the clock to undo this morning. Her hands rested on his chest, feeling the faint thump-thump of his heartbeat beneath her palms. Her own heartbeat echoed his, like a dove cooing to its mate.
Whenever he kissed her, she lost all sense of self and time. She found herself swept into a secret place where only sensations and emotions reigned. It wasn’t something she could fight, nor did she want to. If only she could stay like this in his arms forever and not have to face reality.
Jared brushed his lips back and forth over hers, and she tried to press close again. He shook his head and stepped back. “You’re killing me, princess.” His words were husky and a little rough. He licked his lips and then tilted his head back and sucked in a deep breath.
Felicity watched him, her body shaking with need, her chest squeezing her heart in its iron fist.
“You’re afraid,” he said. “You’re so young. I keep forgetting that. Just a kid in some ways.”
She started to protest, but he held up his hand.
“You don’t know how to make a leap of faith. I get that. It’s scary as hell. We probably aren’t right for each other. Trust me, I know that. We’d never have time to be together between my work and your school. I get that, too.” He dragged his fingers through his hair and reached for his coat. As he slid his coat on, he stepped away from her, and the feeling of that distance cut her soul deep. How could someone she’d only known a few days make her feel like this? Like her heart couldn’t beat if he walked out that door?
“I like you.” A rueful smile twisted his lips. “You made me…feel. It’s been a long time since anyone’s done that. But if you aren’t ready, I’m not going to push you.”
His words were destroying her as much as they saved her. She couldn’t have anyone in her life, not anyone she loved. In a way he was right. She was afraid he’d be too perfect, and once he left her, no other man would ever measure up. The idea of spending the rest of her life someday with another man…it left a sour taste upon her lips.
A thousand words hung on her lips, yet she couldn’t say a single one. He seemed to read her silence as affirmation of his accusations.
“Thank you for yesterday. It was nice.” He stepped toward her again and pressed his lips to her forehead in a light kiss. “Goodbye, princess.” He lingered, his warm breath fanning her cheeks and his hands on her upper arms as he held her close just one moment longer. Her heart beat hard against her ribs, and she couldn’t speak past the slicing pain in her tight throat as it constricted.
And with that he left.
Felicity crumpled into the nearest conference chair, staring blinding ahead of her. Jared Redmond had cut out her heart and walked away with it. She’d practically challenged him to do it, and he had.
It was better this way.
Yet it felt as though she’d betrayed herself by not running after him. He had wanted her, but was he right about what he’d said? She believed she didn’t belong with a guy like him or his glittering world. Even if she could convince herself she and Jared could be together, it was crazy to think it could work. When would she ever get to see him? Their schedules were impossible to match, so what was the point? She would leave Chicago and any relationships she had behind. Just let it go. A terrible hollowness filled her until her entire body echoed with its emptiness. She hadn’t known how full of happiness she’d been until she’d lost it all, when she’d lost Jared.
MORE About Legally Charming
THE RIGHT DRESS CAN CATCH THE EYE OF PRINCE CHARMING…
Felicity Hart has one goal: Completing her masters in art. Falling in love isn’t part of the plan. She reluctantly agrees to attend a Halloween party with her best friend. After sneaking away from the party and falling asleep in an unoccupied room, she wakes to the sexiest pair of eyes she’s ever seen. Eyes that belong to the one man who could turn her well organized world upside down. When he flashes that wicked, panty-melting smile at her the vow to not fall in love seems impossible…
EVERY PRINCE IS LOOKING FOR HIS SLEEPING BEAUTY TO KISS…
Jared Redmond used to be the ultimate bad boy. But now his legal career is taking off and the partners of his firm are trusting him with high-dollar real estate transactions. Jared’s king-size bed is empty. But when he arrives home on Halloween to find a princess sleeping in his bed – his all work and no play attitude goes out the window. There’s nothing he wants more than to explore the hidden desires of this mysterious beauty and show her just how much of a bad boy he really is by fulfilling her every fantasy.
WHEN MIDNIGHT STRIKES AND COACHES TURN TO PUMPKINS…
Underneath the glitter of this fairy tale romance, Felicity and Jared might have found true love. But the mounting pressure of their real lives takes hold again and Jared and Felicity are pulled further and further apart. Can they find their fairy tale ending or will they be left with the dying embers of what could have been?
AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER
Wednesday, 1 March 2017
#SneakPeek: Legally Charming By Lauren Smith