Authors: Kira Archer
Tags: #Romance, #Romantic Comedy, #opposites attract, #Kira Archer, #enemies to lovers, #Contemporary Romance, #Road trip, #entangled, #Lovestruck, #wrong side of the tracks, #Contemporary, #Category, #forced proximity
The lady must like what she sees.
Oz stood a bit straighter, his thumbs trailing along the waist of the close-fitting, charcoal slacks, making sure the lavender shirt was tucked in all the way. Cher’s eyes followed every movement of his hands. Interesting.
He ran his hand down the dark purple tie to flatten it against his chest, plastering the material to what he knew were a great set of defined abs. Lavender and purple. Not colors he’d ever in a million years be caught dead in. Colors? Was it two different colors or did it count as different types of the same color? Ah hell, he didn’t know. But he had to give it to her, it looked great, judging by the sudden heat in her eyes.
That heat…it triggered an answering burning in him. It also scared the hell out of him. They had no call feeling anything for each other but grudging tolerance. Nothing good could come of
. Besides, if he was seeing what he thought he was seeing it was only because he was all dressed up and fancy like one of her pretty New York boys. And that just wasn’t the real him.
It was also just as likely she wasn’t feeling anything at all and at that very moment was just trying to figure out why he was staring at her like a dog in the deli case and the look in her eyes was fear he’d suddenly gone completely daft. Which apparently he had.
“I think that’s the one,” she said, her husky voice breaking the tense silence.
He blinked and forced a smile. “You think so?”
“They won’t be able to resist you in that.” The words were so quiet he barely caught what she’d said. Oh, but he’d heard it. He took a step toward her and she took one back.
Neither one moved again, both frozen in a weird staring contest. Oz wasn’t quite sure what would happen if he let her win. He took one more step toward her and she blinked, dropping her gaze.
“We better get moving if we want to make New York by midnight.”
Oz nodded, the weird spell between them broken. He stepped back into the dressing room, not sure he wanted to try and analyze what had just happened. It was probably nothing, anyway. He’d just been stunned by the fact that Cher hadn’t been shooting some hideously offensive sentiment out of her mouth. The fact that he was lying to himself wasn’t a possibility he was ready to accept. Yet.
The sound of her voice right outside the dressing room made him jump.
“What are you doing in here?”
“Toss me your clothes.”
He laughed, low and deep. “If you want my clothes, why don’t you come in here and get them?”
He grinned. He knew what she meant, but she walked right into that one.
“I just thought I’d go get in line while you’re getting dressed.”
“You can’t wait another two minutes?”
Her exasperated sigh filtered through the door and he grinned. “All right, fine.”
If she wanted his clothes, he’d give them to her. He opened the door and tossed her his tie. “Here.”
Then he started unbuttoning his shirt. Her eyes flew open, her jaw dropping. She didn’t say a word, just watched as he finished unbuttoning and shrugged out of the shirt. Her gaze remained riveted to his bare chest and he wondered just how long she’d stand there staring. She’d surprised him making it as long as she had. He thought for sure she’d freak out by the second button.
All right, then. His hands dropped to the button of his pants. That finally jolted her out of her daze.
“What are you doing?” she gasped and turned around.
He smiled and closed the door, quickly stripping the pants and tossing them over the door.
“There. I’ll be out in a few.”
, I’ll meet you up front.”
He took his time getting dressed. That strip tease might not have been the wisest course of action. Her reaction had certainly bitten him in the ass. So to speak. The problem was, he hadn’t expected her to
a reaction. A little outrage maybe, some uncomfortable squirming, sure. That open-mouthed, heated, hungry stare that suggested she very much wanted him to keep going? No.
, he wasn’t expecting.
He took a few deeps breaths, concentrating on safe, non-sexual thoughts until all body parts had returned to their non-full, non-upright positions. They needed to get a move on. He tugged his clothes on and hurried to the front of the store.
But, when he got to the registers, Cher had already checked out and was waiting near the restrooms, bags in hand. And wearing one of her outfits. A red sundress with little white polka dots that matched her toes, or would if they were visible. At the moment, they were hidden by a pair of bright yellow rain boots that stretched to her knees.
A clear plastic poncho covered the entire ensemble, even her hair, which she’d taken out of the pony tail. It was now half swept up with some sort of plastic doo-dad. A bright yellow umbrella dangled from her hand. The tag proclaimed it “a smile for when the skies were gray.” He snorted. The damn thing must have a giant smiley face on it. She looked…absolutely adorable. Like a regular girl on her way to a picnic. Only he knew she was anything but regular.
“What’s with the getup?”
“It’s pouring again. Can’t you hear it?”
He frowned, listening for a moment. Then he realized that dull roar he hadn’t really acknowledged was the sound of rain hitting the roof of the giant store.
She held out her foot and shook it around a bit. “No more wet feet.”
“I see that.” He grinned and gestured at her outfit. “Very nice.”
She took the compliment, even if his tone was a bit grudging, and graced him with another one of those smiles that made the sun come out and warm him through and through.
He nodded, a bit knocked off guard, and glanced around, expecting his pile of stuff to be waiting on a conveyor belt somewhere.
“Where’s all my…”
The guilty look on her face immediately gave her away and his momentary lapse of judgment induced by her “girl next door” outfit evaporated under the anger that licked its way through him. He took a deep breath, his hands clenching at his sides. She wouldn’t have…would she? Who the hell did she think she was?
Her eyes widened at his use of her full name. She
have been worried. He hadn’t been this pissed in a very long time.
“You had no right—”
“Just hang on. Before you go getting your chauvinistic knickers in a twist, let me just explain.”
He stopped at that. Okay, he could be an ass when he wanted to be, he’d give her that, but he didn’t think he was chauvinistic. But hell, she could think whatever she wanted. She had no right to go throwing her money around whenever she felt like it. He wasn’t some charity case.
“I know I’m not quite as well off as you are, Ms. Debusshere, but I’m perfectly capable of purchasing my own clothing.”
She stiffened, the warmth fading from her eyes, her smile disappearing. “I never meant to imply anything differently. I just wanted to do something nice for you, that’s all.”
“How is buying my clothes nice? I’m not some charity project. I don’t have any need or desire to be your good deed for the week.”
Her eyes narrowed and she drew in a deep breath through her nose. He’d hit a nerve with that one. Good. How dare she treat him like some poor country bumpkin who couldn’t even clothe himself without her help!
“You are such an insufferable ass!” she shouted at him, startling the cashiers and customers closest to them.
Oz blinked at her, momentarily surprised speechless. She shoved the bags containing his items into his arms.
“I was just trying to doing something nice—to say thank you for driving me. You paid for the car and you paid for lunch and the snacks and you didn’t have to drive me in the first place. You could have just left me stranded there, but you didn’t, so I just wanted to do something nice, so I thought maybe I could get your new interview clothes for you. That’s all! I wasn’t implying you couldn’t afford to get your own clothes. And besides, it was easier to just toss your stuff in with mine. I didn’t think it would be such a big deal.”
Oz flinched. Even when apologizing she managed to show just how far apart they really were. She’d probably spent less on her entire haul than she did on a pair of socks at one of her usual stores. It didn’t help that he
been a bit worried over the new outfit. He had the money to cover it, yes. But it really wasn’t money he should be spending. The fact that it was about as momentous to her as buying a pack of gum dug at his pride.
However, there wasn’t much he could do about it now unless he wanted to make her return the items so he could rebuy them. However, as good as that sounded, it would be a huge waste of everyone’s time and a major slap in her face. Whether she understood what a slap in the face she’d just dealt him or not, at least he was pretty sure she hadn’t done it intentionally. Besides, the customer service department was a total zoo.
Cher was eyeing him warily. He blew out a huge breath. He was still pissed, but she’d never understand why. And he didn’t have the time or energy to try and explain it to her. He’d be better off explaining it to the soda machine they’d passed on the way in. At least then he was guaranteed to get something out of the conversation. Whatever. They needed to get moving.
He shifted the bags in his arms so he could carry them all in one hand, then reached out for the ones she held. She hesitated just a moment before handing them to him.
He nodded. “Thanks. I…appreciate the thought.”
She looked like she wanted to argue but thought better of it. “You’re welcome.”
“Let’s go before it gets too bad out there.”
She nodded and led the way. But she didn’t get much further than the doors.
The rain was coming down steadily in big, fat drops—it was like someone was standing on the roof aiming a fire hose at them. All the minor showers earlier in the day must have been a warm-up for the main event. The setting sun was trying to shine through the clouds and now the sky was a weird mustard color. Without saying a word, Cher reached into her bag and pulled out one of those cheap, disposable ponchos and held it out to him.
“Thought you might need one.”
He snorted. “Thanks. Here.” He handed the bags to her and took the poncho, slipping it over his head before taking them back.
Cher turned to him. “Can we drive in this?”
“We’re going to have to, unless you want to spend the night here.”
She shook her head but her brows were still puckered with concern.
“Come on,” he said. “It’ll let up in a few minutes. You know how fast the weather changes. We’ve been in and out of this the whole trip so far. Let’s go.”
Cher took off for the car, not worrying about the puddle this time, though it had grown considerably. Protected by her new foot gear, she stomped straight through it, looking so happy and carefree it took him a second to realize he was grinning like an idiot in the pouring rain, just staring at her.
He gave himself a nice mental slap and high-tailed it to the car. Cher jumped inside while he shoved the bags into the backseat, hurrying to the driver’s seat as fast as he could. Truth be told, he’d rather not drive in the mess that was falling all around them. He didn’t mind driving in the rain normally, but it was a total bitch when it was coming down so hard. But it should let up after a good hard downpour, and then it would be much more manageable.
He snapped on his seat belt and turned on the car. “We’ll just take it slow. I’m sure it’ll let up soon, and if it doesn’t, we can find a nice bridge to park under.”
“If you say so,” she said, her eyes glued to the road in front of them.
“Try not to worry about it.” His irritation with her dissipated a bit with the very real fear that shone from her eyes. “You want to listen to some music to take your mind off it?”
She shook her head. “Talking is better.”
Well, that was debatable, but now probably wasn’t the time to point that out.
She took a deep breath. “How about we get you ready for your interview? I can help you practice your responses. I’m pretty good at this kind of thing.”
“Yes. I told you I do more than ‘shop,’ as you call it,” she said. Her lips were smiling but one eyebrow was raised to let him know she hadn’t forgotten that remark. “Interview prep is one of the things I do at work. It could help to run through some possible responses.”
“I’m sure I’ll be fine. I
done a few interviews before in my life.”
“Yes, but some of these recruiters can be sharks. Especially in New York City. They are paid to weed out the weak links.”
“So, you’re assuming I’ll be a weak link.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“It was implied.”
“It was not! Stop putting words in my mouth.”
Oz sighed. “Okay, I’m sorry. Grill me.”
She glared at him, obviously not sure if he was joking or not.
“I mean it. Go ahead and grill me. I probably could use an interview refresher. It’s been a while since I’ve gone to one that requires a tie.”
“All right. Who are you interviewing with?”
“Does that matter?”
He was reluctant to give her that kind of ammo. This was his dream job. And a long shot. He knew it. He just didn’t want her to know it. He’d wanted to be a writer his whole life, had even gone to school hoping to eventually end up with a creative writing degree. Life responsibilities had derailed that for a few years. But now, a high-profile magazine was looking for a desk editor in his neck of the woods. It was a chance he couldn’t pass up. To work for a big New York publication and still be able to stay at home…it was too good to be true. Definitely something he had to go for.
But the second he told Cherice, he knew he’d see that pitying look in her eyes. That
oh how cute, he thinks he can play in the big leagues
look that he’d been seeing on the faces of just about everyone he knew, once he’d gotten the interview. It was bad enough coming from his friends. He didn’t want to deal with it from her.