Authors: Kelly Favor
“What would you keep yourself busy with in the meantime?” Red asked.
Hunter shrugged. Then he glanced at Kallie and pointed at her, almost as if he’d just thought of it. “She can take me to lunch or something, show me around the property a little, keep me busy while you spend time with your wife and newborn. But if you get a free minute to talk, you let me know and I’ll be there. I’ll be at your disposal, so to speak.”
For the first time, Red seemed stumped. “Well, I hadn’t thought of that. Kallie, would you be opposed to it? I know I’d given you some vacation time…”
She swallowed drily. “Me?”
“Yes, you,” Hunter laughed. “I promise I don’t bite. Do a writer a favor, huh, and keep me company for a day or two until your boss has time for me.”
Red looked at her and sensed her discomfort. “You know what—I’m going to have to decline once more. I told her she’d have the rest of the week off, and I can’t just turn around and put her into this situation now. It wouldn’t be fair.”
Kallie realized this whole scenario was just a device he’d concocted to spend time with her. Red might be fooled, but she wasn’t.
Which was why she was as surprised as anyone it what came out of her mouth next. “I’ll do it,” she said.
Red looked at her. “Don’t do this just because you think I’d be let down or angry if you said no.”
“I’m just doing it because I think this article will be really good for your business, and I want to help. Besides, I was already at a loss for what to do on my vacation.”
There was a lot of truth in her statement. She did think a GQ cover story would benefit Red, and helping him accomplish that would earn her some brownie points.
The underlying fact that she still wanted to spend more time with Hunter was just something she would accept but pretend not to notice.
Red smiled at her, and Hunter grinned a secret grin that she found annoying.
“Well,” Hunter said, turning back to Red. “Looks like we’ve been able to strike an amendable compromise here. I’ll stick around a few days, get a sense of your life without being a huge bother—and when you have time—let me know and we’ll get some more in-depth material for my piece.”
Red laughed. “I’ve got to give credit where it’s due, Hunter. You’re slick as oil, buddy. Well done.” He stood up and they shook hands.
Both of them were more relaxed now that it had all been settled. Of course, for Kallie it was only just beginning.
Red departed for the hospital, telling Hunter that he might have some free time later in the evening for the first part of their interview. “Until then, just try not to drive our nanny crazy,” Red told him, with a hint of seriousness in his eyes.
And then he was gone, leaving Kallie and Hunter alone.
They were standing at the front entrance together, watching Red’s car disappear over the hill.
Kallie was very conscious of the fact that Hunter Reardon was here—alone with her—in a large mansion with more bedrooms than anybody knew what to do with. She thought that Hunter might have a few ideas about how to make use of one of those bedrooms right about now—and that made her nipples stiffen beneath her shirt.
“Don’t get any ideas,” she muttered at him, as he gave her a sidelong glance and a smirk.
“Me? Ideas? My entire life is ideas,” he said walking out in front of her and smiling. “So where do you want to go, Kallie? The world is our oyster.”
She crossed her arms. “I’m only doing this for Red. I didn’t do this so that you and I could hang out together and play spin the bottle.”
This was a bald-faced lie, but she had to protect herself. She had to try and stay strong, even though she was the weakest she’d ever been. Hunter was looking at her, and she could barely look back at him. If she did, she was afraid he’d see the want and need in her eyes.
Just being this close to him was maddening. His magnetism was unnerving, his confidence was infuriating, and his tenacity was a complete turn-on. She tried to remind herself that giving into her attraction to Hunter and everything he represented had the potential to destroy so much more than her self-esteem.
This was a man who could break her heart and her mind all at once if she wasn’t careful.
“Whatever reason you had for agreeing to spend the next few days with me, the bottom line is we’re going to be seeing a lot more of each other. So we might as well make the most of it, Kallie.” He leaned against the doorframe of the entrance, casual and relaxed, as if he owned the house.
“There’s nothing to make the most of, Hunter. You just tell me where you’d like to go. I’ll make sure we go there. But don’t try and turn this into something else. I know why you’re doing this, and it’s not going to work.”
“Oh? Why am I doing this?”
She shook her head. “I’m not even bothering with this conversation.”
He stood up straight and brushed past her, and for a moment, her breath caught in her throat because she was certain he was going to scoop her into his strong arms and kiss her lips. And she wanted that more than she ever dared admit.
But Hunter was moving briskly past her now. “I want to get out on the open road, feel the wind against my face. You ever feel like that, Kallie?”
“Come on, I want to show you something.”
She sighed. “Where are we going?”
“Remember, you’re the one who’s keeping me company now. I’m on a job assignment with your boss, and I think Red would want to know you’re trying your best to have a good attitude.”
“If Red knew why you’re writing this article for GQ—is it even a real article?”
“It most certainly is,” he said, feigning shock at her suggestion. “How dare you imply that I’m lying about my credentials?”
“I’m just saying, if Red knew that this whole thing is a ruse to get me into bed—“
Hunter burst into laughter. He laughed so long and so hard that his face turned bright red and he slapped his knee. “Kallie, oh my god. Are you serious?”
“I’m totally serious,” she said, suddenly feeling anxious. “I know that’s the real reason you’re here.”
He wiped the tears of laughter from his eyes, still chuckling, but calming down.
“You’re too much,” he said. He was recovered from his burst of hysterics. “It’s not about getting you into bed, Kallie. I already did that, remember?” He came towards her now.
She backed up a step, but he was so close, moving quick as a cat, until he was almost upon her. And the thing was, she was desperate to be close to Hunter once more, even as her brain screamed at her to get away from him before she lost the will to fight.
“I remember,” she said softly, almost a whisper.
“You remember what it was like, when our bodies were so tightly wound that we were practically inseparable, and every part of you was available to me, and I touched you in ways you’d never been touched before?” He stared into her eyes and she couldn’t look away.
“Yes,” she said, unable to turn away from him or say anything to distract from the connection she felt right now.
“Then you know that this has nothing to do with getting you into bed. This whole thing is about proving what we have to you, so that you can see what I’m offering is real.”
“It’s not real. I’m just another conquest.”
He shook his head sadly. “That’s where you’re wrong, Kallie. You are so, so wrong about that.” He turned and broke the connection, and she felt like she wanted to reach out and pull him back, but Kallie was too conflicted and frightened to be so bold.
“So are we going somewhere or not?” she said, finally, as he stood with his back to her.
“We are,” he told her. “Come on.”
And so she did.
Hunter was driving and Kallie sat next to him, watching as he took the exit towards Hartford.
“Where exactly are you taking me?”
“I’m not taking you anywhere,” he answered. “We’re going somewhere together.”
“Okay, where are we going?”
“You’ll see.” He grinned.
“You can’t ever give a straightforward answer to anything, can you?”
“Sure I can.” He glanced at her for a quick second. “Go ahead and ask me a question right now. Ask me whatever you want and I’ll answer it.”
“No you won’t.”
“Scared?” he said.
“Fine.” She turned and looked at him, her eyes narrowing as she considered the perfect question. Finally, she decided. “Why didn’t you want me to finish reading Blue Horizon?”
He smiled slowly. “I figured you’d ask me about that.”
“So you’re backing out, then?”
“No, I’ll tell you.” He thought for a moment. “The thing is, Blue Horizon was successful beyond my wildest dreams. When I wrote that book, I did it because…” he stopped for a moment, as if not wanting to continue. “Well, I wrote it because someone very close to me needed me to write it. And then, when it was done, I sort of put it in a drawer and forgot about it. I didn’t particularly have the time to go about finding an agent and trying to get it published, and it never occurred to me that I could do that anyway.”
Kallie watched him, her heart beating faster as she realized that Hunter was actually opening up to her, for the first time. He was telling her something that she suspected very few people, if anyone, knew about him.
“So how did you end up getting it published?” she asked.
“No, that’s two questions. I’m answering the one question only,” he told her.
“Fair enough.” She smiled, liking the game for some reason. But then again, why did everything between them have to be a game?
“I’ll just say that Blue Horizon somehow—as if by magic—found its way into the hands of an agent and then an editor, and I landed a very lucrative publishing deal.”
“That’s amazing,” she said. “I mean, that’s like winning the lottery, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but what nobody told me was the price tag for getting my dreams was steeper than I’d ever imagined.”
She wanted to ask, but refrained. Instead, she simply nodded. “The book was a huge success, though.”
“That it was,” he agreed. “Bigger than even my publisher had hoped for. We hit number one on the New York Times bestseller list for fifteen weeks in a row. We sold millions of copies, and then we sold the movie rights to DreamWorks. A couple of years later, the movie came out and grossed over three hundred million dollars worldwide.”
“Oh my God,” she gasped.
“I didn’t make three hundred million, personally. But my agent was able to get me a small percentage of the back end, and it worked out to be quite a chunk of change, on top of everything else.”
“You still haven’t answered the original question,” she pointed out.
“I’m getting there, Kallie. Have some patience.” He looked over at her and she got a thrill from the way his dark eyes met hers, before he went back to gazing at the road.
“Okay, I’ll be quiet.”
“Anyway,” he said, as the car hugged a particularly tight corner, and Hunter expertly maneuvered around it and then picked up speed into a straightaway. “Things were going absolutely wonderfully, except for one important thing.” He smiled, as if to himself. “I couldn’t seem to write the next book. The deal I’d signed was for two books, and Blue Horizon was so popular and the ending was so ambiguous that people were clamoring for the next one immediately. All anybody ever talked to me about or asked about was that next damn book. And I couldn’t write a word of it. Not a single word.”
He glanced over at her again to gauge her reaction.
“That’s obviously difficult for you,” she said.
“Understatement of the year,” he laughed. “The pressure was immense and it only grew. Financially and socially and psychologically, my entire life is basically tied forever to that one book I wrote. And in the last two years, I’ve had to accept that I’m not going to write the next one. I gave my publisher back half a million dollars from the advance they’d given me.”
Kallie gasped again. She couldn’t even imagine receiving half a million dollars, let alone having to give it back. “That’s awful, Hunter.”
“The money was nothing. I’ve made plenty of money, enough to last me a lifetime. I’m running a successful production company now, but it doesn’t stop people from asking me about Blue Horizon.” He sighed, as if still unable to comprehend what had happened. “It’s the damn questions,” he said. “Every interview, every time another person recognizes me on the street or someone at a party hears my name and the first thing out of their mouth is, “When are you coming out with the next book? When is the sequel to Blue Horizon coming out?” It gets very, very old. I stopped reading fan mail—
I stopped taking calls from my agent or doing interviews. I stopped all of it because I’m so damn tired of those same questions.”
“I guess you answered mine, though,” she said softly. “You didn’t want me to be another person asking you about your next book.”
He nodded. His hands gripped the steering wheel tightly. “I’m just sick of the pressure,” he said. “Because I know now that I’ll never write another book.”
The rest of the ride was quiet, as Hunter seemed to lose his good humor and fall into a somber mood. Kallie understood why. Answering her question had obviously taken him to a dark place and time in his life, and now she regretted pushing him to tell her such a personal piece of information.
It simply reinforced to her why this relationship could never really get off the ground. Hunter was a man haunted by something in his past, and he didn’t want to allow anyone to get close to him.
Now both of them were in dark places, she supposed, both of them lost in their own silent worlds of thoughts that were better left alone and words better left unsaid.
Kallie told herself for the thousandth time that even if she was attracted to Hunter, even if he’d given her the most exciting, sensual night of her life, it wasn’t a good enough reason to get more deeply involved with him.
He’d practically spelled out for her that he was damaged goods. Did she really want to get a first-hand experience of just how that would play out if they resumed an intimate relationship?
Approaching on their right was some sort of dealership, and now Hunter was slowing down and turning the car into the lot.