"You can drop the act," Noah said, the carnal fog
starting to ease. It frustrated him that he'd spent the last
six months aching for a woman who seemed more comfortable on
the stage than in his dreams. "I came here to ask you
to lunch. I wasn't prepared for the Playmate of the Month routine."
Cassandra's jaw twitched. "Is that what you think of
"You're selling yourself short. My opinion of you is
a lot higher."
"Oh, please." She had a way of sounding bored that
made him feel both stupid and disposable. "Don't give
me that holier than thou routine. I have eyes, Mr. Barclay.
Noah. It always comes down to sex. Are you going to stand there
and tell me otherwise?"
Suddenly Noah felt stupid, disposable, and cheap. Not his
favorite emotional state of mind. "The thought was there,
but I'm not your own personal power-switch to be flipped when
you're in the mood to play," he said.
She folded her arms across her chest and looked at him. "Playmate
of the month? My opinion of you had been a lot higher, too,
but I suppose everyone can be wrong once in their life. I have
rules," she continued, holding up a hand just as he was
about to interrupt. "First, no promises, either given
or received. Second, you have to agree with a medical inspection.
Third, condoms are required. Fourth, no monogamy. You see who
you choose, and so do I. Lastly, no bondage. No explanation
necessary and if you need one, it's not going to work between
Noah's hard-on withered and died. "No monogamy? You've
got to be kidding."
She didn't even smile. "Sex is a serious business. And
by the way, if I'm not coming, I'm going, if you get my meaning.
Sometimes it's there, sometimes it isn't, but I'm not wasting
my time if it isn't happening."
Then he understood. She was still pissed at him, and this
was the price he was going to have to pay. Her own little practical
joke. Okay, he deserved this.
"All right, all right, you got me. Look, I'm sorry about
the six months ago. I told you I was stupid. You can understand
why I had my doubts, but I'm over that now."
She stared at him blandly. "What does that have to do
He lifted his hands. "You know. The joke, making me pay
for what happened at the gala."
"I don't do revenge, Mr. Barclay. It's another time-waster.
Those are my rules."
As he watched her, saw the steady state in her eyes, he realized
this was serious. She was serious. "You're not joking?"
"No. I never joke about sex."
He didn't think he joked about sex either, but this took that
to a whole other level. "Look I don't mind about the condoms
and the physical. That's good thinking, but the rest? Excuse
me, that sounds like business, not sex."
"I don't charge money, if that's what you're asking.
But sex is definitely a business. Don't let anyone tell you
otherwise. I don't believe in hiding behind all that touchy-feely
Noah had never thought of himself as touchy-feely believer
himself, but now he was insulted. "That touchy-feely kitsch
is the best part of a relationship." Then he realized
what he said. "Okay, the sex is important, too," she
raised her brow, "but you can't just rip out all the other
"Yes, I can."
Noah sighed. This was going nowhere. "You never compromise?
You'd never make a promise, or ever stay faithful?"
She shook her head and the dark hair brushed against her breast,
but he kept his eyes glued firmly to her face.
What she was proposing was a one-night-stand. A cheap roll
in the hay. Wham, bam, thank you, Noah, goodnight.
So why was that a problem?
Maybe it was the ten years he'd spent overseas, maybe he was
old-fashioned and never guessed it, or maybe it was because
he wanted to be the different one.
She aroused him, and fascinated him, and intrigued him. He'd
never met a sexier woman, never met a woman so sure of herself.
And now he realized that he'd never met a woman who thought
so little of herself.
So now he just needed a new plan. A way to differentiate himself
from the pack, and he knew there was a pack. His looks weren't
going to cut it, his name didn't seem to mean a hell of lot
to her, but he did have one other idea.
A painful, yet effective idea.
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