“Are you now saying you don’t think I need to get in touch with my wild side?” Olivia asked.
Zack frowned. He had intimated that. And in all honesty, she was way too controlled. But that was for his taste. What did he know about financial wizards and presidential campaigns and how ‘wild’ they could be and still function in their high-pressure, high-profile jobs? “I think you should leave well enough alone,” he grumbled.
“I see,” she snapped. “You’re completely willing to make fun of me, but you refuse to help, is that it?” She swept him with a damning look. “Sure! Why not? It’s easy to condemn, but it takes backbone to help.” She pushed up from her chair, glaring. “I gave you more credit, Mr. Merit! And to think, I defended you to my father. I told him you weren’t just a lazy playboy out for whatever you could get for the least effort!”
Stalking around the low table she jabbed at his chest with a fingernail. “You have some colossal nerve giving me your uninvited and hurtful opinions, then rejecting me when I ask you to help change what you, yourself, pointed out needed changing!”
He pushed up from the chair. “You’re hysterical, Miss Nordstrom. When you feel better you’ll realize this whole topic of conversation was absurd.” He turned to go. Ribbing her was mega-stupid, Merit! Look what you’ve done!
‘Wild’ wasn’t his thing these days. And helping Olivia Nordstrom develop her wild side was about as far from anything he planned to do as learning to needlepoint. He had problems of his own to deal with. The tranquil, quiet life on Merit island was driving him to distraction, yet he craved solidity and permanence? Yep, Merit, you’re nuts. You can’t help this woman. You can’t even figure yourself out.
A tug on his arm cut through his musings. “Don’t dismiss me as if I were a child!” She skittered around to face him. “I swear to you, Zack, I’m determined to do this. Since we’re both stuck here on this island, why can’t we work together? Please, show me how to get rid of the everlastingly Miss Refined-Studious-Obedient, and become a person with relish for living and a dramatic temperament.”
Zack frowned at her. She was certainly a striking picture, all wild-eyed and blushing. To look at her now, she already had passion and a dramatic temperament. A stirring sight. Even her pert nostrils flared. Fighting a wayward surge of attraction, he scowled at her. “What would you do with this newfound wildness?” he challenged. “How would it help you as your father’s financial guru?”
“That wouldn’t change,” she insisted. “I can be wild and do my job.”
He grunted out a caustic chuckle. “There’s that wacky work ethic sneaking back in.” He had an urge to caress her crimson cheek but squelched it. “Face it, Liv, you’re doomed to be a hardworking, stable woman and there’s nothing you can do about it. I’m sorry I teased you. Forget everything I said. What the hell do I know?”
Her lips thinned, but even thinned they were bothersomely sensual. “I thought you would understand if anybody did,” she cried. “Didn’t you run away from home to find the real you? Haven’t you lived the life you chose without apologizing to anybody?”
He didn’t enjoy having his dubious choices thrown in his face as an argument in favor of recklessness. “Yeah,” he said, with a twisted grin. “That’s me. The plaster saint for selfish self-indulgence.” He gave a mocking salute. “I am the expert. But as the expert, I have to warn you, getting intimate with your wild side isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
She crossed her arms, looking adamant. “Well, neither is domestication. Ask any cow!”
He watched her with clamped teeth. This wasn’t funny anymore. “You don’t know what you’re asking. You don’t really want to be wild.”
“But I do!” she retorted. “What do you think the sky diving was, if not a bid to break free?”
He shrugged, deciding not to bring up the fact that she almost died. “Ever do it again?”
“I did it twice before--before…”
“Yeah, but did you ever do it--after?”
She cast her gaze down. “I went white-water rafting, though.” She glared at him. “And--and I went to a karate class once.”
“Once?” He lifted a cynical brow.
Her exhale was a frustrated moan. “Daddy found out.” She fisted her hands. “Zack, I need your help!”
One thing was sure. Her father had been a strong, stifling influence on her. Zack experienced a stab of compassion, but fought it. She didn’t really want to open that Pandora’s box. With a slow, resolved shake of his head, he said, “You’re not getting any wildness lessons from me.”
They stared each other down for several ponderous seconds before she blurted, “Please! Help me see what life’s like drenched with pleasure and passion! You could be my last chance!”
Her plea struck like the blunt end of a pickax. How wrong and simple could he be? The senator’s daughter had a use for him, all right. She was just another preppy princess hankering to do the nasty with a wild man for a few, hot nights before running back to daddy. Why had he thought she was different?. “Holy—” He cut himself off. Why me? Am I wearing a sign? ‘Stud For Rent’. “Give me a freakin’ break,” he growled, pivoting away.
“No! I swear I’m going to do this!” She bolted to face him and grabbed his hands. “Kiss me, Zack!”
It wasn’t as though the idea had never crossed his mind, but he was too furious, too disillusioned, maybe both. Or was he afraid if he allowed himself to weaken, he’d do exactly as she asked—to blazes with the very real possibility she would regret her rashness next week.
With a shrug he hoped looked more casual than it was, he said, “Give it up. You’re not wild, and even if you were, I’ve outgrown wild women.” Breaking eye contact, he made himself turn away.
“But you’ve known them. You know how they behave.” She grasped his wrist. “Would a wild woman let you get away with that?”
Before he could respond, she threw her arms about his neck and kissed him with a white-hot passion that only serious outrage could generate.
From the book ACCIDENTAL FIANCÉE, by Renee Roszel
Published by Harlequin books S.A. Copyright © 2001 by Renee Roszel
Publication Date (USA), March 2001, ISBN # 0-373-03644-2
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