“You’ll be surprised how quickly our relationship will progress when there are no silly pretenses. We come together knowing what the other’s expectations are, so it makes things easier, more relaxed. Our time together is so much more enjoyable because our only motives are to enjoy each other’s company. There’s no pressure and it’s … fantastic.”
I guess there isn’t any pressure when he knows I’m a sure thing.
Damn, he’s no nonsense and doesn’t hesitate in getting right down to business, although I haven’t agreed to any of this. “Of course.”
He smiles. “Good. We’ll still use condoms. I’m more comfortable with two forms of birth control since none of them are a hundred percent. I don’t want you leaving here with my ankle-biter in your belly.”
As the child of a single mother, I neither want nor need a child. I catch a rigor thinking about it. “Definitely not.”
Casual sex. Can I do this? At least when I was sleeping with Blake, I thought I loved him. As beautiful as he is, I don’t know if I can be intimate with Lachlan when I feel no love for him. Hell, I don’t even know him, but he says I will. And soon, it seems. “Is it difficult to end the relationship when it’s over?”
He’s so casual about the whole thing. “I’ve never had a problem with it. There’s no kind of attachment because we’re not together long enough, and we’re both aware of how things will end.”
But we wouldn’t be together for three to four weeks like his other relationships. We’d be together for three months. That seems like a big difference to me, but what do I know? I’m not the one who has done this before.
“So, in all that time, I wouldn’t meet your friends or family?”
“No. Meeting those people who are closest to me is too complicated. It would be impossible for you to meet them without learning who I am, and I don’t want the task of lying to them about what we are to each other.”
“So, they’d never know I existed. Of course, that makes sense.” I swallow hard. Am I really thinking of agreeing to this total madness? To becoming someone else’s secret? Haven’t I played that part enough already?
“Are you accepting? Because it sounds like you are.” His intense blue eyes smolder, begging me to tell him I will be his for the next three months.
“I’m not saying yes yet.”
He wants this badly. “The only thing I’m agreeing to do is spend time with you. We’ll see how things go from there.”
He beams. “I need something to call you besides Yank or American girl.”
If I don’t know his real name, he doesn’t deserve to know mine. I try to think on my feet, but it’s hard to come up with an alias I’d like to be called for the next three months. I go with my middle name and my sperm donor’s last name. “Paige Beckett.”
He reaches across the table and strokes my fingers with his, igniting a swarm of butterflies low in my gut. “It’s very nice to meet you, Paige Beckett.”
I already see Paige Beckett isn’t going to make this easy for me. The others never made me wait for an answer. This is something new, but I like the thrill of not knowing. I don’t need to hear her say yes tonight because working to win her over is going to be so much more fun.
Everyone knew me as Jack, but my mother called me Jack Henry my whole life, so I go with something that feels familiar. “Lachlan Henry.”
I’ve never used a name so similar to my real one, but I know why this is a first. Being coy with myself is useless; I don’t want to hear her shout another man’s name when I make her come. I want to hear her say my name, or at least some semblance of it.
I smile as I think about the things I will do to hear her call out my name. “And how old are you, Miss Beckett?”
“What!” There is no way she’s seventeen. I inspect her face, studying it intently, but don’t know what it is I hope to find. Laugh lines maybe?
She watches my face. “Is my age a problem for you?”
“Hell, yeah, seventeen is a problem.” I throw my napkin on the table. All of this has been a waste. “Forget it all. This whole thing is off.”
“I don’t act seventeen. I’m very mature for my age.”
“No way. You’re not even old enough to be drinking that wine.” I lean in and whisper so no one will overhear. “I’m almost twice your age.”
“I don’t mind. I have daddy issues.” She breaks into a huge grin and I hear a girlish giggle. That’s when I realize she’s fucking with me and has the ability to lie with a straight face. I’ll have to remember that for future reference.
I’m not amused. “I see I have a comedienne on my hands.”
She’s still smiling, seemingly pleased by my sharp reaction. “I’m not really, but you walked right into that one and I couldn’t resist. Relax, I’m twenty-two, at least until the groundhog comes out in search of his shadow. How old are you?”
None of the women I’ve been with have been playful like she is. Since I always choose older women, she’s quite a bit younger than what I’m used to. At least fifteen years. Maybe twenty. Will she wonder if I’m too old for her the same way I’m wondering if she’s too young for me? “I’ll be thirty next month. Is that a problem for you?”
“Nope. I hope to be thirty in about eight years.”
All right, Jack. You could have your hands full with this one. Are you ready for her and what she could bring?
“Are you in school or do you have a profession?”
Oh, that explains why she sings and plays the guitar so well. “I heard you at the club the other night.”
“I didn’t know if you were there when I sang.”
I decline telling her I was the guy sitting in the corner being a creepy stalker. “You’re very good. I’ve never heard ‘Crash Into Me’ sound quite like that before. I won’t forget it anytime soon.”
She blushes like she’s not used to hearing compliments. “Thank you. It was a pretty big coincidence that we ended up at the same vintage dinner after running into each other at the club.”
Should I tell her how I worked everything out so I could see her again? Oh, why not? “I don’t think it can be called a coincidence since I already knew you were going to be there. I paid my waitress to find out if you’d be accompanying your friend’s brother.”
She gawks at me. “So, that’s why that waitress was so damn nosy?”
I smile with pride. “Yes, and I arranged for your friend’s wine to be temporarily misplaced so I could lure him away from you. You do realize he’s quite smitten with you?”
I notice the way she chooses to not acknowledge my comment about her roommate’s attraction and I wonder if she is well versed in the game of manipulation as well. “I prefer to call it determination.”
“And are you always that determined to get what you want?”
I go to extreme measures to have my way, but I think I’ll keep that to myself. “Within reason.”
“I’m not certain I want to hear anymore about the tactics you use to get what you want.” That’s probably a wise choice.
I decide to let her choose our new topic of conversation. “So, what would you like to hear about?”
She shifts her attention to the glass of wine in her hand. “Tell me more about what you do in the wine industry.”
That is an easy one. I can recite this in my sleep. “My employer owns a vast majority of the wineries across Australia and New Zealand. You can call me his right-hand man. I travel from vineyard to vineyard to oversee everything from the books to the harvest.”
She nods. “I see. Do you have family?”
“Yes.” She’s waiting for more of an answer, but I don’t budge.
“Do you see them often?”
“I visit when I’m in between vineyards.”
She gives me a quizzical look. “This is like pulling teeth with you. I just want to understand you better. I’m not asking you to tell me anything identifying.”
None of the other women were interested in knowing about my family, so I’m not well prepared for how to answer. “My oldies live outside Sydney. I have a younger brother. He’s married and has two little girls. I also have a younger sister still living at home. She’s a year younger than you and studies at a culinary institute.” That’s all she’s getting from me. “What about your rellies?”
“It’s just my mom and me.”
She doesn’t have a father? “What about your old man?”
Maybe it’s not fair of me to ask since I’m unwilling to share much about my family, but I want to know her story. “I don’t have anywhere to be.”
She looks like she’s settling in for a long explanation. “My mom was a rising musician when she got pregnant with me. My sperm donor was a famous country music star. They met when my mom signed with his label.” She shrugs. “He was married so they started having an affair. His wife didn’t take too well to finding out about her husband’s pregnant mistress, especially since she was pregnant too. I have a half-brother I’ve never met and he’s almost the exact same age as I am. Isn’t that charming?”
She lifts her wine glass to her mouth. “So, as you can see, I wasn’t joking when I said I had daddy issues.”
“That’s why you immediately asked me if I was married.”
She’s pushing food around her plate. “It’s only one of the reasons.”