Home > Work in Progress (Red Lipstick Coalition #3)(11)

Work in Progress (Red Lipstick Coalition #3)(11)
Author: Staci Hart

“I think you’ll be great.”

“Not if I can’t get out of my shell. My therapist tells me I’m not a lost cause, but days like yesterday leave me wondering if it’s worth it. It’d be so much easier to stay inside and order groceries online.”

“You don’t seem nervous now.”

“Well, it must be working then, because I am.” Her nose scrunched again for a nanosecond. “It gets easier the more I’m around someone and the less people are in the room. I was more nervous the second before my knuckles hit your door than I was when the door opened.”

A dozen questions rose in my mind, but before I could find an appropriate one, she said, “So, tomorrow then?”

I packed my thoughts away for later. “The deadline waits for no man.”

She shifted in her seat, her flush still present and eyes touched with worry. Her nerves visibly changed her, and that change was instantaneous. “I…I did need to t-talk to you about something, Mr. Bane. Thomas.”

I sat back on the couch, smirking. “Tommy.”

“Tommy,” she said, testing the word. “I…I wanted to tell you I might have mentioned our…arrangement to Janessa, my boss.”

I sobered immediately. And she must have seen it on my face because when she spoke again, it was hurried and rambling.

“I…it was before your brother sent the NDA. I didn’t know. I should have known, but I didn’t really think, and I wanted you to know she knows. I’m sorry.”

I tried to smile, but the expression was wooden. Janessa Hughes had sicced more than a few reporters at me, including Vivienne Thorne. But my fortune-telling gut took one look at Amelia and knew.

She would never be a stooge for Janessa. The very fact that she’d told me she’d spoken to Janessa was one of a dozen points that whispered that Amelia was honest, trustworthy. Most of those points were undefinable, nothing more than a feeling. But I knew to trust it.

“It’s okay, Amelia. And thank you for telling me. But you won’t be able to speak to her about it again.”

She relaxed, her shoulders softening with her face. “Yes, of course. I wouldn’t dream of it. Truthfully, I’m thankful I have an excuse to keep her off my back.”

“Why’s that?” I asked, my guts tightening.

“Oh, nothing,” she hedged. “She was just very interested in you. Her and half of America.” She laughed gently.

I was instantly uncomfortable. “What’d she say?” I asked, trying to keep the emotion out of my voice.

It must have worked. She was unfazed and smiling. “God, she told me, if I wrote a story about you, got dirt on you for an exposé, she could get me a job editing at a Big Five. Can you believe that?” She chuckled, shaking her head.

“Yes, actually, I can.”

Her smile fell. “I hope you know I’d never…I mean, the second she suggested it, all I could think was, No. I could never be dishonest.”

“Too moral?”

“No. I’m a terrible liar.”

A laugh huffed out of me. “That’s not at all surprising. Your blush spells it out in cursive.”

That flush rose at the mention of it.

“I appreciate your respect of my privacy, Amelia. God knows nobody else does,” I said as I stood, torn between the desire to keep her there and the instinct not to tell her too much.

NDA or no NDA, people talked. Suing her would be no consolation for the betrayal, and it certainly wouldn’t undo any damage done.

Disappointment flashed across her brow at my move to dismiss her, which strangely made me feel better. I found that I liked thinking she wanted to stay, too.

I ignored the fleeting thought that she only wanted to stay because she wanted to pry.

Paranoia—common side effect of getting fucked over. And over. And over.

Amelia packed her notebook and pen away and stood. I thought her body language indicated she was going to step toward the door, so I walked around the coffee table to follow her. But she stopped, reaching into another pocket of her bag with so much concentration, it seemed whatever she was looking for required the full capacity of her brain.

By the time I stopped myself, it was almost too late. I was in her space again, close enough to see the individual hairs on her head and the burst of silver in her irises when she looked up at me.

For a moment, we were caught. Awareness hummed across my skin, in the air between us as she looked up at me, and I looked down at her. I could kiss her. The way her eyes flicked to my lips and hung there, I thought she’d let me.

I almost did. If one more second had passed before my door opened, I would have.

“Gus, wait!”

Those two words were the only warning I had, and they weren’t nearly enough to do a goddamn thing to stop what happened next.

My seventy-pound golden retriever thundered into the room, his nails clacking noisily on the hardwood, his face open and happy, tongue lolling as he bounded toward us. There was no time to shift us, to move Amelia out of the way. All I could do was brace for impact.

Gus jumped like the ill-mannered bastard he was, his paws aiming for my chest. But I was facing Amelia.

Which meant he had to go through her.

He slammed into us, his wiggling, hairy body sandwiching Amelia between us, and down we went. I wrapped my arms around her, shifting to land us on the couch with a squeal from Amelia and an oof out of me.

Gus just slobbered.

He jumped on the couch, standing all over us so he could get to my face, which he licked with panting, humid gusto. Amelia was still squealing, squealing and giggling, curled into my chest with her arms over her face.

“Goddammit, Gus!” I batted him away, and he met the challenge by trying to get at me around my arms. “Down! Get the fuck down!”

His tail wagged harder.

“Augustus!” I said, his full name a command he didn’t ignore.

Not that he was afraid of me. He jumped off the couch like we’d bored him, wagging his tail as he trotted back to the entryway where he’d left his tennis balls. He picked them both up, one lodged so deep in his throat, it was a wonder he didn’t choke.

“Oh my God, Mr. Bane, I am so sorry,” my dog walker, Amanda, panted. “He can’t even handle coming home to you.”

I barely heard her. I was too busy cataloging the feel of Amelia lying on top of me. She unwrapped her head from her arms, eyeing Gus warily as he dropped the outermost ball in his mouth and spent several seconds attempting to pick it up again in his overfull mouth.

Then she looked down at me, her eyes wide and mouth in a little O as her face lit fire.

I swear, the color made her eyes look like slivers of sea glass.

I was smirking. I didn’t care.

She put her small hands on my chest and pushed herself to sit, sliding off my lap with regrettable swiftness. “I…I am so…I’m sorry. I—”

“No, it’s me who’s sorry,” I said as she stood, and I followed, keeping distance between us. For all of our sakes.

“No, it’s me who’s sorry,” Amanda insisted. “I tried to hang on to him, but I think even if I had, he’d have dragged me all the way into the room with him.”

I strode into the entryway where Gus had lain down, still fooling with his tennis balls. “You’re a bad fucking boy, Augustus.”

He looked up at me with his big, dopey eyes and barked. The tennis balls fell out of his mouth, and he was on his feet in a flash, gathering them up again.

I shook my head, turning to Amelia. “Are you all right? You’re not hurt?”

She shook her head back, her eyes darting to Amanda. “I-I’m okay. Thanks. I’m sorry I…well, that I was just…you know, when we fell, and I…”

I chuckled. “Are you kidding? That was the highlight of my day. I should cook Gus a steak dinner.”

At that, my curiosity was almost slaked. She blushed hard enough to teeter, steadying herself on the arm of the couch. And then, to my surprise, she laughed.

I watched her with interest, smiling uncertainly as I tried to figure out what was so funny. Her little face scrunched up, and one hand pressed her lips, the other her stomach.

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