She had definitely done the right thing by calling a halt to their fledgling lovemaking session.
That didn’t mean he didn’t go to bed with chattering teeth and a core temperature a few degrees lower than normal from the cold shower he used to temporarily suppress his unruly libido. Just as he drifted off to sleep, the image of her as she had been lying on the bed beside him—not even undressed—was enough to send his erection back to life and leave him in an aching, sleepless state for the rest of the night.
“He’s been cheating on you,” said Brenda with a purr of satisfaction as she slammed a handful of tabloid papers down on the table in front of Angelina. Her pleasure was evident in the way she smirked from her perch towering over where Angelina sat at the table in the airport, awaiting Connor’s arrival.
For just a brief moment, her stomach squeezed with dread as she braced herself to see unpleasant proof of Connor’s relationships. Brenda couldn’t know that he wouldn’t technically be cheating, though she was going to be angry with him if there was some truth to the rumors, simply because they were enacting this whole charade for his father’s benefit, and having Connor outed as a cheater wouldn’t be beneficial to anyone. Unless he was setting it up as her out for ending the relationship before their marriage in eight days?
The pictures were lurid, all right, and featured Connor in a serious lip lock with a vivacious redhead. She didn’t like looking at the pictures, though she did not examine too deeply why that was, and instead turned her attention to the headline, which screamed:
Playboy Racer Cheats On Fiancée Two Weeks Before He Pops The Question
She skimmed the article briefly, quickly realizing the photos were from a tryst in which Connor had indulged two weekends before he had been maneuvered into proposing to her to placate his father. With a cool expression, she looked up at Brenda. “Is that all?”
Brenda frowned, clearly having expected a greater reaction. “It’s in all those different papers, and I was promised…I’ve heard it’s going to be in even more.”
Her eyes narrowed as she scanned the next paper, this one featuring an exotic-looking woman from Connor’s last trip to Brazil, almost two months ago. As she went through the gossipy article, her gaze grew even narrower when she ran across a suspicious quote that she read aloud, “A friend of the family confides that Connor’s fiancée was unknown to the family until the weekend of the engagement party. The source speculates there’s more to do with dollar signs than affection in their union.”
With a grimace of disgust, she shook her head at Brenda. “I’m sure I have no trouble guessing who the close family source was.” She scowled as another idea occurred to her. “And probably the source of that leak when reporters somehow got the impression Connor had beaten me when Kevin hit me on accident.” She felt bad for a moment, since she had assumed it was one of the women Carly had brought into her home, but could see the confirmation of her guess in Brenda’s startled expression. “Do you really think any of this is going to end our engagement, Brenda?”
With the other woman’s evil machinations, it was tempting to just throw caution to the wind and show up the day of the ceremony. That would be her only reason, of course. After all, she and Connor had been very careful to dance around each other the last week-and-a-half, carefully avoiding alone time and physical contact as much as possible. It had certainly made things easier. In fact, she was barely attracted to him at all.
And she was the world’s biggest liar, especially when trying to get herself to believe that nonsense. With a sigh, she returned her focus to Brenda.
“If you really loved him, you’d care that he was cheating on you before you got engaged.”
“Our relationship, and what it was before our engagement, is none of your business. What are you even doing here? I’m waiting for Connor to arrive so we can fly to Monaco for the next grand prix—.” She barely held back a groan of dismay as it struck her why the other woman might be there. “Don’t tell me you managed to wrangle an invitation?”
Brenda smiled at her—a cold, fleeting grimace more than a cheerful expression of delight. “I don’t really need to wrangle an invitation, as you put it. I’m practically like a sister to Connor, and you’re the interloper here, not me. In fact, I’m certain if I told Connor just how rude you’ve been to me, that would be enough to disrupt your engagement.” She said the last word like it was a foul expletive.
Her anger was rising, but she did her best to hide any reaction. Brenda seemed to thrive on drama, so she wasn’t going to do anything to feed the beast. “You’re welcome to try.” If she had truly been engaged to Connor, she probably would have felt some real anxiety at the idea of Brenda trying to come between them, since she had seen for herself how close the two were. Connor regarded her with sisterly affection, but he clearly had no clue what kind of scheming hag lurked beneath the coldly angelic exterior.
It wasn’t up to her to shatter his delusions, thankfully, and since she wasn’t actually marrying Connor, it shouldn’t matter to her anyway. She just had to get through the next eight days, and then she wouldn’t have to see Brenda ever again. She was thankful for that, because she could well imagine the other woman’s gloating when it sank in that Angelina wasn’t walking down the aisle, and had in fact jilted Connor Blackwell.
Fortunately, Connor arrived then and saved her the energy of deflecting Brenda’s negativity. Angelina told herself she was simply amused, not at all jealous, when Brenda greeted Connor first by throwing herself against him in a tight hug and kissing his cheeks in a very European fashion. It would have been more European if her lips hadn’t accidentally grazed the corner of Connor’s mouth as she pulled away. The woman was blatantly throwing herself at Connor, and the man was too blind to see it.
If she’d had a slightly larger capacity for compassion when it came to Brenda, she probably would’ve felt sorry for her. She almost snorted aloud at the thought.
A second later, Connor pulled free from Brenda and walked over to Angelina, who stood up from the chair at the table where she had been waiting for him. He took her hand in his, and she denied the spark that shot up her arm from his gentle touch. She tried to rein in her reaction when he pressed his lips against hers in a tender gesture. She knew it was for appearance sake, and she also understood he kept it light to avoid the temptation of what had happened to them last time they had indulged in a real kiss.
Still, it took everything she had not to grasp the lapels of his sport coat and press her body against his as she devoured his mouth with hers. They hadn’t seen each other for two days, and that occasion had been for wedding business, which meant they were surrounded by people—a relief, but also frustrating as hell.
“Are you ready for Monaco?”
She smiled, her stomach fizzing with excitement. “Yes I am.” It was another place she had never been, which was unsurprising. Her passport was about to acquire another stamp to join the ones from their trip to Barcelona, and another stamp from a trip to Mexico with a group of girlfriends a few years ago, before Granny had passed away.
She clutched his hand and walked beside him, wishing Brenda would magically get lost in the crowd, or perhaps be detained by TSA as a suspicious person. Very briefly, she entertained the petty idea of tipping them off, but managed to take the mature route of reining in the impulse when she had the chance to speak to a TSA agent.
She was proud of her restraint, especially since Brenda’s voice grated on her like nails on a chalkboard, and the woman never shut up. She seemed to be going out of her way to deliberately antagonize Angelina, and she wondered how Connor c
ould be so oblivious to the other woman’s annoying attitude.
Once again, she reminded herself it wasn’t her problem once their engagement ended in eight days. She could deal with Brenda for eight days off and on, couldn’t she? Surely, it would be no more irritating than a blister in her shoe, or perhaps coming down with a case of Ebola Zaire. She barely bit back a giggle of the thought, forcing herself to appear serious as she went through the security checkpoint and joined Connor on the other side. She was surprised they weren’t taking a private jet this time, but he had shared in passing that his father was using the family plane, so they were taking first-class instead.
It was a rough life the Blackwells lived, she thought with a small grin as she settled into her first-class seat almost an hour later. She had a feeling she could get used to all this, but she also knew she could walk away just as easily. If only it would be as easy to walk away from Connor as it was the trappings of his lifestyle, she wouldn’t have any doubts or concerns about the next eight days, culminating in the jilting at the wedding.
Monaco was a sparkling jewel, as she had expected. Surrounded by brilliant blue water, it was a welcome sight raising from the sea. They had booked a suite in the casino, and fortunately, Brenda hadn’t managed to find a way to stay with them in their suite. Of course she had arranged to be at the same hotel, and even on the same floor, Angelina noted with a grimace as they all got off the elevator on the same floor.
It had been a long flight, and her earlier amusement comparing Brenda to Ebola Zaire had faded to resentment as she’d dealt with the woman’s never-ending chatter. When Brenda suggested they all grab dinner, she shook her head, not having to feign a yawn. It was playing into Brenda’s scheme, but she just couldn’t endure another moment with the other woman. “Why don’t you two go ahead? I’m just worn out from the travel.”
Brenda clicked her tongue, looking sympathetic. “Of course you are. I bet you’ve never flown so far before.”