Beauty and the Bachelor


“How long have you and Tyler Reinhold been engaged?” Lucas asked.

Surprised, Sydney glanced up, the spoon she’d been stirring with still clasped in her fingers. “Not long,” she said, silently scolding herself. She should have no problem talking about her fiancé. This was an outing because of an auction, not a regular date. Lucas wasn’t enamored with her, no matter what her overactive imagination might have conjured. She cleared her throat. “We’ve been together for a year, though.”

“He seems very protective of you. Not that I can blame him. Auction or not, if you were mine, I wouldn’t have let you fly to another city with a man who wasn’t me.”

If you were mine. She highly doubted he’d claimed any woman as his. That would be too permanent. “I don’t belong to him like a piece of real estate with a deed,” she snapped. And immediately hated the display of irritation. Because the description pretty much summed up her arrangement with Tyler. Theirs wasn’t a love match; they were an amicable, companionable merger. And she preferred it that way…damn it.

A small smile played across his sensual mouth. “You don’t like idea of belonging to a man, Sydney? The idea of knowing beyond a certainty that he’s claimed you so thoroughly, your body’s marked by him, your blood heats for him and him alone? The idea that you’re his, and if any man even looks in your direction, he’s taking his life into his own hands?”

“No,” she breathed. She didn’t. He described everything she was afraid of—blind passion, possession, jealousy. So why did the heat pouring through her like a stream of lava brand her a liar? “Would you want that with a woman? You don’t seem like the kind of man who would appreciate or tolerate a jealous, possessive woman.”

He arched an eyebrow. “I wouldn’t. And I agree with you. I don’t want what I just mentioned. I prefer a relationship of respect with someone who is independent, has her own interests. Someone who understands I don’t work a nine-to-five and is content with that. Desire is easy—lust easier. More than a lover, I want a woman who can hold her own in a social situation or a boardroom as well as the bedroom.”

“And love? I noticed love wasn’t included on your list.”

“No,” he said flatly, something too fleeting and shadowed to decipher flashing in his eyes. “It wasn’t. Which brings me to my next question, Sydney.”

He leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers under chin. His intense gaze ensnared her, refused to free her, even though she desperately wanted to avoid the piercing scrutiny. The conversation had left her off-kilter, his cold, matter-of-fact analysis of his desired relationship unsettling. Even though he’d echoed what she and Tyler had. What she was pledging her life to as Mrs. Reinhold.

She reached for her coffee, desperate for a distraction from him…from her own thoughts.

“Yes? What is it?”

“Marry me.”

It wasn’t a question.