“No fucking way in hell.”
Ava walked over to sit on the edge of the rumpled bed. “What’s going on with you?”
“Bullshit. Talk to me.”
Chase crossed his arms over his chest. “You wanna hit the pricey stores on Fifth Avenue tomorrow? Fine. That’s your thing. Not mine. I’m sure you have girlfriends who’d love to shop with you for a few hours while you’re in town. You’ve probably already lined up a car service. You don’t need me. And you shouldn’t expect me to trail behind you, carrying your bags and standing around like a fucking idiot while you’re pawing though purses.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You’re too manly for that?”
He rolled to his feet on the opposite side of the bed. “Yes. And you’d be wise to remember I ain’t a lap dog like Jake neither.” He slammed the bedroom door behind him and grabbed another beer—his third of the night.
Christ. He should’ve known. Ava Dumond was fine being with a dirty rodeo cowboy in his world, but when it came to Ava Cooper’s world, he didn’t measure up. She intended to turn him into a slick-haired, suit-and-tie-wearing, shopping-for-fucking-shoes pussy.
Screw that. Just to be ornery, Chase dug out his big Man of Steel championship belt buckle and threaded it through the belt loops of his Wranglers. He’d considered leaving his cowboy hat in the room, but that too, was part of who he was, so on it went.
He’d finished half his beer when Ava emerged from the bedroom. The woman embodied hot sin in tight white pants, a gauzy shirt draped over a cleavage-enhancing silver-sequined tank top. She hadn’t worn ankle-breaking stilettos to spite him, which was a plus. His eyes roved over her. “Goddamn you look fantastic.”
“Compliments won’t negate your shitty attitude.”
Chase held his beer bottle aloft. “Booze might.”
Ava’s laugh was laced with exasperation.
He crossed the room and kissed her soundly. “I don’t like fighting with you, Hollywood. Let’s go have us a burger.”
A car service delivered them to db Bistro Moderne. Ava approached the hostess stand. “Reservations for Cooper.”
Of course the reservation was for Cooper.
The host, a scrawny, pimple-faced Mexican kid, grinned. “We’re so pleased you’ve chosen to dine with us tonight, Miss Cooper. I was such a huge fan of Miller’s Ridge.”
“Thank you. That’s so sweet.”
“Could I trouble you for an autograph?”
“I’d love to sign one. I’ll swing by on our way out.”
The kid beamed. “Right this way.”
From what Chase could see, the restaurant was tiny—ten tables total. The walls were plastered with brightly colored paintings. Music blared but didn’t mask the din. The host led them to a table directly in front of the windows. Talk about being in a fishbowl. Since it was the only seating available, it wouldn’t do any good to complain.
“Can I bring you a beverage from our bar, Miss Cooper?”
“A Stoli martini, extra dirty.”
“Excellent choice. And for you, sir?”
Weird. He didn’t know Ava drank martinis. Seemed there was a lot he didn’t know about her. “Do you have a beer list?”
“No sir. We don’t serve beer.”
Chase managed not to blurt, No beer in a burger joint? He said, “Chivas on the rocks. A double.” Before he opened the menu to check whether this place even served burgers made of meat, Ava placed her hand over the top of his.
“Do you trust me to order for you?”
This was a test. He thought back to the night they’d eaten at the supper club. She’d allowed him to order for her, so she obviously expected the same courtesy. “Sure. But no—”
“Fish. Got it.”
She ordered. When their drinks arrived Ava raised her glass for a toast. “To having fun in the Big Apple.”
He clinked his glass to hers and drank, but he couldn’t tear his gaze away from her face. The lighting gave her an extra golden glow.
“You’re staring at me.”
“Because you’re beautiful.”
Goddamn he loved it when she blushed. “C’mere.”
She leaned across the table until they were nose to nose. “What?”
“This.” Chase angled his head and pressed his mouth to hers, memorizing the shape, softness and taste of her lips beneath his. He let the kiss linger, didn’t use his tongue, only parted his mouth slightly and rubbed his lips over hers twice before he eased back.
They didn’t speak as they took in the ambiance of the restaurant and gazed out the window. Seemed to take forever until their food arrived. His burger had gooey stuff in the middle that tasted like his Aunt Caro’s goose liver spread. The meat was juicy, but the burger would’ve been better with a layer of mustard, onions and pickles—in his opinion.
Ava only ate half of hers and declined dessert and coffee.
The server dropped the bill at Chase’s elbow. He automatically opened it and looked at the damages.
Holy. Fucking. Shit.
“Chase. Gimme that.”
He gaped at her. “A hundred bucks? For one hamburger?”
Ava snatched the check from him. “I told you I was buying.”
“You didn’t tell me you were buying me the most expensive burger in New York.”
“It’s not the most expensive. I said it was the best. There’s a restaurant on Wall Street that has one that costs more than this.”
“Seriously? You almost coulda bought a cow for what you paid for two burgers.”
“Let it go.”
But Chase couldn’t help but think… Hell, he had no freakin’ idea what Ava was thinking, bringing him here, paying that much for what oughta cost six bucks, max. With fries.
The server returned with her credit card and the receipt.
“You ready?” she asked tightly.
The outside air wasn’t as chilly as her attitude.
Your fault. Fix it.
Chase wrapped his arm around her waist instead and pulled her against his body. “I’m not an ingrate. Thank you for supper, Ava.”
“But just so you know? Forking out a hundred bucks and change for a burger don’t guarantee that I’m putting out for you tonight.”
She laughed, called him a redneck, and all was good between them.
But Chase knew it wouldn’t always be that easy.
Chase left the room early to work out. She was editing the video images of the first time she’d taped Ryan riding, when her cell rang. “Hey, Han. You’re up early.”
“Don’t remind me. How’s New York?”
She stopped resizing images. “How’d you know I was in New York?”
“Courtesy of the New York City newspaper Talk of the Town, which contacted me at five a.m. for a comment on Ava Cooper’s newest squeeze. Apparently you were spotted out and about last night.”
“Yeah. See for yourself. The picture of you and cowboy dude is online.”
“Then maybe no one will see—”
“And it’s in the print version too. I was already up and headed to Booksoup for all the trade rags.”
How had that happened so quickly? Ava remembered Chase’s concern last night when she’d mentioned Jason calling for reservations for them. Chase’s distrust of Jason wasn’t surprising; Chase didn’t trust anyone. With good reason. But Ava refused to believe Jason would violate her privacy. Most likely the host or waitstaff from the restaurant had contacted the press. She squinted at the picture of her and Chase, taken through the restaurant window, right when he’d kissed her.
It’d been a beautiful, sweet moment between them. Not something to be exploited. Something else occurred to her. “Did they give his name?”
“Not yet. But it’ll only be a matter of time. And everyone in the press knows where you stay in New York. Call me later.”
Ava couldn’t suggest Hannah leak Chase’s identity to end speculation. She wasn’t sure which bothered her more. Admitting Chase was right in reminding her they were supposed to lay low? Or that she thrived on the attention and she’d lived in the spotlight so long she missed it when it wasn’t an almost daily part of her life.
No. She didn’t want to court trouble. Or speculation. She wanted a normal life where no one cared if she kissed the man she loved, in a restaurant in one of the biggest cities in the world.
That truth shook her to the core. In showing Chase her world, she understood she didn’t want to live in it all the time anymore. But she’d seen the guarded look in his eye. Would Chase even believe her?
Her phone buzzed in her hand again and the name on the caller ID shouldn’t have surprised her, but it did. Ava answered, “Hello, Petra.”
“I can’t believe I had to find out from a trashy rag like Talk of the Town that you’re here.”
“Our plan to have a quiet couple of days was blown the first night.”
“You’ve been off the grid, darling. People are curious when you resurface. Anyway. How are you?”
“Can’t complain. What’s new with you?”
“I’ve volunteered way too much time to my charities, but I simply don’t know how they’d survive without me, so I continue to raise money and Arthur continues to complain about it.” She laughed. “He’s been in California more than you have in the last month.”
“I bet that makes you crazy.”
“Yes. I don’t miss LA at all. Anyway, I assume you’re not jetting off today?”
“Good. It just so happens I’m throwing a little cocktail party tonight at the apartment and I’d love for you to come.”