“You told your family we were pre-engaged?”
Baekhyun looked up from the conference table, where he and Kris were knocking back double espressos and doughnuts as they strategized the next step in landing a new account, to find Haerim barrelling down on him, her face a mask of fury.
Too many things hit him at once. First, Haerim was looking about as damn cute as any woman had the right to look, even in an odd get-up of tight army pants, cropped leather jacket, mottled scarf and huge floppy beanie. Next, Haerim’s brow was furrowed, her sultry eyes wild, cheeks pink, lips a deep red—as close as how she looked when she fell apart in his arms as he’d ever seen her in daylight. Lastly, Haerim had apparently been talking to his family.
“Pre-engaged?” Kris repeated, when Baekhyun said nothing at all. Then Kris laughed, the deep sound echoing off the wall of glass enclosing the imposing room.
Haerim’s fiery gaze shot to Kris and she stuck a hand on her hip and nodded. “I know, right? What the hell is pre-engaged anyway? A man made that up, for sure. As a way to get out of ever actually being engaged.”
“You got that right,” Kris said. “If you want a woman you get married. No in between.”
“What kind of bling do you get for being pre-engaged?” Kris asked, turning in his chair to direct that one to Baekhyun, his dark eyes laughing their proverbial asses off. “Semi-precious at best.”
Baekhyun angled his head at Kris then towards the door. Out. Now.
“Oh, no,no,no,” Haerim said, waggling her finger at them both. “Of all the men in this room right now, I like him best. So he can stay. Why not? He might know more about our ‘burgeoning relationship’ than I do.”
Wheels in his head whirring back to life, Baekhyun stood, planted his hands on the table with a thump, and said, “Enough, Haerim. Calm down. Sit.”
“Excuse me?” she said, her eyes like twin flints.
He should have known better than to tell her to calm down, what with having three sisters, but this woman messed up with his synapses. And hell if seeing her all riled up didn’t turn him on…
He eased back in his chair with a studied air of submission. “Have a doughnut.”
Haerim blinked. Then her eyes cut to the tray of doughnuts on the table beside the mini-espresso machine. She her lips. Once. Enough for Baekhyun to feel it in his groin. Then she shook her head so hard the curls below the edge of her beanie slapped her in the face.
Baekhyun felt Kris wince beside him.
“Sit,” he said again, then after a breath softened it with, “Please? And we’ll talk. Alone.”
Kris dragged his bulk from the chair and ambled out—but not before planting a kiss atop Haerim’s head. And for that Baekhyun wanted to crack him over the head with the nearest chair.
Haerim took a deep breath through flaring nostrils before she sat. Once she did, she seemed to deflate, head in hands, toes just touching the floor, as if she was trying to make herself as small as possible.
Swearing beneath his breath, Baekhyun unclenched his hands from his chair’s armrests and rounded the table, took the seat beside hers. “Start at the beginning. How is it that you were talking to my family at all?”
She drew her hands down her face—eyes smudged, cheeks now devoid of colour, lips turned down at the corners. He actually wished the banshee was back. “The twins rang this morning and invited me out shopping to find a dress for the wedding.”
His sisters. His deal. His fault. He took her hands in his. Compared with his hot fingers they were soft and cool and small. “So you got a dress?”
“I did,” she said, delight flaring in her eyes, colour swarming back to her cheeks, turning up gently at the corners. She’s something, he thought. Like there’s a light inside of her determined to shine no matter what.
She looked up at him then, and breathed in deep, even a little shakily. “Why do they think we’re engaged, Baekhyun?”
“Pre-engaged,” he corrected, unhooking a stray curl from her eyelash. “I have a small idea. Soohyun rang this morning asking about you, about how things were going.”
He’d been standing in his bedroom doorway at the time, wondering whether or not to wake Haerim. She’d been curled up in his bed asleep, hands tucked under her chin, knees drawn to her chest, toes coiled around one another, her riot of hair splayed across his dark pillow, her soft lips parted, her face clear.
He shifted imperceptibly on his chair and said, “I might have told her something along the lines of ‘they’re going in the right direction.’”
Haerim breathed again—a little more shakily, a little deeper.
He continued. “Then one of them—Jihyun, probably—called and asked when the ‘Save the Date’ cards were on their way and I said I had no clue what she was talking about. She explained, I said she was a good couple of steps ahead of herself and—“
“She took a natural two steps back and landed on pre-engaged.”
“So it seems. The others were persistent, but at least they are vaguely sensible. I’m not sure where I went wrong with her.”
Haerim turned his hands over and gave them a little squeeze. She must have hit a nerve, because warmth shot through him with all the subtlety of a bolt of electricity.
“Baekhyun, I like your family, and I’m not sure how I feel about lying to them anymore. Fudging a few dates is one thing, but engaged?” She looked into the huge bag on her shoulder and pulled out a folded piece of paper. A cheque. Rumpled at the edges as if she’d worried at it some. “If you could wait a couple of months before banking it…”
As realisation hit panic swelled inside him. He clapped his hand around hers. “No!”
“Baekhyun.” She said, her eyes beseeching.
“Do you want more money?” Her head rose so slowly he knew he’d said the wrong thing. “I take that back.”
“I can’t believe you just said that!”
He ran a hand up the back of his hair. “Me either. I’m sorry. It’s just…this was meant to be simple.”
“And it’s not, is it?” she asked, looking him right in the eye.
Brave girl. Braver than he. He gave himself a mental shake and simply refused to go there.
“Our initial contract was fulfilled the moment you stepped over my mother’s threshold.”
“I mean it. All I really wanted them to believe was that I was seeing someone. You made that happen. Every moment from that point on was above and beyond.”
“So the wedding…?”
A moment hovered in front of him—a moment during which he could have thanked her for her efforts and sent her on her w