He wanted to deliver, that wasn’t the problem. The more time he spent with her, the more he realized how much he loved being with her. She was smart and fun. She inspired him creatively.
The sex was incredible.
All right, sex in general was incredible—women were usually intent on gratifying him, willing to do anything to get their one night with Micah Preston. But he’d forgotten what it felt like to be on the other side, wanting to satisfy someone else with such an ache that his own pleasure became irrelevant. How long had it been since he’d gotten to know a woman’s body so intimately that he could play her like an accomplished musician, knowing exactly where to stroke and caress to make her sing?
And then she learned him too, and he didn’t have to tell her what to do. She pleased him out of genuine desire to share and connect, not because he was a Hollywood star.
It was the emotional component that boggled him. It frightened and thrilled him to feel whatever it was he felt for Maddie. He cared for her, appreciated her, adored her. She changed him. Made him believe things about himself, about the possibilities of a future that he hadn’t believed in before.
He’d almost said he loved her. And then she did say it. In bed—did that count? With Maddie, he was pretty sure it did.
Though he hadn’t told Maddie yet, he knew that the end of the production wouldn’t be the end of them. It couldn’t be. He had to be with her beyond Colorado. He’d talk about it with her soon. That night, maybe. It was such a major move for him, he had to prepare for it. And he still had five days to work it out. He didn’t need to worry about it right this second. Especially not with a reporter sitting in front of him, watching his every move.
Had she asked him something? “I’m sorry. I’m not usually so distracted. I had a late night.” A late night of lovemaking. He shifted, recalling it, giving himself more room in his pants.
“Oh, a late night?” Ariahn abandoned whatever question she’d just asked and redirected. “That’s right, we were originally scheduled to meet yesterday, but my assistant said you had something come up. Sightseeing, wasn’t it?”
Micah stiffened. He hadn’t mentioned his adventure with Maddie to anyone. He answered cautiously. “Yeah, I did some sightseeing. Figured it was my last chance since the shoot’s almost over.”
“A hot air balloon is certainly the way to see Colorado.”
Shit. Thank God he was wearing sunglasses—hopefully they hid his panic. Who let it leak? It had to be a member of the balloon’s crew. How much had the source said? Had they mentioned Maddie? How could they not mention Maddie? What should he say now?
He took a swallow of his coffee and looked over at the set nearby, hoping it was time for filming to resume. Bruce was still adjusting lights, though. Damn, he wasn’t getting out of this interview yet.
He moved his attention back to Ariahn who was peering at him intently. He cocked his head, deciding to play dumb. “Oh, are you waiting for me to answer? I didn’t realize it was a question.”
“I guess it wasn’t.” Ariahn picked up her bag and rifled through it. “Here’s a question though.” She pulled out several sheets of paper and laid them on the table between them. “Who’s this attractive young woman that Hollywood’s most eligible bachelor has been hanging out with recently?”
Micah felt the blood drain from his face as he examined the papers in front of him. They were low-quality photos, obviously printed off the internet, four of them in total. Three pictures were of him and Maddie getting into the basket of the hot air balloon. One of the crew must have taken them with his phone. How had he not noticed? The fourth was from the Breckenridge Film Festival. That one didn’t surprise him. In fact, none of it surprised him. He knew the press would find out about her eventually. They always did.
He wasn’t ready for this.
Several possible responses whirled through his mind, each with a different set of consequences. A big part of him said he should just claim her as his. Tell Ariahn that Maddie was his girlfriend and deal with the aftermath later.
But he hadn’t talked to Maddie about it and that wouldn’t be fair to her. He needed to have this conversation with her first. Tell her how he felt. Work out with her how they would move forward.
Besides, there would be an inevitable media circus. Once it was out that they were a couple, every decision they made would be under the microscopic eye of his fans and the paparazzi. It would add an incredible amount of strain to their relationship. Maddie’s private life would be destroyed. They’d pounce on her, follow her wherever she went, dig up all of her past, lie about her. Hurt her.
They’d find out about her history with Joss Beaumont. That could harm her chances at a directing career. Hell, it could harm his own career.
Did she even realize that’s what dating him meant? Why hadn’t he talked to her about the press? Prepared her? He was such an idiot, trying to keep their romance in a bubble.
And when her movie came out—and it would eventually, he’d see to it—her brilliance would be overlooked because she was Micah Preston’s girlfriend. People would say that was the only reason she’d gotten her movie picked up before they even saw it.
At that moment, he hated the press more than he ever had. Because they forced him to keep Maddie a secret, whether he wanted to or not.
He processed all of this in a matter of seconds. “Ah, Maddie Bauers. Yeah, she’s on the crew of this show.” He removed his sunglasses and met the reporter’s eyes, hoping to come across sincere. “She’s also a writer/director and we’ve been talking about working on a project together.”
Ariahn looked skeptical. “In a hot air balloon?”
“Only place I’m not followed by paparazzi.” Yeah, it was vague, but it was also charming.
“Yes, the paparazzi.” Ariahn smirked. “Oh, I forgot—I have one more.” She uncovered another sheet of paper she had tucked under the others. This one was taken in the lobby of the Buell. He and Maddie were lip-locked in one of the most heart-searing kisses of his lifetime. The usher. It had to be.
Goddammit. Why did everyone have to have camera phones nowadays?
Though he liked the look of them together like that.
This one was the hardest to deny. This one almost made him ignore all the reasonable arguments and claim Maddie as his right then and there.
“This looks like more than a meeting about a project,” Ariahn prodded.