She made a face.
It was why he’d come after her and made her suffer the indignity of that kiss. That arrogant, I-am-the-Lord-of-the-castle-and-you-are-my-wench kiss, which, she knew, hadn’t been a kiss at all. It had been a stamp of dominance. Of humiliation. It had been Slade’s way of getting even, of telling her just what he thought of her—and it had almost worked.
Caught off guard, she’d been easy prey. That was why she’d let him get away with mauling her. Oh, if only she’d had time to make a recovery. Slapped him. Cracked him in the jaw. Better still, put her knee right where it counted.
Lara gave a deep sigh and reached for the telephone.
Amazing, the effect Slade Baron had on her. She was a woman who’d once bought a have-a-heart trap rather than send a rodent to Mouse Heaven, and now she’d spent the best part of the past two weeks lying in bed at night, drifting off to sleep while she thought of ingenious ways—painful ways—to dispose of the insufferable Mr. Baron.
It just infuriated her that she’d stood there and seemed to tolerate his kissing her. If only she’d had time to think. She wouldn’t have felt so helpless, wouldn’t have heard that roaring in her ears. She definitely wouldn’t have ended up clutching his jacket as if her knees had been threatening to give way…
Dammit, why lie to herself? Her knees had threatened to give way. Slade’s kiss had turned her inside out. All he had to do was touch her, and she forgot why she hated him. The macho arrogance. The pathetic male fear of commitment. Not that she wanted commitment from him or any other man but still, she’d never forget that smarmy little speech he’d made while she lay in his arms, all about how great it had been and how they’d have to try to get together sometime…
Lara shut her eyes.
Not that she hadn’t deserved it. What she’d done—sleeping with a stranger—had been wrong. Never mind her motives. It had been wrong. Cheap. Immoral. Ugly…
“Stop it,” she said sharply, and punched in the number for her home telephone. Mrs. Krauss answered on the first ring.
“It’s me,” Lara said. “How’s my guy?” She listened, smiled and felt her spirits lifting. “That’s lovely,” she said, and turned her back to the door. “Yes, please. Let me speak to him.”
She waited, and then her smile grew soft.
“Michael? How are you, sweetheart?”
“Ma-ma-ma,” nine-month-old Michael babbled, and Lara’s heart melted as she heard the voice of her son.
“That’s right, darling. It’s Mama. Have you been a good boy today?”
Michael babbled more nonsense sounds, and Lara laughed.
“I miss you, too, my love. I’m sorry I won’t be there to have dinner with you but I promise, we’ll have the whole weekend alone. Mmwah,” she said, making a kissing sound into the phone. “I’ll give you more of those when I get home. In the meantime, remember how much I love you.”
She hung up the phone, sighed with pleasure—and shot to her feet at the slow, mocking sound of applause.
“Isn’t that touching?” a voice drawled.
No, she thought, as she swung around, please, no…
Slade stood in the doorway, arms folded. Her traitorous heart gave a little kick she refused to acknowledge, even as she wondered how much he might have heard.
“Such a charming scene, Ms. Stevens. I’m glad I didn’t miss it.”
Stay calm, she told herself, just stay calm. “What are you doing here?”
His voice was cold, his eyes flat. Her mind scrambled from thought to thought, like a mouse trying to escape from a maze. What had he overheard? And why, dammit, why should seeing him again make it so hard to draw a steady breath?
She fought for composure, found at least the trappings of it and looked straight into his eyes.
“I asked you a question, Slade. What are you doing here?”
“Why, Sugar. Is that any way to treat a colleague?”
“My door was closed. You didn’t even bother to knock.”
“I knocked. You didn’t answer. And your guard dog isn’t at her desk.” He moved toward her, his gaze locked to hers. “Now it’s your turn. Who’s Michael?”
Don’t back up, Lara told herself. Don’t let him intimidate you.
“He’s—he’s just someone I know.”
Slade laughed. “‘ miss you, too, darling,’” he purred. “‘You just remember how much I love you.” His mouth twisted. “Just someone you know, Sugar? Or another guest in your bed?”
“I don’t owe you any explanations. That was a private conversation. You had no right—”
“How many men have you been with? A dozen? A hundred?” Slade’s brows drew together. Hell, what was he doing? He’d come here on business, not to see this woman. What did he care, if she was getting it on with a guy named Michael? She could sleep with a battalion, for all he gave a damn. She could laugh with every man she knew, get that sweet tone in her voice with the entire male population of Baltimore…
“Dammit,” he snarled, and took the last few steps that brought them face-to-face, “does it turn you on, going from one poor sucker to another?”
“Get out.” Her voice trembled. “Get the hell out of my office!”
“Do us both a favor and cut the dramatics. There’s no audience to enjoy them.”
“Get out or so help me, I’ll have security throw you out!”
Slade smiled thinly. “Maybe you better call your boss first and see how he feels about that.”
“Mr. Dobbs employs me to deal with this company’s finances. He’d never expect me to tolerate your horrible accusations about my private life.”
“They’re not accusations, Sugar. They’re fact.” A muscle knotted in his jaw. She flinched as he reached out and ran his index finger over her mouth. “I can vouch for your morals, baby—or maybe I should say, I can vouch that you haven’t got any. I slept with you, remember? And we didn’t even know each other’s names.”
“Hey, I can’t help it if you don’t like hearing the truth.” Slade’s teeth flashed in a mirthless smile. “Unless banking isn’t what it used to be, I suspect old Ed’s eyes would pop once he heard the story. How you pick up strangers, go to hotels with them and have sex.”
Lara hissed with fury. Her hand arced through the air, but Slade caught her wrist and yanked her arm behind her.
“I don’t give a damn what you do, or who you do it with. It’s just that I have this thing about not wanting to take another man’s leavings. And now that I’ve had time to see you in action, I’m starting to wonder if you weren’t still some poor bastard’s devoted little wife when you slept with me.”
“You’re despicable! You’re the most horrible man I’ve ever known.”
“And I’ll bet you’ve known plenty.” His eyes darkened. “Which takes us back to square one. Who’s Michael?”
Terror raced through her but she didn’t so much as blink. “Michael is none of your business.”
“I don’t agree.”
He tugged her arm higher and she made a little sound in her throat. He knew the pressure was hurting her, that the only way she could lessen it was to move closer to him, and he asked himself, coldly, just what in hell he thought he was doing? He’d never hurt a woman in his life, never wanted to, but, by God, he wanted to do something to this one. Hurt her, the way she’d hurt him when he’d opened the door and heard her all but making love over the telephone to some son of a bitch named Michael. Kiss her, make her remember again how it was to be in his arms, with his mouth hard on hers.
She was close to him now, close enough so he could feel the softness of her breasts, smell the scent that had driven him half-crazy on that long-ago night. There was a look in her eyes that said she was either terrified of him or terrified of what he made her feel and he knew, with heart-stopping swiftness, that he could take her right now, just shove her back against the wall, push up he
r skirt, rip off her panties and enter her. And that she’d cry out in passion when he did.
Except—except, that wasn’t what he wanted.
He didn’t want to take her in anger. He wanted her to come to him, to give herself to him, to say—to say—
He let go of her wrist, took a quick step away. Lara watched as he turned his back to her. His shoulders rose and fell and she knew he was pulling in deep lungfuls of air, just as she was.
He’d almost kissed her. She’d seen it in his eyes, in the sudden angularity of his features. And if he had—if he had…
He swung toward her, his expression grim.
“My apologies, Ms. Stevens.” His tone was as flat as his eyes. “I have no right to sit in judgment on you. You can’t help what you are any more than the sun can help coming up in the morning.”
Lara stared at him. “You know, you’re amazing! You—you pick me up at an airport, seduce me, tell me it’s been nice and hey, maybe we’ll see each other around sometime and now you think you can lecture me?” She gave a shaky laugh. “Sorry, but I don’t see any difference between your actions and mine.”
“The hell there isn’t.” He moved fast, closing the distance between them, grabbing her by the shoulders and half lifting her from her feet. “You’re a junkie, lady. You need to drive a man crazy, make him say things he curses himself for in the middle of the night.” His hands dropped away from her and she stumbled back. “And if you want to sleep with any guy who catches your fancy while you’re involved with some poor sap named Michael, hell, that’s your affair.” His mouth twisted. “But I won’t play that game, Sugar. I don’t rustle another man’s stock.”
“The Baron version of the Golden Rule.” Lara laughed, though tears stung her eyes. “Honestly, I’m impressed. Such morality.”
“Just don’t come on to me again or you’ll regret it. You got that?”
“Me? Come on to you?” Her laughter was real this time, if bitter. “Which one of us just walked through that door and shoved the other against the wall?”
“I did not shove you against—”
“Give me a break, Slade.” Lara slapped her hands on her hips. “I’m not stupid. I know what you were thinking. What you wanted to do.”
“Yeah.” A knowing smile angled across his mouth. “And I could have, Sugar. You would have let me. Hell, you wanted me to do it.”
Lara flushed. “You flatter yourself,” she said stiffly.
“I believe in honesty. I take it you’re familiar with the concept?”
“I’m not going to get drawn into this. Let’s go back to the beginning. Why are you here?”