“I have a meeting with your boss.”
“What happened to Mr. Haggerty?”
“He couldn’t make it. And before that female brain of yours leaps to any conclusions, no, I had no idea I’d end up stuck with you. My appointment was with Dobbs. The first I knew you were involved was when I spoke to him a couple of hours ago, from the plane, and he told me he was going to be delayed.”
Lara nodded. There was no way out, not now. Dobbs wasn’t here, which made Slade her responsibility—a responsibility she could certainly handle, now that their animosity for each other was in the open.
“That’s right,” she said briskly. “He’s going to join us at the restaurant.” She glanced at her watch. “I’ve arranged for a taxi. It should be downstairs any minute.”
“Fine.” Slade gave her a long, cool look. It took all her determination not to shuffle her feet.
“I was just thinking how remarkable it was. That you look so businesslike, I mean. So—what’s that old-fashioned word, Sugar? Demure. That’s it. You look demure.” A smile curled over his mouth. “That’s sure as hell not the way you look when I touch you. You go all to pieces, in my arms.”
“You’re flattering yourself, if you think you turn me on.” She knew she was blushing but she wouldn’t give him the pleasure of backing down. “As you so cleverly pointed out, I’m just playing a game. Why don’t you think about that, hmm?”
Her smile, she hoped, was the smug equal of his. Without another word, she strode past him to the door.
* * *
The captain at The Flying Fish smiled brightly when Lara asked to be shown to the Dobbs table.
“Of course, madam. Sir. This way, please.”
The table was outside, on a wide deck overlooking the harbor. The sky was still light but candles already flickered in a silver holder centered on the pale pink tablecloth. It was a romantic setting, not businesslike at all, and Lara paused on the threshold between the main dining room and the deck.
“Is there a problem, madam?”
“I just thought…Do you have a table inside? Where the lighting’s better?”
“I’m sorry, madam, but we don’t. If you’d care to wait in the bar for half an hour or so, we might have something free…?”
“No.” Lara shook her head and told herself to stop being a fool. “No, this will be fine.”
Once they were seated, their waiter offered menus but she declined.
“We’ll wait for the third member of our party to join us,” she said.
“Would you care to order drinks while you wait?”
She began to say no to that, too, and then she thought of what Edwin Dobbs would think about her efforts as hospitality, if she did.
“White wine for me,” she said briskly. “Slade?”
“A beer.” Slade flashed the waiter a smile. “Something dark, if you have it. I’ll go with your recommendation.”
They sat in silence for a moment or two. Then Lara cleared her throat.
“How was your flight?”
“Fine.” His eyes met hers. “No weather delays, no blizzards—”
“Very amusing. It was just a polite question.”
“Ah, I see. We’re going to play this scene with sophistication.”
“Only because we have to.” Lara’s eyes flashed. “Believe me, I’d much rather—I’d rather…”
“Shove me over the railing?” He grinned. “Feed me to the fishes?”
“They’d probably spit you out.” She folded her hands in her lap. “What happened to Mr. Haggerty?”
“Don’t you mean, what did I do to take his place? Shoot him? Chain him to the dungeon floor? Bribe him so I could have the sheer joy of seeing you again?” He reached for a bread stick and took a bite. “I hate to disappoint you, Sugar, but the simple fact is that Jack injured his shoulder playing racquetball this morning.”
“I’ll tell him you said so. Your warmth and concern will touch him as much as deeply as they touch me.”
“Your other partner could have come instead,” Lara said, ignoring his sarcasm.
“My oh my, you do think a lot of yourself.” Slade leaned forward. “What’s going through that head of yours? You think I sabotaged Jack and Teddy, too?” He sat back. “I told you, I came because there wasn’t any choice. Jack did in his shoulder and Ted’s in New York on business. That’s the reason—the only reason—I’m here.”
It was the truth, all right. No way, no how, no time would he have willingly subjected himself to another moment in this babe’s company. What man would, unless he got a kick out of being turned on and off like a lightbulb?
“As far as I’m concerned,” Lara said, glancing at her watch, “the sooner you’re gone, the better.”
“Darlin’, you’re breakin’ my heart. Are you saying you find my company boring?”
“I know this is going to be hard to get your self-centered brain to process, Slade, but there are things I’d rather do than sit here watching you munch your way through the bread sticks.”
“Like cuddling up to—what was his name?”
“What was whose name?”
“The latest man in your life. Michael. That was it, wasn’t it?”
“I told you, I don’t intend to discuss Michael. I don’t intend to talk abou
t my private life at all.”
“You’re the one who brought him into the conversation, not me.”
“Me? I never—”
“You were talking about all those things you’d rather be doing than sitting here, trying to be civil.” A muscle flickered in his jaw but he smiled and reached for his glass. “Had your evening with Mike all planned, did you? A cozy dinner for two, maybe? Am I right?”
“Yes,” Lara said, fighting the desire to break into hysterical laughter. She pictured Michael in his high chair, waving a spoon of mashed potatoes in the air, grinning at her through a carrot-puree mustache. “Oh, definitely. A cozy dinner was what we’d intended.”
“Do you live with him?”
“Yes,” she said, getting into the spirit of things, “yes, I do.”
Slade’s mouth thinned. “What was he doing? Waiting in the wings while you divorced your husband?”
Lara took a bread stick from the basket and bit into it. “That’s none of your business.”
“Does he know about me?” he said coldly, his eyes locked on hers.
No, she thought, oh, no. And he never would.
“Why should he?” she said with a puzzled smile. “You’re nothing to him.”
“Old Mike might disagree with that, if he knew what happens whenever we’re alone.”
“Is that what you call it, when you turn soft in my arms?”
“Do you do that for him, too? Melt, I mean. And make those little sounds when he puts his hands—”
Lara tossed down the bread stick and shot to her feet. “This is impossible!”
“Ms. Stevens? Is there a problem?”
Lara swung around and stared dumbly at Edwin Dobbs. He was smiling politely, but his eyes were cool and questioning.
“No,” Lara said quickly. “I—no, there’s—there’s—”
“Edwin.” Slade kicked back his chair and rose to his feet. “It’s good to see you again.”
Dobbs hesitated, then took Slade’s extended hand. “Slade.” His gaze went from Lara to Slade. “I’m, ah, I’m sorry to be late.”