Her mouth thinned.
She should have expected as much. It wasn’t his son Slade wanted, it was victory. Now that he had it, he’d lost interest—although, just for a moment this morning, when he’d plucked Michael from his crib, she’d thought she’d seen something real and loving in the way he’d looked at the baby.
Real? Loving? From a man who made a point of ensuring she knew that what they’d done—the hours they’d shared in each other’s arms—was unimportant?
Lara bit back a sob and pressed her lips to her son’s head.
The only thing real about Slade was his arrogance. If he loved anybody, it was himself. He was already losing interest in Michael; with luck, disinterest would change to boredom. And then maybe, just maybe, he’d let his unwanted wife and his trophy son return to their own lives.
Lara eased her seat back, drew the baby closer and wearily shut her eyes.
Until then, she’d have to make the best of things, not for her own sake but for her son’s.
* * *
Slade stared blindly at the papers strewn over his tray table and wondered what in hell he was supposed to do now.
Make the best of things, not for his sake but for his son’s. Well, yeah, he’d already figured out that much. The question was, what about Lara?
Lara, his wife.
It was still almost more than he could take in. He’d flown south Friday, a guy with a dinner appointment and, after that, a weekend in Texas. Well, he’d had his dinner appointment. He’d gone to Texas. And now he was returning home with a wife and a son.
The words were still so strange. Just thinking them sent a warmth through his blood. He hadn’t planned on having a child, certainly not now, maybe not ever. Having a kid was a huge responsibility, one he wasn’t sure he’d been cut out to handle. It meant tying yourself to one woman for the rest of your life because, just as he’d told Lara, he’d vowed, long ago, never to repeat his father’s mistakes. A man had a son, he owed the kid something. Time and respect. Love and stability. A boy had the right to know he’d come home from school each day to a mother and a father, with no changes in the cast of characters between eight in the morning and the three o’clock bell, the way there had been when he was growing up.
Then he’d taken one look at a sleepy-eyed kid and his whole world had turned upside down. And this morning, when he’d taken that kid in his arms…
He had to stop choking up like this or he’d never be able to think straight. And he had to think straight because, even if Lara thought he was a coldhearted, cold-blooded, mean-tempered son of a bitch who knew each step he was taking, it wasn’t true.
In his heart, he was terrified.
What he’d done this morning was as irrevocable as it was inconceivable.
He had a wife. Her name was Lara. Other than that, he didn’t know a damned thing about her. She was good in bed, yeah, but somehow, from the way she was treating him now, as if he were a cross between Count Dracula and the Frankenstein monster, he had the feeling he could forget about that part of their relationship.
Relationship? Slade smothered a groan. He had no relationship with this woman. She’d turned down the flight attendant’s offer of lunch. Lobster salad, it had been, and Lara had said no. Was it because she didn’t like lobster? Because she never ate lunch?
Or because she hated his guts?
He shot his wife a hooded glance. She was lying back in her seat, Michael clasped in her arms. Her eyes were closed. Was she sleeping, or was she just trying to avoid him?
So many questions, and he had no answers. But that was okay. There’d be plenty of time to learn what made her tick, assuming he wanted to bother. It wasn’t really necessary. Two civilized people could live together, go through the motions of civility, pretend they didn’t despise each other, all for the sake of their son…
Except, that wasn’t what he wanted from Lara. He hated her for what she’d done, not just getting pregnant deliberately and then not telling him, but for all the rest. The way she’d sighed in his arms, all those months ago. Her whispers. Her caresses. The heat of her skin, the taste of her mouth…It had all been lies. It hadn’t been him she’d wanted, it had been what any healthy man could have provided via a test tube.
All the things he’d remembered about making love to her were lies.
She’d melted in his arms last night. God, the feel of her. The softness. He could have taken her there, in that parking lot, her against the car and him deep inside her, her mouth hot on his, his hands lifting her, holding her to him…
“Flight attendants, please prepare for our descent into Logan Airport. Ladies and gentlemen, the weather in Boston is bright and sunny…”
Bright and sunny, Slade thought, and almost laughed.
He felt Lara’s seat come up straight. Michael whimpered and he turned and put out his arms. Lara stared at him.
“Give me my son,” he said coldly.
He saw what little color there was drain from her face. Slowly she held the child out. He took him from her, but not before he felt the tremor in her hands.
She was afraid.
Good, he thought coldly. That was just the way he wanted her. Afraid. Terrified. Because, dammit, that was exactly what he was. Scared to within an inch of his life. The only difference was, Lara would never know it.
* * *
He’d left his car parked at the airport.
Fitting a woman, a baby, a baby seat, assorted luggage and a bag stuffed with diapers, toys, cans of juice and boxes of crackers inside his Jag wasn’t easy. Lara stood holding Michael, saying nothing while he packed things away and installed the baby seat, but Slade had the feeling she was laughing at him.
Laugh, he thought grimly. Was it his fault he’d left Boston a bachelor and come back a married man with a son?
At last, they were on the highway, heading for Beacon Hill. Neither of them had spoken since he’d taken the baby from her on the plane and he was weary of the silence.
“Do you need anything?”
“My freedom,” Lara said politely.
His jaw tightened, but he warned himself not to bite.
“I meant for Michael. I can stop at a shopping mall, if you like.”
She looked at him. His hands gripped the wheel in a way she knew, instinctively, was uncharacteristic. He’d be a driver who would hold the wheel lightly, let the power of the car seep into his muscles and his blood as he drove it.
“I’ll need a lot of things, if you’re serious about keeping us here.”
Slade shot her a tight smile. “Hoping I’ve had a change of heart, Sugar? That I’m going to turn the car around, take you back to Logan and pop you on a return flight to Baltimore?” His smile vanished. “Give it up, Lara. You’re here to stay, and I’m trying to be civil. Tell me what you need and we’ll stop and get it.”
Lara looked away from him and focused her eyes straight ahead. The city looked gray, even on a soft summer evening. Gray and old, and alien.
“A crib,” she said, and fought to keep from sounding as frightened as she suddenly felt. “A stroller. A playpen. A high chair….”
“We can buy all that tomorrow. What do you need for now?”
“Nothing, I can feed Michael on my lap, or I can improvise. When he first learned to sit, I used to prop him in the corner of the sofa, with pillows on either—” She drew a ragged breath. “I’ll manage.”
“What about sleeping? Will he be all right in a bed?”
She gave a disparaging laugh. “You don’t know much about babies.”
“No,” he said coldly, “I don’t.”
Lara flushed and caught her bottom lip between her teeth. It had been a stupid thing to say, but she wasn’t about to apologize.
“Michael will be fine. He’ll sleep with me.”
She looked at him, at the implacable, hard profile, and felt her hear
“If you think you’re going to get your pleasure out of my—my servitude,” she said, her voice low, “you’re wrong. You forced me into this marriage but you can’t force me to sleep with you.”
Slade turned off the highway and into a tangle of residential streets. They were almost at their destination, and she sensed it. He could feel the tension mounting; it was like a presence seated between them. He shot a look at Lara. Her skin was pale, almost translucent, save for violet smudges of exhaustion beneath her eyes. She looked worn and frightened, and for an instant he thought of pulling to the side of the road, taking her in his arms and telling her she had nothing to fear from him, that he would take care of her and their son, that he would never ask anything else of her because theirs would not be a real marriage.
He’d said other things last night and even this morning but he’d been angry then. He was calm now, and he’d won the war. He could be generous and reassure her.
Any man would, if he had a handful of pride.
Slade pulled into the driveway of his home, hit the button for the garage-door opener, slid the Jag into place and shut off the engine. Beside him, Lara sat still as a statue.
It was just that he remembered too much.
He remembered how perfectly her breasts had filled his hands, and the way the delicate pink tips had pearled at the touch of his tongue. The sweetness of her creamy flesh against his mouth. The softness of her thighs, and the woman-scent of her arousal.
And now she’d borne his son. Had her body changed? Was it even more lushly female?
Would just the sight of her arms opening to draw him down to her still be enough to make him hard with desire and need?
The part of him that remembered the night they’d spent together hoped it would be.
The part that hated her prayed it would not.
Slade’s jaw hardened. He got out of the car, went around to the passenger side and opened the door for his wife.