She knew she’d overreacted, but she’d been worried. Couldn’t Slade understand that? And, dammit, couldn’t he have gotten dressed? Did he did have to stand around like that, in unbuttoned jeans with his chest bare? Did he have to display those muscled arms and shoulders? That hard chest with its silky whorl of dark hair that tapered down over his ridged belly and vanished under the waistband of the open jeans?
Lara shut the door to her room and leaned back against it while Michael snuffled against her throat.
As for whatever advice a woman named Helga might provide…Who cared?
Certainly, not she.
Her only concern was for Michael, and he was exhausted. She knew it was from the endless hours of their journey yesterday but she told herself it was because Slade had worn him out with that game.
She sang to him, rocked him in her arms. When his lashes drifted to his cheeks, she held him until she was sure he was sound asleep. Then she made him a bed on the floor, secured him within an enclosure of pillows and blankets, and blocked the open bathroom door with the chaise longue.
Showered and dressed, she carried the sleeping baby downstairs and built him another safe bed in a corner of the living room. Once she was sure he wasn’t going to awaken, she followed the scent of brewing coffee to the kitchen. She knew where the room was, even without the coffee to guide her. Slade had insisted on showing her through the house last night, even though she’d made it perfectly clear she didn’t give a damn what it looked like.
“I don’t give a damn, either,” he’d said coldly. “You can like the place, hate it—your opinion of my home isn’t important. I just don’t want you falling down the steps and breaking your neck, if you get up during the night.”
As it turned out, she hadn’t gotten up. Her sleep had been plagued by dreams but she’d slept straight through until morning, so soundly that she hadn’t even heard Slade enter her bedroom.
Slade, in her bedroom, standing over her. Watching her.
The idea made her feel breathless. And that kept her anger humming.
Slade was sitting on a high-backed stool at a white marble breakfast counter, reading the paper. His hair was wet, probably from a shower, and curled lightly around his ears and the nape of his neck. He’d put on a T-shirt, thank goodness, but it was as tight and as faded as his jeans. His feet were bare, and she almost laughed because she’d half expected to see him wearing boots.
Laughter would not be helpful. Anger. Anger, was what she needed. Not laughter, and certainly not this sudden, dizzying wave of heat that swept from her breasts to her belly as she imagined coming up behind him, laying her hands on his shoulders and, when he turned, kissing his mouth.
This man—this gorgeous male specimen—was her husband.
She must have made a sound, some little murmur of self-despair, perhaps, because just as she was about to flee, Slade looked up, turned and saw her. For a heartbeat, she regretted that she’d plaited her hair into a braid, that she’d pulled on a shapeless T-shirt and a pair of old jeans she’d stuffed into a small suitcase at the last minute, but his gaze slid past her, as if she weren’t really worthy of his notice, and she felt her anger return.
“I hope I’m not disturbing you,” she said, with all the sarcasm she could manage.
Slade didn’t seem to notice. “Not at all,” he said politely. “Where’s Mike?”
“Michael,” she said pointedly, “is asleep.”
“Is he okay alone?”
She gave him a pitying glance as she walked to the stove and poured herself some coffee.
“I wouldn’t have left him, if I didn’t think he was.”
“There’s sugar and cream, if you want.”
Lara looked at him over the steam rising from her mug. “Thank you,” she said coolly, “but I prefer it black.”
“So do I.”
“Is that supposed to make me jump up and down with joy?”
“I only meant…Look, don’t you think it’ll make things easier, if we know a little something about each other’s habits?”
“No,” she said sweetly, “not particularly.”
Slade drew a deep breath, then let it out. “Okay. Okay, we’ll stick to a safer topic. Tell me about Michael. I mean, I don’t know much about kids—”
“—but, for instance, does he generally nap in the mornings?”
“No. But he’s exhausted.”
“Yeah.” Slade propped his elbows on the counter, wrapped his hands around his coffee mug. “Well, that was a lot of travel time we put in yesterday.”
“It was this morning that tired him. All that rough play, with you.”
“You think?” He grinned at her over the rim of his mug. “He loved that game I invented.”
“So you may think, but he isn’t used to that kind of roughhousing.”
“Well, he’s going to get used to it. We had a great time.”
The scene she’d walked in on flashed into Lara’s mind. Michael and Slade together, Michael giggling and laughing. Her throat tightened, and she gave him a pitying smile.
“Once I buy him some toys,” she said, “you’ll see that he prefers quieter pastimes.”
It wasn’t true. Her baby loved to play tickle, and I See, but none of that mattered half as much as making sure Slade understood he was an outsider. If only the man didn’t have such thick skin. Right now, he looked completely nonplussed.
“Well, he’ll have the chance at both. Quiet stuff, with you, and rougher stuff with me.” He cleared his throat. “Speaking of toys…I got him some things.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I ordered some stuff.”
The words were tossed off in a manner that was loose and easy, but she could see the proud glint in his eyes.
“Stuff?” she said, cautiously. “What kind of ‘stuff?”
“Oh, some blocks. A wooden train. A couple of stuffed animals—I saw how much he loves that bear and I figured, a lamb and a dinosaur couldn’t hurt.”
“A dinosaur?” Lara said faintly.
“The purple one. Helga said kids love ’em.”
“Helga,” she said, even more faintly.
“Uh-huh. And…” He eased from the stool, folded his arms and leaned back against the counter. “And some other things. A crib. A playpen. A high chair. Oh, and a stroller…you know, stuff you mentioned yesterday.”
Lara thought back to the crib and playpen, the high chair and stroller she’d had to leave behind. She thought of the pleasure she’d had, selecting them, and of how casually Slade had replaced them.
“You bought Michael all those things, without consulting me?”
“Well, yeah.” His smile slipped just a little. “You were asleep, so—”
“I can see,” she said tightly, folding her arms, too, “that sleeping is a mistake.”
“Look, I knew Mike needed things. So I phoned Ted.”
“Ted.” Lara smiled stiffly. “Is that, perhaps, short for Theodora?”
“Ted Levine. My partner. He has two kids. So I asked him to give me the name of the best store in Boston to buy baby stuff.” He didn’t add that he hadn’t told Ted the reason he needed baby furnishings. “It’s info for a new neighbor,” he’d said briskly, when Ted had questioned him. How could you explain, over the phone, that you had suddenly acquired a wife and a son?
“You ordered these things sight unseen, over the telephone?”
Slade’s smile disappeared completely. “You don’t like what I bought, you can return it, okay? I just thought—”
“Oh, I know what you thought, Slade. You figured you could lock me out of my son’s life, that—that you can play with him and buy him presents and shove me into the background.”
“Are you nuts?”
“Didn’t you expect me to figure it out? Didn’t you—”
The angry tirade caught in her throat. He was right; what she was accusing him of was crazy.
Michael loved her, not the things she’d bought him. He was her baby, not something she’d won in a lottery.
Besides, how could she have an argument with a man who looked like a bum? That damp hair. The bare feet. The tight T-shirt and faded jeans—and they were tight, too. Didn’t the man own anything that didn’t cling to him like a second skin? And why hadn’t he shaved? She didn’t like the sight of stubble on a man’s jaw. Definitely, he looked like a bum.
Who did she think she was fooling? He looked sexy. Sinfully sexy, the bad boy of the girlhood dreams she’d mercifully forgotten. This was her husband, she hated him—and he was sending her pulse galloping into three-digit numbers.
“Didn’t I what?” Slade said.
“Nothing. Nothing! Forget I even…” Lara puffed out a breath, counted to ten and started over. “Here’s the bottom line. We’re going to have to work out some ground rules.”
“For—for everything. Just look at what’s happened since I woke up this morning. You fed Michael. Played with him.”
Slade threw out his arms. “Arrest me, Officer. I’m guilty.”
“You bought him things—”