“And convinced the store to deliver them in—” he glanced at his watch “—in another hour.” The words dripped smug self-congratulations.
“You should have consulted me,” she said stiffly.
Slade hesitated, then shrugged. “Okay. I can see that.”
“And then—and then there’s the way you barged into my room, without knocking.”
“Michael was crying.”
“So you said. But, in the future—”
“In the future,” Slade said softly, “it may not be necessary for me to ‘barge’ into your room.”
Their eyes met. There was no mistaking his message. Lara started to reply, thought better of it and cleared her throat.
“And then—and then there’s your reliance on the new Dr. Spock.”
“Dr. Spock. Otherwise known as ‘Helga.’” She put her hands on her hips and smiled thinly. “To think that you turned for advice to a—a bimbo…”
“Helga? A bimbo?”
Color rose in Lara’s face. “I don’t care what you do, or who you do it with, but—but to ask advice from a—a Scandinavian blonde—”
“Whoa.” Slade held up his hands. “Sugar, you need to get your facts straight. Helga’s not a bimbo. She’s not even blond. She’s—”
“I am not interested in her pedigree.” Lara thumped her chest with her fist. “I’m simply telling you that I know what my son needs and what he doesn’t need. Do not, in the future, go to your—your lady friends for advice about Michael.”
“Amazing,” Slade said softly, “how you’ve leapt to so many interesting conclusions.”
“You’re so transparent, Slade. You think, if you wave the names of your—your harem under my nose, I’ll—I’ll—”
“Me, jealous of your women?” Lara laughed. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“There are no ‘women.’ No harem.” His smile was slow and sexy. “I always concentrate on one lady at a time, darlin’.”
“Well, I don’t care. As far as I’m concerned—”
“Maybe I didn’t make myself clear, Lara. You and I are married. We’re going to be good parents to our son.”
“That has nothing to do with—”
“You’re my wife.”
“Not by choice.”
“My wife,” he said. He stepped away from the counter and clasped her shoulders. “Why would I need another woman, when I have you?”
Lara’s heart skipped a beat. “Let go of me, Slade.”
“Why?” His gaze dropped to her lips, then lifted. “I’m not hurting you. I’m just touching you. A man’s entitled to touch his wife.”
“I’m not—I’m not your wife.” Why was her pulse racing? Could he tell? Could he see it in her temples, in the hollow of her throat? “Just because you have a piece of paper that says we’re married doesn’t mean—”
“Woman,” he said softly, “you talk too much.”
He kissed her. It happened fast; she had no time to prepare herself for the brush of his lips against hers.
“That’s what I mean,” she said in a shaky voice. “Just because of that piece of paper, you think you can do whatever you—”
He kissed her again. This time, it was more than a whisper of mouth against mouth. His lips clung to hers; his hands tunneled into her hair, and he kissed her until she began to tremble.
“You want rules?” His voice was thick as honey, his eyes pools of smoke. “Okay, Sugar. Here they are. I’m going to be faithful to you. You’re going to be faithful to me. No other women, no other men. You got that?”
Lara slicked the tip of her tongue across her bottom lip. “Somehow—somehow, I have a lot of difficulty, imagining you leading a celibate existence.”
He smiled, and the promise in the smile turned her knees to water.
“You’re a bright girl, darlin’. Surely you know the difference between fidelity and celibacy.”
“Slade.” Lara linked her hands around his wrists. “Let go.”
“We have a lot of things to work out between us.” He bent his head, kissed her again, lightly, gently, then nibbled at her bottom lip until she moaned and lifted her hands to his chest. “But if there’s one place we’re not going to have trouble,” he murmured, “it’s in bed.”
“Don’t lie to me, Sugar. Don’t lie to yourself.” He leaned back against the counter and drew her into the V of his legs. “There’s never been a night in my life like the one we spent together.”
Lara shut her eyes. “I don’t want to talk about that night.”
Slade laughed softly. “That’s fine.” He slid his arms around her, gathered her against him. “I don’t need to talk about it, either. I just want to relive it.”
“If that’s the reason you insisted on this marriage, you made a mistake. I won’t sleep with you, Slade. I’m not—”
“Maybe I haven’t made myself clear, Sugar. This is going to be a marriage. My son—our son—is going to have a real home. He’s going to have parents who love him.”
“I already love Michael. But I’m not going to pretend I feel something for you when I don’t.”
“Love, you mean?” Slade gave a harsh laugh. “Remind me to tell you about love sometime, darlin’. About my old man, and how many times he must have had a woman purr that lie into his ear.” His arms tightened around her. “Stop hating me and start thinking, Lara. We’re married. We have a child we love, and better sex than most people even dream of. Be honest, admit it and we can make this thing work.”
“That’s a great speech but you’re wasting your breath. I am not going to—”
She cried out as he spun her around and pinned her against the wall with the weight of his body. He caught her wrists in one hand, drew them high over her head.
“I may not have known you take your coffee black but I know you’re a woman who needs a man’s attention. That’s fine. In fact, that’s better than fine because I’m a man who can’t do without a woman. And since there’ll be no fooling around outside of this marriage, there’s only one place either of us can go.”
“How romantic.” Lara felt tears welling in her eyes and fought them back. His words hadn’t hurt her; why would they? She didn’t expect him to feel anything special for her. All they’d ever had between them was sex. “You know something, Slade Baron? You’re disgusting!”
“I’m honest, which is a lot more than you are.”
“Honest?” She laughed. “Oh, right! You expect me to believe you’ll be faithful and on the first day of our marriage, you’ve already been on the phone to your precious Helga.”
“Helga?” Slade started to laugh, then thought better of it. He had the feeling he was ahead of the game; this was no time to try to make correction
s. “Okay. You’re right. Will it make you feel better if I tell you I won’t, ah, I won’t turn to Helga for advice anymore?”
“You could tell me you won’t breathe her name anymore and it wouldn’t change anything.”
“Helga is nothing to me. Nothing.”
“Don’t lie. You couldn’t wait to call her. And you couldn’t wait to—to dangle her name in front of me.”
“My God.” Slade took a breath, exhaled it, then lowered his forehead to Lara’s. “Listen, if it’s all right with you, let’s start over again. You come into the kitchen. I’ll say good morning. You’ll pour yourself a cup of coffee…”
“You boasted about Helga the second I saw you, when you were—when you were lying around in your bed half-naked, as if I could possibly give a damn about seeing you with your clothes off!”
“Will you just shut up for a while and listen?”
“I won’t. I won’t! You think you can have everything your way. You forced me into a marriage I didn’t want, and now you tell me I’m supposed to—to amuse you in bed and to—to tolerate your lovers—”
Hell, Slade thought, a man couldn’t argue with a woman with an idea caught between her teeth any more than he could argue with a horse with a burr under its tail.
“Just shut the hell up,” he said, and crushed her mouth beneath his.
For a heartbeat, Lara held herself rigid in his arms. Slade didn’t seem to notice. His mouth moved against hers, hot and hungry. His hands slid down her spine and curved around her bottom.
“Kiss me,” he whispered, “open to me, Sugar, and let me taste you.”
And, with a groan, she did.
He gave a growl of triumph, lifted her into him until she felt the hard pressure of his arousal. She gave a little cry, curled her fingers into his shirt and rose toward him.
His hands swept her T-shirt out of her jeans, moved onto her skin. His fingers were warm and rough; she shuddered with pleasure as he rode his hands up her ribs and cupped her breasts.
“You’re mine now, Lara. All mine. There’s no plane to catch, no way to sneak off and leave me with nothing but memories.”
He pressed his lips to her throat, nipped at the flesh. Her head fell back and he licked her skin, inhaling her fragrance, drowning in her taste. She was like honey in his arms, sweet and yielding, and he couldn’t wait, couldn’t slow down; he had to have her now. His hands were strangely unsteady as he fumbled at the closure of her bra, and when her breasts tumbled free he shoved her shirt up, bent his head and closed his lips around her nipple. Her cry made his blood pound even more fiercely.