“Slade,” she whispered, and wound her arms around his neck.
“Tell me,” he said thickly, “say that you want me.”
In some still-functioning part of her brain, Lara knew better than to say those words. Slade was turning her life upside down, remaking it in an image that had nothing to do with her. She didn’t know him, didn’t trust him, surely didn’t love him…
But he was right. Something incredible happened when they were in each other’s arms. There was no denying the truth of that.
For the first time, she saw a glimmer of hope. It could work. It hadn’t begun as a normal marriage but what was a “normal marriage,” anyway? She’d seen what happened, when two people vowed their love forever.
Slade wanted her as his wife. He wanted Michael. He’d promised fidelity and truthfulness. And yes, she wanted him, oh, she wanted him…
“Say it, Sugar. Tell me what you want.”
He kissed her again, one hand in her hair, the other at the base of her spine, kissed her until she was boneless and liquid with wanting him, and she sobbed his name and gave up the fight.
“You,” she sighed, “you, Slade. I want you. I never stopped wanting you. I thought about that night a million times.”
He whispered her name, undid her zipper and thrust his hand down the front of her jeans. She cried out as he found her, moved against his hand, lifted her face to his and sought the ecstasy of his mouth.
“Touch me,” he said, and she did, she did what she’d longed to do ever since that time in his bed, she dropped her hand to his jeans, cupped the heat and hardness of him through the denim, moaned his name when he pulsed against her questing fingers.
“I can’t wait. Lara, now. I need you, now.”
He lifted her into his arms, his kiss so hot and raw she could only respond to it by sucking his tongue into her mouth, by sobbing her pleasure, by curling her arms around his neck and burying her fingers deep in his hair.
Cups, saucers, everything tumbled to the floor as he swept the counter clean with one thrust of his hand. He sat her down, their fingers merging as they pulled off his shirt.
Lara looked at him—at her husband. She touched him, traced the delicate arc of collarbone, the hard thrust of muscle in his shoulders.
“Don’t.” He shuddered, clasped her wrists, brought her hands to his lips and kissed them. “I don’t want to come until I’m deep inside you and if you touch me, if you touch me—”
He yanked up her shirt, buried his face in the sweet hollow between her breasts. Lara moaned. Her head fell back; she dug her fingers into his hair.
Lara froze. Her eyes flew open.
“Mr. Baron? Where are you, sir?”
“Mmm. So delicious.” He licked her. Suckled. Bit gently—
“Slade!” Lara pounded on his shoulders. “Slade, listen!”
“Lara.” His hands closed on her waist, and he tugged her to the edge of the counter. “Just move forward, baby. That’s my girl. Just—”
“Mr. Baron? Are you…Oh!”
The woman in the kitchen doorway stumbled to a halt, her blue eyes round as saucers in her pleasant, middle-aged face. She stared at Lara over Slade’s shoulders; Lara stared back. And Michael, clutched in the woman’s arms, laughed with delight.
“Oooh,” he gurgled.
Lara gave a muted shriek and started to lunge from the counter. Slade grabbed her, held her still, his body blocking hers, and looked around at Helga. Then, very calmly, as if having your housekeeper and your infant son walk in on you when you were about to—when you were about to—
He took a deep breath, smoothed Lara’s shirt, shot a quick glance down at his fly and pasted what he hoped was a noncommittal expression on his face.
“Well,” he said cheerfully, “isn’t this nice? I’ve been hoping for the chance to make some introductions. Helga, this is Lara, my wife. And I can see you’ve already made the acquaintance of my son, Michael.”
If Helga had thought he was strange when he’d phoned her, a couple of hours ago, to ask her what a baby ate for breakfast, she had to think he was completely out of his head right now. He thought it remarkable that she didn’t so much as blink.
“How do you do, Mrs. Baron?” she said politely.
Michael chortled and bounced up and down in Helga’s arms. “Da-da-da,” he said.
Slade figured it was almost safe to breathe again. Lara was still as rigid as a statue under his hands, but the worst was over. Surely she could see that. He looked at her and flashed the most charming smile he could muster.
“Lara,” he said, “I’d like you to meet Helga. My house—”
“You no-good son of a bitch,” Lara hissed, and swung a hard right, directly at his head.
SLADE stood at the window in his office, gazing out at the Charles River and trying not to notice his reflection in the glass.
He had no desire to see the bruise under his eye. Even after five days, it still looked like an example of bad modern art.
Oh, yeah, he’d certainly found the way to begin married life. What could be more romantic than groping your new wife on the kitchen counter, getting caught by the housekeeper and winding up with a black eye?
“A week of cold silence,” he muttered, answering his own question.
It was truly a joy, being a married man.
Gingerly he fingered the area beneath the eye. It was still tender. A grudging smile lifted one corner of his mouth. He had to admit, his wife packed one whopper of a punch.
And then, oh man, the mayhem that had followed it.
Helga’s wild protestations in Finnish. Michael’s guffaws, as if the scene had been staged just for laughs. Him, clapping a hand over his eye and saying, in complete disbelief, “Why in hell did you do that?” And Lara, with an economy of verbiage that he had to admit was admirable, shoving her nose to within an inch of his and saying, “You ever come near me again, Slade Baron, so help me, I’ll kill you!”
She’d stalked off with the baby. Helga had stalked off on her heels. And he’d slunk up the stairs, the villain in the piece, to shower, dress and get the hell out of the house in one piece, while he still could.
Slade leaned his forehead against the cool glass. What had become of his peaceful bachelor existence? He felt as if he were living in an asylum for the mentally deranged. His housekeeper spoke to him only in monosyllables, his wife wouldn’t touch the charge cards he left out for her and hadn’t spoken a word to him all week. The only person happy to see him come through the door each evening was his son.
His son, Slade thought, and his lips curved into a smile.
Amazing, how fast he’d fallen head over heels for that bundle of high-paced energy all neatly wrapped in a diaper. Mike was one terrific kid. Bright. Cute. Sweet-tempered. He wanted to be one of those fathers who whipped out a walletful of baby pictures at the slightest opportunity.
First, though, he had to tell people he was married. But Tuesday morning hadn’t seemed the right time to do it, not with everybody, from Jack and Ted straight through to the design assistants, showing an uncommon interest in his discolored eye.
“I walked into a door, okay?” Slade had said, before his partners could utter a word.
“Whatever you say, pal,” Jack had answered, and grinned.
No, Slade thought, and sighed, it hadn’t been the moment to say, guess what? I’ve got a wife and oh, by the way, I’ve also got a son.
Still, everyone at the office sensed something was wrong. He knew his mood was lousy, his temper quick, but he hadn’t grasped just how bad things were until an hour ago, when he’d told Betsy she could stay on as his permanent secretary, if she wished, and she’d screwed up her face and said she’d need a couple of days to think it over.
He wasn’t doing much better on the homefront, either.
“Hell,” Slade muttered, as he sank into the c
hair behind his desk.
Except for Michael, he was a pariah in his own house. His jaw tightened. And whose fault was it?
“Lara’s,” he said out loud.
Certainly it was her fault. He was blameless. He’d found out he had a son and he’d laid claim to him. What kind of sin was that? His actions had been exemplary. Okay, so maybe he’d been a little—abrupt. Heavy-handed, if you wanted to push it, but hey, what choice had there been?
“None,” he said.
Not a one.
Michael deserved a family. That was why he’d had to force Lara into marriage literally overnight. Uproot her from her friends, her job, her home. Take her away from the only life she knew. It had all been necessary, if his son was to have a happy home…
Slade grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair, then hit the intercom.
“Cancel my afternoon appointments, Betsy,” he said. “I’m out of here.”
* * *
Helga stood at the kitchen counter, dicing carrots.
Michael sat in his high chair, waving a well-gummed biscuit and watching the proceedings with great interest.
“Da-dah,” he said happily, when Slade burst through the back door.
“Hi ya, champ.” Slade hoisted his son in the air, blew a noisy air-kiss against his throat. Michael giggled, Slade grinned, kissed him, then put him back into the high chair. “Hello, Helga,” he said to his housekeeper’s stiff back. “Where’s Mrs. Baron?”