Helga took her time answering. “Upstairs.” Her knife clattered rhythmically against the cutting board. “I don’t think she wants to see you.”
His life wasn’t just a mess, it was turning into public property.
“Thank you for that bit of news,” he said politely. “I appreciate the update.”
Helga sniffed. Slade cleared his throat.
“So. You’re getting along okay with my kid?”
Helga shot him a withering glance. “Your son is a wonderful child. He takes after his mother.”
Slade nodded, as if he’d known that all along.
“Would it be possible for you to stay for the weekend? A long weekend. Say, from this afternoon through late Monday?”
“If Mrs. Baron needs me, I will be here.”
“I need you here. I want to take Mrs. Baron away for a few days.” He cleared his throat again. “We, ah, we have some problems to work out.”
“Well? What do you say?”
He waited, holding his breath as if Helga’s answer were the most important thing in the world. At last, she put down the knife and turned toward him.
“I say it’s an excellent idea, Mr. Baron.” She wiped her hands on her apron and lifted Michael into her arms. “And I’d bet your son thinks so, too.”
* * *
Convincing Lara wasn’t quite as easy.
“I am not leaving my son,” she said stonily.
“Helga will take good care of him.”
“I’m sure she would, if I were foolish enough to agree to spend the weekend with you, in a hotel.”
He clasped her rigid shoulders, gently turned her to face him. Her eyes were cold, her expression guarded. He thought about how differently she’d looked at him all those months ago, when she’d awakened in his arms, and he wondered, suddenly, what would have happened if he hadn’t launched into that dumb kiss-off speech, if he’d said, instead, Lara, I want to see you again. Finding you, making love with you, has been—has been—
Slade frowned. “You have the wrong idea,” he said gruffly. “I’m not asking you to spend the weekend in bed.”
A faint wash of pink dusted her cheeks but her gaze was unflinching. “No?”
“No.” He let go of her, stuffed his hands into his trouser pockets. “The thing is—the thing is, I’m beginning to think I handled this wrong.”
Lara eyed him with caution. “What does that mean?”
“It means maybe I, ah, maybe I should have done things differently.”
For the first time in days, her mouth softened. A smile eased across it and Slade felt his heart lift in response. He hadn’t realized how miserable he’d felt, seeing hatred in his wife’s beautiful eyes.
“Are you serious?”
“Oh, Slade.” She smiled, really smiled, and his heart didn’t just lift, it soared. “Slade, thank you.”
He smiled back at her. “You’re welcome.”
“It won’t take me a minute to get ready.” She spun away from him, pulled open the closet door. “I don’t have very much to pack.”
His smile dipped. “I know. I never even gave you the chance to get your things together. That’s why I left you those charge cards. You should have—”
“No. I didn’t want to take anything from you.” She looked at him again. “You won’t regret this,” she said softly. “I promise.”
He nodded, not trusting himself to speak. “I’m sure I won’t.”
Lara dumped an armload of things on the bed. “I’m sure Beaufort will take me back. I might even be able to get my house again but if I can’t, I’ll send you our new address and phone number, and—”
Slade caught her arm and dragged her around so she faced him. “What?”
“Our address. Michael’s and mine.” Lara smiled. “I have a confession to make, too.”
“Do you,” he said, his voice flat.
“I was wrong, about Michael not needing you. I can see how much it means to him to have you around.” Her smile was brilliant. “You can visit him every weekend, if you like. All you ever have to do is phone and tell me—” She gasped as Slade’s hands dug into her flesh. “What’s wrong? Why are you looking at me that way?”
“Amazing,” he said softly, “how quickly I forgot how cold and manipulative you can be.”
Lara’s smile faded. “I don’t understand.”
“No, you sure as hell don’t.” He let go of her, because, all at once, he didn’t trust himself to touch her. He was more angry than he’d ever been in his life. Did she really think he’d let Michael go?
Did she think he’d let her go? a voice inside him whispered, and that only made him more angry.
“I’m not dissolving our marriage.”
Her face fell. “But—but you said—”
“I said, maybe I moved too fast. Maybe I should have given you a few days to adjust to the idea of becoming my wife.”
“No.” The clothes she’d been holding slipped from her hands and fell to the floor. “No, Slade.”
“Yes, Slade,” he said, with derision. “That’s what I came to tell you, that I could see I’d made a mistake in timing. I want Michael to grow up in a home, not an armed camp. And that’s what this house has been, ever since I brought you here.”
Lara stared at him. “I must be missing something. You made a mistake in timing. And you think you’re going to solve the problem by checking us into a hotel for the weekend?” She laughed in a way that made his gut clench. “You must think I’m an idiot!”
“We’re going to spend the weekend getting to know each other, my adoring wife, and settling our differences so we can come home and be decent parents to our son.”
“Oh, sure. A little music, a little candlelight—”
“I hate to disappoint you, Sugar, but seduction isn’t part of my plan.”
“That’s it. Your plan.” Lara’s voice rose as he strode from the room. “Your plan. Your son. Your life. You think you own the world!”
“I own you,” he said, turning toward her. The tightly banked fury in his eyes made her catch her breath. “And don’t you forget it.”
“Never,” she said, in a voice filled with venom. “Never, never…” Her words trailed off to a whisper as Slade vanished from sight. “Never,” she said brokenly, and buried her face in her hands.
* * *
Why did she make him so angry?
Slade gritted his teeth.
Every time he
tried to talk sense, Lara twisted his words, tossed them back in his face and he ended up saying things he didn’t mean. He didn’t own her. He couldn’t imagine any man “owning” her. She was too fiercely independent for that.
He scowled and stepped harder on the gas, even though the Blazer was already flying.
If he had half a brain, he’d have let her continue her packing. Goodbye and good riddance, he should have said. Just leave my son here and you go on and get out of my life. The only reason he hadn’t done it was because Mike deserved a mother and father. That was why he tolerated his wife’s attitude.
He shot a glance across the console. Lara was sitting as far from him as she could get. Well, that was fine. To think she’d figured he was taking her away to seduce her…That was a laugh. She was his kid’s mother. Period. End of story. He had no more desire to take her to bed than he had to—to walk on the moon.
What man would want to make love to a wildcat? To take her in his arms, caress her skin. Kiss his way down her body, lick her breasts, her thighs. Open her with his mouth, part her petals as if she were a flower, then kneel between her thighs, lace his fingers through hers and watch her eyes darken with pleasure as he slid deep, deep inside her…
Slade bit back a groan, shifted in his seat and forced his concentration onto the road. If only she’d say something, at least ask where they were going…
But she hadn’t said a word since she’d come down the stairs, her expression stony, and marched out to the car. He sighed. It was, he thought unhappily, not a good beginning to the weekend.
Dammit, what was going on in that head of hers?
* * *
Dammit, Lara thought, what was going on in Slade’s head?
He was probably waiting for her to ask him where they were going. Let him wait. She’d burst before she put the question to him.