Slade watched her move past him and reach for the door. He could feel something building inside him, a tidal wave of rage that had nothing to do with what she’d said or even with what she’d done to turn his life inside out. It had to do with what had been in the back of his mind for days, and it was time he dealt with it.
“You’re right.” His voice was low and rough. “Talking about our son isn’t going to help.”
“Honesty, at last,” Lara said.
Maybe it was the way she said it, in a voice touched with contempt. Maybe it was the way she turned her back to him and reached for the doorknob, as if she were a queen and he were a subject she’d dismissed. Whatever it was, Slade snapped. A growl burst from his throat. He grabbed her by the shoulder, spun her toward him and pushed her back against the wall.
“You want honesty, Sugar? Honesty’s what you’re gonna get.”
Lara looked up into Slade’s face. His eyes were the flat gray of thunderclouds before a storm; his mouth might have been chiseled from granite. Fear fluttered its wings in her belly.
“Let go of me,” she said quietly.
“Did you ever stop to think that I’m no happier about this than you are? That maybe I had plans for my life, too, and the last thing I wanted was a wife to screw things up?”
“I’m not the one who insisted on this joke of a marriage!”
“No. No, you sure as hell aren’t.” His mouth twisted. She made a move as if to try to slip loose and he jerked her back into place. “As far as you’re concerned, Michael doesn’t need a father.”
“I told you, I changed my mind about that. I said you could visit him as often as you liked, if you just let me out of this marriage.”
“If I just let you go running back to Baltimore, you mean.”
“It’s my home. It’s where my job is. Where my job was, until you came along and decided to play God. Didn’t you care that I had a life there? A home? A career? Friends?”
“Friends,” he growled, and the way he said the word put all her senses on alert.
“What,” she said carefully, “is that supposed to mean?”
“Men friends. That’s what you’re talking about, baby. A woman like you doesn’t have any other kind.”
“You don’t know anything about a woman like me.”
“I know all I need to.” His smile was feral. “Or am I supposed to forget how we met?”
“I don’t believe this,” Lara said, with an incredulous laugh. “You picked me up, remember?” She poked a finger into his chest. “You asked me to go to that hotel. And youwere the one who went out of your way to make it clear all you were interested in was that one night…and now you’re acting as if I was some sort of—of immoral seductress?”
“You picked me out of the herd, Sugar, like you were a mare in heat.”
“A mistake I’m evidently expected to pay for the rest of my life.”
“How many times had you done that before, huh?” Slade clasped her jaw, tilted her head up and held it fast. “Come on to a guy, wiggle that pretty little behind and bat those thick lashes and make him think you’re offerin’ him a piece of heaven when all you want from him is to get laid. How many men were there before me?” His mouth twisted. “A dozen? A hundred?”
Lara stared up into Slade’s furious face. For one crazy minute, she wondered what would happen if she told him that the wild sexual history he’d created for her was so far from the truth it was laughable, that she was a woman who never so much as kissed a man on a first date…
“Too many to count?” he said, and anger mixed with hurt made her lift her chin, look him straight in the eye and give credence to his accusations with a lie.
“That’s right. Far, far too many to count.”
Slade’s eyes went black and he smiled like a wolf baring its fangs.
“I see. Well, we’re making progress, at least.” His hands slid into her hair. She’d braided it and secured it with a clip but one rough tug and she felt it come undone. “The lady’s decided to be truthful.”
“Look, there’s no point to this. You’ve admitted we made a mistake by coming here. Let’s just get back into the car and—”
“How many after?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Come on, Sugar. You’re a smart girl.” He moved closer to her, until his body brushed hers. “How many men have you been with since me?”
None. The word begged for release and yet she held it back, knowing he wouldn’t believe her and knowing, as well, that it would be dangerous to give him that information.
“None of your business.”
He laughed softly, tilted her face up to his, bent his head and brought his lips to within a whisper of hers. Her heart kicked in her chest. Something terrible was going to happen; she knew it. The air had turned thick; the night was supernaturally still. All she could hear was the beat of her own heart.
“Of course it’s my business, considerin’ that you’re my wife.”
Lara tried to pull away but it was useless. Slade was almost leaning against her now, his body touching hers everywhere from her breasts to her thighs. Heat swept through her blood as she felt him, hard and erect against her belly.
“Don’t,” she whispered.
“Don’t what? Ask you about all the men you’ve slept with?” He bent his head, gently bit her neck. She closed her eyes, held back a moan. “Okay. I won’t. You’re right. They’re the past.” His voice roughened. “Unless there’s somebody you left behind, in Baltimore.”
“Slade. Slade please, don’t do this…”
“Is there?” He moved, shifted his weight, caught her wrists and drew her hands out to the sides so that she was helpless. Vulnerable—vulnerable, and, oh God, suffused with desire. For him. Only for him. “Just tell me that, damn you. Was there a man when I took you away?”
What was the right answer? What would protect her, not from his anger because she knew, even now, that he wouldn’t hurt her. Not physically. What she needed was protection from her own feelings…
“Tell me,” he said, and before she could find an answer, he kissed her.
His mouth was hard on hers and when she cried out and
tried to turn her head away, he let go of her hands and clasped her face, holding her imprisoned for his kiss. She struggled, tried to tear free, but he was relentless, his mouth and hands taking what he needed…
What she needed.
She didn’t want to fight him, or herself. She wanted Slade. She wanted her husband. She loved him, she couldn’t lie to herself anymore. She knew now that she’d loved him from the beginning, but she could never tell him that. If she did, his power over her would be complete. He would truly own her, body and soul.
She could only give herself to him, and be taken by him. It wasn’t enough, but it was all she could have.
Tears rose in her eyes and spilled down her cheeks. “Slade,” she whispered, her voice trembling, and she lifted herself to him, wound her arms around his neck and opened her mouth to his. “Make love to me, Slade. Please, make love to me now.”
Slade drew back and looked down into Lara’s upturned face. She was weeping, but the smile that curved her lips filled his heart with happiness.
“Yes,” he said, only the one word but it was enough. Then he lifted his wife into his arms and carried her through the cabin, to their bed.
IT WAS a wide bed, with soft pillows, and as Slade brought Lara to it, he thought how right it was that he should make love to her here for the first time since they’d married. He’d never brought a woman to this place, or this bed. It held no memories, no past. There was only the future, and what he and she would make of it.
He put her down beside the bed and began to undress her, pausing to kiss each bit of skin as he uncovered it. Moonlight stretched a pale finger through the windows and touched Lara’s face with the softest ivory hue.
Slade lowered his head and pressed kisses along the trail of moonlight until his mouth found hers.
“You’re so beautiful,” he said softly, and when she smiled against his lips, he drew her close and touched the tip of his tongue to hers.
Her clothing fell away under the brush of his fingers, baring her body to his mouth and his hands. He was taut with the need to take her, to bury himself inside her, but everything had gone too fast between them from the day they’d met.