The massive doors to the conference room stood open. Lara’s heart thudded. She hesitated in the doorway while she scanned the room for Slade. Where was he? The room was big. Huge, really. Six months ago, when she’d transferred from the Atlanta office to this one, she’d attended a meeting in it and been amazed at the room’s enormity.
There he was, standing at the windows with his back to her. It didn’t matter that she couldn’t see his face. She knew him just the same. His height. The width of his shoulders. That midnight-black hair. And the way he stood, with a sort of sexy, king of the universe arrogance.
It was Slade, just as she remembered him. Slade, the fantasy-lover whose arms had held her all through that long-ago night. Whose arms still held her in the dreams she acknowledged only in the darkness before dawn…
Slade, whose long, lean body suddenly stiffened.
She held her breath, told herself it was impossible he’d sensed her presence but even as she gave herself all those reassurances, she knew. She felt like a trapped animal as he turned toward her.
A dozen reactions raced across his handsome face. Surprise. Shock. Then a slow, sexy smile of delight.
The room spun; her vision narrowed but she stood her ground, looked at him coolly and then looked away. He wasn’t going to seduce her again. Not this time, not even into complacency. The sooner he understood that, the better.
“Ah, there you are, Ms. Stevens.”
Lara tilted her chin and turned away, toward Edwin Dobbs.
“Mr. Dobbs,” she said pleasantly. “I hope I haven’t kept you waiting.”
“No, no. You’re right on time.” Dobbs took her arm and moved her forward, and a good thing he did, Lara thought, because it felt as if she were walking on a carpet made of marshmallow. “I believe you know all the members of the board.”
“Certainly. How do you do, Mr. Rogers? Nice to see you again, Mr. Kraemer.”
She smiled. She shook hands. Answered yes, the weather was unusually cool, participated in the mindless chitchat the directors undoubtedly thought would make them seem like regular fellows.
Inside herself, she trembled.
She’d caught Slade off balance—that look on his face, before he’d realized he had no effect on her anymore, had said it all. The trouble was, for one heart-wrenching moment, she’d wanted to smile back, to run across the room and into his arms.
“…our new architect, Mr. Slade Baron.”
Lara’s heart banged into her throat. Dobbs had led her across the room, to Slade. And Slade had stopped smiling. He was looking at her as if he’d moved a rock and uncovered a new species of life.
“Mr. Baron,” she said politely, and held out her hand.
“Such formality, Lara,” Slade said, just as politely, and clasped her fingers in his.
Dobbs’s eyebrows rose. “Do you two know each other?”
“No,” Lara said.
“Yes,” Slade said, at the same instant, and laughed. “I suspect what Lara means is that we don’t actually know each other very well. Isn’t that right, Lara?”
Lara looked up at him. He was smiling now, but there was a tiny muscle dancing at the corner of his mouth, and his eyes were as gray as a storm-tossed sea.
“Yes,” she said stupidly, because Slade had taken command of the game. All she could do was follow where he led and hope to hell she could get out in one piece. “We, uh, we don’t know each other very well,” she parroted, and pulled her hand from his.
Dobbs nodded thoughtfully. “Isn’t that interesting? Ms. Stevens, you never said a word about knowing Mr. Baron.”
“No. Ah, no, I didn’t. You see—you see—”
“Well, she couldn’t.” Slade flashed a lazy grin. “Considering that we never did get around to exchanging last names.”
Oh please, Lara thought, please, let the ground open up and swallow me.
“We met at an airport, oh, a year and a half or so ago, and ended up spending a bit of time together. Isn’t that right, Lara?”
“The weather,” she said jerkily. “It was—”
“Snowing. My oh my, it surely was.” Slade laughed politely. “I don’t think I ever saw that much snow before, Mr. Dobbs. But your Ms. Stevens is a clever lady. Between us, we found lots of ways to pass the time.”
“Did you, now?” Dobbs said, with a puzzled smile.
“Oh, yes. We…But I’ll let her tell you all about it.”
Dobbs looked at Lara. Lara licked her lips. “I—I can’t imagine you’d be interested in—in the details, sir.”
“Of course he is,” Slade said.
“Of course I am,” Dobbs echoed, his brows still lifted.
“There I was,” Slade said, “trying to figure out how I could possibly make the time do anything but crawl.” He looked at Lara, the smile still on his face but his eyes as flat and cold as ice. “And then, fortunately for me, your Ms. Stevens and I struck up a conversation.”
“About nothing,” Lara said, with a tight little laugh. “You know how it is, Mr. Dobbs, two strangers just—just dealing in a lot of small talk, to pass the time.”
“But,” Slade said lazily, “as it turned out, we had a lot in common. Ms. Stevens’s battery needed charging. And mine just happened to be fully charged.”
Lara could feel her face burning. “Computers,” she said wildly. “That’s what he’s talking about. We both use the same kind. And my battery died. And he said I could borrow his. And—and…”
She fell silent. Slade was smiling. It was the most polite smile Lara had ever seen but there was nothing polite in what he was really saying. She could read the subtext. A woman wasn’t supposed to sneak out of a man’s bed the way she had, even if she was just a one-night stand. And she certainly wasn’t supposed to turn up in his life again, especially not in a business setting.
His ego was on the line—but so was everything that meant anything to her. The realization gave her the courage she needed.
“Anyway,” she said, and flashed a brilliant smile, “Mr. Baron was kind enough to offer his services.” She turned the thousand-watt smile on Slade and saw, with a thrill of pleasure, that he hadn’t expected such a quick recovery. “I must admit,” she said briskly, “I’d forgotten all about your generosity. How nice to see you again, and to be reminded of it.”
“Well,” Edwin Dobbs said, and cleared his throat, “now that we’ve made all the introductions…Mr. Baron? Would you like to begin your presentation?”
“Of course,” Slade said, and wondered if anybody but Lara knew he was lying through his teeth.
He’d done this a thousand times, so it required no thought. Open his computer, turn it on, use a projector to bring up screen after screen of dazzling design and detail, pointing out all the elements while the board members followed along, entranced.
And a damn good thing he had done it a thousand times, Slade thought grimly, or he’d be standing here like a fool, steam coming out of his ears and nonsense coming out of his mouth.
“Our auditor has been going through your proposal,” Dobbs had told him, before the start of the meeting. “I’ve asked her to join us so we can be sure we agree on the projected costs of your design, Mr. Baron.”
“No problem,” Slade had said politely.
Just then, he’d gotten a strange, prickling sensation along his spine. Someone was looking at him, he’d thought, and he’d turned to see her in the doorway. Lara. The woman he couldn’t get out of his head, and he’d thought how incredible it was that he’d found her again.
Every cliché about it being a small world had tripped through his mind. He’d felt the smile begin spreading across his face as he waited for her to see him—but when she did, the coldness in her eyes tumbled him straight back to reality.
She’d known he’d be here.
Of course she’d known. Dobbs had given her his proposal. She had the file under her arm, and Slade knew what was in it. All the design data. And all his personal data.
His name. His phone number. His address.
And, just in case there was any doubt, his photo.
Lara had known who he was, that she’d be seeing him today, and she’d kept that knowledge to herself. No phone call. No e-mail. No letter saying, Slade, guess what…?
She’d deliberately let him walk into this setup, as if he were an enemy. Not only hadn’t she wanted to see him again, but she’d deliberately set things up so he’d walk in here and—
He still had no idea.
What had he stumbled into? It was shock enough to see her after all this time and to realize he’d be working with her, but why was she so icy? He wasn’t the one who’d slunk out of that bedroom.