At least that explained things, though she flattered herself if she thought he’d want her again, want her badly enough to threaten to tell her husband about them. But there was no “them.” There never had been and besides, the day he had to coerce a woman into bed was the day he’d check himself into a retirement home.
It just plain infuriated him that she’d thought she needed to protect herself by screwing him over. He wanted to tell her that—but she’d already packed up her things and left.
Running out seemed to be Lara’s thing. Well, she wasn’t going to get away with it this time.
Slade shook hands all around. Dobbs walked him to the door.
“We’ll be in touch soon, Mr. Baron.”
Slade nodded. “That’s fine. Oh, by the way…your Ms. Stevens made some references to purchasing procedures that were inaccurate.”
“A diligent young woman, Ms. Stevens.” Dobbs chuckled. “Just between us, I’m afraid she went a bit overboard.”
“Diligent, as you said, sir. But I’d like to correct her about those procedures. Would you know where I might find her?”
“In Finance. Fourth floor. The receptionist there can direct you. Nice of you to want to help straighten her out, Mr. Baron—or may I call you Slade?”
“You may, indeed,” Slade replied, and smiled. “And believe me, Edwin, straightening out Lara Stevens will be a pleasure.”
* * *
The receptionist was obliging, and pointed him in the right direction.
Lara’s secretary was not. “You can’t go in there unannounced,” she said, and leaped to her feet, but Slade had already turned the knob and flung open the door.
Lara was standing at the window. She swung around at the sound of the intrusion, the color draining from her face when she saw Slade.
“Ms. Stevens, I tried to tell this gentleman that he couldn’t just barge his way into your office—”
“Tell your secretary to go away,” Slade said coldly.
“Ms. Stevens, if you’d like me to call security…?”
Slade moved into the room. “Tell her, dammit.”
Lara swallowed. “It’s all right, Nancy.” Her voice was steady and calm. It surprised her, because her pulse was going crazy. She couldn’t let him make a scene. “Really,” she said brightly, “it’s fine. This is Mr. Baron. We, ah, we had some disagreements during the meeting just now…” Lara pasted a smile to her lips. “That will be all, Nancy. Thank you.”
Slade waited until he heard the door close behind him.
“I underestimated you, Sugar,” he said softly.
“What do you want, Slade?”
He dumped his things in a chair and strolled toward her. “Here I’d ticketed you for bein’ nothin’ more substantial than a hot babe lookin’ for a good time…”
Her face was still white as paper but she didn’t move a muscle.
“…lookin’ for a good time and now it turns out you’ve got all the instincts of a shark.”
Lara stepped forward and folded her arms. This was her turf, not his, and she’d be damned if she’d let him intimidate her. “I’m asking you again, Slade. What do you want?”
“Just the chance to congratulate you.” He smiled lazily. “You put on one hell of a fine performance for the boys in the boardroom, Ms. Stevens.” He paused, just long enough to make it count. “Or should that be Mrs.?”
“Mrs….” She caught her bottom lip between her teeth, looked down at the thin band of gold on her ring finger, then at him. “Yes.”
“That’s it? Just, ‘yes’?” Slade leaned a hip against the edge of her desk. “Come on, Sugar. You can do better than that. When did you get hitched? Since we last met?” This time, his smile was all teeth. “Or did you maybe just ‘forget’ to wear your ring when we had our little, ah, encounter?”
That got to her. Her shoulders squared and the look she shot him was filled with loathing.
“I won’t even dignify that comment with an answer. Now, if you’ll excuse me—”
“Who’s the lucky guy? I might just give him a call, invite him for a couple of beers.”
She thought of inventing a name, then thought better of it. “I know it will break your heart to hear this but you won’t have the chance. I’m divorced.”
Slade’s brows arched. “Is that a fact? Married and divorced, all in a year and a half. My oh my, darlin’. You’ve certainly been busy.”
Lara pulled back her chair and sat down behind her desk. “I’m really very busy. If there’s a point to this visit—”
“You’re damned right, there’s a point.” He watched her, his blood pressure easing into the red zone as she yanked a stack of papers toward her and began leafing through them. Okay, so he’d thrown her for a couple of minutes but she was in control again, acting as if he were of no more importance than a speck on the wall. “Dammit,” he snarled, and shot to his feet. “You look at me when I’m talking to you, Mrs. Stevens!”
Lara raised her head. Her blue eyes were hot with defiance.
“You get out of my office, Mr. Baron!”
“I will, as soon as you’ve explained yourself.”
“There’s nothing to explain.”
“There certainly is. I want to know why you ran out on me that night.”
It wasn’t what he’d intended to say. He’d meant to demand she tell him why she’d set him up for failure with Dobbs, why she was so eager to see the last of him, but as he said the words, he knew they were the truth.
“I don’t owe you an explanation, or anything else!”
He looked down at her. Her eyes were bright, almost feverish. Her mouth trembled, and he remembered how soft it had been, under his. He told himself to turn around and walk, to get out now instead of making an ass of himself…
Oh, hell, he thought, and before she had time to move or he had time to think, he came around the desk, took hold of her and pulled her to her feet.
“Yeah,” he said roughly, “you do.”
And he caught her in his arms, and kissed her.
HOW could a man be dumb enough to compound one problem with another?
Slade still hadn’t come up with an answer, even though it was Monday morning and he was back home in Boston.
First he’d seduced a woman he’d met during a snowstorm. Not a mistake in itself, he thought, frowning at his image in the mirror over the bathroom sink. It was getting her stuck in his head for the past eighteen months that had not been clever.
He worked up a soapy lather in his shaving cup, then spread it over his dark stubbled jaw.
But he’d pretty much topped that by losing his cool in the Beaufort conference room. Well, not entirely. He hadn’t really lost his composure; he’d just come damned close. His frown deepened as he picked up the old-fashioned straight razor he favored, honed it on its leather strop, leaned over the basin and scraped it down his cheek.
Another couple of clever double entendres, and even old man Dobbs would have figured out that something more than computer-talk had been going on between his number one financial honcho and the guy who was going to design the new Beaufort headquarters.
Slade turned on the water, rinsed the blade and angled it against his other cheek.
But none of that held a candle to that final bit of lunacy. Charging down to Lara’s office. Doing a number on her secretary that probably had the woman convinced he was a certifiable psycho. Confronting Lara over what was, when you came down to it, a non-issue. Two non-issues, in fact. One, that she’d set him up, in hopes he’d stumble during the meeting. Two, that she’d sneaked out of that hotel room…
That she’d left his bed, long before he’d been ready to have her leave. He’d wanted one more hour of holding her. Of kissing her…
The blade slipped. “Dammit,” he snarled, as a bright drop of crimson welled on his chin.
He dumped the razor into the sink, reached down beside the commode and grabbed for a piece of tissue. What w
as he doing, wasting time brooding over this thing? Okay, so he’d overreacted on Friday. So what? It had been anger driving him, not passion. Lara’s phone had rung, jolting him back to reality, and he’d made a quick recovery, putting her from him, turning on his heel and marching out of her office…
But not before he could have sworn he’d felt her mouth softening under his.
Blood soaked through the blob of tissue. He pulled it off, yanked open one drawer after another in the vanity under the sink until he found what remained of a styptic pencil. He scraped the point over the cut, waited for the bleeding to stop, then went into his bedroom to get dressed.
So what? The woman was nothing but trouble with a capital T. He’d gone to Baltimore to win a commission, and he had. By the time he got home, there was a message from Dobbs on his answering machine, telling him the job was his.
What more could a man ask?
Slade’s mouth thinned.
He could ask that Lara Stevens get out of his head and leave him alone.