Overload (Chapter Six)
"No." His refusal was flat and calm. "Stop fighting and answer me."
She couldn't do either one, and she began to panic, not because she feared Quinlan, but because she didn't want to talk about her marriage to Eric Landers, didn't want to think about it, didn't want to revive that hell even in memory. But Quinlan, damn his stubborn temperament, had fastened on the subject and wouldn't drop it until he got what he wanted. She knew him, knew that he intended to drag every detail out of her, and she simply couldn't face it.
Sheer survival instinct made her suddenly relax in his arms, sinking against him, clutching his shoulders; instead of pushing against them. She felt his entire body tighten convulsively at her abrupt capitulation; her own muscles quivered with acute relief, as if she had been forcing them to an unnatural action. Her breath caught jerkily as her hips settled against his and she felt the thick ridge of his sex. His arousal was so familiar, and unbearably seductive. The lure of his sexuality pulled her even closer, her loins growing heavy and taut with desire.
He felt the change in her, saw it mirrored almost instantly in her face. One moment she had been struggling against him, and the next she was shivering in carnal excitement, her body tense as she moved against him in a subtle demand. He cursed, his voice thick, as he tried to fight his own response. It was a losing battle; he had wanted her too intensely, for too long. Talking would have to wait; for now, she had won. All he could think about was that she was finally in his arms again, every small movement signaling eager compliance. He didn't know what had changed her mind, and at this moment he didn't particularly care. It was enough that she was once again clinging to him, as she had the one night they had spent together, the night that was burned into his memory. He had tossed restlessly through a lot of dark, sleepless hours since then, remembering how it had been and aching for the same release, needing her beneath him, bewildered by and angry at her sudden coldness.
There was nothing cold about her now. He could feel her heat, feel her vibrating under his hands. Her hips moved in an ancient search, and a low moan hummed in her throat as she found what she had sought, her legs parting slightly to nestle his hard sex between them.
Fiercely he thrust his hand into her hair and pulled her head back. "Do you want this?" he asked hoarsely, hanging on to his control with grim concentration. It had happened so abruptly that he wanted to make sure before another second had passed, before she moved again and launched him past the point of no return. He hadn't felt like this since he'd been a teenager, the tide of desire rising like floodwaters in his veins, drowning thought. God, he didn't care what had caused her to change; right now, all he wanted was to thrust into her.
For a second she didn't answer, and his teeth were already clenching against a curse when she dug her nails into his shoulder and said, "Yes."
Her senses whirled dizzily as he lowered her to the floor, right where they stood. "The sofa…" she murmured, but then his weight came down on top of her and she didn't care anymore. Her initial tactic had been a panicked effort to distract him, but her own desire had blindsided her, welling up and overwhelming her senses so swiftly that she had no defense against it. She had hungered for him for so long, lying awake during the long, dark nights with silent tears seeping from beneath her lids because she missed him so much, almost as much as she feared him–and herself. The relief of being in his arms again was almost painful, and she pushed away all the reasons why this shouldn't happen. She would face the inevitable later; for now, all she wanted was Tom Quinlan.
He was rough, his own hunger too intense, too long denied, for him to control it. He shoved her skirt up to her waist and dragged her panties down, and Elizabeth willingly opened her thighs to receive him. He dealt just as swiftly with his pants, then brought his loins to hers. His penetration was hard and stabbing, and she cried out at the force of it. Her hips arched, accepting, taking him deeper. A guttural sound vibrated in his wide chest; then he caught the backs of her thighs, pulling her legs higher, and he began thrusting hard and fast.
She loved it. She reveled in it. She sobbed aloud at the strong release that pulsed through her almost immediately, the staggering physical response that she had known only with this man and had thought she would never experience again. She had been willing to give up this physical ecstasy in order to protect her inner self from his dominance, but oh, how she had longed for it, and bitterly wondered why the most dangerous traps had the sweetest bait.
Blinded by the ferocity of his own need, he anchored her writhing hips with his big hands and pounded into her. Dazedly she became aware of the hard floor beneath her, bruising her shoulders, but even as her senses were recovering from their sensual battering and allowing her to take stock of her surroundings, he gripped her even harder and convulsed. Instinctively she held him, cradling him with arms and legs, and the gentle clasp of her inner warmth. His harsh, strained cries subsided to low, rhythmic moans, then finally to fast and uneven breathing as he relaxed on top of her, his heavy weight pressing her to the floor.
The silence in the huge, dim lobby was broken only by the erratic intake and release of their breathing. His slowing heartbeat thudded heavily against her breasts, and their heated bodies melded together everywhere that bare flesh touched bare flesh. She felt the moisture of sweat, and the inner wetness that forcibly awakened her to the realization that their frantic mating had been done without any means of protection.
Her own heart lurched in panic; then logic reasserted itself and she calmed down. She had just finished her monthly cycle; it was highly unlikely that she could conceive. Perversely, no sooner had she had that reassuring thought than she was seized by a sense of loss, even of mourning, as if that panicked moment had been truth rather than very remote possibility.
She didn't open her eyes. She didn't want to face reality just yet, didn't want to have to let him go, and that was something reality would force her to do.
He lifted himself on his elbows, and she could feel the penetrating blue gaze on her face, but still she clung to the safety of her closed eyes.
She felt his muscles gathering, and briefly she tried to hold him, but he lifted himself away from her, and she caught her breath at the slow withdrawal that separated his body from hers. Despite herself, the friction set off a lingering thrill of sensation, and her hips lifted in a small, uncontrollable, telltale movement. Because there was no sanctuary any longer, she opened her eyes and silently met his gaze. That curious, sleepy blankness of sexual satisfaction was on his face, as she knew it must also be on hers, but in his eyes was a predatory watchfulness, as if he knew his prey had been caught but not vanquished.
His astuteness was disturbing, as it had always been. Her own gaze dared him to try to make anything more of what had just happened than an unadorned act of sex, without cause or future.
His mouth twisted wryly as he knelt away from her and pulled his pants up, zipping them with a faint, raspy sound. Then he got to his feet and effortlessly lifted her to hers. Her skirt, which had been bunched around her waist, dropped to the correct position. Elizabeth instinctively clenched her thighs to hold the wetness between them.
Quinlan shrugged out of his shirt and handed it to her, then leaned down and retrieved her panties from the floor. Thrusting them into her hands, too, he said, "Take off those clothes and put on my shirt. It's getting warmer in here, and you'll be more comfortable in something loose."
Silently she turned, picked up the flashlight and went into the ladies' rest room. Her knees were shaking slightly in reaction, and her loins throbbed from the violence of his possession. He hadn't hurt her, but it was as if she could still feel him inside.
She stared at her reflection in the mirror, the image ghostly with only the flashlight for illumination, making her eyes look huge and dark. Her hair had come loose and tumbled around her shoulders; she pushed it back distractedly, still staring at herself, then buried her face in her hands. How could she go back out there? God, how could she have been so stupid? Alone with him for little more than an hour, and she had had sex with him on the floor like an uncontrolled animal. She couldn't even blame it on him; no, she had made the big move, grabbing at him, pushing her hips at him, because she had panicked when he had tried to pull back and begin asking questions again. She had gotten exactly what she had asked for.
She felt confused, both ashamed and elated. She was ashamed that she had used sex as an evasion tactic… or maybe she was ashamed that she had used it as an excuse to do what she had been longing to do anyway. The physical desire she felt for him was sharp and strong, so urgently demanding that stopping felt unnatural, all of her instincts pushing her toward him.
Her body felt warm and weak with satiation, faintly trembling in the aftermath. But now that he was no longer touching her, the old wariness was creeping back, pulling her in two directions. She had thought the decision simple, though it had never been easy, but now she was finding that nothing about it, either Quinlan or her own emotions, was simple.
Dazedly she stripped off her disheveled clothing and used some wet paper towels to wash; the cool moisture was momentarily refreshing, but then the close heat of the rest room made sweat form almost as fast as she could wash it off. Ironically she admitted that, no matter how reluctant she was, she had no real choice but to face him again. If she remained in here, she would have heat stroke. It was a sad day when a woman couldn't even count on a rest room for sanctuary. Ah, well, she hadn't yet found any place that was truly safe from him, for her own memories worked against her.
Just as she pulled on her panties, the door was thrust open and Quinlan loomed in the opening, his big body blotting out most of the light from the lobby but allowing the welcome entrance of relatively cooler air. The subtle breeze washed around her body, making her nipples pucker slightly. Or was that an instinctive female reaction to the closeness of her mate? She didn't want to think of him in such primitive, possessive terms, but her body had different priorities.
He noticed, of course. His gaze became smoky with both desire and possessiveness as he openly admired her breasts. But he didn't move toward her, holding himself very still as if he sensed her confusion. "Hiding?" he asked mildly.
"Delaying," she admitted, her tone soft. She didn't try to shield her body from him; such an action would seem silly, after what they had just done. It wasn't as if he hadn't seen her completely naked before, as if they hadn't made love before. Moreover, he had decided to remove his pants and stood before her wearing only a pair of short, dark boxers. Barefoot and mostly naked, his dark hair tousled and wet with both sweat and the water he had splashed on his face, he was stripped of most of the trappings of civilization. Despite the heat, a shiver ran up her spine in yet another feminine response to the primitiveness of his masculinity, and she looked away to keep him from seeing it in her face.
He came to her and took up his shirt, holding it for her to slip into; then, when she had done so, he turned her and began buttoning the garment as if she were a child being dressed. "You can't stay in here," he said. "Too damn hot."
"I know. I was coming out."
He shepherded her toward the door, his hand on her back. She wondered if the action was just his usual take-charge attitude, or if he was acting on some primitive instinct of his own, to keep the female from bolting. Probably a mixture of the two, she thought, and sighed.
He had been busy while she had been in the rest room, and she realized she had delayed in there much longer than she had intended. He had arranged the extra cushions on the floor–in the shape of a double bed, she noticed–and gotten some cool water from the fountain, the cups ready for them to drink. The water was welcome, but if he thought she was going to docilely stretch out on those cushions, he would shortly be disillusioned. She sat down in a chair and reached for a cup, sipping it without enthusiasm at first, then more eagerly as she rediscovered how good plain water was for quenching thirst. It was a delight of childhood that tended to be forgotten in the adult world of coffee, tea and wine spritzers.
"Are you hungry?" he asked.
"No." How could she be hungry? Her nerves were so tightly drawn that she didn't think she would be able to eat until they got out of here.
"Well, I am." He tore open the wrapping on the big blueberry muffin and began eating. "Tell me about your marriage."
She stiffened and glared at him. "It wasn't a good marriage," she said tightly. "It also isn't any of your business."
He glanced pointedly at the floor where they had so recently made love. "That's debatable. Okay, let's try it this way. I'll tell you about my marriage if you'll tell me about yours. No evasion tactics. I'll answer any question you ask."
She stared at him in shock. "Your marriage?"
He shrugged. "Sure. Hell, I'm thirty-seven years old. I haven't lived my entire life in a vacuum."
"You have your nerve!" she flared. "You jumped down my throat for not talking about my past marriage when you've only now mentioned your own?"
He rubbed the side of his nose and gave her a faintly sheepish look. "That occurred to me," he admitted.
"Well, let me put another thought in your dim Neanderthal brain! The time for heart-to-heart confi- dences was over a long time ago. We aren't involved any longer, so there's no point in 'sharing.'"
He took another bite of the muffin. "Don't kid yourself. What we just did felt pretty damn involved to me."
"That was just sex," she said dismissively. "It had been a while, and I needed it."
"I know exactly how long it had been." His blue gaze sharpened, and she knew he hadn't liked her comment. "You haven't gone out with anyone else since you walked out on me."
She was enraged all over again. "Have you had me followed?" He had, but he wasn't about to tell her that now. Instead he said, "Chickie worries because your social life, in her words, resembles Death Valley–nothing of interest moving around."
Elizabeth snorted, but she was mollified, because she had heard Chickie make that exact comment on a couple of occasions. Still, she would have to have a word with her about discretion.
"I've been busy," she said, not caring if he believed her or not, though it happened to be the truth. She had deliberately been as busy as she could manage in order to give herself less free time to think about him.
"I know. You've found a lot of lilies to gild."
Her teeth closed with a snap. "That's so people will have a reason to install your fancy security systems. I gild the lilies, and you protect them."
"I protect people," he clarified.
"Uh-huh. That's why you set up so many security systems for people who live in rough neighborhoods, where their lives are really in danger."
"I can see we aren't going to agree on this."
"You brought it up."
"My mistake. Let's get back to the original subject, namely our respective failed marriages. Go ahead, ask me anything you want."
The perfect response, of course, was that she wasn't interested. It would also be a lie, because she was not only interested, she was suddenly, violently jealous of that unknown, hitherto unsuspected woman who had been his wife, who had shared his name and his bed for a time, and who had been, in the eyes of the world, his mate. Elizabeth firmly kept her mouth closed, but she couldn't stop herself from glaring at him.
Quinlan sighed. "All right, I'll tell you the boring facts without making you ask. Her name was Amy. We dated during college. Then, when college was finished, it seemed like we should do adult things, so we got married. But I was away on my job a lot, and Amy found someone in the office where she worked who she liked a lot better. Within six months of getting married we knew it had been a mistake, but we held out for another year, trying to make it 'work,' before we both realized we were just wasting time. The divorce was a relief for both of us. End of story."
She was still glaring at him. "I don't even know where you went to college."
He sighed again. She was getting damn tired of that sigh, as if he were being so noble in his dealings with an irrational woman. "Cal Tech."
"Ah." Well, that explained his expertise with electronics and computers and things.
"No children," he added. "I should hope not!" It was bad enough that he had, for some reason, concealed all the rest of the de- tails of his life. "If you'd kept children hidden, I would never have forgiven you."
His eyes gleamed. "Does this mean you have?"
He gave a startled shout of laughter. "God, I've missed you. You don't dissemble at all. If you're grouchy, you don't feel any need at all to make nice and pretend to be sweetness and light, do you?"
She gave him a haughty look. "I'm not sweetness and light."
"Thank God," he said fervently. He leaned back and spread his hands, then stretched his long, mus- cular legs out before him in a posture of complete relaxation. "Okay, it's your turn. Tell me all the deep, dark secrets about your marriage."