Overload (Chapter Three)

He raised his eyebrows. "Whatever needs doing," he said mildly.

"Thank you so much for the reassurance! Are you expecting any kind of trouble? I thought you said the building was sealed." "The building is sealed, and no, I'm not expecting any trouble. That doesn't mean I'm going to be caught unprepared if I'm wrong. Don't worry about it. I'm always armed, in one way or another. It's just that this is the first time you've noticed."

She stared at him. "You don't usually carry a pistol."

"Yes, I do. You wouldn't have noticed it now if I hadn't taken my coat off."

"You didn't have one the night we–" She cut off the rest of the sentence.

"Made love?" He finished it for her. His blue eyes were steady, watchful. "Not that night, no. I knew I was going to make love to you, and I didn't want to scare you in any way, so I locked the pistol in the glove compartment before I picked you up. But I had a knife in my boot. Just like I do now."

It was difficult to breathe. She fought to suck in a deep breath as she bypassed the issue of the pistol and latched on to the most shocking part of what he'd just said. "You knew we were going to make love?"

He gave her another of those thoughtful looks. "You don't want to talk about that right now. Let's get finished here and get settled in the lobby before dark so we can save the batteries in the flashlights."

It was another logical suggestion, except for the fact that night wouldn't arrive until about nine o'clock, giving them plenty of time. She leaned back against the desk and crossed her arms. "Why don't I want to talk about it now?"

"Just an assumption I made. You've spent over half a year avoiding me, so I didn't think you would suddenly want to start an in-depth discussion. If I'm wrong, by all means let's talk." A sudden dangerous glitter lit his eyes. "Was I too rough? Was five times too many? I don't think so, because I could feel your climaxes squeezing me," he said bluntly. "Not to mention the way you had your legs locked around me so tight I could barely move. And I know damn good and well I don't snore or talk in my sleep, so just what in hell happened to send you running?"

His voice was low and hard, and he had moved closer so that he loomed over her. She had never seen him lose control, but as she saw the rage in his eyes she knew that he was closer to doing so now than she had ever imagined. It shook her a little. Not because she was afraid of him–at least, not in that way–but because she hadn't imagined it would have mattered so much to him.

Then she squared her shoulders, determined not to let him take charge of the conversation and turn it back on her the way he had so many times. "What do you mean, you knew we would make love that night?" she demanded, getting back to the original subject.

"Just what I said."

"How could you have been so sure? I certainly hadn't planned on it happening."

"No. But I knew you wouldn't turn me down." "You know a damn lot, don't you?" she snapped, incensed by that unshakable self-confidence of his.

"Yeah. But I don't know why you ran afterward. So why don't you tell me? Then we can get the problem straightened out and pick up where we left off."

She glared at him, not budging. He ran his hand through his dark hair, which he kept in a short, almost military cut. He was so controlled, it was one of the few gestures of irritation she could ever remember him making. "All right," he muttered. "I knew you were hiding things from me, maybe because you didn't trust what was between us. I thought that once we'd made love, once you knew you belonged to me, you'd trust me and stop holding back."

She forgot to glare. Her arms dropped to her sides, and she gaped at him. "I belong to you? I beg your pardon! Do you have a bill of sale that I don't know about?"

"Yes, belong!" he barked. "I had planned on marriage, kids, the whole bit, but you kept edging away from me. And I didn't know why. I still don't."

"Marriage? Kids?" She could barely speak, she was so astounded. The words came out in a squeak. "I don't suppose it ever occurred to you to let me in on all of this planning you were doing, did it? No, don't bother to answer. You made up your mind, and that was it, regardless of how I felt."

"I knew how you felt. You were in love with me. You still are. That's why it doesn't make sense that you ran."

"Maybe not to you, but it's crystal clear to me." She looked away, her face burning. She hadn't realized her feelings had been so obvious to him, though she had known fairly early in their relationship that she loved him. The more uneasy she had become, however, the more she had tried to hide the intensity of her feelings.

"Then why don't you let me in on the secret? I'm tired of this. Whatever it is I did, I apologize for it. We've wasted enough time."

His arrogance was astonishing, even though she had recognized that part of his character from the beginning. Quinlan was generally a quiet man, but it was the quietness of someone who had nothing to prove, to himself or anyone else. He had decided to put an end to the situation, and that was that, at least from his viewpoint.

But not from hers.

"You listen to me, Tom Quinlan," she said furiously. "I don't care what plans you've made, you can just write me out of them. I don't want–"

"I can't do that," he interrupted.

"Why not?"

"Because of this." She saw the glitter in his eyes and immediately bolted away from the desk, intent on escape. She was quick, but he was quicker. He seized her wrists and folded her arms behind her back, effectively wrapping her in his embrace at the same time. The pressure of his iron-muscled arms forced her against the hard planes of his body. Having seen him naked, she knew that his clothing disguised his true strength and muscularity, knew that she didn't have a prayer of escaping until he decided to release her. She declined to struggle, contenting herself with a furious glare.

"Cat eyes," he murmured. "The first time I saw you, I knew you were no lady. Your eyes give you away. And I was right, thank God. The night we spent together proved that you don't give a damn about what's proper or ladylike. You're wild and hot, and we wrecked my bed. You should have known there's no way in hell I'd let you go."

He was aroused. She could feel his hardness thrusting against her, his hips moving ever so slightly in a nestling motion, wordlessly trying to tempt her into opening her thighs to cradle him. It was tempting. Damn tempting. She couldn't deny wanting him, had never tried to, but he was right: she didn't trust him.

"It won't work," she said hoarsely.

"It already has." The words were soft, almost crooning, and his warm breath washed over her mouth a second before his lips were there, firm and hot, his head slanting to deepen the kiss and open her mouth to him. She hadn't meant to do so, but she found herself helpless to prevent it. Right from the beginning, his kisses had made her dizzy with delight. His self-confidence was manifested even in this; there was no hesitancy, no awkwardness. He simply took her mouth as if it were his right, his tongue probing deep, and a deep shudder of pleasure made her quake.

Held against him as she was, she could feel the tension in his body, feel his sex throbbing with arousal. He had never made any effort to disguise his response to her. Though it had been obvious even on their first date, he hadn't pressured her in any way. Maybe she had started falling in love with him then, because he had been both amused and matter-of-fact about his frequent arousal, his attitude being that it was a natural result of being in her company. She hadn't felt threatened in any way; in fact, looking back, she realized that Quinlan had gone out of his way to keep from alarming her. He had been remarkably unaggressive, sexually speaking, despite the persistent evidence of his attraction. She had never felt that she might have to face a wrestling match at the end of an evening. Even the night they had made love, she hadn't fully realized the seriousness of his kisses until she had somehow found herself naked in bed with him, her body on fire with need. Then she had dis- covered that he was very serious, indeed.

The memory made her panic, and she tore her mouth away from his. She had no doubt that if she didn't stop him now, within five minutes he would be making love to her. The hot sensuality of his kisses was deceptive, arousing her more and faster than she'd expected. It had been the same way that one night. He had just been kissing her; then, before she knew it, she had been wild for him. She hadn't known such intense, heat and pleasure had existed, until then.

"What's wrong?" he murmured, reclaiming her mouth with a series of swift, light kisses that never- theless burned. "Don't you like it? Or do you like it too much?"

His perceptiveness alarmed her even more, and despite herself she began to struggle. To her surprise, he released her immediately, though he didn't step back. "Tell me what went wrong, babe." His tone was dark and gentle. "I can't make it right if I don't know what it is."

She put her hands on his chest to force him away and was instantly, achingly aware of his hard, warm flesh covered only by a thin layer of cotton. She could even feel the roughness of his hair, the strong, heavy beat of his heart pulsing beneath her fingers. "Quinlan…"

"Tell me," he cajoled, kissing her again.

Desperately she slipped sideways, away from him. Her body felt overheated and slightly achy. If she didn't tell him, he would persist in his seductive cajoling, and she didn't know how long she could resist him. "All right." She owed him that much. She didn't intend to change her mind about dating him, but at least he deserved an explanation. She should have told him before, but at the time all she had wanted was to stay as far away from him as possible. "But… later. Not right now. We need to get everything gathered up and get settled in the lobby."

He straightened, amusement in his eyes. "Where have I heard that before?"

"It isn't polite to gloat."

"Maybe not, but it's sure as hell satisfying."

She was nervous. Quinlan was surprised at the depth of her uneasiness, because that wasn't a trait he associated with Elizabeth. He wondered at the cause of it, just as he had wondered for the past six months why she had run from him so abruptly after spending the night in his arms. She wasn't afraid of him; that was one of the things he liked best about her. For him to find women attractive, they had to be intelligent, but unfortunately that intelligence tended to go hand in glove with a perceptiveness that made them shy away from him.

He couldn't do anything about his aura of dangerousness, because he couldn't lose the characteristics, the habits or the instincts that made him dangerous. He didn't even want to. It was as much a part of him as his bones, and went as deep. He had made do with shallow relationships for the sake of physical gratification, but inside he had been waiting and watching. Though the life he had led sometimes made him feel as if only a few people in this world really saw what went on around them, that most people went through life wearing blinders, now that he was mostly out of the action he wanted the normalcy that the average person took for granted. He wanted a wife and family, a secure, settled life; as soon as he had met Elizabeth, he had known that she was the one he wanted.

It wasn't just her looks, though God knew he broke out in a sweat at the sight of her. She was a little over average height, as slim as a reed, with sleek dark hair usually pulled back in a classic chignon. She had the fast lines of a thoroughbred, and until he had met her, he hadn't known how sexy that was. But it was her eyes that had gotten him. Cat eyes, he'd told her, and it was true, but though they were green, it was more the expression in them than the color that made them look so feline. Elizabeth's nature shone in her eyes. She had given him a warning look that had said she wasn't intimidated by him at all, underlaid by a cool disdain that was certainly catlike.

Excitement and arousal had raced through him. The more he'd learned about her, the more determined he had been to have her. She was sharply intelligent, witty, sarcastic at times and had a robust sense of humor that sometimes caught him off guard, though it always delighted him. And she burned with an inner intensity that drew him as inexorably as a magnet draws steel.

The intensity of his attraction had caught him off guard. He wanted to know everything there was to know about her, even her childhood memories, because that was a time in her life that would be forever closed to him. He wanted to have children with her and was fascinated by the possibility of a daughter in Elizabeth's image, a small, strong-willed, sharp-tongued, dimpled cherub. Talking about Elizabeth's own childhood made that possibility seem tantalizingly real.

At first Elizabeth had talked openly, with that faint arrogance of hers that said she had nothing to hide and he could like it or lump it. But then he had begun to sense that she was hiding something. It wasn't anything he could put his finger on; it was more of a withdrawal from him, as if she had built an inner wall and had no intention of letting him progress past that point.

Both his training and his nature made it impossible for him just to let it pass. Her withdrawal didn't make sense, because he knew, knew with every animal instinct in him that she felt the same way he did. She wanted him. She loved him. If she were truly hiding something, he wanted to know about it, and he had both the skill and the resources to find out just about anything in a person's life. His inquiries had turned up the fact that she had been married before, but the marriage had seemed to be fairly typical, and fairly brief, the sort of thing a lot of college graduates drifted into, quickly finding out they didn't suit. He'd had his own short fling with marriage at that age, so he knew how it happened. But the more he'd thought about it, the more he'd noticed that the period of her marriage was the one period she didn't talk about, not even mentioning that she'd ever been married at all. He was too good at what he did not to realize the significance of that, and he had begun to probe for answers about those two missing years. At the same time, feeling her slipping away from him, he had made a bold move to cement their relationship and taken her to bed, trusting in the bonds of the flesh to both break down the barriers and hold her to him until she learned to trust him completely.

It hadn't worked.

She had fled the next morning while he was still in the shower, and this was the first time he'd gotten her alone since then.

Over half a year wasted. Almost seven long damn months, endless nights spent in burning frustration, both physical and mental.

But he had her now, all alone, and before they left this building he intended to know just what the hell happened and have her back where she belonged, with him.