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Angel tried to meter her breathing, to look calm, but her heart felt lodged in her throat and wouldn't budge. She hated doing this, had sworn she'd never so much as speak to the man again after his last, most devastating rejection. But she'd been left with little choice.
With her shoe box tucked beneath her arm and one hand on the wall, offering support, she made her way down the hall to Derek's office. She still felt awkward without her crutches, but she knew better than to show him any weaknesses at all. When she reached the open door, she straightened her shoulders, forced a smile, and tried to make her steps as smooth as possible.
Derek sat behind his desk, his chair half turned so that he could look out the window at the Saturday morning traffic. The rest of the building, except for the security guards, was empty, just as she'd planned.
He was still as gorgeous, as physically compelling as ever, only now he looked a little disheveled, a little rumpled. She liked this look better than the urbane businessman he usually portrayed. The only other time she'd seen him relaxed like this was right after he'd made love to her.
That thought licked a path of heat from her heart to her stomach and back again, and she had to clear her throat.
His chair jerked around and his gaze pierced her, freezing her on the spot. Even her heartbeat seemed to shudder and die. Only his eyes moved as he looked her over, slowly and in excruciating detail, as if he'd never seen her before and needed to commit her to memory, then their eyes metand locked. For painstaking moments they stayed that way, and the heat, the intensity of his gaze, thawed her clear down to her toes. Her chest heaved as she tried to deal with the unexpected punch of reacting to him again. It shouldn't have happened; she didn't care anymore, wasn't awed by him now. Her infatuation had long since faded away, but seeing him with his straight brown hair hanging over his brow, his shirtsleeves rolled up, made him more human than ever. His gaze seemed brighter, golden like a fox, and she tightened her hold on the shoe box, using it to remind herself of her purpose.
She saw some indiscernible emotion cross his face, and then he stood. "Angel."
His voice was low and deep. As he rounded the desk his eyes never left hers, and she felt almost ensnared. She retreated a step, which effectively halted his approach. He lifted one dark eyebrow in a look of confusion.
Idiot. She didn't want to put him off, to show him her nervousness. That would gain her nothing. She tried a smile, but he didn't react to it. Moving more slowly now, he stepped closer, watching her, waiting.
"Can I take your coat?"
She closed her eyes, trying to dispel the fog of emotions that swamped her. When she opened them again, she found him even closer, studying her, scrutinizing her every feature. He lifted a hand and she held her breath, but his fingers only coasted, very gently, over her cheek.
"You're cold," he said softly. Then he stepped back.
"Can I pour you a cup of coffee?"
Angel nodded, relieved at the mundane offer. "Thank you. Coffee sounds wonderful." Walking forward, she set her shoe box on the edge of the desk and slipped out of her coat, aware of his continued glances as he collected two mugs from a tray. She didn't mean to, but she said, "You seem different."
He paused, then deliberately went back to his task. "Oh? In what way?"
With one hand resting on the shoe box, she used the other to indicate his clothes. "I've never seen you dressed so casually before. And offering to pour me coffee. Usually you"
He interrupted, handing her a steaming mug. "Usually I leave domestic tasks to women, I know." He shrugged, gifting her with that beautiful smile of his that could melt ice even on a day like today. "But you insisted no one else be here today, so I was left to my own devices. It was either make the coffee, or do without."
Angel fidgeted. "You know why I didn't want anyone else here. Your family would have asked questions if they'd seen us together."
He nodded slowly. "True." Then he asked in a low curious tone, "Why are you here, Angel?"
Flirting had never come easy to her, but especially not these days. She smiled. "I've missed you, of course. Didn't you miss me just a little?"
He stared a moment longer, then carefully set his mug aside. "Most definitely," he said. He took her coffee as well, placing it beside his, then cupped her face. Strangely enough, his fingers felt rough rather than smooth, and very hot. He searched her every feature, lingering on her mouth while his thumb wreaked havoc on her bottom lip, smoothing, stroking. "Show me how much you missed me, Angel."
Now this was the Derek she understood, the man who always put his own pleasures first, the man who had always physically wanted her. That hadn't changed. Without hesitation, surprised at how acceptable the prospect of kissing him seemed when all day she'd been dreading it, she leaned upward. He was much taller than her, and her leg was too weak for tiptoes, so she caught him around the neck and pulled him down.
When her mouth touched his, tentative and shy, she felt his smile. She kept her eyes tightly closed, mostly because she knew he was watching her and she felt exposed, as if he'd guess her game at any moment. It had been so long since she'd done this, since she'd kissed a man, and she was woefully out of practice and nervous to boot. If necessity hadn't driven her to it, she'd have gone many more months, maybe even years, without touching a man. Especially this man.
But now she was touching him, and shamefully, to her mind, it was rather enjoyable.
Tilting her head, she parted her lips just a bit and kissed him again, more enthusiastically this time, nibbling his bottom lip between her teeth. His humor fled and he drew a deep breath through his nose. "Angel?"
"Kiss me, Derek. It's been so long."
The errant truth of her words could be heard in the hunger of her tone, something she couldn't quite hide. His answering groan sounded of surprise, almost anger, but kiss her he did. Wow. Angel held on, stunned at the reaction in her body to the dampness, the heat of his mouth as he parted her lips more and thrust his tongue inside. His body, hard and tall and strong, pressed against hers. It had never felt this way, like a storm on the senses. Her heart rapped against her breastbone, her stomach heated, her nipples tightened, and he seemed to be aware of it all, offering soft encouragement every time she made a sound, every time she squirmed against him. She wasn't being kissed, she was being devoured.
"I know," she said, because everything was different, somehow volatile. "I didn't plan on this."
He paused, his lips touching her throat, then raised his face to look at her. He said nothing, but his hand lifted and closed over her breast, causing her to suck in her breath on a soft, startled moan. Oh no. She was so sensitive, and she hadn't realized. "Derek "
He kissed her again, hard, cutting off her automatic protest, then backed her to the desk. His groin pressed against her, making her aware of his solid erection, of the length and heat of it. Her plans fled; there was no room in her brain for premeditated thought, not when her body suddenly felt so alive again, reacting on pure instinct. His hand smoothed over her bottom, pulling her even closer, rocking her against him. Her leg protested, but she ignored it, an easy thing to do when his scent, his strength, filled her.
"How long has it been, Angel?"
She clutched his shoulders, her head back, her eyes closed, as he kneaded her breast with one hand, and kept her pelvis close with the other. Surely he knew as well as she did, so she merely said, "A long time."
"And you've missed me?" He nibbled her earlobe, then dipped his tongue inside. "Why didn't you call?"
Even in the sensual fog, she saw the trap. "After the way you acted last time?" She was astounded he would even ask such a thing!
He hesitated, then asked, "How exactly did you expect me to act?"
She stiffened as she pulled back. "Not like you couldn't have cared less! And after the way you'd betrayed my trust! You got me fired, you"
"Shhh." He kissed her again, lingering, and his hand started a leisurely path down her body, measuring her waist, which thankfully was slim again, then roving over her hip. Her thoughts, her anger, turned to mush. She caught her breath with each inch he advanced. His fingers curled on her thigh, bunching her skirt, then moved upward again, this time underneath, touching against her leggings. He cupped her, startling her, shocking her actually. But she didn't move and neither did he. She tried to remind herself that this was what she'd hoped for, but it wasn't true. She'd stupidly hoped for so much more.
His fingers felt hot even through her clothes, but he was still, just holding her, watching her again. "Why now, Angel? Why this secret arrangement?"
She decided a partial truth would serve. "There's been no one but you."
"And you needed a man, so it had to be me?"
"Yes." That was true, too. She didn't know who to trust, who to fear, so for what she needed, no one else would serve. But she hadn't planned on her own honest participation. Her body reacted independently of her mind; she felt shamed by her response to a man she should have loathed, but overriding that was some inescapable need, swamping her, causing her whole body to tremble. Maybe the pregnancy had altered her hormones or something, but she'd never in her life felt like this, and it was wonderful.
She pressed her lips together and squeezed her eyes shut. Her body felt tightly strung, waiting, anticipating. She dredged up thoughts of the past, of all the reasons she had to despise him, why his touch could never matter
He seemed a bit stunned as she moaned softly and her fingers dug into his upper arms. He held her close, his own breathing harsh while his mouth moved gently on her temple. In all her imaginings, she had never envisioned this scenario, allowing him to touch her there, with her half-leaning on his damn desk, her face tucked into his throat. His heartbeat drummed madly against her own, and she grabbed his wrist to pull his hand away. "Derek, no."
Her voice shook with mortification, freezing him for an instant.
"Shhh." He dropped her skirt back into place and softly rocked her, soothing her. She bit her lip to keep her tears from falling, but even now she was painfully aware of his scent, his warmth. And the delicious, unexpected feelings didn't leave now that his touch was removed, they only quieted a bit.
She put one hand on his chest and lifted her face. He didn't smile, didn't ask questions. She couldn't quite look him in the eyes. "I'm sorry. I I don't know what came over me."
"Am I complaining?"
She shook her head. No, he looked pleased, but not really smug. Not as she'd expected. "That's never happened before. I don't understand."
"What's never happened?"
"Between you and me. Usually everything was just so controlled. And uncomfortable. I've never felt "
His face darkened, and she hastened to explain. "I don't mean to insult you, but Derek, you know yourself that sex between us was well, you seemed to like it okay, but I was a little disappointed. Not not that it was all your fault. It's just that I didn't it wasn't "
He smoothed her hair, his jaw tight. He seemed undecided about something, and then suddenly he clasped her waist and lifted her off her feet. He sat her on the edge of the desk, roughly spreading her thighs and stepping between them in the same movement. Pain shot through her and she gasped, curling forward, her hand reaching for her leg, wanting to rub away the sharp pounding ache. Her breath had left her and her free hand curled into his biceps, gripping him painfully. Derek froze, then growled, "What the hell?"
Her teeth sank into her bottom lip, but God, it hurt, and with more gentleness than she knew he possessed, Derek lifted her into his arms and headed for the leather couch.
Nothing was going right. "Derek, put me down."
"You're as white as a sheet." He looked down on her as he lowered her to the sofa cushions, and she flinched at the anger in his eyes. "I noticed you were limping a little when you came in, but I didn't realize you were hurt."
"I'm not," she protested, the issue of her leg meant for another day. "Really, I'll just "
"You'll just keep your butt put and tell me what's wrong. Is it your hip? Your leg?"
Before she could answer he reached beneath her long skirt and caught at her leggings, hooking his fingers in the waistband and tugging downward. "Derek!"
With his hands still under her skirt, his eyes locked on hers, he said, "After what we just came close to doing, you're shocked?"
Flustered was more apt, and appalled and embarrassed and "Derek, please." But already he had her tights pulled down to her knees. She felt horribly exposed and vulnerable. He explored her thighs, being very thorough, and it was more than she could bear. "It's my lower leg," she snapped. "I broke it some time back and it's still a little sore on occasion. That's all."
He stared at her, and she had the feeling he didn't believe a single word she'd said. "Let me get your shoes off."
She sat up and pushed at his hands. "I don't want my shoes off, dammit!"
"At the moment, I don't care what you want." And her laced-up, ankle-high shoes came off in rapid order, then her tights. As he looked at her leg, at the angry scars still there, his jaw tightened. "Damn."
Angel bristled, her only defense at being so exposed. "It's ugly, I know. If it bothers you, don't look at it."
One large hand wrapped around her ankle, keeping her still, and the other carefully touched the vivid marks left behind by the break and the subsequent surgery. "A compound fracture?"
"So you're a doctor now?"
He ignored her provocation. "This is where the break was, and this is where they inserted a rod." His gaze swung back up to her face, accusing.
Disgruntled, but seeing no way out of her present predicament, she said, "I'm fine, really. It's just that when you sat me on the desk, you jarred my leg and it well, it hurt. It's still a little tender. I only recently got off crutches."
His gaze was hot with anger. "And you're running around downtown in the ice and snow today?"
"I wasn't running around! I came to see you."
"Because you needed a man," he sneered, and her temper shot off the scales.
"Damn you!" Struggling upward, pulling herself away from his touch, she pointed to the shoe box still sitting on his desk. "I came to bring you that." Then she added, "Whether you wanted it or not."
He turned his head in the direction she indicated, but continued to kneel beside the couch. "What the hell is it?"
Angel came awkwardly to her feet and limped barefoot across the plush carpeted floor. She picked up the box, but then hesitated. She hadn't planned to raise hell with him, to anger him and alienate him. She had to move carefully or she'd blow everything. She closed her eyes as she gathered her thoughts and calmed herself. She hadn't heard him move, but suddenly Derek's hands were on her shoulders and he turned her toward him.
"What is it, Angel?"