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'"Hello, Alex." Is that all you have to say to me after disappearing to God knows where for months on end?' Alex Webber demanded.
He regretted the words instantly, not only because he had an audience but because they also demonstrated a rare loss of control on his part.
But that was hardly surprising, was it? He'd been caught way off-guard by Katrina's sudden appearance. Bursting in on him uninvited was not her style at all but, more importantly, she'd been missing for months.
Katrina Ashby shrugged her shoulders, sending her caramel-blonde hair rippling around her leather-clad shoulders. 'I suppose I should have added, how are you?'
Alex clenched his hands into fists. Although he wasn't a violent man, and had never lifted a finger against a woman in his life, he wanted nothing more than to stride across the room and shake Katrina until her teeth rattled.
After all of this time, how dared she turn up like this, out of the blue, and say, 'Hello, Alex,' as if nothing had happened?
His insides contracted on a burst of anger as week upon week of frustration imploded inside him. At the same time, other parts of him were swelling as another far more primitive form of frustration made itself known.
Forget shaking her until her teeth rattled, Alex conceded. What he really wanted to do—even though he shouldn't—was to pull her into his arms and kiss her until she wrapped her arms around his neck and sighed her surrender into his mouth.
Aware they had an interested audience—several board members were openly gawping, others surreptitiously looking backwards and forwards between them behind the cover of hands and folders—Alex did neither.
'Out!' he commanded.
Body rigid and teeth clenched, Alex remained where he was as the board, five men and two women, rose hastily to their feet and competed for who could reach the door first. They knew their boss well. He rarely lost his temper, but, when he did, it was usually a major eruption. Able to read the danger signs, each and every one of them was eager to get out of the firing line.
When the door closed behind them, Alex moved purposefully towards Katrina. She didn't back away from him. She stood her ground and gave him look for look, with a glint of challenge in her eyes he hadn't seen before.
'I asked you a question,' he asked silkily when he stopped in front of her.
She angled her chin into the air. 'And I answered you. Hello, Alex. How are you?'
'I'll tell you how I am.' He stepped closer until they were almost touching. He could smell the scent of her perfume—a gift he'd had his PA send her for her birthday shortly before she'd vanished—and could see the little specks of golden-brown in her cat-like green eyes. 'I'm furious!'
She cocked her head. 'Why?'
'Why?' Alex thought the top of his head might explode; he could actually feel the blood pumping at his temples. He grasped her shoulders and put his face close to hers. 'Because you disappeared without a trace, that's why!'
She smiled. 'Without a trace? Isn't that the name of an American TV show?'
Her smile faded. 'I didn't disappear, Alex. I just decided to go away for a while, that's all.'
Katrina had always been the cool, collected type—except when they'd been in bed together. Then she'd been wonderfully abandoned, returning kiss for kiss, touch for touch and pleasure for pleasure with a passionate intensity that blew his mind and everything else.
Normally, he liked the fact that she was so self-contained, but today her calm demeanour annoyed the hell out of him.
'Without telling me where you were going or how long you'd be gone for?' Alex prompted through gritted teeth.
'I told the people who mattered,' she said softly.
Alex exhaled sharply, his teeth snapping together. And you didn't consider including me in that group?'
Her gaze remained steady on his. 'No. I didn't.'
Alex struggled to keep his anger contained. He knew he was overreacting badly but he couldn't seem to help himself.
'Why not?' he bit out.
'Why should I tell you?' she shot back at him, that new challenging light in her eyes making them appear greener than usual.
His fingers flexed, digging into the soft leather of her jacket. 'Because you owed it to me,' he grated, the answer dragged from somewhere deep inside him.
Alex wasn't sure what angered him more: the fact that she had run out on him, or that she was the one to have betrayed him.
Of all the women he'd been with over the years, Katrina was the last one he would have picked to put him in this position.
'Owed it to you?' Her eyes flashed like quick-silver and the tip of her index finger dug into the centre of his chest, as if she was trying to bore a hole through to the other side. 'I don't owe you a thing, Alex. Not a single thing. And don't you forget it!'
Alex was stunned by her reaction. The Katrina he'd known would never have spoken to him the way this Katrina just had.
Pressure built inside his head until once again Alex thought the top of his head might explode.
Dragging in a breath, he fought for control.
He hated losing his temper. It reminded him of his father's monstrous behaviour, and the last thing he ever planned on doing was following in James Webber's footsteps!
He pulled her closer. Their bodies brushed and a surge of electricity powered through him. 'You're wrong about that. You owe me, all right. We were lovers, damn it!'
'Lovers?' She barked out a laugh, but there was no amusement in it. 'Don't you mean I was your mistress?'
Although she'd never said so, Alex had sensed on more than one occasion that Katrina hadn't been entirely happy with the role she'd played in his life. Like most women, she'd wanted a wedding ring and children, despite the fact he'd warned her up front that neither of those things was on offer.
They weren't on offer to any woman. And never would be.
'I'm not going to argue semantics with you. The point is we were together for almost a year. If that doesn't earn me the right to be told you were leaving Sydney, then what does?'
Katrina tried to shrug out from under his touch. When he refused to let her go she glared up at him. 'The operative word is were, Alex: we were lovers. We're not any more. The last time I saw you, you told me our relationship was over. Or have you forgotten that?'
'No, I haven't forgotten.'
He hadn't forgotten a thing.
Not what she tasted like.
Or smelled like.
Or how she looked when she fell apart in his arms.
And certainly not what she'd told him on that last fateful day they'd been together. Each and every word was indelibly carved into his brain as if someone had put them there with a hammer and chisel.
Releasing Katrina, Alex stalked to the window where he stood staring out at the Sydney skyline, fists shoved deep in his trouser pockets, tension drawing his shoulders up towards his ears.
'You had to know that wasn't the end of it,' he said quietly. 'You were pregnant, for goodness' sake!'
'What's that got to do with anything?' she asked, still sounding as cool as a cucumber, her eyes boring a pair of twin holes between his shoulder blades.
'What has that got to do with anything…?' Alex spun around to face her, blue eyes wide and incredulous. His fists clenched and unclenched against the silk lining of his pockets. 'Did you really think you could drop that kind of bombshell and not expect me to contact you again?'
She cleared her throat, and for the first time since bursting unannounced into the boardroom she didn't look quite so sure of herself; the challenge in her eyes was replaced by uncertainty. 'I'm not sure what to say. You were so cold that day. I honestly thought I'd never see you again.'
'Of course I was cold. I was in shock, damn it!'
'And do you think I wasn't?' Katrina demanded, voice rising.
Her words hung in the air like the residue of rifle fire, bouncing off one wall and then another.
Her mouth twisted. 'Oh, that's right!' She slapped an open palm against the centre of her forehead. 'How could I forget? You claimed you weren't the father.'
She looked at him as if she half-expected him to contradict her.
Alex stared stonily back, his silence answering for him.
'How can you believe that? We made love all the time. I could have become pregnant on any of those occasions, and you know it.'
Aren't you forgetting one little thing?' he asked, dangerously quiet.
And that is?'
'Protection,' he issued in a hard voice. 'I took care of our precautions. Too many women have tried to catch themselves a rich husband by getting pregnant deliberately.'
That was obviously what Katrina was trying to do. But what made it worse, so, so much worse, was that she was trying to do it with another man's child.
She had to be.
Because Alex had an even better reason than the precautions he'd just referred to for believing the child wasn't his—a reason that was so strong it put that belief almost beyond question.
Her treachery bit deep, gouging at him with hungry teeth.
It had been there like a thorn in his side, slowly leeching its poison into his system and raising all sorts of questions in his mind.
When she'd taken him to the heights of passion had it merely been a means to an end? Had she been there with him on the journey, feeling what he was feeling, or had she been putting on an act while her brain had clinically thought about her forthcoming plan?
The realisation that what he had thought was real and beautiful might just have been a sham left him feeling empty inside—and angry outside.
She gasped. 'Are you accusing me of being a gold-digger?'
He shrugged. 'If the shoe fits.'
'Well, the shoe doesn't fit. I wouldn't have you even if…even if…' She waved her hands through the air. 'Even if you were served up to me on a platter with a million-dollar cheque in your mouth!'
Alex laughed; he couldn't help it. The suggestion was so ludicrous he couldn't believe she'd actually had the gall to make it.
She lunged at him, hand arcing through the air. 'You cold-hearted…!'
Alex caught her hand and forced it back to her side before pulling her close. He'd never seen her lose her temper before. Her eyes were glittering with emerald fire, streaks of colour striping razor-sharp cheek bones. An incredible energy was emanating from her, so powerful he felt he could reach out and touch it with his hands.
A surge of lust—a lust he knew he should not be feeling—sent his blood roaring through his veins. He put his face close to hers. 'Don't push me, Katrina. I'm this close—' he held up thumb and forefinger with barely a hair's breadth separating them '—to doing something we'll both regret.'
'Don't push you?' she shouted, eyes so wide they dominated her face. 'Are you out of your mind? It's the other way around—don't you push—'
Alex silenced her with his mouth.
He hadn't planned on doing it; it just happened.
He kissed her savagely, his mouth hard and uncompromising.
Katrina stiffened until it felt as if he was holding an ironing board in his arms; her hands were like steel braces pressing forcefully against his chest. Alex fed a hand into her hair and cupped the back of her head, the other clamping around her waist at the base of her spine.
She tasted sweet, like the nectar from sun-warmed peaches, and as intoxicating as the finest wine. Something stirred inside him, something he hadn't felt since he'd last been with her. Something that not one of the women he'd slept with in the last seven months had evoked in him.
His mouth softened on hers and he began kissing her as if those months had never existed. As if she'd never told him she was pregnant and he'd never told her it was over.
His head spun.
His body stirred.
He was rock hard in under three seconds flat.
Katrina was the only woman who'd ever been able to do that to him. After all this time, and everything that had happened between them, Alex hadn't expected her appeal to still be so strong. But her effect on him was as powerful as it had ever been, if not more so.
Heart pounding, he ran the tip of his tongue over her lower lip then nibbled on it with his teeth, his hands relaxing until he was cradling her against him.
And slowly, oh, so slowly, the resistance melted out of her body. She sighed, her hands clutching at his shirt front, her lips softly parting.
Then she began kissing him back.
His kisses grew hotter and more demanding, his lips devouring hers, his tongue thrusting into her mouth to savour her inner sweetness. Heat seeped into his bloodstream until he felt saturated with raw desire. The world spun out of control, taking his sanity with it.
He was vaguely thinking about locking the door and carrying her to the long boardroom-table when Katrina began pushing against his chest again.
'Stop it, Alex!' she gasped, dragging her mouth out from under his. She was breathing so fast she could barely get the words out. 'Stop it! I don't want this.'
Alex lifted his head and stared down at her.
Her eyes were wide, the golden-brown specks gleaming, her mouth moist and kiss-swollen. A hectic flush had coloured her cheekbones, and scented heat was radiating off her skin.
She looked the way she'd always looked when they made love, and the familiarity of it sent a wave of satisfaction through him.
'Yes, you do.' He smudged his thumb across her lower lip. 'Do you think I didn't notice the way your eyes ate me up when you burst in here? And just now you were with me kiss for kiss. You're hungry for me—go on, admit it.'
Alex wasn't quite sure why it was so important that she admit she still wanted him, but it was. Important enough that a clamouring sense of urgency to hear her say the words was rising up inside of him.
Katrina tore herself out of his arms and stalked across the room, putting the length of the boardroom table between them. 'That…that kiss was a mistake,' Katrina said, wringing her hands together in front of her as if wringing a tea towel she was trying to extract water from. 'It shouldn't have happened.'
Alex opened his mouth to challenge the truth of that statement but just as quickly closed it again.
Katrina was right.
It was over between them.
It had to be.
Why was he thinking any differently?
Because he wasn't thinking with the head, he admitted grudgingly.
He dragged in a breath. 'I couldn't agree more,' he replied coolly.
She blinked at him. 'You…you agree?'
He nodded. 'Of course. I kissed you merely because I was trying to prove a point.'