Overload (Chapter Five)
He gave her that considering look again, as if he were trying to decide how to handle her. Mentally she bristled at the idea of being "handled," but she forced down her irritation. She knew how relentless Quinlan could be when crossed; she would need to keep her thoughts ordered, not let him trip her up with anger.
He remained silent, watching her, and she knew what he wanted. He had already asked the question; he was simply waiting for the answer.
Despite herself, Elizabeth felt a spurt of anger, even after all these months. She faced him and went straight to the heart of the matter. "I found the file you had on me," she said, every word clipped short. "You had me investigated."
"Ah." He steepled his fingers and studied her over them. "So that's it." He paused a few seconds, then said mildly, "Of course I did."
"There's no 'of course' to it. You invaded my privacy–"
"As you invaded mine," he interrupted smoothly. "That file wasn't lying out in the open."
"No, it wasn't. I looked in your desk," she admitted without hesitation.
"I felt uneasy about you. I was looking for some answers."
"So why didn't you ask me?" The words were as sharp as a stiletto.
She gave him a wry, humorless smile. "I did. Many times. You're a master at evasion, though. I've been to bed with you, but I don't know much more about you right now than I did the day we met."
He neatly sidestepped the charge by asking, "What made you feel uneasy? I never threatened you, never pushed you. You know I own and run my company, that I'm solvent and not on the run." "You just did it again," she pointed out. "Your ability to evade is very good. It took me a while to catch on, but then I noticed that you didn't answer my questions. You always responded, so it wasn't obvious, but you'd just ask your own question and ignore mine."
He surveyed her silently for a moment before saying, "I'm not interested in talking about myself. I already know all the details."
"I'd say that the same holds true for me, wouldn't you?" she asked sweetly. "I wanted to know about you, and got nowhere. But I didn't have you investigated."
"I wouldn't have minded if you had." Not that she would have been able to find out much, he thought.
Great chunks of his life after high school graduation weren't to be found in public records.
"Bully for you. I minded."
"And that's it? You walked out on me and broke off our relationship because you were angry that I had you investigated? Why didn't you just yell at me? Throw things at me? For God's sake, Elizabeth, don't you think you took it a little far?"
His tone was both angry and incredulous, making it plain that he considered her reaction to be nothing short of hysteric, far out of proportion to the cause.
She froze inside, momentarily paralyzed by the familiar ploy of being made to feel that she was in the wrong, that no matter what happened it was her fault for not being good enough. But then she fought the memories back; she would never let anyone make her feel that way again. She had gotten herself back, and she knew her own worth. She knew she hadn't handled the matter well, but only in the way she had done it; the outcome itself had never been in question.
Her voice was cool when she replied. "No, I don't think I took it too far. I'd been feeling uneasy about you for quite a while. Finding that you had investigated me was the final factor, but certainly not all of it."
"Because I hadn't answered a few questions?" That incredulous note was still there.
"Among other things."
In for a penny, in for a pound. "Such as your habit of taking over, of ignoring my objections or suggestions as if I hadn't even said anything."
"Objections to what?" Now the words were as sharp as a lash. His blue eyes were narrowed and vivid. A bit surprised, she realized that he was angry again.
She waved her hand in a vague gesture. "Any little thing. I didn't catalog them–" "Surprises the hell out of me," he muttered.
"But you were constantly overriding me. If I told you I was going shopping, you insisted that I wait until you could go with me. If I wanted to wear a sweater when we were going out, you insisted that I wear a coat. Damn it, Quinlan, you even tried to make me change where I bank!''
His eyebrows rose. "The bank you use now is too far away. The one I suggested is much more convenient."
"For whom? If I'm perfectly happy with my bank, then it isn't inconvenient for me, is it?"
"So don't change your bank. What's the big deal?"
"The big deal," she said slowly, choosing her words, "is that you want to make all the decisions, handle everything yourself. You don't want a relationship, you want a dictatorship."
One moment he was lounging comfortably, long legs sprawled out in front of him; the next he was in front of her, bending over to plant his hands on the arms of her chair and trap her in place. Elizabeth stared up at him, blinking at the barely controlled rage in his face, but she refused to let herself shrink from him. Instead she lifted her chin and met him glare for glare.
"I don't believe it!" he half shouted. "You walked out on me because I wanted you to change banks? God in heaven." He shoved himself away from the chair and stalked several paces away, running his hand through his hair.
"No," she shouted back, "I walked out because I refuse to let you take over my life!" She was unable to sit still, either, and surged out of the chair. Instantly Quinlan whirled with those lightning-quick reactions of his, catching her arms and hauling her close to him, so close that she could see the white flecks in the deep blue of his irises and smell the hot, male scent of his body. Her nostrils flared delicately as she instinctively drank in the primal signal, even though she stiffened against his touch.
"Why didn't you tell me you were married before?"
The question was soft, and not even unexpected, but still she flinched. Of course he knew; it had been in that damn investigative report.
"It isn't on my list of conversational topics," she snapped. "But neither is it a state secret. If our rela- tionship had ever progressed far enough, I would have told you then. What was I supposed to do, trot out my past life the minute we met?"
Quinlan watched her attentively. As close as they were, he could see every flicker of expression on her face, and he had noticed the telltale flinch even though she had replied readily enough. Ah, so there was something there.
"Just how far did our relationship have to go?" he asked, still keeping his voice soft. "We weren't seeing anyone else. We didn't actually have sex until that last night together, but things got pretty hot between us several times before that." "And I was having doubts about you even then," she replied just as softly.
"Maybe so, but that didn't stop you from wanting me, just like now." He bent his head and settled his mouth on hers, the pressure light and persuasive. She tried to pull away and found herself powerless against his strength, even though he was taking care not to hurt her. "Be still," he said against her lips.
Desperately she wrenched her head away. He forced it back, but instead of kissing her again, he paused with his mouth only a fraction of an inch above hers. "Why didn't you tell me about it?" he murmured, his warm breath caressing her lips and making them tingle. With his typical relentlessness, he had fastened on an idea and wouldn't let it go until he was satisfied with the answer. The old blind fear rose in her, black wings beating, and in panic she started to struggle. He subdued her without effort, wrapping her in a warm, solid embrace from which there was no escape.
"What happened?" he asked, brushing light kisses across her mouth between words. "What made you flinch when I mentioned it? Tell me about it now. I need to know. Did he run around on you?"
"No." She hadn't meant to answer him, but somehow, caught in those steely arms and cradled against his enticing heat, the word slipped out in a whisper. She heard it and shuddered. "No!" she said more forcefully, fighting for control. "He didn't cheat." If only he had, if only his destructive attention had been diluted in that way, it wouldn't have been so bad. "Stop it, Quinlan. Let me go."
"Why did you start calling me Quinlan?" His voice remained low and soothing, and his warm mouth kept pressing against hers with quick, gentle touches. "You called me Tom before, and when we made love."
She had started calling him Quinlan in an effort to distance herself from him. She didn't want to think of him as Tom, because the name was forever linked in her mind with that night when she had clung to his naked shoulders, her body lifting feverishly to his forceful thrusts as she cried out his name over and over, in ecstasy, in need, in completion. Tom was the name of her lover; Quinlan was the man she had fled.
And Quinlan was the one she had to deal with now, the man who never gave up. He held her helpless in his grasp, taking kiss after kiss from her until she stopped trying to evade his mouth and opened her lips to him with a tiny, greedy sound. Instantly he took her with his tongue, and the sheer pleasure of it made them both shudder.
His warm hand closed over her breast, gently kneading. She groaned, the sound captured by his mouth, and desperately tried to marshal her resistance. He was seducing her just as effortlessly as he had the first time, but even though she realized what was happening she couldn't find the willpower to push him away. She loved him too much, savored his kisses too much, desired him too strongly, found too much pleasure in the stroke of those hard hands.
The pressure of his fingers had hardened her nipple into a tight nub that stabbed his palm even through the layers of fabric protecting her. He deepened the kiss as he roughly opened the buttons of her blouse and shoved a hand inside the opening, then under the lacy cup of her bra to find the bare flesh he craved. She whimpered as his fingers found her sensitive nipple and lightly pinched at it, sending sharp waves of sensation down to her tightening loins. The sound she made was soft, more of a vibration than an actual noise, but he was so attuned to her that he felt it as sharply as an electrical shock.
She was limp as he bent her back over his arm and freed her breast from the lace that confined it, cupping the warm mound and lifting it up to his hungry mouth. He bent over her, sucking fiercely at her tender flesh, wild with the taste and scent and feel of her. He stabbed at her nipple with his tongue, excited and triumphant at the way she arched responsively at every lash of sensation. She wanted him. He had told himself that there had been no mistaking her fiery response that night, but the six months since then had weakened his assurance. Now he knew he hadn't been wrong. He barely had to touch her and she trembled with excitement, already needing him, ready for him. He left her breast for more deeply voracious kisses taken from her sweetly swollen lips. God, he wanted her! No other woman had ever made him feel as Elizabeth did, so completely attuned with and lost within her.
He wanted to make love to her, now, but there were still too many unanswered questions. If he didn't get things settled while he had her marooned here, unable to get away from him, it might be another six months before he could corner her again. No, by God, it wouldn't be; he couldn't stand it again.
Reluctantly he left her mouth, every instinct in him wanting to take this to completion, knowing that he could if only he didn't give her a chance to surface from the drugging physical delight, but he still wanted answers and couldn't wait, didn't dare wait, to get them. "Tell me," he cajoled as he trailed his mouth down the side of her neck, nibbling on the taut tendon and feeling the response ripple through her. Finally, finally–he was on the right track. "Tell me what he did that made you run from me."