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Sarah's child (Chapter 4)

Sarah stared at him. As marriage proposals went, that one was fairly insulting, so much so that for a long moment she couldn't even react. She loved him, but this was a bit much. So he thought she'd marry him to ease his guilty conscience? Was she such a desperate case that he thought she'd jump at the chance? Worse, was he right? Trembling inside, she didn't know if she'd have the strength to turn him down, even knowing that he'd asked her for the worst possible reason.

To give herself time, she turned to get two coffee mugs down from the cabinet, keeping her back turned to him while she con-centrated on regulating her breathing, carefully easing her senses back onto an even keel. Turning one smooth ceramic mug in her fingers, she finally managed one normal word. "Why?"

Rome's skin had an ashen hue beneath the olive tint, and she knew that it hadn't been easy for him to ask her. How could it be, when he still waited, in his heart, for Diane?

Like any good businessman, he began by outlining the ad-vantages of a merger. "I think we could have a good marriage. We're both career people; we'd each understand the pres-sures the other was under, the demands that cut into the time we'd normally have together. We get along better now than we ever have, and the trips I have to take would give us breath-ing space away from each other. I know you're used to being independent, and having time to yourself," he said cautiously, watching her in an effort to guess her reception to his pro-posal, but it was like searching for expressions on the smooth, cool face of a china doll. "We'd know how to stay out of each other's way."

The coffee was finished. Sarah dumped the grounds, then poured the steaming deliciously scented brew into the mugs. Handing one to him, she leaned against the counter and blew gently on the coffee to cool it. "If we need so much time apart, why bother to get married?" she finally asked. "Why not just keep on the way we've been?"

His dark face softened as he looked at the pale tumble of hair that curled itself like living arms around her shoulders. "Sarah, if you were a woman who could accept a casual af-fair, you wouldn't have been a virgin last night."

Shivering, Sarah reminded herself that he was a good chess player. He knew how to defend and at tack, and how to slide in under a weak argument. No, she wasn't a woman to sleep around, because she'd never been able to see any man but him. Couldn't he see the obvious? A woman who'd been a virgin for so long, despite the normal opportunities to change that condition, could have had only one reason for going without question into his arms the night before.

"It was good last night," he said softly, his words winding themselves around her heart like a vine, tugging her close to him, bending her to his will. "You felt so good that I went a little crazy, but I could still feel the way you softened inside. If I could have waited, would you have gone a little crazy for me? Was it beginning to feel good to you?"

He slid off the stool, coming closer to her, his dark velvet voice seducing her all over again. Standing before her, he drank his coffee, watching her all the while over the rim of the mug.

Sarah sipped the coffee too, holding it on her tongue so the tart taste of it could delight her taste buds. She could feel the heat climbing in her face, and she cursed her pale complex-ion that made even the faintest of blushes instantly apparent. "Yes, I liked it," she finally admitted jerkily.

"I'd be a good husband. Faithful, hardworking, loyal, just like Fido the Wonder Dog, or whatever the mutt's name was." She glanced up quickly and saw the amusement sparkling in the depths of his eyes, golden now as his mood lightened. "I like being domesticated," he continued, his clipped accent slowing as he thought out his words. "I like the stability of it, the com-panionship, someone to drink coffee with on rainy mornings and cold winter nights. It's raining now; isn't this nice?" He cupped the ball of her shoulder in his palm, his fingers kneading the del-icate joint; then he deliberately slid his hand inside the collar of her robe, his fingers gliding under the edge of her nightgown to fondle the cool sweetly swelling curves of her breasts.

Sarah held herself perfectly still, her body quivering in-side from the run of pleasure. He wasn't being fair; how could she think clearly when her body, superbly fashioned by nature to respond to the touch of the man she loved, was de-manding all her attention? Intellect was a fine thing, but Rome was fast teaching her how little her mind could con-trol her body's natural desire.

Rome watched her closely, seeing the soft mists of passion cloud the cool directness of her eyes. Her lashes drifted down, her lids growing heavier, and her breath was coming faster be-tween her softly parted lips. His own heartbeat was picking up speed as he felt her breasts growing warm beneath his touch, the enchanting woman smell of her rising to his nostrils and telling him, without him even thinking of it, that she was his for the tak-ing. Before it was too late, he drew his hand back, but the need to touch her drove him to reach for her again, clasping her slim waist and pulling her to him. Her coffee sloshed dangerously close to the rim, and he rescued both of them, setting his own mug down, then taking hers and placing it beside the other one.

Then she was securely in his arms, her soft body nestled against his, adjusting herself without thought to the hard con-tours of his muscular frame, and that adjustment made both of them gasp.

"You see?" he muttered shakily, burying his face against the slippery silk of her hair. "We're good together. Damned good."

Sarah laced her arms around his back, feeling the damp-ness of his shirt where he'd sprinted through the rain. The fresh smell of rain and the coming autumn mingled with his own vital male scent, luring her, and she rubbed her nose into the hollow of his shoulder. What kind of marriage would she have with him, heaven or hell? Would she be content with what he could give her, or would she slowly shrivel inside, dying because she wanted all of him and his heart would al-ways be Diane's? At that moment, standing there in the kitchen with their arms locked around each other, she felt that she could ask nothing more of heaven, but when the daily grind of life wore her down, would she need more from him?

Slowly his big hands moved up her back, finding and stroking each separate rib and vertebra. "Say yes, baby," he cajoled huskily, the first endearment he'd ever used with her, and she melted inside, going weak. "I want you; I've always wanted you, all those years when you were giving me that del-icate cold shoulder. There was no way I was going to jeop-ardize my marriage to Diane by going after you; I loved her too much. But I've always wanted you, and Diane isn't be-tween us anymore. I think… I think she'd like the idea of us taking care of each other."

Her face hidden in his shoulder, Sarah closed her eyes in pain. When he spoke of Diane, every word was a sword that cut into her heart. How could she ever be strong enough to live with the knowledge that she'd never replace Diane in his affections? But even as she writhed inside in pain, Rome lifted her even more tightly against him, and his action sent all her thoughts into confusion. Gently shifting their positions, he leaned back against the cabinets and spread his legs to sup-port Sarah's weight, pulling her intimately against him and holding her tightly to his chest.

"If I'm going to have you, then I'll have to marry you."

Catching her jaw in his fingers, he gently forced her to lift her head so he could see her face. "You're just not the type of woman who could handle anything less. I'm offering you a commitment, a legal relationship with all the rights that grants you. I'll be faithful to you; I prefer a commitment with one woman to a thousand one-night stands with women whose names I can't even remember. We know each other; we know what to expect. And we're friends; we can talk to each other about the office, about a hundred things that we have in com-mon. We'd have a partnership that a lot of people would envy."

He had it all worked out, all the logical reasons why a mar-riage between them would work. Their home would be an ex-tension of the office, with sex as the icing on the cake. She could just see them, tidily putting folders into their respective brief-cases, then falling on each other with feral desire, office deco-rum shattered under the fierce need to blend their bodies together in the ancient ritual that ensured the survival of the species.

Abruptly his hands tightened on her, and she could feel him tensing against her body. "Before you make up your mind, there's something you should know." A harsh note, barely re-vealed, told her how much he didn't want to say what he was thinking, but in a negotiation, the negatives were always weighed, as well as the positives, and he was treating this like a business merger.

"I don't want children," he said harshly. "Ever. After los-ing Justin and Shane, I can't bear being around children. If you want children, then I'll back off now, because I can't give them to you." Pain twisted his features; then he controlled himself, and an expression of bleak resignation settled in place. "I just can't get over…" His voice trailed off, and she felt his shoulders draw up, as if bracing themselves under a burden that showed no signs of lifting.

Sarah swallowed, wondering how many marriage propos-als were followed by a bluntly honest statement from the prospective groom on why the woman shouldn't marry him. How many women would want to marry a man who offered companionship instead of love, a man who didn't want a fam-ily, a man who would be gone on frequent trips? And she re-membered what he'd said the night he'd packed up all the boys' things – that he hadn't been able to sleep in the same bed with a woman since Diane's death. She wouldn't even be able to share the nights with him! A woman would have to be crazy to accept such a proposal, Sarah thought. Crazy in love.

She stepped back from him and looked at his hard dark face, the face that had lived in her dreams for years. She thought only briefly of her dream of raising a houseful of children, his children, then gently told her dream goodbye. Those children lived, after all, only in her dreams, while Rome was very real, and if she turned him down now, heaven might slip forever out of her grasp. So he didn't love her; he cared for her, respected her, enough to want to make their relationship legal. Miraclesdid sometimes happen, and as long as they lived, there was al-ways the chance that he would grow to love her. But even if he never offered her his heart, he was offering her all that he could. She might turn him down, out of pride, but pride wouldn't replace the living warmth of the man. Pride wouldn't make love to her with the swift hard passion he'd shown her the night before. With a woman's intuitive wisdom, she knew that, so long as he desired her so strongly, she had a chance of warming his wintry heart again.

"Yes," she said calmly. "Now what?"

Her brief matter-of-fact acceptance didn't shift him off bal-ance – his only reaction was a deep intake of breath that swelled his chest – then he pulled her against him again. "What I'd like to do is strip you naked and take you on the nearest flat surface I can find – "

Sarah interrupted, groaning. "The floor again," she protested teasingly.

"Or the table. Or the cabinet top." The powerful reaction of his body told her that, while his words were teasing, his body was serious. Sarah held her breath, wondering if her already stiff muscles could survive an amorous encounter on the hard tile of the kitchen floor. Clasped against him as she was, she couldn't see his face, or she'd have cried out at the passion etched on his features.

Rome held her tightly to him, wanting to absorb her into his flesh. The relief that had flooded through him at her casual ac-ceptance of his proposal was so great that he'd felt almost faint; then he'd been seized by the primeval desire to finalize their bargain in the most basic way possible. He wanted to brand her as his; feel again the softness of her body beneath him. He'd planned his proposal very carefully, couching it in the most log-ical terms he could present, letting her know he wouldn't dis-rupt her carefully ordered world. The idea of marrying her had come to him during the night, and he really did feel that Diane would approve of his marrying Sarah. More than that, he liked the idea of her having his name and being in his bed every night. The fiercely possessive streak in him wanted to mark her off-limits to every other man, especially before that damned Max Conroy could work his potent charm on her. But until she'd looked at him after he'd asked her to marry him and very calmly said "Why?" he hadn't realized how des-perately he needed her to say yes. Her affirmative answer, fi-nally given, and in such an offhand manner that he was shaken by how little enthusiasm she had for the idea, had lifted a weight from him that he hadn't even known was there until it was gone and he felt his freedom from its restrictions. Lord, how he wanted her!

He rubbed his beard-roughened chin against her temple and reluctantly shifted her away from him. "We can wait," he said, wanting to embroil her in plans before she had a chance to have second thoughts. "We have to plan everything, and make arrangements."

"We have to make breakfast," she added, taking her cue from him and keeping everything light and practical. "Unless you've already eaten?"

"No, I hadn't even thought about it. I didn't realize I was hungry until you mentioned it, but damned if I'm not starving."

She smiled a little, thinking that he'd just revealed that he'd been suffering from an attack of nerves, though she wasn't going to drive herself mad trying to decide whether he'd been afraid she'd turn him down or afraid she'd accept.

"Let me comb my hair; then I'll make the biggest break-fast you ever saw."

"While you're combing your hair,I'll start on the biggest breakfast we ever saw," he amended. "Do you want the works?"

She nodded, feeling happier than she ever had before, and her appetite seemed to have increased in response. Though normally a light eater, she felt hungry enough to put away a man-size breakfast. "I like my eggs over medium," she in-formed him on her way out.

"I'll expect you back before then. It doesn't take that long to comb your hair!"

"How do you know?" she retorted smugly. "You've never seen me."

His low chuckle followed her as she went to the bedroom. When the door was closed behind her, she sat down on the bed and clasped her hands on her knees, every muscle in her body quivering in delight. She couldn't believe it. After she'd torn her-self to pieces over him for years, he'd walked in the door and asked her to marry him. His reasons were logical, but that didn't mat-ter. To a starving woman, half a loaf was better than no bread at all. She thought of the mornings they would share, cooking break-fast together, lingering over a last cup of coffee, and her heart felt so full of happiness that she had trouble dragging oxygen into her chest A marriage opened up a whole new world of intimacy. Not just sexual intimacy, but the tiny things like sharing the bathroom mirror when they were in a rush to get ready for work, trading sections of the newspaper on Sunday mornings, having someone to rub the strain from her neck and shoulders after a hard day.

Suddenly she didn't want to be away from him a moment longer than necessary. She splashed cold water over her face, combed her hair and pulled it back with a clasp on each side, and swiftly changed into jeans and an oversize white shirt. She rolled the sleeves up as she returned to the kitchen.

The bacon was frying when she entered the room, and she sniffed in deep appreciation. Rome was rummaging in her cabinets, and he emerged with a box of instant pancake mix. "Pancakesand eggs," he announced. "Silver-dollar pancakes."

She shrugged and went along with him, not certain that her appetite was healthy enough for pancakes as well, but his probably was. While he was mixing the batter, she set the table, poured the orange juice, and got out the eggs.

"We'll have to find a new apartment," he said casually. "Neither of ours is large enough to hold all our things."

"Ummm." Thinking to spare him the necessity of spelling out to her that he wouldn't be sleeping with her, she said ca-sually, "I'd like to have a three-bedroom apartment, if we can find one at a reasonable price. It would be nice to have an extra bedroom in case anyone came to visit."

He went curiously still, but his back was to her and she couldn't see his expression. To let him know that she wasn't going to dwell on the subject, she said just as casually, "I'll have to quit my job."

His head jerked around, his dark eyes incredulous.

"Well, I will." She smiled at him. "I can't work at Spencer-Nyle if I'm going to be married to you. It's unprofessional, and I don't think it would work very well, even if Mr. Ed-wards agreed."

His jaw set grimly. "I didn't think of that. I can't ask you to quit your job for me. I know how much it means to you – "

"You don't know anything," she interrupted. "I was think-ing of quitting anyway." It was time Rome Matthews began learning a little about the woman he planned to marry, and the first lesson was to begin breaking it to him, gradually, that she wasn't a dedicated, high-powered businesswoman who got the greatest satisfaction of her life from her job. "It's just a job," she said deliberately. "I like it, and I've done my best at it be-cause I don't believe in only half doing something, not because I'm devoted to it. I'd begun thinking of quitting, as I said. After last night, I didn't see how I could go on working with you."

He gave her a disbelieving look. "You'd quit just be-cause we had sex?"

"I didn't think I could keep things professional between us at work."

"Look, I could arrange something – "

"No," she said mildly, not giving him time to finish. "I'm not planning to sit on my rear and let you support me, if that's what you're worried about. I've worked too hard to settle into a routine of soap operas, and I wouldn't have anything else to occupy my time. I'll get another job."

"That's not it," he growled angrily. "I'm well able to sup-port you even if you wanted to sit on your rear for three life-times. I just hate the thought of you giving up your job because of me."

"It's the only reasonable thing to do. I'm notthat attached to it, and you're an executive; I'm not."

"You'll look for another secretarial job?"

"I don't know." Thoughtfully she broke an egg into the skil-let. "I have some money saved up; I might go into some sort of business for myself. I could open a dress shop, like every lady of leisure with money and time on her hands does." She grinned at the thought.

He shook his head. "Whatever you want, as long as it's whatyou really want. If you want to stay at Spencer-Nyle, I'll throw my weight around."

"I really think I'll be happier out of the office routine. I've done it for a long time now, and I'm ready for a change."

After a moment, he chuckled wickedly. "This is really going to drive Max crazy."

"Rome!" Laughing helplessly at him, she shook her head. "What a fiendish thought! Did you ask me to marry you just so you could force Max to get a new secretary?"

"No, but it serves him right."

"Don't you like him?"

He lifted his eyebrows. "I like him a lot. He's a hell of an executive. But liking him at work, and liking the way he looks at you are two different things."

Sarah decided that she really owed Max a big favor if his interest had sparked the possessiveness in Rome that had re-sulted in last night. As she finished cooking the eggs, she stole glances at Rome, and a thrill went through her every time. They worked so well together, it could have been the hun-dredth breakfast they'd shared instead of the first. She only hoped that this first breakfast was an indication of how smoothly their married life would go. She wouldn't push him, but she hoped, with every fiber of her being, that she could teach him how to love again.

Telling Max, that Monday morning, wasn't the easiest thing she'd ever done. He was at first disbelieving, then out-raged, as he realized that she was turning in her notice.

"The bloody barbarian did this deliberately," he fumed, pacing up and down the office, so angry that his vivid eyes were glittering. Temper radiated from him like electricity. "He knew you'd quit and leave me totally lost."

"Thank you," Sarah said dryly. "I can't tell you how much it reassures me to think that Rome asked me to marry him solely to upset your routine."

Max halted in his pacing, staring at her, and his eyes soft-ened. "I need a good hard kick in the rear," he finally admit-ted ruefully. "Ignore me, darling. My nose is out of joint because he's already won the race, and I was left standing at the starting post. It's so damned embarrassing."

Sarah laughed, because the image of Max's mooning over her was so ludicrous. He was sophisticated down to his fin-gertips, and every woman in the building would give her eye-teeth for a chance with him…every woman but herself. He watched her as she laughed, her face lit by the inner glow that riveted him every time he saw it. As if drawn by her gentle warmth, he moved closer to her, a little sad because that glow wasn't for him, and she'd never grace his life as he'd so often imagined her.

"If he ever makes you unhappy, you know where I am," he murmured, stroking her satin cheek with his forefinger. "Be careful, darling. Beneath that controlled corporate image the man's a wolf on the prowl, and you're just an innocent lamb. Don't let him have you for lunch."

Max didn't state the obvious, that Rome didn't love her, but she knew that the thought was in his mind. He was ob-servant enough to know that Rome's actions sprang from li-bido, not from emotion.

"You do know what you're doing?" he worried.

"Yes, of course I do. I've loved him for a long time."

"Does he know?"

She shook her head.

"Then, don't tell him. Make him work for it; he'll appre-ciate it more." A shrewd look entered his eyes. "Why do I have a feeling that the lamb is going to get the best of the wolf?"

"I don't know, but I hope you're right," she said shakily. "You don't know how much I hope so!"

"Just remember: If it doesn't work out, cut your losses. I'll be here if you need me. I have a fantasy," he mused. "It's a very simple one. I fantasize that I take you back to England with me, marry you in the stone relic of a church where my family has shackled themselves for more generations than I can count, and get you with child. Providing heirs would be my favorite occupation."

Sarah laughed again, blushing, and part of her wished it could have been Max. Her love would have been safe with him. But instead she'd given her heart to a man burdened by the past, a man who wanted her body and her companionship, but not the wealth of love inside her.

"May I kiss you?" he asked, sliding his hand from her cheek to cup it around her chin, lifting it so he could look her full in the face. "Just once, and I promise to never ask you again…as long as you're with Rome."

Looking into those wickedly dancing turquoise eyes, Sarah knew he didn't have a chaste good-bye kiss in mind. He wanted to kiss her with passion, with all the heat of his su-perb male body. She knew very well that Max wasn't in love with her, but she knew, as he did, that had things worked out differently he could have been the one she married. Only the timing of their initial meeting had prevented it. Knowing that she could have loved him if she hadn't loved Rome first and forever blinded herself to other men made her feel a little sad and a little happy at the same time. "Yes, as a good-bye kiss," she said, and rose a little on tiptoe to offer her mouth to him.

At the same moment that his mouth touched hers, Sarah heard the door open. She knew that Max heard it too, but he didn't pull away. With the devilishness of his personality, he instead drew her closer even when she stiffened reflexively against him, wrapping his arms around her and locking her tightly to the hard warmth of his body. He kissed her deeply, his tongue dancing across hers, taking his time about it and savoring the taste and feel of her. Every nerve in her body jingled, telling Sarah that it was Rome who'd entered, but she found herself totally help-less in Max's embrace; beneath that slender, elegant frame were steel muscles. At last he lifted his mouth, and she gasped for breath, hanging in his arms, and he looked straight across the room into Rome's narrowed dark eyes, a brilliant smile light-ing his face. "Do you have any objections?" he asked mildly.

Rome crossed the office to them and gently took Sarah out of Max's embrace. Pulling her into the strong safety of his arms, he cradled her against him. "Not this once," he said smoothly. "Not as good-bye. But that was your one free ride, and I'm giving you that only because you've lost. If there's a next time, you'll have to pay."

"Fair enough." Max grinned and held out his hand to Rome. "Congratulations."

They shook hands, grinning like idiots, and Sarah rolled her eyes. She'd been expecting bloodshed, at the least, but instead they were the best of buddies. Men! Who understood them?

"I'm stealing her for a long lunch hour today," Rome said. "We have a lot to do: blood tests, license, apartment-hunting. I'll be free at twelve-thirty. Can you make it by then?" he asked Sarah, glancing down at her.

Sarah had already made plans of her own, and she shook her head. "I can't. I have an appointment at one."

Max rocked back on his heels, looking extraordinarily pleased at hearing Sarah already balking at Rome's directions. Rome ran his office with ball-bearing precision, and his cold, cutting sarcasm was known throughout the far-flung divi-sions of the Spencer-Nyle corporation. Only Anson Edwards was above Rome's infamous bullying, but then Anson Ed-wards was legendary for his own scathing temper when faced with incompetence and stupidity. Max waited with pleasure for Rome's reaction to the way Sarah had refused his request.

But if he'd expected the hobnail boot to come down, he was disappointed. Rome lifted an eyebrow in silent inquiry, then said, "We'll make it tomorrow, then."

Rome had to use his iron will to keep from demanding of her just where she was going, but he remembered the argu-ments he'd used to convince her to marry him. They would have to respect each other's need for time alone. Sarah was still very much the aloof, rather solitary woman he'd always known her to be. She'd agreed to marry him, but only after he'd carefully pointed out the plusses for both of them. He'd have to be careful to give her the personal space she needed, the mental and physical privacy she was accustomed to. He could live with that, as long as she came willingly into his arms and gave him the hot, sweet comfort of her body, though it seemed he wasn't even going to get that the way he'd thought. She'd made it pretty plain to him that she expected her own bedroom, and he'd had to grind his teeth to keep from telling her plainly that she'd be sleeping in his bed. He hadn't wanted to sleep with any woman since Diane, until he'd held Sarah in his arms. She was so elusive. He wanted… heneeded … the dark hours spent with her, when even the simple act of lying beside each other in slumber created bonds that would hold her to him. But not yet; he had to move so carefully with her, not panic her into backing out of the marriage.

Pushing his characteristic possessiveness aside, he walked her back to her office, and his critical eye noted that Max's kiss hadn't brought the delicate apricot tint to her face that she wore wheneverhe made love to her. Leaning over her desk, he gave her a quick hard kiss, as much to watch that entranc-ing rise of color as to taste the sweetness of her mouth. "Tonight? We can go through the newspapers and mark those apartments that look suitable."

Pleased, Sarah smiled at him. "Would seven be all right? That will give me time to have some sort of meal almost finished."

"Forget about cooking. I'll bring something over."

Watching him walk out of the office, Sarah had to pinch herself to be certain she wasn't dreaming. They were really going to be married.

He'd made love to her the night before, and the thought of it made her heart leap into her throat. If the first time had been unbridled passion, the second had been a lesson in the rewards of self-control. It had all begun so casually, while they were watching the evening news on television. During a commer-cial, he'd tilted her face up to kiss her, and the kiss had lin-gered, become many kisses. Soon she was lying naked on the sofa, and he had patiently, carefully guided her to full satis-faction, lingering at each plateau and savoring her response, making her as hungry for him as he was for her. He'd also taken care of the protective measures, which had prompted Sarah's call first thing that morning to her doctor, which was why she had an appointment at one o'clock.

It was two thirty when she finally got back to the office, a packet of pills in her purse and her head ringing with Dr. East-erwood's warnings and advice. At the age of thirty-three, she was becoming almost too old for taking birth control pills to be safe. Dr. Easterwood had prescribed the lowest dosage available, with the stern warning that she wanted to see Sarah every six months, and that two years was the maximum length she'd give Sarah before an alternative method would have to be decided on.

Max came out of his office when he heard her enter, a slight frown marring his classic brow. "Are you all right? You were gone longer than I expected."

"I'm fine. I had a doctor's appointment, and you know how it is: you never get in at the time of your appointment."

"Rome has already called twice," he informed her impishly.

She worked with a smile on her face and an inner happiness that was based on the attitude Rome was exhibiting. Love or not, the way he was acting told her that he cared, and she would take whatever she could get. He wasn't showing the often impatient possessiveness with which he'd demanded Diane's time, but Sarah didn't expect that he'd feel that way with her even if he did eventually come to love her. Diane had been beautiful, vibrant, a live wire who caught everyone's at-tention the moment she walked through the door. Sarah felt that too often she herself resembled a white mouse more than she did anything else. Vivid makeup made her look like a clown, while sparing makeup just tended to be more of the same. She'd found a compromise, over the years, that kept her from blending completely into the background, but her col-oring was so fair that she'd never be able to use the kind of dramatic makeup that would draw all eyes to her immedi-ately. She'd like to make Rome sit up and take notice when-ever she walked into a room, but somehow she felt that that role was beyond her.

That night, after they'd eaten the sweet-and-sour chicken he'd brought, they spread the newspapers on the table and went over the ads for apartments for rent, with Rome circling the ones he thought might be suitable. Sarah carefully kept herself from thumbing through the columns of houses for sale, knowing that he'd never agree to buying a house. The suburban routine would remind him too strongly of the fam-ily he'd lost, and the playing children would drive him insane.

He tapped his pen on one ad that he thought particularly likely, and Sarah leaned over to read it. Her hair, loosened from its knot, swung forward over his tanned forearm, and he went very still. Not noticing, she read the ad, pursing her lips as she considered it.

"It sounds good. Roomy enough, but it'll probably cost the Earth – " As she spoke she turned her head to look up at him. He moved swiftly, and her words were broken off with a gasp as he turned her and pulled her onto his lap, his mouth com-ing down to stifle the rest of what she'd been saying, cradling her on his left arm while his right hand moved boldly over her body, searching out all of the erotic places that he knew would reward him for his diligence.

Sarah made a soft sound in her throat, sinking against him. His powerful body made her feel surrounded, utterly secure, and she had the thought that she didn't need a homey, com-fortable apartment to make her feel safe as long as he held her in his arms. The strength that he kept under control when he was handling her was evident in the steely sinews of his thighs, the rock hardness of his chest. She sought the warm solid contours of his flesh beneath his shirt, sliding her hands beneath the fabric to clench her fingers on him. He nibbled at her mouth, finally releasing it; then he tilted her head back and kissed his way down her throat. "So what if it costs the Earth?" he muttered. "We'll look at it tomorrow."

"Hmmm," she agreed dreamily, no longer interested in apartments.

He unbuttoned her shirt and pressed a kiss to the top swell of her breast, above the lacy edge of her bra. 'That damned Max! He knew I was watching."

"Yes." She opened her eyes and smiled at him, her eyes misty with pleasure. "He's a devil."

"He's lucky you weren't kissing him back." He returned her smile, but his tone was feral, his dark eyes narrowed. "Then I wouldn't have been so civilized."

As it had been, he hadn't liked it – he hadn't liked the idea of Max's kisses lingering on her mouth. He wanted only his taste on her lips, so he'd kissed away Max's touch. He kissed her again, for good measure, then reluctantly buttoned her blouse and hoisted her back to her own chair. "We'd better not push our luck," he grunted. "I came over straight from the of-fice, and I don't have anything with me."

Sarah cleared her throat. "About that…my appointment today was with a doctor. I got a prescription for birth control pills."

He leaned back, draping his arm over the back of his chair while he looked at her searchingly, alerted by the hesitancy in her manner that she'd tried very hard not to reveal. His craggy black brows lowered. "Is it all right for you to take them?"

"She's letting me try them, but only if I go back for regu-lar checkups," she admitted on a sigh. "She gave me two years, maximum, before I have to switch to something else."

"If it's dangerous, don't take them." He reached out and took her hand, tracing his thumb over the soft skin on the back of her hand. "I've been thinking about having surgery. It's safe, and permanent."

Sarah shied away from that solution. Its permanency was the one big drawback, for her. Sometime in the future Rome could change his mind about not wanting anymore children, even if this marriage with her didn't work out. She was so acutely aware that he didn't love her that she had to allow for the possibility of him falling in love with another woman, and perhaps that woman would want his children. Perhaps he would want her to have his children. Feeling herself shatter inside at the thought, she pulled away from him before she revealed too much about how she felt. Instead, averting her face, she said in a stifled voice, "We can talk about that later, if the pills don't work out."

Puzzled, he stared at her, running the words they'd just said through his mind again and trying to decide what he'd said that had made her withdraw from him and put on that frosty face he so detested. She'd been so relaxed and natural with him lately, forgetting to guard her actions, and he'd become used to her smiles, her gentle teasing. Now she was Miss Ice-Queen again. She'd begun getting edgy when she'd first men-tioned the pills. She wasn't telling him something, and he knew it. He'd thought, when he'd first made love to her, that he'd discovered the reason for her reserve, but now he was seeing it spring up again, and he knew that Sarah had other secrets hidden behind the green shadows of her eyes. He would have liked to delve inside her mind and find out how her mind worked, why she hid so much of herself. He wanted to know her; he wanted all of her secrets laid out where he could see them. The way she withdrew from him triggered in him a primal, violent response to pursue and subdue, an in-stinct bequeathed from the age when men lived in caves and wore animal skins, and chose their woman by force.

"One of these days," he said in a soft voice, deadly in its intent, "I'm going to find out what makes you tick."

Sarah looked up at him with panic running just below the controlled surface image she presented to him. If he did, if he found out that she loved him, what would he do? Would he accept it, or would he promptly bow out of a marriage that was more than he wanted?

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