He doesn’t look at me. “You did enough talking for both of us with Kara, I’m certain.”

We reach the reception desk. As Beverly, a forty-something brunette who’s been here for a number of years, starts to greet us, Mark cuts through. “Do I have packages waiting for me?”

“Yes, sir,” she says, sliding a large envelope toward him, and then pointing at a box on the end of the horseshoe-shaped glass counter.

“I’ll be using my mother’s office as my office while I’m here, and my stay will be of an indefinite length,” he states. “Are there any urgent matters for myself or Ms. Smith to address?”

“Not at the moment.”

“Excellent. Buzz me if that changes.” He flicks me a look. “My office, Ms. Smith. We can talk there.”

“Yes, Mr. Compton.” The boiling tension is ready to become an explosion.

We go to the left of the desk to reach his office, instead of right to reach mine. As we enter the hallway to the east wing, Mark stops and motions for me to continue in front of him.

I shake my head, refusing to play his power game. “Together,” I say softly, then add,“Mr. Compton.”

“Don’t push me any further than you already have, Ms. Smith.”

“Ditto.”

“Ditto?”

My chin lifts. “That’s right.”

He glances down at the packages. “If my hands were free—”

“But they aren’t.”

“They will be in just a few moments.”

He starts walking and my breath hitches at the glint of warning I saw in his eyes. I fall into step with him, one part dread, one part erotic thrill. “Your threats don’t scare me,” I say softly.

He stops at his office door and gives me one of those steely gray stares. “Then you’re not as smart as I thought you were.”

Knowing his remark is a manipulation tool, my anger is instant. I walk inside the office, taking a battle position in the center of the rectangular room. Anticipation thrums through me in a way that I’ve only experienced with Mark. I’m furious, but I’m also ridiculously nervous. And aroused. How can I be this aroused when I’m this angry?

Mark shuts the door and a shiver races down my spine. The click of the lock that follows is like the erotic drag of an invisible finger along my nerve endings.

I try to focus on the room, to calm my reaction into a manageable proportion. With supreme effort I focus on something other than the man driving me insane, and force myself to picture the boldly colored red sofa and chairs behind me that I know are framed by black display shelves and past exhibit photos.

But it doesn’t work. My attention is riveted by the graceful way Mark crosses the room and positions himself behind the massive L-shaped glass desk in front of me. And while I’ve always found this office to be pure feminine power, he’s already erased that, claiming it as his. And as I meet his stare, I see all too clearly that he intends to make good on his vow to own me as well.

My spine straightens and I don’t blink. My anger will not be thwarted. My need for answers is not forgotten, and my good reasons for talking to Kara are not diminished.

Mark presses his fingers to the desktop, and we just stare at each other. Neither of us speaks, and every little sound seems magnified. My breathing, in and out. The clock on the wall behind him.

His emotion twines around and around me; I’d never be able to explain to someone what I see and feel with this man. He can look at me as he is now, showing no emotion, and I still understand him. I know he’s hurting. I know he’s worried. I know he feels like I betrayed him with Kara, and that he doesn’t see shutting me out of his hunt for Ava as the same sort of betrayal.

Part of me wants to shout at him and make him tell me everything. Another part wants to rush around the desk and kiss him, and promise him that everything will be okay.

But I do nothing. I wait.

He moves first, breaking the spell as he opens a drawer and pulls out a letter opener. Unsealing the box he’d picked up from the front desk, he pulls something out, and then rounds the desk to lean against the side near me.

He holds up a small velvet bag. “Come closer. I don’t bite.” Then his sensual, often brutally erotic mouth quirks. “Okay, I do bite. But since you’re not afraid of me that shouldn’t be a problem.”

“What’s in the bag?” I ask, certain that whatever he’s holding is about how today’s events fed his need for control. This is one of those moments where he’s going to test me; one of those times I need to overcome my own past, to preserve in the present.

He sets the bag on the desk and my eyes follow, trying to conjure an idea of what might be in it. “Come here, Ms. Smith,” he commands.

His voice is deeper now, more forceful, and his “Ms. Smith” sends tingling sensations through my body, delivering the erotic heat that he’d promised it would last night.

I don’t deny his demand, but I want answers I intend to claim. Closing the distance between us, I reach for his jacket, but don’t manage to obtain my target.

Before I can blink, he’s grabbed my waist, walked me backward, and set me in one of the red visitor chairs. His hands rest on the leather arms on either side of me, his big body caging mine as he leans forward. “If you have something to ask me,” he says, his voice low, tight, “you ask me. Not someone else.”

“I was worried sick about you, after what you told me about Corey and the police. I still am. I needed to know you were okay.”

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