“Not anymore,” Channing said, frowning as she stepped into the living room carrying an armful of food containers. She had heard Zane’s voice and could not believe his audacity. Why was he still in Virginia? More importantly, why was he here?
“Let me help you with those,” Ronald said, quickly moving forward to relieve her of the stack she was carrying.
She glanced over at Zane and saw the deep haze of anger in his eyes. What was his problem? Deciding to wait until Ronald left before confronting Zane as to why he was here, she said, “Ronald, I’d like you to meet Zane. An old friend.”
Juggling the containers in one hand, Ronald moved toward Zane with the other hand outstretched. “Nice meeting you.”
Zane accepted the man’s handshake grudgingly. “You stay around these parts, Ronald?” Zane asked.
Channing frowned. “Yes, Ronald stays next door,” she answered for him. “His wife and kids are here for the summer.”
“Wife?” Zane asked, shifting his gaze from Ronald to Channing.
“Yes, wife,” Channing answered, annoyed.
She then smiled at Ronald. “I hope you, Jennifer and the kids enjoy everything.”
Ronald returned her smile. “I’m sure we will, and again we appreciate it.” Then with a concerned look on his face, he asked Channing, “You’re going to be okay?”
Channing knew why he was asking. Evidently he’d picked up on Zane’s anger and figured Zane might be an old friend but, at the moment, a bad-tempered one. “Yes, I’ll be fine.”
Satisfied with her response, Ronald glanced back at Zane. “Nice meeting you, Zane.”
“Yeah, same here.” Zane quickly moved to open the door for the man. When the door closed behind Ronald, he turned to Channing. Ignoring the scowl on her face, a smile curved his lips. “He seems like a nice married guy.”
Her frown indicated that she had not appreciated his initial churlish attitude toward Ronald. “What are you doing here, Zane? I thought you’d be back in Denver by now,” she said, turning.
He followed her into the kitchen.
“Not sure why you thought that. Besides, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about our conver—”
He stopped talking as he looked around, seeing her kitchen table and counter littered with food containers. “What’s going on? You’re opening a restaurant on the side?”
Channing rolled her eyes when she began placing some of the containers in the refrigerator. “No, I was just in the mood to cook yesterday.”
“All of this?”
She frowned over her shoulder. “Yes, all of this. I decided to share some with Ronald and Jennifer. They have a sweet little girl and a son who hasn’t started walking yet. They’re a beautiful family.”
He nodded, thinking those folks were not as beautiful as his and Channing’s family would be one day. Last night, after he’d planned his strategy, he’d envisioned them married with a couple of kids and living happily at the Hideout.
“So why did you come back, Zane?”
He leaned against the counter. “I couldn’t help myself.”
Channing drew in a deep sigh. She hoped he wasn’t back to confusing lust with love again. “What do you mean you couldn’t help yourself?” she asked, lifting one eyebrow.
He shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “I got to thinking about our conversation yesterday.”
“I told you I loved you, but you didn’t believe me. You said I’m confusing lust with love. For the sake of argument, let’s say you’re right about that.”
“I am right,” she said with absolute certainty. “No man, or woman for that matter, who’s been against falling in love to the depth that you have can miraculously wake up one morning and decide they’re in love. Falling in love doesn’t work that way.”
Zane nodded. “Okay, let’s say you’re right.”
Now to throw out the hook and hope she takes the bait, Zane thought as he moved closer. “And if it’s only lust, like you claim, because of this strong sexual chemistry between us, then the only thing I have to say is that I feel that I’m close.”
She lifted a brow. “Close to what?”
“Falling in love with you.”
Channing closed the refrigerator, thinking that now she’d heard everything. “Falling in love with me?”
“Yes. Close. According to you, I can’t be in love with you. If you’re right about that, then how come when that guy opened the door I was ready to hurt him when I thought—”
“I know what you thought, Zane,” Channing interrupted him to say. “And even if that was the case, it wasn’t any of your business.”
He straightened, rolling his head around and working his shoulders to slog out the kinks. “It might not be my business, but it’s an example of one of those things that I can’t help where you’re concerned. I’ve never gotten jealous over a woman before, Channing, so that has to mean something.”
She met his gaze. “It does mean something, and it has nothing to do with love. It means you’re possessive. You don’t want me, but you don’t want anyone else to have me, either.”
“You make me sound like a selfish bastard.”
“Well…it’s a description that fits,” she said, moving around him to go into the living room. In fact, she was leading him to the door. She thought of a question she’d meant to ask him yesterday—something that had nagged at her all during the night. She turned, and he almost bumped into her. When he reached out his hand to steady her, her body tingled from the contact. She forced herself to take a step back when he dropped his hand.
“I have a question for you,” she said, trying to downplay the sensations that were still moving through her body.
Channing caught her lower lip between her teeth as she thought about what she wanted to ask him. She decided to come out and do it. “Would it have made a difference if you hadn’t thought Mack was cheating on me?”
“What do you mean?” he asked, leaning against a wall in her living room.
“If you hadn’t assumed Mack was cheating on me, would you have seduced me, anyway?”
He didn’t hesitate. “Yes.”
She stiffened. “Why?”
It seemed as if several long seconds ticked between them before he responded. “I wanted you, and I could tell you wanted me. I know your body, Channing. I knew the moment you became wet for me. The moment your nipples hardened. I didn’t have to wait for you to ask to know you wanted me inside of you.”
Channing’s stomach clenched. That wetness he was talking about, heaven help her. His words had it flowing again. She felt disgusted with herself for letting Zane have this kind of power over her.
Deciding she needed to take a stand against what he’d claimed regardless of whether it had merit or not, she said, “So you decided to act on your assumption? Even while believing I was engaged to marry another man? The Zane Westmoreland I know would not have done that.”
He moved, coming within inches of her. “Then maybe I’m not the Zane you thought you knew.”
During those months they’d dated, she had been sure of him regardless of what he’d said about love. But he’d proved her wrong, which was why she couldn’t believe his claim of love. Now it seemed she’d been right not to believe him. He was only on the verge of love.
“I think you should leave now,” she said, moving again toward the door. When she opened it, he reached around her and shut it. She saw a muscle working in his jaw.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she asked.
“I came back today for a reason, Channing.”
She narrowed her gaze at him. “I know, you couldn’t help yourself because now you think there’s a chance that you’re falling in love with me.” Channing shook her head. “Deliberate or otherwise, you’re confusing the heck out of me. Maybe you’re right, and you aren’t the Zane I thought I knew. If that’s true, I don’t want to know the Zane that you are now.”
She gasped when he braced strong arms against the door on either side of her, effectively trapping her. “Maybe you should.”
* * *
Zane knew what he’d told her was true. He wasn’t the same Zane. First of all, the old Zane would never have fallen in love, and he loved this woman so much he ached all over.
“You’re not making much sense, Zane.”
He almost agreed with her, but he knew what he was doing did make sense. It was his strategy to win her over, to prove once and for all that what he felt for her wasn’t lust but love. “Two years ago you thought you knew me, Channing. I enjoyed you, and you enjoyed me. In your neat and tidy world, you figured things should move from point A to point B by nobody’s timetable but your own. However, what you failed to figure into the equation is that the worst thing a woman can do is push a man when he isn’t ready. You did that. I wasn’t ready then. I am now.”