It hit a chord that throbbed painfully. He could have found her if he'd wanted to. Though he didn't know who she was, reason dictated, flooding her with confused emotions. Should she tell him now, have it out in the open? And see his expression change to one of shock, embarrassment?
No. She didn't want that.
'Perhaps we were connected in some previous life, she said with considerable irony.
'And something drove us apart,' he added, his eyes glittering in a way that made her feel uneasy though he could see into her soul.
'A very romantic fantasy,' she remarked dryly picking up her glass of wine, defensively breaking eye contact with him.
There was a momentary silence. Then he laughed relaxing the intensity he had built up. 'I guess I like the idea of people getting a second chance. We don't always make the right decisions the first time around
'That's true,' she agreed, happy to leave it at that...a second chance. 'Though you must have made a lot of right decisions in your business for it to have gone so well.'
"Oh, Leon and I saw the openings, particularly with the Internet developing so fast,' he answered offhandedly.
She set her glass down and leaned forward, eager to know more of his current life. 'I'm sorry to be so ignorant, but what does Multi-Media Promotions actually do?'
'Every form of advertising. Whatever we win a contract for.'
'You mean you design promotional stuff for other companies.'
He nodded. 'We do our best to present their products in a sales-winning format.'
'Give me an example.'
A waiter arrived to take their empty plates and refill their glasses. The momentary distraction did not deflect Barbie's intent to understand precisely where Nick was now and how he'd got there. Under her pressing interest, he revealed he was the head designer at the company, responsible for all the artwork they produced for their clients.
This, Barbie, was fascinated to hear, was computer-generated, able to be structurally altered or differently coloured by the stroke of a key. Of course, Nick had been known as a whiz at computers in his school days, but he'd never talked about what he did on them to her. Now it seemed he manipulated this technological world at will.
It was obvious he liked his work, enjoyed the challenge of keeping up what he called street-edge designs and took immense satisfaction in the results he achieved. She listened to the warm enthusiasm in his voice, the passion for getting everything just right and putting his vision across to others, winning their commitment to his concepts. She felt the inner fire and
drive that made him the success he was and knew this was a deep part of his personal magnetism.
He believed in himself.
He was a born leader, the kind of man who forged a path that others followed.
And in her heart of hearts she wished she was attached to it, attached to him. Although she'd only been on the edge of his world in her growing-up years, she’d missed the excitement of it, missed the involvement in something special because he was there, and making it happen.
He'd left a hole in her life with his driving her away from him, and the desire to have that hole filled now—filled to overflowing—-was so intense, she hung on his every word, drank in his every expression, reveled in his sharing all that he was. In many ways opening his mind to her like this was more intimate than a kiss. It was an acceptance she was his equal in understanding.
The fish course they'd ordered was set in front of them, interrupting the magical flow of communication. Nick drew back in his seat, offering an apologetic smile. 'I've been talking too much about my-self.'
'No,' she quickly denied. 'I wanted to hear.' He quizzically studied the warm sincerity in her eyes. 'It's hardly your scene.' 'Should I be limited to mine?' He shook his head. 'It's just that I don't usually talk about my work outside of the office.' 'Then I'm honored.' 'No. I am. You really did want to know.' 'It's a big part of you.'
'Yes. But not a part many people care to under-stand.'
'You mean...like Tanya.'
She wished the acid little comment unsaid the moment it was out of her mouth. It was stupid to bring that woman up when she was no longer in Nick life Yet Barbie could not stifle a welling of resentment at his choice of companion during the long years of supposedly waiting for her.
Tanya Wells was a horrible person with a really mean, vicious streak. Surely he should have picked that up in her character, or had the sex been enough for him? Take it while the urge was on and walk away when the physical attraction was whittled away by other differences? Was enjoying a new and exciting sexual partner all he was seeking with her now?
'I realize you have no reason to be impressed by Tanya,' he answered ruefully. 'But she could be fun when she was in a good mood.'
'Fun, Barbie repeated, thinking fun and games in
Relief from the pressures of work,' he added. "Perhaps I shouldn't have brought up the subject of work then.'
'It's different with you,' he assured her, his smile playing its powerful havoc again.
Barbie took a deep breath, picked up her knife and fork and purposefully attacked the sole grilled in lemon grass butter, needing something to settle the flutters of excitement in her stomach.
Different... the word was like a wild intoxicant, making her feel giddy with pleasure. Whatever Nick had shared with Tanya—and other women—didn't
matter. After all, she'd tried a few relationships herself, wanting more from them than they'd ever given. Sometimes need drove people into making mistakes.
Why blame Nick for his? This was different.
Their second chance.
And everything within Barbie craved to take it wherever it led.
Nick ate the fish course mechanically, not even tasting it. That crack about Tanya had suddenly left him with the sense of being on trial and he didn't like it not one bit. He'd explained why he'd acted as he had in the past. Surely any reasonable person would ac-cept the explanation. He'd given her time to digest it, given her another opening to admit who she was, couching it in words that should have reassured as to how he felt about meeting her again.
Why had she bypassed it?
What more positive signals could he have given her?
The memory of his twenty-first birthday night started plaguing him—the cut-off night for all too young and innocent Barbie. She'd sung the birthday song as the cake had been carried in, a solo effort his mother had arranged because Barbie had such a sweet, true voice. Except the way she'd sung it...he'd been so discomforted by her obvious feeling for him when she'd presented him with her gift afterwards, he could hardly bear to accept it, shoving it quickly aside.
Only later did he discover it was a watch, the back of it inscribed so endearingly, it had made him feel rotten, even more so because Jasmine Elliot had also given him a watch which he'd worn that night. It had been an unwitting cruelty to Barbie's feelings, although he had ultimately argued to himself, an effective one in pushing her away from him.
She had been far too young.
It couldn't have worked.
Now was their time.
Or hadn't she ever forgiven him that brutal hurt?
Was she priming him for a fall, in revenge for how he'd dealt with her? The avid interest in his work... was it genuine or a ploy to make the high he'd been riding even higher before she walked away, leaving him as flattened as he must have left her all those years ago?
But she had been too young, damn it!
He surreptitiously watched her eating the meal he'd ordered, daintily loading her fork, lifting it to her mouth. Her hands were steady—finely shaped, long-fingered hands—and he yearned to have those hands stroking him, softly, sensually, lovingly. Even how she slid the fork into her mouth and out again was intensely sexy, the way her lips closed over it then slowly released it.
Her long lashes veiled her eyes, keeping her thoughts a taunting mystery. Her glorious hair shimmered a silky flow of temptation that teased his imagination and conjured up erotic fantasies...how it would feel on his pillow, his naked body, brushing over his skin.
She finished the meal, her gaze lifting to his as she set down the cutlery. 'You certainly eat well if you come here often,' she remarked appreciatively. 'That was delicious, Nick.'
Her distinctive grey eyes seemed clear of any artifice, yet she had to be taking him for a ride. Why; else would she hide her identity? How long did she intend to string it out? How much would she give before turning her back on him?
'There are many fine restaurants around the quay, he remarked, smiling as he pushed away from his own emptied plate. 'I'd like to introduce you to all of them.'
She blushed. From guilt or pleasure?
'I'd like that, too,' she said simply, her eyes telling him he was the main attraction, not the food.
It made him burn with a torment he couldn't bear A wild recklessness seized him, demanding he push her to the limit right now, testing how much she wanted to be with him.
'Do you fancy a sweets course?'
She shook her head. 'I've had enough, thank you
'Then let me show you where I live. I'll make you coffee in my apartment.'
Her blush deepened. She stared at him, an agony of indecision in her eyes.
Nick sat still, returning her stare, a relentless challenge beating through him in fierce waves. If her wanting him was real, let her prove it by coming with him. If this was some vengeful game, let her reveal it now, excusing herself from the prospect of being alone together in a private place with the risk of a more dangerous intimacy developing between them.
He might be charging like a bull, but the red rag was out, waving through his mind, and he couldn't ignore it.