'This isn't a fantasy to me, Nick. More like a dream come true.'

The words filtered through his absorption in her glorious hair, the heady scent of it, the silky texture, the sensual pleasure of its soft flow over his skin.

What dream?

He frowned, remembering how she had continued to evade admitting who she really was, inviting him to kiss her, challenging him to take her, pleading for him to finish what he'd started. And the finishing had blown all the disturbing sense of wrongness out of his mind.

It was a struggle even now to focus on it when he felt so good with her. But she still wasn't telling him the truth about herself. He didn't want to think about the girl he'd turned away from

him. He wanted to immerse himself in the pleasure of the woman in his arms, but he couldn't stop himself from wondering what dream Barbie Lamb might have nursed...a dream that had now come true.

Had she imagined taking him as her lover, showing him what he had missed all these years?

What was the next move?

Slapping him in the face with who she was, then leaving him with an unforgettable taste of what he could have had if he'd acted differently?

The buzz of torment in his mind was abruptly obliterated as her mouth closed over the nipple closest his heart and she began licking and tugging at it. The unexpected burst of erotic tingling had his fingers winding tightly around her hair, pulling her head up. She looked at him, a joyful teasing dancing in her clear grey eyes.

'You did it to me, Nick. Now it's your turn.'

'Tit for tat?'

She grinned so openly, he couldn't believe she was taking him for a ride. 'Let me. I want to,' she replied, her voice a soft siren call that promised pleasure.

He let her.

Her kisses sent out streams of hot excitement and the delicate feathering of her fingers traced erotic paths all over him as she moved down his body, her soft female flesh pressing, sliding, arousing and inciting more sexual desire. Then her hands were cupping him, encircling him, stroking, lightly squeezing, making him swell with urgency.

He started to move, and she stopped him, laying an arm over his stomach as she took his re-erected length into her mouth and seduced him into stillness with the utterly exquisite sensations she delivered, not only internally, but externally with her long hair fanning his thighs and groin.

His muscles tensed. He knew he couldn't contain himself for long. She was taking him to the edge of control and suddenly he didn't want it this way. It was too one-sided. He jack-knifed forward, hauled her up and set her astride him, burying himself inside her to the hilt, loving her slick velvet heat.

'Ride me,' he invited, recklessly uncaring of any fall she had in mind for him.

She was a golden goddess, and she could steal his soul for all he cared at that moment. Her eyes sparkled with the power he gave her but she didn't flay him with it. She rode him slowly, savouring each long slide, and it was incredibly sexy, like a waltz designed to revel in secret intimacies.

Like knowing her breasts were bare and accessible behind the veil of hair that had fallen forward over her shoulders, the thick silky tresses swaying, giving glimpses of dark areole.

He reached under the veil, filling his hands with the lovely soft weight of them, feeling them move to the rhythm she chose, a secret pleasure, hidden from his vision but there in his hands. And any concern over where this night was leading was lost in the need, the compulsion to feel everything there was to feel with this woman.

It went beyond sexual gratification. The desire for more of her didn't stop at climax. Her body was endlessly exciting, her mouth a feast of sweet passion, her sense of sensuality more erotic than anything he'd known. She gave the much ill-used words, making love, real meaning, and it was that very loving which eventually soothed him into sleep, imbued with the feeling that nothing had ever felt so right.

It was a deep, peaceful slumber and nothing disturbed it. There was no sense of anything changing, no alarm signals slipping into his subconscious, no awareness of being left alone.

At six-thirty, the clock-radio beside his bed came on, signaling the beginning of another workday, music playing, bringing him awake. Barbie, too, he thought, not yet aware that she wasn't beside him.

With a smile already gathering from a flood of memories, Nick opened his eyes...and found she was gone from his bed, gone from his apartment...and there was nothing to say she would ever be with him again!

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Nick slid his Porsche into his parking slot behind the warehouse just as Leon was stepping out of his BMW. Bad timing. He wasn't in the mood for any personal chat with Leon and it was a dead certainty what the hot topic would be.

He switched off the engine and sat brooding over whether to get out or not. The urge to drive over to the Ryde apartment and confront Barbie Lamb face to face had been burning through him ever since he'd woken up and found her gone. It was still burning. But would such action achieve what he wanted?

If this was the fall she'd intended all along, nothing was going to change her mind, and he'd just be asking for more punishment. Alternatively, if she needed more time...time to think, to re-appraise, to decide she really did want him...time might be his friend. Either way, he hated the feeling this was Judgement Day.

Leon knocked on the window, mugging a comical query. Expelling a sigh of deep frustration, Nick opened the door, determined not to answer his friend's curiosity. He had no answers anyway, none that he liked.

'Well, did the beauteous Anne live up to your expectations?'

Nick glowered at him. 'Why don't you mind your own business, Leon?'

'I'm an interested party, remember?' came the quick retort.

Caught up in his own dilemma, Nick had forgotten about Leon's interest in Sue Olsen. He closed his door, locked the car, thinking Barbie's partner had to be well aware of the deception. And just where did that place Sue Olsen?

'She wasn't what you wanted after all?' Leon persisted.

'She's everything I want,' Nick declared, wanting an end to the inquisition. He needed more time to sort things out himself.

Leon glanced skeptically at him as they fell into step, heading indoors to their offices. 'So how come you're not bursting with happiness?'

'Because I'm not sure where she's at,' he shot back. 'Now drop it, Leon.'

'You didn't rush her, did you?' 'I said drop it!'

'Yeah. Right. Just so long as I don't cop any fallout from Sue.'

The feisty little redhead was in on Barbie's game. She had gone along with the Anne Shepherd cover up yesterday. Maybe both women were taking him and Leon for a ride. Nick held his tongue, though he didn't care for the taste of these thoughts. No point in warning Leon until he knew what the play was. He certainly wouldn't be thanked for it.

'I hope you can give your full concentration to the interviews today,' Leon sliced at him.

'What interviews?'

Some under- the-breath muttering preceded a biting reminder. 'The ones where you decide on the two extra graphic artists you insisted you needed. Of course, I realise the pressures you're currently feeling have nothing to do with work, but...'

'Okay! I'll be ready for them. Roll them into my office when they arrive.'

'First one is ten o'clock.'

'Fine!'

'Take time to check their resumes again, Nick. We don't want misfits on the team.'

'I know how to look after my side of the business,' he snapped.

'Fine!' Leon snapped back and sheered off to his office, leaving Nick in no doubt about the friction he'd stirred.

He grimaced and carried on to his own office, boiling with resentment over being caught in this awkward situation. Why couldn't Barbie have been straight with him? And how in hell could she just walk away from what they had shared last night? Even on the most basic level, did she think that depth of sexual harmony could be found with anyone?

By the time he settled behind his desk, Nick knew he had to force a resolution, one way or another.

It wasn't just himself affected here. Leon was involved, too. He picked up the phone book, found the number he needed, and jabbed the buttons on his telephone with grim determination. He heard the buzzing at the other end and fiercely willed it not to be followed by an answering machine.

'Party Poppers,' Sue Olsen's perky voice announced. 'How may we pop for you?'

Right out of the cake you and Barbie have baked, . Nick thought, hellbent on having the sweet icing of deception burst asunder. It was on the tip of his tongue to ask for Barbie Lamb, tempted to surprise some relevant reaction out of her friend and partner in crime, but he really wanted the admission to come from Barbie herself, and freely given, not forced out of her.

'Nick Armstrong here. May I speak to...Anne Shepherd, please?' The false name almost stuck in his craw.

'Anne,' Sue repeated, as though it tasted sour to her, too. 'Could you hold please? I'll just go and get her for you.'

'Thank you.'

No Drop Dead Delivery from Sue Olsen. If that was on the agenda, she intended Barbie to do it herself. It could be that she didn't like this deception any more than he did. If Sue was truly attracted to Leon, it was certainly a complication she wouldn't welcome, with Nick being Leon's partner. She might be pressing Barbie to tell the truth right now.

Nick geared himself to play the conversation care- fully. If there was a chance of winning, he didn't want to blow it.

'Wake up, sleepyhead! Rise and shine!'

Sue's adamant command penetrated Barbie's peaceful slumber and jerked her head off the pillow.

'What's up?' she asked groggily.

'You should be,' came the terse reply from her friend who was propped against the doorjamb, eyeing

Barbie's bleary confusion without the slightest trace of sympathy. 'It's almost nine o'clock and lover-boy is on the Party Poppers phone.'

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