'But you had me in your mind.' He started walking towards her, seething with the accusations he continued to hurl. 'You were remembering. All the time you were remembering. Questioning me. Putting me on trial. Do you think I didn't feel it?'
'I didn't mean you to feel it,' she countered, although what he said was true, making her feel uneasy about her own private agenda and prompting a defence. 'I just wanted to find out where I stood with you.'
'Without letting me know where I stood with you,' he mocked. 'And just how long was that to go on for, Barbie? When was Anne Shepherd going to turn into you? When you'd had enough of me so you could do what you meant to do in the first place? Leave me wanting you and walk away?'
'I wasn't out for revenge. Not after the fairy princess thing. I just wanted to be sure I wasn't some fly-by-night affair to you before I laid myself on the line. I would have told you once I felt safe with you,' she defended, drawing herself up tautly, unfolding her arms, ready to fight as he closed in on her.
He came to a halt directly in front of her, using the power of his physique to make her feel she was on the judgement stand. His eyes glittered a savage challenge as he continued his cross-examination.
'So why treat my sister as you did...if you really wanted some future with me? You rejected her attempt at reviving an old friendship and her invitation to a family celebration.'
'I was in shock. The coincidence...except it wasn't a coincidence,' she threw at him bitterly. 'You shouldn't have dragged your sister into it.'
'It was the only way I could think of to make you stop hiding from me. And to flush the truth out of you. I needed to know what was in your heart... hope for some future with me or vengeance for what you obviously perceived as my rejection of you.'
It had been hope. But it was painfully obvious there was no hope of any understanding between them now. The situation was irreparably damaged by her deception and his reaction to it, making it impossible to see where the truth lay anymore.
His eyes raked derisively over her clothes. 'Seeing you dressed like this, the answer is clear.
You're even standing by the door to show me out.'
Was this the end of what had started so promisingly on Monday night? Was this the end she wanted?
Her sinking heart screamed no. Her mind scrambled to find some saving grace. Before she could say or do anything he moved. His hands fell on her shoulders, curling around them as though he was going to shake her.
'But not quite yet, Barbie. Before I leave...I'll give you the sweetest revenge of all.'
His face was so close to hers, his eyes were like magnets, drawing on her soul. Her mind was torn, wanting to deny she'd ever set out to be vengeful, yet guiltily aware that she had secretly revelled in scoring off him.
His grasp loosened and his hands slid along her shoulders, up her throat, cupping her face as he spoke with an intensity that gripped her heart and squeezed it. 'I want you, Barbie Lamb. Even knowing you're intent on twisting the knife and turning me out of your life, I still want you.'
His fingers stroked slowly up her cheeks, into her hair above her ears, raking it behind her lobes.
'Is that sweet to hear?' His eyes burned into hers. 'Let me make it even sweeter for you. Much better to taste the wanting, feel the wanting.'
Her heart was pounding so hard she couldn't think. Couldn't move, either. His head was bending and she knew he was going to kiss her. The sizzle of challenge was in his eyes, heating her blood, stirring needs she couldn't repress, memories of how it had been together.
Then his mouth was covering hers, his warm lips grazing seductively, igniting tingles of excitement, his tongue tantalising, not forcing an opening but holding out the tempting promise of deeply plummeting passion surging between them.
Would it happen again? Even now? With so much negative turmoil still churning away inside her?
Helplessly distracted, Barbie couldn't resolve what was right and wrong. And her mouth craved a deeper kiss, a more telling kiss. No conscious decision was made. Her lips parted of their own accord and let Nick Armstrong in.
Instantly sensation swamped her. From the top of her scalp to the extremities of her toes every nerve came alive with excitement and the anticipation of more excitement. His kiss was so powerfully invasive, so passionately penetrating, resisting it was utterly impossible. Any such thought didn't even enter her mind. There was no thought, only a wild surge of need to possess him just as pervasively. It triggered a fierce response.
Her hands flew around his head, fingers clawing through his hair, holding him to her. He dropped his arms, wrapped them around her back and hauled her body into hard-pressed contact with his. There could be no mistaking his arousal, his desire for her. The wanting was not a lie. She could taste it, feel it, and again Barbie revelled in it, exulting in his taut masculinity, every bit of him straining to satisfy his need to capture and possess the whole sense of her.
She felt his hand move under her shirt, sliding up her bare back, unclipping her bra, and the instant loosening of her clothing shot a spear of alertness through the haze of her own urgent wanting. Was this right...this mind-blowing drive for sexual release?
Her breasts were aching for his touch. She was acutely aware of his hand gliding under her arm, reaching the soft swell of her flesh, nudging aside the unfastened bra, fingers encircling, softly squeezing, thumb fanning her nipple which was so hard and sensitised, the shock of pleasure had her moaning for more. She didn't want to stop it, didn't want to pause to consider anything.
Until he stopped it, dropping his hand to the waistband of her jeans, seeking to pull open the stud fastening. The realisation that he meant to take her right here, up against the door, shook Barbie out of her complicity in the intimacies that were fast leading to absolute commitment to the desire raging through her. Was this the only level of wanting Nick felt for her? Was he using sex in a last drive to keep her with him...for more sex?
The sudden pain in her heart eclipsed the needs pounding through the rest of her body. Her hands shot from his hair and slammed against his shoulders as she wrenched her mouth from the passionate persuasion of his.
'No!' It was a raw gasp. She threw back her head, gulping in more air. 'No!' It was an anguished cry, vehemently denying the physical upheaval pleading against this enforced parting.
'This is the you now, Barbie. The me now. You feel it. I feel it. Give it a chance,' Nick pleaded hoarsely, his eyes blazing conviction.
His arms wrapped around her again, hands curling around her buttocks, lifting her into an intimate fit with his erection, blatantly reminding her of what they had shared before. 'What we have together is very special,' he declared, his voice throbbing in her ears. 'You know it is. And I won't let you walk away from it, just because I did what I thought was best for you nine years ago.'
Best for her!
The cruelest cut of all... without so much as a word of kindness to soften it?
He was lying!
The wanting now was no lie, but he was trying to manipulate her feelings, just as he had manipulated them on Monday night. Today, as well, arranging the confrontation with his sister. This was Nick wanting his own way, getting his own way, never mind what she felt. Just like nine years ago,
She slammed her hands against his chest and pushed with all her strength. 'Let me go! Get away from me!'
The violence of feeling in her voice and action effected separation from him. He stepped back, releasing her and lifting his hands in vehement appeal, his face expressing angry bewilderment at her rejection. 'Why?' he demanded. 'You were with me. Just as you were when we made love on Monday night. I wasn't forcing myself on you.'
'No. But sex doesn't override everything else. Not for me it doesn't,' she cried, her eyes accusing him of taking unfair advantage of her vulnerability.
'It's been the most honest thing between us,' he claimed, and counter-accusation simmered through every word.
'You've got that right. But I want more honesty than straight-out lust. Best for me,' she mocked.
'All you've ever cared about is what was best for you. You didn't care about my feelings nine years ago and you haven't cared about them now... trapping me with your sister...not allowing anything to run any way but yours.'
His face tightened as though she had physically slapped him. He shook his head. When he met her gaze again, his eyes were bleak, no longer tired up to fight her. 'I did think it was best for you,
Barbie,' he said quietly. 'You were a very special person. Too special to let your life be so singularly focused on me. At sixteen, there was so much more for you to discover, to explore.'
His calm reasoning flicked raw wounds. It felt as though he was the wisely objective adult explaining something to a child and she was no longer a child. She hadn't been a child for many, many years. Stung unbearably by this lack of emotional involvement with her, she picked a flaw in his condescending logic and lashed him with it.
'If I was so special, why didn't you ever look me up, Nick? After I'd had time to discover what you thought I should discover.'
It didn't sting him. He shrugged. 'Life happens. You moved away. I got involved with business.'
The flat statements goaded her further. 'The truth is you never gave me another moment's thought until I entered your life again.'
'No, that's not true.' He dragged in a deep breath and grimaced as he sighed. 'I can't change the past. I am sorry you were so hurt by my decision. I know I didn't handle it well.'
The old devastation of that night came flooding back...the need to show him, to see appreciation and understanding in his eyes. Only it wasn't there. He'd decided it couldn't be. She searched his eyes now, wanting evidence of feeling for her, some caring warmth, even the heat of desire. There was not so much as a spark in them...dull, lifeless, defeated.