Her tentative assault on his mouth triggered a more aggressive possession of her own and Barbie was instantly caught up in a passionate entanglement that was certainly not the fluffy stuff of dreams. The wild explosion of sensation was like a cascade of fireworks, fountains of brilliant pleasure shooting in every direction, intense bursts of excitement flaring, lingering, overtaken by more and more fantastic effects.
She loved it, reveled in it, and exulted in it. Her arms curled around his neck, wanting to hold him close, wanting to feel all of him as she had before Tanya had broken the spell on Saturday night, real flesh-and-blood Nick, hot and hard and male, pressing the un-mistakable strength of his desire for her, man and woman surging towards an intimacy that demanded urgent fulfillment, and everything within her craving it, sizzling with need. 'Nick!'
The call of his name was like a whip-crack, slicing through their mounting enthrallment, a sharp discordant intrusion on an intensely private togetherness, yet they were so deeply immersed in each other, disengagement was reluctant on both sides.
'Nick! Have you totally lost it?' came the harsh exasperated demand.
Nick's slowly expelled breath tingled over her sensitized lips as he interrupted their kiss to growl, 'Get out, Leon.'
'Oh, great!' A jeer of fuming frustration. I bring Sue Olsen along to check you out personally, and the fairy princess is already history.'
Sue? Barbie's eyes flew open. Her sluggish brain snapped to red alert. Sue could mess up everything 'I don't need help,' Nick tersely asserted, loosening his embrace, sliding one arm away from her as he half turned to put Barbie in clearer view of his friend 'I've got her right here with me. So take yourself off Leon.' 'Barbie!'
Shock horror from Sue, her mouth gaping as she released the fatal name that could link to a memory Barbie couldn't bear to have raised in Nick Armstrong's mind. Barbie Lamb...the horrible child-hood nickname, Baa-Baa...it would ruin what they shared now. Totally ruin it. He'd start thinking about
her differently, be amused instead of stirred, and he'd remember how she'd felt for him at sixteen...
Panic welled up in Barbie as she stared at her friend who was standing just to the side of Leon Webster and close to the door he'd opened, undoubtedly expecting his partner to be at work. How could she stop any further revelation?
'It is her!' Leon agreed in surprise, taking in the tumbling mass of blond hair on top of the very different clothing. 'In black drag?'
A Drop Dead Delivery came in from the harpy who broke my fairy wings,' Barbie shot at Sue, hoping to shut her up. 'I had to come...'
'Business.' Sue caught on, collecting herself enough to glare disapprovingly at Nick. 'And he assaulted you again.'
It looked mutual to me,' Leon declared, turning an arch look on Sue. 'Trying to work damages on this score is not going to wear. She was certainly not fighting, not the slightest sign of struggle. In fact...'
Do you mind?' Nick cut in. 'This is my private office.'
Which happens to be for work, Nick,' came the fast and pointed retort. 'Remember work? What we're supposed to be doing here?'
And I see the delivery has been made,' Sue said, expressing equal disapproval of the current use of Nick's office. 'Come on, Barbie. You're leaving with me.
Nick's softly musing repetition of her name squeezed her heart. She couldn't let him start thinking about it; possibly making the connection to the girl he'd known when they'd shared the same neighborhood.
'It's Sue's nickname for me,' she blurted out, feverishly seeking some meaning for it as he looked quizzically at her. 'Like barbed wire. I'm usually very prickly with men who come on to me.'
'And you should be prickly with this one, too,’ Sue strongly advised, ever sharp at picking up the ball 'He's not just coming on. He's charging.'
Nick ignored this remark, ignored both Leon and Sue, focusing entirely on Barbie, his vivid blue eloquently pleading the cause of a here-and-now involvement which he wanted to stretch beyond this moment. To her intense relief, there was no flash of memory clouding that desire, nothing but the need to know, the need to reach out and hold on. 'So what is your real name?' he asked. Her mind whirled, groping for an answer. She was christened Barbara Anne. Her second name should be easy to remember.
'Anne,' she replied. But what about a surname Lamb was a dead giveaway. 'Shepherd,' she added. The sheep association popping out. 'Anne Shepherd He smiled both encouragement and satisfaction in her conceding it to him. 'So now we're properly introduced.' And his voice was like warm velvet, caressing her.
'Right!' Leon snapped. 'Having got that settled 'Butt out, Leon. I have more to settle.' Nick’ expression changed to one of powerful intent as he looked at his partner and Sue beside him. 'If you'd be so kind as to leave us alone for a few minutes...' Fine!' Leon agreed on a huff. ‘I’ll wait in reception,' Sue instructed, giving Barbie a look that asked if she had a hole in her head. And Barbie briefly wondered if she did as they left, closing the door behind them. Then Nick was turning back to her, lifting the arm he'd freed, tenderly stroking' her cheek, her hair, his eyes telling her how very desirable he found the woman she now was. It was like champagne bubbling through her blood, too wonderfully intoxicating to dilute it with any bitter dregs from the past.
Meet me after work. We'll have dinner together. Is that possible?' Where?'
Where do you live?'
That was tricky with Sue all too ready to mouth off. If she was to keep her real identity a secret—and that was paramount right now—best to keep Nick away from their apartment in Ryde.
I'll meet you in the city,' she said, showing a reservation about accepting too much too fast.
He didn’t argue. He smiled reassurance, probably remembering her claim to prickliness. 'Whatever you wish. Do you know the restaurant, Pier Twenty-One, of Circular Quay?'
I'll find it.''
'You won't disappear on me again?'
'I'll meet you for dinner.'
No promises beyond that, Barbie told herself. She may have embarked on madness, but she could allow this much time with Nick, just to see...
'I'll look forward to it,' he said, a happy grin spreading across his handsome face as he released her and withdrew her sunglasses from his shirt pocket 'No more disguises?'
Barbie flushed the deception she was determinedly playing very high on her awareness scale. 'It was my job,' she excused.
'I'd like to hear more about that tonight.' He gave her the glasses then stepped away to scoop up her hat" from the floor. 'Sorry about this but I had to take off,' he said, smiling a rueful apology as he handed it back to her. 'Your hair is too beautiful to hide.'
She was hiding much more than her hair, Barbie thought, as she crammed the hat on. This was game—a dangerous game—of hide-and-seek. If and when she was caught...would she know how to handle it by then?
'Thank you,' she said. 'I must go now. Sue's waiting.'
'Is she your boss?'
'More a case of mutual interests,' Barbie answered evasively.
He didn't pursue the point. 'Until tonight then,' he said, ushering her to the door.
Just before Barbie made her exit, her gaze flicked
to the broken fairy wings, propped against the file cabinet.
Were they both pursuing a fantasy?
She paused in the opened doorway to take one last direct look at him and was instantly swamped by the sexual awareness he generated. His eyes blazed with a wanting that had nothing to do with fantasy, and her whole body sizzled with a response that was very- very real.
'Tonight,' he repeated.
It was like a drumbeat on her heart.
She nodded and left, unable to think, just feeling....feeling what Nick Armstrong did to her...not wanting to let it go.
Barbie sighed at the caustic drawl from Sue. At least they were out of the renovated warehouse which held the various departments of Multi-Media Promotions, and in the privacy of their own company car. She had known Sue wouldn't hold her tongue for long, but she wasn't ready to answer. She didn't want to explain anything.
How could anyone really explain feelings?
'Come on, Barbie. This is going a bit far, isn't it
The critical comment stung, yet Barbie hastily reasoned Sue didn't—couldn't—understand how this new thing between her and Nick would be spoiled if the truth of her identity was known. She just wanted to let it run for a while, without those shadows from the past.
The past of Sydney was all around her in this old inner city suburb of Glebe where Nick had his business offices. She stared out at the terrace houses many of them turned into trendy restaurants and galleries now. Times changed, places changed, people changed. Or at least their views did. Nick definitely saw her differently, very positively wanting her in his life.
'A false name,' Sue scorned. 'How long do you think you can fool him with it?' 'Long enough,' Barbie muttered. Enough for what?' Never mind.'
If this is an extension of the revenge idea, you're playing with real fire, Barbie, and you may get badly burned,' Sue warned. 'Saturday night's act was harm-less, good for your pride, but if you're planning on a closer encounter...' It's not revenge.'
This terse statement of fact hung in the silence between them as Sue drove the length of the Anzac Bridge and took the route towards Ryde. Wanting to smooth over the ruction in their usual good under-standing, Barbie offered the one piece of proof that Nick was not a shallow rat.
He bought the fabric to mend my fairy wings.' It was answered with blistering skepticism. 'Leverage. The guy will try anything to get to you. And he has hasn't he? I'll bet you right now nothing more will be done about mending those wings, because he's already won what he wanted.'