There was no reply to that argument. Only time would tell the, truth of it

What's the next step?' Sue went on relentlessly. Dinner, bed and breakfast?'

Barbie grimaced over the derision, but at this point she no longer cared what Sue thought. 'Dinner. This evening, she answered. 'I'll be meeting him in the city so I'll need the car if that's okay with you.'

'Dinner,' Sue muttered, shooting a dark look warning as she added, 'Well don't kid yourself that wolf hasn't got bed and breakfast on the agenda.'

Barbie's chin lifted, defying the bloom of heat in her cheeks. 'So what if he has? I might want that, too. You said yourself I should get him out of my system.

'Not this way, Barbie.'

'You opened this can of worms, insisting we needed the business. The lid won't go back on it now I've always wanted him, Sue. That's the truth of it.

'You're pursuing a dream.'

'Yes. Why not?'

'Starting it off on a lie, Barbie? Deceiving him as to who you are?'

'A name doesn't mean anything. It's the person who counts.'

'If it doesn't mean anything, why hide it?'

Barbie once again retreated into silence, hating the argument, not wanting to listen to her friend. It was her business, not Sue's. She was the one whose child-hood and teenage years were emotionally entangled with Nick Armstrong.

Once those memories were triggered in Nick, she would shrivel inside and all the good feelings would die. He would look at her and see Baa-Baa. Whereas if they connected really well as the people they were today, perhaps they might reach a point where they could both laugh over those old memories.

'Do you expect me to back you up?' Hearing the strong disapproval in Sue's voice Barbie had no hesitation in releasing her friend from

any responsibility for whatever ensued from this decision. 'No, I don't. Thanks for not blowing my cover back there in Nick's office. From now on I'll do my best to keep you right out of it. It's my play.' 'A bit difficult when Leon has asked me out.' 'What?' Barbie gaped at her in surprise, not for a moment having anticipated this outcome.

Sue shrugged. 'I like him. He's fun. He's invited me to a party this coming Saturday night.'

Barbie sagged back into her passenger seat, closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead, needing to still the whirl of complications that this connection set off in her mind. Leon Webster had been a friend of Nick's since university days, and shared the same business. They were bound to talk together as much as. she and Sue did. Impossible to ask Sue to drop him if she liked him. That wasn't fair.

'We'll have to keep these involvements separate,' she argued. 'You with Leon. Me with Nick.' Or you could be honest with him. Get it out of the way, came the salutary retort. No, Not yet.'

I don't want to lie to Leon about you, Barbie.' Then don't. Do what you have to do and let me do what i have to do. Okay?' Sue didn't reply. She didn't say anything more on the subject.. Neither did Barbie. But they were both conscious of the serious difference of opinion between them -an unwanted wedge in their long and close friendship.

Was Nick Armstrong worth it?

Barbie grimly decided she would have to find that out, beyond any shadow of a doubt... before Saturday night.

Having explained the circumstances of the Drop Dead Delivery to Leon, and the subsequent unmasking of Anne Shepherd, who'd played the fairy princess, Nick felt no compunction to explain anything else. Anne Shepherd was now his business—his personal, private business—and Leon had no rights over it.

'Thank you for being persuasive with Sue Olsen on my behalf,' he said, winding up the inquisition. I hope it wasn't too much of a chore. As it is, Anne and I can take it from here so you can drop it, Leon Okay? Back to work now?'

'No, it's not okay,' came the sharp retort. 'You did remind me when you broke into my office that we were supposed to be working,' Nick dryly pointed out.

'Sue was right. You're charging like a bull, Nick I bet you've got Anne lined up to race her off to bed| tonight.'

Not race. He wanted to savor and revel in every bit of anticipation, then eke out every bit of pleasure he knew was coming with his fairy princess Impossible to explain how he felt about her to Leon,

'I'm not working tonight so it's no concern of yours,' he said dismissively.

'No concern!' Leon rose from his chair with the rising of his voice, hurling his arms around and gesticulating

dramatically as he paced around the office, Hinging out a torrent of unsolicited advice. 'So I'm supposed to ignore it while you get into another mess with a woman. Remember, Tanya? You raced her off to bed the first night you met her, and then spent the next four months finding out what a bitch she was. You're too fast on the draw, Nick.'

This was different. No way was Anne Shepherd in the same ring as Tanya Wells and he didn't like Leon linking them, either. Irritated by his friend's criticism he shot him a quelling glare. 'Look who's talking?' 'Sure I've done it, too,' Leon whipped back. 'Taking, what's there whenever I've felt the urge. No harm done with willing parties. But the break-up with Liz taught me something. Great sex peters out when you find you've got nothing in common and you're pulling against each other's interests. Like with you and Tanya. Right?'

Nick leaned back in his chair and visually quizzed the reformed character Leon was supposedly demonstrating. 'When did this wisdom descend on you?', he asked. I didn't notice it in play at the party on

Saturday night. Seems to me I remember...'

There was no one important there,' Leon cut in emphatically.’ You said this Anne Shepherd is important to you.'

'So'?

So treat her right. Get to know her.' I intend to.' It didn't look that way to me when Sue and I came in,' Leon reminded him, sounding like a preacher pushing some righteous path.

Nick frowned at him, wishing he'd mind his own business. 'I appreciate your concern. Now let's drop| it, shall we?'

Leon stopped his pacing and took a stand, glaring vexed disapproval. 'She and Sue are friends. Long-time friends. And business partners,' he stated curtly

'I gathered that.'

'Sue is very protective of her when it comes to pushy guys.'

'I gathered that, too.'

'I like Sue Olsen. She's in tune with me. We might become a big item.'

Understanding dawned. His friend and partner fancied the little redhead. 'Each to his own, Leon.' The usual agreement between them was not forth-coming. Leon did not relax. If anything, the tension he was emanating increased, his hands clenching and unclenching as though he wanted to throw a punch

Bemused and rather unsettled by the aggressive flow from his friend, Nick waited to be enlightened further.’ We’ve got wires crossed here, Nick,' he stated with an underlying throb of vehemence, quite uncharacteristic of his usual easy-going manner. 'I'm counting on you not to give them a negative charge,

'Right at this moment I don't see any problem Nick assured him confidently. All the signals with Anne were very positive.

'Well, think about this.' Leon wagged an admonishing finger. 'Sue wouldn't be so protective of Anne without a damned good reason. I figure there's some bad history that might need soothing over. Better find out what that reason is before you charge, Nick. Or we may find ourselves in major conflict.'

He made his exit on that sobering challenge, closing the door with a bang that telegraphed very serious concern.

It gave Nick considerable pause for thought. Leon must really fancy the redhead. And he was right. There were crossed wires here. A strong sexual interest could break up friendships. He'd seen it happen many a time, women coming between men, men coming between women. It could mess up family relationships, too, when an interest wasn't approved, severely testing loyalties.

Nevertheless, he couldn't see why it should happen here. Sue Olsen had certainly been protective of Anne, and clearly there was some hurtful history he didn't know about. The signposts had been spelled out.

Barbie—barbed wire—prickly with men who came on to her.

But he hadn't come on to her. It was she who had initiated the kiss at his birthday party. And today, she had known what he was about to do. There'd been no protest either verbally or physically. Remembering the touch of her tongue on his...nothing unwilling about her desire to taste him, to explore the wild exhilaration of arousing more and more excitement... Nick felt himself stirring, needing what she could give him. There was no doubt in his mind.

She'd wanted to satisfy herself, as much as he'd wanted to satisfy himself. Mutual wanting. Where could it go wrong?

CHAPTER SEVEN

Your table, sir.'

'Thank you.'

'And you're to be joined by?'

I'll see her coming.'

'A drink while you wait, sir?'

'A jug of iced water will be fine.'

I'll be right back with it.'

The waiter was as good as his promise, bringing the jug and pouring Nick a long glass of iced water before leaving him alone to wait for Anne. Normally he would have ordered beer to relax over, smoothing away the tensions of the day, but he didn't have work on his mind, and the tension he felt was exciting not to be diminished.

Tonight of all nights, Nick didn't want his senses blurred by alcohol. He would order wine when Anne came. A glass or two spaced over dinner wouldn't dull his mind from concentrating on everything about her. As he settled back in his chair and looked around him taking in the colour and movement of the quay,

He realized he had never felt so alive, waiting for a woman.

A glance at his watch showed it was still five minutes short of seven o'clock. Having reserved this out of doors table, under the huge marble colonnade

that led to the opera house, Nick was in the ideal position to watch for Anne, and he found himself enjoying the passing parade of people and the coming and going of harbour ferries. Usually he was in too much of a hurry to take notice of what were familiar sights but this evening even the air smelled sweeter. It had been a warm day for mid-November and the warmth still lingered. With daylight saving in force, tourists were still milling around, happily clicking cameras. Theatre-goers in evening dress strolled past heading for their choice of entertainment; a concert, a play, a ballet performance. Nick's interest wasn't captivated by any of the stylish women. None of them held a candle to the one he was waiting for.

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