Too bad she couldn’t.
“You said my name,” she reminded him.
Was that a trick of the light, or did his sensual lips curl? “So?”
“You didn’t call for your brother or your sister, or even your ex-fiancée. You called for me.”
He said nothing.
“That seems important.”
He took a step toward her. “So did your letters, but look how wrong I was about that.”
There it was. The lie. She’d known it wouldn’t take long to get there.
The ice was cracking beneath her feet, threatening to break, and yet she took a step closer. Did that make her a self-destructive fool?
Then she was a fool.
“You dream about me?”
“Does that surprise you?”
“Yes,” she admitted.
“Why? Didn’t we cover this ground already, when I came to your studio and you spit in my face?”
“I didn’t spit in your face.”
“No? What else should I call it when you lie to me and think that I’m stupid enough to believe it, beautiful Talia? A love letter?”
There was no answer for that, but her silence only infuriated him.
Another aggressive step brought him right up to her face, where he loomed, killing her with the anger in his glare.
“Huh?” he demanded, sweeping his arms wide. It was funny—the more unglued he became, the more certain she felt that she was walking the right path tonight, even though it scared her. “Do you think I don’t see the way you look at me? Do you think I didn’t notice you named your dog after my unit’s dog in Afghanistan? Do you think I missed that little detail?”
“You have a lot of questions for me, don’t you? But why don’t you answer my question, Tony?”
“Why would I do that?” he roared. “Why would I tell you how I feel about you again? So you can look at me with those big eyes and feel sorry for me? Or maybe you’re dying to tell me how you’d give the same comfort to any passing soldier who had a nightmare? Why are you screwing with my head?”
God. That was a sucker punch directly to her solar plexus. She wavered, fighting sudden hot tears, because she knew he was right, and the truth was ugly.
“I don’t mean to.”
“It doesn’t matter whether you mean to or not. You are. And don’t you dare stand there and cry on me.”
“Fine.” Blinking furiously, she swiped away her tears before they fell. “How about I tell you the truth?”
“That would be a refreshing change.”
She took a deep breath. When that didn’t help, she took another one. He waited, watching her every blink. As usual, there was something about his intensity that paralyzed her, making her feel clumsy and inadequate. All she could think was that if he hated the sight of pity in her eyes, it would kill her to ever see it in his.
Finally, he took mercy on her.
Reaching out, he took her hand and reeled her in, infusing her with some of his warmth and strength and loosening up her throat. She twined her fingers with his and held on, squeezing until she expected to hear the snap of several of their bones. Ducking his head, he pressed his cheek to hers and whispered in her ear.
“Tell me, baby.”
“It’s been a tough year.”
Against her temple, she felt the prickle of his brow as it contracted, and she could understand his confusion. Maybe he thought she was referring to her broken relationship with Paul, which would be a natural conclusion. The wrong one, but still natural. Tony had only seen the tip of her iceberg of secrets.
She couldn’t bear the though of telling him about the rest.
“I understand,” he murmured. “I know about tough years.”
“I’m strong. I can handle almost anything.”
“I know you can.”
“The one thing I can’t handle,” she said, raising her head so she could look him in the eyes, even though she was about one second away from bawling like a baby, “is having you and then losing you.”
A glimmer of something—relief? Hope?—flashed across his face. “You’re not going to lose me.”
That did it. The first tear fell, splashing down her face. “It’s inevitable.”
His brow furrowed into a vague frown, but he chose not to pursue it now, which was, she knew, a temporary reprieve.