Miles stared at the computer again without seeing it. Now his brain was whirling with even more concrete, even more disturbing images. For a man who had always taken a measure of pride in his discipline and self-control he felt as though he were on the verge of losing it completely. He poured another mug of coffee from the thermos on his desk, hoping that it might help to clear his head.
The phone chirped at his elbow. He stared at it until it stopped, then rubbed his hands over the stubble on his face. He took another long drink of coffee.
When Miles looked up, she was standing there in the open doorway, watching him. He flinched slightly, wondering how she could have snuck up on him so easily. He hadn’t even heard her.
“I’m leaving,” Lesley announced firmly and quietly and without preamble. “Now.”
“We haven’t discussed the lease.” He found himself staring at her lips.
”There’s nothing for us to discuss,” she stated flatly, trying to keep from looking at him directly.
“And your car—” Miles caught her eyes with his.
“I’ll walk if I need to…” Lesley stared back at him without flinching.
“Its a long walk,” Miles replied still locking eyes with her.
“I don’t care.” Lesley swallowed, desperate to keep her resolve.
“It might rain,” he observed.
“It might,” she replied faintly.
Miles took a step towards her. “Not until we finish our business.”
“Our business can be settled by the solicitors.” Lesley took a small step away from him, her heart thudding madly.
“Why not between us?”
“I’d rather not.” She pulled her gaze away from him, fixing her eyes firmly on the painting behind him. She noted that the rapier was back in its scabbard on the wall next to the painting.
“I think we can settle this like two civilized people.”
Lesley gave a short laugh. “Do you really believe that?”
“We could at least try….” he raised a brow.
“Ahh…Don’t you think we’ve gotten a bit past that?”
Miles scratched his cheek thoughtfully. “I must have missed that part.”
“Missed it? You engineered it!” Lesley faced him, offering her bruised wrists for his inspection.
“I believe that you made a considerable contribution in that regard.” he replied dryly, tilting his head to the rapier on the wall.
Lesley stared at him a moment, then dropped herself obstinately into the beleaguered upholstered chair.
“I thought you were leaving,” he said.
“Oh, I am.”
“Then kindly do it, so I can get back to work.” As if.
Miles folded his arms against his chest and leaned back against the desk. He raised his chin to the door. He was torn between the dread that she would do just that and the hope that he could think of something to get her to stay.
“If you’re going to go, then go.” He thought that perhaps reverse psychology would work with someone as seemingly perverse as she was. He smiled inwardly. She was almost as bad as he was. “I can have Conan take you to the train station.”
Lesley stared at him then moved her attention to behind him resting it on the painting, then on the rapier hung on the wall beside it. After admiring it for a few seconds, she came to a decision.
“That’s yours. then?” She turned her head to the sword.
“Yes, it is.”
“Do you know how to use it?”
His eyes slitted dangerously at her. “What are you getting at?
“Is that just for decoration, or do you know how to use it?”
“Maybe.” His mouth set into a firm line.
“Mmm…” she paused. “Have you got another one?”
“If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, then stop thinking about it.”
“What is it you think I’m thinking about?”
“I don’t even want to think about it.”
“You were the one who suggested that we settle this like two civilized people.”
“You are out of your mind…” he hissed between his teeth. “How can you even suggest—”
“I consider it a rather civilized way of resolving our differences. Well, it used to be, in any case.”
“I consider it out of the question.”
“Why?” she asked.
He turned away from her, raking back his disheveled hair, not certain just how he should respond to her.
“I’d like to propose a little wager.” Lesley stuck her chin out at him, the defiant eight year old still very much a part of her.
“A what?” His head swiveled to face her.
“You heard me, a wager. If you win, you get the lease renewed, same terms, no questions asked, for whatever length of time you require. “
“And if I lose?” he asked softly.
“If you lose… you tell me what it is you’re really doing here. I mean really. The absolute truth.”
“I thought I’d already done that,” Miles replied calmly, “told you the truth…”
Lesley offered him a wry twisted smile. “Nah….I don’t think so. There’s more.”
“What makes you think that?” Miles asked, humoring her.
“Mmm…” Lesley raised a brow as she took stock of him again. “If there isn’t, then what have you got to worry about?”
Miles looked down, shaking his head.
“Of you? No.” Miles raised his head slowly. “For you…yes.”
“I’m not. What do you say?”
“You’re very sure of yourself, aren’t you?” His brows rose.
“No more than you appear to be,” came the response.
“I think you have the wrong idea about me, D’Artagnan.”
“I don’t think that at all.”
Miles took her in carefully, the set of her jaw, her flashing eyes, the determined set of her lips. Oh God, those luscious delicious lips. He could no more set upon her with a sword than he could willingly smash the treasure of a priceless Fabergé Egg. No matter how much she provoked him.
“I suppose you’ve changed your mind about me, then…” he replied dryly, taking yet another tack.
“What do you mean?”
“Yesterday you declared me a man without principles. What could possibly have happened between then and now that would lead you to believe I would keep to the terms of any wager you cared to propose? In a duel of honor?”
Lesley had no response to this.
“Listen to me, you selfish brat. You want to go, then go. For whatever reason you’ve chosen to concoct, it’s not enough that we fence words, now you want to use the real thing. You have no idea what you’re proposing, or who you’re dealing with. And I’m weary of playing games with you. And I adamantly refuse to be a character in one of your self-indulgent literary exploits.” He gave her an exasperated wave. “Ach!”
She stared at him, speechless, for several moments. The heat of adrenaline flashed through her. He was so devilishly handsome, those black eyes flashing at her, and so… so…
“You’re insufferable!” she finally breathed.
“Thank you,” he nodded. “From someone who has elevated the concept into an art form, that is high praise indeed.”
Shaking, and outraged beyond words, Lesley gathered herself up and started for the door.
“What? No scathing retort?” Miles commented quietly, not able to stop himself. “No parting sarcastic remark?”
Lesley paused, her fingers trembling on the door handle. There was everything in her that wanted to reply, yet she held back, unwilling to allow him to succeed in his attempt to goad her. With a deep breath of resolve, she wrenched the door open and walked down the long tiled passageway.
Miles stared at the open door, the sound of her boots receded down the long corridor. With each step the haze in his head grew stronger and the roar louder, and he found that he was having difficulty breathing. He knew he had to do something or else he would never be able to function or think clearly again. He had so much unresolved sexual tension, building up from the first electric moment he’d seen her, he had to do something. And he realized then, that he would do just about anything to keep her from leaving. He swallowed, took two deep breaths and cursed himself for his weakness and for what he was about to do.
“Wait!” he called from behind the door, and down the passageway her boots slowed. “Wait! I’ll do it!” He listened for a reply. There were no footsteps. He held his breath.
Carefully, he tilted his head around the door and came face to face with her. She stood silent, watching him, waiting. He found himself caught up, transfixed by those hazy smoky emerald eyes, and he knew he was lost.
“I’ll do it. Damn you,” he whispered. “I’ll do it…”
She smiled. And it sent a fiery cold shiver down his spine, which was surprisingly, frighteningly, familiar.