Authors: Barbara Boswell
Tags: #Romance, #Fiction, #General
|License to Love|
|Harlequin Books (1991)|
|Tags:||Romance, Fiction, General|
‘ ‘Michelle! Good to see you!” Smiling with apparent delight, Steve Saraceni rose from his desk chair. “And how’s everything over at Senator Dineen’s office?”
His affable greeting was so unexpected that it had the effect of stopping Michelle Carey dead in her tracks. So that was the way he was going to play it? As if they were two longtime colleagues, veterans of the Pennsylvania political scene, amiably discussing the
As if the last time they had seen each other, they hadn’t parted in a wild, passionate lover’s quarrel.
How did he do it? Michelle wondered bleakly. His smile looked so genuine. He even managed to make his dark eyes shine with warmth and sincerity. Whatever his feelings, that smooth, smiling mask of his never slipped. At least not in public. In their private times together, she’d seen the man behind the mask. She’d fallen in love with him. But they were alone now and she was being subjected to the public, impenetrable Steve. Pain ripped through her.
Steve walked around his desk and crossed the office, extending his hand to her for a friendly shake. The image he projected appealed to both men and women alike. Approachable, eminently likable, earnest and honest. Lobbyists—and he was a lobbyist consultant representing a number of clients—were sometimes viewed as aggressive, slick and cool, but Steve Saraceni never came across that way. He had never met anyone he couldn’t eventually charm into liking him. In the land mine field of politics Steve Saraceni was without enemies, truly an awesome feat and a telling tribute to his persuasive skills.
He was the most sophisticated, self-confident man Michelle had ever met, a man who wielded his appeal and charm with the precision of a lethal weapon. She hadn’t stood a chance, she acknowledged miserably. How naive she’d been to believe otherwise.
Michelle did not offer her hand in return, forcing Steve to drop his to his side. It was a small but definite victory because there was nothing he hated more than looking foolish. He rarely, if ever, did. Steve Saraceni always managed to appear in the right place at the right time with the right people... doing just the right thing—or what appeared to be the right thing.
Which brought her to the point of her visit. Michelle’s mouth was suddenly dry. Was she doing the right thing by coming here and telling him? She’d spent hours debating the issue with herself, wildly vacillating from one position to the other. Her heart slammed against her ribs, beating so hard and so fast, she was surprised it wasn’t externally visible.
“What brings you here today, Michelle?” Steve asked. His deep voice was pleasant but impersonal.
It was the same tone he would use to ask a passerby on the street for the correct time. That he would use it with her hurt terribly because there was a time when his voice had been husky and intimate and laced with affection. Michelle wondered if there was another woman in his life being treated to those same smoky, sexy tones of his. Knowing Steve’s reputation, there probably was.
Her heart clenched as a spasm of pain shot through her. But with the pain came another emotion superceding it. Fury.
Michelle fought to suppress it. She couldn’t have an emotional outburst, she must stay as cool and calm as he. If that were possible, she thought grimly. Steve Saraceni personified cool.
“I don’t want to take up any more of your valuable time than is absolutely necessary,” Michelle said tautly. “I—I’m only here because I thought you have a—” she paused and gulped. Both her nerve and her resolve were fading fast. If she didn’t tell him right now, she never would. “You have a moral right to know.” She raised her head and her wide-set china blue eyes met his cool dark ones. “I’m pregnant.”
Her words hit him with the force and power of a bullet right between the eyes. Steve jerked backward and stumbled against his desk. He leaned against it, grateful for something solid to hold on to, because the room seemed to be spinning around at whirlwind velocity. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out.
It was the first time in his life that the golden gift of speech failed him. His breathing and swallowing abilities seemed to be out of order, too. His mouth was so dry he felt as if he were gagged with a yard of cotton wool. When he tried to inhale, nothing happened.
“Wh-what?” Steve finally managed to ask. He sounded winded, as if he’d been socked in the solar plexus.
He felt that way, too. It was exactly the same way he’d felt back in college. He’d been a wide receiver for Penn State, and the opposing team’s two hundred-ten-pound defensive lineman had smashed into him while he was running toward the end zone, clutching the football. Steve had detided at that moment that there had to be an easier way than a football career to acquire the wealth and status he had always longed for. He quit the team, dropped his dreams for a pro career and turned his energies to a future in politics. It seemed a suitable, pain-free alternative and when he’d learned about the influential, freewheeling, lucrative life of legislative lobbyists, he’d known that was the career he’d been born for.
He was an unqualified success at it. There were challenges, but none he couldn’t handle. And then he’d met Michelle Carey, assistant administrative aide to state senator Edward Dineen. A challenge? Perhaps. But his confidence had never flagged. He could handle her.
Or so he’d thought. Steve managed to focus his eyes on Michelle, who stood before him, her face pale and drawn. Odd that someone her size had managed to level him as effectively as that helmeted behemoth from the University of Miami, he thought numbly.
She was only average height, about five feet four inches, although her high-heeled pumps gave her the illusion of tallness. She was slightly built, her frame small-boned, her figure slender. Slender but curvy.. .in all the right places. His eyes swept reflexively over her. She was wearing a no-nonsense blue suit and cream-colored blouse buttoned to the neck, but instead of negating her shapeliness, the modestly proper outfit somehow enhanced it.
Or maybe it was his imagination at work instead, remembering the fullness of her breasts, the silky skin of her abdomen, the womanly curves of her hips. Steve felt a band of heat tighten in his groin. Michelle was blond and lovely, with ivory skin, high cheekbones and a soft wide mouth that beckoned and tempted. He’d been sexually attracted to her from the first time they’d met, though she had been careful to maintain an all-business, hands-off demeanor.
He’d been challenged, then intrigued. There had never been a woman that Steve Saraceni wanted but couldn’t get.
But then, Michelle Carey wasn’t supposed to be one of his women; she was business. He knew it was dangerous to combine the two, but he’d thought he could handle it.
Suddenly the air seemed very thin. When he finally breathed, it came out like more of a gasp. “How?” he choked.
Michelle stared at the thick, wine-colored carpet on the floor. “You know how,” she whispered. Her face felt hot and she was beginning to perspire.
“But—but we’ve been careful!” Steve protested. This isn’t happening, his mind screamed. It isn’t possible! Unplanned, unwanted, unwed pregnancies happened to foolish teenagers, not to a successful thirty-four-year-old lobbyist whose income came close to matching his ego.
Michelle bit her lip, which was beginning to quiver. “Obviously we weren’t careful enough.”
Obviously not. Steve thought back to a certain night when he’d been feeling cocky and reckless and on top of the world. Throwing away caution had been easy. He was a risk-taker by nature and that particular risk had seemed negligible in comparison to his burning desire. After all, he was invulnerable to consequences!
Except, it seemed, to this tiny, unseen one concealed inside Michelle’s still-flat belly. Steve went hot, then cold. Inside his head, he heard his sister Jamie’s voice clear as a bell. “Heaven help you, when you finally fall,” Jamie had said, her voice ominous, her dark eyes flashing disapproval. He had laughed at her. Upright, starchy Jamie; she was always lecturing him about his high-flying life. What did she know?
Steve grimaced. “Michelle, are you sure?” Denial surged through him. There was always the chance that she was mistaken. Wasn’t there?
“Of course I’m sure,” Michelle said coldly. “Do you really think I’d come here and—and put myself through this if I weren’t?”
“I don’t know, would you? After the—uh, disagreement—we had, you might be seeking revenge. And this would certainly be an effective—”
“Let’s drop the sugar-coated doublespeak, Steve. What we had was a fight not a disagreement. And if I was looking for revenge, which I’m not, it wouldn’t involve humiliating myself like this, trust me.”
“You find me capable of trust?” he asked, sarcasm sharpening his tone. “That’s surprising, considering that the last time we were together you called me a back-stabbing double-crosser.”
“What did you expect?” she cried. “You are one!”
Steve shifted uncomfortably. He didn’t like feeling in the wrong, he much preferred to think well of himself. It was time to put a new spin on the situation. He was very good at that.
“Michelle, you simply don’t understand the dynamics of—” He paused after one glance at the closed, shuttered look on her face. “Oh, why bother to even try to explain? You don’t want to understand, you prefer to see me as an unscrupulous cad who—”
“I didn’t come here to argue,” Michelle cut in. She was beginning to feel dangerously light-headed. Blindly, she crossed the office and sank down onto the leather sofa located perpendicular to the desk. She rested her elbows on her knees and slowly lowered her head, bracing her forehead with her hands. Her dark blond hair tumbled around her shoulders in tousled disarray.
Steve panicked. His experience with pregnant women was nil. “Michelle, are you all right?” Before racing to her side, he punched the button of his intercom. “Saran, bring some water! Quick!”
Moments later his young cousin Saran, who worked as his receptionist when the spirit moved her, appeared with a glass of water.
He snatched the glass and held it to Michelle’s lips. “Here, drink this,” he said hoarsely.
Michelle pushed it away. “I don’t want it,” she whispered. She sat pale and still in the chair, a fine sheen of perspiration covering her face.
Steve stood up and glanced wildly around the office. He noticed his cousin eyeing Michelle curiously. Saran could be a conniving little eavesdropper, he knew. It was imperative to get her out of the office. “Saran, I can manage now. Why don’t you run along to lunch?”
Those were always welcome words to Saran. She quickly departed, calling an enthusiastic goodbye.
Michelle and Steve were alone in the office once again. She cast a covert glance at him. He bore no resemblance to the cool smooth operator who glided through life with his aura of invincible finesse. Michelle was horrified that she wanted to console him, to restore his jaunty male confidence. To put her arms around him and—
She gave her head a shake, as if to expel such traitorous thoughts.
She had to get out of here!
Because she had been so in love with him, he was a living, breathing danger zone. Not that she was still in love with him, Michelle hastened to reassure herself. Learning that he’d used her and lied to her had effectively expunged her love for him, she was certain of that. Still, old habits died hard and it was in her best interests to get away from him as quickly as possible.
Michelle stood up and was relieved that she no longer felt dizzy. The feeling of faintness had passed. “I shouldn’t have come. It was a mistake. I shouldn’t have told you.”
“Of course you should have told me,” snapped Steve. “Since you’re accusing me of fatherhood, I at least deserve to know about it.”
She bristled at his choice of words. “I wasn’t accusing you, I was informing you. And I’m sorry that I did. You can forget all about it, Steve. I don’t want or need anything from you.” She started toward the door.
He caught her arm, restraining her. “What are you going to do?”
“That is none of your business.”
“The hell it isn’t! You come in here and announce that you’re pregnant and then tell me to forget about it? I don’t think so, Michelle.”