Maggie was tired of all the runaround. The lies and omissions that left her frustrated and furious. If there was a good reason Tanner Baines had thrown everything they’d shared away, she wanted to hear it, and she wanted to hear it now.
“Why are you so anxious to have me out of your life?” she demanded of him. “Just tell me. I can take it.”
“It’s not you,” he said roughly. He shook his head, as if the answer were either out of reach or too terrible to voice.
“Tell me,” she said with an edge.
“We were young, and…didn’t know anything about anything.”
“That’s no answer.” In his eyes the same passion smoldered that had been alive in the past. A longing rose inside her, swift and frightening. In a moment of clarity she realized Con was right. She did still love Tanner. Loved him in a way that defied explanation.
He looked away, but when he turned back she was still gazing at him. Tanner felt himself sinking into a vortex of seduction that would take him straight to hell, but he couldn’t stop himself. Fingers trembling, he smoothed her cheek with his thumb.
It was the sight of his scars that brought back his senses and he pulled his hand away. But Maggie, never one to let fate’s whim decide her future, clasped his hand and brought it back to her face. She curved his fingers around her jaw.
“I can’t, Maggie,” Tanner said.
“Why can’t you?”
“Because you’re not…it’s not going to work.”
“It worked before,” she reminded.
She wasn’t afraid to show her feelings, but she really wanted him to make the first move. She could see his indecision, feel the weightiness with which he considered his actions. Why? After all this time. There was nothing standing between them, and she could hear his breath coming as fast as hers, could see his eyes fill with the same dusky passion.
He shifted his weight, turning, and she turned, too – an emotive ballet in which every movement held a dozen different meanings. His thumb ran over her lips, insinuated itself between them. Maggie waited breathlessly, a little shiver hiding beneath her skin at the sensual invasion. She wanted Tanner as she’d never wanted anyone else.
His hands moved to her shoulders, holding her tightly. Her heart was pounding out of control, her face flushing with heat. If he didn’t kiss her she’d scream.
But whatever held him back was a powerful force indeed. His whole frame shuddered and she was amazed by the torment in his eyes. Though her hands longed to wind around his neck, burrow into his thick hair, she refused to let them. Instead she waited.
Her name was a protest on his lips. She could only encourage him with her eyes, and though she wasn’t aware of it, her feelings were only too eloquent.
With a groan he cupped her chin, tilting it upward, seeking her mouth with his.
His lips were tender at first, touching so softly and carefully that Maggie was left trembling and unfulfilled. She wanted more and she let her mouth move against his, tempting him, urging him to explore all of her.
His body was like steel, hard and tense, as if poised for flight. What did he expect her to do? All she wanted was to be with him.
He broke off abruptly, breathing hard, dropping his hands and looking away.
“Tanner.” Maggie whispered softly, and when he turned to meet her gaze again, his eyes were dark and tormented. “Don’t stop.”
“You don’t understand!”
“Make me understand.”
She cradled his face in her hands, loving the rough texture of his cheeks. If she could have, she would have run her hands over him, rediscovering all the planes and angles that had made her fall in love with him the first time. But she was walking a tightrope; he was looking for a reason to flee.
She rubbed her mouth lightly against his. When he didn’t move she let her kiss deepen, tentatively, and rejoiced when passion finally broke the leash on his control. With a groan he ground his mouth down on hers, his tongue seeking an entry as he yanked her to him, his heart hammering against her breasts. Maggie responded wildly, all the pent-up desire of fourteen forgotten years singing for release. His fingers wound in her hair, imprisoning her, and she slid her arms around his neck, thrilled to feel the strength of him, lean and muscular, against her.
And then abruptly he pushed her to arm’s length, his chest heaving.
“What?” she whispered.
“Aren’t you engaged?” he asked, but she could tell he was throwing up roadblocks.
“That was a lie to keep you at arm’s length.”
He gave a choked sound. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to revisit and wish things were different. Nothing’s changed. It’s all still the same. Go away, Maggie. Just—go away.”
Maggie straightened and turned blindly toward the front door. That was the last time he was going to have to tell her.
“Maggie…” Her name was torn from him.
“Go to hell,” she said through her teeth, aiming for the door and escape.
“I can’t tell you –”
“I don’t give a damn. I don’t care anymore.”
“It wasn’t that I didn’t love you. It was—”
“I don’t care! I just don’t care!”
His hand grabbed for her, but she yanked her elbow away, tucking it close to her body. Then he was in front of her, blocking her way.
“Well, I care,” he said, his throat working. “I can’t help it if I seem like a monster – I just can’t bear to have you around.”
“God, what you must think…”
She shot him a glance and said through her teeth, “I get it, Tanner. I really do. I’ve felt this before, and I didn’t want to believe it now, but it’s the same old prejudice that Con ran up against. You want me, but I’m not good enough. Holts aren’t good enough. Maybe you acquired some scruples over the years after all, Dr. Baines, because you’ve warned me enough times to stay away from you. I’ve just been too thick-skulled to listen. But now I’ve got it. Lesson learned.”
“You don’t know anything,” he ground out, his fists clenched.
Maggie’s hand was on the door, and she was trying frantically to unhook the latch. Her nerves screamed until she finally yanked it open. A cool evening breeze whipped around her, fanning her overheated cheeks, tousling her already ravaged hair.
“I know enough.” She gave him one last silent glance. His misery was clear, the same tortured agony she’d witnessed on his face years before. Only this time her heart was hard. This time she understood him.
She, Maggie Holt, was of a poorer class.
Well, to hell with him, she thought furiously as she stalked to her car. To hell with Tanner Baines.