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But he was confronting emotions now, not words or concepts, and she knew him well enough to realize how uncomfortable that made him.

He’d hidden his feelings behind a mask of gruff annoyance, allowing her to believe she’d become a terrible nuisance in his life. He needed to disguise what he felt for her—to prevent her from learning what everyone else already knew.

Nolan was in love with her.

The mere thought thrilled her and gave her more courage than she’d ever possessed in her life.

“I fully expect you to be flattered,” she said gently, “but I’m not telling you this to give your ego a boost. I honestly love you, and nothing my parents say is going to convince me to leave Seattle.”

“Maryanne, please…”

He was prepared to push her away verbally, as he had so often. This time she wouldn’t let him. This time she walked over to him, threw both arms around his waist and hugged him close.

He raised his hands to her shoulders, ready to ease her from him, but the moment they came to rest on her he seemed to lose his purpose.

“This is ridiculous,” she heard him mumble. He held himself rigid for a moment or two, then with a muttered curse buried his face in her hair. A ragged sigh tore through his body.

Experiencing a small sense of triumph, Maryanne pressed her ear to his chest and smiled contentedly when she heard his racing uneven heartbeat.

“You shouldn’t let me hold you like this.” His voice was low and hushed. “Tell me not to,” he breathed as his lips moved through her hair and then lower to the pulse point behind her ear and the slope of her neck.

“I don’t want you to stop…” She turned her head, begging him to touch and kiss her.

“Annie, please.”

“I want to be in your arms more than anywhere. More than anything.”

“You don’t know what you’re saying….”

She lifted her head enough for their eyes to meet. Placing her finger on his lips, she shook her head. “I’m a woman, a grown woman, and there’s no question of my not knowing what I want.”

His hands gently grazed her neck, as though he was still hesitant and unsure. Kissing her was what he wanted—she could read it clearly in his dark eyes—but he was holding himself back, his face contorted with indecision.

“Go ahead, kiss me,” she urged softly, wanting him so much her whole body seemed to ache. “I dare you to.”

His breathing was labored, and Maryanne could sense the forces raging within him. A fresh wave of tenderness filled her.

“You make it so hard to do what’s right,” he groaned.

“Loving each other is what’s right.”

“I’d like to believe that, but I can’t.” He placed his hand on her cheek and their eyes locked hungrily. He searched her face.

“I love you,” she whispered, smiling up at him. She didn’t want him to question her feelings. She’d say it a thousand times a day if that was what it took to convince him.

Flattening her hands against his hard chest, she leaned into his strength and offered him her mouth. Only moments earlier he’d pushed her away, but not now. His gaze softened and he closed his eyes tightly. He was losing the battle.

It was while his eyes were closed that Maryanne claimed the advantage and kissed him. He moaned and seemed about to argue, but once their mouths met, urgency took hold and Nolan was rendered speechless.

To her delight, he responded with the full-fledged hunger she’d witnessed in his eyes. He slid his hands through her hair, his fingers tangling with the thick auburn mass as he angled her head to one side. Maryanne felt herself savoring the taste of his kiss. It was so long since he’d held her like this, so long since he’d done anything but keep her at arm’s length. She wanted to cherish these moments, delight in the rush of sensations.

So many thoughts crowded her mind. So many ideas. Plans for their future.

He tore his mouth from hers and nestled his face in the hollow of her neck as he drew in several deep breaths.

Maryanne clung to him, hugging him as close as humanly possible. “Nolan—”

“It isn’t going to work—you and me together…it isn’t right,” he whispered.

“It’s more right than anything I’ve ever known.”

“Oh, Annie, the things you do to me.”

She smiled gently. “You know what I think?” She didn’t give him the opportunity to answer. “I love you and you love me and when two people feel that way about each other, they usually—” she paused and swallowed once “—get married.”

“What?” Nolan exploded, leaping away from her as though he’d received an electrical shock.

“You heard me,” she said.

“You’re a crazy woman. You know that, don’t you? Downright certifiable.” Nolan backed away from her, eyes narrowed. He began pacing rapidly in one direction, then another.

“Marriage was just a suggestion,” she said mildly. “I am serious, though, and if you’re at all interested we should move fast. Because once my father gets wind of it there’ll be hell to pay.”

“I have no intention of even considering the idea! In fact, I think it’s time you left.”

“Nolan, okay, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have mentioned marriage. I was just thinking, hoping actually, that it was something you wanted, too. There’s no need to overreact.” He had already ushered her across the living room toward the door. She tried to redirect his efforts, turning in his arms, but he wouldn’t allow it.

“We need to talk about this,” she insisted.

“Oh, no, you don’t,” he said, opening the door and steering her into the hallway. “Your idea of talking doesn’t seem to coincide with mine. Before I figure out how it happens, you’re in my arms and we’re—”

“Maryanne!” Her father’s voice came like a high-intensity foghorn from behind her.

Maryanne whirled around to discover both her parents standing in the hallway outside her apartment door. “Mom…Dad…” Frantic, she looked at Nolan, hoping he’d do the explaining part.

“Mr. and Mrs. Simpson,” Nolan said formally, straightening. He removed his arms from around Maryanne, stepped forward and held out his hand to her father. “I’m Nolan Adams.”

“How do you do?” Muriel Simpson said in a brittle voice as the two men exchanged brief handshakes. Her mother’s troubled gaze moved from the men to Maryanne, surveying her attire with a single devastating look.

Until that moment, Maryanne had forgotten she was still in her pyjamas. She closed her eyes and groaned.

“Samuel,” Muriel Simpson said in a shocked voice. “Maryanne’s coming out of…his apartment.”

“It’s not what it looks like,” Maryanne rushed to tell them. “Mom and Dad, please, you’ve got to listen to me. I didn’t spend the night at Nolan’s, honest. We just happened to get into a tiff this morning and instead of shouting through the walls and—”

“Samuel.” Her mother reached for her father’s sleeve, gripping it hard. “I feel faint.”

Samuel Simpson clamped his arm about his wife’s waist and with Nolan’s assistance led her through his open apartment door. Maryanne hurried ahead of them to rearrange pillows on the sofa.

Crouched in front of her mother, Maryanne gently patted her hand. Muriel wasn’t given to fainting spells; clearly, she’d been worried sick about her daughter, which increased Maryanne’s guilt a hundredfold.

“My little girl is safe, and that’s all that matters,” Muriel whispered.

“Listen here, young man,” Maryanne’s father said sternly to Nolan. “It seems you two have some explaining to do.”

“Daddy, please.” Jumping to her feet, Maryanne stood between her father and Nolan, loving them both so much and not sure which one to confront first. She took a deep breath and blurted out, “I’m in love with Nolan.”

“Sir, I know the circumstances look bad, but I can assure you there’s nothing between me and your daughter.”

“What do you mean there’s nothing between us?” Maryanne cried, furious with him. Good grief, she’d just finished spilling out her heart to the man! The least he could do was acknowledge what they shared, what they both felt. Well, if he wasn’t so inclined, she was. “That’s a bold-faced lie,” she announced to her father, hearing Nolan groan behind her as she spoke.

Samuel Simpson, so tall and formidable, so distinguished and articulate, seemed to find himself dumbstruck. He slumped onto the sofa next to his wife and rested his face in both hands.

“Maryanne,” Nolan said from between gritted teeth. “Your parents appear to think the worst. Don’t you agree it would be more appropriate to assure them that—”

“I don’t care what they think. Well, I do, of course,” she amended quickly, “but I’m more interested in settling things between you and me.”

Nolan’s frowned impatiently. “This is neither the time nor the place.”

“I happen to think it is.”

“Maryanne, please,” her mother wailed, holding out one hand. “Your father and I have spent a long sleepless night flying across the country. We’ve been worried half to death about you.”

“She didn’t answer her phone,” Samuel muttered in dire tones, his eyes narrowing suspiciously on the two of them. “If Maryanne had been at her apartment, the way she claims, then she would have picked up the receiver. We must’ve called fifteen or twenty times. If she was home, why didn’t she answer the phone?”

The question seemed to be directed at Nolan, but it was Maryanne who answered. “I unplugged it.”

“Why would you do that?” Muriel asked. “Surely you know we’d try to reach you. We’re your parents. We love you!”

“That’s it, young lady. You’re moving back with us.”

“You can’t force me to leave Seattle. I refuse.”

“This place…” Muriel was looking around as though the building was likely to be condemned any minute. “Why would you want to live here? Have you rejected everything we’ve given you?”

“The answer is obvious,” her father bellowed. “She’s living here to be close to him.”

“But why didn’t her…friend move into her apartment building?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Samuel stood abruptly and stalked to the other side of the room. “Adams couldn’t afford to live within a mile of The Seattle.” He stopped short, then nodded apologetically at Nolan. “I didn’t mean that in a derogatory way. You seem like a fine young man, but frankly…”

“I wouldn’t care where Nolan lived,” Maryanne informed them both, squaring her shoulders righteously. Any man she fell in love with didn’t need to head a financial empire or be related to someone who did. “I’d live anywhere if it meant we could be together.” Her eyes softened at her mother’s shocked look.