His lips brushed hers, gentle as a butterfly. "What do you say to an early dinner? About six-thirty?"
"Sounds good to me."
He grinned, clearly pleased with himself. "I made reservations at a cozy country inn twenty miles from here. We'll have plenty of time to first wander through the grounds."
And plenty of time to make love afterwards. As though reading her thoughts, he ran his hands down the front of her body, raising her nipples and her need for him.
Laughing, she pushed him away. "Go and work on your weekend project, whatever it is."
"It's a playhouse for Leonie. I got the idea when we took her to the climbing playground the other day." His green eyes gleamed with enthusiasm. "It's half a story high--like a tree house--and large enough for her and a few friends to play in, even sleep in when she gets older."
Ardin felt as though her heart were being crushed between two boulders. He looked so happy and hopeful, and she was about to wreck his plans, send them dashing to destruction.
He was too caught up in his enthusiasm to notice her distress. "I thought tomorrow we could pick up Leonie together, and then have dinner at my house. It will help keep her from missing her home too much, until everything gets straightened out."
She gulped in air as she prayed for strength, strength to say what she must in the way that would hurt him the least.
"Brett, I have to tell you something. I should have told you as soon as I'd decided. The problem was, I didn't want to upset you--or make you hate me."
He shook his head, totally mystified. "Ardin, dear, I don't understand what the hell you're trying to say." His eyes blazed with affection.
She turned from their gaze to the scuffed wooden floor. "Brett, I want to adopt Leonie."
He touched his cheek as though she'd struck him. "You're trying to take Leonie from me."
He flung her hand aside and began to pace. "Stupid me! I thought you understood that Leonie and I belong together. That she considers me her father and is best off living with me." His fist pounded the dinette table, making Ardin flinch. "But all this time you've been plotting to take her for yourself."
He spun around, glaring like a madman. "My God, Ardin, you're just as deceitful and double-crossing as Suziette. It must run in the family."
She pressed her hand to her pounding heart. "Brett, I love Leonie. I want to take care of her."
"Love her? Love her!" He loomed over her, forcing her to step back. "You don't even know her. To you she's a beautiful doll. The little princess in a fairy tale. Well, let me tell you, she's no such thing." The green eyes squinted. "Do you know what she's afraid of? Do you?"
"Well, not yet. I'm first getting--"
"Have you taken care of her when she was sick? Or frightened? Of course you haven't."
"And where were you planning to set up your fairy-tale life with your fairy-tale child?"
When she didn't answer, he shook his head in disbelief. "You want to take her away with you to New York?"
"It's my home."
"Thornedale is Leonie's home, and mine as well. And if you think the judge is going to approve of your moving her away after all she's suffered, you have another thought coming. You'll win this one over my dead body."
Ardin hugged herself as, for the second time that week, Brett stormed out of her mother's apartment.
Her first impulse was to chase after him. Her second was to drink a glass of water and calm down. After all, she'd known it was only a matter of time before Brett found out she intended to adopt Leonie. And his reaction was as predictable as the rotation of the seasons.
Brett wanted Leonie and so did she. One would win, and the other would lose. Ardin, who knew how to fight for what she wanted, would make sure she became Leonie's legal guardian.