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Midnight in ruby bayou, p.24
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       Midnight in Ruby Bayou, p.24

           Elizabeth Lowell
 

  I’m supposed to be too smart to seduce my boss’s baby sister.

  Yeah? What if she seduces you – just sneaks into your bed and starts licking you all over?

  Brave words. But she wasn’t feeling very brave right now. She was feeling weary and worn and sad.

  “Ruby Bayou blues,” she whispered. “Maybe I could put it to music and have a hit. Single, of course. Always single.”

  Moonlight glinted back at her from the marsh on one side of the point and the seamless ocean on the other. Moonlight full of shadows and misty secrets. She wondered if Tiga knew the secrets of the night, and if the night knew hers.

  The rich yet astringent fragrance of brandy curled up to Faith’s nostrils and stung her eyes. She took a sip and told herself the slow tears that felt first hot and then cold on her cheeks came from the bite of the brandy and pity for Jeff. Jeff, who was caught between the love of a child for his parent and the reality of an adult who was hurt by a parent who was acting like a child.

  Not enough people had grown up the way she had, with parents who loved each other and their children. Having known that kind of love, it was hard to think of the emptiness that must lie at the heart of Jeff’s childhood memories. Davis and Tiga had been even more badly savaged by their father. Had that father been raised cruelly, too? And his father? Did it go all the way back to Eden, one cruelty begetting another, world without end, amen?

  Then there was Walker, with his dead brother and his childhood out of a social worker’s file.

  Yet Walker wasn’t cruel. Except for her family, she had never known a strong man who was so gentle. He had handled Tiga with the tenderness of a son rather than a casual guest.

  Faith had been drawn to Walker even before that. Now she was very much afraid she could fall in love with him. Given ner track record with men, that would be quite stupid. He wasn’t like Tony, the kind of man a woman would easily forget.

  Yet Walker had made it clear that he could forget her.

  Night air swirled around the balcony and breathed over her like a sigh, drying some of her tears. She took a deep, ragged breath. The night smelled of salt and mystery and something elemental, musky, spicy, warm.

  Walker.

  “You’ll get cold standing out here in your bare feet,” he said quietly.

  His voice came from a point only inches behind her.

  She nodded, but didn’t turn around, didn’t speak. She didn’t want to have to explain her foolish mood.

  “Everything locked up?” he asked.

  She nodded again.

  “Enjoying the moonlight?”

  She nodded.

  “Cat got your tongue?”

  Her breath caught on something that wasn’t a sigh or a laugh, but in between. Something painful.

  Walker hesitated, yet couldn’t ignore the ragged breath he had heard. He put his hands on Faith’s shoulders and slowly turned her around. Faint silver trails gleamed on her cheeks.

  “What’s wrong, sugar?” he asked.

  The tenderness in his voice made her eyes sting all over again, blurring the outline of the man who stood in front of her, naked but for a pair of smuggler’s shorts and a million dollars worth of rubies.

  “Don’t be nice to me,” she managed, smiling just a bit. “I’ll just cry more.”

  “Want to talk?”

  Her smiled turned upside down. “About madness and the sins of the fathers? No, thanks. I spent dinner with them.”

  Without a word, Walker closed his arms around her and rocked her gently from side to side. He tried very hard to ignore the warmth of her against his bare chest, but it was all he could do not to groan with a combination of tenderness and desire.

  “I should have put you on that plane,” he said huskily.

  “I’m a big girl. And contrary to myth, big girls do cry. Some things are worth crying about. The Montegeaus are one of them.”

  “No argument there.” His hand moved soothingly over her hair and down her back in slow sweeps that asked nothing, gave everything. “If it helps, I’ll bet it isn’t always as bad as tonight for Jeff.”

  “What makes you say that?”

  “If Davis had been like this when Jeff was young, Jeff wouldn’t care anymore. Kids are survivors. They have to be.”

  “You were.” Her arms stole around Walker and she leaned into his warmth. The smell of him was like the night, warm, rich with possibilities and secrets. “I like you, Owen Walker. You’re a gentle man.”

  He brushed his lips over her hair. “Don’t you believe it. I’m mean to the bone.”

  “Whatever you say.”

  “Now, don’t go all agreeable on me. I won’t know what to do with you.”

  She smiled against his chest. His thatch of soft, dark hair felt intriguing against her mouth in a way that Tony never had. She didn’t know what the difference was. She only knew that it was as real as Walker and her response to him.

  Standing on tiptoe, she pressed her lips against his neck just below his beard. The leap of his pulse beneath her lips was a revelation.

  A harsh cry came out of the night.

  “What was that?” she asked, stiffening.

  “Shitepoke,” he said absently. He was still trying to control his response to her almost sisterly caress. At least, that’s what he was telling himself. Sisterly.

  Yeah. Right. And he was a fairy godmother.

  “What’s a shitepoke?” Faith asked.

  “What my ma’s granny used to call a blue heron. Something disturbed the bird on its roost. Those city boys aren’t much good in bayou country.”

  “You’re making almost as much sense as Tiga.”

  Walker smiled against Faith’s forehead as he thought of the FBI out there right now, blundering around with the mud and the bugs and the gators. But he didn’t want to talk about that with her. Not when the moon was up and her breath was warm against his bare skin. He didn’t want to think, because if he started thinking, he would stop doing what felt too good to stop.

  “Did you drink all that brandy?” he asked.

  “Not yet.”

  “Feel like sharing?”

  She looked into his eyes. Like the night, they were dark, mysterious, waiting. “Do you?”

  “I shouldn’t,” he said bluntly.

  She waited.

  He let out a rough sound. “Damn, sugar. I wanted you the first time I saw you nineteen months ago. Now I want you more. I want you the way I want to breathe. That taste of you in the garden just about dropped me to my knees.”

  Her heartbeat doubled as heat shimmered out from the pit of her stomach. She reached for him. “Let’s see what a second taste will do.”

  Afraid that Walker would change his mind, wanting to be hot enough, fast enough to please him, Faith pulled down his head and gave him a deep, hungry kiss that promised immediate sexual oblivion.

  His masculine, multilayered taste almost distracted her from her single-minded pursuit of pleasing him. His mouth was hungry and vital, salty and secret, heady and male. Avidly she explored the velvet roughness of his tongue, the satin sleekness beneath, and the edgy warmth of his teeth. Her hands kneaded down his naked back to his hips, then slid over the front of his shorts. He was hard, hot, ready. She took a deep breath and hoped she would be enough woman for him.

  For Walker it was like being caught in a whirlwind. Any thoughts of savoring and seducing after all the nights of hungering for her were blown away in the whirlwind of her tongue and hands demanding his response. Only the certainty that they were under FBI surveillance kept him from yanking off her clothes and burying himself in her right where they stood.

  Without lifting his mouth from hers, he dragged her back into the room. Then he pulled her down onto the floor, stripped off her jeans and underwear with a few quick motions, and started to take her.

  Her actions had screamed to him that she wanted sex and she wanted it now. Her body sent a different message. There was heat, yes, and the promise of slick pas
sion. But it was only a promise.

  With a shuddering groan, he brought himself under control. If he took her now, she wouldn’t enjoy it nearly as much as he would. He might even hurt her. He had never been so full and hard for a woman as he was for her right now.

  “What’s wrong?” Faith asked, lifting her hips against him.

  When he spoke his voice was rough with the effort of controlling the driving need to take what she was even now offering him. “You’re not ready.”

  Chill washed over her skin, a preview of the ice that would settle in her belly when he told her just how lacking she was. Yet she had felt different with him, flares of heat and possibility that were as exciting as they were unexpected.

  “What are you saying?” she said. “I’m as ready as I’ve ever been.”

  Walker remembered what she had said in the garden about how men and women were so different and that she enjoyed anyway. “Humor me,” he said thickly.

  “But-”

  He stopped her argument with a kiss that was as gentle as it was hungry, filling her warmth with his flesh in the only way he would let himself right now.

  Faith wasn’t prepared for Walker’s kiss. It devoured her tenderly, completely. Her breath unraveled in a long sigh that became a low sound of pleasure. It felt so good to have his body against her and his tongue rubbing deeply, rhythmically over hers. Close, warm, intimate. Like sex without the self-consciousness and anxiety and discomfort.

  When Walker finally lifted his head, Faith realized that she was lying back on the rug, awash in surprise and pleasure, rather than running her hands all over his body and making the sexy demands that men expected.

  When she tried to move her hands, she discovered that she couldn’t. Her arms were pinned above her head, her wrists locked within the grasp of his left hand. His right hand was opening her blouse and bra.

  “I can’t touch you this way,” she said. Her voice was light, rushed, breathless.

  “Yeah.” His breath wedged. Her nipples were neither pink nor coral. They were both, like the rarest of rubies, the color called padparadscha by those few people privileged to ever see it.

  “But-”

  “You touch me right now and I’d go off like a skyrocket.”

  She frowned. “Isn’t that the whole idea?”

  “It’s half the idea. We’re working on the other half.”

  “What – ” Coherent thought splintered.

  His tongue was licking over her breasts like a kid with two ice cream cones. Tasting, swirling, sucking, nibbling, devouring her with the same total sensual concentration he had showed with his kiss. Then he took one nipple deeply inside his mouth, rubbing over her sensitive skin with a slow, firm rhythm that foreshadowed the feast to come.

  Sensation tightened like fine, hot wires from her breasts to her core. Her body clenched and shuddered with pleasure. She made a sound that was surprise and his name combined. He bit her with exquisite restraint, then sucked until her back arched and she twisted in slow motion against his mouth. She tried to tell him how good it felt, but all that came out was a gasp as something burst inside her, drenching her with heat.

  Walker felt the change in Faith, smelled the primitive, heady musk of feminine arousal, and knew she would be worth every instant of the frustrated agony she had put him through. Not that he was blaming her. It wasn’t her fault that a man took one look at her long legs, high breasts, and pouting lips and thought of nothing but raw, hot sex.

  On the other hand, there was nothing wrong with thinking about it, either.

  Smiling, he took his mouth lower, biting, licking, tasting, letting her essence infuse him until his head was spinning and she lay open to him, her mind stunned by pleasure. He liked having her that way, liked the dazed look in her half-closed eyes and the humming heat of her body. He teased her as long as he could bear it before he gave in to his hunger and nuzzled with his mouth into the center of her soft heat.

  At first she didn’t understand. Then the unexpected, silky probing of his tongue made her arch like a bow. Her hands were free now. She would have lifted them, but she was too weak. She made a broken sound and shifted. Even she couldn’t have said whether she was moving toward his hungry mouth or away. She knew only that she had never felt anything as sleek, as hot, as wild, the world spinning away until she was twisting, crying, falling, turning. The tender, merciless greed of his mouth never let her catch her breath, her mind, herself.

  The hoarse, shattered sound she made when she came was nothing like the measured whimpers she had manufactured for Tony. It was a cry torn from her soul, shock and discovery and ecstasy intertwined. He drank it as he drank her, consuming her even while she lay slack and trembling, destroyed, reborn.

  Distantly she heard herself call his name again and again, not knowing what she wanted, only that saying his name was more necessary to her than breathing.

  This time when Walker entered her, the joining was as smooth as it was hot. The sultry core of her gave sweetly around him, then clasped him like a wet velvet fist. Slick. Tight. God, she was tight. So good. Too good. The pulses of his climax were already bursting at the base of his spine.

  Walker’s groan sounded a lot like Faith’s. He knew he Couldn’t be able to hold on long. Nothing in his life had felt as good as her clinging to him, gliding and sliding over him, sleek and eager and utterly seduced. No matter how far he pushed into her, she welcomed him, pulsing, pleading, demanding that he take her as hot and deep as he could.

  With a throttled shout, he gave her what they both needed, locking himself hard and deep within her until not a single drop of ecstasy remained.

  His sudden, slack weight felt wonderful to Faith. Her hands stroked down the valley of his spine in languid motions. She laughed softly when she discovered that despite being deep inside her, he was still wearing his smuggler’s shorts.

  “You laughing at me?” he asked, his voice muffled and lazy against her breasts.

  “You’re still dressed. Kind of.”

  “So are you. Kind of. Wanna get naked?”

  She glanced aside. A pale blur in the moonlight told her that her blouse and bra had ended up under the claw-footed side chair. She had no idea where her jeans and underwear had gone. “What am I still wearing?” she asked idly.

  He shifted until he could nibble up the side of her neck. “Gold earrings. And me.”

  “In that case, I don’t want to get naked.”

  Walker’s chuckle was another kind of caress, for he moved inside her with each laugh. Sensation danced up from her core like sparks lifting from a fire. She made a murmurous sound of pleasure and nuzzled against his neck. Sighing, nibbling along the edge of his ear, she wondered how a woman thanked a man for the best loving of her life.

  “Maybe you should just keep on wearing the rubies,” she said, smiling to herself.

  “Why?”

  “You deserve them.”

  He rolled over onto his back, taking her with him, still locked deep inside her. “Is that your way of saying you wouldn’t mind going another round?”

  She shifted and slid down on him more fully. “Anytime. Anywhere. Anyhow.”

  “You sure?”

  She knew he was remembering her worried, headlong approach to sex. “I’m very sure. You make me feel wonderful. Sexy and female and alive.”

  “That’s because you’re all of those things.”

  “Not before tonight.” She put her cheek against his warm, sleekly muscled chest and sighed. It was wonderful to be intimate with a man she respected, liked, enjoyed, admired, trusted… everything. The sexual freedom he brought to her was rooted in her feelings for him, not simply his technique. She hoped she brought the same level of freedom and pleasure to him. “You’re good for me, Walker. I hope I’m good for you.”

  Pleasure and pain sliced through him like a silver razor. The pleasure came from hearing the trust and contentment in her voice. The pain came from the same source. Just the thought of having some
one trust him that completely made Walker cold to his soul. He didn’t deserve that kind of trust. Not after failing his brother in such a final way.

  He caught Faith’s face between his hands and kissed her very gently before he released her. “Enjoy me, but don’t depend on me. That kind of trust makes me real nervous.”

  Slowly Faith let out a long breath and smoothed her cheek against the soft mat of hair on his chest. At least he wasn’t like Tony, lying about love and happily ever after in order to get close to the Donovan bank account. Surely she was adult enough to take what Walker offered and not sulk because there wasn’t any more.

  And if she wasn’t adult enough, she could keep it to herself. “Okay,” she said.

  “What does that mean?”

  “Just that,” Faith said simply. “Okay. What we just had was more than I ever expected with a man. I’ll take it for as long as it lasts.”

  Her words should have made him feel better. They didn’t. Instead, he felt like something was sliding out of his grasp. “Sugar, I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

  She lifted her head and looked him in the eye. “Then take off those rubies.”

  “What?”

  “They’re digging into me.”

  There was a moment of startled silence, followed by his soft laughter. “Why don’t you take them off for me?”

  “Good idea.”

  “I have a few other ideas,” he offered as she shifted position.

  “Mmm.” Her tongue traced the line of his ribs. “Don’t hold back, sugar.”

  He didn’t.

  23

  Jeff got up as quietly as he could, hut Mel made an unhappy sound and rolled toward his side of the bed as though already missing him. Murmuring reassurances, he touched her. After a few moments her breathing deepened. She was back asleep again and wouldn’t even remember almost awakening.

  The house was so quiet he was sure he could hear the sweat breaking out along his spine as he bent down to pick up the clothes he and Mel had abandoned halfway to bed.

  When Boomer’s nose nudged his master’s bare butt, Jeff almost jumped out of his skin. He bit off a curse before it became a sound. With shaking hands and drumming heart, he pulled on his slacks. Maybe he could talk his father out of this craziness. Surely there must be another way to raise the money. The shrimp boats. The jewelry store. Ruby Bayou itself.

 
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