Carolina moon, p.12
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       Carolina Moon, p.12

           Nora Roberts
 

  man come calling at the door and escorting her where she liked to go. If he expected to escort her again, he'd best remember to bring along a nice box of chocolates or some posies, and open doors for her like a gentleman.

  Marry one, and you spent your life picking up after him, watching him fart and scratch and God knew what while you sweated to make the paycheck stretch to keep body and soul together and buy a few pretty things of your own.

  No, this way she had a fine house—as tell the truth and shame the devil, Beaux Reves was as much hers as anyone's. She'd raised three babies, and grieved her heart sick over the lost one, and had, to her way of thinking, all the benefits of male companions without any of the problems.

  She didn't mind a good snuggle now and again, either. If the good Lord hadn't meant for His children to snuggle, he wouldn't have put the need for it inside them.

  Now, Miss Faith, she mused, was just packed full of needs and had yet to figure out how to meet them without causing herself grief. That meant the girl was equally full of problems. Most of her own making. Some chicks, Lilah knew, just took longer to find their way around the barnyard. "Maybe you could take yourself a nice long drive," Lilah suggested.

  "To where?" Faith sipped her coffee without interest. "Everything looks the same, any direction."

  Lilah took out her lipstick, touched it up in the chrome reflection of the toaster. "I know what perks me up when I got the blues. A good spurt of shopping."

  "I suppose." Faith sighed and toyed with the idea of driving down to Charleston. "Nothing better to do."

  "That's fine, then. You go on shopping and brighten up your spirits. Here's the list."

  Faith blinked, then stared at the shopping list Lilah waved in front of her face. "Groceries? I'm not going shopping for groceries."

  "You got nothing better to do, and said so yourself. You make sure those tomatoes are ripe, you hear? And you get the floor cleaner I got written down. The TV commercial made me laugh, and that's worth giving it a try."

  She turned back to the sink to rinse her dish rag and had to hold in a cackle at the way her girl's mouth was hanging open. "Then you go on by the drugstore and get me some of my Oil of Olay, the kind in the jar, not the bottle. And the bath bubbles. The milk-and-honey ones. On the way back, you stop by the dry cleaners and pick up all the stuff I hauled down there last week, mostly yours anyway. God knows what you need with half a hundred silk blouses."

  Faith narrowed her eyes. "Anything else?" she said sweetly.

  "It's all written down there, plain as day. Give you something to do with your bored self for a couple hours. Now, go get some clothes on, it's going on noon. Sinful, just sinful to be lazing around in your robe half the damn day. Go on, get."

  Lilah made shooing motions, then snatched up Faith's plate and cup.

  "I haven't finished my breakfast."

  "I didn't see you eating it. Picking and pouting's what you were doing. Now, out of my kitchen, and make yourself useful for a change."

  Lilah folded her arms, angled her head, and stared. She had a way of staring that could wither the bravest soul. Faith shoved back from the table, sniffed, and stalked out. "I'll be back when I'm back," she called out.

  With a shake of her head and a chuckle, Lilah finished off Faith's coffee herself. "Some chicks, they just never learn who rules the roost."

  It had taken Wade three years and eighteen pups to convince Dottie Betrum to have her oversexed Lab-retriever mix spayed. The last litter of six were just weaned, and while their mama slept off the effects of the surgery, he gave each of the cheerfully barking puppies the necessary shots.

  "I just can't look at the needles, Wade. Makes me light-headed."

  "You don't need to look, Mrs. Betrum. Why don't you go on out and wait? We'll be done here in just a few minutes."

  "Oh." Her hands butterflied up to her cheeks, and her myopic eyes shone with distress behind the thick lenses of her glasses. "I feel like I should stay. Doesn't seem right to just ... " She trailed off when Wade slid the needle under fur.

  "Maxine, take Mrs. Betrum on out to the waiting room." He gave his assistant a quick wink. "I can handle this."

  Handle it better, he thought, as Maxine helped the staggering woman out of the room, without sweet, little old ladies fainting on the floor.

  "Here you go, little guy." Wade rubbed the puppy's belly to soothe it and completed the inoculations. He weighed, scratched the ears, checked for parasites, and filled out charts while yips and barks echoed off the walls.

  Mrs. Betrum’s Sadie slept peacefully in postop, old Mr. Klingle's cat, Silvester hissed and squalled in his cage, and Speedy Petey, Progress Elementary’s third-grade hamster mascot, raced on his wheel, proving he was recovered from a mild bladder infection. It was, for Dr. Wade Mooney, his own little paradise. He finished up the last pup while the siblings tumbled over each other, tugged at his shoelaces, or piddled on the floor. Mrs. Betrum had assured him she'd found good homes for five of the puppies already. He had, as always, gently declined her offer to take one for himself.

  But he had an idea just where the last of the lot could make his home.

  "Doc Wade?" Maxine peeked back in.

  "All done here. Let's gather up the troops."

  "They're so cute." Her dark eyes danced "I thought you were going to give in am take one of this batch."

  "Once you start, you'll never stop." But his dimples deepened as a pup wormed am wiggled in his hands.

  "Wish I could take one." Maxine picked up a puppy, cuddling while it licked her face with desperate love and speed.

  She adored animals, which is why the opportunity to work for Doc Wade had been heaven-sent. There were already two dogs at home, and she knew better than to think she could talk her parents into indulging her with another.

  She'd been born in the holler, and her parents had worked their fingers raw lifting themselves, their daughter, and their two young sons out of it. Money was still tight, she reminded herself, as she cuddled and pined for the puppy.

  And money would stay tight awhile longer, she thought with a sigh. She was the first of her family to get into college, and every penny had to be saved.

  "They're so sweet, Doc Wade. But between work and school, I wouldn't have time to give it enough attention." She set the pup down again. "Besides the fact my daddy'd kill me."

  Wade only grinned.

  Maxine’s father adored her. "Classes going all right?"

  She rolled her eyes. She was in her second year of college and time was as tight as money. If it hadn't been for Doc Wade giving her the most flexible of hours and letting her study when things were quiet, she'd never have made it this far.

  He was her hero, and she'd once had a wonderfully painful crush on him. Now she only hoped to one day be as good and clever a veterinarian as he was.

  "Finals coming up. I got so much in my head it feels like it's going to burst. I'll take these babies out, Doc Wade." She hefted the basket full of puppies. "What should I tell Miz Betrum about Sadie?"

  "She can pick her up later this afternoon. Tell her around four. Oh, and ask her not to give that last pup away. I've got a line on someone."

  "Will do. Is it all right if I take lunch now?

  We're clear for an hour, and I thought I'd go study some in the park."

  "Go ahead." He turned to the sink to scrub his hands. "Take the full hour, Maxine. Let's see how much more you can fit in that brain of yours."

  "Thanks."

  He was going to be sorry to lose her. Which Wade imagined he would as soon as she had a degree hot in her hand. It wasn't going to be easy to find someone as competent, as willing, or as good with the animals, who could also type, deal with frantic pet owners, and answer the phone.

  But life moved on. He started toward the back to check on Sadie just as Faith came in the rear door. "Dr. Mooney. Just who I was looking for."

  "I'm easy to find this time of day.” "Well, me, I'm just passing through." He cocked a
n eyebrow. "That's quite a dress for just passing through."

  "Oh." She ran a finger down the soft cotton fabric of the thin-strapped, fully skirted number in bold poppy red. "Like it? I'm in a red kind of mood." She shook her hair back, sent out seductive clouds of scent. Stepping forward, she skimmed her hands up his chest, over his shoulders. "Guess what I've got on under it?"

  Every time, he thought, like a finger snap, just one look at her had him ready to beg. "Why don't you give me a hint?"

  "You're such a smart man. Got that college degree and those letters after your name." She took his hand, and covered with hers, trailed it up her thigh. "I bet you could find out right quick."

  "Jesus." His blood took a violent panther's leap. "You go walking around town with next to nothing on?"

  "And you and me, we're the only ones who know." She leaned forward, her eyes bright on his, and nipped his lower lip.

  “Whatcha gonna do about it, Wade?" "Come upstairs." "Too far." With a throaty laugh, she nudged the door open behind him. "I want you now. And I want you fast." The dog slept quietly, her breathing regular. The room smelled of canine and antiseptic. The old chair where he spent many hours watching over patients was pricked with hair shed from countless dogs and cats.

  “I haven’t locked up.” "Let's live dangerously." She flipped open the button of his jeans, dragged down the zipper. "Why, look what I found." She wrapped her hand around him, watched his melted chocolate eyes go blurry before he crushed his mouth on hers.

  The sly excitement she'd felt when dressing, when driving into town knowing she'd go to him, seduce him, turned into something tangled and needy. Nearly painful.

  "Take me someplace." She arched back while his mouth fed on her throat. "Take me someplace hot and dark and wild. I need to go. Hurry and take me there."

  The jagged edge of her desperation knifed through his blood, leaving him raw. There was nothing tame between them when they came together like this, nothing soft, nothing sweet. When she was panting his name and her hands were on him, he forgot he wanted the soft and sweet. All he wanted was Faith. He tossed up the red skirts, gripped her hips. She was hot and she was wet and seemed to clamp over him like a greedy jaw when he drove himself into her.

  She wrapped one leg around his waist and moaned, long and deep. He filled the empty places. It didn't matter if it was only for the moment, if the emptiness came back. He filled them, and no one else ever had.

  Harsh animal pants, the solid, rhythmic thud of body against body, bodies against wood, and the slick strong feel of him pounding into her. She let go, with a small, strangled cry in her throat as the orgasm sprang free. She always came fast and hard with Wade, such a surprise, such a lovely little shock to the system.

  Then it would start again, slower, deeper, a long and gradual rip that opened something inside her to him.

  And because it was him, she could cling, she could surrender to it. She could hold on and know he'd be there with her when she fell.

  The phone was ringing. Or his ears were. Every breath he took was ripe with her. She moved with him, thrust for thrust, never stopping, never slowing. There were times when he could think about her sanely, and when he wondered why the two of them didn't just devour each other until nothing was left.

  She was saying his name, over and over, punctuating the word with gasps and whimpers. And he saw, just before he emptied into her, her eyes close as if in prayer.

  "God." She shuddered once, let her head rest back against the door, kept her eyes shut. "God. I feel wonderful. Like gold inside and out." She opened her eyes. stretching lazily. "How about you?"

  He knew what she expected, so resisted burying his face in her hair, murmuring words she wouldn't believe. Words that hadn't mattered to her years before where he'd been foolish enough to say them. "That was a lot more appetizing than the BLT I planned for lunch."

  It made her laugh and hook her arms around his neck in a manner that was as friendly as it was intimate. "There are some parts of me you didn't nibble on. So if—"

  "Wade? Wade, honey, you upstairs?"

  "Jesus." The part of him that was still nestled cozily inside Faith shriveled. My mother."

  "Well, isn't this . . . interesting."

  Even as Faith snorted out a laugh, Wade was clamping his hand over her mouth "Hush. Christ Jesus, this is all I need." Eyes dancing, Faith muttered against his hand while her body shook with laughter.

  "It's not funny." He hissed it out, but had to struggle back a laugh of his own. He could hear his mother wandering around, cheerfully calling him in the same chirpy singsong she’d used to call him for supper when he’d been ten.

  "Just be quiet," he whispered to Faith. "And stay here. Stay right in here and don't make a sound."

  He eased back slowly, eyes narrowed as Faith bit her lip and snickered.

  "Wade, honey," she said when he reached for the door, then she squeezed her own mouth shut with her fingers when he turned to snarl at her.

  "Not a sound," he repeated.

  "Okay, but I just thought you might want to put that away."

  He glanced down, swore, and hurriedly stuffed himself back into his jeans and zipped. "Mama?" He shot Faith one last warning look, then stepped outside, firmly closing the door behind him. "I'm down here. I was just checking on a patient."

  He sprinted up the steps, grateful his mother had gone up to search him out. "There you are, my baby. I was just going to leave you a little love note." Boots Mooney was a package of contradictions. She was a tall woman, but everyone thought of her as little. She had a voice like a cartoon kitten and a will of iron. She'd been the Cotton Queen her senior year of high school and had gone on to reign as Miss Georgetown County.

  Her looks, wholesome, rosy, and candy pretty, had served her well. She preserved them religiously, not out of vanity but out of a spirit of obligation. Her husband was an important man, and she would never allow him to be seen with less than he deserved.

  Boots enjoyed pretty things. Including herself.

  She threw her arms open for Wade, as if it had been two years rather than two days since she'd seen him. When he bent toward her, she kissed both his cheeks, then quickly drew back. "Honey, you're flushed. Are you feverish?" "

  "No." To his credit, he didn't wince when she laid the back of her hand on his brow. "No, I'm fine. I was…in postop. It’s a little warm in there.”

  Distracting her was imperative, and he knew the surefire way. "Look at you." He took her hands, spread her arms and gave her a long, approving once-over. "Don't you look pretty today."

  "Oh now." She laughed, but pinked up with pleasure. "I just had my hair done, is all. You should've seen me before Lori got done with me. I looked like a ragpicker."

  "Impossible."

  "You're just biased. I had a fistful of errands to do, and couldn't go home until I'd seen my baby." She gave his cheek a pat, then immediately turned toward the kitchen. "I bet you haven't had lunch. I'm just going to fix you something."

  "Mama, I have a patient. Miss Dottie's Sadie." "Oh dear, what's wrong with her? Why Dottie'd just be lost without that dog."

  "Nothing's wrong. She's just been fixed."

  "If nothing's wrong, what needed to be fixed?"

  Wade dragged a hand through his hair while his mother poked in his refrigerator. "Fixed so she'd stop having a litter of puppies every year."

  "Oh. Wade, you don't have enough food in this house to keep body and soul together. I'm just going to pick a few things up for you at the market."

  "Mama—"

  "Don't Mama me. You don't eat right since you left home, and you can't tell me different. Wish you'd come home for supper more often. I'm going to bring you over a nice tuna casserole tomorrow. That's your favorite."

  He hated tuna casserole. Loathed it. But he'd never been able to convince her of it. "I'd appreciate that."

  "Maybe I'll take one out to little Tory, too. I just stopped over to see her. She looks so grown-up." Boots put thre
e eggs on to boil. "That shop of hers is coming along so fast. I don't know where that girl gets the energy. God knows her mother never had any I could see, and her daddy, well, it's best not to speak if you can't speak kind."

  Boots folded her lips and hunted up a jar of pickles. "Always had a soft spot for that child, though for one reason or another I never could get close to her. Poor little lamb. I used to wish I could just gather her up and bring her on home with me."

  Love, Wade thought, made you helpless. Wherever, however it came. He walked over, wrapped his arms around Boots, and rested his cheek on her newly lacquered hair. "I love you, Mama."

  "Why, honey, I love you, too. That's why I'm going to make you
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