Born in ice, p.13
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       Born in Ice, p.13
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         Part #2 of Born In series by Nora Roberts

  "Shit." He took the stairs two at a time, burst into the mess of his own room, and bolted straight for his laptop. "Somebody will die," he muttered, booting it up.

  "Your work." Brianna stood pale and furious in the doorway. "Did they harm your work?"

  "No." He skimmed through page after page until he was satisfied. "No, it's here. It's fine."

  She let out a little sigh of relief before turning away to check Mr. Smythe-White's room. His clothes had been turned out of the drawers and closet, his bed pulled apart. "Mary, Mother of God, how will I explain this to him?"

  "I think it's more to the point to ask what they were looking for. Sit down, Brianna," Gray ordered. "Let's think this through."

  "What's to think about?" But she did sit, on the edge of the tilted mattress. "I've nothing of value here. A few pounds, a few trinkets." She rubbed her eyes, impatient with herself for the tears she couldn't manage to stem. "It wouldn't have been anyone from the village or nearby. It had to be a vagrant, a hitchhiker perhaps, hoping to find a bit of cash. Well..." She let out a shaky breath. "He'll have been disappointed in what he found here." She looked up abruptly, paling again. "You? Did you have any?"

  "Mostly traveler's checks. They're still here." He shrugged. "He got a few hundred pounds, that's all."

  "A few-hundred?" She bolted off the bed. "He took your money?"

  "It's not important. Brie-"

  "Not important?" she cut in. "You're living under my roof, a guest in my home, and had your money stolen. How much was it? I'll make it good."

  "You certainly will not. Sit down and stop it."

  "I said I'll make it good."

  Patience snapped, he took her firmly by the shoulders and shoved her down on the bed. "They paid me five million for my last book, before foreign and movie rights. A few hundred pounds isn't going to break me." His eyes narrowed when her lips quivered again. "Take a deep breath. Now. Okay, another."

  "I don't care if you've gold dripping from your fingers." Her voice broke, humiliating her.

  "You want to cry some more?" He sighed lustily, sat down beside her, and braced for it. "Okay, let it rip."

  "I'm not going to cry." She sniffled, used the heels of her hands to dry her cheeks. "I've got too much to do. It'll take hours to put things right here."

  "You'll need to call the police?"

  "For what?" She lifted her hands, let them fail. "If anyone saw a stranger lurking about, my phone would already be ringing. Someone needed money, and they took it." She scanned the room, wondering how much her other guest might have lost, and how big a hole it would put in her precious savings. "I want you to say nothing to Maggie about this."

  "Goddamn it, Brie-"

  "She's six months along. I won't have her upset. I mean this." She gave him a steady look through eyes still shimmering with tears. "Your word, please."

  "Fine, whatever you want. I want yours that you'll tell me exactly what's missing."

  "I will. I'll phone to Murphy and tell him. He'll ask about. If there's something to know, I'll know it by nightfall." Calm again, she rose. "I need to start putting things in order. I'll start with your room so you can get to your work."

  "I'll see to my own room."

  "It's for me to-"

  "You're pissing me off, Brianna." He unfolded himself slowly until he stood toe to toe with her. "Let's get this straight. You're not my maid, my mother, or my wife. I can hang up my own clothes."

  "As you please."

  Swearing, he grabbed her arm before she could walk out on him. She didn't resist, but stood very still, looking just over his shoulder. "Listen to me. You have a problem here and I want to help you. Can you get that through your head?"

  "Want to help, do you?" She inclined her head and spoke with all the warmth of a glacier. "You might go borrow some tea from Murphy. We seem to be out."

  "I'll call him for you," Gray said evenly. "And ask him to bring some over. I'm not leaving you alone here."

  "Whatever suits you. His number's in the book in the kitchen by the..." She trailed off as the image of her lovely little room flashed into her head. She closed her eyes. "Gray, would you leave me alone for a little while? I'll be better for it."

  "Brianna." He touched her cheek.

  "Please." She'd crumble completely, humiliatingly, if he was kind now. "I'll be fine again once I'm busy. And I'd like some tea." Opening her eyes she managed to smile. "truly I would."

  "All right, I'll be downstairs " Grateful, she got to work.

  Chapter Seven

  Gray sometimes toyed with the idea of buying himself a plane. Something very much along the lines of the sleek little jet Rogan had left at his and Brianna's disposal for the trip to Dublin might be just the ticket. He could have it custom-decorated to suit him, play with the engine himself occasionally. There was nothing to stop him from learning how to fly it.

  It would certainly be an interesting toy, he mused as he settled into the comfortable leather seat beside Brianna. And having his own transportation would eliminate the [ minor headache of arranging for tickets and being at the mercy of the hiccups of the airlines.

  But owning something-anything-equaled the tesponsibility of maintaining that something. That was why he rented or leased, but had never actually owned a car. And though there was something to be said for the privacy and convenience of a neat little Lear, he thought he would miss the crowds and company and all the odd expected glitches of a commercial flight.

  But not this time. He slipped his hand over Brianna's as the plane began to taxi.

  "Do you like to fly?"

  "I haven't done it very often." The anticipation of spearing up into the sky still gave her stomach an intriguing little flip. "But yes, I think I do. I like looking down." She smiled at herself as she watched the ground tilt away below. It fascinated her, always, to picture herself above her own home, the hills, streaking through the clouds to somewhere else. "I suppose it's second nature to you."

  "It's fun, thinking about where you're going."

  "And where you've been."

  "I don't think about that much. I've just been there."

  As the plane climbed, he put a hand under her chin, turned her face toward his to study it. "You're still worried."

  "It doesn't feel right, going off like this, and so luxuriously, too."

  "Catholic guilt." The gilt in his eyes deepened when he grinned. "I've heard of that particular phenomenon. It's like if you're not doing something constructive, and actually enjoying not doing it, you're going to hell. Right?"

  "Nonsense." She sniffed, irritated that it was even partially true. "I've responsibilities."

  "And shirking them." He tsked and fingered the gold cross she wore. "That's like the near occasion of sin, isn't it? What is the near occasion of sin, exactly?"

  "You are," she said, batting his hand away.

  "No kidding?" The idea of that appealed enormously. "I like it."

  "You would." She tucked a loose pin into place. "And this has nothing to do with that. If I'm feeling guilty, it's because I'm not used to just packing up and going on a moment's notice. I like to plan things out."

  "Takes half the fun out of it."

  "It stretches out the fun to my way of thinking." But she

  gnawed on her lip. "I know it's important that I be in Dublin for the wedding, but leaving home just now..."

  "Murphy's dog sitting," Gray reminded her. "And keeping an eye on the place." A sharp eye, Gray was certain, since he'd talked to Murphy privately. "Old Smythe-White left days ago, so you don't have any customers to worry about."

  "Guests," she said automatically, brow creasing. "I can't imagine he'll be recommending Blackthorn after what happened. Though he was terribly good about it."

  "He didn't lose anything. 'Never travel with cash, you know,'" Gray said in a mimic of Smythe-White's prissy voice. " 'It's an invitation for trouble.' "

  She smiled a little, as he'd hoped. "He may not have had anything stolen, but I d
oubt he spent a peaceful night knowing his room had been broken into, his possessions pawed through." Which was why she'd refused to charge him for his stay.

  "Oh, I don't know. I haven't had any trouble." He unfastened his seat belt and rose to wander into the galley. "Your brother-in-law's a classy guy."

  "He is, yes." Her brow furrowed when Gray came back with a bottle of champagne and two glasses. "You're not going to open that. 'Tis only a short flight and-"

  "Sure I'm going to open it. Don't you like champagne?" "I like it well enough, but-" Her protest was cut off by the cheerful sound of a popping cork. She sighed, as a mother might seeing her child leap into a mud puddle.

  "Now then." He sat again, poured both glasses. After handing her one, he tapped crystal to crystal and grinned. "Tell me about the bride and groom. Did you say they were eighty?"

  "Uncle Niall, yes." Since there could be no putting the cork back into the bottle, she sipped. "Mrs. Sweeney's a few years younger."

  "Imagine that." It tickled him. "Entering the matrimonial cage at their age."

  "Cage?"

  "It has a lot of restrictions and no easy way out." Enjoying the wine, he let it linger on his tongue before swallowing. "So, they were childhood sweethearts?"

  "Not exactly," she murmured, still frowning over his description of marriage. "They grew up in Galway. Mrs. Sweeney was friends with my grandmother-she was Uncle Niall's sister, you see. And Mrs. Sweeney had a bit of a crush on Uncle Niall. Then my grandmother married and moved to Clare. Mrs. Sweeney married and went to Dublin. They lost track of each other. Then Maggie and Rogan began working together, and Mrs. Sweeney made the connection between the families. I wrote of it to Uncle Niall, and he brought himself down to Dublin." She smiled over it, hardly noticing when Gray refilled her glass. "The two of them have been close as bread and jam ever since."

  "The twists and turns of fate." Gray raised his glass in toast. "Fascinating, isn't it?"

  "They love each other," she said simply, sighed. "I only hope-" She cut herself off and stared out the window again.

  "What?"

  "I want them to have a fine day, a lovely one. I'm worried my mother will make it awkward." She turned to him again. However it embarrassed her, it was best he knew so that he wouldn't be too shocked if there was a scene. "She wouldn't go out to Dublin today. Wouldn't sleep in Maggie's Dublin house. She told me she'd come tomorrow, do her duty, then go back immediately."

  He lifted a brow. "Not happy in cities?" he asked, though he sensed it was something entirely different.

  "Mother's not a woman who finds contentment easily anywhere at all. I should tell you she may be difficult. She doesn't approve, you see, of the wedding."

  "What? Does she think those crazy kids are too young to get married?"

  Brianna's lips curved, but her eyes didn't reflect it. "It's money marrying money, as she sees it. And she... well, she has strong opinions about the fact that they've been living together in a way outside the sacrament."

  "Living together?" He couldn't stop the grin. "In away?"

  "Living together," she said primly. "And as Mother will tell you, if you give her the chance, age hardly absolves them from the sin of fornication."

  He choked on his wine. He was laughing and whooping for air when he caught the glint of Brianna's narrowed gaze. "Sorry-I can see that wasn't meant to be a joke." "Some people find it easy to laugh at another's beliefs." "I don't mean to." But he couldn't quite get the chuckles under control. "Christ, Brie, you've just told me the man's eighty and his blushing bride is right behind him. You don't really believe they're going to some firey hell because they..." He decided he'd better find a delicate way of putting it. "They've had a mature, mutually satisfying physical relationship."

  "No." Some of the ice melted from her eyes. "No, I don't, of course. But Mother does, or says she does, because it makes it easier to complain. Families are complicated, aren't they?"

  "From what I've observed. I don't have one to worry about myself."

  "No family?" The rest of the ice melted into sympathy.

  "You lost your parents?"

  "In a manner of speaking." It would have been more apt, he supposed, to say they had lost him.

  "I'm sorry. And you've no brothers, no sisters?" "Nope." He reached for the bottle again to top off his glass.

  "But you've cousins, surely." Everyone had someone, she thought. "Grandparents, or aunts, uncles."

 
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