Born in ice, p.15
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       Born in Ice, p.15

         Part #2 of Born In series by Nora Roberts
 

  He'd probably be dead by nightfall.

  His eyes were small, hard balls of fire. The inside of his mouth had been swabbed with something too foul to imagine. His stomach clutched and seized like a nervous fist.

  He began to hope he'd be dead long before nightfall.

  Since there was no one around, he indulged himself in a few whimpers as he stepped under the shower. He'd have sworn the smell of whiskey was seeping out of his pores.

  Moving with the care of the aged or infirm, he climbed out of the tub, wrapped a towel around his waist. He did what he could to wash the hideous taste out of his mouth.

  When he stepped into the bedroom, he yelped, slapped his hands over his eyes in time-he hoped-to keep them from bursting out of his head. Some sadist had come in and opened his drapes to the sunlight.

  Brianna's own eyes had gone wide. Her mouth had fallen open. Other than the towel hanging loosely at his hips, he wore nothing but a few lingering drops of water from his shower.

  His body was... the word exquisite flashed into her mind. Lean, muscled, gleaming. She found herself linking her fingers together and swallowing hard.

  "I brought you a breakfast tray," she managed. "I thought you might be feeling poorly."

  Cautious, Gray spread his fingers just enough to see through. "Then it wasn't the wrath of God." His voice was rough, but he feared the act of clearing it might do permanent damage. "For a minute I thought I was being struck down for my sins."

  "It's only porridge, toast, and some coffee."

  "Coffee." He said the word like a prayer. "Could you pour it?"

  "I could. I brought you some aspirin."

  "Aspirin." He could have wept. "Please."

  "Take them first then." She brought him the pills with a small glass of water. "Rogan looks as sad as you," she said as Gray gobbled down the pills-and she fought to keep her hand from stroking over all that wet, curling dark hair. "Uncle Niall's fit as a fiddle."

  "Figures." Gray moved cautiously toward the bed. He eased down, praying his head wouldn't roll off his neck. "Before we go any further, do I have anything to apologize for?"

  "To me?"

  "To anyone. Whiskey's not my usual poison, and I'm fuzzy on details after we started on the second bottle." He squinted up at her and found she was smiling at him. "Something funny?"

  "No-well, yes, but it's not very kind of me to find it funny." She did give in then, sleeking a hand over his hair as she might over that of a child who had overindulged in cakes. "I was thinking it was sweet of you to offer to apologize right off that way." Her smile warmed. "But no, there's nothing. You were just drunk and silly. There was no harm in it."

  "Easy for you to say." He supported his head. "I don't make a habit of drinking like that." Wincing, he reached for the coffee with his free hand. "In fact, I don't believe I've ever had that much at one time, or will again."

  "You'll feel better when you've had a bite to eat. You have a couple of hours before you have to drive over for the wedding-if you're up to it."

  "Wouldn't miss it." Resigned, Gray picked up the porridge. It smelled safe. He took a tentative bite and waited to see if his system would accept it. "Aren't I going with you?"

  "I'm leaving in a few minutes. There's things to be done. You'll come over with Rogan and Uncle Niall-since it's doubtful the three of you can get into any trouble on such a short drive."

  He grunted and scooped up more porridge.

  "Do you need anything else before I go?"

  "You've hit most of the vital points." Tilting his head, he studied her. "Did I try to talk you into going to bed with me last night?"

  "You did."

  "I thought I remembered that." His smile was quick and easy. "I can't imagine how you resisted me."

  "Oh, I managed. I'll be off, then."

  "Brianna." He sent her one quick, dangerous look. "I won't be plastered next time."

  Christine Rogan Sweeney might have been on the verge of becoming a great-grandmother, but she was still a bride. No matter how often she told herself it was foolish to be nervous, to feel so giddy, her stomach still jumped.

  She was to be married in only a few minutes more. To pledge herself to a man she loved dearly. And to take his pledge to her. And she would be a wife once again, after so many years a widow.

  "You look beautiful." Maggie stood back as Christine turned in front of the chevel glass. The pale rose suit gleamed with tiny pearls on the lapels. Against Christine's shining white hair sat a jaunty, matching hat with a fingertip veil.

  "I feel beautiful." She laughed and turned to embrace Maggie, then Brianna. "I don't care who knows it. I wonder if Niall could be as nervous as I am."

  "He's pacing like a big cat," Maggie told her. "And asking Rogan for the time every ten seconds."

  "Good." Christine drew in a long breath. "That's good, then. It is nearly time, isn't it?"

  "Nearly." Brianna kissed her on each cheek. "I'll be going down now to make sure everything's as it should be. I wish you happiness... Aunt Christine."

  "Oh, dear." Christine's eyes filled. "How sweet you are."

  "Don't do that," Maggie warned. "You'll have us all going. I'll signal when we're ready, Brie."

  With a quick nod Brianna hurried out. There were caterers, of course, and a houseful of servants. But a wedding was a family thing, and she wanted it perfect.

  The guests were milling in the parlor-swirls of color, snatches of laughter. A harpist was playing in soft, dreamy notes. Garlands of roses had been twined along the banister, and pots of them were artistically decked throughout the house.

  She wondered if she should slip into the kitchen, just to be certain all was well, when she spotted her mother and Lottie. Fixing a bright smile on her face, she went forward.

  "Mother, you look wonderful."

  "Foolishness. Lottie nagged me into spending good money on a new dress." But she brushed a hand fussily along the soft linen sleeve.

  "It's lovely. And so's yours, Lottie."

  Maeve's companion laughed heartily. "We splurged sinfully, we did. But it isn't every day you go to such a fancy wedding. The archbishop," she said with a whisper and a wink. "Imagine."

  Maeve sniffed. "A priest's a priest no matter what hat he's wearing. Seems to me he'd think twice before officiating at such a time. When two people have lived in sin-"

  "Mother." Brianna kept her voice low, but icily firm. "Not today. Please, if you'd only-"

  "Brianna." Gray stepped up, took her hand, kissed it. "You look fabulous."

  "Thank you." She struggled not to flush as his fingers locked possessively around hers. "Mother, Lottie, this is Grayson Thane. He's a guest at Blackthorn. Gray, Maeve Concannon and Lottie Sullivan."

  "Mrs. Sullivan." He took Lottie's hand, making her giggle when he kissed it. "Mrs. Concannon. My congratulations on your lovely and talented daughters."

  Maeve only scowled. His hair was as long as a girl's, she observed. And his smile had more than a bit of the devil in it. "A Yank, are you?" "Yes, ma'am. I'm enjoying your country very much. And your daughter's hospitality."

  "Paying tenants don't usually come to family weddings."

  "Mother-"

  "No, they don't," Gray said smoothly. "That's another thing I find charming about your country. Strangers are treated as friends, and friends never as strangers. May I escort you to your seats?"

  Lottie was already hooking her arm through his. "Come ahead, Maeve. How often are we going to get an offer from a fine-looking young man like this? You're a book writer, are you?" "I am." He swept both women off, sending a quick, smug smile to Brianna over his shoulder.

  She could have kissed him. Even as she sighed in relief, Maggie signaled from the top of the stairs.

  As the harpist switched to the wedding march, Brianna slipped to the back of the room. Her throat tightened as Niall took his place in front of the hearth and looked toward the stairs. Perhaps his hair was thin and his waist thick, but just then he looked young an
d eager and full of nerves.

  The room hummed with anticipation as Christine walked slowly down the stairs, turned, and with her eyes bright behind her veil, went to him. The archbishop blessed them, and the ceremony began.

  "Here." Gray slipped up beside Brianna a few moments later and offered his handkerchief. "I had a feeling you'd need this."

  "It's beautiful." She dabbed at her eyes. The words sighed through her. To love. To honor. To cherish.

  Gray heard Till death do us part. A life sentence. He'd always figured there was a reason people cried at weddings. He put an arm around her shoulders and gave her a friendly squeeze. "Buck up," he murmured. "It's nearly over."

  "It's only beginning," she corrected and indulged herself by resting her head on his shoulder.

  Applause erupted when Niall thoroughly, and enthusiastically, kissed the bride.

  Chapter Eight

  Trips on private planes, champagne, and glossy society weddings were all well and good, Brianna supposed. But she was glad to be home. Though she knew better than to trust the skies or the balmy air, she preferred to think the worst of the winter was over. She dreamed of her fine new greenhouse as she tended her seedlings in the shed. And planned for her converted attic room while she hung the wash.

  In the week she'd been back from Dublin, she all but had the house to herself. Gray was closeted in his room working. Now and again he popped off for a drive or strolled into the kitchen sniffing for food.

  She wasn't sure whether to be relieved or miffed that he seemed too preoccupied to try to charm more kisses from her.

  Still, she was forced to admit that her solitude was more pleasant knowing he was just up the stairs. She could sit by the fire in the evening, reading or knitting or sketching out her plans, knowing he could come wandering down to join her at any time.

  But it wasn't Gray who interrupted her knitting one cool evening, but her mother and Lottie.

  She heard the car outside without much surprise. Friends and neighbors often stopped in when they saw her light on. She'd set her knitting aside and started for the door when she heard her mother and Lottie arguing outside it.

  Brianna only sighed. For reasons that escaped her, the two women seemed to enjoy their bickering.

  "Good evening to you." She greeted them both with a kiss. "What a fine surprise."

  "I hope we're not disturbing you, Brie." Lottie rolled her merry eyes. "Maeve had it in her head we would come, so here we are."

  "I'm always pleased to see you."

  "We were out, weren't we?" Maeve shot back. "Too lazy to cook, she was, so I have to drag myself out to a restaurant no matter how I'm feeling."

  "Even Brie must tire of her own cooking from time to time," Lottie said as she hung Maeve's coat on the hall rack. "As fine as it is. And it's nice to get out now and again and see people."

  "There's no one I need to see."

  "You wanted to see Brianna, didn't you?" It pleased Lottie to score a small point. "That's why we're here."

  "I want some decent tea is what I want, not that pap they serve in the restaurant."

  "I'll make it." Lottie patted Brianna's arm. "You have a nice visit with your ma. I know where everything is."

  "And take that hound to the kitchen with you." Maeve gave Con a look of impatient dislike. "I won't have him slobbering all over me."

  "You'll keep me company, won't you, boy-o?" Cheerful, Lottie ruffled Con between the ears. "Come along with Lottie, now, there's a good lad."

  Agreeable, and ever hopeful for a snack, Con trailed behind her.

  "I've a nice fire in the parlor, Mother. Come and sit."

  "Waste of fuel," Maeve muttered. "It's warm enough without one."

 
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