Born in ice, p.17
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       Born in Ice, p.17

         Part #2 of Born In series by Nora Roberts


  "I'm not blushing." She could feel the heat in her cheeks. "I'm impatient. I need to be off, Grayson." "How about this, I'll take you where you need to go."

  Before she could speak, he lowered his mouth, brushed it lightly over hers. "I've missed you, Brianna."

  "You can't have. I've been right here."

  "I've missed you." He watched her lashes lower. Her shy, uncertain responses to him gave him an odd sense of power. All ego, he thought, amused at himself. "Where's your list?"

  "My list?"

  "You've always got one."

  Her gaze shifted up again. Those misty-green eyes were aware, and just a little afraid. Gray felt the surge of heat spear up from the balls of his feet straight to the loins. His fingers tightened convulsively on her waist before he forced himself to step back, let out a breath.

  "Taking it slow is killing me," he muttered.

  "I beg your pardon?"

  "Never mind. Get your list and whatever. I'll drive you."

  "I don't have a list. I've only to go to my mother's and help her and Lottie pack for their trip. There's no need for you to take me."

  "I could use the drive. How long will you be there?"

  "Two hours, perhaps three."

  "I'll drop you off, pick you up. I'm going out anyway," he continued before she could argue. "It'll save petrol."

  "All right. If you're sure. I'll just be a minute."

  While he waited, Gray stepped into the path of the front garden. In the month he'd been there, he'd seen gales, rain, and the luminous light of the Irish sun. He'd sat in village pubs and listened to gossip, traditional music. He'd wandered down lanes where farmers herded their cows from field to field, and had walked up the winding steps of ruined castles, hearing the echos of war and death. He'd visited grave sites and had stood on the verge of towering cliffs looking out on the rolling sea.

  Of all the places he'd visited, none seemed quite so appealing as the view from Brianna's front garden. But he wasn't altogether certain if it was the spot or the woman he was waiting for. Either way, he decided, his time here would certainly be one of the most satisfying slices of his life.

  After he dropped Brianna off at the tidy house outside Ennis, he went wandering. For more than an hour he clambered over rocks at the Burren, taking pictures in his head. The sheer vastness delighted him, as did the Druid's Altar that drew so many tourists with their clicking cameras.

  He drove aimlessly, stopping where he chose-a small beach deserted but for a small boy and a huge dog, a field where goats cropped and the wind whispered through tall grass, a small village where a woman counted out his change for his candy bar purchase with curled, arthritic fingers, then offered him a smile as sweet as sunlight.

  A ruined abbey with a round tower caught his eye and had him pulling off the road to take a closer look. The round towers of Ireland fascinated him, but he'd found them primarily on the east coast. To guard, he supposed, from the influx of invasions across the Irish Sea. This one was whole, undamaged, and set at a curious slant. Gray spent some time circling, studying, and wondering how he could use it.

  There were graves there as well, some old, some new. He had always been intrigued by the way generations could mingle so comfortably in death when they rarely managed it in life. For himself, he would take the Viking way-a ship out to sea and a torch.

  But for a man who dealt in death a great deal, he preferred not to linger his thoughts overmuch on his own mortality.

  Nearly all of the graves he passed were decked with flowers. Many of them were covered with plastic boxes, misty with condensation, the blossoms within all no more than a smear of color. He wondered why it didn't amuse him. It should have. Instead he was touched, stirred by the devotion to the dead.

  They had belonged once, he thought. Maybe that was the definition of family. Belong once, belong always. He'd never had that problem. Or that privilege. He wandered through, wondering when the husbands, the wives, the children came to lay the wreaths and flowers. On the day of death? The day of birth? The feast day of the saint the dead had been named for? Or Easter maybe. That was a big one for Catholics.

  He'd ask Brianna, he decided. It was something he could definitely work into his book.

  He couldn't have said why he stopped just at that moment, why he looked down at that particular marker. But he did, and he stood, alone, the breeze ruffling his hair, looking down at Thomas Michael Concannon's grave.

  Brianna's father? he wondered and felt an odd clutch around his heart. The dates seemed right. O'Malley had told him stories of Tom Concannon when Gray had sipped at a Guinness at the pub. Stories ripe with affection, sentiment, and humor.

  Gray knew he had died suddenly, at the cliffs at Loop Head, with only Maggie with him. But the flowers on the grave, Gray was certain, were Brianna's doing.

  They'd been planted over him. Though the winter had been hard on them, Gray could see they'd been recently weeded. More than a few brave blades of green were spearing up, searching for the sun.

  He'd never stood over a grave of someone he'd known. Though he often paid visits to the dead, there'd been no pilgrimage to the resting place of anyone he'd cared for. But he felt a tug now, one that made him crouch down and brush a hand lightly over the carefully tended mound.

  And he wished he'd brought flowers.

  "Tom Concannon," he murmured. "You're well remembered. They talk of you in the village, and smile when they say your name. I guess that's as fine an epitaph as anyone could ask for."

  Oddly content, he sat beside Tom awhile and watched sunlight and shadows play on the stones the living planted to honor the dead.

  He gave Brianna three hours. It was obviously more than enough as she came out of the house almost as soon as he pulled up in front of it. His smile of greeting turned to a look of speculation as he got a closer look.

  Her face was pale, as he knew it became when she was upset or moved. Her eyes, though cool, showed traces of strain. He glanced toward the house, saw the curtain move. He caught a glimpse only, but Maeve's face was as pale as her daughter's, and appeared equally unhappy.

  "All packed?" he said, keeping his tone mild.

  "Yes." She slipped into the car, her hands tight around her purse-as if it was the only thing that kept her from leaping up. "Thank you for coming for me."

  "A lot of people find packing a chore." Gray pulled the car out and for once kept his speed moderate.

  "It can be." Normally, she enjoyed it. The anticipation of going somewhere, and more, the anticipation of returning home. "It's done now, and they'll be ready to leave in the morning."

  God, she wanted to close her eyes, to escape from the pounding headache and miserable guilt into sleep.

  "Do you want to tell me what's upset you?"

  "I'm not upset."

  "You're wound up, unhappy, and as pale as ice."

  "It's personal. It's family business."

  The fact that her dismissal stung surprised him. But he only shrugged and lapsed into silence.

  "I'm sorry." Now she did close her eyes. She wanted peace. Couldn't everyone just give her a moment's peace? "That was rude of me."

  "Forget it." He didn't need her problems in any case, he reminded himself. Then he glanced at her and swore under his breath. She looked exhausted. "I want to make a stop."

  She started to object, then kept her eyes and mouth closed. He'd been good enough to drive her, she reminded herself. She could certainly bear a few minutes longer before she buried all this tension in work.

  He didn't speak again. He was driving on instinct, hoping the choice he made would bring the color back to her cheeks and the warmth to her voice.

  She didn't open her eyes again until he braked and shut the engine off. Then she merely stared at the castle ruins. "You needed to stop here?"

  "I wanted to stop here," he corrected. "I found this my first day here. It's playing a prominent part in my book. I like the feel of it."

; He got out, rounded the hood, and opened her door. "Come on." When she didn't move, he leaned down and unfastened her seat belt himself. "Come on. It's great. Wait till you see the view from the top."

  "I've wash to do," she complained and heard the sulkiness of her own voice as she stepped out of the car.

  "It's not going anywhere." He had her hand now and was tugging her over the high grass.

  She didn't have the heart to point out that the ruins weren't likely to go anywhere, either. "You're using this place in your book?"

  "Big murder scene." He grinned at her reaction, the uneasiness and superstition in her eyes. "Not afraid are you? I don't usually act out my scenes."

  "Don't be foolish." But she shivered once as they stepped between the high stone walls.

  There was grass growing wild on the ground, bits of green pushing its way through chinks in the stone. Above her, she could see where the floors had been once, so many years ago. But now time and war left the view to the sky unimpeded.

  The clouds floated silently as ghosts.

  "What do you suppose they did here, right here?" Gray mused.

  "Lived, worked. Fought."

  "That's too general. Use your imagination. Can't you see it, the people walking here? It's winter, and it's bone cold. Ice rings on the water barrels, frost on the ground that snaps like dry twigs underfoot. The air stings with smoke from the fires. A baby's crying, hungry, then stops when his mother bares her breast."

  He drew her along with him, physically, emotionally, until she could almost see it as he did.

  "Soldiers are drilling out there, and you can hear the ring of sword to sword. A man hurries by, limping from an old wound, his breath steaming out in cold clouds. Come on, let's go up."

  He pulled her toward narrow, tight winding stairs. Every so often there would be an opening in the stone, a kind of cave. She wondered if people had slept there, or stored goods. Or tried to hide, perhaps, from the enemy who would always find them.

  "There'd be an old woman carrying an oil lamp up here, and she has a puckered scar on the back of her hand and fear in her eyes. Another's bringing fresh rushes for the floors, but she's young and thinking of her lover."

  Gray kept her hand in his, stopping when they came to a level midway. "It must have been the Cromwellians, don't you think, who sacked it. There'd have been screams, the stench of smoke and blood, that nasty thud of metal hacking into bone, and that high-pitched shriek a man makes when the pain slices him. Spears driving straight through bellies, pinning a body to the ground where the limbs would twitch before nerves died. Crows circling overhead, waiting for the feast."

  He turned, saw her eyes were wide and glazed-and chuckled. "Sorry, I get caught up."

  "It's not just a blessing to have an imagination like that." She shivered again and fought to swallow. "I don't think I want you to make me see it so clear."

  "Death's fascinating, especially the violent type. Men are always hunting men. And this is a hell of a spot for murder -of the contemporary sort."

  "Your sort," she murmured.

  "Mmm. He'll toy with the victim first," Gray began as he started to climb again. He was caught up in his own mind, true, but he could see Brianna was no longer worrying over whatever had happened at her mother's. "Let the atmosphere and those smoky ghosts stir into the fear like a slow poison. He won't hurry-he likes the hunt, craves it. He can scent the fear, like any wolf, he can scent it. It's the scent that gets in his blood and makes it pump, that arouses him like sex. And the prey runs, chasing that thin thread of hope. But she's breathing fast. The sound of it echoes, carries on the wind. She falls-the stairs are treacherous in the dark, in the rain. Wet and slick, they're weapons themselves. But she claws her way up them, air sobbing in and out of her lungs, her eyes wild." "Gray-" "She's nearly as much of an animal as he, now. Terror's stripped off layers of humanity, the same as good sex will, or true hunger. Most people think they've experienced all three, but it's rare even to know one sensation fully. But she knows the first now, knows that terror as if it was solid and alive, as if it could wrap its hands around her throat. She wants a bolt hole, but there's nowhere to hide. And she can hear him climbing, slowly, tirelessly behind her. Then she reaches the top."

  He drew Brianna out of the shadows onto the wide, walled ledge where sunlight streamed. "And she's trapped."

  She jolted when Gray swung her around, nearly screamed. Roaring with laughter, he lifted her off her feet. "Christ, what an audience you are." " Tisn't funny." She tried to wiggle free. "It's wonderful. I'm planning on having him mutilate her with an antique dagger, but..." He hooked his arm under Brianna's knees and carried her to the wall. "Maybe he should just dump her over the side."

  "Stop!" Out of self-preservation she threw her arms around him and clung.

  "Why didn't I think of this before? Your heart's pounding, you've got your arms around me." "Bully."

  "Got your mind off your troubles, didn't it?" "I'll keep my troubles, thank you, and keep out of that twisted imagination of yours."

  "No, no one does." He snuggled her a little closer. "That's what fiction's all about, books, movies, whatever. It gives you a break from reality and lets you worry about someone else's problems." "What does it do for you who tells the tale?" "Same thing. Exactly the same thing." He set her on her feet and turned her to the view. "It's like a painting, isn't it?" Gently, he drew her closer until her back was nestled against him. "As soon as I saw this place, it grabbed me. It was raining the first time I came here, and it almost seemed as if the colors should run." She sighed. Here was the peace she'd wanted after all. In his odd roundabout way he'd given it to her. "It's nearly spring," she murmured.

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