Born in ice, p.18
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       Born in Ice, p.18

         Part #2 of Born In series by Nora Roberts

  "You always smell of spring." He bent his head to rub his lips over the nape of her neck. "And taste of it." "You're making my legs weak again." "Then you'd better hold on to me." He turned her, cupped a hand at her jaw. "I haven't kissed you in days." "I know." She built up her courage, kept her eyes level. "I've wanted you to."

  "That was the idea." He touched his lips to hers, stirred when her hands slipped up his chest to frame his face.

  She opened for him willingly, her little murmur of pleasure as arousing as a caress. With the wind swirling around them, he drew her closer, careful to keep his hands easy, his mouth gentle.

  All the strain, the fatigue, the frustration had vanished. She was home, was all that Brianna could think. Home was always where she wanted to be.

  On a sigh she rested her head on his shoulder, curved her arms up his back. "I've never felt like this."

  Nor had he. But that was a dangerous thought, and one he would have to consider. "It's good with us," he murmured. "There's something good about it."

  "There is." She lifted her cheek to his. "Be patient with me, Gray."

  "I intend to. I want you, Brianna, and when you're ready..." He stepped back, ran his hands down her arms until their fingers linked. "When you're ready."

  Chapter Nine

  Gray wondered if his appetite was enhanced due to the fact that he had another hunger that was far from satisfied. He thought it best to take it philosophically-and help himself to a late-night feast of Brianna's bread-and-butter pudding. Making tea was becoming a habit as well, and he'd already set the kettle on the stove and warmed the pot before he scooped out pudding into a bowl.

  He didn't think he'd been so obsessed with sex since his thirteenth year. Then it had been Sally Anne Howe, one of the other residents of the Simon Brent Memorial Home for Children. Good old Sally Anne, Gray thought now, with her well blossomed body and sly eyes. She'd been three years older than he, and more than willing to share her charms with anyone for smuggled cigarettes or candy bars.

  At the time he thought she was a goddess, the answer to

  a randy adolescent's prayers. He could look back now with pity and anger, knowing the cycle of abuse and the flaws in the system that had made a pretty young girl feel her only true worth was nestled between her thighs.

  He'd had plenty of sweaty dreams about Sally Anne after lights out. And had been lucky enough to steal an entire pack of Marlboros from one of the counselors. Twenty cigarettes had equaled twenty fucks, he remembered. And he'd been a very fast learner.

  Over the years, he'd learned quite a bit more, from girls his own age, and from professionals who plied their trade out of darkened doorways that smelled of stale grease and sour sweat.

  He'd been barely sixteen when he'd broken free of the orphanage and hit the road with the clothes on his back and twenty-three dollars worth of loose change and crumpled bills in his pocket.

  Freedom was what he'd wanted, freedom from the rules, the regulations, the endless cycle of the system he'd been caught in most of his life. He'd found it, and used it, and paid for it.

  He'd lived and worked those streets for a long time before he'd given himself a name, and a purpose. He'd been fortunate enough to have possessed a talent that had kept him from being swallowed up by other hungers.

  At twenty he'd had his first lofty, and sadly autobiographical, novel under his belt. The publishing world had not been impressed. By twenty-two, he'd crafted out a neat, clever little whodunit. Publishers did not come clamoring, but a whiff of interest from an assistant editor had kept him holed up in a cheap rooming house battering at a manual typewriter for weeks.

  That, he'd sold. For peanuts. Nothing before or since had meant as much to him.

  Ten years later, and he could live as he chose, and he felt he'd chosen well.

  He poured the water into the pot, shoveled a spoonful of pudding into his mouth. As he glanced over at Brianna's door, spotted the thin slant of light beneath it, he smiled.

  He'd chosen her, too.

  Covering his bases, he set the pot with two cups on a tray, then knocked at her door.

  "Yes, come in."

  She was sitting at her little desk, tidy as a nun in a flannel gown and slippers, her hair in a loose braid over one shoulder. Gray gamely swallowed the saliva that pooled in his mouth.

  "Saw your light. Want some tea?"

  "That would be nice. I was just finishing up some paperwork."

  The dog uncurled himself from beside her feet and walked over to rub against Gray. "Me, too." He set down the tray to ruffle Con's fur. "Murder makes me hungry."

  "Killed someone today, did you?"

  "Brutally." He said it with such relish, she laughed.

  "Perhaps that's what makes you so even tempered all in all," she mused. "All those emotional murders purging your system. Do you ever-" She caught herself, moving a shoulder as he handed her a cup.

  "Go ahead, ask. You rarely ask anything about my work."

  "Because I imagine everyone does."

  "They do." He made himself comfortable. "I don't mind."

  "Well, I was wondering, if you ever make one of the characters someone you know-then kill them off."

  "There was this snotty French waiter in Dijon. I garotted him."

  "Oh." She rubbed a hand over her throat. "How did it feel?"

  "For him, or me?"

  "For you."

  "Satisfying." He spooned up pudding. "Want me to kill someone for you, Brie? I aim to please."

  "Not at the moment, no." She shifted and some of her papers fluttered to the floor.

  "You need a typewriter," he told her as he helped her gather them up. "Better yet, a word processor. It would save you time writing business letters."

  "Not when I'd have to search for every key." While he read her correspondence, she cocked a brow, amused. " 'Tisn't very interesting."

  "Hmm. Oh, sorry, habit. What's Triquarter Mining?" "Oh, just a company Da must have invested it. I found the stock certificate with his things in the attic. I've written them once already," she added, mildly annoyed. "But had no answer. So I'm trying again."

  "Ten thousand shares." Gray pursed his lips. "That's not chump change."

  "It is, if I think I know what you're saying. You had to know my father-he was always after a new moneymaking scheme that cost more than it would ever earn. Still, this needs to be done." She held out a hand. "That's just a copy. Rogan took the original for safekeeping and made that for me."

  "You should have him check it out."

  "I don't like to bother him with it. His plate's full with the new gallery-and with Maggie."

  He handed her back the copy. "Even at a dollar a share, it's fairly substantial."

  "I'd be surprised if it was worth more than a pence a share. God knows he couldn't have paid much more. More likely it is that the whole company went out of business."

  "Then your letter would have come back."

  She only smiled. "You've been here long enough to know the Irish mails. I think-" They both glanced over as the dog began to growl. "Con?"

  Instead of responding, the dog growled again, and the fur on his back lifted. In two strides Gray was at the windows. He saw nothing but mist.

  "Fog," he muttered. "I'll go look around. No," he said when she started to rise. "It's dark, it's cold, it's damp, and you're staying put."

  "There's nothing out there."

  "Con and I will find out. Let's go." He snapped his fingers, and to Brianna's surprise, Con responded immediately. He pranced out at Gray's heels.

  She kept a flashlight in the first kitchen drawer. Gray snagged it before he opened the door. The dog quivered once, then as Gray murmured, "go," leaped into the mist.

  In seconds the sound of his racing feet was muffled to silence.

  The fog distorted the beam from the flash. Gray moved carefully, eyes and ears straining. He heard the dog bark, but from what direction or distance he couldn't say.

  He stopped by Br
ianna's bedroom windows, playing the light on the ground. There, in her neat bed of perennials, was a single footprint.

  Small, Gray mused, crouching down. Nearly small enough to be a child's. It could be as simple as that-kids out on a lark. But when he continued to circle the house, he heard the sound of an engine turning over. Cursing, he quickened his pace. Con burst through the mist like a diver spearing through the surface of a lake.

  "No luck?" To commiserate, Gray stroked Con's head as they both stared out into the fog. "Well, I'm afraid I might know what this is about. Let's go back."

  Brianna was gnawing on her nails when they came through the kitchen door. "You were gone so long."

  "We wanted to circle the whole way around." He set the flashlight on the counter, combed a hand through his damp hair. "This could be related to your break-in."

  "I don't see how. You didn't find anyone."

  "Because we weren't quick enough. There's another possible explanation." He jammed his hands in his pockets. "Me."

  "You? What do you mean?"

  "I've had it happen a few times. An overenthusiastic fan finds out where I'm staying. Sometimes they come calling like they were old pals-sometimes they just trail you like a shadow. Now and again, they break in, look for souvenirs."

  "But that's dreadful."

  "It's annoying, but fairly harmless. One enterprising woman picked the lock on my hotel room at the Paris Ritz, stripped, and crawled into bed with me." He tried for a grin. "It was... awkward."

  "Awkward," Brianna repeated after she'd managed to close her mouth. "What-no, I don't think I want to know what you did."

  "Called security." His eyes went bright with amusement.

  "There are limits to what I'll do for my readers. Anyway, this might have been kids, but if it was one of my adoring fans, you might want me to find other accommodations."

  "I do not." Her protective instincts snapped into place. "They've no right to intrude on your privacy that way, and you'll certainly not leave here because of it." She let out a huff of breath. "It's not just your stories, you know. Oh, they draw people in-it all seems so real, and there's always something heroic that rises above all the greed and violence and grief. It's your picture, too."

  He was charmed by her description of his work and answered absently. "What about it?"

  "Your face." She looked at him then. "It's such a lovely face."

  He didn't know whether to laugh or wince. "Really?"

  "Yes, it's..." She cleared her throat. There was a gleam in his eyes she knew better than to trust. "And the little biography on the back-more the lack of it. It's as if you came from nowhere. The mystery of it's appealing."

  "I did come from nowhere. Why don't we go back to my face?"

  She took a step in retreat. "I think there's been enough excitement for the night."

  He just kept moving forward until his hands were on her shoulders and his mouth lay quietly on hers. "Will you be able to sleep?"

  "Yes." Her breath caught, expelled lazily. "Con will be with me."

  "Lucky dog. Go on, get some sleep." He waited until she and the dog were settled, then did something Brianna hadn't done in all the years she'd lived in the house.

  He locked the doors.

  The best place to spread news or to garner it was, logically, the village pub. In the weeks he'd been in Clare County, Gray had developed an almost sentimental affection for O'Malley's. Naturally, during his research, he'd breezed into a number of public houses in the area, but O'Malley's had become, for him, as close to his own neighborhood bar as he'd ever known.

  He heard the lilt of music even as he reached for the door. Murphy, he thought. Now, that was lucky. The moment Gray stepped in, he was greeted by name or a cheery wave. O'Malley began to build him a pint of Guiness before he'd planted himself in a seat.

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