Born in ice, p.24
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       Born in Ice, p.24
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         Part #2 of Born In series by Nora Roberts

  could all but see the air vibrate in her wake.

  Good going, pal, he thought in disgust as he began to pace the room. Nice job. It always makes someone feel better when you kick them while they're down.

  But damn it, damn it, she'd made him feel exactly as he'd told her. A convenient substitute for some lost love. He felt miserable for her, facing that kind of betrayal, that kind of rejection. There was nothing he understood better. But he'd patched himself up, hadn't he? So could she.

  She'd wanted to be touched. She'd just needed to be soothed. Head pounding, he stalked to the window and back. She'd wanted him-a little sympathy, a little understanding. A little sex. And he'd brushed her off.

  Just like the ever-popular Rory.

  What was he supposed to do? How could he have taken her to bed when all that hurt and fear and confusion had been shimmering around her? He didn't need other people's complications.

  He didn't want them.

  He wanted her.

  On an oath he rested his head against the window glass. He could walk away. He'd never had any trouble walking away. Just sit down again, pick up the threads of his story, and dive into it.

  Or ... or he could try something that might clear the frustration out of the air for both of them.

  The second impulse was more appealing, a great deal more appealing, if a great deal more dangerous. The safe route was for cowards, he told himself. Snatching up his keys, he walked downstairs and out of the house.

  Chapter Twelve

  If there was one thing Gray knew how to do with style, it was set scenes. Two hours after he'd left Blackthorn Cottage, he was back in his room and putting the final touch on the details. He didn't think past the first step. Sometimes it was wiser-safer certainly-not to dwell on how the scene might unfold or the chapter close.

  After a last glance around, he nodded to himself, then went downstairs to find her.

  "Brianna."

  She didn't turn from the sink where she was meticulously frosting a chocolate cake. She was calmer now, but no less ashamed of her behavior. She had shuddered more than once over the past two hours over the way she'd thrown herself at him.

  Thrown herself, she remembered again, and not been caught.

  "Yes, dinner's ready," she said calmly. "Would you want it down here?"

  "I need you to come upstairs."

  "All right, then." Her relief that he didn't ask for a cozy meal in the kitchen was tremendous. "I'll just fix a tray for you."

  "No." He laid a hand on her shoulder, uneasy when he felt her muscles stiffen. "I need you to come upstairs."

  Well, she would have to face him sooner or later. Carefully wiping her hands on her apron, she turned. She read nothing in his face of condemnation, or the anger he'd speared at her earlier. It didn't help. "Is there a problem?"

  "Come up, then you tell me."

  "All right." She followed behind him. Should she apologize again? She wasn't sure. It might be best just to pretend nothing had been said. She gave a little sigh as they approached his room. Oh, she hoped it wasn't the plumbing. The expense just now would...

  She forgot about plumbing as she stepped inside. She forgot about everything.

  There were candles set everywhere, the soft light streaming like melted gold against the twilight gray of the room. Flowers spilled out of a half dozen vases, tulips and roses, freesia and lilacs. In a silver bucket rested an iced bottle of champagne, still corked. Music came from somewhere. Harp music. She stared, baffled, at the portable stereo on his desk.

  "I like the curtains open," he said.

  She folded her hands under her apron where only she would know they trembled. "Why?"

  "Because you never know when you might catch a moonbeam."

  Her lips curved, ever so slightly at the thought. "No, I mean why have you done all this?"

  "To make you smile. To give you time to decide if it's what you really want. To help persuade you that it is."

  "You've gone to such trouble." Her eyes skimmed toward the bed, then quickly, nervously onto the vase of roses. "You didn't have to. I've made you feel obliged."

  "Please. Don't be an idiot. It's your choice." But he moved to her, took the first pin from her hair, tossed it aside. "Do you want me to show you how much I want you?"

  «I___»

  "I think I should show you, at least a little." He took out another pin, a third, then simply combed his hands through her tumbling hair. "Then you can decide how much you'll give."

  His mouth skimmed over hers, gentle as air, erotic as sin. When her lips trembled apart, he slipped his tongue between them, teasing hers.

  "That should give you the idea." He moved his lips along her jaw, up to her temple, then back to nip at the corner of her mouth. "Tell me you want me, Brianna. I want to hear you say it."

  "I do." She couldn't hear her own voice, only the hum of it in her throat where his mouth now nestled. "I do want you. Gray, I can't think. I need-"

  "Just me. You only need me tonight. I only need you." Coaxing, he smoothed his hands down her back. "Lie down with me, Brianna." He lifted her, cradled her. "There are so many places I want to take you."

  He laid her down on the bed where the sheets and quilt had been folded down in invitation. Her hair spilled like fired gold over the crisp linen, subtle waves of it catching glints from the candlelight. Her eyes were stormy with the war of doubts and needs.

  And his stomach trembled, looking at her. From desire, yes, but also from fear.

  He would be her first. No matter what happened after, through her life, she would remember tonight, and him.

  "I don't know what to do." She closed her eyes, excited, embarrassed, enchanted.

  "I do." He laid beside her, dipped his mouth to hers once more. She was trembling beneath him, a fact that had a hot ball of panic tightening in his gut. If he moved too fast. If he moved too slow. To soothe them both he pried her

  nervous fingers apart, kissed them one by one. "Don't be afraid, Brianna. Don't be afraid of me. I won't hurt you." But she was afraid, and not only of the pain she knew went hand in hand with the loss of innocence. She was afraid of not being capable of giving pleasure, and of not being able to feel the full truth of it.

  "Think of me," he murmured, deepening the kiss degree by shuddering degree. If he did nothing else, he swore he would exorcise the last ghost of her heartache. "Think of me." And when he repeated it, he knew, from somewhere hidden inside that he needed this moment as much as she. Sweet, she thought hazily. How odd that a man's mouth could taste so sweet, and could be firm and soft all at once. Fascinated by the taste and texture, she traced his lips with the tip of her tongue. And heard his quiet purr in answer. One by one her muscles uncoiled as his flavor seeped into her. And how lovely it was to be kissed as if you would be kissed until time stopped. How solid and good his weight was, how strong his back when she dared let her hands roam.

  He stiffened, bit back a moan as her hesitant fingers skimmed over his hips. He was already hard and shifted slightly, worried that he might frighten her. Slowly, he ordered himself. Delicately. He slipped the top strap of her apron over her head, untied the one around her waist and drew it off. Her eyes fluttered open, her lips curved.

  "Will you kiss me again?" Her voice was honey thick now, and warm. "It makes everything go gold behind my eyes when you do."

  He rested his brow on hers, waited a moment until he thought he could give her the gentleness she'd asked for. Then he took her mouth, swallowed her lovely, soft sigh. She seemed to melt beneath him, the tremblings giving way to pliancy.

  She felt nothing but his mouth, that wonderful mouth that feasted so sumptuously on hers. Then his hand cupped her throat as if testing the speed of the pulse that fluttered there before he trailed down.

  She hadn't been aware that he'd unfastened her blouse.

  As his fingers traced the soft swell of her breast above her bra, her eyes flew open. His were steady on hers, with a concentration so focused
it brought the trembles back. She started to protest, to make some sound of denial. But his touch was so alluring, just a skim of fingertips against flesh.

  It wasn't fearful, she realized. It was soothing, and just as sweet as the kiss. Even as she willed herself to relax again, those clever fingers slipped under the cotton and found the sensitive point.

  Her first gasp ripped through him-the sound of it, the arousing sensation of her body arching in surprise and pleasure. He was barely touching her, he thought as his blood pounded. She had no idea how much more there was.

  God, he was desperate to show her.

  "Relax." He kissed her, kissed her, as his fingers continued to arouse and his free hand circled back to unhook the barrier. "Just feel it."

  She had no choice. Sensations were tearing through her, tiny arrows of pleasure and shock. His mouth swallowed her strangled breaths as he tugged away her clothes and left her bare to the waist.

  "God, you're so beautiful." His first look at that milk-pale skin, the small breasts that fit so perfectly into the cups of his palms nearly undid him. Unable to resist, he lowered his head and tasted.

  She moaned, long, deep, throaty. The movements of her body under his were pure instinct, he knew, and not designed to deliberately claw at his control. So he pleased her, gently, and found his own pleasure growing from hers.

  His mouth was so hot. The air was so thick. Each time he tugged, pulled, laved, there was an answering flutter in the pit of her stomach. A flutter that built and built into something too close to pain, too close to pleasure to separate them.

  He was murmuring to her, lovely, soft words that circled like rainbows in her head. It didn't matter what he said- she would have told him if she could. Nothing mattered as long as he never, never stopped touching her.

  He tugged his own shirt over his head, craving the feel of flesh against flesh. When he lowered himself to her again, she made a small sound and wrapped her arms around him.

  She only sighed again when his mouth roamed lower, over torso, over ribs. Her skin heated, muscles jerking, quivering under his lips and hands. And he knew she was lost in that dark tunnel of sensations.

  Carefully he unhooked her slacks, baring new flesh slowly, exploring it gently. As her hips arched once in innocent agreement, he clamped his teeth and fought back the tearing need to take, just take and satisfy the grinding in his taut body.

  Her nails dug into his back, drawing out a groan of dark delight from him as his hand skimmed down her bared hip. He knew she'd stiffened again and begged whatever god was listening for strength.

  "Not until you're ready," he murmured and brought his lips patiently back to hers again. "I promise. But I want to see you. All of you."

  He shifted, knelt back. There was fear in her eyes again, though her body was quivering with suppressed needs. He couldn't steady his hands or his voice, but he kept them gentle.

  "I want to touch all of you." His eyes stayed on hers as he unsnapped his jeans. "All of you."

  When he stripped, her gaze was drawn inexorably down. And her fear doubled. She knew what was to happen. She was, after all, a farmer's daughter, however poor a farmer he'd been. There would be pain, and blood, and...

  "Gray-"

  "Your skin's so soft." Watching her, he skimmed a finger up her thigh. "I've wondered what you'd look like, but you're so much lovelier than I imagined."

  Unsettled, she'd crossed an arm over her breast. He left it there and went back to where he'd begun. With soft, slow, drugging kisses. And next caresses, patient, skilled hands that knew where a woman longed to be touched. Even when the woman didn't. Helplessly she yielded beneath him again, her breathing quickening into catchy pants as his hand roamed over the flat of her stomach toward the terrible, glorious heat.

  Yes, he thought, fighting delirium. Open for me. Let me. Just let me.

  She was damp and hot where he cupped her. The groan tore from his throat when she writhed and tried to resist.

  "Let go, Brianna. Let me take you there. Just let go."

  She was clinging to the edge of some towering cliff by no more than her fingertips. Terror welled inside her. She was slipping. No control. There was too much happening inside her body all at once for her burning flesh to hold it all in. His hand was like a torch against her, firing her, seering her mercilessly until she would have no choice but to tumble free into the unknown.

  "Please." The word sobbed out. "Oh, sweet God, please."

  Then the pleasure, the molten flood of it washed through her, over her, stealing her breath, her mind, her vision. For one glorious moment she was blind and deaf to everything but herself and the velvet shocks convulsing her.

  She poured into his hand, making him moan like a dying man. He shuddered, even as she did, then with his face buried against her skin took her soaring again.

  Straining against the chain of his own control, he waited until she was at peak. "Hold me. Hold on to me," he murmured, dizzy with his own needs as he struggled to ease gently into her.

  She was so small, so tight, so deliciously hot. He used every ounce of willpower he had left not to thrust greedily inside as he felt her close around him.

  "Only for a second," he promised her. "Only for a second, then it'll be good
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