Carolina moon, p.25
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       Carolina Moon, p.25

           Nora Roberts

  And had ultimately taken her down.

  "All of them painful."

  "No." Oh God, don't touch me. But even as she thought it his hands were on her shoulders, running down her arms. Everything inside her body began to pulse. "It was wonderful to see Lilah . . . and Will Hanson. He looks just like his father now. When I was a girl, Mr. Hanson—old Mr. Hanson used to give me Grape Nehi on credit if I was a few pennies short. I often was. Cade ... "

  His name was almost a plea. She couldn't have said for what.

  She was trembling. The little jumps under his palms were wonderfully arousing. "I liked the way you looked today. All tidy and crisp. All calm and cool on the outside. Always makes me wonder what's going on under the surface."

  "I was nervous."

  "It didn't show. Not the way it's showing now. Defenses down, Tory. I want them down. I'm going to take advantage of it."

  "Cade, I've got nothing in me."

  "Then why are you trembling?" He tugged the band from her hair, heard the quick catch in her breathing. His eyes stayed on hers, watching the irises darken as he combed his spread fingers through her hair and unwound the neat braid. "Why aren't you stopping me?"

  "I ... " Was that her knees going weak? She'd forgotten that could be such a lovely sensation. Surrender wasn't always weakness. "I'm thinking about it."

  He smiled then, a lazy slide of amusement with power at the edges. "You just keep right on thinking. I'll keep right on taking advantage." He undid the first button of her shirt, then the second.

  He'd taught Hope to ride a bike, she thought. He'd only been ten years old, and already man enough to care.

  He'd sent flowers today. The right flowers, because he'd known they'd please her.

  Now he was touching her, as she hadn't been touched in so long.

  "I'm out of practice."

  He flipped the third button open. "Thinking?"

  "No." Her breath came out on a shaky laugh. "I'm very good at thinking most of the time."

  "Then think about this." He gave her shirt a little tug to pull it from the waistband of her slacks. "I want to touch you. I want to feel your skin under my hands. Like this." He skimmed them up her sides, down. Her stomach quivered when he unhooked her slacks. "No, keep your eyes open."

  He leaned forward, caught her chin in his teeth. A brief nip that shot an ache down the center of her body. "Since you're out of practice, I'll just guide you through. And I want you looking at me when I touch you."

  Look straight ahead, he'd told Hope. And had steadied her.

  "I want to look at you," she told him.

  He lowered the zipper, slowly, knuckles grazing against her. Her own low moan echoed like thunder in her ears.

  It had been so long since a man had wanted her. Since a man had made her want. She wanted to tense, go rigid at the thought of the invasion, of privacy, of self. But her body was already yearning.

  "Step out," he murmured when her slacks pooled at her feet. As she blinked, opened her mouth to speak, he simply covered it with his. Gentle and warm, somehow reassuring even as the edge of something reckless shimmered at the edges.

  Then his arms were around her, sliding and skimming over her back as he circled her, a kind of seductive waltz toward the doorway.

  Nerves chased after the heat that rose to her skin. "Cade."

  "I want to take you in the light." She was already his. No barrier of doubt would stop him. "So I can see you when you're under me. When I'm inside you."

  At the door of the bedroom he lifted her. "There are all manner of things I've imagined doing to you in this bed. Let me."

  The sun streamed, rich and gold with the spring evening. It washed over the bed, over her face as he laid her down. The mattress gave under his weight, and he linked his fingers with hers. Restraint and unity. And watching her, always watching her, he took her mouth.

  Slowly at first, and sweetly until her hands relaxed under his, until her lips softened, parted, invited. He felt her heartbeat begin to slow, begin to thicken. And as she opened for him, he changed the texture and set to ravage.

  The sudden demand stabbed into her, shocking the senses, scraping the nerves. She arched as heat balled in her belly, and the groan strangled in her throat. He aroused her to shudders with his mouth.

  He didn't want her to anticipate. Wanted all her senses stunned and her mind empty of all but pleasure. She would think of him, only of him. He would see to it. When she was steeped in him, finally, he would have her.

  Her body was slender, the muscles surprisingly firm, almost tough, with delicate skin a delightful contrast. He indulged himself in the taste of it, while part of him calculated how to exploit those nerves and destroy every barrier.

  He dragged her up, hands rough, grip near to bruising, ripping another gasp from her as her head fell back, her hair tumbled. Then he used his fingertip to nudge the straps of her bra over each shoulder. He danced his fingers lightly over the swell, with his thumb circled her nipples through the cotton.

  "Is it coming back to you yet?"

  Her head was so heavy, her skin so hot. "What?" "Good." He unhooked her bra, drew it aside. But when she reached for him, he pressed her hands flat on the bed, sliding them back until her elbows locked. "I want you to take this time. Take until you can't take any more. Then you'll let go, and you'll give. Everything." His mouth all but savaged hers, ripping down to her gut with one jagged and panicked thrill.

  She wanted to resist, to push him back before he dragged her over a line she'd sworn never to cross again. But then his mouth was on hers again, the scrape of teeth, the flick of tongue whipping hot points of pleasure into her. Her back arched, willful invitation, and her hips began to rock.

  Little cries and whimpers, she couldn't bite them back. Her arms trembled from the strain even as her body gloried in it. Something frantic was clawing inside her, fighting to break free.

  A hard, fast orgasm shocked her eyes wide, left her stunned and embarrassed. Then he was pulling her against him, wrapping her close.

  "Let go."

  He rolled her back on the bed, tugging off his shirt. Her eyes were blurred now, her breath as ragged as his. This time when she reached for him, he slid into her arms.

  His mouth was urgent, his hands impatient as they molded and pressed and stroked. She dragged at his trousers, desperate now that nerves had been swallowed by needs. He stripped them aside, then sent her flying when he yanked up her hips and used his mouth on her.

  Her hands locked around the rungs of the bed, as he'd once imagined. Her head whipped to the side as sensations, dark delights, swamped her. His taste, his scent flooded her senses, swelled them until there was nothing else. Her breath sobbed out an instant before her long, mindless cry of release.

  Even as her hands went limp, he locked his around them. His heart was pounding, a rage of blood. The last lights of day, and the dying breeze of evening brushed over her face. Her hair was a wild mass over the pillows, her cheeks flushed.

  He would remember this, always. And so, he promised himself, would she.

  "Open your eyes. Tory, look at me." When her lids fluttered up, he clung to the last link of control, bent his head, kissed her, long, deep. "Say my name."

  The pressure had built again, the terrible, glorious heat of it. "Cade."

  "Say it again."

  Her fingers flexed under his. She wanted to weep. Or scream. "Cade." "Again." And plunged into her. Her mind went brilliant. She moved with him, matching each slow, smooth stroke. Absorbing him, feeding on each individual sensation until they became one glorious feast.

  Cade, hot and hard inside her, the weight of him solid, strong. The spread soft and smooth on her back, the iron slick against her hands. And the last rays of light, going gray with dusk.

  When the rhythm quickened, she was ready, she was eager, and enraptured by the way his eyes, the stunning blue of them, remained fixed on hers.

  "Stay with me." He was lost in her now. Drowning in her n
ow. His heart beat brutally against hers as he buried his face in her hair.

  With their hands still gripped, they let go.

  She'd never been taken over so completely. Not by anyone. Not even the man she'd loved. Tory imagined she should be worried about it, but at the moment she couldn't work up the energy for concerns and calculations.

  She lay under him while the air in the room softened in the twilight. For the first time in much, much too long to remember, she felt completely relaxed, body and mind.

  She had a hand tangled in his hair. It seemed all right to leave it there.

  When he turned his head, and his lips brushed the side of her breast, she smiled at the lazy pleasure of it.

  "I guess we celebrated after all," she murmured, and wondered if it would be terribly rude to slide into sleep, just like this.

  "We'll be sure to find a lot more to celebrate from now on. I've been wanting to get you here since I helped you cart this bed in."

  "I know." Her eyes were nearly closed, but she felt him move his head again, felt him look at her. "You weren't all that subtle about it."

  "A lot more subtle than I wanted to be." He thought of how he'd imagined gilding their first time with music, and candlelight.

  "We did fine without them," she said sleepily.

  "Without what?"

  "Without the music and ... " Her eyes flew open, filled with horror, and met his considering ones. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry." She tried to push up, push away, but the weight of him held her in place.

  "What are you sorry for?"

  "I didn't mean to." She pressed her hands into the bed, gripped the spread, and was already beginning to shake. "It won't happen again. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to.”

  "Read my mind?" He shifted so that he could brace on his elbows and frame her face in his hands. "Stop it."

  "I will. I'm terribly sorry."

  "No, damn it, Tory. Stop pulling in. Stop anticipating my reactions. And goddamn it, stop wondering if and when I'm going to take a crack at you."

  He shifted to sit up, then lifted her to face him. Her cheeks had lost that rosy, contented glow and were pale, her eyes looked strained, near to terrified. He hated it. "Did it ever occur to you that there might be times a man wouldn't mind having a woman read his mind?"

  "It's an inexcusable breach of privacy."

  "Yeah, yeah." To her shock, he rolled over and pulled her with him so she was sprawled over his chest. "Seems to me a few minutes back the two of us breached each other's privacy pretty damn effectively. You want to snatch a stray thought out of my head, I'll let you know if it pisses me off."

  "I don't understand you."

  "You ought to have a pretty good clue since I'm lying here naked in your bed." He kept his voice deliberately careless. "If that doesn't do it, take another look inside, see what you find."

  She didn't know whether to be insulted or horrified. "It's not like that."

  "No? Tell me what it's like then." When she shook her head, he cupped the back of her neck and began to rub. "Tell me what it's like."

  "I don't read minds. It doesn't happen by accident, or hardly ever. It's just that we were very closely connected physically."

  "I can't argue with that."

  "And I was nearly asleep. Sometimes it can sneak up on you when you're drifting like that. You had an image in your head. It was a very clear, distinct thought, and it just came through. Candlelight, music playing, the two of us standing by the bed. I saw it in mine."

  "So . . . what were you wearing?" When her head snapped up, he shrugged. "Never mind. I can think that one through for myself. You get images, pictures of thoughts."

  "Sometimes." He looked so relaxed, so at ease. Where was his anger? "God, you confuse me."

  "Good, it'll keep you on your toes. Is that the way it always works?"

  "No. No. Because if you have any decency, you don't go poking into someone else's private thoughts. I block them out. It's simple enough, as they only come through with effort anyway, or if there's a great deal of emotion on either side. Or if I'm very tired."

  "All right, then I'd say the next time we make love and you're drifting off to sleep, I'd better keep any fantasies about Meg Ryan out of my head."

  "Meg ... " Baffled, Tory sat up again, automatically crossing an arm over her breasts. "Meg Ryan."

  "Wholesome, sexy, smart." Cade opened his eyes. "Seems to be my type." He cocked his head, studied her. "Just trying to picture you as a blonde. It could work."

  "I'm not going to be a party to some prurient fantasy you've cooked up about a Hollywood actress." Miffed, she started to climb off the bed, and found herself flat on her back again, and under him.

  "Oh, come on, darling, just this once."


  "God, you giggled. Meg, she's got this sexy little giggle." He nipped Tory's shoulder. "Now I'm excited."

  "Get off me, you idiot."

  "I can't." He rushed wild kisses over her face, foolish and sweet as a puppy. "I'm a victim of my own helpless fantasies. Giggle again. I'm begging you."

  "No!" But she did. "Don't! Don't you even think about—Jesus." Her laughing struggles stopped as he slid silkily inside her. Her hips arched up, and her hands gripped his hips. "Don't you dare call me Meg."

  He lowered his head, chuckling as he took her.

  They ate Lilah's casserole and washed it down with wine. And tumbled back into bed with the eagerness and energy that fuels new lovers. They made love at moonrise, with the light shining silver over their joined bodies. Then slept with the windows open to a fitful breeze and the ripe green scents of the marsh.

  "He's coming back."

  Hope sat cross-legged on the porch of the Marsh House. The porch that hadn't been there when she'd been alive. She tossed her handful of silver jacks, then began bouncing the little red ball while her hand darted deft and quick, plucking the star-shaped metal. "He's watching."

  “Who? Who is he watching?" Tory was eight again, her thin face wary, her legs bruised.

  "He likes to hurt girls." She scooped up the last jack, tossed them again. "It makes him feel big, important. Twosies." In that same steady rhythm she began snatching up pairs.

  "He hurt other girls, too. Not just you."

  "Not just me," Hope agreed. "You already know. Threesies." Jacks clattered, the ball thumped methodically on wood. A light breeze danced by, twined up with the scent of rambling roses and honeysuckle. "You already know, like when you saw the little boy's picture that time. You knew."

  "I can't do that anymore." Inside the child's chest, Tory's heart began to swell and bump. "I don't want to do that anymore."

  "You came," Hope said simply, and moved onto foursies. "You have to be careful not to go too fast, not to go too slow," she continued, as she swiped a set of four and nipped the ball on the bounce. "Or you lose your turn."

  "Tell me who he is, Hope. Tell me where to find him."

  "I can't." She swept for another set and knocked a finger against another jack, sent it spinning. "Oops." She looked over at Tory with clear eyes. "It's your turn now. Be careful."

  Tory's eyes shot open. Her heart was knocking against her ribs and her hand was curled into a tight fist. So tight she was nearly surprised that a little red ball didn't roll out when she spread her aching fingers.

  It was full dark now. The moon had set and left the world black and thick. The little breeze had gone with it so the air was still. Hushed.

  She heard an owl, and the shrill bell sound of peepers. She heard Cade's steady breathing in the dark beside her, and realized she'd moved to the edge of the bed, as far from him as was possible.

  No contact in sleep, she thought. The mind was too vulnerable then to permit the luxury of casual snuggling.

  She slipped out of bed and tiptoed into the kitchen. At the sink she ran water until it chilled, then filled a tumbler.

  The dream had given her a desperate thirst, and had reminded her why she had no business sleeping with Kincade Lavell

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