Carolina moon, p.27
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       Carolina Moon, p.27

           Nora Roberts
 

  her, sliding her closer until her lips softened, warmed, beneath his. "I don't think I'm taking a thing for granted. Most particularly you. Let's just say you get your feelings about things, Tory. Things you know without being able to explain them. So do I. I've had one of those feelings about you, and I'm going to stick close until I can explain it."

  "Attraction and sex aren't such a puzzle, Cade."

  "They are when you haven't found and fit in all the connecting pieces. You let me in, Tory. You won't get me out again half as easy."

  "It's a clever trick. How you manage to be annoying and comforting at the same time." She drew away. "And I'm not sure I let you in at all. You just pretty much go where you please."

  True enough, and he wouldn't bother to deny it. "Going to try to kick me out?"

  "It doesn't look like it."

  "Good, that saves us an argument. Well, since we're up and dressed, why don't we do some business?"

  "Business?"

  "I've got those samples out in the truck. I'll bring them in, and we can negotiate."

  Tory glanced at the clock. It was still shy of seven. "Why not? This time you make the coffee."

  Faith waited until half past ten, when she was certain both her mother and Lilah had left for church. Her mother had long since given up expecting Faith to attend Sunday services, but Lilah was bullheaded about God and often considered herself His drill sergeant, whipping the troops out of bed and into church with threats of eternal damnation.

  Whenever she was home, Faith was careful to hide and hide well on Sunday mornings. She made up for it by occasionally putting on a demure dress and presenting herself in the kitchen so Lilah could shuffle her off toward redemption.

  But this particular Sunday she wasn't in the mood to be obliging, or to sit on a hard pew and listen to a sermon. She wanted to sulk over a breakfast bowl of chocolate ice cream, and remind herself what bastards men were.

  When she thought of all the trouble she'd gone through for Wade Mooney, she could just spit. Hadn't she slathered herself all over with perfumed cream, slithered into the sexiest lingerie money could buy—and would have been perfectly willing for him to rip those bits of satin and lace right off her body, too. She'd dug out four-inch heels and had strapped herself in an excuse for a little black dress that shouted "I want to sin."

  She'd raided the wine cellar for two bottles that cost more than a college education, and when Cade found out, he was going to skin her for it.

  And when she'd arrived at Wade's, primed, polished, and perfumed, he hadn't had the decency to be home.

  Bastard.

  Worse, she'd waited for him. She'd tidied up his bedroom like a little hausfrau, had lighted candles, put on music. Then had damn near nodded off during the vigil.

  She'd waited another hour, till almost one in the morning, primed for a different purpose. Oh, how she'd wanted him to walk in the door so she could have kicked his inconsiderate ass all the way back down the steps.

  It was his fault that she'd gotten half drunk on the wine, and certainly his that due to the alcohol content in her blood she'd misjudged the turn through the gates and had scraped the side of her car.

  So it was absolutely his fault that she was sitting there on a Sunday morning, miserably hung over and stuffing ice cream in her face.

  She never wanted to see him again.

  In fact, she thought she would just give up men altogether. They weren't worth the time and trouble they drained out of a woman. She'd just cut them out of her life, and find other areas of interest.

  Cade walked in the door as Faith was digging her spoon back into the half-gallon carton, and since he knew what mood dictated that particular behavior, tried to slip right out again.

  But he wasn't quite quick enough.

  "Oh, sit down. I'm not going to bite you." She lighted a cigarette, then proceeded to smoke with one hand and eat with the other. "Everybody's gone off to church to save their immortal souls. Aunt Rosie went with Lilah I think. She likes to go to Lilah's church more than she does Mama's. I caught a glimpse of them as they were leaving. Aunt Rosie had a hat on big as a turkey platter and lime-green tennis shoes, so she couldn't be going with Mama."

  "Sorry I missed it." He got a spoon, sat, and scooped out some ice cream. "So, what's wrong?"

  "Why should anything be wrong? I'm just as content as a goose with a nest of golden eggs." She blew out smoke, narrowed her eyes against it, and took a good look at him.

  His hair was a little damp so the gilt edges of it stood out. That meant a recent shower, since Cade never bothered to do more than rub a towel over his hair to dry it off after one.

  His eyes, blue as her own, were lazily content, his lips quirked in a half-assed smile. She knew just what sort of activity put that look on a man's face.

  "You haven't changed clothes since yesterday. Haven't been home, have you? Well, well, well. I guess somebody got lucky last night."

  Cade licked his spoon, studied her in turn. "And I guess somebody didn't. I'm not going to sit here and discuss my sex life over your breakfast ice cream."

  "You and Tory Bodeen. Isn't that just perfect?"

  "I like it." Cade scraped out another spoonful. "Don't get in the way of this, Faith."

  "Why should I? What do I care? Just don't know what you see in her is all. She's pretty enough, but she's got a coolness around her. Sooner or later, she'll freeze you out. She's not made the way the rest of us are."

  "You'd find out differently if you took time to get to know her. She could use a friend, Faith."

  "Well, don't look at me. I make a lousy friend. You can ask anyone. And I don't even much like her. You want to bang her a few times, that's your business. Hey!" She looked up, full of surprised insult, when he grabbed her wrist, thumped their joined hands to the table.

  "It's not like that." His voice had gone soft as silk, and there was the warning gleam of temper in his eyes. "Sex isn't a casual pastime to everyone."

  "You're hurting me."

  "No, you're hurting yourself." He let her go, then rose to toss his spoon in the sink.

  Thoughtfully, Faith rubbed her wrist. "What I'm doing is making damn sure I'm not hurt. You want to lay your heart out so somebody can stomp on it, that's fine for you. But I'll tell you one thing I know for sure. You don't want to be falling in love with Tory. That's something that's never going to work."

  "I don't know whether I want to or not. I don't know whether it'll work or not." He turned back. "What you don't seem to know, Faith, is how much you're like her. The two of you, barricaded against your own feelings in case, just on the off chance, that something might sting. She does it by closing in, and you do it by acting out. But it's the same damn thing."

  "I'm nothing like her!" She shouted it at him as he walked from the room. "I'm nothing like anybody but myself."

  Furious, she heaved her spoon across the room, and leaving the ice cream melting on the table, stormed upstairs to dress.

  She had to take it out on somebody, and since, through the maze of her thinking it all stemmed back to Wade, he was elected. She dressed for this bout, too. She had her pride, and wanted to look stunning when she skewered him straight through the heart, ripped him into little pieces, then dumped him and danced away singing a happy tune.

  She wore silk, tailored and trim in a deep blue to bring out her eyes and make him remember them. She started to shove open the door to his apartment, stopped herself, and knocked formally.

  She heard yips and whines on the other side and rolled her eyes. He'd brought one, of his sick mutts upstairs. How had she ever let herself get to this stage with a man who thought more of a stray dog than he did of a woman willing to jump his bones?

  Thank God she'd come to her senses.

  Then he opened the door, rumpled, sleepy-eyed, wearing only jeans he hadn't bothered to button. And she remembered how she'd gotten to this stage with this particular man.

  Her juices wanted to rise and churn, but she ignor
ed them and, grabbing his hand, slapped the key into it.

  "What?"

  "That's for starters. I have a few things to say to you, then I'll take my leave." She shoved him aside and strode in. She'd worn heels that showed off her legs in the short dress. Just to torment him.

  "What time is it?"

  She gritted her teeth. He was simply destroying her timing. "It's nearly noon."

  "Oh Christ, it can't be. I have to be at my mother's in an hour." He sank into a chair, buried his head in his hands. "I'll probably be dead in an hour."

  "You will if I have anything to do with it." She leaned down, sniffed, reared back. "You smell like the inside of a cheap bottle of bourbon."

  "It was an expensive bottle of bourbon, and I'm not inside it. It's inside me." His stomach rolled uneasily. "For the moment."

  "So." She slapped her hands on her hips. "You were out getting drunk and tomcatting around half the night. I hope you enjoyed yourself."

  "I'm not entirely sure. I think I started out that way."

  "Because," she continued, furious at the interruption, "that's how you can spend every Saturday night from now on as far as I'm concerned." Jealousy veered in and cut pride off at the pass. "Who the hell was she?"

  "Who?" He took a chance and let go of his head. He was vaguely disappointed when it didn't roll off his shoulders. "Who was who?"

  "The little slut you think you can two-time me with and live." She picked up the closest thing at hand—a small lamp—yanked the cord free, and heaved it. The resulting crash had howls coming from the bedroom and brought Wade unsteadily to his feet. "You son of a bitch. Is she still here?"

  "Who? What the hell's wrong with you? You broke my lamp."

  "I'll break your neck before I'm done." She whirled, raced into the bedroom intending to rake the eyes out of the woman who'd usurped her place.

  On the bed stood a small black puppy, barking wildly and cowering against the pillows.

  "Where is she?"

  "Who?" Wade threw up his hands. His hair was standing on end and there was a kickboxer working out behind each of his eyes. "Where is who? What the hell are you talking about, Faith?"

  "The bitch you're sleeping with."

  "The only bitch I've slept with recently, besides you, is that one." He gestured toward the bed. "And she's only been here a couple of hours. Really, she means nothing to me."

  "You think you can joke about this? Just where were you last night?"

  "I was out. Goddamn it." He stalked to the bathroom, shoving bottles and tubes aside as he searched for aspirin in the medicine chest.

  "You were out, all right. I came by at nine, and stayed till nearly one—" Damn it, she hadn't meant to tell him she'd waited so long. "You never showed up."

  Ready to whimper, he shook out four pills, swallowed them with tepid tap water. "I don't recall us having plans for last night. You don't like to make plans. Ties you down, takes the excitement out of things." He leaned back on the sink, stared at her balefully. "Well, this is exciting."

  "It was Saturday night. You had to know I'd come by."

  "No, Faith, I don't have to know anything. You don't want me to know anything."

  She tossed her head. They were getting off the subject. "I want to know where you were and who you were with."

  "That's a lot of demands from someone who doesn't want any strings." His eyes might have throbbed like drums, but they could still go hard. "Straight sex, fun and games. Aren't those the ground rules?"

  "I don't cheat," she said with some dignity. "When I'm with a man, I don't go off with another. I expect the same consideration."

  "I wasn't with another woman. I was with Dwight." "Oh, that's just a bullshit lie. Dwight Frazier's a married man and he wasn't out half the night drinking and carousing with you."

  "I don't know where he was after about ten. Home tucked in with Lissy, I expect. They went to the movies, and I tagged along." His voice had gone flat, his eyes cold and dull. "They went home. I bought a bottle, I went for a drive. I got drunk, I came home. If I'd done anything else, with anyone else, I'd have been free to do so. Same as you are. That's the way you wanted it.”

  “I never said that." "You never said different." "I'm saying different now." "You can't have it all your way, Faith. You want to change things, you want it to be you and me, then we start adding some of my rules."

  "I didn't say anything about rules." He was twisting things. Just like a man. "I'm speaking of common courtesy."

  "And that means I sit around here and wait until you're in the mood for my company? I don't think so. We both come and go as we please, unless we're pleased to be together. Or, we make this a relationship. No more sneaking in here or off to some motel. No more pretending we're not involved. We're either a couple or we're not."

  "You're making ultimatums?" Her voice snapped at the end, a whiplash of shock.

  "You're making them to me after you kept me waiting here half the night?"

  "Frustrating, isn't it? The waiting. Pisses you off." He pushed away from the sink and walked toward her. "Makes you feel used and sorry and hurt. I know."

  Stymied, she pushed a hand through her hair. "You never said anything about that."

  "You'd have taken off like a shot. That's your style, Faith. Sometime last night while I was sitting down at the river with a bottle for company, it occurred to me that I didn't like that about you, and I didn't like it about myself that I let you be that way with me. So I'm telling you now. We try to make this work like people who give two damns about each other, or we walk away."

  "You know I care about you, Wade. What do you take me for?"

  It was more, he thought, what she took herself for. "There was a time I'd have taken you no matter what. That time's over. I want more now, Faith. If you can't give it to me, or won't, I'll live with it. But I'm not settling for crumbs anymore."

  "I don't understand this." Shaken, she sat on the edge of the bed. The puppy crawled toward her on her belly, sniffing. "I don't see how you can turn this around on me."

  "Not on you. On us. I want there to be an us, Faith. I'm in love with you." "What? Are you crazy?" She leaped up again, panic in every pore. "Don't say that."

  "I've said it before, but you never listened. It didn't matter enough. This time it'll have to matter or I won't say it again. I'm in love with you." He caught her shoulders. "That's the way it is, whatever you do about it."

  "What am I supposed to do about it?" There was a loose and fluttery sensation in her stomach she recognized as pure panic. "Oh, this is just a mess."

  "Your usual response to me telling you I love you is to run off and marry somebody else." He lifted his brow as her mouth fell open.

  "That's not—I don't—" Oh God, he was right. She did.

  "We could try something new this time out. We could try dealing with this like normal people, and see where it goes. We could spend time with each other, do more together than jump into bed. There's more between us than sex."

  She sniffled. "How do you know?"

  He laughed a little, brushed at her hair. "All right, let's say I want to find out if there's more between us than sex."

  "What if there isn't?"

  "What if there is?"

  "What if there isn't?"

  He sighed. "Then I guess we'll end up spending a lot of time in bed. If there's anything left of it," he added, and stepped over to tug away the pillow the puppy was trying to chew to bits.

  He was so solid, so smart and kind and handsome. And he loved her. But no one ever loved her for long. Lighten it up, Faith ordered herself, at least until her heart stopped jumping. "I don't know about a relationship with a man who sleeps with little mongrel dogs."

  "Miss Dottie dropped her off this morning on her way to church. I was too hung over to do anything but plop us both in bed."

  "What's wrong with her?"

  "Who? Oh, the puppy. Nothing." He leaned over, ruffled fur, scratched ears. "Bright-eyed and healthy. Had all her sho
ts, and
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