Shelter in place, p.27
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       Shelter in Place, p.27

           Nora Roberts

  She handed him her glass. “Why don’t you top this off for me while I get it?”


  He topped off the wine, wondered what to make of her. She wasn’t really flirting, more conversing. He thought he might drown himself in his strange green tub if she’d decided they’d just be friends.

  She came back, traded him a box for the glass.

  He broke the seal with his pocketknife, pawed through the packing. Lifted out the sculpture of a woman, no bigger than his hand. Exquisite, she perched on some sort of budded stalk like a flower herself with her hair flowing over her shoulders and down her back between a pair of wings.

  She held a hand to her hair as if brushing it back from a face with the lips curved and long-lidded eyes full of fun.

  “Your house fairy,” Simone told him. “For good luck.”

  “Jesus, first an original Lennon, now an original Simone Knox.”

  “Some men might think a fairy too girlie.”

  “I think she’s beautiful.” He set her on the mantel at the corner of the painting closest to where he sat with CiCi. “Does she work there?”

  “Yes, she does. You need candlesticks on the other end. Something interesting and not—”

  He moved in, kissed her with a little more punch than the first time. “Thank you.”

  “You’re welcome.” This time she stepped back. “How about that tour?”

  “Good timing on that. I hired a bimonthly cleaning crew. They came in today.”

  “Kaylee and Hester. I heard.”

  He took her around the main level. She, like Essie, like CiCi, made comments, suggestions.

  She paused in front of a closed door.

  “Office,” he said, placing a hand over the knob to keep it closed. He sure as hell didn’t want her to see his boards. “I take care of that myself, so it’s pretty messy right now. I’ve got a guest room over here.”

  “It’s really pretty, welcoming.”

  “My partner had definite ideas, so I tried to follow them. Mostly. I’m hoping she and her husband will use it this summer. They’ve got a kid, but I’ve got a second guest room—or will eventually. And my parents. My sister and her family. My brother and his.”

  “It’s nice, an en suite. Was it the master?”

  “No, that’s down the other end.”

  On the way, she stopped at what he thought of as Retro Green.

  “This is … this is just charming. Anybody else would have gutted this, but you went with it, and it’s adorable.”

  “And now I have to confess gutting was my first thought. Essie, my partner, had different ideas. And she sent me the seahorse shower curtain, and the towels, even the mirror over the sink with the seashell frame. The only thing I did was buy the vanity. Oh, and I had John Pryor replace the faucets. They were pretty awful.”

  “But you stuck with the old style. Midcentury. You need a mermaid,” she decided. “Find yourself a good print of a sexy mermaid, frame it in shabby-chic white like the vanity, and hang it on that wall.”

  “A mermaid.”

  “A sexy one.”

  She walked out, followed him down to the master.

  “Well now.” She stepped in, circled. “Is this your partner, too?”

  “Some. She insisted I get a bed.”

  “If you didn’t have one, what did you sleep on?”

  “It was a bed. The kind of bed that’s a mattress on top of box springs on top of the floor. I lived in a craphole apartment in Portland. Moved in right out of college, and I stuck with it because I wanted to buy a place. You have to save up for the place, then find the place. It wasn’t the sort of apartment where you thought about furniture.”

  “You thought about this. The colors are good—strong, but relaxing. I like that you didn’t go with a new dresser. Did you paint it the navy blue?”

  “I found it at the flea market—picked up a few things there. The drawers needed some work, but it was already painted. I saw it, and thought, Deal.”

  “No curtains at the doors to the porch. I’d never put curtains on that view. If you want to sleep late, pull the sheet over your head.”

  She turned back to him. “Do you step out there in the morning, look around, and think: all mine?”

  He looked around now, nodded. “Pretty much every day.”

  She opened the door, let the wind roll. “God, doesn’t it just rush right through you? All that power and beauty. The energy.”

  Her hair flew back in wild streams. Her skin seemed to glow against the angry, roiling sky. In the distance he saw the first flash of lightning.


  She eased the door closed, turned back with that crazy sexy hair, the glow. She walked to the nightstand, set down her glass. “A coaster.”

  “If I set a glass or bottle down without one, I hear my mother’s voice saying—and she’s got that exasperated Mom tone down cold—‘Reed Douglas Quartermaine, I taught you better.’ So … coasters, because sometimes you want to stretch out with a beer.”

  “Sometimes you want.” She moved to him and, with her eyes on his, began to unbutton his shirt.

  He saw himself grabbing her up like a madman, taking what he so desperately wanted for his.

  To his surprise as much as hers, he closed his free hand over her busy ones. “I’m going to slow this down a little,” he said.

  Her eyebrows shot up again. “Oh?”

  He had to take a breath, step back. Since he only had the one coaster handy, he set his beer on the dish he used for loose change every night.

  “Did I read this wrong?” she asked him.

  “No. A-plus in reading comprehension. I wanted you from the first second I saw you, walking down the stairs at CiCi’s party. No, I lie,” he corrected. “I wanted you when I saw you in that painting, the one CiCi calls Temptation.”

  “Hence the name,” she said, watching him.

  “Yeah, good title. But the night of the party, I saw you. I saw you walking down the stairs, and everything turned. Everything stopped, then started again. It was a goddamn moment, Simone.”

  “You’ve had moments before.”

  When she started to turn and reach for her wine again, he put a hand on her arm. “Not like this. Let’s get that clear straight off. This is another goddamn moment. I just want to slow it down.”

  “You don’t want to have sex with me tonight?”

  “I said I wanted to slow it down a little. I didn’t say I’d lost my mind. I want you tonight. I’m going to have you tonight, unless you walk out the door. I just want to slow it down.”

  He drew her in, took her mouth.

  Long and slow, in contrast to the storm breaking outside the glass. Soft and smooth and dreamy.

  “Don’t walk out the door,” he whispered.

  In answer, she wrapped her arms around his neck, took the kiss deeper.

  “How slow?” she asked.

  “Pretty slow, to start anyway.” He slipped the jacket off her shoulders. “I’ve had some pretty intense dreams about you in that bed. We may get there.”

  He went back to her mouth as the wind kicked. Lightning flashed, thunder rumbled in its wake.

  She’d underestimated him, she knew that now. She’d been so sure they’d just jump in, and she’d rid herself of this damn itch he’d left her with.

  But he lured her into wanting more, into giving more, feeling more.

  When he plucked her off her feet, she felt her heart skip, heard her breath catch. Then he took her mouth again. God, he was good at it. As he laid her on the bed, she drew him down with her, absorbing his weight, the shape of him, before she rolled to reverse positions.

  “I can do slow.” She dipped her lips to his, a soft brush, a tease. “But I want, too.”

  Watching him again, she finished unbuttoning his shirt, toed and kicked off her boots. Stretched over him, she nipped at his jaw. “I like your face. Lean, angular, the eyes deep set in that quiet green that’s really not quiet a
t all. I’ve done sketches of your face.”

  “You have?”

  “Trying to decide what to do with you.” She tossed her hair back, smiled down at him. “I decided this part of it.” She ran her hands down his sides, then stopped with a jerk. “You’re wearing a gun.”

  “Sorry. Sorry.” He rolled her back, sat up. “I didn’t think of it.” He unclipped it, shoved it in the drawer of the nightstand.

  “You forget you’re wearing it because it’s part of who you are.”

  “Of what I do.”

  “And who you are.”

  He shifted around, saw her kneeling on the bed behind him. “It’s all right,” she told him. “Just gave me a jolt for a minute. But who knows the good guys from the bad guys better than you and me? I really wish you’d undress me now.”

  “I can do that.”

  “But you should take off your boots first, so I can do the same with you.”

  “Good idea.” He bent over to drag at the laces.

  “How long since you’ve done this?”

  “Since—” Before he’d been shot, he nearly said. “Since last fall, for one reason or another.”

  “A long time. It’s been a long time for me, too. For one reason or another. Maybe we could speed it up. Just a little.”

  “Also a good idea.” He turned back, knelt with her to pull the sweater over her head. She wore a black bra, cut low. “Man. Sorry, but I’m going to have to take another moment.”

  When he put his hands on her, she let her head fall back. “You can take a moment. Or two. You have good hands, Reed. Strong, confident.”

  “I’ve wanted them on you. Just like this.”

  “You never pushed.”

  “Worth waiting.”

  She lifted her head, opened her eyes. “Wait’s over.”

  She yanked at his shirt, pressed against him, gave herself over to the next kiss. Hungrier now. Harder. She dragged at his belt as the need swamped her.

  Around them, the room exploded with lightning, and thunder answered in a roar. Rain lashed, driven by the howling wind.

  He pushed her back, dragging at her jeans as she dragged at his.

  “We’ll slow down after,” she managed.

  “Best idea yet. Let me…”

  His mouth rushed over her. So much to taste, so much to feel. When his hands found her, hot, wet, ready, she arched against him with a ragged moan.

  “Don’t wait, don’t wait.”

  “Can’t.” He stripped her down, plunged in.

  The world shattered, and at last, at long last, he let himself take. He gripped her hands as if to hold them both tethered to the bed. Her legs locked around him as her hips flashed, as she demanded more, more.

  She tightened around him, an urgent fist, but he held on, barely held on, so there could be more even when she cried out.

  She gathered again, groaning with the build, rising and falling with him.

  This time when she broke, she said his name. And buried in her, he let go.


  The two of them stayed tangled, sweaty, breathless while the wind slapped the rain into ice, and the ice hit the windows with the sound of hot grease sizzling. If he’d had his way, Reed would have stayed just as he was, smug and satisfied with the girl of his dreams, until spring.

  Seriously smug, he thought as Simone’s hands trailed up and down his back. Then her fingers traced the scar from the exit wound in his shoulder.

  He shifted, braced on his elbows to look down at her. “You have the most amazing eyes.”

  “They’re brown.”

  “Some artist you are if ‘brown’ is the best you’ve got. They’re like a tiger’s eyes. Like dark amber. We okay here?”

  “Some police chief you are if, with all the evidence, ‘okay’ is the best you’ve got.”

  “I was being modest. You really need to stay. It’s bad out there,” he continued before she could agree or refuse. “Really bad. I’ll admit if this was a balmy night in June I’d want you to stay for, oh, forever. Unless CiCi gives in, then I’d have to kick you out.”

  “You’re talking about making it with my grandmother when I’m naked in your bed.”

  “Fact is fact. But seriously, you need to stay. I’ve got wine, frozen pizza, and more sex in store.”

  She sent him a wicked look with a hint of a smile. “What kind of frozen pizza?”

  “Sausage and pepperoni.” Rolling over, he grabbed her wineglass for her. “And I’ve got Dove bars.”

  “Dove bars seal the deal.” She sat up, took the wine. “But I will insist on more sex.”

  “Before or after pizza?”

  “After. I worked up an appetite. I need to text CiCi. She knew where I was going, and she’ll figure things out, but it is bad out there, so I want her to know I’m safe inside.”

  Rising, he walked to the doors. “It really is bad. Tell her to text you back. Let’s make sure she’s okay.”

  “CiCi’s weathered more storms than both of us put together. And she’s got a generator. Which is why she’s having her usual nor’easter gathering. A few friends, a lot of food and alcohol. Everyone will bunk there until this blows out. You were invited,” she told him. “But I had other ideas.”

  He switched on the fire, adding the flickering light of flame. “You have good ideas.”

  “I’m glad you think so. Because another of my ideas? I’m going to have to sculpt you. Guardian. Protector,” she mused. “Not with a gun—I don’t like them. I think a sword. Maybe in mid-swing. Maybe…”

  He glanced back. “Like I’m wearing armor?”

  She laughed, hitched herself back to prop up on the pillows as she drank. “No, Reed. You’ll be wearing the sword.”

  “I don’t really think—”

  “You’ve got a good form, an appealing body. Rangy, but not gaunt. You were on the edge of gaunt at CiCi’s party, but you’re back in shape.”

  “Still a couple pounds light.” And though he’d never been the modest type, he found himself reaching for his discarded boxers. “I can’t seem to get it back.”

  “You look good. I know the human anatomy, the male body. You look fit and strong along with the rangy.” She got up now, walked to him, traced her fingers over the scar on his shoulder, his side. “And these.”

  “You’d want to leave them out.”

  “No. They’re part of you, part of the protector. You were wounded, but you still pick up the sword. That’s admirable.”

  “It’s a job.”

  “It’s you. The boy who stopped to grab a terrified child in the middle of a nightmare, who protected him. I admire that. I might be here if I didn’t—it was a long fast for me. But I wouldn’t stay.” She rose on her toes, brushed his lips with hers. “I need to sculpt you. I could do it from memory now, but I’d rather do some sketches of you.”

  “You’re trying to sex me into it.”

  “Oh.” With a slow, slow smile, she trailed a hand down his chest, his belly. “I will.”

  “I’m going to have to make you prove that.”

  He started to pull her in, wanted to ravage that smile.

  And his phone rang.

  “Crap. Crap, crap. Shit! Sorry.” He crouched down for his jeans, dug the phone out of the pocket. “Quartermaine. Okay, slow it down. Where? All right, I’m on my way. Stay calm.

  “I’ve gotta go,” he told Simone as he dragged on his jeans. “I’m taking the calls tonight.”

  “What is it?”

  “Car accident, downed tree, a lot of hysteria.”

  “I could go with you.”

  “Absolutely no.” He pulled on his shirt. “Stay. Toss the pizza in the oven. Eat. I’ll text you.” He took his gun out of the drawer, clipped it on.

  “You need a slicker.”

  “I’ve got rain gear downstairs.” Sitting, he laced on his boots. “Flashlight in the drawer there, and candles, a lantern downstairs if the power goes.”

  “Be careful
, Chief. It really is bad out there.”

  “If I only had my sword.” He stood, grabbed her, kissed her. “Pizza and ice cream in the freezer. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

  So, she thought as she stood in the empty room, this is what happens when you start sleeping with a cop.

  He hadn’t hesitated, hadn’t really bitched. He’d just thrown on his clothes and walked out into the storm.

  She went to his closet, found herself amused he used about a quarter—if that—of the available space. She checked the bathroom. Apparently the scarred, rangy cop didn’t own a robe. She went back to his closet, borrowed one of his shirts.

  She texted CiCi, simply tapping in she’d ride out the storm at Reed’s.

  Two minutes later, CiCi replied with: Woo-hoo!

  She considered pizza, but decided she’d wait awhile first. Maybe he’d be quick. She thought about TV, decided against. Books. He had some stacked in the bedroom, and she’d seen some downstairs.

  Catch-22, some thrillers. Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes.

  She enjoyed that particular book, but decided it wouldn’t be the best choice on a dark and stormy night alone in a still unfamiliar house.

  If only she’d brought her sketch pad …

  On the chance he had a notebook or pad, she opened the nightstand drawers. The flashlight, as advertised, and an iPad that she discovered could operate the TV, a music system, the fireplace.

  So the chief liked technology. Something new to add in the getting-to-know-him file.

  Home office, she remembered. Bound to have a pad and a pencil in a home office. She wandered out, stopped to smile at the retro bathroom. Maybe she’d paint him a sexy mermaid. She was no CiCi Lennon with brush and paint, but she could manage a fun, sexy mermaid.

  She’d while away the time until he got back sketching mermaids—and a few of The Protector.

  A study from the side—the right side because she wanted the scars—mostly back and butt, his head turned toward the right, sword lifted with both hands, caught in the downswing.

  She had to ask him not to get a haircut for a bit. She wanted it a little long and shaggy.

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admin 22 September 2018 10:55
new Nora Roberts book
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