Born in ice, p.3
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       Born in Ice, p.3

         Part #2 of Born In series by Nora Roberts
 

  had her stiffening, but he only reached for the book on the night table.

  Brianna cleared her throat and stepped back. "I fell asleep reading it," she began, then went wide-eyed in distress. "I don't mean to say it put me to sleep. I just-" He was smiling, she noted. No, he was grinning at her. The corners of her mouth tugged in response. "It gave me nightmares."

  "Thank you."

  She relaxed again, automatically turning sheets and quilt down in welcome. "And you coming in from the storm had me imagining the worst. I was sure the killer had popped right out of the book, bloody knife in hand."

  "And who is he?"

  She cocked a brow. "I can't say, but I've my suspicions. You've a clever way of twisting the emotions, Mr. Thane."

  "Gray," he said, handing her the book. "After all, in a convoluted sort of way, we're sharing a bed." He took her hand before she could think of how to respond, then left her unsettled by raising it to his lips. "Thanks for the soup."

  "You're welcome. Sleep well."

  He didn't doubt he would. Brianna had hardly gone out and closed his door when he stripped off his clothes and tumbled naked into the bed. There was a faint scent of lilacs in the air, lilacs and some summer meadow scent he recognized as Brianna's hair.

  He fell asleep with a smile on his face.

  Chapter Two

  It was still raining. The first thing Gray noticed when he pried his eyes open in the morning was the gloom. It could have been any time from dawn to dusk. The old clock on the stone mantel said nine-fifteen. He was optimistic enough to bet it was A.M.

  He hadn't studied the room the night before. Travel fatigue, and the pretty sight of Brianna Concannon making his bed, had fuzzed his brain. He did so now, warm under the pooling quilt. The walls were papered so that tiny sprigs of violets and rosebuds climbed from floor to ceiling. The fire, gone cold now, had been set in a stone hearth, and bricks of turf were set in a painted box beside it.

  There was a desk that looked old and sturdy. Its surface was polished to a high gloss. A brass lamp, an old inkwell, and a glass bowl of potpourri stood on it. A vase of dried flowers was centered on a mirrored dresser. Two chairs, covered in a soft rose, flanked a small occasional table. There was a braided rug on the floor that picked up the muted tones of the room and prints of wildflowers on the wall.

  Gray leaned against the headboard, yawned. He didn't need ambience when he worked, but he appreciated it. All in all, he thought he'd chosen well.

  He considered rolling over, going back to sleep. He hadn't yet closed the cage door behind him-an analogy he often used for writing. Chilly, rainy mornings anywhere in the world were meant to be spent in bed. But he thought of his landlady, pretty, rosy-cheeked Brianna. Curiosity about her had him gingerly setting his feet on the chilly floor.

  At least the water ran hot, he thought as he stood groggily under the shower. And the soap smelled lightly, and practically, of a pine forest. Traveling as he did, he'd faced a great many icy showers. The simple hominess of the bath, the white towels with their charming touch of embroidery suited his mood perfectly. Then again, his surroundings usually suited him, from a tent in the Arizona desert to plush hotels on the Riviera. Gray liked to think he twisted his setting to fit his needs-until, of course, his needs changed.

  For the next few months he figured the cozy inn in Ireland would do just fine. Particularly with the added benefit of his lovely landlady. Beauty was always a plus.

  He saw no reason to shave, and pulled on jeans and a tattered sweatshirt. Since the wind had died considerably, he might take a tramp over the fields after breakfast. Soak up a little atmosphere.

  But it was breakfast that sent him downstairs.

  He wasn't surprised to find her in the kitchen. The room seemed to have been designed for her-the smoky hearth, the bright walls, the neat-as-a-pin counters.

  She'd scooped her hair up this morning, he noted. He imagined she thought the knot on top of her head was practical. And perhaps it was, he mused, but the fact that strands escaped to flutter and curl around her neck and cheeks made the practical alluring.

  It probably was a bad idea all around to be allured by his landlady.

  She was baking something, and the scent of it made his mouth water. Surely it was the scent of food and not the sight of her in her trim white apron that had his juices running.

  She turned then, her arms full of a huge bowl, the contents of which she continued to beat with a wooden spoon. She blinked once in surprise, then smiled in cautious welcome. "Good morning. You'll want your breakfast."

  "I'll have whatever I'm smelling."

  "No, you won't." In a competent manner he had to admire, she poured the contents of a bowl into a pan. "It's not done yet, and what it is is a cake for tea."

  "Apple," he said, sniffing the air. "Cinnamon."

  "Your nose is right. Can you handle an Irish breakfast, or will you be wanting something lighter?"

  "Light isn't what I had in mind."

  "Fine, then, the dining room's through the door there. I'll bring you in some coffee and buns to hold you."

  "Can I eat in here?" He gave her his most charming smile and leaned against the doorjamb. "Or does it bother you to have people watch you cook?" Or just watch her, he thought, do anything at all.

  "Not at all." Some of her guests preferred it, though most liked to be served. She poured him coffee she already had heating. "You take it black?"

  "That's right." He sipped it standing, watching her. "Did you grow up in this house?"

  "I did." She slid fat sausages in a pan.

  "I thought it seemed more of a home than an inn."

  "It's meant to. We had a farm, you see, but sold off most of the land. We kept the house, and the little cottage down the way where my sister and her husband live from time to time."

  "From time to time?"

  "He has a home in Dublin as well. He owns galleries. She's an artist."

  "Oh, what kind?"

  She smiled a little as she went about the cooking. Most people assumed artist meant painter, a fact which irritated Maggie always. "A glass artist. She blows glass." Brianna gestured to the bowl in the center of the kitchen table. It bled with melting pastels, its rim fluid, like rain-washed petals. "That's her work."

  "Impressive." Curious, he moved closer, ran a finger tip around the wavy rim. "Concannon," he murmured, then chuckled to himself. "Damn me, M. M. Concannon, the Irish sensation."

  Brianna's eyes danced with pleasure. "Do they call her that, really? Oh, she'll love it." Pride flashed in. "And you recognized her work."

  "I ought to, I just bought a-I don't know what the hell it is. A sculpture. Worldwide Galleries, London, two weeks ago."

  "Rogan's gallery. Her husband."

  "Handy." He went to the stove to top off his cup himself. The frying sausages smelled almost as good as his hostess. "It's an amazing piece. Icy white glass with this pulse of fire inside. I thought it looked like the Fortress of Solitude." At her blank look, he laughed. "You're not up on your American comic books, I take it. Superman's private sanctum, in the Arctic, I think."

  "She'll like that, she will. Maggie's big on private sanctums." In an unconscious habit she tucked loose hair back into pins. Her nerves were humming a little. She supposed it was due to the way he stared at her, that frank and unapologetic appraisal that was uncomfortably intimate. It was the writer in him, she told herself and dropped potatoes into the spitting grease.

  "They're building a gallery here in Clare," she continued. "It'll be open in the spring. Here's porridge to start you off while the rest is cooking."

  Porridge. It was perfect. A rainy morning in an Irish cottage and porridge in a thick brown bowl. Grinning, he sat down and began to eat.

  "Are you setting a book here, in Ireland?" She glanced over her shoulder. "Is it all right to ask?"

  "Sure. That's the plan. Lonely countryside, rainy fields, towering cliffs." He shrugged. "Tidy little villages. Postcards. But what p
assions and ambitions lie beneath."

  Now she laughed, turning bacon. "I don't know if you'll find our village passions and ambitions up to your scope, Mr. Thane."

  "Gray."

  "Yes, Gray." She took an egg, broke it one-handed into the sizzling skillet. "Now, mine ran pretty high when one of Murphy's cows broke through the fence and trampled my roses last summer. And as I recall, Tommy Duggin and Joe Ryan had a bloody fistfight outside O'Malley's pub not long back."

  "Over a woman?"

  "No, over a soccer game on the television. But then, they were a wee bit drunk at the time, I'm told, and made it up well enough once their heads stopped ringing."

  "Well, fiction's nothing but a lie anyway."

  "But it's not." Her eyes, softly green and serious, met his as she set a plate in front of him. "It's a different kind of truth. It would be your truth at the time of the writing, wouldn't it?"

  Her perception surprised and almost embarrassed him. "Yes. Yes, it would."

  Satisfied, she turned back to the stove to heap sausage, a rasher of bacon, eggs, potato pancakes onto a platter. "You'll be a sensation in the village. We Irish are wild for writers, you know."

  "I'm no Yeats."

  She smiled, pleased when he transferred healthy portions of food onto his plate. "But you don't want to be, do you?"

  He looked up, crunching into his first slice of bacon. Had she pegged him so accurately so quickly? he wondered. He, who prided himself on his own aura of mystery-no past, no future.

  Before he could think of a response, the kitchen door crashed open and a whirlwind of rain and woman came in. "Some knothead left his car smack in the middle of the road outside the house, Brie." Maggie stopped, dragged off a dripping cap, and eyed Gray.

  "Guilty," he said, lifting a hand. "I forgot. I'll move it."

  "No rush now." She waved him back into his seat and dragged off her coat. "Finish your breakfast, I've time. You'd be the Yank writer, would you?"

  "Twice guilty. And you'd be M. M. Concannon."

  "I would."

  "My sister, Maggie," Brianna said as she poured tea. "Grayson Thane."

  Maggie sat with a little sigh of relief. The baby was kicking up a storm of its own. "A bit early, are you?"

  "Change of plans." She was a sharper version of Brianna, Gray thought. Redder hair, greener eyes-edgier eyes. "Your sister was kind enough not to make me sleep in the yard."

  "Oh, she's a kind one, Brie is." Maggie helped herself to a piece of the bacon on the platter. "Apple cake?" Maggie asked, sniffing the air.

  "For tea." Brianna took one pan out of the oven, slipped another in. "You and Rogan are welcome to some."

  "Maybe we'll come by." She took a bun from the basket on the table and began to nibble. "Plan to stay awhile, do you?"

  "Maggie, don't harass my guest. I've some extra buns if you want to take some home."

  "I'm not leaving yet. Rogan's on the phone, will be as far as I can tell until doomsday's come and gone. I was heading to the village for some bread."

  "I've plenty to spare."

  Maggie smiled, bit into the bun again. "I thought you might." She turned those sharp green eyes on Gray. "She bakes enough for the whole village."

  "Artistic talent runs in the family," Gray said easily. After heaping strawberry jam on a piece of bread, he passed the jar companionably to Maggie. "You with glass, Brianna with cooking." Without shame, he eyed the cake cooling on top of the stove. "How long until tea?"

  Maggie grinned at him. "I may like you."

  "I may like you back." He rose. "I'll move the car."

  "If you'd just pull it into the street."

  He gave Brianna a blank look. "What street?"

  "Beside the house-the driveway you'd call it. Will you need help with your luggage?"

  "No, I can handle it. Nice to have met you, Maggie."

  "And you." Maggie licked her fingers, waited until she heard the door shut. "Better to look at than his picture in back of his books."

 
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