Born in ice, p.32
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       Born in Ice, p.32

         Part #2 of Born In series by Nora Roberts

  "I told you I'd take you to Saint Pat's after lunch."

  And he would, she knew. He was more than willing to take her anywhere. Everywhere. Already that morning she'd stood at the top of the Empire State Building, marvelling. She'd had a subway ride, eaten breakfast in a deli. Everything she'd done, everything she'd seen was whirling around in her head like a kaleidoscope of color and sound.

  Still, he promised more.

  But the prospect of having lunch with a New York agent, an obviously formidable woman, was daunting. She'd have found some firm way of excusing herself, perhaps even inventing a headache or fatigue, if Gray hadn't seemed so excited by the idea.

  She watched as he casually stuffed a bill into a tin cup of a man dozing against the side of a building. He never missed one. Whatever the hand-printed sign might say- homeless, out of work, Vietnam vet-it got his attention. And his wallet.

  Everything got his attention, she mused. He missed nothing and saw everything. And those small acts of kindness to strangers others seemed not even to admit existed were an innate part of him.

  "Hey, bud, need a watch? Got some nice watches here. Only twenty bucks." A slim black man opened a briefcase to display an array of Gucci and Cartier knockoffs. "Got a real nice watch for the lady here."

  To Brianna's dismay, Gray stopped. "Yeah? They got works?"

  "Hey." The man grinned. "What do I look like? They keep the time, man. Look just like the ones you pay a thousand for down on Fifth."

  "Let's see." Gray chose one while Brianna bit her lip. The man looked dangerous to her, the way his eyes were shifting right and left. "Get hassled much on this corner?"

  "Nah. I got a rep. Nice watch there, quality, look pretty on the lady. Twenty bucks."

  Gray gave the watch a shake, held it to his ear. "Fine."

  He passed the man a twenty. "Couple of beat cops heading this way," he said mildly and tucked Brianna's hand in his arm.

  When she looked back, the man was gone.

  "Were they stolen?" she asked, awed.

  "Probably not. Here you go." He fastened the watch on her wrist. "It might run for a day-or a year. You can never tell."

  "Then why did you buy it?"

  "Hey, the guy's got to make a living, doesn't he? The restaurant's up here."

  That distracted her enough to have her tug on the jacket of her suit. She felt drab and countrified, and foolish with her little I Love New York bag holding her Empire State souveniers.

  Nonsense, she assured herself. She met new people all the time. She enjoyed new people. The problem was, she thought as Gray ushered her into the Four Seasons, this time it was Gray's people.

  She tried not to stare as he led her up the steps.

  "Ah, Mr. Thane." The maitre d' greeted him warmly. "It's been too long. Ms. Winston is already here."

  They crossed the room with its long gleaming bar, the linen-decked tables already filled with the lunch crowd. A woman rose as she spotted Gray.

  Brianna saw the gorgeous red suit first, the glint of gold at the lapel and at the ears. Then the short, sleek blond hair, the quick flashing smile before the woman was enveloped by Gray's enthusiastic embrace.

  "Good to see you, beautiful."

  "My favorite globe trotter." Her voice was husky, with a hint of gravel.

  Arlene Winston was tiny, barely topping five feet, and athletically trim from her thrice weekly workouts. Gray had said she was a grandmother, but her face was almost unlined, the tawny eyes sharp in contrast to the soft complexion and pixie features. With her arm still around Gray's waist, she held out a hand to Brianna.

  "And you're Brianna. Welcome to New York. Has our boy been showing you a good time?"

  "He has, yes. It's a wonderful city. I'm pleased to meet you, Mrs. Winston."

  "Arlene." She cupped Brianna's hand briefly between the two of hers, patted. However friendly the gesture, Brianna wasn't unaware of the quick and thorough measuring. Gray simply stood back beaming.

  "Isn't she gorgeous?"

  "She certainly is. Let's sit. I hope you don't mind, I've ordered champagne. A little celebration."

  "The Brits?" Gray asked, settling.

  "There is that." She smiled as their glasses were filled from the bottle of spring water already on the table. "Do you want to get this business out of the way now, or wait until after lunch?"

  "Let's get it out of the way."

  Obliging, Arlene dismissed the waiter, then reached into her briefcase and took out a file of faxes. "Here's the British deal."

  "What a woman," Gray said and winked at her.

  "The other foreign offers are in there-and the audio. We've just started to pitch to the movie people. And I have your contract." She shifted, letting Gray look over the papers while she smiled at Brianna. "Gray tells me you're an incredible cook."

  "He likes to eat."

  "Doesn't he though? You run a B and B, delightfully from what I hear. Blackthorn, it's called."

  "Blackthorn Cottage, yes. It's not a large place."

  "Homey, I imagine." Arlene studied Brianna over her water glass. "And quiet."

  "Quiet, certainly. People come to the west for the scenery."

  "Which, I'm told, is quite spectacular. I've never been to Ireland, but Gray's certainly whetted my curiosity. How many people can you manage?"

  "Oh, I've four guest rooms, so it varies depending on the size of families. Eight's comfortable, but I sometimes have twelve or more with children."

  "And you cook for them all, run the place by yourself?"

  "It's a bit like running a family," Brianna explained. "Most people stay only a night or two, going on their way." Casually Arlene drew Brianna out, .weighing each word, every inflection, judging. Gray was more than a client to her, much more. An interesting woman, she decided. Reserved, a bit nervous. Obviously capable, she mused, tapping a perfectly manicured nail against the cloth as she pumped Brianna for details of the countryside.

  Neat as a pin, she observed, well mannered, and... ah... she watched Brianna's gaze wander-just for a fraction-and rest on Gray. And saw what she wanted to see.

  Brianna looked back, saw Arlene's lifted brows, and struggled not to blush. "Grayson said you have grandchildren."

  "I certainly do. And after a glass of champagne, I'm likely to drag out all their pictures."

  "I'd love to see them. Really. My sister just had a baby." Everything about her warmed, her eyes, her voice. "I've pictures of my own."

  "Arlene." Gray looked up from the file, focused again.

  "You're a queen among agents.

  "And don't you forget it." She handed him a pen even as she signaled for the wine and the menus. "Sign the contracts, Gray, and let's celebrate."

  Brianna calculated that she had sipped more champagne since meeting Grayson than she had in the whole of her life before him. While she toyed with a glass, she studied the menu and tried not to wince over the prices.

  "We have drinks with Rosalie late this afternoon," Gray was saying, referring to the meeting scheduled with his editor, "then the premiere. You're going, aren't you?"

  "Wouldn't miss it," Arlene assured him. "I'll have the chicken," she added, passing her menu to the hovering waiter. "Now," she continued after their orders were placed. "Tell me how the book's going."

  "It's going well. Incredibly well. I've never had anything fall into place like this. I've nearly got the first draft finished."

  "So quickly?"

  "It's streaming out." His gaze rested on Brianna. "Almost like magic. Maybe it's the atmosphere. It's a magical place, Ireland."

  "He works hard," Brianna put in. "Sometimes he doesn't come out of his room for days at a time. And it doesn't do to disturb him. He'll snap at you like a terrier."

  "And do you snap back?" Arlene wanted to know.

  "Not usually." Brianna smiled as Gray covered her hand with his own. "I'm used to that sort of behavior with my sister."

  "Oh, yes, the artist. You'd have experience with the a
rtistic temperament."

  "I do, indeed," Brianna said with a laugh. "Creative people have a more difficult time than the rest of us, I think. Gray needs to keep the door of his world closed while he's in it."

  "Isn't she perfect?"

  "I believe she is," Arlene said complacently.

  A patient woman, she waited until after the meal before making her next move. "Will you have dessert, Brianna?"

  "I couldn't, thank you."

  "Gray will. Never gains an ounce," she said with a shake of her head. "You order something sinful, Gray. Brianna and I will go into the ladies' room where we can talk about you in private."

  When Arlene rose, Brianna had little choice but to follow suit. She cast one confused glance at Gray over her shoulder as they walked away.

  The ladies' lounge was as glamorous as the barroom. The counter was set with bottles of scent, lotions, even cosmetics. Arlene sat before the mirror, crossed her legs, and gestured for Brianna to join her.

  "Are you excited about the premiere tonight?"

  "Yes. It's a big moment for him, isn't it? I know they've made movies of his books before-I've seen one. The book was better."

  "Thatta girl." Arlene laughed, tilted her head. "Do you know Gray has never brought a woman with him to meet me before you?"

  "I..." Brianna fumbled, wondered how best to respond.

  "I find that a very telling thing. Our relationship goes beyond business, Brianna."

  "I know. He's so fond of you. He speaks of you like family."

  "I am family. Or as close as he'll let himself come to it. I love him dearly. When he told me he was bringing you to New York, I was more than surprised." Casually Arlene opened her compact, dabbed powder under her eyes. "I wondered just how some little Irish tart had gotten her hooks in my boy."

  When Brianna's mouth opened, her eyes iced, Arlene held up a hand.

  "An overprotective mother's first reaction. And one that shifted as soon as I got a look at you. Forgive me."

  "Of course." But Brianna's voice was stiff and formal.

  "Now you're annoyed with me, and you should be. I've adored Gray for more than a decade, worried about him, harassed him, soothed him. I'd hoped he could find someone he could care for, someone who would make him happy. Because he's not."

  She snapped her compact closed and, out of habit, took out a tube of lipstick. "Oh, he's probably the most well-adjusted person I know, but there's a lack of happiness in some corner of his heart."

  "I know," Brianna murmured. "He's too alone."

  "He was. Do you know the way he looks at you? He's almost giddy. That might have concerned me, if I hadn't seen the way you look at him."

  "I love him," Brianna heard herself say.

  "Oh, my dear, I can see that." She reached out to clasp Brianna's hand. "Has he told you about himself?"

  "Very little. He holds that in, pretends it isn't there."

  Arlene's lips thinned as she nodded. "He's not one to share. I've been as close to him as anyone can be for a long time, and I know next to nothing myself. Once, after his first million-dollar sale, he got a little drunk and told me more than he'd meant to." She shook her head. "I don't feel I can tell you. Something like a priest in confession- you'd understand that."

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