Born in ice, p.34
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       Born in Ice, p.34

         Part #2 of Born In series by Nora Roberts
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  kept building and exploding, building and exploding until her body was only a quivering mass of scored nerves and unspeakable needs.

  The sensations pounded at her, massing too quickly to be separated. She only knew he was doing things to her, incredible, wicked, delicious things. The next climax slammed into her like a fist.

  Rearing up, she grabbed at him, thrashing until they were rolling over the bed. Her mouth sprinted over him, just as greedy now, just as frenzied. Her questing hands found him, cupped him, so that her system shivered with fresh and furious pleasure when he groaned.

  "Now. Now." It had to be now. He couldn't stop himself. His hands slid off her damp skin, gripped hard at her hips to lift them. He drove himself inside her deep, panting as he positioned her to take even more of him.

  He rode her hard, plunging further each time she rose to meet him. He watched her face as she plummeted over that final, vicious peak, the way her clouded eyes went dark as her muscles contracted around him.

  With something perilously close to pain, he emptied himself into her.

  Chapter Seventeen

  He'd rolled off her and was staring at the ceiling. He could curse himself, he knew, but he couldn't take back what he'd done.

  All of his care, all of his caution, and in an instant, he had snapped. And ruined it.

  Now she was curled up beside him, quivering. And he was afraid to touch her.

  "I'm sorry," he finally said and tasted the uselessness of the apology. "I never meant to treat you that way. I lost control."

  "Lost control," she murmured and wondered how it could be a body should feel limp and energized all at once. "Did you think you needed it?"

  Her voice was shaky, he noted, and rough, he imagined, with shock. "I know an apology's pretty lame. Can I get you something? Some water." He squeezed his eyes shut and cursed himself again. "Talk about lame. Let me get you a nightgown. You'll want a nightgown."

  "No, I don't." She managed to shift enough to look up and study his face. He didn't look at her, she noted, but only stared at the ceiling. "Grayson, you didn't hurt me."

  "Of course I did. You'll have bruises to prove it."

  "I'm not fragile," she said with a hint of exasperation.

  "I treated you like-" He couldn't say it, not to her. "I should have been gentle."

  "You have been. I like knowing it took you some effort to be gentle. And I like knowing something I did made you forget to be." Her lips curved as she brushed at the hair on his forehead. "Did you think you frightened me?"

  "I know I frightened you." He shifted away, sat up. "I didn't care."

  "You did frighten me." She paused. "I liked it. I love you."

  He winced, squeezed the hand she'd laid over his. "Brianna," he began without a clue how to continue.

  "Don't worry. I don't need the words back."

  "Listen, a lot of times people get sex confused with love."

  "I imagine you're right. Grayson, do you think I would be here with you, that I would ever have been with you like this if I didn't love you."

  He was good with words. Dozens of reasonable excuses and ploys ran through his mind. "No," he said at length, settling on the truth. "I don't. Which only makes it worse," he muttered, and rose to tug on his trousers. "I should never have let things go this far. I knew better. It's my fault."

  "There's no fault here." She reached for his hand so that he would sit on the bed again rather than pace. "It shouldn't make you sad to know you're loved, Grayson."

  But it did. It made him sad, and panicked, and for just a moment, wishful. "Brie, I can't give you back what you want or should have. There's no future with me, no house in the country and kids in the yard. It's not in the cards."

  "It's a pity you think so. But I'm not asking you for that."

  "It's what you want."

  "It's what I want, but not what I expect." She gave him a surprisingly cool smile. "I've been rejected before. And I know very well what is it to love and not have the person love you back, at least not so much as you want, or need." She shook her head before he could speak. "As much as I might want to go on with you, Grayson, I'll survive without you."

  "I don't want to hurt you, Brianna. I care about you. I care for you."

  She lifted a brow. "I know that. And I know you're worried because you care more for me than you've cared for anyone before."

  He opened his mouth, shut it, shook his head. "Yes, that's true. It's new ground for me. For both of us." Still uncertain of his moves, he took her hand, kissed it. "I'd give you more if I could. And I am sorry I at least didn't prepare you a little better for tonight. You're the first... inexperienced woman I've been with, so I've tried to take it slow."

  Intrigued, she cocked her head. "You must have been as nervous as I was, the first time."

  "More." He kissed her hand again. "Much more, believe me. I'm used to women who know the ropes, and the rules. Experienced or pro, and you-"

  "Pro? Professional?" Her eyes went huge. "You've paid women to bed them?"

  He stared back at her. He must have been even more befuddled than he'd realized to have come out with something like that. "Not in recent memory. Anyway-"

  "Why would you have to do that? A man who looks like you, who has your sensibility?"

  "Look, it was a long time ago. Another life. Don't look at me like that," he snapped. "When you're sixteen and alone on the streets, nothing's free. Not even sex."

  "Why were you alone and on the street at sixteen?"

  He stood, retreated, she thought. And there was shame in his eyes as much as anger.

  "I'm not going to get into this."

  "Why?"

  "Christ." Shaken, he dragged both hands through his hair. "It's late. We need to get some sleep."

  "Grayson, is it so hard to talk to me? There's hardly anything you don't know of me, the bad things and the good. Do you think I'd think less of you for knowing?"

  He wasn't sure, and told himself he didn't care. "It's not important, Brianna. It has nothing to do with me now, with us here."

  Her eyes cooled, and she rose to get the nightgown she'd said she didn't want. "It's your business, of course, if you choose to shut me out."

  "That's not what I'm doing."

  She tugged the cotton over her head, adjusted the sleeves. "As you say."

  "Goddamn it, you're good, aren't you?" Furious with her, he jammed his hands into his pockets.

  "I don't know your meaning."

  "You know my meaning exactly," he tossed back. "Lay on the guilt, spread on a little frost, and you get your way."

  "We've agreed it's none of my business." Moving toward the bed, she began to tuck in the sheets they'd ripped out. "If it's guilt you're feeling, it's not my doing."

  "You get to me," he muttered. "You know just how to get to me." He hissed out a breath, defeated. "You want it, fine. Sit down, I'll tell you a story."

  He turned his back on her, rummaging through the drawer for the pack of cigarettes he always carried and smoked only when working.

  "The first thing I remember is the smell. Garbage just starting to rot, mold, stale cigarettes," he added, looking wryly at the smoke that curled toward the ceiling. "Grass. Not the kind you mow, the kind you inhale. You've probably never smelled pot in your life, have you?"

  "I haven't, no." She kept her hands in her lap, and her eyes on him.

  "Well, that's my first real memory. The sense of smell's the strongest, stays with you-good or bad. I remember the sounds, too. Raised voices, loud music, someone having sex in the next room. I remember being hungry, and not being able to get out of my room because she'd locked me in again. She was stoned most of the time and didn't always remember she had a kid around who needed to eat."

  He looked around idly for an ashtray, then leaned back against the dresser. It wasn't so hard to speak of it after all, he discovered. It was almost like making up a scene in his mind. Almost.

  "She told me once she'd left home when she was
sixteen. Wanted to get away from her parents, all the rules. They were square, she'd say. Went nuts when they found out she smoked dope and had boys up in her room. She was just living her own life, doing her own thing. So she just left one day, hitched a ride and ended up in San Francisco. She could play at being a hippie there, but she ended up on the hard edge of the drug culture, experimented with a lot of shit, paid for a lot of it by begging or selling herself."

  He'd just told her his mother was a prostitute, a junkie, and waited for some shocked exclamation. When she only continued to watch him with those cool, guarded eyes, he shrugged and went on.

  "She was probably about eighteen when she got pregnant with me. According to her story, she'd already had two abortions and was scared of another. She could never be quite sure who the father was, but was pretty certain it was one of three guys. She moved in with one of them and decided to keep me. When I was about a year old, she got tired of him and moved in with somebody else. He pimped for her, supplied her with drugs, but he knocked her around a little too much, so she ditched him."

  Gray tapped his cigarette out, paused long enough for Brianna to comment. But she said nothing, only sat as she was on the bed, her hands folded.

  "Anyway, we can fast forward through the next couple of years. As far as I can tell, things stayed pretty much as they were. She moved around from man to man, got hooked on the hard stuff. In enlightened times, I guess you could say she had an addictive personality. She knocked me around a little, but she never really beat me-that would have taken a little too much effort and interest. She locked me in to keep me from wandering when she was on the street or meeting her dealer. We lived in filth, and I remember the cold. It gets fucking cold in San Francisco. That's how the fire started. Somebody in the building knocked over a portable heater. I was five, and I was alone and locked in."

  "Oh, my God, Grayson." She pressed her hands to her mouth. "Oh, God."

  "I woke up choking," he said in the same distant voice. "The room was filled with smoke, and I could hear the sirens and the screaming. I was screaming, and beating at the door. I couldn't breathe, and I was scared. I remember just lying down on the floor and crying. Then a fireman crashed through the door, and he picked me up. I don't remember him carrying me out. I don't remember the fire itself, just the smoke in my room. I woke up in the hospital, and a social worker was there. A pretty young thing with big blue eyes and soft hands. And there was a cop. He made me nervous because I'd been taught to distrust anyone in authority. They asked me if I knew where my mother was. I didn't. By the time I was well enough to leave the hospital ward, I'd been scooped up in the system. They put me in a children's home while they looked for her. They never found her. I never saw her again."

  "She never came for you."

  "No, she never came. It wasn't such a bad deal. The home was clean, they fed you regular. The big problem for me was that it was structured, and I wasn't used to structure. There were foster homes, but I made sure that didn't work. 1 didn't want to be anyone's fake kid, no matter how good or how bad the people were. And some of them were really good people. I was what they call intractable. I liked it that way. Being a troublemaker gave me an identity, so I made plenty of trouble. I was a real tough guy with a smart mouth and a bad attitude. I liked to pick fights, because I was strong and fast and could usually win.

  "I was predictable," he said with a half laugh. "That's the worst of it. I was a product of my early environment and damned proud of it. No fucking counselor or shrink or social worker was going to get through to me. I'd been taught to hate authority, and that was one thing she'd taught me well."

  "But the school, the home... they were good to you?"

  A mocking light shimmered in his eyes. "Oh, yeah, just peachy. Three squares and a bed." He let out an impatient breath at her troubled expression. "You're a statistic, Brianna, a number. A problem. And there are plenty of other statistics and numbers and problems to be shuffled around. Sure, in hindsight, I can tell you that some of them probably really gave a damn, really tried to make a difference. But they were the enemy, with their questions and tests, their rules and disciplines. So following my mother's example, I ran off at sixteen. Lived on the streets, by my wits. I never touched drugs, never sold myself, but there wasn't much else I didn't do."

  He pushed away from the dresser and began to prowl the room. "I stole, I cheated, I ran scams. And one day I had an epiphany when a guy I was running a short con on got wise and beat the living shit out of me. It occurred to me, when I came to in an alley with blood in my mouth and several busted ribs, that I could probably find a better way to make a living. I headed to New York. I sold plenty of watches along Fifth Avenue," he said with a hint of a smile. "Ran a little three-card monte, and I started to write. I'd gotten a fairly decent education in the home. And I liked to write. I couldn't admit that at sixteen, being such a tough sonofabitch. But at eighteen, in New York, it didn't seem so bad. What seemed bad, what suddenly began to seem really bad, was that I was the same as she was. I decided to be somebody else.

  "I changed my name. I changed myself. I got a legit job bussing tables at a little dive in the Village. I shed that little bastard layer by layer until I was Grayson Thane. And I don't look back, because it's pointless."

  "Because it hurts you," Brianna said quietly. "And makes you angry."

  "Maybe. But mostly because it has nothing to do with who I am now."

  She wanted to tell him it had everything to do with who he was, what he'd made himself. Instead she rose to face him. "I love who you are now." She felt a pang, knowing he was drawing back from what she wanted to give him. "Is it so distressing to you to know that, and to know I can feel sorry for the child, for the young man, and admire what evolved from them?"

  "Brianna, the past doesn't matter. Not to me," he insisted. "It's different for you. Your past goes back centuries. You're steeped in it, the history, the tradition. It's formed you. and because of it, the future's just as important. You're a planner, long term. I'm not. I can't be. Damn it, I don't want to be. There's just now. The way things are right now."

  Did he think she couldn't understand that, after all he'd told her? She could see him all too well, the battered little boy, terrified of the past, terrified there was no future, holding on desperately to whatever he could grab in the present.

 
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