Born in ice, p.35
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       Born in Ice, p.35

         Part #2 of Born In series by Nora Roberts
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  "Well, we're together right now, aren't we?" Gently she cupped his face. "Grayson, I can't stop loving you to make you more comfortable. I can't do it to make myself more comfortable. It simply is. My heart's lost to you, and I can't take it back. I doubt I would if I could. It doesn't mean you have to take it, but you'd be foolish not to. It costs you nothing."

  "I don't want to hurt you, Brianna." He linked his fingers around her wrists. "I don't want to hurt you."

  "I know that." He would, of course. She wondered that he couldn't see he would hurt himself as well. "We'll take the now, and be grateful for it. But tell me one thing," she said and kissed him lightly. "What was your name?"

  "Christ, you don't give up."

  "No." Her smile was easy now, surprisingly confident. "It's not something I consider a failing."

  "Logan," he muttered. "Michael Logan."

  And she laughed, making him feel like a fool. "Irish. I should have known it. Such a gift of gab you've got, and all the charm in the world."

  "Michael Logan," he said, firing up, "was a small-minded, mean-spirited, penny-ante thief who wasn't worth spit.

  She sighed. "Michael Logan was a neglected, troubled child who needed love and care. And you're wrong to hate him so. But we'll leave him in peace."

  Then she disarmed him by pressing against him, laying her head on his shoulder. Her hands moved up and down his back, soothing. She should have been disgusted by what he'd told her. She should have been appalled by the way he'd treated her in bed. Yet she was here, holding him and offering him a terrifying depth of love.

  "I don't know what to do about you."

  "There's nothing you have to do." She brushed her lips over his shoulder. "You've given me the most wonderful months of my life. And you'll remember me, Grayson, as long as you live."

  He let out a long breath. He couldn't deny it. For the first time in his life, he'd be leaving a part of himself behind when he walked away.

  It was he who felt awkward the next morning. They had breakfast in the parlor of the suite, with the view of the park out the window. And he waited for her to toss something he'd told her back in his face. He'd broken the law, he'd slept with prostitutes, he'd wallowed in the sewers of the streets.

  Yet she sat there across from him, looking as fresh as a morning in Clare, talking happily about their upcoming trip to Worldwide before they went to the airport.

  "You're not eating your breakfast, Grayson. Aren't you feeling well?"

  "I'm fine." He cut into the pancakes he'd thought he'd wanted. "I guess I'm missing your cooking."

  It was exactly the right thing to say. Her concerned look transformed into a delighted smile. "You'll be having it again tomorrow. I'll fix you something special."

  He gave a grunt in response. He'd put off telling her about the trip to Wales. He hadn't wanted to spoil her enjoyment of New York. Now he wondered why he'd thought he could. Nothing he'd dumped on her the night before had shaken that steady composure.

  "Ah, Brie, we're actually going to take a little detour on the way back to Ireland."

  "Oh?" Frowning, she set her teacup down. "Do you have business somewhere?"

  "Not exactly. We're stopping off in Wales."

  "In Wales?"

  "It's about your stock. Remember I told you I'd have my broker do some checking?"

  "Yes. Did he find something unusual?"

  "Brie, Triquarter Mining doesn't exist."

  "But of course it exists. I have the certificate. I've got the letter."

  "There is no Triquarter Mining on any stock exchange. No company by that name listed anywhere. The phone number on the letterhead is fake."

  "How can that be? They offered me a thousand pounds."

  "Which is why we're going to Wales. I think it would be worth the trip to do a little personal checking."

  Brianna shook her head. "I'm sure your broker's very competent, Gray, but he must have overlooked something. If a company doesn't exist, they don't issue stock or offer to buy it back."

  "They issue stock if it's a front," he said, stabbing at his meal as she stared at him. "A scam, Brie. I have a little experience with stock cons. You get a post office box, a phone number, and you canvas for marks. For people who'll invest," he explained. "People looking to make a quick buck. You get a suit and a spiel, put some paperwork together, print up a prospectus and phony certificates. You take the money, and you disappear."

  She was quiet for a moment, digesting it. Indeed she could see her father falling for just such a trick. He'd always flung himself heedlessly into deals. In truth, she'd expected nothing when she'd first pursued the matter.

  "I understand that part, I think. And it's in keeping with my father's luck in business. But how do you explain that they answered me, and offered me money?"

  "I can't." Though he had some ideas on it. "That's why we're going to Wales. Rogan's arranged for his plane to meet us in London and take us. It'll bring us back to Shannon Airport when we're ready."

  "I see." Carefully she set her knife and fork aside. "You've discussed it with Rogan, him being a man, and planned it out between you."

  Gray cleared his throat, ran his tongue over his teeth. "I wanted you to enjoy the trip here without worrying." When she only pinned him with those cool green eyes, he shrugged. "You're waiting for an apology, and you're not going to get one." She folded her hands, rested them on the edge of the table, and said nothing. "You're good at the big chill," he commented, "but it isn't going to wash. Fraud's out of your league. I'd have taken this trip by myself, but it's likely I'll need you since the stock's in your father's name."

  "And being in my father's name makes it my business. It's kind of you to want to help."

  "Fuck that."

  She jolted, felt her stomach shrivel at the inevitability of the argument. "Don't use that tone on me, Grayson."

  "Then don't use that irritated schoolteacher's tone on me." When she rose, his eyes flashed, narrowed. "Don't you walk away, goddamn it."

  "I won't be sworn at or shouted at or made to feel inadequate because I'm only a farmer's daughter from the west counties."

  "What the hell does that have to do with anything?" When she continued to walk toward the bedroom, he shoved away from the table. He snatched her arm, whirled her back. A flicker of panic crossed her face before she closed up. "I said don't walk away from me."

  "I come and go as I please, just as you do. And I'm going to dress now and get ready for the trip you've so thoughtfully arranged."

  "You want to take a bite out of me, go ahead. But we're going to settle this."

  "I was under the impression you already had. You're hurting my arm, Grayson."

  "I'm sorry." He released her, jammed his hands in his pockets. "Look, I figured you might be a little annoyed, but I didn't expect someone as reasonable as you to blow it all out of proportion."

  "You've arranged things behind my back, made decisions for me, decided I wouldn't be able to cope on my own, and I'm blowing it all out of proportion? Well, that's fine, then. I'm sure I should be ashamed of myself."

  "I'm trying to help you." His voice rose again, and he fought to bring it and his temper under control. "It has nothing to do with your being inadequate; it has to do with you having no experience. Someone broke into your house. Can't you put it together?"

  She stared, paled. "No, why don't you put it together for me?"

  "You wrote about the stock, then somebody searches your house. Fast, sloppy. Maybe desperate. Not long after that, there's somebody outside your window. How long have you lived in that house, Brianna?"

  "All my life."

  "Has anything like that happened before?"

  "No, but ... No."

  "So it makes sense to connect the dots. I want to see what the whole picture looks like."

  "You should have told me all this before." Shaken, she lowered to the arm of a chair. "You shouldn't have kept it from me."

  "It's just a theory. Christ, Brie, you've ha
d enough on your mind. Your mother, Maggie and the baby, me. The whole business about finding that woman your father was involved with. I didn't want to add to it."

  "You were trying to shield me. I'm trying to understand that."

  "Of course I was trying to shield you. I don't like seeing you worried. I-" He broke off, stunned. What had he almost said? He took a long step back, mentally from those tricky three words, physically from her. "You matter to me," he said carefully.

  "All right." Suddenly tired, she pushed at her hair. "I'm sorry I made a scene about it. But don't keep things from me, Gray."

  "I won't." He touched her cheek and his stomach trembled. "Brianna."

  "Yes?"

  "Nothing," he said and dropped his hand again. "Nothing. We'd better pull it together if we're going to get to Worldwide."

  It was raining in Wales and too late to do more than check into the drab little hotel where Gray had booked a room. Brianna had only a fleeting impression of the city of Rhondda, of the bleak row houses in the tight groups, the sorry skies that pelted the road with rain. They shared a meal she didn't taste, then tumbled exhausted into bed.

  He expected her to complain. The accommodations weren't the best and the traveling had been brutal, even for him. But she said nothing the next morning, only dressed and asked him what they would do next.

  "I figured we'd check the post office, see where that gets us." He watched her pin up her hair, her movements neat, precise, though there were shadows under her eyes. "You're tired."

  "A bit. All the time changing, I imagine." She glanced out the window where watery sunlight struggled through the glass. "I always thought of Wales as a wild and beautiful place."

  "A lot of it is. The mountains are spectacular, and the coast. The Lleyn Peninsula-it's a little touristy, full of Brits on holiday-but really gorgeous. Or the uplands, very pastoral and traditionally Welsh. If you saw the moorlands in the afternoon sun, you'd see just how wild and beautiful the country is."

  "You've been so many places. I'm surprised you can remember one from another."

  "There's always something that sticks in your mind." He looked around the gloomy hotel room. "I'm sorry about this, Brie. It was the most convenient. If you want to take an extra day or two, I'll show you the scenery."

  She smiled over it, the thought of her tossing responsibility aside and traveling with Gray over foreign hills and shores. "I need to get home, once we've finished what we've come for. I can't impose on Mrs. O'Malley much longer." She turned from the mirror. "And you're wanting to get back to work. It shows."

  "Got me." He took her hands. "When I finish the book, I'll have a little time before I tour for the one that's coming up. We could go somewhere. Anywhere you like. Greece, or the South Pacific. The West Indies. Would you like that? Some place with palm trees and a beach, blue water, white sun."

  "It sounds lovely." He, she thought, he who never made plans was making them. She felt it wiser not to point it out. "It might be difficult to get away again so soon." She gave his hands a squeeze before releasing them to pick up her purse. "I'm ready if you are."

  They found the post office easily enough, but the woman in charge of the counter appeared immune to Gray's charm. It wasn't her place to give out the names of people who rented post office boxes, she told them crisply. They could have one themselves if they wanted, and she wouldn't be discussing them with strangers, either.

  When Gray asked about Triquarter, he received a shrug and a frown. The name meant nothing to her.

  Gray considered a bribe, took another look at the prim set of the woman's mouth, and decided against it.

  "Strike one," he said as they stepped outside again.

  "I don't believe you ever thought it would be so easy."

  "No, but sometimes you get a hit when you least expect it. We'll try some mining companies."

  "Shouldn't we just report everything we know to the local authorities?"

  "We'll get to that."

  He checked tirelessly, office after office, asking the same questions, getting the same answers. No one in Rhondda had heard of Triquarter. Brianna let him take control, for the simple pleasure of watching him work. It seemed to her that he could adjust, chameleonlike, to whatever personality he chose.

  He could be charming, abrupt, businesslike, sly. It was, she supposed, how he researched a subject he might write about. He asked endless questions, by turns cajoling and bullying people into answering.

  After four hours she knew more about coal mining and the Welsh economy than she cared to remember. And nothing about Triquarter.

 
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