Born in ice, p.39
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       Born in Ice, p.39

         Part #2 of Born In series by Nora Roberts

  "I picked up a little something for both of you myself." He'd left the bag in the kitchen before he'd gone out to Brianna. Setting the scene, he thought now, as he wanted it to play.

  "Why, isn't that kind." Surprise and pleasure coursed through Lottie's voice as she accepted the box Gray offered.

  "Just tokens," Gray said, smiling as Brianna simply stared at him, baffled. Lottie's little gasp of delight pleased him enormously.

  "It's a little bird. Look here, Maeve, a crystal bird. See how it catches the sunlight."

  "You can hang it by a wire in the window," Gray explained. "It'll make rainbows for you. You make me think of rainbows, Lottie."

  "Oh, go on with you. Rainbows." She blinked back a film of moisture and rose to give Gray a hard hug. "I'll be hanging it right in our front window. Thank you, Gray, you're a darling man. Isn't he a darling man, Maeve?"

  Maeve grunted, hesitated over the lid of her gift box. By rights, she knew she should toss the thing into his face rather than take a gift from a man of his kind. But Lottie's crystal bird was such a pretty thing. And the combination of basic greed and curiosity had her flipping open the lid.

  Speechless, she lifted out the gilt and glass shaped like a heart. It had a lid as well, and when she opened it, music played.

  "Oh, a music box." Lottie clapped her hands together.

  "What a beautiful thing, and how clever. What's the tune it's playing?"

  Stardust," Maeve murmured and caught herself just before she began to hum along with it. "An old tune."

  "A classic," Gray added. "They didn't have anything Irish, but this seemed to suit you."

  The corners of Maeve's mouth turned up as the music charmed her. She cleared her throat, shot Gray a level look. "Thank you, Mr. Thane."

  "Gray," he said easily.

  Thirty minutes later Brianna placed her hands on her hips. There was only she and Gray in the kitchen now, and the plate of tarts was empty. " Twas like a bribe."

  "No, 'twasn't like a bribe," he said, mimicking her. "It was a bribe. Damn good one, too. She smiled at me before she left."

  Brianna huffed. "I don't know who I should be more ashamed of, you or her."

  "Then just think of it as a peace offering. I don't want your mother giving you grief over me, Brianna."

  "Clever you were. A music box."

  "I thought so. Every time she listens to it, she'll think of me. Before too long, she'll convince herself I'm not such a bad sort after all."

  She didn't want to smile. It was outrageous. "Figured her out, have you?"

  "A good writer's a good observer. She's used to complaining." He opened the refrigerator, helped himself to a beer. "Trouble is, she doesn't have nearly enough to complain about these days. Must be frustrating." He popped the top off the bottle, took a swig. "And she's afraid you've closed yourself off to her. She doesn't know how to make the move that'll close the gap."

  "And I'm supposed to."

  "You will. It's the way you're made. She knows that, but she's worried this might be the exception." He tipped up Brianna's chin with a fingertip. "It won't. Family's too important to you, and you've already started to forgive her."

  Brianna turned away to tidy the kitchen. "It's not always comfortable, having someone see into you as though you were made of glass." But she sighed, listened to her own heart. "Perhaps I have started to forgive her. I don't know how long the process will take." Meticulously she washed the teacups. "Your ploy today has undoubtedly speeded that along."

  "That was the idea." From behind her he slipped his arms around her waist. "So, you're not mad."

  "No, I'm not mad." Turning, she rested her head in the curve of his shoulder, where she liked it best. "I love you, Grayson."

  He stroked her hair, looking out the window, saying nothing.

  They had soft weather over the next few days, the kind that made working in his room like existing in endless twilight. It was easy to lose track of time, to let himself fall into the book with only the slightest awareness of the world around him.

  He was closing in on the killer, on that final, violent meeting. He'd developed a respect for his villain's mind, mirroring perfectly the same emotions of his hero. The man was as clever as he was vicious. Not mad, Gray mused as another part of his mind visualized the scene he was creating. Some would call the villain mad, unable to conceive that the cruelty, the ruthlessness of the murders could spring from a mind not twisted by insanity.

  Gray knew better-and so did his hero. The killer wasn't mad, but was cold-bloodedly sane. He was simply, very simply, evil.

  He already knew exactly how the final hunt would develop, almost every step and word was clear in his head. In the rain, in the dark, through the wind-swept ruins where blood had already been spilled. He knew his hero would see himself, just for one instant see the worst of himself reflected in the man he pursued.

  And that final battle would be more than right against wrong, good against evil. It would be, on that rain-soaked, wind-howling precipice, a desperate fight for redemption.

  But that wouldn't be the end. And it was in search of that unknown final scene that Gray raced. He'd imagined, almost from the beginning, his hero leaving the village, leaving the woman. Both of them would have been changed irrevocably by the violence that had shattered that quiet spot. And by what had happened between them.

  Then each would go on with the rest of his life, or try. Separately, because he'd created them as two dynamically opposing forces, drawn together, certainly, but never for the long haul.

  Now, it wasn't so clear. He wondered where the hero was going, and why. Why the woman turned slowly, as he'd planned, moving toward the door of her cottage without looking back.

  It should have been simple, true to their characters, satisfying. Yet the closer he came to reaching that moment, the more uneasy he became.

  Kicking back in his chair, he looked blankly around the room. He hadn't a clue what time of day it was, or how long he'd been chained to his work. But one thing was certain, he'd run dry.

  He needed a walk, he decided, rain or no rain. And he needed to stop second-guessing himself and let that final scene unfold in its own way, and its own time.

  He started downstairs, marveling at the quiet before he remembered the family from Scotland had gone. It had amused him, when he'd crawled out of his cave long enough to notice, how the two young men had sniffed around Brianna's heels, competing for her attention. It was tough to blame them.

  The sound of Brianna's voice had him turning toward the kitchen.

  "Well, good day to you, Kenny Feeney. Are you visiting your grandmother?"

  "I am, Miss Concannon. We'll be here for two weeks." "I'm happy to see you. You've grown so. Will you come in and have a cup of tea and some cake?" "I wouldn't mind."

  Gray watched a boy of about twelve give a crooked-toothed grin as he stepped out of the rain. He carried

  something large and apparently heavy wrapped in newspaper. "Gran sent you a leg of lamb, Miss Concannon. We slaughtered just this morning."

  "Oh, that's kind of her." With apparent pleasure Brianna took the grisly package while Gray-writer of bloodthirsty thrillers-felt his stomach churn.

  "I have a currant cake here. You'll have a piece, won't you, and take the rest back to her?"

  "I will." Dutifully stepping out of his wellies, the boy stripped off his raincoat and cap. Then he spotted Gray. "Good day to you," he said politely.

  "Oh, Gray, I didn't hear you come down. This is young Kenny Feeney, grandson of Alice and Peter Feeney from the farm down the road a bit. Kenny, this is Grayson Thane, a guest of mine."

  "The Yank," Kenny said as he solemnly shook Gray's hand; "You write books with murders in them, my gran says."

  "That's right. Do you like to read?"

  "I like books about cars or sports. Maybe you could write a book about football."

  "I'll keep it in mind."

  "Will you have some cake, Gray?" Brianna asked as she sli
ced. "Or would you rather have a sandwich now?"

  He cast a wary eye toward the lump under the newspaper. He imagined it baaing. "No, nothing. Not now."

  "Do you live in Kansas City?" Kenny wanted to know. "My brother does. He went to the States three years ago this winter. He plays in a band."

  "No, I don't live there, but I've been there. It's a nice town."

  "Pat, he says it's better than anywhere. I'm saving me money so I can go over when I'm old enough."

  "Will you be leaving us, then, Kenny?" Brianna ran a hand over the boy's carrotty mop.

  "When I'm eighteen." He took another happy bite of cake, washed it down with tea. "You can get good work there, and good pay. Maybe I'll play for an American football team. They have one, right there in Kansas City, you know."

  "I've heard rumors," Gray said and smiled.

  "This is grand cake, Miss Concannon." Kenny polished off his piece.

  When he left a bit later, Brianna watched him dart over the fields, the cake bundled under his arm like one of his precious footballs.

  "So many of them go," she murmured. "We lose them day after day, year after year. Shaking her head, she closed the kitchen door again. "Well, I'll see to your room now that you're out of it."

  "I was going to take a walk. Why don't you come with me?"

  "I could take a short one. Just let me-" She smiled apologetically as the phone rang. "Good afternoon, Blackthorn Cottage. Oh, Arlene, how are you?" Brianna held out a hand for Gray's. "That's good to hear. Yes, I'm fine and well. Gray's just here, I'll... oh?" Her brow cocked, then she smiled again. "That would be grand. Of course, you and your husband are more than welcome. September's a lovely time of the year. I'm so pleased you're coming. Yes, I have it. September fifteenth, for five days. Indeed yes, you can make a number of day trips from right here. Shall I send you some information about it? No, it would be my pleasure. And I look forward to it as well. Yes, Gray's here as I said. Just a moment."

  He took the phone, but looked at Brianna. "She's coming to Ireland in September?"

  "On holiday, she and her husband. It seems I tickled her curiosity. She has news for you."

  "Mmm-hmmm. Hey, gorgeous," he said into the receiver. "Going to play tourist in the west counties?" He grinned, nodded when Brianna offered him tea. "No, I think you'll love it. The weather?" He glanced out the window at the steadily falling rain. "Magnificent." He winked at Brianna, sipped his tea. "No, I didn't get your package yet. What's in it?"

  Nodding, he murmured to Brianna. "Reviews. On the movie." He paused, listening. "What's the hype? Mmm. Brilliant, I like brilliant. Wait, say that one again. 'From the fertile mind of Grayson Thane,' " he repeated for Bri-

  anna's benefit. "Oscar worthy. Two thumbs straight up." He laughed at that. "And the most powerful movie of the year. Not bad, even if it's only May. No, I don't have my tongue in my cheek. It's great. Even better. Early quotes on the new book," he told Brianna.

  "But you haven't finished the new book."

  "Not that new book. The one that's coming out in July. That's the new book, what I'm working on is the new manuscript. No, just explaining some basic publishing to the landlady."

  Pursing his lips, he listened. "Really? I like it."

  With an eye on him Brianna went to the stove for her roaster. He was making noises, the occasional comment. Occasionally he'd grin or shake his head.

  "It's a good thing I'm not wearing a hat. My head's getting big. Yeah, publicity sent me an endless letter about the plans for the tour. I've agreed to be at their mercy for three weeks. No, you make the decision on that sort of thing. It just takes too long for them to mail stuff. Yeah, you too I'll tell her. Talk to you later."

  "The movie's doing well," Brianna said, trying to resist pumping him.

  "Twelve million in its first week, which is nothing to sneeze at. And the critics are smiling on it. Apparently they like the upcoming book, too. I'm at the top of my form," he said, reaching into a canister for a cookie. "I've created a story dense in atmosphere with prose as sharp as a honed dagger. With, ah, gut-wrenching twists and dark, biting humor. Not too shabby."

  "You should be very proud."

  "I wrote it almost a year ago." He shrugged, chewed. "Yeah, it's nice. I have an affection for it that will dim considerably after thirty-one cities in three weeks."

  "The tour you were speaking of."

  "Right. Talk shows, bookstores, airports, and hotel rooms." With a laugh he popped the rest of the cookie into his mouth. "What a life."

  "It suits you well, I'd think."

  "Right down to the ground."

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