Born in ice, p.46
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       Born in Ice, p.46

         Part #2 of Born In series by Nora Roberts
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  When he left again, she tried to shift to see what else was in the bag he'd set on the floor. But the shoulder made movement awkward. Settling back again, she nibbled on the burger and tried not to pout. The sound of footsteps returning had her pasting a smile on her face. "Where do you want them?" Gray asked. "Oh, on that little table over there. Yes, that's lovely. Your dinner'll be cold, Gray."

  He only grunted, then sitting again took his own share of the meal from the bag. "Feeling any better?"

  "I don't feel nearly bad enough to be pampered this way, but I'm glad you stayed to have dinner with me."

  "Only the beginning, honey." He winked and with the half-eaten burger in one hand, reached into the bag.

  "Oh, Gray-a nightgown. A real nightgown." It was plain, white, and cotton and all but brought tears of gratitude to her eyes. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate that. This awful thing they put on you."

  "I'll help you change after dinner. There's more." "Slippers, too. Oh, a hairbrush. Thank God." "Actually, I can't take credit for all this. It was Maggie's idea."

  "Bless her. And you."

  "She said your blouse was ruined." Bloody, he remembered she'd told him and took a moment to steady himself.

  "We'll take care of that tomorrow, if they spring you. Now what else do we have here? Toothbrush, a little bottle of that cream you use all the time. Almost forgot the drinks." He handed her a paper cup, topped with plastic with a hole for the straw. "An excellent vintage, I'm told."

  "You thought of everything."

  "Absolutely. Even the entertainment."

  "Oh, a book."

  "A romance novel. You have several on your shelf at the cottage."

  "I like them." She didn't have the heart to tell him the headache would make reading impossible. "You went to a lot of trouble."

  "Just a quick shopping spree. Try to eat a little more."

  Dutifully she bit into a chip. "When you get home will you thank Mrs. O'Malley for me, and tell her please, not to bother with the wash."

  "I'm not going back until you go."

  "But you can't stay here all night."

  "Sure I can." Gray polished off the burger, balled the wrapper, and tossed it into the waste can. "I've got a plan."

  "Grayson, you need to go home. Get some rest."

  "Here's the plan," he said, ignoring her. "After visiting hours, I'll hide out in the bathroom until things settle down. They probably make a sweep, so I'll wait until they come in and check on you."

  "That's absurd."

  "No, it'll work. Then the lights go off, and you're all tucked in. That's when I come out."

  "And sit in the dark for the rest of the night? Grayson, I'm not on my deathbed. I want you to go home."

  "Can't do it. And we won't sit in the dark." With a smug grin, he pulled his last purchase from the bag. "See this? It's a book light, the kind you clip on so you don't disturb your bed partner if you want to read late."

  Amazed, she shook her head. "You've lost your mind."

  "On the contrary, I'm extremely clever. This way I won't be at the cottage worrying, you won't be here, alone and miserable. I'll read to you until you're tired."

  "Read to me?" she repeated in a murmur. "You're going to read to me?"

  "Sure. Can't have you trying to focus on this little print with a concussion, can we?"

  "No." She knew nothing, absolutely nothing in her life had ever touched her more. "I should make you go, but I so very much want you to stay."

  "That makes two of us. You know, this sounded pretty good from the back cover copy. 'A deadly alliance,'" he read. " 'Katrina-she would never be tamed. The fiery-haired beauty with the face of a goddess and the soul of a warrior would risk everything to avenge the murder of her father. Even wed and bed her fiercest enemy.' " He lifted a brow. "Hell of a gal, that Katrina. And the hero's no slouch, either. 'Ian-he would never surrender. The bold and battle-scarred highland chief known as the Dark Lord would fight friend and foe to protect his land, and his woman. Sworn enemies, sworn lovers, they form an alliance that sweeps them toward destiny and into passion.' "

  He flipped the book over to the front cover, reaching idly for a chip. "Pretty good, huh? And a fine-looking couple they are, too. See, it takes place in Scotland, twelfth century. Katrina's the only child of this widowed laird. He's let her run pretty wild, so she does a lot of guy stuff. Sword-play and archery, hunting. Then there's this evil plot and he's murdered, which makes her the laird and prey for the vicious and slightly insane villain. But our Katrina's no doormat." Brianna smiled, reached for Gray's hand. "You've read it?"

  "I paged through it when I was waiting to pay for it. There's this incredibly erotic scene on page two fifty-one. Well, we'll work our way up to that. They're probably going to come in and check your blood pressure, and we don't want it elevated. Better get rid of the evidence here, too." He gathered up the wrappings from the smuggled dinner.

  He'd barely hidden them in the bag when the door opened. Nurse Mannion, big as a halfback, bustled in. "Visiting hours are nearly over, Mr. Thane."

  "Yes, ma'am."

  "Now, Miss Concannon, how are we doing? Any dizziness, nausea, blurred vision?"

  "No, not at all. I'm feeling fine, really. In fact, I was wondering if-"

  "That's good, that's good." Nurse Mannion easily over-road the expected request to leave as she made notes on the chart at the foot of the bed. "You should try to sleep. We'll be checking on you through the night, every three hours." Still moving briskly, she set a tray on the table beside the bed.

  Brianna only had to take one look to go pale. "What's that? I told you I feel fine. I don't need a shot. I don't want one. Grayson."

  "I, ah-" One steely glance from Nurse Mannion had him fumbling in the role of hero.

  "It's not a shot. We just need to draw a little blood."

  "What for?" Abandoning any pretense of dignity, Brianna cringed back. "I lost plenty. lake some of that."

  "No nonsense now. Give me your arm."

  "Brie. Look here." Gray linked his fingers with hers. "Look at me. Did I ever tell you about the first time I went to Mexico? I hooked up with some people and went out on their boat. This was in the Gulf. It was really beautiful. Balmy air, crystal blue seas. We saw this little barracuda swimming along the port side."

  Out of the corner of his eye he saw Nurse Mannion slide the needle under Brianna's skin. And his stomach turned.

  "Anyway, anyway," he said, speaking quickly. "One of the guys went to get his camera. He comes back, leans over the rail, and the mama barracuda jumps right up out of the water. It was like freeze frame. She looked right at the lens of the camera and smiled with all those teeth. Like a pose. Then she plopped back into the water, got her baby, and they swam away."

  "You're making it up."

  "God's truth," he said, lying desperately. "He got the picture, too. I think he sold it to National Geographic, or maybe it was the Enquirer. Last I heard he was still out in the Gulf of Mexico, hoping to repeat the experience."

  "That's done." The nurse patted a bandage in the crook of Brianna's elbow. "Your dinner's on its way, miss, if you have room for it after your hamburger."

  "Ah, no, thank you just the same. I think I'll just rest now."

  "Five minutes, Mr. Thane."

  Grayson scratched his chin when the door swung shut behind her. "Guess we didn't quite pull that off."

  Now Brianna did pout. "You said you'd beat them up if they came in with needles."

  "She's a lot bigger than me." He leaned over, kissed her lightly. "Poor Brie."

  She tapped a finger on the book that lay on the bed beside her. "Ian would never have backed down."

  "Well, hell, look how he's built. He could wrestle a horse. I'll never qualify for Dark Lord."

  "I'll take you just the same. Grinning barracudas," she said and laughed. "How do you think of such things?"

  "Talent, sheer talent." He went to the door, peeked out. "Don't see her. I'm going
to turn off the light, duck into the bathroom. We'll give it ten minutes."

  He read to her for two hours, taking her through Katrina's and Ian's perilous and romantic adventures by the tiny light of the book lamp. Now and again his hand would reach out and brush over hers, lingering over the moment of contact.

  She knew she would always remember the sound of his voice, the way he slipped into a Scottish burr for the dialogue to amuse her. And the way he looked, she thought, the way his face was lit by the small bulb so that his eyes were dark, his cheekbones shadowed.

  Her hero, she thought. Now and always. Closing her eyes, Brianna let the words he read drift over her.

  "You're mine." Ian swept her into his arms, strong arms that trembled from the need that gripped him. By law and by right, you're mine. And I am pledged to you, Katrina, from this day, from this hour."

  "And are you mine, Ian ?" Fearlessly she speared her fingers into his hair, drew him closer. "Are you mine, Dark Lord?"

  "No one has ever loved you more than I." He swore it. No one ever will.

  Brianna fell asleep wishing the words Gray read could be his own.

  Gray watched her, knowing from the slow, steady sound of her breathing that she'd drifted off. He indulged himself then and buried his face in his hands. Keep it light. He'd promised himself he'd keep it light, and the strain was catching up with him.

  She wasn't badly hurt. But no matter how often he reminded himself of that, he couldn't shake the bone-deep terror that had gripped him from the moment Murphy had stepped into the kitchen.

  He didn't want her in a hospital, bruised and bandaged. He never wanted to think of her hurt in any way. And now he would always remember it, he would always know that something could happen to her. That she might not be, as he wanted her always to be, humming in her kitchen or babying her flowers.

  It infuriated him that he would have this picture of her to carry with all the others. And it infuriated him all the more that he'd come to care so much he knew those pictures wouldn't fade as hundreds of other memories had.

  He'd remember Brianna, and that tie would make it difficult to leave. And necessary to do so quickly.

  He brooded over it as he waited for the night to pass. Each time a nurse would come to check Brianna, he listened to their murmured questions, her sleepy responses. Once, when he came back out, she called for him softly.

  "Go back to sleep." He brushed the hair away from her brow. "It's not morning yet.

  "Grayson." Drifting again, she reached for his hand. "You're still here."

  "Yeah." He looked down at her, frowned. "I'm still here."

  When she awoke again, it was light. Forgetting, she started to sit up, and the dull ache in her shoulder jarred her memory. More annoyed now than distressed, she touched her fingertips to the bandage on her head and looked around for Gray. She hoped he'd found some empty bed or waiting room couch to sleep on. She smiled at his flowers and wished she'd asked him to put them closer so that she could touch them as well.

  Warily she tugged out the bodice of her nightgown, bit her lip. There was a rainbow of bruises down her breastbone and torso where the seat belt had secured her. Seeing them, she was grateful Gray had helped her change into the nightgown in the dark.

  It wasn't fair, she thought. It wasn't right that she should look so battered for the last few days they had together. She wanted to be beautiful for him.

  "Good morning, Miss Concannon, so you're awake." A nurse breezed in, all smiles and youth and blooming health. Brianna wanted to hate her.

  "I am, yes. When will the doctor come to release me?"

  "Oh, he'll be making his rounds soon, don't worry. Nurse Mannion said you passed a peaceful night." As she spoke, she strapped a blood pressure cuff on Brianna's arm, stuck a thermometer under her tongue. "No dizziness then? Good, good," she said when Brianna shook her head. She checked the blood pressure guage, nodded, slipped the thermometer back out and nodded again at the results. "Well, you're doing fine, then, aren't you?"

  "I'm ready to go home."

  "I'm sure you're anxious." The nurse made notes on the chart. "Your sister's called already this morning, and a Mr. Biggs. An American. He said he was the one who hit your car."

  "Yes."

  "We reassured them both that you're resting comfortably. The shoulder paining you?"

  "A bit."

 
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