Born in ice, p.5
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       Born in Ice, p.5

         Part #2 of Born In series by Nora Roberts
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  Maggie's mouth thinned. "You think it would?"

  "Are you so sure it wouldn't?"

  The fire went out in Maggie as quickly as it had flared. "I don't know. How can I know? I feel as if they're both strangers now."

  "He loved you, Maggie." Rogan rose now to go to her. "You know that."

  "I know that." She let herself lean. "But I don't know what I feel."

  "I think we should try to find Amanda Dougherty," Brianna began, "and-"

  "I can't think." Maggie closed her eyes. There were too many emotions battering inside her to allow her to see, as she wanted, the right direction to take. "I need to think about this, Brie. It's rested this long. It can rest awhile longer."

  "I'm sorry, Maggie."

  "Don't take this on your shoulders as well." A bit of the bite and briskness came back into Maggie's voice. "They're burdened enough. Give me a few days, Brie, then we'll decide together what's to be done."

  "All right."

  "I'd like to keep the letters, for now."

  "Of course."

  Maggie crossed over, laid a hand on Brianna's pale cheek. "He loved you, too, Brie."

  "In his way."

  "In every way. You were his angel, his cool rose. Don't worry. We'll find a way to do what's best."

  Gray didn't mind when the leaden sky began to spit rain again. He stood on a parapet of a ruined castle looking out on a sluggish river. Wind whistled and moaned through chinks in the stone. He might have been alone, not simply in this spot, but in this country, in the world.

  It was, he decided, the perfect place for murder.

  The victim could be lured here, could be pursued up ancient winding stone steps, could flee helplessly up, until any crumb of hope would dissolve. There would be no escape.

  Here, where old blood had been spilled, where it seeped into stone and earth so deep, yet not so deep, fresh murder would be done. Not for God, not for country. But for pleasure.

  Gray already knew his villain, could picture him there, slicing down so that the edge of his knife glinted silver in the dull light. He knew his victim, the terror and the pain. The hero, and the woman he would love, were as clear to Gray as the slow run of the river below.

  And he knew he would have to begin soon to create them with words. There was nothing he enjoyed in writing more than making his people breathe, giving them flesh and blood. Discovering their backgrounds, their hidden fears, every twist and turn of their pasts.

  It was, perhaps, because he had no past of his own. He had made himself, layer by layer, as skillfully and as meticulously as he crafted his characters. Grayson Thane was who he had decided to be, and his skill in storytelling had provided a means to become who and what he wanted, in some style.

  He would never consider himself a modest man, but considered himself no more than a competent writer, a spinner of tales. He wrote to entertain himself first, and acknowledged his luck in hitting some chord in the public.

  Brianna had been right. He had no desire to be a Yeats. Being a good writer meant he could make a living and do as he chose. Being a great one would bring responsibilities and expectations he had no desire to face. What Gray didn't choose to face, he simply turned his back on.

  But there were times, such as this, when he wondered what it might be like to have roots, ancestry, a full-blooded devotion to family or country. The people who had built this castle that still stood, those who had fought there, died there. What had they felt? What had they wished for? And how could battles fought so long ago still ring, as clear as the fatal music of sword against sword, in the air?

  He'd chosen Ireland for this, for the history, for the people whose memories were long and roots were deep. For people, he admitted, like Brianna Concannon.

  It was an odd and interesting bonus that she should be so much what he was looking for in his heroine.

  Physically she was perfect. That soft, luminous beauty, the simple grace and quiet manner. But beneath the shell, in contrast to that open-handed hospitality, was a remoteness, and a sadness. Complexities, he thought, letting the rain slap his cheeks. He enjoyed nothing better than contrasts and complexities-puzzles to be solved. What had put that haunted look in her eyes, that defensive coolness in her manner? It would be interesting to find out.

  Chapter Three

  He thought she was out when he came back. As focused as a hound on a scent, Gray headed to the kitchen. It was her voice that stopped him-soft, quiet, and icy. Without giving a thought to the ethics of eavesdropping, he shifted and moved to the doorway of the parlor.

  He could see her on the phone. Her hand twisted in the cord, a gesture of anger or nerves. He couldn't see her face, but the stiff set of her back and shoulders was indication enough of her mood.

  "I've just come in, Mother. I had to pick up a few things in the village. I've a guest."

  There was a pause, Gray watched as Brianna lifted a hand, rubbed it hard at her temple.

  "Yes, I know. I'm sorry it upsets you. I'll come around tomorrow. I can-"

  She broke off, obviously interrupted by some sharp comment on the other end of the phone. Gray pushed back an urge to move into the room and soothe those tensed shoulders.

  "I'll take you wherever you want to go tomorrow. I never said I was too busy, and I'm sorry you're not feeling well. I'll do the marketing, yes, it's no problem. Before noon, I promise. I have to go now. I have cakes in the oven. I'll bring you some, shall I? Tomorrow, Mother, I promise." She muttered a goodbye and turned. The weary distress on her face turned to shock when she saw Gray, then a flush crept into her cheeks. "You move quietly," she said with the faintest trace of annoyance in the tone. "I didn't hear you come in,"

  "I didn't want to interrupt." He had no shame about listening to her conversation, nor about watching her varying reactions flicker over her face. "Your mother lives nearby?"

  "Not far." Her voice was clipped now, edged with the anger that stirred inside her. He'd listened to her personal misery and didn't think it important enough to apologize for. "I'll get your tea now."

  "No hurry. You've got cakes in the oven."

  She leveled her eyes at his. "I lied. I should tell you that I open my home to you, but not my private life."

  He acknowledged this with a nod. "I should tell you, I always pry. You're upset, Brianna. Maybe you should have some tea."

  "I've had mine, thank you." Her shoulders remained stiff as she crossed the room and started to move past him. He stopped her with the faintest of brushes of his hand on her arm. There was curiosity in his eyes-and she resented it. There was sympathy-she didn't want it.

  "Most writers have as open an ear as a good bartender."

  She shifted. It was only the slightest movement, but it put distance between them, and made her point. "I've always wondered about people who find it necessary to tell their personal problems to the man who serves them ale. I'll bring your tea into the parlor. I've too much to do in the kitchen for company."

  Gray ran his tongue around his teeth as she walked away. He had, he knew, been put ever so completely in his place.

  Brianna couldn't fault the American for curiosity. She had plenty of her own. She enjoyed finding out about the people who passed through her home, hearing them talk about their lives and their families. It might have been unfair, but she preferred not to discuss hers. Much more comfortable was the role of onlooker. It was safer that way.

  But she wasn't angry with him. Experience had taught her that temper solved nothing. Patience, manners, and a quiet tone were more effective shields, and weapons against most confrontations. They had served her well through the evening meal, and by the end of it, it seemed to her that she and Gray had resumed their proper positions of landlandy and guest. His casual invitation to join him at the village pub had been just as casually refused. Brianna had spent a pleasant hour finishing his book.

  Now, with breakfast served and the dishes done, she prepared to drive to her mother's and devote the rest of the morning to
Maeve. Maggie would be annoyed to hear it, Brianna thought. But her sister didn't understand that it was easier, certainly less stressful to simply meet their mother's need for time and attention. Inconvenience aside, it was only a few hours out of her life.

  Hardly a year earlier, before Maggie's success had made it possible to set Maeve up with a companion in her own home, Brianna had been at her beck and call twenty-four hours a day, tending to imaginary illnesses, listening to complaints on her own shortcomings.

  And being reminded, time after time, that Maeve had done her duty by giving Brianna life.

  What Maggie couldn't understand, and what Brianna continued to be guilty about, was that she was willing to pay any price for the serenity of being the sole mistress of Blackthorn Cottage.

  And today the sun was shining. There was a teasing hint of far-off spring in the mild breeze. It wouldn't last, Brianna knew. That made the luminous light and soft air all the more precious. To enjoy it more fully, she rolled down the windows of her ancient Fiat. She would have to roll them up again and turn on the sluggish heater when her mother joined her.

  She glanced over at the pretty little Mercedes Gray had leased-not in envy. Or perhaps with just the slightest twinge of envy. It was so efficiently flashy and sleek. And suited its driver, she mused, perfectly. She wondered what it would be like to sit behind the wheel, just for a moment or two.

  Almost in apology she patted the steering wheel of her Fiat before turning the key. The engine strained, grumbled, and coughed.

  "Ah, now, I didn't mean it," she murmured and tried the key again. "Come on, sweetheart, catch hold, will you? She hates it when I'm late."

  But the engine merely stuttered, then died off with a moan. Resigned, Brianna got out and lifted the hood. She knew the Fiat often displayed the temperament of a cranky old woman. Most usually she could coax it along with a few strokes or taps with the tools she carried in the trunk.

  She was hauling out a dented toolbox when Gray strolled out the front door.

  "Car trouble?" he called.

  "She's temperamental." Brianna tossed back her hair and pushed up the sleeves of her sweater. "Just needs a bit of attention."

  Thumbs tucked in the front pocket of his jeans, he crossed over, glanced under the hood. It wasn't a swagger -but it was close. "Want me to take a look?"

  She eyed him. He still hadn't shaved. The stubble should have made him look unkempt and sloppy. Instead, the combination of it and the gold-tipped hair pulled back in a stubby ponytail fit Brianna's image of an American rock star. The idea made her smile.

  "Do you know about cars then, or are you offering because you think you should-being male, that is."

  His brow shot up, and his lips quirked as he took the toolbox from her. He had to admit he was relieved she wasn't angry with him any longer.

  "Step back, little lady," he drawled in a voice thick with the rural South. "And don't worry that pretty head of yours. Let a man handle this."

  Impressed, she tilted her head. "You sounded just as I imagined Buck sounded in your book."

  "You've a good ear." He flashed her a grin before he ducked under the hood. "He was a pompous red-necked ass, wasn't he?"

  "Mmm." She wasn't sure, even though they were discussing a fictional character, if it was polite to agree. "Usually it's the carburetor," she began. "Murphy promised to rebuild it when he has a few hours to spare."

  Already head and shoulders under the hood, Gray simply turned his head and gave her a dry look. "Well, Murphy's not here, is he?"

  She had to admit he was not. Brianna bit her lip as she watched Gray work. She appreciated the offer, truly she did. But the man was a writer, not a mechanic. She couldn't afford to have him, with all good intentions, damage something.

  "Usually if I just prop open that hinge thing there with a stick"-to show him, she leaned in alongside Gray and pointed-"then I get in and start it."

  He turned his head again, was eye to eye and mouth to mouth with her. She smelled glorious, as fresh and clean as the morning. As he stared, color flushed into her cheeks, her eyes widened fractionally. Her quick and obviously unplanned reaction to him might have made him smile, if his system hadn't been so busy going haywire.

  "It's not the carburetor this time," he said and wondered what she would do if he pressed his lips just where the pulse in her throat was jumping.

  "No?" She couldn't have moved if her life had been threatened. His eyes had gold in them, she thought foolishly, gold streaks along the brown, just as he had in his hair. She fought to get a breath in and out. "Usually it is."

  He shifted, a test for both of them, until their shoulders brushed. Those lovely eyes of hers clouded with confusion, like a sea under uncertain skies. "This time it's the battery cables. They're corroded."

  "It's... been a damp winter."

  If he leaned just the slightest bit toward her now, his mouth would be on hers. The thought of it shot straight to her stomach, flipped over. It would be rough-he would be rough, she was certain. Would he kiss like the hero in the book she had finished the night before? With teeth nipping, tongue thrusting? All fierce demand and wild urgency while his hands...

  Oh, God. She'd been wrong, Brianna discovered, she could move if her life was threatened. If felt as if it had been, though he hadn't moved, hadn't so much as blinked. Giddy from her own imagination, she jerked back, only to make a small, distressed sound in her throat when he moved with her.

  They stood, almost embracing, in the sunlight.

  What would he do? she wondered. What would she do?

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