Born in ice, p.6
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       Born in Ice, p.6

         Part #2 of Born In series by Nora Roberts

  He wasn't sure why he resisted. Perhaps it was the subtle waves of fear vibrating from her. It might have been the shock of discovering he had his own fear, compressed in a small tight ball in the pit of his stomach.

  It was he who took a step back, a very vital step back.

  "I'll clean them off for you," he said. "And we'll try her again."

  Her hands reached for each other until her fingers were linked. "Thank you. I should go in and call my mother, let her know I'll be a little late."

  "Brianna." He waited until she stopped retreating, until her eyes lifted to his again. "You have an incredibly appealing face."

  As compliments went, she wasn't sure how this one fit. She nodded. "Thank you. I like yours."

  He cocked his head. "Just how careful do you want to be about this?"

  It took her a moment to understand, and another to find her voice. "Very," she managed. "I think very."

  Gray watched her disappear into the house before he turned back to the job at hand. "I was afraid of that," he muttered.

  Once she was on her way-the Fiat's engine definitely needed an overhaul-Gray took a long walk over the fields. He told himself he was absorbing atmosphere, researching, priming himself to work. It was a pity he knew himself well enough to understand he was working off his response to Brianna.

  A normal response, he assured himself. She was, after all, a beautiful woman. And he hadn't been with a woman at all for some time. If his libido was revving, it was only to be expected.

  There had been a woman, an associate with his publishing house in England, whom he might have tumbled for. Briefly. But he'd suspected that she'd been much more interested in how their relationship might have advanced her career than in enjoying the moment. It had been distressingly easy for him to keep their relationship from becoming intimate.

  He was becoming jaded, he supposed. Success could do that to you. Whatever pleasure and pride it brought carried a price. A growing lack of trust, a more jaundiced eye. It rarely bothered him. How could it when trust had never been his strong point in any case? Better, he thought, to see things as they were rather than as you wanted them to be. Save the / wants for fiction.

  He could turn his reaction to Brianna around just that way. She would be his prototype for his heroine. The lovely, serene, and composed woman, with secrets in her eyes and ice floes, banked fires, and conflicts stirring beneath the shell.

  What made her tick? What did she dream of, what did she fear? Those were questions he would answer as he built a woman out of words and imagination.

  Was she jealous of her stunningly successful sister? Did she resent her demanding mother? Was there a man she wanted and who wanted her?

  Those were questions he needed to answer as he discovered Brianna Concannon.

  Gray began to think he would need to combine them all before he could tell his tale.

  He smiled to himself as he walked. He would tell himself that, he thought, because he wanted to know. And he had no qualms whatsoever about prying into someone's private thoughts and experiences. And no guilt about hording his own.

  He stopped, turned a slow circle as he looked around him. Now this, he decided, was a place a person could lose himself in. Roll after roll of glistening green fields bisected with gray stone walls, dotted with fat cows. The morning was so clear, so shining, that he could see the glint of window glass in cottages in the distance, the flap of clothes hung out on lines to dry in the breeze.

  Overhead the sky was a bowl of swimming blue-postcard perfect. Yet already, at the west rim of that bowl, clouds were swarming together; their purple-edged tips threatened storm.

  Here, in what seemed to be the center of a crystalized world, he could smell grass and cow, hints of the sea carried on the air, and the faint, faint scent of smoke from a cottage chimney. There was the sound of wind in the grass, the swish of cows' tails, and the steady trumpet of a bird who celebrated the day.

  He almost felt guilty about bringing even fictional murder and mayhem to such a place. Almost.

  He had six months, Gray thought. Six months before his next book hit the stands and he flung himself, as cheerfully as possible, into the fun house ride of book tours and press. Six months to create the story that was already growing inside his head. Six months to enjoy this little spot in the world, and the people in it.

  Then he would leave it, as he had left dozens of other spots, hundreds of other people, and go on to the next. Going on was something he excelled at.

  Gray swung over a wall and crossed the next field.

  The circle of stones caught his eye and his imagination immediately. He had seen greater monuments, had stood in the shadow of Stonehenge and felt the power. This dance was hardly more than eight feet, the king stone no taller than a man. But finding it here, standing silent among grazing, disinterested cows, seemed wonderful to him.

  Who had built it, and why? Fascinated, Gray rounded the outside circumference first. Only two of the lintels remained in place, the others having fallen off in some long-ago night. At least he hoped it had been at night, during a storm, and the sound of them crashing to earth would have vibrated like a roar of a god.

  He laid a hand on the king stone. It was warm from the sun, but carried an underlying iciness that thrilled. Could he use this, he wondered? Somehow weave this place and the echoes of ancient magic into his book?

  Would there be murder done here? He stepped into the circle, into the center. A sacrifice of sorts, he mused. A self-serving ritual where blood would splash the thriving green grass, stain the base of the stones.

  Or perhaps it would be love done here. A desperate and greedy tangle of limbs-the grass cool and damp beneath, the full white moon swimming overhead. The stones standing guard as the man and woman lost themselves in need.

  He could imagine both with equal clarity. But the second appealed more, so much more, he could all but see Brianna lying on the grass, her hair fanned out, her arms lifted up. Her skin would be pale as milk, soft as water.

  Her slim hips would arch, her slender back bow. And when he drove himself into her, she would cry out. Those neat, rounded nails would score his back. Her body would plunge like a mustang under his, faster, deeper, stronger, until...

  "Good morning to you."

  "Jesus." Gray jolted back. His breathing was unsteady, his mouth dust dry. Later, he promised himself, later it would be amusing, but for now he fought to rip himself out of erotic fantasy and focus on the man approaching the circle of stones.

  He was dark, strikingly handsome, dressed in the rough, sturdy clothes of a farmer. Perhaps thirty, Gray judged, one of the stunning Black Irish who claimed jet hair and cobalt eyes. The eyes seemed friendly enough, a little amused.

  Brianna's dog was prancing happily at his heels. Recognizing Gray, Con galloped into the circle to greet him.

  "An interesting spot," the man said in a musical west county brogue.

  "I didn't expect to find it here." Rubbing Con's head, Gray came through a space between stones. "It isn't listed on any of the tourist maps I have."

  "It isn't, no. It's our dance, you see, but we don't mind sharing it occasionally. You'd be Brie's Yank." He offered a big, work-roughened hand. "I'm Murphy Muldoon."

  "Of the rose-trampling cows."

  Murphy winced. "Christ, she'll never forget it. And didn't I replace every last bush? You'd think the cows had stepped on her firstborn." He looked down at Con for support. The dog sat, tilted his head, and kept his own counsel. "You've settled into Blackthorn, then?"

  "Yes. I'm trying to get a feel for the area." Gray glanced around again. "I guess I crossed over onto your land."

  "We don't shoot trespassers often these days," Murphy said easily.

  "Glad to hear it." Gray studied his companion again. There was something solid here, he thought, and easily approachable. "I was in the village pub last night, O'Malley's, had a beer with a man named Rooney."

  "You mean you bought him a pint." Murphy grin

  "Two." Gray grinned back. "He earned them, with the payment of village gossip."

  "Some of which was probably truth." Murphy took out a cigarette, offered one.

  After shaking his head, Gray tucked his hands in his pockets. He only smoked when he was writing. "I believe your name was mentioned."

  "I won't doubt you."

  "What young Murphy is missing," Gray began in such a deadly mimic of Rooney that Murphy snorted with laughter, "is a good wife and strong sons to be working the land with him. He's after perfection, is Murphy, so he's spending his nights alone in a cold bed."

  "This from Rooney who spends most of his nights in the pub complaining that his wife drives him to drink."

  "He did mention that." Gray eased into the question he was most interested in. "And that since the jackeen had

  snapped Maggie out from under your nose, you'd be courting her younger sister before long."

  "Brie?" Murphy shook his head as he expelled smoke. "It'd be like cuddling my baby sister." He smiled still, but his eyes were sharp on Gray's. "Is that what you wanted to know, Mr. Thane?"

  "Gray. Yes, that's what I wanted to know."

  "Then I'll tell you the way's clear there. But mind your step. I'm protective of my sisters." Satisfied his point was made, Murphy took another comfortable drag. "You're welcome to come back to the house for a cup of tea."

  "I appreciate the offer, but I'll take a raincheck. There are things I need to get done today."

  "Well, then, I'll let you get to them. I enjoy your books," he said in such an offhand way that Gray was doubly complimented. "There's a bookstore in Galway you may like to visit if you travel that way."

  "I intend to."

  "You'll find it then. Give my best to Brianna, will you? And you might mention that I've not a scone left in my pantry." His grin flashed. " 'Twill make her feel sorry for me."

  After whistling for the dog who fell into place beside him, he walked away with the easy grace of a man crossing his own land.

  It was midafternoon when Brianna returned home, frazzled, drained, and tense. She was grateful to find no trace of Gray but for a note hastily scrawled and left on her kitchen table.

  Maggie called. Murphy's out of scones.

  An odd message, she thought. Why would Maggie call to tell her Murphy wanted scones? With a sigh Brianna set the note aside. Automatically she put on the kettle for tea before setting out the ingredients she needed to go with the free-range chicken she'd found-like a prize-at the market.

  Then she sighed, gave in. Sitting down again, she folded her arms on the table, laid her head on them. She didn't weep. Tears wouldn't help, wouldn't change anything. It had been one of Maeve's bad days, full of snipes and complaints and accusations. Maybe the bad days were harder now, because over the last year or so there had been nearly as many good ones.

  Maeve loved her little house, whether or not she ever admitted to it. She was fond of Lottie Sullivan, the retired nurse Brianna and Maggie had hired as her companion. Though the devil would never be able to drag that simple truth from Maeve's lips. She had found as much contentment as Brianna imagined she was capable of.

  But Maeve never forgot, never, that Brianna was responsible for nearly every bite of bread their mother enjoyed. And Maeve could never seem to stop resenting that.

  This had been one of the days when Maeve had paid her younger daughter back by finding fault with everything. With the added strain of the letters Brianna had found, she was simply exhausted.

  She closed her eyes and indulged herself for a moment by wishing. She wished her mother could be happy. She wished Maeve could recapture whatever joy and pleasure she'd had in her youth. She wished, oh, she wished most of all that she could love her mother with an open and generous heart instead of with cold duty and dragging dispair.

  And she wished for family, for her home to be filled with love and voices and laughter. Not simply for the transient guests who came and went, but for permanence.

  And, Brianna thought, if wishes were pennies, we'd all be as rich as Midas. She pushed back from the table, knowing the fatigue and depression would fade once she began to work.

  Gray would have a fine roast chicken for dinner, stuffed with herbed bread and ladeled with rich gravy.

  And Murphy, bless him, would have his scones.

  Chapter Four

  In a matter of days Brianna had grown accustomed to Gray's routine and adjusted her schedule accordingly. He liked to eat, rarely missing a meal-though she soon discovered he had little respect for timetables. She understood he was hungry when he began to haunt her kitchen. Whatever the time, she fixed him a plate. And had to admit she appreciated watching him enjoy her cooking.

  Most days he went out on what she thought of as his rambles. If he asked, she gave him directions, or made suggestions on some sight he might like to see. But usually he set out with a map, a notebook, and a camera.

  She saw to his rooms when he was out. Anyone who tidies up after another begins to learn things. Brianna discovered Grayson Thane was neat enough when it came to what belonged to her. Her good guest towels were never tossed on the floor in a damp heap; there were never any wet rings on her furniture from a forgotten glass or cup. But he had a careless disregard for what he owned. He might scrape off his boots before he came in out of the mud and onto her floors. Yet he never cleaned the expensive leather or bothered to polish them.

  So she did it herself.

  His clothes carried labels from fine shops around the world. But they were never pressed and were often tossed negligently over a chair or hung crookedly in the wardrobe.

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