Irish rebel, p.8
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       Irish Rebel, p.8

         Part #3 of Irish Hearts series by Nora Roberts
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  The tension was slipping away from under his fingers as he touched her, and building everywhere else. A kind of gathering inside her, a concentration of heat. The pressure in her chest was so sudden and strong it made her breath short. The muscles in her stomach began to twist, tighten. Ache.

  "My face doesn't have anything to do with what I am."

  "Maybe not, but that doesn't take away the pure pleasure of looking at it."

  If she hadn't trembled, he might have resisted. It was a mistake. But he'd made them before, would make them again. There was moonlight, and the scent of the last of summer's roses in the air. Was a man supposed to walk away from a beautiful woman who trembled under his hand?

  Not this man, he thought.

  "Too pretty a night to waste it," he said again, and bent toward her.

  She jerked back when his mouth was a whisper from hers, but his fingers continued to play over her neck, keeping her close. His gaze dropped to her lips, lingered, then came back to hers.

  And he smiled. "Cushla machree," he murmured, and as if it were an incantation, she slid under the spell.

  His lips brushed hers, wing-soft. Everything inside her fluttered in response. He drew her closer, gradually luring her body to fit against his, curves to angles, as his hand played rhythmically up and down her spine.

  A light scrape of teeth, and her lips parted for him.

  Her head went light, her blood hot, and her body seemed balanced on the brink of something high and thin. It was lovely, lovely to feel this soft, this female, this open. She brought her hands to his shoulders, clung there while she let herself teeter on that delicious edge.

  He knew how to be gentle, there had always been gentleness inside him for the fragile. But her sudden and utter surrender to him, to herself, had him forcing back the need to grab and plunder. Resistance was what he'd expected. Anything from cool disdain to impulsive passion he would have understood. But this… giving destroyed him.

  "More," he murmured against her mouth. "Just a little more." And deepened the kiss.

  She made a sound in her throat, a low purr that slipped into his system like silk. His heart shook, then it stumbled, then God help him, it fell.

  The shock of it had him yanking her back, staring at her with the edgy caution of a man suddenly finding himself holding a tiger instead of a kitten.

  Had he actually thought it a mistake? Nothing more than a simple mistake? He'd just put the power to crush him into her hands.

  "Damn it."

  She blinked at him, struggling to catch up with the abrupt change. His face was fierce, and the hands that had shifted to her arms no longer gentle. She wanted to shiver, but wouldn't permit another show of weakness.

  "Let me go."

  "I didn't force you."

  "I didn't say you did."

  Her lips still throbbed from the pressure of his, and her stomach quaked. Rumor was she was cold, she thought dimly. And she'd believed it herself. Finding out differently wasn't cause for celebration. But for panic.

  "I don't want this." This vulnerability, this need.

  "Neither do I." He released her to jam his hands into his pockets. "That makes this quite the situation."

  "It's not a situation if we don't let it be one." She wanted to rub a hand over her heart, to hold it there. It amazed her that he couldn't hear it hammering. "We're both grown-ups, able to take responsibility for our own actions. That was a momentary lapse on both our parts. It won't happen again."

  "And if it does?"

  "It won't, because each of us have priorities and a… situation would complicate matters. We'll forget it. Good night."

  She walked to the house. She didn't run, though part of her wanted to. And another part, a part that brought her no pride, simply wanted him to stop her.

  He'd hoped the time away in Florida with work at the center of his world would help him do just what she'd said to do. Forget it.

  But he hadn't, and couldn't, and finally decided it had been a ridiculous thing for her to expect. Since he was suffering, he saw no reason why he should let her off so damn easy.

  He knew how to handle women, he reminded himself. And princess or not, Keeley was a woman under it all. She was going to discover she couldn't swat Brian Donnelly aside like a pesky fly.

  He walked up from the stables, his bag slung over his shoulder. He'd yet to go to his quarters, and had slept very little on the drive back from Hialeah. He could have flown back, but the choice to stay with the horses and make the drive had been his.

  His horses had done all he'd asked of them, made him proud at heart and plumper in the pocket. Seeing that they were delivered home and settled back again was the least he could do.

  But right now he wanted nothing more than a hot shower, a shave and a decent cup of tea.

  Though he'd have traded all of that for one more taste of Keeley.

  Knowing it irritated him had him scowling in the direction of her paddock. The minute he was cleaned up, he promised himself, the two of them would have a little conversation. Very little, he decided, before he got his hands on her again. And when he did, he was going to—

  The erotic image he conjured in his head burst like a bubble when he rounded the house and saw Keeley's mother kneeling at the flower bed.

  It was not the most comfortable thing to come across the mother when you'd been picturing the daughter naked. Then Adelia looked over at him, and he saw the tears on her cheeks. And his mind went blank.

  "Ah… Mrs. Grant."

  "Brian." Sniffling, she wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand. "I was doing some weeding. Just tidying up the beds here." She tugged at the cap on her head, then she lowered her hands, dropped back on her heels. "I'm sorry."

  "Ah…" Said that already, he thought, panicked. Say something else. He was never so helpless as he was with female tears.

  "I'm missing Uncle Paddy. He left yesterday." She didn't quite muffle a sob. "I thought if I came by here and fiddled, I'd feel some better, but it's knowing he's not down at the stables, or up there. I know he had to go. I know he wanted to go. But…"

  "Ah…" Oh hell. Frantic, Brian dug in his back pocket for his bandanna. "Maybe you should…"

  "Thanks." She took the cloth as he crouched beside her. "You'll know what it's like, I think, being away from family."

  "Well, mine's not close, so to speak."

  "Family's family." She dried her face, blew out a breath.

  She looked so young, he thought, and not like a mother at all, with her cap crooked on her head and her eyes drenched. He did what came natural for him, and took her hand.

  For a moment, she leaned her head on his shoulder, sighed. "He changed everything for me, Paddy did, when he brought me here. I was so nervous coming all this way. New place, new people. A new country. And I hadn't seen Paddy outside pictures for years, or even been face-to-face since I was a baby, but as soon as I saw him, it was all right again. I don't know what I'd have done without him."

  It loosened the fist around her heart to talk. Soothed her that he gave her the quiet that was an offer to listen.

  "I didn't want to blubber in front of Travis and the children because they're missing him, too. And I was holding on pretty well until I came down here. This is where I lived when I first came to Royal Meadows. In a pretty room with green walls and white curtains. I was so young."

  "I guess you're old and decrepit now," Brian said and was relieved when she laughed.

  "Well, perhaps not quite decrepit, but I was greener then. I'd never seen a place like this in all my life, and I was going to be living right in the middle of it thanks to Paddy. If it hadn't been for him, I don't think Travis would ever have taken the likes of me on as a groom."

  "A groom." Brian's brows lifted. "I thought that was a made-up story."

  "Indeed it's not," she said with some heat—and an unmistakable touch of pride. "I earned my keep around here, make no mistake. I was a damn fine groom
in my time. Majesty was mine."

  Brian lowered himself until he was sitting on the ground beside her. "You groomed Majesty?"

  "That I did, and was there to watch him take the Derby. Oh, I loved that horse. You know what it's like."

  "I do, yes."

  "We lost him only last year. A fine long life he had. I think that was when Paddy decided it was time for him to go home again. He's there by now, and I know what he sees when he stands out in front of the house, and that's a comfort. As you've been just now, Brian. Thank you."

  "I didn't do anything. I fumble with tears."

  "You listened." She handed him back his bandanna.

  "Mostly because tears render me speechless. You've a bit of garden dirt here."

  Keeley came down the path just in time to see Brian gently wipe her mother's face with a blue bandanna. The tearstains had her leaping forward like a mama bear to her threatened cub.

  "What is it? What did you do?" Hissing at Brian, she wrapped an arm around Adelia's shoulder.

  "Nothing. I just knocked your mother down and kicked her a few times."

  "Keeley." With a surprised laugh, Adelia patted her daughter's hand. "Brian's done nothing but lend me his hankie and his shoulder while I had a little cry over Uncle Paddy."

  "Oh, Mama." Keeley pressed her cheek to Adelia's, rubbed. "Don't be sad."

  "I have to be, a little. But I'm better now." She leaned over, surprising Brian with a kiss on the cheek. "You're a nice young man, and a patient one."

  He got to his feet to help her up. "I don't have much of a reputation for either, Mrs. Grant."

  "That's because not everyone looks close enough. You should be able to call me Dee easy enough now that I've cried on you. I'm going down to the stables, do some work."

  "She never cries," Keeley murmured when her mother walked away. "Not unless she's very happy or very sad. I'm sorry I jumped at you that way, but when I saw she'd been crying, I stopped thinking."

  "Tears affect me much the same way, so we'll let it be."

  She nodded, then cast around for something to say that would help relieve the awkwardness. She'd been so sure she'd be controlled and composed when she saw him again. "So, I heard you did well at Hialeah."

  "We did. Your Hero runs particularly well in a crowd."

  "Yes, I've seen him. He lives to run." She noted the bag Brian had set down. "And here you are not even really back yet, and you've had one woman crying on your shoulder and another swiping at you. I really am sorry."

  "Sorry enough to make me some tea while I clean up?"

  "I… all right, but I've got less than an hour."

  "Takes a good deal less to brew a pot of tea." Satisfied, he started up the steps. "You've a class this afternoon then?"

  "Yes." Trapped, Keeley shrugged and followed him up and inside. He'd been kind to her mother, she reminded herself. She was obliged to repay that. "At three-thirty. I have some things to do before the students arrive."

  "Well, I won't be long. You know where the kitchen is, I expect."

  She frowned after him as he strolled off into the bedroom.

  Making him cozy pots of tea wasn't how she'd expected to handle the situation, she thought. She'd given it a great deal of consideration and had decided the best thing all around would be to maintain a polite, marginally friendly distance. That business the other night had been nothing but a moment's foolishness. Harmless.

  Incredible.

  She gave herself a shake and got down the old teapot Paddy had favored. No, it was nothing to worry about. In fact, on one level she really should be grateful to Brian. He'd shown her she wasn't as indifferent to men as she'd believed. It had bothered her a little that she'd never felt that spark so many of her friends had spoken of.

  Well, she'd certainly felt a whole firestorm of sparks when he'd put his hands on her. And that was good, that was healthy. Someone had finally caught her at the right time and the right place and the right mood. If it could happen once, it could happen again.

  With someone else, of course. When she decided it was time.

  She set the tea aside to steep, then opening a cupboard stretched high for a cup.

 
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