Man of the mountain, p.14

MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN, page 14

 

MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN
 


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  "What time do you have to be at work?"

  "Ten-thirty."

  He shot a glance over his shoulder, at the clock on the wall behind him. "Not for over an hour, then?" He was looking at her again.

  Suddenly she knew what was making him so quiet.

  She felt a kind of warming, a lovely weakening down in her lower belly. He wanted to … make love again, that was it. Before she left.

  He hung the towel up and then he took the few steps to where she stood. Slowly he ran the back of a finger down the side of her cheek.

  "Are you sore?" He asked the question gently. "From last night?"

  She swallowed and nodded.

  "How sore?"

  "A little. Not too much."

  His hand was sliding back, clasping her nape, creating those lovely, tingling sensations. He bent close, yet he kept his body slightly away from hers.

  "I should leave you alone now." His lips brushed hers, insistent, yet restrained.

  "Jared…" She dared to touch him, to put her hands on his shoulders and massage the hard muscles there.

  He went on kissing her, a tormenting, teasing, promising kiss. And he spoke against her lips as he kissed them. "I want you. And it'll be a long day without touching you. Say no now, or…"

  "Jared…"

  "That's not no."

  "Jared…"

  "Say it, damn it. Say it now."

  "But Jared. I…I want you, too."

  He let out a low, eager sound. And he took the comb from her hair as he had last night. She heard the clatter it made as he tossed it on the counter. Her hair curled around her face. He smoothed it with his hands. And then he slid one arm behind her knees, wrapped the other around her shoulders and swung her high against his chest.

  He carried her to the bedroom and laid her down on the bed.

  She stared up at him, dazed, as he stripped off his clothes with such swiftness that it seemed one minute he was fully dressed—and the next he was wearing nothing at all. Then he came down beside her and began helping her out of her own clothes.

  They were naked in no time. And he was guiding her down and kissing her until she felt her whole body was on fire, a flame of pure longing. For him.

  The slight burning from the loss of her virginity faded to no more than a memory as he touched her and kissed her, making her ready for loving once more. His fingers did things, wonderful things. And then he kissed her there, at her feminine center as he had last night, so that she was open and receptive, longing to have him fill her.

  Then, pawing only to slide on protection, he rose above her. She took him inside her easily this time, in one smooth, slow stroke.

  And when he was in, he lay there for a while above her, joined with her but absolutely still. His breathing was careful as he let her feel him and know him and get used to having him there.

  She stroked his back and cooed wordless things in his ear. And he kissed her, his lips so warm and good against her mouth, whispering how much he wanted her, how much he wanted this…

  And then he began to move.

  She knew what heaven felt like, when he began to move.

  Eden moved with him, at first slowly, then faster, then slowly once more.

  "Oh!" Eden cried out. Her eyes flew open in surprise. This was different than last night. Last night she had not felt her body rising toward completion while he was inside her.

  Jared was watching her, knowing what was happening to her. He lifted his hips and brought them to meet hers once more.

  "Oh, yes…" Her eyes drifted closed.

  Their bodies rose and fell as one. Soon, Eden felt herself spinning out and away, shattering into a thousand tiny stars of delight. She tossed her head back on the pillows and felt her body closing around him, milking him, as fulfillment shimmered through her.

  He found his own satisfaction just as hers began to fade to afterglow. He drove into her, insistent, lost to all thought.

  "Eden…"

  "Yes…"

  She opened herself utterly to him, meeting his every hungry, wild thrust. He drove deep. He groaned.

  And then, with a long sigh, his muscular body relaxed on top of hers.

  She held him gently, stroking his back as his breathing found its regular rhythm. As he'd done last night, he combed her hair with his hands.

  Eden, who'd been seeking a true home all her life, found herself thinking that she'd found her home at last. Her home was right here, in this man's arms.

  And then the phone rang.

  Jared muttered a low curse against her ear. "Don't answer it."

  She pushed at his shoulders a little, so she could meet his gaze. "Why not?"

  "It'll only be my father. Or some busybody or other. I'm not up to dealing with any of them now."

  "But Jared—"

  "Fine." He slid to the side and landed on his feet by the bed. Eden looked at him, stunned as usual at the lithe splendor of his body and also bewildered by his abruptness. The mood had been so lazy and lovely until just a few seconds ago.

  "Jared, wait…"

  The phone went on ringing.

  "If you're going to answer it, then do it," Jared said over his shoulder. He was already halfway through the bathroom door, his jeans in one hand.

  The phone rang again and Jared closed the door.

  Eden stared at the door he'd shut on her, wondering how a moment so beautiful could have vanished so quickly. Then she picked up the phone.

  "Ha. I caught you. I know you're probably just heading out the door, but—"

  "Laurie." Eden pulled the sheet over herself and combed her tangled hair with her free hand. "Hi. Look, it's okay. I'm … running a little behind today."

  "Well, I won't keep you. But it turns out I've got a day off tomorrow. I thought I'd come up, see my folks and Great-uncle Oggie. The usual, you know." Sacramento, where Laurie lived, was an hour and a half away. She went on. "And I was thinking, since tomorrow's Monday, that you'd be off, too. We could go to dinner in Nevada City or something. What do you say?"

  Eden's mind balked. Since last night, her whole life had changed. Now Jared seemed to fill every corner of it. And yet they had agreed to take things one day at a time. And they hadn't discussed what they'd tell everybody, about the two of them.

  "Eden? You still with me?"

  "Yes, I'm here. Just thinking. Listen, why don't you come here to the cabin for dinner? I'll fire up the barbecue and toss us a salad and we'll split a bottle of wine."

  Eden could hear Laurie's smile. "How you do read my mind. I'll bring the wine."

  "Done."

  "About six?"

  "Perfect."

  "Bye, then."

  "See ya."

  Eden hung up the phone.

  "Who was it?" Jared stood in the doorway to the bathroom, wearing his jeans and a scowl.

  "Laurie."

  "Did you tell her about us?"

  "No, I—"

  "What did she want?"

  "She's coming to town tomorrow. I invited her for dinner here." Eden gave him her warmest, most open smile. "I hope you'll join us, of course."

  He didn't smile back. "I didn't think about this, last night. About everyone knowing."

  She spoke gently. "I know. Neither did I, really. But it's okay."

  "What do you mean, okay? The whole damn town will be buzzing."

  "Oh, Jared. Come on. It can't be that big a deal."

  "Oh, can't it?"

  "No."

  He sauntered into the room and dropped into the little chair by her vanity table. He stared off toward the wall, rubbing the bruise on his chin.

  "I've gotta think," he said.

  "About what?"

  "This is no good. I should have considered this. There'll be nothing but talk, if I start staying here with you."

  Eden blinked. "Is that what you were thinking of—staying here?"

  He stopped staring at the wall and looked at her. "You don't like the idea?"

  She looked d
own at the sheet she was clutching to her breasts and then back up at him. "No—I mean, yes. I do like it. I just, well, you hadn't said anything, before now."

  He looked at the wall again. "I know. It was a bad idea."

  Eden felt crestfallen. Now she'd had a moment to consider it, she liked the thought of him staying with her. She liked it a lot. Yet he was already saying he wouldn't. "But why?"

  He cast her a patronizing look. "I just told you. Because people will talk. It's not so bad for me. I'm used to it. But it won't be good for you. Your reputation will be ruined."

  Eden rolled her eyes. "Oh, Jared, please. This is not 1950, for goodness' sake. A woman's private life is her own business."

  "Not in North Magdalene, it's not."

  "Jared—"

  He stood and began gathering the rest of his strewn clothing. "Look. I should get my truck out of here before someone sees it. And you'd better get moving if you want to be at The Hole in the Wall by ten-thirty. We'll talk about this. Tonight, after closing time. Or tomorrow, when we both have a day off."

  "But—"

  He was already headed for the door. But before he went through, he turned and pointed a boot at her. "And don't tell anyone about the two of us, until we settle this."

  "But Jared, I—"

  "Where are your car keys?"

  "In my purse, but—"

  "Where's your purse?"

  "In the kitchen, I think. But I—"

  "I'll get your car here in the next half hour. I'll leave the keys in the ignition."

  "Jared, why don't you just—"

  "Drive you to work? No way. Someone might see."

  "Jared—"

  "I mean it, keep your mouth shut," he warned again.

  And then he was gone.

  * * *

  Chapter 13

  « ^ »

  As Jared had promised, her car was waiting when Eden went outside a half an hour later.

  She was ten minutes late for work, but she hurried to get set up and managed to open the doors on time anyway. And then, once she had the place opened, time slowed to a crawl.

  It was Sunday, and Sundays were always quiet. However, today seemed even worse than usual.

  Eden tried to make the time go faster by cleaning everything in sight. She wiped the dust from the bottles on the highest shelves, bottles containing obscure liqueurs and other spirits with weird names that people rarely ordered. She cleaned the popcorn machine. She even took an old knife to the undersurface of the bar itself, in an effort to serape free the numberless wads of chewing gum that thoughtless customers were always sticking there.

  Owen Beardsly, whose wife taught school with Delilah, was sitting at the far end of the bar when Eden started in on the chewing gum. "Aw, come on, Eden," Owen complained. "Everyone in town admires you for what you've done with this place. But there's such a thing as a step too far. Scraping the gum from under the lip of the bar falls in that category."

  Eden looked up. "I want to keep busy." Each time she stopped working, she thought of Jared and the way he'd left her this morning. Everything was so up in the air. She wouldn't see him again until seven tonight. She missed him already.

  "So do something that matters and give me another shot," Rocky suggested from his usual spot on his favorite stool.

  "Yeah," Owen chimed in. "I'm ready for another drink, too. And I mean it. Put that knife away. Please? Watching you do that is making my ulcer act up."

  Eden wanted to tell Owen that he shouldn't be drinking anyway, if he had an ulcer. Also, it was Sunday morning and why wasn't he in church? His wife, Linda Lou, was probably fit to be tied that he was hanging around the bar at this time of day.

  But Eden kept her mouth shut. She knew she was just feeling edgy about Jared. It would be bad business to take her personal frustrations out on her customers.

  She put the knife away, washed her hands and served Rocky and Owen their drinks.

  Somehow, she got through the day.

  But, as Jared had warned her, people certainly did talk. The fight in the parking lot the night before seemed to be common knowledge today. Everyone had a remark or a question about it.

  "Hey, Eden. Heard about the fight last night. What exactly was that all about?"

  Eden knew how to handle such talk. She turned it right back on the questioner. "Oh, you heard that, did you? From who?"

  "It's all over town, I'm telling you. The word is that Jared Jones and some big blond kid beat the hell out of each other."

  "Oh, really?"

  "Yeah, really. And you still didn't tell me. What was it about?"

  "Well, I wasn't in the fight. You ought to ask Jared. Or that big blond kid."

  "But I heard you were there. I heard they were fighting over you."

  "You heard that, did you?"

  "Yeah. Is it true?"

  "No. It was about common courtesy. That big blond kid had no manners."

  "Aw, come on, Eden. Tell the truth. It was over you."

  "Is that what you think?"

  "Yeah. That's what I think."

  "Well, what goes on in your head is up to you. Here, have some cocktail mix. And take this half-dollar and play something good on the jukebox. It's too quiet in here." All the prying questions and knowing grins did get a little old after a while. But Eden was handling it fine, all in all. Maybe it would be harder to take if they knew that Jared had gone home with her last night. But she doubted it. A love affair between her and Jared Jones would be more likely to be discussed in whispers, behind her back. And Eden couldn't have cared less what people said behind her back. She was perfectly capable of just ignoring such stuff. But she feared Jared wasn't.

  And she feared right.

  When he came in at seven, he was scowling. Eden felt a quick thrill all through her body at the sight of him. She couldn't help remembering what had passed between them in the dark last night and today in the bright morning light.

  But the grim set to his jaw and the flinty look in his eyes was distinctly unloverlike. She greeted him. He grunted in return. They switched places. He came behind the bar, she moved out on the floor.

  They had enough business the first hour that it was bearable, but more than one man asked Jared about the fight with Lew. Jared answered in terse syllables.

  "He needed a lesson. That's all I want to say." Or, "Drop it. You want a refill?"

  By eight-thirty, his scowl seemed worse than when he'd come in. Eden bore such surly behavior for as long as she could take it.

  Then, when there was a lull, she went around behind the bar and whispered to him, "Please meet me in the back room. Now."

  She trotted through the door behind the bar itself, to the little hall that led to the storeroom. She half expected him to ignore her demand, to leave her waiting back there with the cases of whiskey and gin until she gave up and returned to the main room. She sat down to wait on the little stool that they used to reach the supplies on the top shelves. A moment later, she looked up and he was there, standing in the doorway to the hall.

  "What is it?" His voice was low and gruff. "We've got people out there, you know."

  She stood up and immediately wished she hadn't. Her knees actually felt weak at the sight of him.

  He seemed to be keeping a careful distance from her, staying there in the doorway, where he could turn and bolt at a whim. "Well?"

  "I … just wanted to talk to you for a moment. Because you've seemed so angry, ever since you came in tonight. What's wrong?"

  He looked at her—a piercing look. She thought he was going to be frank with her, but then he seemed to change his mind.

  "We can talk about this later." He started to turn away.

  She reached out and grabbed his arm. "Wait."

  He froze. He looked down at the hand that was clutching his arm and then back into her eyes. Eden felt his look, burning all through her body. She realized then that, whatever was bothering him, he still wanted her. She suspected that he was exerting iron control
over himself to keep from grabbing her.

  "What?" His eyes were molten.

  "Tell me." She licked her lips because they suddenly felt so dry. "What's making you angry?"

  He looked down at her hand on his arm again, a pointed look, one that clearly said, "Let go."

  Her hand fell away. He started to leave again.

  She insisted, "Please, Jared. What is it?"

  He stopped and turned to pin her with another look.

  She met his gaze, unwavering.

  At last he gave out grudgingly, "It's just what I knew was going to happen. The damn story of the fight last night is all anybody's talking about."

  "So?"

  "And I made the mistake of visiting my father today. He said he called his house this morning early, the house where I'm supposed to be staying, and I wasn't there."

  "Oh, Jared. You're making a big deal out of nothing."

  "The old geezer did a lot of chortling and leering about where in the world I could have been at seven this morning. It was disgusting. He's on to us. I'm sure of it."

  "So what?"

  "It's not right. Not good for you. You're … a pure woman. And I've ruined you."

  "Jared. You really have some seriously outdated ideas here. You have to get over this. Get past it. It's—"

  She didn't get a chance to finish. In one of those lightning-swift moves of his, he reached out and grabbed her. She suddenly found herself pressed against his chest. She gasped, then blinked and stared up at him.

  "Jared? What is it?"

  "I should marry you," he said into her upturned face.

  "You … you should?" Eden's mind, dulled by the pull his body exerted on her senses, struggled to comprehend his words. They were words she'd been secretly longing to hear for a while now. "Do you mean that?"

  Staring at her lips as if he yearned to devour them, and seeming not to have heard either of the questions she'd asked, he continued, "But that would be a rotten thing to do to you. You could have any man. And soon enough you'll realize that. And then you'll hate me, for taking advantage of you in your moment of weakness."

  Please, take advantage of me, her heart cried. But she tried to make what she actually said more rational. "I'm a grown woman, Jared. I'm old enough to know who I love and to make my own decision about who I want to marry."

 
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