Blue dahlia, p.15

Blue Dahlia, page 15

 part  #1 of  In the Garden Series

 

Blue Dahlia


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Chapter Fourteen

  Guilt tugged at Stella as she buzzed home to clean up before her date with Logan. No, not date, she corrected as she jumped into the shower. It wasn't a date unless there were plans. This was a drop-by.

  So now they'd had an outing, a date, and a drop-by. It was the strangest relationship she'd ever had.

  But whatever she called it, she felt guilty. She wasn't the one giving her kids their evening meal and listening to their day's adventures while they ate.

  It wasn't that she had to be with them every free moment, she thought as she jumped back out of the shower again. That sort of thing wasn't good for them - or for her. It wasn't as if they'd starve if she wasn't the one to put food in front of them.

  But still, it seemed awfully selfish of her to give them over to someone else's care just so she could be with a man.

  Be intimate with a man, if things went as she expected.

  Sorry, kids, Mom can't have dinner with you tonight. She's going to go have some hot, sweaty sex.

  God.

  She slathered on cream as she struggled between anticipation and guilt.

  Maybe she should put it off. Unquestionably she was rushing this step, and that wasn't like her. When she did things that weren't like her, it was usually a mistake.

  She was thirty-three years old, and entitled to a physical relationship with a man she liked, a man who stirred her up, a man, who it turned out, she had considerable in common with.

  Thirty-three. Thirty-four in August, she reminded herself and winced. Thirty-four wasn't early thirties anymore. It was mid-thirties. Shit.

  Okay, she wasn't going to think about that. Forget the numbers. She'd just say she was a grown woman. That was better.

  Grown woman, she thought, and tugged on her robe so she could work on her face. Grown, single woman. Grown, single man. Mutual interests between them, reasonable sense of companionship. Intense sexual tension.

  How could a woman think straight when she kept imagining what it would be like to have a man's hands -

  "Mom!"

  She stared at her partially made-up face in the mirror. "Yes?"

  The knocking was like machine-gun fire on the bathroom door.

  "Mom! Can I come in? Can I? Mom!"

  She pulled open the door herself to see Luke, rosy with rage, his fists bunched at his side. "What's the matter?"

  "He's looking at me. "

  "Oh, Luke. "

  "With the face, Mom. With . . . the . . . face. "

  She knew the face well. It was the squinty-eyed, smirky sneer that Gavin had designed to torment his brother. She knew damn well he practiced it in,the mirror.

  "Just don't look back at him. "

  "Then he makes the noise. "

  The noise was a hissing puff, which Gavin could keep up for hours if called for. Stella was certain that even the most hardened CIA agent would crack under its brutal power.

  "All right. " How the hell was she supposed to gear herself up for sex when she had to referee? She swung out of the bath, through the boys' room and into the sitting room across the hall, where she'd hoped her sons could spend the twenty minutes it took her to get dressed companion-ably watching cartoons.

  Foolish woman, she thought. Foolish, foolish woman.

  Gavin looked up from his sprawl on the floor when she came in. His face was the picture of innocence under his mop of sunny hair.

  Haircuts next week, she decided, and noted it in her mental files.

  He held a Matchbox car and was absently spinning its wheels while cartoons rampaged on the screen. There were several other cars piled up, lying on their sides or backs as if there'd been a horrendous traffic accident. Unfortunately the miniature ambulance and police car appeared to have had a nasty head-on collision.

  Help was not on the way.

  "Mom, your face looks crooked. "

  "Yes, I know. Gavin, I want you to stop it. "

  "I'm not doing anything. "

  She felt, actually felt, the sharp edges of the shrill scream razor up her throat. Choke it back, she ordered herself. Choke it back. She would not scream at her kids the way her mother had screamed at her.

  "Maybe you'd like to not do anything in your room, alone, for the rest of the evening. "

  "I wasn't - "

  "Gavin!" She cut off the denial before it dragged that scream out of her throat. Instead her voice was full of weight and aggravation. "Don't look at your brother. Don't hiss at your brother. You know it annoys him, which is exactly why you do it, and I want you to stop. "

  Innocence turned into a scowl as Gavin rammed the last car into the tangle of disabled vehicles. "How come I always get in trouble?"

  "Yes, how come?" Stella shot back, with equal exasperation.

  "He's just being a baby. "

  "I'm not a baby. You're a dickhead. "

  "Luke!" Torn between laughter and shock, Stella rounded on Luke. "Where did you hear that word?"

  "Somewhere. Is it a swear?"

  "Yes, and I don't want you to say it again. " Even when it's apt, she thought as she caught Gavin making the face.

  "Gavin, I can cancel my plans for this evening. Would you like me to do that, and stay home?" She spoke in calm, almost sweet tones. "We can spend your play hour cleaning your room. "

  "No. " Outgunned, he poked at the pileup. "I won't look at him anymore. "

  "Then if it's all right with you, I'll go finish getting ready. "

  She heard Luke whisper, "What's a dickhead?" to Gavin as she walked out. Rolling her eyes to the ceiling, she kept going.

  * * *

  "They're at each other tonight, " Stella warned Roz.

  "Wouldn't be brothers if they weren't at each other now and then. " She looked over to where the boys, the dog, and Hayley romped in the yard. "They seem all right now. "

  "It's brewing, under the surface, like a volcano. One of them's just waiting for the right moment to spew over the other. "

  "We'll see if we can distract them. If not, and they get out of hand, I'll just chain them six separate corners until you get back. I kept the shackles I used on my boys. Sentimental. "

  Stella laughed, and felt completely reassured. "Okay. But you'll call me if they decide to be horrible brats. I'll be home in time to put them to bed. "

  "Go, enjoy yourself. And if you're not back, we can manage it. "

  "You make it too easy," Stella told her.

  "No need for it to be hard. You know how to get there now?"

  "Yes. That's the easy part. "

  She got in her car, gave a little toot of the horn and a wave. They'd be fine, she thought, watching in the rearview as her boys tumbled onto the ground with Parker. She couldn't have driven away if she wasn't sure of that.

  It was tougher to be sure she'd be fine.

  She could enjoy the drive. The early-spring breeze sang through the windows to play across her face. Tender green leaves hazed the trees, and the redbuds and wild dogwoods teased out blooms to add flashes of color.

  She drove past the nursery and felt the quick zip of pride and satisfaction because she was a part of it now.

  Spring had come to Tennessee, and she was here to experience it. With her windows down and the wind streaming over her, she thought she could smell the river. Just a hint of something great and powerful, contrasting with the sweet perfume of magnolia.

  Contrasts, she supposed, were the order of the day now. The dreamy elegance and underlying strength of the place that was now her home, the warm air that beat the calendar to spring while the world she'd left behind still shoveled snow.

  Herself, a careful, practical-natured woman driving to the bed of a man she didn't fully understand.

  Nothing seemed completely aligned any longer. Blue dahlias, she decided. Her life, like her dreams, had big blue dahlias cropping up to change the design.

  For tonight at least, she was going to let it
bloom.

  She followed the curve of the road, occupying her mind with how they would handle the weekend rush at the nursery.

  Though "rush," she admitted, wasn't precisely the word. No one, staff or customer, seemed to rush - unless she counted herself.

  They came, they meandered, browsed, conversed, ambled some more. They were served, with unhurried gracious-ness and a lot more conversation.

  The slower pace sometimes made her want to grab something and just get the job done. But the fact that it often took twice as long to ring up an order than it should - in her opinion - didn't bother anyone.

  She had to remind herself that part of her duties as manager was to blend efficiency with the culture of the business she managed.

  One more contrast.

  In any case, the work schedule she'd set would ensure that there were enough hands and feet to serve the customers. She and Roz had already poured another dozen concrete planters, and would dress them tomorrow. She could have Hayley do a few. The girl had a good eye.

  Her father and Jolene were going to take the boys on Saturday, and that she couldn't feel guilty about, as all involved were thrilled with the arrangement.

  She needed to check on the supply of plastic trays and carrying boxes, oh, and take a look at the field plants, and. . .

  Her thoughts trailed off when she saw the house. She couldn't say what she'd been expecting, but it hadn't been this.

  It was gorgeous.

  A little run-down, perhaps, a little tired around the edges, but beautiful. Bursting with potential.

  Two stories of silvered cedar stood on a terraced rise, the weathered wood broken by generous windows. On the wide, covered- porch - she supposed it might be called a veranda - were an old rocker, a porch swing, a high-backed bench. Pots and baskets of flowers were arranged among them.

  On the side, a deck jutted out, and she could see a short span of steps leading from it to a pretty patio.

  More chairs there, more pots - oh, she was falling in love - then the land took over again and spread out to a lovely grove of trees.

  He was doing shrubberies in the terraces - Japanese andromeda with its urn-shaped flowers already in bud, glossy-leaved bay laurels, the fountaining old-fashioned weigela, and a sumptuous range of azalea just waiting to explode into bloom.

  And clever, she thought, creeping the car forward, clever and creative to put phlox and candytuft and ground junipers on the lowest terrace to base the shrubs and spill over the wall.

  He'd planted more above in the yard - a magnolia, still tender with youth, and a dogwood blooming Easter pink. On the far side was a young weeping cherry.

  Some of these were the very trees he'd hammered her over moving the first time they'd met. Just what did it say about her feelings for him that it made her smile to remember that?

  She pulled into the drive beside his truck and studied the land.

  There were stakes, with thin rope riding them in a kind of meandering pattern from drive to porch. Yes, she saw what he had in mind. A lazy walkway to the porch, which he would probably anchor with other shrubs or dwarf trees. Lovely. She spotted a pile of rocks and thought he must be planning to build a rock garden. There, just at the edge of the trees, would be perfect.

  The house needed its trim painted, and the fieldstone that rose from its foundation repointed. A cutting garden over there, she thought as she stepped out, naturalized daffodils just inside the trees. And along the road, she'd do ground cover and shrubs, and plant daylilies, maybe some iris.

  The porch swing should be painted, too, and there should be a table there - and there. A garden bench near the weeping cherry, maybe another path leading from there to around the back. Flagstone, perhaps. Or pretty stepping-stones with moss or creeping thyme growing between them.

  She stopped herself as she stepped onto the porch. He'd have his own plans, she reminded herself. His house, his plans. No matter how much the place called to her, it wasn't hers.

  She still had to find hers.

  She took a breath, fluffed a hand through her hair, and knocked.

  It was a long wait, or it seemed so to her while she twisted her watchband around her finger. Nerves began to tap-dance in her belly as she stood there in the early-evening breeze.

  When he opened the door, she had to paint an easy smile on her face. He looked so male. The long, muscled length of him clad in faded jeans and a white T-shirt. His hair was mussed; she'd never seen it any other way. There was too much of it, she thought, to be tidy. And tidy would never suit him.

  She held out the pot of dahlias she'd put together. "I've had dahlias on the mind," she told him. "I hope you can use them. "

  "I'm sure I can. Thanks. Come on in. "

  "I love the house," she began, "and what you're doing with it. I caught myself mentally planting - "

  She stopped. The door led directly into what she supposed was a living room, or family room. Whatever it was, it was completely empty. The space consisted of bare dry-wall, scarred floors, and a smoke-stained brick fireplace with no mantel.

  "You were saying?"

  "Great views. " It was all she could think of, and true enough. Those generous windows brought the outdoors in. It was too bad it was so sad.

  "I'm not using this space right now. "

  "Obviously. "

  "I've got plans for it down the road, when I get the time, and the inclination. Why don't you come on back before you start crying or something. "

  "Was it like this, when you bought it?"

  "Inside?" He shrugged a shoulder as he walked back through a doorway into what might have been a dining room. It, too, was empty, its walls covered with faded, peeling wallpaper. She could see brighter squares on it where pictures must have hung.

  "Wall-to-wall carpet over these oak floors," he told her. "Leak upstairs had water stains all over the ceiling. And there was some termite damage. Tore out the walls last winter. "

  "What's this space?"

  "Haven't decided yet. "

  He went through another door, and Stella let out a whistle of breath.

  "Figured you'd be more comfortable in here. " He set the flowers on a sand-colored granite counter and just leaned back to let her look.

  It was his mark on the kitchen, she had no doubt. It was essentially male and strongly done. The sand tones of the counters were echoed in the tiles on the floor and offset by a deeper taupe on the walls. Cabinets were a dark, rich wood with pebbled-glass doors. There were herbs growing in small terra-cotta pots on the wide sill over the double sinks, and a small stone hearth in the corner.

  Plenty of workspace on the long L of the counter, she calculated, plenty of eating space in the diagonal run of the counter that separated the kitchen area from a big, airy sitting space where he'd plopped down a black leather couch and a couple of oversized chairs.

  And best of all, he'd opened the back wall with glass. You would sit there, Stella thought, and be a part of the gardens he was creating outside. Step through to the flagstone terrace and wander into flowers and trees.

  "This is wonderful. Wonderful. Did you do it yourself?"

  Right at the moment, seeing that dreamy look on her face, he wanted to tell her he'd gathered the sand to make the glass. "Some. Work slows down in the winter, so I can deal with the inside of the place when I get the urge. I know people who do good work. I hire, or I barter. Want a drink?"

  "Hmm. Yes. Thanks. The other room has to be your formal dining room, for when you entertain, or have people over for dinner. Of course, everyone's going to end up in here. It's irresistible. "

  She wandered back into the kitchen and took the glass of wine he offered. "It's going to be fabulous when you're done. Unique, beautiful, and welcoming. I love the colors you've picked in here. "

  "Last woman I had in here said they seemed dull. "

  "What did she know?" Stella sipped and shook her head. "No, they
're earthy, natural - which suits you and the space. "

  She glanced toward the counter, where there were vegetables on a cutting board. "And obviously you cook, so the space needs to suit you. Maybe I can get a quick tour along with this wine, then I'll let you get to your dinner. "

  "Not hungry? I got some yellowfin tuna's going to go to waste, then. "

  "Oh. " Her stomach gave a little bounce. "I didn't intend to invite myself to dinner. I just thought. . . "

  "You like grilled tuna?"

  "Yes. Yes, I do. "

  "Fine. You want to eat before or after?"

  She felt the blood rush to her cheeks, then drain out again. "Ah. . . "

  "Before or after I show you around?"

  There was enough humor in his voice to tell her he knew just where her mind had gone. "After. " She took a bracing sip of wine. "After. Maybe we could start outside, before we lose the light. "

  He took her out on the terrace, and her nerves eased back again as they talked about the lay of his land, his plans for it.

  She studied the ground he'd tilled and nodded as he spoke of kitchen gardens, rock gardens, water gardens. And her heart yearned.

  "I'm getting these old clinker bricks," he told her. "There's a mason I know. I'm having him build a three-sided wall here, about twenty square feet inside it. "

  "You're doing a walled garden? God, I am going to cry. I always wanted one. The house in Michigan just didn't work for one. I promised myself when I found a new place I'd put one in. With a little pool, and stone benches and secret corners. "

  She took a slow turn. A lot of hard, sweaty work had already gone into this place, she knew. And a lot of hard, sweaty work was still to come. A man who could do this, would do it, wanted to do this, was worth knowing.

  "I envy you - and admire you - every inch of this. If you need some extra hands, give me a call. I miss gardening for the pleasure of it. "

  "You want to come by sometime, bring those hands and the kids, I'll put them to work. " When she just lifted her eyebrows, he added. "Kids don't bother me, if that's what you're thinking. And there's no point planning a yard space where kids aren't welcome. "

  "Why don't you have any? Kids?"

  "Figured I would by now. " He reached out to touch her hair, pleased that she hadn't bothered with pins. "Things don't always work out like you figure. "

  She walked with him back toward the house. "People often say divorce is like death. "

  "I don't think so. " He shook his head, taking his time on the walk back. "It's like an end. You make a mistake, you fix it, end it, start over from there. It was her mistake as well as mine. We just didn't figure that out until we were already married. "

  "Most men, given the opportunity, will cheerfully trash an ex. "

  "Waste of energy. We stopped loving each other, then we stopped liking each other. That's the part I'm sorry about," he added, then opened the wide glass door to the kitchen. "Then we stopped being married, which was the best thing for both of us. She stayed where she wanted to be, I came back to where I wanted to be. It was a couple years out of our lives, and it wasn't all bad. "

  "Sensible. " But marriage was a serious business, she thought. Maybe the most serious. The ending of it should leave some scars, shouldn't it?

  He poured more wine into their glasses, then took her hand. "I'll show you the rest of the house. "

  Their footsteps echoed as they moved through empty spaces. "I'm thinking of making a kind of library here, with work space. I could do my designs here. "

  "Where do you do them now?"

  "Out of the bedroom mostly, or in the kitchen. Whatever's handiest. Powder room over there, needs a complete overhaul, eventually. Stairs are sturdy, but need to be sanded and buffed up. "

  He led her up, and she imagined paint on the walls, some sort of technique, she decided, mat blended earthy colors and brought out the tones of wood.

  "I'd have files and lists and clippings and dozens of pictures cut out of magazines. " She slanted him a look. "I don't imagine you do. "

  "I've got thoughts, and I don't mind giving them time to stew a while. I grew up on a farm, remember? Farm's got a farmhouse, and my mama loved to buy old furniture and fix it up. Place was packed with tables - she had a weakness for tables. For now, I'm enjoying having nothing much but space around. "

  "What did she do with all of it when they moved? Ah, someone mentioned your parents moved to Montana," she added when he stopped to give her a speculative look.

  "Yeah, got a nice little place in Helena. My daddy goes fly-fishing nearly every damn day, according to my mama, anyway. And she took her favorite pieces with her, filled a frigging moving van with stuff. She sold some, gave some to my sister, dumped some on me. I got it stored. Gotta get around to going through it one of these days, see what I can use. "

  "If you went through it, you'd be able to decide how you want to paint, decorate, arrange your rooms. You'd have some focal points. "

  "Focal points. " He leaned against the wall, just grinned at her.

  "Landscaping and home decorating have the same basic core of using space, focal points, design - and you know that very well or you couldn't have done what you did with your kitchen. So I'll shut up now. "

  "Don't mind hearing you talk. "

  "Well, I'm done now, so what's the next stop on the tour?"

  "Guess this would be. I'm sort of using this as an office. " He gestured to a door. "And I don't think you want to look in there. "

  "I can take it. "

  "I'm not sure I can. " He tugged her away, moved on to another door. "You'll get all steamed up about filing systems and in and out boxes or whatever, and it'll screw up the rhythm. No point in using the grounds as foreplay if I'm going to break the mood by showing you something that'll insult your sensibilities. "

  "The grounds are foreplay?"

  He just smiled and drew her through a door.

  It was his bedroom and, like the kitchen, had been finished in a style that mirrored him. Simple, spacious, and male, with the outdoors blending with the in. The deck she'd seen was outside atrium doors, and beyond it the spring green of trees dominated the view. The walls were a dull, muted yellow, set off by warm wood tones in trim, in floor, in the pitched angles of the ceiling, where a trio of skylights let in the evening glow.

  His bed was wide. A man of his size would want room there, she concluded. For sleeping, and for sex. Black iron head- and footboards and a chocolate-brown spread.

  There were framed pencil drawings on the walls, gardens in black and white. And when she moved closer, she saw the scrawled signature at the lower corner. "You did these? They're wonderful. "

  "I like to get a visual of projects, and sometimes I sketch them up. Sometimes the sketches aren't half bad. "

  "These are a lot better than half bad, and you know it. " She couldn't imagine those big, hard hands drawing anything so elegant, so lovely and fresh. "You're a constant surprise to me, Logan. A study of contrasts. I was thinking about contrasts on the way over here tonight, about how things aren't lined up the way I thought they would be. Should be. "

  She turned back to him, gestured toward his sketches. "These are another blue dahlia. "

  "Sorry - not following you. Like the one in your dream?"

  "Dreams. I've had two now, and neither was entirely comfortable. In fact, they're getting downright scary. But the thing is the dahlia, it's so bold and beautiful, so unexpected. But it's not what I planned. Not what I imagined. Neither is this. "

  "Planned, imagined, or not, I wanted you here. "

  She took another sip of wine. "And here I am. " She breathed slow in and out. "Maybe we should talk about. . . what we expect and how we'll - "

  He moved in, pulled her against him. "Why don't we plant another blue dahlia and just see what happens. "

  Or we could try that, she thought when his mouth was on hers. The low tickle in he
r belly spread, and the needy part of her whispered, Thank God, inside her head.

  She rose on her toes, all the way up, like a dancer on point, to meet him. And angling her body more truly to his, let him take the glass out of her hand.

  Then his hands were in her hair, fingers streaming through it, clutching at it, and her arms were locked around him.

  "I feel dizzy," she whispered. "Something about you makes me dizzy. "

  His blood fired, blasting a bubbling charge of lust straight to his belly. "Then you should get off your feet. " In one quick move he scooped her up in his arms. She was, he thought, the sort of woman a man wanted to scoop up. Feminine and slight and curvy and soft. Holding her made him feel impossibly strong, uncommonly tender.

  "I want to touch you everywhere. Then start right back at the beginning and touch you everywhere again. " When he carried her to the bed, he felt sexy little tremors run through her. "Even when you annoy me, I want my hands on you. "

  "You must want them on me all the time, then. "

  "Truer words. Your hair drives me half crazy. " He buried his face in it as he lowered the two of them to the bed.

  "Me too. " Her skin sprang to life with a thousand nerves as his lips wandered down to her throat. "But probably for different reasons. "

  He bit that sensitive skin, lightly, like a man helping himself to a sample. And the sensation rippled through her in one long, sweet stream. "We're grown-ups," she began.

  "Thank God. "

  A shaky laugh escaped. "What I mean is we . . . " His teeth explored the flesh just above her collarbone in that same testing nibble, and had a lovely fog settling over her brain. "Never mind. "

  He touched, just as he'd told her he wanted to. A long, smooth stroke from her shoulders down to her fingertips. A lazy pass over her hips, her thigh, as if he were sampling her shape as he'd sampled her flavor.

  Then his mouth was on hers again, hot and greedy. Those nerve endings exploded, electric jolts as his hands, his lips ran over her as if he were starved now for each separate taste. Hard hands, rough at the palms, rushed over her with both skill and desperation.

  Just as she'd imagined. Just as she'd wanted.

  Desires she'd ruthlessly buried broke the surface and screamed into life. Riding on the thrill, she dragged at his shirt until her hands found the hot, bare skin and dug in.

  Man and muscle.

  He found her breast, had her arching in delicious pleasure as his teeth nipped over shirt and bra to tantalize the flesh beneath, to stir the blood beneath into feverish, pulsing life. Everything inside her went full, and ripe, and ready.

  As senses awakened, slashing one against the other, in an edgy tangle of needs, she gave herself over to them, to him. And she yearned for him, for that promise of release, in a way she hadn't yearned for in so long. She wanted, craved, the heat that washed through her as the possessive stroke of those labor-scarred hands, the demanding crush of those insatiable lips, electrified her body.

  She wanted, craved, all these quivering aches, these madly churning needs and the freedom to meet them.

  She rose with him, body to body, moved with him, flesh to flesh. And drove him toward delirium with that creamy skin, those lovely curves. In the softening light, she looked beyond exquisite lying against the dark spread - that bright hair tumbled, those summer-blue eyes clouded with pleasure.

  Passion radiated from her, meeting and matching his own. And so he wanted to give her more, and take more, and simply drown himself in what they brought to each other. The scent of her filled him like breath.

  He murmured her name, savoring and exploiting as they explored each other. And there was more, he discovered, more than he'd expected.

  Her heart lurched as those rugged hands guided her up, over, through the steep rise of desire. The crest rolled through her, a long, endless swell of sultry heat. She arched up again, crying out as she clamped her arms around him, pulses galloping.

  Her mouth took his in a kind of ravenous madness, even as her mind screamed - Again!

  He held on, held strong while she rode the peak, and the thrill her response brought him made him tremble. He ached, heart, mind, loins, ached to the point of pain.

  And when he could bear it no longer, he drove into her.

  She cried out once more, a sound of both shock and triumph. And she was already moving with him, a quick piston of hips, as her hands came up to frame his face.

  She watched him, those blue eyes swimming, those lush lips trembling with each breath as they rose and fell together.

  In the whole of his life, he'd never seen such beauty bloom.

  When those eyes went blind, when they closed on a sobbing moan, he let himself go.

  * * *

  He was heavy. Very heavy. Stella lay still beneath Logan and pondered the wonder of being pinned, helplessly, under a man. She felt loose and sleepy and utterly relaxed. She imagined there was probably a nice pink light beaming quietly out of her fingers and toes.

  His heart was thundering still. What woman wouldn't feel smug and satisfied knowing she'd caused a big, strong man to lose his breath?

  Cat-content, she stroked her hands over his back.

  He grunted, and rolled off of her.

  She felt immediately exposed and self-conscious. Reaching out, she started to give the spread a little tug, to cover herself at least partially. Then he did something that froze her in place, and had her heart teetering.

  He took her hand and kissed her fingers.

  He said nothing, nothing at all, and she stayed very still while she tried to swallow her heart back into place.

  "Guess I'd better feed you now," he said at length.

  "Ah, I should call and make sure the boys are all right. "

  "Go ahead. " He sat up, patting her naked thigh before he rolled out of bed and reached for his jeans.

  "I'll go get things started in the kitchen. "

  He didn't bother with his shirt, but started out. Then he stopped, turned and looked at her.

  "What?" She lifted an arm, casually, she hoped, over her breasts.

  "I just like the way you look there. All mussed and flushed. Makes me want to muss and flush you some more, first chance I get. "

  "Oh. " She tried to formulate a response, but he was already sauntering off. And whistling.

 
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