Daring to dream, p.18
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       Daring to Dream, p.18

         Part #1 of Dream series by Nora Roberts
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  greed. A feral snarl vibrated in his throat as he yanked her hips higher, arrowed deeper. In response, she locked her legs around him, arched back like a bow. Each thrust was like a hammer to the heart, battering them both.

  He could no longer see her. He desperately wanted to see her face, to watch her face as they met and mated. But the animal had taken over, and it was blind and deaf and insatiable.

  He could see nothing but the red haze that was as much fury as passion. Then even that vanished as the vicious climax ripped through him and emptied him.

  Chapter Thirteen

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  She thought she'd seen stars. Of course that had probably been her imagination, some latent romantic streak she hadn't been aware of possessing.

  More likely it had been a physical reaction due to near unconsciousness. What they'd done, Margo decided with lazy pleasure, had been to nearly fuck each other to death.

  They were sprawled over the bed, two casualties of war, limp and sweaty and scarred. What an intriguing surprise, she mused, running a hand over her damp torso, that Josh should have been the most worthy of opponents.

  Stirring up the energy to move, she turned her head and smiled affectionately at him. He was stretched out flat on his stomach, facedown. He hadn't moved since he'd groaned, rolled off her, and plopped there like a landed trout.

  Probably asleep, snoring any minute, she decided. Men were so predictable. But then, she was feeling much too lazy and satisfied to be irked. After all, she wasn't the kind of woman men cuddled, particularly after sex. Draining them of all signs of life was just one of her little skills.

  She grinned, stretched. Still, he'd surprised her. She'd never had a man come so close to making her beg. The rough, reckless sex had left her feeling very much like a cat with a mouthful of cream-drenched feathers, but there had been a few moments there—perhaps more than a few—when she'd been almost frightened of what he was able to pull out of her.

  Good old Josh, she thought. Then her gaze skimmed down his long, naked body and her pulse went to fast shuffle. Gorgeous, sexy, fascinating Josh. Time to move on, she told herself, before she got wound up for something he wouldn't be able to deliver.

  She sat up, gave him a friendly slap on the butt, then let out a squealing laugh as his arm snaked out and tumbled her back.

  "I'm finished with you, pal." She pressed a kiss to his shoulder. "Gotta go."

  "Uh-uh." To her surprise, he pulled her close, shifting until she was curled against him. "I'm getting sensation back in my toes again. Who knows what could be next?"

  "We're lucky we lived through it." He nuzzled her hair, moving her in new and lovely ways. After a brief hesitation, she curled an arm over his chest. "Your heart's still pounding."

  "Thank Christ. I was afraid it had stopped." Lazily he stroked a hand up her leg, down again. "Margo?"

  Her eyes were nearly closed. It was so sweet to be held, to be murmured to. "Hmm?"

  "You definitely writhed."

  She opened one eye balefully and found him grinning down at her. "I didn't want to hurt your feelings. It seemed so important to you."

  "Uh-huh. Not that I was counting…" He twirled her tumbled hair around his finger. "But you came five times."

  "Only five?" She patted his cheek. "Don't blame yourself, I've had a long day."

  He rolled on top of her, watched surprise flicker into her eyes. "Oh, I can do better."

  "Think so?" Lips curved, she linked her arms around his neck. "I dare you to try."

  "You know the Templetons." He nipped that curved bottom lip. "We can't resist a dare."

  When she woke, the room was dark and she was alone. It surprised her that he was out of bed. They hadn't let loose of each other for more than five minutes all night. When she glanced over and saw the red glow of the alarm clock, she realized she hadn't been asleep much longer than that. It was barely after six, and the last time they'd collapsed it had been quarter to.

  Whatever the press gleefully reported on her exploits, she'd never actually made love all night before. She hadn't believed it was physically possible. As she shifted to sit up and every muscle of her body wept, she realized it was certainly possible but not necessarily wise.

  Because she had to crawl out of bed, literally, she was grateful not to have an audience. Josh would surely have made some snide remark—then jumped her.

  As lowering as it was, she was ready to toss in the towel. Another orgasm might kill her.

  And she was a businesswoman now. Time to put fun and games aside and get ready to face the day. She heard herself moan as she limped across the room. A press of a button had the drapes swinging open to admit a dazzling view of the coast, the curve of beach, the rocky inclines. The milky dawn light flowed in—and saved her from a painful encounter with a ficus tree planted in a toe-bruising copper pot.

  There were two of them, she noted, a little bleary-eyed. Two delicate-leaved trees flanking the wide window, adding a homey touch to the sheen of the framed elbow chairs done in ivory brocade. The high gloss of oak tables reflected back the little pieces of him. Cuff links, loose change, keys.

  He'd tossed a comb on the bureau, she noted. Beside it stood a bottle of men's cologne and a thick black appointment book. She imagined there were women's names and numbers from every time zone around the globe noted in it.

  She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror, naked, still glowing from the aftermath of good sex. Well, she mused, she was here now, wasn't she? And they weren't.

  Her gritty eyes popped wide as she noticed the bed reflected behind her. How could she have been so involved with Josh that she hadn't noticed the bed? They had made love throughout the night on a lake-sized mattress framed with glinting brass head- and footboards, subtly curved to embrace jade green sheets.

  But then, the elegant simplicity of the jade-and-white room, the shining touches of brass and copper, suited Templeton. The man, and the hotel.

  She found one of the plushy white robes the hotel provided in the closet and wrapped it around her. The thought of a long, hot shower almost made her whimper, but curiosity drew her to the door first, and she cracked it open.

  Josh was wearing nothing but wrinkled slacks that he hadn't bothered to fasten. He'd opened the shades so the fragile light crept into the room, and he held a portable phone to one ear while he paced the room in his bare feet.

  He was speaking French.

  God, he was gorgeous, she thought. Not just that wonderful gold-tipped hair, the long, lithe body, the elegant, surprisingly capable hands. It was the way he moved, the timbre of his voice, that aura of power around him that she'd always been too close to see.

  Her French was spotty at best, so she understood little of what he said. It didn't matter. It was the way he said it, the warm, liquid sounds, the hand gestures he unconsciously added to emphasize.

  She watched those smoke gray eyes narrow—irritation, impatience—before he rattled off what could have been orders or oaths. Then he laughed, and his voice simply creamed over lovely, exotic words.

  Suddenly she realized she was holding her breath, that she had a hand pressed to her heart, like some dreamy-eyed teenager over the captain of the football team.

  It's just Josh, she reminded herself and deliberately drew in air, firmly dropping her hand to her side. It was a matter of pure ego that made her lean provocatively against the door to wait until he'd finished.

  "Ca va, Simone. Oui, oui, oui, c'est bien. Ah, nous parlerons dans trois heures." Pausing, he listened, wandered to the window. "Parce que ils sont les idiots." He chuckled. "Non, non, pas de quoi. Au revoir, Simone."

  He clicked the phone off, turned toward the desk, before he spotted her. Tumbled blond hair, witchy blue eyes, and a white robe loosely belted. His glands went on full alert.

  "A little loose end I left dangling in Paris."

  "Simone." Watching him, Margo ran a hand down the soft lapel of the robe. "Tell me, is she as… intriguing as
her name?"

  "Oh, more so." He walked over, slid his hands inside the robe. "And she's crazy about me."

  "Pig," Margo murmured against his mouth.

  "And she does whatever I tell her," he added, walking her backward toward the bed.

  "Aren't you lucky?" Margo shifted, jabbed her elbow into his gut. When he grunted, she slipped out of his arms, smoothed her hair. "I need a shower."

  "Just for that I'm not going to tell you she's fifty-eight, has four grandchildren, and is the associate director of marketing, Templeton Paris."

  She shot a look over her shoulder. "I didn't ask. Why don't you order up some breakfast? I want to be in the shop by eight-thirty."

  He obliged her, ordering room service to deliver it in an hour. That should give him just enough time, he decided as he joined her in the shower. She frowned at him when he blocked the best part of the spray.

  "It's lukewarm," he complained.

  "It's better for the skin. And I like privacy when I shower."

  "Templeton's a green company." He nudged up the hot water even when she slapped at his hand. Steam began to rise satisfactorily along the glossy black walls of the stall. "As vice president it's my corporate duty to conserve our natural resources." Reaching out, he worked up the lather in the hair she'd just begun to wash.

  The shower was large enough for a party of four, she reminded herself. There was no reason for her to feel crowded. "You're just in here because you think you can get lucky again."

  "God, the woman sees right through me. It's mortifying." When she turned away to finish the job herself, he contented himself with washing her back. "How long does it take to dry all that hair? There's miles of it."

  "It's not the length, it's the thickness," she said absently. It was foolish, she knew. He'd already run and rubbed and stroked those hands over every inch of her body. But this… cleansing ritual was uncomfortably intimate.

  She'd spoken no less than the truth. She didn't bathe with her lovers. She only slept with them in the literal sense, when she chose. It wasn't just a matter of control, though that was part of it. It was a matter of maintaining image and illusion.

  Now with Josh she had not only spent the night with him without intending to, but she was sharing the shower with him. It was time, she decided, to lock a few parameters in place.

  She tipped her face under the spray, let it stream the suds from her hair. When he handed her the soap and turned his back to her, she stared blankly.

  "Your turn," he told her.

  Her eyes narrowed, then lighted with wicked purpose. He hissed between his teeth when she slapped lather on his back.

  "Oh, sorry. Those scratches must sting some."

  Hands braced on the tile, he looked back at her. "It's all right. I've had my shots."

  Without realizing it, she gentled her strokes. It was such a nice back, she mused. Muscled, broad at the shoulder, tapering to the waist, with all that smooth, tasty skin between. On impulse, she pressed a light kiss between his shoulder blades before stepping out of the shower.

  "You know, Josh, I was only teasing about Simone." Bending at the waist, she turbaned her hair in a towel, then reached for another. "We've both had other relationships, and are free to continue to have them. We're not going to tangle each other up with strings at this point in our lives." After securing the towel between her breasts, she made do with the complimentary body cream in Templeton's spiraled bottle on the counter. Setting a foot on the padded vanity stool, she smoothed fragrant lotion onto her legs. "Neither one of us is looking for complications, and I'd hate for us to ruin a simple affair by making promises we'd never keep."

  She slicked cream down her other leg, humming a little. "We have an advantage here that most people don't. We know each other so well, we don't need to play all those games or juggle all the pretenses." She flicked a glance toward the shower, mildly troubled by his lack of response.

  He could handle the anger that simmered up to his throat. That was simply a matter of control. But the hurt, the little slashing knives that her careless words had dueling in his gut were another matter. For those, he could have cheerfully murdered her.

  He turned off the water with a snap of his wrist, stepped through the double glass doors that separated the shower from the rest of the bath.

  "Yeah, we know each other, duchess," he said as he flicked a towel from the heated bar. She was standing front and center of the eight-foot-long bath counter, looking perfect in the stark and sophisticated black-and-white decor, her skin glowing from the lotion she still held in one hand. "Inside and out. What would two shallow sophisticates like us want with mixing romance with our sex?"

  She rubbed her arms. Despite the billowing steam, the room seemed abruptly chilly. "That's not entirely what I meant. You're angry."

  "See, you do know me. Okay, no strings, no games, no pretenses." He walked over, slapped his hands on the counter, and caged her. "But I've got a hard and fast rule of my own. I don't share. As long as I'm fucking you, no one else is."

  She balled her hands at her sides. "Well, that's clear enough. And crude enough."

  "Your call. Why cloud the issue with euphemisms?"

  "Just because you're angry that I said it first is no reason to—"

  "There you go, seeing right through me again."

  She took a steadying breath. "There's no reason for either of us to be angry. First, I don't like to fight before I've had at least one cup of coffee. And second, I didn't mean that I would stroll out of here and jump into someone else's bed. Contrary to popular belief, I don't juggle men like flaming swords. I simply meant that when either of us is ready to move on, there won't be any nasty scenes."

  "Maybe I like nasty scenes."

  "I'm beginning to see that. Have we finished with this one?"

  "Not quite." He caught her by the chin. "You know, duchess, this is the only time since you first picked up a mascara wand that I've seen you without makeup." With his free hand, he tugged the towel off her hair so that it tumbled wet and wild over breasts and shoulders. "Without all that sheen and polish."

  "Cut it out." She tried to jerk her chin free, furious that he'd reminded her she was without her accustomed shield.

  "You're so goddamn beautiful." But there was grim purpose rather than admiration in his eyes. "They'd have burned you at the stake a few hundred years ago. They'd never have believed you'd gotten that face, that body, without seducing the devil."

  "Stop it." Was that her voice? she wondered. So weak, ready to melt on words she didn't mean. Her unsteady hands were an instant too late to stop the second towel from sliding to the floor. "If you think I'm going to let you—"

  "Let me, hell." He slipped his hand between her legs and felt her hot and wet and ready. "You said no pretenses, Margo. So if you tell me you don't want me, right now…" He gripped her hips, braced her as he eased slowly inside her. "If you tell me, I'll believe you."

  She felt the avalanche of need carrying her under. Saw by the dark triumph in his eyes that he knew it. "Damn you, Josh."

  "Well, that makes two of us."

  She skipped breakfast. She'd simply felt too raw and unsteady to share a civilized meal with him after they'd savaged each other in a steamy bathroom. Still, she'd gotten back to the shop, changed into a fresh suit, and brewed both coffee and tea.

  The coffee she attacked herself, drinking half a pot before it was time to open the doors. Revving on nerves and caffeine, she faced her first day alone as a merchant.

  By midday, despite several bolstering sales, both her spirits and her energy were flagging. A night without sleep certainly explained the fatigue, and she knew exactly where to point the finger of blame for her sulks. Right at Josh Templeton's calculating heart.

  She hated the way he had shrugged and bid her an absent good-bye that morning. Sitting down to his breakfast as if there hadn't been wild sex and angry words between them. It hardly mattered that his attitude was exactly what she had outlined. That did
n't stop her from worrying over the nagging certainty that he was playing some game she hadn't been informed of. And he kept shifting the rules to suit himself.

  There had been a cold gleam in his eyes as he glanced up from his coffee, she thought. And she was sure she'd seen a calculating smirk on his mouth before she'd shut the door. Well, slammed it—but that was beside the point.

  Just what was he up to? She knew him well enough to be sure… Damn it, she was beginning to wonder if she knew him at all.

  "Miss, I'd like to see this pearl choker."

  "Yes, of course." It made her feel brisk and efficient to fetch the keys, unlock the display, spread the gleaming pearls on black velvet. "They're lovely, aren't they? Beautifully matched."

  A present, she remembered, from a shipping magnate old enough to be her grandfather. She'd never slept with him, though the press had beat war drums about their affair. He'd only wanted someone young and attractive to talk to, someone to listen while he spoke of the wife he'd lost to cancer.

  He had been, in the two years she had known him, a rare thing in her life. A male friend. The pearls had been nothing more than a gift from a friend who was pining away from a broken heart and who soon died from it.

  "Is this clasp eighteen-karat?"

  Suddenly Margo wanted to snatch them back, to scream at the woman that she couldn't have them. They were hers, a reminder of one of the few unselfish and loving things she'd ever done in her life.

  "Yes." She forced herself to speak through a smile so stiff it ached. "Italian. It's stamped. Would you like to try them on?"

  She did, and hemmed, hawed, preened, and stroked. In the end, she handed them back with a shake of her head. Margo locked the pearls into the display like a guilty secret.

  Tourists came in, poking through the treasures, carelessly clanking porcelain against glass, china against wood. Margo lost three potential customers when she testily informed them not to handle the merchandise unless they were prepared to buy it.

  That cleared the shop long enough for her to run upstairs and pump some aspirin into her system. On her way down again, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror.

  Her face was set and angry, her eyes deadly. She felt her stomach jitter with repressed temper.

  "Want to scare all the customers away, Margo?"

  She closed her eyes, breathed deep, visualized a cool white screen. It was a technique she'd often used in modeling when a session had dragged on, with hairstylist and makeup artist poking, photographer waiting, assistants whining.

  All she had to do was go away for a minute, remind herself that she could, and would, fill the blank screen with whatever image they wanted.

  Calmer, she opened her eyes, watched her face smooth out. If her head still throbbed, no one had to know but herself. She walked downstairs ready to greet the next customer.

  She was delighted when Judy Prentice dropped in, bringing a friend with her. She poured them tea, then excused herself to show another customer into a fitting room. At two, she opened the first bottle of complimentary champagne and wondered what was keeping Laura.

  By two-thirty, she was feeling frazzled, struggling with the gift wrap she was afraid she would never get the hang of. And Candy breezed in.

  "Oh, what an adorable little shop." She clapped her pretty hands together and bounced over to the counter, where Margo was sweating over a tape dispenser. "I'm so sorry I couldn't make it by for your opening, Margo. I just couldn't squeeze it into my day. But I made a special point of coming by today."

  Particularly since the shop and its owners had been the hot topic at brunch.

  "I'm just going to poke around, but don't you worry, I'll be sure to buy something. Isn't this fun," she said to the woman waiting for the package. "Just like a big yard sale. Oh, what a nice little bowl." She danced over, running her fingers over the frosted glass, looking for chips. "The price is a little high for secondhand." Still holding the bowl, she turned a sharp-edged smile on Margo. "I suppose you inflate it to give your customers room to bargain.''

  Keep cool, Margo warned herself. Candy was just trying to get her goat, the same way she had in high school. "We consider our merchandise priced to sell."

  "Well." With a careless shrug, Candy set the bowl down. "I suppose I don't know very much about cost. I just know what I like." She eyed a pair of enameled candlesticks. "These are… unusual, aren't they?"

  "You have lovely things," the waiting customer commented as Margo slipped the wrapped box into a bag.

  "Thank you." Margo shuffled through her tired mind for the name on the credit slip. "Thank you very much, Mrs. Pendleton. Please come again."

  "I certainly will." She accepted the bag, hesitated. "Do you mind if I say I only came in today because I've seen your photograph so many times? I spend a lot of time in Europe. La Margo's face is everywhere."

 
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