Dark witch, p.19
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       Dark Witch, p.19
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         Part #1 of The Cousins O'Dwyer series by Nora Roberts

  “I’ll throw you together something. I’ve a couple of chops, I think, and I’ll fry up some chips.”

  “Are you taking care of me?”

  “You could use it at the moment. Drink your whiskey,” he said again, then walked back to the kitchen.

  Rattling pans, a thwack of a knife on wood, the sizzle of oil. Something about the sounds eased her frayed nerves. She sipped more whiskey, rose, and walked back to where he stood at the stove, frying pork chops in one skillet, chipped potatoes in another.

  She wasn’t sure she’d ever had a fried chop, but wasn’t complaining.

  “I can help. Keep my hands and head busy.”

  “I’ve a couple of tomatoes in there Mick’s wife gave me from her little greenhouse. You could slice them up.”

  So she worked beside him, and felt better for that, too.

  He made some sort of thin gravy from the drippings, tossed some herbs in it, then poured it over the chops.

  Seated at the counter, Iona sampled a bite. “It’s good.”

  “What were you expecting?”

  “I didn’t have a clue, but it’s good. And, God, I’m seriously starving.”

  Her color came up well as she ate, he noted, and that slightly dazed look faded from her eyes.

  She’d gone from glowing and fierce to pale and shaky in the blink of an eye. And now, it relieved him to see her slide back to just normal. Just Iona.

  “He didn’t use the fog,” she said abruptly. “I just realized, he just—it just walked out of the trees. I don’t know what that means, but I have to remember to tell Branna and Connor—and Fin. And the jewel, the red jewel around its neck. It wasn’t as bright at the end. I don’t think. Was it?”

  “I couldn’t say. I was more about its teeth, and the way you’d gone so white. I wondered if you’d slide right out of the saddle.”

  “Never going to happen.” She laughed a little, closed her hand over his. And stilled when his turned under hers, gripped hard.

  “You scared the life out of me. The fucking life.”

  “I’m sorry.”

  “What in hell are you apologizing for? It’s an irritating habit.”

  “I’m . . . working on it.”

  “One minute we’re riding along, easy as you please, and I’m thinking, well then, we’ll have dinner and see how that goes. The next, you’re reaping a bloody whirlwind.”

  He shoved up, snatched his plate and hers. Which was too bad, she thought, as she’d had a couple more chips, and would’ve eaten them.

  “If you don’t want me to apologize, don’t yell at me.”

  “I’m not yelling at you.”

  “Who then?”

  “No one. I’m just yelling. A man can express himself as he pleases in his own house.”

  “Nobody ever yelled in my house.”

  “What?” He looked genuinely astonished. “Were you reared in a church?”

  She laughed again. “I think, maybe—if I go by your gauge—nobody cared enough to yell. Do you care, Boyle?”

  “I care you’re not lying on the ground out there with your throat torn out.” He cursed himself as her color slid away. “Now I’m sorry. Truly. I’ve the devil’s own tongue when I’m in a temper. I’m sorry,” he repeated, and put his hands gently on her face to cup it. “You were so fierce. I don’t know what turned me more around. The wolf or you.”

  “We came through it. That means a lot.” She put her hands over his. “And you made me dinner, you let me settle before you let it rip. That means a lot, too.”

  “Then we’re all right, all right enough for now.”

  He touched his lips to hers, gentle this time. And her hands slid to his wrists, tightened.

  “I should take you home now.” He eased back, but she kept her hands on his wrists.

  “I don’t want you to take me home. I want to stay with you.”

  “You’re still turned around.”

  “Do I look turned around?”

  He managed to step back, a foot away. “Maybe I’m turned around.”

  “I don’t mind that.” She rose. “I might even like it. We won a battle, Boyle, together. I want to be with you, to hold on to you, to go to bed with you.”

  “I think . . . the sensible thing is to take some time, to talk about that before . . . that.”

  “I thought I was the one who talked too much.” She took a step toward him, then another.

  “You do, Jesus, you do. But I think, under the circumstances . . . We’ll talk later,” he said, and grabbed her.

  “Perfect,” she said, and grabbed him back.

  13

  HER FEET LEFT THE FLOOR AGAIN, A GIDDY SENSATION WITH HER MOUTH PRESSED TO HIS. He had a hand fisted on the back of her sweater as if he might rip it away at any second, which would have suited her just fine. If she could have managed it, she’d have wiggled right out of the sweater—and everything else.

  “We need to—” Whatever he’d meant to say slid away as her mouth came back, avidly, to his.

  “Where’s the bedroom?” It had to be close, and if not, the saggy couch looked more than adequate.

  “It’s . . .” He tried to think through the hot haze in his brain, then just gripped her ass, gave her a boost. She hooked her legs around his waist as her arms chained around his neck.

  Everything tilted and sizzled. She had a vague impression of a dimly lit room, some clutter, some of which he kicked away as he carted her to a bed with dark wooden spindles and cool white sheets.

  Then she might have been anywhere—the forest, the ocean, a city sidewalk, a country meadow. There was nothing but him, the weight of him pressed down on her, the big hands roaming, the urgent mouth seeking, taking. Nothing but those cool white sheets growing warmer, warmer as he tugged the sweater over her head, tossed it aside.

  Everything about her was so small and exquisite. The breasts that fit so perfectly into his palms, the hands that dived under his shirt to glide over his skin. He wasn’t a clumsy man, but feared he would be with her, and tried to slow his pace, smooth out his rhythm.

  But her hips arched up, her fingers dug into bunched muscles, urging him on.

  He wanted her naked, as simple and basic as that. He wanted that pretty little body uncovered for him, stripped bare for his hands, for his mouth.

  He reached down, tugged at the buckle of her belt. She spoke, the words muffled against his lips.

  “What? What?” If she’d said stop, he’d kill himself.

  “Boots.” Her lips roamed over his face, then her teeth nipped at his jaw. “Boots first.”

  “Boots. Right. Right.” Already winded, and a bit disconcerted by it, he slid down, knelt at the foot of the bed, yanked at her right boot. He tossed it; it landed with an abrupt thump. As he tugged on the left, she levered up, got a grip on his hair and yanked his head back to hers.

  “You look— It’s all shadowy, and I can just hear the rain starting, and my heart’s pounding so hard.” She punctuated the words with wild kisses. This time when he threw the boot, something crashed and shattered.

  “Yours, let me get yours.” She wiggled back for his boot. “They have to go, have to go because I have to get you naked or I’ll go out of my mind.”

  “I was thinking the same of you.”

  “Good, good.” Her laugh, shaky with nerves and excitement, raced up his spine. “Same page, same station.” She shoved the first boot to the floor. “Put your hands on me, would you? Anywhere, everywhere. I’ve almost got this.”

  She couldn’t know it, but she’d gotten her wish. She’d dazzled him. “Will it shut you up?”

  “Maybe. Probably. There!” She pried off the boot, dropped it.

  And flew at him.

  She nearly upended them both off the bed, but he managed to wrap around her and roll. Even as he sank into the next kiss, her hands got busy on his shirt. “You’ve got such great shoulders. I just want to—” She dragged it off, pulled the thermal beneath it up and away.
r />   She made a sound like a woman licking melted chocolate from a spoon as her hands ran over his pecs, up to his shoulders, down to squeeze his biceps.

  “You’re so strong.”

  “I won’t hurt you.”

  She laughed again, no nerves this time. “I’m not going to promise the same.”

  Agile and quick, she reached back, unclipped the clasp of her bra. “Made it easy for you.”

  “I’m up for difficult work.” He drew the bra aside. “Now be quiet, so I can concentrate on it.”

  In a moment she couldn’t think, much less speak. So many sensations rushed over her like his hands that thrilled, that took, that tortured. Those rough, workingman palms, the prickly stubble of a daylong beard—thrill over thrill on her quivering skin.

  Boys, she realized. Every one who’d ever touched her had been a boy compared to him. All too smooth, too easy, too practiced. Now she had a man who wanted her.

  He wasted no time peeling her out of the jeans, exploring her body, feasting on it.

  She’d brought the whirlwind in the woods. Now he stirred one inside her just as reckless and wild.

  She gave to him, with no hint of restraint or shyness—a bounty of delights and demands that aroused him beyond reason. Her gasp or groan fired more needs, her willful hands sparked nerves over and under his skin. And her mouth, restless and hungry, stirred in his blood like a drug.

  Mad for her, he took her hands, drew her arms back until they both gripped the spindles.

  When he drove into her, he thought, for a moment, the world exploded. It shook him, the force of it, blinded him, the brilliance of it. Left him, for that breath of time, utterly weak.

  Then she rose up to him, taking him deeper on the sigh of his name.

  And he was strong as a god, randy as a stallion, mad as a hatter.

  He thrust into her, again, again, again, crazed for all that heat, all that softness. She matched his frantic pace, her fingers twining with his, her hips slick pistons—driving and driven.

  He felt himself flying—an arrow from a bow—the helpless glory of it. Heard her, dimly, let out a sobbing cry as she flew with him.

  He collapsed, mindless of his weight on her. His mind still whirled; his lungs still labored. And something in his speeding heart pulsed like an ache.

  She quivered beneath him, trembling limbs, pinging muscles. She wanted, badly, to wrap around him, to stroke and nuzzle. But she didn’t have the strength.

  He’d just hulled her out.

  She could only lie there, washed in heat, listening to his rapid breathing and the slow patter of rain.

  “I’m smothering you.”

  “Maybe.”

  His own muscles shook as he pushed himself off, then just flopped over on his back. He’d never been so . . . caught up, he decided.

  What did it mean?

  She took a couple of deep drinks of air, then curled over to nestle her head on his chest. There was a simple sweetness in that he couldn’t resist, and he found himself drawing her in a bit closer.

  “Are you cold then?”

  “Are you kidding? We generated enough heat to melt the Arctic. I feel amazing.”

  “You’re stronger than you look.”

  She tipped her head up to smile at him. “Small but mighty.”

  “I can’t argue.”

  It would be easy, he realized, to just stay as they were, to just drift off into sleep awhile. Then take each other again. And what did it mean that he was thinking about it again when he’d barely gotten his breath back?

  It meant, perhaps, easy was a mistake.

  “I should take you home.”

  She didn’t speak for a moment, and the hand lazily stroking his chest stilled.

  “Branna’d be waiting, I’d think.”

  “Oh.” He felt her breath go in, go out. “You’re right. She’ll want to know exactly what happened before. I forgot about all that for a minute. It seems like something outside all this. It’s a good thing one of us is practical.”

  Turning her head, she brushed her lips over his skin, then sat up.

  When he looked at her in that shadowed light, a glow against the coming dark, he wanted to draw her close again, close, and just hold on.

  “We’d better get dressed,” she said.

  * * *

  BRANNA WAS WAITING, AND TRYING NOT TO PACE AND FRET. She hated only having bits and pieces. Though Boyle had assured her no one was hurt, and he’d look after Iona until she was well settled again, it had been two hours now.

  More, she realized.

  Worse, Connor had told her not to be such a mother hen, and had taken himself off to the pub rather than—in his words—have his brain assaulted with all her fussing.

  Fine for him, she thought with some bitterness. Off he goes to flirt with available women, have a pint or two, and she was left to brood alone.

  If Iona didn’t walk in the door within another ten minutes, she’d—

  “At last,” she muttered when she heard the front door open. Striding out, half a lecture already in mind, she stopped both her forward progress and her nagging words the minute she saw both of them.

  A woman didn’t have to be a witch to realize how the pair of them had spent a portion of the last two hours.

  “So.” She laid her hands on her hips as Kathel padded over to greet them both. “We’ll have some tea, and you’ll tell me what happened. You as well,” she said to Boyle, anticipating him. “I want to hear it all, so don’t think about scooting out the door again.”

  “Is Connor about?”

  “He’s not, no. Took himself off to the pub to flirt with whoever’s about, so you’ve no cover there. Have you had anything to eat?” she asked as she walked into the kitchen.

  “Boyle fixed dinner,” Iona told her.

  “Did he now?” Brow lifted, Branna sent him a sidelong look as she put the kettle on.

  “I was starving after. I was hungry after the spell with the rats, but this was like eat or pass out.”

  “It won’t always be so keen. You’re new at it. And you’re looking fit and fine and more than well tended to now. Oh, stop shuffling about, Boyle. A blind monkey could see the two of you have been at each other. I’ve no problem with that except instead of a good shag, I’ve been twiddling about waiting for you to come talk to me.”

  “I should’ve come home sooner, instead of worrying you.”

  Branna shrugged, then softened. “If I’d had a man willing to make me dinner and give me a good roll after a fright like that, I’d have taken it as well. I trust he did a good job with both.”

  Iona grinned. “Exceptional.”

  Heat rose up Boyle’s back like a fever. “Would you mind not batting around my sex life, at least while I’m sitting here?”

  “We’ll bat it around when you’re not then.” Branna poured his tea, kissed the top of his head.

  “Have you eaten?” Iona asked her.

  “Not yet. I will once I hear what you have to say. From the start, Iona. And if she leaves anything out, Boyle, however slight, you fill it in.”

  Iona began, trying to speak in full detail, and with calm.

  Branna gripped her hand. “You’re saying you called a whirlwind? How did you know the way?”

  “It’s in the books. I know it’s advanced, and it’s risky, but it was . . . I don’t know why or how, but I knew it was what I needed to do. I knew I could.”

  “Why didn’t you call me, or Connor? Both?”

  “It was so fast. When I play it back, it’s like it was hours, stage by stage, but it was so fast. I don’t think it was more than a couple minutes.”

  “If that,” Boyle confirmed.

  “All right, but it’s best if you call for me and Connor.”

  “Or Fin,” Boyle put in.

  “I’m not shutting him out.” Or only a little, Branna admitted. “But blood calls to blood, Boyle. We’ve the same blood, Connor, Iona, and I. And this is blood magicks at work. You we
ren’t so afraid. Connor would have sensed that, as he did before. You weren’t so afraid as before, in the woods alone.”

  “A little, but no, not like before, maybe because I wasn’t alone. I could only think he’d hurt Boyle and the horses, to get to me. It helped me focus, I think.”

  Branna nodded, but pushed at her hair. “I’m jumping you around. You said he didn’t bring the fog.”

  “No.”

  “More to catch you off guard than to rattle your nerves then. And it may be he pulls some power from the fog as well, and wasn’t as strong.”

  “Didn’t think he’d need to be?” Boyle nodded. “He learned different. She turned a tree to toothpicks.”

  “I had some trouble with control.”

  “Calling a whirlwind with no practice? I’m not surprised, and it’s a wonder if a tree’s all the damage done.”

  “All that I saw,” Boyle said. “Unless you count the bastard spinning around in the air.”

  “If I could’ve held it, focused it better, I might have destroyed it.”

  Branna dismissed that with a shrug. “If it was that easy, I’d have done it myself before this. You did well. Finish it out now.”

  Listening, nodding, Branna didn’t interrupt again.

  “Yes, you did well indeed. I’d tell you it was a big risk, but I can’t question your instincts. They told you this was the way, and you followed them. You’re safe and well. I think you took Cabhan off guard, and you cost him. It may be you hurt him a bit as well, if his power source—the jewel is that, I think—lessened. How did it feel?”

  “Enormous. Like I could feel every cell in my body burning. Like nothing could stop me.”

  At that, Branna’s brows drew together. “There’s the danger as true as the wolf.”

  “I think I know. Part of feeling that invincibility was why I couldn’t control it, or started to lose it, and let it control me.”

  “It’s a vital lesson learned. It’s that being engulfed by the power, the
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