Secret star, p.8
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       Secret Star, p.8
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         Part #3 of Stars of Mithra series by Nora Roberts
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  he missed a lot, which leads me to think he panicked. Either because she fell or because he wasn’t able to find what he’d come for.”

  “And you’re leaning toward the second choice, because this isn’t the type of man to panic because he’d killed a woman.”

  “No, he isn’t.”

  “She couldn’t have given him what he’d come for. She wouldn’t have known what he was talking about.”

  “No. That doesn’t make you responsible. If you indulge yourself by thinking it does, you’d have to blame Bailey, too.”

  Grace opened her mouth, closed it again, breathed deep. “That’s clever logic, Lieutenant,” she said after a moment. “So I shed my sackcloth and ashes and blame this man. Have you found him?”

  “He’s dead.” He took the photo back, tucked it away. “And my clever logic leads me to believe that whoever hired him decided to fire him, permanently.”

  “I see.” She felt nothing, no satisfaction, no relief. “So, we’re nowhere.”

  “The Three Stars are under twenty-four-hour guard. You, M.J. and Bailey are safe, and the museum will have its property in a matter of days.”

  “And a lot of people have died. Sacrifices to the god?”

  “From what I’ve read about Mithra, it isn’t blood he wants.”

  “Love, knowledge and generosity,” she said quietly. “Powerful elements. The diamond I held, it has vitality. Maybe that’s the same as power. Does he want them because they’re beautiful, priceless, ancient, or because he truly believes in the legend? Does he believe that if he has all of them in their triangle, he’ll possess the power of the god, and immortality?”

  “People believe what they choose to believe. Whatever reason he wants them, he’s killed for them.” Staring out across the grass, he stepped over one of his own rules and shared his thoughts with her. “Money isn’t the driving force. He’s laid out more than a million already. He wants to own them, to hold them in his hands, whatever the cost. It’s more than coveting,” he said quietly, as a murky scene swam into his mind.

  A marble altar, a golden triangle with three brilliantly blue points. A dark man with pale eyes and a bloody sword.

  “And you don’t think he’ll stop now. You think he’ll try again.”

  Baffled and uneasy with the image, he shook it off, turned back to logic and instinct. “Oh, yeah.” Seth’s eyes narrowed, went flat. “He’ll try again.”

  Seth made it to Cade’s at 8:14. His final meeting of the day, with the chief of police, had gone past seven, and that had barely given him time to get home, change and drive out again. He’d told himself half a dozen times that he’d be better off staying at home, putting the reports and files away and having a quiet evening to relax his mind.

  The press conference set for nine sharp the next morning would be a trial by fire, and he needed to be sharp. Yet here he was, sitting in his car feeling ridiculously nervous and unsettled.

  He’d tracked a homicidal junkie through a condemned tenement without breaking a sweat, with a steady pulse he’d interrogated cold, vicious killers—but now, as the white ball of the sun dipped low in the sky, he was as jittery as a schoolboy.

  He hated cocktail parties. The inane conversations, the silly food, the buffed faces, all feigning enthusiasm or ennui, depending on their style.

  But it wasn’t the prospect of a few hours socializing with strangers that unnerved him. It was spending time with Grace without the buffer of the job between them.

  He’d never had a woman affect him as she did. And he couldn’t deny—at least to himself—that he had been deeply, uniquely affected, from the moment he saw her portrait.

  It didn’t help to tell himself she was shallow, spoiled, a woman used to men falling at her feet. It hadn’t helped before he discovered she was much more than that, and it was certainly no good now.

  He couldn’t claim to understand her, but he was beginning to uncover all those layers and contrasts that made her who and what she was.

  And he knew they would be lovers before the night was over.

  He saw her step out of the house, a charge of electric blue from the short strapless dress molded to her body, the long, luxurious fall of ebony hair, the endless and perfect legs.

  Did she shock every man’s system, Seth wondered, just the look of her? Or was he particularly, specifically vulnerable? He decided either answer would be hard to live with, and got out of his car.

  Her head turned at the sound of his door, and that heart-stopping face bloomed with a smile. “I didn’t think you were going to make it.” She crossed to him, unhurried, and touched her mouth to his. “I’m glad you did.”

  “I’d said I’d call if I wouldn’t be here.”

  “So you did.” But she hadn’t counted on it. She’d left the address of the party inside, just in case, but she’d resigned herself to spending the evening without him. She smiled again, smoothed a hand down the lapel of his suit. “I never wait by the phone. We’re going to Georgetown. Shall we take my car, or yours?”

  “I’ll drive.” Knowing she expected him to make some comment on her looks, he deliberately kept silent as he walked around the car to open her door.

  She slipped in, her legs sliding silkily inside. He wanted his hands there, right there where the abbreviated hem of her dress kissed her thighs. Where the skin would be tender as a ripened peach and smooth as white satin.

  He closed the door, walked back around the car and got behind the wheel. “Where in Georgetown?” was all he said.

  It was a beautiful old house, with soaring ceilings, heavy antiques and deep, warm colors. The lights blazed down on important people, people of influence and wealth, who carried the scent of power under their perfumes and colognes.

  She belonged, Seth thought. She’d melded with the whole from the moment she stepped through the door to exchange sophisticated cheek brushes with the hostess.

  Yet she stood apart. In the midst of all the sleek black, the fussy pastels, she was a bright blue flame daring anyone to touch and be burned.

  Like the diamonds, he thought. Unique, potent…irresistible.

  “Lieutenant Buchanan, isn’t it?”

  Seth shifted his gaze from Grace and looked at the short, balding man who was built like a boxer and dressed in Savile Row. “Yes. Mr. Rossi, counsel for the defense. If the defense has deep enough pockets.”

  Unoffended, Rossi chuckled. “I thought I recognized you. I’ve crossed you on the stand a few times. You’re a tough nut. I’ve always believed I’d have gotten Tremaine off, or at least hung the jury, if I’d have been able to shake your testimony.”

  “He was guilty.”

  “As sin,” Rossi agreed readily, “but I’d have hung that jury.”

  As Rossi started to rehash the trial, Seth resigned himself to talking shop.

  Across the room, Grace took a glass from a passing waiter and listened to her hostess’s gossip with half an ear. She knew when to chuckle, when to lift a brow, purse her lips, make some interesting comment. It was all routine.

  She wanted to leave immediately. She wanted to get Seth out of that dark suit. She wanted her hands on him, all over him. Lust was creeping along her skin like a hot rash. Sips of champagne did nothing to cool her throat, and only added to the bubbling in her blood.

  “My dear Sarah.”

  “Gregor, how lovely to see you.”

  Grace shifted, sipped, smiled at the sleek, dark man with the creamy voice who bent gallantly over their hostess’s hand. Mediterranean, she judged, by the charm of the accent. Fiftyish, but fit.

  “You’re looking particularly wonderful tonight,” he said, lingering over her hand. “And your hospitality, as always, is incomparable. And your guests.” He turned smiling pale silvery-blue eyes on Grace. “Perfect.”

  “Gregor.” Sarah simpered, fluttered, then turned to Grace. “I don’t believe you’ve met Gregor, Grace. He’s fatally charming, so be very careful. Ambassador DeVane, I’d like to present
Grace Fontaine, a dear friend.”

  “I am honored.” He lifted Grace’s hand, and his lips were warm and soft. “And enchanted.”

  “Ambassador?” Grace slipped easily into the role. “I thought ambassadors were old and stodgy. All the ones I’ve met have been. That is, up until now.”

  “I’ll just leave you with Grace, Gregor. I see we have some late arrivals.”

  “I’m sure I’m in delightful hands.” With obvious reluctance, he released Grace’s fingers. “Are you perhaps a connection of Niles Fontaine?”

  “He’s an uncle, yes.”

  “Ah. I had the pleasure of meeting your uncle and his charming wife in Capri a few years ago. We have a mutual hobby, coins.”

  “Yes, Uncle Niles has quite a collection. He’s mad for coins.” Grace brushed her hair back, lifted it off her bare shoulder. “And where are you from, Ambassador DeVane?”

  “Gregor, please, in such friendly surroundings. Then I might be permitted to call you Grace.”

  “Of course.” Her smile warmed to suit the new intimacy.

  “I doubt you would have heard of my tiny country. We are only a small dot in the sea, known chiefly for our olive oil and wine.”

  “Terresa?”

  “Now I am flattered again that such a beautiful woman would know my humble country.”

  “It’s a beautiful island. I was there briefly, two years ago, and very much enjoyed it. Terresa is a small jewel in the sea, dramatic cliffs to the west, lush vineyards in the east, and sandy beaches as fine as sugar.”

  He smiled at her, took her hand again. The connection was as unexpected as the woman, and he found himself compelled to touch. And to keep. “You must promise to return, to allow me to show you the country as it should be seen. I have a small villa in the west, and the view would almost be worthy of you.”

  “I’d love to see it. How difficult it must be to spend the summer in muggy Washington, when you could be enjoying the sea breezes of Terresa.”

  “Not at all difficult. Now.” He skimmed a thumb over her knuckles. “I find the treasures of your country more and more appealing. Perhaps you would consider joining me one evening. Do you enjoy the opera?”

  “Very much.”

  “Then you must allow me to escort you. Perhaps—” He broke off, a flicker of annoyance marring his smooth features as Seth stepped up to them.

  “Ambassador Gregor DeVane of Terresa, allow me to introduce Lieutenant Seth Buchanan.”

  “You are military,” DeVane said, offering a hand.

  “Cop,” Seth said shortly. He didn’t like the ambassador’s looks. Not one bit. When he saw DeVane with Grace, he’d had a fast, turbulent impulse to reach for his weapon. But, strangely, his instinctive movement hadn’t been up, to his gun, but lower on the side. Where a man would carry a sword.

  “Ah, the police.” DeVane blinked in surprise, though he already had a full dossier on Seth Buchanan. “How fascinating. I hope you’ll forgive me for saying it’s my fondest wish never to require your services.” Smoothly DeVane slipped a glass from a passing tray, handed it to Seth, then took one for himself. “But perhaps we should drink to crime. Without it, you’d be obsolete.”

  Seth eyed him levelly. There was recognition, inexplicable, and utterly adversarial, when their eyes locked, pale silver to dark gold. “I prefer drinking to justice.”

  “Of course. To the scales, shall we say, and their constant need for balancing?” Gregor drank, then inclined his head. “You’ll excuse me, Lieutenant Buchanan, I’ve yet to greet my host. I was—” he turned to Grace and kissed her hand again “—beautifully distracted from my duty.”

  “It was a pleasure to meet you, Gregor.”

  “I hope to see you again.” He looked deeply into her eyes, held the moment. “Very soon.”

  The moment he turned away, Grace shivered. There had been something almost possessive in that last, long stare. “What an odd and charming man,” she murmured.

  Energy was shooting through Seth, the need to do battle. His system sparked with it. “Do you usually let odd and charming men drool over you in public?”

  It was small of her, Grace supposed, but she enjoyed a kick of satisfaction at the annoyance in Seth’s tone. “Of course. Since I so dislike them drooling over me in private.” She turned into him, so that their bodies brushed lightly. Then slanted a look up from under that thick curtain of lashes. “You don’t plan to drool, do you?”

  He could have damned her for shooting his system from slow burn up to sizzle. “Finish your drink,” he said abruptly, “and say your goodbyes. We’re going.”

  Grace gave an exaggerated sigh. “Oh, I do love being dominated by a strong man.”

  “We’re about to put that to the test.” He took her half-finished drink, set it aside. “Let’s go.”

  DeVane watched them leave, studied the way Seth pressed a hand to the small of Grace’s back to steer her through the crowd. He would have to punish the cop for touching her.

  Grace was his property now, DeVane thought as he gritted his teeth painfully tight to suppress the rage. She was meant for him. He’d known it from the moment he took her hand and looked into her eyes. She was perfect, flawless. It wasn’t just the Three Stars that were fated for him, but the woman who had held one, perhaps caressed it, as well.

  She would understand their power. She would add to it.

  Along with the Three Stars of Mithra, DeVane vowed, Grace Fontaine would be the treasure of his collection.

  She would bring the Stars to him. And then she would belong to him. Forever.

  As she stepped outside, Grace felt another shudder sprint down her spine. She hunched her shoulder blades against it, looked back. Through the tall windows filled with light she could see the guests mingling.

  And she saw DeVane, quite clearly. For a moment, she would have sworn their eyes met—but this time there was no charm. An irrational sense of fear lodged in her stomach, had her turning quickly away again.

  When Seth pulled open the car door, she got in without complaint or comment. She wanted to go, to get away from those brilliantly lit windows and the man who seemed to watch her from beyond them. Briskly she rubbed the chill from her arms.

  “You wouldn’t be cold if you’d worn clothes.” Seth stuck the key in the ignition.

  The single remark, issued with cold and savage control, made her chuckle and chased the chill away. “Why, Lieutenant, and here I was wondering how long you would let me keep on what I am wearing.”

  “Not a hell of a lot longer,” he promised, and pulled out into the street.

  “Good.” Determined to see that he kept that promise, she squirmed over and began to nibble his ear. “Let’s break some laws,” she whispered.

  “I could already charge myself with intent.”

  She laughed again, quick, breathless, and had him hard as iron.

  He wasn’t sure how he managed to handle the car, much less drive it through traffic out of D.C. and back into Maryland. She worked his tie off, undid half the buttons of his shirt. Her hands were everywhere, and her mouth teased his ear, his neck, his jaw, while she murmured husky promises, suggestions.

  The fantasies she wove with unerring skill had the blood beating painfully in his loins.

  He pulled to a jerky stop in his driveway, then dragged her across the seat. She lost one shoe in the car and the other halfway up the walk as he half carried her. Her laughter, dark, wild, damning, roared in his head. He all but broke his own door down to get her inside. The instant they were, he pushed her back against the wall and savaged her mouth.

  He wasn’t thinking. Couldn’t think. It was all primal, violent need. In the darkened hallway, he hiked up her skirt with impatient hands, found the thin, lacy barrier beneath and ripped it aside. He freed himself, then, gripping her hips, plunged into her where they stood.

  She cried out, not in protest, not in shock at the almost brutal treatment. But in pure, overwhelming pleasure. She locked herself arou
nd him, let him drive her ruthlessly, crest after torrential crest. And met him thrust for greedy, desperate thrust.

  It was mindless and hot and vicious. And it was all that mattered. Sheer animal need. Violent animal release.

  Her body shattered, went limp, as she felt him pour into her.

  He slapped his hand against the wall to keep his balance, struggled to slow his breathing, clear his fevered brain. They were no more than a step inside his door, he realized, and he’d mounted her like a rutting bull.

  There was no point in apologies, he thought. They’d both wanted fast and urgent. No, wanted was too tame a word, he decided. They’d craved it, the way starving animals craved meat.

  But he’d never treated a woman with less care, or so completely ignored the consequences.

  “I meant to get you out of that dress,” he managed, and was pleased when she laughed.

  “We’ll get around to it.”

  “There’s something else I didn’t get around to.” He eased back, studied her face in the dim light. “Is that going to be a problem?”

  She understood. “No.” And though it was rash and foolish, she felt a twinge of regret that there would be no quickening of life inside her as a result of their carelessness. “I take care of myself.”

  “I didn’t want this to happen.” He took her chin in his hand. “I should have been able to keep my hands off you.”

  Her eyes glimmered in the dark—confident and amused. “I hope you don’t expect me to be sorry you didn’t. I want them on me again. I want mine on you.”

  “While they are.” He lifted her chin a little higher. “No one else’s are. I don’t share.”

  Her lips curved slowly as she kept his gaze. “Neither do I.”

  He nodded, accepting. “Let’s go upstairs,” he said, and swept her into his arms.

  Chapter 7

  He switched on the light as he carried her into his room. This time he needed to see her, to know when her eyes clouded or darkened, to witness those flickers of pleasure or shock.

  This time he would remember man’s advantage over the animal, and that the mind and heart could play a part.

  She got a sense of a room of average size, simple buff-colored curtains at the windows, clean-lined furniture without color, a large bed with a navy spread tucked in with precise, military tidiness.

  There were paintings on the walls that she told herself she would study later, when her heart wasn’t skipping. Scenes both urban and rural were depicted in misty, dreamy watercolors that made a personal contrast to the practical room.

  But all thoughts of art and decor fled when he set her on her feet beside the bed. She reached out, undid the final buttons of his shirt, while he shrugged out of his jacket. Her brows lifted when she noted he wore his shoulder holster.

  “Even to a cocktail party?”

  “Habit,” he said simply, and took it off, hung it over a chair. He caught the look in her eye. “Is it a problem?”

  “No. I was just thinking how it suits you. And wondering if you look as sexy putting it on as you do taking it off.” Then she turned, scooped her hair over her shoulder. “I could use some help.”

  He let his gaze wander over her back. Instead of reaching for the zipper, he drew her against him and lowered his mouth to her bare shoulder. She sighed, tipped her head back.

  “That’s even better.”

  “Round one took the edge off,” he murmured, then slid his hands around her waist, and up, until they cupped her breasts. “I want you whimpering, wanting, weak.”

  His thumbs brushed the curves just above the bold blue silk. Focused on the sensation, she reached back, linked her arms around his neck. Her body began to move, timed to his strokes, but when she tried to turn, he held her in place.

  She moaned, shifted restlessly, when his fingers curved under her bodice, the backs teasing her nipples, making them heat and ache. “I want to touch you.”

  “Whimpering,” he repeated, and ran his hands down her dress to the hem, then beneath. “Wanting.” And cupped her. “Weak.” Pierced her.

  The orgasm flooded her, one long, slow wave that swamped the senses. The whimper he’d waited for shuddered through her lips.

 
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