Midnight Bayou Page 25

She shook her head, took the empty bowl from him and dumped it in the box he was using for trash. "You're an interesting man, Declan. And I like you.”

"Uh-oh. Hold on a minute." He glanced around, picked up the screwdriver lying on a plank. "Here you go," he said as he handed it to her.

"What's this for?”

"So you can plunge it into my heart when you tell me you just want to be friends.”

"I bet Jessica's still kicking herself for letting you slip away. I do want to be friends." She turned the screwdriver in her hand, then set it down again. "I don't know yet if I just want to be friends. I have to think about it.”

"Okay." He took her arms, ran his hands up to her shoulders. "Think about it.”

She didn't try to pull away, but lifted her face so his lips could meet hers. She liked the easy glide from warmth to heat, the fluid ride offered by a man who took his time.

She understood desire. A man's. Her own. And she knew some of those desires could be sated only in quick, hot couplings in the dark.

From time to time, she'd sated hers in just that fashion.

There was more here, and it came like a yearning. Yearnings, even met, could cause a pain desire never could.

Still, she couldn't resist laying her hands on his face, letting the kiss spin out.

Inside her, deep inside her, something sighed.

"Angelina.”

He said her name, a whisper of sound, as he changed the angle of the kiss. As he deepened it. A thousand warnings jangled in her brain and were ignored. She gave herself over for one reckless moment, to the heat, to the need. To the yearning.

Then she drew back from all of it. "That's something to think about, all right.”

She pressed a hand to his chest when he would have pulled her into him again. "Settle down, cher." She gave him a slow, sleepy smile. "You've got me worked up enough for one day.”

"I was just getting started.”

"I believe it." She let out a breath, pushed her hair back. "I've got to go. I'm working the bar tonight.”

"I'll come in. Walk you home.”

However calm his voice, his eyes had storms in them. The sort, she imagined, that would provide a hell of a thrill before they crashed over your head. "I don't think so.”

"Lena. I want to be with you. I want to spend time with you.”

"Want to spend time with me? You take me on a date.”

"A date?”

"The kind where you pick me up at my door and take me out to a fancy dinner." She tapped a finger on his chest. "Take me dancing after, then walk me back to my door and kiss me good-night. Can you handle that?”

"What time do you want me to pick you up?”

She smiled, shook her head. "I'm working tonight. I got Monday night off. Place isn't so busy Monday nights. You pick me up at eight.”

"Monday. Eight o'clock.”

He grabbed her arms again, jerked her against him. There was no glide into heat this time, but a headlong dive into it.

Oh yeah, she thought, it would be quite a thrill before the crash.

"Just a reminder," he told her.

A warning, more like, she thought. He wasn't nearly as tame as he pretended to be. "I won't forget. See you later, cher.”

"Lena. We didn't talk about what happened upstairs.”

"We will," she called back, and kept going.

She didn't breathe easy until she was out of the house. He wasn't going to be as simple to handle as she'd assumed. The good manners weren't a veneer, they went straight through him. But so did the heat, and the determination.

It was a package she admired, and respected.

Not that she couldn't handle him, she told herself as she got into her car. Handling men was one of her best skills.

But this man was a great deal more complicated than he seemed on the surface. And a great deal more intriguing than any she'd met before.

She knew what men saw when they looked at her. And she didn't mind it because there was more to her than what they saw. Or wanted to see.

She had a good brain, a strong back and a willingness to use both to get what she wanted. She ran her life the same way she ran her bar. With an appreciation for color and a foundation of order beneath the chaos.

She glanced in her rearview mirror at Manet Hall as she drove away. It worried her that Declan Fitzgerald could shake that foundation the way no one had before.

It worried her that she might not find it so easy to shore up the cracks when he walked away.

They always walked away. Unless you walked first.

He fell asleep thinking of Lena, and drifted into dreams of her. Strong, full– bodied dreams where she lay beneath him, moved under him with hard, quick jerks of her hips. Damp skin, like liquid gold. Dark chocolate eyes, and red, wet lips.

He could hear the sound of her breath, the catch and release, little gulps of pleasure. He smelled her, that siren's dance of jasmine that made him think of harems and forbidden shadows.

He dropped deeper into sleep, aching for her.

And saw her hurrying along a corridor, her arms full of linens. Her hair, all that gorgeous hair, was ruthlessly pinned back, and that tempting body covered from neck to ankle in a baggy dress covered with tiny, faded flowers.

Her lips were unpainted and pressed tightly together. And in the dream, he could hear her thoughts as if they were his own.

She had to hurry, to get the linens put away. Madame Manet was already up and about, and she didn't care to see any of the undermaids scurrying in the hallways. If she wasn't quick, she could be noticed.

She didn't want Madame to notice her. Servants stayed employed longer when they were invisible. That's what Mademoiselle LaRue, the housekeeper, said, and she was never wrong.

She needed the work. Her family needed the money she could bring in, and oh, but she loved working in the Hall. It was the most beautiful house she'd ever seen. She was so happy and proud to have some part of tending to it.

How many times had she stared at it from the shadows of the bayou? Admiring it, longing for a chance to peek in the windows at all the beauty inside.

And now she was inside, responsible in some small way for the tending of that beauty.

She loved to polish the wood, to sweep the floors. To see the way the glass sparkled after she'd scrubbed it.

In his dream, she came out of the corridor through one of the hidden doors on the second level. Her eyes tracked everywhere as she hurried along –the wallpaper, the rugs, the wood and glass. She slipped into a dressing room, put the linens away in a cupboard.

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