Midnight Bayou Page 35

Sighs now, and a quick, rushing gasp. They kept their eyes on each other and moved, an almost lazy pace that spread pleasure like a warm pool. Their lips met, and he felt hers curve against his before he lifted his head to see her smile.

Flesh glided over flesh, silky friction. Music, the tragic sob of it from her living room, a sudden celebratory burst of it from the street below, merged together in his head with her quickening breaths.

She tensed beneath him, her head going back to bare the line of her throat for his lips. She tightened around him, shuddered, shuddered. Once again he buried his face in her hair, and this time, let himself fly with her.

Later, he lay watching the light play on the ceiling, stroking his hand along her back. Drenched in her. "Are you going to let me stay?" he asked. "Or do I catch a cab?”

She stared into the shadows. "Stay.”

He woke just after daybreak. She'd curved into him in sleep, but he saw that she had her arm between them and a fist curled over her heart. As if she were guarding it, he thought. The little silver key lay against the side of her hand.

He wanted to lift that hand, gently uncurl the fingers. Bare her heart to him, he realized. He'd already lost his to her. Had lost it, he decided, the moment he'd seen her.

It was a jolt, and a shock for a man who'd come to believe he simply wasn't capable of love. Unless it was family or friendship. His personal crisis over Jessica, who everyone-including Jessica-had claimed was perfect for him, had convinced him he'd blown his one chance at a lasting, content relationship with a woman.

It had been tough to swallow for a man who, at the core, believed strongly in family, in home, in marriage. And swallowing it, he realized, had been largely responsible for the restless unhappiness that had trailed after him like a faithful dog for months.

Now he was looking at the woman who was the answer. And he didn't think she was going to be willing to listen to the question.

So, he'd have to persuade her. One way or the other, and sooner or later. Because he'd meant what he'd said the night before. They were going to belong to each other.

He considered waking her up and reminding her how good they were together in bed. He couldn't think of a better way to start the day, especially since she was warm and soft and draped around him.

But it didn't seem quite fair to wake her when they'd barely slept. Her workday started a great deal later than his.

He slid away from her, with no little regret, and eased out of bed. She stirred, sighing in sleep, and rolled into the warmth he'd left behind.

He grabbed his trousers and headed into the shower.

In his opinion, you could tell a lot about a person by their bathroom. Hers was both rigorously clean and indulgent. Thick towels of forest green offset the white fixtures and picked up the small diamond chip pattern scattered through the floor tile.

Lush green plants lined the windowsill, and a trio of daffodils speared out of a slim bottle of pale green.

There were other bottles, jewel colors, and covered boxes that held fragrant oils and lotions, bath salts. She liked fancy soaps, he noted, and kept them in a pretty bowl.

He also discovered her hot water lasted longer than his. He smiled through the bliss of a fifteen-minute shower that steamed up the room like a Turkish bath.

She was still sleeping when he stepped out. Sprawled now over the sheets with the morning sun slanted over the lean length of her naked back. He turned his mind firmly from sliding back into bed with her and focused it on finding coffee.

Her living area had lofty ceilings and dark wood floors. She'd sponged the walls with a bluish paint that made them look like faded denim. Against one stood a fireplace framed in that same dark wood with a sunburst mantelpiece he immediately coveted. Its woodwork was distressed, its cream-colored paint peeling.

He understood why she'd left it that way. Its history and character came through.

To complement the faded walls, she'd hung colorful framed posters. Advertising posters, he noted. Elegant women selling champagne, sleek-looking men toting cigars.

A high-backed sofa in royal blue sat in the center of the room covered, as women mysteriously cover sofas and beds, with pillows.

He admired the style she'd formed here. Old, subtly battered tables and slashing colors. And he liked seeing his tulips on her coffee table.

He wandered through to the kitchen and found himself grinning. It wasn't often you found black-and– white photos of nudes-male and female-on kitchen walls.

But he was happier yet to find coffee.

He closed the pocket door so the sound of grinding beans wouldn't carry to the bedroom. And while the coffee brewed, he stood at her kitchen window, looking out at her section of New Orleans.

He heard the slide of the kitchen door.

She wore a short red robe, and her eyes were heavy with sleep, her smile lazy with it.

"Sorry, I thought I'd muffled the coffee grinder.”

"I didn't hear it." She drew a deep breath. "But I smelled the results. You making breakfast, cher?”

"Want toast? It's my best thing.”

"Oh, I think I had a taste of your best thing last night." Still smiling, she sauntered toward him, slid her hands around his neck. "Gimme another," she said and lifted her mouth to his.

She'd woken lonely, sure he'd gone. She never let men stay the night in her bed. It was too easy for them to slip out the door. Better to send them along, to sleep alone than to wake lonely.

Then she'd seen his shirt, his jacket, his shoes, and had been delighted. Too delighted. When a man had that much power, it was time to take some back. The surefire way was to cloud his mind with sex.

"Why didn't you just roll over and wake me up, sugar?”

"Thought about it." Was still thinking about it. "I figured since you're working tonight, you need more than ten minutes' sleep. But since you're awake …" She laughed and slipped away. "Since I'm awake I want coffee." She opened a cupboard door, sent him that knowing glance over her shoulder. "Maybe if you ask nice, I'll fix you some breakfast.”

"Do you want me to beg standing up, on my knees or completely supine?”

"You tickle me, Declan. I'll make you some toast. Le pain perdu," she added when his face fell. "French toast. I got me most of a nice baguette." She handed him a thick white mug filled with black coffee.

"Thanks. Since you're good in the kitchen, we won't have to hire a cook when we get married and raise our six kids.”

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