Midnight Bayou Page 50

"It only took one look at you.”

His eyes were so deep, she thought, so clear. Like the surface of a lake at twilight. "You don't even know me.”

He pulled her back a second time, reminding her that there was steel in him, and an edge to it. "You're wrong. I know you're smart, and you're strong. Enough to carve out your own place from almost nothing. I know you pay your debts. I know you're loyal and you're loving. I know somebody hurt you, and it wouldn't take much to knock the scab off. And I know I'm scaring you right now because you don't think you're ready to hear what I'm saying to you.”

The beat of her heart was painful, like the strike of a fist on a raw wound. "I'm not looking for love, Declan. I'm sorry.”

"Neither was I, but there you go. We don't have to rush it. I wasn't going to say anything to you yet but … I needed to.”

"Cher, people, they fall in and out of love all the time. It's just a dazzle of chemicals.”

"He really hurt you.”

Frustrated, she pushed away, and this time he let her go. "You're wrong. There's no man, no ghost of some lover who broke my heart. I look like a clichi to you?”

"You look like everything to me.”

"Mon Dieu." The man made her throat fill up, then snap shut. Deliberately she fought back the sensation and spoke clearly. "I like you, Declan, and I enjoy your company. I want you in bed. If that's not enough for you, I walk now and save us both a lot of trouble and disappointment.”

"Do you always get so pissed off when somebody tells you he loves you?”

No one ever had, she nearly said. No one ever had who meant it. "I don't like being pushed, and when I am, I make a point of not going in that direction.”

"I have to admire that." His grin was easy as he got to his feet. "I like you, too, Lena. And I enjoy your company, want you in bed. That's enough for now. Are you hungry? I think I'll heat up the grill.”

If it was a trick, Lena thought, or some sort of strategy to keep her off balance, it was well done.

She just couldn't quite puzzle the man out, and his seamless shift of moods was a surefire way to push her to keep trying.

He cooked like a man who didn't trust himself in an actual kitchen. Jacketed potatoes on the grill, the steaks. And he sweet-talked her into making the salad.

He didn't say another word about love.

He asked her about work, how her business had done during the two days of rain. He put on music, kept it low, and talked through the kitchen door as the grill smoked and she chopped vegetables.

They might have been casual friends, or the most comfortable of lovers.

They ate in his pretty kitchen, by candlelight. Even the house behaved. Despite it-or perhaps because of it-she stayed on edge throughout the meal.

He took a bakery cake out of the fridge. Lena took one look, sighed. "I can't.”

"We can save it for later.”

"I can't for forty days. I gave up chocolate for Lent. I've got a powerful taste for chocolate.”

"Oh." He stuck it back in. "I've probably got something else.”

"What'd you give up?”

"Wearing women's underwear. It's tough, but I think I can hold out till Easter.”

"You talk like that, I'm going to take my ashes back." He was making her itchy, she thought. The best way to solve that was to make him itch more. She stepped behind him as he searched his refrigerator, then wrapped her arms around his waist, pressed her body to his. "You need to give something up, cher, something you've got a powerful taste for.”

"It sure as hell isn't going to be you.”

He let her spin him around, shove him back against the refrigerator.

Oh, he knew her, he thought as she used her lips to set off explosions in his bloodstream. He knew she was using sex to keep one step ahead of him. One step back from him.

If she didn't realize he could love her as much as he wanted her, it was up to him to show her.

"In your bed, you said." Her mouth was reckless, restless as it raced over his face. "In your bed.”

She pulled him toward the doorway. He nearly pulled her back, toward the kitchen stairs, but decided it might be interesting to take the long way around.

He pushed her against the wall in the hallway, assaulted her throat with his teeth. "We'll get there.”

He reached down, yanked her shirt up, over her head, threw it aside. Wrapped together, they did a quick vertical roll along the wall, and finally stopped with their positions reversed. With impatient hands she pulled his shirt open so that buttons danced along the floor.

They fought with clothes on their way to the steps. Shoes landed with thumps. Her bra fluttered over the banister, his jeans plopped on the third step.

They were breathless before they reached the landing.

His hands were rough, a workingman's hands now that thrilled as they streaked over her. Her skin came alive.

"Hurry." She sank her teeth into his shoulder as need raged through her, a firestorm of violent heat that burned away all caution. "God, hurry.”

He nearly took her where they stood, but he wanted her under him. Bucking, arching.

With his mouth savaging hers, he wrapped his arms around her waist, lifted her two inches off the floor. Something raw and primitive stabbed through him at the knowledge that there was no choice now. No choice for either of them but to mate.

Shadows cloaked them as they moved toward the bedroom.

Cold from doorways seeped out, made her shiver.

"Declan.”

"This is us. This is ours." As he spoke, his voice a snarl, as he held her, his grip like iron, the cold curled back.

They fell on his bed, a tangle of limbs and urgency. When he plunged into her, her nails dug into his back. Pleasure, dark and desperate, drenched her, the feral glory of it drove her up so that she twined herself around him and matched the furious pace.

No control, nor the desire for it. Only the wild thirst to take and take and take. And with it, the gnawing hunger to give.

She clung to him, riding through the storm of sensation, sprinting up and up toward that jagged brink again.

Dimly, she heard a clock begin to strike in deep, heavy bongs. On the twelfth, she shattered with him.

When he started to shift away, she tightened her grip. "Mmm. Don't move yet.”

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