Sullivans woman, p.10
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       Sullivan's Woman, p.10
 

           Nora Roberts
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  the brandy.

  “Cassidy.” He trailed his mouth down to her jawline, then drew away. His eyes were grave as he looked down at her, his hand light on her shoulder. “The last time I kissed you, I hurt you. I regret that.”

  “Please, Colin.” Cassidy shook her head to halt his words. “We were both angry.”

  “You’ve already forgiven me, because it’s your nature to do so. But I remember the look on your face.” He ran his hand down her arm until it linked with hers. “I want to kiss you again, Cass, the way you should be kissed.” He took his hand and gently circled her neck. “But I need you to tell me it’s what you want.”

  It would be so easy to refuse. She had only to form the word “no,” and she knew he’d let her go. But she was as truly his prisoner now as if she were chained to him. “Yes,” she said and closed her eyes. “Yes.”

  His mouth touched hers lightly, and her lips parted. His kisses were soft and gentle, lingering before one ended and another began. She felt him slip the light jacket from her shoulders and enjoyed the warmth of his hands on her skin. Slowly the kisses grew deeper. Her arms found their way around him. The languor that spread through her went far beyond the effects of the wine. Her limbs were pliant, her mind clouded as her senses grew sharper.

  When their lips parted, Colin loosened his hold. “Cass.”

  With a sigh she snuggled against him, brushing his neck with a kiss. She ran a hand experimentally up the silk of his shirt. “Yes?” she murmured, lifting her face to his. Her eyes were slumberous, her lips a temptation. Colin swore under his breath before he crushed his mouth to hers.

  Cassidy’s response was instantaneous. Her passion went from languid to flaming in the space of a heartbeat. Blood pounded thickly in her brain as she found herself falling backward onto the cushions of the sofa. Colin’s body was taut. His hands caressed the bare skin of her shoulders as the kiss deepened. At the base of her throat he found more pleasure, and his mouth lingered there as her pulse beat wildly beneath it.

  The elastic of her bodice slid down at his insistence, freeing her breasts to his searching hands. Unbridled, her passion raced through her, bringing a moan that spoke of longing and delight. His mouth trailed down through the valley between her breasts, devouring her heated skin. His fingers brushed over the peak of her breasts, exploring, learning, until his mouth replaced them. Cassidy gave a shuddering moan as he brought his lips back to hers, accepting the fierce, final urgency that flared before he ended the kiss. Her eyes opened to meet the dark fire of his.

  Seeing the tumble of his hair over his brow, she lifted a hand to push it back. She murmured his name. Colin caught her hand in his as she took it to his cheek. Carefully he drew the bodice of her dress into place, then pulled her with him to a sitting position.

  “I make few noble gestures, Cassidy.” His voice was husky, and under her palm she could feel the rapid beat of his heart. “This is one of them.” Rising, he drew her to her feet, then draped her jacket over her shoulders. “I’ll take you home.”

  “Colin,” she began, knowing only that she wanted to be his.

  “No, don’t say anything.” He dropped his hands from her shoulders and put them in his pockets. “You put your destiny in my hands for tonight. I’ll take you home. Next time the decision will be in your hands.”

  Chapter 8

  The sun was high and bright. Cassidy watched it spear through her window as she lay in bed. It fell in a patch on the floor and shimmered. Her eyes drifted to the painting that hung to her left. It had hung there for only two days, but she knew every minute detail of the canvas. She knew the very texture of the brush strokes. Sighing, she stared up at the ceiling.

  She remembered every moment of her evening with Colin from the instant she had looked up from her hands and knees by her couch to the brief good-bye at the door.

  When she had returned to the studio the morning after their date, Colin had fallen into his work pattern with apparent ease. Whatever had been between them, Cassidy decided, had been for that night. For him, it was over. For me, she thought, studying the painting again, it’s forever.

  I should be grateful to him for taking me home when he did. If I had stayed . . . If I had stayed, she repeated after a long breath, I would have become one of his lovers. And then he would have picked up his life exactly where he left off, and I would be even more alone than I am now. As it is, I have one exceptional evening to remember. Wine and candlelight and music.

  “Romantic fool,” she muttered abruptly, then rolled over and punched her pillow.

  “Cassidy.” The knock sounded as a brief concession before Jeff burst through the door. “Hey, Cassidy.” He stopped and gave her a look of disgust. “Still in bed? It’s eleven o’clock.”

  Cassidy pulled the sheet up to her chin and scrambled to sit up. “Yes, I’m still in bed. I worked till three-thirty.” She frowned past him. “I thought I’d remembered to lock that door.”

  “Uh-uh.” Jeff hurried over and plopped on the bed while she flushed with embarrassed amusement.

  “Make yourself at home,” she said with a grand gesture of her free arm. “Don’t mind me.”

  “Take a look at this! You got yourself in the paper.”

  “What?” Cassidy glanced down at the newspaper Jeff had clutched in his hand. “What are you talking about?”

  “I splurged on a Sunday paper,” he began, then his lips spread in a grin. He touched her nose with a fingertip. “And who do I see when I take a look at the society section, but my friend and neighbor, Cassidy St. John.”

  “You’re making that up,” Cassidy accused and tossed back her sleep-tumbled hair. “What would I be doing on the society page?”

  “Dancing with Colin Sullivan,” Jeff informed her as he waved the paper under her nose.

  Cassidy grabbed his wrist to stop the movement, then her mouth fell open in astonishment. She stared, unbelievingly, at the picture. In two quick moves she had dropped the sheet and grabbed the paper from Jeff’s hand. “Let me see that.”

  “Help yourself,” he said amiably. He settled back on one elbow to watch myriad expressions cross her face. The flush sleep had put into her cheeks grew deeper. “Seems you were seen together in some hot spot. A picture gets snapped, and they add a bit of interesting speculation of who Sullivan’s latest flame is.” He pulled on his beard and chuckled. “Little do they know she’s sitting right here in a number fifty-three football jersey that looks a lot better on her than it would on a right tackle.” He chuckled again, then peered down at the newspaper. “You look real good in there, too.”

  “This is all—all drivel!” Cassidy slammed down the paper, then scrambled to her knees. Pushing Jeff aside she stepped over him to the floor. “Did you read that story?” she demanded and kicked a stray tennis shoe into a corner. “How dare they imply such things?”

  Jeff sat back up, watching her spin around the room. “Hey, Cassidy, it’s just a story, nothing to get all worked up about. Besides . . .” He picked up the discarded paper and smoothed it out. “They’re really pretty complimentary where you’re concerned. Listen, they call you a . . .” He paused while he searched down the phrase. “Oh, yeah, here it is. A ‘nubile young beauty.’ Sounds pretty good.”

  Cassidy made a low sound in her throat, then kicked the mate to the tennis shoe into an opposing corner. “That’s just like a man,” she stormed back at him. Turning away, she pulled open a drawer and yanked out a pair of cutoffs; then, spinning around, she waved them at him. “Toss out a few compliments and it makes everything all right.” Cassidy dove back into the drawer and came up with a crimson scoop-necked T-shirt. “Well, it’s not, it’s absolutely not.” She pushed her hair out of her face and drew in a deep breath. “Can I keep that?” she asked in more controlled tones.

  “Sure.” Warily, Jeff rose and handed her the paper. He cleared his throat. “Well, I guess I’ll just go read the rest of the paper,” he told her, but she was already scowling down at the pic
ture again. Taking advantage of her preoccupation, he slipped out the door.

  ***

  Less than an hour later Cassidy was stalking down the pier toward Colin’s houseboat. Gripped in her hand was the folded page of the Sunday paper. Filled with righteous indignation, she crossed the narrow swaying bridge, then pounded on the door. There was silence and the lapping of waves. She glanced around, then scowled at the Ferrari.

  “Oh, you’re home all right, Sullivan,” she muttered darkly, then pounded again.

  “What the devil are you banging about?” Colin’s voice boomed over her head. Cassidy backed away from the door, looked up and was blinded by the sun. Furious, she flung up a hand to shade her eyes.

  She saw him leaning over the rail of the top deck. He was bare-chested, his cutoffs a slight concession to modesty. He held a paint brush tipped in blue in his hand.

  “I’ve got to talk to you!” Cassidy shouted and waved the paper at him.

  “All right then, come up, but stop that idiotic banging.” He disappeared from the rail before she could speak again. Cassidy walked toward the bow until she spotted a steep set of stairs. After climbing them, she stood on the upper deck with her hands on her hips. She scowled at his back.

  He was on a three-legged stool in front of a canvas, painting with sure, rapid strokes. Glancing over, she saw the sailboats he was re-creating. They skimmed over the bay with spinnakers billowing in a riot of color.

  “Well, what brings you rapping at my door, Cass?” His voice was muffled as he held the stem of a brush between his teeth like a pirate’s saber. Another glided over the canvas. Cassidy stomped over and fearlessly waved the paper in front of his face.

  “This!”

  With surprising calm, Colin put down both of his brushes, cast her a raised-brow look, then took the paper from her. “It’s a good likeness,” he said after a moment.

  “Colin!”

  “Shh. I’m reading.” He lapsed into silence, eyes on the paper, while Cassidy ground her teeth and stalked around the deck. Once he laughed outright but held up a hand when she started to speak. She shut her mouth on something like a growl and turned her back on him. “Well,” he said at length. “That was highly entertaining.”

  Cassidy whirled around. “Entertaining? Entertaining?! Is that all you have to say about this—this trash?”

  Colin shrugged. “It could be better written, I suppose. Do you want coffee?”

  “Did you read that?” she demanded and stormed forward until she stood in front of him. The wind tugged at her hair, and she pushed it back, annoyed. “Did you read the things it said, the things . . .” Cassidy sputtered to a halt, stomped her foot in frustration, then gave him a firm rap on the chest with her fist. “I am not your latest flame, Sullivan.”

  “Ah.”

  Her eyes kindled. “Don’t you use that significant ‘ah’ on me. I am not your latest flame, or your flame of any sort, and I resent the term. I resent all the little insinuations and innuendos in that article. I resent the unstated fact that you and I are lovers.” She tossed back her head. “What sort of logic is it that because we dance together, we have to be lovers?”

  “You have to admit the idea is appealing.” He chuckled at her smoldering glare. The breeze rolling in from the bay continued to blow her hair around her face. Absently Colin brushed it back, then laid a hand on her shoulder. “Would you like to sue the paper?”

  She heard the soft amusement in his voice and stuck her hands in her pockets. “I want a retraction,” she said stubbornly.

  “For what?” he countered. “For snapping a picture? For writing a bit of gossip? My dear child, the picture’s enough all by itself.” He held it out, drawing her eyes to it. “These two people appear to be totally absorbed in each other.”

  Cassidy turned away and walked to the rail. She knew it had been the picture that had set her off. Their bodies were close, her arms around his neck, their eyes locked. The dark, smoky nightclub was a backdrop. No words were needed to complete the picture. She remembered the moment, the feeling that had rushed through her, the utter intimacy they had shared.

  The picture was an invasion of her private self, and she hated it. She detested the chatty little column beside it that linked her so casually with Colin. Without even having learned her name, they had titled her his woman, his woman of the moment . . . until the next one. Cassidy frowned out at the water, watching the gulls swoop.

  “I don’t like it,” she muttered. “I don’t like being splashed in print for speculation over cornflakes and coffee. I don’t like being made into something I’m not by someone’s lively imagination. And I don’t like being described as a . . .”

  “‘Nubile young beauty’?” Colin provided.

  “I see nothing funny in that grand little phrase. It makes me feel absurd.” She folded her arms over her chest. “It’s not a compliment, whatever you and Jeff might think.”

  “Who the devil is Jeff?”

  “He thought the article was just peachy,” she continued, working up to a high temper again. “He sat on my bed this morning, telling me I should be flattered, that I should—”

  “Perhaps,” Colin interrupted and walked to her, “you’d tell me who Jeff is and why he was in your bed this morning?”

  “Not in, on,” Cassidy corrected impatiently. “And stick to the point, Sullivan.”

  “I’d like this matter cleared up first.” He took a final step toward her, then captured her chin. His fingers were surprisingly firm. “In fact, I insist.”

  “Will you stop it?” she demanded and jerked away. “How can I get anywhere when you’re constantly badgering and belittling me.”

  “Badgering and belittling?” Colin repeated, then tossed back his head and roared with laughter. “Now that’s a grand little phrase. Now, about Jeff.”

  “Oh, leave him out of it, would you?” Cassidy blew out a frustrated breath, making a wide sweep with her arms. Her eyes began to glitter again. “He brought me the article this morning, that’s all. I’m telling you, Colin, I won’t be lumped in with all your former and future flames. And I won’t be used to sustain the romantic mystique of the artist.”

  His brows drew together. “Now what precisely is the meaning of that last sentence, for those of us who missed the first installment?”

  “I think it’s clear, a simple declarative sentence in the first person. I mean it, Colin.”

  “Yes.” He studied her curiously. “I can see you do.”

  They watched each other in silence. She was painfully aware of the lean attraction of his build, of the bronzed skin left bare but for low-slung cutoffs. Thrown off-balance by her own thoughts, Cassidy turned away again and leaned over the rail. For a moment she listened to the gentle slap of water against the wood of the boat. Her shoulders moved with her sigh.

  “I’m basically a simple person, Colin. I’ve never been out of the state and scarcely been more than a hundred miles from the city. I don’t have a fascinating background. I’m not a woman of mystery.” Composed again, she turned back to him. The breeze picked up her hair and tossed it behind her. “I don’t like being misrepresented.” She lifted her hands a moment, then dropped them to her sides. “I’m not the sort of woman they made me seem in that paper.”

  Colin folded the paper, then tucked it in his back pocket before he crossed to her. “You are infinitely more fascinating than the sort of woman they made you seem in that paper.”

  Cassidy shook her head. “I wasn’t fishing for a compliment.”

  “A simple statement of fact.” He kissed her before she could decide whether to accept or evade him. “Feel better now?”

  Cassidy frowned at him. “I’m not a child having a temper tantrum.”

  His brow lifted. “A nubile young beauty, then.”

  Cassidy narrowed her eyes at him, then glanced down at herself. “I’m nubile enough, I should think.”

  “And certainly young.”

  Bringing her eyes back up, she g
ave him a provocative look. “Don’t you think I’m beautiful?”

  “No.”

  “Oh.”

  Colin laughed, then captured her face with his hands. “That face,” he said as his eyes roamed over her, “has superb bones, exquisite skin. There’s strength and frailty and vivacity, and you’re totally unaware of it. A unique, expressive face. Beautiful is far too ordinary a word.”

  Color warmed Cassidy’s cheeks. She wondered why, after so many close examinations, her blood still churned when he studied her face. “A charming way to make up for an insult,” she said lightly. “It must be the Irish in you.”

  “I’ve a much better way.”

  The kiss was so quickly insistent, Cassidy had no time for thought, only response. A sound of pleasure escaped her as she moved her hands up the taut, bare skin of his chest. She felt the heat of the sun and her own instant need. Her mouth became avid. Desire swirled through her blood, causing her to demand rather than surrender. The passion he released in her ruled her, changing submission to aggression. She felt Colin’s arms tighten around her and heard his low moan of approval.

  “Cassidy,” he murmured as his lips roamed over her face. “You bewitch me.”

  With a curiosity of their own, her hands explored the long line of his torso, the wiry muscles of his arms and back. His heart hammered against hers as she touched him. Here was a whole new world, and her mouth searched his ravenously as she tested it.

  “Oh, dear, I seem to be interrupting.”

 
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