Skin deep, p.11
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       Skin Deep, p.11
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         Part #3 of The O'Hurleys series by Nora Roberts
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  couldn't afford to forget reality.

  "Chantel, I want you so much right now I can hardly breathe. But…" He slid his hands up to her wrists. "I don't know if I could live with the fact that this happened between us because you were scared and shaky."

  A smile curved her lips as she brought them closer to his. "Haven't you figured out yet that I know what I want?" She turned her head slightly so that her kiss brushed his chin. "Didn't you say that a man could tell just by the way a woman looked at him? Can't you see the way I'm looking at you?"

  "Maybe I only see the way I want you to look." But his fingers had tangled in her hair.

  "I want you to stay," she repeated, "not because I'm scared. I want you to stay because of the way you make me feel when you kiss me. When you hold me. When you touch me." She rubbed her cheek against his. "I want you to stay because you can make me forget there's anything outside of this room."

  Something snapped inside him. Some would call it control. With an oath, he dragged his hands through her hair and plundered her mouth.

  She was everything dark and desperate and desirable. She was pure aphrodisiac. As they knelt on the bed he let his dreams spring to life and rained kisses over her face, her hair, her throat. The scent that was so much a part of her misted through his brain like a fog. And she trembled. Not on cue but from pleasure, from the pleasure he gave her. Half-mad, he crushed his lips to hers again and tasted her passion.

  Never before and, she was certain, never again, would a man bring her to life this way. Never before and never again would she want like this. Her body was like a furnace, pumping heat and energy while her mind was flooded with a brilliant kaleidoscope of sensation. No, never again would a man bring her this, because there was only one man. She'd known it, somehow, from the first.

  Everything was so clear. She felt the scrape of his chin over her shoulder, felt the mattress sink under their combined weights as they knelt torso-to-torso. She could see the moonlight against his skin as she ran her hands over his shoulders and down. His muscles contracted at her touch, and she heard the soft hiss of his indrawn breath. Desperation flavored his kisses and fueled her own need. A kaleidoscope, a whirlwind, a race. The scents from her garden crept into the room. With a gurgle of delight, she lowered her lips to his shoulder and nipped.

  A man could lose his mind and his soul to her. Quinn felt his chest constrict as he ran his hands freely over her. Pain and power… they were both twined together in his need for her. She made him hurt and made him soar just by being in his arms.

  It wasn't just the perfection of form, of face, but the wild, wanton sexuality she had encased in glittering ice. Released, it was a Pandora's box of emotions, some dark, some dangerous, some desperately exciting.

  He wouldn't resist her. He couldn't. He could feel her tremble, hear her moan as he touched and tasted and tempted. Her skin was hot, already damp. Her breath caught on his name. Tonight, even if it was just for tonight, he would make her as frenzied as he.

  He gathered her hair in his hand, drawing her head back to expose the long white line of her throat. Her pulse beat frantically as he traced his tongue over it. Her hands moved over his chest, then lower, and his stomach muscles quivered at her touch. As she tugged at the snap on his jeans, he found her breast through the thin silk she wore. When he drew both silk and flesh into his mouth, she strained against him, shuddering. Her throat filled with indistinct murmurs of pleasure, she tugged the denim over his hips.

  The feel of her hands on him drove every rational thought from his mind. In one crazed movement he ripped the silk from her, rending it down the middle. Her gasp was muffled against his mouth as he dragged her down beneath him.

  He couldn't think. He could only feel. When he plunged into her she was so warm, so moist. He wondered if a man could die from being given his ultimate wish. Then she was wrapped around him, driving him even as he sought to drive her. He could see her, her hair spread out on tumbled white sheets, her eyes half closed, her lips slightly parted as the breath trembled out.

  "Quinn." His name whispered from her as she was tossed by titanic waves of sensation. Heat, light, wind. Nothing had prepared her for this. She tried to tell him, but his lips were on hers again. She was a part of him. Release came in a torrent that left her too stunned for speech.

  She didn't know what to say. Would he expect some clever phrase, some easy words? It wasn't possible to explain that she had given herself to only one other man and never, truly never, like this. If it hadn't mattered so much—if he hadn't mattered so much—she was sure she could have come up with something to break the long silence and the tension she felt building again.

  He didn't know what to say. He'd taken her like a madman. She deserved better, more care, certainly more finesse. If only he hadn't lost control. But he had, Quinn reminded himself ruthlessly. He couldn't change that any more than he could change the fact that he'd damaged whatever might have been growing between them. He could only hope it wasn't too late to repair it.

  Both of them tensed, then turned, then spoke each other's names at the same time. The awkwardness lasted only a moment before they grinned.

  "I was thinking you were right," she began, "about me needing a script. I can't think of what I want to say."

  "I've been having some trouble with that myself." He took her hand and brought it to his lips. "I guess I was a little rough."

  "Were you?" Amused and relieved, Chantel groped for the remains of her silk teddy. Lifting a brow, she dropped it on his chest.

  Quinn rubbed the material between his thumb and forefinger. "You could deduct it from my check."

  "I intend to. Three hundred and fifty."

  "Three hundred and fifty?" He rose on one elbow and examined the ripped silk more carefully. "You've got to be crazy to spend three-fifty on something you sleep in."

  "I enjoy indulging myself." To prove her point, she leaned over and nibbled on his lips. "And under the circumstances, I think it only fair that I deduct half the price."

  "Half?"

  "It was a joint effort." She smiled and ran a fingertip over his chest. "Besides, it was worth it."

  "Was it?" His hand came up her leg to rest on her hip. "You sure?"

  "Well, I'm a cautious woman, and you know what they say in the business."

  "No." Her hair teased his shoulders as she leaned over him. "What do they say in the business?"

  "Take 2," Chantel sighed, lowering herself to him.

  Chapter Eight

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  "Quinn, I promise you, this is going to take a good three hours, maybe four." Chantel got out of the car, then leaned over to take her garment bag from the hook by the passenger door.

  He noticed how nicely the slim skirt fit over her bottom. "I can be patient."

  "A photo session is often very tedious for the people involved, much less for someone who just has to sit there."

  "Let me worry about that," he advised, and took the bag from her.

  "I have to worry about it. Knowing you're hanging around, grumbling under your breath, is going to make me tense." Chantel pressed a buzzer on the outside door, then tipped down her sunglasses to peer over them. "And tension will show in the pictures. This layout for The Scene is very important."

  He pushed the glasses back up on her nose. "So are you."

  It warmed her. She no longer knew how to pretend it didn't. Chantel rose on her toes to brush a kiss over his lips. "I appreciate that. But I'll be perfectly safe. Margot will be there to do my hair, and the makeup artist is a free-lancer I've worked with before. Mrs. Alice

  Cooke. They have to stay for the whole session. I'll be surrounded by well-meaning women."

  "And the photographer," he reminded her. "I'm not letting you alone with this Bryan Mitchell or any other man."

  Chantel started to correct him, then thought better of it. A woman was entitled to take every advantage offered. She ran a finger over the collar of his shirt. "Jealous?"
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  "Cautious."

  "Bryan Mitchell." The voice coming through the intercom was low, smooth and feminine. "It's Chantel O'Hurley for the one o'clock session."

  "Right on time."

  There was a mechanical buzz from inside the door, and then it unlatched.

  "Bryan Mitchell is a tall, gorgeous blonde," Chantel began as they climbed the inside stairs. "We've been friends for years."

  Quinn wrapped his fingers around hers. "All the more reason I'm not leaving you alone with him. Until this thing is settled, the only man you're having solitary dealings with is me."

  "Well." Chantel paused at the studio door and wrapped her arms around him. "I like that," she murmured, and met his lips with hers.

  "I bet you do." Bryan stood in the open doorway, grinning.

  "Quinn Doran." Chantel laid a hand lightly on his arm. "Bryan Mitchell."

  The photographer was indeed tall, blond and gorgeous. She was also a woman. Quinn shot Chantel a look as she smiled. "Nice meeting you."

  Bryan offered him a hand, already wondering if she could convince him to sit for her. "Welcome to chaos," she told them as she gestured them inside. "I'm still setting up. Chantel, you know where the cold drinks are. Hairdressing and makeup are in the back room having an argument about fashion. Personally, I can't get emotionally involved over whether henna is back to stay." As she spoke, she walked over to a set of white umbrellas and adjusted them.

  Chantel walked to a cramped little room off the side of the studio and poked in the refrigerator. "Quinn, it's going to be like this for hours. There must be something else you want to do."

  He could hear the other two women chattering in the back room. Something about facial packs and eye tucks. "I can think of a couple dozen."

  "Then go do them." Chantel set down the bottle of soda to take both of his hands. "Bryan had the security system installed a few months ago when there was a rash of robberies in the neighborhood. No one gets through the outside door unless she releases the lock. I'm surrounded by women who'll be fussing over me for hours, and you'll distract all of us. Go play some handball or something."

  She was right. She'd be safe here, and he'd be in the way—as well as unmercifully bored. Then, too, it would help him to have a couple of hours away from her, a couple of hours of pure physical exertion. Would he work her out of his system? "Gym's a couple of blocks down," he muttered. "Jim who?" "The gym," he corrected, putting his hands on her hips.

  "You mean one of those places with weights and nasty machines that make you grunt and sweat?"

  "More or less." Taking out his notebook, he wrote down a name and number. "Call me when you're finished and I'll come back and pick you up."

  "Rizzo's." She kept her face bland as she looked up at him. "Sounds serious."

  "Just call." He leaned down to bite her lightly on the bottom lip. "Why don't you go make yourself beautiful?"

  She kept her arms around him as she lifted a brow. "Aren't I already?"

  He knew she hadn't so much as picked up a tube of mascara that morning. Her eyes were blue and brilliant, her skin luminous and pale. Fresh and dewy, as it was now, her beauty was heartbreaking. He lifted a hand to skim it over her cheek. "Such a hag."

  Before she could retaliate he had her close, cutting off her breath in a kiss that seemed to last for hours. He needed to lift weights, Quinn thought. He had to sweat some of the need for her out of his system. "Try to do something about that face, will you?"

  "Take a walk, Doran.''

  He grinned at her, then slipped back into the studio. Chantel let out a shaky breath and leaned her palms against the cluttered counter beside the refrigerator. There was nothing she could do, and she was nearly ready to admit there was nothing she wanted to do, about the fact that she was in love with him. It was probably a mistake, a desperate one, but it had already been made.

  Somehow, if she could somehow draw back a part of herself, she wouldn't be so devastated when he went his own way. And he would, wouldn't he? A man like

  Quinn lived alone, worked alone, walked alone. When his job was over he'd kiss her goodbye and go. She caught her bottom lip between her teeth and straightened. No, he wouldn't. Not if she had anything to do with it.

  You're going to lose this match, Doran, she promised herself. No way was he going to walk away and leave her.

  "Chantel, they're ready for you."

  She was ready, too. Chantel left the drink on the counter. She was more than ready.

  For two hours she worked nonstop. Her hair was frizzed, smoothed, sprayed and gelled. Her face was painted and powdered. Every time she changed her outfit her hair and face were subtly altered to enhance the look. Bryan worked with a slow, steady enthusiasm, as she always did.

  "I haven't asked you how Shade is."

  "Put your right hand on your left shoulder," Bryan instructed. "Spread your fingers. Good. Shade's terrific. He's home changing diapers." She caught Chanters quick, mischievous grin on film.

  "That I'd like to see."

  "He's great at it. Organized, you know."

  "Well, I can tell you, you don't look as though you had a baby two months ago."

  "Who has time to eat? Tilt your chin up and try for aloof. That's it." She crouched, shifting angles. "Andrew Colby is a ten-pound slave driver."

  "And you're crazy about him."

  Bryan lowered her camera and beamed. "He's the most fantastic baby. Between Shade and me, we've taken at least five hundred rolls of film. Every day there's some little change." She tossed her long blond braid behind her back. "You can see how bright he is just by the way he looks at things. Just yesterday he—" She cut herself off with a laugh. "Stop me. It's an obsession."

  "No." Chantel smiled, though the quick pang of envy she felt surprised her. "It's lovely."

  "It is, you know. I never saw myself as a mother." She lifted the camera back into place. "Now I can't imagine life without Andrew. Or Shade."

  "The right man can change your outlook, I guess."

  Bryan decided the wistful expression that flitted across Chanters face would be the best shot yet. "You sure make my work easier."

  Bringing herself back, Chantel looked at the camera. "How's that?"

  "Turn to the side and look over your shoulder. A bit more. Smolder a little." She pressed the shutter four times in rapid succession. "A face like yours is always a pleasure to shoot, especially when you bring so much to it. But I didn't expect the bonus."

  "What bonus?" Chantel asked as she shifted to look over her other shoulder.

  "There's nothing more terrific than photographing a woman in love. Close your mouth," she ordered, then lowered her camera to stretch her shoulders.

  Slowly Chantel turned to face Bryan again. "It's that obvious?"

  "Don't you want it to be?"

  "No… yes. I don't know." She pushed a hand through her carefully groomed hair. "I don't want to make a fool of myself."

  "That kind of goes hand in hand with falling in love, but I think you'll survive it. He's got a great face. I don't suppose you could talk him into sitting for me."

  "Maybe if you bound him hand and foot. Bryan, how did you handle Shade?"

  Bryan took a chocolate bar out of her back pocket. "You're asking me for advice on men?"

  Chantel accepted a sliver of the chocolate. "Don't let it get around."

  "Have you felt like murdering him yet?"

  "Several times."

  "You're making progress. The best thing I can tell you is to let things happen. We're wrapped here." She bit into the candy. "If I were you, I wouldn't waste what's left of the weekend."

  The gym smelt like men. Damp, athletic men. The air was filled with sweat and swearing. Most of the patrons had stripped down to shorts, and a few had added T-shirts. On a mat, a man with weights on his legs grunted his way through a series of sit-ups. On a bench press, another man swore repetitively every time he extended the bar over his head. The equipment was top-notch, but it had long since
lost its shine.

  Chantel strolled in and absorbed, both brows lifted. The first one who saw her was a young man pulling weights up the walls with two ropes. He was working steadily, the veins in his neck bulging out as he rotated his arms. His mouth dropped open and the ropes snapped back against the wall. Chantel smiled at him.

  Careful to keep her skirts clear, she circled around the bench press. The man stopped swearing as his eyes bugged out. It took less than ten seconds for the noisy, steamy gym to drop into silence. Then she saw Quinn.

  He hadn't noticed the sudden quiet. With his back to the room, he was systematically jabbing at a punching bag. Its buffeting noise was the only sound in the room.

  He looked magnificent, legs spread, eyes intense, his powerful back tensed as he concentrated on his timing. The small brown bag was a blur as his fists never let it rest. Chantel walked over to him, waited a moment, then ran a fingertip down his back.

  "Hello, darling."

  He swore and spun, his hand still fisted and lifted. Chantel raised a brow, then her chin, as if inviting him to take his best shot.

  "What the hell are you doing here?"

  "Watching you." She took a finger and pushed at the bag. "Tell me, what's the purpose of beating at this little thing?"

  "I told you to call me." He swiped sweat out of his eyes in order to glare at her better.

  "I felt like a walk. Besides, I wanted to see where a man like you… played." Deliberately she looked over her shoulder and scanned the room. "Fascinating."

  Every man in the room sucked in his stomach.

  With an oath, Quinn took her by the arm. "You must be crazy. You don't belong in a place like this."

  "Why ever not?" As they passed the man on the bench press, Chantel sent him a brilliant smile. The weights clattered against the safety bar.

  "Cut that out," he muttered. "Rizzo, I'm using your office."

  "Oh, where is he?" As he dragged her out, Chantel glanced back. "I'm dying to meet him."

  "Shut up. Do you have to walk in here with legs like that?"

  "They're all I have to walk on."

  "Sit." He shoved her into a torn plastic chair. "What the hell am I supposed to do with you?"

  "Would you like a multiple choice?"

  "This isn't a joke, damn it." He pushed at the clutter on Rizzo's desk until he found a crumpled pack of Camels. "Look, Chantel, we made an arrangement. You were supposed to call. There are reasons." He shook out a cigarette and lit it.

  "Quinn, it's a beautiful afternoon and it wasn't far. There isn't much opportunity to stroll in L.A., and I couldn't resist. If you're going to tell me I can't walk two blocks on a public street in broad daylight, I'll scream." She glanced toward the door. "I can't imagine what your, ah, associates would make of that."

  He exhaled a long stream of smoke, then crushed the cigarette into a mess of brown tobacco and white paper. "You go nowhere without me. You had instructions, Chantel, and I trusted you to follow them."

  "Oh, lighten up." She rose and put her palms on his bare chest.

  "I'm sweating like a pig," he muttered, taking her wrists.

  "I noticed. I don't know what it is that attracts men to a place that smells like old athletic socks, but if this is how you keep in shape—" she glanced down approvingly "—I might just have to install a gym at home."

  "Don't change the subject."

  "What subject was that?"

  "I don't want anything to happen to you."

  She touched her tongue to her upper lip and edged closer. "Why? You've already been paid for this week."

  "I don't care about the damn money," he said with violence.

  "What do you care about, Quinn?"

  "You." He said it between his teeth before he spun away. He'd thought he needed space, just some space and time to get his equilibrium back. There wasn't that much space in the whole world. "Don't pull anything like this again."

 
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