Skin deep, p.12
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       Skin Deep, p.12

         Part #3 of The O'Hurleys series by Nora Roberts
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  "All right. I'm sorry."

  "I've got to shower. Stay in here."

  When the door slammed at his back, Chantel sat again. He cared. She closed her eyes and hugged the knowledge to her. He cared about her. If she'd gotten him to say it, the next step was getting him to like it.

  "How long are you going to be angry?"

  They were driving home with the top down. Chantel had let the first fifteen minutes pass in silence.

  "I'm not angry."

  "You're clenching your teeth."

  "Consider yourself lucky that's all I'm doing."

  "Quinn, I've already said I was sorry. I'm not going to apologize again."

  "No one's asking you to." He downshifted around a curve. "What I am asking is that you take the situation you're in seriously."

  "You don't think I am?"

  "Not after that little stunt of yours this afternoon."

  She shifted in her seat. The wind picked up her hair and tossed it as her temper snapped. "Stop treating me like a child. I understand the situation I'm in perfectly. I live with it twenty-four hours a day, every day, every night. Every time the phone rings, every time I go through my mail. When I go to sleep at night, that's what I'm thinking of. When I wake up in the morning, that's what I'm thinking of. If I can't have an hour now and then when I can push it aside, I'll go crazy. I'm trying to survive, Doran. Don't talk to me as though I'm irresponsible."

  She shifted away again, and again silence reigned. He was right, Quinn told himself as he slacked his speed. But so was she. There were times, because she put up such a good front, when he believed she'd forgotten she was in any danger. She never forgot, he realized. She just refused to buckle—except in her private moments. He didn't know how to tell her he loved her for that above everything else.

  Loved her. That was a tough one to swallow, but then the truth often was. The more his feelings for her grew, the more he worried about her well-being. He knew she worked hard, and for long hours. With the kind of strain she was under, she could only keep up that pace for a limited time. Even a woman as strong willed as Chantel would lose eventually.

  Damn it, he wished he had something, anything, to go on. They were moving into their third week, and he was no closer to putting things right than he had been on the first day. He needed to see her safe, secure, content. Even though he was afraid that once she was she'd write him a check and kiss him off.

  Quinn's hands tightened on the wheel, then gradually relaxed. She was going to have a fight on her hands when it came to that.

  Relax, he told himself. She wasn't going to get away. Moving only his eyes, he took in the stiff, angry way she sat. Angel, he told her silently, I'm just the man to clip your wings.

  Quinn tossed his arm casually over the back of the seat. "You're pouting."

  "Go to hell."

  "You're going to get lines all over your face if you keep that up. Then where will you be?"

  "Kiss my—"

  "Love to." He pulled over to the side of the road. She didn't even have the chance to snarl at him before he gathered her close. "Why don't I start with that homely face of yours and work my way down?"

  "No."

  "Okay, if you'd rather I take it from the bottom up."

  When he started to shift her, she began to struggle in earnest. "Stop it. I don't want you to kiss me anywhere."

  "Are you sure?" He brought her wrist to his lips and brushed them over the inside. "How about there?"

  "No."

  "Here, then." He pressed his mouth to the side of her throat. She stopped struggling.

  "No."

  "Well, other options are a little risky on the side of the road, but if you insist—"

  "Stop." The laughter bubbled up as she shoved him away. Chantel leaned against the door and crossed her arms. "You creep."

  "I love it when you insult me."

  "Then you're going to love this," she began, but he was too quick. Whatever she'd had in mind was muffled against his mouth. Response came instantly, from the heart. Her arms went around him and her lips parted. For a moment there was nothing but the warm late-afternoon sun and sheer, unbridled pleasure.

  Her eyes stayed closed, seconds after he'd drawn his lips from hers. When they opened, slowly, the irises were dark and clouded. "Are you trying to make up?" she murmured.

  "For what?"

  Her lips curved as she framed his face with her hands. "Never mind. Let's go home, Quinn."

  He touched his lips to hers again, lingering, before he sat back and started the engine. "By the way, Rizzo wanted to know if he could have an autographed picture for his office."

  Chantel laughed, then sat back to enjoy the rest of the drive. As they rode by the high wall surrounding her grounds, she began to toy with the idea of a long dip in the pool. Bryan was right. It would be a pity to waste what was left of the weekend. Even as she turned to ask Quinn to join her, he was bringing the car to a fast stop.

  "Quinn, we really should wait until we're inside."

  "There's a car in front of the gates." His tone had her tensing as she looked around. "A man's there, see? Looks like he's causing quite a bit of commotion."

  "You don't think that—" She moistened her lips. "He wouldn't come right to the front gate."

  "Why don't we find out?" He took the keys from the ignition and unlocked the glove compartment. Chantel watched as he drew out a revolver. It was nothing like her dainty little .22. And she was just as certain it wasn't unloaded.

  "Quinn."

  "Stay here."

  "No, I—"

  "Don't argue."

  "But I don't want you to…" As the argument at the gate heated up, the voices drifted to her. Listening intently, Chantel tightened her grip on Quinn. "I don't believe it," she murmured. She squinted, trying to make out the figure in the distance. "I just don't believe it," she repeated, and sprang out of the car before Quinn could stop her.

  "Chantel!"

  "It's Pop." Laughing, she spun back to Quinn. "It's Pop. My father." Her long legs flashed as she sped up the rest of the road. "Pop!" Still laughing, she threw her arms wide.

  Frank O'Hurley turned from his spirited argument with the guard. His thin face erupted into a grin. "There's my girl." Spry and wiry, he pumped down the remaining distance and caught Chantel close. With a whoop, he spun her in three dizzying circles. "How's my little princess?"

  "Surprised." She kissed his baby-smooth face, then hugged him again. He smelled, as he always did, of powder and peppermint. "I didn't know you were coming."

  "Don't need an invitation, do I?"

  "Don't be silly."

  "Well, tell that to the joker on the other side of the gate. The idiot wouldn't let me in even when I told him I was your own flesh and blood."

  "I'm sorry, Miss O'Hurley." The stiff-faced man behind the gate speared Frank with a look. The crazy old man had threatened to pull out his tongue and wrap it around his neck. "There was no one here to verify."

  "That's all right."

  "All right?" Frank piped up. He was primed and ready for a donnybrook. "All right when your own father's treated like a trespasser?"

  "Don't be cranky." Chantel brushed at his lapels. "I've added to the security, that's all."

  "Why?" Immediately alert, he cupped Chantel's chin. "What's wrong?"

  "It's nothing. We'll get into all that later. Now I'm just glad to see you." She glanced back at the dusty rental car. "Where's Mom?"

  "Said she wasn't fit to see anyone until she'd been to the beauty parlor. I wasn't going to sit around cooling my heels while she's getting primped up. She'll be taking a cab out later."

  "But tell me what you're doing here, how long you can stay. What—"

  "God be praised, girl, can't it wait until a man's washed the dust out of his throat? Drove clear from Vegas today."

  "Vegas? I didn't know you had a gig in Vegas."

  "You don't know everything." He tweaked her nose, then looked over her shoulder as Quinn
pulled up. "Now who might this be?"

  "That's Quinn." She shot him a quick look. "Quinn Doran. You're right, Pop, we can talk better inside—especially after you've had a glass of the Irish."

  "Now you're talking." Frank hopped back in his car, then sailed through the now-open gates. Chantel saw him look down his nose at the guard.

  "Your father?" Quinn asked when she climbed back in the car.

  "Yes, I wasn't expecting him, but that's nothing new." Her fingers twisted together. "You put the gun away?"

  He lifted a hand to the guard as he drove through. "Don't worry."

  "But I am. I didn't want to bring my family into all this." Chantel pressed the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger. "I'm going to have to tell them something. He's seen the guard at the gates. He's bound to notice the men patrolling the grounds."

  "Why don't you try the truth?"

  "I don't want to worry my parents. Damn, I only get to see them three or four times a year, and now this."

  She looked at Quinn as he slowed at the end of the drive. "And I have to explain you."

  "The truth," he repeated.

  "All right. I can't think of anything else." She put a hand on his arm before he could climb out. "But I'll do it my way. I want to play it down as much as possible."

  "Well now." Beaming and affable, Frank strolled over to the car. "Looks like you've got yourself a fine strong fellow here, Chantel."

  "Quinn Doran, my father, Frank O'Hurley."

  "Pleased to meet you." Frank offered a hand and pumped Quinn's exuberantly. "Wouldn't mind helping me in with the bags, would you, son?"

  Chantel had to smile when Frank popped open his trunk and took out a small shoulder bag, leaving two large cases for Quinn. "You never change," she murmured hooking an arm through his to lead him into the house.

  "Just leave them there," she told Quinn, gesturing to the base of the staircase. "You can take them up later."

  "Thanks."

  She met his sarcasm with an easy smile. "Why don't you two go into the living room and have a drink? I want to tell the cook there'll be two more for dinner." Leaving Quinn with a brief warning look, she started down the hall.

  "Well, son, I don't know about you," Frank said, giving Quinn a solid slap on the back. "But I could use a drink." He trotted off into the living room and headed directly to the bar. "What's your pleasure?"

  "Scotch."

  Frank shrugged his narrow shoulders, then poured. "To each his own." Locating the bottle of whiskey, he gave a satisfied grunt and poured a generous three fingers. "Well, now… Quinn, is it? Why don't we drink to my girl?" He tapped his glass solidly against Quinn's without regard for the pricey Rosenthal crystal, then swallowed deeply. "Now that's a drink a man can wrap his heart around. Have a seat, son, have a seat." Still playing the congenial host, he gestured to a chair before finding one for himself. "Now…" He settled back and sighed. Then, abruptly, his eyes were shrewd and sharp. "Just what are you doing with my daughter?"

  "Pop." Grateful for her timing, Chantel strolled into the room, then sat on the arm of her father's chair. "You'll have to excuse him, Quinn. He's never been subtle."

  Quinn regarded his Scotch for a moment. "Seems like a reasonable question to me."

  "There." Satisfied with what he saw, Frank nodded. "We're going to get along just fine."

  "I wouldn't be surprised," she murmured ruffling her father's hair. "So tell me how it went in Vegas."

  "Be glad to." He sipped his whiskey again, appreciating its smooth heat. "Just as soon as you explain why you have a trained gorilla at your front gate."

  "I told you, I added some security." But when she started to rise, Frank put a firm hand on her knee.

  "You wouldn't try to con an old hand like me, would you, princess?"

  It would be useless, she admitted, and settled back. "I've been getting some annoying phone calls, that's all. It seemed wise to take a few precautions."

  "What kind of phone calls?"

  "Just nuisance calls."

  "Chantel." He knew his daughter too well. A few nuisance calls would have been brushed off, laughed off and forgotten. "Is someone threatening you?"

  "No. No, it's nothing like that." Realizing she was being backed into a corner, she shot a pleading look at Quinn.

  "I still opt for the truth," he said simply.

  "Thanks for the help."

  "Just be quiet," Frank told her, and there was such uncharacteristic authority in his tone that she closed her mouth instantly. "You tell me what's going on," he ordered Quinn. "And what you have to do with it."

  "Quinn—"

  "Chantel Margaret Louise O'Hurley, shut your mouth and keep it shut."

  When she did, Quinn could only smile. "Nice trick," he said to Frank.

  "I use it selectively to keep it fresh." Frank swallowed the rest of his whiskey. "Let's hear it."

  Briefly, concisely, Quinn outlined what Chantel was dealing with. As he spoke, Frank's brows lowered, his thin face reddened and the hand still resting on Chanters knee clenched.

  "Slimy bastard." Frank rose out of the chair like a terrier ready to charge. "If you're a detective, Quinn Doran, why in hell haven't you found him?"

  "Because he hasn't made a mistake." Quinn set down his glass and met Frank's outraged glare levelly. "But he will, and I'll find him."

  "If he hurts my girl—"

  "He's not going to get near her," Quinn interrupted flatly. "Because he has to go through me first."

  Frank swallowed his fury—it was something he didn't often bother to do—and measured the man in front of him. He'd always prided himself on being a good judge of character. You needed to know whether to raise your fists or laugh and back off. The man in front of him was hard as a rock and mean as they came. If he had to trust his daughter to someone, this was the one.

  "So. You're staying here, in the house, with Chantel."

  "That's right. I'm going to take care of her, Mr. O'Hurley. You have my word on that."

  Frank hesitated only a moment before his teeth showed in a smile. "If you don't, I'll skin you alive. And make it Frank."

  Cool and regal, Chantel rose. "Perhaps I could say a word now."

  "Don't put that face on with me, girl." Frank crossed to her, then gently framed her face in his hands. "You should have come to your family with this."

  "There was no point in worrying you."

  "Point?" Frank shook his head from side to side. "We're family. We're the O'Hurleys. We stick together."

  "Pop, Maddy's getting married at the end of the week. Abby's pregnant. Trace is—"

  "You'll kindly leave him out of it," Frank said stiffly. "Family business has nothing to do with your brother. That's his choice."

  "Really, Pop, after all this time you should—"

  "And don't change the subject. Your mother and me, and your sisters, are entitled to worry about you."

  It wasn't the time to go to her brother's defense. And Chantel wasn't entirely sure he'd care one way or the other. Now she wanted to smooth those lines of worry from her father's face.

  "All right, then." She kissed him soundly. "Worry all you want, but everything that can be done is being done."

  He kept his hand on her shoulder but turned to Quinn. "We're off to New York on Friday to see my daughter married off. You'll be going with us?"

  "I didn't think it was necessary to drag Quinn to—"

  "I'm going," he interrupted. His eyes met Chanters in something like a challenge. "I've already made the arrangements."

  "You never mentioned it to me."

  "Why should I?" he countered for the simple pleasure of watching fury rise in her eyes.

  "It hardly seems I'm necessary, does it?" Feeling squeezed from all sides, she bristled. "If you'll both excuse me, I'm going to go soak my head."

  "Nasty little number, isn't she?" Frank asked with obvious pride as she stalked out.

  "All that and more."

  "It's the Irish
, you know. We're either poets or fighters. O'Hurleys are a bit of both."

  "I'm looking forward to meeting the rest of your family."

  And they'll want to get a look at you, Frank said to himself. "Tell me, Quinn," he began in an amiable tone. "Do you intend to, ah, keep your eye on Chantel, so to speak, after this business is settled?"

  Quinn studied the man across from him. It seemed it was still time for truths. "Yes. Whether she likes it or not."

  Frank gave a quick laugh. "Let's have another drink."

  Chapter Nine

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  "Mom, there's no reason for you to do that."

  Molly O'Hurley carefully folded a white silk jacket in tissue. "Why should you call a maid up here?" Years of experience had Molly packing Chantel's clothes with a minimum of fuss.

  "It's her job."

  Molly brushed her objections away with the back of her hand. "I never feel I can speak my mind in front of maids and butlers."

  Chantel looked at the suitcase and at her stacks of clothes. She'd spent the first twenty years of her life packing and unpacking. As a matter of principle, she hadn't done so in years. But she'd never been able to win a fight with her mother. Resigned, Chantel began a careful selection of her toiletries.

  "I'm sorry we haven't had much time together the past few days."

  "Don't be silly." Brisk and practical, Molly rattled more tissue paper. "You're in the middle of that film. Your father and I didn't expect to be entertained."

  "Pop seemed to be entertained the day you came to the set."

  Chuckling, Molly glanced up. She was a pretty, trim woman who managed to look a decade younger than her years with a minimum of effort. Looking at her,

 
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