Skin deep, p.14
Skin Deep, p.14Part #3 of The O'Hurleys series by Nora Roberts
"And why not?" Frank beamed as they rode up the escalator toward their gate. "A good night's sleep's just the ticket." He quirked his brow at Molly and wondered if she'd wear that little black number again anytime soon.
As they passed through gate security, Chantel began the slow and even breathing technique that helped her get on board.
"Angel." Quinn drew her off to the side. "Don't you have a tranquilizer or something?"
"I don't take them." She twisted the strap of her bag in her fingers. "Besides, I'm fine."
He unclenched her fingers and soothed them with his. "Your hands are like ice."
"It's chilly in here."
Quinn noted a man mopping his brow as the room filled with body heat. "I didn't realize you were nervous about flying."
"Don't be silly, I fly all the time."
"I know. It must be rough."
Disgusted with herself, she stared over his shoulder. "Everyone's entitled to a phobia."
"That's right." He brought her hand to his lips. "Let me help."
She started to draw her hand away but found it held firmly. "Quinn, I feel like an idiot. I'd rather you just let it go."
"Fine. But you wouldn't mind holding my hand during the flight, would you?"
"It's six hours," she muttered. "Six incredibly long hours."
He tilted her face to his. "We ought to be able to think of something to pass the time." As he lowered his mouth to hers, neither of them noticed a man wearing dark glasses slip into a seat in the corner of the departure lounge. Neither of them noticed the way his hands clenched into fists as he watched them.
"If we do what you're thinking of, we'll be arrested," Chantel murmured, but the tension in her shoulders eased.
Quinn nipped at her lip. "I'm surprised at you. I was thinking of gin rummy."
"Like hell." When their flight was called, she drew a deep breath and kept her hand in his. "A dollar a point?"
Laughing, she walked with Quinn and her parents through the gate.
The man in dark glasses rose and pulled a low-brimmed hat over his head, then took out his boarding pass. He merged with the crowd that surged onto the plane.
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"Are you sure you don't mind being drafted into the family?" Chantel carefully zipped a dress into her garment bag. She'd hired one of Hollywood's leading designers to create it, but it wasn't for the stage or the screen. It wasn't every day she was maid of honor at her sister's wedding.
"Is that what you call it?" Amused, Quinn sat on the unmade bed, dressed only in a towel. There was a freshly pressed suit in the closet that he didn't even want to think about.
"I don't know what else." Preoccupied, Chantel checked her makeup bag. If she'd forgotten anything, Maddy was sure to have it—probably still in the box. "Pop said you had to be at Reed's suite an hour before the ceremony." She paused and glanced back at him. "Just what is it men do before a wedding?"
"State secret, and no, I don't mind."
She stopped again, tapping a brush against her palm. "What did you think of Reed, Quinn? I know we only had a few hours together last night, but you must have formed an impression."
"Worried about your sister?"
"It goes with the territory."
He settled back against the pillows and looked at her. Trim slacks, a silk blouse, silver-blond hair pulled back from an extraordinary face with hammered gold combs. Chantel O'Hurley didn't look anything like a mother hen, but he'd learned to see farther than skin deep. When it came to her family, she was a marshmallow.
"Dependable, certainly successful. Meticulous, I'd guess. Conservative."
"Scattered, theatrical and a shade wide-eyed."
"That's Maddy," Chantel murmured. "It doesn't seem as though they'd have enough in common for more than a ten-minute conversation. But—"
"It feels right." With a sigh, she dropped the brush into her bag. "It just feels right."
"Then what are you worried about?"
"She's my baby sister."
"By how many minutes?" he asked dryly.
"Time has nothing to do with it." She said it with such offhand certainty that he was sure the question had been put to her before. "She is my baby sister, and she's always been the most trusting one, the most loving one. Abby's so… solid," she said. "And I've got enough meanness in me to keep my head above water. But Maddy… Maddy's the kind of woman who believes the check is in the mail, the alarm didn't go off or the gas gauge was broken."
"I think your sister knows exactly what she wants and how to make it work."
"So do I, really. I guess I'm just being sentimental."
Quinn arched a brow. "Why don't you come over here and be sentimental?"
She sent him a slow smile. "I thought you were waiting for room service."
"Hate to wait alone."
"Quinn, if I get back in that bed…"
"I'm going to make incredible love to you."
"Threats, huh?" He lay back and crossed his arms behind his head. "Why don't you come over here and say that?"
She tossed her cosmetic bag aside and walked to him. "You haven't got a chance."
"I can do more than talk," she murmured, and ran her fingertips up his leg to where the towel skimmed the top of his thigh. "Much more."
Before she could prove it, Quinn grabbed her wrist and yanked so that she tumbled across his chest. Her laughter came first, then was muffled to a sigh against his lips.
It didn't seem possible that she could want him as much as she had the night before, when they'd first slipped between the linen hotel sheets, but the excitement was just as new now, just as vital.
The scent of his shower was on him, fresh and tangy. His hair was slightly damp as it brushed across her face. His body was there for her, strong, virile, unclothed. With another laugh, she pressed her lips to his throat.
"I feel safe." She tossed back her head to smile at him. "So wonderfully safe."
He brushed the hair away from her face, holding it a moment, then letting it stream through his hands. How had she come to mean so much to him in so short a time?
"Safe's not the only thing I want you to feel."
"No?" She lowered her lips to his shoulder and let her tongue glide across his skin. "What else?"
Love, loyalty, devotion. It was frightening that those were his first thoughts. To protect himself, and maybe to protect her, he didn't tell her that. The physical loving wouldn't hurt either of them—not the way emotions could.
"Why don't I show you?" In one quick move he had Chantel on her back beneath him. The towel around his waist was held in place only by the press of their bodies. When his lips found hers, she began to tug the towel aside. Aroused, he laughed and made quick work of the buttons on her blouse. A knock on the door of the adjoining parlor had them both groaning. Chantel rose on her elbow and tossed her mussed hair back.
"You had to have breakfast, didn't you?"
"Let him bring it back later." Quinn slipped a hand under her skirt to explore her thigh. The knock came again, more insistently this time.
"I'll get it." Shifting away from Quinn, she adjusted her blouse. Then, with a grin, she picked up the towel and tossed it across the room. "You stay here." She kissed him again, quickly. "Right here."
"You're the boss."
"Keep that in mind." Chantel was smiling as she hurried into the parlor. Quinn would have his breakfast, but he was going to eat it cold.
In bed, Quinn reached over and idly turned on the radio. A little music, he thought. With the drapes still drawn, the room was dim. They might be anywhere. For a moment he let himself imagine they were in their bedroom—not in her house, not in his, not in some plush hotel, but in a home they'd made between them.
When you loved, he realized, you didn't j
Maybe it was time to tell her, time to admit to her, not just to himself, that he loved her and wanted to share his life with her. His life—that meant past, present, future, not just the fleeting urge to satisfy passion, to quench desire. There was passion, but it would never be satisfied. Desire would never be quenched. And more, much more, there was emotion that swelled and expanded every moment he was with her.
He wanted her for his wife. That should have terrified him, but it almost amused him. He wanted her in all the traditional ways, the ways he'd always shrugged aside as restrictive and unimportant. A home, a family, his ring on her finger and hers on his. Quinn Doran, family man. It suddenly seemed to fit.
She might balk. She probably would. He'd just have to apply the right kind of pressure. Thinking of it made him smile a little. Persuading Chantel O'Hurley to marry him might just be the toughest nut he'd ever cracked.
"Would you come out here a minute?"
He heard it in her voice, just a hint of tension. Quinn pushed aside his fantasies and reached for his robe. He saw the flowers as soon as he stepped into the parlor. A dozen blood-red roses with their petals just opened sat on the table by the door. Chantel stood beside them, her face as white as the card she held in her hand.
"He knows I'm here." She managed to keep her voice even, almost calm. "He says he'd follow me anywhere." Her fingers were steady as she handed the card to Quinn, but when his brushed over them, he found them cold. "He says he's waiting for the perfect time."
Quinn took the note and glanced briefly at the message. In the corner of the envelope was the printed name of the florist's shop. "He's made his first mistake," he murmured. "Who brought these up?"
"A bellboy." She stared at the far wall, at a Monet print, and wondered why she felt nothing, nothing at all. "I didn't even tip him."
His voice snapped her back. After one long shudder, Chantel looked at him. She wouldn't get sympathy from Quinn, or soothing words or empty promises. She didn't want them. She wanted the truth. "He's here, isn't he? He might even be in this hotel."
"Sit down." He started to take her arm, but she backed away.
"I don't need to sit down. I need some answers."
At the next knock, she pressed a hand to her mouth to muffle a scream. Swearing, Quinn pushed her into a chair, then went to the door. Through the peephole he saw a room-service waiter with a breakfast tray. "It's all right," he tossed over his shoulder. "Just room service."
Quinn opened the door to let the waiter roll the cart to the table by the window. After scrawling his name on the tab, he followed the waiter to the door to take a quick scan of the hall.
"You could use some coffee," Quinn said, moving past Chantel to the breakfast tray.
"No, answers." Though her knees were wobbly, she rose. "I'm not sure why, but I think you have them. You knew he'd be here."
Despite her refusal, Quinn poured two cups. "Yeah."
"Yeah." A dry laugh came from nowhere as she pressed her fingers to her temple. "You're not a man to elaborate, are you, Quinn? How did you know he'd be here? Sixth sense, gut hunch, instinct?"
"Any of those would do." He felt a sick curling in his stomach as he turned to face her again. "I expect him to go where you go, but in addition to that he said he'd be here in the last few notes he sent.''
She crossed her arms over her chest. The chill had sprung to her skin quickly. She was beginning to feel now, and feel sharply. "You didn't think I should know?"
"If I'd thought you should know I'd have told you. Why don't you eat something?"
Yes, there were feelings now. They were boiling inside her, threatening to bubble out with the first word she spoke. Chantel walked to the table and, keeping her eyes on Quinn's, picked up a plate and very deliberately dropped it on the floor.
"Just who the hell do you think you are?" Her voice carried more venom when it was low and steady. "How dare you treat me as though I'm some brainless, gutless female who needs to be led around by the nose? I had a right to know he intended to follow me, that things would be the same here as they were on the Coast."
He could let his temper go or he could control it. Quinn sat down and picked up his coffee. Anger had taken the dazed look out of her eyes. He'd let her take it as far as she could. "I handled it my way. You pay me to handle things my way."
Caught off guard, she stepped back. She paid him. How could she have forgotten he was only doing a job? An arrow of pain passed through her. Even that, somehow, was better than the numbness. "I expect to be kept informed of your progress, Doran.''
"Fine." He picked up a piece of toast and began to heap on jelly.
"I'll just leave you to enjoy your breakfast."
"Chantel." His voice was soft, but it had enough punch to stop her before she crossed the room. "You might as well sit down. You're not going anywhere by yourself."
"I'm going down to Maddy's room."
"You can try to leave." He set his knife very deliberately on the side of his plate. "You won't make it. I'll take you down myself as soon as I'm dressed." He sent her a cool, challenging look. "And you'll stay there, inside the room, until I come back for you."
"I've got a man stationed in the room across the hall, and another in the room across from your sister's. You're perfectly safe inside, but I want to take you down myself."
She was almost angry enough to take her chances. Chantel measured the distance to the door, and the look in Quinn's eyes. Without a word, she dropped down onto a chair and ignored him while he finished his breakfast.
Quinn found the cramped little flower shop in the West Sixties. In spite of the air-conditioning, the air was sultry inside and heavy with a barrage of floral scents. Three customers were crowded in, two of them in front of a long, chipped counter covered with scraps of papers and a shrilling phone the harried little man behind the counter ignored. Another customer stood in front of a display window and studied arrangements.
"Can't have them there before four. Can't." The owner scrawled on a form and kept shaking his head. He took a credit card and ran it through a machine for authorization. "Yes, it'll be pretty," he answered to the customer's murmured question. "Big pink carnations, some sprays of baby's breath. Tasteful, very tasteful. Sign here."
Quinn wandered to a grouping of lilies while the man dealt with the other customers.
"Okay, okay, you want to buy flowers or just look at them?"
Quinn glanced over to see the man piling the papers on the counter. "Pretty busy today."
"You're telling me nothing." The little man pulled out a handkerchief to wipe the back of his neck. "Got problems with the air conditioner, my clerk gets appendicitis, and too many people are dying." When Quinn lifted a brow, the man settled down a bit. "Funerals. Got a run on gladiolas this week."
"Tough." Quinn skirted a spray of daisies in a watering can. "This one of yours?"
He glanced at the card in Quinn's hand. "Says so right there." The man's squat finger punched at the name. "Flowers by Bernstein. I'm Bernstein. You have a problem with a delivery?"
"A question. Red roses, a dozen, delivered to the Plaza this morning. Who bought them?"
"You ask me who bought them?" Bernstein gave a long, nasal laugh. "Young man, I sell twenty dozen roses this week if I sell one. How am I supposed to know who buys?"
"You keep records?" Quinn gestured toward the register. "Receipts. You should have a receipt for a dozen red roses delivered to the Plaza at, let's say, ten-thirty, eleven this morning."
"You want me to go through my receipts?"
Quinn reached in his pocket and drew out a twenty. "That's right."
The little man stood straight. His drooping jowls quivered with indignation. "I don't take bribes. You got twenty dollars, you buy twenty dollars' worth of flowers."
"Fine. How about the r
"You a cop?"
Bernstein hesitated. Then, grumbling, he went into the drawer that held the day's receipts. He mumbled to himself as he flipped through them. "Nobody bought red roses today."
That earned Quinn a disgusted look, but Bernstein went into another drawer. "Red roses to Maine, two dozen to Pennsylvania, a dozen to Twenty-seventh Street…" He mumbled out a few more addresses. "A dozen to the Plaza Hotel, suite 1203, for delivery this morning."
"Can I take a look at that?" Without waiting for an answer, Quinn plucked it out of his hand. "Paid cash."
"I got no problem taking cash."
But cash meant no signature. Quinn passed the receipt back. "What did he look like?"
"What did he look like?" The man let out another snort of laughter. "How am I going to remember what you look like tomorrow? People come in here and buy their flowers. I don't care if they got an eye in the middle of their forehead so long as their credit's good or their cash is green."
"Just think about it a minute." Quinn pulled out another twenty. "You got some great flowers here."
The florist gave him a shrewd look. "The carnations on display here are getting wilted."
"I happen to be very fond of carnations."
With a nod, the man pocketed the two twenties, then took the slightly drooping carnations from behind the glass. "I remember he said to send the roses to Chantel O'Hurley. Things were pretty busy here yesterday. They hauled my clerk out in an ambulance. My other clerk's on vacation, and we've got two weddings." Because the florist had a genuine love for flowers, he took out a plastic bottle and spritzed the carnations. "Anyhow, he says to send them to her, so I say, hey, is that the actress? You know, the wife and I go to the movies a lot. Oh, yeah, I ask him if he's from California. He was wearing a hat, one of those panama types, and dark glasses."
"What did he say?"
"I don't think he did. And don't ask me what he looked like again, 'cause I don't know. I had Mrs. Donahue in here fussing about her daughter's wedding. Rose petals—bags of 'em. Pink." He shook his head. "He was a guy, and I never saw much of his face."
"Could've been younger than you, could've been older. But he wasn't built so big. Nervous hands," he remembered suddenly, and in a moment of conscience added some fresh greenery to the carnations.
"Why do you say that?"
Skin Deep by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love have rating 5.4 out of 5 / Based on43 votes