The law is a lady, p.14
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       The Law is a Lady, p.14

           Nora Roberts
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  With a sigh, he plucked the glass from her hand, tossed it aside, then rolled on top of her. “You’ve got the night off, Sheriff. We’re not going to talk about it.”

  “Really.” Her arms were already linked around his neck. “Just what are we going to talk about, then?”

  “Not a damn thing,” he muttered and pressed his mouth to hers.

  Her response was a muffled sound of agreement. He could taste the champagne on her tongue and lingered over it. The heat of the night had already dried their skin, but he ran his hands through the cool dampness of her hair. He could feel her nipples harden against the pressure of his chest. This time, he thought, there would be no desperation. He could enjoy her slowly—the long, lean lines of her body, the silken texture of her skin, the varied, heady tastes of her.

  From the wine-flavored lips he took an unhurried journey to the warmer taste of her throat. But his hands were already roaming demandingly. Tory moved under him with uncontrollable urgency as his thumb found the peak of her breast, intensifying her pleasure. To his amazement Phil found he could have taken her immediately. He banked the need. There was still so much of her to learn of, so much to experience. Allowing the tip of his tongue to skim along her skin, he moved down to her breast.

  Tory arched, pressing him down. His slow, teasing kisses made her moan in delighted frustration. Beneath the swell of her breast, his mouth lingered to send shivers and more shivers of pleasure through her. His tongue flicked lazily over her nipple, then retreated to soft flesh. She moaned his name, urging him back. He circled slowly, mouth on one breast, palm on the other, thrilling to her mindless murmurs and convulsive movements beneath him. Taking exquisite care, he captured a straining peak between his teeth. Leaving it moist and wanting, he journeyed to her other breast to savor, to linger, then to devour.

  His hands had moved lower, so that desire throbbed over her at so many points, she was delirious for fulfillment. Anxious to discover all she could about his body, Tory ran her fingertips over the taut muscles of his shoulders, down the strong back. Through a haze of sensation she felt him shudder at her touch. With delicious slowness she skimmed her fingers up his rib cage. She heard him groan before his teeth nipped into her tender flesh. Open and hungry, his mouth came swiftly back to hers.

  When she reached for him, he drew in a sharp breath at the contact. Burying his face in her neck, Phil felt himself drowning in pleasure. The need grew huge, but again he refused it.

  “Not yet,” he murmured to himself and to her. “Not yet.”

  He passed down the valley between her breasts, wallowing in the hot scent that clung to her skin. Her stomach quivered under his lips. Tory no longer felt the rough carpet of grass under her back, only Phil’s seeking mouth and caressing hands. His mouth slipped lower and she moaned, arching—willing, wanting. His tongue was quick and greedy, shooting pleasure from the core of her out even to her fingertips. Her body was heavy with it, her head light. He brought her to a shuddering crest, but relentlessly allowed no time for recovery. His fingers sought her even as his mouth found fresh delight in the taste of her thigh.

  She shook her head, unable to believe she could be so helpless. Her fingers clutched at the dry grass while her lips responded to the dizzying pace he set. Her skin was damp again, quivering in the hot night air. Again and again he drove her up, never letting her settle, never allowing her complete release.

  “Phil,” she moaned between harsh, shallow breaths. “I need . . .”

  He’d driven himself to the verge of madness. His body throbbed in one solid ache for her. Wildly he took his mouth on a frantic journey up her body. “What?” he demanded. “What do you need?”

  “You,” she breathed, no longer aware of words or meanings. “You.”

  With a groan of triumph he thrust into her, catapulting them both closer to what they insisted on denying.

  ***

  She’d warned him about the heat. Still, Phil found himself cursing the unrelenting sun as he set up for another outdoor shot. The grips had set up stands with butterflies—long black pieces of cloth—to give shade between takes. The cameraman stood under a huge orange-and-white umbrella and sweated profusely. The actors at least could spend a few moments in the shade provided while Phil worked almost exclusively in the streaming sun, checking angles, lighting, shadows. Reflectors were used to bounce the sunlight and carbon arcs balanced the back lighting. A gaffer, stripped to the waist, adjusted a final piece of blue gel over a bulb. The harsh, glaring day was precisely what Phil wanted, but it didn’t make the work any more pleasant.

  Forcing down more salt tablets, he ordered the next take. Oddly, Dressler seemed to have adjusted to the heat more easily than the younger members of the cast and crew. Or, Phil mused as he watched him come slowly down the street with the fledgling actor who played his alter ego, he’s determined not to be outdone. As time went on, he became more competitive—and the more competitive he became, particularly with Marlie, the more Phil was able to draw out of him.

  Yeah, Phil thought as Dressler turned to the younger actor with a look of world-weariness. He ran through his dialogue slowly, keeping the pace just short of dragging. He was a man giving advice reluctantly, without any confidence that it was viable or would be listened to in any case. He talked almost to himself. For a moment Phil forgot his own discomfort in simple admiration for a pro who had found the heart of his character. He was growing old and didn’t give a damn—wanted to be left alone, but had no hope that his wishes would be respected. Once he had found his moment of glory, then had lost it. He saw himself in the younger man and felt a bitter pity. Ultimately he turned and walked slowly away. The camera stayed on him for a silent thirty seconds.

  “Cut. Perfect,” Phil announced in a rare show of unconditional approval. “Lunch,” he said dropping a hand on the younger actor’s shoulder. “Get out of the sun for a while. I’ll need you for reaction shots in thirty minutes.” He walked over to meet Sam. “That was a hell of a job.”

  Grinning, Sam swiped at his brow. “Somebody’s got to show these kids how it’s done. That love scene with Marlie’s going to be interesting,” he added a bit ruefully. “I keep remembering she’s my daughter’s age.”

  “That should keep you in character.”

  Sam laughed, running his fingers through his thick salt-and-pepper hair. “Well, the girl’s a pro,” he said after a moment. “This movie’s going to shoot her into the fast lane quick.” He sent Phil a long, steady look. “And you and I,” he added, “are going to win each other an Oscar.” When Phil only lifted a brow, Sam slapped him on the back. “Don’t give me that look, boy,” he said, amused. “You’re talking to one who’s been passed over a few times himself. You can be lofty and say awards don’t mean a damn . . . but they do.” Again his eyes met Phil’s. “I want this one just as much as you do.” He ran a hand over his stomach. “Now I’m going to get myself a beer and put my feet up.”

  He sauntered off, leaving Phil looking after him. He didn’t want to admit, even to himself, that he desired his profession’s ultimate accolade. In a few short words Dressler had boiled it all down. Yes, he wanted to direct outstanding films—critically and financially successful, lasting, important. But he wanted that little gold statue. With a wry grin Phil swiped at his brow with his forearm. It seemed that the need to win, and to be acknowledged, didn’t fade with years. Dressler had been in the business longer than Phil had been alive; yet, he was still waiting for the pot at the end of the rainbow. Phil adjusted his sunglasses, admitting he wasn’t willing to wait thirty-five years.

  “Hey, Phil.” Bicks lumbered over to him, mopping his face. “Look, you’ve got to do something about that woman.”

  Phil pulled out a cigarette. “Which?”

  “That sheriff.” Bicks popped another piece of gum into his mouth. “Great looker,” he added. “Got a way of walking that makes a man home right in on her . . .” He trailed off, observing the look in Phil’s eyes. “Just an obse
rvation,” he muttered.

  “What do you expect me to do about the way Sheriff Ashton walks, Bicks?”

  Catching the amusement in Phil’s tone, Bicks grinned. “Nothing, please. A man’s got to have something pleasant to look at in this place. But damn it, Phil, she gave me a ticket and slapped a two-hundred-and-fifty-dollar fine on me.”

  Phil pushed his glasses up on his head with a weary sigh. He’d wanted to catch a quick shower before resuming the shoot. “What for?”

  “Littering.”

  “Littering?” Phil repeated over a snort of laughter.

  “Two hundred and fifty bucks for dropping gum wrappers in the street,” Bicks returned, not seeing the humor. “Wouldn’t listen to reason either. I’d have picked ’em up and apologized. Two hundred and fifty bucks for a gum wrapper, Phil. Jeez.”

  “All right, all right, I’ll talk to her.” After checking his watch, Phil started up the street. “Set up for the next scene in twenty minutes.”

  Tory sat with her feet propped up on the desk as she struggled to decipher Merle’s report on a feud between two neighboring ranches. It seemed that a dispute over a line of fence was becoming more heated. It was going to require her attention. So was the letter she had just received from one of her clients in Albuquerque. When Phil walked in, she glanced up from the scrawled pad and smiled.

  “You look hot,” she commented.

  “Am hot,” he countered, giving the squeaking fan above their heads a glance. “Why don’t you get that thing fixed?”

  “And spoil the atmosphere?”

  Phil stepped over the sleeping dog, taking a seat on the corner of her desk. “We’re going to be shooting one of the scenes with the townspeople milling around later. Are you going to watch?”

  “Sure.”

  “Want to do a cameo?” he asked with a grin.

  “No, thanks.”

  Leaning over, he pressed his lips to hers. “Dinner in my room tonight?”

  Tory smiled. “You still have those candles?”

  “All you want,” he agreed.

  “You talked me into it,” she murmured, drawing his face back for a second kiss.

  “Tory, if I brought a camera out to your ranch one day, would you let me film you riding that palomino?”

  “Phil, for heaven’s sake—”

  “Home movies?” he interrupted, twirling her hair around his finger.

  She gave a capitulating sigh. “If it’s important to you.”

  “It is.” He straightened, checked his watch, then pulled out a cigarette. “Listen, Tory, Bicks tells me you fined him for littering.”

  “That’s right.” The phone rang, and Phil waited while she took the call. After a moment he realized her tone was slightly different. With interest he listened to the legal jargon roll off her tongue. It must be Albuquerque, he realized. He watched her carefully, discovering this was a part of her life he knew nothing of. She’d be tough in court, he mused. There was an intensity under that languid exterior that slipped out at unexpected moments. And what did she do after a day in court or a day in the office?

  There’d be men, he thought, instantly disliking the image. A woman like Tory would only spend evenings alone, nights alone, if she chose to. He looked away, taking a deep drag on his cigarette. He couldn’t start thinking along those lines, he reminded himself. They were both free agents. That was the first rule.

  “Phil?”

  He turned back to see that she had replaced the receiver. “What?”

  “You were saying?”

  “Ah . . .” He struggled to remember the point of his visit “Bicks,” he continued.

  “Yes, what about him?”

  “A two-hundred-and-fifty-dollar fine for littering,” Phil stated, not quite erasing the frown that had formed between his brows.

  “Yes, that’s the amount of the fine.”

  “Tory, be reasonable.”

  Her brow lifted. “Reasonable, Kincaid?”

  Her use of his surname told him what level they were dealing on. “It’s certainly extreme for a gum wrapper.”

  “We don’t vary the fine according to the style of trash,” she replied with an easy shrug. “A tin of caviar would have cost him the same amount.”

  Goaded, Phil rose. “Listen, Sheriff—”

  “And while we’re on the subject,” she interrupted, “you can tell your people that if they don’t start picking up after themselves more carefully, they’re all going to be slapped with fines.” She gave him a mild smile. “Let’s keep Friendly clean, Kincaid.”

  He took a slow drag. “You’re not going to hassle my people.”

  “You’re not going to litter my town.”

  He swore, coming around the desk when the door opened. Pleased to see Tod, Tory swung her legs to the floor and started to stand. It was then that she saw the dull bruise on the side of his face. Fury swept through her so quickly, she was forced to clench her hands into fists to control it. Slowly she walked to him and took his face in her hands.

  “How did you get this?”

  He shrugged, avoiding her eyes. “It’s nothing.”

  Fighting for calm, Tory lifted his hands, examining the knuckles carefully. There was no sign that he’d been fighting. “Your father?”

  He shook his head briskly. “I came to do the sweeping up,” he told her and tried to move away.

  Tory took him firmly by the shoulders. “Tod, look at me.”

  Reluctantly he lifted his eyes. “I’ve still got five dollars to work off,” he said tightly.

  “Did your father put this bruise on your face?” she demanded. When he started to drop his eyes again, she gave him a quick shake. “You answer me.”

  “He was just mad because—” He broke off, observing the rage that lit her face. Instinctively he cringed away from it. Tory set him aside and started for the door.

  “Where are you going?” Moving quickly, Phil was at the door with her, his hand over hers on the knob.

  “To see Swanson.”

  “No!” They both turned to see Tod standing rigid in the center of the room. “No, you can’t. He won’t like it. He’ll get awful mad at you.”

  “I’m going to talk to your father, Tod,” Tory said in a careful voice, “to explain to him why it’s wrong for him to hurt you this way.”

  “Only when he loses his temper.” Tod dashed across the room to grab her free hand. “He’s not a bad man. I don’t want you to put him in jail.”

  Though her anger was lethal, Tory gave Tod’s hand a reassuring squeeze. “I’m just going to talk to him, Tod.”

  “He’ll be crazy mad if you do, Tory. I don’t want him to hurt you either.”

  “He won’t, don’t worry.” She smiled, seeing by the expression in Tod’s eyes that she’d already been forgiven. “Go get the broom now. I’ll be back soon.”

  “Tory, please . . .”

  “Go on,” she said firmly.

  Phil waited until the boy had disappeared into the back room. “You’re not going.”

  Tory sent him a long look, then pulled open the door. Phil spun her around as she stepped outside. “I said you’re not going.”

  “You’re interfering with the law, Kincaid.”

  “The hell with that!” Infuriated, Phil pushed her back against the wall. “You’re crazy if you think I’m going to let you go out there.”

  “You don’t let me do anything,” she reminded him. “I’m sworn to protect the people under my jurisdiction. Tod Swanson is one of my people.”

  “A man who punches a kid isn’t going to hesitate to take a swing at you just because you’ve got that little piece of tin on your shirt.”

  Because her anger was racing, Tory forced herself to speak calmly. “What do you suggest I do? Ignore what I just saw?”

  Frustrated by the image of Tod’s thin face, Phil swore. “I’ll go.”

  “You have no right.” She met his eyes squarely. “You’re not the law, and what’s more, you’re an ou
tsider.”

  “Send Merle.”

  “Don’t you hold with no woman sheriff, Kincaid?”

  “Damn it, Tory.” He shook her, half in fear, half in frustration. “This isn’t a joke.”

  “No, it’s not,” she said seriously. “It’s my job. Now, let go of me, Phil.”

  Furious, Phil complied, then watched her stride to her car. “Tory,” he called after her, “if he puts a hand on you, I’ll kill him.”

  She slipped into the car, driving off without looking back.

  ***

  Tory took the short drive slowly, wanting to get her emotions under control before she confronted Swanson. She had to be objective, she thought, as her knuckles whitened on the steering wheel. But first she had to be calm. It wasn’t possible to do what she needed to do in anger, or to let Phil’s feelings upset her. To
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