Key of light, p.16
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       Key of Light, p.16

         Part #1 of Key series by Nora Roberts
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  “That seems to be correct, and in this case it was wine. Now that we’ve established that, I’ll remind you I’m only half drunk. Come in and take advantage of me.”

  He let out what might’ve been a laugh and decided the best place for his hands—well, not the best but the smartest—was his pockets. “That’s a delightful invitation, sweetie, but—”

  She solved the problem by gripping his shirt firmly and giving a good yank. “Come on in,” she repeated, then fixed her mouth on his.

  Chapter Eleven

  FLYNN found himself shoved back against the door, tripping over his own feet as it swung shut behind him. Most of the blood had drained out of his head by the time she’d gone to work on his throat with lips and teeth.

  “Whoa, wait. Mal.”

  “Don’t wanna wait.” Her hands got as busy as her mouth. Had she actually thought she didn’t like men? She certainly liked this one. So much that she wanted to gobble him up in quick and greedy bites.

  “How come people always say you gotta wait? I want you to . . .” She clamped her teeth on his earlobe, then whispered a creative demand.

  “Oh, God.”

  He wasn’t entirely sure if it was a prayer of thanks or a plea for help. But he was sure his willpower had a very specific limit, and he was fast approaching it.

  “Okay, okay, let’s just calm down here a minute. Malory.” She slid her body over his, and when her eager fingers danced down, down, he felt his eyes do a slow roll to the back of his head. “Now hold on.”

  “I am.” She tipped her head back to send him a wicked grin.

  “Ha, ha. Yeah, you are.” He closed his hands over her wrists and with no little regret lifted her busy hands to his shoulders.

  He was out of breath and hard as stone. “We’ve got a choice here. You can hate me in the morning, or I can.” Her eyes sparkled up at him, and her lips were curved in a feline smile that had his throat going dry. “God, you’re pretty when you’re half plowed. You should go lie down now.”

  “Okay.” She pressed herself against him, gave her hips a suggestive little grind. “Let’s.”

  Slippery knots of lust tied and tangled in his belly. “I’m just going to back away from the beautiful drunk woman.”

  “Uh-uh.” She rose on her toes to rub her lips over his again, felt the desperate plunge of his heart. “You’ll never make it out the door. I know what I’m doing, and I know what I want. Does that scare you?”

  “Pretty much, yeah. Honey, I came by to talk to you, about something I’m currently incapable of remembering. Why don’t I make us some coffee and we’ll . . .”

  “I guess I have to do everything.” In one fluid motion, she slid the sleep shirt over her head and tossed it aside.

  “Oh, sweet Jesus.”

  Her body was pink and white—delicious—with that elegant cloud of hair tumbling down to tease her breasts. Her eyes, deeply blue and suddenly full of knowledge, fixed on his as she stepped close to him again.

  Her arms had wound around his neck, and her mouth was a hot, silky temptation on his. “Don’t be afraid,” she whispered. “I’ll take very good care of you.”

  “I bet.” Somehow his hands had gotten lost in the sexy mass of her hair. His body was a maze of aches and needs, and reason couldn’t find the exit. “Malory, I’m no hero.”

  “Who wants one?” With a laugh, she nipped at his jaw. “Let’s be bad, Flynn. Let’s be really bad.”

  “Since you put it that way.” He swung her around, reversing their position so she was trapped between the door and his body. “I hope to God you remember whose idea this was, and that I tried to—”

  “Shut up, and take me.”

  If he was going to hell, he’d make damn sure it was worth the trip. With his hands on her hips, he jerked her up to her toes, and caught the light of triumph on her face an instant before his mouth crushed hers.

  It was like holding a lit fuse, all sizzle and spark, a dangerous woman who knew her own power. Who was testing his. Her skin was already flushed and hot, and as he took his hands over her the soft sounds she made in her throat weren’t whimpers but urgings. Already desperate, he buried his face in her hair, pressed his hand between her thighs.

  She erupted. A throaty cry, a bite of nails on his back, a lightning surge of hips. Then she was dragging his shirt over his head, scraping her teeth over his shoulder as her quick hands yanked at his jeans.

  “In bed.” Though he had wild, erotic visions of taking her against the door, the pleasure would end too soon that way. Instead he circled her, prying off his shoes as they bumped into a corner of the wall.

  She didn’t care where. She only wanted to go on feeling this wild whiplash of power, having these wonderful pulsing aches continue to dominate her body. She was spinning in some mad world of exquisite sensations, and every touch, every taste, added more.

  She wanted to feel his muscles quiver, to feel the heat pumping out of his pores. And to know, deep inside, that she had caused it.

  They fell on the bed, breathless and insane, and rolled, an erotic tangle of limbs on the pretty pastel covers.

  She laughed when he clamped his hands on hers and yanked her arms over her head.

  “Gotta slow down a little,” he managed.

  She arched up to him. “Why?”

  “Because I’m going to do things to you, and that takes time.”

  She ran her tongue over her top lip. “Where would you like to start?”

  His belly tightened to the edge of pain. He lowered his head to start with her mouth. Plump and soft, hot and wet. He drugged himself with her until they both trembled. He slid his tongue over the hollow of her throat, where her pulse hammered. Then down, slowly, until he could taste the delicate, scented breasts. And when he caught her nipple between his teeth and tugged, she began to moan.

  She gave herself over to the pleasure, the sheer bliss of being savored and exploited. Her body was open to him, to that ravenous mouth, those questing hands. When he took her up, she flew free, riding the hot punch of air, tumbling down again to draw him closer.

  She could see him in the light that spilled from the hallway, and her heart leaped at the intensity on his face as he watched her. Love and delight raced through her. Here was an answer, the answer to at least one question.

  He was for her. And she rose up, wrapping herself around him with a kind of giddy glee.

  Their mouths met again in a deep, shuddering kiss that had his heart flipping over inside his chest.

  She smelled of something secret, of seduction. Those quick, catchy gasps coming from her sliced through him like tiny silver knives. He wanted to bury himself inside her until the world ended. And when her hands cruised over him, when those soft sounds of approval hummed in her throat as she explored him, he wondered if it already had.

  She scraped her nails over his belly and had him quivering like a stallion. “I want you. I want you inside me. Tell me you want me.”

  “I do. I want you.” He lowered his mouth to hers once more. “Malory. From the first minute.”

  Her lips curved under his. “I know.” She arched her hips. “Now.”

  He braced himself, then a sliver of sanity cut through the madness. “Oh, Christ. Condom. Wallet. Pants. Where are my pants?”

  “Mmm. It’s okay.” She rolled over him, nipping at his shoulder as she pulled open the nightstand drawer. “Condom. Drawer. Nightstand.”

  “Have I mentioned that I love practical, prepared women?”

  “Why don’t I help you on with this?”

  She took her sweet time so that he had to fist his hands in the tangled spread to keep himself from flying to the ceiling.

  The woman had wicked hands, he thought and bit back a groan.

  Wonderful, wicked hands.

  She rose over him, shook her hair back. And smiled. “Now,” she said.

  He moved fast, flipping her onto her back, pinning her body with his. “Now,” he re
peated and drove deep inside her.

  He watched the shock race over her face, felt the waves of it vibrate through him. They trembled there, each caught on some fine edge.

  And with her eyes locked on his, she began to move. A rising up, a falling away, so smooth, so fluid it was like sliding through silk. Her name echoed in his head, like a song, or a prayer. He clung to the echo of it, clung to the frayed threads of control as she shattered around him.

  She fell apart. Oh, God, the most wonderful sensation. A losing of self, then a gathering back. Her mind hazed. And with one last liquid sigh, she rode the final crest.

  Locking him close, she took him with her.

  HE didn’t want to think. Thinking under the current circumstances couldn’t be productive. It would be much better for all involved if he kept his mind a solid blank and just enjoyed the superior sensation of having a soft, sexy woman under him.

  If he didn’t think, he might be able to keep her there long enough to make love with her again. Then there’d be another period of not-thinking.

  Who knew how long he could keep up that pattern? Maybe indefinitely.

  When she moved under him, a lazy kind of stretch, it seemed a very good possibility.

  “I want some water.” She stroked a hand down his back. “You thirsty?”

  “Not if it means moving for the next five or ten years.”

  She gave his ass a light pinch. “I’m thirsty. So you have to move.”

  “Okay.” But he nuzzled her hair a moment longer. “I’ll get it.”

  “That’s all right.” She gave him a little shove and wiggled out from under him. “I’ll get it.”

  She stopped by the closet on the way out, and he had a glimpse of something thin and silky billowing out over that gorgeous body before she strolled out the door.

  “Maybe I’m dreaming. Maybe this is just some wish-fulfillment fantasy, and I’m really in my own bed with Moe snoring on the floor.”

  Or maybe not.

  He sat up, scrubbed his hands over his face. And unfortunately, began to think. He’d come over because he’d been churned up, pissed off, and generally confused by the scene they’d had in his office that morning.

  And now he was in her bed, naked, and they’d just had incredible sex. When she’d been drunk. Well, maybe not drunk, but impaired.

  He should’ve walked away. He should’ve found the moral fortitude to walk away from a naked, willing woman when that naked, willing woman’s inhibitions had been erased by alcohol.

  And what was he, a saint?

  When she walked back in wearing nothing but a short red robe, he scowled at her.

  “I’m a human being. I’m a man.”

  “Yes. I think we’ve established that beyond doubt.” She sat on the side of the bed, offered him the glass she’d brought in.

  “You were naked.” He took the glass, gulped down water. “You were all over me.”

  She cocked her head. “And your point is?”

  “If you regret this—”

  “Why should I?” She took the glass back, swallowed the stingy sip he’d left behind. “I got you where I wanted you. I’d been drinking, Flynn, but I knew what I was doing.”

  “Okay, then. Okay. It’s just that, after what you said this morning . . .”

  “That I’m in love with you?” She set the glass on the coaster she kept on her nightstand. “I am in love with you.”

  Emotions ran through him, all too hot and fast to decipher. But layered over all of them was sheer, sweaty fear. “Malory.” When she only continued to study him with a quiet patience, the fear began to trickle into his throat. “Listen, I don’t want to hurt you.”

  “Then don’t.” She gave his hand a comforting little squeeze. “Actually, you’ve got a lot more to worry about than I do.”

  “I do?”

  “Yes, you do. I love you, which means, naturally, I want you to love me back. I don’t always get what I want, but I usually find a way to get it. Almost always, in fact. So to my way of thinking, you’ll end up in love with me. Since the idea of that scares you, you’ve got more to worry about than I do.”

  She trailed a hand over his chest. “You’re in really good shape for somebody who works at a desk.”

  He grabbed her hand before it could head south. “Let’s stay focused here. The whole love deal just isn’t in the cards for me.”

  “You had a bad experience.” She leaned in to give him a light kiss. “That sort of thing’s bound to leave a mark. Lucky for you, I can be patient. And gentle,” she added as she shifted, then straddled him. “And very, very determined.”

  “Oh, boy. Malory—”

  “Why don’t you just lie back and enjoy the fringe benefits of being courted?”

  Aroused, flustered, grateful, he let her nudge him back. “Sort of hard to argue with that.”

  “As well as a waste of time.” She unbelted her robe, let it slide from her shoulders. She ran her hands up his chest, then caught his face in them before she kissed him senseless. “I’m going to marry you,” she murmured. And laughed when his body jerked in shock. “Don’t worry. You’ll get used to the idea.”

  Still laughing, she smothered his unintelligible protest with her mouth.

  SHE felt so good. Not just the sex, Malory thought as she sang in the shower. Though that could hardly be discounted. She always felt good, confident, directed, when she had a clear, well-defined purpose.

  The quest for the key was so nebulous that it confused as much as it energized. But convincing Flynn that they belonged together was crystal clear. A goal she could get her teeth into.

  She hadn’t a clue why she’d fallen in love with him, and that’s what told her it was real.

  He certainly didn’t fit her image of her dream man. He didn’t cook gourmet meals or speak fluent French (or Italian) or love spending his free time in museums. He didn’t wear tailored suits or read poetry.

  At least, she didn’t think he read poetry.

  She’d always planned to fall in love with a man who had some of those attributes. And, naturally, in her outline the right man would court her, charm her, seduce her, then pledge his undying love at the perfect romantic moment.

  Before Flynn she had analyzed and dissected every relationship, picked at every flaw until she’d worked a dozen holes into the cloth of it.

  And in the end, that hadn’t mattered, because none of them had been right.

  She had no desire to worry about the flaws with Flynn. She only knew her heart had gone splat when she’d least expected it. And she liked it.

  She had to admit she also liked the idea that he was spooked. It was intriguing, and it was challenging to be the pursuer for a change. To be the aggressor, and to keep a man slightly off balance with honesty.

  When he’d finally managed to stumble out of bed sometime around three in the morning, she’d sensed his fear and confusion just as much as she’d sensed his desire to stay.

  Let him stew about it for a while, she decided.

  She amused herself by calling the local florist and ordering a dozen red roses to be delivered to his office. She almost danced out of her apartment to keep her appointment with James.

  “Well, aren’t we bright and sassy this morning,” Tod commented when she swung into The Gallery.

  “Aren’t we just.” She caught his face in her hand and gave him a noisy kiss. “Is he in?”

  “Upstairs. He’s expecting you. Sugarpie, you look fabulous. Good enough to eat.”

  “I feel good enough to eat.” She patted his cheek, then glided up the steps. She knocked on the office door, stepped in. “Hello, James.”

  “Malory.” He rose from the desk, both hands extended. “Thank you so much for coming in.”

  “Of course.” She took the chair he gestured toward. “How are things?”

  With a pained expression on his face, he sat. “I’m sure you’ve heard about the difficulty Pamela had with Mrs. K. A terrible misunderstanding, which I
m afraid may have cost The Gallery a valued client.”

  Malory forced herself to appear concerned even while her mind jumped with glee. “Yes, I’m so sorry that things have . . .” Don’t say gone to hell in a handbasket, she ordered herself, and continued without missing a beat. “Been a bit difficult during this transition.”

  “Yes. Difficult. Pamela’s very enthusiastic about The Gallery, but I’m afraid she’s still learning. I see now that I gave her too much autonomy too quickly.”

  To keep from punching her fists in the air, Malory sedately folded her hands on her knee. “She has a very precisely defined vision.”

  “Yes. Yes.” He worried his gold pen, fiddled with his tie. “I think her strengths may lie in a more peripheral area than actual client-staff relations. I realize there’s friction between the two of you.”

  Cool, she reminded herself. “I also had a very precisely defined vision, which unfortunately clashed with hers. So, yes, there was considerable friction.”

  “Well.” He cleared his throat. “Perhaps I let Pamela influence me in that regard. I felt, sincerely, that it might be time for you to explore your talents, to experiment. However, I see I didn’t take into consideration your affection and loyalty to The Gallery, or how being nudged out of the nest, as it were, might upset you.”

  “I admit it did.” But she tempered her statement with the sweetest of smiles.

  “I have considered all of this over the last couple of weeks. I’d very much like you to come back, Malory. To resume your managerial duties. At a ten percent increase in salary.”

  “This is so unexpected.” She had to imagine her butt glued to the chair so she couldn’t leap up and do a victory dance. “And I’m flattered. But . . . can I be frank?”

  “Of course.”

  “The friction we spoke of is still going to be there. I have to admit I hadn’t been happy here the last several months. Your . . . nudging me out of the nest,” she said, “was painful and frightening. But once I was out, I had the opportunity to look back and realize that the nest had become . . . let’s say a little crowded.”

  “I understand.” He held up his hands, then clasped then together under his chin. “I can promise that Pamela won’t interfere with your authority, or with the policies that have long been in effect here. You’ll have the last word, barring mine, of course, on acquisitions and displays, on featured artists and so on. Just as before.”

  It was exactly what she’d wanted. More than, she realized when she calculated the bonus in salary. She would be back doing what she did best, and with considerable financial reward, and she would have the personal, if unattractive, satisfaction of putting Pamela’s nose out of joint.

  She would have won, without firing a shot.

  “Thank you, James. I can’t tell you how much it means to me to know you want me back, that you have confidence in me.”

  “Wonderful, wonderful.” He beamed at her. “You can start right away, today if that’s good for you. It’ll be like the last two weeks never even happened.”

  Like they never even happened.

  Her stomach gave a mighty pitch. Then, suddenly, it was as if sensible Malory stepped to the side and listened in shock as reckless Malory took charge.

  “But I can’t come back. I’ll always be grateful for everything you taught me, all the opportunities you gave me—the last being pushing me out the door so I’d have to leave my comfort zone. I’m going to open my own business.”

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