The law is a lady, p.18
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       The Law is a Lady, p.18

           Nora Roberts
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  on her. Her face was lifted to the sun and the sky as she controlled the feisty horse with apparent ease. When she headed back, she started at a loping gallop that built in speed.

  The palomino’s legs gathered and stretched, sending up a plume of dirt in their wake. Behind them was a barren land of little more than rock and earth with the mountains harsh in the distance. She was Eve, Phil thought. The only woman. And if this Eve’s paradise was hard and desolate, she ruled it in her own style.

  Once, as if remembering he was there, Tory looked over, full into the camera. With her face nearly filling the lens, she smiled. Phil felt his palms go damp. If a man had a woman like that, he realized abruptly, he’d need nothing and no one else. The only woman, he thought again, then shook his head as if to clear it.

  With a quick command and a tug on the reins, Tory brought the horse to a stop. Automatically she leaned forward to pat his neck. “Well, Hollywood?” she said lazily.

  Knowing he wasn’t yet in complete control, Phil kept the camera trained on her. “Is that the best you can do?”

  She tossed her hair behind her head. “What did you have in mind?”

  “No fancy tricks?” he asked, moving around the horse to vary the angle.

  Tory looked down on him with tolerant amusement. “If you want to see someone stand on one foot in the saddle, go to the circus.”

  “We could set up a couple of small jumps—if you can handle it.”

  As she ruffled the palomino’s blond mane, she gave a snort of laughter. “I thought you wanted me to ride, not win a blue ribbon.” Grinning, she turned the horse around. “But okay,” she said obligingly. At an easy lope she went for the corral fence. The horse took the four feet in a long, powerful glide. “Will that do?” she asked as she doubled back and rode past.

  “Again,” Phil demanded, going down on one knee. With a shrug Tory took the horse over the fence again. Lowering his camera for the first time, Phil shaded his eyes and looked up at her. “If he can do that, how do you keep him in?”

  “He knows a good thing when he’s got it,” Tory stated, letting the palomino prance a bit while she rubbed his neck. “He’s just showing off for the camera. Is that a wrap, Kincaid?”

  Lifting the camera again, he aimed it at her. “Is that all you can do?”

  “Well . . .” Tory considered a moment, then sent him a slow smile. “How about this?” Keeping one hand loosely on the reins, she started to unbutton her blouse.

  “I like it.”

  After three buttons she paused, catching her tongue between her teeth. “I don’t want you to lose your G rating,” she decided. Swinging a leg over the saddle, she slid to the ground.

  “This is a private film,” he reminded her. “The censors’ll never see it.”

  She laughed but shook her head. “Fade out,” she suggested, loosening the horse’s girth. “Put your toy away, Kincaid,” she told him as he circled around the horse, still taping.

  “Look at me a minute.” With a half smile Tory complied. “God, that face,” he muttered. “One way or the other, I’m going to get it on the screen.”

  “Forget it.” Tory lifted the saddle to balance it on the fence. “Unless you start videotaping court cases.”

  “I can be persistent.”

  “I can be stubborn,” she countered. At her command the palomino trotted back into the corral.

  After loading the equipment back in the car, Phil turned to gather Tory in his arms. Without a word their mouths met in long, mutual pleasure. “If there was a way,” he murmured as he buried his face in her hair, “to have a few days away from here, alone . . .”

  Tory shut her eyes, feeling the stir . . . and the ache. “Obligations, Phil,” she said quietly. “We both have a job to do.”

  He wanted to say the hell with it but knew he couldn’t. Along with the obligations was the agreement they had made at the outset. “If I called you in Albuquerque, would you see me?”

  She hesitated. It was something she wanted and feared. “Yes.” She realized abruptly that she was suffering. For a moment she stood still, absorbing the unexpected sensation. “Phil, kiss me again.”

  She found his mouth quickly to let the heat and pleasure of the kiss dull the pain. There were still a few precious weeks left, she told herself as she wrapped her arms tighter around him. There was still time before . . . with a moan she pressed urgently against him, willing her mind to go blank. There was a sigh, then a tremble, before she rested her head against his shoulder. “I have to put the tack away,” she murmured. It was tempting to stay just as she was, held close, with her blood just beginning to swim. Taking a long breath, she drew away from him and smiled. “Why don’t you be macho and carry the saddle?”

  “Directors don’t haul equipment,” he told her as he tried to pull her back to him.

  “Heave it up, Kincaid.” Tory swung the reins over her shoulder. “You’ve got some great muscles.”

  “Yeah?” Grinning, he lifted the saddle and followed her toward the barn. Bicks was right, Phil mused, watching her walk. She had a way of moving that drove men mad.

  The barn door creaked in protest when Tory pulled it open. “Over here.” She moved across the concrete floor to hang the reins on a peg.

  Phil set down the saddle, then turned. The place was large, high-ceilinged, and refreshingly cool. “No animals?” he asked, wandering to an empty stall.

  “My mother keeps a few head of cattle,” Tory explained as she joined him. “They’re grazing. We had more horses, but she doesn’t ride much.” Tory lifted a shoulder. “Justice has the place mostly to himself.”

  “I’ve never been in a barn.”

  “A deprived child.”

  He sent her a mild glance over his shoulder as he roamed. “I don’t think I expected it to be so clean.”

  Tory’s laugh echoed. “My mother has a vendetta against dirt,” she told him. Oddly, she felt amusement now rather than resentment. It was a clean feeling. “I think she’d have put curtains on the windows in the loft if my father had let her.”

  Phil found the ladder and tested its sturdiness. “What’s up there?”

  “Hay,” Tory said dryly. “Ever seen hay?”

  “Don’t be smug,” he warned before he started to climb. Finding his fascination rather sweet, Tory exerted the energy to go up with him. “The view’s incredible.” Standing beside the side opening, he could see for miles. The town of Friendly looked almost neat and tidy with the distance.

  “I used to come up here a lot.” Tucking her hands in her back pockets, Tory looked over his shoulder.

  “What did you do?”

  “Watch the world go by,” she said, nodding toward Friendly. “Or sleep.”

  He laughed, turning back to her. “You’re the only person I know who can turn sleeping into an art.”

  “I’ve dedicated quite a bit of my life to it.” She took his hand to draw him away.

  Instead he pulled her into a dim corner. “There’s something I’ve always wanted to do in a hayloft.”

  With a laugh Tory stepped away. “Phil, my mother’s in the house.”

  “She’s not here,” he pointed out. He hooked a hand in the low V where she had loosened her blouse. A hard tug had her stumbling against him.

  “Phil—”

  “It must have been carrying that saddle,” he mused, giving her a gentle push that had her falling backward into a pile of hay.

  “Now, wait a minute . . .” she began, and struggled up on her elbows.

  “And the primitive surroundings,” he added as he pressed her body back with his own. “If I were directing this scene, it would start like this.” He took her mouth in a hot, urgent kiss that turned her protest into a moan. “The lighting would be set so that it seemed one shaft of sunlight was slanting down across here.” With a fingertip he traced from her right ear, across her throat, to the hollow between her breasts. “Everything else would be a dull gold, like your skin.”

  Sh
e had her hands pressed against his shoulders, holding him off, although her heart was beating thickly. “Phil, this isn’t the time.”

  He placed two light kisses at either corner of her mouth. He found it curiously exciting to have to persuade her. Light as a breeze, his hand slipped under her blouse until his fingers found her breast. The peak was already taut. At his touch her eyes lost focus and darkened. The hands at his shoulders lost their resistance and clutched at him. “You’re so sensitive,” he murmured, watching the change in her face. “It drives me crazy to know when I touch you like this your bones turn to water and you’re completely mine.”

  Letting his fingers fondle and stroke, he lowered his mouth to nibble gently at her yielding lips. Strong, self-sufficient, decisive. Those were words he would have used to describe her. Yet, he knew, when they were together like this, he had the power to mold her. Even now, as she lifted them to his face to urge him closer, he felt the weakness come over him in thick waves. It was both frightening and irresistible.

  She could have asked anything of him, and he would have been unable to deny her. Even his thoughts could no longer be considered his own when she was so intimately entwined in them. The fingers that loosened the rest of her buttons weren’t steady. He should have been used to her by now, he told himself as he sought the tender skin of her neck almost savagely. It shouldn’t be so intense every time he began to make love to her. Each time he told himself the desperation would fade; yet, it only returned—doubled, tripled, until he was completely lost in her.

  There was only her now, over the clean, country smell of hay. Her subtly alluring fragrance was a contrast too exciting to bear. She was murmuring to him as she drew his shirt over his head. The sound of her voice seemed to pulse through his system. The sun shot through the window to beat on his bare back, but he only felt the cool stroking of her fingers as she urged him down until they were flesh to flesh.

  His mouth devoured hers as he tugged the jeans over her hips. Greedily he moved to her throat, her shoulders, her breasts, ravenous for each separate taste. His mouth ranged over her, his tongue moistening, savoring, as her skin heated. She was naked but for the brief swatch riding low on her hips. He hooked his fingers beneath it, tormenting them both by lowering it fraction by fraction while his lips followed the progress.

  The pleasure grew unmanageable. He began the wild journey back up her body, his fingers fumbling with the snap of his jeans until Tory’s brushed them impatiently away.

  She undressed him swiftly, while her own mouth streaked over his skin. The sudden change from pliancy to command left him stunned. Then she was on top of him, straddling him while her lips and teeth performed dark magic at the pulse in his throat. Beyond reason, he grasped her hips, lifting her. Tory gave a quick cry as they joined. In delight her head flung back as she let this new exhilaration rule her. Her skin was shiny with dampness when she crested. Delirious, she started to slide toward him, but he rolled her over, crushing her beneath him as he took her to a second peak, higher than the first.

  As they lay, damp flesh to damp flesh, their breaths shuddering, she knew a contentment so fulfilling, it brought the sting of tears to her eyes. Hurriedly blinking them away, Tory kissed the curve of his shoulder.

  “I guess there’s more to do in a hayloft than sleep.”

  Phil chuckled. Rolling onto his back, he drew her against his side to steal a few more moments alone with her.

  Chapter 11

  One of the final scenes to be filmed was a tense night sequence outside Hernandez’s Bar. Phil had opted to shoot at night with a low light level rather than film during the day with filters. It would give the actors more of a sense of the ambience and keep the gritty realism in the finished product. It was a scene fraught with emotion that would lose everything if overplayed. From the beginning nothing seemed to go right.

  Twice the sound equipment broke down, causing lengthy delays. A seasoned supporting actress blew her lines repeatedly and strode off the set, cursing herself. A defective bulb exploded, scattering shards of glass that had to be painstakingly picked up. For the first time since the shooting began, Phil had to deal with a keyed-up, uncooperative Marlie.

  “Okay,” he said, taking her by the arm to draw her away. “What the hell’s wrong with you?”

  “I can’t get it right,” she said furiously. With her hands on her hips she strode a few paces away and kicked at the dirt. “Damn it, Phil, it just doesn’t feel right.”

  “Look, we’ve been at this over two hours. Everybody’s a little fed up.” His own patience was hanging on by a thread. In two days at the most, he’d have no choice but to head back to California. He should have been pleased that the bulk of the filming was done—that the rushes were excellent. Instead he was tense, irritable, and looking for someone to vent his temper on. “Just pull yourself together,” he told Marlie curtly. “And get it done.”

  “Now, just a damn minute!” Firing up instantly, Marlie let her own frustration pour out in temper. “I’ve put up with your countless retakes, with that stinking, sweaty bar and this godforsaken town because this script is gold. I’ve let you work me like a horse because I need you. This part is my ticket into the big leagues and I know it right down to the gut.”

  “You want the ticket,” Phil tossed back, “you pay the price.”

  “I’ve paid my dues,” she told him furiously. A couple of heads turned idly in their direction, but no one ventured over. “I don’t have to take your lousy temper on the set because you’ve got personal problems.”

  He measured her with narrowed eyes. “You have to take exactly what I give you.”

  “I’ll tell you something, Kincaid”—she poked a small finger into his chest—“I don’t have to take anything, because I’m every bit as important to this movie as you are, and we both know it. It doesn’t mean a damn who’s getting top billing. Kate Lohman’s the key to this picture, and I’m Kate Lohman. Don’t you forget it, and don’t throw your weight around with me.”

  When she turned to stride off, Phil grabbed her arm, jerking her back. His eyes had iced. The fingers on her arm were hard. Looking down at her set face, he felt temper fade into admiration. “Damn you, Marlie,” he said quietly, “you know how to stay in character, don’t you?”

  “I know this one inside out,” she returned. The stiffness went out of her stance.

  “Okay, what doesn’t feel right?”

  The corners of her mouth curved up. “I wanted to work with you,” she began, “because you’re the best out there these days. I didn’t expect to like you. All right,” she continued, abruptly professional, “when Sam follows me out of the bar, grabs me, finally losing control, he’s furious. Everything he’s held in comes pouring out. His dialogue’s hard.”

  “You haven’t been off his back since he came into town,” Phil reminded her, running over the scene in his mind. “Now he’s had enough. After the scene he’s going to take you back to your room and make love. You win.”

  “Do I?” Marlie countered. “My character is a tough lady. She’s got reason to be. She’s got enough vulnerabilities to keep the audience from despising her, but she’s no pushover.”

  “So?”

  “So he comes after me, he calls me a tramp—a cold, money-grabbing whore, among other things—and my response is to take it, damp-eyed and shocked.”

  Phil considered, a small smile growing. “What would you do?”

  “I’d punch the jerk in the mouth.”

  His laugh echoed down the street. “Yeah, I guess you would at that.”

  “Tears, maybe,” Marlie went on, tasting victory, “but anger too. She’s becoming very close to what he’s accusing her of. And she hates it—and him, for making it matter.”

  Phil nodded, his mind already plotting the changes and the angles. Frowning, he called Sam over and outlined the change.

  “Can you pull this off without busting my caps?” Sam demanded of Marlie.

  She grinned. “Maybe.


  “After she hits you,” Phil interrupted, “I want dead silence for a good ten seconds. You wipe your mouth with the back of your hand, slow, but don’t break the eye contact. Let’s set it up from where Marlie walks out of the bar. Bicks!” He left the actors to give his cinematographer a rundown.

  “Quiet. . . . Places. . . . Roll. . . .” Standing by the cameraman’s shoulder, Phil watched the scene unfold. The adrenaline was pumping now. He could see it in Marlie’s eyes, in the set of her body, as she burst out the door of the bar onto the sidewalk. When Sam grabbed her, instead of merely being whirled around, she turned on him. The mood seemed to fire into him as well, as his lines became harsher, more emotional. Before there had been nothing in the scene but the man’s anger; now there was the woman’s too. Now the underlying sexuality was there. When she hit him, it seemed everyone on the set held their breath. The gesture was completely unexpected and, Phil mused as the silence trembled, completely in character. He could almost feel Sam’s desire to strike her back, and his inability to do so. She challenged him to, while her throat moved gently with a nervous swallow. He wiped his mouth, never taking his eyes from hers.

  “Cut!” Phil swore jubilantly as he walked over and grabbed Marlie by the shoulders. He kissed her, hard. “Fantastic,” he said, then kissed her again. “Fantastic.” Looking up, he grinned at Sam.

 
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