The law is a lady, p.20
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       The Law is a Lady, p.20

           Nora Roberts
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  He listened for regret in the statement but heard none. Striving to match her tone, he continued to stare out the window. “We finished up tonight, a day ahead of schedule. I’ll head out with the film crew tomorrow. I want to be there when Huffman sees the film.”

  “Of course.” The pain rammed into her, dazzlingly physical. It took concentrated control to keep from moaning with it. “You’ve still quite a lot of work to do before it’s finished, I suppose.”

  “The studio scenes,” he agreed, struggling to ignore twin feelings of panic and desolation. “The editing, the mixing . . . I guess your schedule’s going to be pretty tight when you get back to Albuquerque.”

  “It looks that way.” Tory stared at the beams of the headlights. A long straight road, no curves, no hills. No end. She bit the inside of her lip hard before she trusted herself to continue. “I’m thinking about hiring a new law clerk.”

  “That’s probably a good idea.” He told himself that the crawling emptiness in his stomach was due to a lack of food. “I don’t imagine your caseload’s going to get any smaller.”

  “No, it should take me six months of concentrated work to get it under control again. You’ll probably start on a new film the minute this one’s finished.”

  “It’s being cast now,” he murmured. “I’m going to produce it too.”

  Tory smiled. “No guarantors?”

  Phil answered the smile. “We’ll see.”

  They drove for another half mile in silence. Slowing down, Tory pulled off onto a small dirt road and stopped. Phil took a quick glance around at nothing in particular, then turned to her. “What are we doing?”

  “Parking.” She scooted from under the steering wheel, winding her arms around his neck.

  “Isn’t there some legality about using an official car for illicit purposes?” His mouth was already seeking hers, craving.

  “I’ll pay the fine in the morning.” She silenced his chuckle with a deep, desperate kiss.

  As if by mutual consent, they went slowly. All pleasure, all desire, was concentrated in tastes. Lips, teeth, and tongues brought shuddering arousal, urging them to hurry. But they would satisfy needs with mouths only first. Her lips were silkily yielding even as they met and increased his demand. Wild, crazy desires whipped through him, but her mouth held him prisoner. He touched her nowhere else. This taste—spiced honey, this texture—heated satin—would live with him always.

  Tory let her lips roam his face. She knew each crease, each angle, each slope, more intimately than she knew her own features. With her eyes closed she could see him perfectly, and knew she had only to close her eyes again, in a year, in ten years, to have the same vivid picture. The skin on his neck was damp, making the flavor intensify as her tongue glided over it. Without thinking, she ran her fingers down his shirt, nimbly loosening buttons. When his chest was vulnerable, she spread both palms over it to feel his quick shudder. Then she brought her mouth, lazily, invitingly, back to his.

  Her fingertips sent a path of ice, a path of fire, over his naked skin. Her mouth was drawing him in until his head swam. His labored breathing whispered on the night air. Wanting her closer, he shifted, cursed the cramped confines of the car, then dragged her across his lap. Lifting her to him, he buried his face against the side of her neck. He fed there, starving for her until she moaned and brought his hand to rest on her breast. With torturous slowness he undid the series of buttons, allowing his fingertips to trail along her skin as it was painstakingly exposed. He let the tips of his fingers bring her to desperation.

  The insistent brush of his thumb over the point of her breast released a shaft of exquisite pain so sharp, she cried out with it, dragging him closer. Open and hungry, her mouth fixed on his while she fretted to touch more of him. Their position made it impossible, but her body was his. He ran his hands over it, feeling her skin jump as he roamed to the waistband of her jeans. Loosening them, he slid his hand down to warm, moist secrets. His mouth crushed hers as he drank in her moan.

  Tory struggled, maddened by the restrictions, wild with desire, as his fingers aroused her beyond belief. He kept her trapped against him, knowing once she touched him that his control would shatter. This night, he thought, this final night, would last until there was no tomorrow.

  When she crested, he rose with her, half delirious. No woman was so soft, no woman was so responsive. His heart pounded, one separate pain after another, as he drove her up again.

  Her struggles ceased. Compliance replaced them. Tory lay shuddering in a cocoon of unrivaled sensations. She was his. Though her mind was unaware of the total gift of self, her body knew. She’d been his, perhaps from the first, perhaps only for that moment, but there would never be any turning back. Love swamped her; desire sated her. There was nothing left but the need to possess, to be possessed, by one man. In that instant she conceded her privacy.

  The change in her had something racing through him. Phil couldn’t question, couldn’t analyze. He knew only that they must come together now—now, while there was something magic shimmering. It had nothing to do with the moonlight beaming into the car or the eerie silence surrounding them. It concerned only them and the secret that had grown despite protests. He didn’t think, he didn’t deny. With a sudden madness he tugged on her clothes and his own. Speed was foremost in his mind. He had to hurry before whatever trembled in the tiny confines was lost. Then her body was beneath his, fused to his, eager, asking.

  He took her on the seat of the car like a passionate teenager. He felt like a man who had been given something precious, and as yet unrecognizable.

  Chapter 12

  A long sleepy time. Moonlight on the back of closed lids . . . night air over naked skin. The deep, deep silence of solitude by the whispering breathing of intimacy.

  Tory floated in that luxurious plane between sleep and wakefulness—on her side, on the narrow front seat, with her body fitted closely against Phil’s. Their legs were tangled, their arms around each other, as much for support as need. With his mouth near her ear, his warm breath skipped along her skin.

  There were two marginally comfortable beds back at the hotel. They could have chosen either of them for their last night together, but they had stayed where they were, on a rough vinyl seat, on a dark road, as the night grew older. There they were alone completely. Morning still seemed very far away.

  A hawk cried out as it drove toward earth. Some small animal screamed in the brush. Tory’s lids fluttered up to find Phil’s eyes open and on hers. In the moonlight his irises were very pale. Needing no words, perhaps wanting none, Tory lifted her mouth to his. They made love again, quietly, slowly, with more tenderness than either was accustomed to.

  So they dozed again, unwilling to admit that the night was slipping away from them. When Tory awoke, there was a faint lessening in the darkness—not light, but the texture that meant morning was close.

  A few more hours, she thought, gazing at the sky through the far window as she lay beside him. When the sun came up, it would be over. Now his body was warm against hers. He slept lightly, she knew. She had only to shift or murmur his name and he would awaken. She remained still. For a few more precious moments she wanted the simple unity that came from having him sleep at her side. There would be no stopping the sun from rising in the east—or stopping her lover from going west. It was up to her to accept the second as easily as she accepted the first. Closing her eyes, she willed herself to be strong. Phil stirred, dreaming.

  He walked through his house in the hills, purposely, from room to room, looking, searching, for what was vague to him; but time after time he turned away, frustrated. Room after room after room. Everything was familiar: the colors, the furniture, even small personal objects that identified his home, his belongings. Something was missing. Stolen, lost? The house echoed emptily around him as he continued to search for something vital and unknown. The emotions of the man in the dream communicated themselves to the man dreaming. He felt the helplessness, the an
ger and the panic.

  Hearing him murmur her name, Tory shifted yet closer. Phil shot awake, disoriented. The dream slipped into some corner of his mind that he couldn’t reach.

  “It’s nearly morning,” she said quietly.

  A bit dazed, struggling to remember what he had dreamed that had left him feeling so empty, Phil looked at the sky. It was lightening. The first pale pinks bloomed at the horizon. For a moment they watched in silence as the day crept closer, stealing their night.

  “Make love to me again,” Tory whispered. “Once more, before morning.”

  He could see the quiet need in her eyes, the dark smudges beneath that told of patchy sleep, the soft glow that spoke clearly of a night of loving. He held the picture in his mind a moment, wanting to be certain he wouldn’t lose it when time had dimmed other memories. He lowered his mouth to hers in bittersweet good-bye.

  The sky paled to blue. The horizon erupted with color. The gold grew molten and scarlet bled into it as dawn came up. They loved intensely one final time. As morning came they lost themselves in each other, pretending it was still night. Where he touched, she trembled. Where she kissed, his skin hummed until they could no longer deny the need. The sun had full claim when they came together, so that the light streamed without mercy. Saying little, they dressed, then drove back to town.

  ***

  When Tory stopped in front of the hotel, she felt she was in complete control again. No regrets, she reminded herself, as she turned off the ignition. We’ve just come to the fork in the road. We knew it was there when we started. Turning, she smiled at Phil.

  “We’re liable to be a bit stiff today.”

  Grinning, he leaned over and kissed her chin. “It was worth it.”

  “Remember that when you’re moaning for a hot bath on your way back to L.A.” Tory slid from the car. When she stepped up on the sidewalk, Phil took her hand. The contact threatened her control before she snapped it back into place.

  “I’m going to be thinking of you,” he murmured as they stepped into the tiny lobby.

  “You’ll be busy.” She let her hand slide on the banister as they mounted the stairs.

  “Not that busy.” Phil turned her to him when they reached the top landing. “Not that busy, Tory,” he said again.

  Her courtroom experience came to her aid. Trembling inside, Tory managed an easy smile. “I’m glad. I’ll think of you too.” Too often, too much. Too painful.

  “If I call you—”

  “I’m in the book,” she interrupted. Play it light, she ordered herself. The way it was supposed to be, before . . . “Keep out of trouble, Kincaid,” she told him as she slipped her room key into its lock.

  “Tory.”

  He stepped closer, but she barred the way into the room. “I’ll say good-bye now.” With another smile she rested a hand on his cheek. “It’ll be simpler, and I think I’d better catch a couple hours’ sleep before I go into the office.”

  Phil took a long, thorough study of her face. Her eyes were direct, her smile easy. Apparently there was nothing left to say. “If that’s what you want.”

  Tory nodded, not fully trusting herself. “Be happy, Phil,” she managed before she disappeared into her room. Very carefully Tory turned the lock before she walked to the bed. Lying down, she curled into a ball and wept, and wept, and wept.

  It was past noon when Tory awoke. Her head was pounding. Dragging herself to the bathroom, she studied herself objectively in the mirror over the sink. Terrible, she decided without emotion. The headache had taken the color from her cheeks, and her eyes were swollen and red from tears. Dispassionately, Tory ran the water until it was icy cold, then splashed her face with it. When her skin was numb, she stripped and stepped under the shower.

  She decided against aspirin. The pills would dull the pain, and the pain made it difficult to think. Thinking was the last thing she felt she needed to do at the moment; Phil was gone, back to his own life. She would go on with hers. The fact that she had fallen in love with him over her own better judgment was simply her hard luck. In a few days she would be able to cope with it easily enough. Like hell you will, she berated herself as she dried her skin with a rough towel. You fell hard, and some bruises take years to heal . . . if ever.

  Wasn’t it ironic, she mused as she went back into the bedroom to dress. Victoria L. Ashton, Attorney at Law, dedicated to straightening out other people’s lives, had just made a beautiful mess of her own. And yet, there hadn’t been any options. A deal was a deal.

  Phil, she said silently, I’ve decided to change our contract. Circumstances have altered, and I’m in love with you. I propose we include certain things like commitment and reciprocal affection into our arrangement, with options for additions such as marriage and children, should both parties find it agreeable.

  She gave a short laugh and pulled on a fresh shirt. Of course, she could merely have clung to him, tearfully begging him not to leave her. What man wouldn’t love to find himself confronted with a hysterical woman who won’t let go?

  Better this way, she reminded herself, tugging on jeans. Much better to have a clean, civilized break. Aloud, she said something potent about being civilized as she pinned on her badge. The one thing she had firmly decided during her crying jag was that it was time for her to leave Friendly. Merle could handle the responsibilities of the office for the next few weeks without too much trouble. She had come to terms with her father’s death, with her mother. She felt confident that she’d helped in Tod’s family situation. Merle had grown up a bit. All in all, Tory felt she wasn’t needed any longer. In Albuquerque she could put her own life in motion again. She needed that if she wasn’t going to spend three weeks wallowing in self-pity and despair. At least, she decided, it was something she could start on. Naturally she would have to talk to the mayor and officially resign. There would be a visit to her mother. If she spent a day briefing Merle, she should be able to leave before the end of the week.

  Her own rooms, Tory thought, trying to work up some excitement. The work she was trained for—a meaty court case that would take weeks of preparation and a furnace of energy. She felt suddenly that she had a surplus of it and nowhere to go. Back in the bath, she applied a careful layer of makeup to disguise the effects of tears, then brushed her hair dry. The first step was the mayor. There was no point putting it off.

  It took thirty minutes for Tory to convince the mayor she was serious and another fifteen to assure him that Merle was capable of handling the job of acting sheriff until the election.

  “You know, Tory,” Bud said when he saw her mind was made up, “we’re going to be sorry to lose you. I guess we all kept hoping you’d change your mind and run. You’ve been a good sheriff, I guess you come by it naturally.”

  “I appreciate that—really.” Touched, Tory took the hand he offered her. “Pat Rowe and Nick Merriweather are both fair men. Whoever wins, the town’s in good hands. In a few years Merle will make you a fine sheriff.”

  “If you ever change your mind . . .” Bud trailed off wanting to leave the door open.

  “Thanks, but my niche in the law isn’t in enforcement. I have to get back to my practice.”

  “I know, I know.” He sighed, capitulating. “You’ve done more than we had a right to expect.”

  “I did what I wanted to do,” she corrected.

  “I guess things will be quiet for a while, especially with the movie people gone.” He gave a regretful glance toward the window. Excitement, he mused, wasn’t meant for Friendly. “Come by and see me before you leave town.”

  Outside, the first thing Tory noticed was the absence of the movie crew. There were no vans, no sets, no lights or packets of people. Friendly had settled back into its yawning pace as though there had never been a ripple. Someone had written some graffiti in the dust on the window of the post office. A car puttered into town and stopped in front of the hardware store. Tory started to cross the street, but stopped in the center when she was hailed. Shiel
ding her eyes, she watched Tod race toward her.

  “Sheriff, I’ve been looking for you.”

  “Is something wrong?”

  “No.” He grinned the quick-spreading grin that transformed his thin face. “It’s real good, I wanted you to know. My dad . . . well, we’ve been talking, you know, and we even drove out to see those people you told us about.”

  “How’d it go?”

  “We’re going to go back—my mom too.”

  “I’m happy for you.” Tory brushed her knuckles over his cheek. “It’s going to take time, Tod. You’ll all have to work together.”

  “I know, but . . .” He looked up at her, his eyes wide and thrilled. “He really loves me. I never thought he did. And my mom, she wondered if you could come out to the house sometime. She wants to thank you.”

  “There isn’t any need for that.”

  “She wants to.”

  “I’ll try.” Tory hesitated, finding that this good-bye would be more difficult than most. “I’m going away in a couple of days.”

  His elated expression faded. “For good?”

  “My mother lives here,” she reminded him. “My father’s buried here. I’ll come back from time to time.”

  “But not to stay.”

  “No,” Tory said softly. “Not to stay.”

  Tod lowered his gaze to the ground. “I knew you’d leave. I guess I was pretty stupid that day in your office when I . . .” He trailed off with a shrug and continued to stare at the ground.

  “I didn’t think you were stupid. It meant a lot to me.” Tory put out a hand to lift his face. “Means a lot to me.”

  Tod moistened his lips. “I guess I still love you—if you don’t mind.”

 
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