The macgregor groom, p.21
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       The MacGregor Groom, p.21

         Part #8 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  man like Ian. He’d be afraid he’d make the wrong move, frighten you, hurt you. And if he’s as attracted as I think he is, those brotherly pats and pecks aren’t easy on him. He’s waiting for you to make the next move, for you to be sure it’s what you want. And that’s exactly as it should be.”

  For ten staggered seconds, Naomi stared at the three grinning faces. “I thought he just wasn’t interested that way, after he found out I didn’t have any experience.”

  “He’d never pressure a woman, Naomi.” Laura gave her hand a squeeze. “And the more he cares, the more careful he’d be.”

  “You really think …” Naomi trailed off and smiled dreamily into space.

  “Oh-oh, Dr. Maguire, I think we have another case of gaga.” Julia grinned and winked at her cousins. “This could cause an epidemic.”

  * * *

  It was dusk when Naomi stopped her car in front of Ian’s house. The lights were on, glowing in welcome through the windows. Was he still up in the library, she wondered, arranging his books? Was he wondering if she’d call or drop by?

  Did he want her to?

  Or was his family wrong? Was it exactly as she’d assumed, and he thought of her as a friend?

  Maybe he wasn’t alone.

  That thought sneaked into her brain and had her gripping the steering wheel. He was so attractive, so charming, so … everything. There had to be a dozen women he could summon with one crook of the finger. Beautiful, experienced, sophisticated women.

  Why would he be waiting for her?

  “Stop it, stop it, stop it.” Annoyed with herself, she thumped a fist on the wheel. “That’s the way you used to think. You’re different now.”

  She’d made herself different. Maybe it was still a work in progress, but she had indeed made progress. She was reasonably attractive when she took time to work on it. She could hold up her end in conversations. She owned a business, for God’s sake. She had employees, and none of them thought of her as a wishy-washy add-on.

  Three incredibly delightful and intelligent women now considered her a friend. Oh, she would treasure that, Naomi thought, closing her eyes. She would remember this single foolish afternoon all of her life.

  And those three women knew and loved Ian, didn’t they? Why should she question their opinion?

  And why didn’t she stop being a sniveling coward, get out of the car and see for herself?

  “Okay. All right. We’re going.”

  She drew calming breaths as she walked to the door. But they didn’t seem to do the job. Caffeine overload, she decided, and bracing herself, rang the bell.

  He answered in bare feet, faded jeans and a ragged Harvard Law sweatshirt. And his quick smile of greeting warmed her shaky heart.

  “Hi. I didn’t think I’d see you tonight.”

  “I should have called. But I was just over at Julia’s, and—”

  “Girl Day, yeah.” He grasped her hands, drawing her inside out of the chilly twilight. “They do that every couple of months. What the hell do you do on Girl Day?”

  “Paint your nails, eat chocolate. Talk about men.”

  “Yeah? What do you say about us?”

  “Ah … could I have a drink?”

  “Sure, sorry. Come on up. I’ve got some wine in the library, and I’m dying to show you what I’ve done.”

  He could have eaten her up. Her cheeks were rosy, her eyes dark, and the oversize sweater made his fingers itch to find her under it. So he kept his hands in his pockets as they walked upstairs.

  “I’ve been at it most of the day,” he went on. “Once I got started, I couldn’t stop.” He stopped a short distance from the open door. “Close your eyes.”

  When she obeyed without question, simply stood there, eyes shut, his hands fisted in his pockets. It took some effort to unball them, to lay them lightly on her shoulders and guide her into the room.

  “Okay. Open up.”

  When she did, her hands went straight to her heart. “Oh, Ian, it’s wonderful. It’s more than wonderful.” Eyes shining, she turned to look around the room, where the beautifully trimmed, built-in shelves were lined with books. Old worn spines, new glossy ones, embossed leather and tattered covers.

  “Perfect. And your library ladder arrived! I just love it.” She turned in another circle, then beamed at him.

  “I wanted you here.” His heart had circled with her, and now beat uncomfortably in his chest. “I wanted to see how the room would feel with you in it. Just right.” He dug his hands into his pockets again, dragged them back out. “Let me get you that wine.”

  The hands still held against her heart dropped to her sides. She gathered all her courage. “Ian, do you want to go to bed with me?”

  He bobbled the glass, splashed wine on his shirt, swore. “What?”

  “I don’t mean to be rude or to put you in an awkward position. It’s just that I’d like to know if you’re still attracted to me in that way or not. If not, then that’s fine, but if you are, and you’ve just been trying to be considerate because I haven’t been with a man before, you could stop now. I’d prefer you to stop being so considerate, if that’s what you’re being.”

  She ran out of breath, and words, and compensated by shrugging as he stood staring at her, a bottle of wine in one hand, a half-empty glass in the other, and a good splotch of cabernet sauvignon spreading over his beloved Harvard Law sweatshirt.

  Chapter 26

  He set the bottle down. “You don’t want me to be considerate?”

  “No. Not really.”

  He put the glass beside the bottle. “You don’t want me to keep my hands off you?”

  A shivery thrill ran up her spine. “Not if you still feel, um, interested.”

  His throat went bone-dry. This was the woman he wanted, and she was offering herself to him, as she’d done with no other man. Could he be careful enough to show her what there could be between the two of them?

  He had to be, because nothing had ever been more important.

  A smile was slowly curving his lips as he walked toward her. “The witness is required to answer the question. Yes or no. Do you want me to keep my hands off you?”

  “No.” She had to tilt her head back to keep her eyes on his.

  “Thank God.” Then he was sweeping her close, pulling her to her toes, and his mouth captured hers in a long, draining kiss that had her heart flopping helplessly in her chest.

  “Does that answer your question?” he murmured, shifting his attention from her mouth to her neck until little startled sounds hummed in her throat.

  “What question?”

  “Do I want you? Do I want to make love with you?” Lord, she was delicious. “In case you missed my answer the first time, let me just repeat myself.” His lips skimmed over her jaw, then settled warmly on hers. “Got it now?”

  “Yes.” For balance, for pleasure, she linked her arms around his neck. “Yes, I’ve got it now.”

  “You’ve been making me crazy for weeks.” He circled her, slowly, toward the door.

  “I—” The concept shocked and delighted. “Really?”

  “Being considerate was killing me.”

  “I thought you’d decided we’d just be friends.”

  “We are friends.” He kept circling, a long slow dance, down the hallway, into his bedroom. “That only makes me want you more.”

  “No one ever has.” Emotion swam into her eyes as she laid a hand on his cheek. “I don’t know what to do about it.”

  “I’ll help you with that.” He turned his head so that his lips brushed her palm. “Trust me, Naomi. I won’t hurt you. And if you want me to stop, I’ll stop.”

  “I won’t want you to.”

  He left the light burning. Though he wished he’d lit a fire, wished there were candles flickering, he didn’t think he could let her go long enough to tend to it.

  She was trembling lightly, but those lovely gray eyes were steady on his. The trust he’d asked for was in there. He swore t
hat, whatever his own needs, he wouldn’t break that trust.

  His mouth was soft on hers, drawing her in with care, with warmth. “I love this part of you.” He caught her top lip between his teeth, chewed gently. “It’s so sexy.”

  Her eyes blinked open, the aroused surprise in them pulling a groaning laugh out of him. “Don’t have a clue, do you? Pretty Naomi. I’ve been dying to bite your lips.”

  So he did, pleasing himself, destroying her until the pressure building inside her threatened to erupt. With a muffled cry she threw her arms around him. And her mouth went wild.

  Pure hot lust burst in his blood, rattled his brain. Slow down, slow down, he ordered himself. Her response might have been the answer to every sexual dream, but she was still untouched.

  And he’d given his word.

  He softened the kiss, soothing her lips now as he began to unwind the braid at her back. He wanted her hair in his hands, tumbled over his bed, wrapped around him. The weight and texture of it, the scent enthralled him.

  Combing his fingers through it, he stepped back. Then, keeping his eyes on hers, he lifted her sweater up.

  Her first instinct was to cover herself, but he caught her hands in his. Struggling for air, she felt the heat rise up to flush her skin as his gaze swept down, lingered, came back to hers.

  Nerves and needs jangled inside her as he skimmed a fingertip over the swell above her bra. Her hands curled at her sides before she ordered herself to relax, to be brave enough to do what she wanted. After a shaky breath, she gripped the hem of his sweatshirt and drew it up over his body.

  “Oh. My.” He was beautiful. Lean muscles, smooth skin. Without thinking, she laid her hands on his chest. Then snatched them back when she felt him quiver.

  With a strained laugh, he brought her hands back. “Step out of your shoes.”

  Oh, his heart was racing, she thought. And his chest was so … hard. “My shoes.”

  “Step out of them.”

  “Mmm.” Fascinated by the feel of him, she splayed her fingers over him as she obeyed. Then her body jerked when he unhooked her trousers.

  “Relax.” He murmured the word, bringing his mouth back to hers, taking her swimming into another kiss as the trousers slid down. While his mouth continued to play on hers, he lifted her, laid her on the bed.

  She felt the heat from his body over hers, the coolness of the spread beneath her. And as her heart plunged, she felt the smooth, lazy glide of his hands.

  She stirred under him, yearning toward … something. But before she could reach it, she was floating, drifting into dreams at the urging of his mouth and hands.

  He’d never taken more care with a woman. Never felt the need to take so much. He wanted to give her every pleasure, awaken her to her own desires. It was easier than he’d believed to bank the fires within himself, to let them simmer.

  Her eyes were closed, her breathing deep. But he could feel her heart trip beneath his mouth as he tasted her. The low and mindless moan she gave when he slipped her bra aside sent an echoing shimmer into his gut.

  She slipped into his hands, firm and full. Her hips arched instinctively as he skimmed his thumbs over her nipples. He watched the stunned pleasure flicker over her face, her lashes flutter, then lift, to reveal eyes gone storm dark and clouded.

  She sucked in a ragged breath. “What should I do?”

  Her hands were roaming restlessly over his back, driving him wonderfully mad. “Enjoy.”

  His mouth lowered, his breath skimming over the sensitized skin of her breast, his tongue flicking erotically, tortuously, until her hands clamped on the back of his head to bring him to her.

  With lazy tugs and pulls he set out to destroy her, reveling in her shocked gasps, her trembles. He let her taste fill him as his hands roamed down, stroking closer and closer to the heat.

  Just a brush of fingertips and slow, openmouthed kisses over her shoulders, her breasts. Just a slide of his palm along her thigh. He cupped her, gently, intending to give her time to get used to this new intimacy.

  She exploded beneath him, her body bucking, his name bursting from her lips, and the heat flooding out of her into his hand.

  Her reaction ripped through him, forcing him to bury his face in her hair and for the first time fight viciously for control.

  Her body went lax and her breath remained shallow and fast. Nothing had prepared her for that long, glorious shock to the system, for the tidal wave of hot, liquid pleasure. Delirious from it, she turned her head, hands pulling at him until she could find his mouth with hers.

  His skin was damp, slippery. Oh, she loved the feel of it. Wanted more, and raced her lips over his neck and shoulders even as her hips began to lift and press, lift and press against him.

  Her body was full of storms ready to break, her mind whirling with them.

  He rolled with her, struggling back from the edge, holding himself in check long enough to strip off his jeans and protect her. Fighting the beat of his own blood so he could take her back up slowly, drench her in pleasure until he knew she was close to flying again.

  And as her body bowed, as that moan of release sounded in her throat, he gripped her hips and slipped into her. The resistance of innocence made him shudder, and made him gentle. He took her mouth, swallowed her single, sharp cry and made her his.

  Only his, he thought, as he filled her for the first time.

  * * *

  She quivered still, cradled in the circle of his arms. He held her there, stroking her hair and waiting for his own system to level out.

  “You okay?”

  “Mmm,” was the best she could manage, and made him smile.

  “How do you feel?”

  “Ah, thickheaded, floaty, a little drunk.” She sighed. “Incredibly relaxed. Not awkward at all. I was sure I’d feel awkward. Did I do everything right?”

  He lifted a brow. Her voice was slurred and sleepy. “No. You were a huge disappointment to me. I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave now.”

  Her head snapped up, her eyes wide in a face still glowing. Then she saw his grin, blinked. “I could probably do better with practice,” she said, stunning herself.

  “Hmm. Well, maybe I’ll give you another shot at it. Pretty Naomi.” He cupped her cheek and touched his lips to hers. “Want that wine now?”

  “All right.” She couldn’t have cared less about wine, but thought it would give her a chance to recover from the quiver it gave her when he called her pretty.

  She pretended not to watch him as he climbed out of bed and walked naked from the room. But when he’d gone, she patted a hand to her heart. How in the world, she wondered, had she managed to engage the interest of a man who looked like that? Who had such intense physical beauty along with such intense kindness?

  Better not to question it, she told herself. Then, realizing suddenly that she was naked, too, she tugged up the tangled sheets and spread just as he came back into the room.

  He stood there a moment, then shook his head. “Why the hell hasn’t someone gobbled you up before me?”

  She flushed, only adding to the sexy, tumbled image she projected. “I guess no one ever really tried.”

  With a laugh, he carried the wine and glasses to the bed. “Get serious. You must not have been paying attention.”

  “No, I’ve always been clumsy with boys. Men. Males.” And because she was starting to feel clumsy again, she gratefully took the wine he offered.

  “Honey, I’d say the males you’ve come across have been the clumsy ones, if none of them managed to get ahold of you.” With a fingertip he drew the sheet she held to her breasts down an inch. “You have an amazing body.”

  “I always wanted to be tall and slim.” Trying to relax again, she sipped her wine. “But I started, you know, developing early. It was very painful.”

  “Why?”

  “Oh … I suppose you have to be a girl to understand what it’s like to be an adolescent and suddenly …”

  “Grow be
autiful breasts,” he finished with a smile. “But boys really like breasts, Naomi. We consider them one of nature’s finest miracles.”

  She laughed a little. “I spent years trying to hide mine.”

  “Still are,” he pointed out, then tugged the sheet down to her waist, grinning when she sputtered. “Much better. How’s your wine?”

  “It’s fine.” Resolutely, she pulled the sheet back up. She couldn’t possibly sit there drinking wine while uncovered. “I’m sorry about your shirt. You could probably get most of the stain out if you soaked it now.”

  “I’m keeping the stain to remind me of a monumental night in my life.”

  Delight shone in her eyes. “That’s so sweet. How could you possibly be interested in me?”

  Even as she prepared to saw off her tongue, he angled his head, gave her a long considering look. “You have breasts.”

  Her eyes widened; her mouth dropped open. Then she caught the gleam in his eyes and burst into laughter. “Well, lucky me.”

  His fingertip skimmed over the curve of her shoulder, down her throat, lowered to toy with the sheet again. “After you finish your wine, I think we should have that practice session.”

  “Oh.” He wanted her again. Life was so suddenly full of miracles. “All right. But I’d like to move into the library this time.” It was her turn to see surprise light in his eyes. “You see, I do really well around books.”

  The image that brought into his mind had him going rock hard. “Naomi?”

  “Yes?”

  “Finish your wine.”

  She had to swallow first, then tipped back her glass and drained it. “Done,” she announced.

  * * *

  It was a wonderful thing, Ian mused, to lie in the dark with Naomi curled against him in sleep. This was what he wanted, now, tomorrow, forever. It was almost ridiculously simple how she slipped into and completed his life.

  He could imagine them there, in that big bed in the sturdy old house, year after year. With children sleeping, safe down the hall, a dog snoring on the rug.

  Life would be busy with her career and his, a family to raise, a marriage to nurture, but they would do it.

  His parents had. And it was what he’d seen in them, seen between them—what that bond had given him and Laura—that he wanted now for himself. For Naomi.

  All he had to do was take his time, move slowly. Caution and care had brought her to him, after all. He’d given her the space to move toward physical intimacy. And she’d come to him not only willing, but eager.

  It stirred his blood to think just how eager.

  He’d give her a few weeks, then persuade her to move in with him. Step by step, he told himself. That was the way to handle it. He could control his impatience, his needs, when the rewards were so rich.

  He’d give her room, he thought, even as he drew her closer. Then they’d have a lifetime together.

  Chapter 27

  Ian hung up the phone and shook his head. His grandfather was certainly keeping in close touch lately. That made the third call in less than two weeks.

  He really had to make time to get to Hyannis Port soon, Ian decided, turning back to his computer to study the wording of the writ he was composing. He’d love
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