Inner harbor, p.23
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       Inner Harbor, p.23

         Part #3 of Chesapeake Bay Saga series by Nora Roberts
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  "It's not that cold, Sybill. Come here."

  "No, I'm leaving. I have a headache. I—no, don't touch me."

  Ignoring her words, he drew her firmly against him, wrapped his arms tight around her and held on. "It's all right, baby."

  "No, it's not." She wanted to scream it. Was he blind? Was he stupid? "I shouldn't have come. Your brother hates me. Seth's afraid of me. You—your—I—"

  Oh, it hurt. The pressure in her chest was agony, and it was spreading. "Let me go. I don't belong here."

  "Yes, you do."

  He'd seen it, that connection, when she and Seth had stared at each other. Her eyes such a clear blue, his so brilliant. He'd all but heard the click.

  "No one hates you. No one's afraid of you. Let go, will you?" He pressed his mouth to her temple, would have sworn he felt the pain hissing there. "Why won't you let go?"

  "I'm not going to cause a scene. If you'd just get my purse,

  I'll go."

  She was holding herself rigid as marble, but the marble was cracking, he thought, and trembling with the pressure. If she didn't let go she would explode. So he would have to push. "He remembered you. He remembered that you cared."

  Through the hideous pressure there was a stab, and the stab pierced her heart. "I can't stand it. I can't bear it." Her hands gripped his shoulders, fingers clenching and unclenching. "She took him away. She took him away. It broke my heart."

  She was sobbing now, her arms tight around his neck. "I know. I know it did. That's the way," he murmured, and simply picked her up, sat on the grass, and cradled her against him. "It's about damn time."

  He rocked her while tears that were hot and desperate flooded out of her and soaked his shirt. Cold? he thought as the firestorm of grief whipped through her. There was nothing cold in her but the fear of emotional pain.

  He didn't tell her to stop, even when the sobs shook her so violently it seemed her bones might snap. He didn't offer promises of comfort or solutions. He knew the value of purging. So he simply stroked and rocked, cradling her while she wept out the pain.

  When Anna stepped out on the porch, Phillip shook his head at her, stroking still. He continued to rock her as the door shut again and left them alone.

  When she'd cried herself dry, her head felt swollen and hot, her throat and stomach raw. Weak and disoriented, she lay exhausted in his arms. "I'm sorry."

  "Don't be. You needed that. I don't think I've ever known anyone who needed a crying jag more."

  "It doesn't solve anything."

  "You know better than that." He rose and, helping her up, pulled her toward his Jeep. "Get in."

  "No, I need to—"

  "Get in," he repeated with just a hint of impatience. "I'll go get your purse and your jacket." He lifted her into the passenger seat. "But you're not driving." His eyes met her tired, puffy ones. "And you're not going to be alone tonight."

  She didn't have the energy to argue. She felt hollowed out and insubstantial. If he took her back to the hotel, she could sleep. She'd take a pill if she had to and escape. She didn't want to think. If she started to think she might feel again. If she felt again, if any part of that flood of feeling came back, she would drown in it.

  Because his face looked grim and entirely too determined when he strode out of the house with her things, Sybill accepted her own cowardice and closed her eyes.

  He didn't speak, simply climbed in beside her, leaned over to secure her seat belt, then started the car. He let the blessed silence hang throughout the drive. She didn't protest when he came into the lobby with her or when he opened her purse for her key card at her door.

  He took her hand again and led her directly to the bedroom. "Get undressed," he ordered. As she stared at him with those swollen, red-rimmed eyes, he added, "I'm not going to jump you, for Christ's sake. What do you take me for?"

  He didn't know where the flare of temper had come from. Maybe it was looking at her like this, seeing her so utterly wrecked and defenseless. Turning on his heel, he marched into the bathroom.

  Seconds later, she heard the drum of water in the tub. He came out with a glass and aspirin. "Swallow. If you don't take care of yourself, someone else has to."

  The water felt like glory on her abused throat, but before she could thank him, he'd pulled the glass out of her hand and set it aside. She swayed a little, and blinked when he tugged her sweater over her head.

  "You're going to take a hot bath and relax."

  She was too stupefied to argue as he continued to undress her like a doll. When he laid her clothes aside, she shivered a little but didn't speak. She only stared at him when he picked her up, carried her into the bathroom and deposited her in the tub.

  The water was high, and a great deal hotter than she considered healthy. Before she could get her mind around the words to mention it, he flicked off the stream.

  "Sit back, shut your eyes. Do it!" he said with such unexpected force that she obeyed. She kept them closed even when she heard the door click shut behind him.

  She stayed there for twenty minutes, nearly nodding off twice. Only the vague fear of drowning kept her from sinking into sleep. And the niggling idea that he would come back in, pull her out, and dry her off himself was what made her climb shakily out of the tub.

  Then again, maybe he'd gone. Maybe he'd finally gotten disgusted with her outburst and left her alone. Who could blame him?

  But he was standing by the terrace doors in her bedroom when she stepped out, looking out at her view of the Bay. "Thank you." She knew it was awkward, for both of them, and struggled to make the effort when he turned and stared at her. "I'm sorry—"

  "You apologize again, Sybill, you're going to piss me off." He walked toward her as he spoke, laid his hands on her shoulders. He cocked his eyebrows when she jumped. "Better," he decided, running his fingers over her shoulders and neck, "but not perfect. Lie down."

  He sighed, pulled her toward the bed. "I'm not after sex. I do have some small level of restraint, and I can call on it when I'm faced with an emotionally and physically exhausted woman. On your stomach. Come on."

  She slid onto the bed and couldn't quite muffle the moan when his fingers began to knead along her shoulder blades.

  "You're a psychologist," he reminded her. "What happens to someone who represses their feelings on a regular basis?"

  "Physically or emotionally?"

  He laughed a little, straddled her, then got seriously down to work. "I'll tell you what happens, doc. They get headaches, heartburn, stomach pains. If and when the dam breaks, it all floods out so hard and so fast that they make themselves sick."

  He tugged the robe off her shoulders and used the heels of his hands to press the muscles.

  "You're angry with me."

  "No, I'm not, Sybill. Not with you. Tell me about when Seth stayed with you."

  "It was a long time ago."

  "He was four," Phillip prompted and concentrated on the muscles that had just tensed. "You were in New York. Same place you have now?"

  "Yes. Central Park West. It's a quiet neighborhood. Safe."

  Exclusive, Phillip thought. No trendy East Village for Dr. Griffin. "Couple of bedrooms?"

  "Yes. I use the second as my office."

  He could almost see it. Tidy, organized, attractive. "I guess that's where Seth slept."

  "No, Gloria took that room. We put Seth on the living room sofa. He was just a little boy."

  "They just showed up on your doorstep one day."

  "More or less. I hadn't seen her in years. I knew about Seth. She'd called me when the man she'd married left her. I sent her money off and on. I didn't want her to come. I never said she couldn't, but I didn't want her to come. She's so… disruptive, so difficult."

  "But she did come."

  "Yes. I came back from a lecture one afternoon and she was waiting outside the building. She was furious because the doorman wouldn't let her in, wouldn't let her go up to my apartment. Seth was crying, and she was scre
aming. It was just…" She sighed. "Typical, I suppose."

  "But you let her in."

  "I couldn't just send her away. All she had was this little boy and a backpack. She begged me to let them stay for a while. She said she'd been hitchhiking. That she was broke. She started crying, and Seth just crawled onto the couch and fell asleep. He must have been exhausted."

  "How long did they stay?"

  "A few weeks." Her mind began to drift between then and now, sliding back and forth in time. "I was going to help her get a job, but she said she needed to rest first. She said she'd been sick. Then she said a truck driver in Oklahoma had raped her. I knew she was lying, but…"

  "She was your sister."

  "No, no." She said it wearily. "If I'd been honest, I would have admitted that that had stopped mattering years before. But Seth was… He hardly spoke. I didn't know anything about children, but I got a book and it indicated he should have been much more verbal."

  He nearly smiled. It was so easy to picture her selecting the proper book, studying it, trying to put everything in order.

  "He was like this little ghost," she murmured. "This little shadow in the apartment. When Gloria would go out for any length of time and leave him with me, he'd creep out a little. And the first night she didn't come home until morning, he had a nightmare."

  "And you let him sleep with you and told him a story."

  "The Frog Prince. My nanny told it to me. She liked fairy tales. He was afraid of the dark. I used to be afraid of the dark." Her voice was thick and slow with fatigue. "I used to want to sleep in my parents' bed when I was afraid, but I wasn't allowed to. But… I didn't think it would hurt him, just for a little while."

  "No." Now he could see her, a young girl with dark hair and light eyes, trembling in the dark. "It wouldn't have hurt."

  "He used to like to look at my perfume bottles. He liked the colors and the shapes. I bought him crayons. He always liked to draw pictures."

  "You got him a stuffed dog."

  "He liked to watch the dogs being walked in the park. He was so sweet when I gave it to him. He carried it around everywhere. He slept with it."

  "You fell in love with him."

  "I loved him so much. I don't know how it happened. It was only a few weeks."

  "Time doesn't always factor in." He skimmed her hair back so he could see her profile. The curve of her cheek, the angle of her brow. "It doesn't always play a part."

  "It's supposed to, but it didn't. I didn't care that she took my things. I didn't care that she stole from me when she left. But she took him. She didn't even let me say good-bye to him. She took him, and she left his little dog because she knew it would hurt me. She knew I would think about him crying for it at night, and worry. So I had to stop. I had to stop thinking about it. I had to stop thinking about him."

  "It's all right. That part's all over now." He stroked gently, nudging her closer to sleep. "She won't hurt Seth anymore. Or you."

  "I was stupid."

  "No, you weren't." He stroked her neck, her shoulders, felt her body rise and fall on a long, long sigh. "Go to sleep."

  "Don't go."

  "No, I'm not." He frowned at how fragile the nape of her neck looked under his fingers. "I'm not going anywhere."

  And that was a problem, he realized as he smoothed his hands down her arms, over her back. He wanted to stay with her, to be with her. He wanted to watch her sleep just the way she was sleeping now, deep and still. He wanted to be the one who held her when she cried, for he doubted that she cried often, or that she had anyone to hold her when she did.

  He wanted to watch those quiet lake eyes of hers go bright with laughter, that lovely, soft mouth curve with it. He could spend hours listening to the way her voice changed tones, from warm amusement to prim formality to earnestness.

  He liked the way she looked in the morning, vaguely surprised to see him beside her. And at night, with pleasure and passion flickering over her face.

  She hadn't a clue how revealing that face was, he thought, as he tugged down the covers, shifting her until he could spread them over her. Oh, it was subtle, like her scent. A man had to get close, very close, before he understood. But he'd gotten close, very close, without either of them realizing it.

  And he'd seen the way she'd watched his family, with wistfulness, with yearning.

  Always staying a step back, always the observer.

  And he'd seen the way she'd watched Seth. With love, and with longing, and again from a distance.

  So as not to intrude? To protect herself? He thought it was a combination of both. He wasn't quite sure exactly what went on in her heart, in her mind. But he was determined to find out.

  "I think I might be in love with you, Sybill." He said it quietly as he stretched out beside her. "Damn if that doesn't complicate things for both of us."

  she woke in the dark, and for a moment, just a flash, she was a child again and afraid of all those things that lurked in the shadows. She had to press her lips together, very hard, until it hurt. Because if she cried out one of the servants would hear and might tell her mother. Her mother would be annoyed. Her mother wouldn't like it that she'd cried about the dark again.

  Then she remembered. She wasn't a child. There was nothing lurking in the shadows but more shadows. She was a grown woman who knew it was foolish to be afraid of the dark when there was so much else to fear.

  Oh, she'd made a fool of herself, she thought, as more memories slipped through. A terrible fool of herself. Letting herself become upset that way. Worse, letting it show until she'd had no control, none whatsoever. Instead of maintaining her composure, she'd rushed out of the house like an idiot.

  Inexcusable.

  Then she'd cried all over Phillip. Wept like a baby right in the front yard as if she'd…

  Phillip.

  Mortification had her moaning aloud, covering her face with her hands. She sucked in a gasp when an arm came around her.

  "Ssh."

  She recognized his touch, his scent even before he drew her against him. Before his mouth brushed her temple, before his body fit comfortingly to hers.

  "It's all right," he murmured.

  "I—I thought you'd gone."

  "I said I'd stay." He slitted his eyes open, scanned the dull red glow of the bedside alarm. "Three A.M. hotel time. Should have figured it."

  "I didn't mean to wake you." As her eyes grew accustomed to the dark, she could make out the sweep of his cheekbone, the ridge of his nose, the shape of his mouth. Her fingers itched to touch.

  "When I wake up in the middle of the night in bed with a beautiful woman, it's hard to mind."

  She smiled, relieved that he wasn't going to press her about her earlier behavior. It could just be the two of them now. No yesterday to mourn over, no tomorrow to worry about.

  "I imagine you've had a lot of practice."

  "Some things you want to get just right."

  His voice was so warm, his arm so strong, his body so firm. "When you wake up in the middle of the night in bed with a woman, and she wants to seduce you, do you mind?"

  "Hardly ever."

  "Well, if you wouldn't mind…" She shifted, slid her body over his, found his lips with her lips, his tongue with her tongue.

  "I'll let you know as soon as I start to mind."

  Her laugh was low and warm. Gratitude moved through her, for what he'd done for her, what he'd come to be to her. She wanted so badly to show him.

  It was dark. She could be anything she wanted to be in the dark.

  "Maybe I won't stop if you do."

  "Threats?" He was every bit as surprised, and aroused, by the teasing purr of her voice as he was by the deliberate, circling trail of her fingertips down his body. "You don't scare me."

  "I can." She began to follow the trail with her mouth. "I will."

  "Give it your best shot. Jesus." His eyes all but crossed. "Bull's-eye."

  She laughed again and lapped at him like a cat. When his bod
y quivered, and his breathing grew thick and ragged, she scraped her nails slowly up his sides and down again.

  What a wonder the male form was, she thought, dreamily exploring it. Hard, smooth, the planes and angles so perfectly fashioned to mate with woman. With her.

  Silky here, then rough. Firm, then yielding. She could make him want and ache just as he made her want and ache. She could give, she could take just as he did and all the wonderful and wicked things people did in the dark, she could do.

  He'd go mad if she continued. He'd die if she stopped. Her mouth was hot and restless, and everywhere. Those elegant fingers had the blood raging through his veins. As their flesh grew damp, her body slipped and slid over his, a pale silhouette in the dark.

  She was any woman. The only woman. He craved her like life.

  Dreamlike, she rose up over him, shrugging out of her robe, arching her back, shaking her hair back. What soared through her now was freedom. Power. Lust. Her eyes gleamed, catlike against the dark, bewitching him.

  She lowered herself, taking him inside her slowly, dimly aware of what effort it cost him to allow her to set the pace. Her breath caught, released on a moaning sigh of pleasure.

  Caught again, released again when his hands captured her breasts, squeezed, possessed.

  She rocked, small movements, torturously slow, arousing herself with the power. And kept her eyes on his. He shuddered beneath her, his muscles bunched, his body tight between her thighs. Strong, she thought, he was so strong. Strong enough to let her take him as she chose.

  She skimmed her hands over his chest, then lowered. Her hair curtained their faces as her mouth closed hard over his. A tangle of tongues and teeth and breath.

  The orgasm rolled through her like a wave, growing, building, then sweeping her up and over. She reared back with it, body bowing, and rode it out.

  Then she rode him.

  He gripped her hips, his fingers digging in as she surged over him. All reckless speed and clashing light now, all heat and greed. His mind emptied, his lungs screamed, and his body climbed desperately toward release.

  When he found it, it was brutal and brilliant.

  She seemed to melt over him, her body as soft and hot and fluid as a pool of liquid wax. Her heart thudded hard against the frantic beat of his own. He couldn't speak, couldn't find the air to push the words free. But the ones that shimmered on his tongue were three that he'd been careful never to say to a woman.

  Triumph still glowed inside her. She stretched, lazy and satisfied as a cat, then curled herself against him. "That," she said sleepily, "was exactly right."

  "What?"

  She chuckled softly and ended on a yawn. "I may not have scared you, but I fried your brain."

  "No question." A sex-scrambled brain. Men who started thinking about love, much less bringing the word up when they were hot and naked and wrapped around a woman, just got themselves in trouble.

  "First time I ever liked waking up at three A.M." Already half asleep, she pillowed her head on his shoulder. She shifted. "Cold," she muttered.

  He reached down and tugged up the tangled sheets and blankets. She nipped an edge with her fingers, pulled them up to her chin.

  For the second time in one night, Phillip lay awake, staring at the ceiling
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