Sullivans woman, p.5
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       Sullivan's Woman, p.5
 

           Nora Roberts
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  “Oh, but you do.” His free hand tangled in her hair and found the base of her neck. “You threw down the gauntlet the night I found you in the fog. I think it’s time I picked it up.”

  “You’re being ridiculous.” Cassidy spoke quickly. She realized her temper had carried her into territory she would have been wise to avoid. As she began to speak again, he caught her bottom lip between his teeth. The movement was sudden, the pressure light, the effect devastating.

  Though she made a tiny sound of confused protest, her fingers clutched at his shirt instead of pushing him away. The tip of his tongue traced her lip as if experimenting with its flavor. When he released it, she stood still. Her eyes locked with his.

  “This time when I kiss you, Cass, it’s to pleasure myself,” he said as his mouth lowered to take hers. Knowing he would meet no resistance, he circled her waist to mold her against him. Cassidy responded as if she’d been waiting for the moment all of her life. Her body seemed to know his already and fitted its soft, subtle curves to his firm, taut lines. Her hands traveled from his neck to tangle in his hair, while her mouth grew more mobile under his. For one brief instant, he crushed her to him with staggering force, ravishing her conquered mouth. Just as swiftly, her lips were freed. Her breath came out in a quick rush as she gripped him for balance. He held her close, keeping their bodies as one, his eyes boring into hers. Only the sound of their mixed breathing disturbed the silence.

  The weakness Cassidy felt was a shock to her. Her knees trembled beneath her and she shook her head in a quick attempt to deny what he had awakened. Something deep and secret was struggling for release. The strength of it alarmed and fascinated her. Still, her fear outweighed her curiosity. Instinct warned her it was not yet time. Even as she found the will to draw away, Colin pulled her closer.

  “No, Colin, I can’t.” She swallowed as her hands pushed against his chest. She watched his eyes darken as his lips lingered just over hers.

  “I can,” he murmured, then crushed her mouth. She swirled back into the storm.

  Nothing in her experience had ever prepared her for the new demands of her own body. With innocent allure, she moaned against his mouth. She felt his lips move against hers as he murmured something. Then he plundered, pulling her down into a world of heat and darkness. A quickening fear rose with her passion. When he released her mouth, her breath came in short gasps. Her eyes clouded with desire and confusion.

  “Please, Colin, let me go. I think I’m frightened.”

  He was capable of taking her, she knew, and of making her glad that he had. His eyes were blazing blue, and she kept hers locked on them. To let her eyes drift to his mouth would have been her downfall. The fingers at her neck tightened, then relaxed and dropped away. Seizing the moment, Cassidy stepped back. The narrowness of her escape shook her, and she dragged her hand through her hair.

  Colin watched her, then folded his arms across his chest. “I wonder if you had more difficulty fighting yourself or me.”

  “So do I,” Cassidy replied with impulsive candor.

  He tilted his head at her response and studied her. “You’re an honest one, Cassidy. Mind how honest you are with me; I’d have few qualms about taking advantage.”

  “No, I’m sure you wouldn’t.” After blowing out a long breath, Cassidy straightened her shoulders. “I don’t suppose that could have been avoided forever,” she began practically. “But now that it hasn’t been, and it’s done, it shouldn’t happen again.” Her brow furrowed as Colin tossed back his head and roared with laughter. “Did I say something funny?”

  “Cass, you’re unique.” Before she could respond, he had moved to her and had taken her shoulders in his hands. He kneaded them quickly in a friendly manner. “That streak of British practicality will always war with the passionate Celt.”

  “You’re romanticizing,” she claimed and lifted her chin.

  “The door’s been opened, Cassidy.” She frowned because his words reminded her of her earlier thoughts. “Better for you perhaps if we’d kept it locked.” He shook her once, rapidly. “Yes, it’s done. The door won’t stay closed now. It’ll happen again.” He released her, then stepped back, but their eyes remained joined. “Go on now, while I’m remembering you were frightened.”

  The strong temptation to step toward him alarmed her. In defense against it, she turned swiftly for the door. “Nine o’clock,” he said, and she turned with her hand on the knob.

  He stood in the room’s center, his thumbs hooked in his front pockets. The sun fell through the skylight, silhouetting his dark attraction. It occurred to Cassidy that if she were wise, she would walk out and never come back.

  “Not a coward, are you, Cass?” he taunted softly, as if stealing her thoughts from her brain.

  Cassidy tossed her head and snapped her spine straight. “Nine o’clock,” she stated coolly, then slammed the door behind her.

  Chapter 4

  As the days passed, Cassidy found herself more at ease in the role of artist’s model. As for Colin himself, she felt it would be a rare thing for anyone to remain relaxed with him. His temperament was mercurial, with a wide range of degrees. Fury came easily to him, but Cassidy learned humor did as well. As she began to uncover different layers of the man, he became more fascinating.

  She justified her concentrated study of Colin Sullivan as a writer’s privilege. It was a personality like his—varied, unpredictable, bold—that she needed as grist for her profession. There was nothing between them, she told herself regularly, but an artistic exchange. She reminded herself that he hadn’t touched her again, except to set the pose, since the first day he had begun work on the canvas. The stormy kiss was a vivid memory, but only that . . . a memory.

  Sitting at her typewriter in her apartment, Cassidy told herself she was fortunate—fortunate to have a job that kept the wolf from the door, and fortunate that Colin Sullivan was absorbed in his work. Cassidy was honest enough to admit she was more than mildly attracted to him. It was much better, she mused, that he was capable of pouring himself into his work to the extent that he barely noticed she was flesh and blood. Unless I move the pose. She frowned at the reflection of her desk lamp in the window.

  Being attracted to him is perfectly natural, she decided. I’m not behaving like my predecessor with the milky skin and falling in love with him. I’m much too sensible. Don’t be so smug, a voice whispered inside her head. Cassidy’s frown became a scowl. I am sensible. I won’t make a fool of myself over Colin Sullivan. He has his art and his Gail Kingsley. I have my work. Cassidy glanced down at the blank sheet of paper in her typewriter and sighed. But he keeps interfering with it. No more, she vowed, then shifted in her seat until she was comfortably settled. I’m going to finish this chapter tonight without another thought of Sullivan.

  At once the keys on her typewriter began to clatter with the movement of her thoughts. Once begun, she became totally involved, lost in the characters of her own devising. The love scene developed on her pages as she unconsciously called on her own feelings for her words. The scene moved with the same lightning speed as had the embrace with Colin. Now Cassidy was in control, urging her characters toward each other, propelling their destinies. It was as she wanted, as she planned, and she never noticed the influence of the man she had vowed to think no more about. The scene was nearly finished when a knock sounded on her door. She swore in annoyance.

  “Who is it?” she called out and stopped typing in midsentence. She found it simpler to pick up her thoughts when returning to them that way.

  “Hey, Cassidy.” Jeff Mullans stuck his friendly, red-bearded face through her door. “Got a minute?”

  Because he was her neighbor and she was fond of him, Cassidy pushed away the urge to sigh and smiled instead. “Sure.”

  He eased himself, a guitar, and a six-pack of beer through the door. “Can I put some stuff in your fridge? Mine’s busted again. It’s like the Mojave Desert in there.”

  “Go ahead.” Cassidy
spun her chair until she faced him, then quirked her brow. “I see you brought all your valuables. I didn’t know your six-string needed refrigeration.”

  “Just the six-pack,” he countered with a grin as he marched back into her tiny kitchen. “And you’re the only one in the building I’d trust with it. Wow, Cassidy, don’t you believe in real food? All that’s in here’s a quart of juice, two carrots, and half a stick of oleo.”

  “Is nothing sacred?”

  “Come next door and I’ll fix you up with a decent meal.” Jeff came back into the room holding only his guitar. “I got tacos and stale doughnuts. Jelly-filled.”

  “It sounds marvelous, but I really have to finish this chapter.”

  Jeff’s fingers pawed at his beard. “Don’t know what you’re missing. Heard anything from New York?” After glancing at the papers scattered over her desk, he settled Indian-fashion on the floor. He cradled his guitar in his lap.

  “There seems to be a conspiracy of silence on the East Coast.” Cassidy sighed, shrugged, and tucked up her feet. “It’s early days yet, I know, but patience isn’t my strong suit.”

  “You’ll make it, Cassidy, you’ve got something.” He began to strum idly as he spoke. His music was simple and soothing. “Something that makes the people you write about important. If your novel is as good as that magazine story, you’re on your way.”

  Cassidy smiled, touched by the easy sincerity of the compliment. “You wouldn’t like to apply for a job as an editor in a New York publishing house, would you?”

  “You don’t need me, babe.” He grinned and shook back his red hair. “Besides, I’m an up-and-coming songwriter and star performer.”

  “I’ve heard that.” Cassidy leaned back in her chair. It occurred to her suddenly that Colin might like to paint Jeff Mullans. He’d be the perfect subject for him—the blinding red hair and beard, the soft contrast of gray eyes, the loving way the long hands caressed the guitar as he sat on her wicker rug. Yes, Colin would paint him precisely like this, she decided, in faded, frayed jeans with a polished guitar on his lap.

  “Cassidy?”

  “Sorry, I took a side trip. Have you got any gigs lined up?”

  “Two next week. What about your gig with the artist?” Jeff tightened his bass string fractionally, tested it, then continued to play. “I’ve seen his stuff . . . some of it, anyway. It’s incredible.” He tilted his head when he smiled at her. “How does it feel to be put on canvas by one of the new masters?”

  “It’s an odd feeling, Jeff. I’ve tried to pin it down, but . . .” She trailed off and brought her knees up, resting her heels on the edge of the chair. “I’m never certain it’s me he’s seeing when he’s working. I’m not certain I’ll see myself in the finished portrait.” She frowned, then shrugged it away. “Maybe he’s only using part of me, the way I use parts of people I’ve met in characterizations.”

  “What’s he like?” Jeff asked, watching her eyes drift with her thoughts. The glow of her desk lamp threw an aura around her head.

  “He’s fascinating,” she murmured, all but forgetting she was speaking aloud. “He looks like a pirate, all dashing and dangerous with the most incredible blue eyes I’ve ever seen. And his hands are beautiful. There’s no other word for them; they’re perfectly beautiful.”

  Her voice softened, and her eyes began to dream. “He exudes a thoughtless sort of sensuality. It seems more obvious when he’s working. I suppose it’s because he’s being driven by his own power then, and is somehow separate from the rest of us. He tells me to talk, and I talk about whatever comes into my head.” She moved her shoulders, then rested her chin on her knees. “But I don’t know if he hears me. He has a dreadful temper, and when he rages his speech slips back to Ireland. It’s almost worth the storm to hear it. He’s outrageously selfish and unbearably arrogant and utterly charming. Each time I’m with him I find a bit more, uncover another layer, and yet I doubt I’d really know him if I had years to learn.”

  There was silence for a moment, with only Jeff’s music. “You’re really hung up on him,” he observed.

  Cassidy snapped back with a jolt. Her violet eyes widened in surprise as she straightened in the chair. “Why, no, of course not. I’m simply . . . simply . . .” Simply what, Cassidy? she demanded of herself. “Simply interested in what makes him the way he is,” she answered and hugged her knees. “That’s all.”

  “Okay, babe, you know best.” Jeff stood in an easy fluid motion, the guitar merely an extension of his arm. “Just watch out.” He smiled, leaned over and cupped her chin. “He might be a great artist, but if the gossip columns are to be believed, he’s very much a man, too. You’re a fine-looking lady, and you might as well be fresh from the farm.”

  “I’d hardly call four years at Berkeley fresh from the farm,” Cassidy countered.

  “Only someone utterly naive could evade every pass I make and still make me like her.” Jeff closed the distance and gave her a gentle invitation of a kiss. It was as pleasant and as soothing as his music. Cassidy’s heartbeat stayed steady. “No dice, huh?” he asked when he lifted his head. “Think of the rent we could save if we moved in together.”

  Cassidy tugged on his beard. “You’re only lusting after my refrigerator.”

  “A lot you know,” he scoffed and headed for the door. “I’m going home to write something painfully sad and poignant.”

  “Good grief, I’m always inspiring someone these days.”

  “Don’t get cocky,” Jeff advised, then closed the door behind him.

  Cassidy’s smile faded as she stared off into space. Hung up on, she repeated mentally. What a silly phrase. In any case, I’m not hung up on Colin. Can’t a woman express an interest in a man without someone reading more into it? Thoughtfully she ran her fingertip over her bottom lip and brought back the feel of Jeff’s kiss. Easy, undisturbing, painless. What sort of chemistry made one man’s kiss pleasant and another’s exhilarating? The smart woman would go for the pleasant, Cassidy decided, knowing Jeff would be basically kind and gentle. Only an idiot would want a man who was bound to bring hurt and heartache.

  With a quick shake of her head she swung back to her typewriter and began to work. Her fingers had barely begun to transfer her thoughts when a knock sounded again. Cassidy rolled her eyes to the ceiling.

  “You can’t possibly be finished writing a painfully sad and poignant song,” she called out and continued to type. “And the beer certainly isn’t cold yet.”

  “I can’t argue with either of those statements.”

  Cassidy spun her chair quickly and stared at Colin. He stood in her opened doorway, negligently leaning against the jamb and watching her. There was light amusement on his face and male appreciation in his eyes as they roamed over her skin. It was scantily covered in brief shorts and a T-shirt that had shrunk in the basement laundry. His lazy survey brought out a blush before she found her tongue.

  “What are you doing here?”

  “Enjoying the view,” he answered and stepped inside. He closed the door at his back, then lifted a brow. “Don’t you know better than to keep your door unlatched?”

  “I’m always losing my key and locking myself out, so I . . .” Cassidy stopped because she realized how ridiculous she sounded. One day, she promised herself, I’ll learn to think before I speak. “There isn’t anything in here worth stealing,” she said.

  Colin shook his head. “How wrong you are. Wear your key around your neck, Cass, but keep your door locked.” Her brain formed an indignant retort, but before she could vocalize it he spoke again. “Who did you think I was when I knocked?”

  “A songwriter with a faulty refrigerator. How did you know where I lived?”

  “Your address is on your manuscript.” He gestured with the thick envelope before setting it down.

  Cassidy glanced at the familiar bundle with some surprise. She had assumed Colin had forgotten her manuscript as soon as she’d given it to him. Suddenly it occurred to her why she ha
dn’t asked him before if he had read it, or what he’d thought of it. His criticism would be infinitely harder to bear than an impersonal rejection slip from a faceless editor. Abruptly nervous, she looked up at him. Any critique she was expecting wasn’t forthcoming.

  Colin wandered the room, toying with an arrangement of dried flowers, examining a snapshot in a silver frame, peering out the window at her view of the city.

  “Can I get you something?” she asked automatically, then remembered Jeff’s inventory of her refrigerator. She bit her lip. “Coffee,” she added quickly, knowing she could provide it as long as he took it black.

  Colin turned from the window and began to wander again. “You have a proper eye for color, Cass,” he told her. “And an enviable way of making a home from an apartment. I’ve always found them soulless devices, lacking in privacy and character.” He lifted a small mirror framed with seashells. “Fisherman’s Wharf,” he concluded and glanced at her. “It must be a particular haunt of yours.”

  “Yes, I suppose. I love the city in general and that part of it in particular.” She smiled as she thought of it. “There’s so much life there. The boats are all crammed in beside each other, and I like to imagine where they’ve been or where they’re going.” As soon as the words were spoken Cassidy felt foolish. They sounded romantic when she had been taking great pains to prove to Colin she was not. He smiled at her, and her embarrassment became something more dangerous. “I’ll make coffee,” she said quickly and started to rise.

  “No, don’t bother.” Colin laid a hand on her shoulder to keep her seated, then glanced at her desk. It was cluttered with papers and notes and reference books. “I’m interrupting your work. Intolerable.”

  “It seems to be the popular thing to do tonight.” Cassidy shook off her discomfort and smiled as he continued to pace the room. “It’s all right because I was nearly done; otherwise I suppose I’d behave as rudely as you do when you’re interrupted.” She enjoyed the look he gave her, the ironical lift of his brow, the light tilt of a smile on his mouth.

  “And how rudely is that?”

  “Abominably. Please sit, Colin. These floors are thin, you’ll wear them through.” She gestured to a chair, but he perched on the edge of her desk.

  “I finished your book tonight.”

 
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