The law is a lady, p.6
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       The Law is a Lady, p.6

           Nora Roberts
 
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  The wise thing to do, she mused, was to develop the same attitude toward Phil Kincaid. Their paths weren’t likely to cross again. She had purposely absented herself from town for a few hours to avoid him. Tory made a face at the admission. No, she didn’t want to see him again. He was trouble. It was entirely too easy for him to be charming when he put his mind to it. And she was wise enough to recognize determination when she saw it. For whatever reason—pique or attraction—he wanted her. He wouldn’t be an easy man to handle. Under most circumstances Tory might have enjoyed pitting her will against his, but something warned her not to press her luck.

  “The sooner he’s back in Tinseltown, the better,” she muttered, then pressed her heels against the horse’s sides. They were off at a full gallop.

  ***

  Phil pulled his car to a halt beside the corral and glanced around. A short distance to the right was a small white-framed house. It was a very simple structure, two stories high with a wide wooden porch. On the side was a clothesline with a few things baking dry in the sun. There were a few spots of color from flowers in pottery pots on either side of the steps. The grass was short and parched. One of the window screens was torn. In the background he could see a few outbuildings and what appeared to be the beginnings of a vegetable garden. Tory’s sheriff’s car was parked in front, freshly washed but already coated with a thin film of dust.

  Something about the place appealed to him. It was isolated and quiet. Without the car in front, it might fit into any time frame in the past century. There had been some efforts to keep it neat, but it would never be prosperous. He would consider it more a homestead than a ranch. With the right lighting, he mused, it could be very effective. Climbing out of the car, Phil moved to the right to study it from a different angle. When he heard the low drum of hoofs, he turned and watched Tory approach.

  He forgot the house immediately and swore at his lack of a camera. She was perfect. Under the merciless sun she rode a palamino the shade of new gold. Nothing could have been a better contrast for a woman of her coloring. With her hat again at her back, her hair flew freely. She sat straight, her movements in perfect timing with the horse’s. Phil narrowed his eyes and saw them in slow motion. That was how he would film it—with her hair lifting, holding for a moment before it fell again. The dust would hang in the air behind them. The horse’s strong legs would fold and unfold so that the viewer could see each muscle work. This was strength and beauty and a mastery of rider over horse. He wished he could see her hands holding the reins.

  He knew the moment she became aware of him. The rhythm never faltered, but there was a sudden tension in the set of her shoulders. It made him smile. No, we’re not through yet, he thought to himself. Not nearly through. Leaning against the corral fence, he waited for her.

  Tory brought the palamino to a stop with a quick tug of reins. Remaining in the saddle, she gave Phil a long, silent look. Casually he took sunglasses out of his pocket and slipped them on. The gesture annoyed her. “Kincaid,” she said coolly.

  “Sheriff,” he returned.

  “Is there a problem?”

  He smiled slowly. “I don’t think so.”

  Tory tossed her hair behind her shoulder, trying to disguise the annoyance she felt at finding him there. “I thought you’d be halfway to L.A. by now.”

  “Did you?”

  With a sound of impatience she dismounted. The saddle creaked with the movement as she brought one slim leg over it, then vaulted lightly to the ground. Keeping the reins in her hand, she studied him a moment. “I assume your fine’s been paid. You know the other charges were dropped.”

  “Yes.”

  She tilted her head. “Well?”

  “Well,” he returned amiably, amused at the temper that shot into her eyes. Yes, I’m getting to you, Victoria, he thought, and I haven’t even started yet.

  Deliberately she turned away to uncinch the saddle. “Has Mr. Sherman gone?”

  “No, he’s discussing flies and lures with the mayor.” Phil grinned. “Lou found a fishing soulmate.”

  “I see.” Tory hefted the saddle from the palamino, then set it on the fence. “Then you discussed your business with the mayor this morning.”

  “We came to an amicable agreement,” Phil replied, watching as she slipped the bit from the horse’s mouth. “He’ll give you the details.”

  Without speaking, Tory gave the horse a slap on the flank, sending him inside the corral. The gate gave a long creak as she shut it. She turned then to face Phil directly. “Why should he?”

  “You’ll want to know the schedule and so forth before the filming starts.”

  Her brows drew together. “I beg your pardon.”

  “I came to New Mexico scouting out a location for my new movie. I needed a tired little town in the middle of nowhere.”

  Tory studied him for a full ten seconds. “And you found it,” she said flatly.

  “Thanks to you.” He smiled, appreciating the irony. “We’ll start next month.”

  Sticking her hands in her back pockets, Tory turned to walk a short distance away. “Wouldn’t it be simpler to shoot in a studio or in a lot?”

  “No.”

  At his flat answer she turned back again. “I don’t like it.”

  “I didn’t think you would.” He moved over to join her. “But you’re going to live with it for the better part of the summer.”

  “You’re going to bring your cameras and your people and your confusion into town,” she began angrily. “Friendly runs at its own pace. Now you want to bring in a lifestyle most of these people can’t even imagine.”

  “We’ll give very sedate orgies, Sheriff,” he promised with a grin. He laughed at the fury that leaped to her eyes. “Tory, you’re not a fool. We’re not coming to party, we’re coming to work. Keep an actor out in this sun for ten takes, he’s not going to be disturbing the peace at night. He’s going to be unconscious.” He caught a strand of her hair and twisted it around his finger. “Or do you believe everything you read in Inside Scoop?”

  She swiped his hand away in an irritated gesture. “I know more about Hollywood than you know about Friendly,” she retorted. “I’ve spent some time in L.A., represented a screenwriter in an assault case. Got him off,” she added wryly. “A few years ago I dated an actor, went to a few parties when I was on the coast.” She shook her head, “The gossip magazines might exaggerate, Phil, but the values and lifestyle come through loud and clear.”

  He lifted a brow. “Judgmental, Tory?”

  “Maybe,” she agreed. “But this is my town. I’m responsible for the people and for the peace. If you go ahead with this, I warn you, one of your people gets out of line, he goes to jail.”

  His eyes narrowed. “We have our own security.”

  “Your security answers to me in my town,” she tossed back. “Remember it.”

  “Not going to cooperate, are you?”

  “Not any more than I have to.”

  For a moment they stood measuring each other in silence. Behind them the palamino paced restlessly around the corral. A fleeting, precious breeze came up to stir the heat and dust. “All right,” Phil said at length, “let’s say you stay out of my way, I’ll stay out of yours.”

  “Perfect,” Tory agreed, and started to walk away. Phil caught her arm.

  “That’s professionally,” he added.

  As she had in his cell, Tory gave the hand on her arm a long look before she raised her eyes to his. This time Phil smiled.

  “You’re not wearing your badge now, Tory.” Reaching up, he drew off his sunglasses, then hooked them over the corral fence. “And we’re not finished.”

  “Kincaid—”

  “Phil,” he corrected, drawing her deliberately into his arms. “I thought of you last night when I was lying in that damned cell. I promised myself something.”

  Tory stiffened. Her palms pressed against his chest, but she didn’t struggle. Physically he was stronger, she reasoned. She had t
o rely on her wits. “Your thoughts and your promises aren’t my problem;” she replied coolly. “Whether I’m wearing my badge or not, I’m still sheriff, and you’re annoying me. I can be mean when I’m annoyed.”

  “I’ll just bet you can be,” he murmured. Even had he wanted to, he couldn’t prevent his eyes from lingering on her mouth. “I’m going to have you, Victoria,” he said softly. “Sooner or later.” Slowly he brought his eyes back to hers. “I always keep my promises.”

  “I believe I have something to say about this one.”

  His smile was confident. “Say no,” he whispered before his mouth touched hers. She started to jerk back, but he was quick. His hand cupped the back of her head and kept her still. His mouth was soft and persuasive. Long before the stiffness left her, he felt the pounding of her heart against his. Patiently he rubbed his lips over hers, teasing, nibbling. Tory let out an unsteady breath as her fingers curled into his shirt.

  He smelled of soap, a fragrance that was clean and sharp. Unconsciously she breathed it in as he drew her closer. Her arms had found their way around his neck. Her body was straining against his, no longer stiff but eager. The mindless pleasure was back, and she surrendered to it. She heard his quiet moan before his lips left hers, but before she could protest, he pressed them to her throat. He was murmuring something neither of them understood as his mouth began to explore. The desperation came suddenly, as if it had been waiting to take them both unaware. His mouth was back on hers with a quick savageness that she anticipated.

  She felt the scrape of his teeth and answered by nipping into his bottom lip. The hands at her hips dragged her closer, tormenting both of them. Passion flowed between them so acutely that avid, seeking lips weren’t enough. He ran his hands up her sides, letting his thumbs find their way between their clinging bodies to stroke her breasts. She responded by diving deep into his mouth and demanding more.

  Tory felt everything with impossible clarity: the soft, thin material of her shirt rubbing against the straining points of her breasts as his thumbs pressed against her; the heat of his mouth as it roamed wildly over her face, then back to hers; the vibration of two heartbeats.

  He hadn’t expected to feel this degree of need. Attraction and challenge, but not pain. It wasn’t what he had planned—it wasn’t what he wanted, and yet, he couldn’t stop. She was filling his mind, crowding his senses. Her hair was too soft, her scent too alluring. And her taste . . . her taste too exotic. Greedily, he devoured her while her passion drove him farther into her.

  He knew he had to back away, but he lingered a moment longer. Her body was so sleek and lean, her mouth so incredibly agile. Phil allowed himself to stroke her once more, one last bruising contact of lips before he dragged himself away.

  They were both shaken and both equally determined not to admit it. Tory felt her pulse hammering at every point in her body. Because her knees were trembling, she stood very straight. Phil waited a moment, wanting to be certain he could speak. Reaching over, he retrieved his sunglasses and put them back on. They were some defense; a better one was to put some distance between them until he found his control.

  “You didn’t say no,” he commented.

  Tory stared at him, warning herself not to think until later. “I didn’t say yes,” she countered.

  He smiled. “Oh, yes,” he corrected, “you did. I’ll be back,” he added before he strode to his car.

  Driving away, he glanced in his rearview mirror to see her standing where he had left her. As he punched in his cigarette lighter he saw his hand was shaking. Round three, he thought on a long breath, was a draw.

  Chapter 4

  Tory stood exactly where she was until even the dust kicked up by Phil’s tires had settled. She had thought she knew the meaning of passion, need, excitement. Suddenly the words had taken on a new meaning. For the first time in her life she had been seized by something that her mind couldn’t control. The hunger had been so acute, so unexpected. It throbbed through her still, like an ache, as she stared down the long flat road, which was now deserted. How was it possible to need so badly, so quickly? And how was it, she wondered, that a woman who had always handled men with such casual ease could be completely undone by a kiss?

  Tory shook her head and made herself turn away from the road Phil had taken. None of it was characteristic. It was almost as if she had been someone else for a moment—someone whose strength and weakness could be drawn out and manipulated. And yet, even now, when she had herself under control, there was something inside her fighting to be recognized. She was going to have to take some time and think about this carefully.

  Hoisting the saddle, Tory carried it toward the barn. I’ll be back. Phil’s last words echoed in her ears and sent an odd thrill over her skin. Scowling, Tory pushed open the barn door. It was cooler inside, permeated with the pungent scent of animals and hay. It was a scent of her childhood, one she barely noticed even when returning after months away from it. It never occurred to her to puzzle over why she was as completely at home there as she was in a tense courtroom or at a sophisticated party. After replacing the tack, she paced the concrete floor a moment and began to dissect the problem.

  Phil Kincaid was the problem; the offshoots were her strong attraction to him, his effect on her, and the fact that he was coming back. The attraction, Tory decided, was unprecedented but not astonishing. He was appealing, intelligent, fun. Even his faults had a certain charm. If they had met under different circumstances, she could imagine them getting to know each other slowly, dating perhaps, enjoying a congenial relationship. Part of the spark, she mused, was due to the way they had met, and the fact that each was determined not to be outdone by the other. That made sense, she concluded, feeling better.

  And if that made sense, she went on, it followed that his effect on her was intensified by circumstances. Logic was comfortable, so Tory pursued it. There was something undeniably attractive about a man who wouldn’t take no for an answer. It might be annoying, even infuriating, but it was still exciting. Beneath the sheriff’s badge and behind the Harvard diploma, Tory was a woman first and last. It didn’t hurt when a man knew how to kiss the way Phil Kincaid knew how to kiss, she added wryly. Unable to resist, Tory ran the tip of her tongue over her lips. Oh, yes, she thought with a quick smile, the man was some terrific kisser.

  Vaguely annoyed with herself, Tory wandered from the barn. The sun made her wince in defense as she headed for the house. Unconsciously killing time, she poked inside the henhouse. The hens were sleeping in the heat of the afternoon, their heads tucked under their wings. Tory left them alone, knowing her mother had gathered the eggs that morning.

  The problem now was that he was coming back. She was going to have to deal with him—and with his own little slice of Hollywood, she added with a frown. At the moment Tory wasn’t certain which disturbed her more. Damn, but she wished she’d known of Phil’s plans. If she could have gotten to the mayor first . . . Tory stopped herself with a self-deprecating laugh. She would have changed absolutely nothing. As mayor, Bud Toomey would eat up the prestige of having a major film shot in his town. And as the owner of the one and only hotel, he must have heard the dollars clinking in his cash register.

  Who could blame him? Tory asked herself. Her objections were probably more personal than professional in any case. The actor she had dated had been successful and slick, an experienced womanizer and hedonist. She knew too many of her prejudices lay at his feet. She’d been very young when he’d shown her Hollywood from his vantage point. But even without that, she reasoned, there was the disruption the filming would bring to Friendly, the effect on the townspeople and the very real possibility of property damage. As sheriff, all of it fell to her jurisdiction.

  What would her father have done? she wondered as she stepped into the house. As always, the moment she was inside, memories of him assailed her—his big, booming voice, his laughter, his simple, man-of-the-earth logic. To Tory his presence was an intimate part of everyth
ing in the house, down to the hassock where he had habitually rested his feet after a long day.

  The house was her mother’s doing. There were the clean white walls in the living room, the sofa that had been re-covered again and again—this time it wore a tidy floral print. The rugs were straight and clean, the pictures carefully aligned. Even they had been chosen to blend in rather than to accent. Her mother’s collection of cacti sat on the windowsill. The fragrance of a potpourri, her mother’s mixture, wafted comfortably in the air. The floors and furniture were painstakingly clean, magazines neatly tucked away. A single geranium stood in a slender vase on a crocheted doily. All her mother’s doing; yet, it was her father Tory thought of when she entered her childhood home. It always was.

  But her father wouldn’t come striding down the steps again. He wouldn’t catch her to him for one of his bear hugs and noisy kisses. He’d been too young to die, Tory thought as she gazed around the room as though she were a stranger. Strokes were for old men, feeble men, not strapping men in their prime. There was no justice to it, she thought with the same impotent fury that hit her each time she came back. No justice for a man who had dedicated his life to justice. He should have had more time, might have had more time, if . . . Her thoughts broke off as she heard the quiet sounds coming from the kitchen.

  Tory pushed away the pain. It was difficult enough to see her mother without remembering that last night in the hospital. She gave herself an extra moment to settle before she crossed to the kitchen.

  Standing in the doorway, she watched as Helen relined the shelves in the kitchen cabinets. Her mother’s consistent tidiness had been a sore point between them since Tory had been a girl. The woman she watched was tiny and blonde, a youthful-looking fifty, with ladylike hands and a trim pink housedress. Tory knew the dress had been pressed and lightly starched. Her mother would smell faintly of soap and nothing else. Even physically Tory felt remote from her. Her looks, her temperament, had all come from her father. Tory could see nothing of herself in the woman who patiently lined shelves with dainty striped paper. They’d never been more than careful strangers to each other, more careful as the years passed. Tory kept a room at the hotel rather than at home for the same reason she kept her visits with her mother brief. Invariably their encounters ended badly.

 
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