Temptation, p.8
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       Temptation, p.8

           Nora Roberts
 
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  Feeling her resolve weaken, Eden made an effort to draw back. “I made a bargain,” she began, only to fall silent when he handed her a bunch of anemones freshly picked from the side of the road. He wasn’t supposed to be sweet, she reminded herself. She wasn’t supposed to be vulnerable to sweetness. Still, unable to resist, she buried her face in the flowers.

  That was a picture he would carry with him forever, Chase realized. Eden, with wildflowers clutched in both hands; her eyes, touched with both pleasure and confusion, watching him over the petals.

  “Thank you.”

  “You’re welcome.” Taking one of her hands, he brought it to his lips. She should have pulled away. She knew she should. Yet there was something so simple, so right in the moment—as if she recognized it from some long-ago dream. Bemused, Eden took a step closer, but the sound of giggling brought her out of the spell.

  Immediately she tried to pull her hand away. “The girls.” She glanced around quickly enough to catch the fielder’s cap as it disappeared around the corner of the building.

  “Well, then, we wouldn’t want to disappoint them?” Turning her hand over, Chase pressed a kiss to her palm. Eden felt the heat spread.

  “You’re being deliberately difficult.” But she closed her hand as if to capture the sensation and hold it.

  “Yes.” He smiled, but resisted the impulse to draw her into his arms and enjoy the promise he’d seen so briefly in her eyes.

  “If you’d let me go, I’d like to put the flowers in water.”

  “I’ll do it.” Candy left her post by the door and came outside. Even Eden’s glare didn’t wipe the smile from her face. “They’re lovely, aren’t they? Have a good time.”

  “We’ll do that.” Chase linked his fingers with Eden’s and drew her toward his car. She told herself the sun had been in her eyes. Why else would she have missed the low-slung white Lamborghini parked beside the cabin. She settled herself in the passenger’s seat with a warning to herself not to relax.

  The moment the engine sprang to life, there was a chorus of goodbyes. Every girl and counselor had lined up to wave them off. Eden disguised a chuckle with a cough.

  “It seems this is one of the camp’s highlights this summer.”

  Chase lifted a hand out of the open window to wave back. “Let’s see if we can make it one of ours.”

  Something in his tone made her glance over just long enough to catch that devil of a smile. Eden made up her mind then and there. No, she wouldn’t relax, but she’d be damned if she’d be intimidated either. “All right.” She leaned back in her seat, prepared to make the best of a bad deal. “I haven’t had a meal that wasn’t served on a tray in weeks.”

  “I’ll cancel the trays.”

  “I’d appreciate it.” She laughed, then assured herself that laughing wasn’t really relaxing. “Stop me if I start stacking the silverware.” The breeze blowing in the open window was warm and as fresh as the flowers Chase had brought her. Eden allowed herself the pleasure of lifting her face to it. “This is nice, especially when I was expecting a pickup truck.”

  “Even country bumpkins can appreciate a well-made machine.”

  “That’s not what I meant.” Ready with an apology, she turned, but saw he was smiling. “I suppose you wouldn’t care if it was.”

  “I know what I am, what I want and what I can do.” As he took a curve he slowed. His eyes met hers briefly. “But the opinions of certain people always matter. In any case, I prefer the mountains to traffic jams. What do you prefer, Eden?”

  “I haven’t decided.” That was true, she realized with a jolt. In a matter of weeks her priorities, and her hopes, had changed direction. Musing on that, she almost missed the arching ELLIOT sign when Chase turned between the columns. “Where are we going?”

  “To dinner.”

  “In the orchard?”

  “In my house.” With that he changed gears and had the car cruising up the gravel drive.

  Eden tried to ignore the little twist of apprehension she felt. True, this wasn’t the crowded―and safe―restaurant she had imagined. She’d shared private dinners before, hadn’t she? She’d been raised from the cradle to know how to handle any social situation. But the apprehension remained. Dinner alone with Chase wouldn’t be, couldn’t possibly be; like any other experience.

  Even as she was working out a polite protest, the car crested the hill. The house rose into view.

  It was stone. She couldn’t know it was local stone, quarried from the mountains. She saw only that it was old, beautifully weathered. At first glance, it gave the appearance of being gray, but on a closer look colors glimmered through. Amber, russet, tints of green and umber. The sun was still high enough to make the chips of mica and quartz glisten. There were three stories, with the second overhanging the first by a skirting balcony. Eden could see flashes of red and buttercup yellow from the pots of geraniums and marigolds. She caught the scent of lavender even before she saw the rock garden.

  A wide, sweeping stone stairway, worn slightly in the center, led to double glass doors of diamond panes. A redwood barrel was filled with pansies that nodded in the early evening breeze.

  It was nothing like what she had expected, and yet . . . the house, and everything about it, was instantly recognizable.

  His own nervousness caught Chase off guard. Eden said nothing when he stopped the car, still nothing when he got out to open her door. It mattered, more than he had ever imagined it could, what she thought, what she said, what she felt about his home.

  She held her hand out for his in a gesture he knew was automatic. Then she stood beside him, looking at what was his, what had been his even before his birth. Tension lodged in the back of his neck.

  “Oh, Chase, it’s beautiful.” She lifted her free hand to shield her eyes from the sun behind the house. “No wonder you love it.”

  “My great-grandfather built it.” The tension had dissolved without his being aware of it. “He even helped quarry the stone. He wanted something that would last and that would carry a piece of him as long as it did.”

  She thought of the home that had been her family’s for generations, feeling the too-familiar burning behind her eyes. She’d lost that. Sold it. The need to tell him was almost stronger than pride, because in that moment she thought he might understand.

  He felt her change in mood even before he glanced down and saw the glint of tears in her eyes. “What is it, Eden?”

  “Nothing.” No, she couldn’t tell him. Some wounds were best left hidden. Private. “I was just thinking how important some traditions are.”

  “You still miss your father.”

  “Yes.” Her eyes were dry now, the moment past. “I’d love to see inside.”

  He hesitated a moment, knowing there had been more and that she’d been close to sharing it with him. He could wait, Chase told himself, though his patience was beginning to fray. He would have to wait until she took that step toward him rather than away from him.

  With her hand still in his, he climbed the steps to the door. On the other side lay a mountain of apricot fur known as Squat. Even after Chase opened the door, the mound continued to snore.

  “Are you sure you should have such a vicious watchdog unchained?”

  “My theory is most burglars wouldn’t have the nerve to step over him.” Catching Eden around the waist, Chase lifted her up and over.

  The stone insulated well against the heat, so the hall was cool and comfortable. High, beamed ceilings gave the illusion of unlimited space. A Monet landscape caught her eye, but before she could comment on it, Chase was leading her through a set of mahogany doors.

  The room was cozily square, with window seats recessed into the east and west walls. Instantly Eden could imagine the charm of watching the sun rise or set. Comfort was the theme of the room, with its range of blues from the palest aqua to the deepest indigo. Handhooked rugs set off the American antiques. There were fresh flowers here, too, spilling out of a Revere Ware
bowl. It was a touch she hadn’t expected from a bachelor, particularly one who worked with his hands.

  Thoughtful, she crossed the room to the west window. The slanting sun cast long shadows over the buildings he had taken them through that morning. She remembered the conveyor belts, the busy sorters and packers, the noise. Behind her was a small, elegant room with pewter bowls and wild roses.

  Peace and challenge, she realized, and she sighed without knowing why. “I imagine it’s lovely when the sun starts to drop.”

  “It’s my favorite view.” His voice came from directly behind her, but for once she didn’t stiffen when he rested his hands on her shoulders. He tried to tell himself it was just coincidence that she had chosen to look out that window, but he could almost believe that his own need for her to see and understand had guided her there. It wouldn’t be wise to forget who she was and how she chose to live. “There’s no Symphony Hall or Rodin Museum.”

  His fingers gently massaged the curve of her shoulders. But his voice wasn’t as patient. Curious, she turned. His hands shifted to let her slide through, then settled on her shoulders again. “I don’t imagine they’re missed. If they were, you could visit, then come back to this.” Without thinking, she lifted her hand to brush the hair from his forehead. Even as she caught herself, his hand closed around her wrist. “Chase, I—”

  “Too late,” he murmured; then he kissed each of her fingers, one by one. “Too late for you. Too late for me.”

  She couldn’t allow herself to believe that. She couldn’t accept the softening and opening of her emotions. How badly she wanted to let him in, to trust again, to need again. How terrifying it was to be vulnerable. “Please don’t do this. It’s a mistake for both of us.”

  “You’re probably right.” He was almost sure of it himself. But he brushed his lips over the pulse that hammered in her wrist. He didn’t give a damn. “Everyone’s entitled to one enormous mistake.”

  “Don’t kiss me now.” She lifted a hand but only curled her fingers into his shirt. “I can’t think.”

  “One has nothing to do with the other.”

  When his mouth touched hers, it was soft, seeking. Too late. The words echoed in her head even as she lifted her hands to his face and let herself go. This is what she had wanted, no matter how many arguments she had posed, no matter how many defenses she had built. She wanted to be held against him, to sink into a dream that had no end.

  He felt her fingers stream through his hair and had to force himself not to rush her. Desire, tensed and hungry, had to be held back until it was tempered with acceptance and trust. In his heart he had already acknowledged that she was more than the challenge he had first considered her. She was more than the summer fling he might have preferred. But as her slim, soft body pressed against his, as her warm, willing mouth opened for him, he could only think of how he wanted her, now, when the sun was beginning to sink toward the distant peaks to the west.

  “Chase.” It was the wild, drumming beat of her heart that frightened her most. She was trembling. Eden could feel it start somewhere deep inside and spread out until it became a stunning combination of panic and excitement. How could she fight the first and give in to the second? “Chase, please.”

  He had to draw himself back, inch by painful inch. He hadn’t meant to take either of them so far, so fast. Yet perhaps he had, he thought as he ran a hand down her hair. Perhaps he had wanted to push them both toward an answer that still seemed just out of reach.

  “The sun’s going down.” His hands weren’t quite steady when he turned her toward the window again. “Before long, the light will change.”

  She could only be grateful that he was giving her time to regain her composure. Later she would realize how much it probably had cost him.

  They stood a moment in silence, watching the first tints of rose spread above the mountains. A loud, rasping cough had her already-tense nerves jolting.

  “S’cuze me.”

  The man in the doorway had a grizzled beard that trailed down to the first button of his red checked shirt. Though he was hardly taller than Eden, his bulk gave the impression of power. The folds and lines in his face all but obscured his dark eyes. Then he grinned, and she caught the glint of a gold tooth.

  So this was the little lady who had the boss running around in circles. Deciding she was prettier than a barrelful of prime apples, he nodded to her by way of greeting. “Supper’s ready. Unless you want to eat it cold, you best be moving along.”

  “Eden Carlbough, Delaney.” Chase only lifted a brow, knowing Delaney had already sized up the situation. “He cooks and I don’t, which is why I haven’t fired him yet.”

  This brought on a cackle. “He hasn’t fired me because I wiped his nose and tied his shoes.”

  “We could add that that was close to thirty years ago.”

  She recognized both affection and exasperation. It pleased her to know someone could exasperate Chase Elliot. “It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Delaney.”

  “Delaney, ma’am. Just Delaney.” Still grinning, he pulled on his beard. “Mighty pretty,” he said to Chase. “It’s smarter to think of settling down with someone who isn’t an eyesore at breakfast. Supper’s going to get cold,” he added. Then he was gone.

  Though Eden had remained politely silent during Delaney’s statement, it took only one look at Chase’s face to engender a stream of laughter. The sound made Chase think more seriously about gagging Delaney with his own beard.

  “I’m glad you’re amused.”

  “Delighted. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen you speechless. And I can’t help being pleased not to be considered an eyesore.” Then she disarmed him by offering him her hand. “Supper’s going to get cold.”

  Instead of the dining room, Chase led her out to a jalousied porch. Two paddle fans circled overhead, making the most of the breeze that crept in the slanted windows. A wind chime jingled cheerfully between baskets of fuchsia.

  “Your home is one surprise after another,” Eden commented as she studied the plump love seats and the glass-and-wicker table. “Every room seems fashioned for relaxation and stunning views.”

  The table was set with colorful stoneware. Though the sun had yet to drop behind the peaks, two tapers were already burning. There was a single wild rose beside her plate.

  Romance, she thought. This was the romance she had once dreamed of. This was the romance she must now be very wary of. But, wary or not, she picked up the flower and smiled at him. “Thank you.”

  “Did you want one, too?” As she laughed, Chase drew back her chair.

  “Sit down. Sit down. Eat while it’s hot.” Despite his bulk, Delaney bustled into the room. In his large hands was an enormous tray. Because she realized how easily she could be mowed down, Eden obeyed. “Hope you got an appetite. You could use a little plumping up, missy. Then, I’ve always preferred a bit of healthy meat on female bones.”

  As he spoke, he began to serve an exquisite seafood salad. “Made my special, Chicken Delaney. It’ll keep under the covers if you two don’t dawdle over the salad. Apple pie’s on the hot plate, biscuits in the warmer.” He stuck a bottle of wine unceremoniously in an ice bucket. “That’s the fancy wine you wanted.” Standing back, he took a narrowed-eyed glance around before snorting with satisfaction. “I’m going home. Don’t let my chicken get cold.” Wiping his hands on his jeans, he marched to the door and let it swing shut behind him.

  “Delaney has amazing style, doesn’t he?” Chase took the wine from the bucket to pour two glasses.

  “Amazing,” Eden agreed, finding it amazing enough that those gnarled hands had created anything as lovely as the salad in front of her.

  “He makes the best biscuits in Pennsylvania.” Chase lifted his glass and toasted her. “And I’d put his Beef Wellington up against anyone’s.”

  “Beef Wellington?” With a shake of her head, Eden sipped her wine. It was cool, just a shade tart. “I hope you’ll take it the right way when I say he l
ooks more like the type who could charcoal a steak over a backyard grill.” She dipped her fork in the salad and sampled it. “But . . .”

  “Appearances can be deceiving,” Chase finished for her, pleased with the way her eyes half shut as she tasted. “Delaney’s been cooking here as long as I can remember. He lives in a little cottage my grandfather helped him build about forty years ago. Nose-wiping and shoe-tying aside, he’s part of the family.”

  She only nodded, looking down at her plate for a moment as she remembered how difficult it had been to tell her longtime servants she was selling out. Perhaps they had never been as familiar or as informal as Chase’s Delaney, but they, too, had been part of the family.

  It was there again, that dim candle glow of grief he’d seen in her eyes before. Wanting only to help, he reached over to touch her hand. “Eden?”

  Quickly, almost too quickly, she moved her hand and began to eat again. “This is wonderful. I have an aunt back home who would shanghai your Delaney after the first forkful.”

  Home, he thought, backing off automatically. Philadelphia was still home.

  The Chicken Delaney lived up to its name. As the sun set, the meal passed easily, even though they disagreed on almost every subject.

  She read Keats and he read Christie. She preferred Bach and he Haggard, but it didn’t seem to matter as the glass walls filtered the rosy light of approaching twilight. The candles burned lower. The wine shimmered in crystal, inviting one more sip. Close and clear and quick came the two-tone call of a quail.

  “That’s a lovely sound.” Her sigh was easy and content. “If things are quiet at camp, we can hear the birds in the evening. There’s a whippoorwill who’s taken to singing right outside the cabin window. You can almost set your watch by her.”

  “Most of us are creatures of habit,” he murmured. He wondered about her, what habits she had, what habits she had changed. Taking her hand, he turned it up. The ridge of callus had hardened. “You
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