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Authors: Nora Roberts

Charmed (10 page)

BOOK: Charmed
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“You were real quiet,” Boone agreed, and reached up to fix her buttons. “I guess you deserve a prize.”

Her eyes lit. “What? What do I get?”

“How about a pink belly?” He rolled with her on the bed, wrestling while she squealed and wriggled. He let her win, pretending exhaustion and defeat when she bounced on his back. “Too tough for me.”

“That’s ’cause I eat my vegetables. You don’t.”

“I eat some.”

“Uh-uh, hardly any.”

“When you get to be thirty-three, you won’t have to eat your brussels sprouts, either.”

“But I like them.”

He grinned into the pillow. “That’s only because I’m such a good cook. My mother was lousy.”

“She doesn’t ever cook now.” Jessie printed her name with a fingertip on her father’s bare back. “Her and Grandpa Sawyer always go out to eat.”

“That’s because Grandpa Sawyer’s no fool.” She was having trouble with the letter
S
, Boone noted. They’d have to work on it.

“You said we could call Grandma and Grandpa Sawyer and Nana and Pop today. Can we?”

“Sure, in a couple of hours.” He turned over again, studying her. “Do you miss them, baby?”

“Yeah.” With her tongue between her teeth, she began to print
Sawyer
on his chest. “It seems funny that
they’re not here. Will they come to visit us?”

“Sure, they will.” The guilt that was part and parcel of parenthood worked at him. “Do you wish we’d stayed in Indiana?”

“No way!” Her eyes went huge. “We didn’t have the beach there, and the seals and stuff, or the big carousel in town, or Ana living next door. This is the best place in the world.”

“I like it here, too.” He sat up and kissed her brow. “Now beat it, so I can get dressed.”

“You’ll come right downstairs for breakfast?” she asked as she slid from the bed.

“Absolutely. I’m so hungry I could eat a whole loaf of cinnamon toast.”

Delighted, she rushed for the door. “I’m going to make more, right now.”

Knowing she would take him at his word and go through an entire loaf of bread, Boone hurried through his shower, opted not to shave, and pulled on cutoffs and a T-shirt that would probably have done better in the rag pile.

He tried not to dwell on the dream. After all, it was simple enough to interpret. He wanted Ana—no big revelation there. And all that white—white on white—was obviously a symbol of her innocence.

It scared the hell out of him.

He found Jessie in the kitchen, busily slathering butter on another piece of toast. There was a plate heaped with them, more than a few of them burnt. The smell of cinnamon was everywhere.

Boone put on the coffee before he snagged a piece. It was cold, hard, and lumped with sugary cinnamon. Obviously, Jessie had inherited her grandmother’s culinary talents.

“It’s great,” he told her, and swallowed gamely. “My favorite Sunday breakfast.”

“Do you think Daisy can have some?”

Boone looked at the pile of toast again, then glanced down at the pup, whose tongue was lolling out. With any luck he might be able to pawn off half his Sunday breakfast on the dog. “I think she could.” Crouching, Boone held out a second piece of toast close enough for Daisy to sniff. “Sit,” he ordered, in the firm, no-nonsense voice the training books had suggested.

Daisy continued to loll her tongue and wag her tail.

“Daisy, sit.” He gave her rump a nudge. Daisy went down, then bounded back on all fours to jump at him. “Forget it.” He held the toast out of reach and repeated the command. After five frustrating minutes—during which he tried not to remember how simple it had been for Ana—he managed to hold the dog’s hindquarters down. Daisy gobbled up the bread, pleased with herself.

“She did it, Daddy.”

“Sort of.” He rose to pour himself some coffee. “We’ll take her outside in a little while and have a real lesson.”

“Okay.” Jessie munched happily on her toast. “Maybe Ana’s company will be gone, and she can help.”

“Company?” Boone asked as he reached for a mug.

“I saw her outside with a man. She gave him a big hug and a kiss and everything.”

“She—” The mug clattered onto the counter.

“Butterfingers,” Jessie said, smiling.

“Yeah.” Boone kept his back turned as he righted the mug and poured the coffee. “What, ah, sort of a man?” He thought his voice was casual enough—to fool a six-year-old, anyway.

“A really tall man with black hair. They were laughing and holding hands. Maybe it’s her boyfriend.”

“Boyfriend,” Boone repeated between his teeth.

“What’s the matter, Daddy?”

“Nothing. Coffee’s hot.” He sipped it black. Holding hands, he thought. Kissing. He’d get a look at this guy himself. “Why don’t we go out on the deck, Jess? See if we can get Daisy to sit again.”

“Okay.” Singing the new song she’d learned in school, Jessie gathered up toast. “I like to eat outside. It’s nice.”

“Yeah, it’s nice.” Boone didn’t sit when they were on the deck, but stood at the rail, the mug in his hand. He didn’t see anyone in the next yard, and that was worse. Now he could imagine what Ana and her tall, dark-haired boyfriend might be doing inside.

Alone.

He ate three more pieces of toast, washing them down with black coffee while he fantasized about just what he’d say to Miss Anastasia Donovan the next time he saw her.

If she thought she could kiss him to the point of explosion one night, then dally with some strange guy the next morning, she was very much mistaken.

He’d straighten her out, all right. The minute he got ahold of her he’d—

His thoughts broke off when she came out the kitchen door, calling over her shoulder to someone.

“Ana!” Jessie leapt up on the bench, waving and shouting. “Ana, hi!”

While Boone watched through narrowed eyes, Ana looked in their direction. It seemed to him that her hand hesitated on its way up to return the wave, and her smile was strained.

Sure, he thought as he gulped down more coffee. I’d be nervous, too, if I had some strange man in the house.

“Can I go tell her what Daisy did? Can I, Daddy?”

“Yeah.” His smile was grim as he set his empty mug on the rail. “Why don’t you do that?”

Snatching up some more toast, she darted down the steps, calling for Daisy to follow and for Ana to wait.

Boone waited himself until he saw the man stroll outside to join Ana. He was tall, all right, Boone noted with some resentment. Several inches over six feet. He drew his own shoulders back. His hair was true black, and long enough to curl over his collar and blow—romantically, Boone imagined a woman would think—in the breeze.

He looked tanned, fit and elegant. And the breath hissed out between Boone’s teeth when the stranger slipped an arm around Ana’s shoulders as if it belonged there.

We’ll see about this, Boone decided, and started down the deck stairs with his hands jammed in his pockets. We’ll just see about this.

By the time he reached the hedge of roses, Jessie was already chattering a mile a minute about Daisy, and Ana was laughing, her arms tucked intimately around the stranger’s waist.

“I’d sit, too, if someone was going to feed me cinnamon toast,” the man said, and winked at Ana.

“You’d sit if anyone was going to feed you anything.” Ana gave him a little squeeze before she noticed Boone at the hedge. “Oh.” It was useless to curse the faint blush she felt heating her cheeks. “Good morning.”

“How’s it going?” Boone gave her a slow nod. Then his gaze moved suspiciously to the man beside her. “We didn’t mean to interrupt while you have … company.”

“No, that’s all right, I—” She broke off, both confused and disconcerted by the tension humming in the air. “Sebastian, this is Jessie’s father, Boone Sawyer. Boone, my cousin, Sebastian Donovan.”

“Cousin?” Boone repeated, and Sebastian didn’t bother to control the grin that spread over his face.

“Fortunately you made the introductions quickly, Ana,” he said. “I like my nose precisely the way it is.” He held out a hand. “Nice to meet you. Ana was telling us she had new neighbors.”

“He’s the one with horses, Daddy.”

“I remember.” Boone found Sebastian’s grip firm and strong. He might have appreciated it if he hadn’t seen the gleam of amusement in the man’s eyes. “You’re recently married?”

“Indeed, I am. My …” He turned when the screen door slammed. “Ah, here she is now. Light of my life.”

A tall, slim woman with short, tousled hair strode over in dusty boots. “Cut it out, Donovan.”

“My blushing bride.” It was obvious they were laughing at each other. He took his wife’s hand and kissed it. “Ana’s neighbors, Boone and Jessie Sawyer. My own true love, Mary Ellen.”

“Mel,” she corrected quickly. “Donovan’s the only one with the nerve to call me Mary Ellen. Great-looking house,” she added, with a nod toward the neighboring building.

“I believe Mr. Sawyer writes fairy tales, children’s books, much in the manner of Aunt Bryna.”

“Oh, yeah? That’s cool.” Mel smiled down at Jessie. “I bet you like that.”

“He writes the best stories in the world. And this is Daisy. We taught her to sit. Can I come see your horses?”

“Sure.” Mel crouched down to ruffle the pup’s fur. While Mel engaged Jessie in conversation about horses and dogs, Sebastian looked back at Boone.

“It is a lovely house you have,” he said. Actually, he’d toyed with buying it himself. Amusement lit his eyes again. “Excellent location.”

“We like it.” Boone decided it was foolish to pretend not to understand the meaning behind the words. “We like it very much.” Very deliberately, he reached out to trail a fingertip down Ana’s cheek. “You’re looking a little pale this morning, Anastasia.”

“I’m fine.” It was easy enough to keep her voice even, but she knew very well how simple it would be for Sebastian to see what she was thinking. Already she could feel his gentle probing, and she was quite certain he was poking his nosy mental fingers into Boone’s brain. “If you’ll excuse me, I promised Sebastian some hawthorn.”

“Didn’t you pick any last night?”

Her gaze met his, held it. “I have other uses for that.”

“We’ll get out of your way. Come on, Jess.” He reached for his daughter’s hand. “Nice meeting both of you. I’ll see you soon, Ana.”

Sebastian had the tact to wait until Boone was out of earshot. “Well, well … I go away for a couple of weeks, and look at the trouble you get into.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Ana turned her back and started toward an herb bed. “I’m not in any sort of trouble.”

“Darling, darling Ana, your friend and neighbor was prepared to rip my throat out until you introduced me as your cousin.”

“I’d have protected you,” Mel said solemnly.

“My hero.”

“Besides,” Mel went on, “it looked to me as though he was more in the mood to drag Ana off by the hair than tackle you.”

“You’re both being absurd.” Ana snipped hawthorn without looking up. “He’s a very nice man.”

“I’m sure,” Sebastian murmured. “But, you see, men understand this territorial thing—which is, of course, an obscure concept to the female.”

“Oh, please.” Mel shoved an elbow in his ribs.

“Facts are facts, my dear Mary Ellen. I had intruded on his territory. Or so he thought. Naturally, I would only think less of him if he had made no effort to defend it.”

“Naturally,” Mel said dryly.

“Tell me, Ana, just how involved are you?”

“That’s none of your business.” She straightened, deftly wrapping the stems of the hawthorn. “And I’ll thank you to keep out of it, cousin. I know very well you were poking in.”

“Which is why you blocked me. Your neighbor wasn’t so successful.”

“It’s rude,” she muttered, “unconscionably rude, the way you peek into people’s heads at the drop of a hat.”

“He likes to show off,” Mel said sympathetically.

“Unfair.” Disgusted, Sebastian shook his head. “I do not poke or peek at the drop of a hat. I always have an excellent reason. In this case, being your only male relative on the continent, I feel it’s my duty to survey the situation, and the players.”

Mel could only roll her eyes as Ana’s spine stiffened. “Really?” Eyes bright, Ana jammed a finger into Sebastian’s chest. “Then let me set you straight. Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I need protection or guidance or anything else from a male—relative or otherwise. I’ve been handling my own life for twenty-six years.”

“Twenty-seven next month,” Sebastian added helpfully.

“And I can continue to handle it. What’s between Boone and me—”

“Ah.” He held up a triumphant finger. “So there is something between you.”

“Stuff it, Sebastian.”

“She only talks like that when she paints herself into a corner,” Sebastian told Mel. “Usually she’s extremely mild and well-mannered.”

“Careful, or I’ll give Mel a potion to put in your soup that’ll freeze your vocal cords for a week.”

“Oh yeah?” Intrigued by the idea, Mel tilted her head. “Can I have it anyway?”

“A lot of good it would do you, since I do all the cooking,” Sebastian pointed out. Then he scooped Ana up in a hug. “Come on, darling, don’t be angry. I have to worry about you. It’s my job.”

“There’s nothing to worry about.” But she was softening.

“Are you in love with him?”

Instantly she stiffened. “Really, Sebastian, I’ve only known him for a week.”

“What difference does that make?” He gave Mel a long look over Ana’s head, “It took me less than that to realize the reason Mel irritated me so much was that I was crazy about her. Of course, it took her longer to understand she was madly in love with me. But she has such a hard head.”

“I’m getting that potion,” Mel decided.

Ignoring the threat, he drew back to consider Ana at arm’s length. “I ask because he definitely has more than a neighborly interest in you. As a matter of fact, he—”

“That’s enough. Whatever you dug out of his head, you keep to yourself. I mean it, Sebastian,” she said before he could interrupt. “I prefer doing things my own way.”

“If you insist,” he said with a sigh.

“I do. Now, take your hawthorn and go home and be newlyweds.”

“Now that’s the best idea I’ve heard all day.” Taking a firm grip on her husband’s arm, Mel tugged him back. “Leave her alone, Donovan. Ana’s perfectly capable of handling her own affairs.”

BOOK: Charmed
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