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Authors: Nora Roberts

Charmed (19 page)

BOOK: Charmed
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Looking at her, he thought of the young princess who had been put under a spell by a jealous fairy and made to sleep a hundred years, until wakened by true love’s gentle kiss.

“Anastasia. You’re so beautiful.” He touched her hair, indulging himself. He’d never watched her sleep, and he had a sudden, tearing urge to have her in his bed, to be able to open his eyes in the morning and see her there beside him. “What am I going to do?”

Sighing, he let his hand fall away from her hair and moved to the stove to shut off the kettle. As gently as he had with Jessie, he lifted her into his arms, and, like Jessie, she remained lax. Gritting his teeth against the knots in his stomach, he carried her upstairs and laid her on his bed.

“You don’t know how much I’ve wanted you here,” he said under his breath as he slipped off her shoes. “In my bed, in the night. All night.” He spread the covers over her, and she sighed, shifting in sleep and curling into his pillow.

The knots in his stomach loosened as he bent to touch his lips to hers. “Good night, princess.”

*  *  *

In her panties and T-shirt, Jessie padded into the bedroom before dawn. She’d had a dream, a bad one about the haunted house at school, and wanted the comfort and warmth of her father.

He always made monsters go away.

She scurried to the bed, and climbed in to burrow against him. It was then that she noted it wasn’t her father at all, but Ana.

Fascinated, Jessie curled up. Curious fingers played with Ana’s hair. In sleep Ana murmured and tucked Jessie under her arm to snuggle her close. Odd sensations tugged through Jessie’s stomach. Different smells, different textures, and yet she felt as loved and safe as she did when her father cuddled her. She rested her head trustingly against Ana’s breast and slept.

*  *  *

When Ana woke, she felt arms around her, small, limp arms. Disoriented, she stared down at Jessie, then looked around the room.

Not her room, she realized. And not Jessie’s. Boone’s.

She kept the child warm against her as she tried to piece together what had happened.

The last thing she remembered was sitting down after she’d put on water for tea. Tired, she’d been so tired. She’d rested her head for a moment and … and obviously had fallen fast asleep.

So where was Boone?

Cautiously she turned her head, unsure whether she was relieved or disappointed to find the bed beside her
empty. Impractical, of course, given the circumstances, but it would have been so lovely to be able to cuddle back against him even as the child cuddled to her.

When she looked back, Jessie’s eyes were open and on hers.

“I had a bad dream,” the girl told her in hushed morning whispers. “About the Headless Horseman. He was laughing and laughing and chasing me.”

Ana snuggled down to kiss Jessie’s brow. “I bet he didn’t catch you.”

“Uh-uh. I woke up and came to get Daddy. He always makes the monsters go away. The ones in the closet and under the bed and at the window and everywhere.”

“Daddies are good at that.” She smiled, remembering how her own had pretended to chase them away with a magic broom every night during her sixth year.

“But you were here, and I wasn’t scared with you, either. Are you going to sleep in Daddy’s bed at night now?”

“No.” She brushed a hand through Jessie’s hair. “I think you and I both fell asleep, and your father had to put both of us to bed.”

“But it’s a big bed,” Jessie pointed out. “There’d be room. I have Daisy to sleep with me now, but Daddy has to sleep all alone. Does Quigley sleep with you?”

“Sometimes,” Ana said, relieved at the rapid change of topic. “He’s probably wondering where I am.”

“I think he knows,” Boone announced from the doorway. He was wearing only jeans, unsnapped at the waist, and he looked bleary-eyed and harassed, with the gray cat winding between his legs. “He howled and scratched at the back door until I let him in.”

“Oh.” Ana shoved her tumbled hair back as she sat up. “Sorry. I guess he woke you.”

“Right the first time.” He tucked his thumbs in his pockets while the cat leapt onto the bed and began to mutter and complain to his mistress. The knots in his stomach were back, doubled. How could he explain what he felt on seeing Ana cuddled with his little girl in the big, soft bed? “Jessie, what are you doing?”

“I had a bad dream.” She leaned her head against Ana’s arm and stroked the cat’s fur. “So I came in to get
you, but Ana was here. She made the monsters go away just like you do.” Quigley meowed plaintively and made Jessie giggle. “He’s hungry. Poor kitty. I can feed him. Can I take him down and feed him?”

“Sure, if you’d like.”

Before Ana had finished the sentence, Jessie was bounding off the bed, calling to the cat to follow.

“Sorry she woke you.” Boone hesitated, then moved over to sit on the edge of the bed.

“She didn’t. Apparently she just climbed right on in and went back to sleep. And I should apologize for putting you to so much trouble. You could have given me a shake and sent me home.”

“You were exhausted.” He reached out, much as Jessie had, to touch her hair. “Incredibly beautiful, and totally exhausted.”

“Having babies is tiring work.” She smiled. “Where did you sleep?”

“In the guest room.” He winced at the crick in his back. “Which makes getting a decent bed in there a top priority.”

Automatically she pressed her hands on his lower back to massage and ease. “You could have dumped me in there. I don’t think I would have known the difference between a bed and a sheet of plywood.”

“I wanted you in my bed.” His gaze met hers and locked. “I very much wanted you in my bed.” He tugged on her hair to bring her closer. Much closer. “I still do.”

His mouth was on hers, not so patient now, not so gentle. Ana felt a quick thrill of excitement and alarm as he pressed her back against the pillows. “Boone—”

“Just for a minute.” His voice took on an edge of desperation. “I need a minute with you.”

He took her breast, searing her flesh through the thin silk of her rumpled blouse. While his hands skimmed over her, his mouth took and took, swallowing her muffled moans. His body ached to cover hers, to press hard against soft, to take quickly, even savagely, what he knew she could bring to him.

“Ana.” His teeth scraped down her throat before he gathered her close, just to hold her. He knew he was being unfair, to both of them, and he struggled to back off. “How long does it take to feed that cat?”

“Not long enough.” With a shaky laugh, she dropped her head onto his shoulder. “Not nearly long enough.”

“I was afraid of that.” He drew back, running his hands down her arms to take hers. “Jessie’s been after me to let her spend the night at Lydia’s. If I can work it out, will you stay with me? Here?”

“Yes.” She brought his hand to her lips, then pressed it to her cheek. “Whenever you like.”

“Tonight.” He forced himself to release her, to move away. “Tonight,” he repeated. “I’ll go call Lydia’s mother. Beg if I have to.” He steadied himself and slowed down. “I promised Jess we’d go get some ice cream, maybe have lunch on the wharf. Will you come with us? If it all works out, we could drop her off at Lydia’s, then go out to dinner.”

She pushed off the bed herself, brushing uselessly at the wrinkles in her blouse and slacks. “That sounds nice.”

“Great. Sorry about the clothes. I wasn’t quite brave enough to undress you.”

She felt a quick thrill at the image of him unbuttoning her blouse. Slowly, very slowly, his fingers patient, his eyes hot. She cleared her throat. “They’ll press out. I need to change, go check on Morgana and the twins.”

“I could drive you.”

“That’s all right. My father’s going to pick me up so I can get my car. What time did you want to leave?”

“About noon, in a couple hours.”

“Perfect. I’ll meet you back here.”

He caught her to him before she reached the doorway, then stopped her heart with another greedy kiss. “Maybe we could pick up some takeout, bring it back and eat here.”

“That sounds nice, too,” she murmured as she shifted the angle of the kiss. “Or maybe we could just send out for pizza when we get hungry.”

“Better. Much better.”

*  *  *

By four o’clock, Jessie was standing in Lydia’s doorway waving a cheery good-bye. Her pink backpack was
bulging with the amazing assortment of necessities a six-year-old girl required for a sleepover. What made the entire matter perfect in her eyes was that Daisy had been invited along for the party.

“Tell me not to feel guilty,” Boone said as he cast one last glance in the rearview mirror.

“About?”

“About wanting my own daughter out of the house tonight.”

“Boone.” Adoring him, Ana leaned over to kiss his cheek. “You know perfectly well Jessie could hardly wait for us to drive away so she could begin her little adventure at Lydia’s.”

“Yeah, but … it’s not packing her off so much, it’s packing her off with ulterior motives.”

Knowing what those motives were brought a little knot of heat to Ana’s stomach. “She isn’t going to have less of a good time because of them—particularly when you promised her she could have a slumber party in a couple of weeks. If you’re still feeling guilty, think about how you’re going to feel riding herd on five or six little girls all night.”

He slanted her a look. “I kind of figured you’d help—since you have ulterior motives, too.”

“Did you?” The fact that he’d asked pleased her enormously. “Maybe I will.” She laid a hand over his. “For a paranoid father riddled with guilt, you’re doing a wonderful job.”

“Keep it up. I’m feeling better.”

“Too much flattery isn’t good for you.”

“Just for that I won’t tell you how many guys gave themselves whiplash craning their necks to get a second look at you when we were walking on the wharf today.”

“Oh?” She skimmed back her blowing hair. “Were there many?”

“Depends on how you define many. Besides, too much flattery isn’t good for you. I guess I could say I don’t know how you could look so good today after the night you put in.”

“It could be because I slept like a rock.” She stretched luxuriously. A bracelet of agates winked at her wrist. “Morgana’s the amazing one. When I got there this morning, she was nursing both of the twins and looking as if she’d just spent a reviving week at an expensive spa.”

“The babies okay?”

“The babies are terrific. Healthy and bright-eyed. Nash is already a pro at changing diapers. He claims both of them have smiled at him.”

He knew that feeling, too, and had just realized he missed it. “He’s a good guy.”

“Nash is very special.”

“I have to admit, I was stunned when I heard he was married. Nash was always the go-it-on-your-own type.”

“Love changes things,” Ana murmured, and carefully screened all wistfulness from her voice. “Aunt Bryna calls it the purest form of magic.”

“A good description. Once it touches you, you begin to think nothing’s impossible anymore. Were you ever in love?”

“Once.” She looked away, studying the shimmering ice plants along the banks. “A long time ago. But it turned out the magic wasn’t strong enough. Then I learned that my life wasn’t over after all, and I could be perfectly happy alone. So I bought my house near the water,” she said with a smile. “Planted my garden and started fresh.”

“I suppose it was similar for me.” He grew thoughtful as they made the final turn toward home. “Does being happy alone mean you don’t think you could be happy with someone?”

Unease and hope ran parallel inside her. “I guess it means I can be happy as things stand, until I find someone who not only brings me the magic, but understands it.”

He turned into the drive, shut off the engine. “We have something together, Ana.”

“I know.”

“I never thought to feel anything this powerful again. It’s different from what I had before, and I’m not sure what that means. I don’t know if I want to know.”

“It doesn’t matter.” She took his hand again. “Sometimes you just have to accept that today is enough.”

“No, it’s not.” He turned to her then, his eyes dark, intense. “Not with you.”

She took a careful breath. “I’m not what you think I am, or what you want me to be. Boone—”

“You’re exactly what I want.” His hands were rough as he dragged her against him. Her startled gasp was muffled against his hard, seeking mouth.

Chapter 10

A whip of panicked excitement cracked through her as he tore her free of the seat belt and yanked her across his lap. His hands bruised, his mouth branded. This was not the Boone who had loved her so gently, taking her to that sweet, sweet fulfillment with patient hands and murmured promises. Her lover of quiet mornings and lazy afternoons had become something darker, something dangerous, something she was helpless to resist.

She could feel the blood sizzling under her skin as he took those rough, impatient hands over her. This was the wildness she had tasted that first time they kissed, in a moonlit garden with the scent of flowers ripe and heady. This bursting of urgent needs was what he had only hinted at under all that patience and steady control.

In mindless acquiescence she strained against him, willing, eager and ready to race along any path he chose.

Her body shuddered once, violently, as he dragged her over a ragged edge. He heard her muffled cry against his greedy mouth, tasted the ripeness of it as her fingers dug desperately into his shoulders. The thought ran crazily through his mind that he could have her here, right here in the car, before reason caught up with either of them.

He tore at her blouse, craving the taste of flesh. The sound of ripping seams was smothered by her quick gasp as he feasted on her throat. Beneath his hungry mouth, her pulse hammered erratically, erotically. The flavor of her was already hot, already honeyed with passion.

On a vicious oath, he shoved the door open, yanking her out. Leaving it swinging, he half carried, half dragged her across the lawn.

“Boone.” Staggered, she tried to gain her feet and lost her shoes. “Boone, the car. You left your keys—”

BOOK: Charmed
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