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Authors: Nora Roberts

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BOOK: Charmed
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Boone turned the cloth over and dabbed at the cuts. “He couldn’t explain to anyone what he felt inside his heart whenever he stood there. He wanted desperately to climb over. Sometimes at night in his bed he would imagine it. Fear of those thick, sharp thorns stopped him, until one day in high summer, when the scent of flowers was so strong you couldn’t take a breath without drinking it in, that glimpse of the topmost towers wasn’t enough. Something in his heart told him that what he wanted most in the world lay just beyond that thorn-covered wall. So he began to climb it. Again and again he fell to the ground, with his hands and arms pricked and bleeding. And again and again he pushed himself up.”

His voice was soothing, and his touch—his touch was anything but. As gentle as he was with the cool cloth, an ache began to spread, slow and warm, from the center of her body outward. He was stroking her thighs now, where the sharp edge of a shard had nicked the flesh. Ana closed her hand into a fist, the twin of which clenched in her stomach.

She needed him to stop. She wanted him to go on. And on.

“It took all of that day,” Boone continued in that rich, mesmerizing storyteller’s voice. “And the heat mixed sweat with the blood, but he didn’t give up. Couldn’t give up, because he knew, as he’d never known anything before, that his heart’s desire, his future and his destiny, lay on the other side. So, with his hands raw and bleeding, he used those thorny vines and dragged himself to the top. Exhausted, filled with pain, he stumbled and fell down and down, to the thick, soft grass that flowed from the wall to the enchanted castle.

“The moon was up when he awoke, dazed and disoriented. With the last of his strength, he limped across the lawn, over the drawbridge and into the great hall of the castle that had haunted his dreams since childhood. When he crossed the threshold, the lights of a thousand torches flared. In that same instant, all his cuts and scrapes and bruises vanished. In that circle of flame that cast shadow and light up the white marble walls stood the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her hair was like sunlight, and her eyes like smoke. Even before she spoke, even before her lovely mouth curved in a welcoming smile, he knew that it was she he had risked his life to find. She stepped forward, offered her hand to him and said only, ‘I have been waiting for you.’”

As he spoke the last words, Boone lifted his gaze to Ana’s. He was as dazed and disoriented as the man in the story he had conjured up. When had his heart begun to pound like this? he wondered. How could he think when the blood was swimming in his head and throbbing in his loins? While he struggled for balance, he stared at her.

Hair like sunlight. Eyes like smoke.

And he realized he was kneeling between her legs, one hand resting intimately high on her thigh, and the other on the verge of reaching out to touch that sunlight hair.

Boone rose so quickly that he nearly overbalanced the table. “I beg your pardon,” he said, for lack of
anything better. When she only continued to stare at him, the pulse in her throat beating visibly, he tried again. “I got carried away when I saw you were bleeding. I’ve never been able to take Jessie’s cuts and scrapes in stride.” Struggling not to babble, he thrust the cloth at her. “I imagine you’d rather handle it yourself.”

She accepted the cloth. She needed a moment before she dared speak. How was it possible that a man could stir her so desperately with doctoring and a fairy tale, then leave her fighting to find a slippery hold on her composure when he apologized?

Her own fault, Ana thought as she scrubbed—with more force than was really necessary—at the scrape on her arm. It was her gift and her curse that she would feel too much.

“You look like you should be the one sitting down,” she told him briskly, then rose to go to the cupboard for one of her own medications. “Would you like something cold to drink?”

“No … Yes, actually.” Though he doubted that a gallon of ice water would dampen the fire in his gut. “Blood always makes me panic.”

“Panicked or not, you were certainly efficient.” She poured him a glass of lemonade from the fat pitcher she fetched from the refrigerator. “And it was a very nice story.” She was smiling now, more at ease.

“A story usually serves to calm both Jessie and me during a session with iodine and bandages.”

“Iodine stings.” She expertly dabbed a tobacco brown liquid from a small apothecary jar onto her cleaned cuts. “I can give you something that won’t, if you like. For your next emergency.”

“What is it?” Suspicious, he sniffed at the jar. “Smells like flowers.” And so did she.

“For the most part it is. Herbs, flowers, a dash of this and that.” She set the bottle aside, capped it. “It’s what you might call a natural antiseptic. I’m an herbalist.”

“Oh.”

She laughed at the skeptical look on his face. “That’s all right. The majority of people only trust healing aids they can buy at the drugstore. They forget that people healed themselves quite well through nature for hundreds of years.”

“They also died of lockjaw from a nick from a rusty nail.”

“True enough,” she agreed. “If they didn’t have access to a reputable healer.” Since she had no intention of trying to convert him, Ana changed the subject. “Did Jessie get off for her first day of school?”

“Yeah, she was raring to go. I was the one with the nervous stomach.” His smile came and went. “I want to thank you for being so tolerant of her. I know she has a tendency to latch onto people. It doesn’t cross her mind that they might not want to entertain her.”

“Oh, but she entertains me.” In an automatic gesture of courtesy, she took out a plate and lined it with cookies. “She’s very welcome here. She’s very sweet, unaffected and bright, and she doesn’t forget her manners. You’re doing a marvelous job raising her.”

He accepted a cookie, watching her warily. “Jessie makes it easy.”

“As delightful as she is, it can’t be easy raising a child on your own. I doubt it’s a snap even with two parents when the child is as energetic as Jessie. And as bright.” Ana selected a cookie for herself and missed the narrowing of his eyes. “She must get her imagination from you. It must be delightful for her to have a father who writes such lovely stories.”

His eyes sharpened. “How do you know what I do?”

The suspicion surprised her, but she smiled again. “I’m a fan—actually, an avid fan—of Boone Sawyer’s.”

“I don’t recall telling you my first name.”

“No, I don’t believe you did,” Ana said agreeably. “Are you always so suspicious of a compliment, Mr. Sawyer?”

“I had my reasons for settling quietly here.” He set the half-empty glass down on the counter with a little clink. “I don’t care for the idea of my neighbor interrogating my daughter, or digging into my business.”

“Interrogating?” She nearly choked on the word. “Interrogating Jessie? Why would I?”

“To get to know a little more about the rich widower in the next house.”

For one throbbing moment, she could only gape. “How unbelievably arrogant! Believe me, I enjoy Jessie’s company, and I don’t find it necessary to bring you into the conversation.”

What he considered her painfully transparent astonishment made him sneer. He’d handled her type before,
but it was a disappointment, a damned disappointment, for Jessie. “Then it’s odd that you’d know my name, that I’m a single parent, and my line of work, isn’t it?”

She wasn’t often angry. It simply wasn’t her nature. But now she fought a short, vicious war with temper. “You know, I doubt very much you’re worth an explanation, but I’m going to give you one, just to see how difficult it is for you to talk when you have to shove your other foot in your mouth.” She turned. “Come with me.”

“I don’t want—”

“I said come with me.” She strode out of the kitchen, fully certain he would follow.

Though annoyed and reluctant, he did. They moved through an archway and into a sun-drenched great room dotted with the charm of white wicker furniture and chintz. There were clusters of glinting crystals, charming statues of elves and sorcerers and faeries. Through another archway and into a cozy library with a small Adam fireplace and more mystical statuary.

There was a deep, cushioned sofa in raspberry that would welcome an afternoon napper, daintily feminine lace curtains dancing in the breeze that teased through an arching window, and the good smell of books mixed with the airy fragrance of flowers.

Ana walked directly to a shelf, rising automatically to her toes to reach the desired volumes. “
The Milkmaid’s Wish
,” she recited as she pulled out one book after another. “
The Frog, the Owl and the Fox
.
A Third Wish for Miranda
.” She tossed a look over her shoulder, though tossing one of the books would have been more satisfactory. “It’s a shame I have to tell you how much I enjoy your work.”

Uncomfortable, he tucked his hands in his pockets. He was already certain he’d taken a wrong turn, and he was wondering if he could find a suitable way to backtrack. “It isn’t often grown women read fairy tales for pleasure.”

“What a pity. Though you hardly deserve the praise, I’ll tell you that your work is lyrical and valuable, on both a child’s and an adult’s level.” Far from mollified, she shoved two of the books back into place. “Then again, perhaps such things are in my blood. I was very often lulled to sleep by one of my aunt’s stories. Bryna
Donovan,” she said, and had the pleasure of seeing his eyes widen. “I imagine you’ve heard of her.”

Thoroughly chastised, Boone let out a long breath. “Your aunt.” He flicked his gaze over the shelf and saw several of Bryna’s stories of magic and enchanted lands alongside his. “We’ve actually corresponded a few times. I’ve admired her work for years.”

“So have I. And when Jessie mentioned that her father wrote stories about fairy princesses and dragons, I concluded the Sawyer next door was Boone Sawyer. Grilling a six-year-old wasn’t necessary.”

“I’m sorry.” No, actually, he was much more embarrassed than sorry, but that would have to do. “I had an … uncomfortable experience not long before we moved, and it’s made me overly sensitive.” He picked up a small, fluidly sculpted statue of an enchantress, turning it in his fingers as he spoke. “Jessie’s kindergarten teacher … she pumped all sorts of information out of the kid. Which isn’t too hard, really, since Jessie’s pump’s always primed.”

He set the statue down again, all the more embarrassed that he felt this obligation to explain. “But she manipulated Jessie’s feelings, her natural need for a mother figure, gave her all sorts of extra attention, requested several conferences to discuss Jessie’s unusual potential, even going so far as to arrange a one-on-one with me over dinner where she … Suffice it to say she was more interested in an unattached male with a nice portfolio than she was in Jessie’s feelings or her welfare. Jessie was very hurt by it.”

Ana tapped a finger on the edge of one of his books before replacing it. “I imagine it was a difficult experience for both of you. But let me assure you, I’m not in the market for a husband. And, if I were, I wouldn’t resort to manipulations and maneuvers. I’m afraid happy-ever-after has been too well indoctrinated in me for that.”

“I’m sorry. After I get those feet out of my mouth, I’ll try to come up with a better apology.”

The way she lifted her brow told him he wasn’t out of the woods yet. “I think the fact that we understand each other will do. Now, I’m sure you want to get back to work, and so do I.” She walked past him into a tiled foyer and opened the front door. “Tell Jessie to be sure to drop by and let me know how she likes school.”

Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry? Boone thought as he stepped out. “I will. Take care of those scratches,”
he added, but she was already closing the door in his face.

Chapter 3

Good going, Sawyer. Shaking his head, Boone sat down in front of his word processor. First his dog knocks her down in her own yard; then our blundering hero barges into her house uninvited to play with her legs. To cap it, he insults her integrity and insinuates that she’s using his daughter to try to trap him.

All in one fun-filled afternoon, he thought in disgust. It was a wonder she hadn’t pitched him bodily out of her house rather than simply slamming the door in his face.

And why had he acted so stupidly? Past experience, true. But that wasn’t the root of it, and he knew it.

Hormones, he decided with a half laugh. The kind of raging hormones better suited to a teenager than a grown man.

He’d looked up at her face in that sun-washed kitchen, feeling her skin warm under his hand, smelling that serenely seductive scent she exuded, and he’d wanted. He’d craved. For one blinding moment, he’d imagined with perfect clarity what it would be like to drag her off that curvy little chair, to feel that quick jerk-shudder of reaction as he devoured that incredibly soft-looking mouth.

That instant edge of desire had been so sharp, he’d needed to believe there was some outside force, some ploy or plot or plan to jumble his system so thoroughly.

Safest course, he realized with a sigh. Blame her.

Of course, he might have been able to dismiss the whole thing if it hadn’t been for the fact that at that moment he’d looked up into her eyes and seen the same dreamy hunger he was feeling. And he’d felt the power, the mystery, the titanic sexuality, of a woman on the point of yielding.

His imagination had a great deal of punch, he knew. But what he’d seen, what he’d felt, had been utterly real.

For a moment, for just a moment, the tensions and needs had had that room humming like a harp string. Then he’d pulled back—as he should. A man had no business seducing his neighbor in her kitchen.

Now he’d very likely destroyed any chance of getting to know her better—just when he’d realized he very much wanted to get to know Miss Anastasia Donovan.

Pulling out a cigarette, Boone ran his fingers over it while he thought through various methods of redemption. When the light dawned, it was so simple he laughed out loud. If he’d been looking for a way into the fair maiden’s heart—which he wasn’t, exactly—it couldn’t have been more perfect.

BOOK: Charmed
4.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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