Read Charmed Online

Authors: Nora Roberts

Charmed (6 page)

BOOK: Charmed
11.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Pleased with himself, he settled down to work until it was time to pick up Jessie at school.

*  *  *

Conceited jerk. Ana worked off her temper with mortar and pestle. It was very satisfying to grind something—even if it was only some innocent herbs—into a powder. Imagine.
Imagine
him having the idea that she was … on the make, she decided, sneering. As if she’d found him irresistible. As if she’d been pining away behind some glass wall waiting for her prince to come. So that she could snare him.

The gall of the man.

At least she’d had the satisfaction of thumbing her nose at him. And if closing a door in anyone’s face was out of character for her, well, it had felt wonderful at the time.

So wonderful, in fact, that she wouldn’t mind doing it again.

It was a damn shame he was so talented. And it couldn’t be denied that he was a wonderful father. They were traits she couldn’t help but admire. There was no denying he was attractive, magnetically sexual, with just a dash of shyness tossed in for sweetness, along with the wild tang of untamed male.

And those eyes, those incredible eyes that just about stopped your breath when they focused on you.

Ana scowled and tightened her grip on the pestle. Not that she was interested in any of that.

There might have been a moment in the kitchen, when he was stroking her flesh so gently and his voice
blocked out all other sound, that she found herself drawn to him.

All right, aroused by him, she admitted. It wasn’t a crime.

But he’d certainly shut that switch off quickly enough, and that was fine by her.

Beginning this instant, and from now on, she would think of him only as Jessica’s father. She would be aloof if it killed her, friendly only to the point where it eased her relationship with the child.

She enjoyed having Jessie in her life, and she wasn’t about to sacrifice that pleasure because of a basic and very well–justified dislike of Jessie’s father.

“Hi!”

There was that pixie face peeping through Ana’s screen door. Even the dregs of temper were difficult to hold on to when she was faced with those big smiling eyes.

Ana set the mortar and pestle aside and smiled back. She supposed she had to be grateful that Boone hadn’t let the altercation that afternoon influence him to keep Jessie away.

“Well, it looks like you survived your first day of school. Did school survive you?”

“Uh-huh. My teacher’s name is Mrs. Farrell. She has gray hair and big feet, but she’s nice, too. And I met Marcie and Tod and Lydia and Frankie, and lots of others. In the morning we—”

“Whoa.” With a laugh, Ana held up both hands. “Maybe you should come in and sit down before you give me the day’s events.”

“I can’t open the door, ’cause my hands are full.”

“Oh.” Ana obligingly pushed open the screen. “What have you got there?”

“Presents.” On a huff of breath, Jessie dropped a package on the table. Then she held up a large crayon drawing. “We got to draw pictures today, and I made two. One for Daddy and one for you.”

“For me?” Touched, Ana accepted the colorful drawing on the thick beige paper that brought back some of her own school memories. “It’s beautiful, sunshine.”

“See? This is you.” Jessie pointed out a figure with yellow hair. “And Quigley.” Here a childish but undeniably clever depiction of a cat. “And all the flowers. The roses and the daisies and the lark things.”

“Larkspur,” Ana murmured, misty-eyed.

“Uh-huh. And all the others,” Jessie continued. “I couldn’t remember all the names. But you said you’d teach me.”

“Yes, I will. It’s just lovely, Jessie.”

“I drew Daddy one of our new house with him standing out on the deck, because he likes to stand there best. He put it on the refrigerator.”

“An excellent idea.” Ana walked over to center the picture on the refrigerator door, anchoring it with magnets.

“I like to draw. My daddy draws real good, and he said my mommy drew even better. So I come by it naturally.” Jessie slipped her hand into Ana’s. “Are you mad at me?”

“No, sweetheart. Why would I be?”

“Daddy said Daisy knocked you down and broke your pots, and you got hurt.” She studied the scratch on Ana’s arm, then kissed it solemnly. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right. Daisy didn’t mean it.”

“She didn’t mean to chew up Daddy’s shoes, either, and make him say swear words.”

Ana bit her lip. “I’m sure she didn’t.”

“Daddy yelled, and Daisy got so nervous she peed right on the rug. Then he chased her around and around the house, and it looked so funny that I couldn’t stop laughing. And Daddy laughed, too. He said he was going to build a doghouse outside and put Daisy and me in it.”

Ana lost any hope of taking it all seriously, and she laughed as she scooped Jessie up. “I think you and Daisy would have a great time in the doghouse. But if you’d like to save your father’s shoes, why don’t you let me help you work with her?”

“Do you know how? Can you teach her tricks and everything?”

“Oh, I imagine. Watch.” She shifted Jessie to her hip and called Quigley out from his nap beneath the kitchen table. The cat rose reluctantly, stretched his front legs, then his back, then padded out. “Okay, sit.”
Heaving a feline sigh, he did. “Up.” Resigned, Quigley rose on his haunches and pawed the air like a circus tiger. “Now, if you do your flip, I might just open a can of tuna fish later, for your dinner.”

The cat seemed to be debating with himself. Then—perhaps because the trick was small potatoes compared to tuna—he leapt up, arching his back and flipping over to land lightly on his feet. While Jessie crowed with laughter and applauded, Quigley modestly cleaned his paws.

“I didn’t know cats could do tricks.”

“Quigley’s a very special cat.” Ana set Jessie down to give Quigley a stroking. He purred like a freight train, nuzzling his face against her knee. “His family’s in Ireland, like most of mine.”

“Does he get lonely?”

Smiling, Ana scratched under Quigley’s jaw. “We have each other. Now, would you like a snack while you tell me about the rest of your day?”

Jessie hesitated, tempted. “I don’t think I can, ’cause it’s close to dinner, and Daddy— Oh, I almost forgot.” She rushed back to the table to pick up a package wrapped in candy-striped paper. “This is for you, from Daddy.”

“From …” Unconsciously Ana linked her hands behind her back. “What is it?”

“I know.” Jessie grinned, her eyes snapping with excitement. “But I can’t tell. Telling spoils the surprise. You have to open it.” Jessie picked it up and thrust it at Ana. “Don’t you like presents?” Jessie asked when Ana kept her hands clasped tightly behind her back. “I like them best of anything, and Daddy always gives really good ones.”

“I’m sure he does, but I—”

“Don’t you like Daddy?” Jessie’s lower lip poked out. “Are you mad at him because Daisy broke your pots?”

“No, no, I’m not mad at him.” Not for the broken pots, anyway. “It wasn’t his fault. And, yes, of course I like him—that is, I don’t know him very well, and I …” Caught, Ana decided, and she worked up a smile. “I’m just surprised to get a present when it’s not my birthday.” To please the child, Ana took the gift and shook it.
“Doesn’t rattle,” she said, and Jessie clapped and giggled.

“Guess! Guess what it is!”

“Ah … a trombone?”

“No, no, trombones are too big.” Excitement had her bouncing. “Open it. Open it and see.”

It was the child’s reaction that had her own heart beating a shade too fast, Ana assured herself. To please Jessie, she ripped the paper with a flourish. “Oh.”

It was a book, a child’s oversized book with a snowy white cover. On the front was a beautiful illustration of a golden-haired woman wearing a sparkling crown and flowing blue robes.


The Faerie Queen
,” Ana read. “By Boone Sawyer.”

“It’s brand-new,” Jessie told her. “You can’t even buy it yet, but Daddy gets his copies early.” She ran a hand gently over the picture. “I told him she looks like you.”

“It’s a lovely gift,” Ana said with a sigh. And a sneaky one. How was she supposed to stay irritated with him now?

“He wrote something inside for you.” Too impatient to wait, Jessie opened the cover herself. “See, right there.”

To Anastasia, with hopes that a magic tale works as well as a white flag. Boone.

Her lips curved. It was impossible to prevent it. How could anyone refuse a truce so charmingly requested?

*  *  *

Which was, of course, what Boone was counting on. As he shoved a packing box out of his way with his foot, he glanced through the window toward the house next door. Not a peep.

He imagined it might take a few days for Ana to calm down, but he thought he’d made a giant stride in the right direction. After all, he didn’t want any antagonism between himself and Jessie’s new friend.

Turning back to the stove, he lowered the heat on the boneless chicken breasts he had simmering, then
deftly began to mash potatoes.

Jessie’s number one favorite, he thought, as he sent the beaters whirling. They could have mashed potatoes every night for a year and the kid wouldn’t complain. Of course, it was up to him to vary the menu, to make sure she got a healthy meal every night.

Boone poured in more milk and grimaced. He had to admit, if there was one part of parenting he would cheerfully give up, it was the pressure of deciding what they were to eat night after night.

He didn’t mind cooking it so much, it was that daily decision between pot roast, baked chicken, pork chops and all the others. Plus what to serve with it. Out of desperation, he’d begun to clip recipes—secretly—in hopes of adding some variety.

At one time he’d seriously considered hiring a housekeeper. Both his mother and his mother-in-law had urged him to, and then they’d gone into one of their competitive huddles on how to choose the proper woman to fit the bill. But the idea of having someone in the house, someone who might gradually take over the rearing of his daughter, had deterred him.

Jessie was his. One hundred percent his. Despite dinner decisions and grocery shopping, that was the way he liked it.

As he added a generous slice of butter to the creamy potatoes, he heard her footsteps racing across the deck.

“Good timing, frog face. I was just about to give you a whistle.” He turned, licking potatoes from his finger, and saw Ana standing in the doorway, one hand on Jessie’s shoulder. The muscles in his stomach tightened so quickly that he nearly winced. “Well, hello.”

“I didn’t mean to interrupt your cooking,” Ana began. “I just wanted to thank you for the book. It was very nice of you to send it over.”

“I’m glad you like it.” He realized he had a dishcloth tucked in his jeans and hastily tugged it out. “It was the best peace offering I could think of.”

“It worked.” She smiled, charmed by the sight of him hovering busily over a hot stove. “Thanks for thinking of me. Now, I’d better get out of your way so you can finish cooking your dinner.”

“She can come in, can’t she?” Jessie was already tugging on Ana’s hand. “Can’t she, Daddy?”

“Sure. Please.” He shoved a box out of her way. “We haven’t finished unpacking yet. It’s taking longer than I thought it would.”

Out of politeness, and curiosity, Ana stepped inside. There were no curtains on the window as yet, and a few packing boxes littered the stone-colored floor tiles. But ranged along the royal blue countertop there was a glossy ceramic cookie jar in the shape of Alice’s white rabbit, a teapot of the mad hatter, and a dormouse sugar bowl. Potholders, obviously hooked by a child’s hand, hung on little brass hooks. The refrigerator’s art gallery was crowded with Jessie’s drawings, and the puppy was snoozing in the corner.

Unpacked and tidy, no, she thought. But this was already a home.

“It’s a great house,” she commented. “I wasn’t surprised when it sold quickly.”

“You want to see my room?” Jessie tugged on Ana’s hand again. “I have a bed with a roof on it, and lots of stuffed animals.”

“You can take Ana up later,” Boone put in. “Now you should go wash your hands.”

“Okay.” She looked imploringly at Ana. “Don’t go.”

“How about a glass of wine?” Boone offered when his daughter raced off. “A good way to seal a truce.”

“All right.” Drawings rustled as he opened the fridge. “Jessie’s quite an artist. It was awfully sweet of her to draw a picture for me.”

“Careful, or you’ll have to start papering the walls with them.” He hesitated, the bottle in his hand, wondering where he’d put the wineglasses, or if he’d unpacked them at all. A quick search through cupboards made it clear that he hadn’t. “Can you handle chardonnay in a Bugs Bunny glass?”

She laughed. “Absolutely.” She waited for him to pour hers, and his—Elmer Fudd. “Welcome to Monterey,” she said, raising Bugs in a toast.

“Thanks.” When she lifted the glass to her lips and smiled at him over the rim, he lost his train of thought. “I … Have you lived here long?”

“All my life, on and off.” The scent of simmering chicken and the cheerful disarray of the kitchen were so
homey that she relaxed. “My parents had a home here, and one in Ireland. They’re based in Ireland for the most part now, but my cousins and I settled here. Morgana was born in the house she lives in, on Seventeen Mile Drive. Sebastian and I were born in Ireland, in Castle Donovan.”

“Castle Donovan.”

She laughed a little. “It sounds pretentious. But it actually is a castle, quite old, quite lovely, and quite remote. It’s been in the Donovan family for centuries.”

“Born in an Irish castle,” he mused. “Maybe that explains why the first time I saw you I thought, well, there’s the faerie queen, right next door in the rosebushes.” His smiled faded, and he spoke without thinking. “You took my breath away.”

The glass stopped halfway to her lips. Those lips parted in surprised confusion. “I …” She drank to give herself a moment to think. “I suppose part of your gift would be imagining faeries under bushes, elves in the garden, wizards in the treetops.”

“I suppose.” She smelled as lovely as the breeze that brought traces of her garden and hints of the sea through his windows. He stepped closer, surprised and not entirely displeased to see the alarm in her eyes. “How’s that scratch? Neighbor.” Gently he cupped his hand around her arm, skimmed his thumb up until he felt the pulse inside her elbow skitter. Whatever was affecting him was damn well doing the same to her. His lips curved. “Hurt?”

BOOK: Charmed
11.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Rotten by Brooks, JL
Playing the Game by Queen, Stephanie
Eight Days to Live by Iris Johansen
Grizzly Love by Eve Langlais
The Horror in the Museum by H. P. Lovecraft
Always I'Ll Remember by Bradshaw, Rita