Authors: Nora Roberts
“Really?” She licked caviar off her thumb. “And how was that?”
“It was . . . earnest. I went on impulse, and actually met a few interesting people. Some of them with power. One of the lectures dealt with the Salem trials, and segued into Three Sisters Island.”
He helped himself to the caviar. “They had most of the facts, but not the spirit. Not the heart. This place . . .” He skimmed the woods, listened to the beat of the sea. “It can’t be summed up in a fifty-minute lecture.” He looked back at her. “Will you stay?”
“I’ve never left.”
“No.” He brushed her hand with his. “For dinner.”
She picked up another toast point. “Yes.”
He topped off her wine before he rose. “It’ll take me a minute.”
“I’ll give you a hand.”
“No. It’s under control.”
Under control, he thought as he went back to the kitchen, thanks to Nell. Not only had she prepared everything and delivered it, but she’d left him a detailed list of
instructions—one, he’d discovered, that even the culinary retarded could follow.
Blessing Nell, he managed to serve the tomato slices in oil and herbs and the cold lobster.
“It’s lovely.” Mia stretched out comfortably as she enjoyed the meal. “I had no idea you were such a whiz in the kitchen.”
“Untapped talents,” he said and smoothly changed the subject. “I’m thinking of buying a boat.”
“Are you? John Bigelow still makes wooden boats to order. Though he only does one or two a year now.”
“I’ll go see him. Do you do any sailing now?”
“Occasionally. But it was never a passion of mine.”
“I remember.” He touched her hair. “You preferred watching boats to being on one.”
“Or being in the water rather than on it.” She glanced over as a group of teenagers raced by, using the shortcut from one of the neighboring summer rentals to the beach. “Mr. Bigelow rents boats, too, but if you want to try your hand again before you buy, you’re better off talking to Drake at Seafarer. He’s built up a very nice rental business.”
“Drake Birmingham? I haven’t seen him since I’ve been back. Or Stacey. How are they?”
“They’re divorced. She took the kids—they had two—and moved to Boston. Drake remarried about six years ago. Connie Ripley. They have a little boy.”
“Connie Ripley.” Sam flipped through mental images as he tried to place her. “Big brunette with a lot of teeth.”
“That would be Connie.”
“She was just ahead of me in school,” he recalled. “Drake must be at least—”
“He’s on the other side of fifty.” Mia twirled her wineglass by the stem. “The age difference, and the speculation about a blistering affair between them causing the
marriage to break up, was the hot topic on-island for a good six months.” She plucked up another bite of lobster. “Nell really outdid herself. The lobster’s delicious.”
He winced. “Tagged. Do I lose points?”
“Not at all. By hiring Three Sisters Catering, you show wisdom and good taste. Now.” She crossed her legs, picked up her file.
“I love looking at you.” He traced a fingertip over her ankle. “Any light, any angle. But just now, when the sun’s going down, and the candles are tossing light, I love looking at you.”
It fluttered in her blood. The words, the tone, the look in his eyes as he shifted toward her. Lightly, his hand cupped the back of her neck. Sweetly, his lips rubbed against hers.
The flutter turned to a melting. She breathed him in, along with the scent of lilacs and candle wax. And her head took one long, lazy spin.
“Sorry.” He pressed a kiss to her forehead, then eased back. “There are moments when I can’t keep my hands off you. Let’s see what you’ve got here.”
What she had was a case of weak knees and dizzy confusion. He’d kissed her bones away one moment and was now briskly reviewing her file.
“What is this about, Sam?”
“Business and pleasure,” he said absently and skimmed his hand down her back before taking out her copy of the upcoming ad. “This is great. Did you design it?”
Settle down, she ordered herself. “Yes.”
“You should send a copy to her publicist.”
“Good. I’ve already seen the flyer, but I don’t think I told you how effective it is.”
“Problem?” he asked nonchalantly.
She felt her teeth clench at his mild question. Irritated that she
irritated, Mia composed herself. “No. I appreciate your input.” She took a deep breath. “I really do. This is a big event for the store. I want it done not just right, but perfectly.”
“I’m sure Caroline’s going to enjoy herself.”
There was something, some subtle something in the way he said the name. “You know her personally?”
“Hmm. Yeah. This is a nice touch, having Nell make a cake that reproduces the book jacket. The flowers. You may want to change them to pink roses. I seem to recall she prefers those.”
“You seem to recall.”
“Uh-huh. I see here you’re planning to have champagne and chocolate in her suite as a welcome gift from the store. I’d suggest, since the hotel would already provide this amenity, that we add a couple of things and combine it. From the hotel and the store.”
Mia tapped her fingers on her knee, then made herself stop. “That’s an excellent idea. Perhaps some candles, a book on the island, that sort of thing.”
“Perfect.” He skimmed through the e-mail and faxed correspondence between Mia and the publicist, nodded. “I can’t see you’ve missed a trick. So . . .” He laid the folder aside, leaned toward her again.
When his mouth was a breath from hers, she pressed a hand to his chest. Smiled. “I’d like to freshen up.”
She got to her feet, took her wine with her, and walked into the house.
Once in the kitchen, she took a good look around. It was admirably tidy, but then she doubted if he used it except for brewing his first hit of coffee in the morning. He’d always been a cliché in the kitchen. The man who could burn water.
She saw Nell’s instruction sheet lying on the counter, and softened.
She wandered into the living room, pursing her lips in consideration when she spotted the coffee table book. There were candles here as well, and he used them. It made her wonder what rituals and meditation techniques he practiced when he was alone.
Like her, he’d always been a solitary witch.
There were no photographs, but she hadn’t expected them. The pair of lovely watercolors on the wall was unexpected. Garden scenes, she mused. Soft and serene. It surprised her that he hadn’t selected more dramatic and bold images.
Other than the candles and paintings, and the obviously new and unread book, there was little of Sam Logan in the living area of the cottage. He hadn’t surrounded himself with the bits of comfort that were so essential to her.
No flowers or little pots of plants, no bowls of colorful stones or glass.
Since she had pried this far—and she reminded herself she was both his lover and his landlord—she didn’t scruple to walk into his bedroom.
There was more of him here—the scent, the feel. The old iron bed she’d bought for the cottage was made up in an almost militarily efficient dark blue spread. The floors were bare. But there was a book on his nightstand, a thriller that she’d enjoyed herself, marked with one of his business cards.
The single painting here was bold and dramatic. An old stone altar rose out of rocky ground into a sky vivid with the triumphant red streaks of sunrise.
On his dresser was a large and lovely chunk of sodalite that she imagined he used for meditation. His windows were open, and she could smell the lavender she’d planted herself.
Because it made her yearn—the simplicity, the fragrance, that almost ridiculously masculine sense of him—she turned away from it.
In the tiny bathroom, she freshened her lipstick, dabbed the perfumed oil she had made herself on her throat, her wrists. Since Sam was priming her for a seduction, she would accommodate him. But not until she was home again, on her own ground.
She could play toy and tease just as skillfully as he.
When she came back out, he’d already switched the dinner service for glass bowls filled with ripe red strawberries and rich whipped cream.
“I wasn’t sure if you wanted coffee, or more wine.”
“Wine.” A confident woman, she thought, could afford to be just a bit reckless.
Night was sliding in. She sat beside him, letting her fingers dance through his hair before she reached for a berry. “I had no idea . . .” Deliberately, watching him, she ran her tongue over the berry, then nipped in. “That you were interested in Renaissance art.”
Some circuit in his brain seemed to cross wires. He could almost hear it fizzle. “What?”
“Renaissance art.” She dipped her finger into the cream, licked it off. “The book in your living room.”
“The . . . oh.” He managed to tear his gaze away from her mouth. “Yes. It’s a fascinating period.”
She waited until he’d coated a berry with cream, then leaned over playfully and took a bite of it. “Mmm,” she purred and slid her tongue over her top lip. “Do you prefer Tintoretto’s depiction of the Annunciation, or Erte’s?”
Another circuit snapped. “Both are brilliant.”
“Oh, absolutely. Except, of course, Erte was a sculptor, Art Deco, and born centuries after the Renaissance.”
“I assumed you were referring to Giovanni Erte, an
obscure and impoverished Renaissance artist who died tragically of scurvy. He was very unappreciated.”
The laugh rolled out of her and tightened every muscle in his stomach. “Oh,
Erte. I stand corrected.” This time she nipped his bottom lip instead of a berry. “You’re awfully cute, aren’t you?”
“I paid through the nose for that book. I imagine Lulu’s still cackling about it.” He let her feed him a berry. “I went in to buy some music and came out with fifty pounds of books.”
“I like the music.” She lay back across the white cloth, her head on an emerald-green pillow. “It relaxes me. Makes me think about floating in a warm river in a shady wood. Mmm. My head’s full of wine.”
She stretched, lazily so the thin fabric of her dress slithered over her curves. “I don’t suppose I’ll be able to drive your sexy car tonight after all.”
She waited for him to tell her she could drive it in the morning, to ask her to come inside, to stay with him. And when he lay beside her, traced a fingertip down her throat, over the rise of her breasts, she smiled.
“We can take a walk, let the sea air clear your head a bit.” He caught the flicker of surprise on her face just before he lowered his mouth to hers.
He nibbled, nipped, let his hands roam. He felt her yield, the softening of her body, the quickening of her pulse. To torment them both, he trailed his fingers along her leg, skimming them under her dress to the warm, silky skin of her thigh, circling the witch mark.
“Unless . . .” He slid a finger under the edge of her panties at the hip. Closed his teeth, lightly, lightly, over her breast through the soft cotton of her dress. “You’re not in the mood for a walk.”
She felt more than reckless now, and arched her hips in invitation. “No, a walk isn’t what I’m in the mood for.”
“Then . . .” He bit, just a little harder. “I’ll drive.”
And when he rose, held out a hand, she gaped at him. “Drive?”
“Drive you home.” Seeing her in speechless shock was, he thought, nearly as satisfying as . . . No, not even close to as satisfying, he admitted. But it was precisely the reaction he’d hoped for.
He pulled her to her feet, then bent down to pick up her file and her flowers. “Don’t want to forget these.”
She recalculated on the drive home. He assumed,
correctly, she thought, that she wouldn’t stay with him at the cottage. And he’d decided, also correctly, that in order to complete the seduction, he would need to maneuver her into her own bed.
And that, Mia thought as she leaned back to watch the stars, was exactly where she wanted him.
Since he’d gone to so much trouble, and it had been sweet of him, she would let him . . . persuade her. Once they’d had sex, her mind and her body would be back on an even keel.
When they pulled up at her house, she felt fully in control of the situation. “It was a lovely evening. Absolutely lovely.” The look she sent him was as warm as her voice as he walked with her to the door. “Thanks again for the flowers.”
At the door, with her wind chimes singing, and the lamplight glowing against the windows, he ran his hands up her arms, down again. “Come out with me again. I’ll rent a boat, and we can spend a lazy day on the water. Swim.”
He cupped her face in his hands, tangled them in her hair as he kissed her. Going deeper when she made a quiet sound of pleasure. When she pressed invitingly against him, he reached behind her, opened the door.
“Better go in,” he murmured against her mouth.
“Yes. Better.” Nearly dizzy with need, she stepped into the house, and turning, caressed his cheek.
He thought she looked like a siren.
“I’ll call you.” With a hand that he considered admirably steady, he pulled the door closed between them.
They had, he thought as he walked to the car, just had their first official date in eleven years. And it had been a doozy.