He softened, closing his arms around her.

"Yeah, I guess you're right."

"'Bout killed you to admit that, huh?"

"No."

"Liar, liar, pants on fire." She smiled at his sour look. "Besides, we still have a lot more rooms to christen."

He grinned slowly.

"And I do so love a good storm."

"You're twisted."

"Nah, just need that thunder to drown out my screaming when you do that thing you do with your hips."

"Oh, Laura," he groaned, and kissed her, his hands mapping her body and diving under her sweatshirt. He shaped her ribs, her breast, all the while kissing her and wanting her naked and ready for him.

She made a little sound in the back of her throat, pulling him harder against her.

"Is it bedtime yet?" he whispered, worrying her lips.

"In a little while."

"Damn."

She laughed softly, and when Kelly called to them, they parted.

Richard stepped back, gripping the counter and motioning to her. "You'd better go see what's up."

"I can see what's up," she said, laughing harder as she went to his daughter.

Richard just grinned and wondered how he'd managed to live without her in his life.

* * *

In the grand bed in the tower Richard pushed into her body, each stroke bringing them closer and closer to rapture. He watched her face, the sight more erotic than their joining as he retreated and slid smoothly home.

She gasped each time he did.

Outside the storm raged. Inside passion ruled.

She dug her heels into the mattress, rising up to greet him, their cadence smooth and quickening. He leaned down, his forehead pressed to hers as he thrust harder and watched ecstasy spread over her features as it peeled through her body.

And pulled him into his climax.

He ground to her, her womanly muscles clasping him, wringing him, and he never felt more vulnerable than in this moment. Nor more powerful.

Laura let the sinful pleasure swamp her, bathe her as he shuddered hard, spilling into her with a low growl. She felt shattered, her quivering body buffeting with delicious sensations and drumming them down to her soul.

"Oh, Richard, Richard," she gasped, pulling him down onto her, wrapping her limbs around him.

She kissed his throat, his scarred cheek, as the passion slowly faded and they sank back to earth. Neither spoke, neither knowing what to say or if they should put words to thoughts.

But Laura silently admitted them. She'd fallen deeply, madly in love with him. Her tender beast, her scarred prince. And she was afraid that she'd get what she deserved. Another broken heart.

And this one, she knew, would never heal.

* * *

Chapter 12

The hurricane was named Helen, and she was vengeful and mean when she was riled.

Typhoons of water coiled in the center of the river side of Moss Island. Even the marsh side waved like molasses, thick mud rising up and lowering with the power of the wind. On the sea side of the plot of paradise, waves curled twenty feet high, slapping down on the seawall like a pale white hand punishing the islanders who dared lived so close to the ocean.

Laura loved it. She wouldn't have, though, if she hadn't known she was safe in the large stone manor.

The rain sounded like tacks on a wood floor, the thunder like the crack of breaking wood. So far. She knew it would get worse and kept her ear tuned to the radio reports. The nearly airtight doors and windows occasionally pulsed with the change of the wind. All the glass was boarded over or taped. Outside, sandbags lined the living room French doors, and inside she'd laid towels and rags to absorb the water the wind forced under the door frame. It was the only spot in the house that was their concern.

Kelly watched TV or played with her dolls while Richard moved from room to room checking seals, then climbing into the uppermost rooms and the attic, assuring himself that the roof wasn't leaking.

She entered the yellow room, not flipping on the lights, and because the power had already flickered several times today, she used the battery-operated lantern. She went to the window and gazed down at the empty town. The last ferry had taken nearly everyone except the police off the island yesterday.

A sharp, loud crack of lightning split the black sky for several seconds, lighting the land below the house. My God, she thought.

"Richard," she called. "Come quick."

He rushed into the room. "You shouldn't be near that window," he said, coming to her side. "It's not taped."

She was still staring down at the village. "The wind hits from the sea side, not here," she said, then looked back over her shoulder. "But there are people still down there."

"What!" He rushed to the window.

"The town is flooding. When the lightning flashed, I saw the police four-by-four. The cop looked like he was trying to get them to safety." She pointed, yet knew he couldn't see anything in the dark. "We have to do something."

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