desire to take, take more, take swiftly, swarmed into him.

Then his mouth was on her, sucking her in with a desperate hunger that threatened to consume them both. She threw her arm back, reached, but there was nothing to hold on to except empty air. He dragged her up, his mouth streaking down her torso, teeth scraping, until, gasping for air, she folded herself around him.

He couldn't wait, knew it would kill him to wait. The only thought in his head was now, it had to be now, and even that was wrapped in the rusty edges of primal need. He tugged at her shorts, cursing, then plunged his fingers inside her.

She bucked, cried out, came. He watched her eyes go opaque, her head fall back so that the long line of her throat was there for him to feast on. Battling the violent urge to drive himself into her, he continued to taste until the sharp void was filled.

Then he freed himself from his jeans and slipped into her. She cried out again, her muscles clamping tight around him.

And he lost his mind.

Speed and heat and force. More. He shoved her knees up and stroked deeper, harder, darkly thrilled when her nails bit into his shoulders. He plunged inside her, quivering with raw, blind greed.

Sensations swamped her, scraped at her, stripped her into one shuddering mass of need. She thought she might die from it. When the next orgasm slammed into her, a hard, hot fist, she thought she had.

And went limp, her hands sliding from Ethan's damp shoulders, the silver flash of energy draining to leave her exhausted. She heard his long, low groan, felt his body plunge, then stiffen. When he collapsed on her, panting, her lips curved in a smile of pure female satisfaction.

The sunlight dazzled her eyes as she stroked her hands down and over his hips. "Ethan." She turned her head to kiss his hair. "No, not yet," she murmured when he started to shift. "Not yet."

He'd been rough with her, and he cursed himself for allowing the knot on his control to slip. "Are you all right?"

"Mmmmmm. I could lie here all day, just like this."

"I didn't take the time I meant to."

"We don't have as much as most people."

"No." He lifted his head. "You wouldn't even tell me if I'd hurt you." So he looked for himself, carefully studying her face. And he saw in it the sleepy satisfaction of a woman well, if hurriedly, loved. "I guess I didn't."

"It was exciting. It was wonderful knowing you wanted me so much." Lazily, she twirled a lock of his sun-tipped hair around her finger and hugged the gorgeously wicked sensation of being naked in bed with him in the middle of the day. "I'd been worried that I wanted you more than you could ever want me."

"You couldn't." To prove it, he kissed her long and slow and deep. "This isn't the way I want it for you. Cramming minutes alone between chores. And using those minutes to jump into bed because it's all we've got."

"I've never made love in the middle of the day before." She smiled. "I liked it."

On a long breath, he lowered his brow to hers. If it had been possible, he would have spent the rest of the day right there, inside her. "We're going to have to figure out a way to find a little more time now and again."

"I've got tomorrow night off. You could come by for dinner… and stay."

"I ought to take you out somewhere."

"There's nowhere I want to go. I'd like it if we could have dinner in." Then her smile spread. "I'll make you some tortellini. I just got this new recipe."

When he laughed, she threw her arms around him and chalked up another of the happiest moments of her life. "Oh, I love you, Ethan." She was so giddy with it that it took her a moment to realize he was no longer laughing, had gone very still. Her wildly bounding heart slowed, and chilled.

"Maybe you don't want me to say that, but I can't help feeling it. I don't expect you to say it back, or feel obligated to—"

His fingers pressed lightly against her lips to silence her. "Give me a minute, Grace," he said quietly. His system had flooded, rising tides of joys, hopes, fears. He couldn't think past them, not clearly. But he knew her, knew that what he said now, and how he said it, would be vitally important.

"I've had feelings for you for so long," he began, "I can't remember when I didn't have them. I've spent just as long telling myself I shouldn't have them, so all of this is taking me some time to get used to."

When he shifted this time, she didn't try to stop him. She nodded, avoided his eyes and reached for her clothes. "It's enough that you want me, maybe even need me a little. It's enough for now, Ethan. This is all so new for both of us."

"They're strong feelings, Grace. You matter to me more than any woman ever has."

She looked at him now. If he said it, she knew he meant it. Hope began to beat in her heart again. "If you had feelings for me, strong feelings, why didn't you ever let me know?"

"First you weren't old enough," He pushed his hand through his hair, knowing that that was an evasion, an excuse, and not the core of it. He couldn't tell her the core of it. "And I wasn't real comfortable having the kind of thoughts and feelings for you I was having when you were still in high school."

She could have leaped up on the bed and danced. "Since I was in high school? All this time?"

"Yeah, all this time. Then you were in love with somebody else, so I didn't have any right to feel anything but friendship."

She let out a careful breath, because it would be a confession that shamed her. "I was never in love with anybody else. It was always you."

"Jack—"

"I never loved him, and everything that went wrong between us was more my fault than his. I let him be the first man to touch me because I never thought you would. And about the time I realized how foolish that was, I was pregnant."

"You can't say it was your fault."

"Yes, I can." To keep her hands busy, she began to tidy the bed. "I knew he wasn't in love with me, but I married him because I was afraid not to. And for a while I was ashamed, angry and ashamed." She lifted a pillow, tucked it into its case. "Until one night when I was lying in bed thinking my life was over, and I felt this fluttering inside me."

She closed her eyes, pressed the pillow against her. "I felt Aubrey, and it was so… so huge, that little flutter, that I wasn't ashamed or angry anymore. Jack gave me that." She opened her eyes again and carefully laid the pillow on the bed. "I'm grateful to him, and I don't blame him for leaving. He never felt that flutter. Aubrey was never real to him."

"He was a coward, and worse, for leaving you weeks before the baby was born."

"Maybe, but I was a coward, and worse, for being with him, for marrying him when I never had a fraction of the feeling for him that I did for you."

"You're the bravest woman I know, Grace."

"It's easy to be brave when you have a child depending on you. I guess what I'm trying to tell you is that if I made a mistake, it was in going so long without letting you know I loved you. Whatever feelings you have for me, Ethan, are more than I ever thought you would have. And that's enough."

"I've been in love with you for the best part of ten years, and it's still not enough."

She'd picked up the second pillow, and now it slipped out of her hands. When tears swam into her eyes, she closed them, squeezed tight. "I thought I could live without ever hearing you say that. Now I need to hear you say it again so I can get my breath back."

"I love you, Grace."

Her lips curved, her eyes opened. "You sound so serious, almost sad when you say it." Wanting to see him smile again, she held out a hand. "Maybe you should practice."

His fingers had just touched hers when the screen door slammed downstairs. Feet pounded on the stairs. Even as they jerked apart, Seth raced down the hall. He skidded to a halt at the door to his room, then stood, stared.

He glanced at the bed, the sheets not quite smoothed out, the pillow on the floor. Then his gaze shifted, and filled with a bitter fury that was much too adult in his young face.

"You bastard." There was loathing in the tone as he sna

pped at Ethan, then disgust as his eyes locked on Grace. "I thought you were different."

"Seth." She took a step forward, but he turned on his heel and ran. "Oh, God, Ethan." When she started to rush after the boy, Ethan took her arm.

"No, I'll go after him. I know what he's feeling. Don't worry." He gave her arm a squeeze before walking out. Still, she followed him to the steps, worried sick. She'd never seen such dark hate in the eyes of a child.

"Damn it, Seth, I told you to hurry up." Cam slammed in the front door just as Ethan hit the bottom of the steps. Cam glanced up, saw Grace, and felt a grin tug at his mouth. "Oops."

"I don't have time for lame jokes," Ethan shot back. "Seth just took off."

"What? Why?" It struck him even before the word was out. "Oh, shit. He must have gone out the back."

"I'm going after him." He shook his head before Cam could protest. "It's me he's pissed off at right now. It's me he figures let him down. I have to fix it." He glanced up to where Grace sat on the steps. "Look after her," he murmured to Cam and headed for the back door.

Ethan knew Seth would have headed into the woods, and he had to trust that the boy wouldn't run too far into the marsh. He was a survivor, Ethan thought. But relief shimmered through him when he heard the rustle of brush and old leaves.

It was simple enough to spot where Seth had veered off the path. Ethan pushed through tangled vines, the prickle of briars, and followed. The leaves on the trees that arched overhead blocked the glare and the worst of the sun's heat. But the humidity was immense.

Sweat ran down Ethan's back, dripped into his eyes, as he patiently walked, and waited. He was well aware that Seth was evading him, keeping a few yards ahead. Finally he sat on a fallen log, deciding it would be easier to let the boy come to him.

It took ten long minutes, with gnats swarming in clouds and mosquitoes sniffing for blood, but finally Seth emerged from a thicket and faced him.

"I'm not going back with you." He all but spat it out. "If you try to make me, I'll just run again."


Tags: Nora Roberts Chesapeake Bay Saga Romance
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