She turned to him. "Because them dancing together, them looking at each other the way they were, was what this was all about. Not decorations or pretty lights or cocktail shrimp. It was about people making a connection, and believing in it. In each other. What would have happened if either one of them, all those years ago, had stepped back or turned away? They'd have missed dancing on the patio, and everything in between. "
"I never got to dance with you. " He reached out, skimmed his fingers over her cheek. "Nell-"
"There you are!" Eyes damp and brill
iant, Gladys rushed in. "I was afraid you'd slipped out. "
"No, indeed. I need to finish up here, then do a run-through of the house to make sure I have everything back in order. "
"You certainly do not. You've done enough, more than I expected. I never had such a party, not in my whole life. Why, people will be talking about it for years. "
She took Nell's shoulders, kissed both her cheeks. "I was a pest, and I know it. " Then she hugged Nell breathless. "Oh, this was such a treat, and I'm not waiting three decades to do it again. Now, I want you to go home and get off your feet. "
She pressed a crisp hundred-dollar bill into Nell's hand. "This is for you. "
"Mrs. Macey, you're not supposed to tip me. Peg and-"
"I've taken care of them. You're going to hurt my feelings if you don't take this and go buy yourself something pretty. Now I want you to scat. Anything else needs to be done, it'll wait until tomorrow. Sheriff, you help our Nell out to her car with her trays. "
"I'll do that. "
"This was better than my wedding," Gladys said as she started to the door. She turned back briefly, winked. "Now let's see if we can improve on my wedding night. "
"Looks like Carl's in for a surprise. " Zack hefted a stack of trays. "We'd better move along, give the young couple some privacy. "
"I'm right behind you. "
It took three trips between them, with Carl pushing a bottle of champagne into Nell's hands as he nudged them along.
"Here's your hat, what's your hurry?" Zack chuckled as he loaded Nell's trunk.
"Where's your car?"
"Hmm? Oh, Ripley used it to take the last couple of semi-impaired guests home. Most people walked, which helped out. "
Nell let herself look at him. He was wearing a suit, but had already rid himself of the tie. She could see the faint bulge where he'd stuffed it in his pocket.
He'd opened his collar, so she could see the clean, tanned line of his throat.
There was a faint smile on his lips as he watched the lights in the Macey house wink out, one at a time. His profile wasn't perfect. His hair hadn't been styled. And the way he stood, his thumbs tucked in the front pockets of his suit pants, was relaxed rather than posed.
When the shimmer of desire came, she didn't try to close it off. Instead she took a step forward.
"I've only had half a glass of champagne. I'm unimpaired, thinking clearly, and my reflexes are perfect. "
He turned his head toward her. "As sheriff, I'm glad to know it. "
Still watching him, she drew her keys out of her pocket, held them dangling. "Come home with me. You drive. "
The twinkle in his eyes turned to razor-sharp intensity. "I'm not going to ask if you're sure. " He took the keys. "I'm just going to tell you to get in the car. "
Her knees felt a bit wobbly, but she walked to the door, slid in while he got behind the wheel.
When he yanked her across the seat, ravished her mouth, she forgot all about wobbly knees and did her best to crawl into his lap.
"Hold on, just hold on. Christ Jesus. " He stabbed the keys into the ignition. The engine whimpered to life, and he swung the protesting car into a tight U-turn. It shimmied in protest, making Nell giggle nervously.
"If this heap falls apart before we get there, we'll have to run for it. Zack-" She flipped off the seat belt she'd automatically snapped on, and slithered over to bite his ear. "I feel like I'm going to explode. "
"Did I ever mention I'm particularly partial to women wearing little black vests?"
"I just found out tonight. " Reaching out, he snagged the vest by the center vee, tugged her back against him. Understandably distracted, he took the turn too sharp and bumped the wheels over the curb.
"One more minute," he panted. "Just one more minute. "
With a squeal of brakes and a violent jerk, he stopped in front of Nell's cottage. He managed, barely, to turn off the ignition before he reached for her. Dragging her across his lap, he found her mouth with his again. And let his hands do as they pleased.
Need spurted through her, hot and welcome. Riding on it, she tugged at his jacket, arched against his hands. And thrilled at the first scrape of callus over her flesh.
"Inside. " He felt as randy and impatient as a teenager, and as fumbling as he fought to open the car door. "We have to get inside. "
He whipped her out, his breathing already ragged as they continued to fight with each other's clothes. They stumbled, and buttons popped off his shirt. As he half carried her toward the cottage, her delighted laughter rang in his head.
"Oh! I love your hands! I want them all over me. "
"I'll take care of that. Goddamn it, what's wrong with this door?" Even as he vented his frustration by rapping his hip hard against it, it flew open.
They ended up in a heap on the floor, half in, half out.
"Right here. Right here. " She chanted it while her fingers worked busily at his belt.
"Wait. Just a-let me close the-" He managed to roll, scoot, and kick the door shut.
The room was all moonlight and shadows. The floor was as hard as brick. Neither of them noticed as they tore at clothes, rolled and tugged. He caught glimpses, beautiful, erotic images of pale skin, soft curves, delicate lines.
He wanted to look. He wanted to wallow.
He had to take.
When her shirt caught at her wrists by the cuffs, he gave up, gave in and lowered his mouth to her breast.
She vibrated beneath him, a volcano on the brink of erupting. Flashes of white-hot heat, curls of keen-edged longing raced through her system until she was raw and ready.
She arched under him, more demand than offer, her nails biting restlessly into his back. The world was spinning, faster and faster, as if she'd leaped upon some mad carousel and all that kept her earthbound was the glorious weight of his body on hers.
"Right now. " She gripped his hips, opened for him. "Right now!"
He plunged, letting his body take over, letting his mind go. There was nothing but the relentless fury to mate. She closed around him, a hot, wet fist, and he felt her tighten, stretching like a bow beneath him before she let out a cry that rang with triumph.
Her climax ripped through him like madness.
Pleasure geysered through her, flooding senses, swamping reason. Flying free, she wrapped herself around him, clinging tight to take him with her.
And with her sheer joy, drove him over the edge.