"Good thing for me. Otherwise Ripley was going to kick my ass. "
"And she's a hell of an ass-kicker, too. "
"She loves you. I always wanted a brother or a sister. My mother and I were tight, and I guess we got tighter after we lost my father. But I always wanted a sister. You'd've liked my mother. She was tough and smart and full of fun. Started her own business from the ground up after she was widowed. And she made it work. "
"Sounds like someone else I know. "
Her lips curved. "My father always said I took after her. Zack, who I am now is who I was before. The three years between, they were the aberration. You wouldn't recognize the person I became during that lost time. I barely do. "
"Maybe you had to go through it to get where you are now. "
"Maybe. " The light through the scope haloed as her eyes misted. "I feel like I was always headed here. All those moves when I was growing up. I'd look around and think: No, this isn't it. Not yet. The day I crossed over on the ferry, and I saw the island floating on the water, I knew. This is my place. "
He lifted their joined hands, kissed the back of hers. "The day I saw you behind the counter in the cafe, I knew. "
The thrill rocketed up her arm, and straight into her heart. "I've got baggage, Zack. I've got complications. More than I can tell you. You matter to me more than I thought anyone ever could. I don't want to mess up your life with my problems. "
"From where I'm sitting, Nell, it's too late to worry about that. I'm in love with you. "
Another long thrill rippled through her. "There's so much you don't know, and any one piece of it could change your mind. "
"You don't think much of my wherewithal. "
"Oh, yes, I do. Okay. " She pulled her hand away, rose. She faced crises better on her feet. "There's something else I can tell you, and I don't expect you to understand or accept it. "
"You're a kleptomaniac. "
"An agent for a clandestine splinter group. "
She managed to laugh. "No. Zack-"
"Wait, I get one more. You're one of those Star Trek addicts who can recite all the dialogue in every episode. "
"No, only in the first season of the original. "
"Well, that's all right, then. Okay, I give up. "
"I'm a witch. "
"Oh, well, I know that. "
"I'm not using that as a euphemism for temperament," she said impatiently. "I mean it literally. Spells and charms and that sort of thing. A witch. "
"Yeah, I got that the night you were dancing naked on your front lawn and glowing like a candle. Nell, I've lived on Three Sisters all my life. Do you expect me to be stupefied, or to do that crossed-fingers thing to ward off evil?"
Unsure if she was relieved or disappointed by his reaction, she frowned at him. "I guess I expected you to be something. "
"It gave me a moment," he admitted. "But then, living with Rip sort of tones down the jolt. Of course she hasn't had anything to do with that kind of thing for years now. If you were to tell me you'd put some sort of love spell on me, I might be a little irked. "
"Of course I didn't. I wouldn't even know how. I'm just. . . learning. "
"An apprentice witch, then. " Amused at both of them, he got to his feet. "I imagine Mia'll whip you into shape before long. "
Did nothing surprise the man? "A couple of nights ago, I drew down the moon. "
"What the hell does that mean? No, never mind, I don't have much of a head for the metaphysical. I'm a simple man, Nell. " He ran his hands up and down her arms in the way he had that managed to arouse and soothe at the same time.
"No, you're not. "
"Simple enough to know I'm standing here with a pretty woman and wasting the moonlight. " He lowered his mouth to hers, drew her up and into a sumptuous kiss.
When her head fell back in surrender, and her arms wound around his neck, he circled her toward the glass door.
"I want to take you to bed. My bed. I want to love you-the Army brat who takes after her mother. " He slid the door open, drew her inside. "I do love you. "
Here, she thought as they lowered to the bed, was truth. And here was compassion. He would give these to her, as much as desire, as much as need. When he touched her, those thrills, those soft and fluid aches, were welcome.
The yearning she'd felt for home was satisfied.
Slow and sweet she moved with him. Freely, she opened for him, baring her heart as well as her body.
Her skin hummed under the brush of his fingers. The long, liquid pull inside her made her sigh. When her mouth met his again, she poured all she had into the kiss. What she couldn't give him in words, she could give him here, with her heart. With her body.
He skimmed his lips over her shoulder, tracing the shape of it, marveling at the firmness of musc
le, the delicacy of bone. The taste of her intoxicated him, a flavor he'd come to crave as much as the next breath of air.
He found her breast, pleasured them both with lips and teeth and tongue until her heart began to beat under his mouth like the endless pulse of the sea. And as that beat quickened, she rose beneath him with a single breathless gasp.
Without hurry, he moved down her. A skim of fingers, a brush of lips. Felt her begin to tremble while his own blood pounded in sharp, anvil strikes of need.
Her hands groped, then fisted desperately in the sheets when he lifted her hips and used his mouth on her. With a kind of ruthless patience, he shot her screaming to peak.
Her breath was sobbing now, her skin slick and damp as she rolled with him over the tangled sheets. Heat spiked, seemed to throb in the air, under her skin until her body felt like a furnace stoked too high.
"Not yet. Not yet. "
He was wild for her, for the taste of flesh, the urgency of her hands. In the pale splash of moonlight through the glass, her body seemed unearthly, white marble erotically hot to the touch and glimmering with the healthy sweat of lust.
When he fixed his teeth on her neck, it felt like feeding. Her mouth was wild, her body plunging. Then she cried out again, shocked pleasure, when his fingers drove her relentlessly over the edge.
Beyond control, beyond reason, she moved like lightning. She would have sworn the bed spun, in fast, dizzy circles, as she straddled him. Panting, she took him, rode him, drove him as he had driven her. Curved down to him, she ravished his mouth, then flung herself back, arms bowed behind her head, and flew as power whipped through her.
He reached for her, his fingers sliding helplessly down her busy hips. His blood was a rage, his mind a torrent. For a moment, all he could see was her eyes, flame-blue and vivid as jewels.
He reared up, pressed his lips to her heart, and shattered.