“Then it’s a good thing I’ve got plenty of time to waste. I’ll get your coat.”

“And I don’t need you to drive me home.”

“We can arm-wrestle over that,” he called back. “But I’m not letting you walk home in the dark, in subzero temperatures.”

“You can’t drive me home. You didn’t dig out your car.”

“So I’ll dig it out, then drive you home. Five minutes.”

She’d have argued with that, but the front door slammed and she was left stewing in the house alone.

Curious, she eased open the back door, stood shivering while she watched him attack the snow around the Rover with a shovel. She had to admit those muscles she’d seen that morning in the gym weren’t just for show. It appeared that Dr. Booke knew how to put his back into the job at hand.

Still, he wasn’t particularly thorough. She nearly called out to say so when it occurred to her that any comment she made would prove she’d been interested enough to watch him. Instead she shut the door and rubbed the warmth back into her hands and arms.

When the front door slammed again, and she heard him stomping his feet, she was leaning against the kitchen counter, looking bored.

“Bitching cold out there,” he called back. “Where did I put your stuff?”

“In the bedroom.” And since she had a minute, she scurried around the table to flip through his notes. Hissed when she saw they were in shorthand, or what she assumed was shorthand. In any case, the notes were odd symbols, lines and loops that meant nothing to her. But the sketch in the center of a page had her gaping.

It was her face. And a damn good likeness, too. A quick pencil sketch, full face. She looked . . . annoyed, she decided. And watchful. Well, he was right about that, too.

There was no doubt in her mind that MacAllister Booke bore watching.

She was standing a foot away from the table, her hands innocently in her pockets, when he came back. “Took me a few minutes longer because I couldn’t find my keys. I still can’t figure out what they were doing in the bathroom sink.”

“Poltergeist?” she said sweetly and made him laugh.

“I wish. I just never seem to put anything in the same place twice.” He’d tracked snow through the house. Rather than point it out, Ripley slipped on her vest and scarf.

He held her coat, made her shake her head when she realized he intended to help her on with it.

“I can never figure that out. How do you guys figure we get our coats on when you’re not around?”

“We have no idea.” Amused, he set her cap on her head, then pulled her hair through the back as he’d seen her wear it. “Gloves?”

She pulled them out of her pocket. “Are you going to put them on for me, too, Daddy?”

“Sure, honey.” But when he reached out, she slapped his hand away. And was grinning until she saw the welts on his wrist. Guilt churned in her. She didn’t mind hurting someone, when they deserved it.

But not that way. Never that way.

Still, what was done could be undone, even if it did mean swallowing pride.

He saw a change in her expression as she stared at his wrist. “It’s no big deal,” he began and started to pull his cuffs down.

“It is to me.” She didn’t bother to sigh, but took his wrist again. Her gaze shot up, held his. “This is off my time, off the record. Off everything. Understood?”

“All right.”

“What in anger I have harmed, I regret and spin this charm. Heal this hurt caused by me by the power of one times three. As I will, so mote it be.”

He felt the mild pain, the heat lift away from his skin. The flesh where her fingers lay was now cool, as if they’d drawn the burns out. There was a jump in his belly, not so much from the physical change as from the change in her eyes.

He had looked into power before, and knew he looked into it now. It was something he never forgot to respect.

“Thanks,” he told her.

“Don’t mention it.” She turned away. “I mean that.”

When she reached for the doorknob on the kitchen door, his hand, its wrist unmarked, closed over it first. “We don’t know how you open doors either,” he said. “They’re so heavy and complicated.”

“Funny guy.” When they stepped out, his hand slid under to cup her elbow. The long, baleful look she sent him only brought on a shrug.

“It’s a little icy. I can’t help it. It’s very difficult to resist early childhood training.”

She let it go, and didn’t have the heart to jab at him when he walked her around the Rover and opened the passenger door for her.

It wasn’t much of a drive, but as she directed him she realized she was, indeed, grateful for the lift. Even in the hour she’d been inside, the temperature had dropped. The heater wouldn’t have time to kick in, but at least they were out of the open air—air that seemed cold enough to break.

“If you’re looking for more firewood, Jack Stubens sells it by the cord,” she told him.

“Stubens. Can you write that down?” Steering one-handed, he dug in his pocket. “Got any paper?”

“No.”

“Try the glove compartment.”

She opened it, and felt her jaw drop in shock. There were dozens of notes, countless pens, rubber bands, a half-empty bag of pretzels, three flashlights, a hunting knife, and several unidentified objects. She pulled one out that looked to be made up of red twine, various beads, and human hair.

“What’s this?”

He glanced over. “Gris-gris. It was a gift. No paper?”

She stared at him another moment, then put the charm back and pulled out one of the many scribbled notes. “Stubens,” she repeated, scrawling it on the scrap of paper. “Jack, over on Owl Haunt Lane.”

“Thanks.” He took the paper, stuffed it in his pocket.

“Turn here. It’s the two-story, wraparound porch.”

As the police cruiser was in the drive, he could’ve figured it out for himself. Lights were glowing cheerfully in the windows, and smoke puffed out of the chimney.

“Nice house.” He got out, and though she’d already hopped down before he could come around and open her door, he took her arm again.

“Look, Mac, it’s kind of cute and all that, but you don’t need to walk me to the door. This wasn’t a date.”

“It’s a compulsion. Besides, we had a meal, and conversation. And wine. So that’s several date elements.”

She stopped on the porch, turned. He’d pulled a ski cap on, and his dark blond hair escaped here and there. He couldn’t help but look at her intensely. “So, what, you want a kiss good night now?”

“Okay.”

The response was so cheerful, so harmlessly cheerful, she grinned. But only for an instant.

He had. . . moves. Smooth, unexpected, incredible moves.

It wasn’t fast, but it was so slick, so silky, she had no time to readjust. To think.

His arms came around her,slid her against him, body to body so that without any real pressure she was molded to him. He dipped her back, just the slightest bit, and somehow conjured the illusion that they were horizontal instead of vertical.

The intimacy of it jolted through her, sent her head on a dizzy spin even before his mouth took hers.


Tags: Nora Roberts Three Sisters Island Romance
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