With a laugh, she drew him inside. “Welcome to my home. Let me take your coat.”
She stood close, let her fingertips graze his arm. She considered it a kind of test, for both of them. “I’m tempted to say come into my parlor.” Her laugh came again, low and rich. “So I will.” She gestured to a room off the wide foyer. “Make yourself comfortable. I’ll open the wine.”
Slightly dazed, he walked into a large room where a fire burned brightly. The room was full of rich color, soft fabrics, gleaming wood and glass. Old, beautifully faded rugs were spread over a wide-planked floor.
He recognized wealth—comfortable, tasteful, and somehow female wealth.
There were flowers, lilies with star-shaped petals as white as the snow outside, in a tall, clear vase.
The air smelled of them, and of her.
Even a dead man, Mac imagined, would have felt his blood warming, his juices flowing.
There were books tucked on shelves among pretty bottles and chunks of crystals and intriguing little statues. He gave those his attention. What a person read gave insight into the person.
“I’m a practical woman.”
He jumped. She’d come in silently, like smoke.
“Practical,” she repeated, setting down the tray that held the wine and two glasses. “Books are a passion, and I opened the store so I could make a profit from my passion.”
“Your passion’s eclectic.”
“Single channels are so monotonous.” She poured the wine, crossed to him, her eyes never leaving his. “You’d agree, since your interests are varied as well.”
“To a variety of passions, then.” Her eyes laughed as she touched her glass to his.
She sat on the low sofa, smiling still as she patted the cushion beside her. “Come, sit. Tell me what you think of our little island in the sea.”
He wondered if the room was overwarm or if she simply radiated heat wherever she went. But he sat. “I like it. The village is just quaint enough without being trite, and the people friendly enough without being obviously nosy. Your bookstore adds a touch of sophistication, and the sea adds glamour, the forests mystery. I’m comfortable here.”
“Handy. And you’re comfortable in my little cottage?”
“More than. I’ve gotten considerable work done already.”
“You’re a practical soul, too, aren’t you, MacAllister?” She sipped, red wine against red lips. “Despite what many would consider the impracticality of your chosen field.”
It felt as though the collar of his shirt had shrunk. “Knowledge is always practical.”
“And that’s what you seek under it all. The knowing.” She curled up, and her knees brushed his leg, lightly. “A seeking mind is very attractive.”
“Yeah. Well.” He drank wine. Gulped it.
“How’s your . . . appetite?”
His color rose. “My appetite?”
He was, she decided, absolutely delightful. “Why don’t we move into the dining room? I’ll feed you.”
She uncurled, trailed fingertips down his arm again. “Bring the wine, handsome.”
Oh, boy, was his only clear thought.
The dining roomshould have felt formal, intimidating with its huge mahogany table, the wide sideboards and high-backed chairs. But it was as welcoming as her parlor. The colors were warm here, too, deep burgundy shades mixed with dark golds.
Flowers in the same hues scented this air as well and speared out of cut crystal. A fire crackled, like an accompaniment to the quiet music of harps and pipes.
The trio of windows along the wall was left uncovered to bring the contrast of black night and white snow into the room. Perfect as a photograph.
There was a succulent rack of lamb and the light of a dozen candles.
If she’d been intending to dress a stage for romance, she had succeeded, expertly.
As they ate she steered the conversation into literature, art, theater, all the while watching him with flattering attention.
It was almost, he thought, hypnotic. The way she looked at a man, fully, directly, deeply.
Candlelight played over her skin like gold on alabaster, in her eyes like gilt over smoke. He wished he could do better than rough pencil sketches. Hers was a face that demanded oil and canvas.
It surprised him that they had so much common ground. Books enjoyed, music appreciated.
Then again, each of them had spent considerable time learning of the other’s background. He knew she’d grown up here, in this house, an only child. And that her parents had given most of her day-to-day care into Lulu’s hands. She’d gone to college at Radcliffe and had earned degrees in literature and business.
Her parents had left the island before she’d graduated, and rarely returned.
She came from money, as did he.
She belonged to no coven, no group, no organization, and lived quietly and alone in the place of her birth. She had never married, nor had she ever lived with a man.
He wondered that a woman so obviously, so elegantly sexual, had not done so.
“You enjoy traveling,” she said.
“There’s a lot out there to see. I guess I enjoyed it more in my twenties. The kick of packing up, taking off, whenever I wanted, or needed to.”
“And living in New York. The excitement, the stimulation.”
“It has its advantages. But my work can be done anywhere. Do you get to New York often?”
“No. I rarely leave the island. I have all I need and want here.”
“Museums, theater, galleries?”
“I don’t have much of a thirst for them. I prefer my cliffs, my forest, my work. And my garden,” she added. “It’s a pity it’s winter, or we could take a stroll through my garden. Instead we’ll have to settle for coffee and dessert in the parlor.”
She treated him to delicate profiteroles, which he enjoyed. Offered him brandy, which he declined. A clock from somewhere deep in the house bonged the hour as she once again curled herself on the sofa beside him.
“You’re a man of great personal restraint and willpower, aren’t you, Dr. Booke?”
“I’m not sure that’s ever come up. Why?”
“Because you’ve been in my home, alone with me, for more than two hours. I’ve plied you with wine, candlelight, music. And yet you haven’t brought up your professional interest in me, nor have you tried to seduce me. Is that admirable, I wonder, or should I be insulted?”
“I thought about both those things.”
“Really? And what did you think?”