Chapter Eleven

The candles burned low, and the air was full of fragrance and soft light when she woke. She felt him there almost before she felt herself. The warmth of his hand over hers, the weight of his worry. For an instant only, the years vanished and her heart was light with love. What she'd felt once, what she felt now, collided and dissolved before she could hold either.

"Here, drink this. " As he had hours before, he lifted her head, held a cup to her lips. But this time she sniffed speculatively before she sipped. "Hyssop. Good choice. "

"How do you feel?"

"Well enough. Better, I'd say, than you. There was no need for you to sit up all night. " The cat that had curled beside her now slithered under her hand for stroking. "What time is it?"

"Sunrise. " Sam rose now, began to extinguish the candles. "You only had about nine hours. You could probably use more. "

"No. " She sat up, shook back her hair. "I'm awake. And starving. "

He glanced back. She sat in the old bed, her face flushed with sleep, the black cat in her lap. He wanted to slide into bed with her. Just to hold, just to rest. Just to be. "I'll fix you something. "

"You'll cook breakfast?"

"I can manage eggs and toast," he answered as he stalked out of the room.

"Cranky," Mia said to Isis. The cat swished her tail, then leaped off the bed to trot out after Sam. He brewed coffee first in hopes that a strong shot of caffeine would clear his head and improve his mood. He didn't question the fact that his tender feelings, his steady concern of the night, had jumped straight to annoyance the minute she'd awakened and looked at him.

A man needed some defense.

While the coffeemaker grumbled, he turned on the cold water tap in the sink and dunked his head under the flow. And rapped his head smartly against the faucet when the cat brushed up against his legs. He saw stars, swore, then smacked the water off and came up dripping. When Mia walked in, he was standing, glaring at the cat, with water running down his face. She picked up a fresh dish towel and passed it to him.

"You're welcome to use the shower if you'd like to do more than soak your head. " After exchanging a decidedly female glance with the cat, Mia opened the door to let her out. Rather than trust himself to speak, Sam wrenched open the refrigerator, took out a carton of eggs. Mia reached down to get a skillet out of a cupboard, then held out a hand. "Why don't I take care of this?"

"I said I'd fix some damn eggs, so I'll fix some damn eggs. "

"All right. " Complacently, she set the skillet on a burner before moving over to get down two mugs. She poured, trying to keep her lips from twitching while Sam slammed around her kitchen. But the first sip of coffee made her eyes water.

"God. Well, this is strong enough to go ten rounds with the champ. "

Sam slapped an egg on the side of a bowl. "Any other complaints?"

"No. " She decided to be broad-minded and not mention the bits of shell that had gone into the bowl along with the egg. Sipping delicately, she wandered to the back door again, and opened it to the morning air. "It's going to rain. "

Barefoot, her white robe billowing, she stepped outside to look at her garden and leave Sam to brood. Wind chimes tinkled as she wound along the paths. There were always surprises. A new bloom just opened, a bud just hazed with color. The blend of continuity and change was one of the great appeals of the garden for her.

She glanced back toward the kitchen. The boy she'd loved was now the man fixing her breakfast. Continuity and change, she thought with a sigh. She supposed, under it all, that was one of Sam Logan's great appeals for her.

And because she remembered he'd held her hand while she slept, she broke off a tightly budded peony. Curving her hand over it, she encouraged the bud to unfurl and free its soft, fragrant pink petals. Brushing it against her cheek, she went back to the house.

He was at the stove, looking wonderfully out of his element. His legs were spread, and the spatula held like a weapon in his hand. He was burning the eggs.

Foolishly moved, she crossed to him and gently turned off the flame. She kissed his cheek, handed him the flower. "Thank you for watching over me. "

"You're welcome. " He turned away to reach for plates, then simply laid his forehead against the glass doors of her cupboard. "Damn it, Mia. Damn it! Why didn't you tell me what you were going to do?

Why didn't you call me?"

"I've gotten out of the habit of calling you. "

He straightened, a mix of anger and hurt enveloping him.

"I don't say that to hurt you. " She spread her hands. "I don't. It simply is. I'm used to doing things my way, and on my own. "

"Fine. Fine. " But it wasn't. He rattled plates as he dragged them out of the cupboard. "When it's you, it's just being who you are and doing what you do. But when it's me, I'm going behind your back. "

She opened her mouth. Then was forced to close it again and clear her throat. "You have a point. " She walked by him to get jam out of the refrigerator. "However, what you did on your own was step into my territory, risk bodily harm, then call out the troops. "

"Your territory isn't exclusive. And you risked bodily harm. "

"That's a matter of debate. I didn't do this behind your back, not deliberately. In hindsight, I'll admit your presence in the circle would have been valuable. " She set the toast, stone-cold and crisp at the edges, on the table. "You're a better witch than you are a cook. "

"You're a hell of a lot cockier than you used to be," he countered. "And you always were cocky. "

"Confident," she corrected. "You were cocky. "

"A fine distinction. " He sat with her, scooping half the eggs onto his plate, half on hers. The peony lay pretty and pink between them. He took his first bite. "These are terrible. "

She sampled, tasting scorched egg and bits of shell. "Yes, yes, they are. "

When he grinned at her she laughed and went right on eating.

He took her up on the shower and ran the spray hot to ease muscles stiff from the night's vigil. He supposed they'd called a truce, a moratorium of sorts over lousy eggs and cold toast. Maybe, he thought, they'd taken a tentative step toward being friends again.

He'd missed that part of them, too. The easy silences, the shared laughter. He'd known when she was sad, often before she knew it herself. He'd felt the thousand little pinpricks of her hurt whenever her parents had blithely, benevolently, ignored the child they'd made between them. Even before he and she had become lovers they'd been a part of each other. And how could he explain to her that it had been the link, the absolute and unquestioned link in the chain of their destinies, that had driven him to break the tie?

She didn't ask, and he didn't say. He thought that was for the best, at least for now. At least until they were friends again.

The muscles in his belly contracted when she stepped in behind him, slipped her arms around him, pressed her wet body against his back.

"I thought you might share. " She nipped playfully at his shoulder. This time, they were fated to reverse the process. Lovers first.

He turned, and fisting his hands in her hair, dragged her with him under the pounding spray.

"You have the water too hot," she told him, turning her head as his mouth rubbed along the side of her throat.

"I needed hot. "

She picked up a bottle, squirted some of the pale green liquid over both their heads.

"Wait! What is that? Girl stuff?"

Amused, she reached up to lather it in his hair. God, she'd always loved his hair. So black and thick and untamed. Wet, it fell nearly to his shoulders, a dark rain of silk.

"My own blend. The rosemary promotes hair growth, not that you need it, and smells good. Even for manly men. "

He worked it into her hair as well. Sniffed at it. "It's not just rosemary. "

"Not just. Some calendula, linden flowers, nasturtium. "

"Girl stuff. " Suds slid down their bod

ies, slicking them. "It works on you. "

"So do you," she said when his mouth covered hers again.

Steam, fragrant with herbs and flowers, rose as they washed each other. Teased each other. Slippery hands over slippery skin aroused in slow beats that savored each moment, each touch and taste. Long, lazy strokes coaxed the pulses to quicken and low, lingering moans to mix with the sound of drumming water.

Her mouth was wet and warm, and with restless nips and nibbles grew eager under his. She deepened the kiss as her body rubbed and rocked against his. Invitation, demand, delight. And every breath he took was full of her scent.

Tags: Nora Roberts Three Sisters Island Romance