California man - the author's cut edition (page 5)

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He brushed his knuckles across her cheek; surprisingly, she didn't jump at the touch. So he shifted some stray tendrils of hair off her forehead. A clear high forehead.Soft, soft skin. Her eyes opened slowly, all languid and soft—until she realized he'd was watching her. Instantly, she tensed.

"It's okay," he said, running the back of his hand slowly down her cheek, before reaching the curve between neck and shoulder. He rested his thumb lightly on the pulse of her throat. He felt her swallow—hard, her tension turn to rigidity. But she didn't push him away. It was as if she were facing some kind of test. Whether it was of him or her, he didn't know.

He bent his head to the hollow of her throat, kissed her there, keeping his hands on safe territory, determined not to frighten her.Easy. Easy...

Quinn's lips were warm, his breath barely a whisper against the taut cords of her neck, yet Emily lay paralyzed. She beat back her familiar urge to jump and run, fought against the residue of her own fears.

She didn't want to run from Quinn; she wanted to trust him. When his lips moved from the base of her neck to below her ear, she rolled her head to expose the contour of her throat, and let herself savor the quick inhalation of his breath in response. A swell of heat moved through her, a slow, creeping tide lapping at and eroding her restraint, gently, insistently. Quinn untied her hair and ran his fingers through it. Lifting it from her nape, he kissed her first behind her ear, then below it. When his hands tightened on her shoulders, and he lifted his head, Emily's throat was burning along the path taken by his lips. When she looked at him, it was with eyes blind to anything but the blueness of his gaze.

"I want to kiss you, shy Emily. Very much." There was no smile in his eyes, only an odd intensity, a male ardor unknown to her. His pupils were dark with it, dark and hot. "Would you like that?" He toyed with a strand of her hair.

She didn't speak, afraid the sound of her voice would break the fragile thread of magic between them.

His hand still rested on her neck, and when she made no sound, he slid his fingers under the neck of her cotton T-shirt, stretching stitches to expose her shoulder. He bent his head, tasted the newly exposed skin. The rasp of his tongue, its moist roughness on her skin, confused, agitated, then excited her. She waited for the fear, the rush of panic. Her hand crept to the edge of the blanket and clutched the cool grass. The fear hovered, waiting. Again she heard his voice in her ear.

"Can I kiss you? Do you want me to?" His question was urgent now.

"Yes." She barely whispered the word, then watched, mesmerized, as his mouth came down to meet hers. Her heart racing, her breath stopped, and her world receded as she stepped across the threshold of her own terror.

Seven years of loneliness entered into the kiss, seven years of denial with all its fire and pain. Hot, trembling under his mouth, sensation stunned and assaulted her. Closer, she needed him closer. She dug her nails into his arms. His skin was smooth, his muscles hard and taut. When he shifted his upper body over her breasts, she pressed up and into the weight of him.

Still, not enough.

When her mouth opened wider under his, she heard him groan. The groan a shard that pierced her addled brain.

Dear God... I'm giving him more than a kiss. I'll embarrass him. Embarrass myself.

Planting her two hands against his hard chest, she pushed.

He drew back instantly, his eyes the color of midnight. He took a deep breath, sighed it out, and gazed down at her. His expression questioning, until a slow smile bent his lips.

He ran his thumb across her lips.

"If you honestly want me to stop, you shouldn't be looking at me like that." He paused. "But youdowant me to stop—right?

She nodded her lie and looked at his mouth, couldn't take her eyes off it. She wanted it back on hers, wanted him to kiss her forever. She was so stupid!

He dipped his head and grazed her kiss-swollen lips with his own, breathing deeply as he did so. "Smart woman. I didn't exactly come prepared to make love with you. Much as I want to—and God, do I want to."

He rolled away from her, lying on his back beside her, a forearm over his eyes. She heard his deep breathing, saw his chest rise and fall, while she worked to calm the heat and wind blowing through her body. So lost in her own efforts at control, she'd almost missed his last words, let the may breeze lift them away. Almost. "What did you say?" She turned her head to look at him.

Quinn shifted to his side, propped his head on his palm, and looked down at her. "I said you're a smart woman. You are, you know." He moved a stray lock of hair to behind her ear.

"After that."

"You mean the part about not being prepared?"

She nodded.

"I didn't bring any protection," he saidmatter-of-factly. He stroked her cheek with the back of his hand.

Emily flushed a vivid scalding red and turned her eyes.

"Obviously, that wasn't what you wanted to hear. Let me see." He appeared to think a moment, then added quietly, "I also said I wanted to make love to you."

She didn't think it possible, but her skin grew hotter still. Thinking she must show purple by now, she averted her face.

Quinn studied her glowing blush. "I've embarrassed you. I'm sorry."

"No! No, it's not that. I'm just surprised, I guess."

"Surprised? That I want to make love with you?" He frowned slightly.

After a long pause, she mumbled, "Yes."

He said nothing for a second, then, "Then I guess I should fess up, because I've had dishonorable designs on you since that first day in the bookstore."

"You have?"

He smiled a bit, then rolled away from her to again lie on his back. It was her turn to prop her head in her palm and look at him.

He shaded his eyes with one hand, and said, "You remember that bean pole kid? The one you asked about... whether he was still inside, and I said yes he was sometimes."

She nodded.

"When I look at you, I'm a bit like that kid again. You make me... hesitate. I'm not sure what to do about you." He reached for her then and pulled her across his chest. "Got any ideas?" he asked as the line of his mouth curved into a bold, sensuous smile.

She tried to organize her breathing. What was there about this man that made her feel so good? Almost lighthearted—definitely light-headed. Was he a demon slayer?Herdemon slayer? She didn't know, but she did know she wanted him to be. She wanted him to be with every reluctant, timid bone and sinew in her body.

She met his gaze, and like sun breaking through cloud, she felt a smile emerge, her face soften—not a mere turning up of the lips smile, not cursory. Deeper, broader, like a ray of happiness turning inward to lighten her heart. A smile like no other she'd smiled in years.

"Hey," Quinn said. "That smile looks good on you."

She sat up and hugged her knees to her breasts, looking much like a fisherman with a full net. She looked back down at him. "Thanks, Quinn."

"Thanks?" he echoed, looking vaguely bewildered. "What for."

She ran a tentative index finger down his cheek. "For the silver medal."

When he started to speak, she stopped him by pressing two fingers firmly against his lips.

"Let's not talk any more for a while. You said you were hungry, remember? So why don't we eat Blanche's wonderful lunch?"




Chapter 5


"Old tub, I don't know what I'd do without you. And to think I came close to replacing you with a shower." The water tucked around Emily as she lowered her sore, stiff body into the steaming tub. "Ahh!" she murmured. "You're a friend in need." She sank deep, ignoring the too hot water. It didn't matter. Neither did she care that her bones ached to the point of torment. Her sense of wonder, the marvel—the magic—that was Quinn Ramsay filled her mind. For whatever trick of fate that brought him into her life, she was madly grateful. Today, for the first time, she'd felt... wanted. New to her, this sexy, seductive sense of herself, and it was all because of him.

She blew the bubbles away from her breasts and smiled.

She soaped herself and smiled.

She looked at her toes curling over the water faucets at the end of the big tub and smiled.

She'd smile even more if Quinn were in the tub with her. The erotic thought burned her flesh, and she submerged herself, head and all, in the soapy water.

And came up—smiling.

* * *

At three in the morning, Quinn threw on a pair of jeans, snagged some orange juice from the fridge, and walked out on the deck. When the night breeze chilled his flesh, he shivered.

Exactly what he needed, to cool down.

It was heat that had driven him from bed. This thing with Emily... It was messing him up. Distracting him. Somehow she was burrowing into him—deep. And it wouldn't work, no good for either of them. He took a long drink of juice and leaned on the deck rail. The juice was unsweetened. His memory of their kiss anything but.

That sunrise smile of hers had unnerved him, reached inside and twisted his gut like the hand of a spirit. A smile so... glorious, so full of trust it made him ache. And scared the hell out of him. Something was happening here. Something he hadn't planned for—and wasn't sure he could handle.

He thought of Gina Manzoni. They'd shared some good times, in bed and out, but she'd never affected him like Emily did. She'd never made him feel protective or... responsible. Gina had shark genes; she looked out for herself. And she was typical of the women he'd been with in the past few years, confident, assertive, and coolly in charge of their lives. He'd been a necessary adjunct to their image as they'd been to his. Just two careers passing in the night. Right now, with Emily on his mind, he couldn't remember any of their faces, not even Gina's. Especially Gina's.

He walked to the edge of the deck, the glass of orange juice dangling from his hand, and looked over the channel. The surface of the dark water was broken by a yellow moon ribbon, a stream of fragile gold that rippled and shifted with the wind and tide. Emily was like that ribbon of moon, delicate, so incredibly delicate. He could hurt her. That thought chilled him deeper than the cold night air. He shouldn't be playing around with her life.

He needed to back off, get back to thinking about the sale of his business, his future, not a pair of shining gray eyes. He wondered grimly if there was any way of turning back the clock but knew there wasn't. He should have walked into her store that day, bought his book, and left. But something in her had tugged at him, so he'd gotten himself involved. Paul was right—he was a dumbass softy when it came to women. The last thing Emily needed was an affair with a tourist—which was all he could offer. In a few weeks, he'd be gone. Back to L.A. He drained the juice and went back in the house.

Damn that smile,he said to himself as he once again punched the pillow.

* * *

"What's that sound I hear?" Grace yelled through the open door between the shops. "It can't be singing, can it?"

Emily yelled back. "There are those who might shudder at the description, but yes, I'd call it singing."

Grace leaned in the doorway, an arched brow punctuating her curious expression. "Is it that California man, or your newfound passion for physical fitness that's giving you such a rosy glow?"

"Are there no secrets on this little piece of paradise?" Emily shook her head good-naturedly. "You and Lynn got together it seems."

Grace nodded. "And you were the number one topic of conversation." She hesitated a moment, then took a step into the bookstore. "We're both happy for you, Em. But you will be careful, won't you?"

"Careful? You're telling me to be careful? Haven't you—and Lynn—been telling me for years to take a chance, to quit being so scared? And now that I'm doing it, you're telling me to make a full stop at an amber light." Emily laughed then. "You two better make up your minds. Besides," she added. "I don't want to be careful. Not anymore. And definitely not about Quinn."

"Yeah, well, I guess I see your point. He is one incredible sample of manhood. But still... he's going to leave the island. He's a tourist, and tourists don't stay. I don't want to see you hurt. That's all."

"Maybe it'sbecausehe's leaving that it feels so right."

"What do you mean?"

"I'm not sure, but somehow, knowing that he's leaving takes away the fear. I can prepare for it, be ready for it when it comes. There are no unknowns. That makes me feel, I don't know... less tense, I suppose. How can I be hurt about him saying goodbye, Grace, when I know from the beginning that's what he's going to do?"

"Come on... You think because you anticipate pain, it will be easier to bear? That's some strange logic."

"Maybe. But I'm good with it, and I don't have any unreasonable expectations."

"By 'unreasonable expectations,' I take it you mean believing someone will love you and want to stay with you?" Grace looked as if someone had handed her a Rubik's Cube and a three-minute timer. "That's just plain weird."

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