Taming The Beast(8)

By: Amy J. Fetzer


"This is quite a large house," the teenager said. The regular delivery boy, Richard recalled.

"Yes, it goes on forever." She dropped spoonfuls of dough onto a fresh sheet.

"Scary-looking, too," one man said with a glance around.

"I love it. It's big and glamorous. And just the stone and design alone reeks with history from all over the world."

That's exactly what he'd felt when he'd seen it, Richard thought, leaning back against the inner wall to listen.

"Have you seen him?" the grocer said.

"Of course."

"Is it … bad?"

Richard peered, almost breathless as he waited for her answer.

"Not that I could tell."

No lies, no information, and he wondered why she'd done that.

"Then why does he hide?"

"He's obviously a private man, and perhaps it's because he hasn't been well received and…" She paused in fussing with her cookies to glance over her shoulder and Richard saw the heat ignite in her gaze. "I will tell you now that if even one person utters a single derogatory remark to his daughter, well … let's just say my grandpappy taught me how to fire a shotgun and skin my kills."

Richard smothered a laugh, and when he looked back, the guests chuckled halfheartedly, not sure if she meant what she'd said. As if on cue, they thanked her for the coffee, the grocer telling her to call him if she needed anything, as they headed out the door.

Laura closed the door and turned back to the counter, popping the sheet into the oven and starting on the last batch of chocolate chip cookie dough. She didn't know a child that didn't love them and hoped Kelly would. She wanted the child to feel welcome in this dark house.

Suddenly she sensed she wasn't alone and lifted her gaze. She saw him, wedged between the corner wall and the open pantry door, a broad shadow where she could see no more than angled light across the worn jeans shaping his body up to his hips. How the heck did he get in here without her seeing him?

"I'd like to think my granny's cookie recipe lured you, but I know better."

"Smart and beautiful."

Laura felt her feathers rise. Did everyone have to mention her face in the first ten seconds of conversation? "Want a cookie?"

"No, thank you."

"Don't tell me you are the one person who doesn't like chocolate chip?"

"No."

"Aah, you won't come into the light to get one."

Silence.

"What else do you deny yourself because you choose to stay in the dark, Mr. Blackthorne?" With her last word, she tossed a cookie in his direction. His hand shot into the light, snatching it from the air. For a second the signet ring glinted before his arm receded into the dark.

"And what will you deny Kelly?"

"Nightmares, Miss Cambridge."

"Call me Laura. And I think you are simply cheating yourself."

He scoffed, sarcastic. "You know nothing of me, beauty queen."

She slammed the spatula down on the counter. "You're right, I don't. Just as you know nothing of me … beast." She turned toward the stove, removed the sheet, replaced it with another, then set the timer. Laura squeezed her eyes shut, pushing back the memory of haunting betrayal. Beauty queen. Fat lot of good it did her. She couldn't even keep her fiancé with this face, she thought, clenching her fists.

Richard straightened, wondering why she was suddenly so upset. "Laura."

Her name came out in a growl, husky, like whiskey in the moonlight, spreading softly over her, crushing the memories and offering sympathy she didn't want. Men, people, noticed her face, it was only natural. And Richard was definitely a man. What did she expect? "I apologize," she said. "That was terribly cruel."

Richard had heard worse and the barb glanced off him. "I've angered you. Tell me why."

"It's nothing." She busied herself with arranging cookies and covering them with plastic wrap.

"Liar."

"Back to name-calling, are we?" She tsked softly as she turned to the refrigerator, pulled out a cut of meat and vegetables, then tossed them on the butcher table. They didn't know each other well enough to discuss her past, nor was she about to whine over it. She had better things to do with her energy, she thought, placing the meat in a marinade, then popping it back in the fridge. She diced and sliced vegetables, aware of his presence. As if she were standing close to a fire, she could sense the man's heat. "You're staring."

"How can you tell?" Could she see him and just not acknowledge it?

"I can feel it."

Did she know he could sense her, too? "And what does it feel like?" he said.

Laura stilled. His simple words, murmured low, felt as if they were laced with intimacy and asked in the sultry throes of desire. Her heart quickened unreasonably. "Almost like an invasion." She scooped the vegetables into a bowl. "And I don't like it." She covered the vegetables with cold water, then refrigerated them.

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