Authors: Ann Bruce
She offered him a shaky, somewhat rueful smile. “I-I can’t.”
“You can’t what? Not be flippant or have dinner with me?”
“The latter.” Her laugh was a short, nervous sound. “Maybe both.”
Instead of telling him why she couldn’t have dinner with him, she arched a brow. “Is this how you get dates? You drag women to your car, lock them inside and don’t let them out till they’ve agreed to go out with you?”
His mood changed in a heartbeat. He didn’t release her, but the lazy grin returned, the one that shook up her insides and made her want to forget he considered her a suspect in his murder case. “Usually, it’s the other way around. You’re the first woman I’ve kidnapped.”
“I’m flattered,” she said flatly.
As he continued looking at her, something hot and intense and wholly sexual slid into his eyes, darkening them. Simple, teasing seduction was forgotten. His thumb brushed the inside of her wrist, rested against her pulse. It quickened, betraying her. His hold tightened, and he leaned in closer. “If you don’t want this, say so now,” he said, tone roughened.
She remained silent.
He cupped her cheeks, his palms very warm against her skin. His exhalation slowed and stretched out.
Giving her ample time to protest, he lowered his head. Augusta didn’t stop him or draw away. She wanted this, needed this, as much as he did. So much so that the anticipation was almost a physical pain. However, he didn’t press his mouth to hers, didn’t ease her lips apart with his tongue, didn’t stroke it with his. He simply rested his forehead on hers, closed his eyes and gently rubbed the rough pad of his right thumb back and forth over her cheekbone. He seemed content to do just that and nothing more.
Augusta, however, wasn’t content. Wanting him more than she recalled having ever wanted any man, including Drew—especially Drew—she lifted her mouth and closed the short distance to his, desperately seeking relief.
But the relief was only short-lived. There was that moment when her sigh mingled with his and a small pocket of sensation burst at the first touch of his lips, firm and warm and oh-so-enticing. Then another sound escaped Augusta; it was a sound of need that came from deep within, one that demanded instant satisfaction.
For the first time in a long time, Augusta allowed her actions to be dictated by her impulses. She shifted in her seat closer to Nick. Her fingers slid into his hair and tightened on the short, cool strands, her mouth twisting under his once before her lips parted to capture his lower lip. A rough, masculine groan filled Augusta’s mouth when she nipped it, immediately soothing the injured flesh with slow, sensuous swipes with the tip of her tongue. Then she released his lower lip to thrust her tongue between his parted teeth, wanting a deeper taste of him.
Nick, however, was no longer content to passively sit back and let her take his mouth. It was as if she had pushed him beyond some inner barrier, broken through.
Augusta suddenly found her head bent back under the force of his kiss as he took control of the fusing of their mouths. His hands left her face, the fingers of one hand to curl around the back of her neck after releasing the hair she had tamed into a neat bun, and the other to run down her left side until he could squeeze the resilient flesh of her buttocks through the thin material of her skirt. A small sound, needy and anxious, escaped Augusta. Nick’s tongue stabbed inside her mouth again and again. It was frantic, urgent, forceful—so much so that Augusta could not do more than close her eyes and cling to him while he devoured her.
It was exhilarating and terrifying to be wanted this much. And erotic as hell, Augusta thought as wet heat pooled at the core of her sex. God, how she wanted his touch there. At the smallest signal from her, he would do it, despite their lack of privacy. She didn’t think he would’ve cared if the world saw them—and the whole world could if it wanted to, for the last inch of sun clung stubbornly to the horizon.
It wasn’t the fear of indecent exposure that had Augusta’s hands sliding down from Nick’s hair to his shoulders. It was knowing that if she didn’t try to call a halt to things soon, she would be the one tearing
clothes off so she could appease her need for the feel of his bare skin against hers.
Nick felt the pressure on his shoulders, but he didn’t want to heed it. He wasn’t nearly done with Augusta’s sexy mouth. He could go on kissing her forever. And then there was the rest of her delicious little body. He groaned into her mouth again. Her small hands, however, pushed on his shoulders once more. Frustration roared through him, turning his hold painful and his kiss bruising. However, after one last deep foray, he broke off the kiss and relaxed his hold.
“Christ, I’m sorry.” The words of apology were muttered against her hair.
Yet not willing to let her go altogether, he wrapped an arm about her waist and banded the other across her back, pressing her completely against him from her waist up. When her arms tightened about his shoulders, something very much like relief moved through him.
The sun dropped below the horizon as they remained that way, eyes closed, her face buried in his warm throat, his chin resting atop her head. Nick’s loud, ragged breaths filled her ears as his chest moved against hers, his heart beating an uneven tattoo. God, it felt so basic, so reassuring, so damned good. He inhaled deeply, drawing in the citrusy scent of her. It filled his lungs and other empty places.
“Are you going to ask me in?”
He felt her still, felt her lashes flutter against his skin. For a moment, he allowed himself to fantasize how he would take her. Hard and wild first, then slow and easy. They would take their time the second time around so he could lick her from head to toe, then back up again.
“I-I can’t.” It was weak and muffled, but he heard the words and frustration roared through him. She released him and drew back. “I can’t,” she repeated more firmly.
His arms tightened almost painfully for a second, then he dropped them. Not
. But before Nick could ask her about her choice of words, Augusta had already exited his car and was hurrying into her house, locking him out in more ways than one.
Nick rubbed his hands over his face and through his hair.
It was another minute before he pulled away from the curb.
Augusta, without pausing her leisurely stroll, smiled at the two students who waved at her. Dressed for the weather in a ribbed, black tank top and matching mid-calf-length skirt that flared subtly from the knee down, she took in another lungful of the autumn air that was just on the right side of comfortable. The Washington Square New York University campus had left summer behind and was deep into autumn. The trees were still full of sunset-colored leaves, the temperature was in the cool mid-fifties, and shorts and tank tops had given way to jeans and wool sweaters. All in all, Augusta loved it. It was a comforting, familiar sight after the last two days. Getting back to teaching her classes would give her something to keep her mind off Drew, his murder, the NYPD and their suspicions and, especially, Detective Nick Markov.
Just recalling his name had Augusta alternately flushing hot and cold beneath her clothes. Despite the bone-deep exhaustion, she had tossed and turned in bed the night before. The scene in Detective Markov’s car kept replaying in her mind. Every time she closed her eyes, she would see the details more clearly and her senses seemed to come alive all at once. She would feel his lips, his hands, his tongue. She would smell that utterly masculine scent of his overlaid with the cleanliness of soap. She would taste his mouth, the warm skin of his throat. And she would be nearly overwhelmed by the heat that burst from within her, making her feel weak and needy.
And damn him once more for when she did finally fall into oblivion, it was only to be haunted by his face and a body she wanted to strip and explore with her mouth. She had been wrapped around him like a sinuous vine when her alarm woke her and dispelled the dream, leaving her wet and wanting and wishing she hadn’t turned him away.
Then she wouldn’t be left wondering. The mystery of him would have been no more.
Or so she convinced herself.
Augusta silently berated herself for her wayward thoughts and quickened to a brisk walk. Then she veered off the paved path and cut through a thin copse of trees, and something very instinctive made her halt abruptly and go still, like a prey sensing a predator. Being part of the Langan family for a good part of her life—and still not entirely over the sting of being labeled an opportunist by a society column the day after her marriage to Andrew Langan III—Augusta
she didn’t want to go any further, didn’t want to leave the protection of the sparse shadows offered by the trees. She would be walking into the middle of a pack of wolves.
Well, maybe a pack of persistent hounds would be a better simile
, Augusta thought wryly, studying the small grouping of reporters with a couple of cameramen mixed in. But, then again, she adored dogs. Wolves it’ll have to be.
“Damn.” It was uttered with vehemence, if still underneath her breath. After all, she had no wish to draw the attention of the pack blocking the entrance of the building where her cramped office was housed. And her gut was screaming at her that they were waiting for her. Drew’s death and their lying in wait in front of her building was not a coincidence. Dread pushed on her chest, forcing her to draw shallow breaths. She didn’t want to imagine what they would get after putting two and two together. She only knew that it wouldn’t be four. She wasn’t naive.
“Damn.” This time it was a sound of resignation as Augusta turned on the heel of her sandal and made her way back through the trees. There was more than one way to get to her office.
* * * * *
“The secretary said to go right in, Frank,” Augusta said from the open doorway of the faculty dean’s office.
Frank Hayes, fifty-ish, bulky and with a head full of snow-white hair brushed back from a broad forehead, looked away from his computer monitor, pinning his gaze instead on the woman who was half-inside and half-outside his office. “Take a seat, Augusta. We need to discuss some things.”
Claire had warned her, Augusta thought. Whatever Hayes wanted to tell her wasn’t good news.
“Hayes wants to see you in his office pronto, Augusta,” her colleague had told her even before Augusta had unlocked her office door. Augusta hadn’t liked the worried, sympathetic gaze directed at her. “And he’s looking even more disapproving than usual. I’d tread carefully, if I were you.”
Augusta seated herself in one of the two chairs in front of Hayes’ desk, uncomfortably aware that his gaze was following her every movement. She felt like squirming, but she reminded herself that she was no longer the errant grade-school girl who had been summoned to the principle’s office for being mouthy again.
“We have a problem, Augusta,” Hayes said. Augusta thought his voice was unnecessarily grave, like that of an anchor man imparting bad news to his viewers. “Have you seen the reporters outside this building, yet?”
Not trusting herself not to choke on her reply, Augusta nodded faintly, eyes unblinking, face still.
the building early this morning. It took three people, campus security and myself, to get them out. Now they’re camped on our front steps.” Hayes made it sound worse than the bubonic plague. For once, Augusta agreed with him on something. “It’s not acceptable.” She agreed with him on that, too.
Augusta cleared her throat delicately. “I don’t see how that has anything to do with me, though,” she lied, using her most innocent expression.
But Hayes lifted his left brow, looking very disbelieving, and asked, “You haven’t seen the
New York Times
Her head tilted forward and to one side. “
New York Times?”
She was no longer acting.
Hayes blinked, and Augusta could’ve sworn she saw a flash sympathy in those frigid depths. “It’s not the main cover story, but it still made the front page and took up most of the second page.” He opened a deep side drawer and withdrew a folded newspaper. “Um, here. Take a look.”
Augusta took the neatly folded paper from him. She braced herself, telling herself that she had been expecting this. Anyone with half a grain of sense could see this coming a mile away. A wealthy man is murdered. The logical suspect would be the wife, estranged or not. It was always a family member, and the closer the connection the better, since greed was a great motivator.
But that little prep wasn’t enough. A glance and she couldn’t seem to drag enough air into her lungs. She simply couldn’t. They were constricted. And the oxygen already in her lungs seemed to grow heavier as the picture in front of her blurred. However, it wasn’t the picture alone that turned her insides to lead. It was the picture and the headline that went with it. It was her wedding to Drew all over again, Augusta thought, only worse. Much, much worse.