Authors: Heather Graham
But they didn’t, not right away. He smiled at her, an incredibly sensuous, lazy smile as he lay back in the earth’s soft cushion of the glen and openly relished the simple pleasure of watching her, the sea of his eyes languorously moving from the delicate lines of her profile—hesitating at the enticing hint of firm breast displayed to such advantage by the knot of her blouse—to the angular plane of her hip and along the slender but dancer-shapely length of her long legs.
A bird chirped somewhere in the branches above them, but Sloan was barely aware of its cheerful cry. It was part of the hypnotism this man was exuding, part of the compelling aura that seemed to make an island of the glen, an isolated place of beauty where all that was real was the shelter of the friendly pines, the encouraging whisper of the breeze, the soft, earthy bed of green and brown, and—the dynamically handsome man who lay before her, emanating an undeniable virility.
He dropped the blade of grass he had been idly chewing and stretched a tanned finger to outline the softness of her lips. They trembled at his touch and parted, and the finger went on to rub gently the edge of her teeth as he watched, fascinated. A shudder ripped through Sloan, one of such abject longing that it left her shocked by its vehemence and quivering in its wake. But still he didn’t reach for her, but spoke instead, and his voice was part of the breeze, a whisper as compelling and hypnotic as his piercing sea-jade eyes.
“You’re exquisite,” he said. “Incredibly beautiful,” and his eyes were still locked with hers; his finger still touched her lips. His head moved toward hers until it was just an inch away, and he murmured, “I want you to know that my intentions are entirely honorable.”
“What?” Sloan mumbled, confused and deep within the spell of the moment. She knew she should be listening; she should be talking; she should be coyly denying his touch. But all her scheming seemed worlds away. There was something else at stake, but she couldn’t remember what. A pulse was beating erratically through her system. Her veins felt as if they were composed of a silvery liquid which raced like mercury in response to the simple feel of his finger; her nerves were so vibrantly alive that she could feel every touch of the gentle breeze, every blade of grass that brushed her skin. Her whole body was crying out, silently pleading for the excruciating pleasure of the muscle-rippled bronzed arms which must surely take her into their demanding security soon.
And they finally did, like lightning. A powerful hand crushed her lithe softness to his lean hardness as he groaned. “I’m crazy about you,” he murmured huskily. “I always have been, and you’re more beautiful than ever...” He intended to say more, but the moist, inviting lips parted tantalizingly before him were too much. He kissed her, nibbling her lower lip, probing with tender but firm command until she moaned and fell entirely acquiescent to his seduction of her mouth. Then the kiss became wild and passionate, and everything was forgotten and unreal as she strained against him, a willing prisoner of the all-encompassing, delightfully sensual sensations he was arousing. His lips left hers to create a burning trail along the sensitive flesh of her neck and down to the partially exposed mounds of her breasts; the unhurried, assured exploration of his hands sought her intimately, discovering the lean muscles of a thigh, delighting in the slender slope of a hip, creating an inferno of yearning along the bare flesh of her midriff. His seeking moved upward so that he might cradle the lushness of her breasts, and she made no protest as he fumbled with the annoying knot that kept material between his pleasure-giving hands and the rosy nipples which were hardening, demanding to be touched. She was, in fact, too deliriously busy herself, exhilarating in the feel of the crisp, dark hair that fringed his collar, stroking the tensed muscles that rippled and heated beneath his shirt as her hands and fingers feathered and caressed them. His breathing, she noted with vague, sensuous pleasure, was as ragged as hers; their hearts seemed to pound together in a furious, deafening roar, and even the pines that cushioned them seemed to disappear. All that she was aware of was him—the weight of his hard, lean form pressing into her soft one, molding her to him, demanding and giving. The knot finally gave; his hot kisses came to her breasts as they fell like exotic fruits to his hands. His thumb, gentle but ever so slightly rough, taunted one ripe-hard nipple while his teeth reverently grazed the other, and a sob of sheer, exquisite physical pleasure escaped Sloan as she instinctively clutched his head to her with fevered fingers imbedded in his dark hair.
A twig suddenly snapped, as loud as a rifle shot in the silent glen. Sloan started, but it was Wesley who pulled away, his expression tenderly sheepish.
“Just a twig,” he chuckled, after perusing their haven with a keen and astute eye. His smile was wide with understanding amusement as he watched Sloan redden and hastily retie her top with nervous, trembling fingers. “Just a twig,” he repeated softly, drawing a gentle finger along her cheek.
Sloan met his tender gaze briefly, then her lashes fluttered and she stared at the ground, shielding her confusion from his view. He thought he understood, but he didn’t. It was not the idea that they may have been discovered in their intimate embrace that wracked her mind with horror and left her heart sputtering erratically, her nerves tense with torment.
It was the embrace itself; the wild abandon in which she had so eagerly fallen into his arms, willing—no! desperately desiring—to give him all.
In the middle of a public park.
What had happened to her?
Had she been so lonely that she had simply craved the first attractive male to come her way? No, she had dated a number of men, persistent ones at that! They had always left her feeling nothing, not even pleasant sensations. Wesley had awakened desires which had long lain dormant within her; his touch had brought to life a warm, feeling, responsive woman—a woman Sloan had thought long dead.
In fact, in all honesty, he had aroused her to greater passion than she had felt in all her twenty-nine years, and they hadn’t even...
Sloan breathed shakily. She had to get a grip on herself! Some huntress she was! But there was no denying the fact that Wesley was a supremely powerful and sensual man or that an undeniable chemistry existed between them. And, in a way, that was good. She would be able to bring him something honest in their marriage. Her blush, which had begun to recede, came back full force.
She wanted him with every bit as much fervor as he wanted her. She could openly give him passion.
But as he laughingly helped her to her feet and brushed away the pine needles and grass that stuck to her hair and clothing, she guiltily realized that all she could offer would not really be enough.
Wesley was a good man, an exceptionally good man—kind, gentle, understanding, and unassuming. He had survived celebrity status and wealth and retained compassion and kept a solid, worldly-but-uninflated head upon his shoulders.
He deserved everything that a wife should give; friendship, partnership, passion and—love.
Yet even as remorse filled her heart, he was tilting her head with firm persuasion, forcing her tremulous blue eyes to meet his sea-jade stare.
“Please don’t look like a maiden in shock,” he entreated earnestly, the dimple flashing in his cheeks. He was still amused, but her silence was causing him considerable concern.
Sloan opened her mouth to speak, but the ache in her heart caused the words to freeze on her lips. He shook his head, his smile stretching across his taut, bronzed features. She wondered fleetingly why he had to look so darned attractive just then, so masculine and virile, yet boyish with his dark hair disarrayed, his eyes dazzling mischievously, his crooked smile engagingly intent. He was twisting her apart.
But again, he was—luckily for her!—misinterpreting her reactions.
“I love you, Sloan,” he said huskily. “I told you before, my intentions are entirely honorable. Years ago, I fell in love with a wisp of a girl, an infatuation, if you will. But the dream of that girl has stayed with me all my life, paling all others. And she had her own dream, and it had to be followed.
“But now, I’ve found her again. We’re both older and wiser. And now I know I can help her with whatever her future dreams might be. I have no intention of letting her get away again!” He kissed her again, very lightly, very tenderly, very gently. “You may think I’m crazy, Sloan, and maybe I am. I may be totally insane where you are concerned. But I do love you. I want to marry you. I know it’s too early to expect an answer from such a crazy proposal, but after what just happened, I thought I should let you know how very much you do mean to me.”
Sloan managed a sick, weak smile. She had won, just like that. She had taken the victory before the battle, accomplished everything she had set out to achieve—in less than three days.
Then why, she wondered miserably, was that victory so bitter-tasting, her triumph so hollow?
Had he really been in love with her for years? Was that why he had never married? Or was it talk, the bantering type of talk that lovers often used?
She really didn’t know which would make her feel worse, but now, for certain, she couldn’t let Wesley go.
But nor could she rid herself of a nagging feeling of...of...
Was it fear?
LOAN SLID A TOWEL
around her neck and closed the door to Fine Arts 202 behind her. She shook her head slightly. Melanie Anderson and Harold Persoff were in that studio practicing to Steely Dan, while the strains of Bach were also filtering through to her from Fine Arts 204 where Gail Henning—a student determined to be the next American prima ballerina—was also at work rehearsing.
Sloan’s lips curved into a slight smile. She didn’t mind teaching; in fact she loved it. Gail Henning was going to make a fine ballerina, and Sloan was playing a part in making the girl’s dream a reality. It was a nice feeling.
Her smile slipped and she sighed. The problem with teaching was the college. The Fine Arts department was on a low budget—in the present economy state-funded schools couldn’t afford much for the arts. Theater, dance, and music—and even visual arts—were just not practical courses of study in the world the kids would face when they left. Sloan agreed with the theory that her students—even the best—should have a sound education to fall back on. She, more than anyone, knew that they would have a struggle surviving in their chosen field. But although Jim Baskins was a great department head, he was under the chairman of Fine Arts, who was under the dean, who was under the vice-president of the school, and so forth. The politics in her job drove her crazy.
She mused over the budget wars recently fought in the last faculty meetings as she entered the ring of offices shared by theater and dance, thanking the student secretary for her messages and following the labyrinth of cubbyholes until she found her own—an eight-by-eight square with a small desk and two chairs. The rest of the proposals for dance finals awaited her approval, and she slipped into a sweat shirt, chilled now by the air conditioning in her damp leotard and tights, before seating herself to concentrate on the projects. A chosen few would be previewed on Saturday when she and Jim made their own contributions to the welfare of the Fine Arts department at the annual performance. And time, Sloan thought with a grimace, was slipping away. Wrinkling her nose with distaste at the loss of time she so often endured with the red tape of the paperwork, Sloan focused her attention on what actually constituted teaching.
Sloan picked up the first folder and pursed her lips in a tolerant grimace as she saw that Susie Harris wanted to tap her final to the Doobie Brothers’ “A Fool Believes.” The music wasn’t conducive to tap, but Sloan believed in letting the kids—kids! they were eighteen to twenty, young adults—try their wings and learn from their own mistakes. Besides, she had seen some very good work come out of the highly improbable.
Sloan scribbled a few lines of advice on Susie’s folder and set it aside. Dan Taylor wanted to do a modern ballet to Schubert...
Sloan set the folder down. Her effort to concentrate was fading. Chewing the nub of her pencil, she thought back to the previous night and Wesley. He hadn’t mentioned marriage again; he hadn’t touched her again. He had returned their relationship to a casual one, idly discussing the upcoming school performance. At her home he had played with the kids, picked up Florence, and left, saying nothing about seeing her again...
The tip of the eraser broke off in her mouth, and Sloan wrinkled her face in distaste before ruefully plucking the rubber from her tongue. She was going to have to stop being such a nervous wreck—and definitely improve her hunting technique. Wesley was supposed to think of nothing but her all day long, not vice versa. And she had been thinking of nothing but Wesley all day, to the extent that her students must be thinking Mrs. Tallett was mellowing. She was considered the roughest taskmaster in the department, knowing that only grueling work could take even the most talented to the top.
In all dance classes, you perspired.
In Mrs. Tallett’s classes, you
Sloan was aware that her budding Nureyevs thought her a strict drill sergeant, but she was totally unaware that they were devoted to her and many considered her a miracle in a small college. Half the males in her classes were also in more than a little bit of puppy love with her. She was beautiful, tall, svelte, sophisticated, and although her voice could be a cutting whip, it was a soft-spoken voice. She was tireless and demanding, but she had the grace of movement they all strove for, and she participated in her own strenuous workouts.
If you got out of Mrs. Tallett’s classes alive, you had a good chance of making it as a dancer.
Today, she had been mellow. She had been busy throwing her energies into furious movement, hoping she could exhaust her frame from remembering the burning touch that had made her forget everything else...
A soft tap on her door became persistent and sharp before she heard it. “Come in,” she called quickly.