Authors: Linda Conrad
Reality returned to Annie in stages. Euphoria and boneless giddiness came first as Nick kissed her senseless. Their breathing was erratic. Their legs and arms still intimately entwined.
Wow. Oh wow. So this was what her sisters had raved about. No, couldn't be. This was so much better than any description she'd ever heard or read. She was dazzled.
Finally, Nick lifted his upper body, leaned on his elbows and cradled her head between his huge hands. “Are you all right?” His eyes were glazed, his expression rather foggy, but his first thought was for her welfare.
“Wonderful. How about you?” To her ears, that shaky whisper had come out sounding more like a purr. Small wonder. She felt as contented as a well-fed kitten.
His eyes smiled while he placed tiny kisses all over her face. On her eyelids, her chin, her temple. Nick was adoring her, cherishing her with his lips. The kisses were such intimate gestures that she nearly cried from the beauty of them.
“I'm dizzy with wanting you. Again.” He shifted his hips, pulling free. But she still felt the power in his lower body as it pressed hard against hers. “And again.”
Annie reached her arms as far around his waist as they would go and squeezed him tightly to her. “Sounds good to me.” She could stay here with him like this forever.
Touching his lips lightly to hers, he groaned against them. “You are so free. God, you're generous andâ¦exquisite.”
She wiggled her bottom and got another groan for her trouble.
He raised his head again to gaze into her eyes. “But any more tonight would be too much for your first time. You were a virgin, Annie. Why didn't you say something?”
“I didn't want to spoil it,” she admitted. “I wanted you. Everything else was not important.”
“It's important to me. I needed you so badly tonight, but I shouldn't have been the one.”
“Why? You have just given me the most wonderful gift of my entire lifetime,” she whispered. “You're like the best Christmas present. The ultimate favor I've wanted my whole life and never had the courage to go out and ask for. Please don't make it sound bad.”
Nick made a strangled sound deep in his throat and one of his hands strayed to her breast. As he teased the nipple, he gazed deep into her eyes.
It appeared to her as though he was trying to see into her soul. Finally, he bent his head and licked a path across her chest and down to the other sensitized breast.
Annie felt the heat explode through her, sending shock waves of pleasure that punctuated her need and enlarged it with his every movement.
She decided to take her own destiny into her hands for one of the very few times in her life. At last she was grown-up enough to know what she wanted and how to go get it. And what she wanted was more of Nick.
“You know, I'm very athletic and healthy,” she murmured in his ear with a small moan. “I don't think it would hurt me any to try that again now. Right now. Please.” She bumped her hips against his groin.
“That's cheating, Annie.” But as he said the words one of his hands slipped between them, moved to the juncture of her thighs and lightly stroked and cupped, bringing dampness and moisture into his hand.
“Noâ¦” she insisted against his shoulder. “That's asking for what I want.”
She bit into his neck and Nick groaned as she felt a shudder move through him. He eased his shaft inside her body again and waited, as if he wanted her to be sure.
She was more sure of himâ¦of this nightâ¦than anything before. She lifted her hips as much as possible and sighed with the relief of having him deep inside once more. It felt strangely right, strangely familiar.
He began moving, slowly this time. Back and forth. Slow and sure. Nick was drawing her up, one agonizing inch at a time, as his lips moved over her skin. Kissing her shoulders, lips, breasts, he was building the fire between them to daredevil heights.
She squirmed, and this time when Annie burst into flames, they were all-consuming, all-absorbing. As her body began to let go, she felt him trembling, relenting, rippling with pleasure right along beside her.
Nick gripped her so tightly that she felt safe enough to fall over any edge with him. Wild explosions rocked through them both. She screamed at the exact moment Nick threw back his head and cried out to the heavens.
The world tilted. The storm thrashed wildly about them. And crazy images of forever burst into Annie's soul.
t must be a true magical spell that could fill the night with such enchantment, Annie thought. She leaned up on one hand and rested her back against the sofa, staring down at Nick as he dozed next to her.
He was absolutely
most gorgeous man. She loved his aristocratic features. The high cheekbones and sculpted jawline were a perfect match for his broad shoulders and long muscular limbs. She also found especially endearing the steel-blue hue that his eyes became whenever she caught him watching her.
Annie used the tip of her finger to trace the frown lines across his forehead. Soon she felt a corresponding but vague frown in the vicinity of her heart.
It wasn't particularly flattering for him to be having a bad dream right after making love with her. She fer
vently hoped his nightmare wasn't caused by anything she'd done.
But she had to guess that this dream was probably caused by the memory of his lost wife. Nick's mother had told her that his wife had died in the same yachting accident that blew out his knee. She'd also said that Nick had tried to save his wife, nearly drowning himself in the attempt.
Annie imagined that he must dwell on the accident. Maybe that was why he became so irritable on occasion.
Whenever Annie knew that Nick's body was causing him pain, she also clearly saw the ache of a bad memory in his eyes. Occasionally, she'd even caught a hint of guilt hiding behind that pain.
The minute she thought of his guilt, it made her uncomfortable. The idea of Nick having either pain or guilt over his wife's death so soon after the two of them had been intimate together made her totally miserable.
Not the least bit sorry she'd made love to this beautiful but haunted man, Annie nevertheless found herself falling into a depression. After finally finding such fabulous power and need, it was with a man who would never be free from his memories.
Sometimes life really did suck and then you diedâjust exactly like the joke her brother-in-law taught her.
But how fantastic it was to have captured that power, even if just for a few minutes. A vision ran through her head of how it had been. Of having his mouth on hers. Of the warmth and tenderness of his touch, and of the flames in his eyes when he gazed at her naked body.
“Oh, dear Lord,” she softly groaned aloud. The end
ing of this fairy-tale romance was not going to be a happily ever after.
The two of them surely must have been under some sort of spell tonight. But thank heaven for it. Otherwise she would never have knownâ¦
She gazed down at his long silver lashes, spilling over his cheeks as he slumbered beside her. In her soul, she knew he was going to eventually regret what they'd done.
Making love to her boss had definitely been wrong. But she'd wanted him so badly. Now all she wanted was for him to allow her to continue to be his assistant. She wasn't sure she could bear it if he sent her away now. Not before she made sure he was healthy and settled in his new life.
Nick had to care a little about her, he'd made that clear enough. Perhaps she could figure out how to make him want to keep her with him for a while longer. Maybe just until she could think about losing him forever without having this horrible ache in her heart.
Fighting off the pain, she gently flipped a lock of his hair back off his forehead. Such soft hair, so smooth and silky. She swallowed the tears that threatened.
“Hello, beautiful,” he said as he lifted heavy eyelids to look at her. “You doing all right?”
She nodded, but could find no words as he rubbed a warm palm up her arm. Heat and desire were still in his eyes. She was so glad not to see regret in them yet, that it was all she could do not to sob openly with relief.
“That was amazing,” he murmured. “You're amazing.”
The tears escaped, falling against her will.
“Hey. What's wrong? I didn't hurt you, did I?”
Shaking her head, she blinked hard and took a breath. “Certainly not. It's just thatâ¦we're going to regret this after the storm is over, aren't we?”
“Come here, Annie. Just let me hold you a second.” He wrapped her up in his arms and placed tiny, whispered kisses against her hair. “I will never regret one second of my time with you. And I would hope that we can grow closer because of what's been between us, not more distant.
“After the storm, we can still work together,” he continued with a soft sigh. “But we'll be friends who've shared something special. Simple, right?”
The words didn't feel right to her. There was something about what he'd said that seemed wrongheaded. The very idea of it sounded too easy, and she worried that nothing about how she felt now could ever be classified as simple.
But Annie wouldn't tell him no. She was sure she could
say no to this wonderful man.
“Okay, I guess. Sure,” she said against his chest. It was so safe and warm here, she might've agreed to anything just to be able to stay exactly like thisâin the heat and glory of his arms.
“Great. Now thenâ¦” He began to unwrap his arms from around her as he dragged them both up to sitting positions.
“The storm can't be over yet,” she whined and clung to him. “I can still hear the rain on the shutters.”
Nick glanced at her face as the candlelight danced over her skin. He let his gaze drop to her naked chest where her nipples stood peaked and high. “Umâ¦no, not yet. But I sort of thought you might need time. I still
believe you're going to be sore after your first experienceâand I was getting hungry. Butâ¦”
Nick grabbed her up and tumbled them both to the rug, loving the way she'd gasped then sighed as he clamped his mouth on hers. Letting his fingers glide down the satin of her skin, he touched the inside of her thighs and smiled against her lips when he heard the moan coming from deep within her chest.
If he didn't touch her everywhere, taste her everywhere again right this minute, he would surely die. All of a sudden, Nick found himself hoping the storm would rage on forever.
“I can't hear the winds or the rain anymore,” Annie whispered.
Nick squeezed her hand, flicked the flashlight beam around at the darkened hallway and continued to creep slowly onward toward the kitchen. Heaven only knew how many hours it had been since the storm had begun to unleash its fury over the island. He'd been too pleasantly occupied to pay much attention.
“I'll try to tune in the weather channel on the battery-powered shortwave radio in the kitchen,” he told her. “Just as soon as we get something to eat. I'm starved.”
“No kidding,” she laughed and waved a hand toward both their bare bodies. “We were hungry enough to sneak into the kitchen without even stopping to get dressed. I just hope no one walks in on us.”
“Not to worry. Everyone left on the island knows enough to stay put until the storm is really over.” He led them into the wide, industrial kitchen area and dropped
her hand so he could light a couple of lamps that he knew were stashed in a cupboard.
As soon as the glow illuminated the way, Annie pulled plates and glasses from their spots in the butler's pantry. She set about fixing them both a hot meal on the propane stove.
Nick sat back and watched her work. She looked like a pixie with curls bouncing, energy bubbling off her naked body and eyes concentrating hard on her cooking. So young, he thought. So untouched by trouble in her short life.
It reminded him of his own life's tragedies, and the thought brought his usual automatic irritation to the surface for a moment. But when Annie turned to him and smiled, it felt like nothing could ever be wrong in the world again.
“Do you think the water will be okay to drink after the storm?” she asked as she popped the tops on two bottled waters.
“We're supplied by cisterns and they should be fine. It may be a problem getting the water out of the pipes without electricity to run the pumps, though. But as soon as we're sure the storm has run its course, I'll go start up the emergency generators.”
“Wonderful. That'll mean we can have hot water too, won't it?” She carried their plates to the table and sat down beside him.
“Yes. Are you thinking of a shower, or the dishes?” The minute he'd mentioned it, Nick had thought about making love to her under the shower spray.
She grinned at him. “Both.”
With the two of them still nude, it surprised him how
free and easy she was in her body. Christina would never have wandered around the house without clothes.
He waited for that thought to make him feel the old annoyance that always accompanied the pain, but it didn't come. Perhaps if he dwelt on it for long enough it might. But he would much rather dwell on the way the sight of Annie's body caused a sense of deepening arousal to move through his blood. Would he never tire of wanting her?
He noticed that Annie's mouth was still swollen from their kisses and wondered if his was the same. Studying her neck and shoulders while she ate a spoonful of stew, he saw that they carried the marks of their love-making.
All the things they'd done flooded back in a rush of lurid and sensual detail. The two of them had acted like animals. Untamed. Wild.
Like nothing in his experience.
But looking at her now, it appeared incongruent. Her young innocent face versus the marks of passion on her neck. A niggle of guilt seeped into his conscious mind. He had seduced a virgin and he hadn't even been drunk.
Worse, the virgin was also the woman who had come to mean so much to him over the past few months. The woman who had been more than compassionate and patient while she retrained his muscles. The woman who had taught him to laugh again.
When she'd asked about regrets earlier, the mere thought that she might not stay by his side had caused him to panic and reach for her again. It might be too much to hope that she would stay his personal trainer forever. After all, he had nearly all his mobility and
strength back. Someday soon he would be completely healed and she would go.
But he was determined to think of a way to keep her with him just a little longer. He vowed to find every respectable reason to keep her on the island for as long as physically possible. If not in his bed, at least near enough that he could be sure she was okay.
And in the meantimeâ¦ He grabbed her free hand, turned it over and placed a whispered kiss into her palm. They still had time. The storm wasn't over yet.
The hurricane rains had died down hours ago, and Annie's mind was filling with regrets once again.
She swung her legs over the edge of the sofa in Nick's office and set her teacup down next to her empty bread plate on the side table. Everything had been so free and easy while the storm raged on. What would happen now that it had passed over them?
The idea that they would have each other for however long the storm continued had sounded good last night. She'd thought afterwards they might be able to go back to the way it was before. Now, however, everything looked different.
Annie was achy all over. Interesting muscles she'd forgotten she had were shrieking in protest. Still, if Nick reached for her again right now, she'd jump him without so much as a second thought.
Unfortunately, he wasn't here. He'd gone outside to start up the generators and check for damage. He'd said he wouldn't try to go down to the dolphin lagoon until he could be sure the house was not in danger of collapse.
She found her shorts and top in a heap behind the sofa and slipped them on. Wondering absently what she would do if she couldn't find a way to make him want her to stay on the island, she moved over to the wide office desk and sat in his huge armchair, trying to comfort herself.
It made her feel like a doll, sitting at his desk. But the chair smelled of him. All leather and musk and masculine scent.
Her back was to the pictures of his wife and she wanted to will them out of her life forever. No, that wouldn't be right. Nick had loved his wife once and she had died. Annie couldn't hate a dead woman who had no more choices left. Their story was such a tragedy.
Annie had wondered if the intense attraction she knew Nick felt for her would be enough to help him overcome some of his old pain so he could find a new life. She'd wanted to help him capture a little bit of happiness again. And if that happiness could be with her, well, all the better.
Sighing, Annie had to admit she had no training in psychology and no way to help him get over his pain and guilt. Life seldom turned out like it did in novels.
Running her gaze over his clean desktop to keep her thoughts from becoming overwhelming, she wasn't the least surprised at how neat he was. Papers were stacked and filed in proper folders. Nothing was out of place or messy. But it also appeared to be rather somber and isolatedâjust like the man who lived and worked here.
Something shiny at the edge of the desk stood out from the rest and caught her attention. She reached for it and discovered it was a book with a heavy gold-and-ivory cover.
This must be the magic book Nick had mentioned yesterday. Annie ran her fingers over the inlaid ivory and closed her eyes. Yes, with her eyes shut she could definitely feel a special vibration there. Maybe the book was indeed filled with magic.
She started to open it, to see what sorcery the pages might contain. But Nick came into the office just in that instant.
“Water should be hot enough for a shower in a few minutes,” he said with a smile.
Annie set the book down and jumped up. “Is the storm over then?”
“The winds are still gusting past gale force, according to the weather channel. I'd better wait another couple of hours before going down the beach to the lagoon.”
“I'm sure the dolphins will be okay. You have the very best people working with them.”
He leaned over and gave her a quick hug. “I only hire the very best.” He stepped away but kept a hand on her shoulder. “I'm going back out to try stabilizing the roof on the new wing. It shouldn't take too long.”