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Authors: Linda Howard

Tags: #Philosophy, #General

Shades of Twilight (9 page)

BOOK: Shades of Twilight
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Roanna needed calm, peaceful surroundings where her nerves could settle down and her stomach relax. If Aunt Lucinda and Jessie-and now Aunt Gloria, too-wouldn't or couldn't let up on the criticism that they constantly leveled at Roanna, then he wouldn't let Roanna eat with them. Aunt Lucinda had always insisted that they be at the table together, that Roanna conform to social standards, but he was going to override her on this. If she would eat better with her meals served on a tray in the peacefulness of her bedroom, or even out in the stables if she preferred, then that was where she'd have them. If being separated from the family made her feel exiled, rather than the relief he thought it would be, then he'd eat out in the stable with her. This simply couldn't go on, because
Roanna was starving herself to death.

Impulsively he scooped her onto his lap, the way he'd done when she was a youngster. She was about five-seven now, but not a lot heavier, and fear clutched at him as he encircled her alarmingly frail wrist with his long fingers. This little cousin had always appealed to his protective side, and what he had always loved best about her was her pluckiness, her willingness to fight back without regard for the consequences. She was full of wit and mischief, if only Aunt Lucinda would stop trying to obliterate those very traits.

She had always snuggled up to him like a kitten and did so now automatically, rubbing her cheek against his shirt. A faint twinge of physical awareness surprised him, making his dark eyebrows draw together in a puzzled frown.

He looked down at her. Roanna was woefully immature for her age, without the normal social skills and defenses teenagers developed in the course of interacting with each other. Faced with disapproval and rejection at home as well as at school, Roanna had responded by withdrawing, so she had never learned how to interact with the kids in her age group. Because of that, subconsciously he had always thought of her as still being a child in need of his protection, and maybe she did still need it. But even if she wasn't quite an adult, physically she was no longer a child either.

He could see the curve of her cheek, her long, dark lashes, the translucence of her temple where the fragile blue veins lay just beneath the surface. The texture of her skin was smooth, silky, and carried the sweet warm scent of womanhood. Her breasts were very small but very firm, and he could feel the nipple, as small and hard as a pencil eraser, of the breast that was nestled against him in her half-turned position. The twinge of awareness intensified into a sudden, definite throb in his loins, and he was abruptly conscious of how round her buttocks were and how they nestled so sweetly on his thighs.

He barely bit back a growl as he shifted her a little, just enough that the side of her hip wasn't rubbing against his hardening penis. Roanna was remarkably innocent for her age, having never dated; he doubted she had ever even been kissed. She had no idea what she was doing to him, and he didn't want to embarrass her. It was his fault for taking her on his lap as if she were still a kid. He'd just have to be more careful from now on, though this was probably a fluke. It had been over four months since he'd had sex with Jessie, because he'd gotten so damn sick and tired of her trying to manipulate him with her body. Their encounters weren't about making love; they were a contest of domination. Hell, he doubted Jessie even understood the concept of making love, of the mutual giving of pleasure. But he was young and healthy, and four months of denial had left him extremely edgy, so much so that even Roanna's skinny body could arouse him.

He jerked his mind back to the issue at hand.

"Let's make a deal," he said.

"I promise that no one else will say anything to you about how you eat, and if anyone does, you tell me and I'll take care of it. And you, sugar, will start eating regular meals. Just for me. Promise."

She looked up at him, and her whiskey brown eyes held that soft, adoring glow she reserved for him.

"All right," she whispered.

"For you." Before he had any inkling what she was going to do, she curved her arm around his neck and pressed her sweet, soft, innocent mouth against his.

From the moment he'd scooped her onto his lap, Roanna had been almost breathless with longing and intense excitement. Her love for him flooded her, making her want to moan with pleasure at his touch, at the way he was holding her so close. She rubbed her cheek against his shirt, and felt the heat and resilience of his flesh beneath the fabric. Her nipples throbbed, and blindly she pressed hard against his chest. The resulting sensation was so acute that it shot straight down between her legs, and she had to clench her thighs against the heat.

Then she felt it, that sudden hardness against her hip, and with a thrill she realized what it was. She had seen a naked man for the first time that afternoon, and the shock of the act she'd witnessed had left her weak and nauseated, but this was different. This was Webb. And this meant he wanted her.

The realization shattered her with delight. She stopped thinking. He moved her so that she couldn't feel him against her hip anymore, and he was talking. She watched him, her gaze fastened on his beautiful mouth, barely absorbing his words. He wanted her to eat, just for him.

"All right," she whispered.

"For you." She would do anything for him. Then the longing grew so intense she couldn't hold it back any longer, and she did what she had wanted to do for so long that it seemed like her entire life had been spent craving this. She put her arm around his neck and kissed him.

His lips were firm and warm, and hinted of a tantalizing taste that made her quiver with need. She felt him jerk, as if startled, felt his hands move to her waist and tighten as if he would lift her away from him.

"No," she sobbed, suddenly terrified that he would push her away.

"Webb, please. Hold me." And she tightened her hold on him and kissed him even harder, shyly daring to lick his lips the way she'd seen it done in a movie.

He quivered, a long shudder running through his muscled body, and his hands clenched on her.

"Ro-" he began, and her tongue slipped in between his opened lips.

He groaned, his entire body tensing. Then suddenly his mouth opened and moved, and control of the kiss was no longer hers. His arms closed around her, hard, and his tongue moved deep into her mouth. Roanna's neck bent back under the pressure, and her senses dimmed under the onslaught. She had thought about kissing, even practiced it on her pillow at night, but she hadn't realized a kiss could make her feel so hot and weak, or that his taste would be so delicious, or that the feel of him against her would unleash such terrible longing. She twisted on his lap, seeking to get closer, and fiercely he turned her so that her breasts were against his chest.

"You two-timing bastard!"

The shriek battered Roanna's ears. She leaped from Webb's lap, her face white as she pivoted to face her cousin. Jessie's features were twisted with rage as she stood just inside the door, glaring at them, her hands clenched into white-knuckled fists.

Webb got to his feet. Dull red stained his cheeks, but his gaze was steady as he too faced his wife.

"Calm down," he said in an even tone.

"I can explain."

"I just bet you can," she sneered.

"This should be good. Damn you, no wonder you haven't been interested in touching me! All this time you've been fucking this stupid little whore!"

A red mist edged Roanna's vision. After what Jessie had been doing this afternoon, how dare she talk to Webb like this over a kiss! Without realizing she even moved, suddenly she found herself in front of Jessie, and she shoved her against the wall so hard that her head slammed against it.

"Roanna, stop it!" Webb said sharply, catching her and roughly setting her aside.

Jessie straightened and shoved her hair out of her eyes. Quick as a cat, she lunged past Webb and slapped Roanna across the face with all the strength in her arm. Webb grabbed her and swung her to one side, holding her with a firm grip on the collar of her blouse while he caught Roanna by the nape of her neck.

"That's enough, God damn it," he said with clenched teeth. Webb didn't normally swear in front of women, and the fact that he did now was a measure of his anger.

"Jessie, there's no sense in letting the whole house in on this. We'll talk about it upstairs."

"We'll talk about it upstairs," she mimicked.

"We'll talk about it right here, damn you! You want to keep it quiet? Tough shit! By tomorrow night, everyone in Tuscumbia is going to know you've got a taste for young ass, because I'm going to yell it on every corner!"

"Shut up," Roanna growled, ignoring her burning cheek and glaring her hate at Jessie. She tried to wriggle free of Webb's punishing hold on her neck, but he merely tightened his grip.

Jessie spat at her.

"You've always been after him, you slut," she hissed.

"You set it up for me to find you two together like this, didn't you? You knew I was coming down to the kitchen. You weren't content to fuck him behind my back, you wanted to lord it over me for once."

The scope of the lie stunned Roanna. She darted a glance at Webb and saw the sudden suspicious, condemning glare in his eyes.

"Both of you shut up," he growled, his voice so low and icy that chills ran down her back.

"Jessie. Upstairs. Now." He released Roanna and all but frog-marched Jessie to the door. He paused there to flick Roanna with a glacier gaze that cut like a whip.

"I'll take care of you later."

The door swung shut behind them. Roanna sank weakly against the cabinets and covered her face with her hands.

Oh, God, she'd never meant for anything like this to happen. Now Webb hated her, and she didn't think she could bear it. Pain welled in her, tightening her throat, choking her. She had never been a match for Jessie in slyness and cunning, and Jessie had proved it once again, effortlessly spewing out the lie that would turn Webb against her. Now he thought she'd caused all this deliberately, and he would never, never love her.

Grandmother wouldn't forgive her for this ruckus. She rocked back and forth, overwhelmed with misery, wondering if she'd be sent away. Jessie had been telling Grandmother that Roanna should go away to some girl's college up north, but Roanna hadn't wanted to go and Webb had supported her, but now she doubted Webb would lift a finger if they wanted to send her to the Gobi Desert. She had caused him so much trouble he'd never forgive her, even if she could convince him that Jessie lied, which she doubted. In her experience, they always believed Jessie.

In the space of a few minutes, her entire world had crumbled around her. She had been so happy, those few, sweet moments in his arms, and then it had turned to hell. She would likely have to go away, and she'd lost Webb forever.

It wasn't fair. Jessie was the one who was the whore. But Roanna didn't dare tell, couldn't tell, no matter what happened. She couldn't defend herself against the vicious lies Jessie was even now telling about her.

"I hate you," she whispered thinly to her absent cousin She cowered against the cabinets like a frightened little animal, her heart pounding against her ribs with a force that almost made her faint.

"I wish you would die."


Chapter 5

Roanna lay huddled tensely in her bed. She was cold with misery despite the heat of the summer night, and sleep was as distant now as it had been when she had first escaped upstairs to her room.

The hours since Jessie had caught her kissing Webb had been a nightmare. The uproar had, of course, brought the rest of the household running. There was no need for questions, because Jessie had screamed curses at both Webb and Roanna the entire time he was dragging her upstairs, but both Grandmother and Aunt Gloria had hammered
Roanna with endless queries and accusations anyway.

"How dare you do such a thing?" Grandmother had asked, glaring at Roanna with eyes as cold as Webb's had been, but
Roanna remained mute. What could she say? She shouldn't have kissed him; she knew it. Loving him was no excuse, at least not one that would matter to the unanimous condemnation she faced.

She couldn't defend herself by pointing to Jessie's behavior. Webb might hate her now, but still she couldn't tell something that would so hurt him and might cause him to do something rash. She would rather take all the blame herself than risk anything bad happening to him. And in the final analysis, Jessie's actions didn't excuse her own. Webb was a married man; she shouldn't have kissed him. She writhed inside with shame at what her heedless, impulsive act had caused.

The battle raging upstairs had been clearly audible to everyone else. Jessie had always been unreasonable when thwarted and doubly so when her vanity was involved. Her screams had sliced over the deep rumble of Webb's voice. She'd called him every filthy name imaginable, using words that Roanna had never heard spoken aloud before. Grandmother was usually able to overlook anything Jessie did, but even she winced at the language being used. Roanna heard herself called a whore, a horse-faced little slut, and a stupid animal good only for barnyard screwing. Jessie had threatened to have Grandmother cut Webb out of her will hearing this,
Roanna had darted a terrified look at Grandmother, because she would die if she'd cost Webb his inheritance, but Grandmother had lifted her elegant brows in surprise at hearing this threat-and to have Webb arrested for statutory rape.

BOOK: Shades of Twilight
9.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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