TIDES OF PASSION excerpt
"I merely stated that I thought it is overrated."
"It being kissing, I take?" He leaned in, his elbows sliding onto the table for the first time that evening. She could have taken the man to a presidential dinner and he would have fit in.
"Yes. Kissing. Overrated."
"I could change your mind," Zach said, surprising the hell out of them both. Why would he take something as simple as this banter as a challenge? "I don't know that I want to, but I feel right sure I could."
"How arrogant. How typically male."
"I suppose." He shrugged and reached for the wine bottle. "More?"
She nodded, frowning now. "How do you know you could change my mind? It's been a long time since you... well—"
"Over two years." The pain was there, an ache in his chest he imagined he would feel every time he thought of Hannah.
And he thought of her every day. Dreamed of her about as often. But lately, maybe only in the past week, he'd begun to realize that his life had not ended with his wife's.
He either had to die or start living again.
Because of Rory, there really was no choice at all.
"Were you happy?" she asked.
Glancing across the table, he watched the flickering candlelight wash over Savannah. A soft glow highlighted the mass of chestnut curls she was not capable of controlling. Long lashes brushed her fine-boned cheeks as she blinked slowly, watching him watch her.
With those looks, it was no wonder the men in town were buzzing about her.
"I was happy," he said, letting the wine trickle down his throat, hoping it would dull his heartache.
"What was she like?"
Zach closed his eyes and rested his head on the back of the chair, remembering. The crash of waves in the distance and the rustle of pine branches in the breeze soothed him. A little. "She was fragile. Like an angel made of glass. The kind they blow until it's so thin you think it'll break if you touch it."
He had often been afraid to touch her, to hug her with even half his strength, but that was far too personal a memory to share. "There wasn't a cross bone in her body or an evil thought in her head. She was good... kind." He blinked, refocused. Savannah had moved forward in her chair, her arms propped on the table, her eyes gleaming in the candlelight. "But she wasn't strong. I knew when I asked her to marry me that I would have to take care of her, that it wouldn't be the other way around. I accepted that, I wanted it."
"You wanted her."
Yes. He had wanted Hannah, had loved her intensely—something he had not felt for a woman since. But as the years of their marriage passed, and she seemed to wither under his care, he had often questioned whether he was the right man for her. If any man could be the right man for her. At the very end, he had almost decided that staying in the nurturing care of her family would have been best. He was a man, and he had needed certain things.
Things Hannah had given freely but without genuine interest. Without fire or enthusiasm.
It horrified him, made him feel guilty as hell, to think he'd loved a woman so completely, yet had very little in common with her in bed.
Conversely, the woman sitting across from him—uppity, proud, and sassy—was everything Hannah had not been. He sure as heck didn't like her... but he liked watching her. Watching swift, joyful smiles cross her face, hearing her gusts of uninhibited laughter, and the way her mirth pressed her bosom against her crisp shirtwaist.
She enjoyed life, or so it looked to him.
He even imagined she might be an entertaining companion, maybe even pleasant on a good day. And just when he felt safe thinking that, she would turn and deliver a crushing line of superiority and irritate him so bad he wanted to spit.
But she was intriguing, all right. That, he could not deny.
"What about you, Miss Connor? Never felt the urge to shackle yourself to a man?"
She straightened in her chair, her spine locking one vertebrae at a time until she sat as rigid as a dried-up schoolmarm. "Me?" With a scant laugh, she took a hasty sip of wine.
Zach smiled, sinking low in his chair, balancing his glass on his stomach. So, she doesn't want to talk about herself. "It's a customary question, isn't it? I thought most women wanted marriage."
She sniffed. "I'm not most women, Constable."
No kidding, he wanted to say, eyeing her over the rim of his glass.
"Furthermore, I have a calling which keeps me decisively engaged for most of my waking—"
She started, sliding forward a bit. "Pardon me?"
"Busy. Your calling keeps you busy. 'Actively engaged' sounds so"—he took a thoughtful sip—"frosty."
"Cool?" If he could see her well enough, he'd bet money her cheeks were blazing. "Constable, I'm neither frosty nor cool, nor—"
Flattening her palms on the table, she rose to her feet, her shadow washing over him. "I'm not frigid."
He paused, felt an undeniable urge to challenge her. But, no, he couldn't do that. Could he?
"Prove it," he said, confirming that wine had indeed distorted his reasoning.
"Okay," she whispered. "I will."
He lifted his head, jerked ramrod straight in his chair, searching Savannah's face for any indication that she was bluffing. Her clothes, her skin, her features were all obscured in gray and black, giving him no clue.
"Are you joking?"
She released a pent-up breath and started to edge around the table toward him. "You said you could change my mind. Perhaps I can change yours."
He waved her back with his glass, sloshing a drop or two on his trousers in the process. "You must know that I'm not a marrying man. Never, ever again."
She halted, surprising the heck out of him by throwing her head back and laughing, her body curving with it. It was a masculine laugh and damned appealing. "Oh, heavens, Constable, is that a call for marriage in your world? I've never been kissed well enough to get me in front of a minister." Covering her mouth with her hand, she gasped, "Must be some—what would you call it—mighty fine kissing to make people take vows."
"Well," he said, feeling a frown bunch his brow, "it could be good. That's not out of the realm of possibility."
"Prove it," she said around another burst of laughter. "Prove it, prove it, prove it."
He rubbed a hand across his chin, debating the wisdom of having any more wine. Had he actually thought he was in control of this situation? "I don't know. This all seems crazy to me. And it was my idea."
She gulped a breath and patted her chest. "My, from the fantastic entertainment I've witnessed in this town, I'm sure it does." Taking a step forward, she held out her hand, as if she were trying hard not to startle him. It was downright insulting. "Rightly, Constable, you asked me first. And I'm willing to go the distance to solve a disagreement."
"I bet you're always willing," Zach muttered, wondering if he'd lost his mind sitting in his backyard on a lovely twilight evening. Gambling with a woman who wouldn't back down if a tiger had her latched in its jaws.
"Are you willing?"
Through the shadows, he found her gleaming eyes, her slightly curved mouth. "No, it's too reckless. Too irresponsible."
"You're sounding like a father. Or a constable, Constable."
"I'm both, Miss Connor."
He watched her lips tilt and flow into a glorious smile. "Rory's in bed, safe and sound. Most of the town is in bed, safe and sound. And you're here, with a pragmatic woman who can take care of herself. Two adults and one magnificent challenge."
"More like a dare," he said and drained his glass.
She took a step closer, until her skirt brushed his knee. "Call it a dare if you like."
"No." His resolve slipped a notch when she crouched before him, the pleasing angles of her face flooding into view. She was much, much too tempting.
"I'll do it all. You don't have to participate. That should be enough to prove my case."
"I wasn't serious when I said that. I'm sure you're not, hell, frigid."
She leaned in, her hands sliding along the arms of the chair, her face fading out of view as it closed in on his. A scent, provocative and earthy, stole in with his stuttered breath. "You see, Constable, I'm always serious." He watched her moisten her lips, so near he could almost taste her. "Close your eyes. I've heard that's the way it's done."