OUTSIDE THE LIMIT Excerpt . . .
They sat there in the rainy gloom, watching the drops of water coursing down the windshield, the waving green foliage surrounding them. He reached out for her hand. It was as cold as ice. He chafed it.
“Come in,” he urged her. “Let me make you a cup of tea.”
She stared down at her hand, clasped in his, but did not pull it away. “I’m the opposite of your ideal woman,” she blurted.
His jaw clenched. “I know,” he said.
“So, um, where does that leave us?” she asked quietly.
He looked up at the dripping trees, the heavy clouds. “At the moment, it leaves us parked outside, in a truck, in the rain.”
Her face turned deep, warm pink. “You want me to come in?”
“Only if you want to,” he said. Hah. He lied. He wanted her to come in more than he wanted his next lungful of oxygen.
“I hardly know you,” she whispered.
“We can fix that,” he suggested. “Come in for a cup of tea. Tell me about yourself. ”
“That’s very nice of you. But it’s not a good idea to have a first date in one’s own private space,” she said primly.
He started to grin. “Is that what it would be? A first date?”
She looked flustered. “I don’t know. What would you call it?”
He drummed his fingers on the wheel. “I’d call it a cup of tea.”
Nancy wrapped her arms around herself. “A first date—that is, um, a first encounter of any kind should take place on mutually agreed upon neutral ground,” she told him. “A public place, like a bar, or a restaurant. And just a drink, not dinner. Just to see how it goes.”
“Oh. Is that how it’s done?” He pressed a kiss against her fingers. “Tea’s a drink, right? And wouldn’t breakfast count as the first date?”
“No,” she said breathlessly. “No way. We haven’t had any dates. We’re nowhere yet. Breakfast doesn’t count. Intention is everything.”
“Now that is the God’s own truth.” He reached out, and stroked her cheek with a feather-light touch. It was as soft as he had imagined.
She made a low, inarticulate sound deep in her throat. He was dazed, by the warmth of her, the downy softness. The delicate details.
He leaned forward, in tiny, increments, until their faces nearly touched, and commenced a slow, careful dance of advance, retreat. Feeling her breath against his cheek, stroking her jaw. Tracing that elegant jut of delicately sculpted cheekbone beneath her smooth skin.
He waited, sensing her caution, and her longing. Waiting patiently until the two found their perfect balancing point, and . . . ah.
Her eyes shut as he tasted her lips. So lightly. So carefully.
He gasped at the contact. Oh, Jesus, she tasted like light. Incredible, electrifying. Her lips, so soft and shy beneath his.
He explored her face with his fingertips, stroking her jaw, her pale throat. She dragged in a sharp breath as he slid his hand down her back, settling on the curve of her hip. Her nipples poked against her blouse. His fingers ached to caress them. He touched the first button, tugged it. It came loose, revealing the hollow of her throat, a warm cloud of some exotic, woodsy scent. He wanted to gulp it in. Lick it up.
He pulled her closer, kissed her jaw, then her throat. His lips brushed the warm gold of the little pendant Lucia had given her. His hand brushed down over her breast, just close enough so that the nipple barely brushed his palm. The little nub was hard, tight.
His arm tightened. He felt it, the second that it happened. A door, slamming down between them in her mind. One moment she was melting in his arms, fingernails digging into his shirt. Out of nowhere, tension gripped her, and she arched away, stiff and brittle as a stick of balsa wood. He was so in tune with her, he actually felt alarm jangling through her, like warning bells clanging. As if the fear were his own.
He forced himself to let go. It was as hard as bending metal.
He eased back, hands clenched. Giving her the space she needed. He was doing it again. Pushing her. It was a piss poor time for this. She was a complicated woman, grief stricken, stressed out, and he was a jerk-off for forcing the issue. Off his fucking head. He struggled not to pant. Fists clenched. Slow breathing. Don’t even look at her. Don’t.
He looked away. Minutes ticked by, measured by drops of water making their meandering way down the window of the truck, by ragged, labored breaths that he struggled to keep silent.
At length, he heard her rustling, the soft sounds of fabric shushing together. Buttoning her blouse, getting herself in order. A cough. Clearing her throat. “Ah . . um, Liam? That was, ah—“
“Amazing.” He stared fixedly at the lean-to, the pattern of the carefully stacked wood for his fireplace. “But you choked.”
She looked into her lap. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to lead you on. Look, I need to get back. I need to talk to the cops about that letter, and the jeweler, and clue my sisters in, and you’ve been really great, and I appreciate the company, but I . . . but I’m, ah—“
“Scared,” he said.
She sighed. “Not of you.” Her voice was muted. “You’re a really good guy. I know that. It’s just . . . well, everything.”
“Yeah?” Anger twisted in him, hard to wrestle down. “Everything’s not here in the cab of this truck, Nancy. It’s just me in here with you.”
She looked at him with big, beseeching eyes. He stared back, unrelenting. “It’s just a cup of tea. It’s not the end of the world.”
She made a sniffing sound. “Right. You know exactly what would happen if I went into your house, Liam.”
“Do I? Yes, actually,” he said reflectively. “I can see it. I’d pull up a chair for you. Put the kettle on the stove. Rummage around in the pantry for that tin of ginger butter crisps. Ask if you take milk or lemon. Ask leading questions about your childhood. Say nice things about your eyes, your hair, your earrings. Try my best to be witty and charming.”
“Really?” A smile flickered on her face. “Is that what you’d do?”
He nodded, willing it to be true.
“It sounds nice,” she said demurely. “But I . . . oh, never mind.”
Yeah, she didn’t have to say it. He saw that alternative scenario, too. The one where he ripped the clothes off that slim, lusciously curved body, pinned her up against the wall and nailed her, deep and hard, until they both exploded. His heart thudded. His ears roared.
Cool it, bonehead. The moment was so fragile, so uncertain. She was intensely sensitive to his every word, his every goddamn thought.
He caught her eye flicking to his lap and darting nervously away. Yeah, the boner of the century, trying to rip the seams of his jeans loose. Aching with each heavy thud of his heart for the soft touch of that cool hand. Heat burned into his cheekbones. He gave her a shrug that said yeah, and so? He couldn’t control his physiological responses, but he could by God control his behavior. He wanted her to know that, but there was no good way to say it. Better to keep his mouth shut.
“I just need for things to be . . . under control,” she whispered. “I have enough to be scared of right now, without piling it on, you know?”
He rubbed his face against his hands, feeling around instinctively with his senses for a way through this labyrinth. He did not want to turn around and go back. No. He could not. That wasn’t even an option.
He flung the door of the truck open. The rain on the earth had released a deep, sweet spicy perfume, and drops pattered heavily down onto him. He circled the truck, and stood outside the passenger side door, staring at Nancy’s huge eyes through the rain spotted glass. He mimed rolling down the window. She did so, frowning in perplexity.
“What the hell are you doing out there in the rain?”
“Continuing our conversation. You need control. Control it, then. The car door’s the limit. I won’t violate it. I swear upon my sacred honor that I will not touch any part of you that’s inside that door.”
Her gaze skittered away, embarrassed. “Oh, God, Liam. You don’t have to play elaborate games like that with me. You’re getting soaked.”
Like he gave a shit. “That’s my problem, not yours,” he said.
“But it makes me feel guilty!” she protested.
Ah. Yes. This was progress. “The guilt is your problem,” he informed her. “I can’t help you with that. Sorry.”
She laughed at him. Something primitive inside him capered with glee. Yes. It was working. She was lightening up. Praise God.
“So?” Her eyes sparkled. “You’re just going to stand out there and get drenched, then? That’s silly.”
“It’s a crafty attempt to disarm you with my gallantry,” he told her. “Is it working? Are you charmed?”
She wrinkled her nose at him, leaning out the window. “I think you’re out of your mind.”
His grin stretched all the way around his head. “You’re charmed,” he said. “And you’re outside the limit. Any part of you outside the plane of the window is fair game, remember? The tip of your nose and your forehead are at serious risk. This is by way of a courtesy warning.”
“Very gentlemanly of you, to warn me,” she said demurely.
“I’m trying like hell,” he said, with stark sincerity.
And she didn’t pull back. In fact, she leaned a tiny bit further out. And her fingers were curled over the side of the door.
He jerked his chin towards her hands. “Outside the limit.”
Her lips formed words that didn’t quite make it out of her mouth, so she swallowed, and tried again. “I . . . I know.”
His heart started to thud again. The rain was increasing, its soft, pattering rush. Running down his face. Beading hers, as well.
Over the limit. Fair game. She’d been warned. She knew.
He reached out, as slowly as if she were a bird that would take flight at any sudden movement, and touched the backs of her cool, slender fingers. So pale. Wet with rain. Unexpectedly, her hands turned beneath his. Excitement jolted through his chest. Palm up, like flowers, blooming beneath his hands. Opening, offering. Yes.
He leaned closer. The rain whispered, murmuring, pattering tenderly against every new leaf. She glowed like a South Sea pearl, that faint blush of pink, barely a hint of color in her pale cheeks. Her huge eyes were wide open, and luminous. Greenish brown. Leaves in the water. Dilated pupils, deep and endless. A sprinkle of ruddy freckles on her nose, now that he was close enough to see. A frivolous detail that made her beauty more believable, more approachable. More kissable.
He studied every drop of water beading her forehead. Followed the grain of her eyebrows, the jut of her cheekbone. Perfect. Radiant. He was dazzled. Lost. His wits gone. Like they’d never been.
She extricated her hand, and touched his face from cheekbone to jaw. The trail of her finger was a path of light, moonlight on water, a beckoning shimmer. Rain dripped into his collar, soaking his shoulders. Rain defined the dimensions of this sensual liquid otherworld. Pearly gray, green, silvery, glittering cool. And beneath it, secret hidden heat. The blush in her cheeks, the warmth of her lips. Wet with rain, sweet with rain. Her scent, escaping him every time he tried to inhale it. Elusive, alluring. Driving him mad. He swayed. Their lips touched.
The kiss pierced through him, broke something open. He started to shake, and clutched the edge of the door to steady himself. Moved, by a shy, cautious, trembling kiss. Tears started into his eyes. Luckily, his face was already wet. He closed his eyes, tasted her, felt her. The delicate texture of the inside skin of her lips, the flick of her shy tongue. He drank it up. A heady liquor. So sweet, for being given, and not taken.
End of Excerpt