“Why did you bring me here tonight, Lillian? I know it wasn’t because you needed to pick up some supplies.”
She looked around at her paint-spattered studio. “Maybe I wanted to find out how you really felt about arty types.”
He raised one hand and traced the cowl neckline of her black dress. His finger grazed her throat. “Let’s see where we stand here. We’ve established that you don’t think I’m a machine.”
She caught her breath at his touch. “And you don’t think I’m typical of what you call the arty type.”
“Where does that leave us?”
“I don’t know,” she whispered.
He lowered his head until his mouth hovered just above hers. “I think we ought to find out, don’t you?”
“Sex is probably not the best way to explore that issue.”
He kissed her slowly, lingeringly. When he raised his head she saw the hunger in him. She felt her blood heat.
“Can you think of a better way to explore it?” he asked.
She swallowed. “Not right at the moment.”
He put one hand on her knee just beneath the hem of the little black dress. His smiled slowly and eased the skirt higher. She caught the ends of his silk tie in her hands and drew him closer.
He took the invitation the way a shark takes prey; smoothly and swiftly, leaving her no time to consider the wisdom of moving back into shallower waters.
Between one heartbeat and the next, he was between her knees, using his thighs to part her legs and open her to him. The black dress was up to her hips now, leaving only a scrap of midnight-colored lace as a barrier to his hand. It proved woefully inadequate to the task. She felt the silk grow damp at his touch.
She gripped the ends of the necktie and hung on for the ride.
He roused himself a long time later, sated and content. For the moment, at any rate. He sat up on the edge of the worktable. Beside him Lillian was curled amid scattered sheets of drawing paper, brushes, and tubes of paint. Her hair had come free from the sleek knot in which it had been arranged earlier in the evening. The little black dress that had looked so elegant and tasteful at the head table was now crumpled in an extremely interesting, very sexy and no doubt less-than-tasteful manner. But it looked terrific on her that way, he thought.
His tie was now looped around her throat instead of his own. He grinned, remembering how it had gotten switched in the middle of the lovemaking.
She stirred. “What are you staring at?”
“A work of art.”
“Hmm.” She nodded once in appreciation. “A work of art. That was pretty quick, Madison.”
“Pretty quick, you mean for a man who is still recovering from a truly mind-blowing experience?”
“Gosh. Was that your mind?” Her smile was very smug. “I didn’t realize.”
He grinned. “I handed you that line on a platter. Admit it.”
“I admit it. You’re good, you know that?”
“At the moment, I’m a lot better than good.” He leaned down to kiss her bare hip. “I’m terrific. What about you?”
“I think I’ll survive.” She hauled herself up on her elbows and surveyed herself. “But the dress is dead meat.”
“I’m sure there are plenty more where it came from.”
“Probably. Department stores are full of little black dresses.” She noticed the tie around her neck and frowned. “How did that get there?”
He eased himself off the table, stood and stretched. “Some questions are better left unanswered.”
He studied a canvas propped against the wall directly across from him as he zipped his trousers and buckled his belt. It was another one of her unique, riveting creations, all hot, intense light and dark, disturbing shadows. He felt it reaching out to pull him into that world, just as her other works did. He had to force himself to look away from it.
He turned his head and saw that the sensual, teasing laughter that had gleamed in her eyes a moment ago had evaporated. She was watching him in the same way that he had looked at the painting, as if she were wary of being sucked into his universe.
“Does this mean we’re having an affair?” she asked.
Curious. Polite. Very cool. Just asking.
Her deliberately casual air wiped out a lot of the satisfaction that he had been enjoying. Whatever was going on here was a long way from settled.
“Yes,” he said. I think we’d better call this an affair. I don’t see that we have any real choice.”
She sat up slowly and dangled her legs off the edge of the worktable. “Why is that?”
She had small, delicate ankles and beautifully arched feet, he noticed. Her toenails were painted scarlet.
And here he’d never considered himself a foot man.
He walked back to the table, fitted his hands to her waist, lifted her and set her on her feet. He did not release her. “Be sort of awkward to have to admit that we’re into one- and two-night stands, wouldn’t it?”
“Might make us both look extremely shallow and superficial.”
“Can’t have that,” he said easily. “Come on, let’s go back to your apartment. We need some sleep. Got a long drive back to Eclipse Bay tomorrow morning.”
A deceptively bright sun supplied light but very little heat to Eclipse Bay. Small whitecaps snapped and sparkled on the water. The brisk breeze promised another storm soon. They drove through the community’s small business district on the way back to the cottage. Lillian noticed that the handful of men standing around a truck at the town’s only gas station were huddled into goose-down vests and heavy windbreakers.
Sandy Hickson, the owner of the station, spotted Gabe’s car and waved a casual greeting. His companions turned to glance at the vehicle. Even from where she sat, Lillian thought she could see the open speculation in their eyes.
A Harte and a Madison could not even drive through Eclipse Bay together without drawing interested gazes.
“Small town,” Gabe said. He sounded completely unruffled by the attention.
“Not like there’s a heck of a lot to do around here in the middle of winter. It’s almost like we’ve got a social obligation to bring a little excitement to town.”
“Since when did Madisons worry about their social obligations?”
“Since we started hanging out more with you Hartes. You’re a bad influence on us.”
She noticed the illuminated message indicator on the answering machine when she walked into the Harte family cottage a short time later.