Excerpts for Baby Made at Christmas
Upstate New York, March
I am so angry with you, Lee." Mac stood there at the bottom of the porch steps, against a backdrop of blooming crocuses in bright yellow and purple, while the still-bare trees gleamed with a coating of ice against a perfect late-March blue sky.
His hair was getting a little long, and he must have combed it back with his fingers because it lay in untidy, slightly wavy strands along the top of his head and down the back of his neck. A glint of sunlight caught his cheekbones, and the shadow above them made his dark eyes seem even darker. His shoulders looked strong and square under his shirt, and he stood with his feet planted on the ground as if ready for a fight with a grizzly bear. He was so gorgeous it almost hurt to look at him.
He hadn't told Lee he was coming, and he'd driven here, he hadn't flown. His familiar dark blue pickup was parked right there, still muddy and speckled with splashes of Colorado mountain road salt even after a journey of two thousand miles.
It spooked Lee that he'd driven all this way without a word of warning. Rattled the cage of her catlike independence, and made her very wary about his reasons. There was a statement in what he'd done. He'd ambushed her deliberately, and she didn't know whether to be angry right back, or fall into his arms, or some third alternative that for the moment she couldn't bring to mind.
It was never meant to get serious.
It was ten in the morning and Lee was still wearing her thick, fluffy, blue robe, wrapped in it for comfort as much as for warmth, because she'd felt disgustingly sick to her stomach since first rolling over in the glorious coziness of her bed at seven.
Her hair hung down around her face in a mess, and she could see it in the corner of her vision, like ropes of caramel taffy. Her mouth still tasted too strongly of mint toothpaste, and of the sweet grapes she'd eaten to mask the mint. When she'd come down to answer the knocking at the office door, she'd expected a delivery of clean linen or liquor supplies or bulk groceries, all of which were due sometime over the next couple of weeks.
Spruce Bay Resort was currently closed, in preparation for the coming spring and summer seasons. It was Monday, but the landscaping crew wasn't here today, thank goodness. Mom and Dad were on the way back to their new home in South Carolina, her sister Daisy and new husband, Tucker, had left for their honeymoon after Saturday's small wedding, and her other sister, Mary Jane, the eldest, had gone away yesterday afternoon for three days of indulgence at a spa in Vermont.
"You'd better come inside," Lee said. Mac was wearing jeans and a blue shirt with the sleeves rolled, comfortable for driving, but not warm enough in the open air chill.
"So angry!" he repeated. "Do you not understand that?"
She forced herself to speak calmly, trying to hose down the mood as best she could. "Well, yes, I do, but we did talk about it. It's not as if I hid anything, or lied to you."
"You talked. I was too stunned to react. I had things to think about, too, remember? And by the time I reacted, you'd just. .gone."
Because we never once said it was serious, so why should that change now?
"Want some coffee?" she asked.
"That's what you have to offer?"
"It's a start, isn't it?" It had been a start for them, before. "We obviously need to talk. About why you're here. And how long you're staying. And it's cold. So you should come inside, and we should have coffee. We both like coffee."
"You drive me crazy."
"You are nothing like my sister."
"I know that, too."
"Or my mother."
"So you tell me."
"Or any woman I've ever known." She was like a cat, he'd told her the day after they'd met, and since then she'd embraced the idea. She was good with being a cat. The independence, the pleasing herself, the appreciation for comfort and warmth, but quite a taste for curiosity and adventure, as well.
"Isn't that what you like about me?" She ventured a grin, but he wasn't to be softened so easily.
Because it is serious.
"I don't know if I like anything about you right now, Lee Cherry," Mac said. He stepped onto the porch, crossed it in two strides, pushed past her as she pressed her back against the open door. Then he turned around. "What is this? The office? Why are we in here?"
"Yes, it's the office. But there are stairs in back, up to the apartment."
"You're living above the resort office? On your own?" He was looming over her, seeming like too much big, strong, healthy beautiful man for the rather dark and confined space.
He was glaring at her with those dark eyes of his, but then they flicked down. To her lips. Which were suddenly hot and dry. The impenetrable gaze flicked back up before she could even swallow. It almost felt as if he'd kissed her, even though his mouth hadn't come anywhere near hers. She loved the way he kissed.
"With my sister, Mary Jane, at the moment," she answered him, incredibly annoyed to discover that her voice wasn't quite steady. "Except that she's away."
They had talked. She hadn't just run out on him. She'd presented him with the whole situation, her decisions and her plan, assuming he'd feel the same way she did, and he had.
He had! He hadn't given her any kind of argument, hadn't said a word about wanting to stay together.
"It's bigger than it looks," she went on, knowing she was giving unnecessary detail about the Cherry family apartment. "It's a real home, Mac, not just 'living above the office.'" She wanted to fill the space with talk, instead of this hyperawareness of his bodyof his whole presence. His anger. His attitude. The creeping possibility that she might be in the wrong. "Four bedrooms, kitchen, living room, two bathrooms, above this lower level, which has the office and three storerooms and the double garage. We all lived here, growing up."
"That's your parents and your two sisters, running the resort. And you're the eldest?"
See? How could it have been serious, if you don't even know where I fit in my family?
He ignored her correction. "So coffee is upstairs?"
"Yes." She turned and led the way, relieved that he was the one focusing on mundane detail now.
He followed her. If he'd brought any bags, he'd left them in the pickup. He had his hands free as he came up the stairs behind her, and she remembered all the times he'd followed her up flights of stairs in Colorado and cupped a hand on her butt or wrapped his arms around her and stopped them both in their tracks.
Turned her around.
It was good to see him. It made her feel like crying, and she didn't want that, not at all. She'd steeled herself to never see him again, to cut off clean from the very nice fling thing they'd had, because wasn't it better that way? She didn't want something that turned messy or ugly or complicated. She didn't want something that dragged itself out for all the wrong reasons.
Better the clean break.
But now he was here, and her body said she was happy about it, despite everything.
They weren't talking. Upstairs, he followed her into the kitchen and she did a wobbly job of getting out coffee and milk and operating the state-of-the-art espresso machine she'd brought with her from Colorado, all of it in a silence he didn't attempt to break. She was aware of his presence with every fiber of her being. The machine began to bubble and hiss, the only thing in the room making any noise.
She turned away from it and there he was, and if the office had seemed too small for his powerful form, the kitchen was even worse. He leaned his hard, jeans-clad butt against the edge of the sink and folded his muscled arms like a nightclub bouncer, and in Colorado she would have gone right up to him and hung off him until he kissed her.
Which would have taken about half a second, and would have been great.
And then one thing would have led to another, because that was what their entire relationship had been about.
Don'tyou remember that, Mac? If he didn't, she could remind him. She should remind him.
Because the fact that their relationship had mainly been based on sex was important.
She'd closed the space between them before the plan was even a plan. It really wasn't conscious or deliberate, it just happened, habit more than anythingthe habit of wanting him, and of glorying in the delicious confidence that he wanted her and that they fit together in all the best ways. She slid her fingers past those folded arms, slid and sneaked and burrowed until the arms loosened and dropped, letting her reach all the way around his back.
She didn't go for his mouth, just stood there with her hips pressed against his hardening groin, and looked up at him, looked into the gorgeous, familiar pools of dark that were his eyes. It was quite simple, the way it had always been. They wanted each other and enjoyed each other, and there was nothing wrong with that. There was this electric thingfeeling, need, recognitionbetween their two bodies.
They just connected.
They just liked it.
He swore, or groaned, or something. He was still angry, despite the stirring she could feel in his body. She could see it in his eyes and the set of his mouth. He pulled her closer, so that her breasts grazed against him, then pressed hard. She was wearing only the robe, and it was working loose, the tie at the waist slipping its granny knot and the gap between the fluffy blue lapels widening more and more.
He looked down and saw her cleavage, apparently as if it was something new. The sight seemed to make him pause, and she looked down, too. Yes, okay, they were bigger, and they'd been a pretty decent size to begin with. He liked them. He'd lavished them with endless attention in the past.
She looked up into his face and reached to cup his jaw lightly with her hand. This was one of the thingsshe liked, knowing how much he wanted her, and playing to it, making him wait or jumping right in, varying their mood together, teasing him terribly, sometimes, and loving it when he teased her back just as much.
She stretched up and planted a soft, questing kiss on that angry mouth. It didn't soften. She kept going, pressing against his stubborn lips, darting out her tongue, deliberately softening and opening, tilting her head, touching his jaw with feathery fingertips.
Still that mouth didn't soften, but at least it kissed back. Oh, boy, did it kiss back! A rough, angry sort of kiss that came with hard arms around her and muscles tense with frustration and need. She guessed a kiss like this was trying to tell her something, but she didn't buy iteven though she liked it, a lot.
You want a kiss, Lee, you'll get a kiss, he seemed to be saying. You'll get my hands on your butt and my tongue in your mouth and the taste and smell of me, and, yes, it's damned good and we both know it.
He hadn't shaved since he left Colorado, it felt like. The three-day growth of beard rasped at her skin as his mouth moved against hers, and of course it felt good. It felt fantastic. He smelled good, tooa mix of car freshener and salted nuts and snow. She put her whole heart into kissing him, threading her fingers through his hair, tilted her face to one side, letting her tongue sweep his mouth deeper and deeper, tangling with his. Any minute now, she'd start undressing him, and he'd get rid of her robe in about four secondsit was already wide-open, and the belt was on the floorand this would end the way it always did.
He kept on punishing her with his body, and she couldn't get her hands down to start unfastening his shirt. Still, that didn't matter for now. He pulled her naked hips against the soft rasp of his jeans and tightened his arm muscles until their strength almost hurt, and as far as she was concerned, all he was doing was proving her point, not his.
Admit it, Mac.
"No, Lee, hell!" he growled suddenly. "I won't do this." He removed the rough mouth with a last rasp of unshaved jaw across her cheek, grabbed her wrist and pulled her hand away from its sneaky caress of his face, then bracketed her hips and pushed.
He took the two front sections of her robe and lapped them across each other, his knuckles bumping her breasts. For a fraction of a second she thought he was going to let those knuckles soften and slow, brush them over her darkened nipples, push the robe open again and cup her, but no. Maybe that was just her hungry imagination, or maybe he'd simply taken hold of his willpower and changed his mind.
He bent and picked up the belt of the robe, passed it behind her, then knotted it in front, tight. "We've never had angry sex before, and now's not the time to start."
She stepped back. "Doesn't have to be angry." He looked so good, her heart was pounding, confusing her.
How happy am I that he's here? Too happy. Scary happy. Don't like it.
"Does when I am," he said.
"So what's going to get you to stop being angry?" She took a breath. "And what's going to get you to leave?"
So I feel safe again. Safe from my heart.
The breath went out of him at this, a big whoosh of it, as if she'd punched him in the gut. He pivoted away from her and leaned on the bench. He looked very, very tired, suddenly, and she wondered how long the two thousand miles of driving had taken him. Nonstop it would have to be at least thirty hours. More. Two days, or three? Had he driven at night, or stopped at a motel?
"You want me to leave?" he growled.
She lifted her chin. "If you're angry, yes. If we can't talk, because all that happens is accusations flying back and forth, then yes, it's best if you leave. Don't you think?"
"I'm not leaving."
"So you want us to talk things through?"
"What I want" He stopped.
"I've had some time to think, now. You didn't give me that before."
"You never asked for it, or showed the slightest indication that you needed it."
"Because I was in shock. I was This is huge, all of it. You don't knowyou can't know You were four or five days ahead of me with what was happening, and it was completely unfair of you to expect me to catch up right away. Maybe I didn't say the right things, but I don't think you did, either." His eyes blazed darkly.
"So did I."
They glared at each other and he pulled at the collar of his shirt as if it was uncomfortable. His hair feathered against the blue fabric, and before she'd even thought about what she was doing, she reached up and tidied it for him so that it sat in neat waves, overlapping his collar by a good two inches. She loved his hair. She loved that he'd forgotten to fight her off, when really she had no right to touch him like this.
"So tell me about your thinking," she said.
He took a big breath. "I want us to try and make a go of this, Lee."
She didn't even know what that meant. Make a go of what? Having sex? Hadn't they done that already? Wasn't that the whole problem?
They'd been far too stunningly successful at the whole point of having sex, and now her idea about what to do next didn't remotely mesh with his. "What do you mean?" she said eventually. Pathetically.
"I'm moving east. Correction, I have moved."
"Brought everything. Wasn't much I really needed. I'll unpack after we've had that coffee."
He turned to her again. His mood hadhow could you describe it?changed color, or something. The black obsidian of anger held a gleam of wicked white light. He almost smiled, but not quite. "Didn't you say this place had four bedrooms?"