Jewels of the Sun



  “I’ve done some running myself. To and from. In the end I landed where I needed to be.” He bent down to press a kiss to her forehead. “And so will you.”

  Then he drew her away, rubbed a tear from her cheek with his thumb. “Now, sit down here while I go clear up a few things in the pub. Then I’ll see you home.”

  “No, that’s all right. I can walk back.”

  “You’ll not be walking in the rain and the dark and when you’re feeling sad. Just sit and drink your tea. I won’t be long.”

  He left her alone before she could argue, then stood on the stairs for a few minutes to get his own mind in order.

  He was trying not to be angry with her for not telling him about the marriage. He was a man who took such commitments seriously, because of his faith and his own sen-sibilities. Marriage wasn’t something you wound in and out of as you pleased, but something that cemented you.

  Hers had crumbled through no fault of her own, but she should have told him. It was the principle of it.

  And he’d just have to get by it, Aidan warned himself. He’d also have to do some careful treading over the sensitive areas of her that circumstance had rubbed so raw. He didn’t want to be responsible for pinching where it already hurt.

  Jesus, he thought, rubbing the back of his neck as he headed down to the pub. The woman was a bucket of work.

  “What’s the matter with Jude?” Darcy demanded the minute he stepped into the kitchen.

  “She’s all right. She had some news from home that upset her is all.” He picked up the receiver on the wall phone to call Brenna.

  “Oh, not her granny.” Darcy set down the order she’d just picked up, and her eyes were full of concern.

  “No, nothing like that. I’m going to call Brenna and see if she can cover for me a couple of hours. I want to drive Jude home.”

  “Well, and if she can’t, Shawn and I will manage.”

  Aidan paused with the phone in his hand and smiled. “You’re a sweetheart when you want to be, Darcy.”

  “I like her and I think she needs a bit of fun in her life. Seems to be there’s been precious little up to now. And having her husband leave her for another woman before her bridal bouquet was dry is bound to—”

  “Wait now—hold on a minute. You knew she was married?”

  Darcy lifted a brow. “Of course.” She hefted the order, sauntered toward the door with it. “It’s not a secret.”

  “Not a secret,” he muttered, then with gritted teeth dialed Brenna’s number. “The whole village likely knew, but not me.”

  TWELVE

  BY THE TIME Aidan came back and they walked down to his car, Jude had time to calm down, and to review.

  Mortification didn’t begin to cover it. She had burst into the pub, then had sexually assaulted the man in his place of business. Perhaps in time—twenty or thirty years, she estimated—she would find that particular memory fascinating, and even amusing. But for now it was just humiliating.

  Then she had compounded that by raging, weeping, blubbering, and cursing. All in all, she couldn’t think of anything she might have done that could have shocked them both more unless it was stripping naked and dancing a jig on his bar.

  Her mother had congratulated her on maintaining her dignity while under terrible stress. Well, Mother, she thought, don’t look now.

  And after all that, Aidan was driving her home because it was dark and rainy, and he was kind.

  She imagined he couldn’t wait to be rid of her.

  As they bumped up her little road, she tried out a dozen different ways to smooth over the embarrassment, and every one sounded stilted or silly. Still, she had to say something. It would be cowardly, and rude, not to.

  So she took a deep breath, then let it out in a rush.

  “Do you see her?”

  “Who?”

  “In the window.” Jude reached out, gripping his arm as she stared at the figure in the window of her cottage.

  He looked up, smiled a little. “Aye. She’s waiting. I wonder if time stretches out for her, or if a year is only a day.”

  He switched off the engine so they sat with the rain drumming until the figure faded away.

  “You did see her. You’re not just saying that.”

  “Of course I saw her, as I have before and will again.” He turned his head, studied Jude’s profile. “You’re not uneasy, are you, staying out here with her?”

  “No.” Because the answer came so easily, she laughed. “Not at all. I should be, I suppose, but I’m not the least bit uneasy here, or with her. Sometimes . . .”

  “Sometimes what?”

  She hesitated again, telling herself she shouldn’t keep him. But it was so cozy there in the warmth of the car with the rain pattering and the mists swirling. “Well, sometimes I feel her. Something in the air. Some—I don’t know how to explain—some ripple in the air. And it makes me sad, because she’s sad. I’ve seen him too.”

  “Him.”

  “The faerie prince. I’ve met him twice now when I’ve gone to put flowers on Maude’s grave. I know it sounds crazy—I know I should probably see a doctor for some tests, but—”

  “Did I say it sounded crazy?”

  “No.” She released another pent-up breath. “I guess that’s why I told you, because you wouldn’t say it. You wouldn’t think it.”

  And neither did she, not any longer.

  “I met him, Aidan.” She shifted on her seat, her eyes bright with excitement as she faced him. “I talked to him. The first time I thought he was someone who just lived around here. But the second, it was almost like a dream or a trance or . . . I have something,” she said following impulse. “I’d like to show you. I know you probably want to get back, but if you have just a minute.”

  “Are you asking me in?”

  “Yes. I’d—”

  “Then I’ve time enough.”

  They got out of the car and walked through the rain. A little nervous, she pushed at her damp hair as they stepped inside the cottage. “It’s upstairs. I’ll bring it down. Do you want some tea?”

  “No, I’m fine.”

  “Just, well, wait,” she said and hurried upstairs to her bedroom where she’d buried the stone among her socks.

  When she came down, holding it behind her back, Aidan was already lighting the fire. The glow of it shimmered over him as he crouched by the hearth, and Jude’s heart gave a pleasantly painful little lurch.

  He was as handsome as the faerie prince, she thought. See the way the fire brings out the deep red tones in his hair and shifts and plays over the angles of his face, shoots gold into those wonderful blue eyes of his.

  Was it any wonder she was in love with him?

  Oh, God, she was in love with him! The force of it struck like a blow in the belly, nearly made her groan. How many more idiotic mistakes could she make in one single day?

  She couldn’t afford to fall in love with some gorgeous Irishman, to break her heart over him, to make a fool of herself. He was looking for something entirely different, and had made no pretenses about it. He wanted sex and pleasure, fun and excitement. Companionship, too, she imagined. But he didn’t want some moony-eyed woman in love with him, particularly one who’d already failed at the only serious relationship she’d allowed herself.

  He wanted a love affair, which was a world away from love. And if she wanted to succeed here, with him, to give herself the pleasure of a relationship with him, she would have to learn to separate the two.

  She would not complicate this. She would not overanalyze this. She would not ruin this.

  So when he rose and turned, she smiled at him. “It’s lovely having a fire on a rainy night. Thanks.”

  “Then come closer to it.” He held out a hand.

  She was walking into the fire all right, she thought. And she wouldn’t give a damn if she got burned. She crossed to him, kept her eyes on his. Slowly, she brought her hand from behind her back, spread her fingers. The diamond nestled
in the center of her palm, shooting light and glory.

  “Sacred heart of Jesus.” Aiden stared at it, blinked. “Is that what I think it is?”

  “He poured them like candy out of his bag. Jewels so bright they hurt my eyes. And I watched as they bloomed into flowers over Maude’s grave. Except for this one that stayed as it was. I shouldn’t believe it,” she murmured, thinking as much of love as of the stone in her hand. “But here it is.”

  He took it from her hand to hold it in the light of the fire. It seemed to pulse, then lay quiet. “It holds every color of the rainbow. There’s magic here, Jude Frances.” He lifted his gaze to hers. “What will you do with it?”

  “I don’t know. I was going to take it to a jeweler, have it analyzed, the same way I was going to have myself analyzed. But I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want it tested and studied and documented and appraised. It’s enough just to have it, don’t you think? Just to know it is. I haven’t taken enough on faith in my life. I want to change that.”

  “That’s wise. And brave. And perhaps the very reason it was given into your keeping.” He took her hand, turned the palm up. After laying the stone on her palm, he curled her fingers around it. “It’s for you, and whatever magic it holds. I’m glad you showed it to me.”

  “I needed to share it.” She held the stone firmly, and though she knew it was foolish, thought she gathered courage from it. “You’ve been so understanding, and very patient with me. My outrageous behavior, then the way I dumped all my neuroses on you. I don’t know how to repay you.”

  “I’m not keeping a balance sheet.”

  “I know. You wouldn’t. You’re the kindest man I know.”

  He managed not to wince. “Kind, is it?”

  “Yes, very.”

  “And understanding and patient as well.”

  Her lips curved. “Yes.”

  “Like a brother might be.”

  She managed to keep the smile in place. “Well, I . . . hmmm.”

  “And are you in the habit of throwing yourself into the arms of men you think of like a brother?”

  “I have to apologize for that, for embarrassing you.”

  “Haven’t I told you that you apologize too often? Just answer the question.”

  “Um, well . . . Actually I’ve never thrown myself into anyone’s arms but yours.”

  “Is that the truth then? Well, it’s flattered I am, though you were in some distress at the time.”

  “Yes. Yes, I was.” The stone felt like a lead weight in her hand now. She turned, grateful to have her back to him for a moment, and laid it on the mantel.

  “Are you in distress at the moment?”

  “No. No, thank you, I’m fine.”

  “Then let’s try it again.” He spun her around, and as her lips parted in surprise, captured them. Her body jerked, that instant of shock he always found so arousing. “Are you thinking I’m kind and patient now?” he muttered and bit lightly at the curve of her neck.

  “I can’t think at all.”

  “Good.” If there was anything more potent than a woman stumbling over her own passion, he’d yet to come across it. “I like you better that way.”

  “I thought you’d be angry, or—”

  “You’re thinking again.” He nibbled his way up to her temple. “I’ll have to ask you to stop that.”

  “All right. Okay.”

  Her breathy agreement made him yearn. “Mavourneen dheelish. Let me have you tonight.” His mouth came back to hers and sent her already scattered thoughts spinning. “Let it be tonight. I can’t go on just dreaming of you.”

  “You still want me?” The stunned pleasure in her voice nearly dropped him to his knees. It humbled him, her complete lack of vanity.

  “I want all there is of you. Don’t ask me to go tonight.”

  She’d followed her heart to this place, and had found him. Now she would follow her heart again. “No.” She tangled her fingers in his hair, met his mouth with all the newly discovered love and passion in her. “No, don’t go.”

  He could have lowered her to the floor, taken her there and delighted them both in front of the fire. Neither of them was a child, and both were eager. But he remembered a promise made and scooped her up in his arms. When he saw the dazed surprise on her face, he knew it was right.

  “I told you that the first time it would be slow and sweet. I’m a man of my word.”

  No one had ever carried her before. The romance of it was stunning, an erotic fantasy with gilt edges. Her heartbeat drummed in her ears like thunder as he carried her up the steps, down the little hall into the bedroom.

  She was grateful for the dark. It would be easier not to be shy in the dark. When he sat her on the edge of the bed, she closed her eyes. Then they sprang open again when he turned on the bedside light.

  “Pretty Jude,” he murmured, and smiled down at her. “Just sit a moment, and I’ll light the fire.”

  A fire, she thought. Of course, a fire would be good. She linked her hands together and tried to settle the nerves, smooth out the needs. It would add atmosphere as well as warmth. He’d want atmosphere. Oh, God, why couldn’t she think of something to say? Why didn’t she have some wonderful negligee or lingerie to change into and dazzle him?

  Speechless, she watched him straighten from the fire once it began to flame, then begin to light the candles scattered around the room.

  “I was going to call you tonight and ask you to dinner.”

  The idea was such a surprise, such an intriguing one, she stared. “You were?”

  “That’ll have to wait for another time now.” He kept his eyes on her, seeing her nerves, enjoying them a bit, as he switched off the lamp again. And the room was washed in shadows and shifting light.

  “I’m not very hungry.”

  He laughed. “I’m after changing that, right quickly then.” To her complete shock, he crouched down and began to untie her shoes. “I’ve had an appetite for you since you first walked into the pub.”

  She swallowed. Hard. It was the best she could do. Then he ran a finger lightly over the arch of her bare foot and the breath strangled in her throat.

  “You’ve pretty feet.” He said it casually, with a laugh in his eyes as he lifted her foot and nibbled on her toes. The breath that had caught exploded out again, and her fingers dug like spikes into the mattress.

  “But I have to admit, after seeing them this morning all damp and rosy I have a preference for your shoulders.”

  “My—oh . . .” He gave his attention to her other foot and wiped her brain clean. “What?”

  “Your shoulders. I fancy them.” Because it was true enough, he rose, and lifted Jude to her now tingling feet. “They’re graceful, but they’re strong.” As he spoke, he unbuttoned the shirt she’d borrowed. To torment them both a little longer, he didn’t remove it, but only nudged it off her shoulders so he could do as he’d imagined and trail his tongue along the curve.

  “Oh, God.” The sensation drizzled into her system like gold dust until everything inside her sparkled. When she gripped his hips for balance, he worked his way up the side of her neck to her jaw, like a man slowly sampling his way through a variety of dishes at a banquet.

  His mouth brushed over hers, a teasing taste that stirred the juices of her own hunger. He heard it in her quiet moan and came back for a second, longer taste.

  Her hands slid up his back, and she moved her body against his in a dreamy rhythm as her head fell back in surrender.

  Slow, he said, and sweet. It was exactly right. With the candlelight dancing and the rain softly pattering and her own sighs filling her head, soft kisses grew longer, and deeper. It seemed her body was alive with the taste of him now, rich and male and perfect.

  When he tugged his shirt off she gave a low sound of pleasure and let her hands roam over his back, knead into the muscles.

  His heart leaped against hers. Those slow, hesitant strokes of her hands were maddening. Wonderful. Her mouth was so so
ft, so giving. And the way she shivered—nerves and anticipation—when he unhooked her slacks and let them slide to the floor flashed fresh heat into his blood. Gaelic endearments burned in his brain, tumbled off his tongue as he took his mouth over her face, down her throat, once again over those glorious shoulders until her shivers became shudders and her sighs gasps.

  Slow down, slow down, he ordered himself. But how could he have known that the need for her would rear up and snap into his soul with jagged teeth? Afraid he would frighten her, he pressed his lips to the curve of her throat and just held her until the rage of it settled again.

  She was floating, too tangled in sensations to note the changes of rhythm. Dreamily, she turned her head, found his mouth with hers and slid them both into the kiss. It seemed her bones were dissolving, and the pressure in her belly was glorious. Everywhere he touched, a part of her lit up.

  This was making love, was all she could think. At last, this. How could she have mistaken anything else for this?

  He had to have more. He slipped the shirt aside and found himself charmed by the simple white bra. To please himself, he trailed a fingertip along the top edge, circled the tiny mole.

  Her legs buckled. “Aidan.”

  “When I saw this little dot this morning,” he murmured, watching her face, “I wanted to bite you.” When she only blinked at him, he grinned and flicked open the hook of her bra. “It made me wonder what other sexy little secrets you hide under those tidy clothes of yours.”

  “I don’t have any sexy secrets.”

  The bra fell to the floor. Aidan lowered his gaze, watched the faint flush work over her skin and found it sinfully erotic. “You’re wrong about that,” he said quietly, then cupped her breasts in his hands.

  There, that quick jerk of shock, and the glimmer of surprise in her eyes. Experimentally, he rubbed his thumbs over her nipples and watched those sea-green eyes blur.

  “No, don’t close them,” he said as he lowered her to the bed. “Not yet. I want to see what my touching you does to you.”

  So he watched her face as he enjoyed her, as he learned the secrets she’d claimed not to have. Silky skin and tumbled hair, all smelling of rain. Soft curves, subtle dips. When his workingman’s hands skimmed over her, she would quiver. And each secret he discovered was a pleasure to them both.

  When he tasted her, the world slipped away until there was nothing but the rage of her own pulse and the hot glory of his mouth on her skin.

  Ripe for release, she arched against his hand when he covered her. Moved against him as the ache sweetened and the sweetness became unbearable. His mouth came down on hers, catching her cry of pleasure. He gave her more, more until her breath was sobs and her body molten.

  The eyes that so fascinated him were blind now, and her skin glowing and damp. It wasn’t only her world that had slipped away, but his as well. She was all that was left in it.

  He said her name once, then slid into her. Heat into heat, need into need, strong and deep. Holding there, holding, until she wrapped herself around him.

  Joined now, they moved together, long, slow strokes that fed the soul. Dazzled, she smiled. Light shimmered, like the brilliance of the diamond as his lips curved in response and met hers.

  This, she thought, was the real magic. The most powerful. And clinging to it, she leaped off the edge of the world with him.

  Candlelight fluttered. The fire hissed and rain pinged on the windows. There was a gorgeous, exciting, fascinating, and wonderfully naked man in her bed.

  Jude felt like a cat who’d just been given the keys to the milking parlor.

  “I’m so glad William’s having a baby.”

  Aidan turned his head, found his face buried in her hair, and angled it away again. “What the devil does William have to do with it?”

  “Oh. I didn’t realize I’d said that out loud.”

  “It’s no worse than thinking about another man when I’ve yet to get my breath