Blue-Eyed Devil Page 61

"A restraining order only works if you handcuff yourself to a cop. And my mother thought it best to take her problems to her church. They convinced her not to divorce him. They said it was her special mission to save his soul. According to the minister, we should all make it a matter of prayer, that Dad's heart would turn, that he'd see the light and be saved." Hardy smiled grimly. "If I'd had any hopes of being a religious man, they disappeared after that."

I was floored by the revelation that Hardy had been the victim of domestic violence too. But in a worse way than I had, because he'd only been a child, I restrained my voice to a careful monotone as I asked, "So what happened to your dad?"

"He came back a couple of years after that. I was a lot bigger then. I stood at the door of the trailer and wouldn't let him come in. Mama kept trying to pull me aside, but I wouldn't budge. He — " Hardy stopped and rubbed his mouth and jaw slowly, and wouldn't look at me. I was filled with the electrifying awareness that he had been about to tell me something he'd never told anyone before.

"Go on," I whispered.

"He came after me with a knife. Caught me in the side with it. I twisted his arm and made him drop the knife, and then I beat him until he promised to clear out of there. He never came back. He's in prison now." His face was taut. "Worst part about it was, Mama wouldn't talk to me for two days after."

"Why? Was she mad at you?"

"I thought so, at first. But then I realized . . . she was scared of me. When I was going ape shit on Dad, she couldn't see any difference between us." He looked at me then, and said quietly, "I come from bad stock, Haven."

I could tell he meant it as a warning. And I understood something about him, that he had always used this notion of being from bad stock as a reason to keep from getting too close to anyone. Because letting someone in close meant they could hurt you. I knew all about that kind of fear. I lived with it.

"Where did he cut you?" I asked thickly. "Show me."

Hardy stared at me with the glazed concentration of a drunken man, but I knew it had nothing to do with the Jack Daniel's. A flush had crossed the crests of his cheeks and the bridge of his nose. He tugged at the bottom of his T-shirt until it revealed the taut flesh of his side. A thin scar showed white against the silky tan. And he watched, transfixed, as I slipped out of my chair and knelt before him, and leaned between his thighs to kiss the scar. He stopped breathing. His skin was hot against my lips, his leg muscles so tense they felt like iron.

I heard a groan above my head, and I was plucked from between his knees as if I were a rag doll. Hardy carried me to the sofa, laid me out on the velvet upholstery, and knelt beside me while tugging at the belt of the robe. His mouth covered mine, burning and whiskey-sweet as he pulled the front of the robe apart. His hand was warm as he touched my breast, cupping beneath the soft curve, plumping it high for his mouth.

His lips covered the tight peak, and he drew his tongue over it in tender licks. I squirmed beneath him, unable to hold still. The nipple budded almost painfully, sensation darting to the fork of my body with every stroke and swirl. I moaned and put my arms around his head, my spine dissolving as he moved to the other breast. My fingers tangled in the silk of his hair, shaping to his skull. Blindly I urged his mouth back up to mine, and he took it savagely, as if he couldn't get deep enough.

The weight of his hand settled low on my stomach, spanning the soft curve. I felt the tip of his little finger resting on the edge of the dark triangle. Whimpering, I nudged upward. His hand slid lower, and as his fingertips played in the springy curls, my insides began to throb and close on the emptiness. Until that moment, I had never felt as if I could die from raw need. I moaned and pulled at his T-shirt. Hardy's mouth returned to mine, licking at the sounds I made as if he could taste them. "Touch me, " I gasped, my toes curling into the velvet cushions. "Hardy, please — "

"Where?" came a devil whisper, while he stroked the damp curls between my thighs.

I parted my knees, shaking all over. "There. There."

He gave a sigh that was almost a purr, his fingers nudging me open, finding heat and syrup, centering on the place that drove me wild. His mouth rubbed over my swollen lips, dragging gently. His hand slid from between my legs, and he gathered me in his arms as if he meant to lift me, but instead he just held me in a bundle of smoothness and trembling bones and gasping dampness. He dipped his head, kissing the arc of a knee, the plush give of a breast, the tight strain of my throat.

"Take me to bed," I said hoarsely. I caught one of his earlobes between my teeth, drew my tongue over it. "Take me . . . "

Hardy shuddered and released me and turned to sit on the floor facing away from me. He rested his arms on his bent knees and lowered his head, his breath coming in deep, harsh gusts. "I can't." His voice was muffled. "Not tonight, Haven."

I was slow to understand. Trying to think straight was like pushing past layers of filmy curtains. "What is it?" I whispered. "Why not?"

Hardy took an unnervingly long time to answer. He moved to face me, kneeling with his thighs spread. He reached out to cover me with the sides of the robe, the gesture so careful that it seemed even more intimate than what had gone before.

"It's not right," he said. "Not after what you've just been through. I'd be taking advantage of you."

I couldn't believe it. Not when everything had been going so well, when it seemed like all my fear had gone. Not when I needed him so badly. "No you wouldn't," I protested. "I'm fine. I want to sleep with you."

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