Blue-Eyed Devil Page 92

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Hardy kissed my head. His voice was deep and rough. "I hate being his son. I hate the half of me that's him, and I can feel it, that part that's a bad, low, worthless son of a bitch, and when Churchill and T.J. came to me with that deal, I thought why the hell not. I was going to have to leave you anyway. Because I loved you too much to drag you down with me."

My hand crept up to caress the rigid line of his jaw. "Why'd you change your mind?" I whispered.

"After I calmed down a little and had a chance to think, I figured . . . I love you enough to try and deserve you. I would do anything, be anything, for you. Last night I went to your apartment to beg you to give me another chance. I was shaking in my boots, thinking you might not forgive me for Friday night."

I flushed as I remembered the long, erotic hours with him in the darkness of his bedroom. "Of course I . . . I mean, there's nothing to forgive." My voice lowered to an abashed whisper. "I wanted to do all that with you."

His body had turned so warm, I wondered if he was blushing too. "I thought it might have been too much for you. I pushed you too hard. And after what you'd been through with Nick . . . well, I was afraid you wouldn't want me in your life anymore. So I was coming to your apartment to tell you how sorry I was. How gentle I would be from now on. And even if you don't want me now, I wish you'd just . . . let me be near you, at least. In case you ever need me for anything."

I had never heard him so utterly humble, never imagined it was possible. I guided his face to mine until our noses almost touched. "I need you for a lot of things, Hardy. A lifetime's worth of things."

He kissed me with surprising strength, his mouth warm and demanding.

"I love you," I whispered. And it was a testament to the man's considerable vigor that in spite of blood loss, drugs, and a distinctly unromantic hospital setting, he put some serious moves on me.

"Don't," I said with a shaky laugh as his free hand wandered boldly over my front. "We'll set off the cardiac monitor. And they'll kick me out for compromising your recovery."

But Hardy paid no attention, of course, doing exactly as he pleased.

"You know," I said, arching a little as he kissed my neck, "I told the hospital staff I was your fiancée, so they'd let me stay in here with you."

"I'd hate to make a liar out of you." Hardy smoothed my hair back. "But after what happened last night, you're feeling grateful, and I don't want to take advantage. So tomorrow, when the gratitude's worn off . . . I'll probably ask you to marry me."

"I'll probably say yes," I told him.

Hardy brought my forehead to his, and I was lost in the brilliant blue depths of his eyes.

"Soon?" he whispered against my lips. "As soon as you want."

It occurred to me in retrospect that I probably should have been nervous about getting married again, in light of my past experiences. But everything was different with Hardy. His love came with no strings attached, which I thought was the greatest gift one human being could give to another.

"You know," I told him on our wedding night, "I'm just as much me when I'm with you, as I am without you."

And because Hardy understood what I meant, he pulled me into his arms, against his heart.

EPILOGUE

"He's on the phone, Mrs. Cates," Hardy's secretary says. "But he said to send you in as soon as you got here."

I'm at Hardy's high-rise office on Fannin, an aluminum and glass building that looks like two puzzle pieces put together. "Thanks," I tell the secretary, and I go to my husband's door and let myself in.

Hardy is at his desk, his suit jacket tossed carelessly over a chair. His tie is loose and his shirt sleeves are rolled up over heavy-muscled forearms, as if he's tried to make himself more comfortable in the confining business attire. Roughneck, I think, with a pang of possessive pleasure.

We've been married for nearly a year, and I still can't get used to the fact that he's mine. It's nothing like the marriage I had with Nick in any way, shape, or form. Nick is no longer a threat to me or anyone, having been convicted of two counts of aggravated assault and sent to Texarkana. And Vanessa Flint ended up leaving Houston. The last I heard, she was the assistant manager at a fertilizer company in Marfa.

I don't spend much time dwelling on the past. One of the blessings human beings take for granted is the ability to remember pain without re-feeling it. The pain of physical wounds is long gone for both Hardy and me. And the other kind of hurt, the damage done to our spirits, has been healed. We are careful with those scarred places in each other. And we delight in a marriage that the two of us are creating, deepening, every day.

" . . . want you to pin 'em down on exactly what kind of fluid they're planning to pump into that crack," Hardy says.

I bite back a grin, thinking by now I should be used to the filthy-sounding oil business lingo.

" . . . I'm less concerned with the flow rate than the additives they use." Hardy pauses to listen. "Yeah, well, I don't give a damn about stimulation technology secrets. It's my ass the EPA will come after if there's ground water contamination, and — "

He breaks off as he sees me, and a slow, dazzling smile crosses his face, the one that never fails to make me a little light-headed. "Let's finish this later," he says into the phone. "Something's come up. Okay."

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