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Authors: Patricia Rice

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Chapter 14

Rubbing his bruised nose and battered ego, Oz stood outside the timber barrier Pippa had slammed between them.

She'd melted in his hands like a hot chocolate bar. She wanted him as much as he wanted her.

And they were both damaged goods. Okay, he got that. Who wasn't damaged these days?

If he were back in L.A., dealing with a shrew who'd objected to his advances, he would have walked away. Walking away was probably the smartest thing to do in this case too.

The problem with that thinking was that he believed Pippa had more depth of character than any shrew, that she contained mysteries he needed to pursue, and that she was hurting even more than he was. Ergo, he couldn't leave her alone. It wasn't a matter of his mother teaching him better, because while she was alive, she'd pretty much left his education to the schools he'd attended. No, it was because some deep down masculine instinct said this woman was crying for help, and he couldn't turn his back on her.

Okay, so he'd call his shrink when he got back to the city.

Oz let himself through the gate and took the narrow path between the house and the wall surrounding the property. She'd put walls up all around her house and not locked any of them. There was probably something Freudian in that.

Behind the house, he stopped at the patio door and looked in. She'd left a light burning in the kitchen but hadn't turned on any of the others. He saw no movement. Would he scare her to death if he walked in?

Probably. He scraped the lounge chair around so he could watch the door and made himself comfortable. Except for the cold, it couldn't be any worse than sleeping on an air mattress.

What the hell had she meant when she'd said she'd killed Robbie with her
voice
?

She was really and truly frightened of Conan listening to her silly children's songs. He'd listened to CDs of a few of her teenage love songs. Her voice rivaled the music of an angel's harp. It was a gift straight from heaven. Had something happened to it that she didn't want anyone to know?

She was possibly a real head case, and he ought to run away as fast as his feet could carry him, but his gut kept him planted in the chair.

He knew he was right for waiting when Pippa drifted to the glass sliding doors and opened one. She slid out like a bright flame against the dark. There were no lights back here. She ought to install a security lamp, but he wasn't the one to tell her that.

If he let his mother's Celtic ancestry rule, he'd believe she was a wraith drifting across the tiles to hand him… what? Hemlock?

He accepted the glass and waited to see what she would do next.

She took the lounge she'd left beside his earlier. Except now instead of sitting side by side, she was facing him. He could see her pale features against the striped cushions, could reach over and wiggle her bare toes, but that was about it. He guessed the distance made her feel safer.

He still wanted to kiss her. That had been one spectacularly explosive kiss, and he wasn't about to give up a chance at another. So that was his real reason for being here, right?

He sipped the drink. Raspberry something or other. Instead of heaving him in the pool for his refusal to take no for an answer, she was feeding him. Maybe he was on to something here.

“Robbie was only two years older than I was, so yes, at twenty, he was probably weaker than you are now,” she said in that toneless voice he was learning to despise, now that he'd glimpsed her passion. “Maybe if we'd met today, he would have been able to save himself. But I killed him before he had the chance to grow up.”

Oz had already pointed out the flaws in her logic. He waited to hear if she explained them away.

“I know you don't believe me,” she said flatly. “No one believes me. How could they? What I'm capable of is not real. That's what I thought, too, that it was all in my head. But every time I opened my mouth, someone got hurt. People went crazy. Men actually crawled on their knees when I got hysterical. You're sitting here now, why? Is this something you would normally do?”

Oz thought about it. “For Alys, I might have. But I was kind of young then, cocky and obnoxious and determined to have my way.”

She snorted impolitely, and he grinned against the darkness. Yeah, he hadn't changed much. He was relieved that she was smart enough to see that. He wasn't much of an actor and had never pretended to be other than who he was.

When she said nothing else, he continued feeling his way around her perfectly legitimate question about why he was sitting here. After all, he'd been asking himself the same thing.

“These days, I don't see many women worth wasting my time on,” he admitted. “We get old, jaded, use each other as we've been used. But you're different somehow. I'm not in the habit of hurting women, but I feel as if I'm hurting you. So I'm just trying to sort things out. If men crawled on their knees for you, it's probably because they knew they had hurt you and wanted to make up for it.”

He wasn't entirely certain he believed her version of events. Teenage girls often developed hysterical fantasies, and the business she'd been in would create a lot of stress. But he was willing to hear her out. Maybe he'd get to the bottom of the mystery and he could walk away with a clear conscience. When all was said and done, he was only here because of Donal. Pippa was simply a diversion to keep him occupied.

“I don't think
that
many grown men are idiots,” she replied wryly. “I wasn't a little Lolita who drove men to drink with seduction and rejection. But one time, I got angry and shouted at a reporter to go soak his head. He did—in the pool. He couldn't swim. Fortunately, there were others there to fish him out.”

She sipped her own drink, and Oz waited. If she wanted to talk, he was ready to listen. Paparazzi ended up in pools and sandwiched between cars because they were incurable pests and someone was always eager to swat at them. He figured this one got pushed.

“I don't know how it works, exactly,” she murmured. “Experimenting is too dangerous. But looking back, I should have seen the problem long before Robbie. My first manager tried to seduce me when I was twelve. That should have been a sign right there.”

Oz sat straight up, nearly spilling his drink in his lap. “I hope the police locked up the son of a bitch.”

She waved a careless hand. “I hardly knew what was happening at the time. I'd just reached puberty and didn't even know what sex was. My foster parents had spent more time taking me to singing competitions than teaching me the facts of life. I thought Bill wanted to reward me for winning the contest. He hugged and kissed me and told me how wonderful I was. What lonely, unloved kid could resist that? I only panicked when he unzipped his pants and let it all hang out.”

Oz thought the top of his head might explode if he contained the steam much longer, but he bit back all the scathing retorts and did his best to pay attention. He might be an obnoxious bully upon occasion, but he was skilled at listening.

“And you think it was your fault for not handling the bastard better?” he asked with what he considered admirable restraint.

“No, I've had lots of shrink time. As I said, I know I was no Lolita. I was scrawny and red-haired and petulant. I didn't know enough to encourage him. But when I sang… grown men wept. I didn't understand why. I still don't completely. Bill was declaring his abject love to me even after I shrieked until the hotel security guards broke in and clapped him in handcuffs. He didn't fight with them, but the guards still overreacted and nearly beat him to a pulp—until I quit shrieking. I should have learned my lesson then, but it was all much too confusing.”

“Where were your foster parents?” he demanded. He could see fault in the actions of every adult around the poor scared kid she must have been. He just wasn't seeing why she blamed herself.

“Down in the bar celebrating the nice contract they'd just signed. They were a little ticked when Social Services threatened to take me away after that incident, but they stepped up to the plate better after that. I was never really mistreated, if that's what you're thinking. I had a good life. An exciting one that I thoroughly enjoyed. I love singing. I would have sung every minute of every day if I could have.”

He heard the wistfulness in that last. “But you can't go back to singing because…?”

She met his gaze steadily, even though it was too dark to see the color of her eyes. “Did you notice what happened the other night when I read the book for Tommy? I tried very hard not to put my fear or hope into my reading, but it creeps out when I'm upset.”

“I noticed that you brought that kid out of the brush when no one else could. You wanted the coyotes to get him?”

“Pay attention,” she said impatiently. “I'm not going to recite my life history. What happened to the crowd when I read?”

“They got quiet. They listened to the story.”

The tension and fear that had been there that day had drained away to a moment of perfect harmony for the waiting crowd. Oz didn't say that aloud because he thought he'd imagined it. The night had been crystal clear, like this one, with stars glittering in the heavens. Her simple tale had focused the universe on her for a few brief magical moments.

“An entire crowd of terrified adults got quiet and listened to a children's book. That's what I do. I cast spells. And don't look at me like that. You felt it too. It's probably why you're here. I've let you hear too much of my soul, and I'm probably infecting you just as I did Robbie. I don't want to destroy you or your brother. I just want to be left alone to live my life quietly, under circumstances I can control so the Beast doesn't hurt anyone else.”

She really honestly believed she was doing something harmful. Oz puzzled over that, but he couldn't make any sense of it. “Women have given me strange excuses for not wanting to have sex, but I think yours might take the cake,” he observed irreverently.

She flung the rest of her drink at him and started to rise, but Oz grabbed her ankle. “It's the truth, isn't it?” he demanded. “We got too close tonight, and you're scared. Maybe you believe your crazy little story. I don't know how a writer's mind works. But it's my business to read people, and I know when someone is backing out of a negotiation because they're scared. Because they're used to failure and shoot themselves down when they get too close to success. You're running from the best damned kiss I've ever known, and I've known a lot. If you want me to back off, that's fine. Just say so. Don't give me fairy tales.”

“You really are the most impossible, arrogant, obnoxious piece of shit I've run across in a long, long while.” She kicked her foot free from his grip, stood, crossed to his chair, and straddled his knees with hers. She seated herself on his legs close enough so that she could lean forward, grab his shirt, and plant her lush lips across his.

***

Satisfaction rolled through Pippa, followed by greedy hunger as Oz grabbed her waist but otherwise let her control their kiss.
She
wanted to be the one in charge for a change. All those needy years she'd let men tell her what to do and how to do it. They'd insisted she wear her hair long and her skirts short. They'd made the first moves, and she'd waited for them.

For just this one brief moment out of time, she got to plaster her hands against his hard chest, feel his heart thump, while she decided when to open her mouth and let him in.

The control was giddy-makingly awesome. The kiss… She could not begin to describe how Oz kissed. The world went away. All the stars in the heavens encompassed them, filled her with joy and need and urges she barely recognized as her own.

And he brought them to an abrupt halt by using his greater strength to lift her off him and set her to one side so he could stand up.

She wanted to punch him again, but her knuckles were still too sore from the last time. Sitting on the edge of the lounge, her lips bruised and aching, the rest of her screaming for the completion he promised, she buried her head in her hands and didn't look at him.

“I'm not the other men in your life,” he growled. “I do not take advantage of hysterical, distraught, or otherwise vulnerable women. I want you fully sane and willing when we hit that bed. And I want you to be able to get up in the morning and look at yourself in the mirror and still agree to do this production with me.”

He started to turn away.

He still wanted her. She could hear the thickness in his voice, had felt his physical response. Pippa couldn't bear it if he walked out now. For the first time since Robbie, she felt almost alive. He hadn't faltered beneath any of her assaults—verbal or physical. She wanted to assume Oz was safe from the Beast. He didn't believe she was dangerous, but she'd
warned
him. It might be the only time she was brave enough to speak of her fear. Like a genuine wizard, Oz made anything seem possible.

Maybe she could experiment on him. Could she
deliberately
keep him from leaving?

With brains addled by hormones, she summoned the sensual purr that had turned grown men into kittens. “I'm sane, Mr. Oswin,” she drawled huskily. “I'm dangerous, but I'm very sane. You're the vulnerable one here.”

When he turned back to study her, she rose with confidence and strolled up to him, took him by the hand, and turned her face up for the kiss he hungrily grabbed.

After a mind-swirling moment, she gently pushed him back.

“Take me to bed, Mr. Oswin,” she purred in her best siren's voice. “And you can look in the mirror in the morning and tell me if you still want to work with me.”

Chapter 15

Pippa's sensuous purr was startling after these past days of icy monotone. Oz thought he preferred the blunt woman to the sex kitten, but he was a man. Her blatant invitation would arouse a tree stump. He wasn't opposed to whatever she had in mind.

“Did you spike your juice?” he asked suspiciously when she tugged him toward the door. “I don't want you blaming alcohol in the morning.”

She chuckled in a soft, seductive tone an octave lower than her usual soprano. He ought to be weirded out, but he was fascinated—and aroused. She was still Pippa, all graceful angles and luscious lips. Just Pippa without the snarly attitude.

“After what alcohol did to Robbie? What do you think? Are you feeling drunk?” she asked with interest, sliding the door open.

“I'm wary of the siren act, not drunk.” Oz followed her inside, debating the wisdom of taking this further.

He had to decide if he was dealing with a psychotic or trust that she knew what she was doing. He wanted to trust her. And screw her. Definite conflict of interest.


Siren
,” she laughed.

She actually laughed, in a full range of vocal chords that equaled the most melodious chimes invented. Had he ever heard her do that? Her eyes sparkled, and her mouth lost its grim tension. She looked almost as young as her teenage rock star images.

“Like Ulysses, you're going to crash on my rocks?” she asked playfully. “That works for me. Don't say I didn't warn you.”

If this was about her evil Voice, Oz wasn't buying a word of it. He wanted her even when she didn't use the kitten voice. He wanted her when she said nothing at all. She was a leashed tigress, and he admired her strength, as well as other parts. Her laugh was pure joy—and erotic as hell, he had to admit.

“Since I don't have a faithful wife waiting for me at home like poor Ulysses, I can loll on an island with a beautiful witch all I like.” He loved this new side of her. If sex made her happy, he was glad to oblige.

Instead of following her insistent tug, Oz grabbed Pippa's shoulders, crouched to scoop up her knees, and carried her down the hall. To his immense pleasure, she circled his neck and began nibbling and kissing anywhere she could reach. The new Pippa was a distinct turn-on.

Her bungalow wasn't large. He passed by a computer library lined with books and located the bed in the room at the end of the short hall. He deposited a handful of squirming curves and female scents on the covers.

Lying flat on her back, she shimmied out of her capris before he could make his next move. She wore skimpy pink underwear. She lay there tauntingly, one leg propped up, and he could see the frail pink barrier that was all that stood between his aroused dick and her tender flesh.

Heat surged through him. Focusing all his considerable attention on that patch of pink, he dug out his wallet, produced a condom, and threw it on the pillow beside her. She pushed up on her elbow to admire the show as he unbuttoned his top shirt buttons. Rather than deal with the rest of the fastenings, he dragged the shirt over his head and flung it on a chair.

“Surf boy!” she crowed. “You didn't get those muscles from lying about in tanning beds.”

“Naturally brown,” he corrected, kicking off his shoes and lying down next to her across the covers. “I don't have time for surfing anymore, but I have a gym.” He slid his hand beneath her baby doll tunic to caress fine skin.

She tensed at the touch. Oz slid his hand north, and she grabbed the hem of her shirt and tugged it over her head.

A pink lace confection pushed her breasts into plump mounds for his delectation. In gratitude, he leaned over and kissed her parted lips.

***

Pippa twined her fingers into Oz's thick sun-streaked locks and held his head where her kisses could reach him. His mouth was firm and hungry, and the contact with his tongue incited small fires in her midsection. She hated that she'd used her Voice to tease him in here, but he wouldn't believe her otherwise. She thought he was strong enough to walk away when he finally realized what she was.

She
hoped
he was strong enough to walk away. He'd already said he'd found an understudy for her part who could read the books, so she wasn't destroying his project. Just driving him out of her life. But before he left, she'd have one night of finding out what it was like to be normal. Almost normal.

Oz was big and heavy and could easily make two of her, but he balanced his weight on one elbow while his free hand flipped open the front hook of her bra. His fingers encompassed her bare breast, and she bit back a groan of pure ecstasy.

It had been so very long…

She didn't think it was too evil to seduce him into what he wanted in the first place.

Tonight, she desperately needed what he had to offer, if only to clear her hormone-impaired head. So she arched upward, pressing her breasts against him to distract him, before pushing him backward into the mattress. He grabbed her waist and hauled her on top of him.

“He-man,” she taunted, unfastening his belt while kneeling over his hips. Cool air caressed her breasts, but she was hot from an internal fire.

He slid his hand between her legs to finish unfastening his jeans with an expertise she didn't possess, rubbing her the way she'd been rubbing him, the friction arousing both of them. Together, they shoved the soft denim past his hips, taking his briefs with it. Muscles rippling, he arched to rub his erection against her panties, and she almost came undone right then.

“Siren,” he countered, flipping her back to the mattress and kneeling over her.

While he grabbed the condom and tore it open, Pippa gave in to the wonder of casting aside all her control so she could freely admire the man on top of her. Not a shred of fat marred the bronzed muscular walls of his chest and abdomen. His shoulders weren't the brawny masses of cord and bulk that characterized men who spent too much time at the gym, but a smooth, tensile motion of muscle and bone. Mesmerized, she watched him open the condom and don it.

She was quite certain Robbie hadn't been that large.

She was so wet, she didn't think it mattered.

“Now, where was I?” he murmured, bending over to suckle at her breast.

Pippa nearly came up off the bed as heat and hunger engulfed her in a tidal wave of greedy need. She couldn't think about the dangers of this act, not when he was giving her everything she could possibly want. Her skin tingled as if electrified where he caressed her. She dug her fingers into his powerful forearms, and when he turned his attention to her other breast, she stifled her scream. She'd proved her Voice worked simply by using it for seduction. She didn't want to damage him with her cries.

Her muffled noises didn't appear to distract Oz. Could she actually relax enough to dare let her voice free as she did in the studio?

She rubbed her panty crotch against his arousal, driving him to growl and nip and finally to slow her down by running his hand beneath the thin silk to caress her bottom.

“Take them off,” she urged, squirming beneath his weight in an effort to do so herself.

He complied, sliding the elastic over her hips and down her thighs. But instead of surging into her, he teased her curls with his fingers, stroking and opening until finally—she clung to his arms, unable to control her cries of release.

And still, he didn't fill her, even when she was weeping and quaking and demanding more.

He was supposed to
obey
, dammit. She wanted him
inside
her. Now.

Maybe she said it aloud. She couldn't remember with her head clouded with the bliss of a long-denied orgasm. She simply knew that one moment he was teasing and kissing and caressing, and the next, he'd driven the thick head of his penis straight up her narrow passage.

He hesitated. She didn't. She arched upward, driving him deeper, forcing him to unleash the raw passion he concealed beneath designer jackets and smooth charm.

And Oz obliged, pounding into her with increasingly deeper thrusts until she screamed again with exploding pleasure and wrapped her legs around his buttocks to squeeze out every ounce of joy. With a groan, he bucked and drove halfway to her heart before he gave in to the throes of his climax.

Even then, he leaned over to suckle at her breast and create new ripples of pleasure when she ought to be depleted.

She would regret her foolishness later, when her brain started working again. For this moonlit moment, she indulged in pure pleasure.

***

They had sex again later that night when they both woke and bumped into each other and discovered the delights of sharing a bed.

Later, Pippa woke to the twittering of wrens in the courtyard, mellow sunshine pouring through the shutters, and an empty bed. Weren't men supposed to be aroused and willing in the morning? She wasn't ready to give up the best sex she'd ever had in her life.

And that's what it was—sex. They weren't making love, she told herself firmly. She flipped over and recognized the sound of the shower and the sight of steam pouring from the bathroom. It was six o'clock on a flipping Saturday morning, and he was already up and showering?

A few moments later Oz turned off the water and paraded into her bedroom wearing a towel draped around his lean hips. She practically salivated at the sight.

She threw off the covers they'd finally turned down last night, exposing her bare breasts. “Let's not get hasty just yet,” she murmured seductively, thinking her Voice had its purposes when the towel stirred with interest. “It's too early to be up and about.”

He leaned over and kissed her tousled hair and then straightened and reached for his jeans—ignoring the temptation in her Voice. “I've got obligations. I need to head into the city. Want to come with me?”

No, she didn't want to go with him. She didn't want him leaving. Hadn't her Voice made her desire clear? She'd made men crawl when she'd purred. Perhaps she wasn't releasing enough of her emotion. After all these years of holding back, she was out of practice.

She wrapped a sheet around her hips and kneeled on the mattress while he hunted for his clothes. “Where is Ulysses when I need him?” she asked, pouring all her need for him into the sensual tone generated by her admiration of his superb backside.

“Ulysses is out of condoms and going back to his ship for more,” he said, throwing her a laughing look over his shoulder while he pulled up his jeans. “Come with me, and we'll explore foreign shores. I'll take you to a birthday party. You can read to the kids while I talk to our director about the production.”

Pippa sat down on her heels and stared at him. He'd told her no? He wasn't down on his knees, begging for more?

Now that she thought of it, Oz hadn't gone over the edge when she'd cried out last night either. Robbie used to get frantic when she urged him to go faster. A cry of pleasure would make him weep with his efforts to please her more. Not that she'd understood that at the time. Mostly, he exhausted her, which hadn't helped their marriage much.

But Oz was oddly resistant to her demands. Had she been denying herself sex for no good reason?

She didn't think so. She'd tested men's reactions to her voice while attending college. She couldn't think of one of them who hadn't come when she called. Or even when she hadn't. She simply had to talk to them when she was feeling horny, and they were all over her like white on rice. She'd learned to speak harshly to drive them away.

Oz was walking away even though she didn't want him to. Which said she'd gone beyond perverse into the realm of unreality. She'd been trying to get the man to go home all week. Now that she wanted him to stay, he was leaving.

She flung a pillow at him. “I'm not going into the city. Ever. Again.”

Although, if her Voice had actually lost its touch… could she? She didn't dare risk it until she experimented more.

“Do you want to take my computer to your brother?” she asked, pushing her fear deep down inside her and summoning her stoic calm.

Buttoning his shirt, Oz turned to study her. “You've gone back into your cave again. I like it better when you're shouting and throwing things at me, among other things,” he added with a lopsided tilt of his lips.

“You
like
it when I shout?” She tried to keep the incredulity from her voice, but she wasn't certain she succeeded. He was not only a wizard if he could resist her Voice, but he was a perverse wizard. She ought to shout him into a cowering kitten.

“Shouting is real. That monotone… not so much. Drive into L.A. with me. You can sing along with the radio and see if I drive off a cliff.”

“You're making fun of me.” Angry now, she dragged the sheet with her as she climbed out of bed. “Just because you're too thickheaded to be affected doesn't mean I'm imagining what my Voice does. My life may be limited, but I really don't want to end it like Robbie did.”

“I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that,” he called after her.

Well, at least he was apologizing if not groveling. Pippa turned on the shower to drown out anything else he said.

He'd turned her quiet life upside down. Now she had to deal with this amazingly new perspective. Was her Voice dead?

BOOK: Lure of Song and Magic
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