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Authors: Morgan Kelly

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BOOK: Midnight in Your Arms
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This was the man who had set her dreams on fire. She felt as though she had already memorized him, as if she had been born knowing his face.

Laura leaned closer, drinking in every inch of him with her eyes.

The delicious curve of his lower lip had softened in his sleep amidst the gleaming copper stubble that stippled his jaw, and Laura longed to trace it with her tongue, marking his lips as hers. The prominent nose with its aquiline contour. The fan of golden eyelashes glinting like feathers of gold. Tousled auburn hair clung to his brow, curling down the length of his long, taut neck. His skin was warmly hued, not like the skin of most red-haired people she knew. It was like living bronze, only paler, minutely freckled. Only a lover could ever have seen the texture of the golden hair that grew over his forearms and dusted his finely molded chest.

Jealousy washed over her in a seething wave as she wondered how many women had seen him in a similar state of undress. She wanted to erase every trace of them from his golden skin. It had been marked enough already. She could see that he truly had been a soldier. Scars hatched his flesh in random places, all of them faded nearly back to the same shade as his skin. None of them marred him in her eyes, however. Each faded wound only served to deepen the affinity she felt for him.

Affinity.

What a perfect word. It described what she felt for him and what she felt for Stonecross so succinctly, she need never use another.

She reached out reflexively to brush the hair from his brow, but she couldn’t touch him. It was as if she was made of water. Her hand seemed to part around him, or go through him. She couldn’t tell which. Tentatively, she placed her hand upon the counterpane where it covered his abdomen, her touch light as air. She could feel the shape of him, but she knew that if she pressed too hard, her hand would simply slip through him, though she had a feeling the bedclothes would remain solid. She remembered back to the moment when Tess had laid the laden tray in her hands. For a moment, their fingers had touched, and it felt so peculiar. Perhaps they hadn’t touched at all. Perhaps they had simply intersected, like random shafts of light.

Laura touched her fingers to her cheek. She had washed her face in Alaric’s basin, and dried it with the towel she had found there, no doubt laid out for him by one of the chambermaids. When the apparition faded, would she find her skin as badly in need of a good scrub as it had been before? What were the rules to the things that were happening? Clearly, she could touch anything inanimate—anything that could still exist in her own realm as well as his. If she pressed too hard when touching him, would her hand grasp right through his flesh to catch hold of his eternal bone? For surely his skeleton must rest somewhere. That part of him was still with her in her own world, whereas no part of her could be with him where he was. So how could she even be standing here? It was all too impossible. She didn’t understand it.

At that moment, Alaric opened his eyes.

Laura’s own eyes widened at the sight of them, heavy-lidded with sleep. They were beautiful, like smooth cabochons of Baltic amber blinking in the single beam of light. Laura couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t move. Not even when he smiled with infinite sweetness, clearly able to see her, and reached out to take her wrist in his hand. She sensed only an oddly thrilling pressure that made her feel as though her bones were melting. He was reaching right into the core of her, and setting it on fire. Laura was no longer flesh and blood, but a torch, burning.

“Hello, Ghost Girl,” he said, his voice more than the murmur she had deciphered in the dark the night before. It was low and deep, hoarse with sleep and last night’s whiskey. She felt it in the stem of her spine. It climbed up her back until she could feel it stroke her neck, as tactile as his fingers against her skin were not.

“Am I dreaming again?” he said, when she didn’t reply.

Laura opened her mouth to speak, but couldn’t make a sound. She shook her head, and then tried harder. “I don’t think so. Unless I am, too.”

He smiled again, and she wasn’t certain he believed her. He sat up, pulling her toward him. And she went, though she didn’t think he could really have coerced her if she didn’t want to go to him.

As if she ever wouldn’t. At this point, he could lead her off of the cliff over which Stonecross was perched, and she would barely hesitate before composing her body into her very best swan dive. It was a strange thought, and she shivered, pulling away from him slightly. Her mind was turning wild again—dangerous. Laura had had such thoughts before, but she had always managed to turn them back. Many of the girls who worked on the Front felt that way at one time or another. War did things to women, things it didn’t do to men. The genders seemed to suffer in separate hells. She wondered if she wasn’t a touch mad beneath her seeming composure. She had never thought so before, but coming to Stonecross was changing everything she thought she knew. Now, she knew
nothing
—and
felt
everything.

Laura looked at Alaric’s hand holding fast to her forearm. It looked strange, like he really was holding on to something inside of her. To some part of her more real than anything she could see.

He looked at the place where they touched, too, his face taking on an expression of bemused disbelief. “Are you certain we’re not dreaming?” he said.

“I’m not certain of anything, Mr. Storm,” she said as lightly as she could.

His eyes widened. “You
do
know my name. I thought I had dreamed that, at the very least. Does that mean that your name really is Laura?”

She nodded. “It is. Laura Dearborn. Can you … feel me?” She tugged her arm slightly, and his hand seemed to slide through her, until he held nothing but empty air.

“I feel … something. Like … a sort of vibration that feels solid until I press past it, as if you are made up of molecules that move only just fast enough to make you seem real. I’ve read of such things.” He looked at her almost sternly. “
Are
you real?”

“Yes. As real as you are,” she said, laughing shakily. She trembled all over. She felt cold in her extremities. She didn’t quite feel as certain as she sounded. “I’m just not … 
where
you are. Or rather, when. At least, that’s what I think.”

His brow furrowed, his amber eyes darkening. “This is extremely odd. I wonder if I might still be asleep.”

Laura came closer, pressing her thighs against the bed. She reached out to trace his cheekbone lightly. She could feel nothing more than the vibration he spoke of. “Do you wish to wake up?” she asked in a tremulous voice. “For me to go away, and leave you in peace?”

In wordless answer, he closed his eyes, and attempted to press his cheek against her palm. He turned his face, nestling his lips against her palm in a slow, searing kiss she wanted very badly to be able to feel. He reached for her and gathered her essence up, gently urging her to climb up on the bed.

She did as he wanted, straddling him cautiously. The crumpled yellow silk slip she still wore rode up over her pale thighs, and his eyes caressed the curves of her body the way his hands could not. All he need do was look at her, and she was naked before him, stripped utterly bare. Not physically, though that would be wonderful. It was a different sort of nakedness, one she had never shared with any of the men who had been her lovers. She could barely remember them now, here with him. He made every single man she had ever known slide from her memory like darkness from the light of day.

She placed her hands lightly on his shoulders, careful not to put any more pressure on him than she had to. Though it looked as though she was really touching him, it was a pretty illusion, one she would take in place of the real thing if she must. She had no other choice. When his hands grazed the lengths of her naked thighs, she leaned forward, as though to nuzzle his neck.

She could smell him.

The rich musk of his sleep-heated skin rose to her nostrils beneath the scent of his soap, like bergamot and oakmoss, and a hint of the lavender that kept his linens sweet. She recognized it as the scent that clung to the sheets she slept in the night before, as though Alaric had only just risen from her bed. Or had just slid into it. She had experienced that before, in dealing with spirits. They often left spectral scents behind to enchant the living into a false state of connection.

But the man whose scent enthralled her now was no specter. No more than she.

Laura closed her eyes as his hands continued their exploration, sliding over her hips and up her back. She was imagining the dream she’d had the night before, when he was bodiless but tactile. A vision conjured purely from her own mind. The mind was so much more powerful than the body. She could almost believe that the things he had done to her in her sleep were real, even though it was clear to her now that they couldn’t touch each other. She had
felt
him, though. So completely. She had almost been convinced that he had felt her, too, from within the great yawning chasm of Time that had somehow closed for a moment, sealing them inside a temporal bubble, together but apart.

As if reading her mind, Alaric murmured, “It seemed so real last night.”

She leaned back, breaking his hold on her. She felt his hands ripple through her as though she was indeed made of water. “Last night? You mean, you were … with me?”

Alaric flushed crimson, squeezing his eyes shut like a chastened schoolboy caught dipping his sweetheart’s pigtails in an inkwell. “I … was imagining you,” he said, smiling guiltily. “While I was … 
alone
.”

She felt heat rush over her like wildfire.

He had been thinking about her in an intimate way, and the potency of his thoughts had somehow awakened a response in her subconscious mind.

“What time was that?” she asked, just to be sure.

“About midnight,” he said. “After something very bizarre happened in my dressing table mirror that I don’t like to mention. You will think me mad.”

Laura nodded, blushing madly. “I was there. That was … a game I was playing, that a silly girl taught me when I was young. Are you telling me it was real for you, too?”

“It was the strangest thing I’ve ever experienced,” Alaric told her. “My face changed in the mirror. It melted into yours. I thought I was imagining it. I thought you were a fantasy. And that was why I … continued. Fantasizing.”

Laura laughed, covering her face with her hands. Alaric tried to pull them away, and she let them slip down until she was looking him in the face again. “After that, I fell asleep at about midnight. Like you, I was alone. And then, suddenly, I wasn’t. You were there with me. Touching me. Like a lover.”

He stared at her, shocked into silence. In his eyes, Laura could almost see every touch and caress he had lavished her with replaying in his mind. He groaned, and raked his hands over his face. “God, what you must think of me!”

“Alaric, you did nothing I didn’t want you to. I’m no shrinking violet.” She made an ironic gesture at the tableau their bodies had made on the bed. “As you may have guessed by now.”

“I didn’t know that you were … real. Unless I have finally gone mad, and this is yet another figment of my addled brain.”

Laura traced the outline of a particularly brutal scar, a reminder of the things that had tormented him. Though he couldn’t see them, Laura had scars of her own. “I understand that feeling,” she said softly.

He shook his head. “You cannot. No woman can.”

“Perhaps not in your time,” she said. “Though I think Miss Nightingale would disagree. I assure you, Mr. Storm—many of the women of my generation understand your pain all too well.”

He studied her with deepening interest, and something like respect, as though she had confirmed something he had suspected. “Will you tell me about it?”

“Sometime, if you like,” she said lightly, grazing his chest with her fingernails. Though he couldn’t feel them, his flesh quivered, rippling beneath her hands. “Although I can think of much more diverting pastimes.”

His mouth twitched into a smile. “Pastimes that would only drive us mad, as we cannot feel their effects.”

“We did last night,” Laura said.

“Yes, but how?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know. It must have been a psychic connection that had nothing to do with … whatever is happening now.”

“That sounds shockingly like Spiritualistic claptrap. Table turning, and I don’t know what nonsense.”

Laura raised an imperious eyebrow and gave him a sound thump on the chest. A blow that went right through him, though he gasped, laughing. “It
isn’t
claptrap. I happen to be a psychic medium. Which is no doubt how all of this is even possible. So mind your manners, sir.”

He raised his hands in mock surrender. “My lady, I do apologize.”

“I am not a lady.”

His eyes raked over her, sending a delicious tremor through her gossamer form. “So I see. And I am heartily glad. Ladies are not generally my favorite species.”

She dropped her eyes, looking up at him through her lashes. “Do you have one of your own?” she asked softly. “A lady, I mean.”

He flushed again, and opened his mouth to speak.

Just then, there was a smart, albeit diffident, knock at the door. Laura’s heart gave a great leap, and she sprang from the bed just as the door swung open, her knees and elbows raking through his chest and thighs as if he wasn’t there. She dove for the curtains just in time.

 

C
HAPTER
S
IX

A
laric’s eyes were huge with alarm as he scrambled to prevent his transparent guest from leaving, but she darted behind the draperies before he could catch hold of the hem of her chemise, as if he could use it reel her back into his arms. Which of course, he couldn’t.

“Just a minute, damn you!” he barked as Jeffries backed into the room, carrying his breakfast tray.

“As you say, sir,” the man said, impervious to his master’s tone. He stood, waiting, while Alaric leapt from the bed in a tangle of sheets, nearly losing his balance and breaking his damned neck in his fever to catch the slippery minx of his waking dreams.

BOOK: Midnight in Your Arms
2.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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