He rose on one elbow to look down at her, flat on her back.
“Told you,” she teased.
“You did.” His expression was utterly intent, as if the rest of the world didn’t exist. Only her. Slowly he lowered his head.
Nell’s heart pounded hard as she waited.
“I shouldn’t do this,” he said.
“I wish you would.” She hoped she didn’t sound as if she was begging. I want to know what it’s like.
Shock and understanding transformed his face.
“Oh, no,” she whispered. She’d said it out loud.
“I want to know, too,” he said, low and rough. And then he kissed her.
HER LIPS WERE COLD. As cold as his. Each breath either of them released hung in a white cloud. He loved the quiver of her lips as he brushed one soft kiss against them after another. Once he had to lift his head to look at her again. In that moment, with her eyes closed so that her lashes fanned above those extraordinary cheekbones, she was so beautiful he felt awe.
This time, when he lowered his head, he nibbled at her plump lower lip, drinking in the small, ragged sound she made. Then, smiling, he made himself roll off her.
Nell squeaked and began to scramble to her feet. He gripped his hand and stayed her.
“Give me a second.”
“You can lie there as long as you want.” Her voice was stiff. Affronted—or was she hurt? “My butt is freezing. I can skate a lap while you stargaze.”
“There are too many people here for me to kiss you the way I want to.”
“Oh.” He hadn’t thought her cheeks could get any redder, but they did. She sneaked a sideways look at a mother with two giggling children who were passing. “I’m sorry. I thought...”
“I know what you thought,” he said, angry that she had so little confidence in her appeal. “You were wrong. I’ve wanted to kiss you since you showed up in Angel Butte.” He levered himself into a sitting position and decided to be honest. “Maybe before that. I’m not sure. I was fixated on you being Maddie even when I watched you in the library that night and loved the way you smiled at people. But from the minute you got here, I’ve had more trouble seeing the kid. You’re Nell,” he finished simply.
She lowered herself to her knees in front of him. “Thank you.” Her voice was small and husky. “Thank you. Everyone else sees Maddie. I hate it. I’m not her! Except sometimes, and then...I don’t know if I want to be.”
He nodded. He’d seen her conflict, which was more heavy-duty than his. “I understand,” he said. “You are both, Nell, and my guess is you’ll get more comfortable with it as you integrate the returning memories.”
“What if I don’t remember much more?” Her shadowed eyes beseeched him. “What if I’m stuck?”
“Then you are,” he said practically. “You’re a full and complete person, sweetheart. Now you know where you came from. That’s got to settle something in you.”
Her head bobbed after a moment. “Yes. Of course it does. But complete—I don’t know if I am.”
“Sure you are.” He grimaced. “And now if you don’t mind, I think my entire backside has gone numb.”
She giggled, a happy ripple of sound that made him happier than he could ever remember being. “Okay,” she said. “Need a hand?”
“Remember what happens if I’m going down and have hold of you?” If his voice was a little hoarse, he hoped she didn’t notice.
“Trust me,” she said, the smile still playing on her mouth.
In answer, he laid his hand in hers.
* * *
COLIN ACCOMPANIED JANE Vahalik to the police chief’s office. Out of respect for Bystrom’s dignity, he asked her not to bring her trainee. Out of respect for her, he’d have let her go alone if this had been anyone but their boss.
No one was in the outer office to stop them. Colin knocked briefly, and when he heard a growled “Who is it?” he opened the door and gestured Jane to go ahead of him.
Bystrom didn’t even seem to see her. His furious gaze was pinned on Colin. “You,” he snarled.
Clearly, the bank had called him. Colin was surprised he’d come into work this morning rather than staying away, lawyered up.
Vahalik drew herself up. “Sir, I’m Detective Vahalik. I have some questions I’m hoping you can answer.”
The glower swung to her. “I presume this has something to do with the goddamn warrant to intrude on my personal finances.”