Lieutenant Eve Dallas, one of New York's top cops, sprawled naked with the blood beating in her ears and her heart pounding like an airjack. She managed to wheeze in a breath, then gave it up.
Who needed air when the system was revving from the aftermath of truly spectacular sex?
Beneath her, her husband lay warm and hard and still. The only movement was the knock of his heart against hers. Until he lifted one of those amazing hands and cruised it along her spine, from nape to butt.
"You want me to move," she mumbled, "you're out of luck."
"I'd say my luck's in."
She smiled in the dark. She loved hearing his voice, the way Ireland shimmered through it. "Pretty good welcome home, especially since you were gone less than forty-eight hours."
"It certainly put a nice cap on a short trip to Florence."
"I didn't ask, did you stop off in Ireland to see your-" She hesitated just a beat. It was still so odd to think of Roarke with family. "Your family?"
"I did, yes. Had a nice few hours." He continued to stroke that hand, up and down, up and down her back so that her heartbeat slowed and her eyes began to droop. "It's very strange, isn't it?"
"I guess it will be, for a while yet."
"And how's the new detective?"
Eve snuggled in, thinking of her former aide and how she was handling her recent promotion. "Peabody's good. Still finding her rhythm. We had a family dispute gone sour. Two brothers mixing it up over inherited property. Knocked the shit out of each other before one of them takes a header down the steps and breaks his stupid neck. So the other brother tries to mock it up like a bungled burglary. Tosses all this stuff they were fighting over in a blanket, hauls it out to his car, shoves it in the trunk. Like we're not going to look there."
The derision in her tone had him chuckling. Eve rolled off and stretched.
"Anyway, it was pretty much connect the big, pulsing red dots, so I put Peabody on as primary. After she started breathing again, she did fine. Sweepers were already sucking up evidence, but she takes this jerk in the kitchen, sits down with him all sympathetic-used all that family business she knows so well. Had him babbling out a confession in about ten minutes. Got him on Man Two."
"Good for her."
"It'll help build her confidence." She stretched again. "We could use a few more walks in the meadow like that one after the summer we put in."
"You might take a few days off. We could walk in a real meadow."
"Give me a couple of weeks with her. I want to make sure she finds her feet before I let her solo."
"That's a date, then. Oh, your ...enthusiastic welcome, while much appreciated, drove this right out of my mind." He got out of bed, calling for the lights at ten percent.
In their subtle glow, she could watch him step off the wide platform where the bed stood, move toward the small bag he'd taken with him. Watching him move, graceful as some lean, elegant cat, gave her such pleasure.
Was that kind of grace innate, she wondered, or had he learned it dodging cops and picking pockets as a child on the streets of Dublin? However it had come to him, it had served him well, as that clever boy, and as the clever man who'd built an empire out of guts and guile and a wily kind of genius.
When he turned, and she saw his face in that shadowed light, it blew straight through her. The staggering love, the breathless wonder that he should be hers-that anything so beautiful should be hers.
He looked like a work of art, one carved by some brilliant sorcerer. The keen bones of his face, the generous mouth that was sensual magic. Those eyes, that wild Celtic blue, that could still make her throat ache when they looked at her. And that miraculous canvas was framed by black silk that swept nearly to his shoulders, and continually made her fingers itch to touch it.
They'd been married more than a year, and there were times, unexpected times, when just looking at him could stop her heart.
He came back to sit beside her, cupped her chin in his hand, brushed his thumb over the little dent in its center. "Darling Eve, so still and quiet in the dark." He touched his lips to her brow. "I've brought you a present."
She blinked, and immediately edged back. It made him smile, this habitual reaction of hers to gifts. Just as the uneasy look she gave the long, narrow box in his hand made him grin.
"It won't bite you," he promised.
"You weren't even gone two days. There has to be some sort of time requirement for bringing back presents."
"I missed you after two minutes."
"You're saying that to soften me up."
"Doesn't make it less true. Open the box, Eve, then say: 'Thank you, Roarke.'"
She rolled her eyes, but she opened the box.
It was a bracelet, a kind of cuff with a pattern of minute diamond shapes etched into the gold to give it sparkle. In the center was a stone-and as it was bloodred, she assumed it was a ruby-big as her thumb and smooth to the touch.
It looked old, and important, in that priceless antique way that made her stomach jitter. "Roarke-"
"You forgot the thank-you part."
"Roarke," she said again. "You're going to tell me this once belonged to some Italian countess or-"
"Princess," he supplied, and took the bracelet from her to slip it onto her wrist. "Sixteenth century. Now it belongs to a queen."
"Okay, that was laying it on a bit thick. Looks good on you, though."
"It'd look good on a tree stump." She wasn't much on glitters, despite the fact that the man heaped them on her at every opportunity. But this one had...something, she thought as she lifted her arm and turned her wrist so the stone and etching caught and scattered light. "What if I lose it, or break it?"
"That would be a shame. But until you do, I enjoy seeing it on you. If it makes you feel any better, my aunt Sinead seemed equally flustered by the necklace I bought her."
"She struck me as a sensible woman."
He tugged a lock of Eve's hair. "The women in my life are sensible, enough to indulge me as giving them gifts brings me such pleasure."
"That's a slick way to box it in. It's beautiful." And she had to admit, at least privately, that she liked the way it slid fluidly over her skin. "I can't wear this to work."
"I don't suppose so. Then again, I like the way it looks on you now. When you're wearing nothing else."
"Don't get any ideas, ace. I'm on shift in-six hours," she calculated after a glance at the time.
Because she recognized the gleam in his eye, she narrowed her own. But the token protest she intended to give was interrupted by the bedside 'link.
"That's your signal." She nodded toward the 'link, then rolled off the bed. "At least when somebody calls you at two in the morning, nobody's dead."
She wandered off into the bathroom as she heard him block video, and answer.
She took her time, then as an afterthought snagged the robe off the back of the door in case he'd reinstated the video on the 'link. She was belting it as she went back in, and saw he was up and at his closet. "Who was it?"
"You've got to go now? At two in the morning?" His tone, just the way he'd said his admin's name, had the skin on her neck prickling. "What is it?"
"Eve." He pulled out a shirt to go with the trousers he'd hastily put on. "I need a favor. A very large favor."
Not from his wife, she thought. But from his cop. "What is it?"
"One of my employees." He dragged on the shirt, but his eyes stayed on Eve. "She's in trouble. Considerable trouble. Someone is dead, after all."
"One of your employees kill someone, Roarke?"
"No." Since she continued to stand where she was, he moved to her closet, took out clothes. "She's confused and panicked, and Caro says somewhat incoherent. These are not traits one associates with Reva. She works in Security. Design and installation, primarily. She's solid as stone. She was with the Secret Service for a number of years, and isn't a woman who shakes easily."
"You're not telling me what happened."
"She found her husband and her friend in bed at the friend's apartment. Dead. Already dead, Eve."
"And finding two dead bodies, she contacted your administrative assistant instead of the police."
"No." He pushed the clothes he'd chosen into Eve's hands. "She contacted her mother."
Eve stared at him, cursed softly, then began to dress. "I have to call this in."
"I'm asking you to wait, until you see for yourself, until you talk to Reva." He laid his hands on hers, held them there until she looked back at him again. "Eve, I'm asking you, please, wait that long. You don't have to call in what you haven't seen with your own eyes. I know this woman. I've known her mother more than a dozen years, and trust her to the level I trust very few. They need your help. I need it."
She picked up her weapon harness, strapped it on. "Then let's get there. Fast."
Excerpted from DIVIDED IN DEATH © Copyright 2004 by Nora Roberts, writing as J.D. Robb. Reprinted with permission by Berkley Publishing Group, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. All rights reserved.