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Excerpt from

Bridges Burning

     Tonight was the first time it had rained since he had been out of prison, and tonight the sounds only made him restless.

     He could hear muffled voices from the rooms below, and he cursed his persistent weakness, which prevented him from joining the Earthers. He was still exhausted from the days in the tree. The evening's meeting in the Silvan barn had caused him a great deal of pain, radiating and burning and throbbing throughout his body as he tried to hurry to the Silvan home to have some private time with Ana. Once he got there, he had needed Brand to practically carry him back up the steps to the attic, which added a great deal of humiliation. The medication Spree had urged him to take was keeping him from thinking clearly and left him in a fog of frustration. He cursed his inability to speak to anyone downstairs even if he could join them, unless by some chance Doc were there.

     He could lie there all night finding reasons to be angry, he knew. Then in the morning, he could curse his lack of sleep.

     Using both hands, he pulled his legs across the bed until his feet touched the floor. Grace, I am tired of this pain.

     Taking the opportunity to curse a few more things, he limped to the box he used as a chair by the window. When he was able to breathe steadily again, he pushed open the shutters and sat down.

     The cold, damp mist crept into the dark attic. Hart closed his eyes to savor the cool droplets caressing his face and forearms. The rain was feather-soft, yet bracing. Its rhythm held the same paradox, steadily falling in a hypnotic drone, yet he swore he could hear individual drops hitting the leaves below his window.

     The sound of husky laughter floated up to him. Like a magnetic field, it drew him to his feet and closer to the open window.

     Ana twirled below him, her arms outstretched, and her head thrown back in joyous abandon. Her yellow dress, the same one she'd worn earlier to the meeting, was clinging to every sensuous movement. She had obviously come to the back of the house so no would see her. Once again, her inner self was laid bare for Hart's eyes, and once again, the revelation only made her more alluring.

     He was proud of her taking on the responsibility for tomorrow night's trek. He could almost feel her happiness course through his veins as he watched. He would never have expected her to like dancing in the rain, but she was always doing the unexpected. He found this personality quirk as endearing as all of the rest.

     Too soon, she lowered her arms, leveled her head, and squared her shoulders. She walked sedately toward the house.

     Letting out a huff of disappointment, Hart closed the shutters and limped back to the bed. He was too disheartened to curse any more, but he tossed his wet clothes to the floor with a satisfying slap and climbed under the warm, thick covers. With another deep sigh, he closed his eyes.

     Sleep wouldn’t come. He kept seeing her rain-soaked dance in the darkness. He wanted her glistening body beside his in the chilly, empty bed. A fog of helplessness once again filled the dark, cramped room.

     The hatch in the attic floor opened a tiny crack. "Hart?"

     He could barely hear her whisper, but he knew at once it was Ana. A knot of anticipation tightened in his chest, and he said, "Yes."

     She seemed to glide to his bed on her bare feet poking out beneath her white robe. Her hair was down and, as she sat beside the cot, he saw her curls were still damp.

     "Sleep?" she asked quietly in Standard.

     "No."

     "How are you feeling?" The phrase had almost become a greeting between them. It was one of the few Ana could ask in Standard and Hart could answer in Earther.

     "I am good. How are you feeling?"

     "Good. Very much good." She apparently didn't know the Standard for the rest of what she wanted to say, but her brown eyes sparkled.

     Hart smiled and made motions with his hands to symbolize the rain falling outside. "Rain. Ana very good… in rain."

     Her eyes opened wide as she glanced to the window and realized he had seen her. He reached a hand to her cheek to push back a clinging tendril of damp hair and found her skin still cold. Taking her icy hands, he pulled her onto the bed to warm her with his embrace. If he hadn't been so acutely aware of his nakedness, he would have pulled her under the covers with him. If he hadn't been so miserably sure the rest of her body was as taut with cold as her hands and face, he might have opened her robe to warm her with the heat from his body. But both attempts to warm her would arouse him, almost definitely pushing him to the edge of his control on this emotion-charged night. That was not her reason for joining him in the attic, not what she wanted nor needed from him this night.

     As much as he desired her, as much as he wanted her, he would somehow have to keep some emotional distance between them as he kept his arm around her back to warm her.

     The rain continued to cry its steady drops, filling Hart with a new wave of helplessness. He had no Earth words to explain his tangled feelings. He had no physical strength to move out of the attic, away from her tempting body. He had no other place to go, no possessions, even if he could leave. He had no clothes to even hide his arousal so that he might fully hold her in his arms. Surely a man deserved some small measure of help when struggling so hard with self-control.

     "Ana." He hoped the rain hid the tremor in his voice. Swallowing hard, he moved his arm away from her. "Sleep now."

     She sat up straighter and began an anxious stream of Earther.        Hart didn't know what she was saying, and it made him feel even more isolated from her. It sounded as if she might be asking if he were ill. His conjecture was confirmed when she placed her slender hand across his forehead, then cheek, to see if his fever had returned.

     "How are you feeling?" she said rapidly.

     Like I'm going insane. Like taking you back into my arms and removing your robe and pulling your naked body against mine. I feel like making love to you until the morning drags you away from me. I feel more frustrated than I have ever felt in my life.

     "I am good, Ana. Sleep now." He took her hand from his cheek and brought it to his lips. He kissed her palm, as if it were a tiny representation of her whole body. He heard her gasp as he moved his hungry mouth slowly across her fingers, kissing, sucking. Her hand fell limp, trusting, his to explore, and he felt grateful she hadn't pulled away.

     He pressed her palm hard against his lips and held it there for several long moments. When he felt able to force a smile, he released her.

     "Have a good night, my darling," he whispered, knowing she wouldn’t understand him.

     Unsure of the foreign words, puzzled by his brief display of passion, Ana stood but waited beside the bed.

     "Sleep, Ana," he assured her, switching back to Earther. He turned on his side toward the door and drew the covers more tightly across his body.

     With one of her warm, ingenuous smiles, she nodded and turned to the steps.

     Then she left him -- alone again -- with only his memories, her flowery scent, and the dripping rain to give him comfort.