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Hawks broke the silence. He reached out, pulled the bottle out of Conningtons hand, and swung toward the cliff. The bottle flailed away and disappeared over the edge. Then Hawks turned to Barker and said quietly, There are a few more things I ought to tell you before you definitely accept the job.

Barkers face was strained. He was looking at Connington. His head snapped around in Hawks direction and he growled, I said Id do the damned job!

Claire reached out and took hold of his hand, pulling him down beside her. She thrust herself forward to kiss the underside of Barkers jaw. Thats the ol fight, Hardrock. She began nibbling the skin with its faint stubble of beard, gradually inching her mouth down his throat, leaving a row of regularly spaced marks: wet, round, red parentheses of her lipstick, enclosing the sharper, pinker blotches where her incisors had worried his flesh. Hell do it, Ed, she murmured sidelong. Or at least hell give it as much of a try as any man could.

Dont the three of you care? Connington blurted, his head jerking back and forth. Didnt you hear?

We heard you, Hawks said.

Well, what about it? Connington challenged them incredulously.

Tell me something, Connington, Hawks said. Did you make your little speech so wed stop now? Or could anything make us stop, now things are in motion the way you hoped?

Not hoped, Connington said. Planned.

Hawks nodded. All right, then, he said in a tired voice. I thought so. All you wanted to do was make a speech. I wish youd chosen another time.

Claire chuckled, a silvery ladder of sound. Isnt it too bad, Connie? You were so sure wed all fall down. But its just like it always was. You still dont know where to push.

Connington backed away incredulously, his arms spread as if to knock their heads together. Are you three crazy? Do you think I made this stuff up out of my head? Listen to yourselves even when you tell me its all malarkey, you have to say it each a certain way. You cant shake loose from yourselves even for a second; youll go where your feet take you, no matter what and youre laughing at me? Youre laughin at me?

He lurched around suddenly. Go to hell, all of you! he cried.Gwan! He began to run clumsily across the grass to his car.

Hawks looked after him. Hes not fit to drive back.

Barker grimaced. He wont. Hell cry himself to sleep in the car for a few hours. Then hell come in the house, looking for Claires comfort. He looked down at Claire with a jerk of his head that broke the chain of nibbles. Isnt that right? Doesnt he always do that?

Claires lips pinched together. I cant help what he does.

No? Barker said. Its me hes after?

In a vicious, throaty snarl, Claire said, Maybe hes had you. Hes never had me.

Barkers hand cracked over, and Claire fell back, holding her cheek. Then she grinned. Youve done better than that. You used to do a lot better. But that wasnt bad, she admitted.

Barker, Hawks said, I want to tell you what youre going to have to face.

Tell me when I get there! Barker snapped. Im not going to back out now.

Claire said, Maybe thats what he wants you to say, Al. Putting it that way. She smiled up toward Hawks. Who says Conningtons the only schemer?

Whats the simplest way for me to get back to town? Hawks said.

Ill drive you, Barker said coldly. His eyes locked on Hawks. If you want to try it.

Claire murmured a chuckle and suddenly rubbed her cheek down the length of Barkers thigh. She did this with a spasm of her entire body; an undulant motion that was completely serpentine. She stared up at Hawks through wide, pleasurably moist eyes, her upstretched arms curled around Barkers waist. Isnt he grand? she said huskily to Hawks. Isnt he a man?

| Rogue Moon | c