“I can be quite persuasive when I choose,” Emma said.
“So can I.”
Without hesitation, Rye pulled her close and kissed her.
Emma found her head swimming as Rye kissed her. She clutched his shoulders to keep from swooning.
And gave in to the kiss.
Her heart drummed wildly as his hands cupped her face before sliding down her neck to her shoulders. She’d never been kissed like this. But what Rye Callahan was doing to her was delicious.
His lips brushed slowly against hers, lingering, playfully nipping along her bottom lip. A tingling traveled through her like lightning as his tongue eased open her mouth and sought refuge inside hers. He stroked her tongue with his in a dance that showed no hesitation. She quickly learned its moves and answered his call with one of her own. He responded, pulling her close, so close she felt the hammering of his heart.
The kiss deepened, quickly sparking like dry embers, exploding into heat and fire and need. Emma clung to Rye as if she were a ship tossed about in a perfect storm on a wild ride at sea. Instead of fighting against it, she went with the flow, ripples of desire coursing through her. She felt protected and yet challenged, giving and receiving, caught up in a maelstrom of need and want.
Then the beating waves stopped abruptly when he tore his mouth from hers.
She stared into golden eyes that simmered with a passion which stirred a deep longing within her.
“My utmost apologies, Miss Bradford.” He released her and took a step back.
“Why did you kiss me if you were only going to apologize?” she asked, seeing his eyes darken. “Or do you operate under the lesson a spoiled child learns, that it’s better to act first and seek forgiveness afterward?”
Emma watched the blush rise on the chiseled planes of his cheeks and stifled a laugh. She was recovering from the unexpected experience rapidly—and trying to provoke him into kissing her again.
What in God’s name was he doing?
Alena was untouched, unspoiled by a man. His actions had probably frightened her. John realized how far he had gone. He couldn’t ask her to make a commitment with her body without a commitment of their hearts.
And somewhere out there, he had a mission to accomplish, one that he might never return from.
It had been wrong to kiss her. To want to make love to her. She was an innocent. He must put a stop to this.
John gripped her elbows and put some distance between them. His breathing sounded ragged to his ears.
“I’m sorry,” he began.
“Don’t go apologizing again, John Harper.” Alena’s eyes darkened to deep purple, anger sparking in them. “You did that the last time you kissed me and I won’t have it.”
She threw off his arms and stepped back, studying him with suspicion.
“Do you know what you do to me? Not when you kiss me, but even when you come near? Do you know how many times I thought I would die, my heart beating so fast with excitement, simply because you entered the room?”
She shook her head in disgust. “Every time I see you, hear you— taste you— I want more. I want it to never end.” Alena came and stood directly in front of him, breathing hard, her chest heaving, her hair in disarray.
She poked him with her finger, hard, those violet eyes now almost black. Without hesitation she said, “I love you, John Harper. I want to be with you.”
He replied by sweeping her off her feet and marching into the bedroom.
Nora held up her wrapped finger for his inspection. A few drops of blood spotted the white linen handkerchief. She studied it a moment, a frown creasing her brow. Then she broke into a deep, hearty laugh.
This woman kept surprising him.
“I have tried many times to get out of quilting. Or sewing. Or needlework.” She sighed. “The thought of stabbing myself with my needle and bleeding over a strange quilt hadn’t occurred to me before.” She smiled mischievously. “I suppose I won’t be asked back again. Most of them were so nice, though.”
Jack snorted. “I suppose you would be omitting Mrs. Simmons from that group?”
Nora looked up innocently. “Mrs. Simmons? Now, which one was she?” she mused.
It was his turn to laugh. “I do believe she’s the one giving you the hard time, Mrs. Cantrelle. I’m sure you remember her.”
She laughed again, a rich sound that made his fingers tingle. He had a sudden longing to stroke the long, white throat that protected such a musical rumble. The strange thing was, this random thought didn’t even surprise him. He realized instinctively he’d wanted to touch her from the minute they’d first clashed in front of the general store.
He’d thought he was through with women.
But Jack couldn’t deny his growing feelings for Nora Cantrelle.
“You used me!”
Jenny stood in the doorway, her eyes full of fire. She stalked over and slapped Noah hard.
“How dare you pretend to be some consumptive cowpoke that happened to be headed this way!”
Noah had known this moment would come, had played it out in his mind a thousand times.
“You took advantage of me! You are a disgusting, low-down, sorry excuse for a man.”
“No. Don’t. Nothing you can ever say to me will change anything between us. Do you understand? I don’t have to listen to you. You don’t own me.”
But Jenny did own him, heart and soul. Noah’s insides cracked with every word she hurled at him. He’d never hurt so much in his entire life. He wanted to cry out that he loved her, that what had passed between them meant more to him than she’d ever know. That it didn’t matter about Sam or Pete.
She was right. He was despicable. Bad to the bone. He didn’t deserve her. So he held his tongue.
Noah let her rage on for a few minutes. She was all red in the face as she spewed her venom. He knew it would soon be over and she’d be spent. He wanted to walk away but he savored the last looks he had of her. It would carry him through the rough times that lay ahead.
Finally, he couldn’t help it. Her words wounded him more than he thought possible. He wanted to strike out at her, hurt her as she did him.
“You know,” he drawled, “Sam’s biggest crime wasn’t stealing all that money. His biggest crime was abandoning you.”
Noah knew he’d cut her to the quick. Her face crumpled. Her shoulders sagged. Hot tears poured from her eyes and ran down her cheeks, dropping onto her bodice.
“I can’t wait to get back east. Where people treat each other with decency and respect.”
“Then go, why don’t you?”
“I’ll be happy to, Mr. Webster.” She hollered one last remark at him. “Just go to Hell, Noah Webster. Straight to the Devil, why don’t you?”
“I’m already there.”