Lawmen of the West

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.

Sin­ful­ly 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.”

Jen­ny, I—”

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.”