He carried her into the cabin and laid her on the makeshift bed he’d fashioned out of rough hewn logs and covered with a straw-filled bed tick. Wool blankets cushioned the mattress, and he pulled another over her to keep her warm while he started the fire.
He tried to concentrate on striking the flint rather than the ravishing woman lying behind him, but the memory of her supple body cradled in his arms imprinted his thoughts. Just imagining her reaching for him, drawing him into the bed with her, their bodies pressed together, was enough to drive him mad. The images enticed certain areas of his body until the rough fabric of his trousers grew uncomfortably taut.
If he didn’t get a handle on himself soon, he’d go up in flames just like the logs in the fireplace.
Satisfied that the wood had caught, Jared turned around and found Adriana’s midnight blue eyes open and looking around the cabin. Then they shifted to him, and he could see the reflection of a hundred questions mirrored in her gaze.
“Sheriff?” she asked.
“Miss Sheer.” He settled onto the edge of the bed, removed his hat, and ran a hand through his hair. The decision he’d made in bringing her here now seemed more of a mistake in the midst of her innocent stare. “I can explain why you’re here.”
Her brows arched high while her lush mouth stretched into a slow, seductive smile. “Sheriff, if you wanted me alone, all you had to do was ask.”
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Anita turned to see who Sam’s opponent had been. His back was to her, coal black hair curled over the nape of his neck. “Turn around and show yourself, sir. You’re as much to blame here as he is, I imagine.”
The man didn’t so much as twitch at her demand. Irritation sprang to life within Anita’s veins. She learned long ago that some men didn’t give a damn to what a woman had to say, but when she wore the badge, she expected them to obey every word she uttered, whether they wanted to or not.
“I told you to turn around,” she repeated. He bent, retrieved a black Stetson from the floor, and settled it on top of his head. She expected him to turn around then, but when he still didn’t respond after a few seconds, she lifted her pistol and pulled back the hammer. The hair on the back of her neck began to rise. Something wasn’t right.
“I won’t ask you again, stranger. Turn around.”
She watched his shoulders sink as though a great decision had been made. He raised his hands in the air and slower than an armadillo’s crawl, turned around to face her.
Time seemed to stand still as her eyes met the clearest blue she’d only seen on one other person in her life. Anita ceased to breathe. Her palms grew moist around the handle of her gun while her mouth went dry. Standing before her was the one man she thought about every day, the one man she dreamed about every night, and the one man she’d hoped never to see again.
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Mattie stood on the porch feeling self-conscious and inadequate in her new outfit. Cole leaned against the wagon, staring at her. His gaze traveled from her head, down her body to her feet, and back up again, finally resting on her face. She gripped the package at her side, concentrating on its presence rather than Cole’s heated look. She stood silent for several moments until she could no longer stand his perusal.
“Well, do you like it?”
He nodded. “You look lovely, Mattie.”
The compliment caught her off guard, and heat rushed to her cheeks. She hadn’t thought he’d gift her with a flattering remark. It pleased her.
“Thank you, Cole.” She moved toward the wagon. “And thank you for the clothes. It’s been a long time since I’ve worn such finery.”
Again, he grasped her by the waist and lifted her into the wagon. She positioned her skirts and placed the wrapped package between them on the seat. Cole did not ask about the package when he climbed into the wagon and prepared them to leave.
She had to thank him. He’d given her more than anyone had in a long time. But she had nothing. Without an actual possession to bestow, Mattie leaned over to place a spontaneous kiss on Cole’s cheek. He turned his head and her lips landed on his mouth instead.
The instant his lips moved on hers, Mattie was lost. His mouth was hot and moist; his lips, velvet soft, teased hers. The pressure he applied hinted of barely restrained control. Her nipples prickled and grew tight. She wanted to unleash that control. To free the smoldering passion she knew existed from the tremors of his flesh against hers. Simply go up in flames and rise into the clouds, into the wind of desire Cole evoked within her.
The only problem was, she didn’t know if she could survive the fall back to reality once the wind stopped blowing.
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He placed a finger on her lips. “I’m sorry for what I’ve done. I never meant to deceive you and I promise,” he paused, drawing his fingers over her lips, “it won’t happen again.”
The sincerity in his voice, shining from his steely gray eyes, wreaked havoc on her senses. She could smell the musky scent of him, a fresh woodsy smell that made her want to breathe deeply, inhale him into her.
A part of her wanted to believe him. Wanted to forget the deception, forget her plan to refuse the marriage, and sink into his arms. Bury herself in the heated embrace of his body. Never before had she felt such temptation, such want that caused her insides to quiver. A strange ache drifted from her core into her blood, warming her body with desire.
Severin brushed her cheek with his knuckles, gently cupping her face with his palm while his thumb stroked her skin. He stared into her eyes, persuasive gray meeting blue, daring her to accept him. Accept his offer.
He leaned forward, water dripped from his wet hair onto her gown. He tilted his head and urged her toward him. She leaned closer, moving her hands to her sides. Closer. An inch more and she would revisit the kiss he’d bestowed on her earlier.
Without hesitating, she bent, grasped the handle of the pitcher, and promptly dumped the cold rinsing water over his head.
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