Daniel stood and stretched, wincing when he got a whiff of himself. A bath was definitely in order sometime soon. “Where does your mama keep the clean sheets?”
“I’ll show you.” Chandler jumped up from his seat, and hurried to a cabinet in the parlor. “Here.” He pulled out a sheet, and brought it to Daniel.
“Maybe a clean pillow slip, too?”
The boy returned to the cabinet, and rifled around a bit before emerging with a white pillow slip, blue and purple embroidery carefully stitched along the hem.
“Thank you. Now you put that gun together, and once I take care of your mama, I’ll be back and we’ll go hunting.”
“What about Jace and Amelia?”
“I think as long as they stay in the room with your mama, they’ll be all right until we Sreturn.”
Gathering the sheet and pillow slip to his chest, Daniel headed down the hallway toward the bedroom where his patient lay.
The woman must have been awake, because a soft female voice reached his ears, along with the bright chatter of Amelia. Smiling, he entered the doorway.
Mrs. Wilson lay flat on her back, her two youngest children flanking either side. Her deep blue eyes glittered with anger. She rose up on one elbow, and with a shaky hand she raised a pistol, cocked, and aimed at his chest, just as he cleared the doorway.
“Get the hell out of my house, Reb.”
“Are you kidding me? I’m stuffed. It was a really big serving.”
The band had been on a break, and started a new session with a merengue. Damian hopped up and dragged her to the dance floor.
Kerry held back, laughing the whole time. “I can’t do these fancy dances.”
“Sure you can. Follow my lead.” He took her in his arms and within minutes they were spinning on the dance floor as if they’d done it together for years. Every time they took a turn, Damian tugged her closer. The scent from the flower in her hair combined with the light perfume she’d used was an aphrodisiac. He slid his thigh between her legs, and spun her halfway across the floor. Her skirt billowed out, and her curls danced in the light of the lanterns.
Kerry threw her head back, her throat muscles moving as she laughed. He did some different movements, and each time she followed him with ease. Her beautiful hazel eyes sparkled and her cheeks flushed a deep pink. Was this how she would look in the throes of passion?
The music reverberated through his body, tightening his gut as the woman in his arms held him captive. Her scent, her feel, her softness. His gaze met hers and her smile faltered, a note of anxiety on her face.
The band finished the merengue and moved quickly and easily into a slow number. Damian cupped Kerry’s face and lowered his head. His lips pressed against hers, and she slid her palms up his chest to circle his neck. Slim fingers played with the hair at his collar. He turned their fused bodies slowly in a circle and ravished her mouth. He pressed against her lips with his tongue, demanding entrance. She opened, granting him access to the sweetest nectar he’d ever tasted.
“What I intended to say is, although I’m not sure about hiring you, I’m willing to try you for a week to see how you work out. Would that be acceptable?”
She quickly sat up, her eyes bright. “Yes, yes. A trial period would be fine.” Her mouth broke into a huge grin, and she wiped sweat off her upper lip.
What a transformation. Her smile changed an already pretty face into a beautiful one. The twinkle in her eyes, and her full lips revealing straight white teeth, sent his pulse racing. Something twisted in his middle he hadn’t allowed himself to feel in years.
He cleared his throat. “You understand you’ll have to speak with the customers?”
“I realize that.”
Michael stood. “I’ll need you to come in tomorrow at nine o’clock. We’re open from nine-thirty until six o’clock. You will have one half hour for lunch. We’re also open half a day on Saturday from nine-thirty until noon. Can you work those hours?”
“Yes. That’s fine.” She hopped up so quickly, she nearly upended her chair. Michael grabbed it before it tumbled to the ground.
“I’ll be here first thing in the morning. Thank you so much.” She grabbed his hand, and almost shook it off his arm.
Michael led her to the front of the store, unlocked the door and let her out. “See you tomorrow.”
“Yes, thank you very much. I’ll be here. Thank you again.” She backed away, then turned and walked into a light post.
“I’m fine.” She rubbed her forehead, adjusted her hat, and hurried away.
Michael shook his head. Strange woman. Hopefully he didn’t just commit a huge error of judgment.
A small wooden table in the corner drew her. She placed the glass on the table and eased her sore and tired body onto the chair. One leg shorter than the other three, the chair rocked as she settled. A woman the size of the counterman came through a curtain separating the area from whatever was in the back. With a brisk nod in Angel’s direction, she headed her way.
“Y’all one of them new whores Dolly’s expectin’? She asked me to look out for ya.” She jerked her thumb in the counterman’s direction. “Jedediah’ll git you out there as soon as the stage pulls out. Dolly’s sure needin’ the help. She cain’t never take a break herself.”
Angel sat in silence, her eyes wide and mouth slack as the woman continued. “Ya’ll gonna have to git rid of them black clothes, though. Dolly’ll fix ya up nice and fancy.”
Tears sprang to her eyes and she gasped, vigorously shaking her head. “No, ma’am, I am not one of the new wh-whores.” She stumbled on the word, and backed the rickety chair against the wall.
“Well, gosh darn. Thadda be a pity.” The woman shifted a wad of tobacco from one cheek to the other, expelling a stream of juice right next to Angel’s shoe. Her gaze roamed over her. “A looker like you’d make a lot of money for yerself. Men around here are dying for some new faces.” Then she thought for a minute and grinned. “And new bodies, too.” She threw her head back in laughter, spaces from missing teeth exposed.
“Jedediah, git yoreself back to work.” The woman shouted in the counterman’s direction as she returned to the back area.
Angel got up from the table and quickly headed for the door. I’d rather sit in the blazing sun. What have I gotten myself into?
Lucas released her lips and rested his forehead on hers. “You know I would never hurt you.”
Tessa pulled back, her eyes narrowed. “Why did you say that?”
He ran his knuckles over her cheek. “Because I never would.”
“I think I’d better go now.”
Lucas smiled. “Okay. I don’t want to scare you.”
Her chin came up and she stiffened her shoulders. “I’m not scared of you.”
“Good.” As he came around the vehicle, he stopped and stared at the building. “Tessa?”
She jumped down to join him. “What?”
“Didn’t you put the lights out when you locked up before?”
“I thought I did. But it appears there’s a couple still burning.”
He continued to stare at the building. “Get back in the jeep.”
Her mouth went dry as dust. “Do you think someone’s in there?”
“Probably not, but old training is kicking in.” His hand settled on her arm as he walked her back to the Jeep. “Where are your keys?”
She rummaged in her purse for the key ring and handed it to him. “Front door.”
“Stay here, I’ll come get you when I’m sure it’s safe.” He closed the door and gestured for her to lock both doors.
As soon as the back door opened, Lucas waved for her to join him. Heart pounding, she got out of the Jeep. As she came closer she heard him on the phone. “Tessa’s Treasures, corner of Main and Sixth.” He glanced around the room. “Doesn’t seem to be.” He squeezed her hand. “Okay, we’ll be here.”
She stepped through the door between the kitchen and the store proper, and gasped.
“Miss Henderson!” Max choked out. The woman stood before him, dripping wet, in trousers—trousers! Her unbuttoned coat displayed the man’s shirt she wore, plastered to her chest, the peaks of her nipples prominent against the wet fabric. Dripping wet pants outlined her legs as if naked.
She continued to laugh, and pushed the hair out of her eyes, raising her breasts, which pointed directly at him. Max yanked her jacket closed and buttoned it up.
His jaw tightened as he took her hand and helped her out of the trough. She covered her mouth with her other hand, trying to stifle her laughter.
“Miss Henderson, I don’t see any humor whatsoever in this. You are an upstanding citizen of this town, a member of a prominent family, and a teacher. A teacher!” He took her by the elbow and moved her forward. “I can’t believe you would appear in public dressed in trousers.”
Ellie pulled away from him. “I have to go back to the meat store and get my bag.”
Max took her elbow again and walked her in the direction of the bag resting against the large glass store window where she’d left it. Her shoes squished with every step she took, and she continued to shake herself like a dog. A trail of water followed them. She retrieved her package and turned, her lips blue, her body shaking with the cold. “Thank you v-v-very much, Mr. C-C-Colbert. I guess I will s-s-see you Monday.”
He continued to stare at her wide-eyed. “Miss Henderson, I have no intention of letting you continue to wander around town dressed in soaking wet trousers. You’ll catch your death of cold and miss school. I will escort you home.” He stopped and stared at her. “Where is it you live?”
She pulled her hair to the side and squeezed. Max jumped back when the water hit his highly polished boots. “The b-b-boarding house on Elm and S-s-seventh.”
“Very well. My house is closer. I’ll drive you home in my automobile.” He grabbed her elbow again, and Ellie stumbled along, taking two steps to his every one.
Memories of last night washed over her, along with shame and embarrassment. Dear God, what have I done? She allowed Jesse to make love to her, that’s what she’d done. She eased herself away from him. His strong arm pulled her back.
“Where you going?” Jesse’s sleep filled voice jolted her heart to a rapid rhythm.
“Jesse Cochran, you’re in my bed!”
Jesse turned her onto her back, then propped himself on his elbow, his face towering over her, one eyebrow raised.
“Yes, if I remember correctly, by invitation.” He had the nerve to grin.
“We’re naked!” she whispered, pulling the sheet up to her neck.
He wrestled the sheet from her hands, raised it, and glanced down. “So it seems.”
“Get up.” She shoved him with her foot.
Jesse grunted and frowned. “Ow! What’s the matter with you?”
“I can’t believe what you did.” Tori sat up, the sheet wrapped firmly around her.
“Honey, I hate to throw stones at your virginal righteousness, but what happened a few hours ago we did. Together. Both of us.”
“Oh, you would say that.” She fisted her hands. “You took advantage of me.” What a stretch that was. Not only wouldn’t he believe that, she didn’t believe she’d actually said it.
Jesse shook his head and sat up. “Wait a minute. I remember asking you if you were sure, and you said yes.”
“I wasn’t thinking properly. You should have known that. Also, my spectacles were on the table.”
He stared at her, opening and closing his mouth like a fish. “What’s that supposed to mean? You didn’t recognize me?”
She looked down her nose at him. “Oh, you would try to confuse the argument.”
“How? With logic? Something you are not at all familiar with, it appears.” He jumped out of the bed and pulled his pants on. “You know, lady, I always thought you were crazy.” His fingers worked frantically at the buttons. He reached for his shirt. “Now I know you are.”
“I am not crazy, and what about Rachel?” Tori said, getting out of the other side of the bed and dragging the sheet with her.
“What has Rachel got to do with this?”
“Exactly!” She raised her finger in the air. “You were so full of lust, you forgot why we’re even here.”
He stopped putting on his shoe and stared at her. “Full of lust? Did you just say full of lust?”
“Yes. Full of lust. A poor, helpless young girl is out there.” She threw one arm toward the window, her other hand clutching the sheet. “All you can think about is this.” She motioned toward the bed.
“Mr. Cochran, breakfast is ready if you and your wife would like to eat before you leave.” Catherine’s voice came from the other side of the door.
“Isn’t this just wonderful?” Tori whispered furiously as she bent to scoop the nightgown from the floor. “I’ll bet they heard your lust right through this door last night. In fact, I’ll bet you woke the animals in the barn.”
Jesse tightened his belt buckle, then pointed his finger at her. “You should be locked up for your own safety.”
Picking up his boots and socks, he left the room. Amazon