Amazon Central: amazon.com/author/calliehutton
Why did this man affect her so? She should hate him for what he did to her, but instead she melted at his touch and got lost in his eyes. “Yes, I believe I have one or two left.” She smiled, irritated at the breathless sound of her voice.
Jason reached for the small card dangling from her wrist. “A waltz, perchance?”
“I’m sorry, my lord, but all four are taken.” Heat rose from her middle to spread to her face. She fought the urge to hurry to the French doors and gulp in air.
He turned the card over. “Lord Carstairs won’t be able to take his waltz, so you may put my name in his place.” He flashed her a lazy smile he most likely had perfected to get his own way since he was in the cradle. Bowing slightly, he left her and headed toward the gaming room.
The sky grew dark and campfires sprang up as the party continued. Standing with a group of women, Emma spotted Davis in a circle of men who apparently were having some fun at his expense. The joking and nudging led her to believe they were discussing what was to come when the party wound down. Davis seemed to take it all in stride, but when he glanced over she found her heartbeat speeding up. Glory be, what had she done?
In her focus on getting married again so she would have help for the rest of the trip, she had shoved the wedding night and all it meant to the back of her mind. Now it immediately presented itself to her full force. What was she thinking marrying a man she hardly knew? Would he insist on his marital rights tonight? Would he give her time to adjust to him?
She didn’t have a whole lot of time to dwell on it as Davis walked slowly over to her, his lips tilted in a half smile. He took both of her hands in his and gently kissed her on the lips. The distinct odor of whiskey wafted from his mouth. Perhaps she should have also dipped a cup into the men’s punch bowl to calm her nerves.
“Let’s go back to the wagon.” He whispered against her lips.
“Um, already?” Emma gasped. Davis chuckled and put his arm around her shoulders, guiding her away from the group.
Oh, dear, it didn’t seem as though Davis had any intention of allowing any getting to know you time before he took her to bed. She broke into a sweat and swallowed several times, trying to fill her lungs with air.
The walk back to the wagon used up no time at all. Her heart thudded so hard no doubt Davis could hear it. Apparently noticing her distress, Davis left her in front of the wagon. “I’ll have a smoke out here, to give you privacy in the wagon before I come in.”
Nodding numbly, Emma crawled into the wagon. Good grief, now what? Would it be acceptable to lie down fully dressed on the pallet? What if she only took off her shoes? Davis had cleared out a few things and re-packed so the bed would fit. It was a warm night, but she imagined newlyweds sleeping under the wagon would not be appropriate. Newlyweds. There was a scary word.
Reluctantly, Emma took off her dress and underclothes and put the same nightgown on. Hands shaking, she took the pins out of her hair and brushed the lengthy locks. She could hear Davis outside the wagon moving about. She lay down on the pallet and took a deep breath. Within minutes her new husband entered through the canvas flap.
The space seemed so small with him in here with her. Her heart sped up again, her breathing rapid. With the bright moonlight she could see his face as he sat alongside her. Tenderness seemed to radiate from him. He moved his hand slowly over her hair.
“You have beautiful hair, Emma,” he whispered. “I like it down. It’s like curly brown silk.” He picked up strands of hair and let it fall between his fingers. He then ran the back of his hand over her face, ending at her chin. He tilted her head up and bent slowly over her. Amazon
Miss Merry’s Christmas
by: Callie Hutton
Lips twitching, but maintaining his austere demeanor, the butler opened a large wooden door with elaborate carvings, and sniffed before announcing, “Lady Charlotte Spencer, Lady Clare Spencer, and Miss Meredith Chambers.”
The girls clung harder, making it practically impossible for Merry to enter the room. She dragged one limb, then the other, until she reached the massive oak desk. Breathless from her effort, she looked up into the most arresting brown eyes, with specks of gold, she’d ever seen. Above the eyes, sharp black eyebrows rose almost to the hairline of wavy black hair. Below the eyes an aristocratic nose led to sensual lips drawn into a tight line.
“Your Grace.” She puffed and attempted a clumsy curtsy.
The only sound in the room was the soft click of the door as the butler exited. Merry waited patiently to be invited to sit. Instead, the brown eyes kept staring at her, then leisurely slid their way down her person, and obviously from the additional tightening of his full sensual lips, finding her wanting.
Eventually, a long-fingered hand flicked in the direction of one of the two leather chairs in front of his desk. “Sit.”
Merry sat abruptly, feeling like a dog panting in front of its master. The two girls ended up on their knees on the floor, still buried in her skirts.
“Is there something wrong with the young ladies?” The deep voice rolled over her, setting her heart to pounding.
Merry grasped the girls’ arms and attempted to pull them to their feet. They held tighter. “No, Your Grace. They’re merely a bit anxious.”
How was it possible to put so much disapproval into one word?
After a moment, he settled back in his chair, his fingers clutching a quill pen he tapped on the desk. “I trust you had a pleasant journey?”
With all the liquid in her mouth dried up, she merely nodded.
“I understand from my solicitors you’ve had sole charge of the girls since their parents passed away a month ago?”
“Yes, Your Grace.” Good. She was finally able to pry her mouth open.
“And you cannot control your charges enough to insist they sit as proper ladies?”
Heat rose to Merry’s face and anger washed through her. The arrogant arse! “They’re confused and a bit distressed.” She bent and whispered furiously to the girls. “Please get up, His Grace is not happy.”
“No.” Two voices piped up, muffled in her skirts.
She smiled slightly at the duke and shrugged. If possible his eyebrows rose further, disappearing underneath the wave that rested against his forehead.
“It appears to me, Miss Chambers, that Lady Charlotte and Lady Clare have arrived here just in time.” He pushed his chair back and stood. “I arranged for a governess to train them in proper behavior. She will instruct the girls in the skills necessary for a lady.” He waved his hand. “Sewing, French, watercolors, and so forth.”
Merry stared at him, her jaw slack. Well over six feet, David, Duke of Penrose, was a sight to behold. Every inch the lord of the manor, his coat fit him as if it had been painted on. His white-on-white waistcoat hugged his impressive body above well-fitting tan breeches tucked into black Hessian boots. A snow white, intricately tied cravat was a stark contrast to his lightly tanned skin.
Lord Penrose rested one hip on the edge of the desk, peering down at her, his foot swinging back and forth. “I shall allow a bit of transition time for the young ladies. You may stay on for a week or two. Then I will see you receive a generous stipend to tide you over until you can secure another position.”
Two blonde heads popped up from behind Merry’s skirts. “No!”
The moonlight filtering through the window cast an eerie glow over the room. She shifted onto her side, clasping her hands together under her cheek. More than an hour passed before she felt herself drifting off.
Rosemarie’s eyelid’s popped open. What was that noise? She rolled onto her back as Daniel walked through the bedroom door. He stopped inside the door and stared at her. Slowly, he moved to her side and squatted down.
He studied her face, his eyes seeking an answer to a question she wasn’t sure she wanted to answer. He ran his knuckles over her cheek. “I wanted to lead them away from here, so they would leave you in peace.”
“I thought you were halfway to Kentucky by now,” she whispered.
He smiled, flashing straight white teeth. “It crossed my mind, but you still need help.”
“Is that the only reason you came back?” She inhaled sharply, amazed at what she’d asked him.
“No.” He lowered his head, his breath fanning her face. “But I need to leave one day. You must know that.”
“I do.” The last words she murmured before he took possession of her mouth.
“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.
Tori tied an apron around her waist and walked to the wooded area behind the camped wagons. With everyone scavenging, it got harder every day to find the small pieces of wood needed to start a fire.
She frowned in concentration, careful to avoid the holes dug by small animals and roots that would trip her up. Even with her spectacles on, and the setting sun behind her shoulder, she found it difficult to see the difference between a branch and a snake. Every once in a while she stooped, picked up a small branch with two fingers, and put it in the pocket she had created with the front of her apron.
In the distance, she spotted several perfect branches, and hurried over to scoop them up. The moment she reached out, a strong hand grabbed her wrist.
“Excuse me, ma’am, those branches belong to me.” A deep velvet voice rolled over her, raising the fine hairs on the nape of her neck in awareness.
Tori shaded her eyes with her free hand before she followed the man’s broad arms up to even broader shoulders. Curly brown hair that needed a trim peeked out from a well-worn Stetson. His white shirt, covered by a black leather vest, was tucked into a snug pair of denim pants that encased muscular thighs. The sun behind his head shadowed most of his face, but what she could see revealed a strong jaw with more than a day’s growth of beard. Yes, the voice, and everything that went with it, definitely male.
“I don’t know why you think branches lying on the ground in a wooded area belong to you, sir.” Tori yanked her wrist free from the stranger’s grip.
“Because I gathered them and put them there.” With narrowed eyes, he placed his hands on his hips.
“You shouldn’t have left them unattended.”
“I was gathering more.” He pushed his hat back with one finger. Mirth in his piercing blue eyes belied the scowl on his face. He smelled of sweat, horses and man. Nothing offensive, just strong and somewhat pleasant.
A tingle ran down her spine, and her heart did a double thump. Tori stood far from camp, alone with a strange man and argued. Was she mad? She didn’t know this man, yet she stuck around to feud with him over some sticks. She thrust out her chin, needing the confidence. “Well if you’re prepared to see a woman and four children miss supper for lack of firewood, then so be it.” She moved to go around him. “Excuse me.”
“Where is your husband, ma’am and why does he let you roam around here unescorted?” He stepped in her path.
“I don’t have a husband, and never will, thank you very much,” Tori huffed, meeting his gaze. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a meal to prepare.”
“I’m very sorry ma’am. You’re a widow?” The man immediately removed his hat.
“No, I’m not a widow. I’ve never been married.” She arched one eyebrow.
“You’ve never had a husband, but you have children?”
“Not that it’s any of your business, but they’re my nieces and nephews. I’m their only parent.” Tori narrowed her eyes.
“I guess I need to apologize again, ma’am.” He flashed a smile that sent her stomach fluttering. Straight white teeth would’ve sparkled if the sun had sat high in the sky. Oh no. She wouldn’t fall for that again.
“Apology accepted, now if you will excuse me.”
He bent and scooped up the branches, handing them to her with a flourish. “I know it’s not a bouquet of flowers, but I think you need these more.” He bowed, giving her that grin again.
She nodded, took the branches and left. Her ears buzzed with his chuckle as she walked away.
Another over-confident man. She’d had enough of those types. Her father had been a charmer, until it came time to raise his daughter after her mama died. Then he dumped her on Aunt Martha and took off.
She snorted. And James! He too exuded charm and good looks. And where did that get her? Engaged to a man who left her practically at the altar. No, never again. Aunt Martha was right. Men were a pain in the neck, not to be trusted.