Wolf caught the faint scent of cinnabar and roses.
The girl turned her head and stared boldly at him, her cool demeanor at odds with the fire in her look. And then her lips parted, as if she needed more air. A punch of lust hit Wolf’s groin.
There was pure sin in his startling blue eyes.
The moment hung suspended between them, and then expanded as his feral gaze held hers. Stranger? Not to Alanna. He went by the name of Wolf, and he was a legend in these parts, known from San Francisco to Boston as a relentless tracker of lost persons. His quest to find his mother’s killer would lead him to Alanna…and his destiny.
In his arms, she would never be lost again…
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“I came to apologize on my father’s behalf. I—”
“Thank you.” Wolf moved to the back of her chair to assist her departure. “Now please excuse yourself before your father finds you missing and blames me, because I have a real strong suspicion, Miss Malone, that your father hasn’t the slightest idea you are here. Nor does your mother.”
“And to inform you,” she continued as if he hadn’t said a word, “that whenever you’ve a mind to ask me to marry you, the answer shall be yes.”
“Wha . . . what?” Wolf swept around the chair in front of her and bent at the knee. He studied her face, disbelieving what he’d heard. Her eyes held not a hint of mockery. The heady scent of roses filled his nostrils again—and that alluring scent that was hers alone. This was a hell of a time to let her plump, moist mouth distract him. “Leave, Miss Malone.”
She sat steadfast and resolute. Unblinking.
Perhaps she was daft after all. The dull thud in his head returned with a vengeance. “What the hell are you up to? Are you trying to get me killed?”
“It was very wrong, what my father did and said to you today. I feel uncomfortable about what transpired.” “Then you just might have a small inkling, ma’am, as to how incredibly uncomfortable I am feeling at this
particular moment. Maybe you can manage a little compassion and remove yourself with great haste.” The bridled anger in his harsh whisper was fast accelerating into scalding fury.
She threw her head back in stubborn defiance. “Before you lose your temper—”
“Alanna Malone, it’s too late. I have already lost my temper! Now then, you spoiled little snippet, leave and take your insane ideas with you or I will carry you out and dump you on the other side of the door. That,Miss Malone, will drive me into even further rage, because I do not condone manhandling women.”
“I will not leave until—”
He decided to try another tack and scare the hell out of her. He leaned closer. “Are you trying to seduce me?”
Her daring gaze reminded him of the night he’d first laid eyes on her back in San Francisco. In a flash, Wolf slipped back into his chair and scraped it closer to hers until the corners touched. He reached his arm across her lap, rested the palm of his hand on the far edge of her chair, and leaned into it for support. His other hand rested on the back of her chair. If anyone walked in, he was a dead man.
He was so close he could feel her breath falling on his mouth, could smell a trace of chamomile soap beneath the
soft scent of roses.
She blinked and, cool as an ice princess, stared back at him.
An unwelcome heat flashed through him. He cast it aside by drawing on his anger once again. If he had to scare the wits out of her, so be it. If she was indeed insane, then he would soon learn that, as well. Either way, he had to get her the hell out of the stateroom—and fast.
“I think I have this whole thing figured out.” He studied her through half-closed lids. The lush curve of her mouth as her lips parted sent a wild throbbing through his groin. “Thompson told me he’s met your fiancé and that he is a homely man. Dull. Always sniffing and wiping at his nose.” He arched a brow and let the devil play at the corners of his mouth. “Wealthy as sin, though.”
Alanna simply gazed at him without expression.
“I wonder, Miss Malone. Do you figure this is your last chance to savor a few wicked delights before settling down to monotony?”
When she still failed to make a move, he drew his hand slowly across her lap, then boldly rested it on her knee.
His fingers warmed from her heat.
She ignored his blatant act. “I’ll never marry that swine.”
“So, you want me to save you, do you?” His mouth drew closer to hers. “Am I your last hope before the ship docks?”
“Oh, do grow up.”
Wolf was caught off guard by the sudden vibrancy of her voice. “No, Alanna Malone, you grow up.”
He leaned further forward, his voice deceptively calm. “Do you have any clue what you are asking for by coming into a man’s quarters like this? Do you have any idea what could happen to you if it were someone besides me?”
“Why don’t you tell me?” she said with easy defiance.
That did it.
Without warning, his hand flew off her knee, under the hem of her skirt, and up her leg. He gripped the top of her bare thigh.
Surprise shot through him. “Christ. Where are your drawers?”
“I don’t wear any.”
“That is scandalous!”
“Only to one with a hand up my dress.” Her eyes were languid pools of blue calm.
Try as he might, Wolf couldn’t suppress the amusement that washed through him. But his hand was still immobilized on her smooth, naked skin. The heat of her melded into his palm and his heart thumped erratically. God, the tips of his fingers were entwined in soft curls.
“God forbid there should be a strong wind.” He was unable to suppress his humor, yet his body filled with a familiar ache.
“I would probably wear them then, but only as necessary.”
“Yes,” she answered.
“How can you—”
“Know what you were about to say?”
“You are very readable now, Wolf. Your eyes are filled with many questions.” She blinked slowly, deliberately. “You were going to ask me if I am virginal. The answer is that I do not care to so much as kiss a man who sniffles all the time, let alone yearn to have him bed me. I don’t know how to kiss, by the way. You’ll have to teach me.”
“And are you wanting that from me now?” When had he leaned closer? One hand rested on the back of her neck, while the other was still suspended on her hot thigh. He caught the faint scent of chamomile again.
“I don’t think so.” She spoke without guile, yet a smoky flame smoldered in her eyes.
“For the life of me, Alanna, I can’t figure you out.”
He didn’t know what to make of his emotions now—they were a strange mix. He’d never had anything to do with a woman like her—he’d spent his life living in hotels, befriending barmaids. And he had a goal to accomplish. He had to find his mother’s killer. The last thing he needed was this impossible situation.
Now tell that to his body.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Born in Minnesota, Kathleen Bittner Roth has lived all over the U.S.: Idaho, Washington, California, Texas and New York. Currently, she resides in Budapest, Hungary, often called the Paris of the East. Kathleen has won countless awards for her writing, including finaling in RWA’s prestigious Golden Heart contest. She is an active member of Romance Writers of America, including the Hearts Through History chapter and has been a contributing editor for an online romance magazine as well as writing and producing successful seminars and meditation CDs.