Banished from civilization to the Wyoming Territory, U.S. Marshal Harrison Taylor holds a deed to half the Lazy L. He isn’t sure why his beautiful new partner, Rachel Leonard, doesn’t trust him. He has to convince her he is nothing like the man who abused her and he must earn her trust before the escalating attacks at the Lazy L turn deadly.
For six years, Rachel has worked to repair a shattered life. Caring for her son and invalid father leaves little time to keep the Lazy L profitable. She doesn’t want a business partner simply because her father gambled away half of her beloved ranch, and most certainly doesn’t desire a husband. Unfortunately, she’s stuck with the former and can’t trust Harrison as the latter.
But unless she can learn to trust him, everything and everyone Rachel loves will be lost.
Rachel continued to watch the play of light in the depths of the clouds. She tried to puzzle out why Harrison was engaging in trivial small talk. Perhaps he was on the same uncertain footing she was about their marriage, about Sam’s sudden death, even what it was married couples talked about. “I don’t think so. I think that one is going to miss us. We might get a few drops, but it will rain out before it gets here.”
She nodded. “I suppose we should discuss sleeping arrangements.” Just saying those words twisted her stomach with painful knots. “My father’s old room on the second floor hasn’t been used since his accident.” She had to stop thinking of that room as her father’s. It hadn’t been Sam’s room since the day she had found him nearly crushed under the rubble of the mine collapse. There had been no manner to navigate him up and down the stairs.
“We don’t have to discuss anything permanent tonight.” The chair creaked with his shifting weight. He rose from the chair and set his coffee cup on the porch railing, then crossed the distance to her. Without a word, he took her hand and pulled her closer to him. He looked down into her face. “I can continue to sleep on the chesterfield for a few more nights. Not that it would be my first choice…” His voice trailed off.
“I will need to air the room out, change the bed linens, and dust in there, but it would be senseless for you to continue to sleep in the parlor.” She freed her hand and walked a few paces away. She was talking nonsense, hoping to quell her unease. Even the most hastily arranged marriage had a wedding night. Yet he had agreed that for now, they would have a marriage in name only.
Harrison’s boot heels echoed on the porch floor. She startled when his hands came to rest on her shoulders.
“You’re terrified,” he said.
“What makes you think that?” She couldn’t make herself look at him. The knots in her stomach drew tighter, making breathing naturally more difficult, and forcing her heart to race.
He drew his hands down her arms and back to her shoulders. “Let’s start with how stiff your spine is. Or that your voice is shaking. Every time I’ve touched you, you’ve either frozen or you panic.” His breath whispered across the nape of her neck and ruffled the tendrils escaping her severe chignon. He turned her to him and caught her chin on the back of his hand, tilting her head up. “I made a promise, Rachel, and I will not break my word. You have to change the terms of our marriage.”
She forced herself to draw a deep breath when his arms wrapped around her waist and he exerted gentle pressure to bring her against his chest. He enveloped her within his embrace and this time there wasn’t panic or the desperate need to break free hammering in her. Rachel allowed herself to relax.
His cheek pressed into her crown. A self-deprecating laugh broke from him, and she admitted she liked how that sound rumbled in the depths of his chest.
“I really should have my head examined for agreeing to all of that.”
His arms tightened around her. She forced herself to remain within the circle of his arms, the side of her face against him. He must have sensed her sudden unease as he loosened his hold.
“You are an interesting woman. Beautiful, fascinating, and so full of contradictions.” He levered back from her and lifted his hand to cradle the side of her face, the pad of his thumb feathering along the slope of her cheek. “A seemingly very strong woman and yet terrified of a kiss.”
Rachel’s lips went dry and she couldn’t pry her tongue from the roof of her mouth. Her limbs trembled. Surely he had to hear how fiercely her heart was pounding, so loudly she heard it echoing in her ears.
His voice deepened, grew quieter until it was almost a whisper and she fought the urge to close her eyes and let the warmth in his voice wash fully over her. “A woman with a child but so frightened of intimacy.” He leaned even closer to her, his mouth almost on hers, yet not touching her except where his warm palm held her face.
In the darkness, she could just make out his features. Her hands slid up his chest and she didn’t know if it was to push him away or pull him closer. She was aware her breathing was shallow and she held her breath when he brushed the pad of his thumb against her lower lip.
“You have a mouth made for kissing, my beautiful wife, but I’m not going to kiss you. Not until you ask me. And, I promise, when that time comes, you’ll be asking me to do a whole lot more than just kiss you.”
He straightened and released her, moving away in the same fluid motion. His long strides carried him to the house, up the steps, and then through the door. Rachel sagged, pulling in a ragged, deep breath. A strange ache filled her lower belly, not painful but entirely confusing for its origin. She ran her tongue over her dry lips, staring into the night.
She twisted her head to the house. Part of her wanted to know if this time would be different. Fear of discovering that it wouldn’t be kept her feet frozen, unable to move forward.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Once upon a time there was little girl who fell in love with the wide open spaces of the American West, cowboys, horses, and collies. She blames a steady diet of syndicated Western programs and John Wayne movies as well as Lassie for these loves. That girl grew up but never outgrew her first loves. Lynda J Cox writes predominantly western historical romance. When she isn’t writing, she can be found on the road, travelling to the next dog show to exhibit her award winning collies. She loves to talk about books, writing, the allure of the vastness of the American West landscape, the mythos of the cowboy, and the insanity which is the sport of showing dogs. She can be reached at www.facebook.com/LyndaJCox or through her website at http://www.lyndajcox.com