Authors: Sharon De Vita
“Well now, darlin’, time is the one thing I truly don’t have,” Jesse said, rubbing the back of his neck to ease a spot of tension that had settled there.
“What are you talking about, Jesse?” Ignoring her own inner warning signals, she took a step closer to him, close enough that she could almost feel his body heat reach out and engulf her. She ignored it and focused on their conversation. “What do you mean time is the one thing you don’t have?”
“Well, darlin’, I’ve got my own ranch to run back in Texas. And if you know anything about ranching, you gotta know that I can’t be away from it for too long.”
” Her words edged upward in shock and bewilderment.
Jesse stared back at her with equal shock and bewilderment. “Stay?” He shook his head. “Now, darlin’, why on earth would you ever think I was staying?”
Temper and frustration had her fists clenching again. “Because this is your
He shook his head. “You know, darlin’, I do believe I’m growing to detest that little word.”
“What word?” She glared at him, annoyed beyond belief. “What are you talking about?”
“Home, darlin’. Home.” Rubbing his neck again because the tension had increased, Jesse shook his head. “I thought I explained all this to you this morning. Texas is my home. Has been for as long as I can remember.”
“But what about Tommy?” she fairly cried. “What about your family?”
Jesse looked at her long and hard. “Well, darlin’, I’m here now, aren’t I? And for the moment that’s all I can promise.”
Her eyes slid closed and Hannah prayed her famous Irish temper wouldn’t boil over. “Jesse,” she began, choosing and spacing her words carefully. “How on earth can you simply turn your back on your family?” She shook her head, emotions spilling over. “My God, do you have any idea how lucky you are to even have a family? Let alone a family that is so welcoming and accepting, not to mention wonderful?”
He said nothing, he simply watched her, realizing that she was talking about a lot more than
Something far more than her love and affection for Tommy and the Ryans was fueling this passionate display. Of that he was certain.
Watching her eyes light with fire and her cheeks flush with emotion, he felt two distinctly different emotions: the first was concern. Obviously someone had hurt her. The kind of hurt that remained deep in your heart and memories for a long time, coloring your emotions and your views. He suddenly wondered about Hannah’s own family, and Riley’s father as well.
The second emotion that caught him was pure unadulterated lust. And Jesse felt a hint of guilt for it, knowing that she was hurting. But any woman who was as obviously passionate as she was, was bound to be just as passionate in all areas of his life. And dang if it didn’t just raise up all the wonderful possibilities a passionate woman like her would bring to an encounter.
It was truly a shame he wasn’t going to be here long enough to find out.
“How can you simply walk away from them?” Hannah demanded, unable to even comprehend such a thing. In her entire life, the only thing she’d ever truly wanted was a family; a real family that would love and accept her. Jesse had one and he was simply turning his back on them. “Don’t you have any feelings?” Biting back tears, she refused to allow him to see how upset she was. Refused to let him see that his mere words, his intended actions, had wounded her on a level she didn’t feel comfortable or capable of dealing with at the moment.
Jesse pulled himself upright. “Hannah, darlin’, listen to me.” Gently, he took her by the shoulders, felt her trembling, then instinctively gathered her close, slipping his arms around her to press her against him. “Good Lord, darlin’, you’re so upset you’re trembling.” Concerned, Jesse gently caressed her back the way he might an injured foal. “It’s not good for you to get yourself so riled up like this.” He drew back to look at her, and caught her blinking back tears. “Truly, it’s not.”
Fists clenched against his chest, Hannah sniffled, trying to gather her composure. “Jesse.” She glanced up at him and swallowed hard. He had the most incredible eyes. Every time she looked into them it made her feel things—want things—she knew better than to want or yearn for. That was a dream she’d given up years ago, and she wasn’t about to let herself walk blindly down the path of misery and disappointment again. Not because of a man. “Does Tommy know you’re not staying?”
“Well now, I must admit we really haven’t gotten around to talking about that yet.” He continued to caress her back, liking the feeling of having her in his arms. She was so small and delicate, and having her pressed against the length of him was causing his mind to come up with some incredibly imaginative fantasizing of what having that small, delicate
body pressed against him might be like.
Caught up short by his own thoughts, Jesse shifted his weight so that all that was actually touching her was his arms. He knew better than to play with fire, and touching Hannah set off a fire he was more than certain would flame right out of control if he wasn’t careful.
And he’d always been a careful, cautious man.
There was no point imagining or fantasizing about what could never be. She belonged here in Saddle Falls, Nevada. He belonged in Texas. He surely wasn’t going to be around long enough to get involved with anything or anyone—especially a woman.
He couldn’t, he reminded himself. He’d come to Saddle Falls only because of a deathbed promise, and he wasn’t about to let himself get emotionally involved with anyone during the short time he planned to be here.
Not with Tommy.
Not with the rest of the Ryans.
And certainly not with Hannah.
He’d promised himself he’d stay detached and he would. Besides, it had never been a hardship before. He’d always had trouble forming attachments to people. It was the only thing about himself, about
he’d never understood.
Until now, he’d never questioned his reserve, but simply accepted it as an inbred part of who he was.
When it came to emotional attachments, he simply balked and bailed. It was an action that had become a habit over so many years—with everyone, especially women. Perhaps that’s why he’d never married. He’d come close once, but knew in his heart it wasn’t right. He couldn’t seem to allow his heart to let go of the reservations he felt; the invisible walls he’d built to keep people at bay. He simply couldn’t allow himself to become emotionally attached. And so, not wanting to hurt the woman, he’d broken off the romance. After that, he made sure to keep all his relationships with women little more than superficial, not wanting to hurt anyone else. It had served him in good stead all these years and he wasn’t about to change things now.
“Jesse, if you and Tommy haven’t talked about how long you’ll be staying—”
“You mean haven’t talked about the fact that I’m
“If you and Tommy haven’t talked about the future, Jesse, do you think you might avoid talking about it? At least for a few days?” she added hurriedly at the look on his face. “I mean, why not give him a chance to just enjoy this time with you? He’s waited so long to have you home again, I think it might be nice to give him a few days with nothing to worry or fret about.”
“Well, darlin’, I imagine I can do that.” He touched her chin, forcing her to look at him. “I told you before, I’m not going to do anything deliberately to hurt him. Or anyone,” he added softly. “It’s not my way, Hannah. I’ve always prided myself on being an honorable man, and if you’re worrying that I came here to hurt the Ryans or to stir up trouble, I do wish you’d put that thought out of your mind.” It bothered him to know she thought so little of him and his intentions. Obviously her past history with men must have made her judge their characters poorly. “I don’t intend to do anything of the kind.”
She heaved a sigh of relief, desperately wanting to believe him. “Then you won’t discuss your plans with Tommy, at least not for a while?”
He grinned, chucking her under the chin. She looked utterly adorable with worry in her eyes and concerned words on her mouth. She was, he decided, one incredibly caring woman, a woman of deep loyalty as well as passionate emotion. Her intensity touched him profoundly and he couldn’t help but admire her for it.
“Well, Hannah, I don’t reckon anyone can say you’re a pushover, now, can they?” He chuckled as her eyes lit with fire. “Now, don’t go getting all riled, darlin’. I give you my word.” He lifted his hand in the air as if taking an oath. “For the time being, I promise I won’t tell Tommy I’m not staying. I promise not to discuss how long I’m staying. And I promise not to discuss the future or do anything deliberately to hurt Tommy, the Ryans or anyone else.” His gaze searched hers. “I think that covers just about every eventuality, now, don’t you think?” He continued to study her eyes, realizing there were emotions here he didn’t reckon he understood. “Will that satisfy you, and remove those shadows of fear from those gorgeous eyes?” He slipped his hand from her chin, to stroke the silk of her cheek.
She was so close, and with her head tilted up like that, it put her luscious mouth right in his line of vision, making him ache.
For an instant, he wondered how Hannah would react if he dipped his head and pressed his lips to hers. Before he gave himself too much time to think about it, he decided to find out for himself.
“Hannah.” Her name was a soft caress as he tilted her chin farther upward and slowly lowered his head, his gaze never leaving hers. He saw the leap of fright in her eyes a moment before her hands pressed to his chest.
“Jesse.” His name came out a husky whisper because her throat was so dry. “I…I…” She never had a chance to finish her thought. Never had a chance to tell him this was not a good idea.
Jesse’s mouth, soft and coaxing, came down on hers, causing all thoughts to flee. She meant to push him away. She was sure of it. Instead, her hands slid from the broad expanse of his chest upward, to slide around him and cling.
She was certain the floor dipped, and then swayed, knocking her nearly off balance as Jesse’s mouth gently seduced hers. Her heart began to knock a quick, staccato rhythm as he continued the kiss, keeping it soft, gentle and oh-so-tender. She reacted more to the tenderness than if he’d merely pressed his mouth against hers and kissed her senseless.
There was something more here, she realized, than a light flirtation. Something much more. She could feel it in his arms, in the way he responded, the way he held her, as if she was something to be treasured and cherished.
She’d never known the feeling and regretted it, regretted that she might never know it.
And that’s what scared her most. She’d yearned and longed to have a man treat her this way, as if she was special and important to him. And felt horribly guilty for her own selfish wanting.
But now, experiencing what she’d longed for all these years frightened Hannah simply because she knew it would not be easy to turn her back and walk away from the feelings.
But she knew she must.
For her sake. For his sake. And more importantly, for her daughter Riley’s sake. She knew how disastrous letting her emotions cloud her judgment could be. Knew and had promised herself she’d never allow it again.
“Jesse.” His name came out a husky whisper against his lips as Hannah savored the last moments of the kiss, then gently pulled back and away.
Heart hammering, she pushed her hair off her flushed face and forced herself to meet his gaze, praying he wouldn’t know how much one kiss had affected her.
“That shouldn’t have—we can’t do that—” She shook her head, trying to put a thought together. It was difficult with him standing there studying her with those glorious blue eyes that seemed to see all the things she’d never wanted a man to be able to see. “I don’t think this was a good idea.” Unable to resist, she touched her trembling fingertips to her lips. They were warmed from his kiss, and she could still taste him there, which sent a wicked shiver of delight through her.
Jesse frowned, slipping his hands in his pockets so he wouldn’t reach for her again. Kissing her was far more pleasurable than he’d even imagined. Too pleasurable. It was something he could clearly get used to very quickly. He clenched his fists in his pockets so he wouldn’t reach for her again. Hannah surely packed a wallop. “Actually, darlin’, I think it was a great idea.” He grinned then, falling back into his customary role of keeping things light with women. But somehow with Hannah it seemed wrong. And he didn’t quite understand why. “The best I’ve had all day, actually.”
She shook her head. “No, Jesse, you have to understand something. I can’t get involved with you.”
“Something wrong with me?” he asked mildly, trying not to let male pride get in the way.
“No,” she said quickly, too quickly. It had him grinning again. “Nothing’s wrong with you, Jesse. It’s just I can’t get involved with any man.”
“Don’t like men?” he asked with a frown, almost laughing at the horror that flashed across her face.
“Of course not.” Off balance, Hannah blew out a breath. “It’s just that I don’t have any room in my life for a man.”
“I see. Unless I miss my guess, though, you must have been involved with a man at some point.” At her questioning look he continued. “You have a daughter, Hannah, and unless you adopted her, and I doubt that since she’s the mirror image of you, you were involved with a man at some point.”
“Yes,” she admitted hesitantly, not wanting to go into an explanation about her past. “But that was in the past.” Stubbornly, she lifted her chin. “I…I… Jesse, it’s just not feasible for me to get involved with you. Please understand?”
The fear and pleading in her eyes made him back off. He’d obviously been right about someone hurting her deeply, but he had a feeling today with everyone’s emotions strung tight that it might not be the best time to get into it.
“Well, I don’t reckon I can understand something you haven’t clearly explained to me, but for the moment we’ll let it go.” At his words, her shoulders slumped in relief.