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Hannah Howell

BOOK: Hannah Howell
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TEMPTATION
 
“What are you doing?” She was dismayed to hear that her voice was an octave higher than it should be.
“I’m going to take a bath.”
“You can’t do that.” She tried, and failed, not to look as he started to remove his drawers.
“Can’t I?”
With eyes growing ever wider, she watched him discard his drawers. She had not expected him to look so good, all lean, supple muscle.
When he stepped into the water, she bolted, but one strong brown arm quickly wrapped around her waist. “Are you afraid of me, Leanne?” He slid his hands down her back and pressed her closer.
“No. Yes.” She trembled, the heat of desire flooding her.
“I don’t intend to hurt you,” he murmured against her skin as he smoothed kisses over her throat. “I won’t hurt you. You must know that by now.” As he spoke, he moved her against his hard body and knew by her quickened breathing that she felt the proof of his desire. “Tell me you don’t want me, Leanne. Tell me and I’ll walk away right now.” He placed his mouth against hers. “Tell me,” he whispered.
Leanne wanted to. She tried desperately to find the strength of will to utter the words. But the way his hands felt on her, the way he moved her body against his in a pantomime of what they both craved, the way his mouth teased hers, robbed her of that strength. She wanted him, wanted him so badly that even the cold water they stood in did little to cool the heat in her body. Saying no was the last thing she could do . . .
HANNAH HOWELL
 
 
 
STOLEN ECSTASY
 
 
 
 
 
ZEBRA BOOKS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
www.kensingtonbooks.com
 
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Chapter One
 
Colorado, 1870
 
“I
’M NOT YOUR MA
.”
Hardly aware that she still lay sprawled in the dirt where her mother had pushed her, Leanne stared at Charity. “Not my mother?”
“Not your mother,” Charity said with every evidence of glee. “You little bitch.” Charity spat out the words. “Since you’ve been home, I’ve had to put up with your fancy ways, and I won’t any longer. I told Grant this wouldn’t work, told him years ago when he forced me to take you on. Wouldn’t even let me be your aunt, had to be your ma. Well, I’m not your ma. Never was. Not even your blood kin. Your ma was nothing but a cheap whore, and it’s clear blood will tell. Not even a month back home and you’re stealing my man.”
Clovis, standing behind Charity in the doorway, whined, “She tempted me sorely, Charity. I’m only a man, darling. I couldn’t help myself.”
“Shut up, you fool,” Charity snapped and Clovis disappeared into the house. She then went back to glaring at Leanne. “Well, that does it. I’m finished. He doesn’t pay me enough for this. You’re on your own, honey.”
“But, Mama . . .” she began, her voice shaking.
“Don’t call me that. I should’ve left you to rot at that school.”
Leanne almost said, ‘You did,’ but now was not the time to be airing grievances and old hurts. Even though she was facing yet another rejection in a life painfully filled with them, there was a more immediate concern.
“But who . . . where can I go?”
“Go to your pa—Grant Summers. And tell that bastard he owes me three months upkeep.”
“Grant Summers—who is he? And where is he?” Leanne demanded somewhat hysterically as Charity started to shut the door.
“Denver.”
“But that’s hundreds of miles away.”
Staring at the shut door, Leanne told herself it was all a nightmare, that she would wake up any moment back in her own bed—a bed without a sweating Clovis crawling all over her and telling her how good he was going to make her feel. Something fell at her side and she stared at her cloak. She looked up in time to see Clovis shoved away from the window just before Charity slammed it. She wondered dazedly if Clovis was going to suffer any punishment at all for what he had done.
A cool breeze made her shiver and she reached for her cloak. Standing up, she started to put it on, staring at the house she had thought was her home. A part of her waited for the woman she had always thought of as her mother to open the door and let her back in. It was not until the house grew dark that she finally gave up hope.
“I’m not your ma.”
The words echoed through her mind, making her wince. She found it impossible to believe. She had no memory of anyone except Charity. The woman had been cold, sarcastic and sometimes cruel, but she had been all the family Leanne had ever known, the only real tie she had ever had anywhere. She had formed none at school, where she had been viewed as a kind of barbarian, an uncivilized Westerner, no matter how hard she had tried to fit in. She had formed none in Clayville, where she had been viewed as an outsider because of her schooling and the long absences it had entailed. There had only been Charity, and now even that thin bond was cut.
“And who the blazes is Grant Summers anyhow?” she muttered and kicked at a stone, only to be painfully reminded that she was barefoot. “That is what I call adding insult to injury,” she groaned as she bent to rub her sore toes.
Suddenly, she was all too aware that she was standing in the streets of Clayville in her nightgown. The cloak was adequate cover, but knowing that a thin cotton nightgown, somewhat torn by Clovis’s rough hands, was all she wore beneath it was enough to cause her acute embarrassment. Glancing around she was both relieved and frightened to find the streets deserted. She realized how very late it was. That meant that probably no one had witnessed her being thrown out, but it also meant she would have even more difficulty in finding someone to help her.
There was always the sheriff, she mused, but she did not see how Martin could help her. Hers was a family problem, not a legal one. Leanne did not think there was any law against a parent throwing a child out into the street.
“I’m not your ma.”
Charity had certainly not acted much like any mother Leanne had ever heard of or met. Other mothers might be aloof, but none of them had had a succession of “gentlemen friends,” as Charity called them. Or if they did, they were far more discreet about it. Probably had more taste too, Leanne thought nastily as her anger began to rise.
Everything she owned, little as it was, was inside that house. She decided that was reason enough to go to the sheriff. It was robbery plain and simple. If the woman was going to thrust her out into the streets she could at least thrust out what belonged to her as well. With a final glare at the house, Leanne marched off to the sheriff.
By the time she saw the sheriff, she had pushed aside her hurt and confusion, replacing it with anger. She did not stop to wonder why the sheriff was lurking outside the bank. He looked horrified when she marched up to him. Leanne decided he was probably just shocked. She doubted he had seen many young ladies wandering around in the middle of the night half-dressed.
“Sheriff, I require your assistance.”
“Get out of here, Miss Summers,” he croaked. “Go on, get out of here.”
“I would,” she snapped, “if I had someplace to get out of here to. Is there something wrong?” she asked when she noticed how he kept looking in the window of the bank. “Is there supposed to be a light on in there?”
She glanced at him curiously when he groaned. He was shaking, and his eyes were the most restless she had ever seen. The sheriff’s gaze flickered nervously over the town, to her, to the inside of the bank and back to the town. She felt he ought to be concentrating on the bank, for Mr. Poitier never left a light on.
“I think you ought to look into this, Sheriff,” she said as she sidled up to the window.
“Please, go home, Miss Summers,” he said, a distinct tremor in his voice.
“I have no home to go to. That is what I came to speak to you about.”
Standing on her tiptoes she was just able to peer in the bank window. What she saw made her heart skip a beat. There were five masked men in the bank, and they were in the last stages of picking it clean. She looked at the sheriff, sure he must be aware of what was going on, but he just stood there staring at her.
“The bank is being robbed,” she hissed. “Aren’t you going to do something?”
“Please go home, Miss Summers,” he whined.
“I keep telling you, I have no home to go to. Well, if you are just going to stand there and cower, I shall do something.”
She yanked his gun out of his holster, and stared as he hissed a curse and raced off down the street. There was a chance he was going to get some other men and she wondered if she should just wait. Then she shook her head. The man had been acting so strangely, there was no depending on him. Although she did not know what she could do against five men, she decided she had to do something. She could not simply stand there and let them steal everything, nor could she run for help. There was no time left. From what she had seen, they were very nearly done.
Straightening her slender shoulders, she decided that surprise would be her best weapon. Throwing open the bank door, she marched inside and pointed the gun at them, hoping that they would not guess that she had little idea of how to use the weapon.
“Put down your weapons—now.” She was pleased with the iciness of her voice.
Even as they turned to gape at her, Leanne realized she had made a serious error in judgment. She had seen five men when she peered in the window, but now she saw only four. By the way the other men kept looking from her to some point beyond her, she had the sinking feeling that the fifth man was right behind her. Rushing in to stop the bank robbers could well be one of the rashest things she had done in all her eighteen years. She wondered when and how the fifth man would strike.
Tarrant Hunter Walsh stared dumbfounded at the tiny lady facing down his companions. She was so small, she had to hold the pistol in two hands, but she did not seem to waver in her militant stance. He found it hard to believe that something so unexpected could threaten to ruin months of work.
“If you do not come out where I can see you, I will shoot your friends.” Leanne hoped she had made that dire threat sound believable. “I shall count to five. One . . .”
Hunter wondered where Sheriff Martin had gone.
“Two . . .”
He wondered how such a slim, delicate neck could support all that rich blonde hair.
“Three . . .”
“Hell, Hunter, do something about the stupid bitch.”
“Four . . .”
Hunter wondered what Luke thought he could possibly do that would not end up with someone shot.
“Five.”
Leanne did not really think. She simply followed through. She had made her threat, she had finished counting, so she fired. The gunshot sounded very loud in her ears as she was sent careening backwards.
Cursing viciously, Hunter grabbed the young woman who stumbled into him. He cursed even more when he found himself in the midst of an undignified struggle for the pistol. When he finally wrestled her to the ground and took the pistol from her, he sat on her and wondered idly how such a delicate hand could have such a tenacious grip. He had not had so much trouble trying to snatch something from someone since he had tried to yank a sugar candy from his brother Owen when they were small boys. Ignoring her muffled cries, which sounded very much like curses, he looked at the other men, suddenly realizing that Jed was howling like a wounded bull.
“She done shot Jed in the foot,” Luke growled.
“I hit someone?” Leanne asked in surprise as she turned her head in a fruitless attempt to see something.
“What the hell do you expect when you shoot a gun?” Hunter snapped, glaring at her.
“Certainly not to end up with some jackass sitting on me.”
He ignored that. “We have to get out of here. That shot could have roused someone. Get the money on the horses.”
“You cannot take that.” Leanne found speech difficult in her current position. “The people here need that money.”
“Ain’t that a shame.” Luke threw her a glare as he hurried by her.
She gave a squeak of surprise as the man on her stood up then yanked her to her feet. Although she listened closely, she could hear no outcry and feared that the town was going to sleep blissfully through its own ruin. Thinking of the people who needed that money for food and mortgages and livestock, she glared at the man who was keeping her from fleeing and rousing the townspeople herself.
“Why don’t you go out and earn money like decent folks do? You’re all strong and healthy.”
“I used to be ’til some stupid bitch shot my foot clean off,” growled Jed as Tom helped him out to the horses.
“We’re smarter’n them sodbusters,” Luke said as he came back in and collected the last of the money. “What do we do with her?”
Hunter knew only one answer and hated it. “We take her with us.”
“What for?” demanded Leanne.
“You know too much.”
“All I know is that five masked bits of refuse from the gutter are taking what doesn’t belong to them.”
After glaring at her, Luke said, “She’s right. She doesn’t know anything.”
“She might not see it yet, but she knows and it’ll only take a few smart questions to bring it out. She’s coming.”
Tom stuck his head back inside the door. “Someone’s seen us.”
Leanne tried to drag her feet as her captor towed her out the door. Her lack of weight made her delaying tactics futile. He was still dragging her along at a near trot.
Her eyes widened when they got outside. The whole town seemed to be spilling out into the streets. Leanne saw the sheriff, as well as Charity and Clovis. She also saw rescue.
“Help me,” she called, trying to pull free of her captor’s grip before he could get her onto a horse.
“There she is. She stole my gun,” the sheriff cried as he pointed an accusing finger at Leanne. “She sidled up to me all sweet and helpless, then turned on me. I was lucky to get away with my life.”
Something told her the man who held her was as surprised as she was by the sheriffs accusation, for his grip on her lessened enough for her to pull free. She took a few steps toward the suspicious, angry crowd. A part of her was aware that the thieves were not standing around waiting to see how this confrontation came out. They saw an angry, armed crowd and were running for their lives. She had a sudden urge to tell them they need not worry about those guns. There was no one in town who could hit the broad side of a barn, but it was a fact quickly revealed when a few people shot at the fleeing men. She had the unsettling feeling that she should have gone with them.
BOOK: Hannah Howell
5.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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