Authors: LaVyrle Spencer
"You purposely came back to cause trouble between David and me, don't deny it."
"I'm not denying it. But I changed my mind last night while we talked. What happened here today was not planned. It just happened."
"But you… you tricked me into this room, into… into sitting in that rocking chair and… and…"
"But you wanted it just as bad as I did."
The truth was still too frightening for her to face, and she was, as always, confounded by his changeability. She could not help wondering what his motives were today. She swung around him and swooped toward the screen in the corner, accusing, "It's all a big game to you, manipulating people so th
"This is not a game, Abbie," he argued, following her right around the screen, talking to her shoulder as she turned her back on him. "I'm asking you to marry me."
She unbuttoned her cuffs as if they were made of itchweed. "Oh, wouldn't we be the laughingstock of Stuart's Junction—Miss Abigail and her train robber!" She turned to him, yanking at the sleeves, affecting the sugary tone of a gossip. "Oh, you remember, don't you? The couple who were caught in the act the day before her impending marriage to another man?" She yanked the bodice down, fuming. He moved up close behind her.
"That in itself should tell you that we're right for each other. You know damn well you enjoy it more with me than with him or you never would have let me get as far as I did today."
She whirled on him, holding some garment over her breasts. "How dare you insinuate that I did anything with David! We did nothing—absolutely nothing! We were as pure as the driven snow and this town knew it!"
They stood nose to nose, each of them glaring.
"Who gives a damn about what this town thinks? What has this town ever done for you besides label you a spinster when you were only twenty years old?"
"Get out of here when I'm changing my clothes!" she shouted, and presented her back to step out of the wedding dress, bending forward and giving him a rear view of white pantalets more ruffled than any he'd seen on her clothesline. His eyes traveled down her skin, down the shadowed hollow that receded into the white cotton waistband.
"When I get out of here, it will be with you on my arm, wearing that expensive green coat I paid for, telling this town to kiss off as we board my train!"
She yanked a camisole over her head and he watched the fine hair at the back of her neck as she looked down and tied the string at her waist.
"You're still not done flaunting your money, are you?" She threw a brief, disparaging look over her shoulder. "Well, you've come up against the one thing you can't buy!" She pulled a petticoat and skirt on and buttoned them at her waist.
"Buy you!" he shouted, "I don't want to buy you. I want you free! You have to give yourself to me freely if we get married, because you want to."
"You planned this seduction today, don't tell me you didn't." She pulled a blouse off the top of the screen and slipped her arms into it.
He reached out and got her from behind by both breasts, pulling her back against his hardness. She purposely remained aloof, acting as if his touch went thoroughly unnoticed except when she had to push his hands aside to close the buttons of her blouse.
"So we're even then, aren't we, Ab?" he asked, pressing the side of his mouth against the hair behind her ear. "Didn't you plan my seduction once? Only you succeeded where I haven't… so far." As he nuzzled her rose-scented neck, he fervently began caressing her breasts, at last awakening the fight in her She fought his hands, but he only held her tighter, slipping his palm inside her partially opened blouse, leaning to kiss the nape of her neck, sliding his other hand down her stomach, then lower. They grappled together, elbows flying, sending the screen crashing to the floor.
"You have the most unscrupulous courting methods I've ever seen!" she bawled, pulling at his wrists, but just then he got one powerful arm cinched around her stomach, his other hand once more finding its way to her breast and forcing her back against his tumescent body.
"Feel that. Tell me you don't want it. Tell me I don't know what's best for you."
For a moment she wilted and his grip slackened, giving her enough advantage to break free and spin to face him.
"How can you know what's best for me when I don't even know myself?"
Her eyes flicked to the door David had left open.
"Then I think it's time I showed you again," he threatened with honey in his voice, taking a step nearer.
Her heart was hammering wildly now, confused by the mixture of emotions Jesse could always stir up in her They eyed each other like a pair of cats at howling time, beginning slowly, slowly to circle until she gained the side of the room closest to the hall. Suddenly she turned and hit for the door, but he had it slammed so fast the wind dried her eyeballs. She backed away, big-eyed, panting, feeling the throb of her pulse in every wary nerve of her body.
He leaned back casually, holding the doorknob behind his back. One foot was flat on the floor, the other crossed in front of it with only the toe of his boot on the floor. He wasn't even breathing heavily. He lounged there as if he had all the time in the world, the ghost of a grin crawling up one side of his mouth while those hazel-flecked eyes assessed her with a tinge of knowing mirth. His voice was soft, cajoling, seductive.
"You know we're doing it again, don't you? The old courting dance we both love so much. This is the way we always start out, Abbie—me pursuing, you fighting me off. But this is no fight and you know it, because in the end we both win." He brought his shoulders away from the door in slow motion. "So come here you little hell-cat," he ended with a hoarse whisper, "because I'll only stalk you so long before I pounce."
She loved it, she'd missed it, she wanted it, this hammering of the senses that exhilarated like nothing else she'd ever experienced as she waited, waited, knowing what he'd do. Her breasts were heaving and her eyes sparkled, but like a true hellcat she spit one more time. "Come here! Do this! Do that! Marry me!
And then what? Go through this for the rest of our lives!"
His grin grew bolder. "You're goddamn right," he said, low.
"Oh, you… you…"
But he was done waiting.
"Damn…"he muttered, and sprang! He grabbed her wrists and swung her adeptly until her back slammed flat against the closed door. His hands grasped her beneath the armpits and she felt her feet leave the floor as he lifted her bodily, holding her plastered against the mahogany panel, kissing her. His wide palms bracketed the sides of her breasts while his lips, too, held her prisoner, controlling hers, sending spasms of desire rippling through her body, directed each to its own nerve by his mastering tongue.
Emotions stormed her senses while Jesse stormed her body, breathing now like a hurricane while he besieged her with deep kisses, his tongue fierce and probing, impaling her against the door.
At last he freed her mouth, gazing with dark, tempestuous eyes into hers.
"Damnit, Abbie, I love you. It was me saying I love you before, for myself, not for David."
She seemed unable to speak, and they both suddenly realized he still had her up against that door. He let her slide slowly down, a last hairpin dropping unnoticed from her hair. When her toes touched the floor, he continued holding her lightly by both breasts, searching her eyes for some sign of entente.
"What do you say, Abbie?"
Her eyes, kindled yet confused, sparkled within the shock of loosened hair framing her face.
"How can I marry a man I'm afraid of half the time, who just flung me against a door?"
A pained expression crossed his face and he dropped his hands from her breasts to her ribs, touching her gently, caringly.
"Oh, God, did I hurt you, Abbie? I didn't mean to hurt you." He kissed one of her eyelids, then the other, then backed away to look into her blue eyes, his voice as close to tortured as she'd ever heard it. "Are you really afraid of me, Abbie? You don't ever have to be afraid of me. All I want to do is make you happy, make you laugh, maybe moan… but not from hurt. From this…"
He closed her eyes once again with his lips, then trailed them down her nose to her cheek, along her delicate jaw to her chin, then finally up to her lips, which had fallen open by the time he reached them. His hands went to the shoulders of her unbuttoned blouse, squeezing until she thought her bones would crack. But his mouth upon hers was a direct contrast to the pressure of his hands—soft, gentle, convincing, while his warm tongue skimmed lightly, lightly over her lips, then over her teeth before he moved to her ear and said into it. "Admit it, Abbie, it's what you want too. Be honest with me and with yourself."
"How can I be honest when you've got a hold on me this way? Jesse, I can't think."
He cautiously dropped his hands, but only to her ribs, riding them lightly as if afraid she might escape him yet. And there they lay, warm, large, spanning her torso, one of his thumbs reaching up to brush the underside of her breast while he searched her face.
"Abbie, you said you had to shout to the empty rooms when I was gone, trying to be free of me. Doesn't that tell you something?"
Her eyes pleaded but he did not relinquish his hold on her. Instead, the warmth from his palms seeped through the layer of cotton over her skin, his hands now inside the blouse, on her ribs, that long thumb still arousing her to shivery sensuality as it slid slowly back and forth.
"I'm so mixed up," she said in a trembling voice, eyes sliding closed, head resting back wearily against the door.
"You have a right to be. I'm exactly the opposite of what you've been told all your life was right for you.
But I am right, Ab, I am."
She rolled her head from side to side, swallowing. "I don't know… I don't know."
"Yes, you do, Abbie. You know what kind of life we'd have. We're good together at everything we do.
Talking, arguing, making love, making sense… and nonsense. What are you afraid of, Abbie, that you'll get hurt again? Or of what this town will say? Or what David will say?"
She opened her eyes but looked over his shoulder at the lacy window curtain and the snow beyond.
"I've hurt David so badly." Her nostrils flared and her eyes slid shut.
"Maybe you had to, for your own salvation."
"No, nobody deserves to be hurt like that."
"Did you, thirteen years ago?"
She looked into his eyes again.
"I refuse to appease my conscience by saying two wrongs make a right."
"Then let me share part of the blame for hurting him. Hell, I'll even march up the street and apologize to him if that's what it takes to win you. Is that what you want me to do, Abbie?"
Tears suddenly stung her nose, for the loss of David, for this man's devotion. She somehow believed Jesse meant it and would actually face David and apologize. After all, Jesse was a man who'd go to any lengths to get what he wanted. It struck her just how badly he wanted her. Still, she leaned against that door and let him go on convincing her, for it was heavenly standing there with his dark face so close to hers as he leaned both forearms now on either side of her head.
"There's a whole country out there, Abbie. You can pick any city you want to live in. I'll take you anyplace. You want to live like the wife of a railroad baron in some mansion in Colorado Springs, all right. It's yours. You name the place and we'll go. How about starting in New Orleans? I'll take you to see the ocean, Abbie, and to meet my family. You've always wanted to see the ocean, you told me so.
You even tried to bring a little of it here by designing that Cape Cod window in that shoe store, but I'll take you to Cape Cod to see the real thing if you want." His eyes were filled with sincerity as he went on.
"Abbie, I don't want to buy you, but I would if I had to. I'm rich, Abbie, so what's wrong with that?
What's wrong with me wanting to spend my money making you happy? I owe you my life, Abbie, let me give it to you…"
This, this, this, she thought, was what she had always dreamed of, the Jesse she'd always dreamed of, whispering love words in her ear, making her blood pound and her senses soar Her eyes drifted open and found his, dark, intense, promising her the world. She floated in the warm security of the knowledge of his love for her, quite unable to speak at the moment.
Is this me, she thought, Abigail McKenzie? Is this really happening? This startlingly handsome man, with his elbows leanings beside my ears, convincing me with utter sincerity in his every word that he loves me?
Her heart felt ready to explode.
He leaned to nuzzle her neck, to nip her earlobe, then touch the inside of it with the tip of his damp tongue.
"That's what I want, Ab, but what about what you want right now?"
She felt his breath—warm, fast—beating upon her ear, then his voice came again, strangled and strange, making things melt within her body. "Don't discount it as unimportant. If I slipped my hand beneath your skirt and touched your body, I know what I'd find. Don't deny that it's important, Ab. I've felt it there before because you wanted me, and I know it's there again."
And deep inside Abbie felt a welcome liquid rush of femininity, accompanied by the sensual swelling of that part of her which no man except Jesse had ever touched.
Her eyes slid closed. Her chest tightened. Her breath came jerky. Even the hair at the back of her neck felt like it had nerves, each of them aroused, ready for response.
Across the fullest part of her stomach, she felt him press his aroused body, lightly, lightly brushing from left to right, right to left, making circles on her while his palms remained pressed flat against the door above her head. Her own palms tingled, eager to be released and to touch him, yet she kept them pressed flat against the door behind her hips, drawing out this sensual mating dance to its fullest, wanting it to build slowly, slowly, slowly in tempo and heat while he rubbed against her, his shirt buttons now lightly grazing the tips of her nipples, which were drawn up tight like tiny, hard bells beneath the flimsy cotton camisole.