Read Lips That Touch Mine Online

Authors: Wendy Lindstrom

Tags: #romance, #historical fiction, #kindle, #love story, #civil war, #historical romance, #romance novel, #19th century, #award winner, #kindle book, #award winning, #civil war fiction, #backlist book, #wendy lindstrom, #romance historical romance, #historical romance kindle new releases, #kindle authors, #relationship novel, #award winning book, #grayson brothers series, #fredonia new york, #temperance movement, #womens christian temperance union

Lips That Touch Mine (30 page)

BOOK: Lips That Touch Mine
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"It's a refuge to most of us." He watched her
intently to see if she would scoff.

"From what?" she asked, her expression openly
curious.

"Responsibility, I guess." He struggled
silently for a way to explain. "Men carry a financial burden on
their backs all day. In hard times, it's damned heavy. Sometimes a
man just needs a place where he can blow off steam before it builds
into something ugly."

"We have a place. Or...we will soon. We've
been raising money for a public parlor where men can go instead
of...here."

How ridiculous. What man would want to
frequent a place like that? Boyd wouldn't. Perhaps the men who'd
signed the temperance pledge would use the room. But why? For
what?

She lowered her lashes as if she knew the
idea was ridiculous and that it would never replace the saloons.
"We're thinking of providing food and a place to read or play
games." She peeked from beneath her golden lashes. "The men could
meet women there, too."

Women? Ah, hell. Any sane, unmarried man
would jump at the opportunity to meet women in a social setting
like that. If the women got behind this, their public parlor just
might work. But not for long. Once the boys met the available
girls, and married, they would head right back to his saloon.

He smiled because she seemed so hopeful, and
he didn't have the heart to tell her it wouldn't work. "I'm sure
the men will appreciate having an option."

"It's not meant to be an option."

"I see. Well, I guess I'll have to work
harder to convince you to stop trying to close my saloon." He gave
her toes a light squeeze. He had to get his hands off her before he
slid them up her legs and gave her all the sin and vice she could
handle. "Let's see if you have the daring to learn how to play
billiards."

She toasted him with her glass then took a
healthy swallow. "This is really quite lovely." She slid off the
barstool in a rather loose-jointed manner, then swung her glass
toward the billiard table. "Lead on."

"Would you like some help with your
boots?"

She pressed her palm to the front of her
dress. Her toes peeped out from beneath the heavy blueberry-colored
velvet. "I think I'll leave them off. This seems like the perfect
opportunity to let my hair down."

He grinned. "Claire, darling, I'm really
beginning to like you."

She returned his smile, warm and open. "Our
friendship is rather...unexpected, isn't it?"

They were more than friends, but it was
enough for the time being.

Sailor scrambled from beneath the table and
butted his nose against her legs. She knelt and hugged his spotted
head to her cheek. "The Ormands have found a house and will be
leaving in the morning, so you can come visit me again."

"That will improve his life—and
mine—considerably," Boyd said. "Sailor's been irritating the hell
out of me."

"Good for you, Sailor." She giggled and
kissed the dog's head. "I need all the help I can get." The dog
stretched and gave a huge tongue-curling yawn that made her
laugh.

Boyd watched her play with his dog, enjoying
her new, uninhibited side. Sailor wheezed and pushed against her,
making her wobble. Boyd caught her elbow and pulled her to her
feet.

"You've ruined my dog," he said.

"I'm just teaching him how to treat a
lady."

"That was supposed to be my job."

"Sailor's better for my intervention." Claire
finished her wine, then licked her lips and grinned up at him.
"After that first swallow it goes down easy. Should I get the
bottle?"

"Absolutely not." He handed her a billiard
stick. "You won't be able to play if you drink too much."

"I feel fine. In fact, better than ever." She
spread her arms and winced. "Well, almost fine."

He nodded toward her shoulder. "Is it causing
you much pain?"

"Surprisingly, no. It is sore, and ugly, but
the doctor says it should heal quickly." She set her glass on the
edge of the table and pointed her stick at a corner pocket. "Do we
just whack the balls into those holes?"

"Sort of." He moved her glass to the shelf
that ran the length of the west wall. "You hit this cue ball into
one of those balls to direct it into a pocket. Like this," he said,
leaning over the table.

Years of playing made the move fluid, but he
tried to slow it down for Claire's sake. The cue ball sent the nine
ball in a forty-five degree angle where it dropped into the pocket
with a thunk.

She studied the table, her eyes wide with
wonder. "You weren't even aiming in that direction."

He showed her how to direct the balls. "We'll
play fifteen-ball. The object is to sink the highest numbered balls
in any of those six pockets. The first person to reach sixty-one
points wins."

"Can I hit one?"

"Of course. Take several shots until you get
the feel of it."

On her first shot, her stick lifted out of
her fingers.

"Hold it like this." He took the stick and
demonstrated for her, then handed it back.

She adjusted her grip, but her aim was
bad.

"Stay there." He placed his hand on her back
to keep her bent over the table. Two thoughts raced through his
mind as he stared at her rounded behind, but he chose the safer
course of action and put his arms around her shoulders. "I'm going
to show you how to eye this up."

To his surprise, she didn't tense up or pull
away. With a happy yip, Sailor nosed up against them.

"Not this time, pal. Go lie down." Boyd
nudged him away with his knee. Sailor trotted to the stove and
flopped down with a huff.

"Keep the stick loose in your grip," Boyd
said, turning back to his lesson with an eagerness that shamed
him.

"Like this?" Claire sawed the stick between
her slender fingers, driving him mad, making him cap his hand over
hers. Her hands felt cool, but her hip burned hot against his
thigh.

He gulped a breath and focused on the table.
"Imagine a straight line from that corner pocket through the center
of that green ball." He touched the tip of her stick to the ball.
"You want the cue ball to hit this ball right here."

"All right." She drew the stick back with a
quick jerk, but he stopped her hand.

"The motion should be smooth most of the
time." He moved the stick across her fingers in a slow are, cursing
his train of thought that circled his roguish mind on one damned
track. Her beautiful body. In his bed. "Easy," he said, speaking to
both himself and Claire. "Like this."

She turned her head, putting her face within
inches of his. "Like a bow across violin strings." The wine brought
a pink flush to her cheeks and made her eyes sparkle.

"I've never thought about it that way," he
said, battling the urge to kiss her. "But it has merit."

"It's like an art."

She was art. Graceful, glowing, beautiful. He
wanted to smooth his palms over the peaks and valleys of her body,
to learn her shape, to feel the grain of muscle and tendon along
her bones, the texture of her skin. He wanted to tighten his arms
around her and taste the skin where her neck and shoulder met, let
her scent fill his nostrils like fresh-cut pine.

"Can I try it now?" she asked.

He forced himself to step back. "Line it up
before you shoot."

She squinted at the ball, drew her stick
back, then pushed it forward with an admirably smooth stroke. The
second ball hit the edge of the pocket and rolled back onto the
table.

Her eyebrows lowered in concentration as she
lined up another shot. Five minutes or more passed while she pushed
the ball around the table, giving Boyd time to tamp down his
wayward thoughts. Finally, she sank it in the corner pocket.

"I did it." Her eyes were filled with such
surprised delight, he laughed. Sailor raised his head and gave her
a wide grin.

"Stay," Boyd ordered, knowing the dog was on
the brink of lunging to his feet to plaster Claire with affection.
He didn't blame the dog. He wanted to plaster her with affection
too.

"Can I shoot another one?" she asked.

"Of course." He nodded toward the table. "Hit
a few more, then we'll play a game."

He watched while she bent over the table,
maneuvering her graceful body to accommodate her sore shoulder,
moving the stick to make a shot. She missed often, but wouldn't
give up until she'd sunk the ball. What she lacked in skill, she
made up for with determination. He could watch her for hours.

After she'd dropped the last ball, she stood
up and braced her hand on the table. "I'm ready." she said, giving
him a bright, self-assured smile.

He bit his lip to stop his grin. Her slight
imbalance made it obvious she was feeling the wine, but she was
trying to hide it by bracing her hip against the table.

He was ready too, but not for a game of
billiards. To distract himself, he walked to the bar, retrieved the
jug of wine, then filled their glasses. "Highest score wins, so aim
for the highest-numbered balls."

She raised her glass in a mock salute. "What
are we wagering?"

He'd like to wager her into his bed, but he
doubted she would appreciate his suggestion. He scoured his mind
for something that wouldn't chase her across the street to her sad
boardinghouse. Nothing but undressing her came to mind. "I can't
think of anything."

She set her glass on the shelf. "If I lose,
I'll bake a pie for you. If you lose, you have to show me some of
your carvings. "

He chalked his stick and moved to the table.
"That's an awfully tame wager for a lady who wants to indulge in
all the sin and vice my saloon has to offer."

As he'd expected, her chin lifted, but the
move unbalanced her. She gripped the edge of the table and stared
up at him. "Name a fitting wager then."

"A kiss."

Her gaze dropped to his mouth.

"Or something less threatening if you don't
have the nerve," he teased.

Her gaze snapped back to his. "All right. But
it must be a totally improper kiss."

Oh, she was amusing. "How improper?"

"Sinful. The kind of kiss you would give a
woman while...in private."

The stick slipped through his hand and hit
the floor.

"Or something less threatening if you don't
have the nerve," she said, the challenge so thick in her voice it
made him snicker.

She reached for her glass, but he caught her
hand. She wasn't slurring her words, but she'd lost the crispness
of her speech. He didn't want her to be too drunk to remember the
kiss. Because he was damned sure going to get one.

"Save that for after the game." He turned her
toward the table, then scooped his stick off the floor. "I'll
break, then you can shoot."

He bent over the table, but stopped in
surprise when he realized his hands were shaking. The sight stunned
him. Only three events in his life had made him tremble. Carrying
his father's coffin had been one of them. Pulling his brother Kyle
from a burning building was another.

The third was the battle he waged each time
he worked on the statue.

Never had he trembled with need for a
woman.

Now his body quaked and he ached to touch
Claire, to kiss her and convince her to go upstairs with him. To
his bed. To make love.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

He stepped away from the table and blew out a
breath. This was ridiculous. It was...unnerving.

He forced himself to calm down, to focus on
the game, to stop acting like a schoolboy. But his hands still
shook, and he did a bad job of breaking the billiard balls.

"My turn?" she asked, her look so innocent
and trusting that he felt the urge to warn her to run, to get the
hell away from him before he devoured her.

She missed her shot, but didn't pout or ask
for another chance. In fact, she insisted that they play by the
rules.

"It's grown rather warm in here, don't you
think?" She pressed her palms to her flushed face.

He had a damned inferno roaring inside him,
but her comment surprised him. He had let the fire die down, and
had worried it might be getting too cool for her. "I can open a
window."

"I can't risk being seen."

He grinned. "I suppose this would be
difficult to explain to your lady friends."

"Can you imagine their faces if they saw me
drinking wine and playing billiards?" She giggled and clapped a
hand over her mouth, her gorgeous blue eyes sparkling with
laughter.

"I'd pay a small fortune to see that."

Laughter bubbled out between her fingers. She
lowered her hand, revealing a wide white smile. It was the first
time he'd noticed that one front tooth was slightly ahead of the
other. It was barely noticeable, but something about the slight
imperfection warmed him and made him want to hug her.

"Wouldn't it be gay to do something naughty
like that, then wind back time so nobody would know what you've
done?" she asked.

The implications of what she was suggesting
astonished him. He planted the stick on the floor, waiting to hear
what she might say next. "What naughty thing would you do if you
wouldn't be found out?"

She lowered her lashes. "I can't tell
you."

"Why not? You're trusting me not to tell
anyone about your visit tonight."

"True."

"Well, then, you can trust me to keep your
secret."

She seemed to consider for a moment, then she
gave him an impish smile. "I'd go swimming without any clothes
on."

He gasped in mock horror and stumbled against
the billiard table. She burst into laughter, deepening the flush in
her cheeks, but took his teasing in good humor.

"What would you do?" she asked.

He lifted his hand to stroke her warm,
beautiful face. "I'd make love to you."

Her breath whooshed out and her eyes
widened.

BOOK: Lips That Touch Mine
4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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