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Authors: The Honor-Bound Gambler

Lisa Plumley (8 page)

BOOK: Lisa Plumley
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Oh my. “
,” Violet specified shakily. “And

“Hmm.” A low, speculative rumble escaped him. “I can’t rightly promise either...seeing as how I’ve been hungering for this every day since I saw you last.” Cade squeezed her hands again, almost longingly. “I want you, Violet. Let me have you.”

Let me have you
. No one had ever spoken to her that way before. So passionately, so

At Cade’s roughly voiced request, Violet could hardly refuse. Willfully, she nodded. Her entire midsection tightened with eagerness, filled with uncertainty about what came next.

“Yes,” she began primly. “Yes, if you like, you may—”

Kiss me
, she was about to say, but Cade’s mouth came down on hers just as that last puff of breath was about to escape.

Every bit of what she’d been thinking flew from her head. All that remained were Cade’s lips, surprisingly warm and firm and soft on hers, and Cade’s hands, releasing her hands to pull her whole body tight against his, and Cade’s hips, pressing against her skirts, crowding them against the desk behind her.

His kiss was not gentle. It was not quick. It was hard and slow and probing and remarkable, and Violet wasn’t quite sure how—given how dizzy she felt with shock and amazement—she remained upright beneath it. Cade’s hands cradled her back; his lips slid over hers, making her mouth come alive with new sensations. A wild burst could only be
, she knew, rushed to her toes. Avidly, Violet grabbed his lapels and held on, but even that was not enough to steady her. She needed...

“Oh, Violet.” Moaning with enjoyment, Cade pressed his forehead to hers. Intimacy rushed between them, heady and new. He stroked her cheek, pushing back a few errant tendrils of hair. He curled his knuckles against her jaw. “You’re so...”

Helplessly, she froze, waiting for him to say something thoughtless or unkind. Once, a blacksmith’s apprentice who’d courted her briefly had kissed her, also.
I never thought I’d find myself kissing you!
he’d tactlessly burst out afterward.

It had taken her days to stop feeling ashamed of that.

“—so perfect,” Cade said at last. Seeming truly to mean it, he blessed her with a smile. “So perfect in every way.”

“You’re joking,” she burst out. “You

“Give me more,” he urged. “I’ll try to be gentler.”

Warily, Violet raised her eyebrow.

Sensing her skepticism—and feeling inexpressibly saddened by it—Cade stroked her cheek again. “I promise I won’t hurt you,” he said.

Markedly unsure of that, all at once, Violet exhaled. She shook her head. “You can’t promise me that.”

“I just did.” A
gentle kiss. “Believe me, Violet.”

But it was too late. She’d already been reminded of the way her infrequent suitors usually reacted to her. She couldn’t help wondering: Exactly what, if anything, made Cade different?

Astutely, the gambler gazed at her. “How many?”

Violet blinked, surprised. “How many what?”

“How many men have hurt you? How many have disappointed you? How many have made you believe in them, then let you down?”

Shakily, Violet scoffed. “None,” she lied, subtracting every single man who’d courted her briefly, then revealed that he didn’t want to marry her, had found someone else, or had only wanted to meet Adeline. Irked that he could read her feelings and her past so well, she raised her chin. “None at all.”

His gaze met hers. “Someday you’ll tell me the truth.”

“How do you know I haven’t already?”

“Because your whole body tells me you haven’t.” Tenderly, Cade ran his fingers down her arm. He stroked his thumb over her wrist. “I can feel you leaning toward me, wanting more—”

She felt herself flush. Compared with him, she was so inexperienced. So gullible. So defenseless to protect her heart.

“But a part of you always stays behind.” Cade’s coaxing hand swept along her arm. He watched its progress, seeming transfixed by the sight of his masculine hand against her lace-trimmed gown. “Give me more. I won’t disappoint you, I swear.”

Violet tried to laugh. She tried to appear worldly and sure. Maybe if Cade believed she was sophisticated and carefree, he wouldn’t recognize the disappointment and worry she tried so hard to keep hidden. But it was too late. He already had.

“Give over, Violet,” he urged. “Do it. It’s the only way to feel alive.”

was a reckless philosophy. Violet opened her mouth to tell him so, but Cade met her with another kiss. She lifted her chin to muster up a more assertive, more convincing stance, but Cade took advantage of her position to kiss her neck. Shocked to feel his mouth there above the lacy collar of her dress, Violet stiffened. Ardently, Cade kissed her there again. This time, a tiny, barely perceptible squeal of enjoyment escaped her.

“See there?” Cade grinned. “
you feel alive.”

Her plan to fly to new heights was working, Violet thought in a daze. Never had she felt anything so wondrous as Cade’s warm mouth, his faint, raspy beard stubble, his hands and his breath and his body—so much bigger and stronger than hers—holding her close against him. His kisses moved onward, sliding from her neck to her jaw, and all the while he kept on speaking.

“All I want is for you to feel wonderful,” Cade said in a low voice. “I want your heart to race...just like it’s doing right now.” Proving he’d noticed it, he laid her hand, covered with his, atop her heart. The gesture felt almost impossibly intimate. “I want your breath to pant and your knees to weaken.”

Obligingly, her body complied. Violet didn’t understand. If she didn’t yet trust him, how could she be so responsive to him?

“I want you to touch me, too, Violet.” Cade delivered another kiss, potent and sweet, just at the junction of her neck and jaw. “I want to feel your hands on me...just like this. Mmm.”

At his soft moan, Violet opened her eyes. When had she closed them? Swoonily, she saw that Cade had moved their joined hands from
heart to
. Specifically, to his chest. Upon finding herself touching him so boldly, she widened her gaze.

But there was more. “
heart is pounding, too!” she said.

His nod exhilarated her. “I like kissing you,” Cade said in a matter-of-fact tone. “I
kissing you. I knew I would.”

Violet disagreed. “You couldn’t have known that.”

His dimples flashed. “Only you would argue the point.”

She smiled. “Only you would dare such an enormous bluff.”

Cade merely shook his head. “What will it take for you to believe me? I’m right about us. I’m right about us

His blue-eyed gaze suggested there was something about them being
that Cade knew...and she did not. Trying not to blush any more forcefully than she already had, Violet fluttered her fingers over his shirtfront. What did he look like underneath it? she wondered suddenly. Was he burly? Hairy? Both?

She bet he looked like an Adonis, splendidly come to life.

Shocked by her own prurient curiosity, Violet lowered her hands. Evidently, Cade brought out all kinds of new qualities in her. If this continued, he wouldn’t need any persuasive ability to make her do...whatever he wanted. And wasn’t that the trouble?

“You can trust me, Violet,” Cade said. “You know you can.”

He was probably right. Of everyone she knew, Cade was the only one who’d never tried to sugarcoat his opinions of the way she looked or the way she behaved. Cade had never pretended to love her. He’d never even gone out of his way to be particularly solicitous of her. He was characteristically blunt and fully undaunted by the attitudes of other people. He was...

On the other hand, Violet remembered, Cade took chances for a living. He wagered on everything from playing cards to dice to her own homemade apple pandowdy.
I make my living on hope and happenstance,
he’d told her once.
Honesty doesn’t enter into it.

Did that mean she could trust him? Or not?

Unhappily, she recalled what her best friend, Adeline, had said upon learning of Cade’s interest in Violet.
You’d better be cautious,
Adeline had told her.
You don’t want to get hurt.

What Adeline
said was what they both knew: that Cade’s newfound devotion might be both short-lived and heartbreaking for Violet to that she’d sampled it.

“Well, I guess you probably have about a week’s worth of luck by now,” Violet settled on saying, sidestepping the issue of trust altogether. Brightly, she smiled. “That’ll do, right?”

“No.” Cade frowned. “Because this isn’t about good luck.”

“It isn’t?”

“Not anymore. You make me want
than luck. Much more.”

“You’re a gambler, Cade.” Violet turned away, hoping to divert herself by straightening the papers on her father’s cluttered desk. “What more is there for you, besides luck?”

Silence. But only for a moment.

“I was hoping you could tell me that,” Cade said.

Violet didn’t have the first notion how to do so. Hedging, she said, “Until my father agrees that I may see you on a social basis, I’m afraid I can’t comment on our...relationship.”

“Then there is one. Good.” There was a smile in his voice. “That’s a start, at least. That means both of us are anteing up.”

“I’m not a poker game,” Violet protested, “to be bet upon!”

“I guess we’ll see about that.” As she turned to him again, Cade tipped his hat to her. “I’ll be back. You can bet on that yourself—even without an infamous gambler’s credentials to your name.”

Then, with an audacious wink, Cade exited to the churchyard, leaving Violet to wonder exactly what he meant—and if she should bet on anything at all where the gambler was concerned.

* * *

Outside under a ponderosa pine tree, Simon Blackhouse stood smoking a cheroot. A farmer wandered past, giving the itinerant bachelor an inquisitive look—undoubtedly owing to Blackhouse’s fancy suit, air of privilege...and close-at-hand valet, Adams.

Approaching his benefactor, Cade didn’t feel as awkward as that farmer undoubtedly did. But he did feel unaccountably grim.

“Will she do it?” Blackhouse asked.

Cade gave a curt nod. Behind him in the church, the people of Morrow Creek went about their Sunday worship—unknowingly, with a freshly kissed Violet Benson beaming in their midst.

She hadn’t been kissed much, Cade decided. Or she hadn’t been kissed very well. But what Violet lacked in tutoring, she made up for in sheer, stirring responsiveness. With Violet all warm and pliant and soft in his arms, Cade had felt luckier than a riverboat gambler with a handful of aces and no table limit.

“Good. You’ll need her.” Expansively, Blackhouse offered Cade a cheroot—or rather, at his signal, Adams proffered the box of elegant, square-tipped cigars. Cade accepted one. “I was beginning to think you couldn’t catch up with Whittier on your own. I was considering calling in a fallback to make certain.”

“I’ll catch up with Whittier.” Discontentedly, Cade eyed the small, white-painted church. In a minute, congregants would begin streaming out, full of chatter and kindheartedness. Men would stretch and collect their wagons; women would tidy their children’s hair; youngsters would let loose the energy they’d kept pent up while stuck in their pews. They’d holler their glee at being free from confinement for the rest of the afternoon.

Dimly, Cade recalled doing all those things with Judah...and his parents. But the memories felt faded and bittersweet, almost too hazy to believe they’d happened to anyone...least of all him.

“Someone else might be even more motivated to find Whittier,” Blackhouse was saying. He withdrew his favorite match safe, a shiny gold model engraved with a full house of cards. In a whiff of sulfur and a crackle of fire, he struck a match to light Cade’s cheroot. “Your brother, for instance?”

Over the glowing tip of his newly lit cheroot, Cade eyed Blackhouse. “Judah and I agreed. When I won that Jürgensen, I earned the right to track down Whittier.
did. No one else.”

“Ah, yes. The famed ‘luckiest game of your life.’”

“That’s right.”

Dubiously, Blackhouse perused the gold chain that secured Cade’s watch, tucked safely in the pocket of his ornate wool vest. “If only you’d known that it was Whittier across the table from you that night,” he said. “That it was
watch you were winning. Things might have unfolded very differently.”

Cade wished they had. But he refused to say so.

“I’ve often wondered...” Blackhouse went on in a cryptic fashion. “Do you think Whittier lost on purpose? Maybe he
you to have that Jürgensen. Just because you didn’t know who he was doesn’t mean he didn’t know who you were...even then.”

At that, Cade felt even less talkative. Drawing on his cheroot, he gazed contemplatively at the church. From inside it, the homespun sound of the congregants’ singing reached its crescendo. That meant the service was almost over, he reckoned.

“I always liked that hymn,” he remarked without thinking.

Blackhouse’s raised eyebrow brought him back to himself quickly. Cade didn’t want hymns. He wanted answers. Period.

“All this goodness and God talk is giving me a headache.” With a jerk of his head, Cade indicated the dusty street nearby. “How about a bolt of mescal and a fast round of Mexican monte?”

“Yes!” Blackhouse appeared immeasurably cheered. “As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t feel I’d visited the Arizona Territory properly if I didn’t sample more of...
those things,” he said. “Come along, Adams! We have winning to do.”

Just as the worshippers began filing out into the churchyard, Cade escaped in the opposite direction with Blackhouse and Adams hard on his heels. That made twice now that he’d eluded redemption, it occurred to him, and by a narrow margin each time, too. But Cade couldn’t help wondering as he headed away from the church and all its virtuous believers: Would he ever stop running...if Violet ever asked him to?

BOOK: Lisa Plumley
10.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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