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Authors: Patricia; Potter

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BOOK: Wanted
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“Waiting?”

“That's right” There was a curious look in his eyes now. Skeptical and a bit abashed. Lori knew he had said a great deal more than he intended. “You're a good listener, Miss Lori.”

“Like you, I learned certain skills when I was young.”

“I wouldn't think listening would be one of them.”

Sparks were there between them now, live and biting. Intense. Frightening. Lori felt as though she were losing control, floundering in waters she didn't really understand. Her gaze met his, dueled, and unfamiliar warm currents flooded her body, so very aware of his lean, straight one across from her.

“What would you think would be one of them?”

“I studied the Braden family, Miss Lori. Cardsharping. Selling whiskey as medicine. A swindle here and there. You're right there in the middle.”

“Are you always so judgmental?” Lori hated the slight tremor in her voice, that edge of hurt.

His gaze met hers, the already deep blue darkening with thoughts only he knew, which he kept to himself. “I try not to be judgmental at all,” he said.

“You just do your job?” she replied, the sarcasm back.

“Yes.”

“But you are judgmental, Ranger,” she said, the tremor gone now. “You'd made up your mind about us long before you came here. You don't know anything about us.”

“The evidence …” Christ, he was doing it again. Defending himself for doing his job. Yet he regretted his words about her family. He abruptly summoned the waiter, paid the bill, and rose. “It's been … interesting, Miss Lori.”

“It has, hasn't it?” she agreed, her eyes flaring with anger, and Morgan wondered what she was planning now. A prison break wouldn't surprise him, even hopeless as it was.

She wended her way through the crowded room, ignoring him as she reached the main reception area, then went up the stairs. At her door she stopped, turned, and faced him. “Thank you,” she said simply. He had expected a taunt of some kind, another challenge delivered, and the lack of one worried him. He looked at her suspiciously. “What are you planning?”

“A good night's sleep, Mr. Davis.”

“Why do I doubt that?”

“Because you're a suspicious man,” she said with that charming smile of hers. “Would it help if I swore that's all I had in mind tonight?”

He believed her. For once he believed her, even as he weighed every word.

“Then good night,” he said, realizing he'd damn well better sleep tonight since hell might break loose the next one.

She hesitated, looking up at him as if searching for something. Morgan found himself pierced by those striking golden eyes, eyes unexpectedly vulnerable again with a plea he knew he couldn't grant. The heat that had danced between them since the first moment he'd seen her, the sparks kindled during their probing at dinner, roared into flames.

Morgan had been acquainted often enough with a woman's desire to recognize it now, even though he knew it was all mixed up with other more dangerous emotions. He told himself it was exactly that combination that excited and tantalized him in a way he'd never experienced before. It couldn't be anything else.

Her face was inches from him, her scent of wildflowers hovering in the air, teasing his senses. A fever he'd never known for a woman rushed through him, consuming what good sense he had, making mockery of his vaunted self-control. He felt a stirring deep inside, a hunger that was both familiar and new.

Still, he could have walked away, if her own face hadn't been creased in a kind of wondering confusion, if her own eyes hadn't suddenly glowed with the same fervor that was burning him.

Her lips suddenly seemed to beckon him, and he lowered his own to hers with a desperate need that astounded him with its intensity. Giving in to that need made him angry, and his mouth was anything but gentle. It sought, it took. He suddenly wanted to be the conqueror, but her mouth was as hungry as his, as demanding, and the air between them exploded into a firestorm. Anger and raw need crackled between them, fueling emotions too complicated to understand, much less to control.

He was taking her brother to hang. She was trying to stop him. The rational part of him knew that, but irrationality reigned. For some godforsaken reason, desire—irresistible desire—was taking possession of two people who distrusted each other with every ounce of their being. But that knowledge only served to deepen the fierce, elemental hunger that seized them both. Like forbidden fruit.

Except Morgan had never wanted forbidden fruit before, had never succumbed to whatever devil there was that made usually sensible people want what they couldn't have.

Their mouths crushed together, and some part of Morgan's mind knew she was as helpless as he—and as angry about it. He knew it in the desperation of the kiss and the fierceness of hands that crawled up around his neck. They were reckless and demanding, the fingertips biting into his skin.

His tongue sought its way into her mouth, and he was surprised at her gasp, as if she had never been so invaded before. But she responded with renewed fire, her own tongue exploring his, fighting even while responding. He heard a moan issue from his throat as their bodies pressed together and he felt his arousal against her—and for the briefest moment her body moved even closer to him. Then, suddenly, she wrenched away, her eyes huge with bewilderment, glazed with a mist that had nothing to do with tears.

She stared at him for a moment, and he saw her tremble, her lips quiver with a denial that was like a blade through his soul.

“No,” she whispered. She spun around, opened the door to the room, and disappeared inside, leaving him to stare at a dirty wall, his body in tight, painful knots and his thoughts in a confused disarray he never thought possible.

CHAPTER FIVE

Lori spent the next morning avoiding the Ranger. She kept telling herself she had to think of him that way. Not as Morgan Davis. Not as an individual, not as a man she'd kissed. Dear Mary and Joseph, how they had kissed. She flushed every time she remembered it, which was altogether too often.

She had to think of him as the man taking Nick to hang, not a man who had aroused such remarkable sensations within her, that deep, wanting need that had pulsed inside her all night long, keeping her from sleep, from being able to think. She had never felt such things before, had never experienced the irresistible lure to explore them farther.

Even less did she want to think of dinner, of those few moments when he had lowered his guard and she had sensed that wistfulness, that wry acceptance of a lonely childhood that almost made him likable. Almost.

She hated her body for betraying her, her mind for allowing any emotion other than fierce anger.

Over and over again, during the long night, she reminded herself of exactly what he was. A Ranger who could, and would, without compunction, destroy her brother—and with him, her family. If anything happened to Nick, it would break all their hearts, especially her mother's.

Lori suffered through the night, through dawn, the torment of both her physical and emotional reactions to Morgan Davis. She finally rose and sat at the window, watching the street below fill with people. She sat unmoving until she saw the Ranger leave the hotel, heading for the stage office. Probably checking on the stage again, she thought balefully. And then she left her room—to send a telegram to her friend in Denver.

She next went by the stables to visit Clementine and was told by the owner that she was not allowed near the horse. Tears did nothing to bend the man's resolve, and she guessed that the Ranger had slipped him a few extra dollars. Full of simmering anger, along with grudging appreciation for his foresight, she visited the mercantile to see what she could find that might be helpful. Unfortunately, she didn't have sufficient money for a gun, but she was good at improvising and soon found something useful.

She kept looking around to see if the Ranger was following her, but she saw nothing. He was either very good at following discreetly, or he felt confident enough in his own plans that he disregarded her as a threat. He would pay for that piece of male arrogance, she told herself. Over and over again she told herself that—to keep from remembering last night.

She fingered the bottle of laudanum she had just purchased and considered her plan. Lori knew the Ranger would probably keep tabs on both the mercantile and the gunsmith's shop. He was too careful not to. At least she hoped as much. It was important that he know about her little purchase.

She had pondered all night over how to outfox him, after reaching the conclusion that charm wasn't going to work—not with a man who had practically been born a lawman. The alternative made her physically ill. Her stomach constricted, and she knew she was committing herself to something that would forever haunt her. But she saw no choice, none at all. She couldn't let Nick down; she represented his best opportunity, no matter what either man thought She couldn't take a chance that Nick would escape on his own—not with the singularly careful way the Ranger handled him.

But she had to have a gun, and she had to have wits. Her cunning could be of much more value than violence. She searched every alternative open to her. She was depending on the Ranger's caution, that he would discover her purchase, think she planned to drug him and steal the weapons, and would be waiting for her tonight.

Two men through here two days ago, looking for your man
. The sheriff's words. Bounty hunters. The Ranger had been speaking the truth—but, then, he would, she thought somewhat bitterly.

So they hadn't been safe at all. Lori wondered whether Nick would ever be safe again. Certainly not as long as Morgan Davis was alive.

She forced her thoughts back to the immediate problem—freeing Nick
now
. Then they could worry about the future. She looked at the bottle of laudanum she had bought. Considering the Ranger's extreme distrust of her, he would probably be checking on her movements as well as items in her room. In fact, she was depending on it.

Lori knew there was no way to free Nick from the territorial prison. Nor could she harm Morgan Davis before he left with her brother. If a Ranger was killed, another would be sent to retrieve Nick. They would, in fact, probably send an army. Morgan was very much one of theirs, she had discovered from her conversation with him last night.

No, she would let the Ranger take Nick back into custody—then she would ambush them someplace along the way. But she had to have a gun, and she had to slip away from the Ranger before he put her on the stage in the morning and she lost her chance to follow them. The Ranger knew there were bounty hunters on the trail, and he wouldn't tarry long in Laramie to look for her. Nor would he take the route across open plains. She figured, instead, he would try to slip through the mountains.

She needed a gun and her horse. And she thought she knew exactly where and how she could get them.

The sheriff!

When she was in his office, she hadn't missed seeing the number of gunbelts hanging from the wall, probably those of the unfortunates locked in his jail. She just might be able to liberate a gun, one that wouldn't be missed for a while. She doubted the sheriff counted them each time a visitor entered his office. And she could appeal to him for the return of Clementine. She tried to remember every word the Ranger had said to the sheriff. Nothing damaging about her, nothing that would create suspicion. And Lori hadn't missed the admiration in the Laramie lawman's eyes.

She brushed her hair now until it literally shot off sparks. She had fashioned it into a French knot last night to look older; today she let it hang loose to look younger. Young and innocent—and in need of help to escape a heartless Texan.

Lori tucked the bottle of laudanum into the small carpet bag, tore a piece of sheet from the end of the bed, and tied two strips around the upper calf of her leg, three inches apart She then pinched her cheeks to bring color into them. After checking the streets, she hurried to the sheriff's office.

He was sitting exactly where he had been before, and he stood slowly as she entered, nodding to her, the gleam of admiration obvious in his eyes. Lori bit her lips nervously and gave him a wide-eyed, pleading look.

“Sheriff Castle …”

He looked pleased that she had remembered his name.

“I … I was hoping you could help me.”

He smiled. “If I can.”

“Can he … can that Ranger really take my brother back to Texas? He's innocent. He shot to protect me when that … man he's accused of murdering tried to … tried to rape me.”

The sheriff's eyes narrowed. “That so?”

She nodded. “But his family was influential, and his father put up that reward money. That's all the Ranger cares about … and the fact that someone mistook him for my brother. He doesn't care about justice at all.”

The sheriff eyed her shrewdly for a moment, then relaxed. “I wish there was something I could do, miss, but he has that Texas warrant.”

“That doesn't give him any say over me, does it?” she asked.

He shook his head. “None I can see.”

“He's taken my horse, told the stableman I can't even see it.” She blinked tears back. “Clementine's the only thing I have left.”

“No other family, miss?”

“My father in Denver,” she said, her eyes filling with tears again. “He's getting on in years—this is going to kill him. I have to get to him, but the stage takes too long … and there's Clementine. I've had her since I was …” She looked away, her voice trembling.

He looked at her in horror. “You can't ride alone, miss. Not in this country.”

“I thought you might know … some trustworthy person I could hire to accompany me.” Now that, she thought, should relieve his conscience.

There was a noise in the back, where she guessed the cells were. He looked impatient, but the noise grew louder as if there was a fight back there. More like a gift from God, she thought. She had been praying for a disruption of some kind.

BOOK: Wanted
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ads

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