Violets mail order husba.., p.10
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       Violet's Mail Order Husband (Montana Brides #1), p.10

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  She led him into the room and showed him to the settee by the stairs. Then she shut the door and went back to the kitchen. She came back with two more candles and set them on the shelf next to the settee. At last, she settled herself next to Chuck.

  She took his hand again. “So,” she breathed. “Here we are.”

  “Here we are,” he replied.

  Another long silence filled the room. They both breathed heavily, and their breath mingled between their two faces. Did her own face look as vacuous and hollow as his did? The surreal light lent a magical mystery to the moment.

  Everything she knew or ever learned about the way men and women acted together when they found themselves alone vanished from her memory. The house, her family, and all the laws and conventions of propriety meant nothing now. Nothing separated her from this man. Nothing prevented her from giving herself to him, from belonging to him.

  A slight pressure reminded her they were still holding hands. What happened next? “So what do you want to do, now that we’re alone together?”

  He didn’t answer. He shifted her hand to his other, free hand, and placed the other one on her shoulder. Then he slid his arm around her shoulder and drew her to him. She smelled the meat on his breath from the supper table. Other smells of him filled her nostrils with the bloom of the range. The smells of horse, and leather, and dust hung around him like a perfume. She knew those smells. She knew the man who carried those smells. He could be no other.

  The candle light shone in his eyes. He leaned forward, and his lips grazed against hers. The warmth of his mouth melted the chill of the night from her face and rippled down her neck. She never tasted any wine as strong as his kiss.

  He pulled back to look at her in the candlelight, and their breath joined in the still air between them. His lips landed on her mouth again, lingering, feeling the soft welcome she gave them. Then he pulled back again. “It’s going to be a long wait until Friday.”

  “But worth it,” she pointed out.

  “So, so worth it.” Again, his butterfly kiss breathed its warmth into her lips. Her lips flamed with excitement, and her heart raced in her chest.

  “I didn’t think it would be like this,” she told him.

  “What did you think it would be like?” he asked.

  “We got you men to run the ranch,” she reminded him. “I didn’t think I would feel this way about you. I didn’t really think about it at all. But when I did, I didn’t think I would feel anything much for you. I thought it would be more of a business arrangement between us.”

  His eyes bored into her in the dark. “I guess I thought the same sort of thing. I didn’t think it would be like this, either. I thought we would probably keep our distance, at least right at the start. I didn’t think we’d just fall into place together, like we were made for each other.”

  “I know!” Violet breathed. “I feel like I’m coming home after being away for a long time, or that I’m finding out who I am for the first time. I don’t know how to explain it.”

  “I know what you mean,” Chuck replied. “All that silly nonsense about the prince and princess falling in love at first sight and living happily ever after really is true after all. I never would have believed it if it hadn’t happened to me.”

  So he felt it, too. “Do you think the others feel this way?”

  Chuck nodded. “From what I’ve seen of the way they’re acting, I’d say they are. All of us are walking around with our heads in the clouds. I saw the way Mick and Jake acted on the train. Believe me, they feel this way, too. I guess you’ve seen it in your sisters.”

  “I have,” Violet confirmed. “Rose was always in the clouds, but I’ve never seen her act toward anyone the way she’s acting with Jake. The two of them just sit there and stare into each other’s eyes for hours. I don’t think they took their eyes off each other once on the trip back from Butte.”

  “I noticed that,” Chuck replied. “And Mick and Iris both go all shy and smiling when they look at each other. I’m telling you, I don’t think Mick smiled once from Santa Fe all the way to Butte. I rode with him pretty much all the way, and talked to him, so I know. And he sure wasn’t shy.”

  Chapter 26

  She hesitated. “Do you think….”

  “What?” he asked.

  “You said you talked to Mick on the train up here,” she began. “Do you think he might be….dangerous?”

  “Mick!” Chuck exclaimed. “No way! What makes you think that?”

  “I don’t know,” Violet faltered. “It’s just the way he beat that man up at the train station. I guess it’s just my first impression of him. And then the way he got out his guns when we first arrived here. It made my blood run cold to watch him.”

  Chuck thought the matter over. “I don’t think he’s dangerous. He acted pretty normal on the trip up here. He didn’t beat anyone up or shoot anyone, although he was wearing a gun belt the whole time. You know how it is.”

  “It isn’t that,” Violet replied. “I’ve seen men wearing guns and carrying rifles around all my life. And I’ve seen men getting into fights, too. Why, you can’t set foot in the town of Butte without seeing someone getting mauled in the street. But Mick is different.”

  “Different, how?” Chuck asked. “He seems like your regular ol’ cowboy to me.”

  “I know you’re right,” Violet replied. “He just seems like kind of a violent brute to me.”

  “I’m wearing a gun belt,” Chuck pointed out. “And so is Jake. He wasn’t wearing it on the train, but he is now.”

  “I know he is.” Violet shivered at the memory of Jake strapping his guns on.

  “What’s wrong now?” Chuck asked.

  “Jake,” she told him. “Something about him makes my blood run cold, too.”

  “What? Not Jake, too! Now I know you’re not thinkin’ straight. Jake’s the sharpest, shrewdest, straightest tack in the box. You take my word for it. I don’t think I’ve met a man in my life who’s as clear-headed and straight-dealin’ as Jake Hamilton. You should be glad your sister’s marrying him. I wish mine was.”

  “Do you think so?” sh asked.

  “Listen,” he told her. “I talked to Jake a lot on the train out here, and I think I have a pretty good idea what sort of man he is. That Mick McAllister, he’s a regular brick. He’s solid and decent and hard-working. He’s the salt of the earth. But that Jake Hamilton, he’s another class of man altogether.”

  “How do you mean?” she asked.

  “He’s fine,” Chuck replied. “I don’t know how else to explain it, but he’s pure and clear and fine. You know what he reminds me of? He reminds me of iron that has been smelted and beaten and refined and poured into a mold to make a clear strong bell. You can beat it until you’re blue in the face, and it will just keep ringing the purest, clearest note you can imagine. It doesn’t bend, or break, or crack, or move when you beat it. It just keeps ringing. You probably think I’ve lost my mind, talking like this.”

  Violet squeezed his hand. “No. but it’s a lot to say about a person.”

  “It’s true,” Chuck told her. “You’ll see.”

  “I guess I just don’t know him,” Violet remarked.

  “You’ll get to know him,” Chuck replied. “And then you’ll see that I’m right. You’ll see I’m right about him and Mick. I’m just glad I’m out here with them. You won’t find two better men the world over.”

  “I’m glad you think so,” Violet told him. “If you think so, I’m prepared to believe it.”

  “That’s the way!” he exclaimed. “Besides, your sisters sure do seem to like ‘em.”

  “That’s the truth,” Violet replied. “I don’t think I’ve seen either Rose or Iris act this way around anyone before. They can’t stop smiling and going red in the face.”

  “And Jake and Mick act the same way,” Chuck pointed out. “I guess we’re acting that way, too, come to think of it.”

  “It sounds like all of us are lovestr
uck,” Violet remarked.

  Chuck moved closer. “I know I am.”

  He kissed her again, and this time, he caressed her cheek in his other hand. Violet let her head fall against his palm, and he cradled her in his arms. Oh, to drift away on that swaying stream of bliss! Soon, soon, she would ride away on it into a sea of forgotten harmony and never give a second thought to anything else.

  Before she knew it, the kiss turned into something else entirely. Chuck’s breath quickened, and he pressed his lips more firmly against her mouth, more insistently, more commandingly. It only seemed natural to open her mouth slightly to accommodate the additional pressure, and when she did, his tongue darted in and tickled hers.

  A fork of lightning shot through her and rocked her to her core. Instead of drifting away on a sea of bliss, she jerked upright and almost tore herself out of his arms. Chuck immediately withdrew, and his eyes sought her out in the yellow light. “We shouldn’t go too far. We have a long way to go before we’re married.”

  Violet nodded mutely. What a fool she was! Why had she reacted that way? Didn’t she long to give herself to him? Didn’t she dream day and night of nothing else? What if he turned away from her? What if her sudden repulsion disappointed him and he changed his mind about marrying her? Had she thrown away her future on this man? She only just met him! Who was he that she should give herself to him?

  The thought of separating from him struck her with grief and misery. Oh, please, don’t let it be! Don’t let him cast her away, not after all they’d been through that day! Was it only today she’d met him at the station? Was it only today Cornell threatened to cut her off? Was it only today she nearly cracked his head open on the stairs for raising his hand against Chuck?

  Chapter 27

  Chuck studied her. But he didn’t take his arms away from her the way she feared he would. In fact, he didn’t withdraw from her at all except to stop kissing her. “It’s gonna be awful hard to wait until Friday. Maybe we shouldn’t sneak off alone together anymore.”

  “Why not?” Violet asked. “Don’t you want to anymore?”

  “Sure, I want to,” Chuck replied. “But if we’re gonna do things we shouldn’t—or almost do things we shouldn’t—then maybe we shouldn’t go off alone. That’s all I’m sayin’. It would be like a refined form of torture, to be so close to you and not be able to touch you and kiss you.”

  “But….” Violet stammered. “But….but….I want to.”

  His head flew up. “You want to what?”

  “I want to be alone with you,” Violet exclaimed. “We don’t have to get carried away with anything. That’s not what I mean. But I want to go off alone with you. I’ve waited all this time for you to come, and now you’re here. I don’t think I could stand it if we didn’t. I don’t think I could stand to stay apart from you for the next three days.”

  Chuck smiled. “All right. We’ll do it. But let’s just stick to the basics—holding hands and maybe kissing. Promise me we won’t get all hot and heavy before we’re married.”

  Violet smiled. “I promise. We’ll keep calm.”

  They kissed again, and again, and again, but calmly and tenderly. Violet rocked in her feather-soft cradle, all her cares forgotten.

  “What’s going on tomorrow,” Chuck inquired.

  “What do you mean?” Violet asked.

  “Do you have anything planned?” he asked. “Any plans for getting ready for the wedding?”

  “I don’t think so,” she replied. “Like Iris told you at supper, Rita’s making the cake. Everything else is done. Our dresses, the parlor—it’s all ready. We just have to wait for the minister to get here. What about you? What are you doing tomorrow?”

  “I guess I’ll just have a look around,” Chuck told her. “I’ll ride out and have a look at the stock. I might talk to your hands about the operation. That sort of thing.”

  “You could talk to Iris, too,” Violet suggested. “She knows as much as anyone about what’s going on.”

  Chuck looked away. “I might.”

  “You really can trust her,” Violet insisted. “Even though she’s a woman, she really does know a lot about running the ranch.”

  “I never said she didn’t,” Chuck replied.

  Violet saw him set his jaw and dropped the subject of Iris.

  “Mick and Jake are going out hunting tomorrow,” Chuck observed.

  “That’s what they said,” Violet replied.

  “If they haven’t left by the time I finish looking around, I might go with them,” Chuck told her.

  Violet lowered her head. “Okay.”

  “I guess it’s time to walk you home,” Chuck remarked. “The others’ll be coming back soon.”

  “I guess so,” Violet replied.

  “Come on.” He got up off the settee.

  “I can find my own way back,” she told him. “You don’t have to come. You could stay here. That would help fool the others.”

  He peered at her in the candlelight. “I don’t think they need any foolin’. They know very well what’s goin’ on.”

  “I guess you’re right,” she replied. “But you don’t have to walk me back if you don’t want to. I can find my way.”

  “What if you meet Cornell again?” he asked.

  “I think he’ll stay out of our way from now on,” she told him.

  “You mean you hope he does,” Chuck shot back.

  “I hope he does,” Violet agreed. “For his sake, I hope he does. You know, I feel kind of sorry for him. He just doesn’t understand that he’s outmatched now. He’s still fighting with the same weapons he used when we were children. He doesn’t understand that we’re grown women now. And now that you men are here, he doesn’t stand a chance.”

  “He’s a blasted fool, is what he is,” Chuck grumbled.

  “He’ll just keep throwing himself at us until he breaks himself,” Violet continued. “And he’ll do it all because he just doesn’t understand.”

  “He doesn’t want to understand,” Chuck corrected her. “Jake is right. There’s no reasoning with a man like that. Once he loses control of himself, the only thing to do is to get rid of him.”

  Violet stared into the darkness. “I only wish it hadn’t come to that.”

  Chuck regarded her. “Jake was right about you, too.”

  “In what way?” she asked.

  “He was right about you thinking everyone is like you,” Chuck explained. “You know what I think? I think you’re probably the most innocent of the three of you.”

  “Innocent!” she snorted.

  “That’s right, innocent,” Chuck repeated. “You wish it hadn’t come to that, but he made it come to that. You did everything you could to prevent it, but he just wouldn’t quit until it did come to that. You let him walk all over you for too long. That’s why he thought he could get away with man-handling you and making you do what he wanted.”

  Violet thought it over. “Do you want to know something else?”

  “What’s that?” he asked.

  “I don’t think I would have reacted the way I did if he hadn’t struck out at you,” she told him. “I only went after him when I saw him strike you. Something in me wanted to protect you from him. I don’t think I ever would have done it to protect myself. If I’d been alone, I probably would have let him drag me to my room.”

  “He wouldn’t have dragged you to your room if you weren’t with me,” Chuck reminded her.

  “But you know what I mean,” Violet insisted. “I snapped, because of the way I feel about you.”

  “And what is that?” Chuck asked. “How do you feel about me?”

  Violet stepped closer to him and put her arms around his waist. “I guess I love you. I did it because I love you.”

  “You do?” Chuck asked.

  “I shouldn’t be telling you this,” Violet remarked. “I only met you a few hours ago. Is it possible to love someone in such a short time?”

  “I don’t know,” he told her
. “I’ve never loved anyone before. But I know I love you now. I’ve never been so certain of anything before.”

  “Me, too,” she replied.

  Chapter 28

  “All right, I love you” Chuck moved toward the door. “Now, let me walk you home before we fall asleep here.”

  “Stay here,” Violet insisted. “If the others come, you being in here already will explain the candles being lit.”

  “I’m telling you,” Chuck repeated. “We don’t need to bother trying to fool them. They already know, just like we already know about them. What’s the point of trying to keep it a secret?”

  “Just call it my female sense of propriety,” Violet explained. “If you need a reason, just let me maintain the illusion a little while longer before my maidenhead goes whistling down the wind and I become Mrs. Charles Q. Ahern.”

  Chuck chuckled. “It isn’t ‘Q’. It’s ‘J’.”

  “ ‘J’?” Violet asked. “What does that stand for?”

  “ ‘Julius’,” he told her.

  Violet guffawed. “ ‘Julius’!”

  “That’s right.” Chuck stiffened. “What’s wrong with that?”

  Violet laughed even harder. “Julius!”

  Chuck furrowed his eyebrows. “You can stop that now.”

  Violet covered her mouth with her hand, but her giggles still bubbled up from inside her. “I’m sorry.”

  “You are not!” Chuck barked. “Now stop that this instant! I won’t have you calling me Julius! Now stop it!”

  Violet bit her lip. “I’m sorry.”

  “Now get home,” Chuck pointed toward the door. “And don’t make me have to tell you again.”

  Violet rushed up to him and kissed him. When she pulled away, he broke out in a grin. “Go on. I’ll see you in the morning.”

  She kissed him again. “Good night.”

  Their lips just wouldn’t come apart, no matter how hard they tried. “Good night. Now get out of here. You’re torturing me.”

  She flashed him a glorious smile and hurried out the door before she raced back to him and threw herself into his arms again. He kissed her once and pushed her away. “Go! Leave me alone!”

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