Always Youby Jill Gregory
He’d never stalked a woman before.
He didn’t much like it. But there was no other way.
As he sat with his hat pulled low over his eyes and his long legs stretched out beneath a small square table in the Ginger Horse Saloon, the tall, quiet stranger drank whiskey and let the talk swirl around him, talk as thick and heavy as the/p>/p>/p>
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He’d never stalked a woman before.
He didn’t much like it. But there was no other way.
As he sat with his hat pulled low over his eyes and his long legs stretched out beneath a small square table in the Ginger Horse Saloon, the tall, quiet stranger drank whiskey and let the talk swirl around him, talk as thick and heavy as the tobacco smoke that drifted over the baize-topped gaming tables and the gleaming mahogany bar.
The place was like many others he had passed through in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada. Flocked red-velvet wallpaper, brass chandeliers. A big, crowded room teeming with cowboys and ranchers and townsmen. There were some gamblers and a half dozen red-lipped women in cheap, gaudy dresses and strong perfume—heady floral fragrances that vied for attention with the odors of tobacco, whiskey, and sweat. A piano player pounded at the keys of the instrument in the corner; coins clinked; boots scraped against the floor.
A typical place, the stranger thought, full of colors, sounds, smells.
Talk about Melora Deane.
She was the belle of the town, maybe even the belle of the territory, from the sound of it. Daughter of rancher Craig Deane of the Weeping Willow Ranch, one of the largest spreads around.
He’d already seen the ranch. But not the girl—not yet.
He finished his whiskey, ordered another, and listened some more.
Almost everyone in the Ginger Horse had something to say about her. People talked openly, admiringly. They said she was a handful. A beauty. They said she was every inch her father’s daughter.
And they said she was getting married tomorrow to Wyatt Holden.
The stranger was the only one who knew she wasn’t.
Because tomorrow at this time Melora Deane would have vanished. And the stranger in the gray shirt and sleek black pants, with the silver handled gun belt slung low on his hips and the dark blue neckerchief loosely knotted at his throat, was the only one who would know what had become of her.
He didn’t want her. But he was going to take her anyway.
Because there wasn’t going to be any wedding for this talked-about happy couple; there was only going to be a funeral.
An uproarious burst of laughter erupted from the poker players near the window, followed by someone shouting for another round of drinks.
The stranger paid for his whiskey, glanced neither here nor there, and strode out the double doors into the Wyoming dusk.
It was time.
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She felt vile and filthy and smelly and as unattractive as a bale of hay, but what Cal seemed to have forgotten was that it was all his fault. Now he had the gall to add insult to injury by reminding her of just how scruffy she looked!
"You did this to me, you mangy outlaw, you kidnapper! You and your disgusting friends, you've reduced me to a--a hag, a filthy hag. Before I met you, for your information, half the men in Rawhide had proposed to me or were planning to do it. They fell all over me--before I met Wyatt, that is," she added hastily, coloring an even deeper shade of red. "And by rights, at this very moment, I ought to be on my honeymoon, in a sumptuous, opulent, beautiful hotel suite with my beloved husband, sharing a bed and--and other things with him--"
"If it's a honeymoon you want, Princess," he shot back, eyebrows raised, "I reckon I can try to oblige. After all, I told the clerk at the desk we were married."
"If you so much as touch me, I'll--"
"You'll what?" he demanded. For some reason Cal couldn't fathom, he stalked over to her, placed his hand beneath her adorable, stubborn little chin, and tilted it up.
She promptly smacked his fingers away.
"Princess," he growled, "I can't have you thinking you're no longer a desirable woman. Because even as you are right this very moment, you're hardly--what did you say--a hag."
"A compliment of the highest order," she retorted, her eyes sparkling with anger. "Why, if that's an example of your form of address, you must be downright beloved by the ladies, Cal. In fact now I understand why you snatched me from my bedroom; you must have to kidnap a woman to get one to notice you."
She thought he'd be angry, but instead he laughed. A spontaneous, rumbling laugh that emanated deep from his broad, solid chest. And he was grinning from ear to ear. "Well, you're not far off, Melora," he admitted ruefully. "I'm not exactly a ladies' man."
She threw him a scathing glance from beneath her lashes. "No!"
But her sarcasm bounced off him. Cal was too busy noticing the fetching picture she made in her crumpled green velvet riding habit, travel dust and all. "Maybe I need some lessons in proper courtship," he heard himself say. Then he groaned inwardly.
Why was he talking to her like this? He'd never flirted with any woman in his life, had never known the first thing about how to make amusing small talk or to throw out flattering compliments. That had been Joe's specialty, he thought. I'm the tongue-tied one, the one who always went solo to those town dances or who made up excuses not to go at all.
And to flirt with Melora Deane, of all people, the woman pledged to his enemy, a breathtaking beauty he'd made up his mind to dislike before he ever met her, one who'd had an army of suitors, who proved to be as headstrong and annoying as any female that had ever walked the earth, and who was his prisoner.
It was wrong-headed and thick-skulled. Bordering on lunacy. He'd never been able to pay a compliment without stuttering to anyone but little old ladies and maiden aunts back home. How in hell did he think to trade flirtatious sallies with the belle of Wyoming?
As thunder cracked through the charged air outside the window, and Devil's Creek shook with a rising, howling wind, and a gust as cold as mountain snow swept through the pitiful little room, Cal forgot all that. He forgot his awkwardness with women, his damned shyness. He was aware only of how close he stood to Melora Deane and how utterly, bewitchingly exquisite she was. Even with her thick gold hair cascading in wild tangles over her slim shoulders, even with her smart outfit looking more like beggar's rags than what it truly was, even with all that, she was purely, heartbreakingly lovely. Those startling, vivid tawny eyes flecked with gold, the rich texture of her hair, the luminous glow of her skin which no amount of caked-on trail dust could diminish. And her lips. Cal caught himself staring at her lips.
Naturally pink and full, gracefully shaped like a large satin bow, they were more luscious than ripe strawberries, and he suddenly wanted fiercely to taste them.
He didn't realize what he was doing, but his arms went around her faster than a rattler springing at its prey. Then slowly, watching her eyes widen with disbelief and fury, he lowered his head and touched his mouth to hers.
Shock coursed through him at the explosive contact. At the same moment lightning rent the night outside the window, filling the sky. But not only the sky, Cal thought in astonishment. It had struck them, both of them, sure as he stood here.
His shoulders shook. And his loins tightened. Heat soaked through his denim shirt.
A current had flashed between them, soldering them together, he and this woman he'd been determined from the start not to care about. Yet here he was, his mouth locked on hers, burned and searing. As rain began to pelt down upon the dust and debris of Devil's Creek, the slender fragility of Melora Deane was branded against his frame, and the soft thrust of her breasts against his chest knocked his breath away.
Wonderingly he kissed her, exploring the luscious honeysuckle taste of her. He entwined his hands in the velvet thickness of her hair, hair more golden than the sun, and kissed her some more. Kissed her thoroughly, hungrily. Consumingly.
He'd kissed only whores before now. But this was so entirely different, sort of like the joy of riding an unbroken bronco, Cal determined, knowing somehow Melora would have skinned him alive if she had heard the comparison. He deepened the kiss as he parted Melora's satin soft lips. Pep, just like riding a bronc. It let you in for a hell of a wild ride, and the trick was to stay on till you were shook off.
Thunder and lightning lit up the night outside the Wickes Hotel window, but though the night tossed like a horse bucking the devil himself, Melora Deane didn't shake him off.
Didn't even try.
Meet the Author
About the Author Jill Gregory is a New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of more than thirty five historical and contemporary novels and has been honored with the Romantic Times Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as with back-to-back Reviewer’s Choice awards for Best Western Historical Romance. Her books have been published in more than twenty-four countries. Her contemporary novel SOMETHING BORROWED, SOMETHING BLUE, co-written with Karen Tintori, was adapted into a CBS TV movie of the week and was excerpted in Cosmopolitan Magazine. Jill’s most recent series is her contemporary Lonesome Way book series (SAGE CREEK, LARKSPUR ROAD, BLACKBIRD LAKE, SUNFLOWER LANE), set in Montana and published by Berkley Sensation. Jill grew up in Chicago and received her bachelor of arts degree in English from the University of Illinois. An animal lover, Jill loves long walks, reading, hot tea on a winter’s day, and the company of friends. She lives in Michigan with her husband, and enjoys her home overlooking the woods where the deer, rabbits, squirrels, and an occasional owl or hawk come out to play.
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I like the author but am disappointed because the original publish date was 1996 not 2015. Shame on B & N for again LYING!