Cold Night, Warm Stranger

Cold Night, Warm Stranger

4.3 15
by Jill Gregory
     
 

She vowed not to love the gunfighter who made her burn with desire....

A shivering cold angel...

Maura Reed was all alone in her Montana hotel, curled up in her robe and slippers, when the blizzard hit. It was cold, quiet, and lonely--until a rugged gunslinger blew in from the storm demanding shelter. Just for this night--this wild, stormy night--Maura wanted

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Overview

She vowed not to love the gunfighter who made her burn with desire....

A shivering cold angel...

Maura Reed was all alone in her Montana hotel, curled up in her robe and slippers, when the blizzard hit. It was cold, quiet, and lonely--until a rugged gunslinger blew in from the storm demanding shelter. Just for this night--this wild, stormy night--Maura wanted someone, something. Recklessly, she abandoned herself in his arms, knowing he would be gone by morning. The last thing she ever expected was the need that drove her into the wilderness . . . to find the stranger who haunted her dreams. . . .

A hot, dangerous devil...

He was the fastest gun in the West, a man who feared nothing until he met the woman who touched his heart. Quinn Lassiter didn't even recognize Maura when she cornered him in a distant saloon months later. Never in his wildest dreams did he see himself married--until he said the words that made her his wife. He was determined to do the right thing by the woman he'd wronged, but he'd never reckoned on falling in love with her. . . .

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Editorial Reviews

Romantic Times
Jill Gregory's western romances always pack a wallop. Cold Night, Warm Stranger is true to form. Strong characters that engage readers' emotions and an action-packed story with a powerful plot make this a not-to-be-missed western.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
When a one-night stand with Quinn Lassiter leaves Maura Jane Reed pregnant--and desperate to leave the ramshackle hotel owned by her adoptive brothers, the Duncans--she flees to a frontier town in pursuit of the mysterious gunslinger who has fathered her baby. After initial resistance, Quinn agrees to marry Maura and settle her safely on his ranch in Hope, Wyo., then return to his dangerous gun-for-hire life. Struggling against a mutual attraction, Maura and Quinn attempt to negotiate the terms of their arrangement; meanwhile, a local gang of outlaws and Maura's brutish brothers threaten the couple's chance for happiness. The outlaws kidnap Maura in hopes of trapping Quinn, but the couple is finally united in a rousing if obligatory heroic rescue. After this satisfying episode, however, Gregory (Never Love a Cowboy) adds a second, gratuitous threat to Maura's life that mars an otherwise engaging book, supported by a well-drawn cast of townspeople. (Aug.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kathe Robin
"Jill Gregory's western romances always pack a wallop. Cold Night, Warm Stranger is true to form. Strong characters that engage reader's emotions and an action-packed story with a powerful plot makes this a not-to-be-missed western."

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780440224402
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/01/1999
Pages:
400
Product dimensions:
4.25(w) x 6.88(h) x 0.75(d)

Meet the Author

Jill Gregory grew up in Chicago and received her B.A. in English from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. She now lives in West Bloomfield, Michigan, with her husband, her daughter, and their Yorkshire terrier.

Jill Gregory is the author of eight Dell historical romances.

Read an Excerpt

"Wait--wait just a minute!" Maura pushed his hands away as he began to sweep her nightshirt over her head. She tugged it back down. "I never said I would let you . . ."

"You never said you wouldn't."

"You didn't give me a chance to say anything!" Breathing hard, she knew she had to decide: stay or go. Yes or no.

Once and for all.

"Well?" he growled. "What do you want to say?"

Maura had no idea. She simply stared at him, trying to think, trying to keep her mind on the decision before her, when he looked so ruggedly handsome, all she could think about was how she'd like to comb her fingers through his black hair, or touch that dark stubble along his jaw, or . . . kiss him.

"Time's up," he announced suddenly, and with one movement swept the nightshirt over her head and tossed it on the floor. Her hair cascaded down, bright as the flames of the fire, to swirl around her shoulders, and her golden-brown eyes went wide with shock.

Now she wore only her thin white camisole above the long johns and coarse brown socks. She was practically naked.

"Just hold on a minute," she cried. Breathing hard, she crossed her arms over her breasts. "I have to think."

"I thought you wanted to stay warm."

"Taking off my clothes doesn't seem like the way to do that!"

He seized her then, and pulled her close. "Trust me--it works."

For a moment she was dizzy with the nearness of him. Her breasts were thrust up against his chest, the rough flannel of his shirt scraped her tender flesh. His breath was warm on her cheek, and his mouth was only scant inches away from hers . . .

"I don't even know your name," she whispered desperately.

There was a heartbeat of silence. Then he spoke flatly.

"It's Lassiter."

Snowflakes hurled themselves against the window as he braced himself for her reaction. He knew damn well what was coming. It was always the same.

"Lassiter?" He heard her sharp intake of breath. She jerked back, but not before he'd felt the slamming of her heart against his chest, the shudder of fear jolting through her bones.

"Not . . . Quinn Lassiter?" she asked in a trembling voice.

"The same." He watched her grimly. He knew what they said about him, what she would believe just by hearing his name.

Quinn Lassiter, deadliest man in the West. Fastest gunfighter alive. There's a lump of steel where his heart should be. He kills as casually as most men spit.

She went pale as the snow swirling outside the window. "I've heard of you," she croaked.

He shrugged. "Probably a pack of lies."

"They say you've killed more than twenty men. Is that . . . true?"

"More or less. But--"

"And they say you shot Johnny the Kid between the eyes, and captured the entire Melton gang single-handed. Is that t-true?"

"I reckon. But--"

"And last spring," Maura plunged on, her pulse racing, "you fought three gunfights in one morning and killed all three men with only two bullets . . ."

"It wasn't anything special," he growled. As her lips parted and her eyes grew glassy, he lifted a brow. "I reckon this means you are scared of me?"

His hands went to her bare, creamy shoulders, so narrow and vulnerable beneath his fingers. She was tense as a knot of wire. Fear, hesitation, and uncertainty vibrated through her.

"Am I right? Answer me."

"Scared? Why, no. Why in the w-world should I be scared? It's only--" Maura jerked back from beneath his hands and bolted off the bed as though she'd been shot from a cannon. She snatched up her nightshirt and held it in front of her like a shield.

"It's only that I forgot. Completely forgot. You see, I left something on the stove. Burning on the stove. So silly of me . . . careless, really. I have to go. Or we'll have a fire. I have to go . . . take it off the stove . . ."

"Maura."

He reached out, seized her wrist, and yanked her back into the bed. Whipping the nightshirt from her limp fingers, he tossed it to the floor again.

"You think I'm going to shoot you?"

"Of course not. Only . . ."

"You think I'd hurt a hair on your head?"

"N-no, never." She glanced up at him from beneath her lashes. "W-would you?"

"No. Never." He cupped her chin in his hand and forced her to meet his eyes. They were gray as slate, but somehow his expression was softer, more rueful than it had been before.

"I'm going to make love to you, angel. Real nice, hot, hang-onto-your-hat love. If you want me to, that is. I'll keep you warm all night long. Fact is, I'll make you sweat. I'll even make you burn."

"You . . . will?"

"Yep. And you won't need clothes, and you won't need fires." He slid a hand slowly, languidly down her bare arm and Maura shivered. "That's a promise."

His eyes . . . She stared into those mesmerizing silver eyes. Something inside of her was melting. Maybe it was her last lick of sense. But in that moment she knew something she hadn't realized before. Quinn Lassiter didn't want to be alone tonight any more than she did.

"Still afraid?" he asked softly.

"No. I'm not afraid," she heard herself say, and it was almost true. Before she even realized what she was doing, she lifted her arms and wrapped them around his neck. Her blood pounded at her own daring. He was all muscle. All steel and musky male scent. She could feel his strength in her fingertips. It shocked and frightened her, more than his name had. But it also excited her. She clasped him tighter.

"Hold me," she whispered, gazing up at him through wide golden-brown eyes. "Just for tonight--all night--will you hold me?"

Quinn Lassiter hauled her up against him then. One powerful arm encircled her waist, virtually imprisoning her against the steel of his body. One hand twisted itself firmly in her hair, an act of possession. "Sweet Maura, don't you worry. I'll do a hell of a lot more than that."

Then he lowered his head and slanted his mouth to hers, cutting off any more doubts, any more words.

It was a hungry kiss, demanding and needy, and yet strangely tender and warm. Maura, who had never even had the opportunity to speak more than three sentences to a man without worrying that Judd or Homer would break his jaw, and who had certainly never ever come close to kissing a man before, was convinced that it was the most absolutely perfect kiss there could ever be. Her mind was reeling over the fact that she was crouched half naked on a bed, in the arms of a legendary gunfighter who would no doubt ride out of her life forever in the morning. But somehow she felt she should make the most of it. Her daydreams aside, she might never have the chance to kiss any man again--unless she did manage to get away from Judd and Homer and Knotsville. This might be the closest she ever came to wonder, excitement--to romance. To the possibility of falling in love.

Of course she knew Quinn Lassiter didn't love her--and she couldn't possibly be in love with him, but the way he was kissing her made her feel loved. And needed. And wanted.

Just for tonight, she told herself dizzily as Quinn deepened the kiss, blurring her mind with dark, lovely sensations that sent pleasure streaking through her. I won't be alone. Just for tonight, I'll have someone. And so will he . . .

His lips were warm, firm, and strong and they knew how to brush, feather, and slant over hers in just such a way that a tingling warmth radiated through her. As he deepened the kiss and the urgency of it leapt through her, she tightened her arms instinctively around his neck, and realized faintly that his hands were stroking up and down her back, caressing her shoulders, drawing her in closer and closer under the spell of pleasure.

He was kissing her ever more deeply, urging her lips apart, each movement becoming more and more insistent, until at last she gave way, filled with pleasure but confused and unsure of what she was supposed to do. Instantly, the moment her lips parted, his tongue swept inside her mouth. She was shocked and tried to draw away, squirming in his arms, but Quinn Lassiter held her fast, his arms imprisoning her, his mouth locked on hers as his tongue boldly licked hers, flicking over it in smooth, light strokes that filled her with such heat, her senses spun. She clutched at him, a whimper in the back of her throat, her fingers digging into his strong shoulders.

Suddenly she no longer wanted to draw away. She wanted to get closer, as close as she could. To her astonishment, her own tongue shyly slid against his in a tentative caress.

Lassiter half chuckled, half groaned. His arms dragged her even closer against him, and he deepened the kiss once more, tasting her fully, exploring her, his tongue thrusting inside her mouth with hungry, deliberate parries. Hell, her lips were as sweet and soft as little pink daisies. As his tongue played with hers, he felt his own need hardening. This girl tasted even better than the whiskey had--more like wine, like pure, potent strawberry-flavored wine.

She strained against him, returning kiss for kiss, her mouth sweet and yearning. Her tongue kept meeting his tentatively, stroking it, pulling back, an intoxicatingly teasing ploy that only made him want her more. Lassiter always took what he wanted, and this time was no exception. He heard her mew like a kitten as the kiss became more insistent, deeper still, and his muscles bunched with tension as her tongue darted forward again in the timidly enticing little dance that made him groan.

"That's it. Don't be shy. You're good at this, Maura. Real good."

"So are you," she whispered, and he chuckled, drawing out the kiss, intensifying it. He began to stroke her body in smooth, gliding caresses that made her tremble provocatively against him.

Swiftly, urgently, he lowered her upon the mattress.

Snow raged outside the window, smothering the night. The Rockies loomed in the distance, fiercer, mightier even than the storm. But inside this room, the fire crackled golden in the hearth and the girl's soft arms enveloped him. And what had happened in Hatchett was misting into a dark, ugly blur as he gave himself up to the effects of the liquor and to the passionate woman beneath him.

One by one he stripped off the remainder of her ugly, bulky garments. First the long johns, then the coarse brown socks. He sent them sailing to the floor, followed by that wisp of a camisole and her dainty pantalets.

She was lovely. Small, creamy breasts, and nipples that were already hardened into taut rosy peaks--whether from the chill or arousal he couldn't be certain.

When he eased her down against the pillows and shifted his body atop hers, he could feel the heat singing through her blood. But also, even through the haze of whiskey, he could still feel her tension, especially the wild beating of her heart, and he attributed it to fear of his name and reputation, despite what she'd said earlier.

"I won't hurt you, Maura," he promised again. His lips grazed her throat. "I want to make you feel good."

He felt her tremble as his mouth trailed kisses across the wild pulse in her throat, across her shoulders, then burned a path up to the delicate shell of her ear. Her skin was warm, smooth as silk, and smelled like honeysuckle.

"Delicious," he muttered against her hair.

She moved beneath him, her body shifting, welcoming the weight of his. When his hand closed over her breast a shudder shook her, and her eyes shimmered up at him. Then, as he began to knead and tease and to rub his thumb back and forth across her taut nipple, he heard the moan of pleasure deep in her throat.

He was hungry for her. Damned hungry. When he began to strip off his own clothes, she helped him, her fingers fumbling over the buttons of his shirt, sliding down his chest, touching him cautiously at first, then with an eagerness that made his blood surge. There was a sweetness about her that penetrated the haze of whiskey and wanting, that made him sweat as his shirt, pants, and vest landed atop hers on the floor. The potency of the liquor, the need to forget, the wanting of her, all melded into a fierce desire to take her quickly.

He covered her soft body with his own muscled and battle-scarred one, nibbled at her shoulders and then her breasts, took her mouth and once more urged those silky lips apart. Hot, ravenous kisses had them rocking against each other, holding each other, demanding more and more from each other. He drank in her taste, her honeysuckle scent, the velvet texture of her hair brushing his chest and his shoulders, and was dimly aware of her responses, her squirming body, small whimpers, her fingers knotted in his hair.

She was giving herself to him, her tongue moving frantically against his, her breasts straining upward against the muscles of his chest. With ever heightening need and tension building hard and furious inside him, he stroked his hands over her, down along her thighs. With need pounding through him, he probed the warm silken depths of her.

She cried out and her entire body stiffened.

Quinn paused, his lips on her throat. "Come on, angel. What's wrong?"

"Nothing," she gasped. Her face was delectably flushed--with passion, he concluded. "I . . . I . . . just didn't expect . . ."

"Sure you did. It's not as if you've never done this before."

He chuckled, and soothed her with a long, hot kiss and this time, when he slipped his finger inside the moist warmth of her, she received him with only a shudder, and clutched at him, her nails digging into his back.

"Hell, you smell so good. Like flowers," he muttered into her hair, and suddenly shifted, his body covering and locking upon hers as his blood surged with a red-hot need that would no longer be checked. Her long, delicate-boned body fitted to his powerful one, arching against him, welcoming him, even as her lips welcomed his mouth. He moved roughly, savagely over her, restraint giving way to a blind, scorching need as ancient as the earth.

Maura's heart pounded frantically as sensation after sensation swamped her. She clutched at Quinn Lassiter's broad back for dear life, and frantically fought the torturous ache he'd been relentlessly stoking inside her.

And even as she struggled against the tormenting delight he created, she was filled with wonder that a man so large, so strong, could be so wonderfully gentle.

Then he pushed her thighs apart and thrust inside her and the pain shattered her, rending her in two.

She cried out, her eyes flying open, her entire body going rigid. But he was on fire, heedless of her cry, perhaps drunk, perhaps only hell-bent on finishing what he'd started. She didn't know, she only knew that he filled her and began to plunge within her again and again with single-minded purpose as tears gathered in her eyes and spilled down her cheeks, and her body writhed helplessly beneath his.

He stroked her, and kissed her mouth with slow, deep kisses. Slowly, exquisitely, a miracle happened. The great, sharp pain inside her ebbed and she began to tremble all over. The ache that came from pleasure returned. His thrusts were rhythmic, relentless, drawing her up with him into a kind of thundering race.

Heat seared her and she could scarcely breathe as her hips arched upward and her legs locked on his long, solid ones. Her body sheened with sweat, she drew him in, closer, deeper.

The pain that had come before no longer mattered. Now there was only this, only him.

He wanted her, needed her, perhaps almost as much as she needed him tonight, needed him to fill her emptiness, her loneliness, to keep her warm and transport her from this dreary little town to a place where she was loved, if only for an instant, where anything was possible, if only for a night, where life wasn't gray and tedious but filled with a translucent rainbow of dreams and possibilities. . . .

She caught her breath as his glittering eyes held hers and his powerful thrusts filled her. She clutched at him and cried out as they hurtled toward an unknown spark, the edge of a white-hot frenzy. Upward and over . . . climbing, falling, soaring . . .

To a pinnacle of blinding, shattering release.

Afterward, he rolled off her as if in a stupor. Which, she realized dizzily, he most likely was, considering all the whiskey he'd drunk. He grunted, brushed a kiss across the tip of her nose, and pulled her close, nestling her against the warmth of his body.

For a while Maura lay snuggled beside him, the memories of their lovemaking drifting through her mind. She felt peaceful, warm. Shyly she draped an arm across his chest as she cuddled closer, drawing from his warmth and strength and solidness, breathing in the male scent of him, the scent of whiskey and leather and sweat, holding on to him and this moment. The fire crackled and the storm raged and the moments slipped by. As the hour of dawn edged closer, Maura sat up at last and studied Quinn by the flickering amber light of the fire.

Even asleep he was a formidable man, his muscular frame hard and powerful, his granite features and dark stubble combining to make him look both tough and impossibly handsome. Yet his black hair fell almost boyishly over his brow, and his eyes were closed, hiding the weary cynicism in their piercing depths. And there were scars on his body that hinted of past savageries endured.

She reached out without thinking, and with gentle fingers brushed a lock of midnight hair from his brow.

"Where are you headed, Quinn Lassiter?" she whispered, her voice as soft as a drifting feather. "Will you be gone at first light? Will I ever see you again?"

She nearly jumped out of her skin when he answered her.

"Helena."

"Wh-what?" she gasped, drawing her hand back, staring at him in shock. He'd appeared fast asleep!

"Going to Helena." His words were slurred and heavy, no doubt from both the liquor and his exhaustion. "First thing . . . in the morning."

"Oh." Shyly, she framed another question, though he looked to be asleep once more.

"What's in Helena?"

He grunted, shifted his weight, moved his leg against hers. "Range war. Hired my gun."

"You could be killed."

Another grunt. "I'm too mean to die," he muttered, and lowered his arm from the pillow, draping it instead across her naked thigh. Her skin burned where his bronzed muscles touched her pale flesh.

Take me with you, she thought suddenly, caught in a swift, blazing urge to ride away from here with this black-haired stranger, to escape Judd and Homer and this gray, dreary life . . . to find love and adventure at his side, to make love with him and come alive with him just like this every single night.

But she couldn't speak the words. They were absurd. He wouldn't want her . . . would he?

As if sensing the intensity of her gaze on him, he opened his eyes. They gleamed up at her in the golden embers of the firelight.

"Cold, angel?"

"N-no." She gave a shaky laugh, blushing. "I don't think I'll ever be cold again." Her heart lifted when he smiled.

"Come here."

He tugged her down atop him and his mouth found hers again. Heat and desire rushed back, intense as flame. When he rolled her over and eased his powerful body onto hers, Maura felt a surge of purely feminine triumph. She reached for him, welcomed him, met his kiss with eager, parted lips.

And it all began again. . . .  

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