She shot his hat off before she recognized the man she'd known as a child, returned from the War Between the States. Elise Worthen had just buried a deadly secret. She couldn't afford to let her guard down, not even for Jared Kensington, whose jade eyes consumed her--and saw too much. She hungered for Jared with a fierce, deep longing that drove her recklessly into his arms even as she lied to his face. What would he say if he knew she'd committed murder? She couldn't reveal the truth, no matter what the price.
All he wanted was the truth...
It was strictly business when Jared Kensington returned to Virginia to investigate the disappearance of a colleague and a fortune in stolen federal cash. But Elise Worthen almost banished his mission from his mind--until she paid off a lien on her home with suspect bills. By then it was too late to turn back. He was trapped between suspicion and desire, forced to choose between his honor--and his heart...
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.19(w) x 6.87(h) x 1.06(d)|
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She'd lied to him. Why? Jared stood several yards away from the barn, watching her. Even from here he could feel her frustration and that shimmering awareness he'd experienced before.
She had pulled her dress up between her legs, exposing trim calves, the curve of slender thighs. Heat streaked through him and he wondered how her eyes would look in passion--cloudy and soft as the sky at dusk? Or sharp and clear like the first brush of a storm? As she worked over the horse his gut pulled one way, his heart another. He had questions to ask her, but instead he was concerned with the way her smooth brow furrowed in worry, the way her dress hung on her slight frame.
They'd all been through hell the last four years, he reminded himself, and Elise was strong. He'd seen glimpses of a velvet-gloved strength when she'd faced Anthony and Restin. The war had to have wrought changes in her, as it had in him. But how desperate were those changes? What did he really know of her as she was now, except that she was Logan's sister? She'd lied about Onash, for certain. What else? Reluctance crept through him. He didn't want to ask her, but he had to. He couldn't let the tie of friendship or the new tenuous connection he'd felt with her this morning sway him from his job. He'd given his word to find the money and he would. Honor was all that was left to him now.
She drew back with the hammer, then cursed, yanking her hand quickly away from the horse's hoof. Jared winced. She stumbled out of the barn and into the grass, where she sank to the ground. Jared took a step toward her and heard a choked sob. She'd hurt herself. His gut clenched and he bolted toward her. He skidded to a stop just behind her. "Elise?"
She gasped and twisted toward him, her skirts tangling around her ankles. She pushed herself up from the ground, surreptitiously wiping at the tears on her cheeks. "Oh, I didn't hear you ride up," she said brightly.
He frowned. "Are you all right?"
"Yes, of course." She straightened her shoulders, but they seemed so thin and fragile beneath the worn fabric of her dress. She wiped again at her cheeks, her eyes glimmering.
Her skin was pale and deep purple shadows rimmed her eyes. Despite the wavering smile on her pretty face she looked lost, and his heart turned over in his chest. "Are you sure?"
"I hit myself with the hammer," she said in disgust."You'd think I'd never shod a horse before."
A sudden anger rose up in him that she even had to shoe her own horse. Just as quickly, he wondered why he should care. When the hell would Logan return? He, not Jared,should be looking out for her. But Jared had promised. "Let me see."
"No, I'm fine."
She stepped around him, but he gently grasped her wrist, turning her hand up toward him. Her thumb was red and already swelling. He grimaced. "Ouch."
"Don't." Her voice shook.
He glanced up, shocked to see fresh tears roll down her cheeks. Loss and desperation darkened her eyes and the sight grabbed at something deep inside him, some primal protective instinct he'd never suffered concerning women. He knew damn well they could all take care of themselves, knew damn well that most used tears to their advantage.
He dropped her wrist, preparing to step away, and she sagged against him, sobbing.
Hell! His eyes widened. What was he supposed to do now? He'd never soothed a crying woman, couldn't abide them. His instincts screamed for him to go, but the misery in her sobs kept him locked in place. Feeling completely inept, he muttered, "It's all right."
He wasn't sure she heard him. Her slender arms locked around his waist; her face burrowed into his neck. And his world crashed to a stop.
He didn't want this--to be clutched as if she depended on him, as if he could make a difference to her troubles--but he couldn't pull away.
Honor, his mind screamed at him. Honor demanded that he release her, separate himself from the sweet feel of her body, which was already affecting him. Yet the other side of that honorable sword demanded that he be the gentleman and comfort her.
His mind ordered him to step back, but his arms tightened around her. In some deep, hard place inside him, he needed to feel her warmth, her touch, as much as she seemed to need his. But the crying....Lord! Sobs tore out of her, and the desperate way she turned to him made him feel he should know how to help. He didn't. Instinctively he knew she was crying over more than a smashed thumb, but he felt as useless as a gelding covering a mare. Helpless and incompetent. He knew no soothing words to say, but his hands moved over her reflexively, stroking her shoulders, her back.
Breasts to his chest, her thighs teasing his, she draped down his body like a silk veil. He tried to close his mind to her, but his body responded swiftly, savagely, and opened into a long, pulsing ache.
Honor, his mind screamed again. He wouldn't touch her, except for this small bit of comfort. She hiccuped against his chest and moved her head, her hair brushing his jaw. Reflexively he bent toward her, inhaling her sweet scent, her musky warmth. Desire tapped through him in a low, throbbing rhythm.
Honor. He pulled her tighter into him, burying his head in her hair. The soft lilac scent of her drowned his conscience. He stroked the thick curls that tumbled down her back, her hair sliding under his hands like silk. Sunlight threaded through the whiskey-brown strands until they shimmered with golden fire.
Her sobs had changed to soft ragged sounds against his shirt. A distant voice urged him to step away. But her arms were latched tight around his middle, her breasts teasing him with each breath she took. She snuggled closer, like a kitten seeking warmth, and their cheeks brushed. Lord, she was so soft. He cradled her to him, grazing her cheek with his lips.They felt dry and rough against the smoothness of her skin. She shifted toward him, lifting her face to his, and his lips brushed her cheek again, even as caution peeled sharply through him. Honor...
She turned her face to his and her lips found his unerringly. A sob shuddered out of her. No, his mind warned even as his mouth opened over hers. He gripped her jaw, angling her head so he could reach her fully. She rolled up on tip toe, meeting him, and the feel of her sweet hot mouth kicked through him like straight whiskey.
Desperate, hungry, searching, their mouths fused, easing a tightness in his chest. At the same time his body hardened in a surge of power, of want.
She lied about Onash. You have to ask her.
He wanted to back her up against the tree, raise her skirts, and pump into her with all the vicious energy churning in his body. Control finally penetrated the raging sweep of lust that had ruled him. With shaking hands, he gripped her arms and put her away from him.
Excerpted from If Only by Debra Cowan. Copyright (c) 1997 by Debra Cowan. Excerpted by permission of Dell Publishing, a division of the Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.