Authors: Stacey Brutger
Even across the room, she was too aware of him. It left her susceptible to his charm.
He wasn’t conventionally handsome. He had a broad forehead, his jaw a little too strong, his nose almost too prominent. He kept his face clean-shaven, but stubble always peppered his jaw by the time darkness fell. His black hair was forever neat, brushed back from his face, the ends reaching his collar. The haunted expression she glimpsed in his eyes from time to time had warned her he’d been through something soul-shattering.
It now made sense, the way his eyes had turned a frosty blue when confronting the pastor, revealing a ruthlessness that could be chilling.
The only time his gaze warmed to a deep, vibrant blue was when they rested on his daughter.
Until she remembered how he’d looked at her during the wedding.
The tender smile he gave her after the ceremony twisted her insides into knots. She wasn’t any better than his first wife. They both had used Gabriel for their own purposes, and she shifted in the bed, pushing the uncomfortable thought away.
His first wife had nearly destroyed him.
She feared what would happen to him when he finally discovered the truth about her.
landed on Diana, knocking the wind out of her and waking her from a sound sleep.
Training took over. She slammed her elbow in the middle of her attacker’s back, electing an oomph from him. She wrapped her legs around the heavy weight and twisted her hips. The crushing weight lifted and slid off…taking her with him, and they landed on the floor in a heap with her on top. Hands grabbed her hips, almost as if protecting her from the fall.
Disoriented by her strange surroundings, she grabbed the blade sheathed on her thigh. Only when she held the knife at her assailant’s throat did she fully become aware of who she had pinned beneath her.
Her breath stalled, and it felt like someone had kicked her in the chest. He didn’t defend himself, but instead, calmly looked up at her.
Horror riddled her as she glanced down at the knife in her hand.
At how close she’d come to harming him.
“I took your beast out for his morning walk. When I opened the door, he launched himself toward the bed. I managed to get between him and the bed, but the impact knocked me over.”
His voice rumbled in his chest when he spoke, and she became acutely aware of every inch of his body. Mortifying heat filled her cheeks, and she pushed herself away…only to have his hands tighten on her waist.
She wasn’t going anywhere.
Despite the fact that she nearly killed him, he’d done his best to protect her during the tumble from the bed. Though he was plenty strong enough to lift and set her aside, he continued to hold her close. His gaze made her feel desirable, and an almost irresistible urge to lean over and kiss him seeped into her bones.
To make matters worse, she’d slept so deeply in his presence that she hadn’t even heard him leave. It was the second time he’d managed to sneak up on her, and she was deathly afraid she was losing her edge.
She needed to remain focused if she had any hope of keeping them all alive.
Gabriel cleared his throat, nearly groaning when Diana jumped at the sound, her luscious body pressing intimately against his. He tried to control his breathing, but he was well past hiding his arousal. He tightened his grip on her waist so he didn’t do something stupid. If she shifted back even a fraction of an inch, she would become aware of his predicament.
He raised a brow then looked down at the blade, noting the crescent moon stamped on the hilt. “I don’t think you need that anymore.”
To his utter fascination, she twisted and slid her leg through the split in her skirt, revealing those tight-fitting buckskins he’d only glimpsed before she calmly sheathed the knife.
“Are we playing a game?” Emilie peered over the side of the bed, curiosity lighting up her face. That damned dog was lying next to her, and Gabriel could almost swear the mangy beast was laughing at his predicament.
“Good morning, sweetie, ready to go to the bathroom?” He heaved a sigh of relief when she nodded and scrambled out of the bed.
He forced himself to release Diana when he desperately wanted to draw her closer, and his body ached at the sudden loss.
“I’ll take her.” Diana practically sprang to her feet to get away from him, quickly buttoning her gown and pulling on her shoes. She dressed swiftly, and he realized that she must have the actions down to a science after being on the run for so long.
The awkwardness of a few moments ago vanished at the reminder of the danger.
Gabriel stood, buttoning his jacket in an effort to hide his arousal. Though he could dearly use a few minutes to get himself under control, he refused to let them out of his sight. “Thank you. I’ll show you the way.”
* * *
in the minuscule bathroom while she listened to Gabriel lead Emilie back to their private car. Much to her annoyance, she missed his presence. She stared at the tiny mirror above the wash basin, and shook her head at the luxuries the elite took for granted. Most people had to wait for the next station if they needed to use the lavatory.
That morning’s debacle still made her cheeks burn, and she turned away from the mirror, not ready to return to the railcar. She had believed Gabriel decided to wait to consummate the marriage because of her, but now she wondered if it was because of his first wife.
This morning was proof enough that he was attracted to her.
But when she practically threw herself at him, he made no attempt to take advantage of the situation.
Thankfully, Emilie had woken, saving her from further embarrassment.
The more time she spent with him, the more she realized keeping her hands to herself was going to be more difficult than expected. Gabriel’s size would intimidate most people, and she could understand their instinctive reaction, the urge to keep their distance.
She, on the other hand, found it delicious.
And he obviously had no idea of his attractiveness.
In return for his generosity in helping her, Diana was determined to convince him otherwise. He deserved to be happy. With that thought firmly in mind, she went back to the railcar. She had a hand on the knob when she glanced up to see Gabriel chasing Wolf around the room.
Wolf had Gabriel’s jacket in his mouth. Gabriel had clearly been in the middle of his ablutions, his shirt unbuttoned to reveal a large expanse of his naked chest. It was more impressive than she had imagined, and she couldn’t help but gawk while she watched the scene unfold.
Emilie stood to the side, jumping up and down as she cheered for Wolf. Every time Gabriel stopped, Wolf would prance around the room, proudly showing off his new find, while struggling not to trip on the jacket he dragged across the floor.
When Gabriel gave chase, Wolf bounced up on the bed then leapt off to escape his pursuer.
Gabriel tried to corner the dog, but Wolf’s gangly legs were surprisingly swift and agile, and he was having great fun prancing about and taunting Gabriel. Diana couldn’t help be charmed by the dog’s antics.
“Wolf, you are going to get us in trouble.” Wolf’s doggy grin was all teeth as he looked back at her through the window.
Diana opened the door just in time to hear Gabriel growl.
The sound should’ve been intimidating, but she couldn’t stop a shiver of desire at the sound. “Wolf. Heel.”
He immediately dropped the jacket.
Gabriel stalked forward and snatched up the garment, doing his best to shake out the wrinkles. “That dog is a menace.”
“He is a tiny bit high-strung.” Diana admitted as she watched Wolf nimbly leap over the mess as he made his way to her side.
Gabriel shrugged on his jacket, and she winced when she saw a huge, wet stain in the center of his back. When he turned, her breath caught at his sexy, rumpled appearance. “When we reach London, I’m sending him home.”
“No.” Emilie crept forward, her bottom lip trembling. “Please, Daddy. Wolf likes me.”
He opened his mouth to reply when his daughter rearranged her adorable face to appear even more pitiful. Gabriel snorted before he could smother the sound, then sighed and turned away to button his shirt without a word.
The beast grinned up at Diana, baring his teeth in delight.
Gabriel’s black hair, normally so neat, now stood on end, his blue eyes a little wild. When they lit on her, her breath stuttered in her chest.
“You have a little something…” She pointed to his shoulder.
He brushed at his jacket and scowled.
Unable to resist, Diana reached out and brushed at his broad shoulder. There was no give to his body, the muscles flexing in response to her touch. Sliding her hand down his chest, she smoothed his shirt, unable to stop touching him. Up close, his shoulders appeared broader, his physique perfectly suited to charging into battle to save the damsel.
She sighed in appreciation, then blushed as she imagined what it would be like to be swept up in his arms and kissed senseless.
She decided he would be good at it.
As soon as Emilie spoke, Gabriel jerked back and ran a hand down his chest as if dazed by Diana’s touch. His turbulent blue eyes locked on her as if shocked by her actions. She could see his pulse pounding at the base of his throat, and the last of the reservations she might have harbored about him vanished.
“Food.” His voice was rough, and he cleared his throat. “I’ll retrieve the basket.”
He nearly tripped over Wolf on his way to the door, and he glared at the dog, his shoulders rigid in outrage.
She watched him walking away until he disappeared from view, her palms still tingling from touching him, wondering what she’d just started.
* * *
the rest of the morning sequestered with Milles, going over instructions for their baggage and protection once they reached the house. He sent the porter to deliver the food, unable to bring himself to return to the railcar, not until he regained his equilibrium and could keep his hands to himself.
The train began to slow when they were half an hour outside of London, and he slid open the door to the private car, not sure what type of reception he would receive after retreating in such undignified haste.
Emilie and the mutt were fast asleep on the bed. Wolf lifted his head, looked to Emilie, and remained lying next to her, and Gabriel grudgingly softened at the dog’s obvious devotion to his daughter. With one last, thoughtful look at the dog, he slid the door shut.
“He is not a bad dog. He loves your little girl.” Gabriel turned to see Diana step away from the wall, not the least bit surprised to find her standing guard.
Her hands were empty, but he had no doubt that she’d been holding at least one blade just seconds ago. After his behavior earlier, he was surprised she didn’t try to gut him. Gabriel sighed in relief that she’d forgiven him so easily. “Maybe.”
It was all that he would admit.
“With trouble nipping at our heels, we could use the extra protection.” Diana turned to stare out the window.
Something about the brittle set of her shoulders set off alarm bells, and his instincts warned she was keeping something else from him. “What are you not telling me?”
Diana studied his reflection in the window, debating how much she should share. If she told him the truth and he set her aside, he would still be in danger and she wouldn’t be able to protect him.
No, it was too risky.
“I’m just worried about the pastor.” Diana blindly watched the horizon speed past, hated knowing that she put them both at risk. “I don’t want Emilie in danger because of me.”
Gabriel grabbed her arm and pulled her around until she was facing him. “She will be safe.”
He seemed so sure of himself that she almost believed him. She couldn’t allow herself the same luxury. “Williams is underhanded. We can’t wait for him to make the first move. As soon as he surfaces again, I want to slip in and steal that book. Without his journal, he will be helpless.”
Gabriel dropped his hand and crossed his arms. “No. I absolutely forbid it. I don’t want you anywhere near that man.”
“Taking his ledger might stop the blackmail, but we both know that he won’t stop coming after you.” Gabriel moved closer until he towered over her.
Too bad for him she wasn’t intimidated.
“So we’re just supposed to wait for him to attack?” That didn’t sit well with her, especially since he could go after Gabriel or Emilie in retaliation.
“We can’t give him a chance to capture you. It’s too risky.”
When she opened her mouth to protest, he held up his hand. “I’m not ruling the option out, but we’ll save it as a backup plan. Let’s first see if he will back off now we’re married. He would be a fool not to stop.”
Diana grudgingly admitted he had a point…she couldn’t afford to draw attention to herself in a full frontal attack. “It doesn’t feel right to do nothing.”
As if sensing her capitulation, Gabriel unbent. “We’ll monitor him closely. If he tries anything, we will catch him in the act and have him arrested.”
The plan was simple.