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Authors: Maclain's Wife

Jillian Hart (12 page)

BOOK: Jillian Hart
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Chapter Eleven

    "
No
." Polly squeezed the trigger, and the gunmen slid to the ground. He groaned, curling up on the forest floor and didn't move again. "Ben!"
    No answer.
    Panic beat in her chest. "Emily, I have to climb down and check on your pa."
    "What happened?" The girl hadn't seen her father get shot. She tried to crawl out onto the bough, her movements jerky with fear. "Where's Pa?"
    Gunfire exploded in the air. Polly dragged Emily back behind the safety of the trunk. "I'll see to him. You stay here."
    "No, I–"
    "Emily, I have to go." Maybe he was dead or dying. Maybe he needed care and protection.
    Emily's sobs silenced, but didn't stop. Polly thought her heart would tear into a thousand pieces climbing down that tree. She hit the ground and eased into the shadows. She moved as fast as she dared, praying for Ben's safety.
    "We brought down your sheriff." Dixon's voice echoed in the night. "You're all alone."
    Polly slid behind the boulder Ben had been using for cover. "If he dies, I'll never tell you where your gold is."
    "I'll find a way to change your mind." Dixon sounded as if he meant it. "Toss down your guns."
    "Sure thing." Her hands tightened on the revolver's grips.
    Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the gunmen move closer, stealing through the shadows, but they stopped at the edge of the forest.
    They knew how good she was with a gun. They weren't taking any chances.
    She eased around the rock. Ben's motionless body lay sprawled on his back in the shadows–Ben. She knelt beside him, but she didn't let go of her revolvers. She couldn't. Emily was still up in that tree. Dixon had no soft spot for children, like some outlaws did.
    Ben didn't move. Was he dead? She laid a hand on his chest and felt a steady heartbeat.
    Ben looked up at her. He held two revolvers cocked and ready. A small bloodstain crept across his upper left arm, but that was all.
    "I thought I could draw them out by playing up the injury," he confessed.
    "You had me scared to death." She could feel the prickle along her forehead, and she knew she was in a gunman's sites. "Are you ready?"
    "I'm a lawman. I'm always ready." He rolled to his feet, firing.
    Polly did the same. They hit three of the five men and kept running. Polly felt the burn of a flesh wound along her knee as she dodged behind a tree.
    Ben dove for cover behind a jagged rock. He reloaded, keeping watch on the forest, and she did the same.
    "Dixon, you're down to two men." Ben's voice thundered like a savage summer storm. "Toss down your weapons, and I won't have to kill you."
    "I'm not planning to die today, Sheriff."
    Warning prickled down his spine. Ben looked over his shoulder and saw the last of the gunmen slinking around a rise to aim at Polly. He spun around and squeezed the trigger. The outlaw aimed as he tumbled through the air, and fired.
   
Polly
. Was she hit? Ben swung with both barrels cocked, grief and fury hammering hard in his guts–
    "I got him." He saw her standing over Dixon, who lay on the ground on his stomach. "Toss me your handcuffs. You'd better check on the wounded."
    Ben tossed her a pair of cuffs from his belt. He spotted the neat bullet wound through Dixon's thigh. "I thought you were dead."
    "Not with you guarding my back." She snapped the bands of steel around Dixon's wrists. "Thanks, MacLain. There's bounties on him in three territories."
    Every time he blinked, he saw her sprawled on the ground, dead from the gunman's bullet. He tried to drive the image out of his mind, but it remained, even when he'd confiscated all the weapons and bound the outlaws. He rescued Emily from the tree, and she was shivering with fear.
    "Did you see how Polly saved me?" she whispered, clinging fiercely to his neck.
    "I saw." He held her close, wrapping his arms around her. Yes, he hadn't missed how Polly had protected his child.
    Not that he got the chance to tell her so. She didn't look at him as she gathered up the outlaws' horses.
    She worked with a quick efficiency that would do any lawman justice.
    Polly Brown might not be the kind of wife he'd been hoping for. But she was the woman he wanted.

    Polly couldn't sleep, even though it was late. She settled down on the back porch step, wrapped her arms around her knees, careful of the bandage, and listened to the sounds of the night. She tried not to think of all that could have gone wrong tonight.
    By the time they'd brought Dixon and his men into town and tossed them in jail, midnight had come and gone. There had been the doctor to summon and deputies to wake. Polly had held a sleeping Emily in her arms while Ben did his job.
    Now the little girl was tucked warm and safe in her bed, and Ben slept behind his closed door. He could sleep. He had a clear conscience.
    She didn't.
    A raccoon waddled across the yard to wash his hands and face in the bucket beneath the pump. Another raccoon followed, leading three young pups. With their human-like hands, they gripped the edge of the pail and splashed in the water.
    The screen door squeaked open behind her. "I thought I'd find you out here. Want a drink?"
    She heard the slosh of an opened bottle of whiskey and nodded. "Wouldn't hurt."
    "I couldn't sleep either." He eased down on the porch step next to her.
    Every inch of her body shivered at his nearness. He offered the liquor to her, but she gestured for him to go first. He tipped the bottle back and took a long pull. She watched the cords in his neck work. She wanted to reach out and lay her cheek against his chest. She wanted to lose herself in the comfort of his arms.
    He handed her the bottle. She welcomed the feel of whiskey across her tongue. She didn't like the taste of strong spirits, but she was still shaking even four hours after the shoot-out. Her stomach burned, and she closed her eyes.
    "Tell me about it," he invited.
    How wonderful that sounded. To just talk about her feelings and have someone listen, have someone care. "I could have gotten us all killed tonight."
    "With your gun skills? Not a chance." His hand glided along the back of her shoulders.
    She melted at his touch. "They could have surrounded us. You were distracted–"
    "I was kissing you. Rather well, or at least I hope."
    She rubbed her hand over her face and watched the raccoons scurry off, the mother chirping to her babies.
    He leaned close and plucked the bottle from her grip. "You didn't like my kiss? Is that what's troubling you?"
    "I wanted to belong here, in this dream. I really did." The alcohol had hit her blood. She felt warm all over, and her feelings just bubbled out into words. "I hoped Dixon wouldn't come after me. I just wanted to be left alone. I should have known better."
    His fingers curled around her arm and he drew her against his side.
    She ached to tell him all her fears, but she couldn't. "Dixon thinks I know where my brother buried the gold."
    "What gold?" Then he nodded his head, his whiskered jaw brushing pleasantly against her forehead. "Wait, I know. The bars missing from the Golden Gulch stage robbery."
    "I heard my brother was hurt bad and dropped out of sight. He died later. Some said he robbed a bank, but others said it could have been a stage. I was in a saloon a ways south of here at the time." Polly let her head bob against Ben's shoulder. "I should have figured it out. My brother was involved with the robbery, and somehow my name got on a wanted poster."
    "So Dixon thinks you know where the gold is."
    "I hope he's the only one." She pushed away from him. "My past has followed me here and put you and Emily in danger. You both could have been killed tonight, and all because of my silly dreams."
    "It was my blackmailing scheme that kept you here." Ben's lips brushed her brow.
    Want arced through her, and she fought against it. "I didn't think I would bring any harm to you."
    "You haven't brought any more trouble than I get now and then. Sometimes outlaws decide to move in, and it's my job to discourage them."
    "Discourage them? You probably arrest every last one of them. You're a pretty good shot, MacLain."
    "So I've been told." His lips nibbled down her cheek.
    "You'll want to send me away. I don't blame you." Her breath caught in her throat and emotions balled hard and sharp in her stomach.
    He brushed the back of his hand against her jaw. "I told you. This is a permanent arrangement, regardless of your past. Emily needs you. And so do I."
    His lips found hers, and he tasted smoky with whiskey and tangy like the night. She melted against him, surrendering to the feel of his teeth plucking at her lower lip and the brush of his tongue to hers. She clung to him, desperate to drive away the turmoil inside her.
    "I want you." Ben's words hummed against her mouth, and his breath mingled with hers. "Right here, right now. I want you so much I ache."
    She wanted him, too. She tilted her head back, offering him the sensitive curve of her throat as he nibbled and laved. He rained kisses along the edge of her chin and brushed kisses all the way down to her collar.
    "Here. Come closer." His hands curled around the backs of her thighs and lifted. She went willingly onto his lap, straddling him with her thighs.
    A strange dizzying heat left her reeling. Her stomach dropped end over end as he brought her up against him. She could feel the hard ridge of his erection through his denims and see that the top two buttons were loose at his fly. She could see white cotton stretch around the shape of his hard shaft.
    She started to tremble. Part of her wanted to touch him and to let that part of him touch her. But the lessons of a lifetime were too well-learned to throw away now.
    When Ben's mouth searched for hers, she buried her face in the cradle made by his neck and shoulder. It wasn't enough, but she held him tight. So very tight. Her body strummed with a strange heat, and she knew that if she let him unbutton her nightgown and taste her breasts, then she would lose every last shred of control.
    Control was a thing a woman should never lose.
    His kiss caressed along the curve of her neck, the outside of her ear, and back to her hungry mouth. Ben took his time, and his kisses changed from fiery to tender. His touch was sweet enough to bring tears to her eyes. She clung to him, even when he shifted his weight. She buried her face so he wouldn't see her emotions. So he would never know how vulnerable he left her.
    He held her until dawn came and made the world fresh and new.

    Ben MacLain was a man of his word. Sometimes it was damn hard, but living on the wrong side of the law had taught him a few things. Dishonesty never paid, and broken promises had a way of becoming a habit. So he tried never to do either. He'd promised Polly separate bedrooms, and that's what they were going to have–if she wanted. They didn't have to sleep together. Fine.
    That didn't mean they couldn't have sex.
    He'd been a long time without the comfort of a woman in his arms. Until Polly, he never thought he'd want that comfort again. In fact, he'd been certain of it. It felt as if he were leaving Neesa behind. But it was time, and he was finally ready. He knew she would understand.
    He'd come downstairs this morning to find Polly chopping wood. She made a campfire in the back yard, outside the kitchen door, and was frying up breakfast.
    Emily was crouched at her side, chatting up a storm. This morning she wore her cowboy hat and her play holsters. Her eyes shone with unending admiration every time she looked at Polly.
    He finished oiling his revolvers and rubbed them down. The smell of oil and gunpowder was cozy, a memory from his childhood. His father had been a gunsmith, and they'd lived in the back of his shop. The smells of his pa's workplace had always found their way into the apartment. Those were good times before Pa was killed in a holdup and there had been no one to take him in but his uncle, a thief and an outlaw.
    Sometimes it was nice to have good memories. Like the ones he was making now. He grabbed a clean cloth and polished the steel nose of the revolver. Outside the window, a movement caught his eye. Polly hopped up to grab a handful of kindling, then knelt back down.
    Today she wore denims, and they shaped her rear, hips and thighs in fantastic detail. It was breathtaking. When she knelt down to flip the pancakes, he watched. Hell, he couldn't look away. Want pounded through his veins, steady and sharp. Desire for her never waned but seemed to double and triple every time he looked at her.
    He could still taste her kiss on his mouth. If he closed his eyes, he could remember the soft pillows of her breasts against his chest. Last night, her weight had been sweet on his thighs when she straddled him. The way her body had pressed against his straining shaft had nearly undone him.
    Even now, he pounded with need for her.
    He spun the chambers into place and holstered the revolvers. Through the open window, he caught snatches of conversation, Polly's summer wind voice and Emily's musical response. They were going gold panning this morning. It was all his daughter could talk about. They could catch fish for dinner and Polly could show her what berries to pick.
    He caught Polly's gaze through the window and she smiled, a little shy. He knew damn well that she was remembering last night's intimacy because it was all he could think about. She ducked away, flipped the pancakes from the skillet and didn't look up at him again.
    Polly's life had been tough, there was no doubt about it. But she wasn't cold-hearted. And she knew the way things worked between a man and a woman. He figured she had experience, and he was certain he could change her mind.
    "Pa! Come see what Polly made. "Emily dashed into the kitchen, flinging the door open wide. "She didn't even burn it."
    "I bet you're both going to like my pancakes." Polly looked happy with her wind-tousled hair and her cheeks pink from the fire's heat. She set the platter of fluffy pancakes and sizzling sausage onto the table. "I think we ought to sell that wicked old stove. Wait– no one would pay good money for a clunker like that. You'll have to give it away."
    "It would be handy come winter to heat the kitchen with." Ben buckled on his gun belt. "Those pancakes sure smell good."
    She glowed, a subtle brightening of her spirit that made his senses spin.
    "And look, Mrs. Roberts's son delivered the wood yesterday while we were away. I can get to the kitchen repairs this afternoon, after Emily and I go panning for gold."
    "I'm not even going to ask." He had no doubt she knew how to use every tool he owned. "Do you want any help?"
    "Sure. If you can spare time away from your work." She passed him the platter.
    The scent had his mouth watering and his stomach growling like a wild thing.
    Finally, for the first time since she arrived in town, there were no more threats against her. Ben reached for the butter and hoped their lives were about to settle into a peaceful routine.

BOOK: Jillian Hart
6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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