Authors: Lynda Chance
Sheriff Cooper sat at the table, plowing his way through her pot roast, silent, as he usually was. His hair was damp from the thunderstorm he got caught in, the dark strands spiky from where he had run his hands through it.
Although he mostly ignored her while he ate, Becky nonetheless had a strange sensation tickling her brain that it was a forced attitude for him, because she felt the constant sizzle that was like a livewire between them lately whenever they were in the same room.
The rain continued outside, pinging against the tin of the roof. It had been coming down in a slow, steady stream all day. There were mud tracks around the room where his big boots had tracked in the dirt and rain. The world was soaking wet outside, but inside, it was warm and cozy, the aroma of the food Becky had been cooking all day scenting the air. The small noise from the sheriff's fork hitting his plate was a soothing sound that permeated her being. A deep feeling of pleasure rose up within her.
She moved over to the table and set the plate of brownies down within easy reach of his hand. As she came within his radius, his scent enveloped her. A fresh, masculine scent of gun-powder and horses came swiftly to her nostrils. A quivery sensation ran through her system and her eyes went to his face.
She caught her breath as she found his dark gaze silently watching her.
His eyes were hooded as they followed her every movement, whatever he was thinking was hidden by a closed look that nonetheless left her trembling. He wiped his mouth on the linen napkin, and raised his glass and finished the water in it, his eyes never leaving hers.
Becky was caught and mesmerized by the harsh beauty of his countenance. His eyes were dark, a velvet brown, and every time she looked in them, she felt like she was drowning. His face was ruggedly handsome, and even though she knew he was not yet thirty years old, he had small wrinkles at the corners of his eyes and deep crevices beside his sculpted mouth. His nose was blunt and dominated his face in a way that saved him from being truly beautiful.
They stared in silence at each other for a long moment. Finally, he broke it. He cleared his throat and lifted his glass and raised one, single, masculine eyebrow. "How about some more water, Becky-girl?" His deep voice rumbled into her. She was close enough to feel the vibrations slide through her. He had the deepest voice she had ever heard; it had the power to physically weaken her every time he spoke.
Becky let out a deep breath as she turned away from his acute inspection to retrieve the pitcher of cold water. She held it with both hands as she made her way back to the table. As she began to pour, her hands started shaking so much the water began to slosh over the top. When the drops threatened to soak the whole table, his strong hands wrapped around the top of her trembling fingers where they clutched the pitcher.
The shaking only got worse. Her eyes met his dark, intense ones. She bit her bottom lip, and his eyes travelled down to her mouth. She felt his grip tighten on her hands and a harsh expression spread over his face. He lifted the water pitcher from her and set it on the table.
She lowered her eyes to the floor and took a deep, steadying breath, trying to control her trembling fingers. He lifted his hand between them, hesitated in mid-air, and then balled his fingers into a fist and dropped it to his side.
He pushed his chair back from the table. The loud grating sound pinched at Becky's already turbulent nerves. He grabbed his hat and shoved it on his head.
Becky tried to make sense of his movements. She couldn't believe he was leaving again in this weather. She herself was hoping for it to let up before she had to walk back to the boardinghouse. "Where--where are you going?" Her soft voice was shaky and hesitant, just like the rest of her.
He turned away from the door and gave her one last, all-encompassing look. "Out." His voice was harsh, his mood grim.
The door slammed shut behind him and Becky closed her eyes in both relief and despair.
That evening, after her bath, Becky wandered down to the kitchen of the boardinghouse for a cup of tea. When she walked in, her Aunt Beth had the ledgers and financial papers strewn out on the table top. A worried frown marred her brow as she added up a column of numbers.
Becky saw with a pang in her heart the large negative sign glaring up from the bottom of the page. "Is everything okay, Aunt Beth?"
Her aunt looked up, but it was clear that her attention wasn't on Becky. "Hmmm, what dear? Oh yes, everything's just fine. Right as rain."
Becky filled the kettle. "You seem worried. Is everything okay with the boardinghouse? Do we have enough money?"
"Everything is fine, sweetie. We've always made it before, and we'll make it now, don't you worry, you'll see," her aunt answered her swiftly.
"I have some money saved if you need it," Becky offered.
Her aunt was already engrossed in the columns again. "What? Oh, no. No, Becky, honey. You keep your money. Everything will be fine."
Becky stirred her tea. "Are you sure?"
"Just so. Will you make your tired old aunt a cup of that tea?"
Becky saw the indomitable spirit in the twinkle of her aunt's eye. It didn't make her feel any better about their finances, but it did reassure her about her aunt's unwavering love for her. "Yes, Aunt Beth. Hot tea is just the thing."
The next evening, Becky finished preparing supper and was just setting the table when the sheriff came in through the front door. She paused in what she was doing, while he stopped just inside the threshold and his eyes slowly moved over her.
Things were changing between them. Enticing images came to her mind. The last few months she could feel his eyes riveted on her as she cleaned up in the evenings. Just as he was watching her now, setting the table.
The effect those dark eyes had on her, following her around as she tidied up.
Jake watched the girl in front of him. For the last year, the transformation from girl to woman had disturbed him. Small of stature, and delicate in appearance, the metamorphosis she had undergone was subtle. Always pretty, with silky blonde hair, her features had refined, her cheekbones becoming more prominent. Her face had an added maturity, and the white material of her apron couldn't hide the soft curves of her hips and breasts from him.
Three years before, when Beth Calloway had told him about her niece's plight, he had been empathetic. He'd always admired Mrs. Calloway, a childless, middle-aged widow trying to carve out a life in this harsh Texas town. When her niece was orphaned in Boston, she had opened her home to the fourteen-year-old girl, even though she couldn't afford to. Having had advanced schooling back East, the girl was already well educated, and her aunt couldn't afford any more schooling for her. But at fourteen, she was too young for a conventional job. By letting her do his cooking and cleaning, he had helped them all he could.
For the first two years, he mostly ignored her. She was always quiet, and left soon after he got home. There were a few times, even when she was only fourteen, he had gotten a whiff of her feminine scent. He would harden, immediately feel lower than a snake, and know he needed to visit the girls at the saloon.
But the last year had been hell. Unmitigated hell. He couldn't ignore her anymore. He knew every curve of her by sight. Her scent was ingrained in his brain and her face was a memory he could conjure at any time, day or night.
The situation was different now that she was almost grown-up. His body was rebelling against his brain. Having her in his house, day after day, without any physical relief was beginning to take a toll on him. He couldn't trust himself around her. She was too beautiful, too innocent. Too
It was becoming worse than bad. Always before when he would see her and become aroused, the girls at the saloon could relieve the stress. Not so anymore. Two seconds after crawling off one of them, he wanted Becky again. It was a need that wasn't going away, and wouldn't until he didn't have to see her every day. Didn't have to breathe in her scent, didn't have to see her soft curves moving around his house.
Becky clutched the plate to her mid-section, standing as still as a rabbit caught in a predators sight, when she saw the way he stood at the door, watching her.
Her hands began the all too familiar shaking, and she heard a roaring sound in her ears and a crashing, splintering noise at her feet. She looked down at the broken plate and in her confusion quickly bent down to retrieve it. A sharp pain in her hand jerked her upright again.
The spell was broken when his deep voice intruded on her consciousness. "
Becky stood immobile as he pushed off the door and was quickly upon her. He picked up her hand in his. "Becky, what the hell?"
She looked down at his hands holding hers and saw a stream of blood running from a cut on her finger. She realized she had compounded her mistake by cutting her finger. The plate was in shards on the floor. She knew those plates had belonged to his mother. Tears welled in her eyes.
"I'm sorry, Sheriff."
He pulled her to the kitchen and his large body crowded her against the counter as he held her hand where it was bleeding. His arms wrapped around her from behind, his chest pressed into her back as he held her bleeding finger in the pail of cold water. The water turned pink as she tried not to faint.
His mouth moved to her ear. "You're more trouble than you're worth." He growled the words in her ear. His warm breath caressed her face.
"I'm sorry about your m-mother's china." Her voice wobbled from the impact of his nearness.
He reached around and tugged her chin up so he could look into her eyes. "You know this isn't about the
china, don't you?" His eyes moved from hers, down to her lips.
She jerked in his arms and didn't answer.
"Be still now and let me help you." His hands tightened on her and his scent enveloped her senses.
Becky almost passed out. She had never been this close to him before. She gasped for air and her muscles tensed as he cleaned her finger and looked at the small cut there. Her body was shaking so hard she would have fallen if not for the counter in front of her and his body behind her. She had dreamt of his arms around her and wished now that he would hold her because he wanted to and not because she had hurt herself. She had wanted it forever.
No, she could never marry Kyle Bolton. Not when she felt this way about Jake Cooper.
He reached for a cloth and took her hand from the water. Becky stood in his grasp as he applied pressure to the small cut. They stayed like that for a long moment, only the sound of their breathing breaking the silence. He released her finger from his grasp and slid his hands to her shoulders. His grip was possessive, his hold strong. "Go home, Becky."
She didn't want to go home. She turned in his arms until she was facing him. Her eyes were level with his chest. She looked up through her eyelashes. "I h-have to clean up this mess." Her voice was soft and hesitant, the feelings he evoked making her heart pound.
"I'll do it. You get home now." The order was deep, irrefutable. He pinched her chin with his finger and thumb. "You go straight home. You hear me?" His fingers caressed her soft flesh.
She nodded her head.
"I mean it. Straight home." His hand moved to her cheek, and he twined his fingers in her hair. He studied her face, and his features became shuttered.
Finally he pushed her away from him, letting go of her completely.
When she reached the door, she turned back to look at him. His eyes were fixed on her, and his hands were in fists, the knuckles turning white where he gripped them so hard.
Becky tossed and turned that night. Captivating dreams of the Sheriff holding her and kissing her infiltrated her subconscious. Then the dream would change and Becky would be in Kyle Bolton's house, bars on the windows and beautiful old blue and white china broken at her feet. Powerlessness closed over her making breathing difficult, suffocating her until she woke from the nightmare that gripped her.
Becky got out of bed and walked over to the window where the moonlight streamed in through the lace curtains. She had never wanted anything as much in her life as she wanted to marry Jake Cooper. Would he ever see her as anything other than his housekeeper? As a girl too young to touch?
The next morning, much to Becky's aggravation, it happened again. This time, she was rounding the corner just past the bank when Kyle stepped out of nowhere and ran smack dab into her. Irritation and impatience poured from her. This time, his hands grasped hers.
"Becky, will you have lunch with me today? The hotel restaurant is serving prime rib. You'll love it."
Not wanting to make a scene or embarrass him, she gritted her teeth. "No thank you, Kyle." But not wanting to sugar-coat it either, she didn't even try to fob him off with a tale of being too busy or going with him another day, perhaps.