Authors: Lynda Chance
"Aww, come on. You have to stop and eat."
"I will stop and eat. I'll have a sandwich for lunch, just as I do most days."
"Not today. Today we're having lunch at the restaurant." His grip became firmer.
Becky had had enough. "Release me."
. This instant." Her voice was strained and harsh and he got the message because his hands came up in front of him to show her he meant no harm.
"Okay, I let you go. But I think I'll claim a kiss for--"
Becky screeched and stepped back from him. "Don't you dare try to kiss me again, Kyle Bolton! You need to find some other girl to try to woo. I have been as nice to you as I can but--"
Becky's words came to a halt when she saw the tall, dark figure stroll up beside Kyle.
Jake Cooper was blatantly male and his hair was dark, almost black today. He stood at least a couple of inches over six feet tall and had the widest shoulders she had ever seen. His gunbelt hung low around his hips, his jeans were faded and molded lovingly to his thighs. He wore scuffed and dusty boots, and they added even more to his height. He had an intrinsically dominant nature, something she had only noticed in the last few months.
Had he heard what they were talking about? She thought not, because he seemed uninterested, bored even.
He stood back, saying nothing, until Kyle noticed him standing there. "Good day, Sheriff."
"Bolton. How are you?" Becky couldn't help but compare how much deeper the sheriff's voice was to Kyle's. It had been that way in her dreams the night before, also.
"Very well, thank you for asking. I was just trying to entice Miss Hamilton to partake in an early lunch with me at the restaurant."
Jake's eyes narrowed on Kyle, then turned to Becky. A thrill ran through her when she saw the scowl appear between his eyebrows.
Jake turned back to Kyle. His words were casual, his stance anything but. "I'm afraid Becky won't be able to have lunch with you today, Bolton. She's going to be tied up running errands for me." After delivering this, he turned back to Becky.
His eyes met hers and he beckoned her to follow him with an arrogant movement of his head. "Let's go." He turned and strode off, never once looking to see if she was behind him.
She was at once both exhilarated and insulted by his high-handedness. No matter. She left Kyle standing on the boardwalk as she followed a few paces behind the sheriff.
When he opened the door to his office three doors down, he stood back and held it open for her, fully expecting her to be behind him.
She was. She walked in and took a quick look around. No one was there, the deputies were out on duty, and the jail cells sat empty.
She had been in his office many times, mostly to deliver food when he couldn't get home to eat. Now, she continued into the middle of the room and turned to face him, a question in her eyes.
Jake had been momentarily stunned when he came across the young Bolton boy trying to win Becky's favor. It never occurred to him that other men were beginning to view Becky as anything other than a young girl, but evidently, the Bolton kid was close enough to her age to see she was growing up.
When his mind cleared, his body had been seized with a need for immediate violence against the boy that dared to step too close to what he saw as his personal property. Against his will, he felt the slight veneer of civilization he always kept in place begin to slip. Ruthlessly, he had to pull it back and maintain a façade of professional integrity. After all, the boy wasn't breaking any laws, and Jake didn't want to intimidate him needlessly.
But letting Becky go off with the boy was not an option. He put up the only roadblock he could come up with on the spur of the moment. And now he had Becky in his office, waiting for him to list his requirements when there were none.
Becky waited patiently, the memory of the Sheriff's face when he realized that Kyle was trying to court her going a long way in soothing her irritation with his arrogant manner of a few moments ago.
They watched each other across the room, Becky standing still and straight, Jake in a seemingly relaxed position, blocking the door with his large body.
Becky was the first to break the silence. "What would you like me to do for you, Sheriff?"
The innocence of the innuendo struck Jake straight in the groin. He felt himself harden as the remark took on a different meaning in his mind. She was too young and naïve to realize the connotation of what she had said, but Jake felt it hit him like a bolt of lightning.
To distract her from the lack of errands he actually needed done, and to cover up the lust raging inside, he softly questioned her, "How's that cut doing, Becky-girl?"
Becky felt the same tingle run through her that she did every time he called her
. Somehow, it always sounded a little bit intimate, a little bit possessive on his part. Suddenly, she was lost in his eyes as the daydream of what it would be like to be married to him cascaded through her. It was the same dream she had about him often; the same dream that now had her breath hitching in her lungs.
Jake watched the flush that started at the base of her throat, where that one single button was undone, travel up her neck and through her cheeks. Her eyes became glassy, and try as he might, he couldn't stop himself from taking the few steps toward her that suddenly seemed necessary for life itself.
Becky broke from her reverie as Jake prowled toward her. Her heartbeat accelerated as he lifted his hand and threaded his large palm around her cheekbone, sinking his hand into her hair.
He lifted her face to his and his eyes glittered down into hers with an intensity that struck Becky as all-consuming. He didn't speak, only stared down at her, while his hand in her hair tied her to him.
The total absorption was too much for her, and she whispered, "There's n-noth--nothing, is there? N-nothing special that needs doing today."
Jake's grasp on her face became punishing. He was lowering his head to hers when the outside door opened and Deputy Tyler Jones strode into the office.
Jake knew who had walked in even with his back toward the door. His large body blocked Becky entirely. His desire to kiss her remained, but his hand lifted from her face as he fought to restrain the temptation to continue touching her in front of his deputy.
Jake's scowl became menacing when he was denied the kiss Becky knew had been coming. Liquid heat poured through her body from the abbreviated encounter, and from the struggle for control she could see on his face.
When he finally spoke, his voice was a soft growl and meant for her ears only. "You work for me. Only me. There's always something that you need to be doing for me. Today it's the cooking and cleaning."
"Everyday it's the cooking and cleaning. That's no reason--"
"That's all the reason you need to be concerned with. You don't need to be running off all over creation with God knows who, when your little butt needs to be at my house. That's what I pay you for."
Becky watched the harsh lines of his face tighten in displeasure. Could this be a result of her conversation with Kyle? What else could it be? Becky knew the care she took of the sheriff and that she kept his home impeccably clean. And what was more, she knew that he knew it, too. A heady feeling came over her when she realized that this could be in fact, a sign of jealousy.
Jake watched the half-girl, half-woman standing before him.
What the hell had come over him? Just because some stupid kid had shown a slight interest in her, he had gone berserk. Horror slowly spread through him as he realized he had almost grabbed her and kissed her and God only knew what else. And he would have too, if they hadn't been interrupted. Appalled shock ran down his spine when he thought about how close he had come to losing it with her.
With a sharp warning to himself to be careful, he walked over to the door and held it open for her. When she started through the threshold, his hand shot out and gripped the soft flesh of her upper arm. "I want stew for supper." He paused as his thumb unconsciously rubbed the underside of her arm. "Is that going to be a problem?"
Becky stilled, her whole being centered on the warm hand wrapped around her arm, his touch on her flesh making a live current rush between them. She sucked in a whispery breath. "N-no." Her eyes lifted to the dark velvet of his, staring down at her. "What--whatever y-you want."
Jake was inundated as a vortex of feelings almost incapacitated him. Lust, jealousy, and an upsetting arrow of
gripped him. As he released her arm and she ran off down the street, he hung his head.
The situation was untenable. It absolutely couldn't go on.
Two hours later, Becky hurried back to the sheriff's house, the sugar clutched in her hands.
She reached the front door of his house and stepped into the darkened interior. The front door slammed shut behind her. As her eyes adjusted to the dimness of the room, she caught her breath at the sight in front of her.
She wasn't expecting him home this early. He never came home this early.
The sheriff leaned against the table, watching her. Her heartbeat accelerated from the impact of his presence. "Where have you been?" His voice was low and deep, laced with a tension she was only beginning to understand. She tried to control her sudden nervousness. It was always like this when he was nearby. Nobody she had ever met affected her the way he did. Her blood warmed as quivers raced through her system.
"We ran out of s-sugar." She was breathless from the quick trip to the store, and from the unexpected sight of him.
"We?" he asked. His voice was smooth, like honey running through her.
She ignored the question, slid her eyes away from his and moved away from the door to the stove.
Becky watched the sheriff out of the corner of one eye as she leveled off a cup of sugar. She tried to concentrate on the icing for the cake she had baked for him, but she couldn't with all his attention focused on her.
"You can't keep working here. It's not safe for you anymore." His words were flat, spoken as if they pained him.
"Not safe?" Her eyes were glued to him, but there was no alarm for her safety in her voice.
"You're seventeen now, Becky." Irritation laced his words. His arms crossed in front of his chest. He leaned back against the table, one booted foot across the other. "You're not a young girl anymore. You can't keep coming here, being alone with me."
"You won't--you won't hurt me. You're the sheriff." Distress slid through her. She had to keep coming here. It was the only way she could see him every day. The only way she had of taking care of him, being with him. Her hands rubbed down her apron in turbulence. The sliding movement pulled her apron and dress down. The material of her bodice tightened next to the soft curves of her breasts. Her breathing was palpable.
"I didn't say I would hurt you, sweetheart."
Lightning speared through Becky. Sweetheart! He'd never called her anything but Becky, or sometimes Becky-girl, and the sound of his deep, gruff voice using the endearment was like a shot of adrenaline to her head. He was so handsome, so
, everything she had ever wanted.
"I would never hurt you. But things can't go on like this forever. You're all grown up now, and I'm a single, twenty-eight year old lawman. It doesn't look right, you coming here every day. We would have to be married for this to look right."
All Becky heard was the word
. Was he finally going to
? She wasn't going to let this opening gambit slip by. "Yes.
, Sheriff. That would be lovely. That would solve all my problems and I could--"
"Hold up." His deep voice cut her words off. "I didn't ask you to marry me. You're too young to get married." Holy hell! Where had she gotten that from? Did she think about him that way? He let the tantalizing image of marriage slide through him. His bed, her body. In his mind, he saw her naked, spread out for him. Her pale, slender limbs opening for him. Again and again, night after night. The thought brought immediate heat to his groin, and his body tightened in anticipation. It had come so close earlier that day. He had come so close to kissing her. He wanted to kiss her. Hell, he wanted more than kisses from her.
She flushed. "I'm sorry. I thought that's what you meant." Her eyes skittered away from his, and then back again. "But I'm not too young to get married. I'm seventeen."
"I know how the hell old you are." He scowled at her, until her earlier words finally registered. "What problems are you talking about?" The width of the room stood between them. Although he lounged against the table, he looked like a predator, ready to pounce.
Her hands were gripped in front of her. Her knuckles turned white. Her agitation was apparent. "No. Nothing. N--nothing at all."
He pushed away from the table with one booted foot. "Bull." He moved toward her. She backed up until she hit the wall.