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Authors: Loretta Chase Catherine Anderson Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

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BOOK: Three Weddings And A Kiss
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Rachel rubbed herself against him more insistently. “Please?”

“Damn it, girl,” he said in a gravelly voice, “go home. Play with fire and you’re bound to get burned.”

“Oh, yes, if you’re the fire, I
want
to be burned. Please, I wan—”

He vised an arm around her waist and settled his mouth over hers. For an instant, she wasn’t sure what had happened. Slowly, measure by measure, her stunned mind began to register sensations: his mouth, hot and silken, pressed firmly against hers; his arm cinched around her waist; his hand splayed over her back; his fingertips curled over her side; his steely thighs bracing hers. Fire didn’t describe Matt Rafferty. A blazing inferno, more like. She felt as though she were being consumed.

Just last week, she’d finally permitted Lawson to kiss her. The techniques of the two men were about as much alike as warm milk and jalapeño juice. In Lawson’s arms, Rachel had felt safe and faintly bored. In Matt’s, she felt as if she were dangling from a cliff, he her only anchor. His kiss was hard and demanding. There was no shyness in him,
no
hesitation, only steely determination. Beneath her hands, which she’d instinctively brought up to push him
away,
his chest was roped with muscle that lay rigid under a layer of firm yet resilient male flesh. His torso was like an unyielding wall of granite, crushing her breasts, making her intensely aware that her body was far more sensitive and vulnerable than his.

When he finally drew back, Rachel gasped for breath, her gaze startled. “Are you still sure you want to be burned?” he demanded gruffly. “I’m warnin’ you—think carefully before you answer. There comes a point where there is no turnin’ back, you know, and I’ve about reached it.”

It occurred to Rachel in that moment that he had deliberately kissed her roughly to frighten her away and that now he expected her to bolt. Well, she didn’t scare quite that easily. He burned hot, all right, but thanks to some whiskey laced with valerian, his flame would soon flicker out. The most he could do in the time he had left
was
singe her edges a bit.

“Oh, yes,” she whispered, “I still want to be burned.”

For just an instant, he hesitated, his gaze delving deeply into hers as if he searched for answers. Then, as if he’d found them, he bent his head and settled his mouth over hers again, more gently this time, but with even more devastating impact.

2

W
et silk.
Cool fire. Icy flames licked Rachel’s skin, making her burn and shiver.

“Part your lips, sweetheart,” Matt Rafferty whispered urgently against her mouth.

Afraid to deny him for fear he’d guess that her seductive act was all a
ruse,
she did as he told her. The next thing she knew, his tongue slipped past her teeth. Shock snapped her body taut. She made fists on his shirt front. As if he sensed her startlement, he drew back to nibble lightly at her lower lip. “It’s all right. Just trust me.”

Rachel would have sooner trusted a snake, but deep within her, everything that was feminine responded to the husky timber of his voice. When he kissed her again, she parted her lips, allowing him to taste her mouth. He plundered the sensitive flesh, tickling the roof of her mouth and drawing sharply on her tongue, forcing it to dance with his in a rhythmic thrust that made her belly tighten and tingle in a strange way.

The unfamiliar sensation frightened her, but when she tried to end the kiss, she discovered that he’d curled a hand over the back of her head. She remembered his
warning, that
after a certain point, there was no turning back. Fighting down panic, she reminded herself he’d lose consciousness soon. But somehow that wasn’t very reassuring. A flash fire could cover a lot of ground in a few short minutes.

His breathing was uneven with need, and when she writhed to disengage herself from his embrace, he moaned, the sound catching and quivering at the base of his throat. Another wave of panic surged within her when he slid his hand from her back to her side, his fingertips searching out the shape of her breast and homing in on its peak. She jerked at the contact and managed, finally, to draw her mouth from under his.

“Christ,” he whispered against her cheek, each huff of his breath as not and moist against her skin as the steam from coffee. Through the layers of her clothing, he staked claim to the hardened tip of her nipple, tugging and rolling the sensitive flesh. Rachel was so stunned by the feelings that rocked
her,
she couldn’t breathe, let alone protest. “Ah, sweetheart,” he rasped against her temple. “I want that in my mouth.”

Given the location of his hand, there was little doubt in Rachel’s mind what part of her anatomy he referred to. The very thought appalled her.

“I bet you’re as sweet there as sun-warmed honey.”

The picture that had begun to form in Rachel’s mind was so indecent she nearly kicked him. How dare he even suggest—well, no woman, lady or otherwise, would engage in such outrageous conduct. She jerked his hand from her breast. Because she didn’t dare reveal what was actually on her mind, she settled for saying, “Mr. Rafferty, we are standing in the middle of the street where anyone might see us.”

“Then let’s find someplace private,” he murmured near her ear. “It’s not every day I have Rachel Constantine beggin’ me to make love to her.”

He had that much correct, at least. With careful maneuvering, she managed to get some space between their bodies. Cheeks afire, she found it difficult to meet his gaze, so instead she focused on his nose. Even in the dim light, she noticed that there was a knot along its bridge. She wondered if he’d broken it in a fight. Given his reputation as a scrapper, he probably had.

“How about if we go to the church?” she suggested shakily.

“Where?”

By his shocked tone, she guessed he had understood her perfectly. “The church,” she repeated. “It’s as private a place as we’re likely to find.”

“The church?”
He gave a sharp laugh. “I’m not usually what you’d call a finicky man, but that’s not exactly my idea of a suitable spot, darlin’.”

“Of course it’s suitable. One might even say perfect! Just think. Who ever goes there at this hour on a Saturday night? Even Preacher Wells is home in bed.”

“That’s true, but—”

“Just think of all those pews, those lovely pews, empty and waiting. It’ll be dark in there. We can have hours and hours of uninterrupted privacy.” On that last word, Rachel squeezed her eyes closed for a second and sent up a quick, frantic prayer that he wasn’t going to be difficult. “It’ll be wonderful, just wait and see.”

He traced the shape of her ear with the tip of his tongue. “It just doesn’t seem right somehow, fornicating in a holy place.”

Of all the things she had planned on, Matt Rafferty having scruples wasn’t one of them. Thinking quickly, she said, “Oh, pshaw. Paint and wood, that’s all. It’s the folks gathering inside the building that makes it holy, not the structure itself. A barn would be just as sacred if people gathered there to worship.”

“A barn?”

“Or any other building.
Trust me, if we use the church, God won’t mind a bit.”

He laughed again, more mellowly. “Why do I have this feelin’ you’re bent on doin’ it on a church pew?”

Rachel assumed an impish smile and leaned back. “It’s a wonderfully wicked idea, isn’t it? And, oh, I do so want to be wicked. Deliciously wicked…with you.”

It seemed to her that he was beginning to lean his weight more heavily against her. “Then let’s go,” he said. “Oh, and by the way, hard and fast.”

“What?”

“Hard and fast,” he repeated, bringing his face closer to hers as he spoke. “You gave me a choice, remember?
Deep and slow or hard and fast.
I’ll take hard and fast.”

Rachel shoved against his shoulders, but it was like trying to hold back a mountain.
“Um…Mr. Rafferty?”
She twisted her face to one side so that his hot, silken lips landed harmlessly on her ear again.
Or maybe not so harmlessly.
He caught her lobe between his teeth and—Rachel gulped. Oh, dear God. He was
sucking
on her earlobe. “Mr. Rafferty?” she tried again, fighting off panic. “Not out here. We have to go to the church, remember?”

“Oh, yeah…”

He straightened so abruptly that he staggered, carrying her along with him. She hugged his waist and struggled to regain her balance, terrified he might fall. If he landed on top of her—well, she’d be in a pickle, and no mistake. He was well over six feet tall, and probably outweighed her by close to a hundred pounds.

“Lead the way, ma’am.” He stepped aside and swept his hat from his head in an unsteady bow. “Believe me, makin’ love to such a pretty lady will be my pleasure.”

Rachel grabbed his arm, helped him get his hat back on, and then struck off for the
church,
an endeavor she quickly learned was going to take far longer than she had estimated. For every step Matt Rafferty took forward, he executed anywhere from two to a dozen in either direction sideways, dragging Rachel with him.

The possibility that he might collapse in the street became more of a threat with each passing moment. If that happened, she could still steal his trousers and leave him where he lay to sleep it off, but it wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying as having him wake up in church. After his public rejection of Molly, he deserved to be repaid with the ultimate humiliation. On that thought, Rachel felt him sway again. She was a little amazed at how suddenly the sedative seemed to be hitting him now.

He draped his arm over her shoulders for support. “I think I’m drunk.
Not just a little, but real drunk.”

“Really?” she asked, feigning incredulity.

“My senti-sendimun—well, shit. I can’t even talk straight.”

“Sentiments?” she supplied.

He snapped his fingers, nearly taking off the end of her nose in the process, and then started to laugh.
“Sent—uh—ments.
My sent—uh—ments exack-ly. Only now I can’t remember what I was sent-uh-mentin’ about.”

Looking up at him, Rachel smiled in spite of herself. For a low-down, dangerous, heartless scoundrel, he had a way about him. She decided it was partly that lopsided grin of his, so boyishly disarming in contrast to his harshly planed features. Then, of course, there were his eyes, which always seemed to be twinkling.

“You were just making the observation you might be drunk,” she reminded him.

“Boy, howdy.”
He snapped his fingers again.
“On three measly drinks.”

“You must have lost count and had more than that.”

“Nope.
Never have more’n that.”

That came as a surprise. Unless the stories she’d heard were totally false, Matt Rafferty frequented the Golden Goose every Saturday night and drank all evening, playing cards and cavorting shamelessly. A man of moderation, he definitely wasn’t.

“Oh, come on, you can tell me. You drink the well dry, right?”

He shook his head.
“Nope.
I don’t cotton much to drinkin’.”

“Since when?” she asked, curious in spite of herself.

“Since forever.
Outa respe—respect for my ma. She didn’t cotton to drunkenness, not in her boys.
Claimed liquor ‘n’ Irish was a bad mix.
I reckon she was right, ’cause whiskey killed my da.”

“Then why drink at all?”

He started to laugh. “Now there’s a plan.”

She couldn’t see what he found so humorous. “I take it you’ve considered that.”

He held up a finger. “But, as you can see, plans have a way of not always working out.” He reeled to a sudden stop, focused blearily on something ahead of them in the darkness, and said, “I can’t hold the damned things still long enough to get a good count, but they look like too many.”

She realized they had reached the church and that he was referring to the front steps. Like him, she had to squint to see them, albeit for different reasons.
“Too many for what?”

“To climb.”
As if he found that hysterically funny, he began to laugh again. Then, with no warning, he leaned down, thumping his forehead sharply against hers. “Jesus…” He exhaled in a great rush. “I don’t know, honey. I hate to disappoint a lady, but this is one time my good friend Henry may fail to rise to the occasion.”

Thinking that he might have made arrangements to meet with his friend Henry after leaving the saloon, Rachel glanced worriedly over her shoulder. “Who’s that?”

“Who’s what?”

“Henry. Who is he?”

“Henry is—” He broke off and started to laugh again. When he caught his breath, he said, “Dear God, you are sweet. Honest to goodness, pure as an angel, genuine sweet. It’s been so long, I’d forgotten girls like you exist.”

Rachel couldn’t see what her disposition had to do with anything. “Thank you,” she said distractedly. “But you didn’t answer my question. Who is Henry? You didn’t mention that he was going to come.”

His shoulders jerked with mirth again. “He isn’t.
That the whole damned problem.
Ain’t that a hell of a note?”

Growing impatient with his nonsensical responses, Rachel steered him toward the steps. “We shall do quite well without him, I assure you.”

“Lord, help me.”

A chance for revenge beckoning sweetly, she endeavored to help him up the flight of steps. So what if Matt Rafferty seemed kind of nice? She knew he
wasn’t,
that he couldn’t possibly be. If he were, he wouldn’t have done something so reprehensible to her sister. Why should she show him any mercy when he’d shown Molly none?

All of a sudden, Matt reeled backward. Taken off guard, Rachel tumbled with him. Luckily, they had scaled only a few levels. Dust mushrooming around them, they landed in an ungainly heap at the bottom of the steps, Rachel’s skirts and petticoats around her waist, Matt’s long legs crisscrossing hers.

“Damn.” After taking one look at her, he sat up and brushed at her clothing. “I apologize. There seems to be a slight hitch in my get along. Are you all right?”

With her skirts tossed up as they were, Rachel was too flustered to feel any pain, if indeed she was injured somewhere. He flashed one of those disarming grins at her. “Lucky for you, no one but me is here to see.”

She shoved at his shoulder. “I’d prefer
that no one see, you included
.”

“I’m gonna see more’n that before all is said and done.”

He attempted to get up, but only made it as far as his knees before losing his balance again. He waved away another plume of dust. “Well, hell.”

Rachel read the defeat in his expression and was determined to have none of it. She would get him inside that church, she vowed, even if she had to carry him every inch of the way. “You can do it,” she said in an encouraging voice.

“It doesn’t look like it to me.”

“Yes, well, you’re drunk and therefore no judge.” She pushed to her feet, grabbed him under the arms, and strained to lift him. “Get up, Mr. Rafferty.”

“I’m tryin’.”

“Try harder!” Her throat burning from the dirt particles she had inhaled, Rachel groaned with frustration when, after utilizing nearly all her strength, he still hadn’t gained his feet. “You have to make it. After getting you this far, I can’t quit now.”

He jerked his arms from her grasp. “Stop strainin’ to lift me,” he ordered gruffly. “You’re gonna keep on until you hurt yourself.”

BOOK: Three Weddings And A Kiss
7.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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