“IT’S ALMOST MIDNIGHT,” Cullen said, snapping closed his pocket watch.
She shivered. One of the longest days in her life was ending. “Will you walk me back to the wagon? I think I can sleep now.” The breeze had cleared away the dust and perfumed the air with the sweet scent of prairie flowers, and Pacific Springs gurgled in the background. “I don’t want to think about buffalo and dead people and an empty cradle.”
He opened his watch and checked the time again before stroking the sides of her face with trembling fingers. “So much was left unsaid the night we were together.” His breath was but a wisp against her lips.
Nothing felt more natural than to slip into his arms and share a kiss. She belonged there. His mouth came down on hers, tentatively at first, then deeper with more insistence.
“I’m sorry for lying to you,” she mumbled against his lips. “But I couldn’t tell you why I was here.”
“I know.” Moonlight illuminated the understanding in his expression. “I want to ask you…” He opened his watch and checked the time again.
She’d never seen him so nervous.
“It’s now June seventeenth.” His voice sounded melodic, softer, like a string quartet. His body, however, conveyed a different message, tense and high-strung.
Something was on his mind?
He stood shrouded in the sky’s pale light as he took her hands and dropped to one knee.
Ohmygod. Now, she began to tremble.
His hands felt moist in hers. “Kitherina MacKlenna…”
A tingling sensation raced up her spine.
“Let me love you for the rest of your life.” Then he added without taking a breath, “Marry me.”
She dropped to her knees, literally swept off her feet by his declaration. “You’re asking me to—”
“You told me before we made love you couldn’t live with the regret if you said no. I hope you feel the same about marriage.”
“Where will we live?” The question came out fast and jumbled as one long word.
“My job’s in San Francisco.”
“Mine’s in Kentucky.”
He sat on the ground and pulled her into his lap. “I know you’re not asking about cities?”
“I can’t disappear permanently.”
“I wouldn’t have asked you to marry me without a feasible plan.”
“I have to go back.”
“Until you know the identity of the man in the portrait and how he fits into your life, you can’t go home.”
He pressed a finger to her lips. “After you discover his identity, if you still want to leave, I’ll go with you.”
“But you have a law practice and a family.”
“If I have to choose between my family and you, I choose you.”
She pulled away from him and sat up straight. “I have to go home. If only to settle my affairs, I have to go.”
“Marry me at noon.”
She gasped. “That’s just twelve hours.”
“I’m afraid of losing you.”
She closed her eyes and tried to gain a sense of what was happening. Cullen had haunted her since she was ten, which was probably when she fell in love with him. Now, he wanted to marry her, and he even agreed to live in her time. How could she say no?
“I’ll do anything for you.” His finger drew a line from her lips, over her chin, down her neck to the cup at her throat. “Just give me a chance.” He kissed her, whispering against her lips, “How sweet is your love, my treasure, my bride? Let’s go to the field and spend the night among the wildflowers.”
“You’re quoting Shakespeare again.”
“A liberal interpretation of King Solomon. A man who appreciated his bonnie bride, as do I.”
The sound of his heartbeat increased from a rumble to a deep roar, matching hers. Enrapt, she moved closer to his heat, rubbing against him.
He let out a deep-throated chuckle. “The lassie is ready for her wedding night.”
She raised her chin a fraction, only a fraction, but enough to sass him. “You’re incorrigible.”
His eyes twinkled. ”I have another question—”
“The answer is no. I’m not making love again until you put a ring on my finger.”
“That wasn’t my question, but it will do for now.” He slipped his thumb and forefinger into his vest pocked and pulled out a triangular shaped Fancy Vivid blue diamond mounted on a silver band with baguette-cut diamonds.
“Oh my,” she gasped. “Seventeen-eighties. It’s absolutely exquisite. You can’t find a piece of jewelry like this in my time. They didn’t survive in their original settings.”
A look of delight blossomed across his face. “It belonged to my late grandmother, Aquila Montgomery. I was going to wait until the wedding, but…”
Kit shook her head and pushed his hand away. “I’d be honored to wear her ring, but I won’t dishonor her memory by wearing it just so we can make love.”
He frowned, unable to hide his disappointment, then slipped the ring back into his pocket.
They sat quietly for several minutes. Finally, Cullen asked, “You don’t have any more secrets, do you?”
Her mouth crawled into a tight, upside-down-smile. “There’s a little matter of money we need to talk about.”
A short chuckle rumbled through his chest. “I may not look like a man of means, but I am very wealthy. My grandparents left me a sizable estate, and I’ll eventually inherit from my father.”
“You’re educated and well-traveled. I assumed your family had money.”
“Och. The lass agreed to marry me with the expectation of wealth.”
She gave him an I’m-offended-glare. “I happen to be an heiress. Maybe you’re marrying me for mine.”
“We’re not in your century.”
“I have pouches of gold nuggets and diamonds with me.”
His jaw dropped. “In your red bag?”
“In the trunk with the red bag.”
“But you knew you weren’t going to stay here.”
“My father didn’t mention the gold in his journal. When I found out about the Murrays, I thought the treasure might belong to them. If it did, I wanted their families to have it. Now we know from reading the Murrays’s letters they had their own gold.”
“Which probably got them killed. If Mr. Murray was on his way to South Pass from California to meet up with his family, then the killers could have followed him from his claim.”
“But why kill ten people?
“With everyone dead, there was no one to identify them.”
Heat crept up her neck. In a quiet voice she said, “The killers are still out there.”
He held her close. “Don’t mention your gold. If the killers hear of it, they could come after us next.”