Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Ruby Brooch Chapter Twenty-Two

SCORCHER -- Borders on erotic. Very graphic sex.
HOT -- Most romance novels fall into this category. Ranges from conventional lovemaking to explicit sex.
MILD -- May or may not include lovemaking. No explicit sex.

KIT WOKE TO the beat of a small hand patting the top of her head. Big brown eyes searched her face.

“Welcome back, sweetheart. How do you feel?” Kit lightly squeezed Frances’s hand, relieved that the plump network of veins beneath the child’s pale skin were no longer shriveled from dehydration.

“The angel told me to go home. She said you were waiting for me.”

“What angel?”

“A beautiful angel. She called me lassie and told me to go back.” Frances licked her lips. “Did I get the cholera?”

“You’ll be fine now.” Kit pushed the child's Shirley Temple like curls off her forehead and washed her face.

“Anna was alone, but the angel told me she’d take care of her.”

“Is that why you went to the graves? To be with Anna?”

Frances nodded.

“What else did the angel say?”

Frances scrunched her face as if squeezing every thought through a memory sieve. “That’s all I remember.”

The slow, deliberate words gave Kit the impression there was more to the message. “We must thank the beautiful angel.” 

Frances mumbled, “I did.” Then she closed her eyes and drifted off.

“Thank you beautiful angel.” Kit fell back to sleep only to wake a short time later. A trace of moonlight filtered into the wagon along with the fragrant smell of wildflowers hidden for days beneath the stench of sickness and death. She heard no voices, music, or hammering. Must be after midnight. Then she realized the bed was empty. A swell of panic raced up Kit’s spine, but faded when she remembered the child had been recovering when they both fell asleep. Sarah must have taken her.

Kit stripped and climbed into bed. Then a second wave of panic hit with heart-attack proportions. Dear God, Cullen knows the truth. He wouldn’t tell anyone, would he? She didn’t think so. He was angry, but not vindictive. Telling folks would start a riot to burn the witch. No. He needed time to process. 

Thoughts of him continued to swirl in her mind, churning up dust and debris, making sleep impossible. A walk and a glass of wine would calm her spirit—a gentle rain for her soul.

She dressed in trousers, slipped on the wig, then headed toward the river carrying a small bag in one hand, a blanket in the other.

Shafts of moonlight lit the path along the water’s edge. If only the moon would shine its light in her heart. Why had she fallen in love with a man from the nineteenth century? She should go home and get out of the mess she’d created. But South Pass was only two weeks away, fourteen more days to reach her goal. With just a smidgen of courage, she could make it unless Cullen did something drastic, like reconvene the Salem Witch Trials. Predicting what he would do was beyond her capability, except that he was predictably overreactive and overprotective, which meant he might have spotted her leaving camp? She stopped and listened. Chirps, lapping water, a snore here and a cough there, but no footsteps or snapping twigs. Relieved? Yes. Surprised? Yes. Disappointed? Yes.

Within a few minutes, she found a quiet and secluded spot. The blanket made a soft bed on the ground. She quickly dosed off with the sound of an oboe—Cullen’s soft, warm voice—playing a concert in her mind.

“I SHOULD TURN you over my knee and whale your backside.” Cullen’s voice was a lit fuse on a stick of dynamite. “Do you know how far you are from camp?”

Kit shot straight up, heart racing. “How’d you find me?” 

“I could follow your footprints around the world.” Aggravation hissed between his teeth.

“Not unless you’ve got your own brooch.”

He dropped to the ground beside her. “If you’re going home, why aren’t you gone?”

She scooted away from him. “I’m thinking about it.”

“If you’d been thinking, you’d still be in your wagon, not roaming about in the dark.”

She’d had enough of his accusations and attitude. “Why are you here?”

“I thought you were leaving.”

She made a fist ready to punch him. “I wouldn’t leave without my animals. You know that. So what do you want?”

“I want to know who you are.”

She bit down hard on her lip. “I told you.”

 “You said you didn’t know who you were.’”

“So you think I’ve figured it out since then?” She drew in a long breath and blew it out.

“Tell me who you are deep down inside where no one goes, not even you.”

She thought about his question, then thought about it some more. “You don’t want to hear the ugly stuff.” She pulled off the wig and finger-combed her hair.

An expression she hadn’t seen before came over his features. “Nothing about you is ugly.” He picked up the wig and smoothed strands of hair. “We try on all sorts of disguises to hide who we are.”

“That’s profound.”

He held up the hairpiece. “I don’t know how any man could be tricked by this.”

She snatched it from him. “Don’t ruin the illusion of safety.”

He pointed to the handgun tucked into her waistband. “Is that an illusion, too?”

She handed over the weapon. ”Smith and Wesson 3913 Lady Smith pistol, nine millimeter, eight plus one rounds, made of aluminum alloy and stainless steel. Accurate. Nice shooter. Good trigger. Light recoil.”

He pointed the gun into the night, then flipped it around and handed it back. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”

“You’ll throw me another rope?”

“You didn’t get the scars at the same time. One looks older than the other.”

Her heart raced, causing a burning sensation of fear in her chest. She pointed to the scar on the left side of her neck unable to touch the fine s-shaped line. “I got this one the night of the storm.”

“Go on, lass. Tell me.” His request was a gentle prod.

She cleared her throat. “Five years ago, a bad storm knocked out the electricity in the barn while Shadow Cat was foaling. Dad, the vet, and Scott were in the stall with her. Everything was going fine so my godfather went to another barn to get an emergency generator. Then something happened to the mare and they needed him.”

Cullen steepled his hands and pressed his index fingers against his chin. “What’s a generator?”

“It makes power that lights up our homes. Our main source had gone out.”

Cullen nodded as if he understood.

“When Elliott didn’t come back right away, they sent me to get him. I ran over to the next barn and found him in the tack room lying on the floor in a pool of blood.” A trembling hand rose to her neck as she slid further into the memory. “A man grabbed me from behind and cut me before I knew anyone else was in the room.” She scratched at her neck until she drew blood.

Cullen tried to pull her hand away.

“Don’t touch me.” She went quiet for a moment, sharing only the sound of her shallow breathing. “He threw me on the floor intending to rape me.”

Cullen hissed between his teeth and reached for her, but she blocked him with a stiff arm.

“Scott pulled him off seconds before he could…hurt me.” She tucked into an upright fetal position and tears slipped down her cheeks.

Kit jerked when Cullen touched her shoulder with a gentle press of his fingers. “Here’s a handkerchief.” His voice was calm, neutral, but his body trembled.

She grabbed the tail end of her composure and fought for control. After wiping her eyes, she carefully folded the fabric into a perfect square. The top fold had a monogrammed M exactly like the locket and the shawl. Her heart felt skewed with new emotion. 

She gazed into his eyes and wondered again, why he was there, why he’d haunted her for so many years, and why she was sharing something so intimate with him. Maybe she didn’t have to know. Maybe it was enough that her heart knew.

“Everything that happened after Scott rescued me blurred into my nightmare, but I think he beat the man up. He never told me what happened. I never asked.” She unfolded and refolded the handkerchief, this time burying the monogram within the folds. “I had bruises for days. Every time I saw them, I threw up.”

“Did you know the man?” Cullen’s gaze was almost a physical touch.

“His name was Wayne. He’d worked for Elliott. I fired him months earlier when I caught him abusing a horse.” She paused. “I hear his laugh sometimes in the wind, especially on cold days. It makes my teeth rattle.”

“I haven’t treated you much better than Wayne.” There was something bleak in his voice, and her heart quickened, but she had no answer for him. “I looked at one facet of a multi-faceted gem and thought that made up the entire stone.” He held her gaze pointedly. “To let others see all sides of us takes a great deal of trust. I thought I’d destroyed your trust in me.”

“You came close.”

They sat for several minutes beside the river covered in moonlight, motionless, without speaking, and then Cullen asked, “What happened to him?”

“An inmate killed him.” The moment she had heard the news, during a phone call from her attorney, silent relief took her legs out from under her. As she sat on the floor awash in tears, she hated herself for being glad.


For a minute, she just stared at him, thinking about what he’d said. “That’s odd for you to say.”

“It saves me a trip to your century to kill him.”

The thought of Cullen traveling to the twenty-first century seeking vengeance sprinkled shivers up and down Kit’s spine.

“Do you think your father had Wayne killed?” Cullen asked.

“You’re thinking of your client and his victim’s family, aren’t you?”

He gazed at her with deep, thoughtful eyes.

“When I heard Wayne was dead, I wondered if Dad had anything to do with it. He didn’t want me to go through the ordeal of testifying at the trial. Dad could be ruthless, but I don’t think he could have anyone murdered.” 

“If you told a jury what happened, they’d have hung him from the nearest tree.”

“American jurisprudence has changed. They don’t hang people anymore. He probably would have pled guilty, taken twenty years for the felonies, and been paroled after sixteen years. He might have come looking for me when he got out.”

“You never would have felt safe again, would you?”

“That’s why I learned to fight. I’ll never be helpless again.”

He patted his gut. “I’ve been on the receiving end of your skills.”

She gave him a tight smile. “I could have hurt you a lot worse.”

 “I appreciate your restraint.”

She was glad for the note of humor in his voice, then he surprised her by the tenderness with which he lifted her chin and pressed his lips against hers. A touch at first, then a burst of hunger, as he sought to deepen the kiss. 

I will protect you, she heard his heart say. But will I let you, she heard hers reply.


“Hmm.” His moan was a request for greater intimacy.

“Are you thirsty?”

He kissed her forehead, her eyes, her cheeks. “Yes, for you.”

She slipped her hand inside the bag and pulled out a bottle of wine.

He took the bottle from her, and chuckled. “Only you could top off a story like that with a bottle of merlot.” He twisted the bottle in the beam of moonlight and whistled.

“You probably thought me a brazen hussy drinking wine the first night we met.”

“I only thought about this.” He kissed her again.

Tate stuck his nose between their faces, and she pushed him away. “Where’d you come from?”

Cullen patted the dog’s head. “He followed me. You have three animals who think they’re human. Who’s responsible for that?”

Kit uncorked the bottle and filled the wine glass she had brought with her. “Mom’s responsible for Tate and Tabor. Stormy is all my doing.”

“Your horse was born the night of the storm, wasn’t he?”

She closed her eyes for a brief second. When she opened them, she whispered with a shaky voice, “Shadow Cat died. Stormy barely survived. Dad swore the horse would never race even though he’d been bred to be a champion. I don’t think Dad wanted to be reminded every time Stormy raced of what happened that night.”

Cullen’s finger traced the line of the scar on the other side of her neck. “How did you get this one?”

She’d told him half the story. He deserved to hear the rest. She sipped, then handed him the glass. He put it to his lips and gazed at her over the rim of the crystal. “You can tell me later.”

Later? She thought of their scheduled parting at South Pass, of the emptiness that would follow. “We don’t have later. We only have now.”

He traced a finger across her cheek to the corner of her lips. “Now will never be enough.”

Nor for her either. He had irrevocably changed the melody of her life. 

He took a sip, then handed her back the glass. She savored the soft velvet-bodied wine with a hint of plum. “My parents, Scott, and I attended a charity ball on New Year’s Eve. We were on our way home when a vehicle hit us head on. Dad was driving. I was in the back seat with Scott. Our car plowed through a fence. A plank sheared off and smashed through my window. A chunk lodged in my neck barely missing the carotid artery. The car stopped when we hit an oak tree.”


“Vehicle, transportation, conveyance, carriage.” She gestured, caught in a game of charades.

“You can explain later. Go on.”

“The impact knocked me out. When I came to, my parents were dead. Scott was still alive, but a piece of fence had impaled him. I called nine-one-one.”

“What’s nine-one-one?”

“People with red bags. People like me.”

“There was no medicine in your bag for him, was there?” For a moment, Cullen glanced away, grew distant, as if looking into his past. 

“Scott’s only hope was getting to the hospital. All I could do was hold him and tell him help was on the way. He died before the ambulance arrived. He saved my life that night in the barn, but I couldn’t save him. I couldn’t save my parents. I’d been trained to save lives, but I couldn’t save the three people I loved most in the world.”

“Your parents were dead. Your Scott had a piece of fence in his chest. You’re not God. They were in His hands, not yours.”

“You don’t understand. I was trained—”

“I do understand. You’ve set yourself against an impossible standard and perceive anything less as failure. You didn’t fail. You did what only you could do. Provide comfort and hope during the last moments of his life. You have to let it go. His death wasn’t your fault.”

It was her fault. All of it was her fault. She was living a life she never should have had all because of a damned ruby brooch. She jumped to her feet and ran toward the river. Cullen ran after her. “Kit, stop.”

“Go away.”

“Without you, we would have lost most of the folks on the wagon train. You saved our lives. That has to count for something.”

“Every life is important. Saving one person doesn’t negate the guilt of being unable to save another.”

He spread his arms wide. “You think I don’t know that? God knows I’ve been trying most of my life to make up for failing my sister, but at some point we have to move on.”

“When I get home—”

He pulled her into his arms. “Don’t go.”

“I don’t belong here.”

He kissed her, tasting of sweet wine. Her fingers combed through his thick hair, effortlessly—so easy, and so right. She heard the unsung lyrics of her heart’s song.

He lifted her into his arms and carried her back to the blanket. “I have every intention of making love to you. Stop me if you must, but stop me right now.”

If I only have one night, one night will be enough. “I couldn’t live with the regret if I stopped you now.”

CULLEN SNUGGED KIT into the curve of his long body and regarded her for several moments. “Are you sure, lass?” A worried frown creased his brow.

“You are what I want.”

His thumb slid over her cheek. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

She traced the shape of his prominent brow, down his nose, across high cheekbones, then down the line of his square jaw to kissable lips—putting to memory the chiseled planes of his face. “I don’t want to disappoint you.”

He swept a wild lock of hair away from her face. “Nae, lass, ne’er cannae disappoint this Scotsman.” The timbre of his voice bore the sound of the land that had informed him. “You’re a beauty.” His hand trembled as he unbuttoned her shirt, then tenderly slipped the fabric off her shoulder.

Her nipples tightened beneath the camisole and pressed against the silk. Kiss me. She had no breath to ask.

He blew warm caresses across her skin. “I don’t want to frighten you.”

“You won’t.”

His thick dark lashes lifted. “Kiss me,” he whispered against her lips.

She nibbled at his mouth, then slipped her tongue inside and tasted the plum-flavored merlot, tantalizing and succulent. She breathed him in, fully expanding her lungs with the first deep breath she had taken in months, maybe years.

In his arms, she lived.

The pieces of her jumbled brain snapped into place, creating a perfect picture in warm, amber tones. Their meeting was not an engineered meeting of two souls, but a re-alignment of the stars, to put lives back to the way they should have been.

Cullen unbuttoned her trousers. His hand moved lower, gliding over her abdomen, brushing her skin with his fingertips. Her stomach muscles tensed, and she squirmed to help him. “There’s no hurry, lass.” His warm chuckle poured over her with tingly heat.

She understood now that her virginity was not a result of a teenage pledge, but because she had never truly been in love. Until now. Until Cullen. 

Cool air breezed across her naked skin, but a flame burned inside, warming her with each touch of his hand, his tongue, his lips, creating an aching need. She tugged on his shirt, desperately wanting his skin next to hers. “Take off your clothes.” Her voice was demanding and unrecognizable.

His shirt came up and over his broad shoulders. His trousers slipped from his solid form. And then he was naked. She’d seen other men undressed, but there was something uniquely beautiful about Cullen. His beauty went far deeper than rippling muscles, or patches of thick black hair, or long legs, or the pulsing arousal resting against his abdomen. His beauty came from beneath the skin, from his very soul. 

He possessed her lips, feasting on her. He nuzzled her neck, ran his hands through her hair, teasing every strand with his sensuous touch. She melded into him until it was impossible to know where she ended and he began.

His arms and shoulder muscles rippled as he lowered himself between her legs. A tiny, high-pitched sound slipped from her lips. “Cullen—”

There was a hitch in his breath. “I’m here.”

Frantic need drew her to a bridge she’d yet to cross to a place she’d never been. She writhed beneath him as she stepped onto the bridge. Her muscles tightened as she ran toward the other end and the release she desperately sought and willingly embraced.

“Let go, lass. Let go.” His husky voice was a sliver of light in the darkness. 

A wave of immense pleasure washed over her and fulfilled her deepest longing. I love you.

He kissed her, capturing her lips with voracious hunger. He slipped into the cradle of her thighs and welcomed her hot moisture that drenched him as he nudged inside her tight opening. When he reached her maidenhead, he paused, and held himself to a level of unnatural restraint, giving Kit a moment to prepare. “Only a wee bit of pain, lass.”

He took her mouth, thrusting his tongue deep within her as he thrust through the thin barrier, splitting it in two. Swallowing her scream, he stilled until her trembling ceased. Then he watched her intently, holding his breath until her tightly drawn lips relaxed and a slow smile spread across her face. Joy reflected in her eyes, and her silky skin vibrated against him. With panting gasps, she wrapped him in her legs and convulsed. Within the sound of her pleasure, he found the only woman he had ever loved, and he heard a new melody.

A melody written for his heart alone.

Awed by the vividness of her release, he arched his back and in a state of euphoria plunged at a fevered pitch until he erupted, sending his seed deep into her body.

My God, he loved her, and he would never let her go. 

SLEEP CAME QUICKLY for Kit, but it didn’t last long. An hour before dawn she woke entwined in Cullen’s arms, her palm resting on his chest, feeling his heart thump. She loved him, but he would never be hers. One night was all she could have. The wagon train was two weeks from South Pass. She didn’t know what she would find there, but she knew it would end her time in the nineteenth century.

She gazed at him with a touch of tears in her eyes. You are an extraordinary man Cullen Montgomery, and it will break my heart to leave you.

Her teeth clamped down on her lower lip swollen from his kisses. He stirred and pulled her closer to him. His musky scent mixed with the earthy smells of early morning. She wanted to make love again. But she couldn’t. Even now, walking away would be hell, although survivable. If she stayed in his arms, spent the next two weeks where she truly wanted to be, she’d never be able to leave. She should go now, eliminate the temptation.

Quietly, she lifted his arm and rolled away. 

He reached for her. “Where’re you going?”

“I have to go.”

“Hurry back.”

“I’m not coming back.”

He sat up and brushed his hair off his face. “What do you mean?”

She slipped on her shirt. “I’m going home.” She reached over him for her trousers, but he grabbed them out of her hand.

“Don’t do this.”

She moistened her lips with a flick of her tongue. “I don’t belong here. This is not where I’m supposed to be. This is your life not mine. You have a woman waiting in San Francisco and an office with your name on the door. The life you’ve planned is waiting.” She reached for her trousers. “Let me have my pants.”

“Give me time to work this out, Kit.” His voice shook. Maybe it was the early hour. Maybe it was doubt that he could. She couldn’t tell and wasn’t sure it mattered.

“There’s nothing to work out. I’m staying until we reach South Pass. Then I’m going home.” She paused and swallowed a giant knot in her throat, a knot that squeezed her breath. “What happened last night can never happen again.”

“Why can’t you stay until we reach Oregon?”

She tried to grab her pants. “Please give them to me. It’s almost daylight. I have to go.”

“Why not Oregon?” A puzzled expression knitted his brow. “You’re lying again.”

“Give me my pants.”  Good God, she couldn’t tell him about the wagon train at South Pass. What if he found it too soon? The murderers could kill him, too. Fear crunched in her gut like ice in a melting lake. “Don’t accuse me of lying when you’re the one who’s marrying one woman and screwing another.”

Shock scrawled across his face. He handed the trousers to her. “I thought you trusted me. I thought you finally punched through the wall guarding your heart. Maybe you did and it sealed back up in your sleep.”

She wrenched her gaze from his soul-deep eyes.

“Go on home, lass.” He stood and dressed in a hurry, foregoing the shirt’s buttons. His jaw tensed, and she saw pain in his eyes, but she couldn’t help him.

He slipped his foot inside his boot and hopped away, putting on the other.

I didn’t just punch a hole in the wall. I knocked it down and let you in.

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