Wild State, Book 1
15 January 2015
Shoot first. Ask her name later.
Infamy weighs heavy on Delaney Crawford’s broad shoulders, first as a supposed Confederate turncoat, then as a relentless hunter of Cheyenne dog soldiers. Summoned to the small mining community of Red Creek, the exhausted, embittered Del is doing what he does best—ridding the town of its savage scourge—when one of his bullets misses the mark.
Ex-nun Moira Tully has been working with John White Horse for months to integrate a band of peaceful Cheyenne with the local townsfolk. Now he’s hurt, and she’s been caught in the crossfire. There’s only one man to blame for her simmering anger and the inexplicable attraction that tilts her heart on its axis. Del.
When Del is forced to acknowledge the truth that the Cheyenne are no threat, his task just gets more complicated: fighting a wild attraction that catches flame at the most inconvenient times, and figuring out the treacherous motives behind his hiring.
But the most heart-wrenching challenge could be overcoming sordid pasts that won’t stay in the past—pasts that threaten to bury all hope of happily ever after.
Warning: Features a trigger-happy Southern gentleman, an ex-nun gone rogue and consistently thwarted desires that frustrate them both.
The blood cleaned away quickly under the damp corner of the towel and her scrubbing. She made a concerted effort to be gentle, to not tug at the split skin next to his left eye and cause him more pain, yet he didn’t even flinch when she began probing the edges of the gash. In fact, she didn’t think he was breathing. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah,” he grated, his eyes locked on a spot somewhere over her shoulder.
“Try to remember to breathe.”
He laughed, but it wasn’t an amused sound. “Harder than you’d think, Miss Tully.”
She combed her fingers through his hair, attempting to remain as clinical as possible as she revealed his brow. “You should call me Moira.” It was the second time she’d said as much to a man that day, and she wondered briefly why the familiarity mattered to her.
“I really shouldn’t.” He sighed, and his striking jade eyes met hers before returning to her shoulder. “And I shouldn’t have brought you to my room.”
She tsked with false lightness. “I didn’t give you much choice.”
“I could’ve said no.”
“So why didn’t you?” she asked softly as she tilted his face toward the lamplight, so as to better examine the bruise forming above his cheekbone. Gingerly, she pressed two fingertips to the spot. “Does that hurt?”
“Liar. It’s a bruise. Of course it hurts.”
He shifted his head out of her grasp and stared up at her. “There is nothing truly painful about this…” he gestured to his face with one hand before returning it to the basin in his lap, “…except the knowledge that, eventually, you’ll stop touching me.” His eyes trapped her. “That’s what hurts. Moira.”
She sucked in a breath, her hands hovering on either side of his face. “Why didn’t you say no?” She was desperate to know, to have her suspicions confirmed. Daringly, she inched forward until she stood between his legs, settling one hand on his shoulder as the other, the one still gripping the wet towel, fell to her side.
His jaw clenched. “Because I guess it turns out I like pain,” he muttered darkly, and slid a big hand up to cup the back of her neck.
But she was already bending to him, her eyelids fluttering closed as his warm breath fanned across her lips. He paused, halting her scant millimeters from where she wanted to be, and then his tongue, wet and oh so perfect, traced the curve of her top lip.
Her lungs ceased inflating. Her heart halted its pumping rhythm. Her throat closed, and her lips parted, and her toes curled inside her shoes. And then a whimper, soft and high and needy, escaped her, and he took pity on her and pulled her mouth to his.
All at once, every one of her organs began to function again, and she became dizzy beneath the hunger of his lips. Because even though she stood taller than him at the moment, he owned the kiss, and her mouth, and her entire being. He was hot, thorough, generous and dangerous with his nipping teeth and his seeking tongue. She shuddered when his beard rasped over her chin. His fingers speared into the braid above her nape, loosening the pins even as he fisted his hand there, much as she had earlier done to him.
The tingling, shocking sensation his firm grip elicited was incredible. It stroked down her body like a bold caress until it found the aching spot between her thighs and lingered. Oh, how it lingered. Each greedy lap of his tongue against hers, each new slant of his lips as he feasted on her mouth, sent undiluted wanting arrowing to her core until she was molten, moaning, gasping as she used both hands to clutch at the braces crisscrossing his brawny shoulders. The towel dropped heedlessly on the bed.
She forgot everything but the whiskey taste of him and leaned in, desperately needing the foreign, wild heat in her limbs to fuse them together in this stunning moment. The hand at her nape massaged, seduced, and his other hand came up to land with a possessive squeeze on her hip.
Then the sound of sloshing water penetrated the rush of her pulse in her ears, and a split second later the basin he’d been holding crashed to the floor, soaking their feet as china shattered on hardwood.
Moira stumbled backward, breathing hard. She stared dumbly at the broken bowl, lightheaded and feeling half-drunk, her lips swollen and her hands shaking. She wanted. She wanted, so badly, and she understood what he had meant about hurting.
Nothing compared to this empty, throbbing, desolate ache. Nothing. Not even getting shot.
“Shit,” Crawford said.