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Authors: Donna Clayton

Tags: #Romance, #General, #Contemporary, #Fiction

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BOOK: Bound by Honor
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He was a good guy. Jenna needed to remember that. That and that alone was the force driving his words and actions.

His being a good guy wasn't a bad thing. She wouldn't want it any other way, would she? Besides, hadn't she decided that an intimate relationship would only complicate her life?

"Of course," she whispered, uncertain if she were responding to Gage, or to her own silent, taunting questions.

Chapter Seven

Several days later, Gage suggested they pack a lunch and take a gentle horseback ride out to the far meadow. At first, Jenna had balked, fearing the idea of Lily on one of those huge animals.

"Don't worry," he'd assured her. "I have a cradleboard. And I'll carry her. She'll be fine." Then his dark eyes had narrowed. "You're not afraid to ride, are you?"

Jenna had chuckled. "Maybe a little."

He'd promised to saddle his most docile horse for her. And he'd been true to his word. With their lunch packed in saddlebags and Lily safely stowed on the cradleboard secured to Gage's broad back, they set out across the green meadow.

Riding a few steps behind him, Jenna couldn't help but notice how the worn denim of Gage's jeans molded to his thighs, or how his hips undulated in the saddle in conjunction with each step his horse took, or how he carried Lily on his strong back as if she were featherlight.

Because she understood his wish not to act on the attraction that tugged at them, Jenna had
been
determined to ignore it.

Sometimes, ignoring temptation was easy. Those were usually the days when Gage was busy in the stable or one of the other outbuildings. But even when he was out of the house, she found herself peering out the window, hoping for a glimpse of him even though she knew full well she shouldn't. On other days, the attraction was so strong that Jenna ended up exhausted trying to act as if it didn't exist. As if the kinetic energy between them hadn't turned the very air into a giant vortex bent on carrying them toward its mysterious yet alluring center. Unfortunately, today was one of those days.

She wondered what it would be like to smooth her palm over the hills and valleys of muscle on his bare back, skim her fingers down his spine —

She wasn't able to stifle the gasp that had lodged in the back of her throat.

"Everything okay back there?" he asked, glancing quickly over his shoulder.

"Fine. I'm fine. How much farther?"

"Not far." He reined his horse until they were side by side. "You sure you're okay?"

"Yes. I'm a little
tired, and I can tell my le
gs are getting quite a workout."

"See the tree by the stream?" He
indi
c
ated a
spot
ahead with a
gentle jerk of his Chin. "That's where
we're headed."

At the end of the twenty-or-so minutes it had taken to ride what Jenna estimated to be another mile, her thighs and buttocks were screaming. She dismounted clumsily and couldn't hold back the tiny
oof
that escaped her lips when her feet hit the ground.

If Gage had attempted to restrain his chuckle, he failed. He swung his leg over the saddle and descended to the grassy meadow so smoothly that Lily barely stirred. The gentle motion of the pinto had rocked her to sleep.

"I'll need some help with this." He unfastened the buckle at his chest and turned so Jenna could ease the baby off his back. "Loosen up the lacings," he suggested, "and lay her down in the shade."

While Jenna untied the rawhide cords and pulled back the soft doeskin cover that held Lily to the cradleboard, Gage busied himself unloading the food and picnic essentials from the saddlebags.

Jenna placed her niece on the blanket he spread out. "This contraption —" she leaned the cradleboard against the tree "— is just marvelous."

"Indian women in the past would use them to carry their babies around as they tended their chores or worked in the field
s. It left their hands free." He unbuckled th
e
second saddlebag and started emptying the contents. "That one was made for me by my father. I got to use it when Skye was born. Not many people continue the tradition, though. The plastic and canvas carriers they make these days are much lighter, and a lot less expensive."

"Not to mention easier to get," Jenna said. She handed him a prepackaged moist cloth. After cleaning her hands with one herself, she placed a sandwich and napkin in front of him and then served herself. "All you have to do is visit the baby department at your local variety store. How long does it take to make a cradleboard, anyway?"

"Weeks, I'm sure. But I've never made one. My dad is very good with his hands. He can make anything."

The lightness in his tone made her want to smile. Gage liked his dad. That was clear.

Sunlight streamed through the leaves overhead, dappling the ground beneath. The brook gurgled over and around smooth stones, making delightful and calming music. He'd chosen a lovely spot for their picnic.

She poured them each a glass of cool juice from the thermos. "Speaking of family, do you mind if I ask what's going on betwe
en you and your grandfather? H
annah said the
two of you weren't talking." She pinched off a corner of her bread and popped it into her mouth.

Gage unwrapped his sandwich. "I don't mind talking about it. I'm upset with Grandfather because he made my parents feel guilty for moving to Arizona. He wanted them to stay here. On the rez. But my mother's got arthritis, and the dry, warm climate there is better for her."

He bit into the ham and cheese sandwich, chewed and swallowed. "I understand that Grandfather is our shaman. And it's his job to —" 

"Chee'pai?" Astonishment made her sit up straight. "Chee'pai is your grandfather?"

"Yes."

"Why didn't you say something before? You knew I was butting heads with the Elders."

He only shrugged. "Wouldn't have done any good. It didn't surprise me, though, to learn that he was the main reason the Council was refusing to give you custody of Lily. He is very concerned with the tribe. He wants to keep us together. He wants things to remain the same. And although it's a noble cause, I fear it's impossible. This isn't the old days, and the old ways don't work
for everyone. He hurts people with his harsh words, even though his intentions are pure."

Jenna remembered her arguments with the Elders. Chee'pai hadn't really hurt her feelings. But he'd certainly ruffled her feathers and frustrated her to no end.

"Will your grandfather attend the celebration on Saturday night?"

Gage nodded. "He will be part of the storytelling. As hard as he is, I have to admit he is a gifted orator."

"If you'd rather not attend —"

"No, no," he said, swiping his mouth with the paper napkin. "I'll go. Like Hannah said, I have to make amends sometime. And it's not as if Grandfather changed my parents' minds. They're happily settled in their new home. It's high time I set things right with him, I think."

Lily showed great timing by sleeping until Jenna had swallowed the final bit of her juicy apple. But once the baby opened her eyes, she let everyone know she was
hungry
and
ready for some attention.

Jenna sat her niece on her bottom, opened
a
jar of strained peaches and started spooning the fruit into Lily's mouth.

"It's so easy to make her happy." Jenna
shift
ed her
position, stretching out
her
legs.

The muscle cramp in her calf made her suck in her breath. "What is it?"

"A charley horse, I guess," she said. She rested the spoon in the jar of baby food and reached down to rub her leg. Lily fussed.

Gage came to her rescue. "You feed. I'll rub."

The feel of his hands on her knotted muscle was both heaven and hell. His fingers were warm even through the fabric of her jeans, but the pain of the spasm made her frown as he massaged deeply.

"It'll go away in just a second," he assured her. "I promise."

She managed to smile through a grimace, and he chuckled. Jenna resumed feeding Lily, guiding the spoon into the baby's mouth, again and again, until she scraped the bottom of the empty jar. Lily gleefully snatched the spoon, waving it in the air like a baton and then tapping it against the sole of her sneaker. Jenna set the empty jar aside, sighing when — true to his promise — Gage finally kneaded away the knotted cramp in her calf.

"Oh, my," she breathed, "that's much better."

She leaned back, resting her weight on bent elbows. She glanced down the length
of her body and their gazes didn't just connect, they melded. Desire blazed in his expression, in every tense muscle of his body.

His hands spanned her calf, although his fingers were now still. The heat of him was amazing. Even the rays of the summer sun beating down on her weren't as hot.

Her breathing quickened. So did her heart rate.

There was nothing mysterious about what tightened the air. He wanted her. That was as clear as the cloudless sky above.

"I'm sorry," he murmured. "I don't know what's wrong with me."

Jenna couldn't stop herself from asking, "Why do you see it as something wrong? What we're feeling is completely natural. We may not want to feel it, but we're feeling it just the same."

His features went taut.

"I should be able to control myself."

He shot to his feet then, and walked away from her. He stood at the bank of the creek and scrubbed his hand across the back of his neck.

Jenna marveled at how a fabulous day could turn bad so quickly.

It couldn't have been more obvious that he didn't want to want her. And he didn't want to talk about it, either.

Well, she'd do what she could to accommodate him.

"Gage," she called, "come on back over here. This is no big deal." That was a whopper of a lie if she'd ever told one. But if he was determined to ignore the fire between them, she would, too. "Let's clean up this mess and go back home."

 

The evening of the Stomp Dance, Gage made a quick stop at the outbuilding he used as a workshop before heading toward the house to shower and dress. The boxes he carried contained gifts — one for Jenna, one for little Lily. He felt self-conscious about giving them, but he intended to give them, nonetheless.

Having Jenna and her niece in his house for the past three weeks had changed his life. Changed his outlook. Changed
him.

The changes were both good and . . . not so good.

He awoke each morning feeling that the day held promise. He felt bright. Eager. Content. He actually looked forward to getting up and experiencing all that was in store. He guessed what he was feeling was hope.

He hadn't felt that in a very long time. He'd once dreaded
the
idea of having Lily
around, fearing that her presence would stir his grief for his own little girl. Instead, what he'd discovered was that Lily awakened some extraordinary memories — of hearing Skye's bubbly laughter, seeing her wobbling on all fours for the first time, smelling the baby powder-fresh scent of her after her bath, feeling her chubby little fingers curl securely around his.

In mere weeks, Lily had unearthed a treasure chest of precious moments spent with Skye that had been buried beneath a mountain of heartache and anguish. So Gage planned to give Lily a small gift to honor what she had done for him. To show his appreciation. Being so small, she wouldn't understand it, of course. But that didn't matter. All that mattered was that he offered her the tribute she was due.

Jenna deserved a tribute, too. For she had unearthed something in him, as well. She had exhumed
a raw need in him that he'd th
ought he would never again experience. Not reacting to it — to her — was probably the most difficult thing he'd ever done. But he was determined to ignore the desire she sparked in him. Because he just wasn't ready.

However, th
e gift he carried to the house f
or Jenna was motivated by gratitude. The
day he'd lost his family, his soul had been crushed. For a year, he'd wallowed in self-pity, in anger, in a multitude of dark emotions. Without his even realizing it, Jenna had been coaxing him out of the darkness. And for that he was thankful.

He heard music playing before he reached the house. He smiled, anticipating Jenna's excitement about tonight's celebration. She'd been looking forward to experiencing a tribal gathering. She was also eager to show the Elders her willingness to learn and participate in the culture.

He wiped his feet on the mat, pushed open the door and saw Jenna dancing around the kitchen with a laughing Lily perched on her hip. So caught up in the music and the steps, Jenna didn't even know he'd entered the house.

Her auburn hair hung loose about her shoulders, and happiness pulsed off her. Lily giggled. He stood there watching them, waving at the baby.

In his mind's eye, he easily conjured an image of Mary Lynn dancing in a similar way with his precious Skye. He smiled. His heart pinched, but at the same time the memory brought him immense pleasure. It was nice be
ing able to think about the past
without being swallowed by despair.

BOOK: Bound by Honor
10.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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