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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 pressed himself against a wall of cardboard so she could get a better look. As she passed him, he was too aware of the feminine scent of her, a fragrance evoking the image of walking through a wildflower meadow on a hot summer day.

He said, "I haven't checked carefully, but it looks like there's more stacked against the back wall."

While Jenna busied herself looking over the art collection, Gage allowed himself to study her.

Astonishment sparkled in her golden gaze and flushed her lovely face, making him remember the softness of her skin against his fingertips just moments before.

The fact that he'd reached out to stroke her face troubled him a great deal. Why had he acted on the urge to touch her this time when he'd been able to subdue all impulses before today?

When he'd approached her, she'd been engrossed in those pictures. Engrossed in
the past. Engrossed in a moment of time spent with her sister that would never and could never be repeated. She'd looked distressed and . . . vulnerable.

"These are wonderful!"

Evidently, the surprise she felt was giving way to excitement. He was relieved to see a smile light up her beautiful face as she momentarily glanced his way.

"I can't allow this stuff to stay hidden in here," she told him. "Amy and David would want their work seen. Enjoyed. I've got to find some
way to make that happen."

She went back to investigating the canvases.

Pleasure arrowed through him when he realized she was no longer focusing on the sadness of the past, but was instead enthusiastically concentrating on the future.

"You'll think of something," he murmured.

He pressed his lips together, troubled by the hot and unmistakable desire that once again curled low in his belly. He reminded himself that it was Jenna's vulnerability that
was
affecting him so deeply.

He scrubbed his hand across the back of
hi
s
neck, suspecting that there was more to
what he
was experiencing than he was willing
to
admit.
B
ut
he
staunchly stomped
the idea as if it was some sort of bug under his boot.

Normally, he wasn't a man who lied to himself. He believed that a person who traveled through life ignoring the truth was in jeopardy of losing his true self.

But the thought of shining a light on the reality of his situation made him too nervous. He just wasn't ready. Every time he imagined himself getting involved with a woman again, the guilt lying dormant like so much silty sludge would churn and eddy, muddying his thinking. Besides, it wasn't as if his rationale was a complete fabrication. Jenna
was
vulnerable. And he
did
identify with the anguish she was experiencing. His wanting to comfort her didn't make him a bad guy.

Okay, so maybe he was focusing on only half of the truth. But it was all he could handle. For now.

"I'll bring your order shortly." The teen smiled politely and then backed away from the table.

Gage had agreed with Jenna's suggestion to have lunch at Hannah's Home-Style Diner after they picked up Lily from Arlene's house. The baby sat in a high chair at one end of the table, happily gnawing on
the floppy ear of a light blue stuffed elephant.

"Thanks for going with me today." Jenna unfolded the linen napkin in front of her and laid it on her lap. "I felt as if I'd stepped onto a roller coaster — down one minute while I was lost in memories of my sister, and up the next while I was looking through her and David's artwork. I think it would have been worse for me if I had been alone."

However, the wild emotional ride she'd experienced hadn't been caused solely by sorting through Amy's and David's belongings. Gage had done more than his fair share of rousing her feelings, as well.

"I was happy I could be there with you."

She watched his calloused fingers fidget as he shifted first the saltshaker, then the pepper shaker, then rearranged the small plastic container that held sugar packets. She remembered the feel of his work-roughened skin against hers when he'd caressed the side of her face. The hunger in his black eyes had pierced her to the very marrow of her bones. The memory alone made her stomach thrill with delight even now.

She guessed the wise thing would be to ignore the feelings throbbing through her. She sure didn't need another complication in what was already a complicated mess —lying to the entire Lenape Nation about why she'd married this man. Besides, she would bet her last dollar that Gage would rather grab the molten end of a fiery-hot poker than surrender to the obvious attraction swirling around them. He just wasn't the kind of man who gave in to temptation easily. That was why she'd been so stunned when he'd done just that. She still couldn't believe he'd actually reached out to her.

But she also hadn't been the least bit surprised when his fingers had stilled, when he'd restrained his thoughts, his emotions, his desires. His entire body had tensed when he'd withdrawn, and then he'd pretty much told her that acting on their attraction had been a mistake.

"Hi, Jenna. Gage." A smile spread across the face of the Native American woman who approached their table. As owner of the diner and Arlene's daughter, Hannah Johnson had become somewhat of a friend to Jenna during Jenna's battle with the Council of Elders. "How are you folks today?"

"We're just fine, Hannah," Gage said. "How about yourself?"

"Oh, I can't complain. Are you coming to the Stomp Dance?"

Gage's dark brows rose. "I hadn't heard about it."

Excitement spread across Hannah's beautiful face. "You've got to come. Now that you're married, it's time for you to stop hiding from us." Her tone softened as she added, "It's time you made peace with your grandfather, as well. It's silly that the two of you live so close, yet continue to let the wall of silence between you stand. Knock it down, Gage. It would be easy enough to do."

Jenna quickly hid her surprise. She'd had no idea that Gage had a grandfather living on Broken Bow, or that they weren't speaking.

"What's silly —" Gage's dark gaze glittered with a good-natured cheer "— is that you honestly believe I'll take your advice."

Hannah chuckled. "Isn't there an old adage that says keep banging them over the head and someday the message will sink in? Come on," she coaxed. "Come to the dance, at least. Jenna needs to experience a gathering."

"I'd love to go," Jenna said.

"It's this Saturday," Hannah told them. "People will start congregating early, I'm sure, since they'll be coming from miles around. But dinner won't be served until ax. It
's
a potl
uck,
so
bring
your appetite and a dish of some sort to
share.
Doesn't have to
be fancy. There'll be a bonfire once the sun goes down. There'll be music. Plenty of dancing. And storytelling, too. You'll have fun."

Hannah's dark eyes filled with concern as she changed the subject. "I heard you were over at the storage unit this morning. You okay?"

Jenna hoped the smile and nod she offered would set Hannah's mind at ease. "I left Lily with your mother. Did she tell you where we went?"

"I knew Mom was watching this cute thing —" Hannah ruffled Lily's hair eliciting a gleeful gurgle from the happy baby "— but I've had three different customers who stopped in this morning mention that they'd seen Gage's truck out at the self-storage place. I just hope you weren't too upset."

It warmed Jenna to know she had people who were concerned about her. "I'm okay," she said. "I had a somber moment or two. That's to be expected, I guess. But I wasn't alone. Gage was right there with me."

Jenna gazed gratefully at Gage, and had to suppress her grin when she saw that he looked ill at ease.

"It's good to have someone to share those kinds of things with," Hannah observed.

She patted Gage on the shoulder. "You're a good guy."

He
was
a good guy, Jenna realized. Going with her on her trip to the storage unit wasn't something he'd had to do, yet he hadn't hesitated to offer his support.

"I found lots of artwork," Jenna told Hannah. "One thing I learned today is that my sister and her husband were very prolific."

"Are you going to sell it?" Hannah asked.

"I haven't had a chance to think about it," Jenna said. "I sure can't leave it where it is."

"I agree," Gage said. "It would be a shame if all that work was left hidden away in that building. I mean, David Collins had several shows in Chicago, didn't he? And you said that he and your sister would want people to enjoy their art."

"Jenna," Hannah said, "why don't you ask the Council if you could display David and Amy's work in the Community Center? You could even post prices on them. Or you could place some of the pieces on consignment with an art gallery in Billings. Heck," she continued, "you could contact a Chicago gallery for that matter, to see if they'd be willing to sell the work for you."

"A gallery would expect a hefty cut of the profits, I'm sure,

Gage warned.

The idea of selling the artwork set Jenna's thoughts churning. "A Web site," she murmured. "I could create a Web site with pictures of all the pieces." Her excitement intensified as ideas continued to come to her. "In fact, I could make a Web site to accommodate all the artisans here on Broken Bow. There have to be other artists on the reservation."

Hannah's face lit up. "There are. John Riddle makes beautiful pottery, and his wife weaves baskets in the authentic Lenape fashion. There's a woman who still makes hide clothing — dresses, capes, trousers. I don't know if that's considered art, but I fear that'll someday become a lost skill. My cousin, Lisa Johnson, paints. So does Harold King. I'm sure there are others, as well."

At some time while Hannah spoke — Jenna couldn't be certain exactly when — Gage had slid his hand across the table and rested it on her forearm. The warmth of him slowly permeated her consciousness, and her gaze swung to his.

There was something unreadable in his eyes. An expression that made her breath hitch in her throat. Her mouth suddenly felt dry.

"I think a Web site is a wonderful idea, Jenna," he said.

"Oh, I think so, too." Hannah babbled on about how Jenna's project would benefit the people on the rez, evidently unaware that the temperature of the diner seemed to have increased by ten full degrees in as many seconds.

Jenna's mind had been filled to the brim with plans one moment, and completely empty and incapable of reason the next. Gage's strong, tapered fingers on her skin consumed her, and an unexpected delight flooded her being. She smiled at him, an errant thought making her wonder if he'd found her brainstorm so amazing that he'd forgotten his declaration about not wanting a relationship with her.

Just then, the bells connected to the front door jangled, signifying that a new customer had arrived.

Jenna swiveled her head and watched Hoo'ma enter the diner. The elderly woman nodded toward Jenna and Gage, approval glittering in her wise eyes.

"Hoo'ma! Welcome!" Hannah greeted the elderly woman. "You've come for lunch?"

Hoo'ma nodded, her papery eyelids fluttering in a blink.

Hannah looked at Jenna. "May I tell her
about
your idea?"

"Of course," Jenna told her, still wrestling with the immense internal emotions swimming in her chest, pounding in her head.

Hannah crossed the room, chattering brightly about the Web site and Jenna's inspired idea to introduce the world to Broken Bow's artists.

"I'm . . . sorry," Gage murmured, leaving his hand on her forearm but staring at the spot where his skin made contact with hers. "I saw Hoo'ma coming across the street through the front window. I thought it would be a good thing if she were to see us, you know ... as an affectionate couple."

"Of course," Jenna murmured a second time. It took her a moment to figure out just what was happening. But the instant she did, huge disappointment crashed over her.

Just a few seconds ago, she'd been unable to decipher the expression on his handsome face. But now she could clearly recognize his apprehension, his reluctance, his uncertainty. Why hadn't she been able to see it before?

"I thought this . . . demonstration —" his gaze darted again to the place where his hand rested on her forearm "— would be a good thing." Then he leveled anxious eyes onto her face once again.

"Of course," she repeated. She felt like an
idiot who had only two words in her vocabulary.

"I hope I did the right thing."

He was a good guy. Hannah had said it, and she'd silently agreed. He'd been putting on a show for Hoo'ma in order to make their sham of a marriage look more legitimate. For her to have imagined there had been anything else motivating him had been stupid of her. Especially after he'd come right out and told her at the storage building that an intimate relationship didn't interest him. Well, he might not have proclaimed those exact words, but that was what he'd meant. How could she have so quickly forgotten? Why did she feel such disappointment?

BOOK: Bound by Honor
3.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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