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Authors: Elaine Barbieri

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BOOK: Renegade
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“Git!”

Her finger tightened on the trigger and Matt turned abruptly toward the horse he had tethered at a nearby rail. He mounted stiffly without looking back and rode out of town.

Left in the dust of his departure, Samantha waited until Matt turned the bend in the street. She coughed and then hiccupped again before continuing toward the hotel. She needed rest, all right. She needed to be able to think clearly. She had come to Winston to get proof of Matt’s involvement in the robberies, hadn’t she? So what had changed?

Samantha closed the hotel room door behind her minutes later, locked it, and lit the bedside lamp. Staring at her image in the mottled dresser mirror across from her, she asked aloud, “What in hell did I get myself into?”

She then flopped onto the bed, that question unanswered as she immediately fell asleep.

The sunbeams of late morning assaulted Samantha with a violence she had never before experienced. Rising with a throbbing head and a sick stomach, she had little interest in dressing her part when she started down the stairs. So great was her discomfort that she had been unable to apply her saloon makeup carefully or complete her toilette. Her scalp had been so tender that she had not bothered to put up her hair, but had left it streaming down over her shoulders in a modest hairstyle that contrasted severely with the voluptuous afternoon gown she had bought for her saloon-woman masquerade.

Arriving at the bottom of the staircase, she squinted against the pounding headache that had not relented and ignored the knowing glances that came her way. Samantha knew she was not at her best. She figured she was suffering for her mistakes of the previous night, and her mind was on the restaurant where she hoped she could get some coffee to survive the nausea that threatened.

But first she needed some air.

Samantha emerged out onto the street, the question that had gone unanswered when she fell asleep the previous night still haunting her.

What in hell had she gotten herself into?

She wondered briefly if she had made a mistake by chasing off Matt, especially when he had obviously waited hours for her the previous night. It took her only a second to confirm in her mind that
she hadn’t. He had not wanted to talk. The sticky problem was that she hadn’t wanted to talk, either—or to do anything but sleep.

It occurred to her then that she had wanted no part of him, in strange contrast with her first breathless attraction.

She shook her head. He was…he was—

Samantha went still. He was crossing the street! He was also nodding in response to the plain young woman he was holding possessively by the arm. The young woman was conversing with him in a manner that was too familiar to suit Samantha.

Conversing
with the other woman when he had no intention of conversing with her.

Possessively
holding the other woman’s arm when his attentions to her were admittedly only temporary.

That other woman could be no one but his fiancée, Jenny Morgan.

Samantha realized that she concurred with Toby. Jenny wasn’t much to look at.

Matt glanced up at that moment. Their gazes met and a silent heat stirred again in the pit of Samantha’s stomach.

Astounded by her jealous anger when Matt acknowledged her only with a nod before deliberately tucking Jenny’s arm more firmly under his and stepping out of sight in the mercantile, Samantha gasped. Infuriated, she approached the store. She waited outside, shaking, uncertain exactly what she intended
and hoping to gain control before she did something she would regret. Yet her heart was still pounding when Matt emerged a few minutes later and stopped still at the sight of her.

Pulling him farther down the walk and into the shadows of a building, Samantha demanded, “What do you have to say for yourself?”

Matt responded with a coldness that did not reach the passion in his gaze. “I think I made myself clear the last time I saw you.”

“I agree. You did.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? I told you how I feel.” Matt took a step closer. She saw his eyes travel her flushed expression and saw the spontaneous hunger he suppressed when his gaze touched her lips.

Matt’s reluctant desire resounded inside her. Her mouth going dry, Samantha retreated as she whispered, “You’re telling me that if I had let you take me up to my hotel room last night, you’d be a different man today? You’re saying that it would be my arm you’d be holding so possessively and my conversation you’d be acknowledging?” She laughed harshly. “I don’t think so.”

“Last night I—”

“Last night you what? You wanted me, but you wanted me on your terms?”

Matt did not speak.

“You won’t answer me, will you?” Samantha took a breath, suddenly aware that she was close to tears. She could deny it no longer. The magic between them
had returned even stronger than before and she was at its mercy. Unable to understand Matt, but knowing she desperately wanted to, she was certain of only one thing. She blurted out her thoughts in a trembling voice.

“You didn’t want to talk to me in the alleyway last week, and you didn’t want to talk to me last night. But if I hadn’t pulled my gun on you, you’d be lying in my bed right now with no thought of your fiancée.”

Matt blinked.

“Isn’t that right?”

No response.

“Isn’t it?”

Following Matt’s gaze, Samantha saw Jenny hesitate at the doorway of the mercantile before walking back inside for something she had obviously forgotten. Pain surged hotly inside her when Matt took a step back farther into the shadows where Jenny could not see him.

Her chin rose defiantly. “I can see you’re worried that your
fiancée
might see us together. You don’t want that, do you? You can’t be honest with either her or me!”

“Samantha—”

“Don’t worry. I won’t tell her—not unless you don’t come to the Trail’s End tonight so we can talk.
Talk
, do you understand? I won’t have a repetition of what happened last night!”

Silent, his only reaction the tightening of his jaw
and a look in his light eyes that she did not quite comprehend, Matt turned back toward the mercantile without a word in response.

She raised her voice to say, “I expect to see you tonight at the Trail’s End!”

Arriving at the doorway just as Jenny emerged, Matt took her arm and left Samantha standing in the shadows—
alone again.

Another evening found Samantha standing in a circle of determined admirers at the Trail’s End, but she was inwardly shaking. She reacted to that emotion with a sharpening of witty repartee, while inwardly wondering how long she would be able to use her quick mind to escape the intentions of the amorous group.

An inner sense slowly turning her, Samantha saw Matt standing at the swinging doors. Her admirers left her reluctantly when they saw her expression, and Samantha swallowed tightly. She then heard the single remaining member of that group speak up in warning.

“Remember what I said, Samantha. Matt’s not the man for you.” A note of surrender entered Toby’s voice a few moments later when he added, “But I guess we all have to make our own mistakes.”

Samantha acknowledged somewhere in the back of her mind that Toby’s warning made sense, but his sage advice had no affect on the familiar quivering inside her. She did not try to stop him from
leaving as Matt approached with an expression proving he was no more successful than she in hiding the emotions that ran hot and cold between them.

Samantha knew, however, that in allowing her feelings to get out of hand, she had behaved more like a jealous shrew than the professional investigator she hoped to be. With that thought in mind, Samantha forced herself to remember that Matt was a criminal—a criminal she hoped to bring to justice.

She said succinctly, “So you came.”

“Did I have a choice?”

“Yes, you did.” Suddenly angry, she said, “You could have told your precious fiancée how you behaved in the alleyway that afternoon.”

“That wasn’t entirely my fault.”

“And how you behaved last night? Or wasn’t that your fault, either?”

“Last night—I can’t take full blame for that.”

“Really? Just tell me, then, who am I to believe—the fellow who left me alone in the alleyway last week, the fellow I had to pull a gun on in order to make him leave last night, or the fellow who is here right now?”

“I only came here tonight because you threatened me.”

“Now tell me another one.”

Matt suddenly demanded, “I’m not going to let you ruin everything I’ve worked for.”

“What do you mean?”

Matt’s jaw locked tight. “I’ll be able to pay off the debts on the ranch my pa left me soon. Then I’ll marry Jenny.”

Matt’s statement cut deep and Samantha responded, “Your plain little wren, you mean?”

“Jenny is a good woman and a good friend.”

“Is she a good lover, too?”

Matt’s jaw tensed.

“I asked you a question.”

“I don’t choose to answer it.”

“You don’t make love to her, do you?” Inexplicably relieved when the truth became suddenly clear, Samantha whispered, “You don’t even have the desire to make love to her.”

“I love Jenny. She’s a good friend and she’ll make me a good wife.”

“Do you love her?”

“I do.”

“But do you
want her
?” Samantha stared up into Matt’s darkening expression. Her voice dropped a note softer as she insisted, “Let me be more specific. Do you want her as much as you want me?”

Color flooded Matt’s face. His lips moved with a silent curse before he whispered, “I warned you before that you’re playing with fire.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

Waiting interminably before responding, Matt said softly, “I thought you wanted me to come here so we could talk.”

“We are talking.”

“You’re talking, but I don’t intend to answer.”

“I’m making sense. You just don’t want to admit that I am.”

“Samantha, I’m warning you—”

“About what?”

Matt’s gaze seared her to the bone. Suddenly certain that she would have given herself to him at that moment without another word, Samantha watched incredulously as Matt turned abruptly and strode toward the door.

Disbelief flooded Samantha’s mind.

Reality dawned.

She didn’t want him to leave. Instead, she wanted—

Refusing to finish that thought as Matt walked through the swinging doors and stepped out of sight on the street beyond, Samantha turned slowly back to the bar.

Another long night over at last, Samantha walked silently beside Lola, Helen, and Paulette as they headed toward their rooms at the Sleepy Rest. The town was all but dark in the early hours of morning, and she was tired.

“I wish Denise and Maggie realized those cowboys are just taking them for what they can get.”

Helen’s comments raised Lola’s eyebrows. Only a few years older than Helen but wiser in experience, the redhead replied, “Did it ever occur to you that
maybe Maggie and Denise are taking those cowboys for all
they
can get?”

Helen was silent and Samantha felt a moment’s pity. The young brunette still believed in true love. Helen was still certain she would meet the man of her dreams in that bar someday and marry him.

Samantha realized that she had formerly been as sure of the future as Helen was. She had believed that she would recognize the man of her dreams the moment she saw him, and he would love her as much as she loved him. Then she had met Matt, and everything she believed in had been turned upside down.

She reminded herself again that Matt was a criminal, that she hoped to become a Pinkerton, and that those facts were incompatible with her feelings.

Samantha trudged onward. She was stone-cold sober. She had learned her lesson. She also needed a clear mind to be able to think things through and she—

“You win, Samantha.”

Samantha stopped short as a figure stepped out of the shadows to stand towering over her as she neared the hotel. The other women hurried toward the hotel without speaking a word, dragging Helen along with them. She stood motionless as Matt walked closer. She scrutinized the height and breadth of him; the thick, dark hair underneath his weathered Stetson; the light eyes that were at present earnest; the strong
features; and the generous mouth that had raised such wild longings inside her.

Samantha’s heartbeat escalated as Matt whispered, “I told myself that I came to see you tonight so we could talk. That sounded reasonable. I figured I needed to explain some things, but everything changed when I saw you. You’re right, you know. I never made love to Jenny because I never wanted her the way I want you. And the truth is that I want you now more than I have any right to want you. You’re all I’ve thought about since I first met you. I’m not certain what that means, but—”

Interrupting, Samantha said honestly, “I’m not certain what that means, either. I just know one thing.”

Matt waited for her to continue.

In a voice hoarse with passion, Samantha whispered with sudden certainty, “I know that whatever these feelings do mean, Matt—I’m yours.”

Time moved swiftly as soon as Matt closed the door of Samantha’s small hotel room. Heated by their passion, the room sweltered as lips mingled and hands struggled with the impediment of clothing until naked flesh touched.

Matt stifled a groan at the first contact with Samantha’s bare skin. His ardor rebounded inside Samantha as he moved instinctively, sending her senses reeling.

She accommodated his seeking mouth and his
kiss sank deeper. His tongue caressed hers. He tasted and explored the aching flesh she offered him and her heartbeat thundered with a hunger she could no longer deny.

Their hunger intensified. The sweat of mutual fervor bound them.

Samantha gasped when Matt took her breasts into his mouth. Her need became a mindless hunger that matched his when he tasted them at last. She wrapped her fingers in his hair to clutch him tight against her.

The hunger heightened.

The need accelerated.

Their gasps were simultaneous when he entered her at last.

Samantha wrapped her legs around him, drawing him closer to join his penetrating plunges, raising herself so he might sink more deeply inside her, exhilarating in the moment with a frenzy that she did not recognize as her own.

BOOK: Renegade
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