Read Saving Cole Turner Online

Authors: Anne Carrole

Tags: #Romance, #western historical, #western, #historical

Saving Cole Turner (5 page)

BOOK: Saving Cole Turner
6.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

People couldn’t prosper if there was no law, no punishment for crimes. There would always be men who wanted more than their fair share, like Charlie had said. And they’d kill for it. Not to protect or defend, but to weaken and take.

The law had failed his mother, but it didn’t mean he didn’t have faith in the law. Women didn’t have many rights yet, but there was talk of giving them a vote in the territory and, with that vote, he was sure they wouldn’t allow a woman to face what his mother had faced without any recourse to protect herself and her child.

Mounting his horse, Cole rode slowly down the center of the street, taking one last look around, and then headed toward the woods and creek that lay out a ways from town.

He was going to face Kate and say good-bye. She deserved to hear it from him.

“I’m not looking forward to this, Lucky.” The gelding nickered as if he understood the problem.

Charlie Pritchard’s ranch would have to stay a dream. He’d tried to envision himself living out his days in Three Bridges, Kate by his side, but he couldn’t. No one would ever forget or forgive him. It wasn’t fair to her. To ruin her life as his had been ruined.

Feeling the heat of the day, he turned his horse onto the cooler trail that rimmed the woods. His stomach was doing a jig. He certainly wasn’t in any hurry to see her today. Leaving her now would be more difficult than the first time.

Then, he’d been full of anger. Anger at the death of his mother, anger at having to stand trial—a trial that had drained any remaining life his mother might have had while eating at her pride for having to publicly air her husband’s mistreatment. If the trial hadn’t been the cause of her death, it had certainly hastened it. And given the town full view of the Turner family shame. Getting away then had been the only thing on his mind.

With the arrogance of youth, he’d planned on coming back to Three Bridges one day and taking Kate away from her father—partly to punish Will Flanders for his hand in capturing him, partly as some sort of reward for all he’d been through. But time had tempered the arrogance, had brought perspective, had made him realize he’d also be punishing Kate.

He spied her horse hidden in a bramble of leafy bushes before he saw her sitting pensively on the bank of the stream that once separated his family’s land from hers, before Will Flanders had bought the parcel off his widowed mother. Most of the money from the sale had gone to pay the lawyer for Cole’s defense, and then for his mother’s burial.

The trees here made a natural canopy, the light dappling Kate’s face, and keeping the day’s warmth from becoming overwhelming. The woods had always been their sanctuary--of a sort.

He pulled his horse up and watched her as she lazily drew something in the dirt with a broken twig, waking all his senses as if someone had blown reveille. She wore her hair down, her auburn tresses swirling around her shoulders and down the front of her, covering those soft breasts. She looked like a woodland fairy sitting there on the ground, a blanket spread beneath her. She’d worn a riding skirt, he noted with surprise. When she’d been sneaking out to see him before, she’d always worn fine ladylike clothes and rode sidesaddle.

He’d never want another woman like he wanted her. The goodness, the innocent trust, her unwavering belief in him as someone who was worthy of her love. He wasn’t. He knew that and it was the reason he would let her go.

He wiped a sleeve across his forehead where beads of sweat had formed, no doubt due to the hot summer day. Or maybe it was because he’d never forget the ripeness of her mouth, the softness of her skin, her response when he’d rubbed her nipple to an exquisite hardness. She was going to be a prize for the man who took her innocence and turned it to passion. That the man who would pleasure her and
be
pleasured by her wouldn’t be him tore him up inside. She’d think he was ruining her dreams by leaving, but he’d be ruining his own in order to let her build better ones.

She looked up and the hope in her eyes made his breath hitch. She rose, a broad smile on her beautiful face as she dropped the twig to the ground. “I thought you’d forgotten.”

He closed his eyes, gathered his strength, and, in one easy motion, dismounted.

She ran to him and he couldn’t resist gathering her into his arms. Just for a few moments he would savor her. Pretend she was his for good.

He buried his face in her silky hair and breathed in the rose-scent that had become so familiar to him in such a short time. He’d never smell roses again without thinking of her—of her body pressed against his, of her arms wrapped around his neck, of her warm breath caressing him through his shirt.

“Haven’t caught those rustler’s yet, have you?” she asked tilting her face toward his, a teasing grin gracing those tempting lips.

“Matter of fact I have.” Cole looked down into intense blue eyes, the color of jewels, now filled with false expectation. “They’re in the sheriff’s jail now. All but one, and I imagine he’s long gone if he’s got a brain.”

 

Gazing into Cole’s somber face, Kate saw her worst fear. He was coming to tell her good bye. Her heart turned over.

“Kiss me,” she whispered the words in his ear. The hard planes of his tanned features softened, his eyes brightened, and that slanted smile of his she’d always found so attractive broadened. For a moment, the shroud of sadness that had veiled his face lifted.

A rough finger raised her chin as his lips brushed over hers. He tasted fresh and clean like the morning dew must taste to a thirsty flower. She pressed into him, felt his heat, his hardness, and shuddered.

Without hesitation, he invaded her mouth. Their tongues met and mated. Warm hard hands stroked her back as her fingers threaded their way through his silky hair. Swirling her mouth over his with a pulsing rhythm, all she could think about was this moment.

Let this never end. Let me stay in his arms forever.
She had a plan, but she was frightened it wouldn’t work, frightened she would lose him again to a world that didn’t value him the way she did.

As if reading her mind, he broke the kiss and pulled his heated body from hers while he held onto her waist, his expression pained.

She couldn’t let him say the words. She needed time for her plan to work. He couldn’t leave her.

“I’ve brought some corn fritters and cider,” she whispered as she stood on tiptoes and nibbled on his ear. He squeezed her waist and then set her back from him.

“Kate, I—”

Quickly she placed a finger to his moist lips. “Hush. We’re going to have corn fritters. They’re still your favorite, aren’t they?”

He nodded. “That hasn’t changed.”

In a moment, she had him seated on the blanket, his long body claiming most of it. He had a corn fritter half-eaten before she could even take a plate out for him. It wasn’t much of a picnic, but it was the best she could do given the circumstances.

Kneeling, she watched him finish off three before he stretched out and lay contentedly back on his elbows. “You make them or did Mary?”

“I did.” For once she was glad her father had insisted she learn to cook. She’d need those skills if Cole married her. She said a silent prayer that she’d be successful.

“They sure were good.”

Golden blonde hair curled over his collar. His high cheekbones spoke of his French heritage. His piercing blue eyes and long, muscled body told of physical strength. She drank him in, dreading what was coming and knowing she had only one chance to stop it. But she had to go slow or she’d scare him off before she could put her plan in motion.

“Kate, I’m done in Three Bridges.” His tone might have been flat, but his words slammed into her like a steam engine hitting a brick wall.

“Charlie Pritchard said you’d been talking to him.” She’d been clinging to that fact ever since this morning. It had given her hope until she saw him. Cole hadn’t looked like a man intending to ask the woman he loved to marry him. He looked like a man intent on running.

“Damn this small town.” He squirmed as if an ant had crawled in his shirt. “I talked to Charlie,” he confirmed in a low voice, “but I’ve decided not to pursue it.”

“Why?” She felt confused and betrayed all at once. Why was he so set against settling down with her?

“Because I’m not a cattle rancher, Kate.”

“You can be whatever you want to be.” She believed that with all her heart. Despite his terrible home life, he’d been good in school. He was cleverer than many, smarter than most.

He rubbed his hand across his face while those serious blue eyes of his pierced her heart.

“Maybe I don’t want to be a cattle rancher.”

“Well, what do you want to be?”

Silence stretched between them, wearing down her patience.

“Whatever I want to be, I don’t want to be it in Three Bridges.” Cole averted his eyes as if the answer to her question was somewhere out in the tangle of trees and brush.

“Why? Why not here? People know you. This is where you came from, where you belong.” She loved the town and its people. She loved knowing everyone and everyone knowing her. It was like having a big extended family and, as an only child without any relatives except her father, that mattered.

“It’s where
you
belong. But not me. And that’s the problem.”

“Why not you?” She bit her lip to keep back the tears that were stinging her eyes, afraid to hear his reason for abandoning her—again. He hesitated and stared at the ground.

“If you are going to break my heart Cole Turner,” she said, “at least be honest with me. With yourself.”

“I’ll be honest. But you won’t like it.” He paused another long minute, as if assuring himself it was okay to continue. “I don’t belong here because no one will ever look at me without thinking that I’m the one who killed his father.”

“But it was in self-defense. Your father deserved it. You weren’t convicted of any crime.”

“Not in the way of the law, but in their hearts it doesn’t sit too well, Kate. I see it in the way they move to the other side of the street, in the way they nod, but don’t talk to me when they see me, in the way I’m watched in the saloon to see if I’ll get drunk like my old man.” The storm in his eyes was gathering force.

“They just don’t know you, not like I do. Stay and they’ll find out what you’re really like.”

He shook his head. “They’ll never give me a chance. They’ll think of me and there will be a ‘but’ attached to it, no matter what I do. And if we were to have children…”

Kate’s heart broke out in a trot. She wanted his babies more than her own life. She’d dreamed about giving him a son and a daughter who would love him as much as she did.

“If we were to have children, what kind of life would they have?” he asked.

“A good one. You’d be a good father, I know you would. I’ve seen how you are with those weaker than you, whether it’s an animal or …” She broke off, unsure if she should go on.

“My mother. Is that what you were going to say?”

She nodded. He’d always been so caring of his mother, trying to protect her as best he could.

“And how do you think my children would feel when they went to school and heard stories about how their father had shot his own father in the back. What then, Kate? How do you think they’d feel about me then?”

His question wasn’t one she could answer, but the pain in his eyes when he asked it clawed her soul. He hung his head, rubbing his face with both hands as if cleansing himself.

He finally lifted his face and her heart broke. “And how would I feel, looking in the eyes of my own children and seeing…what? Disgust? Fear? Hate? How would I feel having to explain to them why I did it before they could rightly understand? No child should have to deal with that. I know. I lived it,” he said, thumping his chest with his fist.

His angry voice, combined with his look of resignation, undid her. She bit harder on her trembling lip to push back the tears, but they threatened nonetheless.

“Kate, don’t you see? It’s not meant to be.” He reached for her and she wrapped her arms around him. She wanted to make things better for him so badly. To love him, comfort him.

He smelled like leather and pine and all things male. If only he would make her his, they could work out everything else.

“Do you love me?” she asked, hearing the quiver in her own voice. Perspiration was beading under her arms and trailing down her back. She was hot and nervous and, frankly, scared. Scared her plan wouldn’t work.

Cole stared at her a long minute, his face expressionless, before turning his eyes back on the trail.

A tear slid down her cheek.

Slowly his gaze shifted back. She’d stare him down if she had to. Tears be damned.

“Don’t, Kate.” It was more plea than command. “I can’t stay. Let me go.”

She took a deep breath, his male and leather scent mingled with the earthy smells of the woodland. “I can’t make you stay. But I’ll never believe you don’t love me.” She couldn’t let herself believe it. And she couldn’t let him go without a fight. Choking back tears, she nuzzled his neck, letting the warmth of his body console her. She would need to compose herself if she was to pull this off. “But before you go, come swimming with me. Like the old days.”

“Swimming?” his deep voice rumbled against her ear as his rough hand stroked her arm. “I go in that creek with you, honey, and I’ll be having you six ways to Sunday.”

There was no time to waste. Right about this time, her father should realize she wasn’t at home. And, hopefully, Mary would fill him in on her likely whereabouts.

She gulped. Took a steady breath.

“Well then, stand guard for me. It’s hot and I’m sweating something fierce,” she said as nonchalantly as she could. “It’s the least you can do for me, Cole. If you’re bent on leaving me, it’s the very least you can do before you leave. I won’t be but a minute. Just to cool off.”

His astonished look was almost worth the whole scheme.

“What am I gonna be looking at while you undress? You’re not going in there naked or I’m high-tailing it out of here right now.”

“No. Not naked. I’ll keep my pantalets and chemise on.” She struggled to sit up, away from him. “You just keep your back turned is all.”

BOOK: Saving Cole Turner
6.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Don't Lose Her by Jonathon King
Down in the City by Elizabeth Harrower
Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming by James Hoggan, Richard Littlemore
Quarantine: A Novel by John Smolens
THE LYIN’ KING by Vertell Reno'Diva Simato
Cage of Night by Gorman, Ed
El fin de la paz by Jude Watson
Ladybird by Grace Livingston Hill
Elizabeth Raines by Their Princess