Sourcebooks Publishing – February 7, 2017
(Reissue of Redemption 2005)
Two brothers…One woman…A final chance to find…
Desperate to escape her dark past, Laurel James agrees to wed the mayor of a small East Texas town. With him, life will be quiet, respectable. Safe. It should be everything she ever wanted.
And it is. Until Shenandoah rides back into town.
Shenandoah never thought he would find the woman he’s loved and lost…and he certainly never dreamed she’d be pledged to his brother. He knows he should step aside—he has nothing to offer a woman like Laurel James—but from the moment their eyes meet, Shenandoah is lost. He can only find peace in her arms…but can redemption be more than a dream for a man who has known nothing but war?
“Sit with me, Lil.” Brodie Yates’ order didn’t come with an alternative.
Bittersweet memories rose from the ashes. Laurel James had wished to hear those words about a thousand times. Deep in the locked vault of her heart an ache throbbed.
“You paid for the steak, not idle conversation.” Her words came hard and brittle as she faced him.
Brodie reached into his pocket and flipped a silver dollar onto the table. The heavy coin spun for a second before clinking to rest with the woman’s profile staring up.
“I’m paying for the company.”
Laurel’s lips tightened. “Who do you think you are to barge into my life this way?”
“A man no one wants to know. The devil with a six shooter.” His tone held quiet torture. “Someone who’s been to heaven and hell and half the stops in between.”
Doubting the wisdom, she dropped stiffly into the spot Ollie vacated, hating the swish as the hem of her skirts floated lazily against his boots. “What does such a man talk about?”
Damn her voice for going soft on her. She blamed the glimmer in his eyes…and the smile that promised sin.
“Pain and regret. Happy times. Four days in St. Louis. Pecan praline pie that I have on good authority is the way to your heart. Should I continue?” he asked softly.
Foreboding swept her down a winding road. To follow would be inviting back the dark, unwelcome nightmares she strove daily to forget. The past lay buried beneath more grief and turmoil than any person should ever have to live with.
Brodie swallowed and laid down his fork when she didn’t reply. He leaned forward, his intent clear. Laurel jerked her head aside and drew back. However, such tactics didn’t deter a man like him. With a firm grip of her chin, he forced her to meet the hunger in his smoky gray eyes.
“I recall a hot-blooded woman on a sultry summer night. The wet eagerness between—”
“That’s what you said then, too. Begged for more. Pleaded with me to take you with me.”
“Lil died. She doesn’t exist anymore.” A razor sharp edge flavored the harsh reality. He’d left her in that godforsaken place with never a backward glance.
“You’re mistaken. Lil is very much alive.” He tapped his leather-vested chest. “She’s in here for safekeeping.”
With the barest of fingertips he traced the line of her parted mouth, leaving a scorched path. A fine sheen of perspiration pooled in the valley between her breasts.
“Kisses sweet as sun-ripened strawberries. Wonder if you taste the same as I remember.”
“Stop.” Laurel twisted away and jerked to her feet. “I can’t.”
He stood, his caress gentler than dewdrops on an early spring day. She shivered against the contact of his thumb smoothing away perspiration pooling in the hollow of her throat across a wildly beating pulse.
“What’s a woman like you doing in Redemption? Surely not trying to find salvation.”
“Is that so ridiculous?”
Brodie’s clear gaze smoldered. “Think a leopard can change his spots?”
“I’m not the person you thought. Despite choosing to believe me unworthy, I had no control over that. I do have that luxury now, however.”
“So you say, Lil.” Brodie’s lazy drawl scraped across her raw nerves like silk over sandpaper. “Time does tell all.”
Memories tumbled end over end, colliding with temptation she wasn’t positive she had strength to resist.
Her head whirled in tune with a thundering heartbeat as she flew from the dining room into the kitchen. Splashing water from the porcelain bowl beneath the pump, she cooled her heated cheeks.
Please let me come. I promise I won’t be any trouble.
Not now, darlin’. Can’t, but I’ll be back.
He’d heard nothing over the roar of his lust. He closed his eyes to her shame. In all fairness, he never knew they kept her prisoner. By the time she decided to trust him, he’d waltzed out the door. And left her behind.
The roughness of her tooth scraped her tongue as memories of that dark place swirled.
Easy footsteps aroused alarm. A quick pivot found her staring at the man whom she wanted to forgive more than anything on earth.
He approached with slow, deliberate steps. “Didn’t get my dollar’s worth of conversation.”
“I didn’t ask for or take your money. I owe you nothing.” Laurel backed until shoulder blades flattened against the wall.
“You saying I can’t pay for favors?” He took another slow step.
“Yes. I told you I’m not the same….” A roar began inside her head. She eyed the approaching storm knowing it was too late for help.
“You saying you won’t give that little moan like you used to if I touch you?” He progressed two steps this time.
She licked her parched lips. Didn’t the man understand? Persisting in this folly would only awaken sleeping dogs that had no reason to stir from their slumber.
“Dare I find out, will your lips remain cold and lifeless?” He inched closer, narrowing the space between them more.
So close. A trickle of sweat slid down her back soaking the tight waistband. The fragrance of leather and fresh cut hay meandered up her nose. God help her. His mouth pressed to hers would rekindle everything she wished to erase. She wasn’t made of stone…just flesh and blood and more regrets than she could count.
The lazy half-smile indicated enjoyment. He knew his nearness suffocated her thoughts.
He meant to strip every shred of newfound dignity.
He intended to kiss her.
And perhaps more? She gasped for air but found little.
“Convince me. For old time’s sake?” He reached for a dark curl. “Show me I’m no longer in your blood. I dare you.”
A rabbit in a snare had a more reasonable chance. His hand slid underneath her hair. Laurel sagged weakly against his chest, tired of fighting forbidden attraction. His heart raced against her ear perhaps chased by memories on a fast horse.
“I’ve dreamed of this for so long.” His breath stirred the hair against her throbbing temple. “I’ve relived every detail of those nights in my mind. The faint scent of rose water behind your ears, the tiny pulse in the hollow of your throat. I remember every whispered endearment.”
“Please…stop. I don’t—”
His mouth smothered the plea. Her body betrayed, responding to desire born from hopeless fear long ago.
Laurel welcomed the thrusting tongue and when her breasts ached for his caress, he covered them with his palms, rolling the nipples to hard peaks. Delicious, shameful thrills played tag up her spine.
Soft mewling escaped from somewhere deep inside, a place where lies could not hide. A place she never thought to revisit in this century.
The arousal bulging through supple buckskin into her soft belly spoke of equal need. Passion became a raging inferno that threatened to scorch everything in its path…including her lofty goals of good intentions.
Low moans rumbled in his throat when she wound her fingers into the thickness of his hair.
What she wouldn’t give to pretend he meant nothing. Simply a man she used to know. Or maybe just some nameless wanderer who’d ridden into town looking to put food in his belly.
Truth and lies, pleasure and pain. Seemed she couldn’t have one without plenty of the opposite. She’d pay any price if he’d up and disappear from life one more time.
But wasn’t the greater sin in denying he made her feel alive again?
Abruptly, he pushed away. “Got my answer. You still care for me. Admit it. Cloak yourself in self-righteous claims that mean nothing. I have my proof.”
Laurel recoiled, wishing him into the nearest grave.
“You low-down double-crosser. I didn’t throw myself into your arms. You came to me. You took what belongs to your brother.”
The imprint of the touch she yearned to forget lingered like the freshness of a brief shower.
He barked a laugh. “Your body remembers a lover’s touch. The supposed fresh start and tender feelings you claim for my brother? Fact remains, they’re nothing but smoke and mirrors, darlin’.”