Harlequin Historical #746
Out of print. Available as e-book.
Only her love could quiet his restless soul...
Jake Turner rescued Emma Lancing from an Indian massacre and now he’s stuck with her. Bringing her along on his top-secret mission for President Jackson will slow him down and put him at risk, but he just can’t stomach abandoning her to the mountains.
Like it or not, Turner has got himself a woman.
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"Kernan's engaging characters, a colorful backdrop and Eleanor's personal growth make this classic western romance something special."
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The blood coating Jake Turner’s hands did not concern Emma. Instead, she focused on the steady stream that ran in a thin line from his wounded shoulder down the front fringe of his shirt.
“Will you let me tend you now?” she asked.
He frowned and the muscles at his jaw clenched, but he nodded. He rinsed his hands and grabbed a hank of grass to dry them. She motioned him to sit on a rock that stood knee high and broad as a saddle.
“Pull off your shirt,” she directed.
He hesitated, then gripped the hem of his garment dragging the soft leather over his head in one smooth tug. She froze, as the waves of awareness rippled through her. The air in her lungs seemed trapped as her breath failed. How many men had she tended at the fort, fifty? But there was no comparison. Those were boys with pale thin limbs and burned necks. They were hairless, all ribs and hollows.
This man’s skin glistened golden in the sunlight. She stared at the heavy muscles of his chest and shoulders as her fingers itched to touch. A thick mat of dark hair curled over the front of his body, disappearing into the waist of his buckskin trousers. She trembled as some deep part of her responded to the raw male beauty of him.
“What ails you?” Jake began to rise. “Are you fixing to faint?”
She pressed her palm to his shoulder savoring the heat of his skin as he resumed his seat.
He watched her with concern etched on his rugged features. “You said you tended injured men.”
Emma nodded focusing on his wound, instead of the shaggy raven black hair, worn long like an Indian, brushing his shoulder. Was it soft or coarse?
“Do you have any whiskey, Mr. Turner?”
His brow lifted. “Good idea.”
He walked to his mule and rummaged a moment, as Emma watched the muscles of his back bunch. The two long cords descending on either side of his spine intrigued her. She pressed a hand to her own back finding only the smallest similarity between their anatomies.
She recalled the trappers of her acquaintance. Jim Bridger looked like walking rawhide and Mr. Sublette carried no extra bulk what-so-ever. These men lived in the wild and their bodies showed the same trim, wiry appearance and deeply tanned skin that marked them as surely as any branding iron. They also wore full beards. A quick glance at his face confirmed that this trapper was accustomed to regular shaving.
She noted that the girth and power of his muscles resembled that of a lumberjack or blacksmith. He lacked the lean grace and burnt skin common to men of the mountains. Neither did he stand or move like one. Trappers glided, silent as a stalking predator. This man’s stiff posture looked vaguely familiar. Suspicion knitted her brow and rooted deep inside. His erect carriage looked distinctly military.
His strides were purposeful as he returned, echoing her misgivings. He sat before her; the blood dribbling down his chest seemed of no concern. He grasped the cork to the jug with his teeth and offered her the bottle.
She lifted the container, unable to understand the betrayal coursing through her. Her father was once an army captain. His code of strict discipline and insistence that she obey orders unquestioningly came from that past. Of all the men in the Rockies, she did not want to be trapped with one from the military. She lifted the jug, opening the flap of skin over his wound and poured the golden fluid within.
He shot to his feet, bellowing like a wounded bull. Finally, his wild dance ceased and he focused his glare on her. Her stomach tightened as she prepared to absorb his tirade, already regretting her rash actions.
“Great God almighty, that hurts!”
“It will stop infection.”
He sighed and thumped to his seat. “Give a man warning.” He resumed custody of his jug, cradling it now like a lost friend and muttering. “Next time pour the whiskey into a hole where it can do some good.” He took a long swallow, then stared at her. “Well?”
Was that all? He didn’t even shout, except when the whiskey burned him. He didn’t tell her to use the brain God gave her or that the horses showed more common sense then she did. He didn’t call her a worthless no account.
“I’d like to use some ointment and then bandage you,” she said, her voice barely a whisper.
“Get at it then. We got miles to go.”
She worked quickly now, first dabbing the clear salve into his wound, then covering it with a bit of clean muslin. Her hands shook at each contact with his broad shoulder and she bit her bottom lip until the pain brought clarity. Using her damp handkerchief she washed the drying blood from his chest, finding his skin warm, his hair coarse and the muscle beneath hard as iron. He sat still as the stone, but when she lifted her gaze she found him staring at her with an intensity that made her insides quake.
“Are you all right?” she whispered.
He shook his head. “I used to think so.”
He captured the cloth and removed the drying blood from his belly. She sighed in relief, wondering if she could have finished cleaning him without bursting into flames. What was wrong with her?
“I have to bandage the wound to hold the dressing in place.”
He clenched his jaw as if bracing for some pain.
“This won’t hurt,” she assured.
He gave her a look of skepticism, but said nothing as she wrapped the bandage over his shoulder and around the wide territory of his ribs. She could not quite reach about him without brushing his back. He twitched at the contact. At last she finished the knot and stepped away to observe her handiwork. No blood showed through the dressing and the bandage looked as if it might hold while he rode. Then she noticed the sheen of sweat covering his body. He trembled – no, that was not trembling. His body seemed to vibrate with tension. Were his injuries more serious than they appeared?
He leapt to his feet as if sprung from a trap and stalked away.
She trailed behind, placing a hand on his uninjured shoulder. “Are you sure you are well?”
He shook her off and turned on her. “Don’t touch me less you need to.”
Emma recoiled and stood suddenly awkward and unsure. “What did I do?”
“I can’t think with you hovering about me. I missed that cat sneaking up on me. Know why?”
His voice held irritation, but he kept his tone civil.
Unable to speak, she shook her head.
"Cause of you! Damnation. I don’t need this. I don’t need a woman ogling me and stroking me, all the while telling me I can’t touch her. You’re a menace.”
Her jaw dropped. Had she ogled him? Perhaps so. She wanted to touch him, enjoyed it in fact. Her hand sprung to her mouth.
“Get on your horse and don’t speak to me until we make camp.”