Behind the Ranges, Book V

Shootist Malachi Breedlove is the least likely man for gentle botanist Nellie Sanders to trust—especially with her heart.

Knight in a Black Hat cover
eBook ISBN 978-1-60174-013-7
Knight in a Black Hat cover
Trade Paperback ISBN

"Glad's western tale of love is fraught with danger. A wily and mysterious old woman and a mountain lion named Buttercup are highlights. But deadly accidents and quirky characters take a backseat to affairs of the heart in this delightful tale of love. 4 stars!"—Romantic Times Book Club

There were patches of snow in the meadow, brightly reflecting the moonlight, but the hummocks and hollows were only darker shadows on the dark ground. Several times she tripped and would have fallen, had his strong arm not caught her. The third time this happened, he left his arm where it was.

Nellie resisted the urge to lean into his embrace. Don't be nonsensical! He is only being protective. It is his job.

Nonetheless, she cherished the sensation. She had never had a handsome man's arm about her waist before.

The margin of the lake was boggy, and they were forced to halt some distance from the water. With the moon shining on the water, even the slight ripples caused by errant breezes were visible. Nellie gazed over the surface, not certain what she was looking for. Yet at last her search was rewarded. At first there was only a black splotch against the moonlit water, but gradually it took on shape until she could make out a broad muzzle emerging from a wide Vee of ripples. "There!" she breathed, pointing.

"I see it," he said.

They stood together, still and silent. Slowly the animal swam toward them. Afraid to move, afraid to blink, lest it should disappear or take fright, she watched. At last it drew close enough that she could see the gleam of its dark eyes, the water glistening on its fur.

Suddenly there was a low report, like a rifle shot, and the animal disappeared under the water.

"Oh, no!" Nellie cried. "Someone shot him!"

"Nope," Mr. Bradley said. "They slap their tails to warn of danger. He must have seen us."

"It was a beaver, then?"

"It was. You're a lucky woman," Mr. Bradley said. "I've only seen a couple of them."

"A colleague of Uncle's told me the beaver were all but extinct. And to think I saw one! How exciting! " She hugged herself, and was once again aware of the warmth and the strength of his arm at her waist. "Will we see it again?"

"I doubt it, but we can watch for a while, if you want."

"Oh, yes, please." She relaxed, allowed herself to lean infinitesimally closer to him.

The beaver did not reappear, but a long time later they heard the owl again, this time between them and the camp. "Turn around," Mr. Bradley whispered in her ear, "real slow and careful."

She did, holding her skirt with one hand so that it would not brush against the tall rushes among which they stood. His hand was pointing out across the meadow they had traversed.

"There. Can you see it?"

She stared, saw movement close to the ground. Then a pale shape swooped up, glided past them, not ten yards away. Its flight was totally silent. As she watched, its wings beat once, twice, and it rose and turned toward the trees near their camp. Once more Nellie was thrilled. Although she had heard owls at night back home, she had never seen one in flight. Botanists work in the daytime, and owls at night, so the likelihood of their paths crossing was slim.

The owl disappeared among the treetops and the meadow was still. Moonlight turned the dry grasses to silver and reflected off the lingering snowdrifts. All around them the mountains loomed, their tops serrated with the narrow tips of trees she had just this afternoon identified as Pinus lasiocarpa and Abies englemanni.

Stop that, Nellie Sanders! This night is too lovely to be a botanist. Just enjoy the beauty and leave the science for the daylight. As if in apology to the night, she said, "They are all pine trees. Mr. Willard said so." But she spoke quietly, for it would not do for anyone to hear such irreverence from her.

"What's that?"

"Nothing." She took one last look around. "I suppose we should return to camp. You will be calling us to arise far too soon." But she didn't move, for his arm had tightened about her waist.

"I shouldn't do this," he murmured, wrapping the other arm around her. Nellie felt the hard shape of his rifle press against her back, them she stopped thinking as his head lowered toward her and she felt his warm breath on her face.

He is going to kiss me!

The thought came and was gone in an instant, as his lips brushed hers. They might have been angel's wings, so lightly did they touch.

He drew back, and Nellie had the insane desire to catch his shoulders and pull him close.

But she didn't need to, for he bent again and this time his lips moved over hers, little soft nips, each like a hot needle laid on tender skin. She gasped as his tongue, hot and wet, touched the corner of her mouth. It was withdrawn immediately, and again she felt that urge to demand that he not stop...please..."Please, don't stop..."

He covered her mouth with his, no longer gentle, but with a wordless entreaty that she yield to him. Without thought, Nellie opened to the invasion of his tongue, welcomed it as it probed and stroked the soft lining of her mouth. As she swayed against him, she felt one of his hands slide lower on her back until it cupped her bottom. He pulled her hard against him, until she felt the ridge of his sex against her belly, its shape unmistakable even through the layers of his and her clothing.

Shamelessly she stood on tiptoe so that the hard length of him pressed into her soft middle, not caring that she was all but offering herself to him.

She might never have another chance.

The kiss lasted forever.

The kiss ended too soon.

Abruptly he drew away from her, loosened his hold on her body. Nellie tilted toward him, her legs useless, boneless things unable to support her weight.

"Steady!" he said, one hand clutching her upper arm with a grip like a vise.

"I...I'm all right," she told him, knowing that she lied. She would never be all right again. "I can stand now."

He stared down at her, his deep-set eyes shadowed. Nellie looked back, knowing her feelings were writ plainly on her face, in her eyes. For the longest moment, they looked at each other, and she wondered if his thoughts were as confused, as tumultuous, as hers.

At last he lifted a hand, touched her cheek with gentle fingers. "I shouldn't have done that," he said, his voice low and a bit hesitant. "I hope you'll forgive me."

"No," she said, feeling sick. "No, Mr. Bradley, I don't think I will." Without another word, she pulled herself free of his hand and turning, ran pell-mell back to the camp.

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