“Oh.” She breathed the word like a sigh. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
He would have released her hand and drawn back, but she held him with her eyes, those wide, vulnerable orbs shimmering with a tearless pain that pulled words from him before he even realized he’d opened his mouth to speak. “I’m sorry about your evening—the money, the reporter, the whole lot of it.”
Her face hovered so close to his that her breath warmed his neck. His gaze drifted to her lips, full and dark in the night. They’d taste as sweet as that fruit-and-sugar voice of hers. He’d give up his Colt .45 and saddle if he was wrong.
The breeze stirred, and a strand of hair fanned across her cheek. He swept it away and anchored it behind her ear, then let his fingers linger at the tender spot behind her earlobe. Did she know how beautiful she looked in that dress? Bathed in moonlight? With her hair falling to her waist?
Her jaw trembled slightly. Would she tremble more if he pressed his lips to hers?
Her whisper, soft as it was, slapped him. He pulled back and dropped his hands. Here he thought about kissing the woman senseless, and she called him Mr. Hayes.
“It’s Luke,” he said, his voice rough as gravel. “And we best be going.” Because if he stayed here any longer with her, he was going to kiss her—the woman who didn’t want to let Sam come home and lectured him for wearing his gun.
Yep, that would have been a disaster, all right. He stood and extended his hand. “Let’s get you to the carriage, then I’ll go hunt up Sam and Jackson.”
She hesitated for the briefest second, something unreadable flashing across her eyes, before she placed her gloved hand in his.
Confound it, did that have to be small and delicate, too? Couldn’t the Good Lord have made some part of the woman undesirable? Blessed her with a big nose or unseemly freckles? Carrot-orange hair or a laugh that sounded like a pig snort?
He swallowed and helped her up, brushing his thumb over the top of her knuckles. Shafts of silvery moonlight filtered through the sporadic clouds above, illuminating the gentle curve of her pink cheek, the fragile column of her creamy neck, the spilling waves of her mahogany hair.
Disaster. Kissing her would be a disaster. He’d just keep repeating it until he and the woman were safely surrounded by a slew of other folk, and he forgot all about his urge to kiss her.
Because he would forget—he hoped.
“Come on,” he said a bit too roughly and pulled her forward. She followed silently, her dress swishing softly over pavers, then grass, as they rounded the far side of the building.
He led her down the narrow dirt path between the Kenmore and a similarly massive structure. Darkness shrouded the walkway, and moonlight barely slanted through the small space above. But streetlights illuminated the far end of the path, a good sign there wasn’t a locked gate before them.
A gasp. A rustle up ahead. He quickened his pace, tugging Miss Wells behind him. Through the shadows, a silhouette of two lovers locked in a passionate kiss emerged. Getting around them in this confined space would be interesting, if not embarrassing.
A breathy sigh filled the air, and the man pressed the woman’s back against the building while her hands clutched at his hair. Heat stole across the back of Luke’s neck.
He shifted farther in front of Miss Wells, hopefully blocking her view of the careless couple. Then falling gold curls caught the dim light, and fury rushed his blood, a swelling tide he’d no desire to stop. He dropped Miss Wells’s hand, strode forward and heaved Jackson back by the collar.
Jackson gagged, the sound similar to the noise a man made as a noose tightened about his neck. Luke jerked the fabric harder, and Jackson gagged again, his hands flying up to loosen his shirt. Well, the man deserved to choke for a bit after touching his sister.
“Jackson?” Miss Wells gasped.
“Luke!” Samantha cried.
He didn’t glance at either woman but leaned his head close to Jackson’s ear. “Don’t you ever touch her again. Don’t you ever come calling again. And don’t you ever try contacting her again.”
He released Jackson’s shirt enough so the man could suck air. “Say ‘Yes, sir.’”
“Luke, stop. You’re hurting him.” Samantha rushed forward and gripped his arm, trying to yank it away from Jackson.
“Luke, please release my brother and let’s discuss this.” Miss Wells, ever calm, appeared behind Samantha.
“He was touching Sam.” Maybe the boy didn’t deserve to die, but so help him, Jackson Wells wouldn’t touch his baby sister again.
He finally let go of Jackson. The other man stumbled forward, and Samantha rushed to his side.