“You’d be wasting your life.” The breath from his whispered words brushed her face. “And you’d hate marriage to him.”
She knew as much, but how did he? What enabled him to discern such a thing after spending only five minutes’ time with David?
His other hand came up to caress her cheek, and he inched forward until his face obliterated everything else from her vision. Her gaze dipped to his mouth. The slightest movement from either of them, and their lips would touch.
What would it feel like, being kissed by a cowboy? David’s kisses had been smooth and seductive, but something told her kissing Luke Hayes would be in no way similar.
She should pull away. Shift back. Slap him. Move to the bench on the opposite side of the carriage. Anything to distract her from those lips.
But she didn’t.
Instead, she leaned forward, propelled by some inward desire she didn’t understand, part curiosity, part defiance, part longing.
Their lips brushed, and a wave of warmth started where their mouths met and traveled to her toes. She closed her eyes against the tender contact, the way time suspended as her lips rubbed briefly against his. Then she sighed and pulled back.
“Not yet,” he whispered, taking her shoulders and covering her mouth with his own.
The man was controlled strength, no pretense or secrets. His lips were firm but not hard, demanding but not reckless. His muscled arms wrapped around her, drawing her closer. His unyielding lips kissed her slowly at first, his mouth whispering a silent message as it lingered against hers. Trust me.
* * *
Kissing Miss Wells was like unwrapping a present. Slowly drawing off the ribbon, then the wrapping. Taking the lid off the box, and digging through the tissue. She had so many layers—the proper lady, the dignified teacher, the steely politician’s daughter, the soft woman. He peeled them back until her heart shimmered like diamonds in his hands.
He knew the moment he had gained her trust. Her muscles relaxed, her breathing grew deeper and her hands became restless as they slipped from his neck to his shoulders.
And what was he doing? Kissing Miss Wells in a carriage, while she hadn’t even a chaperone? She was a city woman who lived thousands of miles from his ranch. A politician’s daughter who faced bigger decisions than kissing him. A teacher who did unfathomable good for her students and didn’t need him getting in the way of her dreams or hurting her reputation.
He leaned back, abruptly breaking the kiss. But she clung to his shirt, her eyes closed, her face upturned, her breathing erratic. Then her eyelids flickered open, and he stared into pure, dreamy hazel.
He should have never ended that kiss.
He should have never started it.
A splotch of red stained her cheeks and spread until it covered her face and neck. She put a hand to her cheek. “Luke, I—”
“You don’t kiss me like that and then try apologizing,” he growled, more frustrated with himself over what he’d started than whatever she called him.
He hadn’t thought it possible for her face to grow redder, but it did. She fixed her eyes on some teeny speck on the floor and wrapped her arms around herself in a halfhearted hug. “This... I... We can’t do this. It will lead to trouble.” Her eyes shone large and luminous in the lamplight; her lips full and swollen from his kiss.
He should take her in his arms and repeat the kiss. Only this time, he wouldn’t stop to worry about where she lived or who her parents were or what she did for a living. This time he’d kiss her and hold her like a man who planned to be in Valley Falls for the next fifty years. Because right about now, he wanted to be that man for her.
But he couldn’t.
He didn’t have time to get involved with Elizabeth, and even if he did muddle into a relationship, what happened when he returned to Wyoming? He couldn’t take her with him. Where would she teach? The Teton Valley already had a teacher for its tiny schoolhouse.
And why was he thinking about taking her West? A man didn’t up and pick a bride after one kiss.
He swallowed. No. Definitely not.
“I, um...” Some of the flush had left Elizabeth’s face, and her skin took on that irresistibly creamy hue again as she pushed words through her stammering mouth. “That is... I want you to know, that...I—I...don’t really kiss...” Her finger traced an imaginary pattern on her lap. “Well, you remember what I told you? About how much I enjoy teaching? And the board of directors feels very strongly about its teachers behaving with the utmost propriety. So, you see, um...I can’t really...”
“You won’t kiss me again, but you’ll consider marrying a scoundrel like David DeVander.” The realization twisted something deep inside him. Maybe he was a tad crazy to get so moonstruck over one kiss. But the thought of her going to DeVander, kissing the snake the way she’d just kissed him, ignited fire in his blood.