Sabrina and Nick’s first kiss

ProtectiveInstinctCoverArt (2)“Let’s wait out the storm, Sabrina. We’ll rest up, then decide the best way to warn your young lord.”

She smiled up at him, then wound her arms around his neck. Standing on her tiptoes, she kissed his whiskered cheek. “Thank you so much. You won’t regret it. Who knows, he may even reward you by offering you a position at the manor stables.” The thought took wings in her heart then soared. “Oh, Nick, if that happens, everything will work out perfectly between us.”

He’d flushed scarlet beneath his whiskers when she’d kissed him and her words brought his brows into a V.

“Bet–“ He cleared his throat. “Between us?”

She sighed, then smiled up at him. “I think I should fill you in on the rest, Nick.“ She gestured to the chair by the fireplace. “You may want to sit down, this is going to take a bit, and may be somewhat hard to believe at first.”

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A First Kiss – Winter and Mike

SurvivalInstinctCoverArt (2)She nodded. “I figure even after I offed you, they would pin the murder on me to get me off planet. My hope was they would at least leave my grandmother alone.”

He shook his head. “You were really going to kill me?”

She scowled at him. “You know, you’re wasting an awful lot of energy on that. I’m thinking it’s pretty much a moot point now. It’s time to let it go.”

His lips pressed firm, then in a move she didn’t see coming, his head swooped down and those tense lips were pressed on hers.

The kiss was angry, exasperated, exploratory, and gentle — all at once. The shock of it quickly faded and heat, which was unfamiliar and just a bit overwhelming, coursed through her as his lips continued their sensual assault.

Sensations pooled low in her belly, her heart thumped so hard she feared it would thump its way right out of her chest, and her hands, palms pressed to the twitching muscles of his chest, had gone sweaty.

Wow, so this was kissing?

If she’d known it would be so life altering, she would have let herself be kissed way before now.

A gentle nip had her lips parting and his tongue swept inside her mouth and her brain took a long awaited holiday.

She was a mass of feelings, with no thoughts to interfere or second guess the attraction which had ignited even during the fight at the police station when she thought she was wrestling the enemy.

She wanted more.

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First Kiss, Eliza and Frank

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Frank bowed a little, doffing his cowboy hat. “Sorry if I startled you, Ma’am,” he said in his deep, resonating voice. “May I walk you back to the cabin? I’d like to have a word.”

Eliza nodded her assent and he dropped into step beside her. “Thank you again for the dinner, Ma’am.”

Eliza smiled up at him. “It was the least I could do.” Even though she’d paid the hands as well, dinner was part of the custom. You paid your workers with cash and with care, Mrs. McWhorter always said.

Frank removed his hat completely and turned it in his big, work-worn hands. He cleared his throat. He seemed nervous. She stopped and looked up at him, waited for him to say his piece.

He stared at his hands for a long while. “Miss O’Malley, I was wondering…”

She could hear the sound of her own heartbeat, along with the night sounds of a working farm. “What is it, Mr. McGee? What can I do for you?”

He looked up and into her eyes then. His dark eyes glowed in the scant light from the moon and the campfire.

“Miss Eliza, would you do me the honor of allowing me to court you?”

Had she heard him right? Or had her own romantic thoughts about Mr. McGee played tricks with her hearing? She peered into his intense gaze and repeated, “Court me?”

Frank drew in a great deep breath and blew it out.

“Yes, ma’am. Unless you are spoken for?”

“Spoken for?” She couldn’t get her mind to catch up to the thought that this handsome man wished to court her. This had never happened to her before and she had not expected it, not so soon after meeting the man.

Frank shoved his hat back onto his head and she was afraid she’d offended him. Then he reached out and grasped both her hands in his own and squeezed them tightly.

“Eliza, please, think of me as a suitor,” he implored her. “You are smart, beautiful, a hard worker.” He took another deep breath. “And you smell like heaven. I would be honored if you might consider me a beau, and might allow us to get better acquainted.”

Her heart tripped into a rapid beat. This man noticed scent.

She allowed herself a small smile. “I have no experience in such things, sir, but if you are sincere, and if you might be patient with my inexperience I would indeed like you to court me.”

He dropped fervent kisses on both her hands.

“Thank you, Eliza. Might I call you Eliza?”

She giggled. She’d thought of him as simply Frank almost all day long. “You may, if I might call you Frank.”

He grinned at her then, and his straight white teeth flashed in the moonlight. He tugged her hands, pulling her a little closer.

“You may.” His gaze was intense as he searched her eyes. “Eliza, just so you know, I am going to kiss you now.”

He didn’t hesitate, but dropped his face very close to hers. She could feel his breath on her lips a second before he touched his lips to hers in a soft, slow, very gentle kiss.

It was nothing like the hardy, rowdy kisses she had sometimes seen between the women at the pub and the men they were with. When she witnessed those kisses she got a funny feeling in her stomach, like she was seeing something wicked she should not observe. She got that funny feeling in her stomach again, but not because it felt wrong. Because the kiss felt very right. His lips were feather soft, moving very lightly, very carefully. He didn’t embrace her but still held her hands in his. Her heart pounded and he placed her hands against his chest where she could feel the rapid pace of his heart under her palms. And still he kissed her, slowly drawing her into the new status as the one Frank McGee was courting.

When he finally lifted his face from hers she followed his movement so she could place her cheek against his. His face was rough from the day’s growth of beard and she rubbed against it, needing to anchor this memory. Or was it just a dream? Would she wake up if she pinched herself?

She hoped not.

“Goodnight, sweet Eliza,” Frank said, his breath tickling her ear where he whispered the words. “When you are ready we can announce to your Pa that we are courting. I’ll not dignify the man with a request. You are your own woman and your decision is all I need.” He turned then and walked toward the campfire. She touched her fingers to her lips and could still feel the tingle of his gentle touch.

She carried that sensation into the cabin. It was time to find the diary – the book her mother promised would guide her as a Heartmark woman when it came time to fall in love. She took one of the lamps into the room with her, closed the door, and turned up the wick so the light spilled into the room.

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First Kiss — Sean and Dr. Al

     Allison was filling one side of the sink with soapy water.AnimalInstinctCoverArt_1
He stood to her left and pointed. “You can use the dishwasher.”
She smiled at him and shook her head. “Do you mind if we do them by hand?” she asked. “I think best when I’m doing something routine like washing dishes. Lets my mind roam a bit,
helps me find solutions.”
“Sure, that’s fine.” He couldn’t find a dishtowel to save his life. “Just a sec.” He ran to the box of bath towels, pulled one out and covered the counter with it. “I’ll rinse and we’ll let them
air dry.”
Allison nodded absently. She was stacking clean dishes into the other side of the sink, and he waited until quite a few had gathered, then sprayed to rinse them, stacking them on the
towel. They worked quietly, both lost in thought. He wondered if she was really thinking about their mystery or if, like him, she was soaking up the chance to stand close together, bumping
each other now and then, doing this homey task as a team. Every time she reached to place the next dish in the sink they managed to bump. Every time an electric sensation shot through him.
When Allison finished the last dish she opened the drain and began to wipe down the sink. Sean stacked his last dish and dried his hands on a remaining corner of the towel. He turned
then, watching Allison in profile as she completed her simple task.
“Allison?”
“Hmm?” She turned and looked up and his heart began to pound a little faster. He reached out with one hand, rested it on her arm, stepped a little closer. He saw the realization in her eyes — she knew he was coming in for a kiss. A smile flickered over her lips and her gaze dropped to his mouth. He dropped his head to line up for a taste of that luscious-looking mouth and her eyes drifted closed. The first brush was light, careful, gentle. She held still, held her breath. He leaned in a little closer, his lips firmer. Her tongue flicked a corner of his mouth, quick and teasing. She opened her mouth just a little, and he took her shoulder by his hands to pull her closer. He brushed the sides of her neck with his thumbs. She pressed her body into his and lifted her arms, still damp from doing dishes, and wrapped them around him.
He deepened the kiss; awareness sizzling through every place his skin touched her.

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Sabrina’s Animal Helper

Sabrina was tied to a hard backed chair, and each of her ankles tied to a leg of the chair. Her knees throbbed from the awkward position. Her back against the chair ached from the hard surface and the ill treatment that must have preceded her arrival to this place.

Her bottom lip throbbed, and she tasted blood.

Clearly she had been beaten.

What she did not know was why?

She fought through the fog clouding her brain, struggling to remember how she’d come to be in this dire situation.

A sense of urgency knotted her stomach, a feeling that there was something important she needed to do.

But what?

The more she tried to remember, the harder her head pounded. She ached more with every beat of her heart, with every pulse of blood through her sore body.86485493

Something jumped onto her lap. Her throat slammed shut with terror, imagining a rat or some other such outbuilding animal attacking her. She attempted to push up and away, but the chair didn’t budge. She was too weak. What could she do to escape it?

The sound of purring broke through her panicked thoughts, and she realized a cat was now shifting itself on her lap, apparently thinking to make itself comfortable.

The sound and steady vibration of the feline’s deep purr helped to calm her, and its weight, although not a large cat by any means, warmed her lap, a fact which she was significantly grateful.

“I don’t know where we are, little one, but I’m glad you’re here.” Her hoarse whisper was rewarded by a small, soft meow.

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Animal Helpers, Wyoming Style

226868899949994132_wOvbIobW_bFancy had worked a full day even though it was only noon. Before Eliza cleaned up for dinner she gave Fancy a long drink, then took her to the barn where Frank had said she could give her a stall. She forked some hay into the manger, added a little grain, then backed Fancy into the stall. She took her saddle off and brushed the horse from head to tail in long, steady strokes. Shep lay at their feet and watched, his head resting on his paws, while Fancy munched contentedly.

Suddenly Fancy’s head came up and Shep came to his feet, both facing the barn door. The hairs on the back of Eliza’s neck prickled, just like the ones that stood up on Shep’s neck. The dog growled, a long, low growl. Fancy pawed the ground with one hoof, as if itching to move toward the shadow in the barn doorway.

“It’s just me,” came a woman’s voice. “Honestly, Shep, you’d think you’d get used to me by now.”

Frank’s sister stepped into the light that came through the open window. Eliza let out the breath she’d been holding.

“Well, hello,” she said. She dropped the brush with the other tack and stepped out of the stall to greet Jude. She latched the stall, removed her gloves, and extended a hand. “I’m Eliza O’Malley.”

“I’m Julia McGee.” The grip on her hand was firm – firmer than any other’s woman’s handshake, at least in Eliza’s experience.

Especially firm considering the young, slight woman before her. She couldn’t be twenty. Her light red hair was pulled back in a simple clasp at the back of her neck. Her skin was pearlescent, not a wrinkle in sight.

“Happy to meet you, Julia.”

“Jude, actually. Everyone calls me Jude.”

“Jude, then. I just finished putting my horse up. I hear dinner is ready. Was Allen useful to you in the kitchen?”

“More than useful. He is a master with a paring knife, and his pie crust may be the best I’ve ever had.” Jude’s mouth turned up in a smile and her green eyes shone with pleasure.

Eliza laughed. “I’m glad. I’m next to useless, so I figured you could use his help.”

“You didn’t look useless out there in the herd,” Jude countered. “You and your horse moved like one, and with Shep’s help you made quick work of sorting out the calves.”

Shep was still on all fours, hair on the back of his neck at alert. Behind her Fancy’s hooves struck the ground again. If these were the animal helpers…

But no, this couldn’t be the evil Mildreth. This was Frank’s sister, born in his household when he was a young man, not a time-traveling enemy. She shook off her discomfort.

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Another Calico Animal Helper

86485493As soon as the going gets rough for Winter, look who shows up.

Winter swiped a heavy hand against the sandpaper abrasion wetting her cheek.

A cat meowed

Her brows drew into a frown. Meow?

More sandpaper, then a nudge on her cheek from a wet, somewhat smelly head.

The sound of the ocean registered, and as she struggled to pry her eyes open, memories of the early morning events filtered through her brain.

She squinted up to the sky. The sun was at about ten a.m. Obviously, she hadn’t made the start of her shift, first day.

She could still smell rain in the air but the storm had passed and now the skies were blue. Only in San Francisco.

Another meow.

She turned her throbbing head and met the unblinking golden eyes of a calico cat. “Scat Cat?” she asked in confusion, realizing the second drug hadn’t targeted her vocal cords.

The undernourished, soaking wet cat purred, long and loud.

“You can’t be Scat Cat,” she murmured, reaching up and scratching the feline under its chin.

It couldn’t be the same cat. It was impossible the alley cat who had followed her to and from school since kindergarten, followed her back and forth from her part time job each and every day, then even to the bus stop the very day she had left town, was the same cat.

Scat Cat, because Winter had shouted the words to the cat, along with a hissing noise and a stomping foot, each and every day, worried the fool cat would get hit by a car by following her around everywhere.

Everywhere, that was, except her home. Oddly, when Winter was home, the stray cat never lingered.

She shook the cobwebs from her head and sat up. She had been wedged between two large boulders, completely hidden from the spread of beach where she and her captors had gathered earlier this morning.

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Animal Instinct – Animal Helpers

     Each of the Heartmark women has an animal helper, and so does the man meant for them. Dr. Al’s animal helper is modeled after my own sweet calico cat. Meet ChaCha.IMG_0606

Excerpt:

     ChaCha made an entrance, sauntering toward Allison, winding between her feet, pressing against her, then turning haughtily to stare at Meredith.
“You just can’t trust a man, any man. They are…” Mer’s ramble stumbled to a halt. She pointed at the Calico, now seated by Allison’s foot, still staring. She came to her feet, sputtering.
“Send that cat outside. You know she gives me the creeps.”
The rude tone jangled and raised the hair on the back of Allison’s neck. She shivered. When Allison didn’t respond, Meredith began to talk again. As always.
“She is evil, I tell you.” Meredith stepped toward ChaCha, hands extended as if she was going to pick up the cat.
The cat came up on all fours, arched her back, fur standing up along her spine. She looked about three times her size, and didn’t break eye contact with her arch enemy.  “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
Allison kept her voice even but inside she was seething. ChaCha was the sweetest, most mellow cat she had ever known. The cat evil? What about the woman stalking her? “This is her house, Mer. Let her be.”
She stepped in front of the cat, a mug of tea in each hand, and nodded toward the table.
“Sit. We have time for a couple of biscotti each before I have to get ready for work.”

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Nick receives the Sgian Dybh

She struggled with all her might. The man atop her laughed, then leaned in, his chapped lips aiming for hers. She squeezed her eyes shut, twisting her neck away from him until her cheek scraped against the forest floor.

“Omph!”

The kiss she thought she would have to endure did not come. The monster’s weight lifted from her in blessed relief. She pushed herself to her feet, darting a look at the two other tormenters, who stood with their mouths agape at the sight before them.

An avenging angel had come to her rescue.

A wide leather thong tied back shoulder length blond hair. Slightly darker whiskers hugged a strong, determined face. He was tall and lean, and his fists pummeled the man until he collapsed into an unmoving mass on the forest floor.

Sabrina hugged herself, unable to take her eyes off her rescuer, whose violet eyes shown with a fierceness which should have terrified her, yet didn’t.

His gaze swung to the other two men, and, with a start, they both shot a panicked look to their fallen comrade.

“Take him.”

Two words, softly spoken, sent a shiver up her spine.

His command startled them into motion. They tripped over themselves getting to their cohort. Grabbing him under his arms they hoisted him to his feet. With looks of stunned disbelief to her rescuer they fled into the forest as fast as they could with their senseless burden.

Sabrina sat up and leaned against a tree. The adrenalin that had sustained her through this latest ordeal began to seep out of her, leaving her weak and trembling. She sucked in air to her lungs, then blew it out, doing her best to fight back tears.

The danger was over, her first kiss had not been stolen from her against her will, and there was no reason for tears now.

Her champion’s eyes met hers and her breath caught in her throat.

He really was the most beautiful man she’d ever seen. The beast he’d rescued her from had not landed even a single blow to him, and his perfect face was one that must surely make angels weep with envy.

And those eyes.

They were stunning and unique, a violet that would rival the most spectacular sunset, generously fringed with thick dark lashes.

Something, a vague familiarity, tugged at her mind and she shook the sensation away.

Sabrina pushed to her feet and moved away from the tree on legs not quite steady to stand before the man. “Thank you.”

Piercing eyes met hers, a flash of what could have been regret crossed his face to be replaced with a resigned set of his lips. “Are you harmed?”

His voice was deep, the tone soothing and oddly unsettling at the same time. Her pulse raced and heat rose to her cheeks. Knowing she must look a fright, she put a self-conscious hand to her hair and nodded. “Just some bruises and scrapes, nothing broken.” She dropped her gaze, then glanced at him through her lashes. “And nothing taken from me that should nay have been, thanks to you.”

He nodded, clearly understanding the meaning of her words and the intent of her assailants.

“It’s good I happened by when I did,” he said under his breath.

She nodded. “Aye, it is.” She glanced through the trees where the men had disappeared. “Do you think they’ll come back?”

His lips compressed. “Aye, I imagine so, likely with reinforcements.”

She bit her lip. “I was afraid you’d say that.”

Sabrina looked around, realizing although she was relatively safe at this moment, if her original captors knew she had escaped, they could be searching for her.

“What is it?”

She bit her bottom lip. “Um, well, I thank you for your assistance.” Sabrina could not meet his eyes, so instead stared at the dusty tops of his boots. “But, um, I really have to get going now. There may be, er, others searching for me, and I would rather not be found again.”

“Others?”

Miserable, she nodded. “Aye, others.”

He took hold of her shoulders, ducked his head down a little so he could catch her eyes with his. “You were assaulted twice?”

She nodded, wishing he were not so upset on her behalf. “Four times, all told, in less than a fortnight.”

The grip on her shoulders tightened. His features hardened and he narrowed his eyes.

She gave him a small smile. “Then rescued by a stranger.”

Sabrina’s heart lurched and she slapped both hands over her mouth. Her father’s dying words drifted through her mind like a gentle breeze.

“Give the man who rescues you the Sgian Dybh, daughter. I was supposed to find a deserving man to receive it, but now you must do so. The one who saves you, Sabrina. He will be your destiny.”AnimalInstinctCoverArt72dpi_1 cropped 2

She stared at the man, her eyes so wide the cold air stung them. “It’s you.”

Dark brows made a v of puzzlement. “Pardon?”

She scanned the forest floor. “I have to give you something.”

Thank goodness her attackers hadn’t noticed when the dagger slipped from the strap on her thigh. She spotted her dagger and shrugged out of his hold to retrieve the small weapon.

She held the Sgian Dybh in both palms, savoring the significance of what she was about to do.

She prayed he would also.

Sabrina cleared her throat. “My name is Sabrina Bridges.” She met his gaze fully. “I’m a miss, nay a lady.”

It was important he know that, least he feel ill at ease in her presence.

His simple clothing, clean, yet many times mended if the patches were any indication, marked him the same social status as she herself. She let out a sigh of relief that there’d be no social restrictions to hinder their relationship and smiled up at him.

He returned her smile, his eyes wary. “It’s nice to meet you, Miss Bridges.” He said. “I’m-“ He cleared his throat and his eyes shifted somewhere over her left shoulder. “I’m Nick.”

A small smile tugged at her lips. “Just Nick?”

Color touched his cheeks through what looked like a few days growth of whiskers and he shrugged a broad shoulder. “Aye, just Nick.”

She smiled to herself. He must be very shy.

She met his eyes and held her palms toward him. The amethyst jewel at the center of the bone handle seemed to shimmer and warmed her hands. “Nick, this Sgian Dybh belongs to you.”

He gave her a little smile. “No, Miss Bridges, it isn’t mine. Perhaps one of the other fellows dropped it?”

“No, it used to be mine. I mean it is yours now.” Her hands, still extended with the gift, began to tremble.

He shook his head and took a step back. “Miss Bridges, I cannot take your dagger. I can, however, teach you how to use it to protect yourself.”

Confused by the change of topic she fought back a flutter of panic his rejection brought on and took a step toward him, grasping his hands.

With the reverence deserving of this moment she placed the dagger into them. “It was my father’s, but now it’s yours, Nick.” She curled her hands around his, tightening his hold on the dagger. “Don’t you see? You saved me. You’re the deserving one.”

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Pioneer Instinct: Eliza and Frank

 PioneerInstinctCoverArtEliza O’Malley made her way through the crowds and wondered if her father and brothers had prepared the pens that would be needed to care for so many animals. Well, she would know soon. Her boot heels clicked on the boardwalk as she passed others by, intent on doing the necessary business so they could leave as soon as Papa showed up. After she passed a few shops she saw, just ahead, a building with a large sign that read BANK.

The crowd on the walk had stopped moving – they appeared to gather around something she couldn’t see, all gawking at whatever was at the center of the walk. Eliza gritted her teeth in irritation. She did not have time for this. She stepped off the wooden sidewalk and into the street to bypass them.

Eliza bit back a scream when the sudden sound of hoof beats and the thudding vibration on the hard packed earth beneath her feet alerted her she had made what could be a deadly misstep. So lost in her thoughts, she’d walked right into the path of a galloping horse.

Instinct took over and Eliza stretched out her hand and grasped the bridle, not even realizing there was a man on the horse’s back.

Her heart beat so hard she thought it may beat itself out of her chest. Eliza looked up to the rider. He was a mountain of a man. She couldn’t see his face clearly due to his wide rimmed hat, but his height and breadth blocked the sun and caused her heart to stutter and her breath to catch in her throat.

With a grace that belied his girth, the man leaped from the horse and yanked the bridle from her hand.

“And what do you think you are doing, grabbing my horse? Are ye daft, woman? I came close enough to running you down when I was in control of my horse.”

The adrenalin rush brought on by fear immediately turned to anger. Was this man implying that she was feeble minded?

She jerked her gaze up to meet his eyes. “I’ll have you know I had perfect control, sir.”

“A woman in control would not step in the path of a moving horse,” he scoffed. His voice was deep and rumbled out of his strong, broad chest, and despite her anger with him, his voice did strange things to her tummy, turning it all warm and jumpy.

She grit her teeth again, embarrassment now mixed with irritation, but she wasn’t backing down.

“The sun was in my eyes, sir. I didn’t see you at first.”

He glared down at her, looking for all the world like he might wrap those large hands around her neck, and her breath caught in her throat. Oh, my. She was being taken to task by the most beautiful man she had ever seen. His eyes were a deep, dark blue, almost midnight blue with flecks of green scattered in the depths. The sandy lashes that framed them were longer than any man had a right to sport. His hair, a dark copper color, curly and unruly, brushed his collar and framed a strong, square face. His lips, currently pressed together in annoyance, were full, and his complexion was deeply tanned with a slight ruddy cast.

Eliza stepped back from the sheer impact of his physical beauty and caught her heel on the raised sidewalk. With a quickness which belied his mass, he reached out and caught her by the arm before she fell backward.

He shook his head, the look he gave her one she was sure was reserved for those not quite in their right mind. “Lass!”

Her arm, where his hand steadied her, burned and tingled at the same time. She did not hear the lecture that spurted from his mouth. No, instead she busily cataloged every detail of this irate but handsome man. His tapered waist and strong, very long legs were impressive, as long, wide and sturdy as tree branches, and she gulped back a sigh. He released her arm and put one hand on his hip, while the other held the reins and bridle to his horse. A black and white sheep dog sat at his side and watched her intently. The dog stood and ambled closer, sniffed at her hand, then leaned in, pressing its body close to her. She gave it a pat and scratched behind its ears before she looked back at its stern owner. When she returned her gaze to his face, his lips were turned down in a stern frown. He raised an imploring hand.

“I could have killed you, lass. It is a rough and tumble town, Cheyenne. You’ll need to be more careful.”

“Yes, sir, I will.” She swallowed, more confused by her awareness of this man than the fact she had indeed almost been killed. “Thank you.” She began to step back onto the boardwalk, but once again he took her arm and held her in place.

“You’re new here.” It wasn’t a question.

She leaned her head to one side so she could look up at him again.

He blew out a resigned sigh. “Let me escort you. What is your destination?”

Eliza’s mouth went dry at the unexpected offer and she had trouble forming the words. She nodded the direction she’d been going. “The bank,” she finally squeaked out, “but you don’t have to.”

He gave his head another shake, his lips curled into a small half smile as he studied her. “Yes, Miss, I think I do.

The mountain of a man nodded and flipped the reins of his horse over a hitching rail before he assisted her with the step, then offered his arm and walked her into the bank.

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