Forever His Texas Bride (Bachelors of Battle Creek #3)(7)

By: Linda Broday

“Don’t get any ideas,” he muttered, but his lips curved a little against his will.

The light finally allowed him to see her clearly. He couldn’t say she was especially pretty—not traditionally so, in any case—but her cloud of auburn curls reminded him of the flames of a campfire on a cold night. Her eyes danced with mischief. Their color was as difficult to nail down as she was. One minute they were blue, the next green. They changed with each movement. They, he decided, were beautiful.

As he pondered that, sleep overtook him again.

The next time he woke to find a hand in his trousers. His head jerked around as he flared back into full consciousness, and Rayna pulled away with a gasp. “Trying to pick my pockets now? I’m afraid you’ll be sadly disappointed. I’m one of the have-nots.”

Color flooded Rayna’s cheeks. “I was only giving you something.”

Brett threw his long legs over the side of the bunk and, with great effort, struggled to a sitting position. “Giving me something? Now that’s a new wrinkle.”

“It’s true.” She sat down beside him.

“Then I suppose I need to see what you left in my pocket. Does it bite?”

“Good Lord, what kind of a person do you think I am?”

“God only knows.” He allowed a smile as he stuck his hand in his trouser pocket and found a small object. He pulled it out. It was a smooth piece of wood someone had carved into the shape of a heart. He stared into her blue-green eyes and raised a brow.

“You need it more than I do,” she said. “My grandfather carved it a long time ago. It’s always brought me good luck.”

Brett fought the impulse to laugh and, except for a quirk of his lips, managed to keep a straight face. His gaze swept the iron bars, the plank floor, and the grim, windowless space. “Yes, I can certainly see that this brought you all manner of good fortune.”

Rayna twisted a piece of her dirty, threadbare dress. “Well, it did before I got here to Steele’s Hollow.”

He caught the sorrow in her eyes before she looked down. Acting on impulse, he reached for her hand, only to stop, unsure of himself. But it was so clear she needed comfort. Finally, he took her small hand in his, keeping his grip light, fearing he might break it.

“Thank you,” he said softly. “It’s the best present anyone ever gave me.”

“So you’ll keep the heart? It would mean a lot.”

“In that case, I can’t refuse.”

She brightened. “When they hang you, I’ll take it back.”

“Such overwhelming faith you have in this talisman.” He tucked the small heart into his pocket. “You never told me why you’re in my cell.”

Her hand curled inside his, and he found the feeling shooting into his chest very pleasant. “I was helping Doc. He can’t see well and had trouble locating the bullet fragment, so he got the sheriff to let me try.”

“Then I owe you a debt of thanks.” He squeezed her fingers just a tiny bit.

Strange sensations traveled the length of his arm. Rayna was the first woman he’d touched in this way. Her skin was as soft as the down on a baby wren.

“When the doctor left, he told Sheriff Oldham that he needed me to watch you. I’m awful glad you’re doing better. Looked like you were a goner for a while. Doc said you had an infection, but it looks like you might beat it.”

He took in the woman who’d saved his life. He doubted the top of her head would reach his chin. Both delicacy and strength showed in her face. It seemed apparent she’d had her share of disappointments. Still, it hadn’t beaten her down. She had plenty of spunk and then some.

“What time do you think it is?” he asked, releasing her hand.

“Near to midnight, I would say.”

“Then I think I’ll lie back down if you don’t mind.”

She rose and stood beside the bunk, then hesitated. “I wonder…do you think I could stay? Just for a while? Maybe watch you sleep? Just in case you start feeling poorly again and need…something.”

Brett studied her face and noticed the worry and fear darkening her eyes. Through the haze of his pain, he could clearly see that Rayna hungered for human contact. He couldn’t deny her that. He turned on his side to make more room. “Lie down beside me. We’ll watch each other sleep.”