Texas Redemption(137)

By: Linda Broday

“Do tell.” Needles of discomfort pricked. He may as well have posted his secrets in The Jeffersonian.

“Those qualities most endear you. After Ollie died I discovered we don’t ever truly know a person, and perhaps that’s the way it’s intended. But there’s something that intrigues me.”

“I can’t imagine any tidbit that escaped your notice.”

She raised and leaned over him, her lush breasts leaving imprints above his heart. He inhaled sharply. His memory bag dangled from her hand. “When I asked about this earlier you told me it was nothing of much value. Please, may I look?”

Brodie had never revealed his private stash to anyone. Each sentimental treasure revealed something of him—things he’d clutched fiercely when the world slept.

Still, he had to begin trusting. That meant letting the woman he loved into the dark pain. He swallowed hard.

“Be my guest.”

She removed Aunt Lucy’s letter. Then came the gold band that glistened in the early morn. Her questioning gaze caught his. “My mother’s,” he murmured.

Laurel placed it tenderly on the letter as though sensing his agony. Murphy’s lock of hair joined the ring. Brodie held his breath. The last item held the most significance. Her reaction to it would determine their future. “Oh, my love.” A rush of tears darkened her violet gaze. She cradled the scrap to her heart. “Lace from my skirt. You kept the memento. Putting it in such good company must mean—”

“I love you. I always have.”

“You hid it well.”

The split lip, compliments of Taft’s fist, trembled. He pressed his mouth very lightly to the wound, moved along the jaw line to a dainty earlobe, before placing feathery kisses on her eyelids. She’d suffered too much over the years, something he’d have to live with. If he could. Memories hurt.

“That’s because you were set to marry the wrong man.”

She groaned. “What a horrible mistake. I didn’t love Murphy, though I thought it would be the answer.”

“You’ve reason to change your mind?”

He loved the wrinkle in her brow when wheels of thought turned inside her head.

“I realized after the soldiers took you that no one can bring redemption to another. I’m proud of who I am. I don’t need to marry anyone to prove I’m good and decent.”

“And generous and beautiful to a fault.” Brodie shifted onto his side. “You pounded a few things into this lamebrain. The stockade took my blinders off. You’re right. The past has nothing to do with the future except shape us into the people we are.” He squared his jaw. “I was a jackass. I’m sorry. Other than a reputation as a broken-down gunslinger, I’m no prize.”

“I never asked for anything more, Brodie.”

“You know it eats at a man to be unable to provide.”

Laurel turned away. Her husky voice held a quiver. “You think I’m merely an obligation?”

“Darlin’, you mean life, death, and the hereafter to me.” He inhaled her fragrance and plunged. “That’s why I humbly request your hand in marriage.”

Laurel swung back. “Of all the dumb ways to ask.”

“I haven’t had much practice. Is that a yes or a no?”

Anger and confusion darkened her features. He hadn’t a clue whether the roulette wheel would stop on red or black. Hell, he couldn’t even tell where the chips had fallen. He just pitched them out. Perhaps it was too late for winning his hand.

“I can’t. I truly can’t.”

Ice water in place of blood didn’t flow too easily, Brodie discovered. “I’ve messed up real bad. I just hoped—”

“Hold on, rebel, I’m not finished. I can’t vow to love and cherish until we settle some things. First, how do you feel about swapping a Colt for an apron? I warn you, it’s a big switch.”

He chuckled and kissed the sweet, honeyed mouth. His fingertip traced the curve of a bruised cheek.

“I feel like the luckiest man alive. Gunplay and fast draws don’t compare to the excitement of being with you.” He nibbled an enticing shoulder.

“I’m afraid.”