When Reno came back to camp, Eve was dressed in camisole, pantalets, and one of his dark shirts. She was also curled up on his bedroll, asleep. Slowly he took the journal from her relaxed fingers and set it aside. She stirred sleepily and looked up at him with eyes that reflected sunlight and darkness.
«Move over, gata. I’d like a nap, too.»
When Reno stretched out beside Eve, she smiled.
«You smell like lilacs,» she murmured. «I like it.»
«You should. It’s your soap.»
«You shaved,» she said, touching a place on Reno’s neck where he had nicked himself. «I wouldn’t have cut you. Why didn’t you ask me?»
«I get tired of demanding things from you,» he said simply.
Eve’s eyes opened and she looked at Reno, hearing all that he wasn’t saying.
«I like shaving you,» she whispered.
«What about kissing me? Do you like that, too?»
The green of Reno’s eyes was hot enough to burn, yet he made no move toward Eve.
«Yes,» she whispered. «I like that, too.»
Slowly Reno bent and put his mouth over Eve’s. She made a soft sound of revelation and remembrance in one. The warm, hungry questing of his tongue made her shiver with pleasure. For long, sweet seconds she relearned the velvet rhythms of penetration and retreat, knew once more the textures of his deep kiss, felt again the heat of him spreading through her in wave after wave of pleasure.
Reno cupped Eve’s face in his hands, letting the warmth of her skin radiate through him in a shimmering rush that was hotter and sweeter each time he felt it. Her warmth, her taste, her soft mouth opening beneath his, set fire to him.
«Gata,» he whispered. «You burn me.»
Her only answer was a broken cry and a shiver of pleasure as his teeth scored lightly over her neck.
The passionate cry was a razor fraying the cords of Reno’s restraint. He wanted to strip Eve’s few clothes away and bury himself in the sultry softness he knew waited for him within her body.
But even more than that, he needed to bring her to the point where she wanted him at least as much as he wanted her. He needed her crying and clawing and demanding that he take her. He needed her to forget all her cold feminine calculations and come to him without restraint, a golden fire burning him to the marrow of his bones.
Then he would burn her in return, leaving a mark on her that she would never forget. No matter how many men she had known before, she would never take another without remembering what it had been to be Reno’s lover.
He didn’t ask himself why it should matter that Eve never forget him. He simply accepted it as he had the uncanny currents of the Spanish needles, a mystery that didn’t have to be understood to be used.
Slowly Reno lowered his mouth over Eve’s once more, letting the rising currents of passion swirl back and forth between them, joining them in a quest that ultimately could have only one end.
Eve’s fingers slid deeply into Reno’s thick, cool hair, seeking the elemental warmth beneath. Her nails drew lightly over his scalp. The low sound he made was both reward and goad. She flexed her fingers again, and again felt the response that rippled through his muscular body.
«Such sweet little claws,» Reno said.
He bit Eve’s lower lip with careful restraint. She made a sound of surprise and pleasure. Smiling, he released her lip so slowly she could feel the tiny serrations of his teeth caressing the smooth, sensitive skin.
She leaned closer as he withdrew, for she wanted more of the gentle torment. He laughed softly and turned aside, denying her his mouth. When she tried to follow him, he held her face still between his hands. Her lips were parted, glistening with sunlight and desire, trembling lightly.
He made a questioning sound that was rather like a purr of satisfaction.
«Don’t you want to kiss me?» Eve whispered.
«Do you want to kiss me?» Reno countered.
She nodded her head.
Golden strands slid forward over his hands, caressing him with a cool fire. His suddenly indrawn breath filled his throat.
«Then do it, gata. Do it now.»
Eve saw the banked fire in Reno’s eyes, heard it in his low voice, felt it in the tension of his arms. Knowing how much he wanted her kiss made a strange heat coil deeply within her.
«Do you want to taste me?» she whispered. «Is that how you want it?»
But Reno couldn’t answer, for Eve had matched her mouth to his. The delicate explorations of her tongue made him groan.
She lifted her head.
«More,» he said huskily.
Eve gave Reno what he asked for, because it was what she wanted, too. The taste of him was familiar, her own mouth and his combined. His textures lured her, making her feel both dizzy and strangely powerful. She strained against him, needing an even deeper tasting of him. She wanted to hold him so tightly that she became a part of him, never to be wholly separate again.
With an urgency Eve didn’t understand, her hands stroked from Reno’s head to his shoulders as she leaned closer and closer to him. He neither advanced nor retreated, letting her come to him. Restlessly her arms tightened around his neck.
An exquisite sensation shot through Eve as her breasts met the muscular warmth of Reno’s chest. She hadn’t known how she ached for that contact until she felt it. Instinctively she began to twist slowly against him, dragging the hardening peaks of her breasts over the tense muscles of his chest.
The sound Reno made was both encouragement and sensual demand. She sank her nails into the tightly corded muscles of his back, wanting to feel his powerful arms around her, wanting to be held against him more tightly than her arms alone could manage.
When he didn’t respond as she wished, she made a frustrated noise.
«What?» Reno asked in a low voice.
Eve tried to draw his mouth down to hers once more, but he was far stronger than she was. He held his lips just above hers, teasing her with the kiss he withheld just as he was withholding his strength from her passionate demands.
«What do you want?» he whispered.
«To kiss you.»
He brushed her mouth with his lips.
«Like that?» he asked.
«No and yes?»
The tip of Reno’s tongue teased Eve’s lips while she struggled to be closer.
«Yes,» she said, shivering at the touch of his tongue.
And then he withdrew.
«No,» she said quickly.
«Yes and no. Make up your mind, sweetgata.»
«Reno,» Eve said urgently. «I want…more.»
His breath came in as though she had flicked him with a whip.
«Open your mouth,» Reno said in a deep voice. «Kiss me that way. Let me see that you want it as much as I do.»
Sunlight glistened on Eve’s lips and on the tip of her tongue. Reno made a low sound and tightened his arms, lifting her face up to his.
«More,» he said, brushing his parted lips over hers.
Eve trembled and did as he asked.
Reno’s mouth closed over hers, and his tongue slid into the warmth that had opened for him. He took her mouth as he meant to take her body, completely, a seamless melding of flesh and honeyed heat.
The feathering touch of air across Eve’s skin when Reno unlaced her camisole was like the edge of his teeth, an exciting contrast to the satin heat of desire.
Eve didn’t know how much her breasts ached to be stroked until Reno’s hands cupped and his thumbs prodded nipples into proud peaks. She didn’t know he was lying half over her until his fingers plucked the taut nipples and streamer after streamer of fire shot through her, making her arch into unexpected contact with his body.
She would have cried out at the sensual pleasure of her body against his, but the only cries the deep mating of mouths allowed were small noises from the back of her throat. He drank the passionate whimpers and silently demanded more, teasing and kneading her sensitive breasts. Long fingers stroked and shaped and tugged until she twisted almost wildly beneath him.
Only then did Reno shift again, flowing completely over Eve, giving her what she had needed without knowing it. His hips pressed against hers, sinking into her until she moved her legs apart in an instinctive effort to match the aching softness between her thighs with the rigid proof of Reno’s hunger.
Eve didn’t know who made the hoarse sound of discovery when Reno fitted himself against her. She knew only that fire spiraled wildly, burning her. Her nails dug heedlessly into the flexed muscles of his back as she gasped, in the grip of a pleasure that burned.
Reno didn’t object to her nails. He simply groaned his response and dragged his hips over her in passionate reflex. The liquid fire of her response spread between their straining bodies.
Surprise froze Eve until Reno’s hips moved again, sending wildfire racing through her body in a burst of heat she could neither deny nor conceal. When he repeated the movement, his tongue shot into her mouth in a possession that was total yet so tantalizing in its lack of completion that Eve wept.
One of Reno’s hands moved between their bodies. The sound of his pants coming undone was lost in the passionate protests that came from Eve when he lifted his weight from her hips.
«It’s all right, gata,» Reno said thickly as he eased himself from the confinement of cloth. «I’m not going anywhere.»
Eve barely heard the words. She knew only that Reno’s weight was settling back on her, but just missing the part of her that ached for the pressure of his body. She twisted against him, wanting more than he was giving her. No matter how she moved, he managed to evade her.
«Reno,» she said raggedly.
«What?» he asked when she said no more.
As he spoke, he raked his teeth lightly over her neck.
Eve had no words to answer him, for she had never felt as she did now, wild for something she couldn’t name.
Reno smiled darkly, for he knew just what she was missing.
«What is it?» he asked again.
Then he listened to the splintering of Eve’s voice as his teeth closed with more force on her smooth skin.
«I can’t…I don’t…» she gasped.
He caught her nipples in his fingers once more and tugged. Her breath came out in a hoarse sound as she arched like a bow. The motion made him settle more deeply onto her legs, yet still not where she wanted him. Her hands clenched in unbearable frustration. She twisted up against him in unknowing demand.
«Open your legs,» he whispered.
As Reno spoke, he moved his hips just enough to brush against Eve’s fire. The caress drew a ragged cry and a rush of heat from her. She shifted, wanting more of the sweet violence he had teased from her.
«More,» he said thickly. «Let me see that you want me.»
Eve shifted again.
«More, gata. You know you’ll like it. Draw your knees up on either side of me.»
She did as Reno asked, opening her legs until he lay easily between her thighs. Slowly he began teasing her nipples, watching her as he plucked the sensitive, rosy peaks.
«Yes,» Reno said when Eve lifted her hips blindly toward him. «Like that. Tell me you want me.»
The sensual torment of his hands on her breasts was no longer enough. Eve’s head moved as restlessly as her hips, seeking release from the vise of need that was closing around her.
«Reno, I…» Eve bit her lip and shivered.
«I know. I can see it.»
The pantalets had no center seam, allowing Reno’s fingertips to flick over her unprotected secrets, touching all but one.
«And I can feel it,» he said in a low voice.
Eve gasped in a combination of fear and passion as she realized that she lay undefended before Reno.
Deliberately he plucked the tender bud that had swelled with desire. The rush of pleasure Eve felt was so intense she cried out sharply and melted over him.
«Again,» Reno said, rubbing his thumb all around her, teasing her with what he was once again withholding.
She made a broken sound.
«Let me feel your pleasure,» he whispered. «Now.»
Then he touched her and she gave him what he had demanded. The hoarse sound of his satisfaction was another light caress, another delicate flick of passion’s whip across her intensely sensitive flesh.
«You’re like a spring welling up at my touch,» Reno said in a low voice.
His fingertip caressed again, drawing forth another rush of pleasure.
«I like that, gata. I like it the way I like to breathe.»
His fingers moved, barely brushing her slick, hot flesh.
Eve wept and writhed with the honeyed teasing that sent savage streamers of fire through her. She didn’t know when Reno’s fingertips were replaced by blunt, satin flesh. She knew only that he wasn’t touching her the one place she must be touched. Her nails raked down his back in a demand she couldn’t help making.
Reno regretted that his shirt kept him from feeling the sharp edges of his cat’s passionate claws. He smiled and teased Eve some more, circling the tender nub without quite touching it. Her hands raked again, and he laughed deep in his throat despite his own unanswered need.
The twisting motion of Eve’s hips beneath Reno made a fine sweat break all over his body. He had never had a woman want him so completely, her whole body crying her need. The slightest brush of his fingers sent her response spilling over again. He enjoyed it with savage intensity, bathing himself in her passionate heat, wanting to take her so much that his body shook with his need.
Yet no matter how hard she twisted and fought to make him touch the hungry bud he had drawn from her softness, he eluded her.
«Why?» Eve asked finally.
«I want to hear you ask for more.»
She made a frustrated sound and twisted again, and again Reno left her barely touched, wholly aching.
«More,» Eve said, trembling.
Reno brushed against her swollen, sultry flesh.
«Harder,» she said raggedly.
Her fist struck his shoulder as she strained toward the unattainable fire that withdrew just as she reached for it.
«That’s not enough,» she said urgently.
«What if I say that’s all there is?»
«No! There has to be more!»
Reno touched her again, drawing his nails with exquisite care over the swollen bud. She gasped and liquid fire overflowed.
Teeth clenched against the need shaking him, Reno took a deep breath, seeking the self-control that was sliding away. The primal scent of Eve’s passion swept through him. It was like breathing fire.
«Reno,» she whispered. «I —»
Her voice broke as she twisted.
«This?» he asked.
Flesh that was both smooth and hard pressed sensually against her, parting her even as she melted over him.
«Yes,» she said brokenly. «Yes.»
With a smooth, powerful motion, Reno drove into Eve, expecting a sleek, seamless ease to the coupling, for there was no doubt of her arousal.
What he found was a barrier that was breached almost the instant it was discovered. Almost, but not quite. The difference was a tearing of flesh and a moisture that owed nothing to passion.
Eve’s eyes flew open as pain rather than pleasure stabbed through her whole body.
«You’re hurting me!» she said hoarsely.
The motions of Eve’s body as she tried to dislodge Reno stripped away his control. He tried to hold her still, but it was too late, he was far too aroused to deny himself the tight satin paradise he had entered. Release swept through him, burning him with pulses of pure fire.
The wild shuddering of Reno’s body moved him within Eve, but there was no pain for her this time. Instead, tongues of fire licked up from the place where their bodies were joined.
The sharp ripples of passion surprised Eve, as did Reno’s hoarse groans and the rhythmic pulses of his flesh deep within her. She closed her eyes, let out a broken breath, and waited for him to release her.
Yet Reno made no move to do so, even when his breathing slowed. The rise and fall of his chest was enough to move him within Eve. Each small motion sent more currents of unwelcome fire through her body. She no longer enjoyed the sensation, for she knew now where it led — to a feeling of pain and edgy despair.
She had been one of those foolish women Donna talked about, the kind who spread their legs in the name of love. But Reno didn’t want a saloon girl’s love. He wanted only her body.
And he had taken it.
«Get off me,» Eve said finally.
The flatness of her voice angered Reno. She had been so hot, so willing, and now she couldn’t wait to be rid of him. She couldn’t have told him more clearly how little she had enjoyed coupling with him.
Yet he had enjoyed it so much he had lost control too quickly. That had never happened to him before. The knowledge that he had wanted her much more than she wanted him made him furious.
Then Reno remembered the fragile barrier, the tearing an instant before he could take Eve completely. He remembered, but he could not believe it. He could not believe a saloon girl was a virgin.
It must have been a long time since her last man.
That would explain the sleek constriction of her body, a sensual pressure that still caressed him every time either one of them breathed.
Reno realized anew how slender Eve was, how delicately made. He wasn’t either slender or small. He was an unusually large, potent man. He hadn’t meant to hurt her, but he must have. The knowledge simultaneously shamed and angered him, for it underlined the difference in their level of mutual desire.
«Don’t tell me you didn’t want it,» Reno said harshly. «Hell, you asked for it as plain as day.»
Color stained Eve’s cheeks as she remembered her own wanton behavior. He was quite right. She had asked for it.
«I’m not asking for it now,» Eve said tightly.
With a hissed word, Reno shifted to roll aside.
Eve’s breath wedged and a shudder went through her body as he caressed her violently sensitive flesh in the act of leaving her.
Blood glistened in the sun, scarlet testimony to a truth Reno could barely believe. She had felt like wild, sun-warmed honey. He had been so eager for her that he hadn’t even undressed her or himself. He had taken her wearing his boots and pants as though she were no more than a whore bought for a few minutes of ease.
And she had let him. She had begged him.
Reno looked at Eve as though he had never seen her before. And he hadn’t. Not the way he was seeing her now. He hadn’t allowed himself to look past the scarlet dress to the innocent girl beneath; because he had wanted that girl too much to turn aside, no matter what the truth of her innocence was.
«That’s right, gunfighter,» Eve shot back. «I’m a virgin.»
Suddenly her mouth drew down in an unhappy curve.
«Well, I was a virgin,» she said. «Now I’m just one more ruined girl who should have known better.»
The word rang in Reno’s mind. Ruined.
Like Savannah Marie had been ruined. Like Willow had been ruined.
A decent man marries an innocent girl if he ruins her.
Suddenly Reno felt cornered. Like any cornered animal, he fought to be free. His fingers wrapped around Eve’s shoulders.
«If you think you just traded your maidenhead for a husband,» he said, «you’re dead wrong. I won you in a card game. I took what was mine. That’s all the payment that’s required.»
«Thank God,» Eve said between her teeth.
For the second time, Eve had shocked Reno. He had expected an argument, a torrent of words telling him how it was his duty as a decent man to marry the girl his lust had ruined. It was an old trick, the oldest and most potent in the arsenal of the war waged between marriage-minded girls and freedom-minded men.
Yet Eve wasn’t using it.
«Thank God?» Reno repeated numbly.
«Damn straight,» Eve shot back. «Thank God I’ve paid off the bet fully and you won’t want to do that again, because —»
«What the hell are you talking about?» he interrupted.
«— now I know why women get paid for it!»
Eve’s furious words hung in the air for a long, taut moment before Reno trusted himself to answer.
«You liked it and you know it,» Reno said in a low, lethal voice. «I didn’t rape you.»
«You didn’t rape me. And I didn’t like it!»
«Then why did you beg for me?» he retorted.
Humiliation and anger burned on Eve’s cheeks. Her lips trembled, but her voice was as steady as her eyes.
«I’ll bet if you asked a baby bird how it liked flying, it would sing happily all the way down to the ground that breaks its stupid neck!»
For an instant Reno was silent. Then he laughed despite his anger at taking a saloon girl and discovering he had made a passionate virgin bleed.
«Flying, huh?» he asked deeply.
Eve gave Reno a wary look, not trusting the sudden, velvety darkness of his voice one bit. With small, subtle motions, she tried to ease away from his grip. His long fingers tightened just enough to let her know that she was well and truly held.
«Not flying,» she said in a clipped voice. «Falling. There’s a big difference, gunfighter.»
«Only in the landing. Next time you’ll land on your feet like the sleek little cat you are.»
«There won’t be a next time.»
«Are you going back on your word?» Reno challenged smoothly.
Eve’s smile was like a piece of winter.
«I don’t have to,» she said. «You can handle me until fire freezes solid. I won’t ask again to be hurt until I bleed.»
«It’s only like that the first time. And if I had known you were a virgin, I —»
«I told you I’d never let a man under my skirts,» she interrupted. «But you didn’t believe me. You thought I was a slut. Now you know I’m not.»
Then realization came to Eve. Her mouth turned down in a bitter curve.
«I wasn’t a slut,» she corrected. «But I am now.»
Anger coiled in Reno.
«I did not make you a slut,» he said, biting off each word.
«Really? How does it happen, then? One time is a mistake and two times makes a slut? Or is it three? Maybe four?»
«Precisely,» she hissed. «How many times does it take before a girl magically becomes a slut? Do tell me, gunfighter. I’d hate to use up more than my God-given share offun.»
«What am I supposed to do?» he asked furiously. «Marry you? Would that make it right again?»
«What?» Reno asked, wondering if he had heard correctly.
«Nothing would make what we did right but love,» Eve said bitterly, «and getting love from a man like you is about as likely as finding ‘a ship made of stone, a dry rain, and a light that casts no shadow. ’»
Hearing his own words come so harshly from Eve’s tongue told Reno that he had hurt her in more than the breaching of her maidenhead.
«You thought you were in love with me,» Reno said, shocked.
Eve went pale. «Does it matter?»
«Hell, yes, it matters! You responded to me because you’re very much a woman, not because of any girlish crap about love.»
With a twisting movement, Eve pulled free of Reno’s grasp. She drew his shirt closer around her body and watched him with feral yellow eyes.
It occurred to Reno that he could have been more tactful on the subject of love. A lot more tactful.
She had been innocent, and innocence believed in love.
«Fasten your pants, gunfighter. I’m tired of seeing my blood on you and knowing how foolish I was.»