With trembling lips, Eve lifted her head to give Reno the kiss he had demanded. After a quick pressure of her mouth against his, she retreated, her heart beating wildly.
«You call that a kiss?» Reno asked.
She nodded, because she was too nervous to speak.
«I should have guessed you’d cheat with your body the same way you cheat with cards,» he said, disgusted.
«I kissed you!»
«The way a frightened virgin kisses her first boy. Well, you’re no virgin, and I’m no wide-eyed country boy.»
«But I–I am,» she stammered.
Reno said something beneath his breath, then added in a cutting voice, «Save the wide-eyed act for a pup that’s still wet behind the ears. Men my age know everything worth knowing about women’s tricks, and everything we know, we learned the hard way.»
«Then you didn’t learn enough. I’m not what you think I am.»
«Neither am I,» he retorted dryly. «I haven’t been taken in by that look of wide-eyed innocence since I was innocent myself. That was a long time ago.»
Eve opened her mouth to further argue her innocence, but a single look at Reno’s face convinced her that he had already made up his mind on the subject. There was nothing of comfort in his ice green eyes or in the flat line of his mouth beneath his mustache. He believed she was a saloon girl and a cheat, pure and simple.
Even worse, she couldn’t wholly blame him. Shehadcheated him. Although she hadn’t started out to use Reno in her deadly game with Slater and Raleigh, in the end she had risked Reno’s life without so much as warning him of what was at stake.
To add insult to injury, she had run off with the very pot she had cheated to give to Reno. The fact that he had survived at all was due to his own unusual skill with a gun. She hadn’t even known who he was, so she could hardly say that she was certain he would be able to fight free of the trap he had walked into.
A kiss seemed a simple enough apology to a man whose death she had nearly caused.
Lifting up again, Eve put her lips over Reno’s. This time she didn’t retreat instantly. Instead, she increased the pressure of the kiss gradually, learning the smooth resilience of his lips in a silence that was bounded by the frantic beating of her heart.
When Reno made no move to deepen or to end the kiss, Eve hesitated, wondering what she should do next. Though Reno didn’t believe it, she had told the truth about her innocence. The few times she hadn’t been fast enough to dodge a kiss from a cowboy, there had been nothing gentle or pleasant about the embrace. They had grabbed, she had fought free, and that had been the end of it. If there had been any sensual enjoyment in the experience, it hadn’t been hers.
But Reno wasn’t grabbing, and Eve had agreed to this kiss. She just didn’t know how to go about it. The realization perplexed her almost as much as the discovery that kissing Reno affected her in an entirely unexpected way.
She liked it.
«Keep going. I’ll get an honest kiss out of you yet.»
Tentatively Eve’s hands crept around Reno’s neck, for she was becoming tired of holding herself in a half-upright position. At first she was reluctant to trust her weight to his strength, but the temptation was too great to resist for long. Gradually the pressure of her arms around his neck increased as she allowed him to support more and more of her weight.
«Better,» Reno said in a deep voice.
His lips were very close to Eve’s. The warmth of his breath sent a glittering wash of sensation over her. For an instant her own breath hesitated, then came back quickened. She arched her body to close the remaining distance between her mouth and Reno’s.
The first touch of his lips was already familiar, as was the frisson of pleasure that went over Eve when their mouths met. The silken brush of his mustache over the edge of her upper lip was also a pleasure she had known before. Yet each time she felt it, the intensity of the sensation grew greater, shortening her breath even more.
«I wouldn’t have guessed,» Eve whispered.
She was so close that each word was a separate brush over Reno’s mouth. It was the same when he spoke to her, each word a caress.
«What wouldn’t you have guessed?» he asked.
«That your mustache would feel like a silk brush.»
Eve wondered at the ripple that went through Reno, but had no time to think about it, for his arms were sliding around her. She stiffened, expecting to be grabbed and held down once more.
But Reno made no further move to force her. He simply held her so that she didn’t have to make any effort at all to stay close to him. Slowly she relaxed, letting his arms support her.
«I’m still waiting for my kiss,» Reno said.
«I think I’ve kissed you more than once.»
«And I think you haven’t kissed me at all.»
«What was I just doing?»
«Teasing,» he said bluntly. «Nice enough, but not what I had in mind, and you know it as well as I do.»
«No, I don’t. I’m not a mind reader,» she retorted, irritated that he hadn’t been half so unsettled by the slow, gliding kiss as she had.
«I know what you are. You’re a saloon girl with fast hands who promised me the one thing she can’t deliver — an honest kiss.»
Eve opened her mouth to ask Reno what he thought an honest kiss should be. Then she remembered what he had said about kissing.
I like it hot and deep. Take that quick little tongue and rub it over mine.
Before Eve could lose her nerve, she brought her lips against Reno’s open mouth and touched his tongue with her own. The nubby, velvety texture she felt intrigued her. Tentatively she ran the tip of her own tongue over him once more, tracing the shape of his mouth. In the course of her explorations she discovered how smooth and silky the underside of his tongue was.
She didn’t notice the gradual tightening of Reno’s arms or the quickening of his breathing. She didn’t notice that she was being lured more deeply into the kiss with every speeding heartbeat. All she knew was that Reno’s taste and warmth were more intoxicating than the French brandy Don and Donna had so loved.
Eve didn’t question the growing urgency that claimed her. She simply tightened her arms around Reno’s neck, trying to get even closer to him, seeking a more complete merging of their mouths.
Suddenly the ground pressed up hard beneath Eve’s body. She was on her back once more, and Reno was covering her like a warm, heavy blanket.
This time Eve didn’t protest, for the position allowed her to get even closer to Reno. Her fingers searched through his hair, knocking aside his dark hat. Restlessly she combed her fingers through his hair, enjoying the thickness and texture and warmth of it.
Reno shifted and arched against her like a great cat, silently telling her that he liked the feel of her nails against his scalp, his neck, the bunched muscles of his back. He liked the taste of her too, sweetness and a heat that grew greater the more he tested it.
Reno’s tongue probed deeply into Eve’s mouth as his weight settled between her thighs, separating them until he could press the ache of his arousal into the soft nest that was made to receive him. He felt the sensual ripple that went through her body at the contact and wanted to groan at the savage thrust of his response.
He hadn’t meant to get this aroused. He certainly hadn’t meant to show her just how badly he wanted her.
But it was too late now. She would know exactly what that hard ridge of flesh pressing against her meant, and she would know exactly how to use it against him to get what she wanted. All that remained of the game was to see how far she would let him go before she tried to stop him.
And what she would offer to make him stop.
Reno’s hips moved again, pressing more intimately against Eve’s yielding body. A sweet fire blossomed in the pit of her stomach, making her moan. Instinctively her arms tightened around him, seeking to keep him close. She was rewarded by a sinuous movement of his hips, his body retreating and returning to hers in the same primitive rhythms of his tongue moving within her mouth.
Long fingers slid from Eve’s shoulders to the lacy camisole and pantalets that were all she had worn to sleep in. He stroked from her ribs to her hip and then up again, not stopping until one breast was filling his hand. His thumb moved, discovered the velvet hardness of her nipple, and tested it with a sensuous, twisting pressure.
Pleasure speared through Eve, taking her completely by surprise. Instinctively she arched, increasing the sweet pressure of his hand, twisting against him like a cat.
With a husky sound of triumph, Reno increased the caress, capturing Eve’s nipple and rolling it between his fingers, drinking the whimpering cries that rippled from her mouth. When he could resist the temptation no longer, he tore his lips from hers and dragged a path of fire down her neck and breast, seeking the berry that had ripened to fullness at his caress.
The liquid heat of Reno’s mouth sinking through the thin camisole to the naked flesh beneath shocked Eve back to her senses. Dazed, uncertain about what had happened, she fought for breath, only to have it taken from her once more when his mouth tugged on her nipple and fire whipped through her body.
His hand moved and laces came undone, threatening to bare her in an intimacy she had never known before with any man.
«No!» Eve gasped.
Before she could say another word, Reno’s mouth was over hers and his tongue was thrusting deeply into her mouth, making it impossible for her to speak. The hungry rubbing of his tongue against hers sent the world spinning away from Eve once more, leaving only Reno’s heat and strength as an anchor.
Before he lifted his head again, she was clinging to him, her instinctive protest drowned beneath the heady pleasure he was giving her.
Reno stripped Eve’s camisole away with a smooth movement of his arm, revealing the creamy curves and tight coral tips of her breasts. His breath came out with a low sound of need. She glistened with the heat of his mouth, and each rapid breath she took made her breasts shiver invitingly. She had looked so slender, so like a young girl, that he hadn’t expected her to be so much a woman.
Without really intending to, Reno bent down to Eve once more.
«Reno, don’t, I —»
Eve made a broken sound that was part fear, part fire, as he ignored her small struggles. Slowly his hands slid beneath her back. Then his arms tightened and she was arched like a bow in the instant before he opened his lips and began to suckle and tease the nipples he had aroused.
A low moan was torn from Eve. She shivered as lightning arched her body even more deeply into Reno’s hungry mouth.
«What are you doing to me?» she asked brokenly.
His only answer was to turn his head and pull her other nipple into the sultry, unexpected paradise of his mouth.
The sensation of pleasure was even more violent this time. It dragged another cry from Eve as her body arched to meet the demands of the man who held her with such fierce care.
Then Eve felt Reno’s hand between her legs.
Fear burst, driving out pleasure, quenching her passionate fire with the icy certainty that Reno wasn’t going to stop short of taking her.
«No more!» she said desperately, trying to twist away. «No! Stop! You said a kiss, and I kissed you just the way you said you liked it, didn’t I? I’ve kept my part of the bargain. Please, stop. Reno, please.»
Slowly, very reluctantly, Reno lifted his head. The lingering, sensual release of Eve’s nipple from his mouth sent a helpless wave of response through her.
He closed his eyes and clenched his teeth against an involuntary groan. The hand he had pressed between her legs was surrounded with the kind of fire he had never drawn so quickly from any woman.
He flexed his fingers, savoring Eve’s passionate heat, drawing a cry that wasn’t wholly fear from her flushed lips.
«Why should I stop, gata?» Reno asked huskily, watching her. «You want it damn near as much as I do.»
His hand moved again, and again she cried out, for her pantalets had no center seam. There was not even the frail barrier of cotton to dull the sensation of his hand curved possessively around her.
Eve grabbed Reno’s wrist, trying to drag it from between her legs. She couldn’t. He was much stronger than she was.
«You said you would stop if I gave you an honest kiss,» Eve said, raggedly. «Wasn’t that an honest kiss? Wasn’t it?»
The desperation in Eve’s voice was unmistakable, as was the sudden stiffness of her body and the hard arcs of her nails digging into his wrist.
Yet at the same time she was a fire surrounding Reno, luring and burning him with each caressing instant.
«If that kiss had been ‘honest, ’ I’d be hilt deep in you right now and you’d be using those sharp little daws on me in a different way, and we’d both be loving every last bit of it,» Reno said flatly.
«Is that the only honesty you know?» Eve demanded. «A girl giving herself to every man who wants her?»
«And now I don’t! Are you going back on your word, gunfighter?»
Reno took a deep breath and called himself twenty kinds of fool for wanting the expert little cheat from the Gold Dust Saloon. He thought he had been teased by the world expert, one Savannah Marie Carrington. She had tied him in sexual knots and then dragged promises from him before she would let him so much as kiss her hand again.
But each time the promise she really wanted — a settled life in West Virginia — wasn’t forthcoming, she had buttoned her bodice with calm fingers and left him. It hadn’t been that easy for Reno to turn passion on and off. Not at first. But he had learned. Savannah Marie was a good teacher.
«I didn’t promise to stop,» Reno said coolly. «I just said we’d negotiate after one kiss. Offer me something, gata. Offer me something as interesting as this.»
Reno’s hand moved once more, pressing against Eve, caressing her. Again she tried to push him away.
«The mine,» Eve said. «The Lyons’ gold mine.»
Reno shrugged and bent toward Eve again.
«I already won that, remember?» he asked.
«Just the journal. It’s no good to you without the symbols,» she said quickly.
He paused, watching her through narrowed eyes. She might have been eager for his kisses earlier, but now she was eager only to be free of his touch.
Abruptly Reno removed his hand from Eve. He was damned if he would allow himself to be teased into wanting a girl more than she wanted him. That was the kind of mistake a smart man never made more than once.
«What symbols?» he asked skeptically.
«The ones Don Lyon’s ancestor carved along the trail to mark dead ends and dangers and gold and everything else that would help.»
Slowly Reno moved back, giving Eve more room. But he was careful not to get beyond arm’s reach of her. He had seen Eve move. She had an unsettling speed, every bit as fast as a cat.
«All right, gata, talk to me about Spanish gold.»
«My name is Eve, not cat,» she said.
She grabbed the camisole that Reno had tossed aside and yanked it on.
«Eve, huh? Somehow I’m not surprised. Well, my name isn’t Adam, so don’t try feeding me any apples.»
«Your loss, not mine,» she muttered. «I’m told my apple pie is the best to be found west of the Mississippi and north of the Mason-Dixon line, and maybe south of it as well.»
Hurriedly Eve fastened the camisole with fingers that were unusually clumsy. She knew she had just had a narrow escape.
And she was grateful that gunfighters kept their word.
«I’m more interested in gold than I am in apple pie,» Reno retorted. «Remember?»
He stroked Eve’s thigh. The action was both a caress and a threat.
«Don Lyon was the descendant of Spanish gentry,» Eve said quickly.
Then she looked from Reno’s hand to his eyes, plainly reminding him of their bargain. Slowly he lifted his hand.
«One of his forebears had a license from the king to explore for metals in New Mexico,» Eve said. «Another ancestor was an officer assigned to guard a gold mine run by a Jesuit priest.»
«Jesuit, not Franciscan?»
«No. It was before the Spanish king threw the Jesuits out of the New World.»
«That was a long time ago.»
«The journal’s first entry is dated in the fifteen-fifties or eighties,» Eve said. «It’s hard to tell. The ink is faded and the page is torn.»
When Eve didn’t say anything else immediately, Reno’s hand went to her belly. He spread his fingers wide, almost spanning her hipbones.
Her breath came in with a rushing sound. It was as though he were measuring the space for a baby to grow.
«Go on,» Reno said.
He knew his voice was too deep, too husky, but there was nothing he could do about it, any more than he could control the heavy running of his desire, no matter how foolish he knew it was to want the calculating little saloon girl.
The heat from her body was like a drug seeping through his skin and being absorbed into his blood, making it harder with each heartbeat to remember that she was just one more girl out to get whatever she could by using her body as a lure.
Then Reno realized that Eve had said nothing more. He looked up and saw her watching him with yellow cat’s eyes.
«Going back on your word so quickly?» Eve asked.
Angrily Reno lifted his hand.
«I think it must be 1580,» Eve said.
«More like 1867,» Reno retorted.
Without answering, Reno looked at the frail cotton of the camisole, which served only to heighten rather than to conceal the allure of Eve’s breasts.
When he looked up, Eve was afraid she had lost the dangerous game she was playing. Reno’s eyes were a pale green, and they burned.
«It’s 1867,» he said, «summer, we’re on the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, and I’m trying to decide if I want to hear any more fairy tales about Spanish gold before I take what I won in a card game.»
«It’s not a fairy tale! It’s all in the journal. There was a Captain Leon and someone called Sosa.»
«Yes,» Eve said quickly. «Gaspar de Sosa. And a Jesuit Priest. And a handful of soldiers.»
Through a screen of thick brown eyelashes, she watched Reno warily, praying that he believed her.
«I’m listening,» he said. «Not real patiently, mind you, but I’m listening.»
What Reno didn’t say was that he was listening very carefully. He had tried to retrace the trail of the Espejo and Sosa expeditions more than once. Both expeditions had found gold and silver mines that had yielded vast wealth.
And all of their mines had been «lost» before their riches ran out.
«Sosa and Leon were given license to find and develop mines for the king,» Eve said, frowning as she tried to remember all that she had learned from the Lyons and the old journal. «The expedition went north all the way to the land of the Yutahs.»
«Today we call them Utes,» Reno said.
«Sosa followed Espejo, who was the one who gave the land the name of New Mexico,» she said hurriedly. «And he was the one who called the routes leading out of all the mines and back to Mexico the Old Spanish Trail.»
«Nice of them to write in English so you could figure all this out,» Reno said sardonically.
«What do you mean?» Eve asked, giving him a quick glance. «They wrote in Spanish. Funny Spanish. If s the very devil to puzzle out.»
Reno’s head lifted sharply. Eve’s words, rather than her body, finally had his full attention.
«You can read the old Spanish writings?» he asked.
«Don taught me how before his eyes got too bad to make out the words. I would read them to him, and he would try to remember what his father had said about those passages, and his grandfather, too.»
«Family tales. Fairy tales. Same difference.»
Eve ignored the interruption. «Then I’d write down what Don remembered in the journal’s margins.»
«Couldn’t he write?»
«Not for the past few years. His hands were too knotted up.»
Unconsciously Eve laced her own slender fingers together, remembering the pain the old couple suffered in cold weather. Donna’s hands had been little better than her husband’s.
«I guess they spent too many winters in gold camps where there was more whiskey than firewood,» she said huskily.
«All right, Eve Lyon. Keep talking.»
«My name isn’t Lyon. They were my employers, not my blood relatives.»
Reno had caught the change in Eve’s voice and the subtle tension in her body. He wondered if she was lying.
«Employers?» he asked.
«They…» Eve looked away.
«They bought me off an orphan train in Denver five years ago,» she said in a low voice.
Even as Reno opened his mouth to make a sarcastic remark about the futility of tugging on his heartstrings with sad stories, he realized that Eve could easily be telling the truth. The Lyons could indeed have bought her from an orphan train as though she were a side of bacon.
It wouldn’t have been the first time such a thing had happened. Reno had heard many other such stories. Some of the orphans found good homes. Most didn’t. They were worked, and worked hard, by homesteaders or townspeople who had no cash to hire help, but had enough food to spare for another mouth.
Slowly Reno nodded. «Makes sense. Bet their hands had started to go bad.»
«They could barely shuffle, much less deal cards. Especially Don.»
«Were they cardsharps?»
Eve closed her eyes for an instant, remembering her shame and fear the first time she had been caught cheating. She had been fourteen and so nervous, the cards had scattered all over when she shuffled. In picking the cards up, one of the men noticed the slight roughness that marked aces, kings, and queens.
«They were gamblers,» Eve said tonelessly.
Her eyelids flinched. «Sometimes.»
«When they thought they could get away with it,» Reno said, not bothering to hide his contempt.
«No,» Eve said in a soft voice. «Only when they had to. Most of the time the other players were too drunk to notice what cards they were holding, much less what they were dealt.»
«So the nice old couple taught you how to colddeck and bottom-deal,» Reno said.
«They also taught me how to speak and read Spanish, how to ride any horse I could get my hands on, how to cook and sew and —»
«Cheat at cards,» he finished. «I’ll bet they taught you a lot of other things, too. How much did they charge for a few hours with you?»
Nothing in Reno’s voice or expression revealed the anger that churned in his gut at the thought of Eve’s beautiful body being bought by any drifter with a handful of change and a hard need filling his jeans.
«What?» Eve asked.
«How much did youremployerscharge a man to get under your skirt?»
For an instant Eve was too shocked to speak. Her hand flashed out so quickly that only a few men would have been able to counter the blow.
Reno was one of them, but it was a near thing. Just before her palm would have connected with his cheek, he caught her wrist and flattened her out on the bedroll beneath him in the same violent motion.
«Don’t try that again,» he said harshly. «I know all about wide-eyed little hussies who slap a man when he suggests they’re anything less than a lady. The next time you lift a hand to me, I won’t be a gentleman about it.»
Eve made a sound that could have been a laugh or a sob. «Gentleman? You? No gentleman would force himself on a lady!»
«But then, you’re not a lady,» Reno said. «You’re something that was bought off an orphan train and sold whenever a man was interested enough to hand over a dollar.»
«No man, ever, paid for anything from me.»
«You just gave your, uh, favors away?» Reno suggested ironically. «And the men were so grateful, they left a little present on the bedside table, is that it?»
«No man ever got under my skirt, with or without paying,» Eve said icily.
Reno rolled aside, freeing Eve. Before she could move away, his hand settled at the apex of her thighs, where a bronze thicket guarded her sultry core.
«Not true, gata. I’ve been under your skirt, and I’m a man.»
«Go to hell, gunfighter,» Eve said through clenched teeth, her voice steady despite the tears of shame and rage in her eyes.
Reno saw only the rage. It occurred to him that he would be wise not to turn his back on his little saloon girl until she cooled off. Eve was quick, very quick, and at the moment she looked fully capable of picking up the shotgun and emptying both barrels into him.
«Mad enough to kill, aren’t you?» he asked sardonically. «Well, don’t worry. Nobody ever died of it. Now, talk.»
Eve watched Reno through glittering golden slits. He lifted one black eyebrow.
«If you don’t feel like talking,» he said, «I can find something else for that quick little tongue of yours to do.»