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10

The air felt sleek and cool on Eves damp skin as she finished her bath. She shivered, but not from chill. Like the half-wild, wary mustangs, Eve sensed she was no longer alone. She shook out her flour-sack dress and hurriedly pulled it on over her head.

Finished?

Renos voice came from only a few feet away.

Eve spun toward him, her eyes wide. He was standing within reach. Clean clothes were bunched in one hand.

Yes, she whispered. Im finished.

Then you wont mind if I use the basin.

Oh

Eve took a shaky breath and told herself she wasnt disappointed that Reno had followed her merely because he, too, wished to refresh himself after the long ride. Quickly she held out the basin.

Here, she said.

May I use your cloth, too?

The husky darkness of Renos voice heightened Eves awareness of him until it was almost painful. Her skin tingled as though it had been stroked.

Yes, of course, she said.

And your soap?

She nodded.

The motion of her head set her carelessly bound hair free of its loose knot. Moonlight tangled in the tawny locks that fell below her waist.

And your hands, gata. May I use them, too?

Reno heard the break in Eves breathing and wished that he could see her eyes. He wanted to know whether curiosity or dread, sensuality or fear, had caused that soft, tearing intake of breath.

I know that wasnt part of our bargain, he said, but I would appreciate a shave. Heat makes beard stubble itch like the very devil.

Oh. Yes, of course, she said hurriedly.

Have you shaved a man before?

Moonlight gleamed and ran like liquid silver through Eves hair as she nodded.

And cut hair, she said. And gave manicures.

Another way you earned your keep, is that it?

The edge in Renos voice made Eve flinch.

Yes, she said.

Then, knowing what he was thinking, she added, And none of them touched me.

Why? Did it cost extra?

No. I had a razor at their throat, Eve said succinctly.

Reno remembered how he had seen her a few minutes ago, naked in the moonlight, all glistening silver and black velvet, with curves that made a man ache. He wanted to believe that she was as pure as she looked.

But he couldnt.

Even night and shadow didnt conceal Renos skepticism. Eve saw it clearly. Her expression changed, becoming as cool and remote as the moon.

I never sold myself, gunfighter.

Reno smiled rather grimly. He wanted to believe Eve the way he wanted to take his next breath. He would have given up heaven and taken on hell if it would have made Eve half as innocent as she had seemed as she stood naked, shimmering with moonlight and water.

The depth of his desire to believe that Eve had never been bought and sold shocked Reno. Yet he could no more deny his futile wish than he could control his primal response to something as simple as watching her move around the campfire.

Nor could Reno understand his reaction to Eve. He had never fancied saloon girls. Nor had he ever used them. He had preferred to go without rather than to slake his thirst at a tainted water hole. Yet he wanted Eve like hell burning, no matter how many other men she might have had in her young life.

That was why he had taken cards in the Gold Dust Saloon. A single look at Eves steady eyes and trembling mouth had drawn him straight across the room. He hadnt cared if the two outlaws at the table with her objected to having a stranger join them for a few rounds of draw poker. He would have fought just to sit near her. He would have killed.

And he had.

Abruptly Reno turned and went to the smooth, blunt shelf of sandstone that Eve had used as a table for her basin of water. He sat on the rock ledge, put the clean clothes aside, and started undoing his shirt with quick, angry motions of his hands.

Do you have a razor with you? Eve asked.

Reno reached back to his hip pocket and took out a folding straight-edge razor. Without a word he handed it to Eve, for he didnt trust his voice not to reveal how much he disliked the idea of her hands moving over other mens faces, their hair, their hands; and all the while the men would be looking at her lips and her breasts, breathing in the scent of lilacs from her skin, undressing her in their minds, opening her thighs.

Warily Eve came closer to the dangerous man who watched her with eyes made colorless by moonlight. Years of living in the Lyons Gypsy wagon had taught her how to wash herself and others with a minimum of fuss and water. She wet Renos hair and heavy beard stubble and began to work soap into both.

Normally she stood behind a man to do this, but Reno was sitting on a smooth stone outcropping rather than a chair. She had no choice except to stand in front of him.

And, Eve admitted silently to herself, no real desire to stand elsewhere. She liked watching Renos closed eyes and knowing that her touch was pleasing him.

Slowly, subtly, Reno shifted his position as Eve worked. Before she quite understood how it had happened, she found herself standing between his legs. She made a startled sound.

As though she had stumbled, Renos hands came up to steady her.

Perdition, she whispered.

His eyes opened. I beg your pardon?

The manicure. I forgot your hands.

Reno raised a single black eyebrow and flexed his hands, sinking his fingers into the lush flare of Eves hips. He felt the heat of her body dearly, for there was only one layer of cloth between his skin and hers. She was quite naked under the floursack dress.

Eves breath rushed in and stayed until she felt dizzy. She had never imagined that there would be pleasure in a mans hands on her hips.

Your hands, she said.

Reno smiled and flexed his fingers again.

My hands, he agreed. Then he bent forward and whispered against Eves breasts, Where else would you like them?

That wasnt what I meant.

She turned away quickly, stepping beyond Renos reach. Using the canteen he had brought, she poured just enough water in the basin to cover his hands.

Here, Eve said, putting the basin in Renos lap. Soak your hands.

Wryly Reno moved his knees together to make a platform for the basin. As he did, he wondered if Eve really thought putting his hands in a basin would keep them off her warm curves.

The feel of Eves fingers rubbing his scalp made gooseflesh ripple over Renos body. In the silence of his mind he cursed his unruly response to this one woman, but he said nothing aloud. If Eve chose to ignore his arousal, he wasnt going to call attention to it.

He wanted to give her no more hold over him than he already had. The feel of her fingers buried in his hair and rubbing his scalp was arousing him to the point of pain.

Are you cold? Eve asked when she sensed a faint tremor in Reno.

No.

Renos voice was too husky, but he couldnt change that any more than he could help watching the play of moonlight and shadow over Eves face as she bent and turned, working over him with hands that were surprisingly strong.

Belatedly Reno remembered the ragged sores he had seen on Eves hands from burying the Lyons in a trailside grave. He grabbed one of her hands and turned it over, holding it in the moonlight. Though nearly healed, the skin still showed the cruel marks of the shovel. So did her other palm.

Does it hurt? Reno asked.

Not anymore.

He released Eves hands without a word.

She gave him a wary look before she turned to the razor. The small sound the folding blade made as she opened it seemed almost loud in the hushed night. She tested the razors edge delicately. Despite her care, the razor sliced a shallow line in her skin.

Perdition, she muttered. Dont make any sudden movements. The razor is very sharp.

Renos smile was like a thin slice of moonlight.

Cal honed it for me, Reno said. That man could put an edge on a brick.

Though nothing showed on Eves face, Reno sensed the inner tightening of her body.

Now whats wrong? he asked.

She looked at him warily, wondering when he had learned to read her so well.

Dont do anything to, er, startle me, Eve said finally.

Such as?

Touch me.

I thought youd never ask, Reno drawled, lifting his hands from the water.

Thats not what I meant, Eve said hastily, stepping back out of his reach. Well, it is, but not that way.

Make up your mind.

I meant that you shouldnt touch me.

Renos whole body became still.

We have a bargain, gata. Remember?

Eve closed her eyes.

Yes, she said. I remember. I think of little else.

Table stakes. Five-card draw. A royal heart flush or a busted heart flush.

Ante up or get out of the game.

Im not trying to go back on our bargain, she continued, but if you start touching me, Ill get nervous, and this blade is hellishly sharp.

Cautiously Eve watched the man who was sitting so still, watching her with a hunger that even darkness couldnt disguise.

Ill sit very still, Reno said in a deep voice.

All right.

She drew a deep, steadying breath and let it out. Reno barely hid the shiver of response that went through him at the warm rush of her breath over his bare chest.

Ready? she asked.

He laughed. You have no idea just how ready lam.

Eve bent and began shaving Reno with deft, neat motions, wiping the blade on the washcloth every few strokes. As she worked, she tried to tell herself that this was just like a thousand other times when she had shaved Don Lyon. Don had sworn that her hands were his secret luck. They made him look sharp and prosperous before he talked his way into a card game with little more than his aristocratic good looks and a handful of silver coins that wouldnt bear close examination.

Be very still now, Eve cautioned in a low voice.

Like a rock, Reno promised.

She pushed his chin up and ran the razor over his throat with light, even strokes. When she finished, she heard the long breath he let out. Gingerly he touched his neck.

I didnt cut you, Eve said quickly.

Just checking. That blades so damned sharp, I wouldnt know Id been killed until I saw the blood running down to my belt buckle.

If youre that worried about my skill, she said tartly, why did you want me to shave you in the first place?

Ive been asking myself the same question.

Eve hid her smile as she rinsed the rag in cool water. She was still smiling when she turned back to him with the wet rag between her hands. His breathing hesitated, then resumed more deeply as she rinsed his face once, then again for good measure.

While Eve worked, small drops of water dripped onto Renos shoulders and tangled in the dark thicket on this chest. When he breathed, the drops trembled and gleamed like translucent pearls. The temptation to touch a drop was so great that it startled her.

Something wrong? Reno asked huskily.

Eve shook her head too hard. Her hair spilled over her shoulders and across Renos chest. His breath hissed in as though he had been burned.

Sorry, she said.

Im not.

She gave him a startled look, then gathered up her hair and twisted it into another knot at the nape of her neck.

I like it better when its free, Reno said.

Its in the way.

Not for me, gata.

Lift your hands, was all Eve said.

Reno moved his hands and waited while Eve poured more water into the basin and rinsed him thoroughly from crown to collarbones.

Not a single cut, she said with satisfaction. While you finish your bath, Ill get some witch hazel.

Before Reno could object, Eve was hurrying back to camp.

The thought of stripping, bathing, and waiting naked for her to return tempted him. The thought of the deeply cut hoof marks by the water hole told him how foolish he was being even to consider it.

He could divide his attention long enough to taste Eves cool skin and hear her breath break with desire; but if he had his pants off when she came back, the next thing he would be wearing would be soft, sultry woman.

Cursing silently, Reno stripped, washed himself, pulled on the clean underwear he had brought with him, and yanked his pants back on. Only then did he begin on his chest. He was just reaching for his clean shirt when Eves voice came from the darkness.

Reno?

Come ahead. Im decent.

She walked close enough to see the faint shine of his damp, naked shoulders and the dark silhouette of his jeans.

Thank you, she said.

What for?

Not shaming me.

An odd choice of words for a

Reno found he couldnt finish the sentence. He didnt like thinking of Eve as a saloon girl. With an irritated sound he turned his attention back to straightening out his shirt so he could put it on. Then he had a better idea.

Fix this, would you? Reno asked, holding out his shirt.

When Eve hesitated, he said sarcastically, Never mind. It wasnt part of ourbargain, was it?

She took the shirt and shook it vigorously. He watched with eyes moonlight had transformed to the color of hammered silver. It was obvious that mens clothing was almost as familiar to her as her own.

Youre real good at that, Reno said.

Toward the end, Don couldnt get into his clothes, much less fasten them, Eve said.

Then you wouldnt mind helping me out?

Surprised, she said, Of course not. Hold out your arms.

He did, and she slipped the shirt on.

Fasten it for me? he asked blandly.

Eve gave him a wary look.

You dont have to, he said. Its not part of

Our bargain, she muttered, reaching for the first button. Perdition. I suppose youll want me to undress you, next.

Hell of an idea. Are you volunteering?

No, she said instantly. Its not part of

Our bargain.

She looked up sharply. He smiled.

Eve concentrated on the buttons. As she worked, she tried not to notice how different his powerful body was from Don Lyons frail, agetwisted form.

It was impossible. Health and strength radiated from Renos big body.

Why didnt his wife take care of Lyon? Reno asked.

Donna did what she could, but a lot of the time her hands were worse than his.

The smell of lilacs rose from Eves hair, infusing Reno with her fragrance more deeply than even the scented soap had.

The matter-of-fact skill with which Eve worked told Reno she had spent a lot of time caring intimately for a man who couldnt or wouldnt care for himself.

Its just as well that cheating whoremaster is dead, Reno thought grimly. The temptation to kill him might have put my good sense in the shade.

There. All finished, Eve said.

Not quite. Its not tucked in.

Youll manage.

Whats wrong? Its not like Im asking you to undress me.

When she gave him a skeptical look, Reno smiled.

Guess youd rather I went back to touching you, huh? he asked.

Perdition.

Before Eve could think better of it, she reached for Renos waist. As his belt was already undone, it was only an instants work to open the metal buttons. Moving quickly, she began tucking in his shirt as she had Don Lyons, starting at the back and working forward.

Moments later, Renos breath hissed in as he felt the pressure of Eves fingers slide across his aroused flesh. She made a startled sound and tried to jerk her hands out of his jeans.

Reno was faster. He caught Eves wrists and held her fingers where they were, where he had wanted them to be for so long he almost lost control at her mere touch.

Let me go!

Easy, gata. Theres nothing down there thats going to bite, and youve unfastened enough pants to know it as well as I do.

The shocked look Eve gave Reno made him want to laugh, but the ache of his hunger was too fierce.

Im tempted to have you pet me a little, but it would be too damned distracting. Ill settle for a kiss or two. Reno said.

Eve struggled against his grip. It only served to rub her fingers over his aroused flesh.

Reno couldnt stifle a groan of pleasure and need. He looked hungrily at the soft lips that were only a few inches from his mouth.

Be still he began roughly.

Let go of

or else Ill pull off my pants, Reno continued in a hard voice, and make you finish what you started, and to hell with anyone who might be following us.

What I started? You were the one who

Be still!

Eve froze.

Reno let out a strained breath. He started to ease her hands from his pants, then stopped, for her balled fists made it difficult.

Open your hands, he said.

But you said not to mo

Do it, he interrupted. Slowly, gata. Very slowly.

Eve uncurled her hands. As she did, she found herself measuring Reno inch by hard inch.

A thread of sound came from Reno, as though he were being drawn on a rack. He eased her hands from his pants, but instead of releasing her wrists, he pulled them up and over his shoulders.

Stop fighting me, he said. Its time to show me how well you can keep your word.

Fear and the memory of the pleasure she had found in his kisses fought for control of her body.

Maybe when he sees that I keep my word, hell look at me with more than desire. Maybe

Youll keep your word, too? she asked.

I wont take you unless you want it, he said impatiently. Is that what you mean?

Yes, I

Renos mouth closed over Eves. His tongue slid between her lips, cutting off the possibility of talking.

Other than a startled sound, she made no protest. Despite his obvious strength and hunger, he wasnt being hard on her. Quite the opposite. Once he understood that she wasnt going to struggle against him, he held her rather gently.

The sensitive edges of Eves lips were caressed by the silky thickness of Renos mustache. The tantalizing currents of awareness that had shimmered into life the instant she had first seen him became stronger as the kiss inevitably deepened. Warmth flared in the pit of her stomach, making her shiver with a delicious awareness. She had wanted this without knowing it.

But she knew it now.

Eves eyes opened, wide and curious, wondering if Reno was feeling the same unexpected warmth. All she could see of Reno was the dense black eyelashes any woman would have envied. Their softness reassured Eve.

Tentatively she touched Renos tongue with her own, rediscovering the textures of his mouth, the velvet and the silk and the heat. For a moment she forgot all about fear and bargains and her hopes for the future. She simply savored the kiss in a hushed, trembling silence that was like nothing she had ever known.

Unexpected heat splintered through Eve, a single current of sensation that went from her breasts to her knees. She liked the taste and feel of his intimate kiss. It sent currents of pleasure to hidden parts of her body, teaching her things about herself that she had never suspected.

The slow, repeated rasp of Renos tongue over hers was dizzying, making it hard for Eve to breathe. Instinctively her grip on him tightened even as she pulled back.

Reno made a thick sound of protest.

I cant breathe, Eve explained.

It was the huskiness of her voice that told Reno more than her words. He caught her lower lip between his teeth and bit with great care, drinking her startled gasp.

Give it back to me, gata.

What?

I like it hot and deep.

Renos arms tightened, arching Eve closer to his hungry mouth.

Remember? he asked.

Before she could answer, he caught her lips under his own. His head moved abruptly, opening Eves mouth.

The sensual rubbing of Renos tongue over hers drew a small sound from the back of her throat. Her body tightened, but not in protest of the increasing force of the embrace. This time she liked being held hard against Renos muscular body. More than that, she needed it in a way she didnt even question.

The tentative touches of her tongue against his changed as she became accustomed to the sensual fencing. She probed more deeply into his mouth, tasted him more fully, stroked his tongue completely with her own. The sensation of his tongue tangling rhythmically with hers made her head spin. Her breath wedged in her throat until she could barely breathe.

Reno made a thick sound and pulled Eve closer, taking and giving a kiss that made him realize he had never really kissed a woman before-not like this, two hungry flames burning, twisting, straining toward each other across the barriers of flesh and clothing.

When Eve finally tore her mouth from Renos, her breathing was ragged and her mouth felt empty without him. She looked at him with dazed, eyes. His smile was dark, hot, and as male as the power in his body. His fingers sank into the resilient flesh of Eves hips as he dragged her against himself, letting her feel the fire she had started.

Then Reno was kissing Eve again, sending the night spinning darkly around her. She was aware only of his strength, of his heat, of his tongues rhythmic stroking over hers. Holding him as tightly as she could, she let his heat sink into her.

Gata. Youre burning me alive.

No. Its you. Burning me.

Reno lifted Eve, holding her suspended in his arms, while his mouth made hot entreaties to hers. He wanted to take her down to the ground and bury himself in her warm and willing body, but knew it would be foolish.

Even worse, it could be fatal.

Damn Slater, Reno raged silently. I should have killed him in Canyon City. Then I wouldnt have to spend every minute looking over my shoulder.

Renos arms tightened and he took Eves mouth as he wanted to take the rest of her sultry body. Without breaking the kiss, he carried her the two short steps to the weathered sandstone ledge and sat down.

Eve made a surprised sound when the world shifted and she found herself sitting across Renos legs. Quickly he pulled his six-gun and set the weapon within reach on the ledge. With a stone wall at his back and a lap full of warm woman, he was as safe as he was going to be.

Not very damned safe, Reno thought sardonically.

But when Reno lowered his mouth to Eves once more, Jericho Slater seemed very far away. Her kiss was as wild as his, making and meeting sensual demands.

Neither skilled nor coy, Eves kiss told Reno that she wanted him enough to forget for the moment all the cold tricks women played on hungry men, tantalizing them until they would agree to anything to get at the hot lure that was burning just beyond their reach.

Reno had never had a woman want him so much that she forgot the coy game of tease and retreat and ended up burning in her own fire. Knowing that Eve wanted him that much made Reno shake with a hunger greater than he had ever known.

Sweet God, Reno said heavily. Its a good thing that dress doesnt have any buttons.

W-why?

Id have it down around your waist before you could blink. And that would be a mistake.

Before Eve could say anything, Renos mouth fastened almost savagely on hers. The cloth of the dress she wore was frail with long use, and so thinned by age that it was little barrier to his caresses. She wore nothing underneath but the heat that radiated up to him, stripping away his restraint.

The feel of Renos fingers shaping and stroking her breasts made Eve tremble. Heat bloomed within the darkness of her body. The pleasure his kiss gave her was heightened by the sensual, shifting pressure of his hands caressing her.

Then Renos mouth replaced his hands, testing and tugging at Eves sensitive flesh through the cloth. Her nipples hardened in a rush of sensation that dragged a low cry from her. Surprise and currents of pleasure arced through her body, making her feel as though she had been struck by tender lightning.

The husky sounds Eve made sent Reno very close to the breaking edge of his restraint. His hands tightened reflexively as he fought to control the unexpected fury of his need. As his fingers clenched, the worn-out cloth of her dress gave way at the shoulder seams. A flap of material fell forward, revealing one perfect breast.

Reno groaned. He hadnt meant to tempt himself like this. But having done it, he couldnt resist.

He lowered his head and took the hard peak deep into his mouth. She tasted of hot summer nights, of lilacs and hidden springs and secret pleasures. The husky sound he drew from her throat was a siren song urging him to forget whatever danger might wait in the surrounding darkness.

The rest of the dress gave way with a soft sound that was lost in the rippling cries Eve made while Renos mouth and hands drew her breasts into a sensitivity that was almost painful. She knew she should protest the intimacy, yet the pleasure he gave her was so great she couldnt make herself draw back.

Eve didnt realize that Reno had eased his hand between her legs until only the fragile barrier of old cloth separated his fingers from her hidden softness. All she knew was that she had never felt the way she did now, a fire spiraling and burning, reaching toward something unknown, something both fierce and beautiful, something she must have or die from its loss.

Passion burst though Eve, drenching her in liquid heat, yet there was no relief from the urgency driving her. She twisted like a flame on Renos lap, seeking a release from the searing need she had never before felt.

Youre killing me, Eve whispered raggedly.

Reno laughed almost painfully. No. Youre killing me. Do it again, sweetgata.

What?

His hand moved once more, tightening around the soft flesh that wept passionately at his lightest caress.

Eve gasped and felt liquid fire spread from her body to Renos hand.

Abruptly Reno lifted and turned Eve until she sat astride his thighs. When he pushed up her skirt, she saw that his pants were undone. The blunt evidence of his arousal gleamed in the moonlight between her thighs.

Too late Eve understood what the fire had been reaching for, and who would ultimately burn with regrets.

Only one thing a man wants from a woman, make no mistake about it.

No, Eve said. Reno, no!

You want it as bad as I do. Youre shaking with it.

No! Eve said frantically. You promised you wouldnt take me if I didnt want it. I dont want it!

Reno hissed words that made Eve turn pale. Without warning he shoved her off his lap so fast she barely caught her balance against the stone ledge. She yanked her dress up and faced him with an anger that was as great as her passion had been.

You have no right to call me names! she said in a shaking voice.

The hell I dont! You teased me and

Teased you! she interrupted wildly. I wasnt the one taking off your clothes and putting my hand between your legs and

you were all over me like spilled honey, Reno snarled, talking over her.

I didnt didnt mean to, Eve stammered. I dont know what what happened.

I do, Reno said savagely. A cheating little tease found herself dangling at the end of her own damned rope.

Im not what you think!

You keep saying that, gata. Then you keep proving yourself a liar. You wanted me.

You dont understand.

The hell I dont.

Eve closed her eyes and clutched the worn, ragged cloth against her body with fingers so tightly clenched they hurt. All of her ached and trembled, and she wanted to scream.

Why do men want only one thing from a woman? she asked angrily.

Honesty? Reno retorted. Damned if I know. I dont think its in a woman to be honest.

And I dont think its in a man not to take what he wants and then walk away without a thought to what hes done!

What did you have in mind marriage?

Renos sardonic question was like a whip.

Eve opened her mouth, but no words came out. Pain rippled through her as she realized Reno was right. She wanted a man to love her enough to build a life with her. But she was too smart to speak about love with the gunfighter whose nakedly aroused body gleamed in the moonlight.

I want a man to care for me, Eve said finally.

Thats what I thought, Reno said. Your comfort and to hell with his.

Thats not what I meant!

Horseshit.

I was talking about being loved, she said passionately, not about being kept like a princess on a satin cushion!

Hastily Eve backed up as Reno stood and began fastening his pants with angry, abrupt motions. He cursed steadily, disgusted with himself and with the saloon girl who could make him ache like no other woman ever had.

No matter how hard you get me, Reno said in a savage voice, you wont make me beg for the cold chains of marriage.

Reno reached down, swept up his six-gun, and spun its cylinder to check the load. His words were like the gun itself, cold, hard, unrelenting.

Women sell themselves into marriage the same way whores sell their bodies for an hour at a time, Reno said. Women never just give themselves out of love to a man who has promised them nothing in return but his own love.

Is that how it was with Willow and Caleb? Eve challenged.

Renos mouth shifted into a cold smile. Theyre the exception that proves Renos Golden Rule.

He holstered the gun with a single smooth motion and looked at her. The bleak expression on his face made her shiver.

What rule? Eve asked, knowing as she spoke that she wouldnt like the answer.

She was right.

You cant count on women, Reno said, but you can count on gold.


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