Christmas in Smoke River

Excerpt from Christmas in Smoke River
Novella in Wild West Christmas
by Lynna Banning
Harlequin Historicals, November 2014

"How come you don't want to ride? Is it the horse? Being out at the ranch? Me?"

"Of course it's not you." She said that right away, so I felt better. A lot better. Matter of fact I felt so good I gulped down the rest of my glass without thinking. Then her tongue came out and licked a drop of wine off her upper lip.

I forgot the other two reasons why she might not want to ride a horse. I thought about snagging that frilly apron and dropping it across my lap, but then I realized Lilah couldn't see what was happening to me underneath the table.

"It is difficult for me, being at the ranch," she said at last. "Having to talk to people."

"You seemed to do okay when you came to dinner that time. With Mrs. Kingman and all."

"With Mrs. Kingman, yes. The 'and all' I could not really manage. Perhaps you didn't notice how quiet I was."

"Yeah, I noticed. I thought it was me. You know, seeing me again after . . . "

Hell, I couldn't say that. The word kiss would flood the air between us with too much unspoken feeling. I wanted to eat supper with her, not send her off upstairs in a huff.

She studied the butter crock. "Well, I admit it was awkward. After a while I began to wonder if-"

I stopped her just in time. "Don't go there, Lilah. Just let it be."

She licked her lips again and I thought I was gonna explode. "Gale, there is one thing I do want to say."

"Okay. I'm listenin'."

"If I do want to learn to ride, could it be just you who would teach me?"

"Well, it could be, sure. But why?" I held my breath.

"Because I would have to talk with Jason or Skip, or even Mr. Kingman. With you, I don't have to."

I just looked at her sitting there across from me with her cheeks flushed from the wine and her lips like ripe raspberries. She doesn't have to talk to me? Hell yes, she has to talk to me!

I didn't want to startle her, or scare her, but I sure wanted her to know that. It wasn't just the taste of her mouth under mine, or the ache in my groin when I admired her backside or spied her bare toes. It was more than that.

As a matter of honest fact, it was so much more than that it kinda set me back on my heels. She didn't know anything about me, really. What the hell would she do when she found out?
Author's Note:

I am drawn to the Smoke River, Oregon, setting for two reasons. First, because my mother was raised on a ranch in that area and, second, because a small town in the Old West holds hundreds of stories, intriguing characters, and potential plots. This story is part of my series of novels set in Smoke River. I love getting to know these people...