Update: An Unexpected Kiss is now available at Amazon and is in publication at B&N, iTunes, and Kobo.
In the continuation of The Colorado Brides series, Susanna Hampton, Fanny’s adopted daughter, is about to embark on an adventure of the heart.
She’ll meet the man of her dreams, but he’s not at all what she expected. Russell Wade is a hard-living saloon owner in Denver City, who is struggling to raise two children after his wife left him. There will be twists and turns and surprises, but when it’s all said and done, two people, who truly belong together, will find themselves happily situated.
Here is an excerpt:
I giggled at that, but then gasped, as Mr. Wade appeared in the doorway. He had donned a frock coat and hat, but his weapon remained upon his thigh, remembering how he had pointed it at me earlier. He had come to observe his daughter, eyeing her dancing with a look of stoic acceptance. Grace was oblivious at being observed, laughing and dancing gaily in the arms of the charming Captain Harwood. When the music stopped and another tune began, they remained thus engaged, spinning amongst the other dancers, although Grace had improved dramatically.
It was then that Mr. Wade discovered me, his steely gaze fixed. “He has no reason to be so cross,” I murmured.
Mary had followed my stare. “Goodness, there he is in the flesh, and still, even with the coat, so rough-looking.”
“He doesn’t seem at all comfortable in good society.”
“I would say not.”
A man approached, disrupting our conversation. “Miss Hampton,” said Thomas Stoddard. “Might I have this dance?”
“I…I’m sorry, Thomas. I’m forgoing this one. Perhaps later?”
His favorable countenance fell. “That’s a shame.”
He was the son of the baker, and a known member of our set, but I had wanted to speak to my sister. “I’ll dance with you tonight, I promise.”
This appeased him. “Very well then.”
When he left, I leaned towards Mary. “What do you think he’ll do? He’s standing there quite strangely, wouldn’t you say?”
“Indeed. He has yet to stop staring at you.”
That was true. “He’s coming now!” My heart jumped into my throat. “Oh, I hope he’ll not lecture me. I’ve done nothing wrong.”
“Other than breaking into someone’s home and sticking your nose in their business,” she said acidly, her eyebrows lifting.
“Evenin’, ladies,” drawled Mr. Wade.
“You’ve come to check on us,” I said.
“That I have.”
“Well, as you can see, Grace is enjoying herself, and I’m watching over her like a hawk. You needn’t have bothered coming.” I sounded peeved, but then I realized I was.
“You’re a stranger, Miss Hampton. You think I’d trust my flesh and blood to strangers?”
What had happened in his life to warrant such suspicion? “I know, sir. I’ve been responsible for my sister’s children for some time now. No harm has ever come to them under my care. I put their needs above my own, sir.”
“I can vouch for that,” agreed Mary. “I trust her implicitly with Rosalind and Albert. She’ll make a fine mother one of these days.”
I hadn’t expected such praise. “Why, thank you, Mary. I adore your children.” I turned to Mr. Wade. “This is my sister, Mrs. Mary Carlyle. Mary, this is Mr. Wade.”
They shook hands, although his attention remained on me, which was perplexing. “It’s a pleasure.”
She noted this, saying, “Why don’t you dance?”
“I beg your pardon?” Now he had my sister’s undivided interest, but his grey eyes had hardened.
“Ask Susanna to dance.”
“I…” his eyes were on me, “don’t dance.”
Swallowing the lump in my throat, the oddest sensation shimmied down my backbone, leaving me acutely aware of his particular attention. It was like a magnetic pull that had me yearning to be in his arms, but he had refused me. This should have hurt my feelings, but I intuitively knew it had nothing to do with me or perhaps it did. He seemed to be struggling with something, his hands clenching and unclenching at his sides, itching for…what?
He does want to dance with you.
Maybe he doesn’t know how?
Or he’s angry with me.
No, he’s not really angry.
Then what on earth is the matter with him?
I’d love to find out…
The music stopped, and Captain Harwood returned with Grace, whose face was rosy from the exertion. She beamed at her father. “I didn’t know you were here.”
“How many dances have you had with him?” he asked harshly.
“Find another partner.” He glared at me. “Her reputation is in your hands this evenin’, Miss Hampton. If there’s even a hint of impropriety, I’ll tan your hide.”
My mouth fell open. “Goodness, you’re quite crude, Mr. Wade.”
His behavior firmed my resolve, as anger pricked. “I can assure you nothing untoward will happen tonight.”
Mary held out her hand to Captain Harwood. “I’ll dance the next, if you want. I’ll beg too, if I have to. Someone needs to save me from this inane conversation.”
“You’re not going to ruin the night, are you, Pa? Miss Hampton is without a partner. You could ask her to dance. It’s obvious she loathes you, but if you ask nicely, perhaps she’ll say yes.”
“He’s already refused me.” Mary and the captain had taken their leave, as the next song began to play—another waltz. Thomas Stoddard had asked for a dance, but he seemed nowhere to be found.
Another man approached Grace. “Might I have this dance?”
She beamed. “Of course.” He took her away without another word.
The moment was awkward, as Mr. Wade and I had been left alone. “You needn’t worry,” I said. “I’m watching her carefully.” Didn’t he have a business to mind?
His appearance had been noted, because several sets of interested faces turned our way. Then there had been whisperings amongst the couples, and I could only imagine what they thought. It was unusual to see the Wades at social gatherings and they were conspicuously absent from church as well. Everyone had to be wondering why he was speaking to me.
“Well,” I began, searching desperately for something to say, “I…suppose…”
“We should dance.” His hand was on my back, which made me jump. “I’ve not done this in years. I apologize in advance.”
Stunned, I let him lead me into the crowd, while couples turned round and round, the music light and charming. The glow from a dozen lamps gave off sufficient enough illumination, yet there were still shadows in places, and he seemed to prefer to hide in them, guiding me to a darkened corner. While Susanna whirled in the center, I found myself in the arms of her father, a man I hardly knew, and yet, I was thoroughly intrigued.
“You confuse me.” I had spoken the first thing that came to mind. His arm was around my back, while my left hand was in his. I wasn’t inexperienced when it came to dancing, but I knew enough to determine that he held me too closely.
His lips were near my ear. “This was a mistake.”
My heart hammered in my chest. At this proximity, he smelled of spicy soap or perhaps cologne, but there was whiskey on him too and tobacco, which clung to his clothing. It was an inherently male scent, and I inhaled deeply. We moved half-heartedly, not keeping time with the music at all.
I finally found my voice. “You’re a terrible dancer.”
This insult did not seem to register, our eyes meeting, while his look darkened. “You’re a busybody.”
He was right. “I…know.”
“Do you always walk into stranger’s homes?”
“Why did you?”
“I was curious.”
“Your son. Why he feels the need to steal.”
“I told you why.”
“Out of boredom.”
“That’s not an excuse, sir.”
“Russell. Call me Russell.”
“He should be in school.”
“You should mind your own business.”
“Why did you come tonight?”
“Why do you care?”
“I don’t know, but…I find you…fascinating.” I should have kept that to myself, but the words had fallen from my lips before I could stop them.
The music had ended, yet we were held immobile by an invisible force that neither seemed inclined to break. His chin grazed my temple and he kissed my forehead, which was wholly unexpected. Then his arms fell to his sides, as he turned away, leaving me standing there, staring after him, while he strode towards the doors and quit the room.
I had never been more conflicted in my life and I hadn’t a clue what I was even conflicted about.