Luke made it up the stairway without running into any walls or dropping her trunk. The blasted thing was so heavy he thought that lovely little lady might have dead bodies stored in there. It was large enough to hold three or four. When he reached door number six he didn’t have a free hand so he banged on the door with the toe of his boot.
Standing at the mirror brushing her hair, Mary Ann jumped at the knock. Collecting herself, she said through the door, “Yes?”
“Oh, certainly.” She hurried across the room and turned the key in the lock. To her dismay, when she cracked the door open there stood the very man she’d faced outside. The desperado. What in heaven’s name was he doing with her luggage?
Once again, when Luke looked at her face, her sheer beauty caught him off guard. She had removed her hat, and he didn’t know what he expected, but it definitely wasn’t the wealth of red hair hanging over her shoulder. It wasn’t a bright red like L. B. Ditty’s, but a soft red, with strands of gold running throughout it. The kind of hair that gave a man a lot of thoughts. Thoughts he shouldn’t be having right now. After he stopped staring at her hair, his eyes moved back to her unusual silver eyes. If he was reading her expression correctly, she was surprised and not pleasantly so, that he was the one carrying her luggage. He thought she might slam the door in his face. “Do you reckon I can put this inside your room? I don’t think I can hold it much longer.”
Not only was the man a mischief-maker, he was also quite forward. She assumed he must work at the hotel, so surely her uncle wouldn’t hire someone who was a danger to his guests. But at the first opportunity tonight, she planned to let Uncle George know that this . . . this scoundrel needed his manners polished like the glistening furniture. Opening the door wider, she stood back to allow Luke entry.
Luke had been in this room before with another young woman, but right now he couldn’t even recall her face much less her name. He placed the trunk on the floor near the wardrobe thinking it would be convenient for her, and the valises on the long bench at the foot of the bed. He noticed her pink hat on the bedspread. Finished with his task, he didn’t want to leave. What he really wanted to do was turn around and get a good long look at her. He glanced at the fireplace and saw the wood was already laid and ready to be lit. “The nights can be a bit chilly this time of year, would you like me to go ahead and light the fire? Eb probably won’t make it up here anytime soon.” He was proud of himself for thinking of that. Yep, gallantry could go a long way.
Perhaps he wasn’t as ill-mannered as she first thought. She appreciated his consideration. “Yes, thank you, a fire would be lovely.”
Luke noticed how she hovered by the open door, looking something akin to a lost calf, a bit skittish, uncertain of which way to go. It was understandable why a little thing like her wouldn’t want to close the door with a man in her room. He thought maybe if he talked to her it would put her at ease. Plus he liked the sound of her proper English accent. After removing his hat, he tossed it on the bed and it landed right beside her frilly pink hat making the feathers flutter. “You must have traveled a long way,” he said conversationally.
She wasn’t accustomed to servants speaking so freely. That didn’t happen in her father’s home, no one dared speak out of turn. But she must remember she was in America now, and attitudes here, as she had learned, were vastly different. As Luke went about lighting the fire, Mary Ann covertly observed his physique. He was a very large man, tall and muscular, with legs that seemed to go on forever. When he squatted down in front of the fireplace and leaned over to add more logs, his shirt stretched over his broad, muscled shoulders and she half expected the seams to tear apart. She hadn’t noticed his wavy raven black hair when he was brawling in the street. Once he removed his hat, she noticed he wore his hair a bit longer than most men, but on him it somehow seemed fitting. With his dark bronze complexion and black hair, she thought it most unusual his eyes were bright blue. A very attractive combination, she grudgingly admitted.
Luke waited for an answer, but when none was forthcoming, he turned to her. “Did you travel a long way?”
“What would give you that impression?”
Ignoring her frosty tone, Luke pointed to the luggage. “That much luggage says either you’ve been traveling for some time, or you’re planning to stay awhile. Plus your accent is a dead giveaway.” He gave her a smile, hoping something about him impressed her. His smile always worked with the ladies.
So much for trying to engage her in conversation. Once the fire was blazing, Luke stood and grabbed his Stetson from the bed and his eyes lingered on her hat. He really wanted to pick it up and look at it. He wasn’t sure why, other than it was so feminine, and well . . .pink. One of his favorite pastimes was watching a woman at her toilette. He prided himself on being a man who appreciated the time women took with their appearance. It was all of the little things women did that he treasured, whether it was the way they fixed their hair, or how they applied perfume in strategic places, or how they pulled on their stockings. He loved watching them dress and undress, and all of the various stages in between. He liked how they chose their hats to match their dresses. Actually, he loved everything about the opposite sex. That was one of the reasons women were drawn to him; he made them feel appreciated. Right now, he admired one particular pink hat worn by one particularly beautiful woman. He slowly sauntered to the door. “That’s a beautiful hat.”
It surprised her a scoundrel like him even noticed her hat. How unexpected. “Thank you.”
Standing just a foot from her, Luke smelled her subtle perfume. He had the urge to nuzzle her neck like a dog and get a good whiff. Looking down at her he realized she was just a little thing. He figured she couldn’t have been over five feet tall, but it was hard to tell because she had her head lowered looking for something in her reticule. Luke wasn’t sure, but he thought the bag she was digging through might have been designed by his sister-in-law Victoria. He’d never really paid much attention to the little bags before he’d seen Victoria’s artistic designs. The intricate detailed work involved in creating them gave him a whole new appreciation for her creations. He was really surprised to learn that some women paid more for those little things than a man did for a good horse.
He lingered, trying to think of something else to say to her so he could hang around a little longer. It was unusual for him to be so tongue-tied around a woman and he didn’t know why it was happening now. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. He thought he’d start with the basics and not try so hard to impress her. “I’m Luke McBride.”
“Call me Luke.”
When she found what she was looking for she looked up at him and their eyes met, and his brain stopped working again. Everything about her face was flawless; smooth pale skin, a small straight nose, even her pink lips were perfectly formed, and her silver eyes sparkled like stars. Don’t stand here like a dummy. Say something, impress her. He nervously twirled his hat in his hands. “So are you staying a long time?” He hoped so.
Standing so close to her, she found his size most intimidating, and the display of fisticuffs in the street earlier didn’t help matters. And she certainly didn’t understand his interest in her travel plans. Still, she couldn’t help but notice what a handsome man he was even with a swollen bloody lip. “I believe so.”
Lord she was a beauty, but she was definitely on edge. She reminded him of a baby bird, and he was the hawk flying overhead. “Do you want to have dinner?” His question was impulsive, but he was proud of himself for mustering the courage to ask.
She took a step forward. “I’ll require some later.”
Luke thought it was an odd response, but he didn’t have time to comment since she was slowly inching him toward the threshold as she pulled the door with her. He had no choice but to step back or have the door smack him in the face. What she did next really threw him. She reached out and placed some coins in his hand. “Thank you,” she said and promptly closed the door in his face. He heard the key turn in the lock with a loud click. Only then did he realize that she had masterfully shuffled him over the threshold and he was standing on the wrong side of the closed door. He stood there speechless. That little gal had actually shoved him out the door without touching him. He opened his palm and looked at the silver dollars. Yeah, he made an impression all right. She thought it was his job to carry up her luggage. He chuckled all the way down the stairs.
On his ride home, Miss Mary Ann Hardwicke occupied Luke’s thoughts. Eb said she had business with George Granville, the owner of the hotel. He knew George had only been in Wyoming for a few years, hailing from England. Luke’s brother told him that once George purchased the hotel he’d spent months and a lot of money renovating the place until it was one of the nicest hotels in the West. Luke hoped George made it to church tomorrow so he could ask him about the mysterious lady in the pink hat. It seemed odd a young woman like her would be traveling alone. She couldn’t have possibly traveled all the way from England without an esort.