The son of a notorious outlaw, Roan Penny yearns to make his life count…but heroism comes with a price. Left badly injured, only the kindness of a gentle stranger can save him. He longs to be with the captivating beauty—his savior, his Texas star, his Marley Rose McClain—but he knows he’d bring her nothing but trouble.
If only he could convince his heart of that.
Marley’s lived a charmed life, and she’s determined to spend the rest of her days at her quiet hero’s side…but she isn’t what she seems. A life-long secret threatens to destroy everything she knows—and everything she could hope to be. As dangerous men threaten to pull her back into the shadows, a desperate Roan must ride hell-bent for leather to save the other half of his heart…before he can lose her light for good.
Roan Penny soaked up the sun’s warmth and leaned his head back, his eyes closed. Marley wrapped a warm towel around his face, leaving his eyes and mouth open, readying to shave him.
She rested a hand on his shoulder. Her touch gave him such a calm feeling. “I’m going to be very careful and avoid the cut around your throat. If I cause you pain, let me know right away.”
“You can be sure of that.” He closed his eyes and enjoyed the pampering. His thoughts wandered to this ranch, the McClain family, and to Marley. They’d shown him there were still kind people in the world. Minutes passed and she removed the towel.
The razor strokes were smooth, never hard or jerky. Marley’s skill amazed him. Was there anything she couldn’t do? He lay back, soaking up the sounds of the windmill, horses nickering in the corral, and the light scrape of the razor against his jaw. Except for Marley’s closeness, he could doze off.
But she made sleep impossible. The faint scent of something flowery encircled his head. He relaxed and enjoyed her presence, wishing he could tell her how much sharing these days meant to him.
Still, what use would it be to voice feelings that could never go anywhere. His thoughts drifted until he felt her lean over him, felt a strand of hair brush his shoulder. He opened his eyes to find himself staring into her pretty brown ones just inches away. For a second, he barely breathed for fear it was a dream and she’d vanish.
Her close proximity did strange things to his heart.
Dark curls framed her face and her eyes glistened like diamonds shimmering in a stream. Air got trapped in his lungs and the wanting was so powerful it sent throbbing pain through him.
Like a man wandering too long alone, he reached to capture a strand of hair between his thumb and forefinger. The texture was like satin and he couldn’t move, couldn’t think, couldn’t speak.
Her soft breath whispered against his newly shaved cheek and hunger rose.
Awareness sizzled between them. He became aware of the length of her eyelashes, her heartbeat, the pulse in the hollow of her elegant neck. He’d long searched for a woman like Marley, never once thinking she existed.
Her mouth was so close. Just a slight move forward…
But to what end? He wouldn’t tease her, make her think they could have more when in truth they could have no future at all.
Marley Rose McClain was everything a man like him could never have and to even wish for a life with her was a big mistake that could only lead to bitter disappointment. Best to remember his place and that he had nothing to offer—not to her or any woman.
Maybe just for a moment he could pretend.
“You have the silkiest hair I’ve ever felt.” His voice was low and full of yearning. He released the strand and brushed a finger lightly across her cheek. “I’m afraid you got a poor bargain when you patched up my rotten hide.”
“Let me be the judge of that and there is nothing wrong with your hide.” Her soft statement wound around his heart like a stubborn trumpet vine.
She adjusted her angle, cleared her throat, and moved back a fraction. Her attention once again on his jaw, she applied the razor’s edge to his stubble. “I’m glad I found you,” she murmured.
“Me too.” Roan glanced toward the barn, a safe place to turn his gaze, feeling the need to apologize. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me.”
“Good heavens, Roan. You didn’t do anything wrong and I like being with you. We have an easy kind of relationship and over the days and hours we’ve spent together, we’ve become true friends.” She lifted the razor and wiped it with the towel.
Friends. Well, that put him in his place. He should thank her for the reminder of how she saw him.
“You’re easy to be around, Marley, and I’ve enjoyed being with you.” He’d remember this time for the rest of his life. When he sat around a lonely campfire, he’d recall Marley McClain and how tempted he’d been to kiss her.
A minute later, she wiped away the remaining shaving cream and handed him a mirror. “What do you think?”
“You’ve worked a miracle. I feel like a new man and, except for the bruises and black eyes, I look almost human.”
She stood back with a smile. “I think you’re very handsome.”
Roan thought about that later as he sat with her in the sun, listening to the lazy windmill, imagining a life here for real—the place of belonging he’d searched for. He watched her scribbling in her story book, a grin curving her lips. She was an amazing woman with so much to give the world.
He had nothing to offer except bad luck—and grief to Mose’s killers.
But if one day he had the opportunity again to ride near the Aces ’n Eights, he would stop in a heartbeat. For sure, the lovely Marley McClain would fill his dreams for a long time, her gentle touch lingering in his heart.