Charlotte slid off her horse and into his arms. For a moment, he held her there against his bare chest, looking down into her eyes. Then he smiled, still not saying a word, as he dropped his arms, releasing her. She stepped back, holding the gaze, with a smile of her own.
"You did come," Chris said, finally breaking the silence.
"I do recall you invited me," she pointed out.
"Did," he agreed. "Just weren’t certain you'd show."
"Been five days," he found himself admitting. "Man's not always sure he's reading a woman right."
There had been a sympathy between them that night of the storm, when she'd confided the fear that had darkened her soul. And in the days that followed, he believed their hearts had found an affinity, both having been rent by grief and loss, finding some measure of solace together. But later, after he'd returned home, he'd begun to doubt, thinking that maybe Charlotte would rather forget what had happened between them; the promise of what might be. And the warmth of that hope had begun to cool as the days passed.
Laughing softly, she leaned up, saying softly at his ear, "I did tell you that you mustn't overdue, Chris." Her fingertips brushed the fresh scar on his abdomen, as delicate as a feather, his gut clenching at the touch. "Timing is everything."
Chris was dammed sure he was reading the situation exactly right this time. He would have pulled her to him, his spirit lightening at her words—and her obvious intentions—but she had slipped out of reach.
"I'm glad you're here."
Her smile was like the rising sun, brilliant in its warmth, and whatever was left of his doubt fled. "So am I." She reached into the pocket of her skirt, pulling out a small jar. "I brought more salve for the scar. Keep using it and you'll barely be able to see it once it is healed."
"That good, huh?"
"Indeed; this salve is the reason the scar on my back is nearly invisible."
"Never have seen it," he pointed out.
"An oversight I shall have to rectify," she promised huskily, the tip of her tongue skimming her lower lip.
He reached for her, but once more, she was just out of range, her eyes sparkling. Chris was simultaneously irritated and amused, wanting her more than he had any woman in a very long time, but willing to let her do the leading. What he wanted was for the long haul, and rushing in wouldn't aid him in that goal. He had a feeling that Charlotte would prove as skittish as a doe were she to think he had ideas about the future, and what it might hold for them together. No, taking it slow was the way to go. Following as she walked towards his porch, he wondered what exactly she had in mind.
"I didn't mean to interrupt your morning ablutions," she called over her shoulder, waving a hand at the basin of water and shaving implements laid out on a plank next to the stairs.
Rubbing at his face, he realized he was but half shaved. What he'd been doing before Charlotte's unexpected arrival had flown clear out of his mind. "Don't rightly mind the interruption," he told her, stopping behind her, placing a hand on her hip.
Tilting her head back, she looked up at him, the same promise in her eyes as that day he'd left her hacienda, and he caught his breath. "Let me make it up to you." She picked up his badger hair shaving brush, swirling it in the bowl of shaving soap next to it, before turning to face him, motioning to a nearby chair.
He found himself obeying her wordless directive, unable to take his eyes off her as she took the washcloth from the basin, squeezing it out.
"The water's still warm," she commented, walking over to him, pressing the cloth against the unshaven side of his face.
Her mouth was a temptation he couldn't let pass by. Reaching up, his hand cupped the side of her face, pulling her near, capturing her lips with his. She allowed the intimacy for a few moments, and then he felt her smile before she drew back. "First things first, Mr. Larabee," she almost whispered.
"Never have minded doing things backwards," he shot back with a grin.
"I shall keep that in mind." Removing the cloth, she set it down on the plank before once more picking up the shaving brush. Leaning into him, her hand on his left shoulder, she slowly and methodically applied shaving soap to the right side of his face. She was so close, he could feel her breath, warm against his skin. He shut his eyes, wondering at the gentleness of her touch; those same hands that held a sword and broke horses, hands that stitched up wounds and embroidered the delicate violets that edged the cuffs of her dress.
Once more she drew back, and he opened his eyes, watching as she turned away. He imagined what she would look like, her long black hair free of its pins, tumbling down her naked body. What she would feel like when he took her to his bed. And then she was looking at him, as if she knew exactly what he was thinking. Was she anticipating what it was going to be like too? Did she feel his body under her hands as she caressed him? Did she long for that moment when two became one? Taking an unsteady breath, he leaned back in the chair, willing to let this encounter bear him away to whatever end Charlotte had in mind.
She'd picked up the straight razor, and walked around to stand behind him. With strong fingers, she held his skin taught as she drew the blade across his beard. Her proficiency was made evident by the smooth, confident strokes, with no hesitation. Then the razor was gone, replaced by her lips, trailing a slow path up his throat, over his jaw, lingering there as her hand slipped down his chest, leaving a trail of warmth that intensified with its passing.
Lord, if what he was feeling now was any hint of what was in store, he wasn't sure if he'd survive it. And she'd told him not to overdo. He grinned at the thought. Not much chance of that.
She noticed. "Would you care to share?"
He tilted his head back, looking up at her ice blue eyes. "Hell, yes." His grin broadened.
"Good." He only caught a glimpse of her satisfied expression before she was kissing him with no mercy. Then she was in his lap, straddling him, her mouth never leaving his.
His hands slipped up under her skirt to grasp her thighs, and he felt her sigh, melt against him, and it felt right. He wanted to feel this for all the remaining years that were given him. Taking an unsteady breath, his whisper melded with her sigh, "I'm taking you to my bed, Charlotte Sparrow." Her arms tightening around his neck was her only answer. "I'd carry you, but I'm pretty sure you'd think that was overdoing, and I'm thinking I need to conserve my strength."
She tossed her head back, giggling like a school girl. Breathless, her eyes dancing, she nodded, placing her hands against his face. "You definitely need to keep your strength, Chris Larabee." She placed a quick kiss on the corner of his mouth. "I have intentions towards you that I fully mean to carry out."
"I was hoping you'd say that, Charlotte, I truly was."