Excerpt: A Secret Yearning

A Secret Yearning by Debra Cowan

Western Historical Romance

She closed her eyes and lifted her face to the gentle breeze scented with wildflowers and loamy earth. Nights were her favorite. She needed those sacred moments after the children went to bed, when she could stand outside, remove her headpiece, and merge with the darkness that judged no man or motivation.

With her hair loose and flowing around her shoulders, she could pretend she was Regina Suzanne Harrison, a young woman who wanted nothing more than land and a place of her own. A woman who wanted to experience the touch of a man, the thrill of dressing for a dance, of sharing whispers with other women just like her.

But until Wendell Cross was brought to justice, she was Sister Regina, a nun who must control her every urge, guard every word and action and forget she was half in love with the man who had ministered so gently to her last night.

“So, you’re up and about.” The words were quiet, etched with a predatory tone.

Her eyes flew open and she gripped the door frame for support. Cole had moved silently in front of her. Potent power emanated from his rangy body. His ruthless black gaze scoured her face, tracked down her robe. A grin tugged at his mouth as if he knew she was naked beneath.

Her legs trembled, whether from fatigue or reaction she couldn’t tell. She clutched her good arm around her waist and smiled. “Yes. I’m feeling much better.”

“How’s the shoulder?” He slid the mouth harp into his back pocket and leaned over to pluck up the neckline of her robe and peek at her bandages.

Stunned at his boldness, she pressed the scratchy robe to her breasts. Moist hot breath kissed the slope of her neck and a shiver ran up her spine. She was flooded with a sudden desire to lean into him and beg him to kiss her again. She imagined the shock on his face and bit back a smile. He thought she was a nun. It was better that way.

Remembering why she had come down, she pulled away slightly. “How are the children? Did you see them?”

“They’re fine. I delivered your note.” His eyes slitted as he considered her. “Seems you have a champion.”

“Reverend Holly?” Puzzled, she tilted her head. Her legs still wobbled and she tightened her grip on the door.

Cole leaned against the opposite door jamb, his gaze scraping over her. “No, the boy. Elliot.”

“You saw him? Thank goodness.”

Cole’s gaze sharpened on her. “He’s with Holly.”

She bit her lip, wondering if she should ask about James Cross.

“Didn’t see your friend with the knife.” Cole’s voice was lazy, his eyes feral.

She tried a different tack. “Thank you for…saving my life and checking on the children.”

“Uh huh.” Tension scored his words, making her doubt the softness she’d seen earlier in him.

She raised one eyebrow though the movement seemed to take a lot of energy. “It’s customary to say you’re welcome.”

“I want to know how grateful you are.”

“I’m no fool.” Her words came slowly as she prepared herself for what she knew was coming. “I know that man almost killed me and could’ve killed you.”

“I’m glad you see it that way, Sister.” His midnight dark voice caressed the words, reminding her again of his hot breath against her skin, his lips on hers. “I figure you won’t mind telling me now about that bastard with the knife.”

He wasted no time. Disappointment and anger flashed, but Regina reined in her temper, reminding herself that she had seen a softer side of him. He would listen to reason. “Cole, please understand. I have no answers for you.”

“You mean you won’t tell me. You’re hidin’ somethin’ and I want to know what.”

“I can’t tell you. Can’t you just leave it at that?”

“Like I should’ve left you to that bastard in town?”

“No.” His words stung and again she fought back an angry reply, striving to appeal to the man she had glimpsed earlier. “I do thank you for helping me.”

He edged closer, pushing her back from the door until his heat merged with hers and she could feel the brush of powerful thighs through her robe. “I want to know who that guy is and why he tried to kill you–us.”

“I’m not asking why you sneak in and out of your family’s life like a hunted man. Why can’t you give me the same regard?”

“‘Cause what I do didn’t nearly get you killed.” He leaned full into her then, trapping her against the wall with his body. The dusky odor of warmed skin and a trace of lye soap floated to her.

Above her head, he braced one arm. He raised his other hand to her face and stroked her cheek. His gaze dropped to her lips; slowly he ran his tongue over his own. “You are incredibly beautiful. Do you know that about yourself, Sister?”

“I-I am a nun,” she choked out. Panic fluttered in her chest as his heat shimmered against her face. The dark scent of the man assaulted her. Rather than push him away, she kept her arms locked at her sides, hands curled into fists. If she touched him, she wouldn’t want to stop. “Don’t you have any respect? If not for me, then for the Church?”

“All I care about is the way you melted into me last summer. I haven’t forgotten that and I don’t think you have either.” His finger traced lightly over her cheek, around to her ear. He leaned closer, until she breathed from him. “I think you want me as much as I want you.”

“Stop it!” Finally, she allowed the dam on her anger to break. Fear of her reaction to him merged with the fury. Desperate, she used the only means she knew as she stood her ground, staring him down. “I am a woman of the cloth, not some saloon girl you can handle and paw every time you get around. You may not respect my religion, but at least respect the fact that I am not like other women.”

“Oh, don’t I know that?” Instead of moving as she had hoped, or even getting angry, he stared into her eyes. A hungry, relentless smile spread across his face.

That smile traveled down Regina’s body, unraveling in her stomach, and pooling in a flame at the center of her thighs. Her body’s reaction spooked her like his words hadn’t.

Trying to throw him off, she bucked against his chest. Pain shot through her shoulder, but she drew herself up to run. Cole’s powerful body blocked her way, never moving. Instead, his left arm closed around her waist and his right hand cupped her head.

Even through the headpiece his heat seared her scalp. Just as he lowered his head, he whispered against her lips. “Come on, Sister. Give me what I want.”