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Authors: Lisa Bingham

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Silken Dreams

BOOK: Silken Dreams
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Silken Dreams
Silken Dreams
Lisa Bingham
Copyright

Diversion Books
A Division of Diversion Publishing Corp.
443 Park Avenue South, Suite 1004
New York, NY 10016
www.DiversionBooks.com

Copyright © 1991 by Lisa Bingham
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

For more information, email
[email protected]

First Diversion Books edition January 2014
ISBN:
978-1-62681-196-6

More from Lisa Bingham

Temptation’s Kiss

Silken Promises

Distant Thunder

The Bengal Rubies

Eden Creek

Dedicated to Joyce and ElMont.
Thank you for teaching me that dreams can come true, love truly exists, and nothing is impossible.

Prologue

Overhead, the crash of thunder built to a shuddering climax, then subsided in a relentless, jagged echo. As if the sky wept in silent commiseration with my torment, I ran down the path just as the rain began to fall—huge, iron-gray drops that pelted into the dust with relentless force.

But I didn’t care.

Without thought for the moisture that seeped into the silk of my gown, I ran toward the abandoned stables, knowing he would be there—he
had
to be there.

Already the path was beginning to grow slick from the rain that pounded to the earth in a solid sheet of moisture. Long before I’d reached the halfway mark to the distant paddocks, the careful sweep of curls over my ear became sodden, the hem of my ivory gown grew black with mud. Pausing for a moment, trying to catch my breath, I scooped my skirts up above my knees and raced toward the side door of the stables. The weathered portal was slightly ajar. As if he’d left it that way for me.

With a final burst of energy, I dodged inside, slamming the door closed. Vainly, I sought the shadows for his familiar form—though my eyes had not yet grown accustomed to the darkness. But long before I could see for myself, the emptiness that flooded my heart warned me that he wasn’t there.

A quick sob tore at my throat. I knew I mustn’t surrender to the fear that began to twine within me. Despite my inner protestations, a chill began to seep into my bones. Long before, I had accepted the fact that I’d fallen in love with the Highwayman, but I’d never been able to accept the fact that he could be caught

Even as the thought of his possible capture raced through my mind, the cold fear began to take hold. Something had happened. Something
must
have happened to him or he would have met me. He’d always been here before, always when I needed him most.

Fighting to breathe against the tight lacing of my gown, I stepped into the musty warmth of the stables, absorbing its shelter, its security… its hollowness. Walking down the earth-packed center aisle between the stalls, I slipped the fichu from the neckline of my gown and used it to blot the moisture from my face. But with each brush of the cloth, I found myself remembering the strong breadth of his chest, the narrow span of his hips. And his lovemaking…

His lovemaking.

Suddenly, the door behind me slammed open. A gust of cold rain blew into the stable, and without turning, I knew it was he. My breathing quickened in relief. The hand that held the fichu grew lax and the silk scarf dropped to the ground, leaving the firm swells of my breasts all but exposed above the low square of my gown.

“Letitia,” he breathed, his voice low, intense. The mere sound of my name on his lips caused my breasts to ache.

I sighed, and though I fought to contain them, the words “Kiss me” tumbled from my lips.

From behind, I heard his firm bootstrides against the earth and straw. Sweet anticipation swelled within my loins and my pulse began to pound. I knew what would happen next, and my fingers lifted to begin plucking the fastenings of my bodice free. After his journey he would be tired, hungry… and lusty. Impatient and aroused, he would jerk me into his arms. His hands would slip around my waist and pull me tightly against him. So tightly the studs of his shirt would dig into my flesh, the hilt of his saber would press against my stomach, and his hips… he would lift me until his hips ground against my own, while his hands impatiently tugged at the skirts that would bunch between us.

Already burning with need and eager anticipation, I closed my eyes. Without turning, I could feel him stop behind me, feel his hand reach out…

Chapter 1

Madison, Illinois

May 10, 1880

Letitia Grey screamed when a very real, very warm, very wet masculine hand closed upon her shoulder. Her nut-brown eyes flew open, and the elegant paddocks of her fantasy scattered as the dingy reality of the barn plunged into view.

The fingers on her shoulder tightened and she nearly strangled upon the gasp that lodged in her throat. Moving nothing but her eyes, she darted one quick look at the hand that held her. A firm hand, covered with a light dusting of dark hair.

Her breath escaped in a high squeak of fear and she whirled away, rushing toward the opposite side of the barn, where a pitchfork leaned against one of the weathered stalls. “Get back,” she said, spinning in the straw and holding the pitchfork in front of her, its tines lifted toward the intruder.

The man who’d touched her regarded her in surprise, his hands lifted, palms out, as if to show he was unarmed, despite the gun belt strapped low to his hips. “Whoa, I just—”

“Quiet!” Lettie snapped, wondering how long the dark-haired man had been there, how much of her daydreaming he’d seen. A hot flush rose to her cheeks when she realized she’d been so deep in her fantasies that she’d actually unfastened a good number of buttons on her bodice—enough so that the smooth flesh of her bosom could be seen through the delicate tatting of her camisole.

Lettie nearly moaned aloud in embarrassment, then became still, her eyes growing wide and startled as they focused on the stranger who stood in the dim light. By all that was holy, it seemed as if her Highwayman had somehow materialized in front of her. In the flesh.

The man’s gaze deepened slightly, dipping to study the unbuttoned portion of her bodice. “I wondered if you could help me.”

“Ah-ah!” Lettie warned when he took a step forward.

The man stopped, but his study grew even more intent.

The pitchfork wavered in Lettie’s grip ever so slightly. Her eyes grew wider, darker, her breathing became shallow and quick. He wasn’t a terribly big man—just under six feet, she’d wager—but there was something about him that exuded a sense of latent power. Water dripped from the dark hair plastered against his head. His eyes were intense, their color all but indistinguishable in the near darkness.

Lettie shivered slightly, though not entirely from the cool, rain-kissed air. In all her imaginings, the Highwayman had looked the same as the man before her.
The same!
Dark-haired, lean…

Sensual.

Her fingers tightened around the rough wood in her hands. Despite the overwhelming similarities with this man, there was something different separating him from the Highwayman of her fantasies. Something
real
.

The stranger took another step and his hands began to drift down to his sides.

“Don’t come any closer!” she warned, jabbing into the air in front of her with the pitchfork.

Once again he stopped. Then his eyes narrowed and his jaw hardened. “Letitia Grey,” he murmured, his voice low and deep, like velvet thunder. “As I live and breathe, you’re Jacob Grey’s little sister, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

He knew her?
But how? If he were truly a figment of her imagination, she could believe his familiarity with her. After all, her Highwayman had been a constant imaginary companion for years. But this man was no illusion. He was flesh and blood.

Wasn’t he?

Although she knew she was behaving recklessly, foolishly—even wantonly—Lettie took a cautious step forward, then another. And another. The man stiffened, evidently distrustful of her actions after she’d threatened to skewer him with the pitchfork. But Lettie needed to get closer. Just a little bit. Just enough to assure herself that he was no dream.

“Who are you?” she demanded softly.

The man didn’t answer; his jaw remained tight. His glance flicked toward the approaching tines of the pitchfork before he took a step back.

Lettie’s gaze dropped. His wet boots gleamed in the near darkness. The muscles of his thighs were firm, strong, the denim of his pants wet. And his hips…

Laws!
The man had the hips of the Highwayman. Narrow, masculine. Firm.

Realizing she was staring at the all-too-masculine bulge in the front of his pants, Lettie forced herself to look up. But that action was worse. So much worse. The pelting rain had saturated the thin blue cotton of his shirt so that each line, each indentation had been lovingly molded to his skin. The front lay open nearly to his waist, exposing a healthy expanse of firm, muscular flesh spattered ever so lightly with dark hair.

“Who
are
you?” she demanded again, her tone a little more forceful. He was so close now, she could see the moisture beaded in the dark strands of his hair and on the harsh, square planes of his face. Yet the pitchfork could have been a matchstick between them for all the power it had in convincing him to speak.

Since he refused to answer, she decided to try another tack: “How do you know who I am?”

When he still didn’t speak, she jabbed the pitchfork toward him.

The man lifted his hands in a defensive gesture and muttered cryptically, “Your brother and I were… passing acquaintances a few years back.” For a moment his eyes glittered in the dim light. “I made it my business to learn everything about him.” After a slight pause he added, “And those he cares about.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Have you come to see Jacob?”

He hesitated before responding. “No. I stopped for directions.”

“For what?”

“The road to Eastbrook.”

“Why?”

Once again, he refused to talk.

Lettie stepped forward, effectively trapping the man against one of the stalls. For the first time in the murky light of the barn, she could see that his eyes were blue. A clear, azure blue. Yet they were eyes that saw the world from an emotional distance—missing nothing, seeing everything, while remaining detached. Wary.

When he still refused to answer her, Lettie pressed the pointed tips of the pitchfork against his chest in a none-too-subtle attempt at persuasion.

He didn’t try to step away. Instead, one of the sharp points dug into the flesh of his left breast and a bead of crimson welled from the spot.

A soft gasp spilled from Lettie’s lips only moments before the man swore. Obviously impatient with her actions, he grasped the pitchfork, tossing it into the stall beside her.

Lettie made the mistake of twisting to watch it plunge to the hilt in a mound of soft hay. When she turned back, the stranger had moved away.

“Don’t!” she called out when he stepped toward the side door.

The man turned to face her again, and Lettie found herself moving toward him on limbs that were slightly shaky—but not from fear. Try as she might, she couldn’t help thinking this man was only a continuation of her fantasies about the Highwayman, the man she had fabricated in her head years before when reality had become just a little too monotonous. She couldn’t let him go. Not yet.

Not without touching him. Just once.

The man hesitated, and Lettie closed the distance between them with a wariness she might show to a less-than-housebroken tomcat. When only a few scant feet separated them, she nervously licked her lips, speaking quickly in an effort to prevent the man from leaving before she knew something more about him. “Eastbrook is south of here. If you take the main road through the center of town, then turn left at the bank, you’ll see the…”

Her words trailed away and she fought to breathe, her hand lifting toward the stranger ever so slightly.
She was so close now!
So close. Every pore of her body seemed to absorb the warmth of his body. She had only to reach out and touch him.

The man’s eyes flicked from a lock of honey-brown hair that clung moistly to her cheek, to her eyes, to her slightly parted lips. Lettie could tell that he thought her daft for acting so strangely. But how could you tell a man he was a dream come to life?

She took another step forward. Two. Her skirts brushed against the toes of his boots, then pressed against his thighs. The air she drew into her lungs smelled of male musk and rain, reminding her all too eloquently of just how near she’d managed to stand to this stranger.

Her Highwayman.

Slowly, cautiously, she reached out to touch the placket of his shirt with her finger. The blue chambray was wet. Soft.

Her gaze lifted.

Brown eyes locked with blue.

Lettie was torn between fear and some strange emotion she wasn’t sure she could name. Her skin seemed to grow hot, then cold, and her stomach tightened.

“No one’s ever going to believe me this time. They’ll say I conjured you from the air and you never really existed,” she whispered to herself, but the man evidently heard her, because his dark brows creased into a scowl.

Still marveling at the fact that this man had to be real—flesh and blood—Lettie used the same finger to push aside his shirt and touch the small puncture high on his chest.

The man’s fingers snapped around her wrist, jerking her hand away, his grip bold, firm, and faintly calloused. The dim light winked against the ruby signet ring he wore on his right hand, the flash of crimson echoing the bead of blood that clung to the tip of her finger.

“Wha—” She couldn’t finish what she’d been about to say, couldn’t
remember
what she’d been about to say. The stranger had moved forward, his expression growing fierce.

“Don’t play games with me, Letitia Grey.”

“Get away from her,” a low voice rasped. The snap of a revolver being cocked split the near quiet of the barn.

The man stiffened. His eyes became guarded, his muscles tense. Though his features remained inscrutable, Lettie sensed a brittle caution settling into his frame.

Slowly, he released her wrist. Air swirled between them, cold and thick with the scent of rain.

“Back away from her, nice and easy,” the voice ordered again, and Lettie cringed, knowing for a fact who had interrupted them. Twisting her head to peer over her shoulder, Lettie wasn’t sure if she should growl in frustration or wither in embarrassment when she found her brother, Jacob, sighting down the barrel of a Colt revolver.

Jacob lifted the weapon ever so slightly, as if correcting some slight error in his aim. His dark eyes gleamed in the blue-gray light of the barn and his expression unnerved Lettie. Although she was Jacob’s junior by nearly six years, she’d learned to avoid that look.

“Lettie, get into the house,” he barked.

“But—”

“Do as I say!”

“Jacob, you don’t understand!”

Without warning, the stranger’s arm snapped around Lettie’s neck and the cool tip of a revolver dug into her temple.

“Put the revolver down, Grey,” the man behind her snarled. His grasp became tighter. The harsh grate of the hammer being cocked seemed to ricochet in the heavy air.

Lettie saw her brother tense, and a dangerous light entered his eyes. “Damn you,” he whispered.

“Put it down!”

Slowly moving his arms out to his sides, Jacob released the hammer of his revolver, then bent and carefully set it in the straw.

“Now back away.” When Jacob hesitated, the stranger ground the end of his revolver more tightly into Lettie’s flesh. “Back away!”

Jacob’s eyes narrowed. “You’ve never shot anyone before.”

“I’m willing to start now. Back away!”

Jacob’s boots rasped through the straw as he moved into the shadows.

Still holding Lettie tightly, the man moved toward Jacob’s revolver, dragging her behind him. His grip loosened only for a moment as he scooped the weapon from the dust and shoved it into the back of his waistband.

“You’re coming with me,” he muttered softly, pulling her toward the side door.

“Dammit! If you take my sister, I’ll kill you.”

“Shut up, Grey. As long as your men don’t follow me, she won’t be hurt.”

The man dragged her through the side door and toward a bay gelding that waited patiently beneath the eaves. Barely giving her time to think, the stranger grasped her waist, lifted her onto the saddle, then swung up behind her.

“Hold on,” he growled into her ear, and dug his heels into the animal’s sides.

Lettie clung to the mane of the animal as they bolted into the rain. The stranger led his mount in a tangled course through the back streets of town, then out past the creek, and into the scrub.

But Lettie paid little attention to where they were going. Instead, she tried to absorb the fact that she had just been abducted. By a man who looked very much like her Highwayman. With the warmth of his body against her back and the strength of his arm around her waist, Lettie was oblivious to the rain that pounded around them.

Without warning, the stranger pulled on the reins and brought his mount to a stop. Finally lifting her head to gaze around her, Lettie realized that they were at the crossroads three miles out of town.

The man behind her shifted. “I’m sorry, Letitia, but you’ll have to walk back.”

She glanced over her shoulder, then grew still and tense. Although she had been entertaining fanciful imaginings about the man behind her, it was obvious that he was bent upon much more practical matters.

The hand around her waist tightened, and he lifted her from the saddle. She stiffened, her fingers curling more tightly around the horse’s mane. Then she realized that this was not her Highwayman but a stranger. A cold, hardened man who had threatened to kill her.

A chill wracked down her spine and she pushed away from the horse’s neck and slid to the ground. The moment her feet hit the earth, she began to run. But after only a few yards, she stopped and turned toward him. “Lettie. They call me Lettie.”

His dark hair lay plastered against his skull. His azure eyes regarded her from a face that was all planes and angles. And Lettie knew she would never forget the expression that crossed his blunt-hewn features. There was no doubt that this man was hard and unyielding. But for a moment—one fleeting moment—she thought she saw a glimmer of something softer within his expression. Something that looked very much like regret.

BOOK: Silken Dreams
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