She set down her cup, grateful for the change of topic. “I can make my own way.”
Jack lowered his mug. He wasn’t three feet away from her, and in the glow of the lamps, eyes as dark as his coffee met hers. Her attention wavered to the pronounced bow of his upper lip beneath his mustache, the fullness of his lower lip, the crisp lines of his chin and cheeks.
He was studying her, as well, and she wondered what he noticed, if he found her features half as fascinating.
“I appreciate your independence,” he said. “I do. But it wouldn’t set easy with me if I didn’t see you home safely. Your father might think less of me if I didn’t.”
So his attention was for her father’s sake? “My father has allowed me to travel freely since I was…well, for a long time.
“I’m not questioning his judgment. I’m just telling you why I can’t let you go alone. Perhaps if it was daylight.”
Obviously there was no dissuading him.
“Kin me’n Bitsy ride on Miss Renlow’s wagon with her, Pa?”
“That would be up to Miss Renlow.” He stood and rewrapped the remaining two biscuits.
She nodded at Daniel.
He grinned and went to the box he’d placed in the corner and scooped up the kitten.
“You know you have to set him loose to do his business,” Jack told him.
Daniel shot out the door quick as lightning.
Charmaine picked up their cups and Daniel’s milk glass. “Thank you for the refreshments.”
“I can wash those up while the water’s hot.”
“No need. I’ll do them in the morning with our breakfast dishes.”
She walked toward the door and he followed. The night was still and quiet. Daniel’s voice came from the field nearby, where he was coaxing the kitten. “Do you have much stock?”
“A milk cow, a few hens and my horses. I think I’ll get a couple of calves to fatten.”
She picked up her gloves and apron where she’d left them on a crate and started toward her wagon. “Daddy might have a few to sell.”
“You sound like a little girl when you call him that.”
Charmaine clutched her apron to herself, unsure whether or not to be embarrassed. “I’m certainly not a little girl.”
“No, you’re not.”
Now embarrassment tinged her neck and cheeks with warmth. “You say it like I’m long in the tooth.”
His deep full laughter surprised her, but it started a glow in her chest, as well. “And you say that like you’re a horse,” he replied.
“It’s true I’m perhaps a smidgeon past first bloom.” The admission cost her.
“I hadn’t noticed.”
“Because you don’t notice at all?”
She’d lost track of what they were talking about. They stood beside the wagon, now, but she forgot to turn and climb the wheel to the seat. Jack stood so close, she could see the reflection of the moonlight in his eyes.
She didn’t know who moved first. Neither did she know if he’d been moving to assist her, but she stepped forward at the same time he did. His arms came around her to steady her, and she grabbed hold of his shirt where it tucked into his trousers at his side, as though she was falling.
Instead, she used it as leverage to pull herself up at the same instant he leaned forward, and their lips met in a warm, almost frantic crush. The brush of his mustache against her upper lip was a silky delight she hadn’t expected, his mouth a warm inviting haven she was delighted to learn.
She barely knew him. She knew his kiss was a little bit wild, more than a little bit heart stopping. She’d kissed Wayne on several occasions, but it had been nothing like this…nothing.
Charmaine untrapped the arm holding her folded apron, letting the bundle fall to the ground. Never had she experienced the desire to affix herself to a man and never let go. Never had she wished she was more educated on intimate matters between men and women so she’d know exactly what was happening and what could happen. Never had she been aware of this sharp rush of joy or felt a prickling of tears behind her eyes because of the confusing emotions.
Jack’s arms were strong, his chest hard, but she fit against him as though she was made to be there.
Before she could change her mind, before the moment was lost, she reached up and cupped his cheek, felt the rasp of his beard against her palm, and threaded a hand into his silky hair.
Jack inhaled, drew away for a much-needed breath, and she prayed he wouldn’t end the rapturous moment.
As though he heard her greedy prayer, he instead captured the back of her head, realigned their mouths, and ran his tongue over her lips until she understood and opened them. At the sensation of his tongue on hers, her heart tripped and her entire being recognized the rightness of it. Of course, she thought. Yes, of course!
She wanted this heat and excitement in her life. She hadn’t realized until just that moment that she’d been craving this.