Unedited Excerpt from Tracker's Sin
Copyright © Sarah McCarty 2010
All rights reserved Harelquin SPICE
Tracker was a drinking man. Ari didn't know why she was surprised. Men like Tracker who wore that aura of death around them played hard and drank hard. At least from what she'd seen and heard from Josefina. It was why she never went to town. Because men when drinking couldn't be trusted. But even though she stood there watching Tracker prepare to saddle his horse, she couldn't believe it. It didn't mesh with what her instincts said were the truth. It didn't mesh with her own experience. She touched her cheek where she could still feel the warmth of Tracker's hand. He'd been angry with her and hurt, but his touch had been anything but angry. If she didn't know better, she would have called it seductive, maybe even tender. He was a very strange and confusing man. And he was her only hope.
Tracker hefted the saddle onto the horse's back. Despite the anger and frustration she could feel coming from him, he was gentle with the horse, too. She admired the maturity that allowed him to control his emotions. She admired his physique. He was truly beautiful from behind. Broad shoulders that tapered to lean hips and tight buttocks that flexed as he turned. A mature man in his prime, beautiful in a very masculine way. Her gaze dropped to his buttocks. Very beautiful.
"Don't you have a baby to attend to?"
Dear heavens. How had he known she was looking? Heat flooded her cheeks. Ari had two choices. Apologize or brazen it out. She chose the latter. Tracker wasn't the type to admire cowardice. And there was something about him that made her want his admiration. Of course, the fact that she'd lapsed out of her normal self into an episode likely would always color how he saw her, but she could try. She was more than that scared woman that she couldn't control. She lifted her chin. A perceptive man would figure that out. "Josefina will call me when he wakes from his nap."
Tracker's response to that was a grunt. He tied off the girth strap. His hands were large yet deft, going through the process with a certain grace that held her gaze. He handled a horse well. How would he be with a woman?
"Then why don't you find something else to do besides stare at me?"
Because staring at him made her feel alive for the first time since she'd awoken after her husband's murder. Vital. More than just a crazy woman with no past. "This suits me just fine."
Because the truth was, she liked his hands against her skin. That brief touch still lingered in her senses like a brand. It had been… arousing in a way she couldn't remember ever feeling before. She frowned, close her eyes and studied the sensation, trying to follow it back into the black void that used to be her past. As she had every other time she tried to remember, she hit a wall of nothing. She sighed and opened her eyes. Her gaze collided with Tracker's.
"Anybody ever tell you that staring at a strange man will get you trouble?"
"But I'm not staring at you."
The look he shot her was hot enough to make her toes curl. Hate her or resent her, Tracker Ochoa desired her. That was an exciting thought. She was a widow, but she was almost at the end of her mourning. And he was a very virile man.
"I warn you, sweets, I'm not a nice man."
She tried to remember all that she'd ever heard of him and he was right, no one had ever said he was nice. She nodded. "I understand."
He flipped the stirrup down off the saddle horn. The light of the barn slashed acrose his face, highlighting the set of his chin, the fullness of his lower lip, the hint of muscle she could see through the oven neck of his shirt. His skin was the color of cinnamon coffee with just a touch of cream stretch tight over his collarbone. There was a scar across his collarbone just to the right of his throat. Rather than detracting, it just emphasized the sheer virility of the man. Beneath the brim of his hat, his eyes watched her admire him. Narrowed as they were, he should have looked scary, but beneath the hooded lids, she could see the heat simmering. Desire. For her.
She nodded again.
"What do you think you understand?"
There was something so… alive about flirting with Tracker. Even when it was a bluff. It made her feel so far away from that void, so far away from her troubles. It was stimulating. "That you want me."
The swear word he uttered was vile and not one she was used to hearing but instead of being repulsed, she was a bit intrigued. It was the first break in Tracker's control and she'd caused it. She couldn't help a small, proud smile.
"You're playing with fire." He gathered up the reins and hooked them over the saddle horn. "I'm a dangerous man".
She'd be more afraid if his voice weren't so softly enticing with dark notes that stroked along her nerves in a provocative lure. "I'm a crazy woman."
"You're a mother."
What did that have to do with anything? "You're a lawman."
"I was an outlaw before that."
That was interesting and not as scary as it should be. Excitement hummed in her veins. She should be afraid. She wasn't. She was actually a bit exhilarated. "You couldn't have been much of one if you ended up a Ranger."
"I was a damn good outlaw."
He stopped fussing with the saddle and turned his full attention on her. His mouth quirked up in a smile. The scar twisted his expression to a cruel edge. Until she looked into his eyes, and then she saw the twist differently. She saw the sensuality waiting to be unleashed.
A shiver went down her spine. "And now you're a damn good Ranger."
She didn't recognize the woman who shot back, "Then don't talk nonsense" but she liked her.
So did Tracker, if the softening of his lips was to be believed.
"I told you I'd help you." He gave the saddle a tug, testing the girth. "You don't need to seal the deal with your body."
All right, that was embarrassing. She took a breath as heat seared her cheeks. But she didn't retreat and didn't back down. She swore when she'd woken up to nothing that she'd face her new life with courage. Courageous people didn't run when the truth was stated.
"I'm sorry about that."
Tracker swung up into the saddle. "It doesn't matter."
But it did. She'd insulted him. He was a lawman. He lived his life by doing right, and she'd taken in his size, the vicious scar cutting down his cheek, the darkness of his skin and judged him to be amoral. "It does."
She took a step forward. He watched. She took another. His eyes narrowed. She took a third. She couldn't take the fourth. The sleeping demon that had coiled behind the blank wall of her memory stirred. There was something wrong with the way he sat the horse. Something familiar and horrible in his long hair, flowing from beneath the hat. Something wrong with the illusion of power when she had none. She took a breath, desperate for the memory to continue but terrified that it would. The horse shifted, leaving Tracker backlit by the sun pouring in the doorway. The sense of danger increased. Dear God, she didn't want to know.
"Please." Please make it go away. Please make it go away. Make it go away.
She blinked and Tracker was there, studying her with that intentness that she didn't like. As if he could see what she couldn't. As if he knew what she didn't. Suddenly, flirting with him wasn't fun anymore.
"You really don't remember anything do you?"
"And you've asked?"
"Are you sure you got the right answers?"
No. "Yes." She motioned with her hand, hurrying him along. "I thought you were going to get a drink?"
"I thought you were trying to seduce me."
She blinked, the last of the darkness fleeing before the outrageousness of the statement. All she had to defend herself was a bluff. She wasn't a confident woman. She didn't think she ever had been, but she wanted to be, and with the birth of her son, she'd decided she would be. Vincente and Josefina were wonderful, but they were old and they had lives of there own to live. She'd heard them talking at night about wanting to move back to Mexico and live with Josefina's sister and her family. They just couldn't take her with them. She was too white to be safe and they were too old to protect her. They'd saved her life and never made her think they begrudged her, but she was their son's responsibility, not theirs. She had to learn to make her own way and find a place where she and her son would be safe.
"Might have been my mistake."
No, the mistake had been all hers. "I'm sorry. I'm not usually so…" she waved her hand palm up in front of her. "It's just been so long."
"Since you been with a man?"
She blinked at the bluntness. She hadn't even thought of that. "No." She looked at him and answered with dawning comprehension. "I think it's just been a long time since I felt alive."
"Son of a bitch." He walked his horse forward the two steps it took to tower over her. "Screwing me won't keep you alive. In case you haven't noticed, you're white and I'm Indian."
He was doing it on purpose, trying to intimidate her. Using crudity to push her away. Was this the real man? Did it even matter? He was right. She was a mother. She was right. She was crazy. Whatever she did to feel alive, it couldn't involve using this man. He wore the pain of his life on his person and in his eyes. It wasn't her place to add to it.
Josefina called to her from the house. "Miguel is awake I have to go."
He backed up the horse. "So do I."
Her stomach dropped to her toes. Was he leaving? Panic must have shown in her face because he swore and the horse shifted.
"Don't worry. I'll be back. I haven't forgotten what I promised."
She felt guilty at the relief that flooded her. Helping her meant she putting his life on the line. It was wrong to to ask someone to do that, but she had no choice. She needed him. Without him she had no way to protect those she loved. And to save those she loved, she needed this man to risk his life. It wasn't right. It just wasn't. She pushed back the curl that fell over her eye. With a stubbornness that annoyed, it bounced back. She took a breath. Tracker's anger struck her like a blow.
She took a step forward. His hands tightened on the reins. If he turned away now he'd never know how she felt because she'd never get the courage to say it and he'd always think her the coward. Formless memories howled behind the wall as she took that step. He scared her and he drew her. She owed him. That was all that mattered.
The horse tossed his head as she placed her hand on Tracker's thigh. Tracker controlled the nervous prancing with tension on the reins and the pressure of his knees. Muscle flexed against her palm. He was a very strong man with a reputation that made the worst outlaws cower. They said he was lethal with a knife, deadly with a gun, and brutal with his fists. But looking up at him, all she saw was a man with the same haunted look in his eyes that she saw when she looked in the mirror. She wore a calm facade to hide her turmoil. He wore anger. But beneath both facades was pain. Common ground.
"I'm not afraid of you."
He snorted and backed up the horse up. "Who are you trying to convince, me or yourself?"
She closed her fingers around the lingering warmth of his skin. Both. She couldn't meet his gaze. "I'm not afraid of you."
A curse she couldn't understand and then, "I'm going to get that drink."
She didn't have anything to say to stop him. Ari watched as Tracker walked the horse out of the barn, ducking his head so he didn't hit the top of the door. Not for the first time, she missed the freedom that men had to vent their frustrations. Since her husband's death she'd often wanted to pound on something or someone. And failing that, drink away the pain of memory she couldn't recall. Josefina called again. Before she left the barn, Ari grabbed Tracker's untouched plate of food. Because of her, Tracker was going hungry. Why did life have to be so complicated? When she got to the yard, she could just make out rider and horse in the distance. Blowing errant curls off her forehead, she sighed and muttered, "Have one for me, too."