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Into the Light (Sutton Family 2)


Kansas 1899. Deborah Sutton barely remembers her family's feud with the Van Cleves. Her mother died that summer, and her father was killed. Nothing else mattered to seven-year-old Deborah eighteen years ago. Still, Deborah despises the Van Cleves.

Trey Van Cleve does remember the land war. Trey saw bloody bodies hanging from the roof of his home and fled fire in the night. The monster under Trey's boyhood bed had a name, and the name was Sutton.

When Deborah and Trey meet by accident one night, each is intrigued by a stranger who is no more than a disembodied friendly voice. Each returns to the same place, hoping for another encounter. Each is appalled to learn the identity of the other. How can a Sutton befriend a Van Cleve? How can a Van Cleve love a Sutton? Deborah and Trey are going to find out.

Into the Light is a sequel to Beautiful Bad Man.

Excerpt

“Never mind that, Trey’s been stabbed, and the doctor’s out of town. We need.... I need....”

Deborah couldn’t catch her breath. She leaned on the table for support.

“I haven’t been stabbed,” Trey said. “The knife just sliced a little. Calm down. Take a deep breath.”

Deborah did take a deep breath, and it did help.

“Another,” he said. “There, that’s better. A little bit of bandaging, and I’ll be on my way.”

“You’re not going out on the street again tonight!”

“Stop shouting. Didn’t you promise you wouldn’t shout any more?”

“No, I didn’t. You promised not to get killed.”

“I don’t remember promising that, and anyway, I’m not dead.”

Judith flew around the kitchen, disappeared, and returned. She banged a basin, carbolic, and bandages down on the table. “Stop arguing and let’s see this stab wound.”

Trey removed his coat with a grimace. The blood stain on his jacket had spread, his vest and shirt were soaked. Deborah wanted to weep at the sight.

Once he was bare to the waist, Judith swiped blood and peered at his side. “You’re right it’s just a slice, but it’s deep and should be stitched. The reason William and I came home early is Emmy has a stomach ache and a fever. If William has to deal with her alone much longer, he’s going to leave me. Deborah, you’ll have to stitch this.”

Judith couldn’t mean it. Deborah stared at the wound in horror. “I can’t stitch a person.”

“Pretend he’s a calf. You’ve stitched cuts on calves.”

Judith whirled away again and returned with needle and thread and a folded nightshirt. “Since your clothes are all either ruined or wet, wear this tonight, and we’ll find you a shirt in the morning,” she said to Trey. “Emmy is crying. I have to go.”

Deborah tore her eyes from Trey. A man who looked so elegant in a suit should not look so—male—unclothed. A puckered starburst of scar tissue marred his right shoulder. The rest of his bare skin curved smoothly over muscle and bone.

She swallowed and swallowed again, wanting to stare, afraid to look. She filled the basin with hot water and prepared to clean the wound. “He wasn’t drunk, and he tried to kill you.”

“No, he wasn’t, and yes, he did. He could be the same man who came at me with the pipe. He didn’t seem as big hunched over and stumbling like that, so I can’t be sure.”

“Can you stand up?”

“In a minute.” He sounded tired.

“Never mind.” She knelt beside the chair and washed the blood away.

“Have you really stitched up calves?”

“And pigs. My uncles held them down.”

“Pigs are reassuring, but you don’t have anyone to hold me down.”

She wanted to lean her forehead against his arm and cry. Instead she disinfected the wound and the needle and thread and started stitching. “I’ll marry you if you’ll go far away.”

“Just me? You won’t come along?”

“Yes, I mean we’ll go far away.”

“Thank you for the offer, but I don’t want you to marry me so I’ll run away. I like it here.”

“But you asked me. You said you would go if I married you.”

“You turned me down and gave me time to reconsider. I don’t want you to marry me to get me to rabbit off to Alaska. I want you to marry me because you can’t live without me.” He sucked in a breath and held it as she started the first stitch, let it out while she tied the knot. “I don’t suppose there’s any chance you can’t live without me?”

She dropped the needle. It hung swinging from the thread running through his skin until she picked it up again. “No.” I can live without you. It will be more like dying than living, but I can do it.

“I was afraid of that. Then there’s the fact that if someone wants me dead in Kansas, they’ll still want me dead in Alaska. And if they can pay men to try to kill me here, they can find men willing to kill anywhere. More in Alaska maybe. It’s still as wild up there as Kansas was before you and I were born.”

“They wouldn’t find you.”

“Notice how you say they wouldn’t find me, not us. It’s a good thing I said no, or I’d find myself in Alaska, hiding out with a new name, and missing my wife because she escaped and left me a note the first chance she got.”

Deborah ignored the teasing and concentrated on bandaging over the stitches, enjoying the warmth of his skin, the firmness of muscle. Long ago she had learned to endure the touch of people other than her sisters when she had to, but she had never learned to like it.

What made him different? He had always been different, a man she sought out instead of avoided. She could enjoy this much, just these small touches of her hands over his ribs.

“You hit him, didn’t you?” Trey said.

“Yes, with your cane, but it didn’t seem to make any difference.”

“It did. He almost had the knife until then. Ladies are supposed to stand back, scream, and faint, you know.”

“I did scream.”

“Aah. Well then that’s the best of both worlds. Clever lady.”

Finished with all she could do, Deborah rose to her feet and for the first time saw the scar that covered the entire back of his shoulder. Lower down, a smaller scar beside his spine disappeared under the waistband of his trousers.

“Your back.” She pressed her palm over the large grayish white blotch, wanting to hide it from sight, wanting to touch him even more.

“It’s a mess, isn’t it? Since I never have to look at it, I forget sometimes. * * * [She] carried the basin to the sink to wash.

Behind her, his chair scraped on the floor as he rose. She sensed rather than heard his footsteps. One hand on her shoulder, one on her waist. She turned in his arms, closed her eyes when his hand cupped her face, his fingertips stroking into her hair, his thumb caressing along her cheekbone.

“Look at me.”

Her eyes obeyed. He leaned close, closer. His lips brushed hers, warm so warm. The sensation shivered right down to her toes.

“Breathe.”

Her lungs obeyed. She pressed the side of her face to his palm, happy to have this one moment, wishing it could last, knowing it could not.

“Touch me.”

Her hands obeyed, curving over his shoulders. This kiss was no quick brush of lips. His mouth moved against hers, his tongue along the inner surface of her lips. The hand still at her waist slid to her back, urged her closer, and her body obeyed the unspoken command, arching into him. Her arms slipped around his neck. She no longer felt warmth but heat—his, hers.

Her breasts flattened against his chest, a hard ridge of male arousal pressed against her stomach. Her body reacted in strange ways, her nipples hardening to an ache, places low and inside softening and melting to liquid.

Fear ripped through the pleasure and left it in shreds.

She had no chance to panic or struggle. He lifted his head, his hands gone from her before she could drop her arms to her side.

“Too much?” His voice was still Trey’s but deepened by emotion, his eyes darker and hooded.

Beyond speech, she nodded.

He turned and picked up William’s nightshirt. “You’d better show me where I’m supposed to spend my night safely out of harm’s way.”

After showing Trey to the guest bedroom and leaving him there, still wordlessly, Deborah hurried to her own room. Instead of reaching for the light in the wall sconce, she crossed to her bed in the dark and sat there, fully clothed, her fingers pressed across her lips.

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