After Case Williams is left at the altar he decides to move to Montana and set his mind on work. There he meets Roy Pemberton, an agent sent to keep the peace between Native Americans and settlers, and the two start working together to build a wagon freight company. After a while, Roy invites Case home to meet his wife and two single daughters.
Roy knows what kind of man Case is, so he pushes his eldest, Diana, into a courtship with him. But things don’t go quite so smoothly. As Case realizes his lack of romantic feelings for one daughter, he finds himself attracted to the other, Diana’s younger sister, Maddie—who harbors her own passion for the handsome stranger. Maybe a visit from Maddie around the campfire late at night will finally make Case aware of the woman she has become.
This was the first time anyone other than her mother or her sister had ever brushed her hair, and she was surprised by her reaction to it. There was an intimacy to the pull of the brush through her hair, in knowing that the brush was being wielded by this man. She was also acutely aware of his closeness, and of his legs touching her. But it was what he did next that astonished her. Handing her the brush, he took up her hair and began weaving the strands into a braid. For some inexplicable reason, she had not been more aware of his virility than at that very moment. He was obviously confident enough in his own masculinity that braiding a woman’s hair didn’t bother him.
“How do you know how to braid hair?” Maddie asked.
“Do you think I can’t do it?” He pulled some of the errant strands back from behind her ears.
“No, I’m just curious. That’s all.”
“I’ve braided lots of little girls’ hair,” Case said. “There, I’m all done. I wish I had a ribbon to tie it with.”
The words little girl stung. She turned to look at him.
“I am not a little girl,” Maddie said.
“Believe me, I know you are not a little girl.” At that moment he let his gaze fall to her chest, where the loosened camisole gaped open, exposing the tops of her breasts.
Maddie had forgotten that she had left her dress unbuttoned, and her hand rose to close the gap.
Case caught her hands in his.
“No.” The word was not harsh or demanding, but a gentle plea.
Maddie lowered her hands, taking his hands with hers. Then she took a deep breath, causing her chest to heave, aware that Case was watching. He moved closer to her, and she wet her lips with her tongue as she prepared for him to kiss her.
But he did not.
He dropped her hands and moved with unsteady fingers to her chest. She thought he was going to touch her and she waited, not knowing what a woman should do in this situation. She was aware that she wanted him to touch her, and yet she also knew that this was the very thing that a woman of lesser morals would allow. She never let her gaze waver from his eyes, hoping she was telegraphing her desire without having to say the words.
As if reading her mind, he cupped her breasts in his hands, and even through the cloth of her dress, she felt as if her breasts were on fire. And then it stopped.
He dropped his hands and, closing his eyes, lowered his head. For a moment he sat motionless; then he moved to her camisole. Taking the ribbons, he began stringing them through the islets, closing the undergarment, and when he was finished, he tied a bow. With that done, he moved his attentions to the buttons of her dress, fastening them, one by one, slowly and deliberately. His eyes were clinging to hers, and her heart was pounding as she could feel an unknown sensation begin to build in her private parts.
When her dress was properly closed, he smiled and, with his hands on her shoulders, pulled her to him. He kissed her, the gentle touch of his lips sending jolts through her body.
He held her gaze for a long moment, neither pulling away nor repeating the kiss. Finally he dropped his hands.
“No, Maddie, I don’t think of you as a child.”
Maddie smiled as tears began to glisten in her eyes, a reaction that she would never have expected. He leaned forward and kissed her again, this time on the tip of her nose.
“I think it’s time for you to go back to the coach.”
Maddie nodded, not daring to say a word. She stood, expecting him to go back to his bedroll as well.
“Are you coming too?”
“I’d better take care of the fire. I’ll just sit here for a bit.”
“All right,” Maddie said. “Good night.”
Case lifted his hand. “Good night.”
Maddie crossed the grass to the coach. When she looked back, Case was still sitting by the fire, and she fought the urge to run back and join him.