WHEN JESSE MET ANNIE

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     Jesse stretched and glanced around the dingy sheriff’s office in St. Elmo, Colorado. 

     Five o’clock. Finally.

     He made his way over to the sheriff’s desk and grabbed the keys from the desktop. Sheriff Lee Davis had already gone home for the evening and had asked Jesse to lock up. Tracker, the other deputy, had the day off. Jesse planned to meet him at the saloon in an hour.
     Once outside, Jesse fumbled with the door lock, his head down. Something tapped his shoulder, and he jumped. The keys dropped to the porch with a clunk and his hand instinctively went to the handle of his revolver as he spun around. Jesse relaxed immediately when he met the brilliant green eyes and smooth, freckled skin of a young woman.
     “Deputy Morgan?” She had a sweet, lilting voice.
     “Yeah, uh, you startled me.” Jesse bent to pick up the keys. “It’s Annie, right? Is there something I can help you with?” 
     She was the blacksmith’s daughter, that’s the most he knew about her. Then again, maybe her name was Anna. Hell, he couldn’t remember.
     “That’s right.” Annie returned his smile. “I wanted to talk to you about something.”
     “What about?”
     He’d seen her around town a few times, accompanied by her father, Brogan O’Brien. She was a pretty thing. Very pretty. Soft red curls framed her face, and an emerald green cotton dress accentuated curves that she’d probably only recently grown into. She had to be nineteen or 
twenty, if he had to guess.
     Annie looked up and down the street but didn’t answer.
     “If you’d prefer to talk to Sheriff Davis, he’ll be back tomorrow morning,” Jesse said.
     “No—I was hoping to talk to you.” She met his eyes, gazing up at him underneath her thick eyelashes. “Can we go inside?”
     That look was enough to make his heart skip a beat. It wasn’t fair that women could do that with their eyes. He tried to put his thoughts back in order again. “Yeah, uh, of course.”
     He opened the door for her, and she gave him a coy smile over her shoulder as she stepped into the office ahead of him. 
     Jesse retreated behind the deputy’s desk. The chair squeaked as he sat down. It felt better having a desk between them—her gaze was making him uncomfortable.
     “So, do you like being a deputy?” 
     Jesse raised an eyebrow. “You really didn’t come all the way here to ask me that, did you?” 
     He could swear he caught a trace of pink starting 
to rise in her cheeks
     She shrugged. “No. I. . . I wanted to report something.”
     Jesse rummaged through the top drawer of the deputy’s desk for a pencil. “What did you want to report?”
     “Someone’s been stealing from our garden.”
     Jesse glanced up. “Your garden?”
     “Yes.”
     He suppressed the urge to chuckle. “Is there anything that makes you believe that a person and not an animal is doing this?”
     “Not really, but I figured I wanted to report it in case it turns out to be a person.”
     Jesse cleared his throat. “You really came all the way here for this?”
     The floorboards creaked as she walked around to his side of the desk. She leaned against the wooden drawers, her bottom resting 
against
the backs of her hands. “I’ve seen you around town but we’ve never really talked, you know.” 
     Jesse shifted in his chair. The little office felt really warm all of a sudden.
     Annie reached her hand out and fiddled with his collar. “You have really pretty blue eyes, Mr. Morgan.”
     He swallowed.
     She scooted closer to him and sat in his lap. Holy hell. His heart started racing.
     “Do you ever get frightened, doing this job?” she murmured softly.
     Jesse’s eyes flew wide open when she moved her hand to his crotch. He caught her hand. “Whoa, I don’t think you know what you’re doing down there.” The words cut off abruptly as she responded with a gentle squeeze. His eyes fluttered closed. 
     “I really like you, Deputy Morgan.” She bent her head to kiss his neck. Her lips were soft and warm. Damn, if that didn’t feel good. 
     “I think you should call me Jesse, given the circumstances,” he said with a half-smile as he opened his eyes.
     She giggled and tentatively moved to kiss him on the mouth. 
     He didn’t stop her. When their tongues met, excitement surged through him. She tasted like honey. He trailed his hands up to her breasts, feeling dazed this was all really happening.
     She broke from the kiss and brushed her fiery red hair over her shoulders. Her slender elbows pointed toward the ceiling as she unbuttoned her dress.
     There was nothing underneath. Not even a chemise. Jesse’s breath caught when she tugged her dress down around her waist. Freckles speckled her skin above her perky little breasts, like stars in the Milky Way. She was beautiful.
     Annie whimpered in delight when he moved to kiss one of her bare breasts and began teasing the nipple with his tongue. She smiled and wrapped her arms around his shoulders as he lifted her to his desk and pulled the rest of her dress down to her ankles. 
     Annie’s hands drifted down to his belt. 
     This is crazy. No man ever gets this lucky. Not even in his dreams.
     “Do you like me, Jesse?” she asked shyly.
     The tone of her voice gave him pause. Though she was probably only six or seven years younger than him, he felt he could have been two decades older. She sounded so innocent saying that. Maybe she really didn’t know what she was getting into. The thought that she could be a virgin stopped him cold. 
     “Annie, if this is your first time, maybe we should slow down a little.”  
     She met his eyes. “I’ve been with someone before. I know what I’m doing.”
     Well, hell…

 

 

     What an unforgettable evening.

     Jesse took her over his desk. What a little wildcat she was. Annie dug her nails into his arms. Jesse kissed her in an attempt to quiet her every time she cried out, fearing someone would hear them outside.

     The next evening, she met him at the office again. Jesse locked the door. She pushed him back into the sheriff’s chair and started unbuttoning his shirt, kissing a trail down his chest with each button. When she unbuckled his belt and proceeded lower, she nearly had him beside himself with delight.

     Eventually, he tugged her into one of the jail cells, where they proceeded to make love on the cot. She grinned as she wrapped her hands around the metal bars by the bunk
     Jesse didn’t know how he’d come to be so lucky as to have someone like Annie literally fall in his lap. That sort of thing just didn’t happen. 
     No, he didn’t love her. He hardly knew her. But she helped slake a loneliness that he’d been carrying for a long time. 

 

 

     On the third day, his day off, Annie asked him to go on a picnic with her. It turned out to be a gorgeous morning. They spent more time making love than eating anything. Afterward, Annie packed up the food and the picnic blanket into the saddlebags of her rented horse.
     “Want to go for a walk?” she asked.
     Jesse shrugged. “Sure.”
     They walked together along the banks of Chalk Creek. Annie rested her head against Jesse’s shoulder. He smiled.
     Annie let out a little sigh. “I like how ‘Annie Morgan’ sounds. When we get married, do you think we’ll stay in St. Elmo, or do you want to go somewhere else?”
     What?
     In the same moment, Jesse dipped below her height as he stumbled shin-deep into a muskrat hole burrowed under in the bank.
     “Shit.” The word slipped under his breath. As he pulled his leg out, he could already feel the icy water and mud sliding down inside his boot. 
     “Married? Annie. . . What? No.” He couldn’t get any form of a sentence out to stop the jumble of thoughts in his head.
     Annie’s green eyes blazed as if she could scorch him into the earth. “Well, why did you sleep with me if you didn’t want to marry me?”
     Jesse’s mouth hung open. Surely, he hadn’t heard her correctly. “Geez, Annie, we’ve only known each other for three days.”
     “So? I thought that you liked me. I thought that’s where things were going!”
     Holy hell. He should have known better.
     “Annie, are you trying to trap me?” he asked evenly.

     “What? No!” Annie crossed her arms, but avoided meeting his eyes. “I’m just saying, you can’t do that with a woman and then not marry her!” Her hair glowed, bright red and fiery in the sunlight.
     Jesse scowled. “No? Well, I’ll make a bet that’s what the last fella did. And maybe the one before that.” He pointed a finger. “You shouldn’t use what’s between your legs as a bear trap for men. That’s no way to get a husband.”
     Jesse wasn’t quick enough to duck when he saw her fist coming. Part of him expected it, but he didn’t expect it would smart so much. For being so small, she sure hit like a man.
     “Gah! Annie! What is wrong with you?” He cupped his hand over his eye, wincing until the initial shock subsided.
     Shit, that’s gonna leave a mark. 
     When he opened his good eye again, she was already halfway back to her Appaloosa mare.
     “Damn you, Jesse Morgan! Damn you to hell!”
     “I’m already a damned man. Come up with something better!”
     “You’ll regret this! You’ll regret it when you die all alone, unmarried, and wishing you’d said yes to me!” She climbed into the saddle and kicked her horse into a gallop.
     He snorted under his breath as he watched her go. The mare he’d rented from the stable kept her head down as she grazed, oblivious as to what was going on around her. 
     The last thing Annie said had hit a little closer. Jesse clenched his teeth. Yeah, so he would die alone—but not for saying no to Annie O’Brien. 
     Jesse sighed and bent to pull off his boot. Dark brown mud and water dripped out when he turned it upside-down. His eye hurt like hell. 
     He limped upstream to where the bank was less steep and dipped his socked foot in the icy water to rinse the mud off. His boot squished as he crossed over to the mare. 
     The horse picked up her head and regarded him with big, black eyes.
     “Ah, don’t look at me. . . she should have known better. She should have known I wasn’t the marrying kind.”
     

    

This scene was cut from the beginning of the book.