Ginny Brown is a poor seamstress’ daughter who worships the ground Chad MacKillian walks on… from afar. For as long as she can remember, she’s been in love with the prominent rancher. Befriended by Chad’s sister, Ginny overcomes her shyness when Chad finally notices her.
Unknown to Ginny or his sister, Chad is already engaged to the neighboring rancher’s daughter, but their engagement is a business arrangement. The more time Chad spends with Ginny, the more he questions his future plans. Torn between honoring his engagement and his growing feelings for Ginny, he avoids making a decision.
When Chad’s fiancée catches him kissing Ginny beneath the mistletoe, she breaks their engagement. Chad is relieved to be free, but Ginny is humiliated and has had enough of his inconstancy. Faced with losing Ginny and fighting off outlaws bent on revenge, Chad begs Ginny to marry him. But can Chad convince Ginny he really loves her and is eager for her to be his wife?
Chad stretched out his legs and leaned on one elbow, half-reclining, and chewing on a stick he’d found.
Ginny wanted to suggest they start back when he surprised her by saying, “It’s too hot to leave without cooling off first. We have a long climb ahead. The water looks calm, and I bet its shallow. Why don’t we go wading?”
Without waiting for her to agree, he removed his black leather cowboy boots and thick socks. Rolling his denim pants to his knees, he declared, “I’m ready when you are.”
She stared at him, biting her lip.
“Come on, it’ll be fun.”
A trickle of perspiration slipped down her spine, as if silently emphasizing his offer to cool off. “It is hot. All right, you’ve convinced me.”
She began to pull her Papa’s old boots off, but he forestalled her by offering, “Let me do that.” He threw away the stick he’d been chewing and knelt in front of her, removing her boots and socks. His hands lingered, longer than necessary, on her naked feet and calves. Tiny shivers of delight snaked their way up her legs and centered in the pit of her stomach.
He rose and stared down, his hazel-colored eyes openly gazing at her bare legs. Abruptly, he swung around and dared her, “Last one in is a rotten egg.” He left her sitting there while he sprinted toward the water.
She struggled to her feet and raced after him, calling out, “That’s not fair! You got a head start.” And, of course, she was the rotten egg.
When she reached the river bank, Chad had already forged ahead, moving slowly in the quiet waters, testing the depth with his feet.
“It’s shallow around the edge, but it slopes quickly to the center. I think we should stay close to shore.” He glanced up to find her standing on the bank of the river and motioned with his arm. “Come on. What are you waiting for?”
She did as he asked, following him into the cool waters, gasping at the change in temperature, but enjoying the feel of mud between her toes. As a young girl, she had loved to go wading, loved the quicksilver water lapping at her legs and the soft mud squishing underfoot.
Something brushed her left leg, and she shrieked.
He rushed over and looked down. “It’s only a sun perch.” He pointed to her left, and she glimpsed the shining scales of a fish moving through the water.
“I used to fish for sun perch with Papa. They’re awful to debone, but fried in cornmeal, I like them better than catfish.” She paused and added, “Like the springs, though, I bet there are water moccasins around.”
“I’m sure you’re right. I’m keeping watch. That’s another reason why we should stay close to shore so we can see the bottom.”
A school of minnows streamed between her legs, and she squealed again. “Oh, that tickles.”
He laughed and splashed water at her. She sputtered and returned the attack. He took off running through the shallows, daring her again, “Bet you can’t catch me.”
She followed, stopping every few seconds to scoop water and splash on his back. But he was right; he was way too quick for her. She wasn’t able to catch him, though she did manage to soak the back of his shirt thoroughly.
Then abruptly, he turned and chased her. Running in a zigzag pattern, but staying close to shore, she managed to elude him for some time, but when he finally caught her, he dumped two handfuls of water down her back.
She screamed as the chilly water cascaded down her spine, and she rounded on him. “That was a mean thing to do!”
“No worse than you soaking my back.”
“You started it by challenging me to chase you.”
“You’re right. I take the blame,” he agreed easily and then lifted her into his arms and headed for shore. “I think we’re sufficiently cooled down, and I need to catch my breath after all this running around.”
She pummeled his chest in protest. “If you’re out of breath, then why don’t you put me down?”
Chad didn’t answer. He didn’t know what he was doing. All he knew was he wanted an excuse to hold her in his arms—nothing more—nothing less.