The Wayward Heart
The rain had stopped. Only a drizzle fell from the grimy sky as dawn struggled to break through the clouded horizon, sending a pale, watery glimmer of whitish light around the edges of shredding black clouds to indicate that the new day was attempting to arrive.
Huddled near the mouth of the cave, Bryony watched in silence as some of the night’s darkness retreated, leaving a bleak, rain-washed scene of muddied mountain and barren, soaked plains.
The wind was now only a low, faint echo of what it had been last night—like the moaning of a weary ghost. Her bones chilled as she listened to it, and looked out over the desolation of the storm-ravaged landscape.
She’d been awake for some time, and had taken the liberty of removing Jim’s buckskin jacket from his pack to wrap about her nakedness. The pain in her twisted ankle had subsided, but she still felt a few twinges as she turned back into the darkness of the cave. The fire had dwindled to a few glowing embers, giving off little heat or light. In the few flickering sparks that remained, she could just make out the ruggedly handsome features of the man sleeping on the saddle blanket.
Stepping closer, she knelt beside him, staring with wondering eyes at his face.
In sleep, Jim Logan looked peaceful, and unexpectedly young.
Bryony guessed his age at about twenty-eight, though he looked at the moment somehow boyish. His long dark eyelashes curled upon the lean, tanned cheeks, and his mouth had lost its sardonic twist.
Her gaze shifted to his bronzed, muscular form, and she remembered the strength of his arms around her, the lean, hard lines of his body as it had locked intimately last night with her own slim frame.
A thrill quivered through her at the memory, but even as it did, she was also filled with an aching sadness and remorse. She felt ashamed of what she’d done last night, ashamed that she’d allowed herself to yield to the one man she’d sworn to hate, the one man she must not love.
She knew what she’d done with Jim Logan could never happen again.
As if aware of her thoughts, he shifted restlessly in his sleep, then awoke with a suddenness that said much about his way of life.
He sat up fully alert, as if ready for any danger. When he saw Bryony kneeling beside him, though, his gaze softened.
“Good mornin’, darling,” he drawled in his slow, deep voice which never failed to make her heart beat faster.
Bryony blushed, embarrassed at having been caught staring at him. Suddenly, ridiculously, she felt shy.
For what was there to say to him after what they’d experienced together last night?
What was he thinking about her—about everything?
Meeting his gaze with an effort, she was all too aware of the blush heating her cheeks as his eyes pierced hers and seemed to touch her innermost soul. In confusion, she looked away.
He pulled her down and into his arms and kissed her very gently.
His hands glided gently across her skin as he drew the buckskin jacket away and Bryony felt the now familiar warmth stirring instantly within her. But before it could build to an irresistible intensity, she pulled away from his embrace.
“No, Jim,” she whispered. “We can’t. Not... again.”
An unexpected smile crossed his features.
“Jim?” He laughed quietly. “Do you know how long it’s been since anyone has called me by that name?”
She heard the note of bitterness in his voice.
“Lawmen and my enemies call me Logan, and my friends and acquaintances call me Texas. It’s been at least nine or ten years since anyone has used that name for me. I reckon I like it coming from you, Bryony.”
She smiled. “I think it fits you. Especially since you don’t seem at all frightening this morning.”
“I reckon you’re the only person in these parts who’d ever say that,” he remarked grimly. “Don’t you know I’m a wicked, cold-blooded monster, Bryony? A man without a heart or a conscience? I’m slightly less than human apparently. Despite my all too human behavior last night,” he added.
Something in his tone suggested that for once, his sarcasm was turned not upon others, but upon himself. Watching him, Bryony was caught by surprise at the sudden glimpse of pain behind the mockery. It came to her with such blinding clarity that she wondered why she’d never seen it before.
As the bleak morning light poked its uncertain way into the depths of the cave, she saw clearly what lay beneath the surface of his cool, mocking nonchalance. There were lines around his eyes that revealed deep pain, and a tenseness in his mouth due not to cruelty, but to cynicism about life.
Jim Logan, she thought suddenly, wears a mask to the world—a stone-hard mask to disguise the unhappy, bitter man inside.
She realized in astonishment that the cool carelessness that seemed so much a part of his demeanor had been developed to cover up whatever feelings he might nourish deep in his heart. He was hiding, hiding from whatever emotions plagued him beneath that stony surface.
Texas Jim Logan, the legendary, feared gunfighter whose reputation was known all across the West, was just a human being after all, a man who had known pain and unhappiness, who struggled through life with a hidden burden he shouldered wordlessly.
She reached out suddenly, impulsively, to touch his hand, wanting to take him in her arms and comfort him. But then the moment of vulnerability was gone, and he was the old Texas Jim Logan again, smiling sardonically at her, the mocking gleam back in his eyes.
“Don’t feel too sorry for me, ma’am,” he told her coolly. “I reckon I’m just as bad as anyone else—no better, no worse.”
“Really?” she replied softly. “I’m not so sure. I’ve just realized that I don’t know anything about you.”
He shrugged. “What’s there to know?”
“Who you really are, where you came from. Is Jim Logan your real name? Do you have a family?”
At the word “family,” a muscle twitched in his jaw, and he surged to his feet. Stalking to the pile of their clothing he began to dress, pulling on his dark blue trousers almost fiercely.
“I told you once before, little tenderfoot. You ask too many questions. That’s a sure way to get yourself killed in these parts.”
“I’m not frightened of you.”
His face contorted with sudden anger. Taking three quick strides toward her, he jerked her to her feet. “Well, you should be. Don’t you know I could kill you in less than an instant? I could shoot you dead in a flash, or better yet, beat and strangle you to death as you think I did to Daisy Winston!”
Despite the furious blazing blue of his eyes, and the taut grip in which he held her, Bryony met his gaze fearlessly.
“I already told you, Jim. I don’t think you killed her. And I don’t think you’ll kill me either. So what are you going to do now?”
She stared at him challengingly, her beautiful eyes soft and smoky green in the cave’s dimness. Staring down into her upturned face, something snapped inside him.
He made a strangled sound and then drew her close against him, wrapping his arms tightly around her.
“Bryony, you’re so sweet, so damned sweet,” he muttered hoarsely. “I could never hurt you—and I’ll be damned if you don’t know it!”
A feeling of warmth and tenderness the likes of which she’d never known before flooded through her and she raised her gaze to his face. Gently, she kissed his lips and then touched his cheek with her hand.
“There’s so much I don’t know. Please, won’t you tell me? Tell me how this man who has twice saved my life came to be the most dangerous gunman in the west.”