Excerpt from Cowboy's Kiss
Jackie searched the ranch house for Tanner until she heard the faint strumming of a guitar floating in the air. The tender, husky voice singing along with the chords coaxed her to follow the harmonious melody to its source.
"The veranda," she whispered. With etiquette books in hand, she made her way over to the front door and eased it open.
Tanner leaned against the wooden railing of the veranda with one booted leg hitched on the bottom crossbar to support the guitar nestled against his body. His eyes were closed under the broad brim of his Stetson. All the while, he sang a haunting melody; Jackie let his husky baritone wash over her with pleasure.
After a final chord, he leaned the guitar against the railing. Only then did he notice her standing there. "I didn't hear you come out," he said.
"I didn't mean to interrupt."
"Not at all. I'm just doing my Saturday night gig for my kids. Their grandpa puts the kids to bed and I serenade them to sleep from down here."
"You're a man of many talents."
"Nah. I picked up the guitar out of boredom as a kid. With the storms and tornados around here knocking out power for days on end, you have to entertain yourself or you'll go crazy." His gaze fell to the etiquette books Jackie clutched to her chest. "Are we having that meeting now about refining my kids?"
"If this is a good time," she answered.
He spread his arms nice and wide. "I'm all yours."
"Great," she willed herself to say. She set her books on the small wooden table between the two rocking chairs before sitting. "I'd like to finish with the children's computer manners tomorrow, things like taking turns. And then go over a few dance steps for social occasions like weddings."
"The kids already know how to dance."
"Excellent. What do they know? Waltz? Fox-trot?"
"Two-step, of course. And line dancing."
"Trust me. That's all they need to know."
"Don't you think that's a little limited?"
"Do you know how to two-step, Miss Taylor?"
"No. Not exactly." She squirmed at the admission.
"Now that's what I call limited. Don't you know that two-stepping is a kind of ballroom dancing?"
"I wouldn't exactly—"
"Now, come on. It's true. Looks to me like you're the one who could use a lesson."
"Really, I don't. This is about you and your children tonight, not me."
"Not anymore. This is about us," Tanner said. He sauntered into the house. A moment later he reappeared, leaving the front door open. As a gentle country song played from within the house, Tanner held out his right hand. "May I?"
"But," she hesitated, "I don't know how."
"You'll know how when I'm done with you."
Jackie ignored the catch in her throat. Slowly, she slid her hand into his and she rose from the rocker. In one smooth move, Tanner swept Jackie protectively into his arms.
"Darlin', you hold me like this." He took her wrist and led it around his waist. "And then I hold you like this." He gently held her neck with his hand. "And you hook your other hand right here, that's right, and I hold on here. And now, let's just rock back and forth 'til you get the feel of it."
They swayed to the faint melody that filled the air. Night had fallen and only the few lights on in the house illuminated the veranda. Jackie willed herself to stop shaking. But how could she calm down with Tanner holding her like this? She only hoped she was getting it right.
"Okay, we're moving onto the next step," Tanner said.
"I'm not ready," she whispered.
"Course you are. It's just one small step. I've got you. It's all right. I'm not going anywhere."
Jackie fought for inner control but her sudden feelings gripped her heart. She realized just then that she didn't want to be anyplace else in the world. She looked into his eyes, letting him know that she'd trust him to take the next step.
Tanner dipped his head, bringing his lips close to her ear. "Okay, then. You'll step back one and again for two. Don't worry, I'll lead," he whispered. The warmth of his breath stroked and tickled her skin. With a polished move, Tanner eased into a two-step, moving Jackie back for a few beats before turning and stepping back himself.
Together, they danced across the veranda. And that's when it happened. That's when it hit. Somehow, Tanner Avery had managed to two-step his way into her heart. He soon slowed their dance back down to a sway as they admired the low moon. All the while, Tanner hummed along with the faint country music.
"Is it like this every night?" Jackie murmured, looking up at the sky while nestled against him.
"It can be." He moved his arms around the small of her back. "I mean," he stiffened, "with the exception of a rainy night or two." He resumed his relaxed sway.
"I guess I get so wrapped up in my life back in D.C., I forget to appreciate things like moonlit nights." With her cheek resting against his chest, she let out a small laugh. "Would you believe I can see cherry blossoms from my office window, and yet my assistant has to remind me to look at them?"
"I definitely get the feeling you work too much."
"Well, all that's going to change once—" Hearing the hitch in her voice, she stopped. She couldn't go too far or give away too much. Sharing intimate thoughts could lead to something more, like a relationship, which was the last thing she needed and the last thing Tanner wanted.