He swallowed hard and clenched his fists at his sides. While he watched her he felt awe at her beauty and innate grace. God, how he wanted that woman.
Once a fool always a fool, he admonished himself.
The laughter he felt was at himself and his shortcomings. She was beautiful and a more dangerous woman he'd never encountered.
He turned away. Making no excuses for himself he walked into the woods, bow and arrow in hand. With no intention of hunting game, he walked hard and fast until the sun settled on the highest mountain peak. Then he ran. Following familiar animal trails, he raced the wind until his sides ached and his heart thundered in his chest. He felt no peace of mind, no relief from the burning agony he'd lived with since the day he met her across a poker table in Mist Harbor. Since the day he'd admired her ability to drink him under the table and the day he longed to touch and taste such heartrendingly forbidden fruit.
The small mountain pool was opaque now, blacker than a storm swept night. Yet the water beckoned to him, called out his name. He disrobed, telling himself he was all kinds of a stupid idiot. The weather had turned, winter only a few hours away. Yet he quickly stepped forward. He stood in front of the water naked, praying for what? Redemption came to mind, revenge following close on its heels.
The cleansing of his soul.
Etta Barringer needed salvation. Not him. Her soul was tarnished. Not his. He'd done nothing wrong.
In one fluid, graceful movement he dove. Ice water ripped around him, frigid, life giving atonement. His head broke the surface and he shook the water from his hair, sending droplets flying. A gasp filled him and he dove again, and again, and then another time until a weakness over came him and he swam to shore.
Every shadow assumed the appearance of a woman, every shift in the clouds with moonlight pouring through tree branches brought renewed ache to his heart and the need for satisfaction. Only Etta could give him the satisfaction he craved. But he didn't dare touch Etta.
He'd burn in hell if he did. Yet he couldn't even freeze her from his mind.
Quickly, he toweled dry with his shirt, pulled on his buckskins, and left the clearing, feeling little better after the frigid swim than he had before.
The lady haunted him; touched his soul and unraveled his nerves until he couldn't think straight let alone function normally.
Now, day and night, he thought of nothing else.