“Gol durn it, woman! Alls I want is one little kiss. That ain’t askin’ too much, is it?”
Jesse slapped his dusty stetson against his hip sending a cloud of fine dirt wafting through the air. He coughed on it and waved the hat around, stirring up more dirt and making Mary cough too.
She raised her white glove to her mouth and coughed into her little hankie. It was the most feminine, genteel sound Jesse could imagine. Even the way she coughed set his spurs to quivering. But it was her hazel eyes hidden under the shadow of her bonnet that had done him in.
He was a lost fool. The other ranch hands ribbed him mercilessly over his lovesick mooning after Mary Louise Harrison. Her daddy owned the ranch, and there was no way on God’s green earth ol’ Frank Harrison was going to let his only daughter marry any ranch hand.
No. She was meant for bigger, grander things, but Jesse couldn’t seem to get it through his head that if he didn’t back off soon he might not only lose his job, but he’d never find work in Montana ever again. Frank Harrison wanted his daughter to marry the next rancher over, a widower by the name Tom Dunn, but all the hands knew she was not for the match since she hadn’t been even a little quiet when he’d tried to convince her of it a few weeks before.
Up until then Jesse had only pined from afar, but once he’d heard the spirit and fire in her refusal and seen the flashing flecks of gold in her hazel eyes when she’d stormed out of the ranch house he’d fallen off the conservative moonin’ wagon and given Mary every opportunity to see he loved her from the tips of his boots to the top of his cowboy hat.
“Jesse Livingston, you are gonna get yourself shot. My daddy doesn’t put up with his cowboys takin’ a shine to me. Did you hear what he did to Billy Jackson?”
She fluttered her eyelashes over her sweet round hazels and tied the knots in Jesse’s stomach tighter. He licked his lips and nodded. “I heard. The fellas won’t let me forget, but darlin’, you’re the one for me. I’m gonna prove it.”
He watched her teasing smile turn to one of curiosity and something he hoped was pleasure as she sat on the fence swinging her feet next to where he leaned.
“How you gonna do that, Jess?”
He stood up straight and slapped his stetson on. “Miss Mary Harrison, I’m going to get my own cows and have my own ranch. Do . . . will you wait for me?”
He couldn’t mask the trepidation in his voice. Mary was the one for him, and if she said no he thought he might just die right there. He held his breath and made himself look in to her shining hazel eyes. She didn’t answer right away, but she did slide off the rail and stand facing him. He figured it was in his favor that she didn’t run away right then, but he still couldn’t breathe while he waited for her answer.
“Jesse Livingston, are you askin’ me to marry you?”
He pulled his hat off his head and gripped the edges in both hands, wringing them tight. “Yes. Yes, ma’am, I am. Would you do me the honor of bein’ my wife?”
“Here it’s been six months of me wishing you’d ask already. Yes, Jesse, I’ll wait for you.”
Jesse’s face broke out in the widest grin he’d ever had, so wide it hurt in the best sort of way. He was beyond caring what anyone said or did and without thinking grabbed Mary around the waist and pulled her close for a long kiss.
He set her down and took a step back, his grin as wide as before. With the sound of his hazel-eyed beauty’s laughter filling his ears he whooped and hollered, waving his hat around like a fool. Jesse Livingston was the happiest man alive at that very moment, and no one could tell him otherwise.