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Master Alex and Mistress Martha have words.

His smile faded as he addressed her. "Alright, Miss Connor, I'm about to toss you the end of this rope. Please allow me to do the pulling. If you pull on the rope, there's every chance of me landing in quicksand instead of you winding up on dry ground. Do you understand?"

Becky grimaced, holding her tongue. "Yes, Mr. Easton, I understand perfectly. I will hold the rope passively."

He tossed, and she did just that.

"Ready?" Brody asked.

Becky nodded, nervous now, though she'd been infuriated a moment before.

"All right. I'm going to walk back the way I came, staying on the rocks, and pulling you with me until you are able to stand. Don't let go of the rope, not even if you're on top of a boulder. Wait for me to come to you."

Becky nodded as he turned away, both hands on the rope, her face and body tense.

Brody stopped before he'd turned all the way around, pivoting slowly back to face her.

'What?" she asked.

"Are your feet on solid ground?" he asked.

She nodded again. "Yes, there's a tiny . . . tussock . . . I suppose you could say, but there's nothing around it."

"You're in no danger of tumbling off the tussock?"

She shook her head.

Brody squatted down, propped his elbows on his knees, and stared.

"What?" Becky repeated, frustration creeping into her tone.

"Why won't you allow me to call on you, Miss Connor?"

Becky's chin fell a full inch.

"It's not because you don't find favor with me, so what is it?"

Becky recovered almost immediately. "Mr. Easton, perhaps we could discuss this when I myself am not in danger of becoming a fossil."

"As soon as I haul you out of that quicksand, you'll be on your mount and away. Since I'm not allowed to call on you, we will have no opportunity to discuss it later. Now, back to my question . . . you would not have allowed me the liberty of that kiss if you didn't find favor with me, so what is it?"

The canyon was dim, but Becky's blush was plain to see. As the fire receded from her cheeks, her brows drew together. "Mr. Easton, really!"

"Have you a fondness for someone else?"

Becky's mouth tightened.

"Have you?" he repeated insistently.

Her eyes on the shore to his left, she shook her head in a small, violent motion.

"Is it my lack of family connections?"

She flicked a look at him and frowned, with another small head-shake.

"My financial circumstances?"

That was too goading for her not to answer. "Perhaps I wish to spend time with less insulting companions than you, Mr. Easton."

He grinned at that, but didn't let up. "Well, what is it, then?"

Becky's desire to see Brody land face-down in the mud was only a hair weaker than her desire to be out of the self-same mud. "Mr. Easton, I simply have no interest in romance, with you or any other man."

Brody hoped his face didn't show his surprise, but that was one response he'd never considered. He stared at her.

She continued to peruse the bank, her jaw set and her fingers clenching the rope.

"I'd like to be allowed the occasional pleasure of your company, nonetheless. Please let me spend at least a few hours talking with you before I return to my home in San Francisco."

Becky's stomach clenched when he mentioned San Francisco, but she remained firm. "No, thank you, Mr. Easton. My mind is made up."

Brody lost his patience. Even neck-deep in sludge, with streaks of grit across her cheeks and on up into her hairline, the woman was unbearably enticing. He wanted to haul her out of that mud pit, strip the dirty clothes from her body, toss her in a clean puddle, and bury his face between her legs. More than that, he wanted to know her, to know what it was that kept her so aloof, so determined not to give in to the desire he knew she felt. He stood.

"I wonder what you're wearing, Miss Connor?"

Becky's eyes flew to his face, but Brody was a mere silhouette against the cerulean Texas sky, his expression obscured by shadows.

"Since you're out here on your own, I suspect you've lef

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