Authors: Linda Lael Miller
Tags: #Romance, #Fiction, #Historical, #General
Quinn’s lips moved gently at her temple. “It’s all over now, Calico—there’s no reason to be afraid.”
“I k-killed him,” she whispered.
His hand rose to smooth her damp, tangled hair. “You did what you had to do,” he said. “I’ve already talked to the sheriff, and he agrees that it was obviously self-defense.”
“Why? Why did he want to hurt me?” Melissa fretted, shuddering as she remembered the look in Eustice’s eyes.
“It was me he hated,” Quinn answered, and there was pain as well as resignation in his voice. “He was so full of venom that it eventually ate away his soul.”
Melissa shivered. If she had learned one thing from the incident, it was that life could be snatched away without warning, at any moment. She might have been parted from Quinn forever.
“I love you,” she said, her lips moving against the hairy flesh of his chest.
Quinn poised himself above her, studying her face in the moonlight. “Do you mean that, Mrs. Rafferty?”
Melissa nodded, loving the sound of the name even though it wasn’t rightfully hers yet. “Yes,” she answered solemnly, “but I still want to write articles for the newspaper and help run this hotel, and I’ll make your life miserable, Quinn Rafferty, if you try to make me sit home and knit!”
He gave a raucous burst of laughter. “Loving you is going to take all the energy I can spare, Calico,” he told her, his lips only a breath away from hers. “But you’d better be prepared for one hell of a lot of that.”
Every instinct Melissa possessed cried out for union with Quinn; survival demanded celebration. She wriggled beneath him, delighting in his groan of need and immediate physical response.
She was wearing a nightgown, but he removed that with the deftness of an ardent lover, and they were soon resting on their sides, face to face on the slim mattress, the heat of their skin bonding them one to the other. Melissa, raising herself on one elbow, began by kissing Quinn’s shoulder and soon progressed to his neck.
He trembled and uttered a low moan as she caressed his hip and thigh with her hand. Her fingers brushed his manhood, her touch as soft as velvet, and she laughed with
joy when he grew even harder and hotter. When she caught him in her strong fingers and trained him to the rhythm she wanted, he threw his head back in a primitive gesture of surrender and submitted.
Melissa trailed her lips slowly down over his torso, stopping to pay proper homage to his nipples before kissing the hard muscles of his stomach. When she took him he cried out and turned onto his back. She parted his legs so that they hung down over the sides of the bed, and she freely enjoyed his vulnerability.
He tossed his head from side to side as she pleasured him, a man in delirium, but when he would have given up what she sought to draw from him he suddenly thrust her away. Quinn was gasping as he fought for control of his body and his mind. When he had achieved that, long minutes later, he placed Melissa beneath him and told her, in gruff, gentle tones, exactly what he meant to do.
She was pliant and responsive under his hands and his lips, letting every sweet sensation have free rein, and when he took her she was exalted. Her release was immediate, piercing, and seemingly endless, and Quinn’s ran parallel to it. She gloried in the way his powerful body buckled over hers, and in his low cries of desolate satisfaction.
When he collapsed beside her she touched his face and felt tears there. “Don’t ever leave me, Melissa,” he said when he could speak. “I can handle anything but that.”
She kissed him and snuggled close, and they slept.
When Keith arrived on the Wednesday morning train, looking stern and determined, Melissa was there to meet him. She smiled and stood on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek.
He embraced her, his eyes filled with tenderness. “Are you all right?” he asked, referring to the incident at the picnic the previous Saturday.
Eustice was nothing but a bad memory to Melissa; with characteristic resilience, she’d put the vicious old man out of her mind and concentrated on being happy with his son. “I’m fine,” she answered, linking her arm with her brother’s.
“You didn’t tell the family that Quinn and I aren’t married yet, did you?”
Keith shook his head. “No. None of us is in any position to lecture on the proprieties,” he said, and Melissa wondered what he meant by such a statement.
There was a buggy waiting in front of the depot, and Melissa climbed in and took the reins. In a few minutes they reached the house she and Quinn meant to fill with children.
The parlor had been decorated by an excited Helga. Becky, a widow since Jake Sever’s body had been found behind a saloon on Saturday, had taken her small daughter and gone back to her cabin on the mountain. She would earn her living by raising vegetables and helping Mr. Wong with the cooking at the lumber camp.
Keith took in the streamers and paper bells decorating the parlor, and he was relieved. It was plain enough that he’d been expecting Melissa to stage some kind of rebellion.
Quinn appeared in the doorway, dressed formally and already pulling at his stiff collar, and Mitch Williams was at his side, looking almost as uncomfortable.
Melissa excused herself to go upstairs and change clothes, kissing Quinn on his freshly shaven cheek as she passed him and making a scandalous promise with her eyes.
In the master bedroom Dana, Mary, and Quinn’s Aunt Alice were waiting. Alice and Mary had returned on Monday for Eustice’s burial, out of propriety rather than grief, and stayed for the ceremony. Melissa had confessed to them that the first wedding was not legal, and they’d taken the news with equanimity.
If Quinn had told Mary the truth about her identity, he hadn’t confided as much to Melissa, but there was an air of relief about the girl that made Melissa wonder if she knew, or whether it was simply due to Eustice Rafferty’s no longer being a threat.
With Dana to stand up for her and Mitch to give her away, Melissa was legally and rightfully wed to Quinn Rafferty that afternoon of April 22, 1891, with her brother saying the holy words.
When the ceremony was over she flung herself at Quinn
with a cry of joy, kissing him before he had an opportunity to exercise his groomly rights and kiss her. After that she embraced Keith.
“Be happy,” he said, kissing her forehead.
Melissa turned to her husband and looked up into his dancing brown eyes. “I love you, Quinn Rafferty,” she said clearly, and he put his hands on her waist and responded with a declaration of his own. They were to leave on their honeymoon, a journey to Victoria by steamboat, in a little more than an hour, and Melissa could hardly wait to be alone in their stateroom.
They ate cake and had their pictures taken, and all of that was a happy blur to Melissa. When they were aboard the steamer, however, Quinn refused to take her to their stateroom right away.
“Be patient, Mrs. Rafferty,” he chided, tucking her hand into the crook of his elbow and patting it solicitously. “We have the rest of our lives to do that. Let’s take a walk on deck and enjoy the fresh air.”
Melissa flushed, feeling chagrined. There were several things she wanted to enjoy, and fresh air wasn’t one of them, but she walked the deck with Quinn until they were well on their way out onto the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Victoria, a lovely city with an English flavor, would be a marvelous place to honeymoon.
Finally, when Melissa was beginning to think that Quinn had already tired of her—had indeed married her for her money and not because he loved her—he squired her to their private chamber.
In that spacious room, with its round bed covered in velvet, champagne awaited them, cooling in a silver bucket. But it was the small, beautifully wrapped package on the pillow that caught Melissa’s attention.
She went to it and was already ripping it open when she demanded, “It is for me, isn’t it?”
Quinn laughed. “Oh, yes, Calico. It’s all yours.”
Inside the fancy paper and ribbon was a framed pen-and-ink drawing of a railroad car. Melissa didn’t understand at first, and she looked up at Quinn with questions in her eyes.
He smiled. “I’m having it built because I want you with me as much of the time as possible,” he said. “That is, whenever you can leave the hotel and the story-writing and all that.” An uncertain look crossed his face. “You will come with me, won’t you?”
Melissa’s eyes were filled with happy tears. She set the photograph gently aside and went to Quinn, wrapping her arms around his middle and looking up at him. “You just try keeping me away, Mr. Rafferty,” she said.
He gave her a thorough kiss and then casually removed the broad-brimmed picture hat she’d put on after the wedding. When he’d tossed it aside he unbuttoned the many fastenings of her blue traveling coat. Melissa was trembling by the time he’d removed her dress.
Quinn undid the ribbons that held her camisole closed and bared her breasts, drawing in his breath as he admired and then caressed them. When he bent his lips to them Melissa was utterly content, though wilder needs were starting to gather like a storm inside her.
She stopped Quinn and undressed him. He bore her kisses, caresses, and teasing nips in stoic silence until she’d driven him far beyond the line where a man’s patience would normally end. Then, kneeling on the floor, he made Melissa kneel, too, astraddle his thighs. He took her in a slow, tantalizing glide, supporting her with his hands as she leaned back in proud submission.
His mouth teased and tempted one breast and then the other as he exerted his rhythmic possession, taking her, giving her up, taking her again. Melissa began to plead with him, but he withheld satisfaction, making its price dearer and dearer with every leisurely motion of his hips.
Finally Melissa was forced to battle him for what she needed. In a wild flight to fulfillment she moved with fierce, furious speed, rising and falling upon his manhood. The friction caused him such excruciating pleasure that he had no way of escaping.
When it was over he laughed breathlessly and gave her a swat. “I’ll have my vengeance for that,” he promised, easing
her back so that she lay on the soft rug, still connected to him.
Melissa whimpered as he caressed her breasts and belly and then rolled her nipples between his thumbs and forefingers. She was exhausted and wanted only to crawl into bed and nap for an hour, but it was obvious that Quinn wasn’t going to allow that. He continued to toy with her senses, and soon he was as hard and powerful within her as he had been before.
“Oh, God, Quinn,” she whispered, “please don’t make me wait—please.”
He shifted so that he was poised above her and kissed her once before granting her plea by thrusting deep within her. The culmination came to them both at the same time, and it was volcanic, wringing the last bit of strength from each of them.
They climbed into bed and slept, and since the trip from Port Riley to Victoria was not overly long, they had to hurry to be dressed in time to leave the ship.
Tuesday, December 29, 1891
I know you and Harlan have been waiting and watching for this letter, so I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. Your eleventh grandchild has arrived: Our baby girl was born the day after Christmas, and we plan to christen her Katherine, for you. Katie is very healthy, and so am I, thank you very much. The doctor wants me to stay in bed for another week, but I’m getting up tomorrow.
Needless to say, the holiday season has been a very happy time for us, and, we hope, for you as well. We spent Christmas Day in Port Hastings, where Maggie made a huge and delicious dinner for us all, and there were lots of presents, as always. Adam grumbled that the tree was nothing but a fire hazard, as usual, and we all ignored him.
Thank you for the beautiful set of silverware to go
with the china you gave us as a wedding gift. It’s a perfect match.
Anyway, we were on the way home from Port Hastings in the new railroad car when Katie decided to join us. You should have seen Quinn’s face when he realized what was happening! He ran to look for a doctor in the passenger car, but all he came back with was a conductor. Between the two of them they brought your granddaughter into the world. Need I say that I’ve never gotten a better Christmas present?
I was glad to read in your letter that you had forgiven me for writing all those books without telling you. I cried for joy when you said that what made you furious was that you hadn’t gotten to read them. I’ve been clipping out the episodes of my newspaper saga about Harriet, the circus woman, and I’ll send them along soon.
It’s strange, but I’m beginning to find my work at the hotel almost as challenging and exciting as writing. (I imagine both pursuits will pale in comparison to being a mother.) Quinn lets me have a free hand at the Seaside, concentrating most of his efforts on the lumber operation and our investments.
We hear from Mary often, and she visits whenever she can. Her eyesight seems to be returning in stages, and we all have hopes, although one can never be completely certain how far the process will go. In any case, Mary is engaged to a nice young man who attends the university and is very happy.
You asked me for a report on the boys, and I can honestly tell you that they were all well and happy when I saw them over Christmas. Jeff has not only accepted Fancy’s work in the suffrage movement, he’s proud of it. Adam is working too hard, but you know how he loves that, and I suspect that Keith is writing a book, though he won’t admit to anything. (Quinn says you can bet it isn’t about a woman bound for destruction.)
I’m tiring now but will write more next week. Please give Harlan our love and esteem.
Your loving daughter,
P.S. I want to have another baby right away, and I’ve told Quinn, too. Whispered it right in his bad ear!