Authors: Kate Watterson
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Western, #Erotica
It was empowering to understand that as a woman, she could want him freely, and at the same time offer what he wanted so obviously.
“I…” he said, but the pitchfork fell and he swallowed hard. “I…”
Victoria was not quite the innocent miss she’d been when the wagon train was attacked. She stepped forward and began to unbutton her blouse, each fastening slowly slipping loose, his gaze riveted on the movement of her fingers.
“Gawd,” he said in hoarse irreverence as she slipped it off.
His mouth coming down hard over hers was not a surprise. There had never been a doubt that he would be an impetuous lover and when he hauled her up against his hard body, Victoria gasped, but it was part in laughter and part in capitulation.
Jace responded by circling his arm around her waist and pulling her closer so that she wasn’t sure quite how she would be able to breathe, compounded by how he pressed her against the wall as he kissed her.
And kissed her. Deeply. As if he were staking a claim, his mouth possessive and his hands hard against her hips. Jace didn’t give quarter, but she hadn’t expected it either, and Victoria slid her arms around his neck and surrendered.
This was exactly why she’d followed him and offered herself.
“All I do is think of this,” he said against her mouth, his long fingers parting her shirt. “Touching you, having you. Ah…darlin’.”
The fragrance of the hay was sweet, vibrant, and when he cupped her breast she arched at the sensation, his touch sending tingles along every nerve-ending, her nipples instantly tightening. A callused thumb circled the taut peak, and she sighed, closing her eyes.
Jace bent his head. “Tori…”
The brush of his hair against her skin was sensuous and his mouth hot against her nipple. The swirl of his tongue was enough to make her moan, her hands sliding to his shoulders as he suckled her. “Oh.”
“I’m trying to not be too eager,” he apologized, nuzzling the underside of her breast, “but I’ve damn near died for wanting this…wanting you. This might be short and sweet, but I’ve been on the edge for weeks.”
She was a little shaken, she had to admit, by the feverish level of his desire. When he unfastened her pants and stripped them off she raised her hips to help him and then watched as he took off his clothing, tossing it carelessly aside, his hungry gaze scouring her bared body.
There was no question he was both virile and impressive, his cock swollen in arousal, his lean, nude body pinning hers with eagerness, his mouth nuzzling the hollow under her ear as he parted her legs with his knees. He entered her with a swift thrust, the wall hard at her back, his hands lifting her into the penetration.
“This is the closest I’ll ever come to heaven,” he said, his breath hot against her ear. “You’re so damn tight around me.” His hand moved to the tie on her braid and tugged it free, and he wove his fingers through the loosened strands of her hair, his arms supportive but her back still to the wall. Jace kissed her throat. “I need to move.”
And he did.
Not slowly. He wasn’t that way; she’d never even expected it. But fast, with a quick withdrawal and then an impetuous thrust, the rhythm swift, her body adjusting to this unknown position, the friction surprisingly arousing even though she’d always imagined a woman was supposed be the submissive one on the bottom, the man poised above her. Standing up, though her feet weren’t even touching the floor, his hold the only thing supporting her, wasn’t how she imagined a man and a woman coupled.
At least not in the polite world, but she wasn’t there any longer, was she?
If those prim society matrons could see her now. Lady Victoria, her hair spilling free, naked in the morning in a barn, letting a handsome young American cowboy have his wicked way with her…
just be envious.
Desire turned into an entity she couldn’t escape, his scent and feel above and in her distracting enough she didn’t care about the damaged roof of the barn showing bits of the sky, or the scent of the hay, or the soft sounds of the horses moving in their stalls in the background.
What she did care about was the warm feel of Jace holding her and the exhale of breath into her ear. “Perfect,” he muttered thickly, “just like I imagined, and damn me to hell, I’ve imagined this a lot of times.”
Maybe they were both damned to hell because she liked it too. Liked the feel of taut muscles under her fingertips, the intense, heavy-lidded look in his eyes as he made love to her, his stare captivating and at once solemn, and yet holding that hint of vulnerability that so intrigued her.
Why is that
, she wondered, lifting into his next inward glide, because it wasn’t at all what she was attracted to about Robert or Cole.
But now, she found, drowning in the sensations of pleasure and possession, she didn’t even want to think about them. It was just him, and his turbulent kiss as he took her mouth again, the push of his hips as he joined their bodies feverishly, driving himself so deep…deep…
Now that she understood how to reach for the sun, it burst upon her, like a prairie sunrise, colorful and glorious, the breath leaving her lungs as she tightened her arms and clung to him in the burst of light.
The moment was heated, extraordinary, especially when he stiffened and dropped his head, exhaling against her temple in a low, telling groan of release.
“I told myself,” he said with lazy grin as he finally lifted his head, their bodies joined in the aftermath, both of them damp and breathless, “the waiting was worth it. That’s why it didn’t kill me when you were with Cole and Robert. I knew it would be like
“Like what?” Victoria’s smile was tremulous.
“That it would change my life,” he answered.
“You changed mine too,” she answered, touching his taut cheek.
“Our list is getting fairly long.” Robert sat at the freshly scrubbed table. “We’re going to need two wagons, at least.”
“All the basic staples,” Jace agreed pragmatically. “Flour, sugar, coffee, salt in bulk, and cotton for new curtains, gingham, bedding, tack, oats, rope, soap, nails, wire for the fences—”
Cole broke in. “We don’t have to do it all in this first trip. Let’s get the essentials and not draw attention to ourselves. If we spend too much at once, people will talk, maybe even get curious about us.”
The quick way Victoria glanced up wasn’t lost on him. They had yet to really discuss why he was wanted by the law, much less how he got the money for the ranch and supplies. Still, it was going to need to be addressed down the line. She had a quick intellect underneath that glorious crown of golden hair, and she knew full well this was not simple.
“I don’t need anything,” she said quietly. “I don’t mind the clothes I wear now at all.”
Cole said more roughly than he intended, “We can’t give you silk and satin, but you must be tired of dressing like a boy.”
“I had not really considered it,” she said in her elegant way, as if instead of a rough, raw-hewn plank of wood set on two crossed logs slung together, she was at a polished table and a footman hovered to pour her some claret. Victoria reached to pick up a battered tin cup. “It is certainly better than the torn nightdress you found me in. I was half-naked, and I am still trying to imagine what might have happened to me if you hadn’t come along.”
That was a valid point, but he inherently disliked the idea of her gratitude, even though they’d been over this ground before.
“Darlin’—” Jace started to say, pushing his hat back on his head, his blond hair in disarray.
“My clothes are fine.”
The edge to her tone and terseness of the interruption held a hint of defensiveness. It made them all think before they said anything, a mutual wariness that didn’t need to be stated out loud giving them pause. Cole thought he understood too. She wasn’t a kept woman and didn’t want to be.
That was fine with him, he didn’t like being indebted to anyone either, and pride was important. When a man—or a woman—lost that, they tended to drift away in his experience. Too much acceptance wasn’t a good thing—he’d seen more than one man fall because of that, but once a person started to not care any longer, the world could be pretty cruel.
So it was nice to see Victoria lift her chin and look at them each, one by one. Her hair was caught neatly back by a leather thong he’d given her, her light blue blouse already faded from multiple washings, but he had to admit that from an entirely male perspective, he’d love to see her in a dress, with ribbons in her hair and a bonnet to shade that perfect complexion.
However, she was beautiful no matter what.
Robert was a hell of a lot better than he and Jace at this sort of situation. He said calmly, “I think we all need some new clothes. It isn’t like we are going to go to town very often. I’ve got shirts, pants, boots, and yes, material for a few dresses on my list. What else do we need?”
It looked like Victoria was going to continue to argue, so Cole said abruptly, “Ammunition. Feed for the horses in case the hay doesn’t come in like we think it will. Soap, thread. A couple of new bridles.”
“I don’t care so much about the dresses, but if it isn’t asking too much, paper,” she said unexpectedly. “I’d like to write.”
That startled him, since she’d made it clear her family and friends in England were no longer a part of her life. Cole asked, “To who?”
He almost kept the edge of jealousy out of his voice but didn’t succeed entirely because Jace shot him a speculative glance and his face took on a grim cast as well. Robert was the only one who seemed unperturbed. “Of course we’ll buy you paper. Envelopes as well?”
“No.” Victoria shook her head. “Not to someone, but about…
All three of them looked at her, not quite sure what she meant.
“A journal,” she explained quietly. “I wouldn’t mind a means to set down my thoughts.”
Set down her thoughts?
As someone who had spent the past few years of his adult life evading any trace of his actual existence, Cole found it a bit hard to comprehend, but then again, he was not cast on foreign shores either. Everyone dealt with adversity their own way.
His initial impulse was to ask for her to not mention his name. He wasn’t even sure why he’d told her the truth from the very beginning. Cole Thune was dead to a lot of people, and resurrecting that notorious label was the last thing he wanted.
But, on a second consideration, whatever made her happy was fine with him.
He was adjusting to that. In his entire life he hadn’t, to his recollection, wanted to make another person happy. He’d cared about others, of course. His mother before her death. His father too, though they’d been more strangers than anything else. Jace and Robert were like the brothers he’d never had, and he trusted them enough they shared this ranch…and a bit more than that now, though none of them had ever anticipated this situation.
“Thoughts about us?” he asked bluntly.
“Yes.” Victoria blushed, a slow tinge to her perfect skin, but she didn’t look away. “I suppose it must seem odd to you, but I am used to having women to talk to on a regular basis. Not that we always discussed personal matters, but it was nice to simply chat. That does not seem to be a choice here, so a journal is a logical substitute.”
It was true, Cole realized in amusement, none of them was interested in chatting. They got up, went out on the ranch and worked, and when they came in, they ate dinner and occasionally Jace played his guitar by the fire, usually Spanish tunes he’d learned from a few vaqueros he’d encountered on the trail. It was an uncomplicated life in many ways.
Victoria was not one of them—used to, and content in, a solitary life. Each one of them had experienced the pleasure of her body and the joy of her exhaled breath in his ear, the sensuous glide of her hands across his back, but that was not all there was to her. She was still a refined English lady used to society and fine things, and if possible, he would give her anything she asked for…
, Cole thought with sardonic amusement,
I sound like a lovesick cowboy.
a lovesick cowboy.
That he hadn’t even thought about it happening to him didn’t make it impossible. He’d liked women before, hell he liked
. But it really hadn’t been like this, and if he had to call their hand, he knew Jace and Robert would agree with him.
“Doesn’t seem odd at all,” he said with what he hoped was evident sincerity even if his voice was a little thick. “Whatever you want, it’s yours.”
It was ironic to think that back in London, with all the whys and wherefores of proper behavior firmly in place, she’d have to choose, though it stretched the limits of her imagination to think of Jace wearing a cravat. Or Cole executing a waltz on a ballroom floor. Robert might be able to pass for a gentleman if the serviceable gun strapped to his hip was taken away and polished Hessians substituted for his well-worn boots, but the other two—no.
What did it matter? Refinement had no value when it came to survival in a place this wild.
As she watched the two horses and their riders top the ridge, she sensed Cole behind her. Not because she could hear him; he habitually wore doeskin leggings and moccasins and moved so silently that it was impossible to know he was coming, but some sort of instinctive reaction alerted her to his presence on the porch. Victoria turned and smiled, but it might have been a little tremulous. “How long will they be gone?”
“Five days. They’ll make good time, I’d guess, to get back here as soon as possible. The ride over will be a lot faster than the drive back with the wagons.”
And telling enough, he’d been the one to stay behind. It was a lesson in restraint to not ask him the details of what had happened, and not for the first time. She didn’t believe he’d ever murdered anyone. Not for one moment. She said neutrally, “Jace told me he was wanted too. Why is it he isn’t worried about going into town?”
“He has a different story.”