Authors: Kate Watterson
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Western, #Erotica
“I’ve heard the term,” Cole interrupted in a silky voice, holding her gaze. “And no, I don’t think I qualify. Seduction implies a certain finesse I doubt I have. When I want a woman, she damn well knows it.”
That look singed her very soul. He wanted
, it said.
“I see,” she murmured, with effort not averting her eyes.
Robert also had a singular intent expression on his handsome face. “I think we’d better ride on.”
“I agree.” Jace approached, his spurs giving a slow musical jingle. “We’re two days out from the ranch, if that. Let’s move on if Lady Victoria isn’t too tired.”
tired. She was dirty and smelled like smoke, and her thighs, bottom and the spot on her back hurt, but the idea of a roof over her head again appealed so much she stood and nodded. “I’m quite fine.”
“You sure?” Robert was no doubt the most thoughtful one. Jace was wild, and Cole, well, Cole was
“I’m sure,” she said, though she barely managed to stifle a moan of discomfort when she was helped back into the saddle.
By the time the sun had started to lower, born horsewoman or not, she was definitely ready to be off her horse, whom they had all christened Lucky. It was obvious they were more familiar with this terrain, for they chose a spot near a river they called the Big Sandy, with willows dipping trailing fingers into the water and stately cottonwoods.
Water. Washing. Both she and her clothes needed it badly. It was the prettiest camp they’d had yet, and all of them had been exotically pretty, at least to her. Victoria slid stiffly to the ground before any of them could help her, and announced, “I am going to bathe.”
“Not alone,” Cole said in clipped tones as he heaved his saddle off his horse. “We’ve had some trouble with the Utes around here. One of us needs to stand guard.”
“You can all watch for all I care,” she said with more bravado than she actually felt, but truthfully, she was too sticky and uncomfortable
care. She’d endured a lot lately from the horrible scandal, to the turbulent sea voyage, to a country she’d never seen, to vengeful Indians, then to wild sweeping fires. There was a sense of adventure inside her she never knew existed. Here she was, dressed in boy’s clothes, in the care of three men who were not precisely on the correct side of the law. “All I know is I need to wash away the stench of the smoke.”
“I’ll go.” Robert and Jace both said it at the same, then exchanged a look of mutual annoyed amusement.
go,” Cole declared into the ensuing silence. He glanced at his companions with a keen-eyed stare. “You make camp.”
It had become obvious to her very shortly after they rescued her that Cole was the leader, though they all had their roles. A small flush spread over her body as she turned and walked down the slope toward the river, because she knew earlier she had issued an invitation, and she had reason to believe Cole had every intention of accepting it.
Once upon a time, she believed she would lose her virginity in the traditional way. A bed in a fashionable bedroom, with a staid husband who had married her for duty to sire the requisite heir, dousing the lights as he came to her on their wedding night. Later, she would then join the circles of ladies who whispered of distaste over their husband’s attentions as they drank insipid tea and nibbled on dull pastries.
But nothing in her life lately had happened the traditional way. She could have remained in London and become a rich man’s whore, taking money and shelter for her favors, but a future as an expensive courtesan had never been an option in her mind.
This was different. This was
Where had this wanton come from? At the moment her heart pounded, and as she climbed down the bank toward the river, there wasn’t trepidation but exhilaration coiling inside her. Cole easily caught up with her, his long stride slowing to accommodate hers, his rifle in his hand. “You in a hurry?” he asked, an edge of amusement in his voice.
“Maybe a little.” She wondered if he could hear the pounding of her heart.
There would be no distaste. She just knew it. But then again, he was not her husband—she wasn’t sure what he was…guardian? Companion? Friend? But she did know one thing. He wouldn’t hurt her. He wouldn’t abandon her, either, because he and Jace and Robert could have done that already. That was extremely important in a life that had lost all stability.
The river was low, earning its name with small bars of pale gold sand, but it did have pools in certain places and she eyed one with appreciation, sitting down to pull off her boots.
“I’ll turn my back.” Cole’s voice was much throatier than his usual brusque tone. “It looks safe enough but you can’t tell and I’d better stay close by just in case anything—”
“Join me.” Victoria stood and started to unbutton her blouse. It took some courage to actually open the cloth and discard the garment, standing there just in her boyish pants, but she did it.
Then she unfastened her trousers, stepped out of them and waded gingerly into the water.
It seemed to him, if Cole correctly remembered the classical studies rammed down his throat in his youth, that goddesses frequently tortured their inferior human counterparts, and he sure as hell hoped that wasn’t what was happening at the moment.
It was a soft evening, the kind he loved, with the sun lowering in a haze of red, the shadows of the trees thickening along the soft flow of the river, and the air smelled fresh and clean. Victoria, gloriously bare from the top of her shining head to her toes, was thigh deep in the water, her pale skin unblemished except for the red welt Robert had treated earlier, the only imperfection visible.
She was Venus, he decided, his cock at full mast at once from the view. Temptation incarnate, especially for someone like him—an outlaw, no longer used to the refined women he’d left behind when he’d ridden west and found notoriety. Full firm breasts with soft rosy nipples, a narrow waist that flared gently to her hips, and the small dainty triangle between her thighs, a darker gold than the pale shade of her hair…
As he watched her shake back her waist-length curls and sink down in the water, he fought off the urge to simply jump in and haul her into his arms. The memory of what she felt like against him in the river the night before would undoubtedly haunt him forever.
His jaw clenched. She didn’t know what she was asking.
Or did she? He’d wager high stakes she’d never stripped naked in front of a man before. So far she’d been modest in every way, and even now—though the throbbing need between his legs made it hard to think straight—her face was just slightly averted and he could see the flush on her smooth skin.
“The water feels very nice,” she said haltingly, her breasts submerged enough he could only see the creamy top curves.
He really didn’t live by rules any longer—he’d abandoned them a long time ago when falsely accused of a crime he didn’t commit. But he had his own set of scruples. Rule one was he’d never force himself on an unwilling woman.
But God, he wanted her.
“Does it?” he said, still on the bank, holding his rifle.
She nodded but didn’t quite look at him.
The invitation hadn’t been given lightly.
“You really want me to join you?”
“If you’d like.”
“Oh, I’d like all right,” he drawled softly, “but you need to be sure you know what you’re doing. A naked man and a naked woman together usually spells one thing. Even a pampered English lady ought to know that, but I want it clear between us.”
“I’m no longer all that naïve, Cole.” Her voice was quiet over the gentle ripple of the water. “I’ve been orphaned, saddled with the stigma of my father’s debt, robbed of my home, my future, thrown first on the mercy of distant relatives and then the kindness of complete strangers. I left my country and my old life behind when I decided to come here. If I wish to offer you something society would censure me for, well, I hardly think it matters out here.” She made a sweeping gesture at the river, the rolling hills, the mountains just visible in the distance. “Trust me when I tell you that in the eyes of fashionable society I would be irrevocably ruined after spending the past eight days in the company of three men without a chaperone anyway.” Then she smiled, finally looked directly at him and added, “There is a certain freedom in being free of the previous constraints in my life. Last night when you kissed me…well, it was pleasant.”
Pleasant? He’d give her a hell of a lot more than pleasant.
After one more swift keen-eyed assessment of the shoreline and trees, Cole unbuckled his gunbelt and set it on a flat rock, laid his rifle down next to it for easy retrieval, and unbuttoned his shirt. His moccasins went next, and he was more than aware of her watching him as he straightened and unfastened his pants. It was a relief to let his straining cock free, and the widening of her eyes as she stared at his erection confirmed what he already knew.
“You’re a virgin.” He tossed his pants aside and splashed into the water, walking toward her. Such a stupid statement, but then there wasn’t blood left in his brain at the moment. Of course she was untouched.
That was about to change.
He probably should leave her that way, but he wasn’t known for always doing what he
do. The water was cool on his heated skin, and it was no wonder, for he was on fire. Pebbles from the bottom of the riverbed bit into his feet, but he couldn’t care less. She was still immersed in the small pool, and he reached for her, lifting her up so water streamed off her flawless skin, her damp hair spilling over her slender shoulders.
“You should have more than this,” he said gruffly, looking into the pure blue of her eyes.
“Are you proposing, Mr. Thune?” Her brows lifted just a little in evident amusement. Her voice held a proper tone belied by her naked status waist deep with him in the river. “If not, and I am guessing you aren’t, tell me what could be better to any woman than this gloriously lovely evening and such a beautiful setting?”
He’d meant she deserved a wedding ring and a soft bed, but she was right, that wasn’t possible. There wasn’t anyone who would argue the fact that he’d make one hell of a bad husband, but he
know how to please a woman.
Cole pulled her into his arms and kissed her hungrily. The resilient feel of her bare breasts against his chest made him groan into her mouth, and his hard cock rose between them, probably shocking the hell out of her. He smoothed his hands over her shoulders, mindful of her burn, and clasped her waist, urging her closer. The water swirled around them as they kissed, and her small hands tentatively settled on his shoulders.
He broke away, trailed his mouth down the column of her throat and wickedly licked her collarbone. Then he did what he’d wanted to do since the moment they’d found her under that bush, and moved lower to take one perfect nipple in his mouth. She arched with a startled gasp as he suckled and swirled against it with the tip of his tongue, and he smiled inwardly, vowing she was going to make that delicious sound again.
She tasted like the river, and also the sweet salty essence of her skin. Cole lavished attention on first one breast and then the other, his heart pounding so hard he wondered if it might exit his chest. Despite the cool water, his arousal surged, and he knew he’d have to slow things down for her if he was really going to do this right. This was
going to be just a quick, mindless fuck.
That conviction scared him a little, and if he allowed himself time to think about it, it might scare him one hell of a lot.
“Here.” He released the succulent crest of her breast and swept her up, carrying her dripping body toward shore. Making love standing up was enjoyable enough, but not for a first time and not when she needed to be ready and hot and panting for it.
And she would be.
Cole chose a place where there was a patch of soft grass beneath one of the willows, level enough for his purposes. After he gave a brief check for snakes or anything undesirable that might join them, he carefully deposited Victoria, dropping down next to her to brush her wet hair from her shoulder. “Still sure?”
He was going to ask that every step of this journey.
The unequivocal agreement puzzled him a little. She had reason to guard herself against him, and for that matter Jace and Robert as well. She was well-bred and innocent, and they were hardly saintly, polite gentlemen.
“I’m not arguing your decision, but why?”
Her smile was a faint curve of her soft mouth. “Can’t we analyze my motives
She had a damn good point. What the hell was he doing when she was naked in his arms? He ran his hand over the mound of one firm breast, weighing the luscious flesh, cradling it in his palm as he stroked her peaked nipple with his thumb. “This is your first time, so I’d better take care of you first, sweetheart. Spread your legs.”
Shockingly nude in the slanting evening sunlight, his silky hair so dark it held a blue sheen, loose and hanging past his powerful shoulders, Cole matched their surroundings well. A warrior in a wild land, untamed and beautiful. His chest was hard, the musculature defined, his stomach flat and taut, and high against his stomach his sex swollen and erect. He smelled primal also, of smoke and windswept prairie grass with a hint of musky male. The unconcealed hunger in his eyes was predatory and his flagrant masculinity overwhelming.
She wanted to be overwhelmed. The sight of his long, bronzed fingers working against her pale breast made her pulse flutter in erratic bursts and an odd tension held her body prisoner.
Victoria had to wonder what impact he would have on a London ballroom. No doubt the refined ladies would be horrified at the idea of a notorious outlaw in their midst…and paradoxically fascinated beneath their well-bred disdain. The heritage of his darker skin and long black hair was evidence of his native blood, but he was half-white, and in any country, his striking handsomeness would draw the female eye.