Authors: Kate Watterson
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Western, #Erotica
That was a nice word. One Robert hadn’t been able to use in a long time. It had been his choice to leave Massachusetts, and he didn’t regret it, but as the years passed he’d thought more about the lack of permanence in his life. He wasn’t even thirty, but that meant nothing in this part of the country. Had they continued to ride unfettered, but also without purpose, he doubted any of them would ever reach that age. He bent and slashed another branch with his knife, making sure it was cut close. It had grown dark, and he’d been assigned the task of ensuring Victoria had a decent bed
for a change.
He glanced up at the sound of the soft voice, and despite his desire for nonchalance every muscle in his body tightened. He nodded and resumed arranging the fragrant boughs cut from one of the tall pines at the edge of the meadow. “The mattress was infested with mice, I’m afraid,” he said. “The house has been deserted—except for the vermin who took advantage of not having human occupants—for well over two years. This should make a soft bed.”
It was true. Before they’d heard by word of mouth the ranch was up for sale, the owner had packed up anything that could be carried and moved on. It was remote, and maybe too much for some people, but perfect for them. He picked up her bedroll, spread it out and then stood.
“It smells like a forest,” Victoria said, her slight smile lighting her face. “I’ve gotten so used to sleeping outdoors, I am not sure I can have a roof over my head now.”
“The closest town is a decent ways driving a wagon, but we’ll be getting supplies from there soon. We need things for the house, and you’ll get a real mattress.”
“You all go to too much trouble on my behalf.”
“No trouble at all.”
She was too close. Not by design—he was pretty sure if she was halfway across the territory she’d be too close—but it translated to being within reach as he straightened. He no longer trusted himself.
Cole and Jace had gone out to the barns. It was a tacit agreement between them all that although the valley was isolated it wasn’t necessarily safe, and one of them needed to protect her at all times. There were all kinds of dangers out there, from renegades to wildlife to whatever the hell else might happen.
“I’ll be right outside your doorway,” he told her, trying to ignore the urge to take her into his arms. “It’s a warm night. Jace and Cole are going to sleep outside. We need to clean up the rest of the house before it is really habitable.”
It was true. They’d scrubbed the only bedroom that had a nice window overlooking the courtyard, but the house was still downright dirty everywhere else. They’d even cooked supper over an open fire outside.
Victoria had bathed earlier, and she only wore Jace’s oversized shirt he’d given her the day they’d found her. It came down to about her knees, and the sight of her bare calves and ankles was distracting enough Robert had to consciously do his best not to look.
Not that he did a very good job of it.
For one thing, her silky hair was loose. Long, golden tresses that brushed her hips in a graceful fall. And then there was the matter of her exposed legs. He could only imagine running his fingers along that smooth, taut skin…
“Outside the doorway?” She frowned, and her gaze was very direct.
Could she see the growing bulge in his trousers? He hoped to hell not. Robert wanted her—they all wanted her—but he didn’t ever wish to make her feel uncomfortable with their unique arrangement. What he fantasized over, what he wanted so badly, needed to be freely given. If he wasn’t invited, he wasn’t going to suggest it himself.
He had that much civilized upbringing left in him.
“You are my nursemaid then.” Victoria made a face. “I have noticed, of course, one of you hovers by me at all times.”
“This is dangerous country, my lady.”
“I don’t think I’m a lady any longer,” she said dryly, but a smile quivered on her soft mouth. “What happened between me and Cole was certainly something no true lady would do.”
a true lady,” he argued, and meant it. He’d known scores of well-bred ladies back in Boston, and none of them had half her gracious charm.
Or incomparable allure. A light sweat had broken out over his skin.
It was going to be a long night, but he’d drawn the high card and so he got the first watch. This wasn’t Mayfair or Pall Mall. Even there she wouldn’t be without a chaperone.
“I don’t wish to be a proper lady any longer,” Victoria said softly. “And since you are assigned as my protector, wouldn’t it be better done if you slept in the same bed?”
What is the most shocking part of all of this?
Victoria wondered. That her unusual circumstances allowed her to act upon her wanton impulses or that she had them in the first place?
Robert stared at her as if he was wondering the same thing, but the unmistakable hunger in his hazel eyes told her he approved wholeheartedly. His body, not quite as tall as Cole’s but just as muscular with slim hips and wide shoulders, was tense. A wavy lock of chestnut hair hung over his brow in an endearingly boyish fall.
And his lean hand shook just a little as he reached up to brush it away. “I’d be lying if I denied I was thinking about it,” he said finally, his voice unusually husky.
The clink of his spurs as he took one step, bringing him close enough to touch, made a musical jingle. He smelled like fresh-cut pine with a slight hint of male.
She might as well be honest. “I’ve been thinking about it too, and wondering how much of a harlot it makes me.”
Robert gave a laugh that was flatteringly incredulous. “You are so far removed from a harlot that I can’t even begin to argue the difference. “
She wasn’t sure she agreed.
That was the truth of it. She wanted all three of them, and they all wanted her.
Put that way, it sounded simple, but society frowned on women who gave themselves freely to more than one man.
Yet, she knew that back in London there were aristocratic women who routinely slept with a variety of lovers once they’d given their husbands that requisite heir, and it was an accepted practice. Surely it was no different to take several lovers in the wilds of the American West… Or maybe better, for she wasn’t breaking her wedding vows of fidelity.
There would be no wedding in her future. She’d known that the day the scandal broke over her father’s debts.
Robert reached out and touched her hand, his gaze holding hers. “I admit I want this, but only if you want it also. There’s no obligation, Victoria.”
“Obligation was not what prompted my suggestion. It is an invitation, not an offer of payment.”
He flinched, and she was instantly sorry she’d phrased it that way. Maybe she’d been too long on the defensive because of those hellish months in England before she’d left. Clearing her throat, she sought other words. “I’d
for you to join me.”
“I’d like that as well.”
She’d known he would be the gentleman. Of them all, he was least inclined to act on his impulses. And it was proven when he stepped forward and set his hand at her waist, then slowly lowered his head to kiss her.
So different than Cole. Gentle, persuasive and tentative, as if he wanted to allow her to take over the pace rather than set it himself. Robert’s other hand cupped her cheek, and his tongue tentatively touched hers.
It was different, but it was also…perfect.
Victoria sank into his embrace, pliant and willing, relishing the hold of his arms. Robert kissed her and so close against him, she realized he was aroused, her experience with Cole leaving her unafraid.
This wasn’t at all the same as what had happened by the river, but she wanted it—wanted him. He murmured something against her lips, and his hands went to the buttons on her shirt. She allowed him to slip it off her shoulders and his swift inhale was both flattering and sent a flutter to her stomach as he stared at her bared breasts. While she was not precisely experienced enough yet to not be a little embarrassed, his expression was so intense it made it easier.
Her voice was unsteady. “Don’t expect me to know what to do. I’m not—”
“Perfect? Yes, you are.” He swiftly unbuttoned his own shirt and pulled it off, then sat down in the one salvageable chair that had been brought into her room to tug off his boots. He rose and reached for her again.
“Robert.” Her voice softened, for truly, she wondered that if they had met in a different place and a different time, maybe this would still be inevitable. Out of all those fashionable gentlemen vying for her attention, she knew she would have been drawn to this man with his calm air of intelligence and competence.
“Victoria…I want you.” His mouth sought hers again, their lips met and as he eased her backwards onto the makeshift mattress, she didn’t resist as he adjusted himself on top of her. Quite the opposite.
She wanted him too.
The kiss was long, sweet at first, a gentle discovery that was mutual, his tongue teasing hers, his hands tangled in her hair, his weight balanced, the length of his rigid cock through the material of his pants hard against her thigh.
Then it became more, not precisely urgent but hungrier, and when he lifted his head she was breathless, her arms around his neck, her nipples taut and tingling.
“I’ve had dreams about this,” he whispered in her ear, kissing the hollow beneath. “Making love to you long and slow, touching and tasting. Let me show you.”
His fingers explored her body with care, first skimming her shoulder, then going lower, cupping her breasts, the touch always light but still arousing, his mouth following the tingling trail of his long fingers, the softness of his hair brushing her sensitized skin. The air was redolent of the forest, and the branches he’d put under the blankets moved as their bodies shifted, the slight rustle mingling with the cadence of their quickened breathing.
Victoria let her lashes drift down and allowed herself to just…feel. She’d known it would be different. Just as arousing, but not at all the same as Cole, which was somehow equally exciting.
If that didn’t make her a harlot…but then again, she wasn’t sure it did. She loved Robert’s subtle sense of humor and consideration, and he was handsome and gallant and…
He touched her intimately then, his exploring fingers finding the heat between her legs. One finger slipped inside her, making the muscles in her stomach tighten. “You’re already wet for me.”
She didn’t know if she should be chagrined or not at that declaration, but the thought slipped away as he stood, unfastened his trousers and shucked them off. He was different from Cole and yet just as beautifully male. Less bronzed, leaner, but still
That was a startling thought. She’d never had anything of her own her entire life. Some physical possessions, but she’d found out that none of the pretty gowns or other things she took for granted really should have been hers, right down to the food on the table and the roof over her head.
Maybe that was it. That the three of them belonged to her. No, that wasn’t quite right. Maybe it was that the four of them belonged together.
Skillful fingertips skimmed her breasts, circling her nipples, and he held her gaze with each caress, as if he wanted her to be able to see into his very soul.
“I’ve never met anyone like you.” He nuzzled her ear and then laughed on a low exhale. “Let me rephrase. I’ve met dozens of beautiful young ladies, as my father was a prominent businessman and my family has wealth, but none of them had half your courage or a tenth of your appeal, no matter their looks.”
“I’ve never met anyone like you either.” She was both shy and yet completely sincere. “Or Jace or Cole. I…”
“You don’t have to choose,” he said gently, kissing her again, stroking her skin and she loved the tilt of his mouth as he didn’t smile often enough. “Tonight you’re mine, and I couldn’t ask for more. Let me love you, Victoria.”
They didn’t speak as he lowered himself over her and nudged her thighs apart. She gasped as he pushed the hard length of his cock inside her with delicious invasive pressure. “Robert.”
“I’ll go slow.” He nuzzled her ear. “I want us both to remember this. It’s just the beginning.”
He did control himself, she discovered, his movements deliberate, tantalizing as he slid backward and then joined their bodies again, his arms solid and supportive. The bed creaked, and she sighed in unison, the pleasure subtle and exquisite.
It was different but just as exhilarating as that interlude with Cole. She learned different nuances as she moved her hips at his urging, his hands slipping beneath her body to cup her bottom and lift her into each thrust, their breathing growing quicker and quicker, his mouth finding hers at that explosive moment when the pleasure crested and spilled over. She shuddered, and his body stiffened, the pulse of his release vibrant as he spilled his seed deep inside of her.
Afterward, sleepy and content, she curled against him. The last image she remembered was the drift of his fingers through her hair.
He found he loved the evenings best.
Since Cole was pretty sure it had been a long time since he’d loved anything at all, it was a startling revelation. To find he looked forward to riding back to the ranch, seeing the weathered exterior of the house bathed in the fading light, was enlightening. The place sure could use more repairs—they were concentrating on the fences at the moment and trying to round up as much stock as they could find—but it still looked beautiful to him.
It gave him an actual sense of contentment.
A revelation for a man with a price on his head, no real family and the itch to always move on.
That itch seemed to be gone.
“Somethin’ smells damn good.” Jace dismounted, his booted feet sending up a puff of dust from the courtyard. “Of course, I’d eat a dead skunk long about now. I’m half-starved.”
Cole laughed, but he had to admit he was pretty hungry too. They’d worked a long day, but a good one. Most of the cattle left in the valley were pretty wild, so rounding them up took some skill and not a little effort, but they’d found a small herd that looked promising. Though a couple of young bulls had given them some trouble, it had been all in all a very productive day.