It was raining the next morning when Emma woke up. Because her room was on the second story of the boardinghouse, she could hear the water falling on the roof in a pitter-patter. She pulled her calico dress over her head, washed her face, and ate the cheese and fruit left in her room by the landlady. Not feeling like being sociable, she stayed inside, alone with her somber thoughts and the sound of rain.
She’d come to Bannack to find answers about her father’s death but so far had only received an explanation from Nathan and a rumor from a man in the saloon. She needed to talk to more people. The thought of hearing how horrible a person her father was from yet another person caused her great pain, so much so that she considered giving up on the quest, accepting the marshal’s explanation, and returning to Dillon to continue teaching with Sadie. That would have been the easier choice, but she knew that if she did that, she would go the rest of her life tortured by Nathan’s pronouncement of her father’s character.
The news about her father wasn’t the only thing torturing Emma. Another issue that deeply troubled her was that she felt drawn to the man who had stolen everything from her, and she wanted to seek comfort in his arms. What she needed to do was stay focused on the task at hand. Instead, she was imagining her father’s killer trailing his fingers along her neck down to her breast.
She thought about what kissing Nathan might be like. She knew he could be rough, judging by the way he’d grabbed her hair and spanked her, but she knew that he also could be gentle, like when he’d lightly grazed his hand against her thigh and when he’d held her in his arms. She imagined a kiss from him would be a mixture of both. He would likely capture her lips without apology and kiss her, first gently, and then hard. She could almost feel his long fingers twining in her hair. Demanding, insistent, bold. She squeezed her eyes shut and struggled to rid herself of her bawdy daydream.
Tap, tap, tap. A knock on the door startled her. A stranger to town, she hadn’t expected company.
“Yes?” she called, both grateful and annoyed by the distraction.
“Good morning, Emma,” a voice called through the door. “I wanted to check to make sure you’re all right.”
Her heart skipped a beat when she heard it was none other than the very man on her mind. She wondered if he felt the same shameful attraction toward her that she felt for him. After taking a long, vain look at herself in the mirror, during which she smoothed down her raven-colored hair and pinched her cheeks, she walked to the door and opened it.
There he stood—strong, self-confident, overpowering. Drops of rainwater dotted the suede vest over his broad shoulders. His hat in his hands, his blond hair looked slick and neatly combed, like he was about to go to church. He smiled at her, and it was the kind of smile that could compel her to do whatever he bid if she wasn’t careful. His blue eyes shone when he looked at her from head to toe, and she knew the answer then: He was very pleased with what he saw.
“You’re looking well,” he commented. “Much more color to your cheeks than yesterday when I left you.”
“Why are you here unannounced?” she asked with a scowl, purposely ignoring his statement.
His smile grew broader and slyer. “Still not a morning person, I see.”
Her hands clenched into fists at her sides. She thought it was in poor taste for him to make light of the scariest time in her life and remind her of what happened the morning after her abduction. “I think it would be better if you called me Miss Brookstone. I don’t wish to be too familiar.”
He leaned a shoulder against the doorframe. “Well, that’s too bad because I don’t wish to call you Brookstone. You are better than that name. Are you going to invite me in?”
“Why do you want to come in, Marshal?”
“I insist you call me Nathan. I won’t be calling you anything but Emma, so it’s only fair that you call me by my Christian name. Although,” he said, reconsidering, “I might also call you darling.” He took a step inside. “Or baby girl.”
Heat flooded her cheeks. “You have some nerve,” she hissed. “What makes you think I appreciate or welcome your advances?”
He took another step toward her, bringing himself fully into her room and causing her to take a step back. Kicking the door closed behind him with his boot, he continued to pierce her with his gaze, letting his strong desire for her be apparent. It felt like the rest of the world didn’t exist, and all that was happening in that moment was the growing tension between them.
He stalked a half circle around her, eyeing her like a lion about to pounce on his prey. She quickly spun to face him, keeping close watch on his movements. The desire she saw in his eyes brought her own desire right to the surface, and she worried that, like him, she wasn’t hiding it.
She was right to be concerned.
“You’re mine, Emma. I know it and you know it. I can see you know it by the way you look at me. You trusted me two years ago because I protected you, and you trust me now. I didn’t want to tell you the truth about your father, but now that I have, I feel even more responsible for you. We are bound together by circumstance and fate.”
She felt their bond, but she didn’t want to. He was the only man alive in the world who knew her. He was the only man alive who had witnessed her pain. He was the only man she wanted, but she knew in her heart it was wrong to want him. “You’re my father’s killer and my abductor,” she said to remind herself as much as him.
He didn’t like her statement. He narrowed his eyes. “Your rescuer,” he corrected.
“You hurt me,” she said, her voice rising in volume and emotion.
“Only in order to help you, baby girl. It was better for you to think badly of me, and remember the good in your father. Now that you’re here and know the truth, I won’t need to be rough with you.” He reached out and unclipped the brooch on her lapel. Handing it to her, he said, “I can take care of you. I’ve been taking care of you for a while.”
Her hand formed into a fist around the brooch as the truth about the source of all her gifts formed. “I didn’t ask for anything from you. You took what I wanted.”
His jaw clenched. “What? A cowardly father? He would have sold you down the river for a block of gold.”
This, she knew, was false. “You don’t know anything about me and my father! H-he loved me,” she stuttered. Tears flooded her eyes.
A flash of regret crossed his face. “Never mind what I said. You are right, I’m sure. Even the evilest of men usually have some measure of affection for their own family.”
“He wasn’t evil. You are! You can apologize once or a thousand times, for all I care,” she said, her lower lip trembling. “It changes nothing. He’s gone.” She began to cry in earnest and covered her face with her hands.
Once again she felt the sadness of her loss deeply. It was Nathan’s fault. Because he existed, her father didn’t. But when she felt Nathan’s arms wrap around her, she again felt so desperate for comfort that she accepted his embrace. He pulled her to his chest and rubbed his hand up and down her back. “I’m here,” he said softly. “We’ll work it out. I promise I’ll take care of you.”
“I don’t want you to,” she mumbled, without conviction.
“I think you do, honey. You need me.” His arms still wrapped around her, he took a step forward, causing her to step back. He continued to walk forward until the backs of her legs touched the bed, finding a dead end. He lowered her gently so that she lay on the bed. He leaned over her.
She stifled a moan of pleasure as he raked his fingers through her locks and gathered them together in a gentle fist. “I love the feel of your hair in my hand,” he said longingly. His fist loosened and his fingers traveled down the length of her arm. He circled his thumb and middle finger around her wrist. “These wrists that I bound, I made sure not to hurt, because they are so small and fragile.” He palmed her hand with his and laced his fingers between hers, then pulled her hand high above her head and pinned it to the bed. “And this leg…” Her breath caught as his other hand slid under her skirts in between her thighs. “This sweet leg trembles now like it did before, this time with more desire than fear.”
He leaned into her space more, his eyes never leaving hers, with one hand between her legs and the other pinning her wrist to the bed. She studied his full lips, inches from hers, quirked up in a warm but daring smile. She closed her eyes and tried to calm her racing heart. The ache between her legs pulsed and lust coursed through her body, mingled with anger and confusion. He was going to kiss her, just like she had imagined him doing. There was nothing she could do to stop him; worse, she didn’t want to.
When his lips first touched hers, they were gentle. His tongue trailed along her bottom lip, tickling, coaxing. Her mouth remained closed and her lips tight. This was wrong, so wrong. Every muscle in her body resisted, refusing to relax and accept him.
He kissed her patiently, covering every tiny bit of her stubborn lips in soft nips. When his hand moved farther up her inner leg, she felt her womb constrict, and she hummed a tight-lipped whine in protest. His fingers tickled her previously untouched womanhood through the thin silk of her drawers, first seemingly by accident. Then he began purposefully rubbing, fondling. She felt the strong desire to arch into his hand, to seek her release, but instead she shied away, wriggling her hips into the mattress.
Suddenly the soft touches stopped, and his hand grabbed the material that stood in the way of his advances. The tear of the fabric away from her body and immediate subsequent claiming of his entire large hand over the swollen folds of her sex elicited a frantic, high-pitched gasp from her, which allowed his waylaying tongue to catch her mouth.
His tongue plundered and explored, coaxing her tongue to move with his as his insistent finger tapped against the entrance to her channel. His thumb swirled and swept over her clit, and his finger soon became swallowed into a constricting, wet pool of need. Angry at her body’s response to his presumptuous ministrations, she gathered the strength of will to clap her thighs together on his hand and squeeze hard, halting his finger’s steady pulse in and out of her sex.
He growled into her mouth, causing her lower regions to churn, and released her lips. “You want to resist what your body is saying you want, baby girl?” he taunted in a low voice against her neck. “You want me to force you? I can do that if you want.”
Yes, of course he could. He forced her out of her home, forced her to live a different life in a different town, forced her to obey his every word. His force was to be expected. The only difference this time was that she was enjoying it, and that felt wrong. She pressed both of her palms to his chest and pushed, but was unable to make him budge even an inch away from her.
He bit her neck for that useless display of rebellion, then reached over and ripped her dress’s bodice from her breasts, baring them to his hungry tongue. His mouth clamped down around her nipple and sucked. She cried out and arched toward him in an effort to relieve the pressure on her nub. He released her breast, but then attacked the other with equal ferocity. As she tried to absorb the sensations from his torment, he continued to rip the clothes from her body. Soon she was entirely naked beneath him, quivering with anticipation.
Surely this was not how lovemaking should be! She had imagined courtship, flowers, romance, sweet words whispered into her ear, and a soft hand massaging the intimate parts of her body. She thought she would feel good about lying with a man when it happened. Instead she felt dirty and sinful for deriving sick pleasure from the man who should be her enemy.
“Please stop,” she managed to whisper, wanting him to continue, aching for relief from whatever need he had awakened in her.
His lips quirked up and his eyes smoldered with lust that matched her own. “You want me to stop, baby girl? Are you sure?”
She stared back at him, not knowing how to respond. She couldn’t bear to say yes, and she couldn’t bear to say no. What came out of her lips was a small, needy mew.
His gaze darkened even more, and he eyed her like he was about to devour her. “That’s what I thought,” he growled. Both of his large hands grasped the backs of her thighs, pushing and spreading them until she was completely vulnerable and open to him. He blew on her sex, hot breath that made her feel nearly frantic. “This sweet little cunt of yours is going to get fucked by my cock, and it’s going to get fucked hard just like you want.”
“Oh,” she moaned and tilted her head back against the bed. How wretched she felt, enjoying hearing such vile words from a loathsome man!
With her eyes no longer watching him, she was caught by total surprise when his mouth clamped over her clit and sucked. She cried out, overcome by the strong sensation she was helpless to stop. His hands still on the backs of her thighs, he spread her legs wider and dipped his tongue into the wet cavern his finger had filled previously. She circled her hips wantonly, so desperate to latch onto whatever was just out of her reach.
Somehow, another moment of sanity intercepted her wild lust. She reached down, twined his thick blond hair into her fist and tore his face away from where it was buried between her legs. “You can’t do this!” she snarled at him. “I am not your… plaything!” she spat. “Or your pet. You can’t command me and expect me to roll over like a dog.”
His eyes narrowed into a predatory stare, and he chuckled darkly. “I can, I will, and you should know better than to come between a wolf and his meal, pet,” he said, using her own word.
He drew himself up so that he stood towering over her. With a callused hand, he grabbed an ankle, flipped her on her stomach, and gave her bottom a smack. She let out a surprised squeal when his hand fell again, stinging the same place. He continued to strike the flat of his palm in measured splats across each cheek. She yelped at each swat but enjoyed the punishment so much that she pressed her bottom into his hand every time it fell. How completely he had mastered her, when even the pain he inflicted felt like pleasure.
His victorious laugh filled the room. “Oh, you’re a naughty one, aren’t you, pet?” he said as his palm crashed against her bare skin for the final time.
When she didn’t answer, he wrapped his hand around her hair and tugged her head up so that they were cheek to cheek. “Aren’t you?” he growled.
“Yes!” she gasped, her scalp and bottom tingling, her stomach somersaulting.
The stubble of his beard scraped her cheek lightly as he moved his lips to the shell of her ear. “Say it,” he said in a harsh whisper. “Say, ‘I’ve been a bad girl, trying to deny what I want to the man who can give it to me.’”
She parroted it back to him, no longer trying to fight. Now all she wanted was for him to continue all the wicked, wonderful things he was doing.
“Now ask me to fuck you, baby girl.”
She groaned and uttered words that had never before passed her lips. “Fuck me, please.”
Satisfied with her obedience, he flipped her back around and resumed devouring her cunny, licking and nipping, taking her to the very edge once again. He rose up, and his hand took the place of his mouth, rubbing between her legs for several swirls until he paused to lift it and bring it down in a hard pat. She nearly arched off the bed from a sudden smack to her most sensitive body part. He was merciless. Again his hand fell, striking her clit and swollen lips.
“This wet cunny is getting a spanking because you were dishonest about what you wanted, but then I’ll fuck you, baby.”
“Oh, God, Nathan! Please, no more!” she screamed the fifth time his hand fell.
A primitive noise exited his throat. He ripped off his clothes, first his vest and then his starched white shirt. He shoved his trousers to the floor, releasing his rock-hard cock. She watched wide-eyed as he wrapped a hand around it and returned to where she lay. He leaned his hard body over hers, flattening her breasts with his chest, and once again took possession of her mouth. His cock, as big as her fist, pressed insistently at her entrance.
As he entered her, a wave of fear washed over her. “Please stop,” she whimpered. “It hurts so terribly.”
He stopped pressing forward and released her mouth from his possessive kiss. His head hovered above hers, and he stared into her eyes. She let out a dry sob, certain he would have no mercy. He had been so rough with her, and if forced she would shamefully admit to liking it until that point, but now she felt truly terrified. Her gaze darted around the room, suddenly frantic to escape, until his voice broke through and she became aware that he was speaking to her.
“Hey, Emma. Look at me, baby.”
She locked her terrified eyes with his. His gaze looked gentle, kind even.
“It’s just romping, baby girl. It feels better than just about anything else, and it’s nothing to be afraid of. Men and women have been romping since the beginning of time, I reckon.”
His words provided her with relief. She felt herself relaxing, which he felt also. He smiled approvingly. “That’s a good girl.”
She smiled shyly back. “I thought I was naughty.”
His smile broadened, crinkling the corners of her eyes. “Mostly, you are good, with a naughty streak I happen to like quite a lot.” He kissed her lips, in the way she always imagined a lover would. The kiss was languorous, and it felt very, very good—as good as when he claimed her mouth, in a different way.
“It might hurt a little this first time, but I’ll be as gentle as I can, and then it’ll never hurt again. All right?”
She wrapped his arms around his neck. “All right, Nathan,” she whispered. Like the day two years ago, when he promised her she would be well cared for if she followed his instructions and delivered the letter to Sadie, she once again inexplicably trusted this man.
He moved forward. She felt a pinch of pain, but soon after she felt only pleasure as his cock caressed and stroked her core. Her desire built, and she came undone in his arms. Her waves of release washed over her as his deep, approving voice praised her. “That’s a good girl, darlin’.”
When he also had found release, flooding her insides with warm seed, he collapsed next to her, breathing hard. They lay in stunned silence, panting, slick with sweat, enwrapped in their own thoughts.
As her amazement and pleasure receded, a feeling of nausea gathered in Emma’s stomach and pooled in her throat. She felt like she had just committed a terrible sin. What kind of weak woman lay with her father’s killer? What kind of woman slept with a man without even a promise of courtship from him? Not that she would have accepted it.
“This was wrong,” she said mournfully, and looked over at him.
Nathan clenched his jaw and stood from the bed. “No, it wasn’t, Emma.” He pulled his trousers up over his hips and buttoned them, then shrugged into his now-wrinkled shirt and vest, complete with his marshal’s star. While he dressed, she did the same as best as she could, though her clothes were torn and tattered.
Both disheveled, they stood a person’s length in front of each other, immobile until Emma located the brooch on the bed. “Take this,” she said, and tossed it at him.
He made no move to catch it, keeping both hands on his hips, so the cameo clinked his metal star and bounced off of him. He didn’t stoop to retrieve it, instead remaining focused on her. His eyes flashed with sudden anger.
She too felt angry, and she became angrier the longer she looked at him. “You could have abandoned the attack on my father,” she accused. “You could have chosen to spare me that grief, but you desired revenge more. I don’t want a man like you. I want someone kind, someone good.” Her conviction in her words cemented as she spoke them, and she felt a surge of power. The man standing in front of her had robbed her of something. He had given her but one option—to live the rest of her days without her father. But now she could choose the direction of her life, and she wouldn’t choose him. The bedding had been wrong, and she would never allow it to happen again.
She walked to the satchel of money given to her by Sadie, which she now understood must have come from Nathan. “Were you trying to assuage your guilt by giving this to me?” She shoved it into his chest. “Take it. I don’t want it.”
He glowered at her, every muscle taut with what seemed to be barely controlled restraint. Emma opened the door, then stood and waited for him to leave. He moved toward her suddenly and fisted her hair, pulling it back so she had to look into his furious eyes. “You think you don’t need the money I gave you, woman? I’ve provided you with every meal for two years. I’ve paid for every stitch of clothing you wear. I will continue to do so because you are mine. You hear me? You are mine to keep and protect. Now even your body is mine, and you will soon come to accept it, even though I don’t fit your misguided perception of a good man. You are blind when it comes to your father. Willful ignorance and foolishness! Your loyalty to him was understandable before you knew the truth, but it’s inexcusable now.”
His words only confirmed the power she was beginning to suspect she had over him. She smiled. She wanted to hurt him as much has he had hurt her, and she could see his weak spot, clear as day. No matter what he said, she knew his weakness was her and guilt over what he’d done to her.
“I hear they are hiring girls at the saloon. I’m sure I can manage to make my own way, especially now that I know how to please a man. Thank you for the lesson.”
If she thought he appeared angry before, she hadn’t seen the half of it. Rage stained his cheeks red. He released her hair, took hold of the edge of the door, and slammed it shut. “You won’t work as a whore. I forbid it,” he said with terrifying calm, looking more dangerous than he had when he’d forced her from her home.
She laughed in his face. “What will you do, Marshal? Seek your revenge by killing me? That seems to be your way of doing business.”
His jaw clenched. “Oh, no. I’d never kill you. But I will arrest you, and I’ll thrash any man who dares to touch you until he’s just shy of death, and then you will have that on your conscience.”
And just like that, he had bested her. Her smile faded and a shiver of fear crept down her spine. Suddenly she didn’t feel so powerful. He must have noticed her waning confidence because he visibly relaxed. “You want to be independent in a strange new town? Make your own way because you think you don’t need me?”
“I don’t need you, Marshal,” she asserted.
“We’ll see.” He gave her a long, appraising look before he departed, carrying the parcel of money and the expensive gifts she’d received from him over the years. Only the brooch remained, still on the floor where it had landed after bouncing off his chest.
Despite his lingering threat to arrest her and her now impoverished state, Emma’s resolve to shun him remained firmly in place. Two years ago, he had taken away what she wanted, and now that she knew he wanted her, she would take that away from him.
Maybe that made her a petty person, but she didn’t care. Pettiness was so much less evil than murder. What she wanted was to punish him, to make him suffer as he had made her father suffer. She also wanted to punish herself for the wickedness that had just taken place. She would never permit herself to feel the same sick pleasure again. She didn’t deserve to feel good, and neither did he.
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