“Turn onto the lane on the right, Jeremy.”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to stop, Miz Jackson. Those clouds look like we’re going to get dumped on.”
He was right. The sky had darkened ominously.
“I’ll only be a minute.”
“What do you need, honey?” Letty asked.
“The tea—it’s still on the shelf. It needs to be discarded before someone else gets into it.” Her eyes were watery and not from the cutting wind.
Letty’s face softened as she offered her support. “By all means get rid of the vile stuff. Five minutes, Jeremy. That’s all it will take.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, although he didn’t sound happy about the small detour.
As he stopped the buggy near the front door, Jenny climbed down as a frigid gust of wind blew hard, chilling her to the bone. “I’ll throw out the tea, get some blankets, and be right back.”
She rushed into the kitchen. Grabbing the deadly tea off the kitchen shelf where it always sat, she dumped it into the sink and worked the pump handle—which was surprisingly cooperative for a change—until the last bit of residue had washed away. Throwing the jar in a waste bin, she washed her hands to be safe. Whirling, she ran to the stairs. With skirts raised to her knees, she took them two at a time and raced down the hall to her mother’s room where the blankets were stored.
With three of her mama’s handmade quilts bundled in her arms, she retraced her steps, navigating the stairs with care since she couldn’t see beyond the quilted cotton. At the bottom, she rushed headlong toward the door and straight into a solid wall that appeared out of nowhere. Knocked back a foot, she lost her grip on the bed coverings as she reached behind her to break her fall.
Hands caught her shoulders, saving her from hitting the floor.
“Heath,” she breathed.
“Since you have Jenny in hand, I’ll leave my horse and head on back with your ma in the buggy. It’s starting to stick.” With the broad chest blocking her view, she couldn’t see Henry, but she recognized his drawl.
“I’ll take her up with me on Baron, go on ahead, pa.”
Henry’s worried expression came into view as Heath bent and gathered up two of the quilts from the floor.
“It turned so cold, so quickly,” Jenny explained. “I was getting extra blankets for the ride home,” As Heath handed them over to Henry, Jenny thought of her brother at school. “What about Will?”
“Frank has him. We passed them heading back to the ranch ten minutes ago.” His brusque answer drew her attention. His face was set in hard lines, his jaw clenched tight. He was angry.
“Don’t linger too long, son, or you’ll be stuck here,” Henry warned as he went out the door. “At this rate, we’ll have three inches or more by the time we reach home.”
The door slammed shut behind him, leaving a chill in the already cold house that wasn’t entirely due to the weather.
“Is something wrong?” she ventured tentatively.
“Sixth Street, Jenny?” His eyes flashed with anger as they snapped to hers. “I had no less than a half dozen people make sure I knew my wife was seen near the Red Eye and Madame Paulina’s brothel. Dammit, Jenny. What were you thinking?”
“I had an escort,” she explained.
“My mother and Janelle are not what I had in mind, and don’t say Jeremy Owens. He’s a kid. Anyone else would have shut your little misadventure down before it began and steered clear of Sixth Street, not to mention South Town.”
“He was your mother’s driver, how was I to know he wasn’t trustworthy? Besides, you didn’t specify which of the men could act as escort, only that I needed one.”
“Those weren’t exactly my instructions and you know it.”
She did know. She was supposed to come find him and if he couldn’t ‘tend to her,’ he would assign one of the men. Not one hand selected by his mother who wouldn’t dare say boo to any of them. “We were in a hurry,” she said lamely, knowing it was a paltry excuse. “I left you a note.”
“I was in the stable. You should have come and talked to me, as I asked. As you vowed to do only days ago.”
That volley scored a direct hit. She hesitated, searching for a more substantial explanation. Her mission had been well-meaning, and in hindsight, had turned out to be quite necessary. The execution was what had been sadly lacking.
“Of course, I would have said no with the destination you had in mind. But you knew that, didn’t you?”
Her mother often accused her of living by the ‘to err is human, so you might as well do it up right’ school of thought. It was becoming clear that living with Heath would require her to adopt a new philosophy and right quickly. ‘Damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ came to mind, but was instantly discarded.
“You never said to stay off of Sixth Street,” she argued, hearing how stupid and childish a defense it was as soon as she said it.
“I don’t tell you to stay off the tracks when a train’s coming through either. I expect you to have sense enough to know it.” He grabbed her hand and tugged her along to the back of the house. Stopping in the kitchen, he pulled a chair away from the table.
“What are you doing?” The last word was near to a squeal as he spun her around and pinned her hips to the edge of the oak dining table.
“It’s about to become obvious, I believe. Bend over.” His hand put firm pressure along her back until her chest and belly rested on the flat surface. He then rucked up her skirt and petticoats, flipping them over her back. Because of the weather, she was wearing woolen drawers, which he tugged down her legs all the way to her ankles.
“Don’t you dare move.” His warning came with absolute command, brooking no disobedience. Then he walked away.
“This isn’t fair, Heath. I didn’t break your rules.”
“Do I really have to spell out to the letter what is unacceptable?” His back was to her as he rummaged around in the kitchen drawers looking for something. “Where do I begin? Don’t touch the stove when it’s hot. Don’t climb into the wild horse corral. Don’t jump out of the second story hayloft. Don’t go to Sixth Street or South Town, and mingle with the hoodlums, outlaws, and drunks.”
“It was broad daylight and we had Jeremy to protect us. Besides, we stayed in the buggy so there was no mingling.”
He stiffened before slowly turning back. His face was grim. “I am amazed by the lack of concern you have for your own safety, let alone propriety. Aren’t you the same girl who painstakingly disguised her identity so that no one would know she was working in a Sixth Street saloon? You cared enough to protect your reputation a few weeks ago; now that you’re married, do you think that’s no longer important?”
“Of course it is, but I thought with your mother and Janelle along—”
“Stop right there!” He strode toward her, his footsteps treading heavily on the wood. “I don’t even want to think of the three of you on Sixth Street, let alone in South Town. Aaron said there were two stabbings, a woman was assaulted and raped, and there were countless other fights and crimes. All of that happened in the span of a week—last week.”
Quiet descended. She didn’t know what to say. Put in that context, their actions did seem reckless, but what they accomplished had potentially saved Sally Gleason’s life. If she had a choice to do it over, she would.
“It wasn’t done for a lark, Heath.”
“I know that. Bozeman told me about the poisoned tea, but the end doesn’t justify the means here, Jenny.”
“In this case,” she argued back, half-standing to face him. “I think that it does. It was a life or death matter.”
“No, you went to check on a friend who lost his job and his mother who had been sick for months. It didn’t turn into a life or death matter until after you’d been to the worst crime-infested places in the city. That things turned out favorably for Mrs. Gleason and that none of you were harmed is a relief, but your actions that led you there were reckless and dangerous. They were also inconsiderate of your brother. What if something happened?”
Uh-oh! He was using Will, which was pulling out the heavy artillery in his argument. Jenny’s guilt hit a new high.
“If you were hurt, or worse, God forbid,” he continued, “how would Will or I have coped with losing you?”
Her heart lurched painfully. He’d included not only Will, but himself in that dismal scenario. “I didn’t think—”
“No,” he fired back. “You didn’t think. There were any number of ways you could have accomplished your end. You didn’t think to come to me, but what about pa, or Luke? Did you think to go to Aaron? He is the marshal, if you recall. He would have gladly taken care of this while keeping you safe. You didn’t think of any of those options, did you? Instead, you went haring off to Sixth Street and South Town on your adventure with Janelle and my mother, with only an eighteen-year-old kid too scared of the bosses’ wives to say no to you as your only protection.”
She was speechless, and he was correct. They had gone haring off on an adventure, quite gleefully in Janelle’s case. An altruistic one, but in the end, they should have ceded to their husband’s wishes and concerns about their safety.
“I’ll take your silence as a no.” He paced away, standing with his back to her. From the tension in the set of his shoulders, she knew he was trying to maintain control over his anger. He was doing an admirable job, his voice having only risen slightly, staying well below a shout, although the sarcasm had gotten heavier.
As she glanced back at him, she scanned down his arms, held rigidly by his sides and for the first time saw what he held fisted in his hand, what he’d found in the drawer to use as a paddle on her misbehaving behind. It was her mama’s long-handled, wide-bowled, heavy wooden spoon. Thicker than most, it was made to stand up under the weight of heavy fare like thick stews and chowder. Jenny couldn’t imagine it was going to feel very pleasant on her naked backside. She swallowed, finding her throat parched and scratchy.
There was steel in his voice when he went on. “When pa and I learned you three had gone to town with a storm brewing, we came to fetch you immediately before the snow started to fall. That alone wouldn’t have put you in the position you are in now. Never did we think we’d end up looking for you in the worst parts of town.” Another heavy silence hung between them before he continued. “Three respectable women in those areas were hard to miss. At least six of Laramie’s finest spotted you; with eyewitness accounts at practically every corner, it spread like wildfire.”
Jenny stirred restlessly, the regret rising up in her chest. She didn’t think about creating such an uproar. When they’d set out, she’d been of one thought, finding George.
“Fortunately,” Heath continued, “we ran into Bozeman who said you were headed on home or we’d still be searching. Then, as we were about to catch up with you, we saw you turn off to the farm.” When he turned to face her, his face was impassive, giving nothing away. If she hadn’t gazed at him so often, memorizing every curve, edge, and line in his handsome face, she would have missed the muscle twitching, almost imperceptibly in his jaw. He spoke at last, his voice restrained. “I believe I told you not to come back to the farm without me, Jenny.”
“I had good reason, Heath, to get rid of that tea. We also needed blankets. That open carriage was freezing and the temperature was dropping so fast. I was just planning to pop in—”
“An abandoned property is like a magnet for trouble. Although we check regularly, no one is here to prevent uninvited guests, both man and beast, from moving right on in thinking they’ve found a nice quiet place to hole up in for the winter. You could have walked into anything: a bear, a mountain lion, or a murderous outlaw. They wouldn’t have cared about your good reasons. In fact, I don’t either. Not right now. I’m too angry.”
“If you’d let me explain.”
“No. Regardless of what you think, Jennifer Lynn Jackson, the end never justifies the means where your life is concerned. Pa and Aaron are of like minds. I expect they are having this same discussion with ma and Janelle right about now. An incident of this sort cannot be repeated.”
She stiffened, staring agape at him over her shoulder. That Janelle and Letty were in much the same predicament, facing an angry husband who spanked, hadn’t occurred to her.
“Enough talk. Let’s get this done.” His hands came to her waist and he repositioned her to his liking, with her bottom angled outward sharply and her hips inches away from the table. Then he stepped back.
“Spread your legs wider,” he ordered.
She did, inching them further apart. Time seemed to drag by after that as she silently braced for what was to come. The hall clock ticked monotonously. What was he waiting for? Then it came. Splat! The sound echoed in the cold room as fire blossomed across the cold skin of her bottom cheek.
“Dear heaven,” she hissed on an indrawn breath. Before she could exhale, it was followed by another on the left side, then another on the right, and so on. They continued until her behind was all but crackling with heat.
Methodically and with iron-willed authority, Heath applied mama’s heavy spoon to her backside. In her husband’s hand, what had once been an innocuous kitchen tool became a highly effective punishment tool, as unyielding and inflexible as the man wielding it. The first few swats had her squirming and twisting. By the tenth stroke, she was howling and kicking her legs. She couldn’t help it. He didn’t stop, merely pressing his free hand more firmly to the small of her back.
He spanked on, delivering twice as many as she’d already received. When he stopped again, his big hand smoothed over her fiery skin, caressing gently. His soft touch and cool hand felt good on her aching flesh and remarkably, she felt her sex rouse. She felt the wetness that had already gathered as the cool air touched her skin. His fingers found it too. She relaxed into his touch, thinking he was done and his usual means of comfort would soon follow.
“We’ll see to this after I’m finished.” He shifted slightly before the spoon came swishing back, connecting with her upper thighs, right along the lower curve of her bottom.
“Land’s sake,” she cried out, no longer able to keep quiet. The sting from the spoon doubled on her thighs. “Not so low, Heath, it burns like fire.”
“As intended,” was his calm reply as he swatted away at her thighs.
Tears pooled in her eyes, from both the fire he was stoking and the distance in his voice.
“I’m so sorry for worrying you, Heath. Next time, I promise to come find you first.”
“Next time?” he barked.
Jenny instantly regretted her poorly chosen words as he picked up the pace.
As he peppered a barrage of whacks across the backs of her thighs, he roared, “There had better not be a next time.”
“Oh! No!” she squealed. “I meant before I left the ranch. I’ll come get you before going anywhere. I swear.”
He stopped, dropping the spoon with a clatter on the table next to her. Leaning over her back, she felt the weight of his big body pressing along her back, his face in her hair, his breath brushing over her ear.
“I don’t make rules for the hell of it, Jenny. They are in place for your safety. In my mind, nothing and no one is more important than that. Do you understand?”
At the sound of the raw emotion in his voice, she lost it and a sob escaped. “I do, Heath. I’m so sorry.”
The next thing she knew, she was standing, spun into his arms as his lips found hers. After a brief kiss, his head came up. “I don’t want to be a tyrant, Jenny, or to make you feel like a prisoner. I want you to be happy, but no matter the cost to your pretty behind, I vow to keep you safe.”
His big hands slid down to her tender cheeks, which remained exposed amidst her disheveled skirts. Softly he soothed her, gently rubbing and giving them a gentle squeeze. Her sigh of passion changed into a yelp of pain when he suddenly lifted her and sat her behind on the edge of the table.
“Damn.” That one word spoke volumes. With a half turn, he hooked the chair with his foot and dragged it closer. He lowered them both with Jenny straddling his thighs. His nimble fingers had his belt open in seconds and the buttons of his fly undone. Lifting her, he growled, “Put me inside you.”
She didn’t hesitate, her urgency matching his own. Her hand found his hard length, and though not as deft as his own, aligned the smooth head of his shaft with her soaking wet center. Slowly, she sank onto him, except Heath had a more expeditious approach in mind. She cried out as he thrust upward, spearing his shaft inside her, stretching and filling her full.
His eyes were locked on her face, watching her reaction intently. Although she still felt shy under his close regard when they were intimate like this, she couldn’t look away. The heated caramel appeared almost molten in his passion. Engagingly, he drew her in. Not only with his eyes, but his lips as he leaned up, his fingers lacing through her hair to pull her head down, meeting him halfway.
The kiss was a soft brushing of lips, so unlike the volatile passion they usually shared and the powerful entrance into her body only moments ago. By contrast, this was tender and sensual, different, but just as wonderful. So much so that she sighed into his mouth, enjoying the tender moment, considering what had come first.
His tongue ventured out and rode along the seam of her mouth until she opened for him. What followed was a sweet possession as he probed gently, stroking lightly inside. Expecting his passion to ignite and become a carnal assault on her senses, she was surprised when he continued in this slow, seductive manner.
“Heath,” she breathed into him. She was filled by him, but she wanted more, needing to move.
“Yes, darlin’?” came his husky drawl.
Unable to remain still another moment, she moved ever so slightly, raising her hips as far as she could go with his arm clamped at her waist. It tightened at her motion, holding her still.
“Um… Is something wrong?”
“What could be wrong? You’re wrapped snug and wet around me. Your lips are warm and sweet against mine, both sets of them. I’m one step away from heaven and could stay like this forever.”
“One step away?”
“Mm-hm.” His eyes dipped down to her chest. “Open your blouse. A taste of your nipples will get me all the way there.”
Her hands, trembling ever so slightly, rose to her collar and began to work free the small buttons. He followed each movement of her fingers, from one button to the next. Breathing deep, she undid her last button. Unsure, she hesitated.
“Now pull it open.”
When she did, her camisole blocked his view. That didn’t thwart him in the least as he bent his head and took one firm peak into his mouth. He drew it in, material and all, and suckled her. A flash of lightning zipped from her nipple to between her thighs where he filled her. She arched her back and her hands sank into his hair, holding him close.
He gave both breasts equal attention, not lifting his head until her nipples had formed taut peaks, which pressed insistently against the wet fabric.
“Lower your slip. I want my mouth on bare skin.”
The straps easily gave way beneath her fingers and she tucked the neckline beneath both breasts, wantonly baring herself. So rampant was her need, it sparked an intense quiver that raced through her body from the top of her head to the very bottoms of her feet. It was followed by a throaty groan of frustration.
“Can we move now, please?” Her voice was ragged, trembling from the strain.
Tipping his head, he licked up her throat to nibble at her chin. “Eager, darlin’, what’s the rush? For once, it’s you and me. There’s no train full of people. No eight-year-old boy asleep over our heads or ready to knock at our door any minute. No noisy ranch hands working nearby loud enough to raise the dead. We’ve got plenty of time to savor our pleasure, which is rare. I intend to go slow and enjoy every minute of it.”
His fingers found their way between her thighs and his broad thumb stroked over the aching nub in front. That and a little gliding motion would have her finding the heaven he spoke of, but he sat motionless except for the tormenting slow movement of his teasing thumb and the throb and twitch of his shaft inside her.
“Please, Heath,” she begged, struggling for control. “Don’t punish me anymore.”
“Jenny, love, this is hardly punishment. If you can’t tell the difference, I’m doing something wrong.”
“Torture then, exquisite slow torture sure to drive me mad.” She clenched around him as he’d taught her that night on the train.
A swat landed on her tender behind, so unexpected, it startled her into letting go.
“We’re going slowly,” he rumbled against her ear, “to make it last, which will only make it better.”
“I don’t want better.” Her statement was ludicrous, but she felt sure any more would kill her. She saw his grin, but she ignored it as right then his finger joined his thumb and he rolled the sensitive bud. “Have mercy, Heath,” she cried. “Please.”
“Okay, my impatient darlin’, we’ll do slow another time.” His hands moved to her hips as he leaned back, widening his thighs. He lifted her until she almost lost him, pulling her back down swiftly until she sank onto him as far as she could go. A groan of pure bliss rolled out of her, originating all the way from her tiptoes.
“That’s how I like it, but this time you set the pace. Move on me,” was his husky command.
Lifting up, she paused before slowly sliding back, testing this new position at first. Her hands gripped his shoulders for balance and she soon found a rhythm. She discovered she could take as much of him—and there was a lot of him—as she liked. Concentrating solely on the ache left by his thumb, she found she could stimulate that spot with her position. If she arched her back, it felt good, but if she leaned forward, it felt even better as the throbbing bud received a nudge with every downward glide. Her head rolled back and her eyes closed as she began to move faster, undulating frantically atop him, but it wasn’t enough.
It was then she realized that except for the indolent glide of his thumbs over her hipbones, she was doing all the work. Cracking one lid, she peeked at him and found he was watching, one corner of his gorgeous mouth quirked upward. At that moment, two things were obvious. He was vastly enjoying the show and she was already too far gone in her passion to care. Riding faster, she closed her eyes, concentrating on being the one to bring them to climax this time. It was more work than she anticipated. She was soon writhing above him, breathing hard, a fine sheen of moisture breaking out on her skin despite the cold in the room.
A sharp nip at her breast startled her into stopping. Her eyes dipped down and met his warm caramel depths as he peered up at her, worrying her nipple with his teeth.
Going slowly, unhurried, and taking the time to savor didn’t sound bad right about now. She’d always followed his lead before and he’d never failed to bring her pleasure. She didn’t think it would be any different now.
“I yield,” she breathed, giving in. “We’ll do it your way.”
“Am I wearing you out, darlin’?”
“Let’s just say I have a new appreciation for your stamina.”
He chuckled as his mouth moved to her other breast, licking and nibbling at its peak.
At long last, Heath took over, thrusting his hips slowly as his hands curled around her bottom. Soon, he was gliding her up and down his shaft, his mouth still engaged with her nipple. It was glorious. As she whimpered, he groaned against her skin.
While he continued to move steadily inside her, one arm snaked around her waist, the other left her bottom and slid up her back, into the hair that had fallen loose and long over her shoulders. He coiled it around his wrist like a rope and after releasing her breast with a pop, drew her mouth down for a deep, demanding kiss. After several long moments of swirling tongues and melding lips, he was ready for more too.
In an easy, smooth movement, he stood. Without losing his position within her, he stepped toward the table and laid her down. Her back found the hard surface, but her tender backside did not. With her legs high in the air, he hooked her booted feet over his shoulders as he wrapped his arms around her thighs. Her bottom dangled over the edge while she was held secure in the strong arms that supported her.
He began driving into her, plunging unbelievably deep, bottoming out as his hips and thighs slapped her rear end. He didn’t go fast, but he drove hard, each thrust followed by a grinding motion, stimulating her pleasure point before he withdrew slowly, only to do it again. His generous length skidded along her inflamed inner tissues as each pump of his forceful possession pushed the breath clear out of her lungs with a soft little grunt.
“Heath,” she cried out, right before ecstasy claimed her. As her body trembled and jerked with her climax, her vision went hazy and her fingers curled into his thick forearms. Indistinctly, she heard Heath’s familiar roar signaling he’d found his pleasure too.
This extended preview is made exclusively for newsletter subscribers. However, if you got here by a search, you may not know that our newsletters include exclusive previews and free content consistently, so don’t miss out! Add your email below to get the SNP newsletter!