Rocky Mountain Rogue (Rocky Mountain Bride Series Book 5) (12 page)

"Here's the pay. The rest when the work is done."

Rosie slid the money into her lap, counted it under the table, then gave a nod. "Let's talk business."

* * *

The bath did wonders for Susannah's mood, even if it didn't satiate her desire. After a thorough scrubbing, she rinsed with an extra pail of water, then, wrapping herself in a blanket, brushed out her hair a thousand times.

At first, she tugged the blanket close around her, in case her Mr. Oberon walked in, but then she let the fabric fall open. It would serve him right if he walked in and saw her. Let him burn for her as she did for him.

Of course, if he did come in through the door, he'd probably do as he pleased with her body and damn the consequences. She brushed savagely through the knots in her hair just thinking about it. He really was a scoundrel.

A while later, dressed, with hair pinned up as best she could manage, Susannah decided to go look for her husband.

How long did it take to find and commission a stagecoach? Assuming this town even had one. She grimaced at the thought of another week in such a place, even as her belly fluttered with anticipation of being holed up with Jesse for a few days.

The flutters disappeared as soon as she walked into the dining room and saw Jesse sitting in close confidence with the redheaded whore. Susannah froze and stepped back, just out of view. She watched as the garish woman leaned across the table to put her hand on his shirt, and he just smiled back at her.

Feeling suddenly sick, Susannah retreated fully to lean against the wall. She pressed her hand to her heart, as if she could push down the pain stabbing through her.

The scoundrel. The cad! He had some nerve, pretending to care for her, almost kissing her and ordering hot baths, then making his escape to woo another woman! She never should've trusted him.

Breathing hard, she tried to control the roiling storm in the pit of her stomach.

"Mrs. Wilder," someone said in a jolly tone. Pulling a neutral expression over her face, she turned to see the British lord approaching with a large smile on his face. He had lost the ridiculously over-sized hat, but still wore a bright red bandana with his fine suit. The kerchief did him no favors if he meant it to help him blend in. For one thing, it was too clean.

"Lord Chivington," she greeted him, hoping he wouldn't notice that she sounded faint.

"I must say you look quite fine. In fact, I'm tempted to steal you away for a drink."

Susannah studied the fair-haired lord. Lean and lanky, he was almost the opposite of her husband. Nevertheless, there was intelligence glinting behind the blue eyes, reminding her of Jesse's ever present smirk.

He took her hand and kissed it, and for a moment, Susannah thought he could be handsome, if he'd lose the goofy airs.

"I'm tempted to accept. My husband has disappeared on an errand," Susannah said, and stepped towards the inn door, away from the dining room.

"Then, by all means, let us away to the pub. There's a jolly good spot just down the street." He held out his arm, and Susannah accepted it.

Let Jesse finish his private assignation. If he could hang around and flirt with members of the opposite sex, then so could she.

* * *

An hour passed before she saw her husband again. He entered the drinking hole looking very sour, but imposing, his powerful form clad all in black. Susannah pretended not to notice him. Instead, she leaned forward to the Englishman sitting opposite her at the table, and laughed.

"Oh, Lord Chivington, you are too funny."

"Call me Sebastian, ma'am. Might as well. Out here they don't know what to do with an earl's son—tar and feather him, or serve him the brown sludge you colonists drink for tea."

Sebastian guffawed at his own joke, and Susanna tittered loudly until a hard hand came down to grip her shoulder.

"What— Oh, husband, it's you." She met Jesse's glower with fluttering eyelashes and a carefree smile. "Finish all your errands, my dear?"

"Yes, my love," Jesse ground out as he sat down beside her.

"Wilder! Welcome... just in time to buy me a drink." Chivington began to wave down the bartender, and Jesse used the moment to lean close to Susannah, under the pretense of kissing her cheek.

"I've been looking for you everywhere," he growled in her ear.

"Were you, darling? I'd finished my bath and was going to offer it to you before it got cold, husband, but your errands took so long." She swatted his shoulder lightly. "I was quite safe with Lord Chivington here. He's been telling me of his brave exploits up and down the plains." She swiveled to Chivington again, ignoring Jesse's dark presence at her side. "Sebastian, do tell my husband how you faced all the redskins in Fort Dodge."

"Yes, tell us," Jesse said, crossing his arms and raising a brow.

"Ah, your husband might remember it differently. Perhaps I could tell another story." Chivington coughed, and looked relieved when the bartender set down his tray. "Ah, here we are." He picked up his glass as soon as it hit the table. "To the newlyweds."

Susannah toasted with hers, but Jesse stole and shot it before she could drink.

"Excuse me," she snapped.

Her husband looked a lot happier when he set down her now empty glass. "Drinking on an empty stomach, baggage? Are you sure that's wise?" He winked at her before slugging his own whiskey, and she nearly lost her temper.

Chivington burst out laughing. "You call your wife 'baggage'?"

Fighting the urge to stand up and clout her rogue across the ear, Susannah turned her attention back to the lord. "He keeps calling me that, even though it's most improper. Have you ever heard of such a term?"

"I have, by Jove. In fact, he probably learned it from me—I used it all the time. Of course, never for a lady of your beauty and grace." Sebastian guffawed again, and Jesse joined in.

Susannah glared at them both, and the Englishman turned his laugh into a cough. "I say, Wilder, do you want to get something to eat?"

"You hungry?" Jesse raised a brow at Susannah.

"We already ate," she informed him coolly. "Lord Sebastian isn't so inconsiderate to leave a lady wanting for sustenance."

It was Jesse's turn to glower at the other two.

"Just beans and bacon, the usual." Sebastian leaned back in his chair, waving a hand like a capsized sailor flagging a rescue boat. "A plate of chuck and another round, my good man."

"Are you sure you have time to sit with us and eat?" Susannah asked her husband. "I'd hate to pull you away from all your errands. Sebastian would see me home." Her sweet smile had a razor's edge.

His jaw clenched. "My business is finished."

"Well, good. Shame Rosie May couldn't join us," Susannah said, and watched her husband's brow quirk in confusion. Rage shot through her. How dare he be kind to her, and just as her heart began to soften, betray her! Did he think she was stupid? Did he honestly think he could sneak around behind her back and get away with it?

The barkeep came by with food, and Sebastian practically leaped up to welcome him. "Delicious grub, old bean. Do tuck in," he said to Jesse, before casting a pleading glance to the proprietor. "More whiskey."

Jesse tucked in, and though Susannah shot daggers with her eyes for his whole meal, only Sebastian seemed to notice.

"So how did you two, er, lovebirds meet?"

"He wrote to me," Susannah said flatly.

Shoveling food into his mouth, Jesse confirmed with a nod.

"Good writer then, eh?"

"Indeed. Tell, me, Sebastian. What do you think of a man who lies to woo a woman? What measure of deceit do you think can be excused by love?"

If possible, Sebastian's fair skin turned paler. "I wouldn't know how to answer that, milady. Never been in love, you see."

"But I'm sure you wouldn't do such a thing—leave a trail of lies or half truths to lead on a woman."

"No... not unless there was good reason."

"I thought so." Susannah smiled triumphantly, and laid her hand on Sebastian's arm. "I knew you were a true gentleman."

There was a loud clank as Jesse finished his meal and threw down his fork. "If you'll excuse us, my wife and I are leaving. We have things we need to discuss."

"Yes, of course, jolly good." Chivington jumped out of his chair to bow his goodbye. "Mrs. Wilder."

Jesse wrenched her chair back, and Susannah found herself half-helped, half hauled up by her arm. "So lovely to sit with you, Sebastian." She couldn't stop herself from cooing. "It's been a pleasure." Susannah gave the man her brightest smile and a little wave. She could almost hear her husband's temper crackle. Served him right for lavishing attention on Rosie May. Did he think he was the only one who knew how to flirt?

Jesse's arm clamped around her, to an onlooker he would seem a solicitous husband. But as they grew nearer to the room, his stride had quickened to the point he was herding her along. He opened the door and practically threw her into the room.

"What in tarnation were you doing?" he asked as soon as he shut the door, his face hard and his big body stalking her.

In the center of the room, Susannah stood her ground, even though her whole body quivered at the sight of his handsome form bearing down on her. "You watch your language, Mr. Oberon. Or Wilder. Or whoever you are." She pulled off her bonnet and turned away to find a mirror, pretending to ignore him. Jesse pulled her back.

"I'll thank you not to turn away when I'm speaking to you." His green eyes shot sparks at hers, but she wasn't intimidated. A heat was rushing through her, a wave of excitement sweeping away all her good sense. She leaned forward, hands on her hips.

"Oh, excuse me that I don't hang on your every word like Rosie May."

"You certainly did with Chivington. 'Sebastian, Sebastian'." He mimicked her high voice and her cheeks heated. "Is it too much to ask you not throw yourself at men when I'm sitting right there?"

"I was just being polite. It's nice to be in the company of a gentleman after all these days," she sniffed.

Jesse's expression grew stormy. "You know exactly what you were doing. You were flirting outrageously. Does marriage mean so little that you would take up with another before we get ours annulled?"

"I could ask you the same." Susannah poked him in the chest. Her finger hit solid muscle. "Just who is Rosie May to you, and why were you speaking alone with that trollop?"

"She's not a trollop."

Susannah felt pain stab through her again, hearing him defend the redhead. "I saw her put her hand on you!" She whirled away to hide her angry tears, and Jesse let her.

When he spoke again, he sounded thoughtful. "Susannah."

"Go away," she sniffled. Of course he would act cool, while she burned for him.

His heat hit her back, and he put his hands on her hips, holding her still when she'd wrench away from him. His chin rested on her shoulder. "While it pleases me that you're jealous, you misunderstood. It's not what it seems."

"Nothing about you is what it seems!" Susannah scrubbed at her face. Most men would be on their knees begging her to stop crying, but tears didn't work on this one. Around Jesse, her fits made her feel weak.

He started to nuzzle her neck again, and she tried to wrench herself away.

"Just leave me alone, you... scoundrel. I was a fool to trust you. You're nothing but a liar, and a murderer, and a thief." She struggled, but his arms closed around her, pinning her gently. Even more maddening was the way her heart leaped up in excitement, the silly traitorous organ.

"Is that what you truly think?" Jesse was nuzzling her ear again.

It felt good to be in his arms. Pushing this away, she reached for her anger instead. "Yes."

He turned her to face him, catching her flailing hands at the wrist. "You caught me with Rosie, so you went and flirted with Sebastian. Could it be that you were jealous?" His eyebrows rose, mocking her.

"You flatter yourself."

"Not as much as you do, little wife."

Bellowing her outrage, she fought him. In the scuffle, her hair came undone and it streamed over her face. Through it she could see Jesse, a broad smirk on his face, holding her fast, away from his body, without any difficulty. "I hate you!" Twisting in his grip, she brought up her knee to his groin. At the last moment, he turned aside, so her blow glanced off his thigh. For a second she got free, but stumbled in her skirts. He was over her in a second, hauling her up by her arms. His jaw was clenched and his green eyes flashed; he didn't look so amused anymore.

A flicker of fear ran through her, and she pushed backwards. "I didn't mean it."

He pulled her closer, temper lighting his face. "I think you did, baggage, and this has gone on far too long. It's time to take you in hand."

He jerked her across the room, hoisting her up when she stumbled, and carrying her to the foot of the bed.

"What are you doing? Wait, no!"

Jesse didn't answer, just flopped her onto the bed, so she was face down on the quilt, her feet still on the floor. He held her with a hand while he worked at her feet, moving them farther apart. When she tried to push up to get her balance, he pushed her down with an iron hand on her back.

Tears didn't work, and shrieking insults seemed to amuse him. Susannah tried reason.

"Jesse, please." She felt ridiculous with her cheek to the blanket. "Let's talk about this."

"Time for talk is done, baggage." Jesse finished his work behind her and stood. "There. All ready to take your punishment."

Susannah tried to move her feet, and found that she couldn't. Using a long rope, he'd leashed each ankle to the bedpost. There was some give in her bindings, but not enough that she could step away, or go anywhere.

"Wait, Jesse," she started, but he tossed up her skirts and pushed aside her drawers to bare her bottom to him. Susannah cursed the split seam drawers that had seemed so fashionable yet practical when she first bought them, and now served another purpose.

She tried to push herself up, and he grabbed her hands. "Do I need to tie these too?"

"No," she said, but he was already looping a thong around them, then, using a longer lead, tied that end to the bedspread.

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