Authors: Lee Savino
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A knock on the door startled them both.
"Who is it?" Jesse called gruffly, even as Susannah rushed to cover herself.
"Sebastian Chivington. Spare me a minute, old boy?"
"Go on," Susannah said. "I should probably dress and eat something."
"Just a moment," Jesse called back, and started pulling on his clothes. Once he was dressed, he turned back to Susannah sitting on the bed, looking sweet and virginal wrapped in a blanket, blonde hair cascading down her shoulders.
"I'll be back as soon as I can," he said, leaning in to kiss her. She flushed, but accepted it.
"Stay in the room; I'll send some food in."
"Thank you," she said softly, and he felt a little rush of pride, knowing she'd be here waiting for him when he returned.
Buckling on his holster, he strode into the hall. "This better be good," he told the Englishman. As usual, the lord was in a dapper suit, his hair coiffed and clean as a woman's.
"Fantastic news." Chivington slapped Jesse's back in usual greeting. "I found you a coach to take your bride away."
"Keep your voice down." Grabbing the lord's arm, Jesse dragged him away from the door.
"Trouble in paradise?"
Jesse looked up and down the empty hall before leaning closer. "No. Quite the opposite, if you must know."
"Ah, so you've convinced her to stay, then."
Jesse gave his friend a sharp look. As much as the lord tried to hide it, there was intelligence in Chivington's blue grey eyes. Jesse often wondered why his friend put on such ridiculous airs. There must be some enjoyment the lord received by letting everyone think he was a fool.
"I was concerned last night that your marriage might last as long as a match in a gale. But it seems you've worked the old Jesse charm. You'll have to tell me your secret."
"Maybe one day I will." Jesse ran a hand through his hair. "I should tell her about the coach."
"Does she want to stay with you?"
"Ah…" Chivington nodded sagely. "Perhaps a few more days of honeymoon will convince her. I'll tell the stage to stand by. My business isn't quite finished here, but when it is, I expect I'll want a quick getaway."
The lord's gaze was serious, and both he and Jesse shared a knowing nod. The business the Englishman spoke of was his part of Jesse's plan to overthrow Doyle.
"Thank you, Chivington. I'm in your debt."
"Think nothing of it. Consider it a wedding gift." Chivington straightened, pulling his usual foppishness around him like a coat. "If anyone comes after me, I'm gratified to know the best shot in the West will avenge my death."
Jesse scoffed. "Who says I'd avenge you? Especially because it's likely to be Susannah, when she finds you reserved a coach and didn't tell her."
"I never said not to tell her. Give her the option, old boy. Let her decide."
Jesse felt pain squeeze his chest. Could he do that? Let her go?
"Trust me on this, Wilder. Give her the option and then prove to her that staying is the best decision."
"Good luck, old boy," the lord said. "You and your bride are invited to dinner tonight, if she decides to keep you." Jesse's hands fisted at his side to keep from beating the smug smile off of his friend's face, and Chivington retreated, chuckling.
With a final glance at his bedroom door, Jesse left for his errands, telling himself he'd be quick. He didn't want his baggage to go wandering off, after all. After ordering food for the room, Jesse detoured to the stables where his stallion, Jordan, greeted him with a nicker. The big horse plainly didn't like being cooped up for so long.
"Only a few more days," Jesse spoke softly as he curried Jordan's coat. "Or a few more hours, depending on my luck." Would Susannah leave him? There were times when she seemed on the verge of throwing something at him. But the way she sighed in his arms... If she asked to go, would he be strong enough to let her?
He found his feet dragging as he returned to the hotel, and stopped to make another request of the innkeeper.
He'd shot his share of enemies, up close and from a distance. But he'd never felt trepidation more than when he opened the door.
Susannah was waiting for him in her demure blue dress, sitting on her bed, her long hair flowing over her shoulders and hairbrush near her hand. She smiled at him, then she caught a look at his somber face. "What's wrong?"
He took a deep breath. Then he told the truth. "There's a coach ready for you, if you decide to leave," Jesse stated.
Susannah blinked. "Now?"
He shrugged. "If you like. Chivington arranged it to stand by for a few days."
She sagged back on the bed. She hadn't thought their parting would be so soon.
"Do you want to go?"
"I... don't know," she said.
"Chivington invited us to dinner in any case."
She spread her hands. "I don't have anything to wear."
"I may have packed you another dress." He rummaged in a saddlebag, producing a fine garment that poured out in what seemed like yards and yards of fabric.
Susannah gasped. "That's my grey silk! What possessed you to bring along a dress so fine?"
"I wanted to see you in it." He half grinned. "Although, to be honest, now I'm more interested in seeing you take it off."
Frowning, she held out her hand for her dress. He started to give it over, and then pulled it away. "Stay with me."
"You can't bribe me into staying with my own dress!"
His grin turned wicked. "I could tie you up and keep you," he suggested.
She scoffed, even as her core clenched at the thought. "You're a rogue."
"You love it."
A knock sounded at the door, and Jesse called "enter" as the innkeeper and his servant came in carrying buckets of water. "Set them on the hearth," Jesse ordered, and Susannah used the distraction to retrieve her dress from his grasp.
Smoothing the fine fabric out on the bed, she smiled. The dress was brand new, and she had looked forward to wearing it for her gentleman husband. Of course, now she'd wear it for Jesse instead.
By the time she turned, the servants were gone and Jesse was adding the hot water into the already half full bath. As she watched, Jesse finished pouring, and with a wink at her, started stripping off his clothes.
Watching his large hands work at his shirt buttons, Susannah sucked in a breath. "What are you doing?"
"You had your bath. I thought it was time I had mine."
At the sight of his muscled chest, she gulped. "I should go."
"Stay." His green eyes twinkled, daring her. "I need someone to wash my back." Pulling off his shirt, he turned and she saw the scars of old whip marks covering the powerful expanse of his back.
"Oh, my god, Jesse," she gasped. Forgetting herself, she moved forward.
His back went rigid, but he didn't flinch away. She came close enough to study the marred flesh, her hand out as if she could soothe away the hurt.
"Pa." His voice was gruff. "Didn't like the way I chopped wood or something."
A few long weals ran from one shoulder to the opposite hip. She traced one with a delicate finger, noting the shorter scars that ran deep.
"Your father did this?" Her heart ached. How could a man hurt his own son in this way?
"When I was fifteen. I ran from home after that. My brother Lyle was leaving to make his fortune, and I went with him." He turned suddenly, and caught her wrist. "You see what sort of man I am. Stubborn, born to go my own way. No matter the cost."
Looking up into his hard face, she swallowed. "I see the sort of man you are." She met his gaze without flinching. "You'd cross a thousand miles to protect the ones you love, even at risk to your own life. You see someone in need, and you help them. You see evil being done, and you try and stop it." His grip was iron, trapping her hand, but she wasn't afraid. Somehow, she knew he'd never really hurt her. "That's the sort of man you are."
He didn't speak, but let her go.
She wanted to put her arms around him and comfort him. Instead, she took up the rag and soap. "Get undressed and into the tub." She kept her voice neutral, but couldn't stop her nipples from hardening as she watched her man strip the clothes off his long form. His shoulders were bunched with muscle, not too big, but certainly not small. His body reminded her of the Greek statues that paid homage to masculine perfection. Only this statue was living, breathing, the tan skin marred with dirt and little scars, hard from labor. His upper body was breathtaking; a part of her wondered what it would be like to explore the hard ridges and smooth planes.
He pulled off his boots and then trousers, letting his clothes fall to the floor. When he finished undressing, he stood, his chin jutting out as if issuing a challenge.
She let her eyes roam to his waist, and back up. His head cocked to the side, his eyes crinkled with a mocking little smile.
Taking a deep breath, Susannah steeled her spine. "Submerge yourself, please," she said in her best schoolmarm voice. She took a moment to compose herself while he did so, then approached him as he came up dripping.
Starting at his shoulders, she focused as best she could on the task at hand. The dirt washed away easily, but she spent some time rubbing his muscles, trying to soothe the strain of journey away. His shoulders and arms may as well have been chiseled from granite.
For a while, the only sounds were his little grunts when she dug the rag in too hard and the sloshing water in the tub when she had him rinse off again.
Her dress grew damp where she leaned against the tub, and the steam stuck tendrils of hair to her face and neck, but the discomfort was nothing compared to the inferno between her legs.
When she came to his back, she was gentle, using plenty of water and suds to wash the grime away. She used more force on his upper back and shoulders, ending at his neck, her hand bearing down hard in long strokes that he seemed to like.
She hesitated to wash his hair. Thick and black, it was wet with water, and needed a good clean from the sweat of his hat.
"I'm going to do your hair now," she whispered, and he made no response.
Cupping water in her hands, she soaked the glossy locks, and used plenty of soap to clean them. She finished by rinsing him, then indulged herself and took a few minutes to play with the silky strands, scratching his scalp lightly with her nails. "There," she said finally. "All done."
He stood suddenly, water streaming off him. He looked like a river god, roused from slumber.
She took a step back.
"You're not going to finish?" His lips curved in that mocking smirk. He half turned, and she couldn't help but see his large cock, stiff and ready between his muscled thighs.
It took her a few moments to clear her throat. "I think you have the rest well in hand."
He smirked at her choice of words, and she flushed. Before she knew it, he'd come out of the tub and was walking towards her, water flowing off his body in thick rivulets.
"Jesse." She backed away as he came at her. "What are you doing?"
"Finishing," he said. He weaved slightly, blocking her view when she looked for escape. "You wouldn't leave me wanting, would you?"
"I don't know." Her throat was completely dry. "It wouldn't be right."
"We're married. It's just right." He stopped, letting her put some distance between them. His body was slick with bathwater, tempting. She wanted to suck the drops of water from his tanned skin, taste the muscles she'd been lusting after for so long. She wanted to take him in hand and feel his body respond to her. More than anything, she wanted to touch him, to show him gentleness where he'd only known cruelty.
Susannah swallowed hard, her throat working, her heart fluttering in her chest. She stared into his green eyes, the only part of him that was safe. Then she realized her mistake. There was a promise of pleasure in those intense green eyes, and her resolve slipped away.
"Touch me, Susannah," he said roughly. "Look at me. This is who I am. We could be good together."
He caught her hands.
"Don't think, lovey. Just touch."
She did what she'd wished to do, and let her fingers follow the path the rag had taken minutes before.
Her hands roamed over sleek muscles, tanned and hardened by hours of outdoor labor, honed and sharp as the mind of their master, ready to haul and ride, shoot and kill, or hold and love. She felt all of him, tracing the fine contour of the muscles of his chest, then let her arms snake around him to squeeze the firm flesh of his buttocks. Her husband remained still, his harsh breathing the only sign of his internal struggle. Finally her hands wandered to the thatch of hair between his legs and both of them went around his thick length. In her hands, her husband hardened and she felt a surge of excitement, knowing how, in that moment, she owned him.
Then she let him go and stepped away. Her Jesse stood swaying a little, eyes dark, but he made no move to follow her.
"I'm sorry, I just got carried away." She felt very vulnerable, hot and sweaty from the bath. Her dress was wet and her hair must look horrendous. Suddenly frantic to fix it, she started to turn away.
"Susannah." He stood naked, feet planted and water dripping off his skin onto the carpet, as confident as ever. "What are you afraid of?"
"I don't know..." She swallowed. "I'm sorry, I must look a mess..."
He moved then, stalking her. "Are you frightened? Did someone hurt you once? A man?"
His green eyes searched over her face, and she felt raw, knowing he could see everything about her.
"Did he touch you in a way you didn't like?"
Robbed of speech, she shook her head.
"Then do you want me?"
"I want you," she said. It was the truth. She'd never wanted anything more.
"Then what is it, sweetheart, that has you so scared?"
"What if you don't want me?"
"I want you, Susannah. I want you riding behind me, following wherever I lead for the rest of my life. I don't know much, but what I do know, I know to my bones."