Rocky Mountain Rogue (Rocky Mountain Bride Series Book 5) (22 page)

"Aren't I?"

"You know what I mean." She swatted him.

Jesse sighed. "What does it matter what they think about me?"

"But, all your plans and work to keep Doyle away... you didn't even mention everything you've been doing to help them." Her eyes widened as realization dawned. "They don't know, do they? That you've been working this whole time to keep them safe. Using Rosie May as a distraction, and Lord Chivington to drain Doyle's resources. The robberies, the time spent with the Royal Mountain Gang to infiltrate Doyle's defenses... Lyle and Rose have no idea you've been doing all this."

"Nope."

"But all this time and planning—you did it for them, right?"

"Just want my family to be safe." His face was carefully blank.

She stood on tiptoe, leaning forward with her hands gripping his forearms. "They should know everything you've done, what you've sacrificed."

He tipped his head, a tender look in his eyes. "They don't need to know. They deserve to live free, without any threat hanging over their head."

Susannah shook her head. The thought of her family and friends so misjudging her husband rankled, though she understood. Her Jesse would protect his loved ones, even from worrying about him.

She sighed. "You're a good man, Jesse Wilder."

"Thank you, baggage." He stepped closer and hugged her. "I must say, I never thought I'd see a woman stand up to Miles Donovan the way you did. You're a spitting wildcat when you're roused."

"Thank you."

"Sweet as Carrie, sharp as Rose, right in between. You're just right."

The two broke apart as Donovan came around the hill with Carrie, leading a little painted mare. Susannah couldn't stop herself from hurrying to meet them.

"Here she is," Donovan said with a touch of pride. "Your wedding present."

"I love it." Under Miles' instruction, she stepped forward and pet the pretty mare.

"She's good stock," Carrie said.

Susannah smiled at her friend. "Since when do you know horses?"

Carrie laughed. "Since marrying him." She nodded to her husband who was tightening up the reins and stirrups to fit Susannah. "Horses are like family. We call this one Lily. She's very sweet."

"She's perfect. It's almost too much."

"It's not from us, though Miles trained her. This is your husband's gift to you. Saddle and all." Carrie said.

Susannah looked for Jesse, but he'd gone to get his own stallion.

"Ready?" Miles laced his fingers to boost her onto her new mount. With a final hug for Carrie, Susannah allowed her friend's husband to help her up. Settling into the saddle, she accepted the reins.

"Thank you for everything," she whispered, feeling overcome.

Carrie smiled, and Miles patted Lily's rump. "Go to your husband."

Jesse was waiting on the edge of the clearing with an excited Jordan. The two horses greeted each other with whinnies and tossing heads.

"Thank you," Susannah told Jesse.

"A wife of mine needs a horse. Next, a gun." He grinned and Susannah smiled back. "You'll be quite the pioneer woman. Then a house, so I won't be grilled so often at meals about whether I'm taking proper care of you."

Susannah's heart went out to him. "Don't worry. I'll defend you."

"I know you will, wife." The look of love in Jesse's eye made her catch her breath. His grin turned rueful. "They're all wondering what you're doing with me."

Tears pricked her eyes. Guiding Lily closer, she reached her hand out and gripped his. "I'm honored to be your wife, Jesse Oberon."

"Oberon Wilder," he corrected.

"Whatever." She squeezed his hand.

"All right, Titania. Let me show you your new home."

They took off riding, Jesse leading the way on Jordan with her following on the little mare. Once they found a trail, Susannah could tell that both stallion and rider were hanging back, waiting for her on the mare.

With a mischievous grin, she spurred her new mount forward, sticking out her tongue at her husband as she passed him. With a shout to Jordan, Jesse gave chase.

She didn't care when her braid came undone, her blonde hair bouncing around her shoulders.

She didn't care that mud splattered her skirts and her bonnet didn't match, and someone might see and judge her. She didn't have to be prim and proper Susannah any more, coifed and perfect so she might please everyone. Breathless and laughing as her new horse cantered down the trail, her husband whooping and pretending to chase her; she was simply Susannah, wild and alive. For the first time in her life, she was free.

She especially didn't mind when her new husband stopped to refill his water, and pulled her down off the mare, and made love to her in the open, beside a stream. He laid her down on his coat, spread her legs and dove under her skirts.

"Call out for me," he said, his mouth between her legs and her hands gripping his thick hair, and for once, she didn't care if anyone heard. Her cries bounced off the mountains.

Then he flipped her over, positioning her on her hands and knees on his coat, so he could thrust in and out of her, one hand gripping her breasts. His body forced hers down, and his teeth sank into her shoulder, a slight bite, but enough to mark her lightly. The possessive pain sent her over the edge, and Jesse finished inside her as she screamed and clawed the ground.

They rode back to the cabin slowly.

* * *

Rose took one look at Susannah's glowing face, and Jesse's satisfied smirk, and turned away to hide a laugh.

Dinner was a loud, happy affair.

"So what are your plans for the rest of the summer?" Lyle asked over the coffee.

"Find a house, settle down. I'll hunt and trade with Calum to have enough stores for the winter, and let Susannah get her feet under her here."

"I'll help with the baby when she's born," Susannah said to Rose.

"When he's born," Lyle corrected with a grin. "Once we're ready for winter, we can start panning for gold."

"Have you found gold?" Susannah perked up.

"Jesse didn't tell you? I would think that would be the first thing he'd mention to hook a bride," Lyle teased.

"No," Susannah said. "His pretty writing was enough."

"How did you learn to write?" Rose asked Jesse.

He shrugged. "You don't want to know." Taking Susannah's hand, he kissed it. "But it wasn't my writing was it, bag— darling? It was the picture of me I sent."

"Ah yes." Susannah rolled her eyes. "One look at your picture, and I booked my fare west."

Lyle laughed out loud at her sarcasm, and punched his brother in the arm. "That's how Wilder men get it done."

"Well, that's how you were introduced in the first place, isn't it?" Rose asked. "Carrie had Susannah's picture and letter; you saw it and asked for an introduction?"

"Something like that," Jesse said, and kissed his wife's hand again to hide his mischievous grin.

"To answer your first question, Susannah," Lyle said. "I have found gold, but the river is too deep and fast for panning to work. If we search for the source, though, and get the right tools... we'll make our fortune. There's a rich seam somewhere; I just know it."

Rose reached for her husband's hand, and he took it.

"It's there, brother. We'll find it," Jesse said, and Susannah squeezed his hand.

The two brothers' gaze met across the table, blue and green eyes lit with excitement and determination. Watching them, Susannah thought the brothers had never looked more alike.

* * *

Later that night, Jesse was a few minutes late crawling into bed. He'd left a small carven box safe in his brother's house, and now he opened it, searching for the dull gleam before drawing out the small gold ring. He turned it in his hands, studying the old and battered shape. They'd both been through a lot.

If anyone had asked him a year ago, he'd said he was destined to ride his stallion working odd jobs and sleeping on his bedroll, his skin suntanned and leathery. He was a drifter, a vagabond.

But now he was married.

He saw the way they looked at him with her, Lyle and Miles especially. Both had given him warnings, if not spoken, then implied. Hurt Susannah, and they would hurt him. What they didn't seem to understand was that he'd walk over broken glass for her. He'd cut off his hand before harming her. With her he felt like he could lasso the moon.

Of course, half the time he wanted to tie her up and do bad things to her until she screamed out his name in pain and pleasure. But the other half he wanted to hold and comfort her, and throw his coat across her path so she wouldn't muddy her boots.

He didn't deserve her. But even now, tiptoeing into their tiny, dark room, raising the candle up so he could see her beautiful form on the bed, he couldn't imagine life without her.

She lay with head pillowed on her hands, eyes closed, but still on top of the covers. Waiting for him.

Sometimes he felt so lucky, it hurt.

"Susannah." He tugged her hair lightly, admiring the shining gold haloed around her flawless face.

"Yes?" She raised her head.

Leaning over her, Jesse took her hand. She came awake and sat up in bed, facing him, her eyes on the treasure in front of her.

"This is for you. I would've given it to you earlier, but I kept it safe here." He tried the ring on one finger, and then another, until it slid home on her ring finger. He swallowed hard. On her finger, even the old, ugly ring looked beautiful.

"Jesse." His wife turned shining eyes onto him, filled with a look of love that made his chest tighten. "It's beautiful," she whispered. In the candlelight, her face seemed to glow. Craning her neck, she kissed him.

"There's an inscription," he told her, and she pulled the ring off to read it. "As endless is my love."

"This looks like Old English. Where did you get it?" She twirled it in her fingers, reading the inscription again before putting it back on with a satisfied smile.

Jesse settled back onto the bed beside her, feeling not a little relief that she seemed to like it. "You don't want to know."

She swatted his chest with her right hand, and he caught and kissed it before reaching for her other hand.

"Let me see it?"

Cuddling close to him, she splayed her fingers.

"It looks good."

"It's perfect." His wife turned her hand this way and that, admiring the ring like it was the finest gold in the world.

Jesse felt a pang. She was so beautiful and the ring looked so rough and battered on her delicate finger.

He swallowed hard. "I'm sure other men would give you prettier baubles." His voice came out gruff. "But my mother gave it to me."

"No gold or jewel could compare."

He tugged her hair to hide his embarrassment. "I'm sure your old fiancé gave you those fine things."

A little wrinkle creased between her eyes as she looked down at the ring. "It's true, Roger was the son of a wealthy man. He lacked for nothing. I'm sure he buys his new wife whatever she wishes."

It was Jesse's turn to frown. "So your fiancé is alive then? You wrote Carrie that he'd died."

She shook her head, cheeks coloring a little. "It was easier to think of him that way. He broke off the engagement, and married another."

Jesse felt a surge of anger at the pain in his bride's voice. "He did that?"

"He did. And everyone knew I'd been discarded. That's why I wanted to get away. I was in disgrace." There were tears shining in her eyes, and all Jesse could think about was leaping out of bed, riding to Boston, and beating the arrogant fop into the dirt.

Tears were running down her face now, and Jesse stuffed down his rage.

"He didn't want me." She was sobbing.

Jesse rolled closer to her, tucking her to him, wrapping both arms and legs around her small, shaking body. "Shhh, sweetheart. He's a fool."

His whole body burned with the need for revenge. He could imagine storming into a fancy house, finding the cad and tossing him out into the street, then using a horse whip to strip the clothes and skin off his back. A harsh punishment, but it was no less than what a man who called himself a gentleman and didn't act like one deserved. Given the chance, Jesse would make the fool pay for hurting his Susannah.

Instead, he held his wife until she stopped crying. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you. I was too ashamed," she sniffled.

Cupping her chin, he thumbed away a few of her tears. "You did nothing wrong. He hurt you."

She sighed and leaned against his hand. "I'm fine. I haven't really thought about him much in the past few weeks. I thought the wound had healed."

"It's left a scar." He wrapped both arms around her, squeezing her closer. She smelled of the wild outdoors, with a hint of lavender: all Susannah. All his. Nuzzling into her soft hair, his lips found her ear. "Want me to shoot him?"

She laughed, and he felt a thrill at the happy sound.

Her weight shifted over his, and suddenly Jesse's body remembered he was holding the most delectable piece of calico this side of the Rockies. Moving a little, he positioned her so she wouldn't feel his arousal. What was it about a sweet and vulnerable woman that made him so hard?

"Well, baggage?" He forced himself to battle his desire and focus on the matter at hand. "Just say the word, and I'll saddle Jordan and ride to Boston."

"And shoot him? His father's a judge." Susannah's body shook joyfully against his, adding to his torture. "I'd rather not risk you getting tried and hung for murder."

"That would only happen if I get caught," he scoffed. "But it's your choice. You're the one who would have to be married to an outlaw."

"Better an outlaw than a fool," she said, and he heard the fondness in her voice. Again he felt a pang. She deserved so much better than him.

He kissed her hand and the gold circlet.

"I'm not a kind man, or a gentle one. But I'll live and die for you."

She didn't say anything, but cupped his face and kissed him, and it was all the answer he needed.

* * *

Over the next few days, Susannah settled in. Both newlyweds lost themselves in the work of the homestead: hunting, fishing, tending the garden, chopping wood and a thousand other chores. The work was hard, but the company made it easy. Susannah learned of Rose's hard past as a dancing girl, growing up in saloons and making her way from camp to camp and town to town.

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