Authors: Lee Savino
"She'll do what I tell her to," Jesse scoffed, mind racing. It was time to drop the bait. "I don't stand for a woman who doesn't mind. Few months ago shacked up with a redhead who never sat quiet. She caught the back of my hand before I scraped her off, I tell you."
"Redhead?" one of Otis' men spoke up. "Boone here likes redheads. What's her name?"
Jesse shook his head. "My advice, you stay away from this one. She'll set your bed on fire as soon as look at you."
"I like spirited women," Otis rasped. "What's her name?"
"Rosie," Jesse said after pretending to think. "Rosie something."
"That's it. You know her?"
Otis slammed his glass on the table. "That little whore killed my brother Joseph. Where did you say she is?"
Jesse raised a brow. "Damned if I know. I was with her in Santa Fe."
"Wait," one man said. "I thought Rosie married a man. Walsh or something."
"Wilder," Otis growled, and Jesse's blood ran cold.
"Well, he's not around anymore." Jesse shot the rest of his whiskey. "Or at least, I never saw him." He waved to the bartender, playing the part of a drinking outlaw. He could feel Otis Boone's eyes stripping him to the bone. Doyle's man stayed quiet, but menace was written clearly in bristled brows and flat gaze.
"We might have a job for you, then, after this," Otis said at last. "I hope you have no qualms about killing women."
Jesse shrugged. "Usually like to play with them first. But I don't care who's in the sights of my rifle. Long as I get paid."
A few more shots, and Jesse walked out, pulling his hat low over his face. Last time he was in this town, he'd taken care not to be seen with his brother or sister-in-law. If Otis Boone even suspected Jesse was Lyle Wilder's brother, he was a dead man.
Since last fall, Jesse had been plotting. Distract Doyle, weaken his position, and drain him of his money. Then, infiltrate his gang and kill Boone, and finally Doyle.
Not the best plan, but planning wasn't Jesse's strong suit. Riding a horse and shooting people was.
With any luck, from here on out, that's all he'd be called upon to do. Then Rose and Lyle would be safe, and Jesse could go home.
He glanced up at the night sky, and loped back to his rented room. He still had a few hours before he had to be up at dawn to find a minister. After all, he was getting married in the morning.
* * *
The next morning, Susannah stood in front of the mirror, smoothing her hair for the umpteenth time. With the help of Mrs. Marsh's cleaning woman, she'd finished her toilet and all that remained was to go downstairs, meet the minister, and say the vows.
After months of letters and weeks of travel, now she was nervous. Could she marry this stranger? Certainly, he looked fine and seemed a gentleman, at least, he said very pretty things. But was he someone who could take care of her? Not just feed and clothe and house her, but truly care for her heart?
The pain her former fiancé had put her through had taught her the consequences of choosing a man who looked good, but lacked substance. She wanted someone who would stand up for her, who would commit himself to her no matter what. A strong man, determined to get what he wanted, and who wanted her.
Again, her thoughts returned to the man who robbed the coach. Now there was a man who went after what he wanted. What would it be like to marry such a man, powerful, confident and capable? To be the one he desired above anything else?
The thought flooded her with heat, even though she knew it was ridiculous. She put her hands to her face, staring into her dark blue eyes. In a few minutes, she would marry the man she'd crossed half a country to meet. If he had any of the passion he'd poured into his letters, she would end up a happy wife indeed. She would simply have to give him a chance to woo her in person.
The ceremony was short, Mrs. Marsh served as witness. Susannah stood straight-backed and still, her heart beating fast. Beside her, Jesse Oberon was a presence, a force, and she could hardly keep her eyes off of him.
Perhaps it was her decision to see him in the light of his letters, but he seemed nothing like the foppish young man who she had met yesterday. There was something so familiar about the crinkle of his eyes, the humor in his raised brow.
When the minister finished the ceremony, her new husband pivoted to her. Taking her hand, he raised it to his lips, green eyes intent on hers, filled with enough promises for a lifetime.
His lips touched the back of her hand, and she felt their warmth through the lace glove. Heat burst through her, starting at her cheeks and staining them pink before spreading down her neck and bosom, hardening her nipples and shooting further south.
She stared at him, mouth parting as her breath came faster. By the glint in his eye, he seemed to know the effect he had on her. For a second, Susannah knew she'd married a man she could spend the rest of her life with.
Then she looked down and saw the scar on his hand.
* * *
Discovered again, and by the same woman. His new bride, flushing prettily just a second ago, her lips parted with the promise of a thousand pleasant nights, suddenly turned pale.
Her hand went out to grab his, and he looked down at his ungloved hand, and the telltale scar that betrayed him.
Damn and blast.
"Oh my," Susannah gasped, still staring at his hand.
"You all right, sweetheart? You look faint." Jesse crowded closer to his bride, stepping between her and the only two wedding guests.
"Poor, dear, it's all the excitement," Mrs. Marsh said.
"Thank you, minister." Jesse dismissed the man with a nod. "Mrs. Marsh, if I may have a few moments alone with my bride before we have our lunch?"
"Your lunch is all served in Miss Moore's—I mean, Mrs. Oberon's room. Of course, it's your room now too."
Susannah was swaying on her feet. Before she could fall, Jesse put his arm around his bride, guiding her from the parlor. She struggled a little, very feebly, and Jesse kept a smile pinned to his face, hoping she would not faint at his feet. At least she wasn't shrieking. At the staircase, he gave up trying to propel her along and dipped to scoop her up in his arms.
"Almost there, my lady," he whispered as his bride's head lolled on his shoulder. "You can rest a bit in the room, and we can have a nice, long chat."
As Susannah lay gasping on the bed, the bandit—her new husband—crossed the room to get water.
A fine luncheon had been laid out in their room, just as Mrs. Marsh had said. From the quantity of food, she expected them to be holed up in their bedroom a good long while.
Just the thought sent Susannah's head swimming again.
The outlaw leaned over her. "Here you are, sweetheart." His tone was mocking, but his hands were gentle, helping her sit up, propping pillows behind her.
As soon as she caught her breath, she grabbed at his hand. He was wearing a fine black suit, fit for a groom, complete with long jacket and black vest. At the ceremony, he hadn't worn gloves.
He was wearing heavy riding ones now. Gripping his wrist, she tugged off the right one, revealing the angry scar that ran over his hand. It matched the scar of the coach robber. Her chest tightened again; none of this could be real.
"If you're so eager to see me undress, you'd but to ask," Jesse Oberon said. He made no move to cover the scar that gave him away.
"Breathe, baggage." His hand settled at her back, rubbing soothingly.
"But you're..." She couldn't choke out the rest.
"I'm Jesse. Your husband."
"No." Susannah felt what little blood she had left drain from her face. "No, we cannot be married." What had she done?
"In the eyes of God and man." His black brow quirked at her, humor glinting in his green eyes.
"Oh, no." She put her head in her hands. "Oh no."
The man called Jesse Oberon watched her with a half amused, half resigned air.
Grabbing for her little bag, she drew out the last correspondence from Mr. Oberon, along with his picture. With shaking hands, she held it up next to her husband's face.
"How can this be?" she whispered, feeling almost ill. The green eyes, the dark hair, the rough but well-boned face. How had she not seen it before? Was she so enamored with the fantasy of a husband that she'd let her imagination transform the rogue to a gentleman?
"Not a bad likeness." The man called Oberon plucked the daguerreotype from her fingers and gazed at it critically. Finally, he handed it back, and when she made no move to take it, tucked it back into her purse. His long fingers handled the picture and her little silken bag with a level of care she would've put past most men. "I knew you would've found out sooner or later."
Susannah felt numb, head to toe. All her hopes and plans, dashed. She'd left Boston for nothing. She could almost hear her aunt nagging her.
Oh, god. She would have to tell her aunt. And Mrs. Marsh, and everyone back home. What would people say?
Burying her head in her hands, she fought down nausea. She would be a laughingstock. Again. Susannah Moore, disgraced and discarded. Breathing hard, she fought to control her heaving stomach.
"Relax, baggage. I won't force you to stay married to me."
She peered out from behind her hands. Jesse's head was bent to hers, his green eyes twinkling as if he'd told a joke. "If you want, I'll put you on a coach back to Boston; we can just chalk it up to a misunderstanding."
Her voice came out calm—the pause before the storm. "You're making very light of this."
"Of the situation? It's not ideal. But light of you? Never, Susannah." Her fiancée sat on the edge of the bed, too far to reach, but too close for comfort. Even with her body in shock, his presence still excited her. What was wrong with her?
Jesse pulled off his left glove and cast it aside, before taking her hands in his. "You have two choices, my dear. Annul the marriage and take a trip back to Boston. Or stick it out with me. I never lied once to you in the letters. Everything in them—the land, the claim, my family, it's all true." For a moment, his mischievous green gaze turned sincere.
"What do you mean, you never lied to me?" Susannah pulled her hands away as fire started coursing through her. "You're an outlaw."
"Lower your voice, ma'am." Jesse stood, broad shoulders blocking out the light from the window. "I'm not going to hurt you; let's just talk this out."
Part of her recognized he was bigger, stronger, dangerous. The rest of her wanted to rip his face off.
She slid out of bed, her faint forgotten. "You're a criminal. Oh my god, I married a criminal!"
His hand clapped over her mouth, one steadying the back of her head. Susannah squeaked against his large, calloused palm as he tilted his head closer, his eyes glinting dangerously.
"Listen to me. The circumstances of our meeting aren't what I had planned, but I promise you are safe with me. I'll put you back on the first coach to Boston if you want, and pay you for your trouble. You have nothing to fear, Susannah. Nothing."
Again, he sounded sincere. Susannah added liar and scoundrel to her mental tally of insults, and glared at him over his palm.
"I'm going to take my hand away now, if you promise not to scream. If you do, there will be consequences. I have no wish to hang on the morrow." He half chuckled, shaking his head. "With your luck, baggage, you'll be accused as an accomplice."
Her eyes widened. The driver had no love for her. He probably wouldn't hesitate to accuse her along with her fiancé, now husband.
"Do you promise you won't scream?"
She muttered assent against his palm.
He took his hand away. "Now, let's have some lunch, and decide our business like proper—"
"Help!" She rushed to the door, fumbling at the latch and then pounding on the wood. "Please—"
Arms like iron bands pulled her away, and another hand slapped over her mouth, muffling her cries. With his arm wrapped around her waist, her new husband dragged her back as if she weighed no more than a feather pillow.
"Wrong move, Susannah. Now you've made me angry."
* * *
The baggage glared at him as he tied her wrists to the headboard. He ignored her, and stepped back to admire his handiwork. He did so love a woman trussed and bound to the bed. And his bride was lovely, even with hair disheveled and mouth stopped by a handkerchief. Jesse couldn't resist stroking away a few strands of her blonde hair.
"You lied to me, Susannah. You broke your promise." He tilted his head, reading the expression in her fierce blue eyes and flushed cheeks. "I can almost hear you protesting. You think a promise isn't a promise when it's made to a man like me? You'll find, I'm a man of my word."
Her forehead wrinkled, and he almost chuckled at the unspoken commentary. "It's true. What I say, goes. You can bet your life on it." He leaned closer to be sure she heard the next part. "Our marriage may not last long, but if you ever lie to me again, you'll be punished."
Her eyes widened.
"That's right, little baggage. You remember how I bared your behind on the trail? That spanking was nothing compared to how hot your bottom would be right now, if I wasn't inclined to be gentle. You've had a warning now. Cross me again, or lie to me, and suffer the consequences."
This time, her nostrils flared and cheeks flushed further at the threat. His new wife was an alluring mix of fear and anger, and Jesse hardened at the thought of touching her, using all his skill to punish and pleasure her helpless body until her fight turned to passionate submission. He could do it. Underneath all that bluster, she was attracted to him, he was sure of it. Her scent called to him, scent of lavender mixed with the sweet, heady smell of her arousal. Little Miss Prim and Proper probably didn't know it, but her body was excited to be tied up at his mercy. Her desire was intoxicating—and that was dangerous for a man like him, who dallied on the edge of honor. His cock was already hard and wanting, but he couldn't lose control.