Authors: Lee Savino
"What about the law?"
"What about it?" He straightened. "You met the sheriff?"
It was her turn to nod.
"He's Doyle's man. Everyone in this town is, whether they like it or not."
Susannah wrinkled her nose. "Surely there must be someone who would stand up to him."
"That's right, baggage, and someone is. Me." His business finished, Jesse took off his boots and took up the lamp. To her surprise, he came to the bed and climbed in after her, on the side of the rifle.
"What are you doing?" Susannah squeaked, scooting over to make room for him.
"Going to sleep," he said, setting the lamp on the bedside table. "You're welcome to do as you wish, as long as you don't leave the room until I say."
"You can't sleep here. We're not—"
"Well, not really..." she sputtered.
"Relax, baggage. I'm not going to ravish you. More's the pity."
"I never!" she huffed.
"Hush," he said, blowing out the lamp, and then rolling to her, drawing her body against his before she could scoot away.
"This is improper," she protested, but didn't fight. She was too tired, and besides, it actually felt nice.
"Not for two married people. Besides, nothing's going to happen. You'll return home with your virtue intact."
Susannah fell silent, wondering at why she felt so disappointed. Jesse's body was long and hard behind hers, enveloping her with his warmth. No one had ever held her like this—certainly not any man—but she'd imagined it again and again. The reality was better than her imagining.
She turned her head and his hair tickled her ear.
"Besides," he breathed. "If you want me to truly touch you... you'll have to beg."
"I will never," Susannah vowed.
Jesse chuckled. "I'll take that bet." His arms settled around her. "I like a challenge.
* * *
After that, Susannah couldn't really sleep. She would've tossed and turned all night if not for the large outlaw at her back, spooning her.
She'd never met a man so infuriating. His words turned over and over in her head, driving sleep from her. Not to mention, his rather large member was poking her back. A strange pressure was building between her legs, but seeing as she was trapped in an outlaw's arms, she could only stay very still and seethe. Eventually, she did drop off to sleep, waking a few times, and finally rousing completely.
There was no window in the little room to tell her whether it was dawn or not, but she wriggled around and came up on an elbow, reaching over her sleeping rogue to light the lamp.
As the light hit his face, he sighed, but didn't wake. She held her breath and slipped from the bed, looking back at her resting rogue. Sleep had relaxed his features; they were still rugged but softer somehow, missing that devilish smirk. A day and night's growth of stubble covered his face, but Susannah thought it made him more handsome. His long form almost hung off the bed.
If she had any sense at all, she'd shoot him as he slept. In the brief time she'd known him, he'd lied, cursed, fought, murdered, and stolen, not to mention demeaned and manhandled her. She had never met a man who had subjected her to such indignity. He couldn't be any more opposite to the gentleman she'd expected from his letters if he had a devil's horns growing out of his head.
And yet, and yet...
He'd killed a man who'd threatened her, and taken her to a place where he knew she'd be safe. He'd comforted her and explained his reasons. He'd held her all night.
She didn't understand him at all. With a sigh, she bent to pick up her clothes. Perhaps she could slip away before he woke; it'd be for the best.
As soon as she rose, she met Jesse's green eyes.
"Where are you going?"
"I'm leaving," she said. Sleep had replenished her haughtiness. "You don't have to concern yourself with me anymore."
"I don't think so." In seconds, he was up and alert, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. "Not until I make sure it's safe.
Stamping her foot, Susannah turned her back to the rogue, and drew her corset around her. She struggled with it until she felt Mr. Oberon's body at her back. Without a word, he reached around and helped mold the whalebone to her body, expertly tightening her stays.
"Thank you," she said when he was done. Just because he had no manners didn't mean she forgot hers. He didn't make a bad lady's maid, she thought with a grimace.
Before she finished dressing, Jesse was ready at the door. "Let me go out first. Yes, Boone is dead, but the rest of Doyle's men are about."
With an imperious nod, she gave her consent, and spent the rest of the time finishing her toilet. Her dress was irrevocably stained, but her fingers didn't do too badly combing through her hair.
She almost felt presentable by the time Mr. Oberon returned.
"I have bad news." He looked grim. "They didn't see me. They saw you. Doyle's men are crawling all over the place, looking for a blonde thing fitting your description. Looks like you're stuck with me a while longer."
Her legs wobbled a little. "Are you certain?"
"Should've killed the whoremonger," Jesse muttered.
"What'll I do?"
"You'll stay here. I'm going to get our things from Mrs. Marsh. Tell her we're excited to go home and I had you go to the coach. She'll never be the wiser." He leaned down and took both her hands. "I'll ready Jordan, then I'll come back and get you. We'll go one town over and I'll get you back to Boston, I swear."
Susannah stared up at him.
"Can you trust me to keep you alive?"
Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes a second, and then opened them to his green ones. "Yes."
"Stay here, Susannah. Don't open this door for anyone but me. Promise?"
She nodded, and he returned it, nothing but seriousness in his stubbled face.
But as soon as the door closed on his black-clad form, fear washed over her, and she paced back and forth.
Had she really just put her life in the hands of a man she'd only just met?
She cursed the happy dream she had of going west and marrying. The whole West could go up in flames, and she'd just laugh and watch it burn.
Her aunt always said she was too impetuous. First joining the abolitionists, then wearing bloomers to scandalize every suitor, even going to college and becoming a teacher instead of immediately settling into matrimony.
After her first engagement ended, her aunt had been afraid Susannah would be a spinster, the woman had started to throw all manner of men in her niece's path and finally laid down the ultimatum: marry by her twenty-fifth summer or be completely cut off. Even idealistic Susannah knew she couldn't afford the finest silk on a schoolteacher's salary. As distasteful as marriage was, she figured she could find a well-to-do gentleman who would be so enamored by her looks and charm that she could twist him around her little finger, and continue as before.
Perhaps, she'd hoped, he'd even love her.
Jesse's letters had come at the exact right time, and flattered her, especially when her spirit was in tatters with the end of her engagement.
Why had she married him? She wished she'd asked Carrie for confirmation of his character sooner. Did her friend in Colorado really know this rogue, or had it all been a lie?
He said he'd never lie to her, but that was just the thing a liar would say!
And now she was waiting here for him to come back and save her? The man who robbed her, tied her up and left her, swooped in and married her, seduced her, put her in a situation where her life was in danger and she was being chased by evil, unwashed men.
This was madness!
Pulling out her money, she counted it. For a moment she was tempted to paw through her groom's bags to find any valuables, then cast the thought aside. Jesse's outlaw ways were rubbing off on her; all the more reason for her to run.
She crept down the hallway, heart jumping in her throat at the rumble of male voices downstairs. At any moment she expected Jesse to come around the corner and order her back to her room. Perhaps when he tied her up he'd take awful liberties. His big body pressing her back in the bed, the easy way he manhandled her. The thought made her flush, and she abandoned it.
The first man she met in the hall wasn't a vision of rugged beauty like her Jesse. The greybeard stopped short at the sight of her, mouth dropping open to show a line of filthy jagged teeth.
"Excuse me, sir." She pressed herself into the wall to scurry past him. His head turned to follow her, and she hoped he wouldn't call her back. The next two men were on the stairs, and though they stepped aside for her, their eyes crawled over her bosom. Susannah bid them good day in a breathless rush, and scooted by. This was worse than the docks in Boston! At least the men there acted like they had seen a woman before.
It was worse downstairs. A few men gathered in the grubby parlor/dining room, and as soon as she stepped off the stairs the whole room eyed her.
A few of them made indelicate suggestions as she passed, one even cursed. Susannah winced and wished she'd looked for a back door.
She'd almost made her escape when two big men stepped in front of her. "Hey, missy, why you leaving? We haven't gotten our chance with you."
"No whores allowed," another man called from the corner of the room. He wore a waistcoat and was counting money behind a counter, a shotgun plainly in sight.
Susannah had started to stiffen and defend her honor, when the two burly men did it for her, one turned and took a threatening step forward.
"She's not a whore," the other said, pulling on one Susannah's bedraggled curls. "She's a lady, and she's with us, ain't that right?"
"Wrong," a voice thundered at the door. Jesse swept in, tall form dwarfing all the others, his green eyes glinting with menace. Susannah nearly sighed in relief as he collected her to his side with one arm, pistol in the other raised in obvious challenge.
"This is my wife," Jesse said. "Any man who touches her answers to me."
The two thugs didn't look happy.
"Better keep her close then," one spat, before his companion pushed him out the door.
Susannah pressed close to her husband's body, grateful for his powerful form sheltering hers. Jesse's gaze swiveled back and forth across the room, pistol still raised, looking for threats.
"Hey," the proprietor called. "No whores, no wives either. Don't need women here, causing trouble."
"Don't worry." Jesse started herding Susannah towards the stairs. "We're leaving. Just need a word with the missus."
At his tone, Susannah raised her eyes, and winced when she met Jesse's smoldering gaze. His hands guided her with mocking attention, until she hesitated, then he pulled her roughly up the stairs.
She went with him, tugged along. He opened the door and flung her inside, she staggered a few steps inside.
"What were you doing?" he thundered.
"You were gone so long... I thought—" Her eyes darted nervously. He seemed so angry.
He stepped forward, and his angry heat washed over her, reminding her that her husband was a dangerous man.
"You thought what?" Jesse bit out, and Susannah hastily assembled her thoughts.
"I thought you had left me."
"I told you, I was securing your things. Arranging for them to be sent to a town where we could collect them." He still advanced in that long, measured tread, and Susannah backed away, feeling like prey faced with a hunter.
Her back hit the wall and she gasped. "I'm sorry."
"You aren't, but you will be." He turned on his heel.
"What do you mean?"
"Lift your skirts and bend over the bed."
Her mouth dropped open. "What?"
"You heard me. I told you to stay in the room. You promised. I told you, you break a promise to me, there will be consequences."
"You wouldn't strike a woman."
"Strike a woman? No. Spank her bottom red, so she learns her lesson and obeys me next time? Absolutely."
"Jesse, please, you must listen to me." She scooted along the wall, looking for a way out even as she begged.
"You have until the count of three to bare your bottom and lean over the bed." Jesse pulled off his coat, and rolled up his sleeves.
The door was too far away.
"One," Jesse ground out.
"No, wait." Susannah stiffened her back and called on all her courage to bring her a few steps closer. "If you hit me, I will scream."
"Two." It wasn't a man, but a green-eyed devil who faced her, his handsome face set in stone.
She backed away, looking wildly for an escape route. The bed was too small to hide under, and there was no window. Nothing even to throw at him.
In fear, she darted for the door, and he caught her easily around the waist.
"No, put me down," she shrieked, as he carried her to the bed and set her into place: torso draped over the bed and legs hanging down, presenting her bottom to the room. Pinning her with one hand, he stuffed his handkerchief into her mouth with the other.
"I'm punishing you for giving me your word and then leaving the room anyway. If I'm to help you, I need you to obey." As he spoke, he pushed her skirts up, gathering her wrists and holding them in the small of her back to keep her from flailing.
"You put both of us in danger," he said. "If we're to survive, we must work together."
Susannah felt him pull up the last of her layers, and then part her drawers. She gasped as the bare air hit her skin.
"Very nice." He paused to admire her. "Pity you're not truly my wife. I'd spank you every day, just to see this pretty sight." His hands were rubbing her skin, taking liberties.
She squirmed, and he smacked her flesh. Her body bucked in response, trying to throw off his grip, but she couldn't move.
"Ready for your punishment?"
"No!" she yelled through her gag.
Chuckling, he started spanking her. At first the smacks were surprisingly light, just enough to alert her the punishment had started. Then his hand fell harder, sharp blows that brought the sting to the top. She shrieked, body writhing.