She gradually became aware of the smells of another person’s room, the scent of leather and gun oil. And mostly, the scent of a man beside her. His warm breath on her neck brought forth a slight shudder, and the weight of his arm, casually thrown across her so his hand brushed her breast, made her try not to breathe too noticeably. She was naked, really naked, in his room, in his bed, in his arms.

The room was still dark, but she pulled the blanket up on her, almost to her chin, noticing how scratchy its rough weave felt against her bare skin. It made her feel even more naked. She could barely make out the shapes of her garments, flung here and there around the room, reminders of every step that led to this bed. God, what had she done?

She wondered if she should try to slip from beneath his arm, slide from the bed, and escape. She wasn’t sure how to face him. Yes, it had been what she’d wanted, wanted for months now.  Since she’d found herself stopping to study him from an upstairs window as he pulled his shirt up and fanned his lithe body, mesmerized as she watched him do even the most mundane chores. Since she’d realized that whenever she’d sneak a glance at him, he was sneaking one back at her. She knew it was what he wanted, too. She just wasn’t sure if he’d want her now.

Light was filtering through the windows, illuminating her blouse tossed on the back of a chair. That had been the first surrender. She could have stopped him, just placed a hand on his as he unbuttoned the blouse, tentatively at first, then impatiently. She hoped the bottom buttons weren’t broken. But last night she hadn’t cared. She’d wanted his hands on her, she’d even helped him pull the camisole up, although he’d been the one to smile and fling it across the room, where it now hung, as though in shame, from a lamp. She recalled her surprise when his hands hadn’t lingered long, when instead his mouth had found a nipple, causing her to suck in her breath to keep from moaning.

She’d remembered how for some reason she’d thought of Murdoch then, had worried that he’d come back early from his trip, discover her in the wrong bedroom, catch them both. Thought of how shocked he’d be at her, his treasured ward, at both of them. At how he’d feel they’d both betrayed his trust.

And how she’d forgotten those fears as soon as he cupped her buttocks in his hands, pulling her close, kissing her hard and deep. And how all she’d wanted then was to be closer, for him to be deeper.

He moved slightly in the bed behind her, his hand dropping low on her waist. She held her breath, not sure if she was ready to face him. What if she didn’t mean the same to him as he did to her?

When her skirt dropped to the floor and pooled around her feet she hadn’t protested. Her favorite skirt, and she’d let it lay there, while they stepped all over it. She’d have to wash it first thing.  The trampling had happened when he reached inside her pantaloons, burrowing farther and deeper, and instead of pushing his hand away she’d stood, with her legs just a little spread, letting him have his way. No, wanting him to.

Her mother had been a whore, or the next thing to it. Maybe she was, too. Her pantaloons hung from the head board.

No, he’d said he loved her. Said he wanted to marry her. But she’d heard stories about what men said, and what they actually did.

She caught her breath as she felt soft kisses on her neck. He was awake. His hand traced a line up between her breasts, then caressed them as he kissed her more passionately. He rolled her over onto her back, then pushed himself up to study her body as the blanket was pulled away, a smug smile of ownership on his face. She liked that, liked that he felt she was his. He was still in his shirt, the buttons broken, tails flapping, but she could see enough of his hard body to make her want him again, and to know he wanted her.

But she had to know. “Did you mean it? When you said we’d be married?”

Her heart thrummed when he smiled broadly and nodded a little too enthusiastically. He must know what that did to her, when he let the kid in him show through. She was his, and she opened herself to him as he leaned over her.  

She knew it wasn’t the right time, but she couldn’t help imagining the jealous looks on the other girls’ faces when they’d see the two of them together, how everyone would stop to stare when they were introduced at parties. She tried it over and over in her head, reveling in the sound of it: Mr. and Mrs. Jellifer B. Hoskins.  

This time she’d really show him what she could do.



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