FAIR WARNING– Texas Trio is a longer story– there’s plenty of hot, dirty sex, but it doesn’t show up in the first paragraph! There are a few little bits to hold you over, but the really good stuff doesn’t start until Section 3. Thank you all for the hearts, stars, that’s it. Nick Clayton.”
He glared at Catherine, who could barely swallow through the anxiety creeping up her gullet.
“How you could possibly find fault with Clayton–” He stopped himself and got back on track. “I believe we’ve already discussed a timetable for your betrothal, but perhaps you need to be reminded.”
Cat laid her fork on her plate and blotted her lips calmly, keeping her eyes down so the pale, translucent lids shielded her true feelings while Harrison’s coarse remonstrance continued.
“As we discussed, you have relied on the kindness and generosity of your aunt and myself for too many years, and it’s time now for you to make your own home.”
Not only was that a gross misrepresentation of the facts– her parents’ estate provided generously for Catherine and Rebecca’s needs– but she couldn’t believe her uncle would speak that way in front of Mr. Hawkins. Cat darted a glance at the giant man, but he just kept shoveling food into his maw, impassive as always.
Catherine chose her words carefully. “I appreciate your generosity more than I can say, Uncle Harrison. Aunt Frannie, too. She always told me to wait for the right man, and I guess I just haven’t met the right man yet.”
“I know what your aunt said. Your aunt isn’t here any more, in case you missed her death notice in the Daily News.”
Appalled at his callous tone, Cat peeked at him from under her lashes. His expression was the same one he’d worn last night– right before he hit her. Her eyes dropped hastily to her lap. She’d been so determined to avoid angering him– to avoid another burning slap and the swollen eyes which followed– yet here she was again.
“You’ve turned down a dozen proposals from perfectly appropriate suitors. Your aunt spoiled you, but she’s gone, and it’s high time you married. Since you seem incapable of doing the job yourself, I’ve decided to chose a husband for you.”
Cat’s mouth opened and her head jerked up, a disbelieving stare on her face.
“A landowner from Argentina has been dining at my club this week. I spoke with him at some length yesterday and he seems to me to be everything a young lady like yourself could possibly desire in a mate. He’s wealthy, well-mannered, and to all appearances healthy as a horse. I cannot imagine any of your little friends objecting to such a match, were one of them lucky enough to have the proposal put to her.”
Catherine’s mouth hung open. Surely her uncle couldn’t expect her to marry a complete stranger.
Not to mention which Aunt Frannie hadn’t even been dead six months and he’d already forced her out of mourning. She’d be the worst niece in history if the news got out that she were engaged– a complete social outcast. She swallowed, fighting to control the rapid beating of her heart.
Harrison ignored her dismay. “I’ve arranged for you to meet your intended before the week is out.”
Quivering, Cat stood to make her appeal. “But, Uncle Harry– “
Harry was around the table in an instant, his rapidly reddening face six inches from her own, his fingers digging so deeply into her forearm that Catherine whimpered involuntarily.
“Listen, you little tart, you’ll do what I tell you to do, or I swear I’ll take your sister out of that precious finishing school you girls love so well and put you both to work. Do you know what a bordello is, my dear niece?”
She was unable to free herself and wouldn’t answer. Her uncle didn’t seem to expect it; he went on with hardly a pause. “What do you think they’ll do to a young lady like you in a place like that? How about your darling sister? On second thought, maybe you’d rather Rebecca wed Señor Allejandro?” He stopped, his lips drawn back in a triumphant sneer. “Or maybe she’d prefer Monsieur Louis for her husband?”
Cat wouldn’t cry about the pain in her arm, but the tears spilled over at the idea of Becky hearing even one of the hideous threats with which her uncle had been battering her these past few months. This one was by far the worst, though.
After a final vicious escort ataşehir shake Harrison released her arm.
“You have four days to think it over, Catherine,” his hazel-eyed sneer skittered down the front of her black cotton dress, “and when Señor Allejandro arrives to meet his betrothed, I better find you appropriately clothed for the occasion.”
Uncle Harry and the equally despicable Hawkins departed, leaving Cat alone in the dining room, struggling to control her sobs beneath a sparkling crystal chandelier.
->->->->->->–>–Off Postoffice Street was more likely, at one of the “free-and-easies” serving the lower classes, where even some of the white women would entertain “darkies.” Half of those same, supposedly egalitarian prostitutes still wouldn’t take Indians, though, not even a half-breed like Colt.
Putting his sympathy for his friend aside, Jem decided he’d had enough. One extra day was fine, maybe even two if Colt had a new woman on the hook, but a whole week of leaving his lab work undone to keep the ranch running in Colt’s stead was too much for Jem. Colt might not think Jem’s avocation was as important as the herd or harvest, but his research was part of the reason they flourished. Just last year he’d developed a talc compound which completely eradicated a stubborn infestation of ear mites.
Jeremiah barged into Colt’s suite without knocking, slamming the heavy oak door against the wall with no regard for the fancy paper Colt bought to impress his ladies. Jem’s own rooms were plain as day. Unlike Colt, he’d grown up in luxury and would rather not be reminded of those days.
Colt didn’t stir.
“I knew it! Dead drunk.” Jem grumbled, stalking to the bottom of Colt’s bed and grabbing his ankles through the covers, backing up and yelling at the same time.
“I’ve had enough of your horseshit, Kendall. You can get your ass outa bed and run your own damn ranch today, I don’t care how drunk you are!”
A second after the blanket-covered ball of lard hit the floor, it sorted itself out into a standing, steaming, naked cowboy.
“What the hell are you at, Jeremiah? Can’t I even get a speck of sleep?”
Colt didn’t sound drunk. He didn’t look drunk, either, or even hung over, for that matter. Jem’s eyes narrowed.
“What I’m ‘at’ is getting my own work done, instead of filling in for you while you’re out catting around every damn night.”
Colt ran his fingers through his long hair, yawning, and walked around to sit on the edge of his bed. He leaned over to pick up the heap of blue serge he’d been wearing last night and locate some holes to stick his feet through.
“Yeah, sorry about that, pal.”
Stunned by the– apparently sober– apology, Jem absent-mindedly bent and scooped Colt’s covers from the floor, tossing them onto the feather bed behind his partner.
“What…?” Jem fumbled for words.
“Jem,” Colt pulled his trousers on and stood to button them. “I got trouble and I need your help. I know I been gone for a bit, and I am sorry, but I been trying to figure a way outa this mess, and I can’t do it without your help.”
“Colt, what have you gotten yourself into? It’s the houses, isn’t it? You got caught somewhere you shouldn’t have been, didn’t you?”
Colt laughed dryly, raking his fingers through the black silk again.
“No, Jem, it ain’t me who’s in trouble… if I could have a minute to get my boots on and make water, I’ll meet you downstairs and tell you about it.”
Half an hour later, Jem wasn’t angry, but he was just as surprised as he’d been to discover Colt sober.
“So, you want to rescue this girl from a house you broke into? Kidnap, you mean– because there is no way some society belle is going to willingly accompany a cat burglar from her own home– where she’s probably quite happy and well-cared-for, by the way. And you expect me to help you accomplish this insane mission?”
“First off, Jem, she ain’t happy, I can tell you that. And she wanted to leave with me that night, before I even got a chance to talk to her proper.”
“She told you that?” Jem knew she hadn’t. He’d heard the whole story. What he hadn’t heard was the part with the happy ending.
Colt scowled. “You know she didn’t. You also know I got enough experience with women to know some things kadıköy escort without bein’ told, and this is one of ’em. That woman wanted out, Jem, but she said she couldn’t leave.”
“Why? And what in hell do you expect me to do about it?”
Colt rose from the kitchen table to pour himself another cup of coffee. He’d kicked the old man and the cook out as soon as he got down here, wanting privacy for his plea. “Well, I went and saw Andrew Abbott and asked him to find out what he could down at that club you gents fancy.” Like always, Colt said the word with a wry smile, simultaneously mocking Jem’s social standing and his own lack thereof. “Last night I went to find out what Abbott knew.”
“Abbott says the uncle is a piece of work, a boozin’ gambling womanizer– “
Purposely trying to provoke his friend, Jem interrupted. “Are you talking about the uncle or you?”
Colt’s lip twitched, but he didn’t respond, surprising Jem yet again. Colt was usually fast with a fist, or at least an insulting retort, and Jem had seldom seen him hold back this way. That was when he began to listen more seriously to what his friend was saying.
“This guy ain’t me, Jeremiah. This guy beats his women, and not just a little spanking here an’ there, either. He beats them so bad none of the whores want anythin’ to do with him, not even the ones who like it real rough. The last girl almost died. The word is that now he’s buying girls from Mexico. Girls, Jem, not women. He keeps one for a month or so and she never makes it home.”
Jem’s mood instantly went from mocking to dead serious. “What about this girl of yours?”
“She’s got a younger sister at school, which is probably why she wouldn’t leave. Abbott said the uncle– Harrison Matthews– has been hinting around that his niece needs a husband, and he ain’t too picky about who takes him up on the offer, as long as he’s willing to bend the rules. Abbott thinks it’s got something to do with a fortune the girl’s parents left for her and the sister.”
“Fine. I see your cause for concern, but I still don’t know what you expect me to do about it.”
Colt sipped, keeping his eyes on the mug, a sure sign Jem wouldn’t like his answer. “Marry her.”
Jem surged to his feet, towering over his friend at the table. “Are you crazy, Colt? Are you completely crazy? I’ve gone thirty-two years without a wedding and you think I’ll tie myself to some frilly Texas belle purely because you beg me? You are certifiably insane.”
Colt grabbed Jem’s arm when he turned to leave.
Jem spun, prepared to swing, but Colt’s palm was up and out, his expression pleading. Jem restrained himself, glaring. Only an inch shorter than Colt, his fury was no less impressive. Sometimes he wondered if his wealthy Boston family would even recognize the carefree ruffian he’d become since landing on the Texas frontier.
“You can get it annulled in six months– but we gotta get her out of there. You know I can’t make it as a gent no matter how hard you try to pretty me up, never mind the color of my skin.” He paused for a long, uncomfortable moment in which Jem knew they were both thinking the same thing: how would Catherine Connor react to Colt when she saw him unmasked? Neither of them spoke, though, and Colt continued. “All you got to do is convince the uncle you’re the man he wants and get him to give her to you. I’ll take care of the rest. I’m going back to see her tonight.”
Jem hesitated, telling Colt he had a chance.
“Please, Jem? At least meet the uncle and find out first hand what kind of man he is.”
Jem’s shoulders sank. He supposed another couple of days away from his workshop wouldn’t kill him. And the time away would be worth it if Colt would quit talking about this perfect angel of his and get back to tending the ranch.
->->->->->->–>–crazy, Catherine Connor.”
Cat stood, briskly brushing the front of her gown down over her thighs. “It’s almost midnight and here you sit, for the third night in a row, waiting for a burglar to come court you!”
For a moment, she hesitated, wondering whether she could call him a burglar, since he didn’t seem to have stolen anything. Coming to her senses, she shook her head in disgust. She’d go to bed and forget about the man once and for all. He’d maltepe escort bayan probably only been charming her so she wouldn’t scream. But there was still the mystery of the broken glass, too… Cat paused again before the fire.
After her horrid breakfast with Uncle Harry, Catherine realized she’d totally forgotten to sweep the broken glass away. Thinking her uncle must not have seen it yet, she sighed gratefully for the reprieve. Hurrying to the sitting room, she found the hearth already clean, save for a few small shards lingering by the edge of the rug. The household staff all professed ignorance. Was it even possible that man– a common thief– had cleaned up the broken glass for her?
Catherine sighed. It was a moot point anyway– she obviously wouldn’t be seeing him again. She adjusted the fire screen carefully, ensuring no errant spark would escape.
As long as she was here, maybe she’d finish another chapter in the novel she was reading. She’d go straight to bed after that.
She brushed her skirt down once more and turned to fetch her book, running straight into a brick wall.
A brick wall that caught her elbows when she wobbled, preventing her from falling back against the marble hearth. A cry caught in Catherine’s throat as her eyes climbed the broad chest at eye level, taking in the buttons on his dark shirt, an open collar framing a tan throat, a square, stubble-covered jawline, and coming to rest on those blue, blue eyes. They actually were cobalt, Cat realized, with a subdued frisson of shock.
It occurred to her then that she should scream, or at least ask him to remove his hands, but she didn’t do either. She was held captive by the connection between them.
Through the thin silk stretched tightly over her upper arms, the subtle butterfly of his thumbs on her skin soothed her. Up, down, up, down, while his eyes, the vibrant blue of a twilit sky, caressed her cheeks.
To her amazement, she discovered the silk mask– and what it signified– mattered not at all to her.
‘What–” Catherine began, not knowing what she’d ask.
He stopped her with a whispered “Shhhh” and a finger placed lightly on her lips.
Cat complied, mesmerized by the deep blue irises. Coming closer, she realized, as Colt bent down. At the last second she closed her eyes, concentrating on her first kiss.
Colt kissed her softly, a slow and tender embrace of her lips with his own. When she responded by tipping her head slightly and lifting her hands to his biceps. The cautious reins restraining his heart snapped and the blood began to thunder through his veins. He drew her in, deepening the kiss.
Equally aroused, Cat was swept up in a storm of sensations she could never have imagined when she was lying alone in her bed at night. The velvety touch of his lips was enough to make her swoon, but when he used his tongue she lost track of all the possible objections she should be making. She opened her mouth to him willingly, sliding her hands from his arms to his ribcage as he drew her close.
His body was hot and hard, she realized, nothing like her own pliant curves. This man was hard as a rock all around. His warmth and his scent enveloped her. Her town-trained senses could detect the faint scent of his horse, but mostly he smelled of saddle soap and leather and living things she couldn’t recognize or name. Instinctively she knew it was the country he came from, a wide-open place filled with of plants and animals she’d only ever seen in books.
Encouraged by the pleasant messages her body was sending her brain, Catherine let her own tongue reach out for Colt’s. He groaned from deep in his throat, startling her, and she tried to back away.
Colt didn’t let go, and she relaxed into his embrace again a heartbeat later, resuming the kiss and letting her hands wander across the wide, curved plane of his back. His leather vest was in the way, so she dipped down to get her hands up under it. Colt groaned again, but Catherine didn’t startle as easily this time, too absorbed in the feelings washing over her.
His lips were like burning embers, heating her whole body, until she felt as hot as the muscles of his back, moving under her palms. Colt ran one hand over her cheek and jawline while he stroked her spine with the other. He pressed her body more tightly against him, and this time she was the one who moaned. She could feel the swollen bulge in the front of his trousers even through her corset. Unknowingly, she moved sideways, to and fro, trying to soothe the same yearning she felt at night in her bed.