Jack stared down at her. At his Abigail. Even in the dim light, her tears glistened accusingly at him. Tears of pain? Shame? How was it fucking possible? Sure, he had heard those goddamned rumors. But she was twenty-seven years old. She had a fucking fiancée, well, she did have. But those tears and the tightness that was squeezing the ever love life from his cock did not lie. But “Why?”
The word had been rhetorical. He did not expect an answer. So when the silence ended with a soft sob and whimpered, “I thought it was a dream. My fantasy come true.”
Her sobs ate at his gut. Guilt was an emotion he knew all too well. His Ranger friends that never made it back. The men-boys that he had killed for who the hell even knew what. Another white man’s war of aggression, like taking his people’s land wasn’t enough. They had to fuck with the rest of the world. The Old Man’s death. Watching the casino circle the drain, knowing what its loss would do to the community.
But none of that guilt came close to this. He had taken Abigail’s virginity. In his fucked up plan for just one taste of heaven, he had robbed her of something she had obviously been saving for her wedding night. But fuck did the idea of some other man having that gift piss him the fuck off?
She shifted beneath him. Another whimper accompanied the movement that had only forced him deeper inside her tightness. He could not stop his moan – of pleasure. His brain that had been trained to take in information, make rapid calculations, and change plans on the fly took over.
How had this happened? Why her? How had he ended up as helplessly caught in a Monroe woman’s web as his grandfather had been? Abigail represented everything he had fought a lifetime to overcome. But Jack had seen enough to know that nothing was ever that simple. And this woman certainly was not.
“Why?” he demanded again as he placed his fingers under her chin and forced her to turn her head.
She stubbornly stared down for a moment in silence. He followed her gaze, but the sight that greeted him then was more shocking. Her half-naked body, legs open, and his still hard cock buried almost entirely inside of her. Perhaps it was the bloodstains on her thighs that drew forth her audible gasp.
“Why?” he pleaded as her eyes lifted, perhaps to avoid that reality.
“I was drunk. I lost my Nana. Then my fiancée dumps me – well, maybe I dumped him. I’m not sure. But all I know is that for the first time in my life, I felt something.” Her words, her honesty shocked him, and he released her chin. She turned her head back towards the wall immediately. “I wasn’t just doing what he wanted. I felt alive. Like the heroine in some romance novel. And like I said, I thought it was just another of my dreams.”
“Lady, you have some hellacious dreams,” he chuckled. “But why,” he paused, stammered for the words, “Why save yourself for so long and then just…” He trailed off, not knowing how to ask without offending her further.
“It was not for some sanctimonious religious reason if that’s what you’re thinking. It just never felt right. I never felt,” Abby was silent for a moment. Then she shifted again, drawing audible moans from them both that melded together in the dark silence. She pushed at him then. “Can you move, please? You weigh a ton.”
He shook his head, not only at what her words said but the sad story that lay underneath. She was twenty-seven. She had been with the same man for five years and never had full-on sex with him. And not because of some old-fashioned religious reason, but because she never felt alive. Until tonight. Until this. Until him.
Jack knew that if he did what she wanted, this is how she would remember it. Pain and awkwardness. To wait that long to feel ‘alive’ only to have it disintegrate so quickly was not right. “Fuck,” he cursed again as he realized where his logic was taking him – straight to the pits of hell. Who knew maybe the Greywolf men were cursed? Destined to live under the spell of sweet, innocent witches like the Monroe women?
But at that moment, it did not matter. All that mattered was that he had a mission to complete — a job to finish. And as with all the others he had faced, even if it killed him. This one just might.
One hand trailed softly from its resting place on the bed, up along the softness of her silk-clad thigh. Oh yes, this was hell. He knew it was because he was burning alive. He toyed with the white lacey garter belt around her hips; she gasped and turner her head back towards him. Her eyes were wide and innocent.
“For a virgin, you have the most fucking erotic taste in lingerie I have ever seen,” he whispered as he lowered his head slowly towards her. He would not force her; rape had never appealed to him. Hell, he had enough trouble with the alcohol. He had fought it earlier. Told himself that she was not capable of consenting. But she had not given him a choice. Little Miss Innocent had been the aggressor. Until… Jack trusted his skills as a lover enough to know he could seduce her. And as fucked up as this was, it also felt more perfect than anything else in his life ever had. This was where he was meant to be. She was…
“Really? I mean, you actually like it? It isn’t too old-fashioned? Outdated?” Her words drew him back from the path that he was almost afraid to take. He would deal with that later.
Right now, Jack wanted to laugh at the odd conversation they were having. Except for the feel of her tightness squeezing all sanity from him and the insecurity that he heard beneath her words. “No, it is subtle. Sensual. What a lady wears to please, not a whore. You do want to please me, don’t you?”
His tongue trailed along the vein in the side of her neck. He felt her pulse there stutter for a moment, then begin to pound fast and strong. That was not the only place he felt her pulse. And the warm, wetness there was driving him insane.
“You want to find out for yourself, don’t you, Abby Jean? You want to know if it really can be as good as in all Mercy’s books, don’t you.” He nibbled at her neck, not hard enough to leave a mark, not yet, not here, but he would before this night was over. “And you want me to show you, don’t you, sweetheart?” Her words in the casino flooded his addled brain. Had she meant them? Did he fucking care?
He was enjoying this game. He could not remember the last time he had had to work for sex. Maybe never. Women took what they wanted. Threw themselves at whatever man took their fancy for the moment, for a night. And his exotic good looks and career choice had made him a top dog for a long time. He could not go to a bar without having at least a dozen beautiful women throw themselves at him. He had his pick. It was easy. Too easy. A man wanted what he could not have.
Maybe that was their secret? At that moment, he did not care. He just wanted what he knew he should not. His hand trailed up her side, brushed against the side of her breast. He ate up the soft moan that the touch elicited. He drew it deep inside, hid it away somewhere like the perfect stones he had collected at a little boy. Hidden in the box under his bed to be brought out when his mother fought with one of her lovers or drank too much and came looking for him. They were his salvation, his safety. His treasure. They paled to just plain old dusty rocks in comparison to that sweet sound, though.
There was no resistance when his fingers found her chin and tugged gently. He stared into her face for a long moment. He saw traces of the woman he had spent a lifetime hating. And a tiny bit of that little girl too. Mainly in those eyes. Did she still think he hung the moon?
But he saw other things too. He saw indecision. He saw insecurity. He saw a woman, her own person. Not just Miss Myrtle’s granddaughter. It was more than his addled brain could process at the moment, especially when it was overwhelmed with sensations from his body, screaming for more.
He kissed her nose. It was crazy, and he knew it. He ought to get up, pull up his jeans, and run as fast as he could from this place. But he wouldn’t. Not unless she made him. He was prepared for a ‘No.’ He would persuade the little lady a bit. Seduce her. Kiss her senseless. That was what they both wanted. Not to have to think about any of this. Just to give in to feelings. It was not something that Andrew Jackson Greywolf had ever done in his whole life.
But even he was not prepared for what happened next. Abigail lifted her hips, drew him entirely inside of her tight innocence. Her soft hands framed his face as she undulated beneath him. “Yes, Jack, show me. Show me it all.”
It was an invitation that no fool would pass up. Jack met her halfway. His lips and tongue devoured, conquered, and took everything she offered and then some. His body began a slow dance that soon became a frantic Texas two-step, and she matched him move for move. His hands were everywhere, stroking and caressing until she was moaning and whimpering louder than the most experienced whore ever to share his favors. But her hands were busy too. And the next time that those fingernails sank into the muscles of his shoulders, he knew that it was the pleasure she was feeling.
He gave in then to his own needs. He buried his face in that sweet spot where her shoulder met her neck. His teeth sank into the soft flesh as surely as her fingers had his back. He dove deeper into her waters than he ever had – and he was an experienced diver. His lungs burned with the need for oxygen even as he erupted like a volcano deep on the ocean floor. Spewing forth hot molten life itself.
He collapsed on top of her. He did not even have the energy to roll to the side. Not this time. Not this woman. And he did not want to either. He needed to stay just like this, wrapped in her arms for the whole night – for eternity. He felt the warm wetness where her cheek touched his. But then it was gone, replaced by her soft lips. It was a feather-soft caress as she whispered two words. Two simple words that rocked the foundations of his world. “Thank you.”
Jack felt like he was drowning. It was not a sensation that he had feared but rather one they learned to embrace. Fear. The unknown. Death. They were all just part of the job. Ones you learned to live with. But until that moment, those words, Jack was not sure he had ever lived at all.
His mind was fragmented, like the jigsaw puzzles that his grandfather loved. He used them to teach Jack life lessons. Logic. Patience. Persistence. But this one felt like the time that Old Man had hidden the final piece. He wanted to teach Jack that something does not have to be perfect to be right, to be appreciated. It was his final lesson. The last day before Jack left for basic training. Jack thought he knew it all, of course. But now, he was not so sure.
Her arms wrapped tighter as she shifted beneath him. He was still hard inside of her. He wanted more. Wanted to taste perfection again. But he knew that she would be sore tomorrow as it was. He fought back his demons as he whispered, “Sleep.” He kissed her cheek even as he knew that sleep was not something he would be getting much of this night.
Jack found the instant coffee right where he remembered. Had she changed anything since her grandmother’s death? To be fair, he slept most nights on the old couch in his office, because that small trailer was still filled to overflowing with his grandfather’s stuff. He should probably call someone to haul the whole damned thing away. It seemed both of them were stuck in the past, caught in small town webs of secrets that went back before their births.
He shook his head as he stirred the coffee crystals into two delicate china cups. He put milk and sugar into matching containers and placed them on a tray. He needed his black and strong. She had slept like an angel, but as he suspected, he had not managed to sleep at all. Not that that was a problem for him. He had been trained to go without sleep for long periods, forty-eight, even seventy-two hours. So that could not account for the poor decision-making skills he was exhibiting at the moment.
“Fuck,” he cursed as he lifted the tray and prepared for battle. As with all the others he had fought, he was determined to win. He would begin with being the nice guy: coffee in bed.
Damn, he set the tray back down on the table and walked through the living room, opened the door, and winced at the bright light as the sun climbed higher. He quickly found what he sought and used the pocket knife his grandfather had given him to cut off a white rose. But not before its thorns buried deep beneath his skin. That seemed prophetic justice somehow given his plan. He sucked blood from his thumb as he placed the flower alongside the cup of steaming liquid. He was as prepared for battle as he was going to get. Time to face the music, as the Old Man would have said. He carried the tray through that living room and up the stairs.
She was still sleeping when he came in. That tiny little hand tucked under her rosy cheek. He tried to remember a single time when he woke up with a woman only to discover she was more beautiful in the light of day than she had been the night before in the dingy bar. He could not. Hell, he was not sure he could even remember waking up next to a woman. He usually sneaked out in the middle of the night. Or kicked them out.
But this one was. Absolutely gorgeous. Even the faint black smudges beneath her eyes looked cute almost. There was no cracking of the heavy cake of foundation, no stains upon the pristine white pillows. He blushed as he remembered deep reddish-brown stains upon the matching sheets. He cursed quietly under his breath as he sat the tray on the pale pink table next to the bed. He almost wondered where all the fucking Babs were. This place certainly looked like dolls belonged.
He brushed a strand of the blond locks back from her face. She stirred a bit and moaned in her sleep. She was definitely going to be sore. He stood up and walked out of the room, down the hall, and into the bathroom. He turned the taps on the ancient bear claw tub. He adjusted the water to make sure it would be nice and warm. He looked around a bit until he found a box of bath salts and poured some of those into the water, watching it froth up. Alright, hot coffee, warm bubble bath; that should just cover the Mister Nice Guy crap. And if he needed to be an asshole, well, that came more natural.
Jack crept back into her room, leaving the tub to fill slowly with water. She had turned onto her other side, facing the wall, and kicked off the quilt. Damn, he cursed. The girl had amazingly long legs. He thought about how they would look wrapped about his waist. Would they fit? He’d lay odds they would, and considering that was his job and in his blood, anybody would be a fool to bet against him. Last night might have been fast and furious, but tonight would not be. He would make sure he found out then.
The idea of tabula rasa was intriguing. Virgins had never appealed to him. Before last night anyway. But it made perfect sense. He had been dragging his feet all these months because the type of woman he had in his life until now was not the type you married. Not if you had any good sense anyway. He had watched too many of his friends get burned that way.
The thing was that any good, god-fearing woman would run the other direction from the likes of him. The bastard grandson of the state’s first casino owner, who had run away from the past and hidden for a lifetime in faraway war zones that most people around here had never heard of.
He sighed as he girded himself for this battle. Because somewhere in the long dark night, Andrew Jackson Greywolf had abandoned his plans for running from this woman-child. He had decided that perhaps the best revenge he could have for the Old Man was to have the one thing he had wanted for a lifetime and never gotten – a Monroe woman by his side for life as his wife. Now it was time for that battle to begin. He brushed her hair back and kissed the side of her face. She swatted at him like he was some pesky fly. If she only knew. It was time the roles were reversed – time a Monroe woman got caught in a Greywolf web.
“Wake up, sunshine. I brought coffee,” Jack whispered against her ear.
Abby was back in her dream. She would have sworn ‘he’ kissed her cheek. It was surreal, like Sleeping Beauty. Until she turned over, and every muscle in her pelvic region screamed out in excruciating pain. Well, not the sharp one that had awoken her from her dream into harsh reality last night. More of a dull but persistent ache. Like the one time, she had been foolish enough to hire a personal trainer after another barrage of complaints from John about her too-full curves. With some things, once was definitely enough. She blushed as she remembered what had come after that pain. Okay, so sometimes once was not enough.
“Rise and shine, sleeping beauty. We have to get on the road soon before all of Sebida starts talking,” if his words were not confusing enough, the bright light that flooded her bedroom was. She raised her arm to shield her eyes as she sat up quickly. That was the wrong move, as she paid for it with a sharp shooting pain right between her legs.
“Fuck,” she cussed. She could not remember using that word since she was twelve, and Nana had her mouth washed out with soap. But Nana was gone – along with her virginity and her fiancée. Her life was a royal mess lying in pieces all around her. And this stranger was telling her to ‘rise and shine?’
Well, not a stranger. More like a little girl’s darkest fantasy. If six-year-old girls could have true loves, and she knew they could, then Andrew Jackson Greywolf had been hers. She remembered well all the times that Nana had taken her to the Friday night high school football game. Small town Texas lived for its football, and Jack Greywolf as quarterback had brought the small town of Sebida back to life. She remembered watching him play, but even more, she remembered after the game when he would take off his helmet and that long mane of jet black hair would fall about his face.
Later, when she had found Nana’s stash of ‘female porn,’ it was always Jack’s face she saw in her mind, whether the hero was Native American, Viking, or even aliens. Now it was Jack Greywolf pushing back the curtains and letting that damned sun pound into her brain that hurt almost as much as between her legs. “Closed the damned curtains.”
“Tut, tut. What would your Nana say if she heard you talking like that? Is that any way for a lady to greet her lover in the morning?” he chuckled.
His hair was shorter. Much shorter. It barely hit the collar of his shirt that the man had not even bothered to button. Damn him. She stared at the lean muscled expanse of skin and abs that honestly should have been on the cover of one of Mercy’s spicier erotic romances. Even the touch of grey that streaked his temples was sexy.
She blushed as his words registered through the fog of hangover that addled her brain. Her lover. Jackson Greywolf was her lover. Her first. She wanted to cuss again as she shook her head, and pain sliced through it once more, “She would not say anything. She would wash my mouth out with soap.”
He laughed, a deep rich sound as dark as Nana’s molasses. “I’d prefer to spank your bottom.” He held her gaze as he walked across the room. A predator. Prowling its cornered prey. A wolf about to pounce. Just like his namesake. He stood next to her bed. Lifted a cup of steaming liquid and held it out to her with a smile that reminded her of that wolf baring its fangs, “But it might take us some time to work up to the more advanced theatrics of sex. Drink some coffee. It will help your head. And I have run a warm bubble bath for what else ails you.”
His smugness did not sit well with her. He might appear the considerate lover, but she could feel something else, just below the surface. She took the cup from him and brought it to her lips. Its hot liquid scalded her mouth, but she needed the caffeine. She sat it back on the tray next to her and added two big spoons of sugar. He watched her every move. It was disconcerting. She raised the cup to her lips once more and drained it. She held tight to the cup as if it were a safety net.
“Want another? Although a glass of orange juice and a couple of Tylenol would do better. I could not find either, but we can stop for them on the way out of town,” he lifted the tray and turned towards the door.
Her brain was barely functional, but the coffee had woken her enough to register his words this time. “I’m not going anywhere with you,” she pulled the quilt up to cover her. She still had on her slip, but even that seemed scant little given the situation.
He paused in the doorway, holding the tray that she had used to bring Nana her food for months. This man had invaded her home, her only sanctuary. He acted as if he belonged, as if he had some right to be here, to command her moves. It infuriated her. But his following words sent her spiraling into a rage.
Jack met her glare with calm aplomb. So, his sweet little kitten had claws. Rather than turning him off, it affirmed his decision. He would enjoy the game so much more if she fought him a bit. He liked the challenge as he chose his next words carefully. They were his smart bomb. He had known they were the secret weapon he would use all along. It was merely a case of selecting the proper time, the right target. The sooner she understood the stakes of this game and her opponent, the sooner the real fun could begin.
“Are you on the pill, Abby Jean?” Jack kept his voice completely neutral, knowing that his flat tone added power to the words themselves. He used the nickname that he knew only Miss Myrtle had coined for use when her ‘good girl’ dared to misbehave. He knew far more about her than she realized, and he would use it all to his advantage in this game. Because he was playing to win, playing for keeps.
He kept his face a mask of dispassionate indifference as he watched the rosy color drain from hers. But the way that her delicate hand instantly covered her lower abdomen reaffirmed that he had made the right choice. This one had the maternal instinct that he had always craved in the mother of his children. If his own had lacked it, that only made him more determined that it was the primary requirement for his mate. It was what had kept him from fulfilling those ridiculous stipulations in his grandfather’s will. Until now. “I take it from that look that the answer is no, then?”
If he felt a hint of guilt for the way that he pushed his advantage, stormed the fortress when the enemy was at its weakest, well, that was just the ways of war. “Do you think that even the Monroe name can shield our half-breed bastard from the gossips in this hell hole?”
He watched her blanch further at his harsh words. But he admired the way that she breathed deeply and turned upon him after regrouping. “This is the twenty-first century, Greywolf. A quarter of children in this country are born to single mothers. So, if you think I’m going to slink away to the county home for unwed mothers to have my baby, then give it to strangers, you can forget it.”
He wanted to gloat at his luck as she squared those tiny shoulders and faced him down. “Oh, and don’t play those cards with me. First of all, half-breed? Oh please! As for the Monroe name? You know as well as I do that the Greywolf name carries just as much clout in this town as Monroe. Probably more since Old Joe earned every dime and every bit of this town’s respect by hard work his whole life. So if you don’t mind, let yourself out while I get myself more coffee and soak in the bubble bath you so kindly ran for me.”
He laughed then. It felt good. Perhaps better than anything had since he went fishing with the Old Man a couple of years ago while he was on leave. He could not even remember what his grandfather had said that sunny summer day, just how incredibly right it had felt to be with the man doing what they both loved. Like home. It was the same feeling he had as he stared down this fireball. The rest of his life was looking decidedly more exciting than it had yesterday.
“If this were Austin or Houston, even Dallas, then you’d be right about all that, darling. But it ain’t. This is Sebida. And the minds round here are smaller than the town. You know that. Even Laura and Mercy have the good sense to marry their baby-daddies. How many times did you hear someone whisper ‘poor little girl’ behind your back? And your Mama married the asshole.” He watched a bit of the fire die, and that guilt grew, but not enough to keep him from doing what he must to win this battle. “I learned the word ‘bastard’ early, and it ain’t fun, princess.”
She looked away, turning towards the wall, but that tiny hand never left her abdomen. Silence screamed through the small space. Even a man trained to withstand torture and interrogation found it hard to withstand. Finally, she broke it with a quiet whisper, “We don’t even know. I mean, what are the chances? We are just borrowing trouble,” she stammered nervously before continuing.
“Not that a baby is trouble, but you know what I mean.” She turned back towards him then. Those wide baby blues almost pleaded with him as she spoke, “We should be reasonable here. Just wait and see if…” Those eyes dropped to the quilt as her tiny hands began to wring nervously.
He wanted to keep the hard-line, but no training could harden the human heart that much. He walked back to where Abby sat on the verge of tears in that small bed. It had been a long night of alternating heaven and hell, holding her close in the confined space. He had a feeling that was just the beginning of his purgatory.
“You know this place as well as I do, Abby. You know they are going to talk no matter what we do. Do you want them to do the math? Do you want a child, your child, our child, spending a lifetime of silence when he walks into the room?” Her eyes remained locked on the hands in her lap as she shook her head.
He went in for the kill. “You told me last night that you broke up with your fiancée. You know the town is probably already gossiping about that. What if you are pregnant? Can you imagine what they would say when they found out? When they discovered that the baby could not possibly be his? What then?”
Her voice was soft, broken. “I could go back to Austin. No one would care there.”
He chuckled softly, “You could, but I’m betting that you discovered the truth behind those words. No one would care there. That’s the damnedest thing about this place. It might be a quagmire of gossip, but it is also home. A place where people still care about one another, help out a neighbor. A place where you know it is safe to let your child play in the front yard because the whole damned town is watching out for one another.”
He placed his fingers under her chin, which was trembling just a bit. He forced her to turn her head and look at him. “A place to raise kids. The place you want to raise your family.” He could see the tears. She was using every bit of her stubbornness to hold them back as he dove in for the kill. “The place I want to raise mine. That’s why we both came back to this place.”
She studied him for a long moment before she nodded. “So, what’s your plan, Greywolf?”
He sighed, “We head to Vegas. Elope, to be specific. Then we plant a few tidbits for the gossips. How we found comfort in one another’s arms after the deaths of our grandparents. I don’t know as romantic as you make it. I figure a couple of visits to the hairdressers for you and one to the seed and feed for me, and the whole damned town will be giddy with the tale of true love conquering all.”
She shook her head, “So, what if I’m not pregnant? We have a big fight and feed their gossip mill the other way?”
“Sweetheart, if you aren’t pregnant, you will be in a couple of months.”
She gasped, “But I thought this was a plan to stop the gossips, save our reputations. Not,” she stammered and blushed even deeper.
“Not a proposal? Not a real marriage?” He motioned towards the bed, “After last night, sweetheart, you think either of us ain’t going back for seconds? Thirds? More? No, baby girl, I know you ain’t got the experience to know this, but we have that elusive thing called chemistry.”
Her cheeks were scarlet now, and perhaps he should have stopped, but something inside of him made him press the advantage. “Maybe it ain’t the most romantic of beginnings, Abby Jean. But trust me, that chemistry combined with our common desire for a family is a damned site more solid basis for a marriage than the stupid romantic garbage we will serve up as fodder for this town’s gossip mill. So, do we have a deal?”
If the words from his mouth were only half-truths, well, Jack was not ready just yet to risk it all, to lay his battered heart on the line. Despite her drunken words in the casino, she was still ‘That’ woman’s granddaughter. It might take him a while to come to terms with that. But that did not mean he was willing to wait, to risk letting the only woman he loved slip through his fingers. He held out his hand and waited for the answer that was perhaps the most important of his life.