The moment Chad closed that door behind them, Rose became intensely nervous. It was not that she did not want this, want him. But she was not that young, pretty thing anymore. Fifteen years and pregnancy had taken their toll on her body.
Her breasts sagged. The muffin top, that roll of disgusting skin just above her pubic bone, never went away no matter how many crunches she did. And the stretch marks on her stomach and tits were like a road map of Texas – that included all the little dirt ones, too. And even without the lights on, the moonlight was much too bright through the huge bay window.
She stared out that window. This far out of the city, with all its lights, you could see a million stars against the blue-black sky. Their light traveling across time and space, distances her brain could not even fathom, to reach her at this moment. That was how she felt. As if she had been given some incredible gift. A second chance at love and happiness that she had thought as fleeting as a shooting star.
She sat on the edge of that wooden four-poster bed. This was no reproduction. Someone had lovingly craved it, perhaps from wood they had chopped themselves. The full moon was so bright that it illuminated another of those intricate quilts. This one had a stars and stripes pattern in red, white, and blue. She ran her hand over it as well.
“We don’t have to…” She looked up and smiled. His face was a raw reflection of the insecurities that she felt. She held out her hand.
Chad looked at that door for a long moment, then nodded his head. He walked a couple of steps to the bed and sat down beside her. Rose laced her fingers through his, resting them on his thigh. She leaned her head against those broad shoulders. For a couple of moments, they sat in companionable silence.
He wrapped his arm about her and drew her even closer. His fingers squeezed hers, “It’s alright, darlin.’ Now is probably lousy timing anyway.” He turned to face her and smiled down, “I can just hold you for a bit. Then you can slip back to your room without Grace knowing. Heck, you can sleep here if you need to. I’m man enough to control myself.”
Rose’s heart pounded with what she now recognized as love, genuine love. And maybe some sanctimonious, self-righteous people would condemn her, him, them, but she had never had a real marriage. She had a business deal, negotiated between men more than twice her age at the time. Her body had been sold just as surely as a slave’s. It was only that the price for her virginity had been high.
At that conference and others, she had learned the plight of young girls around the world bartered by their families into marriage with much older men. To the people in those rooms, forced marriage was something that happened in developing nations, thousands of miles from the good old USA. Even those that knew about her older husband never made the connection. It was unthinkable. And perhaps she was a few years older than some of those girls, certainly much more mature than the youngest victims, but at nineteen and away from her sheltered home, Cassies had just begun to live, when…
Sure, she had followed Aunt Rose’s advice. She had honestly tried her best in that first couple of years to make her marriage work. But marriages take two people, and she could never do it alone.
Her fingers traced the lines around his mouth. He had not shaved since that morning. His cheek was rough. She ran the pad of her mouth over those lips. “You’re the only man I’ve ever loved,” she spoke the truth in the silence like a prayer.
He scooped her into his arms and turned them so that they lay facing one another on top of that quilt. He propped his head on one hand and pillowed her head on his other arm. “I know that people would say this is wrong. Especially now, tonight, your husband just dead…”
“Gerald was never my husband, not in the ways that counted. Any more than he was Callie’s father.”
She lifted her hand, moved it to the front of his worn and dusty flannel shirt. It was easier to study the small silver snaps there than look into those Wilson green eyes as she spoke. “And I meant what I said earlier. I need you, Chad. Right now, tonight, with everything so fucking uncertain, I need the one thing that has been consistent in my heart and mind for fifteen years.”
She lifted her eyes, “I need you.”
He inhaled deeply and smiled as he bent and pressed one of those heart-stopping kisses right in the middle of her forehead. A forehead that she also knew had lines and wrinkles that had not been there fifteen years ago.
This man had laid his heart and soul bare to her on that front porch last night and tonight. He deserved nothing less in return. She exhaled deeply and bit her lower lip as she began, “My reluctance was not some misplaced sense of loyalty or guilt to a man that controlled my life more than he ever cared for me.”
She found the courage that was his due and looked him directly in those eyes as she continued, “My reluctance earlier had more to do with vanity.”
She hesitated for a moment. She heard Gerald’s voice in her mind, all those times that he had called her out of shape, old, disgusting. It had been years since she had subjected herself to his abuse. So long that she had forgotten the last time she was even partially naked in front of the man. One good thing about his wealth, there were plenty of bedrooms to choose from in that mansion. Heck, most of their ‘friends’ slept in separate rooms too.
But Chad was not Gerald. She knew in her heart that he would never say those things. Would never hurt her like that. That did not mean that he would not be disappointed. And as hard as she knew he would try to cover it, she feared that she would know. Could she survive that?
That truth. She sucked up her courage and studied that silver snap again. “I’m not young and pretty like I was then.”
She fought to keep the tears back, but her voice was a hoarse whisper as she forced the rest of those demons from her mind and out her lips. “The years and my pregnancy have taken their toll.”
“I’m afraid you won’t…”
She closed her eyes and screwed up every single bit of courage and strength inside of her, “I’m afraid I’ll disappoint you. That you won’t find me desirable.”
There. She had done it. She had brought forth her deepest fears, well other than losing this man or their daughter, but she had spoken them aloud. Cleared the air.
Chad shifted and pulled his arm from beneath her head. She steeled her heart for whatever was to come. She believed they would get through this. Somehow. They had to. For Grace’s sake. Maybe they would never have the future they might have if things had been different. But they would get through this too.
She started to roll over, to excuse herself and slip from the bedroom, or maybe just get up and close the curtains. Perhaps that would be enough? She wanted to believe it would be. Because despite all those insecurities, all Gerald’s nasty words echoing in her mind, she still loved and wanted this man.
Chad’s hand captured hers, held her in place as he brought it to his lips. Damn, even kisses in the palm of her hand, did something to her when they came from this man. Then he pressed that hand lower.
Until it came to rest on his midsection, his words were soft in the darkness. “Just in case you have not noticed, sweetheart. You are not the only one.”
She met his gaze, and her heart exploded at the love and adoration she saw there. “I intend to make love to the woman I love, not a body. Whether that be tonight or another is up to you.”
Even nose kisses were sexy when they came from him, “And for the record, when I saw that photo of you on the news, all I thought was how kind time had been to you.”
“Then let’s see if you still feel that way,” Rose rolled over and came to her knees, kneeling beside this man on the bed.
Her eyes remained glued to his as she lifted her shirt over her head. His words could not magically erase all those others, or the years of insecurity, but they gave her courage to at least try. She reached behind her and unsnapped the bra, allowing it to slide down her arms.
Her breasts, though, they had never been overly large, had been firm. Now they were anything but. She knew that the way they sagged had nothing to do with nursing her daughter the way that Gerald had claimed. It came down to genetics.
Not that her mother’s had ever sagged. Not with that much silicone in them. Hell, the woman had perfect tits in her casket. And Gerald had offered, no he had begged, pleaded, and bullied her to have plastic surgery as well. But she would not. To her, it just was not worth it. Especially since she knew it would never make her ‘husband’ interested in her again.
But they were what they were. She bit her lip and searched his face in that bright moonlight that did nothing to hide the silvery streaks that marred them either. Rose did not even realize she had been holding her breath until his rough hands cupped her right breast. His thumb brushed across the nipple, and heat raced to dampen her panties.
“Beautiful,” he breathed the single word as he lowered his head and captured the nub between his lips. Rose swore she almost came from that alone.
Her words, that look of pain and insecurity in her eyes, they were another reason for Chad to hate that man. But that would be easy. The truth was that he bore as much blame as Gerald McBride. He had known that night. He had heard the other pains in her voice as they drank those beers. But he had done the ‘right’ thing. He had walked out of that cheap motel room and left the woman he knew was his to that man’s tender mercies.
And now he had a price to pay. He had all those years to erase. If he even could. But he knew he would spend the rest of their lives doing his damnedest to make it up to her. He just hoped that they had years and years and decades for him to try. But right now, he had this moment, and he was going to make the most of it. Not allow the ghosts of their past to intrude on their present or mar their future.
His tongue worked her nipple, and his hand gently squeezed and caressed her soft flesh. Chad chuckled softly. That was not the best thing to do at the moment as Rose drew back. Her arm crossed over her chest, trying to hide what she had only a moment before offered so freely.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart.” He pulled her arm away even though she turned her head so that he could not see her face. “It isn’t what you think. I’m not laughing at you.”
He gently turned her face towards his and kissed away the tears. Tears that he had caused this time. “I was thinking of my Grandmother and biscuits.”
Her face went from sad and insecure to angry and horrified in an instant. He chuckled again, “Let me explain, please?”
Rose nodded though she fought to bring that arm back up to her chest. “When my Grandmother tried to teach me to cook biscuits, she told me that the way you knew the dough was ready was when it felt like a woman’s teet.”
He was relieved to see Rose chuckle a bit, “It wasn’t until she was gone that I wondered how my upright Christian grandmother knew how women’s tits felt. I mean other than her own.” His face scrunched up, “Oh, that did not come out right.”
This time it was Rose who was laughing at his expense as she shoved him back on the bed and straddled his hips, “What you don’t want to think your Grandmother might have done this.” She closed her eyes, threw back her head, and kneaded her breasts, plucking at the nipples until she was moaning.
Unfortunately, that was not all she did. Her hips moved too. It seemed that Wilsons were not the only place that their daughter got her horsemanship. In the past fifteen years, he had forgotten just how good a cowgirl this woman was. He found himself, moaning and lifting his hips, rubbing against her. Though both his jeans and hers separated him from the heaven he sought, Chad was afraid he was about to embarrass himself. His hands gripped her hips, and he tried to still her movements as he pleaded, “Please, darlin,’ please stop.”
But Rose had other ideas as she leaned forward. Her breasts dangled just out of his reach as she slowed her pace to a canter. He lifted his head to capture her nipple between his teeth, but she drew back. “Not yet, cowboy. We have to make sure the biscuits are gonna rise.”
She shifted her weight to the side and tugged at his belt buckle, “Rise nice and high like this fat, juicy sausage,” she teased as her hand moved over his hard cock. Chad could feel the warmth even through the layers of his jeans and boxers.
“It’s gonna get damned juicy in a minute if you don’t stop that, woman,” his hand covered hers.
He loved the sound of her laughter. Even here, in their bed. And it was their bed now. They might need to keep that from their daughter for a bit, though. Especially now, with that man’s death and her misplaced guilt. But they would find a way to be together. Somehow.
They worked together to discard his jeans. He tackled the belt, she managed the button, and he unfastened the zipper. But when her soft, little hand slipped inside the warm cotton of his boxers, Chad almost lost control.
The only way he would survive this was to take control. He rolled them so that Rose lay cushioned against the pillows. His mouth captured her startled cry. Waking Grace was the last thing they wanted right now. His hand grasped her breast, his thumb brushing that hard point until that cry became a moan.
His other hand was struggling with her jeans. It had seemed much easier to get his open. He cussed under his breath as he felt the button finally spring free. He ripped her zipper down and pushed the rough material down over her hips and legs. Somehow, magically, her panties had gone with the jeans, so that she lay completely naked and exposed beneath him.
Chad knew that once he was inside her, he would not last two minutes, not this time, at least. But he’d be damned if he left her hanging. Her pleasure was more important than his own as he kissed his way down the side of her neck. His fingers covered her lips as he made his way lower. This time it was the other nipple that he suckled deep into his mouth. “Shhh, sweetheart. We don’t want to wake the baby,” he teased.
He was confident that she would have nursed Grace. And that thought got him even harder. He had missed so much that they could never get back. Maybe that was some just punishment for leaving them to the abuse and neglect they had suffered. But now was not the time to think about all that. He could ponder the imponderables after he had got her off a few times, then made love to his woman, and had her fall asleep in his arms.
Chad looked up and saw Rose’s eyes widen as his tongue joined the dance, flicking across the nub even as he continued to suckle. He loved the way she was biting the fleshy part of her hand to keep from crying out. He wanted to push those limits even harder. He turned his attention back to the other breast, repeating the process as she moaned and moved beneath him. When he bit down tenderly on the nub, he thought she might throw him like a bronco at the rodeo.
But as much as he was enjoying her softer, fuller tits, that was not his ultimate goal. He allowed his fingers to continue the torture that his mouth had begun as he kissed his way lower. Rose shook her head and brought her arm down to cover herself as he ran his tongue around the outside of her belly button.
“Please, just fuck me,” she pleaded between gasped.
He lifted his head and read those insecurities once more. “Maybe one day, I’ll get around to ‘just fucking you,’ darlin.’ But not any time soon, I have fifteen years of makin’ love to my woman to make up for.”
He knew he was pushing her harder as his fingers began to trace the silvery lines that covered much of her stomach. “I’m sorry. Maybe I should have done that laser stuff, after all, it was just that I wasn’t… No one would see except me… It just didn’t seem worth it.”
Those words told him so much about this woman that his heart knew inside and out. But his mind had a lifetime of the specifics to learn and understand.
“I’m glad you didn’t. They’re badges of honor. Reminders of our child.” Chad bent his head and traced those lines with his tongue. He heard her sobbing softly; maybe he should have just moved on, not said anything. But he did not want those kinds of secrets between them.
He kissed her navel and laid his head on the soft pillow of her stomach as he looked up at her, “I never got to see my child growing inside of you. Chances are I never will. But these… these marks make that real. They make you real, darlin.’ And I wouldn’t have you any other way.”
He saw those tears; they glistened in the moonlight like diamonds. He wanted to kiss away each and everyone, and all the others that this woman had cried alone all those years. But all he could do was make the most of this moment, and all those he hoped they would have to come.
To come? He kissed that soft flesh one more time and resumed the journey to the ultimate prize he sought. He shifted his weight and slipped off the bed to kneel on the hard floor. He lifted her hips, yeah, those were wider and softer too. That mixed-up man-child might have enjoyed the young, firm, hard-body, but the man he had become much preferred these softer, gentler curves. He angled her body and drew her down so that her bottom rested right on the edge of the mattress. He lifted one leg and wrapped it around his shoulders as he pushed the other out to the side.
“Fuck,” he breathed at her open beauty. Like Inferno, he caught a whiff of his mare’s need for him. It was a heady fragrance. Wet, wild, sweet, and tangy. But Chad wanted far more than to smell her need, he needed to taste it. See for himself that it was real, that after all these years, she was real.
He was not gentle or subtle. There was no table manners or etiquette. Not when he was tasting heaven itself. He gorged like it was an all-you-can-eat-buffet on Sunday after a sermon that ran too long.
He licked and suckled on the tiny button of her desire that hardened with each stroke. His tongue lapped the full length of her slit. He tasted her creamy ambrosia from the source. And he went back for more, plateful after plateful.
He watched her writhe on the bed. Her fingers grasped that quilt, bunched it tightly, twisted it. Her face turned red; her mouth formed a perfect ‘O’ as her hips lifted to meet his caresses. He felt the strong contractions that shook not just her body, but the whole solidly made bed. He held on and rode out the quake. His mouth never surrendered its heaven.
He pushed her up that slope and over the precipice again. And again. He lost count. He was not bothered with numbers to begin with. Chad knew that infinity would never be enough. Heaven was not someplace in the sky. It was this moment. Right now, with his head buried between her quivering thighs. Knowing that he had done this to his woman. That she could not stand if she had too. But that did not matter; he would carry her. Carry her burdens as he should have all these long years. And she would…
“Please. Please, Chad, I need you.”
Those were the sweetest words in the universe. And if he died right now, and he might if he did not bury himself in heaven soon, everything was perfection. He rose slowly over her. That nectar of the gods welcomed him, cushioned his invasion. She was tight, incredibly fucking tight. It was mind-blowing. And threatened to sap what little control he had left.
But this was heaven on the earth, and there were miracles. He held on; somehow, he managed to maintain his control, to go slowly for her sake. He sank deeper and deeper into her body as her arms wrapped about his shoulders, drawing him down into her depths like a siren.
He moved slowly, each stroke like a waltz. Soft and gentle gliding to the music that only the two of them could ever make. The sweetest country ballad he had ever known. A song he had not heard in too long. He savored each note and bar. He could spend a lifetime lost in its melody.
But then the song changed. Rose lifted her hips, drew him deeper. Her fingers sank into the muscles of his upper back as her whimpered pleas sank into his soul. This beat was more frantic. Its steps faster. Fifteen years of need and denial were riding them both as they reached together for the stars.
Rose buried her face in his neck as he felt that sweet sheath tighten like a noose around his heart. It was the most delicious torture he had ever known as her body milked the life out of him. He buried his face into that quilt to keep from crying out his release. That seemed to stretch towards eternity.
He wondered if it was going to kill him as he rolled to the side, taking his weight off her petite body. There were no words for what had just happened. All he could do was draw his woman into his embrace and hold her tight as his heart rate and breathing slowed to normal. He was sticky and sweaty, but he hoped that it did not matter.
He had even started to drift off to dreams that he knew could never equal this moment when he felt her pull back from his arms. He frowned and stared up at her as Rose looked about the room, “What’s wrong, sweetheart?”
She bent and pressed her lips to his as she whispered, “I should go. We don’t want Calli… We don’t want Grace to find out about this… About us. Not now.”
Chad knew that she was right. But he sensed that it was something more profound as well. Looking over at the old clock on the nightstand, he saw that he only had a couple of hours to sleep before it would be time to get up and start the chores. One thing about living on a working farm and ranch, there was no sleeping in. Horses needed to be fed, and cows milked no matter what.
Reluctantly, he nodded as he watched her searching for items of clothes that they had tossed about the room. He watched her dress. He frowned when he realized that she kept her back to him the whole time. It seemed that some lessons would need to be repeated.
As tired as his old body was, he forced himself to sit up on the side of the body. He held out his hand to her as she finished buttoning up those cheap Walmax jeans that still looked damned good on her rounder ass. She hesitated for a moment, and Chad feared that she would leave without…
But she did not. Rose took his hand. He drew her close and buried his head between her breasts. He listened for a moment to the sweet sound of her heart beating just beneath his ear. Then he turned and looked up into her face. The tears were back, and this time he did brush them off her cheek.
Chad wanted to erase the pain and the uncertainty that was their future right now. But he knew he could not do either. All he could do was, “I love you. I fell in love with that tiger in those tight fittin’ jeans. Fifteen years could not get her out of my mind or heart.”
His eyes sought and held hers as he continued, “But those feelings that screwed-up jarhead had for some millionaire’s dream can’t hold a candle to how this old rancher is coming to feel about the incredibly strong, loving, and adaptable woman that I get to know deeper every day. The woman that girl became may be scarred in her body, mind, and soul, but I meant it. I cherish each and every one of those, darlin.’”
“I want to take away all those years and that pain. Promise you that nothing will ever hurt you or our daughter again, but I can’t. Because I can’t lie to you or make promises, I know I can’t keep. All I have to give you, darlin,’ is my heart, my life, and my love. And I want you to know I cherish every moment we had here tonight. The laughter, the tears, and the lovin.’”
He was not sure that it was enough. It certainly wasn’t those fifty-cent words or fancy poetry, but he hoped that it was a beginning. And that he would have more opportunities to say and do it better.
But he felt the exhaustion overtaking him. Replete with her good lovin’, he embraced those dreams that could never come close to reality, that left him cold and insecure because they were not had in her arms. But hopefully, one day, someday – it could not come soon enough for Chad.
“Dammit,” Rose cussed as she reached for the iron skillet without the potholder. It only took a moment for her to register her error, but that was enough for the pain to shoot up her arm to her addled brain.
The tears gathered in her eyes, but were they from the pain or the scars that went much deeper? She wanted to believe him. Believe the sweet words that Chad had said last night. But it was not just Gerald. If it had been, perhaps she could have dismissed it as gaslighting like all the rest.
The problem was a world where perfection was expected. Women must be model thin. But even that was not good enough. There was no room for things like muffin tops, stretch marks, wrinkles, or grey hair.
How many plastic surgeon’s business cards had well-meaning friends passed to her? Hell, even her personal trainer had kept on about how she could only go so far with diet and exercise. Like a tummy tuck was some life-saving medical procedure. Heck, one of her friends had even had her… Down there, rejuvenated.
She knew where her aversion to cosmetic procedures came from, of course – her mother. The woman had it all nipped and tucked. Though Rose knew that those procedures had improved somewhat over the decades. She still feared looking as plastic and artificial as the woman who had given birth to her.
Hell, growing up, the only time her mother paid her any attention was if she took her to the salon to have her hair curled or a mani-pedi. But Cassie could never sit still for long, and once her mother discovered that her only child would never be a raving beauty queen, well, even those rare interludes vanished.
So, how could she? How could she believe what he said?
Oh, sure, when they laughed in bed, something she had never done like that before, or when he touched her and sent her whole body into overload, she could forget it all for a moment. The things that man did to her, had always been able to do to her, were mind-blowing. When he touched her, there was no room for any thoughts, even those.
But the before, getting naked with someone for the first time in over a decade, had been almost insurmountable.
A couple of years after Callie was born, she thought it would be a good idea for her daughter to have a little brother or sister. Though she had to practically hog tie Gerald and force him to have sex with her, she had wanted another baby badly enough to endure the humiliation. But after a couple of years of trying, he had told her no more. That she had one brat, that would have to be enough. Of course, now she understood why.
Her throat tightened, and more tears welled in her eyes as she tried her damnedest not to burn the bacon. After a few months at the gym, she had gotten into the habit of showering and changing at home. Those sly looks of superiority and pity from the perfect silicone Barbies in the locker room was just too much.
Chad’s words had been incredibly sweet. And the way he kissed, touched, and held her, even afterward, made her almost believe it. She heard what he said about that tiny bit of extra padding around his middle, but things weren’t the same for men. The pressure for that perfect bod was not as intense. Besides, she kind of liked it.
The problem was, what was she going to do? As uncomfortable as she was in her skin, she could not see herself turning down any opportunity she might get for a repeat performance of last night. Damn, the before and after aside, it had been every bit as good as she remembered. Maybe better. And while she might have relatively little to compare it to, at least in real life, that was hotter than most of her romance novels.
If she were in Houston, if she had access to all Gerald’s money, or whoever’s, the answer would be easy – Vicky’s Engima. Sexy lingerie, corsets, you name it would cover the flaws nicely. But she could not ask him to spend even more money. No matter what he said, she was sure that taking them in like this had made a severe dent in his savings. Of course, she had the five grand that Gerald had given her, but she could not risk a shopping trip, and online stores did not deal in cash. Besides that, indeed, was her Plan B. More like Plan Z now.
“Dammit,” she cussed again as she smelled the bacon start to burn. She managed to clear her eyes enough to see that it was only a couple of pieces. She would eat those herself. She placed the pan on the back burner to keep it warm.
Once more, she debated waking Grace. But it had been so late when she finally managed to calm her daughter. What would one more morning of sleeping in really matter?
Rose added fresh butter to the smaller skillet. Chad had promised to teach her how to churn it. She hoped that it went smoother than picking eggs. Old Maude had gotten her a couple more times this morning. She looked down at her hand as she cracked the eggs into the pan. What would those ‘friends’ back in Houston think if they saw her hands now? Red welts from burning herself on the pan, a half dozen or so small scratches from Maude, and they were already well on the way to being chapped from dishes and chores.
The thing was she would not trade it for the best mani-pedi at the Galleria. It was not just the honesty of hard work and this lifestyle. There was some calm here. Some solace of the soul that could never be achieved when you needed to be richer, prettier, thinner, more powerful than everyone else.
Rose was so lost in her thoughts, trying to reconcile it all, that she did not hear him come in. Until those strong arms wrapped about her waist and drew her back into his embrace. His freshly shaven face buried in the side of her neck as he sweetly sang, “Hey, hey, good lookin,’ what ya got cookin’?”
She burst into tears and turned into his arms as all those fears and anxieties flooded out. Thankfully, Chad had the sense to reach over and turn off the burner. The eggs would not be burned, even if they were cold by the time they got around to breakfast.