The train arrived hours late, and after the sun had fully set. She was alone in a strange town, in the full dark. Her traveling companion had taken ill about two hundred miles ago.
Her bones ached from the more than fourteen hundred miles she rode by train from New York City. It took her months to convince her parents to let her take the trip to the west ahead of them.
Her father, a lesser English noble, decided to take his family to western America to build an empire. Philip Guy Monteith lost his fortune the day he married a woman from Trinidad.
Philip fell head over heels in love the moment he set eyes on Sage Blackwell. Sage’s father, a British military man, married an island native. Making Sage half native and unacceptable in the eyes of Philip’s father, who disinherited him.
Not bothered by his father’s actions Philip made his own fortune in Europe before deciding to take on the wild frontier. He spent a year traveling to find just the right spot. He intended to build a large hotel, open a sawmill, and run a ranch in Cooperstown, Indian Territory.
She started the exhausting journey with a companion, her governess’s daughter Amanda and a hired guard named Zeke Adams.
Emma and Amanda had grown up together. Amanda was only three months older than Emma; they were close friends since the cradle. Her father met Zeke in Cooperstown while scouting for land and hired the man. He was a deputy in the town until his brother died in a robbery. Zeke left his job to hunt down the gang of outlaw cowboys that took his brother’s life.
He only agreed to take the job because he needed funds to keep hunting them. The tall, steely-eyed man with silver at his temples rarely spoke through the train ride.
A week into the journey, Amanda became so ill she couldn’t continue traveling. Emma, having promised to arrive by a certain date, went on without her.
Three days ago, their train was robbed. They took everything but the clothes on her back. Zeke, recognizing one of the robbers, went with the posse that arrived shortly after the robbers departed.
Not only was she boned tired, but she didn’t know the location of the house her father rented. It would be impossible to find in the dark with everything, but the saloon closed.
The conductor told her she could find a room above the saloon for the night. He gave her a note for the owner, letting him know they were robbed and that she could make good on paying the bill.
Emma would wire for money first thing in the morning. She managed to hide one credit note in the lining of her reticule. The reticule had a small tear in it. While the robbers worked their way in her direction, she slowly made the tear larger.
Managing to slip in the note when the robber searched it for more money, he hadn’t found it. After she saw the way other women who resisted were handled, she willingly gave up her money and what jewelry she had. Thankfully, her father forbade her to take more than a few inexpensive baubles with her on the trip.
The only thing she regretted giving up was her mother’s cameo. Though the piece wouldn’t bring much money, if any, it had sentimental value. It originally belonged to her grandmother.
She shivered as she thought about the robbers. Her father warned her the west was wild and untamed. Emma heard the stories, but she thought them to be tall tales.
Without any other choice, she took a deep breath and headed toward the saloon. Her heartbeat faster as she stepped onto the boardwalk and headed toward the swinging doors.
I can do this. Emma repeated the words in her head with each step toward the doors. Ladies did not belong in saloons.
A hand touched her shoulder causing her to give a frightened shriek. Suddenly a hand covered her mouth and she was pulled up tight against a hard body.
Lord help me, I’m about to be assaulted. Emma, remembering her father’s words started, to struggle. She even remembered to step hard on the man’s instep.
The grip around her tightened his arms becoming like steel. Soft lips brushing her ear before pulling slightly back. His warm breath brushing against her as he spoke.
“Easy, Nora, It’s me.”
Emma struggled. She wanted to scream, “I’m not Nora.”
She renewed her efforts trying to get away, he only pressed her harder against him. Emma gasped as his erection pressed against her.
“Damnit, Nora, calm down. It’s Cord, your new town sheriff, your lover.”
The way he said lover made her pause. She could get out of this. The man only wanted his lover. Emma need only tell him who she was, and he would release her.
He spun her around bringing his lips crashing down on hers. He tasted of whiskey, tobacco, and something undeniably masculine. His full, wind roughened lips pressing against her buttery soft ones sent fiery butterflies dancing through her stomach. His stubble roughed up her delicate skin and spread heat slowly throughout her body.
Little veins of molten lava sending unknown emotions coursing through her caused sensations she never felt.
Pushing her to do something she’d never done before. Emma relaxed into his kiss, her arms wrapping about his neck encouraging him. She heard him moan, as his hand grabbed her hair knocking her hat slightly askew.
She shivered when he pulled away feeling bereft of his warmth. His voice, huskier than before, whispered in her ear. “I’m taking you to your room.”
He’s taking me to my room. He must have realized I’m not who he’s looking for, and now he’s going to be a gentleman and give me a room for the night. Right?!
His lips once again claimed hers, sending her crashing back to reality. The sheriff intended to make love to her. Unless she spoke up and told him who she was. Could she go through with it? Let him take her flower? No, she couldn’t.
Her hand pressed against his chest to push away, at the same moment he swept her off her feet and began to carry her to the side of the building then up a set of stairs.
She needed to stop, but he was a real man, not the usual flapdoodle that tried to take advantage of her, and there was an enormous amount of those. None of them ever stirred her senses even a scintilla of what the man carrying her did to her with the first brush of his lips.
No one ever had to know. She was a virtual stranger in town. He thought her to be his lover, a woman named Nora. For once in her life, Emma could let down her guard and give in to her passions.
Her mind made up by the time he kicked open the door she kissed him back with wild abandon.
“About damn time, Nora.”
He crushed her mouth, feeding hungrily from it while he carried her over the threshold, closing the door with a backward kick before carrying her into the center of the dark room.
The bedsprings protested as he roughly deposited her on the bed before pushing her down. His weight felt delicious on top of her for mere seconds before he pulled away.
With deft movements, he pulled her into a seated position; unpinning her hat, he tossed it across the room before pulling the pins out of her thick hair.
Once he had it all down, he ran his fingers through it with care.
“I love the feel of your hair against my skin it’s like a silken waterfall. Undress for me.”
She blushed and stammered.
He chuckled. “Oh, we are playing shy tonight. I haven’t seen this side before. I think I like it.”
Strong hands grabbed her, pulling her off the bed firm but not rough, he spun her around and began to unbutton her dress, pausing to place a kiss on the back of her neck.
Her body shivered with pleasure her nipples hardening. His fingers continued to undress her sliding the now unbuttoned dress down her shoulders.
He took care, helping her step out of the dress. After accidentally ruining one of her fancy dresses in the heat of passion, she refused to see him for a month. Hell, it took him that long to pay for a replacement.
Cord carefully laid the dress across the overstuffed satin chair that sat in the corner of the room. Crossing the room in two long strides, he stopped behind her pressing his nose to the back of her head.
How much had he had to drink? Nora isn’t this tall. That’s as far as his thoughts got before her intoxicating smell drew his focus on the luscious beauty in front of him.
She smelled of roses with a touch of honey, or was it lemon and something else he couldn’t name? Moving to nibble on her ear he first whispered.
“Did you change your perfume?”
“I like it.”
He continued nibbling on her ear, sucking the lobe into his mouth causing her to back up against him, but her damn bustle was in the way.
His fingers fumbled with the ties. It took him a few precious minutes to get the bustle off and on the chair, his patience wore thin to feel her naked beneath him.
She gasped as his curse. He chuckled. Damn, she is playing the innocent to the hilt. Fuck! It’s hot. Impatient with the ties on her corset, he pulled the hunting knife from its holster on the back of his belt. In one swift motion, he cut the corset’s ties and released her from its prison.
“I’ll buy you a new one,” he murmured, turning her around and burying his face in her breasts. Her lush unblemished skin was a siren’s call for his mouth.
Cord took one taut, nipple into his mouth, rolling the pert bud between his teeth before flicking it with his tongue.
Her knees buckled as she moaned causing a deep purr to slip past his guard. The action made him freeze. He never lost control of his lion before.
Cord shook his head taking a few deep breaths he exhaled slowly across her wet nipple. Alcohol never affected him like this before. He got drunk off his ass more than once. A challenging task for a shifter.
With a quick study of her face, he knew she hadn’t consciously registered his purr. Fuck, I must be passed out in some alley dreaming this shit. The woman in his arms didn’t react the same, she didn’t smell the same, her body, though similar, wasn’t Nora’s.
He never saw this woman before; he must be dreaming. What the fuck did Wolf put in his bug juice? Iron Wolf, his close friend, was distilling spirits for them for the last few years. Both men rarely drank, but alcohol had many uses.
His hands still held her, yet his eyes seemed a million miles away. Only a few moments passed, but it seemed like an eternity ago his lips left her skin. She didn’t know what came over her, but she couldn’t let him stop touching her.
Not knowing what else to do she leaned in brushing her nipple across his lips. His eyes met hers briefly before he picked her up, sitting her on the side of the bed. He quickly removed her shoes and stockings, kissing his way from the inside of her ankle to the back of her knee.
When his tongue flicked against the tender skin, she gasped and nearly managed to pull her leg from his grip.
“Not yet, dream girl. We’re just getting started.”
She shivered as his hands reached her hips; he unfastened her bloomers before hooking his thumb in the band and sliding them slowly down over her hips in one smooth motion. Taking them off and leaving them on the floor, he stepped back to look at her.
The raw hunger in his eyes caused her breath to catch in her throat. Though she had little experience in the act, she ran into plenty of men who desired her, none of them looked at her like he did.
He started taking off his clothes. The long duster hit the floor; Emma saw a flash of his badge. Soon he had his suspenders down, his fingers making quick work of the buttons as he shrugged out of his shirt.
She bit her bottom lip. His broad, muscular chest, now bare, her eyes devoured every inch of skin as he revealed it. He kicked off his boots and unfastened his pants, letting them drop to the ground. Her eyes widened: he wasn’t wearing any drawers.
She swallowed as his rigidly swollen cock sprang free precum dripping from the tip. Damn her for enjoying those lusty novels Amanda brought on the trip.
Emma brought her eyes back to his face, trying to memorize every nuance. She wanted to remember this night for the rest of her life. If only she could see his eyes in the daylight. They were blue, of that she was certain; however, she longed to know the exact shade.
When her parents arrived with the rest of her belongings, she would paint him. A miniature portrait she could keep next to her, always.
She held out her hand, it trembled with trepidation and expectation. Her breath held until he took a step forward. Without a word, he gathered her up in his arms laying her on the bed before joining her.
His lips hungrily sought hers, kissing her until they were both breathless. He trailed kisses from her lips across her jaw and down her neck to the hollow of her throat.
He would purr if he knew how his touch drove her wild. A loud moan escaped her lips as he kissed down her side, lingering on a hip bone before moving in between her legs.
Oh god, what is he doing? “Stop.”
He stopped looking up at her. “Trust me?”
Emma nodded her head. His tongue flicked across her swollen and needy lips. She gasped as her hips bucked of their own volition. Fire sped through her veins, igniting her body with need.
Mewls and whimpers escaped her lips with each lick, and when his tongue flicked across the inflamed bundle of nerves, she nearly came undone.
His name on her lips, she rode a wave of sensations that pushed her over the edge. Light exploded behind her eyes, her body trembled, her senses heightened.
When he slipped one long work-roughened finger inside her, her still sensitive body careened off the edge again.
Her moans came out louder than she expected, a deep crimson spreading across her cheeks. She heard him chuckle.
“I love hearing your moans.”
“I need you.” The words slipped from her thoughts and passed her lips.
A shocked look briefly crossed his face, then she heard a low growl. The intensity in his eyes caught her breath as he moved over top of her.
She could feel the head of his manhood pressing against her most intimate part. A small part of her brain warned that nothing good would come of this.
“Baby, I’m a little drunk. I don’t know how long I’ll last.”
In response, she bucked against him. She wanted, no, needed to feel him deep inside her. Some primal instinct took her over the edge. She felt bereft and incomplete. He would make her feel whole, even if for a little while.
He pushed in the head slowly, then with one swift motion, he pushed in to the hilt. A small gasp of pain left her lips as he tore through her maidenhead.
If he noticed, he didn’t pause. His hips now pounding in and out of her. A large, fat tear slid down her face. This is not how it’s supposed to be.
A few more hard thrusts and he came deep inside her before rolling off her and falling immediately asleep.
Emma lay there, silent tears streaming down her face. What had she allowed to happen?
She dozed off, waking before sunrise. Memories inundated her being, causing fresh tears to prick her eyes. What have I done? I’ve gone and ruined myself forever. I can’t bear to bring shame to my family. I must get out of here before anyone sees me.
Carefully she looked over at the man lying beside her. She briefly studied his handsome face. Sinfully handsome. Heat bloomed on her cheeks and she forced her eyes away from his chiseled face, not without giving his lips one last longing look.
The sheriff lay still beside her in a deep slumber. She carefully slipped from the bed and began to get dressed as best she could. Her ruined corset rested on the floor a few feet from where her dress sat, carefully placed from the night before. Had she the time she would wonder over the behavior since shortly after he’d ripped her out of her clothing.
Deciding to leave the corset, she quickly dressed in the remainder of her garments before managing to find a few hairpins. In a flash, she managed to make her hair presentable. Pinning her hat on, she grabbed the reticule before carefully opening the door.
Her legs carried her numbly down the stairs and far from the saloon as dawn began to pierce the night sky. Near tears, again, she spotted a boarding house. Emma quickened her steps. Every fiber of her being ached, none more than her heart, or maybe her pride.
Quickly, she traversed the short distance between the plank sidewalk and the front porch. Emma raised her hand to knock when it opened. The smell of freshly baked bread greeted her. She tucked a stray hair behind her ear, taking a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves.
A handsome woman with scarlet red hair and kind blue eyes opened the door. Could this woman tell she became a light skirt? She opened her mouth to speak, instead, great wracking sobs shook her delicate shoulders.
The woman embraced her in a hug and ushered her inside the house. “There, there, tell Miss Maggie what happened.”
Through sobs and hiccups, Emma told her story, leaving out last night. No one need know she was a fallen woman.
“Oh, my dear, you’ve been through the wringer. Come let me show you a room. I’ll send Sara to get you some clothes then we will get you fed.”
Emma nodded mutely, allowing the woman to guide her through the house and up the stairs to a well-appointed bedroom.
“The bathroom has an adjoining door. I’ll have Hank bring heated water up. Do you need help getting undressed?”
She shook her head no and thanked Miss Maggie. Thankful to be alone and safe, she sank to the floor and let all the tears she’d been holding back since Amanda fell ill fall.
Emma listened to heavy footsteps as they came up the stairs a few minutes later. The footsteps passed her room and entered the bathroom. She had no idea what size tub sat in the other room, best guess it would take at least two more trips.
It took five more trips to fill the tub. Hank knocked as soon as he poured in the last bucket.
“Miss, your bath is ready.”
With a sigh of relief, she entered the bathroom, securing both doors before undressing. While many believed it to be a sin to fully undress and bathe in the nude, she was not one of them. Thanks to both her grandmother and her mother. After all, it’s much easier to get clean when you’re not wearing clothing.
Delighted to find scented soap, bath oils, and fresh linens, she sent up silent gratitude. Testing the water, she found it to be divinely hot. Emma slipped in, closing her eyes briefly before scrubbing every inch of her skin vigorously, turning it pink from the effort. She needed to scrub off more than just the dirt, she needed to scrub off the shame of what she allowed to happen last night. What she wanted to happen after he touched her.
She’d kissed other men; well they had kissed her. None of them stirred her the way he did. None ignited a fire. One that still burned within her. Emma closed her eyes, leaning her head back against the edge of the tub. Her skin tingled with the memory of his touch.
One hand slipped between her legs to touch the delicate bud. She bit her lip to keep from moaning aloud. A knock on the door brought her hand away as if she was burned.
She heard Miss Maggie’s voice. “Are you all right, lass? Fresh clothes on your bed and breakfast is cooking.”
“Thank you. I’ll be out presently.”
“Take your time dear, no rush.”
Quickly she washed her hair and climbed out of the tub. One towel wrapped around her hair, the other wrapped firmly about her body, she picked up her clothes and headed back to the bedroom. Once again securing the doors.
Crossing back to the bed, she found a lovely white shirt and a full blue walking skirt laid out along with all the undergarments she would need lay neatly across it. A ray of sunlight caught something silver out of the corner of her eye. She turned, finding a set of silver grooming tools on the vanity.
Thanking her lucky stars for stumbling upon the boarding house, Emma quickly brushed and plaited her long dark hair before putting it up still wet. It would take hours to dry.
Memories of her mother brushing her hair in front of the fire brought the first real smile to her face in days.
She rushed through her toilette hurrying down the stairs. A smiling Maggie greeted her. The woman’s kindly blue eyes made her feel welcome.
“I see everything fits well.”
“Yes, thank you. I am extremely grateful for your assistance.”
A girl of about fifteen entered the room. Wisps of stringy blonde hair fell out of her double braids. She wore a plain blue gown with a white apron over it. Her deep brown eyes showed genuine warmth.
“Your breakfast is ready, Miss.”
“You must be Sara?”
“Thank you for the clothes.”
“’Tweren’t nothing, Miss. I borrowed them from one of Miss Maggie’s girls.”
Emma turned her attention back to Maggie. “Please thank your daughter for me. I’m appreciative of her assistance.”
“Think nothing of it, dear. Let’s get you fed.”
She followed Maggie down the hall and through a door into the dining room. Red floral wallpaper covered each wall. The carpets and drapes were accent colors chosen to match the flowers.
A massive oaken table filled most of the room with over a dozen large, sturdy wooden chairs sitting around it. Maggie led them to the other end of the room. Two plates of hot food waited for them. The older woman sat at the head of the table, while Emma sat to her right.
Her stomach rumbled with hunger as the smell of the food hit her full force. Thick slices of still-warm bread sat on a saucer to the left of a plate filled with bacon, ham, diced potatoes, and scrambled eggs. Several jars of jam, jelly, and butter were arranged in between her plate and Maggie’s. It would be an easy reach for either of them.
She slathered the bread with butter and jam, savoring the first bite. The creamy taste of freshly churned butter washed over her taste buds, followed immediately with the sweet taste of blackberry jam.
It took all her years of proper training not to moan aloud. The fluffy biscuit as light as air made her want to devour the one on her plate and ask for another. Carefully she ate the biscuit before diving into the rest of her plate. Emma finished the last bite of her biscuit, looking to find another already took its place. She smiled, slathering this one with wild strawberry jam. That’s what the label proclaimed it to be. The red fruit did not disappoint. The jam was even more flavorful than the last. Something Emma hadn’t thought possible until just then. Travel had not afforded her a decent meal in quite some time.
The two women sat in amiable silence while they enjoyed their meal. After the dishes were cleared away, Sara brought them fresh coffee. Emma didn’t care for it as much as tea but didn’t want to insult her host by refusing.
She poured a generous amount of cream and sugar into the bitter brew and sipped it slowly. Maggie surprised her by reaching out and placing her hand on top of Emma’s.
“I should have tea later today. It’s due on the late morning train.”
Emma smiled. “I do love tea. What time does the bank open?”
“It should open around nine. I’ll take you. I need to make a deposit myself. Mr. Rosenbaugh, the bank president, will be able to take care of that banknote for you.”
“Thank you, Miss Maggie.”
“You’re welcome, dear. Do you have the address of the home your father rented?”
Emma smiled. “I have it memorized along with directions from the town hall. Father made sure I had it memorized.”
“Well, we don’t want to make him regret sending you and your companion along. I know Zeke Adams. I’m still surprised he didn’t see you to town before heading off after those killers. His thirst for vengeance must be mighty powerful for him to just leave you alone.”
“He did at least wait until help arrived.” She smiled wanly.
She had a tough time understanding why a man her father hired deserted her. Try as she might to wrap her head around it, she just hadn't managed it so far.
The older woman nodded her head sympathetically.
“The bank will be open soon. Sara, fetch two parasols.”
Maggie stood up from the table beckoning Emma to follow her. As they strolled into the parlor Sara handed each of them a parasol. Emma thanked the girl, wishing she had a hat to go with the parasol.
She made a mental note to head straight for the millenary after the bank. Her skin took color too fast in the sunlight. Proper ladies must keep their skin milky white.
Emma followed Maggie out the door and down the street. They passed a few people along the way. Some greeted them with an open, friendly nature while others seemed to snub Maggie and move in another direction.
Though she made a mental note, she did not ask the older woman about the incidents. The walk to the bank didn’t take long. The newly built structure stood two stories tall. A freshly painted sign announced it as ‘The First National Bank of Cooperstown’.
An older gentleman coming out the bank held the door open for them tipping his hat. His sparkling blue eyes seemed familiar somehow.
“Thank you, Hollis.”
Maggie turned to Emma. “Miss Emma, this is Mr. Hollis Masterson, Mayor of Cooperstown, this is Miss Emma Monteith, her father Guy rented that big empty house on Main Street.”
“Pleased to meet you, Miss Monteith, welcome to our community. How do you find it so far?”
“Oh, Hollis, the poor girl. Her maid got sick; Zeke abandoned her after the train was robbed by the same bandits that killed his brother. She lost everything: clothes, money, jewelry, all gone.”
“You poor dear. Please come into the bank with me. We will go directly to the banker’s office.”
Quick as lightning, fear flooded her entire being. With a renewed burst of speed, she managed to get ahead of the pack.
The trail split and without hesitating she took the left fork. Suddenly a massive buck appeared in her path heading right for her. She didn’t have time to stop or go around, so she threw herself to the side to avoid colliding with it.
She landed in a tangle of limbs. In a hurry to get up and away from the wolves, she sprang to her feet immediately, only to wince and nearly fall again.
Emma managed to hobble down the trail as a light mist began to fall. Thankful for the buck who distracted the wolves allowing her to get away. She hobbled as quickly as she could, giving up hope of not leaving a trail, she needed to find the perfect spot to hide.
Her ankle throbbed to the point she began clenching her jaw. She couldn’t stop, not yet. One chance. It’s all she had, just one chance. The mist turned to a heavy downpour.
A blessing really, it would wash away her tracks and her scent. With no signs of the rain slowing, she pressed on until she felt the press of dawn in her bones. She’d always been an early riser. Daddy told her he could set his alarm by her rising. Four in the morning, rain or shine, her body decided to rise before the rooster.
Time to find a place to hole up. Emma searched the area. Spotting a small hole in the side of a rocky hill, she headed toward it. Enough scrub and brush grew in the area, she’d be able to camouflage the hole with ease.
Less than twenty feet away, hope surged within her chest. I’m going to make it. Excruciating pain radiated from her ankle up to her hip with each step. Just a few more feet. You can do this, Emma!
Ten feet away she slipped on a rock, losing her footing and tumbling down the hill. She lost consciousness when her head hit a rock on the way down.
** ** **
She came around to the sound of voices. The sun riding high in the skies means she must have been knocked out cold for hours.
Oh no, they are going to find me. Emma struggled to sit up. Strong arms encased her, a large hand covering her mouth. She struggled against her captor.
“Did you hear that?”
“I didn’t hear anything. Let’s move on. She can’t be far.”
“Wait, Wyatt, look up there. A hole in the hill. She coulda climbed in.”
“Danvers don’t waste your time. Why would she climb in hole anyone can see?”
“I’m going to climb up and see. If we don’t bring her back, the boss’ll have our hides.”
“Suit yourself. I’ll be right here.”
She relaxed against her unknown savior. His arms loosened their grip when she relaxed against him. They stayed still covered by the dense brush growing at the bottom of the hill she’d tumbled down.
Time drug on making the minutes seem like hours as she listened to Danvers search.
“Find anything up there, Danvers?”
“Not a damned thing.”
“Hope she didn’t get away while you were chasing your tail, boss man will be mad.”
She heard Danvers scramble down the hill, rocks sliding everywhere. Suddenly her body was covered by a much larger one as pebbles and larger rocks rained down on them.