Tantalizing teaser: Oren and Lizzie
Bannack City, June of 1873
“You married, mister?”
Oren switched his long-dead cheroot to the other side of his mouth and released his gelding’s belly band. Both of them grunted in relief. They’d ridden a long way, and tomorrow would be near enough to home to smell the coffee. His brothers wouldn’t want him riding in covered in a couple weeks’ worth of grime, no matter how much he had in his saddle bags. And he was not going to use a cold mountain stream when Bannack City had hot baths.
He glanced down at the white face at his elbow. Even in the dim lantern light he could see fading bruises between patches of dirt. Nothin’ new there. He likely had parents, but many beat on their kids for the hell of it, and he couldn’t save them all.
“Beat it, kid.”
“No, sir. Are you married?”
The kid was smart enough to move out of the way when he hauled his saddle off and set it over the stall.
“Why you care?”
“Don’t. But I get a penny for yer answer, either way. Yes, or no?”
Kid looked hungry enough that a penny could mean food or starving a bit longer. When Oren picked up a handful of straw and rubbed down the horse, the kid did the same on the other side. Likely tryin’ for a second penny. The boy was smart and quick.
“Who wants to know?”
“A lady. She’s waitin’ outside near the lamp.”
“No lady I ever met would ask that question,” he told the boy. “And the women who aren’t ladies don’t care.”
The kid shrugged. “I figured her for a lady ‘cause she spoke soft and smelled good. Said it was her last penny and if you said you was married she might as well go to hell flat broke.”
The last thing Oren needed was women problems. He’d come close to bein’ preached over back East by a simpering, conniving witch who figured he must own a gold mine since he came from Montana Territory. He was damned if he’d get a ring through his nose. If he found himself a wife, she’d be one he and his brothers could enjoy. And since he hadn’t seen them in damn near a year, he didn’t know if they’d already found one.
Unfortunately, he had this damn need to know why things didn’t add up right. No decent woman would be on the streets alone at this hour on a Saturday night unless she had no choice. The boy said she smelled good, so she wasn’t a drunken floozy. If he didn’t find out what it was all about, he’d worry on it for weeks like a dog with a bone.
“Tell you what, kid. You take me to her and I’ll give you another penny.”
“But she said she had to know.”
“I’ll tell her to her face so she knows you don’t lie. That fair?”
“That’s two pennies?”
“Yep. I don’t cheat and, if she’s a lady, she don’t neither.”
“This way, mister.”
If he didn’t know the kid’s backbone was sticking to his belly he’d give him a lecture on the evils of greed. But two cents would keep him fed for a week if his ma or pa didn’t take it from him. He followed the boy, far enough behind that he could hear what the woman said, but she’d not be able to see him.
“What did he say?” she demanded.
Her voice was low for a woman, and urgent. He didn’t recognize it as someone he ought to be careful about, other than the fact she was female. He was always careful around them. Trouble seemed to rise from their skirts even when they didn’t lift them.
“Where’s my penny?” the boy demanded.
“Where’s my answer, you scamp?”
‘Scamp?’ She’d better not be a schoolteacher! Prissy pinch-lipped virgins drove him crazy. He eased around the corner to find the two of them waiting under a lamp. Dark curls escaped a frilled bonnet. She was taller than the boy, about shoulder height to him, he figured. Though the night was hot she wore gloves and enough petticoats to bandage an entire army. The reticule on her wrist looked as if it might contain a handkerchief, but not much else.
“He said he’d tell you hisself.”
When she reared back he discovered her face wasn’t bad, though thin. No scars that he could see past the look of panic.
“You didn’t tell him where I was?”
She relaxed a bit, though she still looked over her shoulder into the dark. Since he was facing her at the side of a building, she’d never see him.
“Instead, I followed him,” said Oren, his voice so much deeper than the boy’s.
She gasped and stepped back, shooting her head from side to side as if to seek help. Realizing no one would intrude, she slouched for a moment, then lifted her head and glared at him. She pulled back the palm of her ridiculous glove and extracted a penny. She held it out to the boy.
“You did what I asked so you shall be paid. I thank you.”
She spoke well, like Ma used to. Was she one of those brides that found their way out here and was too picky to find a husband?
The boy made the coin disappear, then tilted his head, silently asking for the promised penny. Oren pulled a handful of coins out of his pocket, sorted through them, and tossed one off his thumb to the boy. It traveled through the air, spinning, until the child caught it, grinning. Scant seconds later, he was gone.
“I also pay my debts, ma’am.”
As he ambled closer she backed up, until the stable boards pressed into her spine. He purposely crowded her to see her reaction. He held his saddle bag over one shoulder, and he was covered with dust and sweat from a long ride. He stank, and he knew it, but she didn’t wrinkle her nose and look disgusted at him.
“Tell me why you want to know my marital state?”
“I have a decision to make, sir.”
“So make it.” he replied, purposefully rude.
“My decision depends on your answer.”
“Because if you’re married I might as well enter that saloon and descend to the pits of hell!”
She had a touch of fire after all. He leaned closer and straight-armed one palm against the stable over her head. She gulped. Her chest heaved under her worn dress. A sizable chest, he noted. He tilted his head down to check out the rest of her. Narrow waist and wide hips. Not bad, but she needed fattening up.
“Nope,” he said. “Not married.”
“Could you be?”
“What, married? Why in hell would I want to do something that stupid.” He purposefully spoke loud and rough. She winced, but didn’t move. He gave her another point for her gumption.
“Because you want good food that you don’t have to cook yourself, clean clothes and…”
Even in that light he could tell she blushed. He hadn’t been this entertained since he’d watched a rattler stare down a panther.
“…and?” he said, drawing out the word in a demand.
She dropped her head and said something too low for him to catch.
“Speak up. I didn’t hear that. And, what?”
She clenched her empty bag with a tight fist.
“And whatever else a wife provides her husband!” she blurted, then glared up at him.
So, she had a temper after all. He liked passionate women but they tended to cause trouble. Hell, all women caused trouble so he might as well enjoy whatever he could get.
“And what would that be?”
She knew he baited her, but she wasn’t going down without a fight.
“Sharing the marital bed,” she whispered.
“And what do you know about that?”
“Nothing,” she declared, chin high and jaw tight. “But I’d rather learn from my husband than be treated like a piece of meat grabbed from a communal pot.”
She shivered in the heat. Her hands trembled, as did her lip. But she clenched her fists and jaw to stop both. He stared at her, waiting for an explanation.
She dropped her head for a moment, then set her spine as if a cold branding iron ran from neck to waist.
“I have nothing left but my pride and my virtue, sir. I’ve sold everything else to stay alive. If I cannot find a husband I shall be forced to sell my virtue.”
“What about your pride?”
“That, sir, I will bury deep inside, along with my shame.”
When he headed East he’d had little but pride. Virtue wasn’t an issue, but a woman without, and with no male relative to support her, had few options.
“Why pick me as husband material? I just rode into town. Haven’t even slaked my thirst yet.”
“Exactly,” she replied quickly. “You cared for your horse first. How a man treats his animals shows how he might treat his wife.” She wrinkled her nose. “Though often the animals seem to have more value.”
She had a dose of brains to go with that uppity attitude. It was a dangerous combination, one most men avoided like he plague. He wasn’t most men, and neither were his brothers.
“You like how I treat my horse, so you want to marry me? Just like that?”
Her shoulders moved in a ladylike shrug. She pressed her lips together and looked away.
“You are not uncomely, and I saw Miss Milly at the saloon point you out as ‘one of the good ones’.”
He grinned at the compliment. He might have been gone a long time, but it seemed his reputation was still good at Milly’s Saloon. Unlike most of the other customers, on his rare visits he made sure the girls came a couple of times.
“Anything else?” he asked.
“You’ll not have heard stories about me.”
He snorted a laugh.
“What stories? You murdered your last three husbands in cold blood?” She opened her mouth to answer but he cut her off. “Nah, you’re obviously a virgin.”
“I have been known to have a temper at times.”
Two red spots appeared on her cheeks. He let them grow while she twitched. He leaned his head close to hers and whispered.
“I don’t mind. I’ve been known to put women across my lap and spank them if they displease me.”
She flattened her arms against the wall as if was about to do so right there. He bet she’d squeal prettily and pink right up, too. He straightened, his cock finally awakening after days of hard riding.
“I may spank, but I don’t beat horses, dogs, women, or children,” he continued.
Her shoulders dropped a bit, though she still stared at him.
“A few mules, maybe, but that’s about it,” he added, with a wink.
She opened her mouth, closed it, then seemed to make a decision.
“Would you consider a partnership?” she asked.
He heard a touch of backbone in her voice. She wasn’t beaten down, just on hard times.
“What’re you offering?” he asked. He gave her another long, slow perusal. She twisted her hands together, but her bosom moved a fair bit as she panted. “From what I see, all you’ve given me is a promise of cooking and sharing my bed. I can cook for myself and Miss Milly’s girls know just how I like my women.”
“And that is?” she demanded.
“Always ready and eager to please!”
She blinked rapidly, trembling. Then she reached up, untied her bonnet, and drew it off. She shook her hair so her pins fell out. Her dark curls tumbled below her waist. She was now shaking, her teeth almost chattering as she reached to undo the buttons at her neck.
A fine neck, long and graceful. The pulse point at her throat throbbed as fast as a bird. Her fingers stilled just above her bosom.
“Are you trying to seduce me?” he asked, not bothering to hide his amusement. “Because if you want me to check out what you’re selling, we’d both be more comfortable at the hotel.”
“I…I wanted to show that I could be ready for you. To please you.”
“You think ‘ready’ means naked?”
“It doesn’t?” She wrinkled her brows at him, frowning in confusion.
He finally stepped close to her as he’d wanted since her hair fell down. He pressed his body against hers, rubbing his obvious attraction against her belly. Her eyes widened as if she’d just realized what he was doing.
She licked her lips, but made no complaint. Watching her closely, he flicked her next two buttons open and slid his hand under her dress and over her breast. Her hard nipple jumped at his touch. She arched her back at the touch. He flicked her nipple and she inhaled a hiss and moaned, her eyes half closed.
Owen’s cock throbbed at the invitation. Only he figured she had no idea what she was doing, or why. She had passion in spades, though.
Still watching her face closely, he lifted her skirt and slid his hand under. He pressed between her legs and found the slit in her bloomers. He slid his finger into her wet heat. She pressed her hips up, gasping. She whimpered when he let her skirts fall and did her buttons up again, all the way to her neck. Her aroma danced into his nostrils, more potent than any whiskey.
She stood there, eyes glazed, mouth open as she panted for breath.
“That is what I mean by ‘ready’,” he said. “Your pussy hot and wet and eager for my cock.”
“Oh, my!” she murmured.
He stepped back from her to stop himself doing more.
“I’d like to continue this…discussion elsewhere,” he said. He had to clear his throat.
Panic returned to her face. She grabbed his arm with both hands.
“Please, no! We can’t be seen on the streets. Or anywhere else in this town.”
“Why? Suddenly I’m not good enough for you?”
She shook her head rapidly, stumbling over her words.
“I stole a dollar from a man’s pocket. He’d fallen down drunk in the street and I thought no one saw. There was more, but I only took one dollar.” She looked up at him. “I thought he would think he’d spent it on drinks or women.”
“Someone saw you?”
She nodded. “I tried to explain that I was so hungry, and he didn’t need it…”
She wouldn’t be the first to roll a drunk. Maybe the first to only take a coin, though.
“Did the sheriff arrest you?”
“No. He said I had to get the money back, or he’d find a way for me to pay. I’ve tried all day to find work, but I just discovered he’d spread the word not to hire me.”
That was strange, but who knew what schemes went on in a small town with no law other than a man elected by crooks.
“You didn’t just give back the dollar?”
“I used it to pay for the food I’d already eaten. There was five cents left, and that I used to buy food. And then the sheriff came…”
“Did the sheriff tell you to pay the money back by cleaning the jail, cooking for the prisoners, and such?”
She shook her head. “He said if I didn’t pay back the money by midnight tonight he would take the money from my hide.”
Oren frowned. “He’d beat it out of you?”
She shook her head. “No,” she croaked. “He said he’ll sell me to the highest bidder at Miss Milly’s. I heard that he keeps half. That’s why he told no one to hire me.”
There was crooked, and there was damn wrong. Taking an innocent woman and forcing her into prostitution, just to line his own pockets, was a hanging offence in his book. He wondered if the boys back home knew. He’d be telling them quick smart when he got home. Time for this sheriff to find somewhere else to live. Lead poisoning would be the least of his worries if some of the women got hold of him. A couple of them wouldn’t mind getting some revenge, not caring who it was on.
Oren scratched the growth he’d planned to scrape off after a long hot bath. He’d planned to get clean and shaved, then have himself a full meal and pie before having a few whiskies. He’d been thinking about for days, imagining the sensation of being clean, fed, and just a bit drunk. He flipped his watch open. They had half an hour to find the sheriff.
“I guess you’re going to Miss Milly’s,” he said.
He meant that they’d go there to pay off her debt, but she took him wrong. She seemed to shrink into herself, fading from a tempestuous school teacher into a woeful waif. But though she trembled, she nodded at him, lifted her head high and, mincing as if crossing a ballroom floor, walked toward her doom.
“Ma’am,” he called out.
She stopped. Turned.
“Since we’re goin’ to be doing business, I think you’d better wait for me.”
His lip twitched at her confusion. She actually thought he’d let her sell herself to that den of rattlesnakes? Not when a dollar would let him prove that her passion was a deep as her temper. And he wouldn’t even have to take her virginity if she followed his guidance as to what he liked. Most women would put their mouth on a man, but he didn’t think she was the type to hold back.
“The business about me paying the sheriff his dollar, then us getting better acquainted.”
She slumped, having to hold onto the wall beside her to stop from collapsing. He gave her a minute to collect herself.
“It will be you who gets a dollar’s worth, rather than the highest bidder?”
“Yep. Might be a good idea if I know your name.”
He nodded, letting his desire for her show. She blushed once more. He bet her knickers were more than damp by now. He bounced on his feet, eager to show her the way a man treated his woman.
“I was christened Mary Elizabeth—”
“That’s good enough for now. Call me Oren.”
“Thank you, Oren.”
She gave a graceful nod, as if they were at one of those fancy Eastern balls and he’d just asked her to dance. He slid an arm around her waist in a possessive show of ownership and winked down at her.
“I swear that by morning you’ll thank me like you mean it, Lizzy.”
Oren’s arm around her felt like a burning brand, signifying she was no longer the lady she’d been on arriving in town. No man held a decent woman like that in public. Nor were decent women called “Lizzy”, though it better suited her now, than the ladylike Mary Elizabeth.
She shrank against her savior’s side when he pushed open the batwing doors of the saloon. She’d not had a chance to put her bonnet on, but respectability would never be a concern of hers again. By morning she’d be a fallen woman. If she did whatever he wanted, willingly to prove she was eager to please, she might be able to convince Oren to give her enough money to get to Virginia City. A cheap wedding ring and pretend widowhood should allow her to find a husband. She’d heard it was a good place to find one.
She’d come West as a mail order bride. But the man who’d paid her way out had been buried before she arrived, having told no one of their arrangement. She had nothing and no one to care that she was doing the lesser of two evils. She would never admit it, but his touch turned her body to flame. This must be the lust that the preacher expounded on. No wonder so many strayed from the flock, if this was the reward!
“Where’s the sheriff,” bellowed Oren. “I’ve got a debt to pay off for the lady.”
“Oren! It took you long enough to come see me!”
A buxom woman in a short red silk dress reached up to capture his neck and rub her body against his. He didn’t try to push her away, instead grinning and giving her a wink.
“Sorry, my dear. I’ve already got a woman for the night.”
“But you don’t like prissy virgins.”
If Lizzy had cared what the woman thought, her glare would have melted bones.
“Decided it was time to try one,” he replied. He gave her a squeeze.
“I’m the sheriff. What’s all this about?”
Lizzy snuggled closer to Owen. She’d never liked the way the sheriff looked at her, as if she was a pork chop and he was starving. He even licked his lips like a slavering dog.
“I’m paying that dollar the lady owes.”
Oren held a silver dollar high. When the sheriff scowled and held out his hand, Oren flipped it with his thumb. It landed, eagle side up, on a greasy hand.
“Damn, Miss Milly! I was all ready to break her in myself. Got my money right here!”
She recognized the man patting his pocket. His wife was the loudest termagant in town, against anything that wasn’t pure and worth her standards. If she knew what he just said, he’d be eating persimmons for a month.
Milly leaned over, her bosom almost leaking out of her corset.
“I just got in a set of twins. There just the age you like ‘em, too.”
The man almost drooled. “Two?”
“Yep. Nice and plump, not like this skinny one. You head right upstairs to room three before they start without you.”
With the sheriff paid off and her ogler’s bottom hustling up the stairs, Lizzy let herself relax enough to check out the room. If all went well, she’d never see the inside of a saloon again. There was little to see other than hard men and harder women.
To think one of them might be with her right now if Oren hadn’t saved her! She was glad when he turned her around and steered her out the door. They headed down the street, she still keeping tight to his side.
“You thought that guy would buy you, huh?”
She nodded. “Yes. He’s been boasting about it all day.”
“Did you consider that four or six of them might pitch in and share you, each of them have a couple of turns?”
She stumbled over her feet. She stopped, clenching her hand over her pounding heart.
“You heard me. And once Millie had you up there, she might not let you out until you’d been all used up.”
She could have been kept against her will, locked up in that…horrid place until she was broken, with nothing to live for? The enormity of what could have happened, combined with lack of food, made her collapse. Before she hit the ground she was swept up in a man’s arms.
“Didn’t think so,” he muttered.
She fought the tears that threatened to flow. She had to be strong. There was no guarantee that the sheriff wouldn’t still go after her, if she couldn’t escape the town. She concentrated on now, on getting through tonight.
He carrried her easily, holding her against his chest. He smelled like almost every other man she’d run into in this squalid place. But he’d said he’d have a bath first. Would he let her use it afterward?
He waited for her to gain control of herself, then steered her toward the hotel
“You own anything but the dress you’re wearin’?”
She hadn’t had much to bring, as her husband-to-be insisted he would provide everything for her. But he’d fallen off his horse when it shied at a snake, and broke his neck.
“I have a few things being held at the hotel,” she said.
“How much will that cost me?”
“Fifty cents, but you don’t have to—”
“Yes, I do. I like a clean woman, and after our tub bath you’ll want to put something fresh on. She hadn’t had a sit down bath since she left Philadelphia. Months ago. Nor had she ever shared one.
But she’d deny this man nothing for saving her from the crowd at Milly’s.
* * * *
“Should I take my clothes off now?”
Oren insisted they eat while the tub bath was brought up and filled. She’d been hungry, but he saw she ate in small bites. And now she stood in front of the steaming copper tub, biting her lip.
“Unless you want to get your clothes soaked, yes.”
“Are you going to watch?” She nervously twirled a lock of hair.
He hadn’t planned to watch, but then he hadn’t planned any of this. Watching her reveal herself seemed like a good way to get better acquainted. And since he wouldn’t be taking her virginity, he might as well enjoy as much of this as possible. He pulled up a padded chair, settled in it, and nodded.
She gulped, but the way her bodice swelled, she was as aroused as well as hesitant. She closed her eyes for a moment then lifted her head and, once more, started on the buttons under her chin.
But this time she didn’t stop at her chest. She undid her blouse, then pulled it out from her skirts. She carefully folded it and placed it on a chair, all without looking at him. Then she dropped her skirt and did the same with it. One by one her petticoats fell to the floor. With each white cloud falling he swelled larger.
She was down to her shift and one last petticoat when he told her to stop. Her eyes widened when he pulled off his boots and socks, the stood to remove his shirt. He unbuttoned his pant enough to ease his pain, then motioned for her to sit on his chair.
When she did he lifted her boot and set it on his thigh. She held her shift so it would not slide up the thighs. She trembled as he removed her boots. He took his time rolling down her stockings, gauging her arousal. When he slid his hands over her dainty feet, she shivered. She twitched when his hands slid under her petticoat, then up her thighs to her bloomers.
“Stand up,” he said.
When she did he released her last petticoat, leaving her in her shift and bloomers. Slowly, watching her face, he slid his hands under her shift. She quivered at his touch, her flesh soft against his callused hands. When he reached her thighs he lifted her shift to reveal his treasure. Her soft pink petals glistened with dew, swollen with arousal.
“Have you ever felt like this before?” he asked. “Your bosom swollen, this part of you aching with need?”
She shook her head, unable to speak.
“No one else has ever made you feel like this? None have seen your inner beauty?”
“No,” she whispered.
He nibbled his way up from her knee, pressing her thighs apart as he went. When he reached his prize he pressed his finger inside her. It only went to his knuckle before her barrier stopped him.
He kissed her thigh, then removed her shift. She stood before him, naked as Eve. And damn near as innocent. Her breasts were as swollen as those pussy lips. The tight nipples reached out as if asking to be touched. Her dark thatch called to his cock.
He didn’t know if he could stand not to ruin her. There were things he could teach her to give him release, but he felt a surge of need to possess her body. He wanted to be the first to break through her defenses and surge to the hilt, making her convulse around him as he proved his manhood with a roar.
“In the tub,” he croaked.
She hopped in, flipping her hair over the side and sinking to her shoulders. She moaned with more enjoyment than she’d shown with his touch. Once he gave her an orgasm with his fingers and tongue, she’d have a different perspective. By then she might be ready to do the same to him.
He stripped off his pants, erection rampant. She gasped, staring. But instead of screaming in mercy, her nostrils flared. She licked her lips, not in a calculated manner, but in obvious interest.
She may be innocent but she was ripe for knowledge. Carnal knowledge.
He eased himself into the bath. He’d gentle her, getting her used to his touch as they got clean. Then he’d teach her something none of the bastards in the saloon would care about.
How to satisfy herself, as well as her lover.
She’d remain a virgin.