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I stared into the flames of the fire and listened as the wind howled and the thunder roared outside. Lightning cracked and the rain poured down on the rooftop. It had been months since Lee had surrendered to Grant and months since the death of President Lincoln. The state's Government was now restored. We had new senators and a new governor, and little by little order was returning. The men who had fought in the war and lived had returned home, most of them missing an arm or a leg. They sought pardon, re-pledged their loyalty to the union between the states, and began to rebuild their lives. I wondered quite selfishly and not for the first time how I was going to go on, how Blackmoore was going to go on. I was filled with apprehension and riddled with regret. I prayed for the rain to wash away the past few years, to give me a second chance. The scars of war were evident everywhere I looked. Neither my mother nor my father had survived the war. Neither my brother nor my husband would be coming home. Nor it seemed, for that matter, would be the man that I'd loved, the man that I'd loved but lost. I looked once more at the letter in my trembling hands. Tears fell upon the well-worn parchment as I read the words one last time and then laid it onto the fire and watched it burn. I know I have no right to burden you, my brother's wife. I most assuredly will hate myself by tomorrow when this is on its way. I don't know that I will survive this war. I have seen so many die. We have been marching for days in mud, our rations are minimal, my shoes worn. Some of the men are marching barefoot, so I shouldn't complain. My bitterness at your father's refusal of my proposal to have your hand in marriage has diminished with time. Although my feelings for you remain, and always will, I understand that he did what he thought best for you and for your family. It feels as if I have aged a decade during this war. If I live through this, I promise you that somehow I will find contentment with things as they are. I will make peace, as you once asked me to, with James. I will return to Blackmoore. But there will be no more talk of me taking a wife. James may have you in his bed, but I will always hold you in my heart. There is room for no one else there, and there never will be. Devotedly, Wyatt "Will you be needin' anythin' more tonight, Miss Laurel?" I looked up. Cellie was standing in my doorway, her brow marred with concern for me. She had taken care of me since the day I was born, and when I moved to Blackmoore on my wedding day she came with me. The thunder rolled loudly and Cellie looked up, then tilted her head to the side.
"What is it?" I asked her. Then I heard it, too, a soft, steady pounding at the door. I climbed quickly to my feet and retrieved my pistol from underneath my pillow. I had taken to sleeping with it the day that James left, and sadly it brought me far more comfort than he ever had. I dashed down the hall then the stairs, Cellie at my heels. "Miss Laurel, you're in your night." "Shh!" I said. I closed my eyes and moistened my lips. My heart was pounding in anticipation, the gun shaking in my nervous hands. Then, without warning, a flame of hope flickered from somewhere deep inside of me. I stepped back, pointed the gun at the door, and steadily said, "Open it." Cellie looked at me, then at the door. I nodded encouragement and watched in rapt attention as she reached out for the knob, turned it, and slowly pulled the door open. The man that had been leaning against it crumpled to his knees. His clothes were ragged and soaked through. He was covered in grime and thinner than I remembered. "Wyatt!" I gasped, dropping the weapon and running to him. "Wyatt!" I called out as I lifted his head and stared into his eyes. "Oh, Cellie! I think he's hurt.or sick. Please! Fetch John and Jacob. We need to get him upstairs by the fire." I fell to my knees and pulled Wyatt to my breast. "It's all right, Wyatt," I sobbed. "You're home." "Laurel?" he asked, his voice hoarse. "Yes, Wyatt. It's me. It's Laurel." John and Jacob arrived quickly and it took little effort for them to help Wyatt up the stairs. "We can take care of this, Miss Laurel," said John. "Jacob and I can see to Master Wyatt. "I'm not leaving him. You do as I say and then you leave us alone." "Oh, I don't think you should be alone with him, Miss Laurel," said Cellie disapprovingly. "You think I care what anyone thinks? Well, I don't!" Wyatt grabbed my wrist and gave it a tug.
"I want a bath," he said. "You're weak, Wyatt, and." "I want a bath," he repeated, this time his voice a bit stronger, more steady. "John, set him down in the chair, then help Cellie. We're going to need lots of water. Jacob, bring in the tub." "Where's James?" asked Wyatt as I knelt before him and began to remove his boots. "You shouldn't be." I looked up at him, my eyes filled with tears. "Dead," I said. "It's been over a year now." "I'm sorry," he replied, reaching out to wipe one of my tears away. "You still mourn him. You...you loved him." "No," I admitted freely. "I never loved him. Never. Wyatt, it was always you. Always." Wyatt reached down and pulled me to him. He wrapped his arms around me in a strong embrace. Relief flooded through me and I began to weep. "Always?" he managed to croak out. "Yes, Wyatt. Always." The dampness from his clothing quickly penetrated my light cotton gown and despite the warmth of the moment, I shivered. "I'm afraid I'm covered in dirt. It's gone and rubbed off on you," he whispered. Wyatt released me just as Jacob walked into the room. He casually picked my shawl up off the floor where I'd been sitting earlier, then wrapped it around my shoulders concealing the evidence of our indiscretion. We sat in silence as the tub was put into position and filled. "I can manage," he told Jacob when the strapping young man moved to help him stand. "Laurel, get me my razor. I'll want to shave when I'm finished with my bath. I'll want a brandy, too. Tell Cellie to light a fire in my room. By the time I'm through here it should be warm enough. Lord knows it will be far better than what I've grown used to." ~
"You shouldn't be goin' in there 'till you're called," scolded Cellie. "Hush. Now hand me that tray and go on to bed. It's late." Cellie shook her head, then handed me the tray, opened the bedroom door, and walked down the hall towards the stairs muttering to herself. Wyatt was in the bath. He was facing the door, and the moment I stepped foot in the room, my eyes locked with his. Steam was rising up around him, and his skin was flush from the heat. His hair had been washed, its soft dark curls slicked back. Rivulets of water were cascading down his neck and over his sculpted chest. He held a bar of soap in his hands and he was turning it ever so slowly, creating a rich lather. "You gonna come on in or are you gonna stand there in the doorway?" he asked as he soaped up his muscular arms. "I was hoping for an invitation," I told him. "Cellie is right. You shouldn't be alone with me." I walked over to the bed, set down the tray, and poured us each a brandy. "When did you start drinking brandy?" he asked, sounding amused. "Same day I started pickin' cotton! Let's get you shaved. I want to make sure it's really you under there. I'll hold the mirror." He laughed. "I've learned to do this without a mirror." I handed him his razor then crouched down alongside the tub, resting my cheek on its edge and gazing up at him. "I can't believe you're here." "I could pinch you, just to make sure you're awake," he said as he ran the edge of the razor over his rough beard. "I'd rather you kissed me. It's been a really long time since you've kissed me." "I've never kissed you." "Yes, you have. Don't you remember? I still do. I think about it all the time. We were out riding. I was on Chestnut and you were on Midnight. That branch sprung back and I nearly fell off. I still have the scar," I said, lifting some of my long auburn hair away from my forehead and leaning in closer to show him. "You ripped off a bit of your shirt and held it there until the bleeding stopped. Then you kissed me."
"On your forehead. That doesn't count." "Best kiss I ever had," I told him standing up and taking another sip of the brandy. I climbed up on the bed, stretched out, then rolled over so that I could see his reaction. "I could do better," he said. "You probably promise all the girls that." "I've never promised another girl anything. Avert your eyes. I'm through." "Don't be silly," I told him as I placed my glass on the bedside table and then walked towards him, towel in hand. "You don't need to protect my virtue." "Maybe I'd rather pretend that I did," he said. Taking the towel from me, he quickly stood up and wrapped it around his waist. I must have looked every bit as stung by his comment as I felt because his expression softened instantly. "I apologize. That was uncalled for. I suppose it makes no sense for me to be jealous of James, not now." He wearily stepped out of the tub. I wrapped my arm around his waist and encouraged him to lean on me. "Are you hungry?" "It's sleep I need most now," he admitted. "Help me to bed?" "Yes, Wyatt," I said softly as I pulled back the coverlet of the four-poster. When I saw his hesitation, I added. "Blackmoore is yours. This is your house, your room, your bed." "I'm too tired to fight you tonight," he said as he casually dropped the towel, crawled between the crisp white sheets and then lay down. I sat on the edge of the bed and began to run my fingers through his hair. After a minute or two, Wyatt leaned up on one elbow and nodded towards the tray that held his untouched brandy. I retrieved the tray from the foot of the bed, placed it on the bedside table, and then picked up his glass, warming it a bit in my hands. As he took it from me, his fingers grazed mine. His touch was but a whisper, but its lingering effects were staggering. He finished his drink in one quick swallow and handed the empty glass back to me. And
then he closed his eyes, letting his head fall upon the pillow, my pillow. "Sleep sweet, Wyatt," I whispered, moving away cautiously so as not to disturb him. He reached out and stopped me. "Don't go," he said as he shifted over towards the middle of the bed. "Stay with me, Laurel." It was an easy decision. I had loved Wyatt Blackmoore for as far back as I could remember. The saddest day of my life had been the day my father had given me in marriage to Wyatt's older brother, James. Wyatt begged my father to reconsider and he begged James as well. But they were unrelenting. Wyatt and I were both sixteen. He left for the war soon thereafter, unable to bear remaining at Blackmoore. Unable to bear seeing me made its mistress, but not his wife. I looked into his deep blue eyes and saw my own longing and desire reflecting back at me. So much time had been wasted. So many nights spent apart, alone. I reached up and untied the bow at the neckline of my gown and then pulled it off my shoulders. Wyatt watched as the thin white cotton separated then slipped down my torso and over my hips to pool at my feet. "You're even more beautiful than I imagined," he murmured, turning back the edge of the bedcovers. "You've imagined me? This? What have you imagined?" He blushed and glanced away. "Wyatt, heavens! Don't be shy. Look at me!" I insisted after I climbed in alongside of him. "I've imagined this too, so many times I've imagined it." "You have? Us? Like this?" "Yes." He reached out, picked up a strand of my hair, and twirled it between his fingertips, examining it closely. "I've imagined loving you," he began. "I've imagined holding you in my arms every night. I've imagined waking up with you, here, in this bed with the sun streaming through the windows. I've imagined you full with child, my child. I've imagined caring for you and you caring for me. I've imagined living my entire life with you, Laurel. Every day, I've imagined it. I imagined it so much that I find myself questioning if this is all a dream.
Some wonderful, glorious dream." I sat up and reached for Wyatt's hand. "This is real. I'm real," I assured him as I lifted it to my face, then down the length of my neck. "And I'm here. I'm here and I want you. I need you Wyatt." He sat up, reached behind my neck and pulled me close, crushing his lips to mine in an almost bruising kiss. I had expected Wyatt to be tender and hesitant, to be careful and shy. He wasn't. He knew what he wanted and with my permission was taking it freely. I gasped in surprise, and, as my mouth opened, he slid his tongue inside. He turned me and eased me back down on the bed. He smelled of the clove soap and tasted like the brandy. His hair still felt damp as I laced my fingers through it. I returned his ardent kiss with equal fervor, needing for him to know that I burned for him just as much as he did for me. He pulled back abruptly and looked into my eyes with unguarded amazement. "What?" I asked. Wyatt ran his fingertips lightly over my bottom lip and smiled. "Nothing." I spread my legs and sighed as I felt his hips lower, his evident arousal brushing up against my moistened curls. "I want to make this last forever," I whispered. "I'm going to be lucky if I last fifteen seconds, darlin'. We might have to try for forever tomorrow." I boldly reached down and wrapped my hand around his shaft, squeezing it firmly and then touching its tip to my center. His composure crumbled. I watched his eyes roll up and all of the muscles in his neck flex with tension. "Laurel!" "See how much I want you?" I told him. "My body's been pining for yours all these years. Wanting you. Waiting for you. Oh, Wyatt, only you!" I could feel the muscles of his stomach shudder in anticipation and I began to brace myself in preparation for his entrance. My relations with James had always felt quite unsatisfactory, but that had never really surprised me. The marriage bed was something to be endured. It was part of my duty to James. But Wyatt? Wyatt I wanted to please, and I was determined to. Strangely enough, the idea of him pleasuring me physically or how intoxicating it would be for me to feel wanted, desired. Well, it wasn't really at the forefront of my mind. I was utterly and completely unprepared for it.
Wyatt pushed himself up and off of me with both arms, casting aside the bed sheets. "Did I do something wrong?" I asked, obvious panic in my voice. "No. You're doing everything right," he assured me. "Want to see you. All of you." He said as he kissed a path of hot open-mouthed kisses down the length of my neck and between the valley of my breasts. He moaned in pleasure as he latched on to one, suckling it like a babe while he palmed the other gently in his hand. The moan came from deep within his throat and as he pulled my breast eagerly into his mouth I could feel the sensation down to the very tips of my curled up toes. My body felt stretched like a bow, arching up wantonly, begging for more. He released his hold on me with a pop and at the same time he slid his hand down the length of my body, over my taut stomach to the patch of curls between my thighs. "You liked that," he said, his voice rough with desire. It wasn't a question and for that I was grateful. I could barely breathe properly. I was quite confident that coherent speech would be completely beyond my reach. Wyatt moved slowly down my body, peppering my stomach with heart melting kisses. "I'm going to worship you," he promised as he moved lower still. "Worship you like I've always wanted to." He began to coax my legs apart. I reached down and grabbed a fistful of his hair, which seemed to get his attention splendidly. "What are you doing?" His eyes were wide in surprise. He reached up, gently removed my hand, kissed the inside of my palm, then softly replied, "Loving you." My legs parted of their own accord. Suddenly, it was as if my body had a mind of its own. Wyatt, sensing my consent, dipped his head and tasted me for the first time. Pleasure coursed through me, pleasure like I had never known. It was strong enough to make me want to weep, and I thought that I would if Wyatt didn't stop. Then I realized that I might weep if he did. He reached inside of me, touching me in ways and in places that I never thought possible. "Wyatt!" I gasped. "Dear Lord! You need to stop!" I cried out. My body felt as if it were on fire, burning me up from the inside. I was trembling. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't
think. "I.I think I'm going to faint!" I warned him. But he didn't stop. He sucked my bud into his warm, wet mouth and tugged on it. I swear I saw stars. I wanted desperately to reach for something, to hold on to something. And then Wyatt was there. He was right above me, his forehead lightly touching mine. He brushed the stray tendrils of hair from my face and then he slipped one hand underneath my knee, opened me up, and slid inside. His eyes never left mine as he churned his hips, deep and slow, over and over. "I thought.I thought you were tired," I said, still panting. "Seems you've inspired me," he told me, looking happier than I had ever seen anyone look in my entire life. "Wrap your legs around me." "Why?" Wyatt had both my hands in his, our fingers interlaced and positioned on either side of my head. "Trust me, wrap your legs around my hips." I did. I did trust Wyatt and I did as he asked. "That's it, darlin'. Just angle your hips up a bit more." "Oh!" I cried out. With each thrust the base of his swollen member rubbed against my sensitive bud. My stomach began to coil up. It was as if I were being wound tighter and tighter. Wyatt sucked my earlobe into his mouth and then began to fervently kiss me just behind the ear. My heart was beating so loud I feared for a second that it was going to break my chest. I could hear the sound of my own blood rushing through my veins. I swear I could even smell the rain outside. I had never felt so alive and so on the verge of dying.
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