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NOTE: 5 hours, 4 states, 3 toll booths, 2 major rivers, 1 extremely long interstate highway, and a whole bunch of Mr. Frost’s less-travelled roads . . . all are between me and my eighty-year-old mom, who’s been suffering from an increasingly severe list of health problems since early last year. I call almost every day and make the trip as often as humanly possible— when I’m not at my full-time, third-shift job, or caring for my sons— one of whom is autistic. Feeding myself more than toast and sleeping six hours in a row are rosy-pink pipe dreams and misty memories.
Since I’ve been posting so erratically (someone PLEASE make an erotic/erotic literature comment!!) I’m uploading two “sections” of TT2 at the same time, and this one contains the REAL beginning of Becky and Brody’s romance. Enjoy!
REMINDER: I write long stories. Many chapters don’t have naughty bits, but those that do will be way more fun if you read the others, too! Also, although TT2 is a stand-alone novel, it takes place in the same family as Texas Trio, so you might want to read that one first! —Stef
—:—:—:—:—:—:— Chapter 15 —:—:—:—:—:—:—
(Chapter 14 ended with Jem & Colt wondering what was going on between their sister-in-law & their mysterious cowhand, who’d both been silent and morose all week. They were galloping homeward, looking forward to some private time with Catherine . . . .)
Neither a baby nor a better mood were on the menu that night, however.
Colt was already on his way back out when Jem rode up to the barn, though he had a fresh horse under him. They reined in.
Jem read his partner’s face. “What’s wrong?”
“Becky’s gone. Cat thought she was sleeping late, didn’t realize she was missing until after noon, and by then it was too late. She went alone, no one knows where.”
“Shit,” Jem muttered. “Is Catherine . . .?”
“She’s worried, but she’s handling it alright.
“I’m heading to the bunkhouse now, see if anyone saw her. Caleb’s going north to the river, Clancy and Little Bob are heading out to the Pines. I’ll head due west from the bunkhouse. You go south. Two shots if you find sign.”
Jem nodded and galloped for the barn to fetch a new mount, saying a silent prayer that his sister-in-law lived long enough for him to lock her in her room for the next ten years.
Brody was bathing in the creek when Colt stormed through the bunkhouse asking questions. He walked out of the trees just in time to see a rider receding in the distance. He didn’t need to ask anyone what was happening, the bunkhouse was abuzz with speculation when he returned.
Without a word, he walked back out, saddled Bear, and rode down to the stream, whose tree-lined banks were the closest cover. Brody would prefer it if no one saw him leave. He didn’t want to cause any more talk than he already had, between hanging out on the boss’ porch, reading books, and nearly killing Arnold. An overnight absence was nothing out of the ordinary— he might have gone to town, gone hunting, or been spending time with a lady friend. Riding out after the boss’ sister would cause another kind of talk, and Brody didn’t want anyone talking about Becky.
If he’d seen Kendall, he could have told him where to look first. In fact, if Kendall had been paying closer attention on his own damn porch, he’d already have known, but as it was, he’d been headed in the wrong direction when he left the bunkhouse.
Bear splashed across the widest part of the stream, and Brody turned southwest, kicking the horse into the fastest canter he could manage. He would have gone to the wrangler and swapped mounts, but he was starting to see that Bear had a lot more stamina than the sleeker, faster cow ponies in the remuda. The dun-brown gelding might plod, but he could plod for an extraordinarily long time.
Two miles north of Brody, between Kendall’s path and his own, Lem and Ernesto led their horses up the side of a steep plateau.
“Lem, it’s gonna be dark soon. I dunno why we hafta go now. We should wait until morning and take off then.”
Lem gritted his teeth in frustration at having to explain everything five times. “We hafta go now, Ern, because the bitch ain’t left the house in days. A little bird tol’ me she snuck out this mornin’ and the whole damn place is in an uproar lookin’ for her. Since we know where she went las’ time, and Clancy ain’t with her this time, we’re gonna get there first. By tomorrow morning we’ll be ten miles north a’here with no one on our trail. It’ll take ’em days to figure she ain’t on the KCW—days you ‘n’ me’ll spend wearin’ out that virgin pussy.”
Ern hooted and Lem shushed him, wishing he had more whiskey. He was gonna need all he had to soften Ernesto up later, though, after he’d taken his turn at the woman. Lem’d put a little somethin’ special in the flask that time, to make sure Ernesto had a nice long sleep, and make sure that Lem had plenty of time alone to do what escort ataşehir he wanted with the precious princess of the KCW.
It better be soon, he thought. Ern had been getting restless, and that idiot midget had started making Lem’s life difficult, asking about him around town. Since no one knew where he was staying, it wasn’t much of an issue, and it might not mean anything at all, but it made Lem twitchy all the same, and if Ern heard about it, he’d be sure to kick up a fuss.
Lem didn’t think he could take any more of Ern’s bullshit, no matter how badly he wanted the other man around to take the blame for what was about to happen to Becky Connor.
—:—:—:—:—:—:— Chapter 16 —:—:—:—:—:—:—
Brody was no tracker, but the fine red dust of of the plains surrounding the KCW held a print so well his half-blind California accountant couldn’t miss it. The narrow wash had deepened into a canyon, which might have been shadowy at that time of day, had the white walls above not reflected the sun into the coolness below. He stopped to listen, and this time was rewarded by a metallic clink from somewhere near the canyon wall, off to his right. Brody dismounted and wrapped his reins around a bush, taking his rifle with him. Quietly, pausing often, he followed the sporadic sounds to a dusty grey mare. He stopped, clucking his tongue in case Pepper was spooked, but she came right toward him.
Brody checked the tack, but nothing was damaged or out of place, so Becky probably hadn’t been thrown. Patting the mare’s neck in reassurance, he tied her to a bit of scrub and circled ’til he found the her trail. Glancing around him to get his bearings every so often, Brody followed the mare’s wandering prints. He kept his ears open, too, but the mare’s trail had led him back to the stream, and the noise covered most other sounds, so it was his eyes that were rewarded this time. Edging sideways along a narrow path with a switchback in the middle, he rounded the bend to find the small shelf of rock had given way, sliding into the creek and taking Becky with it.
The creek wasn’t deep right here, but it was wide, and from Becky’s condition, Brody guessed it was sandy-bottomed.
He stood staring dumbly for a long minute.
“Mr. Easton!” Becky’s impatient greeting shook him out of his reverie. “Might I request your assistance?”
The courteous question struck Brody as funny, since Miss Connor was stuck breast-deep in quicksand, supporting herself by some unknown means.
Becky glared as he laughed at her.
Brody kept laughing as he edged his way back around the cliff. She didn’t have to wonder where he’d gone: periodic chuckles marked his path. Soon he reappeared, closer to her level, making his way upstream by hopping from boulder to boulder, lariat in hand. Still chuckling, she noticed irritably.
He was able to get within eight or so feet without getting his boots wet, and there he stayed, perched on a rock of unknown dimensions in a sea of sand whose solidity was seriously in doubt. His smile faded as he addressed her. “Alright, Miss Connor, I’m about to toss you the end of this rope. Please allow me to do the pulling. If you pull on the rope, there’s every chance of me landing in quicksand instead of you winding up on dry ground. Do you understand?”
Becky grimaced, holding her tongue. “Yes, Mr. Easton, I understand perfectly. I will hold the rope passively.”
He tossed, and she did just that.
“Ready?” Brody asked.
Becky nodded, nervous now, though she’d been infuriated a moment before.
“All right. I’m going to walk back the way I came, staying on the rocks, and pulling you with me until you are able to stand. Don’t let go of the rope, not even if you’re on top of a boulder. Wait for me to come to you.”
Becky nodded as he turned away, both hands on the rope, her face and body tense.
Brody stopped before he’d turned all the way around, pivoting slowly back to face her.
‘What?” she asked.
“Are your feet on solid ground?” he asked.
She nodded again. “Yes, there’s a tiny . . . tussock . . . I suppose you could say, but there’s nothing around it.”
“You’re in no danger of tumbling off the tussock?”
She shook her head.
Brody squatted down, propped his elbows on his knees, and stared.
“What?” Becky repeated, frustration creeping into her tone.
“Why won’t you allow me to call on you, Miss Connor?”
Becky’s chin fell a full inch.
“It’s not because you don’t find favor with me, so what is it?”
Becky recovered almost immediately. “Mr. Easton, perhaps we could discuss this when I myself am not in danger of becoming a fossil.”
“As soon as I haul you out of that quicksand, you’ll be on your mount and away. Since I’m not allowed to call on you, we will have no opportunity to discuss it later. Now, back to my question . . . you would not have allowed me the liberty of that kiss if you didn’t find favor kadıköy escort with me, so what is it?”
The canyon was dim, but Becky’s blush was plain to see. As the fire receded from her cheeks, her brows drew together. “Mr. Easton, really!”
“Have you a fondness for someone else?”
Becky’s mouth tightened.
“Have you?” he repeated insistently.
Her eyes on the shore to his left, she shook her head in a small, violent motion.
“Is it my lack of family connections?”
She flicked a look at him and frowned, with another small head-shake.
“My financial circumstances?”
That was too goading for her not to answer. “Perhaps I wish to spend time with less insulting companions than you, Mr. Easton.”
He grinned at that, but didn’t let up. “Well, what is it, then?”
Becky’s desire to see Brody land face-down in the mud was only a hair weaker than her desire to be out of the self-same mud. “Mr. Easton, I simply have no interest in romance, with you or any other man.”
Brody hoped his face didn’t show his surprise, but that was one response he’d never considered. He stared at her.
She continued to peruse the bank, her jaw set and her fingers clenching the rope.
“I’d like to be allowed the occasional pleasure of your company, nonetheless. Please let me spend at least a few hours talking with you before I return to my home in San Francisco.”
Becky’s stomach clenched when he mentioned San Francisco, but she remained firm. “No, thank you, Mr. Easton. My mind is made up.”
Brody lost his patience. Even neck-deep in sludge, with streaks of grit across her cheeks and on up into her hairline, the woman was unbearably enticing. He wanted to haul her out of that mud pit, strip the dirty clothes from her body, toss her in a clean puddle, and bury his face between her legs. More than that, he wanted to know her, to know what it was that kept her so aloof, so determined not to give in to the desire he knew she felt. He stood.
“I wonder what you’re wearing, Miss Connor?”
Becky’s eyes flew to his face, but Brody was a mere silhouette against the cerulean Texas sky, his expression obscured by shadows.
“Since you’re out here on your own, I suspect you’ve left your skirt in your saddlebags, and your lower half is clad in boys’ togs.”
Becky blushed, confirming his guess.
“I wonder how much trouble you’d be in if I left you here for your brothers to find? Kendall went due west from the bunkhouse, and Wilson went south, but I imagine one of them will happen on you eventually, if you holler loud enough.”
Becky stared, aghast. “You wouldn’t leave me here! What if I fell?”
Brody paused. “No . . . you’re probably right about that.”
Becky turned her head, hiding the spark of triumph in her eyes.
“But I would tie this rope to a bush, giving me time to steal your skirt and make a clean getaway while you pull yourself free.”
Becky’s head jerked around, her heart pounding. She knew it was futile but she was hoping against hope that somehow she’d be able to sneak back into the house. She knew in her heart it wasn’t going to happen, but going home in a skirt was far preferable to appearing in wet, sandy pants. She’d rather lie about losing track of time than tell the truth and hurt her sister’s feelings. Her family might doubt the story, but it was better by far than saying she fell off a ledge and got stuck in a bed of quicksand.
It had barely been a month since she promised not to wander around the range alone. She’d scared Catherine one too many times, and her sister had lost her temper. “I lost a son, Becky. I can’t bear to lose a sister.” Becky had felt the statement like a punch to her heart and had thrown herself into Cat’s arms, choking back tears as she swore never to do it again.
Now she’d broken that promise, and she was terrified to see the disappointment and sorrow written across her sister’s gentle face.
Brody knew none of what she was thinking, but he recognized her apprehension and knew he’d won. “On the other hand, I could haul you out of there, politely turn my back while you don your skirt and wet it, then take you back to your sister’s home, where I’ll tell everyone that your horse was spooked by a snake and threw you in the creek— while we were out for a ride together. We’re late returning because I had to catch your mount.”
Becky’s eyes widened as he spoke, the flutter of hope in her heart becoming a maelstrom.
Then he continued, “I assume that would engender the proper amount of gratitude to allow me the courtesy of calling on you.”
Her face fell.
A mourning dove cooed from somewhere further up the canyon, its sweet trill magnified by the walls above.
She considered asking him for clarification and feigning shock that he would resort to blackmail, but she wasn’t surprised at all. Beneath the pretty face and flattering smiles, she could sense the hardness in Brody. maltepe escort bayan He would be a formidable foe, and as a hunter, he wouldn’t be swayed. Unfortunately, this time she was the prey.
“How . . . how many calls?”
Brody’s heart began to race, but his expression didn’t soften. “Six months.”
She drew her breath so sharply a yip of surprise emerged from between her lips.
“Six months?” she nearly squealed.
Brody smiled, trusting that she couldn’t see his face against the sky.
“Mr. Easton, a gentleman would not blackmail a lady before rescuing her.”
His grin widened. At long last, herding cattle paid off. “I’m no gentleman, Miss Connor. I’m merely a ranch hand with a lariat, at your service.”
A muscle twitched in Becky’s cheek. She wanted to let loose the rope and smack the surface of the wet sand in frustration. She wanted to shriek. She wanted to ball up her fist and blacken Brody Easton’s eye. But most of all, she wanted to get out of this miserable mudhole and back to her own warm bed.
“Fine. Six months, Mr. Easton, though it will do you no good.”
“I’d like your promise, Miss Connor.”
She did shriek then. It began as a growl between her teeth, and grew to a muffled scream of ire. Her chest heaved as she fought for control. “Fine. I promise to accept your calls for six months, Mr. Easton, without audible objection, alerting no one to your dastardly bargain. Now pull me out of this damnable hole!”
Brody practically laughed as he glanced behind him to find his first foothold. One slow step at a time, using his weight to gradually increase tension on the rope, he broke the sand’s sucking hold on Becky.
Becky gripped the rope and kept her body limp, sliding on her belly across grit and pebbles, through the shallows, onto a gravelly shore, where Brody bent and lifted her to her feet.
As mad as she was, Becky wanted to slap him and stalk away, but she’d been standing on that tussock for hours, every muscle taut, and now her arms ached from the stress of being pulled along the stream. She was exhausted, and she fell against him, shaking. Brody dropped the rope and wrapped his arms around her, a low hum of compassion rumbling in his chest. He stroked her hair, and couldn’t prevent himself from placing a small kiss atop her golden-brown head, hoping she was too tired to notice.
God knew, it wasn’t one-tenth of what he wanted to do. Being allowed to offer her that physical comfort after she’d so reluctantly given in to him pushed all Brody’s protective masculine instincts to the forefront of his brain. He wanted to lay her over a boulder and claim her right there, using his body to mark her as his woman. Instead, he held her gently.
Becky rested in his arms for what seemed like an eternity, mustering her strength. Finally, she squared her shoulders and straightened, keeping her eyes away from Brody. “Thank you, Mr. Easton.”
He helped her onto the dusty bank and fetched Pepper, then left her alone to change while he went back for Bear.
In the rocks above, Lem lay cursing. He’d found Becky just in time to watch some cowboy pull her out of a quicksand pit.
Lem muttered imprecations when she hugged the cowboy, and briefly considered trying to get down there on a rope when the cowboy left her alone the second time. He dismissed that idea as crazy, and spent the time he woulda wasted on it squinting through his spyglass as Becky changed her clothes. He couldn’t see much from his angle, nearly straight down, but the glimpses he caught of her pale thighs and round ass were enough to harden his pecker. He cursed and rubbed the front of his trousers until little Miss Connor did something so strange he forgot his hard-on.
After exchanging her wet trousers for a dry skirt, she slid down the bank and collapsed mid-stream, splashing water over her face and shoulders, again and again. When she stood, the skirt was as wet as her trousers had been.
She called out to the cowboy— they were too far down for Lem to catch his name—and collapsed on a boulder, waiting for his return.
When they’d gone, Lem rolled onto his back, picturing those pale limbs spread-eagled on a bed somewhere, fisting his cock with a grubby hand ’til he spilled on the barren ground, cursing Becky Connor, cursing Clancy and the cowboy, cursing everyone who walked the earth of those sprawling miles of ranchland they called the KCW.
WRITING TIDBIT: Because the quicksand scene is what forces Becky into constant contact with Brody, I seriously considered calling this book “Becky’s Bargain” or “Blackmailing Becky. but “Becky’s Debt” covers her feelings about Colt and Jem including her in their safe, loving family, as well as her promise to Brody, so I went that way. Plus, “Bargain” seemed too dry, and “Blackmail” too dark to accurately represent their feelings for each other. I waffled for longer than usual over the decision, though: most of the time, the title of a story is so completely obvious to me, I can’t imagine calling it anything else!
Thank you for the hearts, stars, and ESPECIALLY your comments! Check out my bio for updates on TT3— did I mention the title of that one yet?
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