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Shades of Twilight (Chapter 10)

Lanette's cheeks were blanched, but she rallied with a forced laugh.

"Webb! I didn't know you'd arrived. No one told us you were expected today."

"I wasn't."

"Oh. Well, welcome home." Her tone was as false as her laugh.

"I'll tell Mama and Daddy. They've just finished breakfast, and I know they'll want to welcome you themselves."

Webb's eyebrows lifted sardonically.

"Is that so?"

"I'll get them," she said, and fled.

"About the bag." Webb leaned back in the chair and swiveled so he was facing Lucinda, who was still on the sofa.

"Where do I put it?"

"Wherever you want," Lucinda firmly replied.

"Your old suite has been completely redecorated. Corliss has taken it over, but if you want it she can move into another room."

He rejected the offer with a slight shake of his head.

"I suppose Gloria and Harlan have one of the other suites, and Lanette and Greg the fourth one." He slanted an unreadable look at Roanna.

"You, of course, are still in your old room on the back."

He seemed to disapprove of that, but Roanna couldn't imagine why. Left uncertain of what to say, she said nothing.

"And Brock has one of the regular bedrooms on the left side," Lucinda said, confirming his supposition.

"It isn't a problem, though. I've been considering what can be done, and it would be a simple matter to connect two of the remaining bedrooms by opening a door between them, and converting one of the rooms into a sitting room. The remodeling could be done within a week."

"That isn't necessary. I'll take one of the bedrooms on the back. The one next to Roanna will do fine. It still has a king size bed, doesn't it?"

"All of the rooms have king beds now, except Roanna's." He gave her a hooded look.

"Don't you like big beds?" The motel bed where they'd made love had been a double. It should have been too small for the two of them, but when one person was lying on top of the other it reduced the need for space. Roanna barely controlled a blush.

"I don't need anything bigger." She glanced at her watch and gratefully got to her feet when she saw the time.

"I have to go to the county commissioner's meeting, then I'm having lunch with the hospital administrator in Florence. I'll be back by three."

She leaned over to kiss the wrinkled cheek Lucinda presented to her.

"Drive carefully," Lucinda said, as she always did.

"I will." There was an element of escape in her departure, and from the way Webb was looking at her, she was sure he'd noticed it as well.

After lunch, Webb and Lucinda returned to the study. He had endured Gloria and Harlan's effusive, embarrassingly false welcomes, ignored Corliss's sulky bad manners, and been fussed over by Tansy and Bessie. It was plain as hell that only Roanna and Lucinda had wanted him back; the rest of his family obviously wished he'd stayed in Arizona. The reason for that was pretty plain, too: they'd been mooching off Lucinda for years and were afraid he'd boot them out on their asses. It was a thought. Oh, not Gloria and Harlan. As much as he knew he'd dislike having them around, they were in their seventies, and the reasons he'd given Roanna ten years ago for their moving in were even more valid now. But as for the others … He didn't plan to do anything right away. He didn't know the details of their individual situations, and it was a lot easier to get his facts straight before he acted than it would be to repair the damage done by a wrong decision.

"I suppose you want to have your say," Lucinda said

crisply, taking her seat on the sofa.

"God knows you deserve it. This is your chance to get it off your chest, so go to it. I'll sit here, listen, and keep my mouth shut."

She was as indomitable as ever in spirit, he thought, but dangerously frail. When she'd hugged him, he'd felt the fragility of her brittle bones, seen the creepy thinness of her skin. Her color wasn't good, and her energy level was low. He'd known, from his letters from Yvonne, that Lucinda's health wasn't good these days, but he hadn't realized the imminence of her death. It was a matter of months; he doubted she would even see spring.

She'd been a cornerstone of his life. She had let him down when he'd needed her, but now she was willing to face his ire. It was a measure of her strength that he had tested his budding manhood against her, measured his growth by how well he held his own with her. Damn her, he wasn't ready to let her go.

He hitched one hip onto the edge of the desk. "I'll get to that," he said evenly, then continued with soft violence: "But first I want to know what in hell y'all have done to Roanna."

Lucinda sat in silence for a long time, Webb's accusation hovering in the air between them. She stared out the window, looking out over the sweep of sun drenched land, dotted here and there with the shadows of the fat, fluffy clouds drifting overhead. Davenport land, as far as she could see. She had always taken comfort in this vista, and she still loved to see it, but now that her life was nearing an end she was finding other things of far more importance.

"I didn't notice at first," she finally said, her gaze still far away.

"Jessie's death was-well, we'll talk about that later. I was so preoccupied with my own grief that I didn't notice Roanna until she'd almost drifted away. "Drifted away, how?" His tone was hard, sharp.

"She nearly died," Lucinda said baldly. Her chin trembled, and she sternly controlled it.

"I'd always thought Jessie was the one who so desperately needed to be loved, to make up for her circumstances … I didn't see that Roanna needed love even more, but she didn't demand it the way Jessie did. Strange, isn't it? I loved Jessie from the cradle, but she would never have helped me the way Roanna. has, or become as important to me. Roanna's more than my right hand; these past few years, I couldn't have managed without her."

Webb waved all of that away, focusing on the one statement that had his attention.

"How did she nearly die?" The thought of Roanna dying shocked him to the bone, and he felt a cold sense of dread when he remembered her guilty, miserable expression the day of Jessie's funeral. She hadn't tried to kill herself, had she?

"She stopped eating. She never ate much anyway, so I didn't notice for a long time, almost too long. Everything was so disrupted, there were seldom any routine meals, and I suppose I thought she was snacking at odd hours the way we all were. She stayed in her room a lot, too. She didn't do it deliberately," Lucinda explained softly.

"She just … lost interest. When you left, she totally withdrew. She blames herself for everything, you know."

"Why?" Webb asked. Roanna had told him she hadn't deliberately caused trouble, but maybe she really had, and confessed to Lucinda.

"It was a long time before she could talk about it, but several years ago she told me what happened in the kitchen, that she caught you by surprise when she impulsively kissed you. She didn't know Jessie was coming down, and of course, it was just like Jessie to make a huge scene, but to Roanna's way of thinking she caused all the trouble with that kiss. If she hadn't kissed you, you and Jessie wouldn't have argued, you wouldn't have been blamed for Jessie's death, and you wouldn't have left town. With you gone .. ." Lucinda shook her head.

"She's always loved you so much. We laughed about it when she was little, thought it was hero worship and puppy love, but it wasn't, was it?"

"I don't know." But he did, he thought. Roanna. had never had any self-protection where he was concerned. Hell,

she'd never been good at any kind of subterfuge. Her feelings had been right out in the open, her pride as totally vulnerable as her heart. Her adoration had always been there, like a piece of sunshine in his life, and he'd depended on its being there though he seldom paid much attention to it. Like the sunshine, it was something he'd taken for granted. That was why he'd been so damn mad when he thought she had betrayed him just to get back at Jessie.

Lucinda gave him a shrewd look that told him she wasn't taken in by his denial.

"After David and Karen died, you and I became the center posts of Roanna's life. She needed our love and support, but for the most part we didn't give it to her. No, let me rephrase that, because most of the blame is mine: I didn't give her my love and support. As long as you were here to love her, though, she got by. When you left, there was no one here for her, and she gave up. She was almost gone before I noticed," Lucinda said sadly. A tear rolled down her wrinkled cheek, and she wiped it away.

"She was down to eighty pounds. Eighty pounds! She's five seven she should weigh at least a hundred and thirty. I can't describe to you how pitiful she looked. But one day I saw her, really saw her, and realized that I had to do something or I'd lose her, too."

Webb couldn't say anything. He stood up and walked over to the window, his fists jammed deep into his pockets. His shoulders were rigid as he stood with his back to Lucinda, and it was hard for him to breathe. Waves of panic washed over him. My God, she'd almost died, and he hadn't known anything about it.

"Just saying "You need to eat' wouldn't have done the trick," Lucinda continued, the words spilling out of her as if she'd held them in for too long, and she had to share the pair. "She needed a reason for living, something to hold on to. So I told her I needed her help."

She stopped and swallowed hard before resuming.

"No one had ever said they needed her. I hadn't realized … Anyway, I told her I couldn't manage without her, that everything was too much for me to handle by myself. I didn't realize how true that was," Lucinda said wryly.

"She pulled herself back. It was a long fight, and for a while I was terrified that I'd left it too late, but she did it. It was a year before her health recovered enough that she could go to college, a year before she stopped waking us up at night with her screams."

-Screams?" Webb asked.

"Nightmares?"

"About Jessie." Lucinda's voice was soft, shredded with pain. "She found her, you know. And that was the way she screamed, the same sound, as if she'd just walked in and stepped in Jessie's blood." The words trembled, then firmed as if Lucinda wouldn't allow that weakness in herself.

"The nightmares developed into insomnia, as if staying awake was the only way she could escape them. She still suffers from it, and some nights she doesn't sleep at all. She catnaps, for the most part. If you see her dozing during the day, whatever you do, don't wake her up because that's probably the only sleep she's had, I've made it a rule that no one wakes her, for any reason. Corliss is the only one who does. She'll drop something or let a door slam, and she always pretends it's an accident."

Webb turned from the window. His eyes were like green frost.

"She might do it once more, but that'll be the last time," he said flatly.

Lucinda gave a faint smile.

"Good. I hate to say it of my own family, but Corliss has a mean, trashy streak in her. It'll be good for Roanna, having you here again."

But he hadn't been here when she'd needed him most, Webb thought. He'd walked out, leaving her to face the horror, and the nightmares, alone. What was it Lucinda had said? Roanna had stepped in Jessie's blood. He hadn't known, hadn't thought about the strain she must have been under. His wife had been murdered and he'd been accused of the crime; he'd been undergoing his own crisis, and he'd assigned her stress to guilt. He should have known better, because he'd been closer to Roanna than anyone else.

He remembered the way she had ignored the united condemnation of the town and slipped her little hand into

his at Jessie's funeral, to give him comfort and support. Considering the wild tales that had been going around about Jessie catching him screwing Roanna, it had taken a great deal of courage for her to approach him. But she'd done it, not counting the cost to her reputation, because she'd thought he needed her. Instead of squeezing her hand, doing any little thing at all to show his trust in her, he'd rebuffed her.

She'd been there for him, but he hadn't been there for her. She had survived, but at what cost?

"I didn't recognize her at first," he mused almost absently. His gaze never left Lucinda's.

"It isn't just that she's older. She's all shut down inside."

"That was how she coped. She's stronger; I think it frightened her when she realized how weak and ill she had become. She's never let herself get in that condition again. But she coped by shutting everything out, and holding herself in. It's as if she's afraid to feel too much, so she doesn't let herself feel anything. I can't reach her, and God knows I've tried, but that's my fault, too." Lucinda squared her shoulders as if settling an old burden, one she had become so used to that she seldom noticed it now.

"When she found Jessie and screamed, we all went running into the bedroom and found her standing over the body. Gloria jumped to the conclusion that Roanna had killed Jessie, and that's what she and Harlan told the sheriff. Booley had a deputy guarding her while he checked it out. We were all on one side of the room, and Roanna was on the other, all by herself except for the deputy. I'll never forget the way she looked at us, as if we had walked up and stabbed her. I should have gone to her, the way I should have gone to you, but I didn't. She hasn't called me Grandmother since," Lucinda said softly.

"I can't reach her. She goes through the motions, but she doesn't even care about Davencourt. When I told her I was going to change my will to benefit you, if she could get you to come home, she didn't even blink. I wanted her to argue, to get angry, to care, but she doesn't." The in comprehensibility of it rang in Lucinda's voice, for how could anyone not care about her beloved Davencourt? Then she sighed.

"Do you remember how she w-like a windup toy that never wound down? Running up down the stairs, banging doors, yelling … I swear, she had no sense of decorum at all. Well, now I'd give anything to see her skip, just once. She was always saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, and now she hardly talks at all. It's impossible to tell what she's thinking." no. He missed "Does she laugh?" he asked in a rough to her laughter, the infectious giggle when she was up to some mischief, the belly laughs when he told her jokes, the joyous chuckle as she watched foals romping in the pastures.

Lucinda's eyes were sad.

"No. She almost never smiles, and she doesn't laugh at all. She hasn't laughed in ten years."

Roanna glanced at her watch. The county commissioner's meeting was taking longer than usual, and she would have to leave soon or be late for her lunch in Florence. The Davenports had no official authority in county matters, but it was almost traditional that a family representative attend the meetings. Davenport support, or lack of it, often meant life or death to county projects.

When Roanna had first begun attending the meetings in Lucinda's stead, she had been largely ignored, or at best treated to a figurative pat on the head. She had merely listened, and reported to Lucinda; to a large degree, that was still what she did. But Lucinda, when she had taken action on the matters that interested her, had made a point of saying, "Roanna thinks" or "Roanna's impression was," and soon the commissioners had realized that they had better pay attention to the solemn young woman who seldom spoke. Lucinda hadn't lied; Roanna did relay her thoughts and impressions. She had always been observant but so active that she had often missed details, much as a speeder can see a highway sign but pass it too fast to read the message. Now Roanna was still and silent, and her brown eyes roamed from face to face, absorbing nuances of expression tones, reactions. All of this went straight back to Lucinda, who then made her decisions based on Roanna's impressions. Now that Webb had returned, he would be attending the meetings just as he had used to do. This was likely the last time she would be sitting here, listening and assessing, another place where her usefulness was at an end. In some distant part of her psyche she was aware of hurt, and fear, but she refused to allow them to surface.

The meeting was finally dawdling to an end. She checked her watch once again and saw that she had perhaps five minutes before she had to leave or be late. Normally she took the time to chat with everyone, but today she had time only for a quick word with the commissioner.

He was coming toward her, a short, stocky, balding man with a deeply lined face. The creases rearranged themselves into a smile as he approached her in her usual position close to the back of the room.

"How are you today, Roanna?"

"Fine, thank you, Chet," Roanna replied, thinking that she might as well tell him about Webb's return.

"And you?"

"Can't complain. Well, I could, but my wife tells me no one's interested in listening." He laughed at his own joke, his eyes twinkling.

"And how's Miss Lucinda feeling?"

"Much better, now that Webb's home," she said calmly. He gaped at her in astonishment, and for a second, dismay was written plainly on his face. He blurted, "My God, what are ya'll going to do?" before the rest of her statement sank in and he realized that commiseration wasn't appropriate. He turned beet red and started to sputter in his attempt to retrench.

"I-ah, that is-" Roanna lifted her hand to stop his verbal stumbling.

"He'll be taking up the reins again, of course," she said as if Webb's return was the most natural thing in the world.

"It will take him a few weeks to review everything, but I'm certain he'll be contacting you soon."

The commissioner sucked in a deep breath. He looked faintly ill, but he had recovered his composure.

"Roanna, 1 -191

don't think that's such a good idea. You've been handling things just fine for Miss Lucinda, and folks around here will be more comfortable with you-Roanna's eyes were very clear and direct.

"Webb is taking over again," she said softly.

"It would distress Lucinda if anyone chose not to do business with us, but of course that's their choice."

His windpipe bobbed as he swallowed. Roanna had just made it very plain that anyone who didn't accept Webb would find themselves without Davenport support or patronization. She never got angry, never yelled, never insisted on a point, and seldom even voiced an opinion, but folks in the county had learned not to discount the influence this somber-eyed woman had with Lucinda Davenport. Moreover, most people liked Roanna; it was as simple as that. No one would want an open rift with the Davenports.

"This will probably be the last monthly meeting that I'll attend," she continued.

"Don't be too sure of that," a deep, lazy voice said from the doorway just behind her.

Startled, Roanna turned to face Webb as he stepped into the room.

"What?" she said. What was he doing here? He hadn't even changed clothes. Had he been so afraid she would mess up something that he'd rushed down to the commissioner's meeting without even taking the time to unpack?

"Hello, Chet," Webb was saying easily, holding out his hand to the commissioner.

The commissioner's face turned red. He hesitated, then his Politician's instincts took over and he shook Webb's hand.

"Webb! Speak of the devil! Roanna was just telling me you were back at Davencourt. You're looking good, real good," "Thanks. You're looking Prosperous yourself."

Chet patted his belly and gave a hearty laugh. Too Prosperous! Willadean says I'm on a seafood diet-I eat everything I see!"

People milling about in the room had noticed Webb, and an agitated buzz was growing in volume. Roanna glanced at Webb, and the glint in his green eyes told her that he was well aware of the stir his presence was causing and wasn't the least concerned about it.

"Don't think you're off the hook," he said to Roanna, turning a smite on her.

"Just because I'm home doesn't mean you get to goof off from now on. We'll probably come to the meetings together."

Despite her shock, Roanna nodded gravely.

Webb looked at his watch.

"Don't you have a lunch engagement in Florence? You're going to be late if you don't hurry."

"I'm on my way.

"Bye, Chet."

"See you at the next meeting," the commissioner said, still in that falsely jovial tone as she maneuvered past him and into the hallway.

"I'll walk you to your car." Webb nodded at the commissioner and turned to fall into step with Roanna. She was acutely aware of him just at her elbow as they walked down the hall. His tall form easily dominated her even though she was wearing high heels. She didn't know what to think about what had just happened, so she didn't let herself jump to any conclusions. Maybe he truly intended they should work together, maybe he'd just been saying that to smooth the way. Only time would tell, and she wouldn't let herself hope. If she didn't hope, then she couldn't be disappointed.

A wave of double takes followed them down the hall as people recognized Webb and turned to stare. Roanna walked faster, wanting to get out of the building before a confrontation could develop. She reached the end of the hall, and Webb's arm extended in front of her to open the door. She felt the brush of his body against her back.

They exited into the glare and sticky humidity of the hot summer morning. Roanna fished her keys out of purse and slipped her sunglasses on her nose.

"What made you come to town?" she asked.

"I wasn't expecting you."

"I figured now was as good a time to break the ice as any."

1 193

His long legs easily kept up with her hurried pace.

"Slow down, it's too hot for a race."

Obediently she slacked her pace. Her car was parked close to the end of a row, and if she hurried all that distance, she "Were would be drenched in sweat by the time she got to it.

you serious about the meetings?" she asked.

"Dead serious." He had put on his own sunglasses, and the dark lenses kept her from reading his expression. "You already know "Lucinda has been singing your praises. Y what's going on, so I'd be a fool if I didn't use you."

One thing Webb wasn't, particularly where business was concerned, was a fool. Roanna felt a wave of dizziness at the thought of actually working with him. She had been prepared for anything, she'd thought, from being ignored to being evicted, but she hadn't considered that he would want her help.

They reached her car, and Webb plucked the keys from her hand. He unlocked the door and opened it, then handed the keys back. She waited a moment for the wave of pent-up heat in the car to dissipate, then slipped behind the wheel.

"Be careful," he said, and closed the door.

Roanna glanced in the rearview mirror as she pulled out of the parking lot. He was striding back toward the building; perhaps he was parked up that way, or he was going back inside. She let her gaze move hungrily over that wide, muscled back and long legs, just for a second's delight, then she forced her attention back to her driving and merged into traffic. Webb unlocked his own car and got inside. The impulse that had sent him into town had been a simple one, but strong. He had wanted to see Roanna. That was all, just see her. After the disturbing things Lucinda had told him, the old protective instincts had taken over and he'd wanted to see for himself that she was all right.

She was, of course, more than all right. He had seen for himself how deftly she had handled Chet Forrister, her composure unruffled by the commissioner's opposition and on Webb's own behalf. Now he understood exactly what Lucinda had been telling him when she'd said Roanna was stronger, that she'd changed. Roanna no longer needed him to fight her battles.

The realization left him feeling oddly bereft.

He should have been glad, for her sake. The young Roanna had been so painfully vulnerable, an easy target for anyone who wanted to take a verbal potshot at her tender emotions. He had constantly been stepping in to shield her, and his reward had been her unflagging adoration Now she had forged her own armor. She was cool and self-contained, almost emotionless, keeping people at a distance so their slings and arrows couldn't reach her. She had paid for that armor with pain and despair, almost with her own life, but the steel was strong. She still suffered, in the form of insomnia and nightmares when she did manage to sleep, but she handled her own problems now When he had walked into Davencourt today and seen her standing there on the stairs, wearing that elegantly understated silk dress and creamy pearls, with her dark chestnut hair in a sleek, sophisticated style, he had been rendered almost speechless at the contrast between the rowdy, untidy girl she had been and the classy, classic woman she was now.

She was still Roanna, but she was different. When he looked at her now, he didn't see the urchin with the unruly tongue, the awkward teenager, He looked at her and thought of the slender body beneath the silk dress, the texture of her skin that rivaled the dress in luxurious silkiness, the way her nipples had peaked at his slightest touch during those long hours in the motel in Nogales.

He had covered her naked body with his own, pulled her legs wide open, and taken her virginity. Even now, sitting in the contained, roasting heat of the car, he shivered with the power of the memory- God, he remembered every little detail-how it had felt pushing into her, the hot, soft tightness of her body as he sheathed himself inside her. He remembered how delicate she had felt beneath him, her

smaller body dominated by his size, his weight, his strength. He had wanted to cradle her in his arms, protect her, soothe her, pleasure her-everything but stop. There was no way he could have stopped.

Those memories had been driving him crazy for the past ten days, depriving him of sleep, interrupting his work. When he'd seen her again today, he had been shaken by a wave of pure possessiveness. She was his. She was his, and he wanted her. He wanted her so much that his hands had started shaking. It had taken all of his self-control not to climb the stairs to where she stood, take her arm, and march her the rest of the way upstairs to one of the bedrooms, any bedroom, where he could lift her skirt and bury himself inside her once more.

He had restrained himself for one reason, and one reason only. Roanna had carefully built her inner fortress, but every fortress had a weakness, and he knew exactly what her weakness was.

Him. She could protect herself against everyone but him.

She hadn't tried to hide it, or deny it. She had told him with devastating honesty that all he had to do was snap his fingers and she would come running. She would have gone up those stairs with him and let him do anything he wanted to her.

Webb drummed his fingers on the hot steering wheel. It seemed there was one more dragon Roanna needed him to fight, and that was his own sexual desire for her.

He had told her that he would come home if she would let him use her sexually, and she hadn't hesitated. If that was what he wanted, then she would do it. If he needed a sexual outlet, she would be available. She would do it for Lucinda, for Davencourt, for him-but what about herself?

He knew he could walk into Roanna's bedroom at any time and have her, and the temptation was already eating at him. But he didn't want Roanna to give herself to him out of guilt, or duty, or even because of her misguided hero worship. He was no hero, damn it, he was a man. He wanted her to want him as a man, male to her female. If she slipped into his bed merely because she was horny and wanted the relief he could give her, he would be delighted even by that, because it was simple and uncomplicated by other people's motives, or even her own God what about his own motives?

Sweat dripped into his eye, stinging, and with a muffled ignition switch, starting the motor SO curse he turned the d blast into life. He was going to the air conditioner would give himself a heat stroke, sitting in a closed car in the sort through a tangle of middle of summer while he tried to emotions. He loved Roanna; he'd loved her all her life, but as a sister, with an amused, protective indulgence. eat of the He hadn't been prepared for the force and heat of the physical desire that had flared when she had thrown her arms around his neck and kissed him, ten long Years ago. It had come from nowhere, like swirling gases that had been compressed until they reached critical mass, then exploded into a white hot star. It had shaken him, made him feel guilty. Everything about it had felt wrong. She'd been too young; he'd always thought of her as a sister; he'd been married, for God's sake. The guilt in that situation had been all his. Even though his marriage had been collapsing, he had still been married. He'd been the experienced one; he should have gently turned the kiss into a gesture of impulsive affection, something that wouldn't have embarrassed her. instead, he'd pulled her tighter and turned the kiss into something quite different, a deeper, adult kiss, laden with Sexuality. What had happened had been his fault, not Roanna's, but she was still trying to pay the price.

Most of the original barriers to a sexual relationship were gone. Roanna was a woman now, he wasn't married, and he didn't feel at all brotherly toward her. But other barriers remained: the pressures of family, Roanna's own sense of duty, his pride. He snorted at himself as he put the car in gear. God, yes, let's not forget his male pride. He didn't want her to give herself to him for Davencourt, family, any of those unimportant reasons. He wanted her to lie hot and panting beneath him for no other reason than she wanted him. Nothing else would do.

The bastard was back. The news was all over the county and reached the bars that night. Harper Neeley shook with rage every time Webb Tallant's name was mentioned. Tallant had gotten away with killing Jessie, and now he was back to start lording it over everyone again as if nothing had ever happened. Oh, that stupid fat-ass sheriff hadn't arrested him, said there wasn't enough evidence for a conviction, but everyone knew he'd been bought off. The Davenports and the Tallants of this world never had to pay for the shit they committed. It was the ordinary people who did time, not the la-di-dah rich folks who lived in their big, fancy house and thought the rules didn't apply to them.

Webb Tallant had bashed Jessie's head in with an andiron. He still wept when he thought about it, his beautiful Jessie with her hair all matted with blood and brains, one side of her head flattened. Somehow the bastard had found out about him and Jessie, and killed her for it. Or maybe Tallant found out that the little bun in the oven hadn't been his. Jessie had said she'd handle it, and she was a slick one if he'd ever seen one, but this time she hadn't been slick enough.

No one had ever belonged to him the way Jessie had. She'd been wild, that girl, wild and wicked, and it had excited him so much he'd nearly creamed his pants the first time she'd come on to him. She'd been excited, too, her eyes bright and hot. She'd loved the danger of it, the thrill of doing the forbidden. That first time she had been like an animal, clawing and bucking, but she hadn't come. It had taken him a while to figure it out. Jessie had liked to screw for a lot of reasons, but pleasure hadn't been one of them. She'd used her body to mess with men's heads, to pin power over them. She'd fucked him to get back at her son of-a-bitch husband, to get back at everyone and show them she didn't give a damn. She'd never meant for anyone else to know, but she knew, and that was how she got her rocks off.

But once he'd figured it out, he hadn't let her get away with it, Nobody used him, not even Jessie. Especially not Jessie. He knew her the way no one else ever had or ever would, because inside she was like him.

He started her out with kinky little games, never Pushing her too far at once. She'd taken to it like a cat to cream, something even a little more forbidden for her to gloat over when she was sitting up at the big house, acting like a perfect lady and laughing at how easily she fooled everybody because she'd just spent the afternoon screwing her brains out with the one man guaranteed to make them all piss in their lace drawers.

They'd had to be careful; they couldn't go to any local motel, and it wasn't always possible for her to come up with an excuse for being absent and unreachable for several hours at a time. Usually they'd just meet in the woods somewhere. They'd been in the woods when he'd decided held had enough of her game playing and finally showed her who was boss.

By the time he'd let her go, she'd been covered with bruises and bites, but she'd come so many times she'd barely been able to sit her horse. She'd complained bitterly about having to be careful and not let anyone see the marks on her body, but her eyes had been shining. He'd fucked her so long and so hard that he'd been pumped dry and she'd been raw, and she had loved it. Always before worn whined and blubbered when he got rough with them, but not Jessie. She came back for more, and dished out her own medicine. He'd gone home with his back clawed bloody more times than once, and every burning weal had reminded him of her and fed his hunger for more.

There'd never been another woman like his girl. She'd come back for more, too, and pushed for rougher and more kinky games, the dirtier the better. They'd gone on to butt fucking, and that had given her a real thrill, the most

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