Read Let Me Love You Online

Authors: Mary Wine

Tags: #Erotica, #Fiction, #Romance, #Western, #Historical

Let Me Love You

BOOK: Let Me Love You
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This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.

Samhain Publishing, Ltd. 512 Forest Lake Drive Warner Robins, Georgia 31093

Let Me Love You

Copyright © 2007 by Mary Wine

Cover by Vanessa Hawthorne

ISBN: 1-59998-720-1

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
electronic publication: July 2007

Let Me Love You

Mary Wine

Chapter One

“This here is a man’s world, honey. It’s time you got that into your pretty head.”

The main difficulty Brianna had with Joseph Corners’ words was the fact that the man was saying “head” when his gaze was very definitely on her chest. Actually, the man was staring at her bosom, but noticing such a vulgar detail sort of cast her into the gutter along with Joseph.

At least that’s what Brianna’s mother would have said. Ladies didn’t think about their bosoms, even if they were being ogled in the bright light of day. But maybe those lessons were better suited to the streets of Boston, instead of the dock in Silver Peak, California.

Joseph sniffed before stepping closer. “Will you marry me?”

Nausea threatened to send her lunch up as an answer to Joseph’s proposal. He grinned and the expression showed off his yellow teeth. Several days’ growth of beard decorated his chin and his hair looked like she could grease her boots with it. His shirt was sporting splotches from his last few meals and the tail hung free of his trousers. While the West might be untamed, somehow Brianna couldn’t quite take courtship from a slob seriously. You could admire a man who worked hard all day. If it was sweat and honest labor that stained his clothing that might be a point in his favor. But no woman wanted a lazy man in her house. All that promised was a life of hardship with an empty belly. There wasn’t a single thing about Joseph that even came close to the idea of likeable.

She was no picture of pristine beauty either, with a day’s work behind her, but there was a difference between the stains of honest labor sitting on a man and pure gluttony.

A thin coating of flour that she couldn’t seem to shake off clung to her skirt. Brianna worked in a mill her father had built in the little town of Silver Peak. The huge stone-grinding mill was powered by a waterwheel set on the edge of the river. The local farmers were eager to have their crop ground into flour that could be sold right there in any of the mining towns, instead of carting their crops to an eastern market.

“Now, Mr. Corners, I have quite clearly explained to you that you must speak to my father.” But she’d rather be shipped to a convent if it meant avoiding a meeting at the church altar with Joseph Corners. The idea of enduring his kiss made her shiver and clamp her lips closed against a second round of nausea. She’d just bet his breath was worse than old fish.

Joseph spat on the ground as he stepped closer. Brianna backed up but looked around the man for any sign of anyone else. She was walking down the river dock and, although daylight, it wasn’t exactly a proper place for a lady to be. She had an account to settle with the dock master and the amount was large or she never would have risked some of the more unsavory elements you could count on meeting.

“Your father is dead.” Joseph wiped his hand on the top of his forearm. “Everyone knows it. It’s time you married up and let a man run that mill.” Joseph made a grab for her and moved rather fast for his plump belly. His fingers curled around her wrist, his fingers digging in like a hawk catching a mouse, pinching her limb and sending pain shooting up into her shoulder.

“Release me, sir.”

A snicker was her reply. Joseph actually licked his lower lip as he dragged her forward. Her boots skidded on the rough plank deck as she thrust out her opposite arm to keep herself from tumbling into his stained shirt. A shudder shook her frame as she envisioned herself held in his embrace. Getting shoved into the river sounded more appealing.

The sunlight flickered as something blocked it for a brief second. “Release the lady and stand aside, Mr. Corners.”

Brianna gasped and Joseph cussed as a man stepped into their sight. A shotgun leaned against the man’s shoulder and his finger rested on the trigger. He was a huge man with shoulders that filled out his duster. Brianna stared at the black coat because the color was expensive. Most men didn’t lay down the coin for a black coat when an undyed garment would do the same job of cutting the night chill and keeping the rain off their skin. The type of men that paid for black oil cloth dusters were the sort who didn’t want to be seen at night.

“Get lost. Me and the lady are busy.” Joseph’s voice didn’t sound very steady as he puffed up his chest. But while he was distracted, his grip slackened allowing her to yank her arm out of his hand.

The stranger followed her with his gaze as she placed a couple of large steps between herself and Joseph. Her would-be suitor growled under his breath and raised both his hands before moving towards her.

“You have one thing right, she is a lady.” The stranger’s gaze touched her face briefly before settling back on Joseph. His expression was etched in stone as he glared at the slob trying to court her.

A blush warmed her cheeks, as she listened to the title of respect. The eyes on this man were so intense she felt them when they moved over her. A little ripple of awareness traveled across her skin as she watched their company take another step towards them.

“And the lady told you to go find her father. I suggest you do it. Now. Because I’m not as polite as the lady is.”

It was the strangest thing to notice, but the stranger never raised his voice. He kept it low and steady. Even she was compelled to straighten her back just a bit in response to the authority in his rich tone. It practically radiated from him. Like heat did on a hot day. Even after sunset you could place your hand on a rock and still feel the blazing power of the noon sun.

“And I told you to get lost—”

The man moved like a rattlesnake, fast and deadly. Hard fingers closed around her wrist and a quick jerk sent her body stumbling behind his. The rifle that had lain so harmlessly against his shoulder was now leveled with a firm hand under the center of the trigger housing. Joseph cussed again, but he shuffled backwards across the dusty dock as the muzzle of the weapon settled even with his belly.

“Your conversation with the lady is finished.”

The look on Joseph’s face said something completely different, but along with his sloppiness went a good dose of cowardice. Somehow, Brianna got the feeling the stranger wouldn’t have backed down from something he wanted, even in the face of a loaded rifle. She wasn’t too sure which side to bet on—the gun or the man holding it. While the rifle was the respected law of the West, she got the notion the man holding it could and would deal with Joseph without the weapon if he needed to. It was almost a polite way of running Joseph off, using the muzzle of the rifle. A little shiver worked its way over her skin as she detected all the subtle hints of a man that could use his body as a weapon when he was of a mind to do so. It was a mark of his strength, because Silver Peak was full of men who let their bodies run to fat while they relied on guns to protect themselves and their property. They paid the less fortunate to do their labor while gorging on their profits and being lazy.

She considered the man in front of her for a long moment and found all the things that she’d noticed lacking in Joseph. This stranger’s shirt was marked slightly with dirt, but each button was set through its hole neatly, while the tail was tucked down into his pants with a wide belt buckled in place around his waist. His pants weren’t new, but they had been washed recently. Even his boots looked well kept beneath a fresh layer of dust. There were few paved roads in Silver Peak, and only in the very center of the town. That meant most of the inhabitants polished their shoes every day or ended up looking like Joseph. The two men were polar opposites.

“It ain’t finished.” Joseph spat before his attention centered on her breasts again. Something flickered in his eyes and it made her feel dirty just being touched by his gaze. Shifting farther behind the back of her unexpected savior felt almost necessary, even if she was acting the fool.

She didn’t know anything about him either. It was a blunt fact that she held a better chance of dealing with Joseph than the black-clad man. He might just be running Joseph off in order to set himself up with a clear chance at her.

The good Lord knew that would just fit with her recent run of luck.

But a part of her cringed at the thought of him being disreputable. She found herself wanting to believe in that deep rich voice. Even if it was just a little flight of fantasy. It had been a long time since she’d enjoyed any bit of imagination. It had also been far too long since she’d felt even a morsel of trust stir for anyone. With her father away, practicality had forced her to view everyone with suspicion. Whoever he was, the man in front of her tempted her to trust him. Keep faith in his word and his morals long enough to relax for a moment, instead of worrying about what he might try and take from her when she wasn’t watching.

With the number of days mounting up since her sire’s departure, she was running dry on keeping ahead of folks like Joseph who wanted to scoop up the mill. There were a whole lot of people in Silver Peak who agreed with Joseph about her needing a man around to run things. The banker who held the mortgage on her mill was one of loudest. Telling her to marry up before she lost the only dowry her father had left her. That attitude had sent her down onto the docks because she needed the money owed her to keep her hands on her father’s property. She’d done the work, but collecting the fee due her wasn’t proving very easy.

But she’d rather walk the dock than down the church aisle. The West wasn’t Boston. A woman could shoulder as much as a man as long as she was willing to challenge the rules of society. Taking charge of her unpaid account personally felt just fine to her way of thinking. It wasn’t the worst she’d seen. A couple of Marshall Wentworth’s daughters had been seen in pants. Not in town, mind you, but another thing Silver Peak hungered for was entertainment, and gossip moved faster than the mail. The Wentworths’ ranch was twenty miles outside town. The miners had seen his daughters working in britches alongside the man’s sons. While practical, it was also scandalous. The church pews were full of good wives who enjoyed the juicy tidbit.

“It ain’t finished by no long shot. You’ll wear my ring and warm my bed.”

Joseph’s words slapped her back to reality. The anger in his voice was harsh, but the lust burning in his eyes was sickening. He raked her body with one last gaze before he hitched his sagging britches up and left. Relief lasted a mere second before her rescuer turned his attention to her. Dark and as hard as obsidian, his gaze inspected her. She couldn’t gain a hint of his mood from his expression. One of his hands rose to the brim of his hat. He touched it in a quick gesture of respect that she hadn’t been expecting, even if he did call her a lady.

It had been a long time since anyone made her feel respected.

“Miss Spencer, I believe you need to take your afternoon stroll down the main street. The docks are no place for a lady.”

He didn’t raise his voice but that didn’t mask his disapproval. Her pride reared its head in the face of being chastised like some debutante without her chaperone. Her chin rose as her hands settled on her hips. The stance was habit, learned while standing her ground when customers thought they could cheat her just because she wasn’t wearing a pair of britches.

With her father still missing, it was up to her to pay the yearly balance or watch everything go up on the auction block. No way she was going to disappoint her daddy. He’d placed a roof over her head for twenty years. It seemed only fair that she helped keep it there now that he needed her help. She wouldn’t stand by while the vultures converged on their hard-earned possessions.

“I’m collecting an account from the dock master. Afternoon strolls are for the privileged. I earn my way in this world, sir.”

Something flickered in his obsidian eyes. The rifle lay against his shoulder once again, but this time she wasn’t fooled by the ease with which he handled it. This man was deadly. He was the worst kind of hunter, the sort who looked harmless right up until he struck.

“Clayton owes you?”

His gaze moved over her, missing nothing. Heat surged through her veins and it had nothing to do with the afternoon sun. It was the honest truth that the wind was bitter, snow on its edge. She shied away from placing a label on the reason her cheeks burned. His attention settled on the scarlet staining her face. His lips pressed tighter into a hard line before he forced his eyes to meet hers. He moved one side of the dark duster and a silver badge flashed in the sunlight. The railroad agent badge was a symbol of authority on the docks. While one side of the docks was used by the river barges, the railroad was set right on the other side of the planks. It was the main artery that allowed Silver Peak to breathe. The barges brought goods up the river and the trains carried everything else in and out of town. That made it more important than the bank. There was more money sitting out under the sun than locked away in the center of town. Railroad agents protected the interests of the railroad by making sure their payloads didn’t go missing from the docks. The rifle lying against his hard shoulder suddenly made perfect sense. He was on duty and that meant something valuable was nearby. Something men would risk their lives to steal.

“Clayton still owes you for the grain he had ground two months ago?”

The heat in her face doubled as she was forced to admit to a stranger how long the account had gone uncollected. Clayton’s men had hauled off his order and snickered as they left her dirty from four weeks of work and with no pay.

“I’m certain the matter has simply slipped his mind. Dock master is a demanding position in the spring and summer.” It hadn’t slipped the man’s mind, but she wasn’t going to admit she had been taken for a fool. Next season it would be half down or no grinding. Even the Chinese were savvy enough to demand half payment upfront. Well, if it was good enough for the Chinese, it was good enough for her.

“I’ll make certain Clayton gets the message. You have a nice day.”

His voice told her the conversation was finished. The badge winking at her in the winter sunlight backed up his ability to evict her from the dock. Railroad agents held the authority to lock the area down. She didn’t like it. Clayton owed her a debt. A part of her wanted to face the man down. She knew he was hiding on his docks because he thought she was too chicken to march up to his office and demand settlement. The church pews would be buzzing about her conduct this Sunday, but she wasn’t sorry. Sometimes you had to do something what the rest of the world didn’t agree with. That was just life on the frontier.

BOOK: Let Me Love You
12.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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