Authors: Cara Covington
LOVE UNDER TWO BENEDICTS
Lusty, Texas 1
Siren Publishing, Inc.
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A SIREN PUBLISHING BOOK
IMPRINT: Ménage Everlasting
LOVE UNDER TWO BENEDICTS
Copyright © 2010 by Cara Covington
E-book ISBN: 1-61034-025-6
First E-book Publication: August 2010
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Love Under Two Benedicts
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Lusty, Texas 1
Copyright © 2010
“I have no intention of being the bone you and your brother fight over, Deputy Benedict. So you can just take these flowers back, and you can both stop whatever game the two of you have been playing with me.” Kelsey Madison quickly looked around her restaurant, Lusty Appetites, to ensure no one else happened to catch the slight snip in her tone.
No one seemed to be paying them any mind at all.
. She was glad she’d decided to say something at last. She’d put it as plainly as she could. Everything she’d ever read or heard about Texas men suggested they appreciated plain talking.
It had never seemed to be a problem between her and Philip. She’d met him in college, a sweet, gentle man from Austin, Texas, who’d decided he wanted to take his schooling in Pennsylvania. They’d fallen in love at first sight and had married before they’d graduated.
Philip is gone. Stop thinking about him
Kelsey blinked. For one moment, she thought she saw sympathy cross Matthew Benedict’s face. That must have been a trick of the lighting because the expression he wore now was one of sly teasing.
“Now, Miss Kelsey, you must know by now that, while my brother and I would love for you to be the bone we nibbled on between us, we certainly would never fight over you. That’s why we’ve both been wooing you. It’s the Benedict way.”
Kelsey blinked because what he’d just said implied that he and his brother, Steven…
Her eyes widened as that thought grew. Matthew nodded as if he could read her mind. He smiled at her when she knew the look on her face had to be one of absolute disbelief.
At this moment, it didn’t matter that Matthew and his brother were the first men in five years to stir her juices and prime her pump.
was her secret. What he’d just implied was the last thing she’d ever expected to hear.
“You…you and your brother want to
me? Are you
?” She immediately hunched her shoulders and gave the restaurant another quick scan. Shock must have made her believe she’d shouted that last question instead of whispering as she intended because, again, no one seemed to be paying them any attention whatsoever.
Matthew’s grin slowly disappeared. He tilted his head to one side. “Susie said you’d been up to the big house for dinner a few times since you’d come to town.”
Kelsey couldn’t follow his line of reasoning. She furrowed her brow. “What does my being a guest of your sister and your family for dinner have to do with you and Steven
Matthew raised one eyebrow, and in that moment, he looked every inch the tall, arrogant Texan.
Of course, maybe it couldn’t be considered arrogance when he was one of the two most handsome, potently masculine men in town.
Okay, Kels, that was a totally inappropriate thought
You’re supposed to be discouraging these two Lotharios, not thinking about how they rev your engine
Kelsey chased that thought out of her mind, or tried to. Much to her annoyance, it settled right down in a dusty, empty corner and got comfortable.
“You’ve lived in Lusty for how long, now?” Matthew asked quietly.
“Nearly six months. You should know that because you and Steven were busy putting the finishing touches on this place the day I came to town.”
“Darlin’, that was one of those rhetorical questions. I suppose you’ve never taken the opportunity to go and visit the Lusty Historical Society Museum, either.”
Kelsey blinked and for extra measure gave her head a shake. She refocused on Matthew and ran his last statement through her brain. It was no good. He still wasn’t making any sense.
“No, I haven’t. I don’t see—”
“Come on.” He took the flowers she’d been trying to hand back to him, then turned to her head waitress. “Hey, Michelle, will you put these in water for us? Thanks.”
Michelle Parker, a Benedict cousin, nodded happily and came right over, relieving Matthew of the small bouquet.
“Ooh, they’re so pretty. Yellow rosebuds and baby’s breath. I’ll see to them right away.” Michelle beamed a smile at them both, then spun her heel and headed for the kitchen.
Matthew reached for Kelsey’s hand and began to lead her toward the door.
“What…you can’t just pull me out of my restaurant in the middle of the day. I have things to do here!”
Matthew stopped and shot her a smile that did unspeakably mushy things to her resolve. “You’re between lunch and dinner. Can’t you spare twenty minutes or so? It’s important.”
Well, when he put it like that, she supposed she could give him a bit of time. She did have everything under control in the kitchen. Tracy Jessop, her
, could take care of things for a while. In fact, Kelsey often used this time of day to run errands or take a nice long break. She guessed she could consider accompanying Matthew to be both.
Still, she made her response border on the edge of grudging. “All right. If it’s important, I’ll go with you.”
“Thank you, sweetheart.”
Kelsey tried not to think how the sound of that endearment warmed her belly or how good it felt having her hand in Matthew Benedict’s as they set out to walk the few blocks to the Lusty Historical Society’s building.
She’d noticed the museum, of course, and passed it every day on her way to work. In the six months she’d been living in the small town of Lusty, Texas, she’d never once visited the place.
Kelsey hadn’t noticed the Jeep pull up to the curb just ahead of them, nor had she noticed the tall, broad shouldered, dark-haired man who stepped out of it until he greeted them.
“Hey, bro, good timing,” Matthew said.
Steven Benedict was as handsome as his fair-haired brother and, for reasons Kelsey had never looked at seriously, just as appealing to her hormones. No one could be more surprised than she that those pesky female bits had begun to emerge from their five-year long slumber. She’d thought to never feel attraction to any man again, let alone experience it for two at the same time.
“Where are we off to?” Steven put himself on Kelsey’s other side and took her left hand in his right.
. She’d never before had both hands held by men who were too damn handsome for their own good. They had been dropping in for meals, or to flirt, or to give her gifts for the last couple of months.
She could admit to herself they were nice to look at and that she even enjoyed their company. She just wasn’t planning to date, let alone get serious about anybody. Not ever again.
There was only so much heartbreak and loss a body could stand.
“We’re off to the museum,” Matthew said.
“’Bout time,” Steven said. Then he turned and smiled at her. “How you doing today, sweetheart?”
“I was doing considerably better until Matthew said the two of you want to share me.”
She didn’t know what she expected Steven Benedict to say to that, but she was pretty certain she hadn’t been expecting his eager nod of agreement.
“That’s right,” Steven said quietly. “It’s the Benedict way. Why do you think this town was named Lusty?”
“I…I guess I’ve never really given it a lot of thought. I’ve heard of some interesting town names. I guess I just figured Lusty was one of them.” Kelsey had the feeling that everyone knew something about her new home town she didn’t. They passed several people on the street, and every one of them took note of the way the three of them were walking—hand in hand in hand—and smiled.
“There’s a reason for this town’s name,” Steven said.
“It’s an interesting story. That’s for certain,” Matthew said. “One that we’re eager to share with you.”
* * * *
Matthew wasn’t ashamed to admit the museum was one of his favorite places in Lusty. To step through the doors of the small building was to step back in time.
He smiled as he always did at the photograph that greeted every visitor on their arrival. How fitting that this would be the first image everyone saw. In the photo, two women sat in chairs, each with two men behind her. Those men touched their woman with a proprietary grace Matthew appreciated.
Kelsey stepped forward and read the caption aloud. “Caleb, Joshua, and Sarah Benedict, with Adam Kendall, Warren Jessop, and Amanda Jessop-Kendall. July 4, 1883.” She turned to Matthew. “There are a lot of Benedicts and Kendalls and Jessops in town.”
She shot a glance at Steven likely, Matthew thought, to be sure she included him in the conversation. “Your ancestors?”
Matthew nodded. One quick glance at his brother and he knew Steven believed what he did—that Kelsey
“Caleb and Joshua were Sarah’s husbands, just as Adam and Warren were Amanda’s.”
? Oh. You mean, she was married to one, and then got married to the other?”
“No,” Matthew said. “She belonged to them both at the same time.”
“The Benedict way,” Steven confirmed. “It started with them. Caleb and Joshua were twins—another family trait. Sarah fell in love with them both and knew she couldn’t choose between them, and that was just fine with those brothers Benedict.”
Kelsey looked from Matthew, to Steven, then put her gaze back on the photograph.
“I thought…When I had dinner with your family, I thought how civilized it was for your mom, dad, and step-dad to all live together.”
Steven chuckled. “No, baby. Our mom lives with our dads. Period.”
“Susan said that just about everyone who lived in Lusty was family of a sort.” Kelsey’s voice sounded distracted. She looked at the photo again.
“Amanda was Sarah’s cousin, came west from Richmond on a quest. Once she got here, she met Adam and Warren, who already were a couple,” Matthew said. “They fell in love with her and had to work to convince her to stay.”
“The men were bisexual in the eighteen hundreds? That would have been dangerous for them—for all of them!” Kelsey said.
“It was dangerous and illegal,” Steven said. “It was actually the Jessop-Kendalls who conceived of the idea of a town, an autonomous place where they could live as they chose and in privacy with their friends nearby. As you can imagine, our great-greats signed on to that. It never says in any of the journals why they named the town Lusty, though.”
“Perhaps they thought the answer to that question obvious.”
There were photos of the Big House, as the original Benedict homestead was called today, and of the “new house,” the large mansion built close to it that was the original home of the Jessop-Kendalls.
Kelsey continued to peruse the items on display. As she did, a door in the back opened and a middle-aged woman came into the room.
“Hey, Aunt Anna,” Matthew said in greeting.
“Why hello there, Matthew and Steven. You’ve brought your girl around, I see.”
Kelsey’ jaw dropped, and she looked as though she was in shock.
Matthew made a mental note to speak to all his well-meaning relatives. He didn’t want them scaring Kelsey off before they had her.
“Kelsey, you’ve met our aunt, Anna Jessop?” Steven stepped into the breach, and Matthew sighed in relief.
“I don’t think we’ve been introduced,” Kelsey said.
“You make very good food.” Aunt Anna shook Kelsey’s hand.
“Just go on and look around. We’re very proud of our history here in Lusty. And we have a fine collection of photographs and other relics. ’Course, there’s more up at the Big House.”
Matthew led Kelsey over to a series of photographs. “Once they’d formed the town, they invited select people to come and live with them. The first were Amanda’s mother and a friend of Amanda’s who also happened to be a lawyer and who knew Warren Jessop. His name was Terence Parks, and once Terence felt settled and secure, his friend and lover Jeremy Jones came and joined him. He was an artist, a photographer, and took all the photos on display here.”
Matthew let her look, sending questioning glances to his brother behind her back when she leaned in to look at the inscription below one particular portrait.
“This card says that’s Bat Masterson with the Benedicts.”
“That’s right,” Steven said.
“Yeah, he was a friend of the family,” Matthew said. And then, because he was so damn proud of his forebears, he pointed to another photo. “Another family friend,” he said
“Wyatt Earp.” Kelsey’s tone reflected awe.
She continued to look at the photos, at other generations of their family. Matthew felt pride in his roots and knew Steven did, too.
There was so much more he wanted to tell Kelsey but contented himself with simply following her as she stopped at each photograph and display case. She didn’t rush but seemed to take everything in. The museum wasn’t large by anyone’s definition of the word. Soon they were back where they’d started, near the front door.