Authors: Lauren Dane,Megan Hart
Berkley titles by Lauren Dane
Berkley Sensation titles by Lauren Dane
HEART OF DARKNESS
THREE TO TANGO
(with Emma Holly, Megan Hart, and Bethany Kane)
(with Maya Banks)
THERE ALL ALONG
(with Megan Hart)
* * *
Berkley Sensation titles by Megan Hart
PLEASURE AND PURPOSE
NO GREATER PLEASURE
SELFISH IS THE HEART
VIRTUE AND VICE
THERE ALL ALONG
HEAT | NEW YORK
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
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This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
Copyright © 2013 by Penguin Group (USA) LLC.
“Land’s End” copyright © 2013 by Lauren Dane.
“By the Sea of Sand” copyright © 2013 by Megan Hart.
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eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-60254-6
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
There All Along / Lauren Dane, Megan Hart. — Heat trade paperback edition.
ISBN 978-0-425-26376-1 (pbk.)
1. Erotic stories, American. 2. Love stories, American. I. Hart, Megan. II. Title.
Heat trade paperback edition / December 2013
Cover photograph by Claudio Marinesco.
Cover design by Rita Frangie.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the authors’ imaginations or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
oyal led the escort up the wide expanse of Highway, up the ramp and the steep roadway. To Silver Cliffs.
To Verity Coleman.
He had a shell in his pocket. One he’d leave for her on the morning they pushed on to the next garrison. He knew the pink insides would delight her. Knew the swirling shape and smooth surface would bring a smile to her lips.
Escorting a transport to Silver Cliffs was his job. The same as he escorted to other garrisons up and down the Highway. But
drew him there. Like a magnet. He found himself rushing through his last day any time Silver Cliffs was next on the list.
He was a lawman. He didn’t just take official traffic to the garrisons; he brought law and order. He brought the hammer down when necessary. He was the face of a government that could be beneficent, or brutal.
Every day he had to be hard. He
a hard man. Had seen a lot. Had done worse. He was a killer when he had to be. Solved disputes along the Highway when they pulled into town. Sometimes that included putting men down for crimes that put the rest of the garrison in danger.
He was good at his job. And for most of his life he’d been happy to do it with no real ties to anyone outside his crew. The men and women he traveled with were also lawmen. Also trained. Under his command they did whatever was necessary and he counted on that over and over. They were the only people he considered himself close to.
One of the escort vehicles at the rear hailed him. “Road is clear behind us. I, for one, am looking forward to some quiet downtime in a room with a bed and none of you anywhere near me and Marcus. A hot meal, a warm bath and a good night’s sleep. Heaven.”
Trinity, one of his men, and her partner, Marcus, traveled together in their crew. The two of them had a deep and abiding connection. Intense and physical as well. It softened a hard-edged job to have that. Trinity had her own demons to deal with, and since she and Marcus had ended up together, she’d been stronger, steadier.
Being constantly on edge was hard on a body. Their world was hard enough, even for those living in the garrisons. But out there on the road they saw things daily that chipped away at their humanity. Made them jaded and cynical about humanity. Sex was a way to blow off steam. To work out the kinks in your heart as well as your muscles. But he sure as hell didn’t need love to get sex.
Sure he liked fucking. A whole hell of a lot. It chased away the brutality from his skin and the taste from his mouth for the time he’d buried himself in a woman. When he felt the physical need to be with a woman, he filled it. There were plenty of women all along the Highway who had no problem laying with a lawman. He’d never needed to pay or barter for it.
He’d been fine with that for years. Until Verity.
After a time on the Southern Highway, he’d been assigned to the northern sector. The first time he laid eyes on her, she’d been standing out at the loading dock where the official transport would unload goods into the back of her mercantile.
Red hair rode in a long, braided rope down her back. She’d been young then. She was young now. Back then she’d been capable, as most were out there on the edge. But she had a hesitance about her too. Her eyes had flicked up, gaze locking with his, a sweet smile on her face, and that had been the moment she’d begun to capture his attention.
He knew he should have kept away from her. She wasn’t a woman he’d come to bury his cock and his sins in. She was a woman you couldn’t walk away from. The kind of woman a man gave himself to body and soul because she was worth that constancy.
But he found himself asking her if she had a room to let, or if she knew where he and his people could stay while they were in Silver Cliffs.
And that’s how he found himself in her guest room. Biting his lip as he fucked his fist every night he was there, wishing it was her.
They’d leave and he’d think of her daily. And when it came time to go to Silver Cliffs again, it was as if he came home. Not to the garrison, but to her.
• • •
he horns heralding visitors coming over the bridge and approaching the gate brought Verity’s attention from her perch on the ladder. Certainly whoever might be arriving was far more interesting than dusting off jars and canisters of dry goods on high shelves.
There’d been a blip about a shipment of goods and mail coming. That had been three days ago so it was still a little early. The herald could be traders from one of the other garrisons. But just in case it was official traffic, it wouldn’t do to have messy hair and be covered in dust.
She nipped around the back to brush and rebraid her hair after washing her hands and face. On her way out, she unlocked the large doors at the loading bay behind the store. If it was an official transport, she’d be taking deliveries through there. Best to be prepared as the folks from town would be lining up to see what she was getting.
Being past midday, the sun was high, and though it still wasn’t quite past the threat of the last snowfall, the day was clear and warm, a hint at the long, warm season to come.
Verity hoped the seeds she’d ordered would be in the shipment if it was indeed a big delivery. Many of the farmers within the high walls of Silver Cliffs had their own seed stores, but since a lot of folks in town kept kitchen gardens, she put in large orders for seeds at the end of every harvest season, knowing they’d show up after the last of the regular snowstorms as the ground readied for planting.
As she walked down the hill toward the garrison gates, she passed the power station. The river was full of melting snowpack so the generators hummed, recharging the banks of batteries that would keep the lights on even in the coldest part of the annum.
She had some solar collection banks James had bought but never did anything with. Last harvest season she’d paid Byson Carter, one of the local boys, to install them on her roof. Her share of payments to the garrison board had gone down by half. She liked that very much. Keeping her freedom was important. Especially in a town where a woman her age remaining unmarried, even after she’d been widowed, was frowned upon.
She paid that no nevermind. She’d done her time under the thumb of a man who used fists and drink as easily as he took a breath. She had no great desire to hitch herself to another anytime soon.
Though that didn’t mean she wouldn’t enjoy the company of a certain lawman the few times each annum he rolled into Silver Cliffs with official transports.
They’d allowed a crowd to gather along the walkways to either side of the gate so she figured it had to be friendlies of one sort or another. Otherwise they’d have sounded an alert and men would be running down the street with rifles, heading to their stations.
They all stood, going up on tiptoe to try to get a better glimpse of the outside world, hungry for news of what was going on down the valley, up and down the Land’s End Highway.
The guards stood on the walkway above the gate, calling out to whoever was beyond. Verity cursed her impatience. If she’d gone to the front bedroom upstairs she’d have been able to see more.
Bits and pieces of chatter reached her ears. People hoping for mail, some awaiting parts for needed machinery. Verity had a list of goods that’d been on backorder for some time. If it was official transport, she’d have some pretty-smelling soaps she’d traded for some of her preserves with a friend down in Banyon Pass.
And there’d be some time with Loyal. She smiled just thinking about him. Her tall, taciturn lawman.
The large wheels that worked to open the gate began to move and a burst of pleasure shot through her as she caught sight of the lead vehicle, a lawman escort. Another just behind it and then the large official transport followed by another two escort vehicles.
Happiness coursed through her. She waved, being unable to see through the heavily fortified front windows, knowing though that he always drove the lead. Hoping he’d feel at least a whisper of the happiness she did.
The excited tone of the gathered crowd pulled her out of her thoughts about Loyal. She needed to get back to the mercantile to take the delivery. The transport always offloaded its goods and deliveries to her. She handled the dissemination to the garrison’s citizens. Well, of everything but munitions, and that was something the lawmen did in private, behind the big steel doors of garrison headquarters.
They’d give her no more than half an hour before townspeople began to mill around. She hustled back up the hill, her mind already on work, as the various vehicles went one way or another.
Tobin, her nephew and her assistant at the mercantile, tipped his cap at her from where he stood on the raised loading porch.
She grabbed a pair of gloves and slid an apron on. “Ready?”
“Indeed I am. I’m under orders from my mother to dibs anything she might like.” He rolled his eyes affectionately as he spoke.
“By that she means anything sweet or perhaps shiny.” Constance was her big sister. She’d been fortunate to marry a man who adored her, who was a true partner. She was satisfied with her life in Silver Cliffs and sometimes had difficulty understanding Verity’s wanderlust.
The transport’s back doors slid open and the driver tossed up two large burlap bags. Mail then, which would make everyone happy. She took those to the little locked room she delivered the local and outside mail from. As soon as they got everything off, loaded and inventoried, she’d begin the process of sorting the packages and letters.
They passed crates up. Bolts of fabric. Brown paper sacks holding nails and other household needs. Colorful ribbons tied the opaque bags of the sweets her sister loved so much. Jars and cans of all different types. Tobin took delivery of the grain and seeds. The doctor came through the crowd and signed for a shipment of much-needed basic medication for folks in town.
There’d been thin times. Enough that the knot of fear that always began to tighten when she could begin to see the bottom of the drawers of basic foodstuffs in the mercantile loosened. Yes, they could weather lean times. Mostly. But having enough and a little to spare was a good thing. It kept the town easy and satisfied.
And with the days beginning to lengthen and planting season and the hours upon hours of labor that came with it, satisfied was a far better mood for people than the drawn face of worry.
Once she’d signed for everything, the transport would head over to the lot they used while in town. It was at the outer edge of the business center and the residents of Silver Cliffs would be able to drop off things to have them be delivered all up and down the Highway. Verity handled official mail, but there was a steady barter business between all the garrison towns.
“Tobin, get the news and other periodicals out first. I’m going to start on all the mail. Don’t unlock the doors until I say so.” She headed up to her apartments above the store to check on the stew she’d started that morning. Extra glad now that she knew she’d have a guest.
The place smelled good, the savory herbs and baby onions she’d found on her walk the day before near the river beginning to rise, accompanying the meat from a plump Muscat she’d been paid with. Muscats were nice and fat this time of the annum as they fed on the snow mice that bred in abundance. Her customer had even plucked and dressed it, saving Verity the less than pleasant job.
Another quick look in the mirror in the room Loyal always rented out when he came to town. When she’d received the blip that a transport would be arriving she’d aired it out, giving all the bedding a wash and leaving them in the sun to dry. Mountain lilies sat in a vase on the dresser, lending a deep red splash of color. Readying it for him.
• • •
n his sector there were twenty garrison towns. A few were little more than bends in the road of less than a hundred people. All had their own charms in one way or another. But Silver Cliffs was not only beautiful, sitting up on the cliffs above the Highway, it had several farms, a river full of fish, woods full of game and two waterfalls that powered a mill.
There was a sense of plenty in Silver Cliffs that some other garrisons lacked. They took care of themselves and each other.
He took a leisurely walk up the hill from the garrison offices, his pack slung over his shoulder. The air was so clean up there.
Where Shelter City had thirty thousand residents—far more than Silver Cliffs’ five thousand—it had more industry, more traffic. More noise to the peaceful quiet in Silver Cliffs.
He’d grown up in the back streets, running games for his father to put food on the table.
He shoved that memory away. It’d be good to stay a night or two in Silver Cliffs before they headed for the last two stops, the northernmost garrisons on the Highway.
It seemed as if half the town was lined up at the mail window and the other half milled around inside the mercantile. He knew there’d be extra staff on to help Verity with the crush. Knew she’d be busy.
But he stood in line to see her at the mail office anyway.
He watched her, smiling here and there, scolding anyone who got impatient or rude, laughing and joking as she worked quickly and efficiently.
Nothing about her was wasted. He liked that. Though she did have an abundance of beauty, he noted she always made an effort to tame it when she was in public. Yearned, he could admit in his secret heart, to see all that flame-colored hair down, wild about her face. Desired to rest his hands at the curves hinting at the waist of her wide-legged trousers or the long skirts she wore on days like this one.
He thought of her often when he was out on the road. Miles of emptiness only broken by the memories of her scent, or the way she sounded when she laughed. Even times when he’d had to face the violence of the brigands she came to his mind. The personification of why he did what he did. To make it possible for Verity to continue on in their world.
She looked up and caught his gaze, her smile brightening. “Lawman, well met!”
He tipped his chin. “Good day, Ms. Coleman. I came to see if you had any lodging available.”