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Bound: A sizzling hot Western romance Molly Ann Wishlade Layla Powell is on the run.Contracted as a mail-order bride, Layla is terrified when two cowboys, working for her mysterious fiancé, capture her. At first she fights tooth and nail for her freedom, but Charlie and his lover Etu have persuasive means to subdue their feisty captive.What Layla doesn’t know is that Charlie is really her elusive fiancé. Layla was supposed to be his wife in name only, but he and Etu like what they see and are sure that with just one night – with the both of them – they can convince Layla to abandon her escape.BOUND is the first in The Wild, Wild West trilogy – out now!Book 1 – BoundBook 2 – ScandalBook 3 – Menage Runaway mail-order bride Layla Powell is terrified when she is captured by two powerful cowboys purporting to work for her fiancé – the mysterious Mr Jackman. At first Layla fights tooth and nail for her freedom, but Charlie and his lover Etu have their own erotic methods to subdue their feisty captive… In fact Charlie is really Layla’s fiancé, she was supposed to be his wife in name only, but he and Etu like what they see. They are sure that just one night of being pleasured by them both will be exciting enough to convince Layla to abandon her plans to run and keep her in their bed forever! Also by Molly Ann Wishlade (#uaa063fb2-3aa5-5209-8cc0-3cd0f188f31e) Trying Too Hard… Scandal Menage Bound Molly Ann Wishlade Copyright (#uaa063fb2-3aa5-5209-8cc0-3cd0f188f31e) HQ An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd. 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF First published in Great Britain by HQ in 2014 Copyright © Molly Ann Wishlade 2014 Molly Ann Wishlade asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins. E-book Edition © June 2014 ISBN: 9781472099594 Version date: 2018-07-23 MOLLY ANN WISHLADE has always been an avid reader and writer of stories. She regularly indulges her love of romance and passion by getting lost in the delicious worlds created by romantic novelists. When not reading, she’s busy with her current WIP, usually her next highly erotic tale about hunky heroes and their lady loves – and sometimes their gorgeous male lovers too. She wants to take readers on the rollercoaster that is life through the creation of loveable characters, exciting relationships and vivid worlds. She has a soft spot for a HEA. She loves to hear from readers. For my family. Thank you for your love, support and patience. You are my motivation and my world. xxx Contents Cover (#uaac8a512-f0ec-528e-8874-392bf61ec623) Blurb (#u4e25717e-add7-5f5f-a2d6-3c93bfb91564) Book List Title Page (#uea19a4cf-d069-5500-9020-b84add6a1149) Copyright Author Bio (#u99fe46aa-97b0-5f97-b385-583a413876b6) Dedication (#uef4a89dc-cf01-5922-be4e-70cb3c8494b3) Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Extract (#litres_trial_promo) Endpages (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher Chapter One (#uaa063fb2-3aa5-5209-8cc0-3cd0f188f31e) “Don’t you move a muscle!” Layla stiffened as a hand covered her mouth. She blinked hard and tried to peer through the gloom. Panic seized her. Where was she? What was happening? Her arms were pinned to her sides. There was a weight crushing her chest, restricting her movement and her breathing. She wriggled instinctively, her mind still foggy with sleep. She was trapped! “Now listen up, missy,” the deep voice continued. “Stop your struggling! I’m gonna remove your Stetson but you better keep still, ya hear?” That was why she couldn’t see! She had pulled her father’s old hat over her eyes so that she could get some sleep. The afternoon sun had been hot, even through the trees. But now…someone had discovered her. Would he hurt her? She squinted as the cover was removed from her face. It didn’t make much difference. It was pitch black. She must have slept through the whole of the afternoon. Darn it! She’d only intended on taking a quick nap. She tried to focus on slowing her breathing but she was only able to catch little breaths. The man straddling her chest pushed Layla’s hair back from her face with a callused hand and she frowned. As her eyes adjusted, she could just make out the outline of his head, a dark silhouette against the stars above. He moved and the hand covering her lips exerted more pressure. Her teeth dug painfully into her lips. Her heart thudded against her ribs and she felt sure that he must be able to feel it hammering beneath his muscular thigh. Fear surged through her and a red haze flooded her brain. She had to get away. She had to escape. She forced her mouth open then bit down on the flesh of his palm. It was instinctive, a physical reaction to a physical situation. She was consumed by terror. If he was going to hurt her then she’d inflict pain upon him first. However she could. He growled and whipped his hand away but his weight remained in place. Crushing. Constricting. Impossible to displace. “Now then, missy.” He pressed his mouth against her ear. She winced, expecting to smell unwashed man and to feel his stubble graze her cheek but instead she smelt potash soap on clean-shaven skin. Even with her sleep-addled brain, the scent reassured her as it brought with it images of civilisation and safety. Of a long-ago childhood. So he wasn’t a bandit. He hadn’t been out here for days or weeks. Perhaps he was even respectable. But that was probably too much to hope for. And as she knew all too well, even a man who appeared to be respectable could be hiding a darkness. A hidden side that would lead to pain, degradation and heartbreak for a woman who fell for his charms. “I’m gonna remove my hand from over yer mouth. But you gotta promise not to scream.” He laughed. “Not that it would do you much good out here…but, well, to be honest with you…I can’t abide a woman screaming. You understand?” His voice reverberated through her chest, tickling beneath her armpits like a feather and making her nipples turn confusingly into hard little peaks. She had hoped to disguise herself as a young man by binding her ample bosoms tightly and donning trousers but it seemed she’d fooled no one. Layla nodded. She was stuck in a bad box, no doubt about it. She realised now that screaming would get her nowhere. Might even conjure up a few other wastrels who’d be intent on having their way with a woman fool enough to wander out into the Black Hills alone. Fool. What had she been thinking? But she’d been lost, alone, without a choice. She had acted upon the instinct to flee, too afraid to stay and meet her fate. The fate that she’d played a part in arranging. The man removed his hand and she moistened her lips with her tongue. She could taste wood-smoke and soap. This man kept himself clean. He’d also recently made a fire. Her belly growled and she silently cursed her human frailty. “You hungry, eh missy? We’ll have to see about getting you some victuals in a while then. But you gotta promise to behave.” “Who…” Layla tried to take a deep breath but the man’s knees crushed her sides. “Who am I?” He finished her question. “Well that’s for me to know…and for you to find out.” Layla gasped. “I…I can’t…bre…” “Oh!” He jumped to his feet. “Sorry…Didn’t realise I was squashing ya.” He grabbed her hands and pulled her upright. “Now remember what I said…” He kept hold of her wrists. “I remember,” Layla nodded. Black spots swam before her eyes and she staggered. The stranger caught her beneath her armpits with his large hands then scooped her up. She leant her head against his chest, momentarily too weak and dizzy to protest. “Now I’m gonna take you back to where I’ve set up camp then we’re gonna have us a little chat. Understand?” “Yes,” Layla whimpered. She cleared her throat. Better not to sound afraid. “I mean…yes, I understand.” What on earth did he want? What if there were more men there and he intended on sharing her with them? She glanced around but the trees were thick and the moon was a sliver in the sky. She’d likely break her neck if she tried to run off and she felt too weak to even attempt it. Better to wait and see what he wanted to talk about and maybe get something to eat. Build her strength a little so she could think. Clear her head. Then plan. “Can you walk?” His voice was laced with a tone she didn’t recognise. Was it mockery or concern? She didn’t trust herself to read him; men were too confusing. She’d gotten it wrong before and she couldn’t risk doing so again. “I think so. I just got up too quickly was all,” Layla replied. But confusion gnawed at her. She didn’t want him to put her down. His broad chest was firm, his arms strong and he smelt so good, like a grassy field after a rain storm. Ridiculously, she actually felt safe in his arms. As if staying close to this stranger and maintaining some sort of human contact would keep her from harm. She blinked away tears. How could she allow herself to imagine that she’d be safe with this man? With any man? Offering her body, her heart and her dreams hadn’t kept Henrik close. They were all dangerous. Men. Especially strangers. Especially the ones you thought you knew well. He gently placed her on her feet but kept his hands on her upper arms. The heat emanating from him was such that Layla believed she would have scorch marks on her arms when he removed them. When she felt steady enough to stand alone, she nodded. As he stepped back, she felt the space between their bodies opening up like a desert canyon and the night air chilled her where the warmth of his body had just been. The sense of loneliness confused her as it enveloped her. Had it lifted for a moment, that constant companion that she would gladly leave behind? He led her slowly behind him, gripping her left wrist, like a man leading his horse. As if she were an animal not a woman. But then that was how most men viewed women, as possessions to treat how they desired. To be thrown away once they’d tired of them or beaten to a pulp if they were annoyed by them. She’d seen it all. Been through some of it. She walked carefully, keen to avoid tripping or falling into a hole. She couldn’t afford to be hindered by an injury. After about ten minutes of silent progress, she could smell smoke and hear the welcome crackling of logs on a fire. A horse whinnied in response as they ducked through some trees and entered a clearing. A fire blazed in the centre and another man sat in front of it, his back to them. “Didn’t take you long, Charlie,” the man chuckled. “She wasn’t hard to find. Clearly no idea how to hide her tracks.” The man at the fireside shook his head. Layla shivered. They were laughing at her. Just like he had. Taking her for the fool that she was. She’d been an idiot allowing herself to get caught. Caught by the heartstrings then caught as she fled. “Miss Powell.” Layla jumped at his use of her name. How did he know who she was? Charlie released her. “This is Etu.” She walked towards the fire and crouched in front of it, rubbing her wrist where he’d held it. The dizziness had passed but she could sure use a drink. Her mouth was dry as autumn leaves. She placed her Stetson on the floor next to her. “Hello.” She eyed them both. It seemed that there were only two of them unless there were more nearby. Etu’s face was hidden by a curtain of dark hair which fell to his shoulders but she assumed from his name that he was Sioux. He crouched forwards as if keen to avoid actually looking at her. It bothered her because, for some reason she could not explain, she was keen to get a look at him. But even though he hid his visage, she could make out strong broad shoulders and long-fingered hands. Those hands could be dangerous, no doubt, if he raised them in anger. But on the other hand, perhaps he would know how to use them to please a woman. Such thoughts at such a time. She was being ridiculous. The sun must have addled her brain. “Would you like something to drink Miss Powell?” Charlie asked, dragging her from her perusal of Etu. “Coffee’d be great, thank you.” She eyed him as he approached the fire and she had to force her mouth shut. He didn’t just smell good, he looked good. Even with his Stetson on, she could see his obsidian eyes shining in a tanned face. He had a strong square jaw and a full sensual mouth. She licked her lips. He was a handsome man. He had to be about six foot, give or take, and he looked fit as a wild stallion in his cowhide trousers and waistcoat. A fine figure of masculinity. But she knew that a handsome exterior didn’t make for a good man. He might look good on the outside but who knew what was going on inside that male brain? It must have been her exhaustion that led her body to react the way it did when he’d scooped her up in his arms. Pah! Her foolish, weak female body had responded to the first touch of a man, the first human contact, it had felt in a while. What was wrong with her? Physical weakness had led to trouble before and she should take care to ensure that it didn’t happen again. Were all women this weak or was it just her? Was she—as the pastor had said of women with carnal desires—in fact, a sinner? She shivered as she tried to brush the unpleasant thought away as she would an annoying fly. “Etu?” At Charlie’s use of his name the other man got up and went over to the saddles which were hung over a fallen tree near the horses. He rifled in their bags then brought out two small bundles. Layla watched him carefully. So Charlie was in charge. Etu must be his employee. As Etu returned to the fire and knelt opposite her, he pushed his shiny hair behind his ears and Layla swallowed a sigh. His skin glowed in the firelight, the colour of warm honey. He had Sioux features with his heavy brow and high cheekbones but his nose was thin and aquiline. His chin bore a dimple which she had a sudden urge to touch. He looked up and caught her observing him. His stare was hot and dark. Her stomach flipped. There was an intensity in his gaze that unnerved her. He reminded her of a trapped animal about to fight for its life. Ironic, she thought, as she was apparently the prisoner here. Yet something else burned in his eyes. It was more than fear. But just as primal. It made her heartbeat quicken and the tiny hairs on her arms stand on end. Etu leant forwards and handed her a pewter mug and she smiled at him. A habitual expression which she wished she could suppress. Some folks took friendliness for weakness. Better to be hard, harsh, without softness. But try as she might, she was none of those things. Etu’s face remained blank. He returned to his side of the fire and hunched over again. It was as if he bore the burdens of his people upon his shoulders or had spent his life trying not to be seen. Like he was accustomed to sinking into himself and disappearing from view. She understood the feeling of isolation that she suspected he must feel. Wishing that someone would just come along and scoop her up, carry her off on a horse and take care of her. That someone would see her for the special person she really was, not just a body for using and abusing. She took a shaky breath. “So…uh…Charlie…” Layla spoke. She couldn’t just sit here silently waiting for them to do something. For something to happen to her. “You said we needed to talk?” She hoped that she sounded more confident than she felt. “That we do, little lady.” Charlie nodded then sat at her side. “That we do.” “What about?” She gripped the mug, savouring the heat searing the palms of her hands. For a brief moment, she considered flinging the hot coffee into Charlie’s handsome face then running off but she feared the repercussions if he caught her. Which he undoubtedly would. It might anger him and that wouldn’t be wise. And she bet that she wouldn’t feel safe in his arms then. An angry man could be almost as bad as an angry bear, especially when he had a gun. Then he was even more dangerous. “Well, for a start…I think you’d better explain what you’re doing out here in the hills all alone,” he growled. Layla shifted her position. She had to stay alert. She might have a chance to flee at some point and she couldn’t afford a numb leg. What on earth did these men want with her? The Sioux didn’t look like he would take the lead with her and Charlie seemed completely unfazed by her, if she was reading him correctly. So why bring her to their camp? “Well, I don’t see that it’s any of your business,” she replied, throwing a haughty tilt of her chin into the final word. In haughtiness, she could find some security. Like a protective shell, she could hide behind it, conceal the real her. “Well ya see, Miss Powell.” Charlie pushed his Stetson back on his head. “It really is my business…seeing as how you’ve reneged on a deal you made recently.” Layla bit her lip. How did he know? Had he been employed by Mr Jackman to find her? But she’d only been gone a day and she wasn’t even due to be collected until tomorrow. So they must have arrived early in Deadwood. Darnit! Now she’d been caught, what the hell was she going to do? **** Charlie stared into the fire as he sipped his coffee. The bitter taste flooded his mouth and he savoured the heat as he swallowed. He needed this to stay alert. He’d thought he would have more trouble finding the pretty Miss Layla Powell but she’d been as easy to find as a wounded animal. An apt comparison, he mused. There was something about her that seemed wounded. Though she’d attempted to exert some kind of snooty attitude towards him, her eyes were wary and she just oozed vulnerability. He needed to be firm with her, to find out why she’d behaved as she had, but he was already struggling to remain aloof. He just couldn’t pinpoint exactly why. Now the question was…what would he do with her? He’d had a physical description of her in her letter but she’d not done herself justice. He glanced sideways at her. She was a real beauty. If you liked that sort of thing. Auburn hair tumbled down her back like a titian waterfall and even in the darkness he could tell that her eyes were the colour of emeralds. Her profile showed a small nose which turned up slightly at the end and a sweet full mouth like a rosebud about to bloom. That mouth would no doubt be delicious to kiss and the thought of it wrapped around his erect girth flooded his body with heat. He frowned. What was he thinking? He hadn’t kissed a woman in a long time and he rarely reacted to one in this way. Perhaps it was just the lateness of the hour and the excitement of finding her in the woods. A bit like the thrill of hunting. He’d been the hunter. She was the prey. As sweet and gentle as a doe. Although she hadn’t been as difficult to catch as some animals. But did his cock have to harden when he’d held her against his chest and breathed in her scent? His body had completely overreacted to her proximity and it was baffling the hell out of him. He had to keep calm. Be rational. Layla didn’t seem to realise who he was and he wanted to keep it that way for a while. Better to play the role of ‘good sheriff’ while he figured her out and found out if she really was the little swindler that her behaviour suggested she was. Surely a woman who could take a man’s hard-earned money then run off with it wasn’t the type of woman he wanted living at his homestead? “So, Miss Powell…” He drained his coffee. “Would you like to explain to me why you’re wandering around in the Black Hills? Alone.” Layla looked at him over the rim of her mug. Darn it, she had such fine eyes. They glowed in the firelight and danced with something akin to mischief. He wondered what Etu was thinking about her. So far, his companion had retreated into the quiet dignity he habitually displayed around white women. Perhaps he was sussing her out, trying to decide if she could be trusted. If she was suitable. If she was even worth the trouble. And right now she seemed like a whole heap of trouble. “Well…Mr…uh…” the young woman continued. “Charlie is fine, Miss Powell.” “Well then…call me Layla,” she announced. Her tongue flicked out with the final syllable and he had to fight the urge to leap at her just to suck it. Again, his reactions confused him. This was a woman. A soft, curvaceous female. He hadn’t been interested in the fairer sex in a long while. If he ever had been. So what was it about this one that was stirring his body and creating such heat? The thrill of the chase. It had to be that. Or knowing who she was, while she had no idea about his identity. “Okay, Lay-la.” He grinned. “You gonna explain?” She eyed him and he could see her calculating carefully before speaking. So she was a bright one too. Fool enough to run off alone but not fool enough to spill the beans without thinking it over first. “I…uh…I…panicked.” “You panicked?” Charlie frowned. “A man trusted you to keep your word and you pocketed his money then panicked? If you didn’t want to keep your promise to Mr Jackman…why didn’t you just write him to say you’d changed your mind?” “I didn’t have time. I just didn’t think.” Layla placed her mug on the floor at her feet then hugged her knees to her chest. “You’ve had weeks!” Charlie spat. “You could have let him know well before now.” “Seems like you’re mighty angry for your boss, Charlie,” Layla replied, and her voice carried her curiosity. “Anyone would think you was personally offended.” Charlie cleared his throat. “I guess it might sound that way, Layla. But ya know. He’s really been through the mill.” She had no idea! “Plus, I just can’t stand folks who take advantage of the trust and generosity of others. And something about your reason for fleeing doesn’t quite add up.” He got to his feet. Trouble was, he actually could understand her reason for running. Marrying someone you’d never met, let alone fallen in love with, was a crazy-ass idea. He’d been damn near terrified himself when he’d set out with Etu to collect her. But it had seemed like the best solution to their situation and he thought he’d also be helping Layla out. She needed a home and a man to support her – she’d conveyed as much in her letters – and he wanted to make Etu happy. His lover had longed for a woman to share in their life for a long time but Charlie had been reluctant to get another female involved. After last time. But he’d finally given in. Life was short and Etu deserved happiness. A mail-order bride had seemed like an option. Find a young woman needing a home then bring her into their world. It wasn’t like there was a surplus of females around in the area or that women were easy to meet, so placing an advert had been a solution. But it had been a risk. There were so many things that could have gone wrong. And now that he’d seen Layla, he wasn’t at all sure that it was a good idea. She was too darned good looking for his liking for a start. He had no doubt that Etu would find her attractive but would she feel the same? And how would she feel about what she was getting into? Surely a woman as fine looking as her would have had men falling over themselves proposing? But that wasn’t what he’d read in her letters. The woman he’d corresponded with didn’t seem too confident at all. She’d sounded downright grateful to have an option. She had come across as lonely. Vulnerable. Sad. It had made him feel a bit like a knight in shining armour. An old cliché perhaps, but it had made him want to rescue her. Looking at her now, he was flooded with doubts. It was a good job he’d seen her first. Beauty could be dangerous. Plus she had obviously experienced doubts about the marriage or just played along with the whole thing in order to steal his money. She was a thief. Dishonest and likely impure. Now he should end their agreement and return to the homestead with Etu. Surely that was the best thing to do. Once he’d got his money back, of course. **** Layla had panicked. She was telling the truth. But if she was totally honest, the pocket full of coins had been comforting and the prospect of getting away from Deadwood and making a fresh start had appealed to her too. She hadn’t had any money since…no, she wouldn’t think about him right now. She’d have to do the decent thing here and just give Charlie what she owed Mr Jackman. Then what? What exactly would she do? Return to Deadwood and go beg Al Swearengen to take her in? That’s what the other young women with no hope did in Deadwood. She shivered. Could she really sacrifice herself to that life? Surrender to being pawed by foul-breathed miners and travel weary cowboys every night whilst feigning enjoyment? She knew that many of the soiled doves tried to numb their misery by taking laudanum but she’d seen the effect of the drug on the women. They were no better than walking corpses and once they started using opium, it was near impossible to stop. It was a fate worse than being placed in the cold Deadwood earth. But it was an option. Or, she could stick to the original deal and hope that Mr Jackman still wanted her. What a choice for a young woman. But then, all women’s choices were limited, so why should she hope to be different? Alternatively…the last idea that unfurled like the petals of a flower in her mind seemed like the best one. She could take the money and stick to her plan: run away. She’d just have to convince these two men that she was a little miss innocent, maybe even try to have a bit of fun whilst doing so, then she could escape while they slept. She could get some sort of revenge for the way that Henrik had treated her. It wouldn’t, sadly, be directed at that lying, two-faced toad but it might make her feel better to regain some control in her life. Hell yeah! That was what she would do. “Uh…Charlie?” She assumed what she believed to be her sweet and innocent tone. “I could really do with…uh…it’s the coffee.” She smiled at him from beneath her eyelashes. “You need to relieve yourself, Miss Layla?” She nodded. “Urgently.” “Okay. Etu, I’ll take her back through the trees…give her a bit of privacy.” Charlie gestured at the way they’d come. “Sure, Charlie,” Etu replied, looking up from the fire where he was warming some cans of beans. “Just…ya know…take care.” Layla watched as the two men exchanged a knowing glance. They didn’t trust her. They had no reason to. These men were no acorn calves so this wouldn’t be easy. Charlie helped Layla to her feet and she walked ahead of him towards where the trees thickened. Would she be able to gain his trust? She wasn’t sure if she was capable of reading him well enough to do it. But she would try. What other option did she have? “Charlie?” “Layla?” “Why don’t I give you this now?” She pulled the bag of coins out of her pocket and offered it to him. He raised his eyebrows. “Go on….” she purred. “Take it. Then you know that you can trust me.” She’d watch where he put it then steal it back later. She needed that money. It was all she had in the world. Even if it wasn’t rightfully hers. Charlie opened his hand and Layla pressed the money into his palm. His upturned fingertips brushed her wrist and a lightning bolt pierced her core. She met his eyes. Her heart thundered and her body flooded with heat. What did this mean? This wasn’t part of the plan. She was meant to play him then get away. But just the touch of his fingertips had sent her into sensory overload. She inhaled slowly and locked her knees to still their trembling. “Layla,” he whispered. “Charlie.” She moved towards him, pulled by some magnetic force beyond her comprehension, crushing his hand between them. She licked her lips, looked at his full mouth. He leant slightly towards her and she raised onto her toes. She was drawn to him like a bear to a bee hive. Instinctively. She just wanted to be near to him again. Encompassed by his strength and vitality. “Layla.” He spoke again and her heart plummeted as his eyes changed. For a moment she could have sworn she’d seen something akin to tenderness, or even desire there, but it had gone as quickly as it had appeared. “I thought you wanted to…uh…” She blinked. Of course. She had to get a grip. She’d only just met this man and she was acting like a wanton light skirt. She should be playing easy not actually falling for him. He was just so attractive. It must be the lack of food and water making her irrational. She’d feel better once she’d eaten. But she couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something about this man that she was reacting to on a level that she was unfamiliar with. It was like a primitive part of her was responding to him, as if the female instinct to be with the alpha male was rousing its needy head and pulling her towards him. Human contact was a powerful aphrodisiac. Contact with Charlie had muddied her brain and sapped her ability to think rationally. She sank back onto her heels. “Yes. I do. I’ll just be a moment.” She tore herself away from him and forced her feet to turn. Visibility was better now than when Charlie had found her. Although the moon was thin, the clouds had cleared completely and everything was bathed in a silvery glow. It made the woods appear a little spooky and reminded Layla of tales she’d heard in her youth about the hills being haunted. According to legend, the souls of Sioux warriors seeking revenge wandered through the trees. She shuddered. Good job she had some male company. Being out here alone overnight would have been pretty scary indeed. Though in fact she should be afraid of the company she was being forced to keep. Once she’d walked a little way off, Layla attended to her call of nature. Her breasts throbbed beneath the tight binding that she’d wrapped around her chest and she needed to get it off. Stupid disguise. Charlie had known she was a woman straight away. She should have put more effort in. But then, falling asleep during the afternoon and leaving a trail behind her…it was as if she actually wanted to be caught. But she hadn’t. She had wanted to get far away from it all. To start afresh. If it was possible for a woman to start over in this crushing, horizonless society. She unbuttoned her shirt and tugged it out of her trousers then hung it on a branch. She had dressed in her father’s clothes and they hung off her female curves but they were all she’d had. She reached around her rib cage and unwound the torn sheet she’d used to flatten her breasts. When they were free, she rubbed them hard, trying to relieve the aching. She’d abandoned her corset when dressing up as a man but she still wore her chemise. The gauzy material offered little protection against the night air and her nipples stiffened like mountain peaks. She pulled the shirt back on and buttoned it then tucked it in. It no longer hung straight down over her chest. Instead two large mounds protruded, showing quite clearly that she was in fact a well-rounded female. Well, maybe her curves would serve her well and allow her to get her own way. Or at least to indulge in some fun as she tried. Fun. Something she might have forgotten how to have. Since Henrik’s betrayal. She emerged into the clearing to find Charlie waiting for her. He pushed his Stetson back on his head and appraised her. “Well, Miss…uh…Layla. You look…kind of…” “Different?” She put her hands on her hips in an attempt at confidence. “For sure,” he smiled. “But I can’t quite figure out what it is.” He roamed her body with his eyes and her heartbeat quickened as he paused at her breasts. He couldn’t exactly not notice them. Layla flashed a smile as she walked past him. “Well, when you do, you let me know.” She hoped that she was projecting a confident manner. That Charlie would believe that she was being honest about her reasons for running. But she couldn’t tell what he thought. He smiled and laughed but his smiles didn’t seem to reach his eyes. They were alert, wary, calculating everything. Constantly. But maybe she could use her femininity to her advantage. Maybe. **** “So why exactly do you need to tie me up?” Layla seethed. In spite of her hopes, it seemed that she’d had no impact at all upon Charlie. He didn’t trust her. He believed that she would try to escape and he had decided to tie her to a tree. “Look, I’m sorry, Layla.” His voice gave nothing away as he sat her with her back against the thick trunk. “But I can’t take the risk of you running off.” “But I won’t!” She realised that she sounded like a petulant child and she cringed inwardly. “Now…I know you’ve given me m…I mean…Mr Jackman’s money back but he’ll still want a word with you. So, I’ve got to ensure that I can take you to him in one piece.” “Do you really think I’m stupid enough to try to escape?” Layla raised her eyebrows. Hot tears stung the corners of her eyes and she was mad at herself for becoming emotional. She thought she’d got something of the measure of this cowboy, even though she wasn’t certain of it. He’d given her food and coffee and seemed to be friendly enough. Etu had been quiet but she was sure she could befriend him too…if she just had a bit more time. Although time was a luxury she really didn’t have. “Trouble is, Layla,” Charlie said, pulling the rope around her middle so that her arms were pinned to her sides, “I don’t know you at all. So whatever I might think or want to believe about you…I have to take care.” Layla sighed. He was right. He couldn’t trust her just like she couldn’t trust herself. She was all action and no thought for the consequences, no matter how many times she decided to be sensible and to assume the air of a prim and proper young lady. It just wasn’t her. If she’d been as wise as Charlie clearly was and not been so hoodwinked by Henrik, then she mightn’t be here right now bound to a tree. “There you go.” Charlie crouched in front of her. “How does that feel?” Layla wriggled under his gaze. The rope was bound around her middle and try as she might, she could not lift her arms. The bark of the tree was rough behind her but the ground beneath her bottom was soft and spongy with moss. As she shifted, the top length of rope slipped upwards and settled beneath her breasts. It pushed them higher and she bridled as Charlie watched. “Is the rope okay there, Layla?” His voice was husky. His eyes darkened. “I guess so,” she huffed. But she’d never get out of it. “I don’t want you being uncomfortable. It’ll be a long night for you if you are.” He reached out and smoothed her hair back from her cheek then ran a fingertip along her chin. She shivered. Why was he having such an effect upon her right now when she should be mad at him? The slightest touch from him and she wanted to beg him for more. It was infuriating. But the fact that he had touched her might suggest that she was having more of an effect upon him than she’d thought. “You could, perhaps, adjust the rope a little,” she replied. Her stomach flipped. If she could just get him to leave enough slack in the rope she might be able to wriggle out of it. “This top loop?” he asked, gently fingering where it ran over her arm. She nodded. Her heart beat so hard that she could see it moving her shirt front and she bet that he could see it too. Charlie pushed his forefingers into the top of the rope and pulled it towards him. The backs of his hands rubbed the undersides of her breasts. Her nipples hardened. She gasped with relief as he pushed the rope lower and freed her aching mounds. “That better?” he croaked. Layla forced a smile. Pull yourself together. Be convincing. “Just a little looser. Please?” He fiddled with the knot at the back and Layla took a deep breath, filling her chest. She held it until he’d secured the rope again then she slowly released it. “How’s that?” “Better. Thank you.” Though she couldn’t shake the memory of his hands against her breasts. Her flesh burned there as if scalded. She wondered how his hands would feel against her skin. The impact through her clothing had been enough to rouse her desire. Wanton. “Now…Get some rest.” “Yes,” Layla replied and watched as he walked back to the fire. Rest. She needed it, sure. Though how she was going to rest when her body was burning with desire and need, when she should be focusing on escaping, she had no idea. Chapter Two (#uaa063fb2-3aa5-5209-8cc0-3cd0f188f31e) Layla opened her eyes. Her heart thudded like a drum. What had woken her? More importantly, how on earth had she fallen asleep? She was still upright against the tree and her neck ached from sleeping unsupported. The fire had died down but the night air seemed milder. An owl hooted in the distance and another one answered nearby. She shook her head. Her sleep had been disturbed by wild animals. She moved from one buttock to the other, trying to relieve the numbness of being stuck in one position. A strange noise came from the other side of the clearing. It was a soft moaning, almost like someone was in pain. Had Charlie or Etu been hurt? She leant forwards and peered through the gloom. Nothing. She wriggled her arms and pushed out all of her breath. There was some slack in the rope. Her plan had worked. Good. She used her wrists to push the length up over her breasts. She slid down the tree trunk. The bark raked her back as it pulled her shirt from her trousers and the rope dug into her flesh but soon it was loose enough for her to slip over her neck and her head. She was free. Charlie’s compassion in not tying it too tightly had left enough wriggle room for her to release herself. She lay still for a moment. Now what? She could hear her own heartbeat as it swooshed blood through her ears. She had to find the money then escape without waking her two captors. She crept around the edge of the clearing, keeping to the shadows. Her gaze flickered left then right. Would Charlie have kept the money on him or tucked it into the saddle bag? Probably the latter. She’d have to take care near the horses as they might make a noise if she disturbed them. Reaching the other side of the fire, she stopped. Her mouth fell open. Was that really what it looked like? Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/molly-wishlade-ann/bound-a-sizzling-hot-western-romance/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. Безопасно оплатить книгу можно банковской картой Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, со счета мобильного телефона, с платежного терминала, в салоне МТС или Связной, через PayPal, WebMoney, Яндекс.Деньги, QIWI Кошелек, бонусными картами или другим удобным Вам способом.
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