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Menage: A scandalous Western romance Molly Ann Wishlade Grace Holbein faces an uncertain future. Spurned by the town of Deadwood because of her violent late husband’s troubles she’s all alone, with winter fast approaching. Until two cowboys approach her ranch looking for work in return for room and board.Grace is wary of these handsome strangers but she can’t help the draw she feels to Matt – fair and athletic – and Blake – dark and ruggedly handsome. Both are keen to prove to Grace that not all men are the same and as Grace gets to know them it’s clear she’d welcome either into her heart and her bedIn her dreams she’s allowed them both, but can her brazen desires ever be fulfilled in reality?The Wild, Wild West trilogy:Book 1 - BoundBook 2 - ScandalBook 3 - Menage Vulnerable widow Grace Holbein faces an uncertain future. Spurned by the town of Deadwood because of her violent late husband’s troubles she’s all alone in the world. With winter approaching the future looks bleak until two rugged cowboys ride up to her ranch looking for work in return for room and board. Grace is wary of these handsome strangers; in her experience men are not to be trusted. However, Matt, fair and athletic, and Blake, dark and ruggedly handsome, are keen to prove to Grace that not all men are alike. The attention she receives from them both thaws her frozen heart and melts her inhibitions; she would welcome either one to warm her bed, but it’s a choice she finds impossible to make. In her dreams she’s allowed them both, but can her brazen desires ever be fulfilled in reality? Also by Molly Ann Wishlade (#u24db2cf7-a291-5254-b75b-605a582f1512) Trying Too Hard… Bound Scandal Menage Molly Ann Wishlade Copyright (#u24db2cf7-a291-5254-b75b-605a582f1512) 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: 9781474006415 Version date: 2018-06-20 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 fellow Carina UK authors. You’re a talented, warm and supportive group and I’m privileged to be writing alongside you. Here’s to a bright future! xxx Contents Cover (#u1357e404-947b-58dd-b5c7-ed1bdd7bce6a) Blurb (#u614cfecf-59e1-5d8c-865e-b5eeba691fe2) Book List Title Page (#u2a5c519a-83d9-59f6-9958-d1e5cc50307a) Copyright Author Bio (#ud0a3a899-7983-5354-bcad-05a93791dd3e) Dedication (#udad1214d-48d9-5ceb-872b-feb5f86f7f98) Chapter One Chapter Two (#u12f7d7d3-1b59-5d83-84a7-b95ff8f61ba5) Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Extract (#litres_trial_promo) Endpages (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher Chapter One (#u24db2cf7-a291-5254-b75b-605a582f1512) “Hello there! Mrs Holbein?” Grace peered up from the chicken coop at the approaching cowboys. They dismounted from their horses then walked towards the perimeter fence. She was knee-high in straw and feathers as she gathered that day’s eggs, depositing them in a basket hooked over her left arm. She wasn’t expecting company and she didn’t recognise the two men. Her survival instinct kicked in, increasing her heart rate, and she quickly reached down and checked her right boot. The cold steel blade sat in its place, encased in the leather sheath, reassuring her with its sharp edge and fierce point. “Hello?” She raised her voice to intimate that it was a question not a greeting. She straightened her back and wiped the perspiration from her upper lip with the back of her free hand. The cowboys reached the fence. This close, she could see how big they were. Tall, broad-shouldered men. Large and masculine. They made her acutely aware of how petite and feminine she was. How utterly defenceless. She eyed them, her senses on high alert. Being a woman alone at an isolated homestead a few miles outside of Deadwood meant that she was constantly wary. Letting her guard down, even just a fraction, could have been fatal whether dealing with man or beast. “Mrs Holbein?” Grace met the blond man’s blue eyes and a shiver ran down her spine. They were as intense as the sky on a clear summer’s day. Beautiful, bright blue framed by thick black lashes. He rested his large, tanned hands on the fence. She found her gaze drawn to his long, slim fingers with their short nails and the tiny white-blond hairs on his muscular forearms which shone in the afternoon sun. This was a man who worked hard for a living. Outdoors. Probably with horses and cattle. “Are you Mrs Holbein?” He repeated the question. “That’s me. Whadda you want?” She pulled herself up to her full height. She could see that if she stood next to either man she would not reach his shoulders. As the cowboy searched her face, she let the basket swing in front of her body. An obstacle between them, to hide her figure from view. Protection. A barrier. “We’re looking for work, ma’am,” the cowboy explained. He pushed his Stetson further back on his head and wiped his brow with a folded neckerchief. “And what makes you come out here looking for it?” Grace scowled. She nudged an inquisitive chicken away from her skirts with her foot. “We asked in Deadwood, ma’am. They said you was likely to need some help around your farm. In light of your…” He removed his hat. “Your recent loss.” So they knew about Jack. That also meant that they knew she was alone and that she had no man to protect her. She took a steadying breath. Keep calm. Show no fear. “What’s your names?” She stalled. She had no intention of giving them more information about her circumstances than she needed to. She didn’t have the time for pleasantries. There was no time to waste in the day. No time at all. She was exhausted, run ragged trying to take care of the farm all alone. They had never had any hired help and life had been tough but Jack had insisted that they could do it all themselves. But now that he’d gone, she realised exactly how much he had done. Around the farm and to her. She shivered. Her corset grazed the spot below her left shoulder blade that never fully healed and she gritted her teeth together. Damned sensitive female flesh. She was filled with resentment for her own frailty. “I’m Matt Huntley and this here’s Blake Donohue.” Matt gestured to his companion. “Howdy, Mrs Holbein.” Blake doffed his hat. Grace swallowed hard. His hair was black and shiny as a raven’s wings and his eyes like pools of whisky. His face was tanned from being outdoors and he had a few days’ growth of stubble. But he was handsome as the devil himself. She shook her head. A pleasing face did not equal a good heart. As she’d learnt. For the past five years. “So you got any work needs doin’, Mrs Holbein?” Matt asked, offering a crooked grin that made her heart flip in spite of her anxiety. She did need help, it was true. She’d been into town recently and asked about labourers but it seemed that everyone was hooked up at the mines or elsewhere. No one was interested in helping Grace Holbein out. And she suspected that she knew why. It all came down to Jack and his sour-faced obstinacy. During their marriage, he’d turned his back on everyone who’d asked him for help and upset everyone within the locality. When she’d buried him, she’d paid handsomely for his casket and the cart to carry it. Apart from the pastor, she’d been the only one who’d stood at his graveside. As lonely after his death as she had been during their marriage. Ironic really, as marriage was meant to bind two people together. She had learnt the hard way that this wasn’t true. So Grace had been left alone. Struggling. Without a man. Without anyone. “What experience you got?” She met their eyes in turn. They looked like they worked hard, both were fit and muscular as bulls. She needed help with the heavy work before the winter set in. South Dakota winters were hard and she wasn’t happy about the idea of spending this one alone. Although she wasn’t going to miss that domineering rat of a husband either. “We’ve done most types of work, Mrs Holbein. We can help with the animals, the crops, repairs on the outbuildings and any maintenance. All we ask for is room and board and the regular going wage.” Grace chewed her lip. It would be risky taking on two strangers with no references from the folks in town. They could be conmen or thieves just passing through, intent on robbing anyone who crossed their path. But what was the alternative? She’d faced the cold shoulders of the folks in Deadwood and didn’t have the time to go begging in Custer City, so she’d better take this opportunity whilst it was presented. Grace was in a bad box. “I can’t afford the going rate.” She tested the waters. The heavy weave of the basket had begun to dig into the flesh of her arm. She was suddenly aware of the aromas that she was usually oblivious to. Chicken faeces. The stale sweat of her old cotton dress. The smoke coming from the cabin chimney. She was suddenly aware of what a mess she must appear. But surely that was a good thing…to discourage any interest in her as a woman. She shuddered. The men exchanged a glance so fast that she almost missed it. Matt shrugged. “No matter. Place to sleep and some victuals are what we need most. Money’s a bonus. We’ll take what you can spare.” Grace nodded. His acceptance made her even more suspicious but she’d give it a go and see what happened. If she was lucky, they’d be hard workers with a genuine interest in earning an honest wage. If not, she was certain that things couldn’t get any worse for her. And she always had her blade ready for action. Just in case. “Well, you can go leave your bags in the barn out back. There’s room for your horses there too. Then you can start by mucking out the pigs.” She cocked an eyebrow. Waited. If they weren’t genuine she doubted that they’d waste time getting covered in pig shit. But she’d enjoy watching if they did! Matt smiled. “No problem, ma’am. Come on, Blake, let’s do as the lady commanded.” He hoisted his bedroll onto his back and let himself through the gate, leading his mare behind him. Blake followed, casting a shy glance at Grace as he passed her. A smile wavered on his lips for a moment, as if he were unsure how to behave around her. It was sweet, respectful, adolescent almost. As if he wasn’t used to being around womenfolk. Her cheeks flooded with heat and she took a step back, almost tripping over a chicken. “Darnit!” She turned and shooed the bird away. “Stupid hen.” But though she aimed the words at the bird that flapped its wings and clucked as it moved out of harm’s away, she was thinking about herself. Foolish woman for reacting to a man. She was the widow Holbein. The wife left behind by one of the meanest and most aggressive men to set foot in the Black Hills. Grace knew how harsh a man could be. She had escaped once by outliving the son of a bitch and she had no intention of getting herself involved again. Men were trouble. No doubt about it. She had the physical and mental scars to prove it. **** Matt and Blake dumped their bedrolls and belongings into a corner of the barn. It was cool, dark and comforting. The aroma of hay and animals was what they were used to and Matt now associated it with being home. As much of a home as they could have right now anyways. “So whadda you think?” Matt turned to his companion. Blake frowned. “Well, that sure ain’t the woman they spoke of in town.” Matt grinned. “You know, I think that ol’ dog Al Swearengen mighta had his sights set on the widow Holbein. What was it he said about her?” “A grumpy old grizzly bear of a woman.” Blake laughed. “With a behind as big as two barrels and a cunny as wide as the Deadwood gulch!” “That’s right!” Matt slapped his thigh. “But she ain’t old.” “An’ she ain’t fat neither,” Blake added. “In fact, if anything she’s a bit on the skinny side.” Matt nodded. The widow was thin and fragile. Though she’d attempted to convey that she was harsh and cold, there was something in her eyes that told him more. The way that she held herself worried him. He wasn’t sure what it was but something wasn’t right. Perhaps it was grief that sat like a heavy shroud upon her frail frame but the wariness in her grey eyes spoke of something other than grief. It was etched there, deeply, like a brand upon a cow’s hide. She was scarred by something and it left him wondering what it was. “Yeah I got a feeling that Swearengen was trying to bamboozle us with his description of the lady. I’d say she ain’t more than twenty-eight or nine and she’s quite fair on the eye. If you like that kinda thing.” Matt winked at Blake and received a smile in response. He loved that smile. The way it lit up Blake’s whole face and created those dimples either side of his generous mouth, even through his stubble. Blake moved towards him. “And do you like that sort of thing, Matt?” He slid his arms around Matt’s waist and enveloped him in a hug. Blake’s familiar masculine scent washed over him and he breathed deeply, savouring the way it lifted his heart and hardened his cock. “You know how I feel about it, Blake,” he murmured into Blake’s shoulder, his concentration on the conversation slipping away as his lover’s body moulded into his. Head to head. Chest to chest. Stomach to stomach. Groin to groin. Their breathing as one, in time, in tune. He lifted his head. “Much as I’d like to take you roughly over that there hay bale,” he gestured towards the back of the barn, “I think we’d better go prove ourselves by mucking out some hogs.” Blake nodded. “Shame. Later then?” “Later.” Matt agreed. Excitement swirled in his stomach at the thought. Even after years of making love to Blake, he never tired of it. He still burned with desire for the other man as much as he had the first time they’d met. And when Rebecca had joined them, they had been complete. For a while. Sure, their lovemaking and the balance in their relationship had changed after they’d lost Rebecca. But that was to be expected. The unwelcome pain tugged at his heart and he sensed the black storm cloud of grief at his edges. He mentally pushed it away. No time for that now. They needed a place to stay for a while and some money in their pockets. Then they could move on. Keep on going. As they always did. The only way he knew of dealing with the pain was to just keep on moving. Keep on running. But if the widow Holbein needed them to hang around until the spring, then that would suit them just fine. Winter was on its way and it would be hard with no place to stay. The autumn had been mild but he doubted that winter would be. In addition, although he really didn’t want to admit it to himself, he felt kinda sorry for her. It couldn’t be easy for a little thing like her out here all alone trying to run a farm. From the way Swearengen had explained it, she didn’t have any help around the place at all. And no one in Deadwood wanted to give her the time of day. Clearly, her husband had made a lot of enemies and she was taking the brunt of the blame, even following his death. Poor woman. He shrugged as they walked from the cool shadows of the barn and into the late afternoon light. He shouldn’t be thinking this out too deeply. She was a widow who needed farm hands. Blake and he needed work. That was all there was to it. But as they crossed the yard, he realised that he was excited about finding out what colour hair she had under that grimy headscarf and if it set off her pretty grey eyes. **** Grace trembled all over. She stood with her back to the door of her small cabin, her fingers digging into the wooden panels. She’d gone out to the barn to offer the men some blankets and to hand them a pewter water pitcher and basin but she’d stopped outside at the sound of laughter. Unable to resist, she waited to hear what they were amused about. It had been so long since she’d heard another human being laugh that she’d pressed her face against the barn door and peered through the cracks like an eager child. Then she’d heard her own name mentioned. First, they’d said that Al Swearengen had her in his sights. The thought made her shudder. Then, even worse, they had repeated his description of her and it had set them both laughing even harder. A grumpy old grizzly bear of a woman…With a behind as big as two barrels and a cunny as wide as the Deadwood gulch. How awful! So that was what folks in Deadwood thought of her. Her cheeks burned and her eyes filled with angry tears. No wonder she couldn’t get anyone out here to help. Who would want to work for a grizzly bear? And as for the description of her behind…She pulled her fingers from the door and placed them over her rump. She squeezed through her skirts. Her bottom wasn’t big. Wasn’t big at all. In fact, it was virtually non-existent. Years of being married to Jack had seen to that. Lord knew, some fat would’ve cushioned the blows but she just couldn’t find her appetite. She’d lost it not long after her wedding, when she’d realised her mistake. And then…there had been the child thing. The old pain rose in her throat with its strangulating hold. She gulped down air, trying to fight the dizziness that it brought. No children. Not in a marriage like that. When her already irregular courses had become almost non-existent, she’d been glad. No monthly bleed meant no children, if she’d been correctly informed. However hard Jack had tried to get one on her. No child deserved to be fathered by such a violent and cruel man and she would have no part in its conception. So she’d continued. In her own living hell. Lonely. Childless. Without hope. Folks in Deadwood had thought Jack to be harsh but they didn’t have to live with him day by day. To cook his meals then watch as he wolfed them down or threw them at the wall if she’d done something wrong. They didn’t have to cower in the corner as he rained punches at her head or whipped her with his belt. No. Jack was a heartless man and Grace had lost her own heart during her time as his wife. She had shut herself down and retreated to the far corners of her mind, only emerging when Jack had gone into town and she believed it was safe to peer out for a few hours. At times like that, she would steal down to the creek to bathe, lying in the ice cold shallows with her hair floating all around her and the smooth stones beneath her skin. The clear water soothed the tender flesh of her back and when she emerged she always considered herself cleansed. Almost renewed. She also liked to play with the feral kittens in a patch of afternoon sunlight. The cats that hung around the farm were useful because they helped to keep the vermin numbers down. A steady stream of kittens meant that there was always a new litter for Grace to nurse and play with. She loved holding the innocent little things up to her cheeks and breathing in their soft, animal scent. It was a small pleasure and one that she never let Jack see her indulging in. She knew that if he ever found out about her fondness for the cats, he would no doubt string a few of them up just to witness her distress. So she kept these things to herself. Her little survival secrets. For her and only her. To hear that she was now the source of amusement for the two cowboys she had taken in as labour, as well as to the folks in town, would not hurt her. She wiped her eyes with her threadbare apron. They too were just men. And men were weak. They just couldn’t help themselves. She had run off after she’d heard them laugh at Al’s words, not wanting to hear more. But they were just words and words did not hurt as much as blows. Just as well to ignore the reason for their laughter. They were farm hands. She was the boss around here and she had to act like it. Keep her distance. Not be yearning for human company or human contact. She’d allowed herself to want those things before and look where it had gotten her. Bruised and battered and almost broken. Never again. She took a deep breath and tucked her hair beneath her scarf. Time to see if they were serious about working. The hog pen needed a real good muck-out and no man dallying with ideas of swindling would stick around to get covered in pig poop. She opened the door and stepped out into the afternoon. Laugh at her would they? This time, the laugh would be on them. Chapter Two (#ulink_d40252a8-70ad-56b9-ab02-1f60bfba0227) Grace walked across the yard, past the barn and towards the pig pen. The two cowboys stood there, waiting. “What’s the matter?” Grace surprised them. “Ain’t you never seen a hog before?” “Sure, Mrs Holbein. Seen plenty.” Matt gave her that lop-sided grin again. Heat rushed through her body, warming her insides and turning her legs to jelly. How did he do that? The unfamiliar sensations unnerved her. Confused her. She wasn’t sure that she liked it at all. She walked closer to the pen and placed her hands on the fencing. She needed to hold onto something. She dug her trembling hands into the sun-warmed wood. “Then what is it?” “These beasts are mighty big, ma’am. You breed ’em yourself?” Grace shook her head. “Not me, no. My…Mr Holbein. He prided himself on creating a bigger and stronger breed than he’d ever seen before.” “They…uh…aggressive?” Blake asked. Grace stared at the hogs. They could be. Sometimes. But at others they were as calm and light-hearted as new-born lambs. Funny how men and beasts could change at the pull of a trigger. Just like Jack. She shivered and pulled her shawl around her shoulders in spite of the warmth of the autumn afternoon. “Just take care when you get in with them. Shoo them over to the far side then push them into the smaller pen. You gotta show ’em who’s boss! Then you can get on with mucking out.” She offered a thin smile. “Sure thing, ma’am,” Matt replied. He looked at the pen then at Blake. “We’re gonna get covered in shi…in muck.” Blake wrinkled his nose. “Stinks to the heavens.” Grace realised why they were hesitating. They probably only had the one set of clothes and didn’t fancy getting them dirty. Pig dirty. “If you don’t mind, ma’am, we’re gonna remove a few garments. Spare the washing.” Grace didn’t trust herself to speak. Remove their clothes…in her yard…in the daytime? Her heart thundered like a steam train as she watched them take off their shirts then remove their trousers. When they stood before her in their union suits and boots, she managed to shut her mouth. She should walk away, leave them to it. She knew that. So why couldn’t she move her feet? Her eyes were drawn by an irresistible force to their groins. Like a wanton, she sought out the tell-tale bulges of their manhood and wondered how they would appear naked. She had been alone too long. But she had never seen a man other than Jack undressed before. And every time he had divested himself of his garments, she had retreated into herself, shivered with terror. She had known what came next. But this…it was different. She was not in the direct path of danger. These men were merely removing their clothing to clean out the hogs. So, it gave her a sense of unwonted freedom to sneak a peek at them. To satisfy her curiosity. And even in their union suits, they were pleasing to regard. “Come on then, Blake! Let’s get this done.” Matt took hold of a broom that Grace had left near the pen and opened the gate. Once Blake had followed him in, he closed it behind them. They padded gingerly across the space, trying not to slip in the manure and rotting vegetation. “I’ll let you guys get on then. I’ve a lot to do,” Grace called to them as she forced herself to walk away. She wanted to stay and watch them, to see how they dealt with the hogs. And…just to watch them. She was lonely. Even though they were strangers, even though they’d just arrived and she had no idea how long they would stay, it was good just to have folks around. She’d been alone for so long. Of course, it hadn’t been two months since she’d buried Jack, but even when he’d been around, she had always been alone. Seeing Matt and Blake, their masculine presence around the small farm, lifted her. In spite of her fear and suspicion of every other human being that crossed her path, she was gladdened that they had arrived today. She couldn’t quite understand it, but it raised her spirits higher than they had been in a long time. The young men were so full of life. They were so cheerful, so real. It had been a long time since Grace had felt real. Or alive. She just went through the motions every day. She got up early, did her chores, worked all day, ate what food she could force down then collapsed into bed at night before going through the same routine again. She didn’t live. She existed. And being around other people made that painfully clear to her. Jack had caused a lot of damage. She had stayed, so she could not blame him entirely. But marriage was meant to be until death. She had taken her vows seriously. To her own detriment. And where would she have gone if she had left him? Now she was finally free. And she had no idea what the hell she was going to do next. **** “Mrs Holbein?” Grace looked up from the chicken she was plucking on the small pine table. The cabin door swung slowly open. “Mrs Holbein?” She wiped her hands on her apron and walked through the small living space to the open door. She poked her head out into the twilight. “Evening, ma’am.” It was Blake. “Mr Donohue!” Grace exclaimed, lifting a hand to shield her nose. She eyed him from above her fingers. He was brown from head to toe. “Excuse the stench, ma’am.” He hung his head. “We uh…it didn’t go too well.” Grace lowered her hand. “The hogs?” The animals were valuable and she couldn’t afford to lose them. She’d fatten the older piglets over the winter then sell some of them on in the spring. It would keep her going through the following year. Some she would slaughter…well, maybe only one this year as it was just her. But to lose them would be a travesty. It was a loss she couldn’t afford. Blake raised a dirty hand. “It’s okay, Mrs Holbein. Hogs are fine. We’ve cleared the pen and put down fresh straw. The fence was a bit worn in one area so we’ve repaired that too. Don’t want those valuable hogs escaping. But uh…when we let them back through they got a bit excited and uh…” Grace started to laugh. She couldn’t help it. It began deep in her belly and erupted from her mouth like a mountain spring. It sounded strange, hoarse, as if she hadn’t laughed in a long, long time. Blake joined in, the pig poop on his face cracking as he grinned. Grace doubled over and held her stomach, laughing until she was convinced she would faint. The hogs had knocked him over in the pen and by the state of him, trampled him into the ground. Well, serve him right. She’d warned them to be careful. When she could finally catch her breath, she wiped her eyes and stood up straight. “What about Mr Huntley? They get him too?” Blake laughed. “He’s in the same state as me.” She cleared her throat and breathed slowly, trying to suppress the laughter that the thought of Matt’s misfortune had conjured. “There’s water in the barrel round the side of the barn. You can wash in that. I’ll bring you some rags to use as cloths.” “Be mighty grateful for that, ma’am,” Blake replied. As he walked gingerly away, Grace watched from the doorway. Even covered in muck, he was a fine figure of a man. His clammy union suit clung to his lean frame like a second skin. His shoulders were broad and strong, his waist was slim. She moved her eyes lower and her stomach flipped. His behind was rounded and firm, like two watermelon halves which moved up and down as he walked. He was gorgeous. An unfamiliar warmth flooded her body. It started in her chest and travelled up her throat and into her head. Her cheeks glowed with its presence. Simultaneously, it moved down, tickling her stomach and curling like knowing fingers at the apex of her thighs. It made her want to follow Blake, to continue to watch him walking. And more. It made her think of what he would be like without his muck-covered clothing. Totally naked. Would the hair on his body be as black as that on his head? She shook her head and dragged herself from the stoop. What was wrong with her? Was it because she had been so recently widowed that she had turned into…into what she could only think of as a wanton woman? Was this the female weakness that the preacher spoke of and that Jack had claimed he would beat out of her? If so, then they had been right. Her husband was barely cold and she was already allowing lust to take over her thoughts, her body and to lead her mind into wicked imaginings. But as she moved through the room and rifled through a wooden chest at the far corner, searching for something to tear into cloths, she realised that she was not convinced. If these feelings were wicked then why did they feel so good? If it was wrong to appreciate a man’s form, then why make it so fine? She was all churned up and confused. When she had been with Jack, at first, she had felt some stirrings but being married to him had soon obliterated any fire within her and left her numb. Marital relations were a hideous chore, something to be endured. So these sparks of desire that had been lit in her today, left her all balled up. Were her feelings wrong or was it society that had gotten it wrong? None of it made sense. But then for Grace, life rarely did. **** Blake wandered back towards the pig pen where Matt was securing the gate. He smiled at the state that his companion was in. Like him, Matt was brown from tip to toe. The hogs had gotten them good and proper. Just like Mrs Holbein had warned them they would. Blake knew that it had happened because they were being so careful with the creatures. In spite of Matt’s carefree appearance, Blake knew that he thought things through deeply. Already, Matt had assessed the widow Holbein, decided that she was no grizzly bear but a young woman in need and then made a silent decision to help her out. That was Matt. He could be fierce, could be cold whenever he assumed his protective veneer, but he had a heart made of creek-bed gold. It had just been hard for Matt, hard for them both, over the past two years. One day they’d had everything to live for. The next, there was a hole as big as a canyon in their lives where Rebecca had once been. Life could change so quickly that it defied belief. Even now, Blake found it hard to accept that she was gone. That their hopes and dreams in the human form of their precious baby son and daughter were also gone. Forever. Death was so final. So dark. So unforgiving. Each morning brought the grief back like a flash flood. The moments after waking were filled with the gentle bliss of forgetfulness but as sleep drifted away, the darkness was able to descend with its heart-wrenching reminders of what was lost, of what had once been. He feared that he would never get over their loss. Never fully heal. Like a physical scar, it would always be there, red, raised and angry. Matt glanced up and Blake offered him a smile. He knew that it wouldn’t have reached his eyes. The pain that had just filled his heart at the thought of his lost family would have seen to that, but he didn’t want Matt to have to think about that right now. Like he had said, it was better to keep on moving. Maintain momentum so that they could try to leave the past and their grief behind. It was what Blake wanted too. But he wasn’t really convinced that you could keep running from your loss. Surely, reality would catch up with you sooner or later? And try as he might to push the dark cloud away, it was always there. Just hovering over his shoulder. Black and relentless. “You tell Mrs Holbein, Blake?” Matt approached him. “Sure did. She said we should wash in the barrel around the side of the barn. She’s gonna get us some cloths to help clean the poop off.” “She offer to wash your back?” Matt winked. “No but I’ll scrub yours if you like.” Blake nudged Matt’s shoulder. They walked in step over to the barn and located the barrel the widow had spoken of. It was full to the brim with fresh, clean rain water. Blake dipped his hand into it. “It’s ice-cold!” “It’s in the shade around here. Probably doesn’t get warmed up at all. Can’t stay stinky all day though. There’s no way I’m snuggling up to you later unless you clean that off.” Blake snorted. “I know, I know.” He looked around. There was a small wooden pail near to the barrel so he picked it up. “Guess we have to use this. You first?” Matt’s eyes twinkled. “Coward.” “Better a warm coward than chilled through. Now get your union suit off and start bracing.” Matt unbuttoned the body of the suit then slid his arms out. He paused. “I ain’t looking forward to this.” “And the rest.” Blake was enjoying himself way too much. Matt now wore stripes. Head and legs were brown but his chest was bronzed male flesh. His nipples were hard little peaks, distended in anticipation. Blake licked his lips. He wanted to lean forwards and take those nips into his mouth, to tweak them with his teeth. His cock hardened. “Oh! Um…excuse me…I didn’t realise.” The widow Holbein had come around the corner. Her face was scarlet. Her breath coming in short, sharp bursts as if she’d been running. “Hey, Mrs Holbein. You got those cloths?” Blake asked. She held them out, trying to avert her gaze but Blake noticed that her eyes kept slipping back towards Matt. Her full pink lips were parted and she ran her tongue over them several times. Blake realised that she was hungry. But not for food. “Thanks, Mrs Holbein.” “You’re…you’re welcome. Will there be anything else?” She turned back to the pig pen. Blake watched as the fuchsia hue gradually drained from her cheeks. The widow had clearly liked what she’d seen even if she was evidently alarmed that she did. “Matt?” Blake grinned. He could see the swelling at Matt’s groin that told him that his lover had noticed the widow’s sensual response too. “Anything else?” “Well…” Matt winked. “There’s a spot between my shoulders that I might need help washing.” Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/molly-wishlade-ann/menage-a-scandalous-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.