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by Diana Bold
Category: Erotica/Menage Erotica/Historical Fiction
Description: Heath Calhoun and Morgan Boudreaux have been friends since childhood and both are in love with Briony Tinsdale. When the War Between the States breaks out, they both rush to enlist, only to find out that war is hell. During the four long years of death and hardship, they turn to each other for comfort. When the war ends, and they return home, Briony is stunned, but aroused, to find them together. Can the three of them heal the wounds of the past together?
eBook Publisher: Cobblestone Press, 2011
eBookwise Release Date: November 2011
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [73 KB]
Reading time: 44-62 min.
July 13, 1865
"Miz Briony, there's some boys down in the kitchen sayin' they know you."
Briony Tinsdale tucked a limp strand of hair behind her ear and gave her housekeeper, Becky, a frown. She'd been sorting through trunks in the attic all morning, broiling in the summer heat, and was unfit to receive visitors of any sort, even the stream of weary soldiers who took shelter for the night at Belle Mere on their way home from the war.
"Tell them I'll visit with them at supper," she muttered as she lifted a pile of musty old blankets from a trunk. These would come in handy. With all the soldiers passing through, they were always low on bedding. Cloth of any kind was in short supply. She'd hoped the attic would yield some treasures, and so far she hadn't been disappointed.
"I think you'll be wantin' to speak with these ones," Becky insisted. "Cook says it be young Master Calhoun and that no-account overseer's son what was always taggin' along after him."
Briony's heart gave a fearful lurch. She dropped the blankets, raising a cloud of dust which left her coughing and choking. Heath...and Morgan. She'd never thought to see either of them again and had mourned their loss every day since she'd heard their unit had been decimated at Gettysburg. Could they possibly be standing in her kitchen after all these years?
Her hand strayed to her auburn hair. As she'd feared, her foray into the attic had left a rat's nest of tangles. Filth and grime covered her worn dress, and she probably reeked to high heaven. Dear God. If Heath and Morgan had truly returned, she couldn't greet them like this.
"Tell Cook to prepare the finest meal she can scrounge up," Briony ordered breathlessly. "Make sure the boys have everything they need; a hot bath, some whiskey, some of Bryant's old clothes... Make them comfortable, Becky. These are our boys, back at last."
"What are you gonna do?" Becky shook her head in disapproval as Briony raced to an old mirror leaning against the wall. "Ain't you gonna come see them?"
Briony groaned as she surveyed the damage. Four years of hardship and heartache had taken their toll. The harried-looking woman in the mirror bore little resemblance to the spoiled belle she'd once been. "Look at me. I fear they won't even recognize me as the girl they once knew."
"I'll have Sam bring a hipbath to your room, and I'll freshen up your green dress." Becky came up behind her, her dark face gentling as she saw Briony's expression. "You still lovely, Miz Briony. Them boys is gonna be fightin' over you just like they always done."
Briony gave her friend a quick hug. "Tell them I'll be down for dinner. I just need a while to make myself presentable."
Becky nodded and headed for the stairs, leaving Briony lost in her memories of that summer before her two best friends had left for war. Sometime that spring they'd finally started looking at her as a woman and vying for her attention, trying to force her to make an impossible decision.
She'd loved them both. Heath had the aristocratic blond good looks of an angel and the sweet temperament of one too. In his arms she'd always felt safe and cherished. Morgan, on the other hand, with his dark, dangerous beauty, had always been the one who made her act like a fool.
In the end, she'd let both of them take far too many liberties. She'd let Morgan take her virginity in a passion-filled night down by the river. To her utter shame, she'd allowed Heath to seduce her a few days later. His sweet tenderness had been so different, but equally fulfilling.
Now they'd had four long years to compare notes. Much as she'd missed them, she didn't know how she'd look either of them in the face or how she'd make that decision now, if either of them still wanted her.
* * * *
Morgan Boudreaux had never before eaten in the dining room at Belle Mere. He shifted uncomfortably in Bryant Tinsdale's borrowed clothes, feeling like an imposter. The war had evened things up a bit, making paupers out of some of the South's richest families, yet for all their years of friendship, he'd still never expected to sit down to dinner with Briony and Heath at Belle Mere's massive teak table.
Briony's people had downright spoiled them since they'd arrived, but they'd yet to see the lady herself, and Morgan wasn't quite sure what to expect. He'd once loved her with all the passionate glory of youth, but a lot had happened in the past few years. He didn't imagine Belle Mere's pampered princess was any more in his grasp now than she'd ever been.
She'd loved him. He didn't doubt it. And he'd once coaxed her into giving him far more than she should have. But they'd always known there was no future for them. In the end, she'd marry Heath and join Belle Mere and River View, as their fathers had always planned.
He stole a glance at Heath, who looked relaxed and every inch the aristocrat he'd always been. Morgan knew it was an act. Heath had come home to find River View razed to ashes, his people all run off, and everything he'd once taken for granted gone as though it had never been. If not for Briony's charity, they'd be sleeping in the woods again tonight.
A few sips of French brandy had gone straight to Morgan's head, and he couldn't help but smile a bit at the irony. Of all of them, his circumstances had changed the least. If you had nothing, then you had nothing to lose.
A sound in the hallway behind him had him turning in his chair, half rising before he even knew for certain it was her. Sure enough, Briony stood in the doorway, one slim hand resting on the frame as though for support, her green eyes sparkling with tears of happiness. Her dark auburn hair framed her face in a riot of curls, and she wore an emerald gown which had obviously seen better days, but was clean and fit her well. She hadn't escaped the wear of time unscathed--the girlish softness of her features had sharpened to those of a woman--but she was still the most beautiful creature he'd ever seen.
"Morgan," she whispered brokenly. "Heath. I can't believe you're really here. I thought I'd lost you both."
He took an unseemly amount of satisfaction in the fact that she'd said his name first. "Come here, darlin'," he whispered, opening his arms.
With a glad cry she rushed toward him, flinging herself against him, all sweet curves and smelling of lavender. Christ, she felt good. He'd worried his years at war, the things he'd done with Heath out of loneliness and need, had ruined him for this.
He met Heath's gaze over the top of Briony's head, afraid of what he'd see. They hadn't spoken at all of what would happen once they made it home, but surely Heath knew the tenderness and passion they'd shared during the last few years had to end. But the flash of pain and betrayal in Heath's eyes stunned him, and he realized Heath had never had any intention of letting him go.
* * * *
Heath turned away from the sight of Morgan and Briony's embrace, taking a deep swig of brandy and trying to compose himself. In a moment she'd realize she'd left him out, and she'd wrench herself out of Morgan's arms and hug Heath just as enthusiastically.
He'd hug her back, and then they'd both do their best to pretend they wouldn't rather be in Morgan's arms. The only difference was that Briony had the comfort of knowing she was the one Morgan loved.
She'd always had Morgan's heart, no matter how Heath had lied to himself or tried to pretend differently. He hadn't missed the expression on Morgan's face when she'd first tumbled into his arms, as though he'd died and gone to heaven.
Pasting on a smile, he put down his drink and wrapped his arms around them both, willing to take whatever he could. Briony laughed through her tears and pressed her lips to his cheek. "Welcome home, Heath. Welcome home."
He pushed away thoughts of the blackened ruin that had once been his home. Belle Mere was the next best thing. At least they were back in Louisiana, and they were all together again, which was enough for tonight. He'd worry about what the hell he was going to do with the rest of his life tomorrow. "Thanks, honey. Sometimes it seemed like we'd never get back."
She drew away, wiping her damp cheeks with a trembling hand. "I missed you both so much."
Morgan took her arm and led her to the foot of the table, pressing a glass of brandy into her hand. "Sit down, darlin'. Have a drink."
Heath took his own seat, trying to forget the last time he'd been in this room. His parents had been in attendance, as had Briony's mother, father, and two older brothers. Brandy had flowed, and they'd all laughed and joked about how quickly they'd kick the Yankee's asses. But everyone else was gone now, buried along with untold thousands more, all victims of their own arrogance.
Not long after they took their seats, two smiling black women appeared, bearing trays heaped with food, which they deposited upon the table with a flourish. Glazed ham, yams, tossed greens, and soft, fresh bread.
"Oh, Christ, I think I might cry," Morgan murmured, voicing Heath's thoughts exactly.
"We don't eat like this all the time," Briony warned. "But we have so little reason to celebrate I told Cook to be extravagant."
"We've been living on hardtack and whatever we could scrounge along the trail for longer than I care to remember," Heath reminded her. "Any one of these things would have been more than we could imagine."
She blushed, obviously happy that her generous bounty had been appreciated. As she passed the dishes, his mouth watered, and it was all he could do to remember his manners and not tear into the food like a wild animal. Briony seemed to sense speech was beyond them, for she kept conversation to a minimum for the rest of the meal.
After they'd eaten, she led them through the large, echoing house to the second floor, where two guest bedrooms had been prepared. Soft beds, clean sheets, a soft breeze ruffling lace curtains... Heath found himself overwhelmed by the luxury.
"I hope you'll both be very comfortable," she told them, careful not to let her gaze linger on either one of them for very long. He found her determination to treat them as equals unexpectedly sweet. "I have so many questions, so many things to tell you...but that can all wait until you've had a good night's sleep. We have all the time in the world now, don't we?"
"All the time in the world," Morgan echoed, staring at Briony with unmistakable love and hunger.
Heath felt as though he'd been kicked in the gut. Morgan and Briony might have all the time in the world, but Heath knew he only had tonight. Somehow, he had to make Morgan see that the love between them did not have to end, just because the war had.
As soon as the house was quiet, Heath knew he had to go to Morgan and plead his case--profess his love--one last time.
* * * *
Briony paced her bedroom, casting longing gazes at the closet that connected her room to the one she'd given Morgan. As soon as she gathered her courage, she was going to go to him and lay her heart at his feet.
Within moments of seeing them again, she'd known Morgan was the one. He always had been, truth be told. Before the war it would have been unthinkable for her to marry an overseer's son. Now it no longer seemed so ridiculous. If Belle Mere were ever to become a success again, it would take a man like Morgan, a man who wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty.
Mind made up, she crossed the room and eased the closet door open, making her way through the detritus of her old life piled haphazardly along the narrow space. Pausing at the other door, she eased it open a crack, making sure Morgan hadn't already fallen asleep.
To her surprise and dismay, she found Heath hadn't gone to bed. Instead he knelt on the floor at Morgan's feet, gazing up at him with his heart in his eyes. Confusion filled her as she realized Heath seemed to be doing exactly the same thing she'd planned to do.
What in the blazes was going on here?
"It doesn't have to end," Heath said, clasping Morgan's hand. "There's nothing she can give you that I can't."
"What about my sanity?" Morgan snapped, jerking his hand away. "This thing between us is wrong. Don't you see? I could justify it to myself before, when I was so fucking lonely, and it seemed like we were never going to make it back home. But now I have a chance to win Briony back, and I'm not going to let you do anything to jeopardize that."
Briony pressed her face closer to the door, trying to make sense of their conversation, unease growing within her. Surely they didn't mean what it sounded like they meant...
Heath surged to his feet, grasping Morgan by the shoulders and pressing him back against the wall. "You can lie to yourself," he snarled. "But you can't lie to me."
Then, to Briony's shocked disbelief, Heath pressed his lips to Morgan's, kissing him with ferocious passion.
Morgan seemed to struggle for a moment, but then he gave in with a strangled moan, burying his hands in Heath's silky blond hair, kissing the other man back with equal fervor. "One more time," he said harshly. "One last time."
Chuckling with unmistakable pleasure, Heath tore open Morgan's shirt, baring his chest, then shoved his trousers down around his ankles. Sinking to his knees once again, Heath gripped Morgan's erection in his hand, fisting him several times before bending to take him in his mouth.
Briony gasped and covered her lips with her hand, too shocked to do anything but watch as the two men she'd tried so hard to decide between made love without including her in the process at all. She would have turned away if she could, but the sight of them taking such pleasure in each other did not disgust her. Instead, she had the strange, unwelcome desire to somehow join them.