To Love an Outlaw
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by Roxanne Springer
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: Beautiful widow Jessica Randall has no idea what she is in for when she helps the wounded John Budreau on a stormy night. They eventually fall in love, but a devastating secret from John's shady past threatens to tear apart their new love and their very lives at the seams. Rating Note: Erotic Romance--Explicit [contains graphic sexual content and adult language]
eBook Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, 2007
eBookwise Release Date: January 2008
10 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [471 KB]
Reading time: 332-465 min.
"Both Jessica and John are very lovable characters. They have both been depicted with flair and humanness. The story reserves some very powerful twists and turns, some of which the reader will not see coming. The eventful dimension of the story however does tend to lag and drag in some instances, and in some places, the recovery is rather lacking. However, all this might be overlooked in the light of Ms. Springer's particular brand of realistic and very detail-oriented descriptions of historical life."--Zee, Enchanting Reviews
Jess studied the stranger at her door. There was what seemed to be a bullet hole in the right shoulder of his buckskin shirt. Blood had cascaded down his arm, staining the brown a deep crimson. Rain dripped steadily off the brim of the black hat he wore.
"Can you help me, ma'am?" he asked hopefully.
Deciding not to leave a bleeding man out in the rain, Jess moved so he could enter her home. She was surprised at how tall he was when he stepped out of the darkness.
"Let me see that wound," she said. "I'll dress it, but then you have to go. I live here alone and it wouldn't look proper to have a man stay here all night."
"Thank you." It was all he said. His voice was even, not revealing the pain he was enduring. The voice was also smooth, and Jess liked it immediately. He put his left hand up to his wound as he went to the table. Slowly he sat down in one of the chairs.
"Thank you again. My name is John Budreau, and I saw the light of the lamp through the window. Once you patch me up I will be on my way. It was not my intention to bother you."
"Hello, John. My name is Jessica Randall. I run this farm by myself, at least I have since my husband passed on." Jess felt her throat involuntarily tighten at the mention of her beloved Alan.
She and Alan Randall had gotten married on April 21, 1864. It was a simple ceremony, with only the parents of the couple present. It seemed the future lay shining and bright before them as they had headed out to make their new life together.
The early days of their marriage had passed happily enough. Alan struggled to learn to plow and tend the hogs while Jess learned to take care of their home. Every night they made love, Alan always the kind and patient lover. When it was over she would lay awake and wish he would unleash the passion she knew he had inside. She did not complain; Jess loved her husband for the tender and compassionate man he was.
She enjoyed seeing him tending his crops, and each day she would pack a lunch for him. When the sun was high in the sky she would share the meal with him in the fields. He was always happy to see her, no matter what problem had befallen him. He never failed to pick her up in his arms and swing her around like a little girl. Those were the good days, if only Alan hadn't gone to the bank that one horrible afternoon.
Jess forced the memories that slammed through her mind to end by taking a few deep breaths and composing herself. When her mind was fully in the present she noticed John was struggling with his shirt and clenching his teeth from the effort.
"Could you help me get this shirt off so I can see the damage? I think the bullet is still in my arm, but you need to look. Do you have any whiskey? If you do, pour it in the hole to clean it. Dying of gangrene isn't what I want to spend my last days doing."
Jess slowly approached John from where she stood by the mantle. She was a little wary of his size and obvious power. He could easily force me to the floor and--
Jess pushed the thought from her mind. She caught the edge of his buckskin shirt and carefully worked with him to remove it.
She was startled by not only the hole in his shoulder, but also how well muscled he was. John was tan all over, his chest wide and smooth. His skin shone with perspiration, and drips of it ran down his flat belly. He was, in short, beautiful.
Once again Jess became choked up. She never thought that word could be applied to any man but her darling Alan. While Alan had not possessed the physical splendor of this man before her, he had had a beautiful heart and soul. She backed away from John, and turned to go to her cabinet. She found the whiskey in the back, the bottle covered with a light film of dust. Jess never favored drinking, and the bottle had sat untouched since Alan had been gone. Not realizing what she was doing, she held the bottle tightly to her as she once again thought of her late husband.
Alan, tall and blonde like Jess, had been considered to be a catch among the local girls in the town of Ballard, Texas. Some of them flirted outrageously with him, but he never paid them any mind. He only had eyes for Jess, and to him no other girl would ever be her equal.
On one very special day, Alan's wagon pulled up outside her parents' store. She felt excitement bubble up inside her as she saw him climb down from the seat. He came in the store, and Jess put a playful pout on her lips. He had been gone quite a bit lately and had given her no explanations of where he had been. She missed their rides in his wagon, missed just being near him. He leaned casually on the counter before her and smiled the careless smile she loved so dearly.
"Care to go for a ride, Miss?"
She looked over at her mother, who nodded her approval. Jess flew from behind the counter and out the front door. She didn't wait for Alan to help her in the wagon, but got a good grip and lifted herself to the poorly padded seat.
It was not a grand surrey, and certainly not a coach. It was more of a wagon used by a farmer, primitive but functional. As she ran her fingers over the rough boards she thought how the happiest moments over her life had been in this wagon. His first proposal had been while they were riding along, their first kiss moments after she had accepted.
Jess had not been frightened at all of her first kiss; her Alan was the sweetest, kindest person she had ever known. It had been warm and sweet, very chaste. She looked forward to being his wife, becoming Mrs. Jessica Randall. Alan climbed in the wagon beside her and lightly slapped the horse with the reins.
They drove to a field they both knew, a place where their rides had ended up before. Lush grass bent with the warm breeze, and a small creek ran through the center. It was a beautiful place, so fitting for a young couple in love. Jess looked up and saw the sunlight playing on the leaves of a nearby tree and thought the whole scene terribly romantic.
"Come away with me."
Alan's words snapped Jess from her thoughts. She looked at him with a small smile.
"Come away with you where? Our lives are here in Ballard. You will be getting your law degree soon and will be a good lawyer like your father. I am going to take over my family's store when the time comes, and we are going to be married soon. Why are you talking about leaving? All we need is here before us."
Alan let out an exasperated sigh. "I want a place that is just ours, Jess. I was never very good at law anyway, and I want to have a farm. I already bought one hundred fifty acres just outside of Whittier. I have built us a small house there, and we can grow crops and raise hogs. We can have our family there, on our own land."
He picked up her hand and pressed the back of it tenderly to his face. "Please say you will come away with me, honey. It all means nothing without you."
Jess put her head back and looked at the cloudless sky. She thought of how much she loved Alan, of how much this seemed to mean to him. The thought of leaving everything she had ever known made her leery.
"Alan, I would go anywhere with you, you know that. Have you thought about our parents? I hope they aren't too disappointed to find out your plans."
Alan's face broke into a wide grin. "They already know. Your parents loaned me the money for the land and the house, and my Pa helped me build. I wanted our new life to be a surprise for you. Please say yes. I want a fine life and us so much to have a home of our own together. You know how much I love you, Jess."
His sapphire blue eyes pleaded with her. She could not deny this man who loved her so much, this man who was her life.
"Can we at least get married before we go there?" she asked playfully.
Alan laughed and pulled her into his tender embrace. "Are you sure you want to be a farmer's wife? Maybe you should find a gentleman who will buy you grand things like you are used to."
Jess put her face next to Alan's smooth cheek. "You are a gentleman and will soon be a farmer. I will be proud to be your wife."
From across the room a voice broke into her memories. "As soon as you get done saying goodbye to that bottle, can I have some for my arm?" He tried to smile and be pleasant in spite of his pain.
Jess jumped at the sound of his voice. Quickly she walked over to the table and put the bottle down hard.
"The sooner we get you patched up the sooner you can leave my house."
"You don't have to get riled, Mrs. Randall. It's only that you looked kind of comical holding that bottle like it was some kind of family treasure, lost in thought somewhere."
"I'm glad I can provide you with amusement in the middle of your suffering. Just get done and get out."
"All I need is for you to look and see if the bullet is still in my shoulder. If it is, you'll have to dig it out. I would do it myself but I can't see it very well and I probably wouldn't do a neat job of pouring whiskey on it right now either. I promise I'll be on my way soon enough."
She examined his shoulder, and saw the bullet about an inch in his flesh. "It's still in there. I can see it. Who shot you anyway?"
"A friend and I had a vast difference of opinion," he replied apprehensively. "Now get a sharp knife and dig the bullet out. Can I have something to bite on? I expect this to be painful."
Jess pulled a clean white apron from a kitchen cabinet, and folded it in thirds. "Bite on this," she said, tossing it on the table in front of him. She went back to the cabinet and got a sharp knife. She approached his shoulder cautiously, not sure of what to do.
John held the apron in his left hand. "No matter how I carry on, we have to get that bullet out. Just keep digging until I tap you on the arm. That will mean I need a break."
He pulled the cork from the whiskey bottle with his teeth and spat it on the table. He tipped it back and took a long swallow. "Let's get it done," were his last words before putting the tightly folded apron in his mouth. Their eyes met, and she felt a small thrill at the contact. He nodded he was ready and looked away as she put the tip of the knife in the bloody wound.
For a long ten minutes she worked at the wound. He groaned and clenched his fists tightly, but never once did she feel a tap for a break. Gorge rose within her as blood trickled over her fingers. She fought the urge to be ill and finally threw the gory chunk of metal on the table.
He reached up and pulled the apron from between his teeth. "That wasn't so bad," he said tightly. "Now pour the whiskey on it."
"Don't you want to put the apron back in your mouth?"
"How much worse could the pain be? Go ahead," he stated confidently.
John watched her move as she reached in front of him to the far side of the table. He smelled a faint scent of lavender from her and found it pleasant until the liquid fire of the whiskey hit his open wound.
"Oh my God!" he bellowed. "Give me that bottle!" He quickly took several drinks to ease the pain. "I'm sorry if I scared you; that rotgut hurt a lot worse than I thought it would," he said when he was able to take a full breath. "You have no reason to fear me, ma'am. I got no reason to hurt you. I really do appreciate your help."
Jess looked into his dark eyes. They glowed with gratitude and warmth, and she relaxed a little. Standing so close, she could smell clean sweat, leather, and horses. He was so handsome, blessed with the face of an angel. She began to feel lightheaded and wondered what was happening. Embarrassed, she looked down at the floor.
With his good arm he reached out and put his hand under her chin. Raising her face to look at him, he said soothingly, "You have been more than kind. Let's cut up the apron and wrap my shoulder. I have imposed on you long enough."
She went back to the table and proceeded to cut the apron into strips. When she was done she began to cautiously wrap his wounded shoulder. Once again she felt the sweet intoxication of his closeness, and had to concentrate to keep her mind on what she was doing.
In the middle of the dressing she realized she did not want him to leave. She could use help on the farm; perhaps he could even fix the broken fence. She had to admit she liked having someone else to talk to at home; the two months since Alan's death had been very lonely. She made up her mind. John would stay.
Jess was startled from her thoughts by his strong voice. "Thinking again? I suppose a woman alone with a strange man in her house would have a lot to think about."
Blushing, Jess finished wrapping his shoulder and tied the homemade bandage with a knot. He stood up from the chair. "If you'll help me with my shirt again I will be on my way."
Jess watched him and was once again impressed with his height and the gloriousness of his body. As she helped him she wondered what it would be like to kiss his full and tender lips, to run her hands through his thick black hair. How wonderful it would be to be in his strong arms, to have his body pressed against hers. It had been so long since a man had loved her.
She quashed her desire as John put his black hat back on. "Thanks again for everything, Mrs. Randall. It truly was a pleasure meeting you."
He opened the door to go out, and a roll of thunder and crack of lightning greeted him. As he looked out at the hard rain, Jess came up behind him.
"I could never forgive myself if I sent a wounded man out in a storm. Put your horse in the barn, give him hay, and come back inside. You can stay here tonight."
"Thanks again," he said as a stunning smile lit up his face. "You have saved me twice in the same night."
She watched him attentively as he went out and grabbed his horse's reins and led him off to the barn. Jess felt a warm sensation swirling in her belly. She most definitely wanted him to stay. In her deep mourning she had forgotten what true happiness felt like. The handsome stranger had made her smile; he had stirred up feelings she thought had died with her husband. John still had her full attention as he returned from the barn at a fast trot, trying in vain to stay dry. She stood by the door as he came in the house.
"I'll give you blankets and a pillow to make a bed on the floor. I hope you can make it comfortable."
"It beats sleeping in the barn."
She laughed as she went to the closet and pulled down two quilts. The top one caught her breath; it was the patchwork quilt Alan's mother had given them as a wedding gift. Tears threatened again as she remembered how pleased they both were to receive a gift for their new home. Alan had smiled brightly and thanked his mother warmly. He had been so happy with simple things.
The loathsome Taggart Gang had killed Alan during a daring daylight bank robbery. Jess remembered how she had been secretly pleased when Alan had been left out of fighting for the Confederacy. He was the only male left to carry on the Randall name, and therefore spared from the war. He had been upset when he got the letter saying he could not fight for the cause, but to her it had meant her beloved Alan would be safe from harm. How wrong she had been.
"Are you okay in there? Need help?" John yelled from the main room. She closed the closet door and grabbed the other pillow from the bed. Rapidly blinking back the tears, she returned to the main room.
"These should do," she said glumly as she laid the pillow and blankets on the table.
John came to her and said in a concerned voice, "Can you tell me what is wrong? Have I hurt you in some way? Please help me to understand and let me help you if I can. You are so beautiful when you smile. I'd like to see it more often."
Jess looked up startled at his last comment. "Just because I am letting you stay doesn't mean you have to try cheap flattery. You'll get nothing from me but a place to sleep. Goodnight, John. I keep a loaded shotgun in the bedroom in case you get any impure thoughts in the night."
Jess turned away and quickly strode toward the bedroom. John got up just as quickly and in two great strides had her hand. His large hand was rough on hers, proving that he was not afraid of hard work. His grasp on her was so gentle. Slowly she turned to look at him. His angelic face was a mask of concern.
"I told you once, Mrs. Randall, I would never hurt you. Something else is hurting you, and I would like to help if there is any way I can. You took me in and helped me, now let me help you. Come talk to me by the fire."
She allowed herself to be led to the fireplace, knowing that the feelings this man brought up in her it could be dangerous. They both sat on a brightly colored rag rug and she looked into his face. Impossible as it seemed, he was even more handsome in the warm glow of the firelight. The lightheadedness returned, and once again she wanted love. She wanted love from this dark-haired, buckskin-wearing stranger.
Not able to resist, she reached up and gently put her hand on his cheek. He closed his eyes and moaned with pleasure. She blushed deeply and turned her head away as she quickly pulled her hand back.
"I'm sorry," she muttered. "I shouldn't have done that."
"Don't ever be sorry for something that felt so good. Now tell me what is bothering you so much."
Jess took a deep breath and started in. She told him about Alan; how they had been children together; how they had fallen in love. She explained how sweet and gentle Alan had been; how he had made her feel special in every way. Her story came to an abrupt halt when she reached the day of the robbery.
"Go on," he encouraged gently, "tell me all of it. What happened? How did Alan die? Was he sick?"
Jess openly sobbed. "No he wasn't sick. He was healthy and loved and my life. That filthy scum, the Taggart Gang, shot him in cold blood. They shot him like he was nothing! He tried to be brave and help a woman and her baby out of the bank and those devils shot him down!"
John winced at the mention of the Taggart Gang. "Are you sure it was the Taggarts? Maybe it was another bunch of outlaws."
"A dozen witnesses identified the Taggart Gang as they rode out of town. I hope they find James Taggart and hang him from the highest tree there is. I would blow a hole in him the size of a barrel if he were here right now. Any member of that gang would get the same; they are all heathens and killers."
John suddenly seemed troubled. "Go get a night's rest and you will feel better in the morning. I'm tired and I know you have to be worn out yourself. Goodnight, Mrs. Randall."
John got up from the rug and began spreading the blankets on the floor. He said nothing else, and after a few minutes Jess got up and quietly went to the bedroom.
When he lay down on his makeshift bed John thought of the throbbing pain in his shoulder and how James Taggart had put the bullet there.
John had quit the Taggart Gang that afternoon; he was tired of seeing innocent people slaughtered for no good reason. James had taken a wild shot at him as he rode away on his horse Blackjack.
John could see Jess was a special lady. He liked her lovely face, her hair of molten gold, and her breathtaking eyes that were the brown of rich and expensive chocolate. He had even admired the way he had seen her temper flash a few times. She must never know he had once been in the Taggart Gang. She could never find out he saw her husband die, shot by James Taggart.
He eventually relaxed by reasoning that in the grand scheme of things it didn't matter much anyway. In the morning he'd be gone, headed to Mexico. John had every intention of spacing himself as far from James Taggart as he could. As long as his secret was safe tonight, he was fine. He closed his eyes and went to sleep. Deep in the night he dreamed of a blonde beauty, of Jessica Randall. * * * *