"Cal, he had Lu Win's legs up on his shoulders, so she was slung out between him and Bennett, diagonal-like. He had his head in between, you know … um … kissin' her down … down below, if'n you know what I mean."
Emma closed her eyes and saw them, plain as day. Two older versions of Jake with Lu Win suspended between them, their erections sticking out silhouetted in the glow from the embers.
"I know what you mean," she said breathlessly.
"They didn't see nor hear me, and after a while Cal lowered Lu Win so's he could sit her on him while he knelt there. She was limber as a snake, that gal was, and she just slid herself down Bennett and twisted and arched and bent her back so that while she's sittin' on Cal's, she's got Bennett's way down deep in her throat."
She moaned a little, unable to help it.
"I seen a sword-swallower once in a travelin' circus show," Jake mused. "Made me think of that, seein' what Lu Win was doin' t' Bennett. I wouldn'ta thought a woman could do like that, see … Bennett, he's almighty big that way. The girls down t' the Rusty Nail Saloon, they call him –"
"What?" Emma asked when Jake broke off.
"Tain't right t' tell a lady."
"I'm sure they use fouler language in the books I read," she said, feeling reckless now, entirely out of control.
"They liken him to a horse in that regard, ma'am. That's all as I'll say."
"Anyway, Cal spots me there, starin' and unable t' believe my eyes. Nary missin' a stroke, he calls me t' come in and join the fun."
"No, ma'am," he said in a shamefaced tone. "I was sure that Pa'd walk in and catch the lot of us, and there'd be hell t' pay."
"I know what that's like," she murmured.
"No, I went back up t' my own room – forgot all about bein' hungry, too, I can tell you that. And, well, took care of my own self."
It was full dark outside the windows, the coach rumbling along with the lanterns swinging on their poles. Emma could no longer see much of the other passengers at all. They all still sounded the same, low even breaths and snoring, but for all she knew, any or all of them could have been wide awake and listening to every word.
She found, with a sort of blessed relief, that she didn't care.
"Jake," she said.
"I think," she said, rustling her skirt, "that there is something down here you can help me with after all."
"Drop somethin'?" His voice had gone husky.
"I might have. Would you see if you can find it?"
He was a shadow in the darkness, moving quietly toward her in a bent-kneed crouch as he maneuvered around the center bench. His outstretched hand touched her knee, and it was like a bolt of lightning going through her. Slowly, Jake sank to his knees and slid his hand down her calf to the hem of her skirt.
"Down here?" he asked in a hoarse whisper.
"Under," she replied in kind.
Then she felt his fingers move up over the tops of her shoes to her stockings, and the lacy ruffled hem of her pantalets just below the knee.
"A little higher, I think."
His hands on her thighs, and Emma slouched in her seat and let her legs part like water. Mrs. Avery's shoulder was against her own but she didn't care. All that mattered was the wonderful sensation of Jake's hands caressing their way up and up until –
"Reckon I found it," he breathed as his palm cupped the mound between her legs. His thumb rode up and down the seam of her pantalets, a seam that was moist from her arousal.
"Ribbons," she gasped. "At the waist, they tie with ribbons."
Moments later, the laces were undone and he was working the pantalets down. She raised her bottom to help him. The garment was gone in a flutter and a sigh, and under her dress and loose chemise, she was suddenly bare from her stocking-tops on up.
He put his hand back where it had been, on downy hair now instead of cloth, and it was her seam his thumb found. He stroked along her warm and dewy flesh while Emma trembled and bit her lip against a moan.
"Is this what you wanted me t' find?" he said.
"Yes, yes, that's it."
"Seems like you need some help here, ma'am."
"You want I should take care of this for you?" He had both hands there now, fingertips gently opening her folds while his thumbs explored.
Emma couldn't speak. She nodded in the dark, but that was enough. Her own hands groped out, finding his shoulders, finding his face. His chin was as coarse as she'd imagined, and the contrast with that coarseness and the smooth strokes of his thumbs dizzied her.
He kissed her fingers, sucked one into his mouth, rolled his tongue around it the way he might a stick of molasses candy. She wanted to wail from the sheer pleasure of what his hands were doing – no, just the one hand, just one hand now, he had withdrawn the other, but the one that was left had Emma quivering and melting.
"You sure about this, Emma?" he asked.
Again, she could only nod, but again, he understood. He took her hand away from his face and brought it down. Her fingers skated over gunbelts and leather chaps, and woolen pants that had been unbuttoned at the front, and then she felt him, the size and shape and wonderful heat of him, and gripped him with such fervor that he drew in a quick breath.
"Easy, there, darlin'," he said softly. "You do that too good, we're done afore'n we start."
"Oh, Jake, please, please," she whimpered.
Jake raised her skirt and petticoat, bunching them in her lap so he could kneel between her legs. She found that she could raise one foot and brace it on the unoccupied center bench, and brace the other on the stagecoach's door handle. Curling her fingers at the nape of his neck and around the knot of his bandanna, she pulled him close.
He didn't ask her again if she was sure. The firm and rounded tip of his erection rubbed her leg and then was there, touching her, parting the pouting folds of flesh, entering her tightness with a slow and steady push.
There was pain, but only a brief and unimportant stab that was quickly lost in the overwhelming sensation of him going in, in, filling her until she thought she couldn't breathe and didn't care if she could or not.
"Emma," he groaned. "My holy God, Emma!"
Mrs. Avery snorted and turned, smacked her lips, and was still. Above, the driver and the marshal laughed about something.
None of this mattered to Emma. She clutched Jake as he rocked, not caring that his gunbelts were chafing her inner thighs, only caring that he was inside her, that he was giving her what she'd wanted and needed for so long.
It was like going over a waterfall of fire, a roaring cascade that thundered and spun and churned, every part of her body first seizing and then dissolving in a long series of shudders. A low, broken cry came like a string of beads, and Jake silenced her by, for the first time, closing his mouth over hers.
Moments later, he went rigid against her and thrust deeper than ever, bruising her lips with the intensity of his kiss as that part of him buried in her bucked and jumped like a bronco. He settled against her, the tension ebbing from him.
They stayed like that for some time, neither of them able to move. Then the slowing motion of the stagecoach brought Jake's head up in alarm.
Hastily, with limbs that still quivered, they disengaged from each other. Jake returned to his seat as Emma put her clothes in order and patted wildly at her disheveled hair. She was aware of a thick trickle soaking into her petticoats and couldn't find her pantalets.
When she whispered as much in agonized dismay, Jake found them draped over the center bench where he'd tossed them. But there was no time to wiggle back into them. She stuffed them into her valise, instead.
By the time the driver opened the door and shined the lantern in, waking the sleeping passengers, Emma had got herself back in order. She kept her eyes downcast and said little, letting Mrs. Avery assume that she had napped like the rest of them.
They spent the rest of the night camping out in the hayloft of a barn that belonged to the stagecoach company. The next day, Emma wished with all her heart – but in vain – that the others would nap again. She had to settle for exchanging glances with Jake when no one else was looking, and it was will dismal disappointment that she realized the next day, she'd be leaving the coach and never seeing him again.
Wild fancies drifted in and out of her thoughts, fancies of running away with Jake. But Mrs. Avery perhaps sensed something, because her previously cordial attitude toward the cowboy had turned to ice, and she was ever at Emma's side, hovering, protective as any mother hen.
At last, the stagecoach reached its final stop. They had come to the town nearest Mr. Carson's ranch. Emma watched glumly as her trunk was unloaded, and turned when a man's voice spoke her name.
"Well, sakes alive," Mr. Carson said. "You have grown up a'right, haven't you?"
She still did not remember him, this portly cattle baron with his black suit, string tie, and iron-grey sideburns. He stood appraising her with his thumbs hooked into his waistcoat. She saw no particular lust or appreciation in that gaze, but it was just as well, because there was nothing about him to inspire anything similar in herself.
He looked past her then, and smiled. "Why, Jake! What the devil you doin' here, boy?"
"Pa," Jake said, strolling up with his saddle slung over his shoulder.
"Your father?" Emma said. "He's your father?"
"You don't mean …" Jake trailed off.
"Well," Mr. Carson said, the fingers not hooked into his waistcoat patting at his ample belly as he rocked on his heels. "Jake, son, I see you've met the little lady who's come t' be your stepmother. Emma, dear, this is my youngest boy, Jake."
She was going to faint, here in the dusty streets of this cow town. Her legs just would not hold her. The world seemed to spin.
"Yep," Mr. Carson continued. "He's got five older brothers just like him, back t' the ranch. I'm sure as you'll all get along."