Tell Me You Love Me/C2 Tell Me You Love Me: Chapter Two
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Tell Me You Love Me/C2 Tell Me You Love Me: Chapter Two
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C2 Tell Me You Love Me: Chapter Two

She never saw him move. He was simply, suddenly seated across the room from her, dressed again, the cup of cold tea in one hand, while his free hand lay as if by chance over his gun.

Just as she managed the last of her buttons, the door crashed open, the wind slamming it against the wall behind it. The huge form of Lord Winston staggered into the room, gasping for breath against a wind so fierce it tore even that from a man’s body. “Good heavens, what a storm. I don’t think I’ve seen anything this bad in years. Is it a hurricane, do you think?”

And then upon noticing for the first time who already occupied the cabin, his surprise turned into a sly, weasel-like grin, his gaze narrowing, barely concealing his eager lecherous thoughts and the delight that providence had thrown the two of them together for the next few hours.

“Good afternoon, Kiya. Because of the storm, I thought to take a shortcut across your father’s property,” he explained. “What a delightful surprise to find you here.”

Kiya quickly brought her neighbour the linen towelling and smiled. “That’s very sweet of you to say, your Lordship. I’ll be thanking my father upon my return home. If it weren’t for these cabins, I might be out in that squall still.” A moment later, she seated herself once again on the corner of the bed.

“But you’re not wet.”

“Matthews and I made it to the cabin before the worst of the storm came. Our damp clothes soon dried in this warm room.” Kiya hadn’t known she had it in her. Not only was she spinning the man a yarn, but she was doing it without a tremor in her voice. If she didn’t allow her mind to linger, she almost believed the innocence of the afternoon.

“Matthews?” he mumbled in some confusion then turned to his left. For the first time, he seemed to notice Kiya was not alone. To say he was disappointed was to put it mildly. “You mean you’ve spent the afternoon in here, alone with a man?”

“I hardly had a choice in the matter, did I your Lordship? This is Mr. Matthews, my guard.”

“Oh yes, I heard your father had hired on some men.”

Matt stood and offered his hand to the obese gentleman. “Matthew Chase at your service, sir.”

Kiya nearly moaned aloud. Matthew Chase. She’d been with a man, had allowed him carnal knowledge of her body and hadn’t known his name. Good God, could this situation be worse? Could she? Kiya couldn’t imagine what had come over her. How had she permitted such an illicit afternoon? She couldn’t think of it right now. She couldn’t look in his direction. No doubt, she’d never look or talk to him again. Still, it wasn’t possible to dwell on those thoughts now. The viscount was saying something, and she hadn’t heard a word of it.

“I’m sorry, sir, but I was thinking on an appointment I have this evening, and I didn’t hear you.”

“I was simply saying it was fortunate I arrived when I did. We wouldn’t want rumours to abound that a lady like you was found in an indelicate situation.”

Matt grinned at the look of pure rage that flashed in her blue eyes then turned sweetly innocent within seconds.

“A rumour you say? In truth, I can hardly imagine such a happening. Indeed, no one knows I took refuge from the storm in this cabin, but for you, of course. And you are too much of a gentleman to damage an innocent lady’s reputation.”

“You’re right, of course,” he blustered hurriedly. “I meant if another had come upon you.”

Kiya nodded and smiled sweetly. “Little likelihood of that, I suppose. Few are out in this weather.”

“You’re father will worry, I think, if you’re delayed overlong.”

Kiya only responded with a half smile. “I don’t think so. He knows I’m perfectly safe with Matt.” Now all she had to do was convince herself of the truth of that statement. “Would you care for tea?”

“Now that I’m here, you should send your guard to tell your father that you are safe.”

This wasn’t the first time this toad had tried to get her alone. No doubt it wouldn’t be the last. “Never fear, my father won’t worry.”

“I’d stay with you while he’s gone, of course.”

“That is very kind of you sir, but no need, I’m sure,” Kiya returned.

“I won’t be leaving, sir,” Matt interrupted the man and his insistence. “My job is to stay with her at all times. I’d be remiss in my duties if I did anything less.”

The viscount made some noises, pretending agreement as he rubbed his face and hair dry. “Um, yes, I’m sure, very good, my boy. I’ll have that tea, Kiya, my dear.”

The viscount sat at the table opposite Matt as he sipped his hot tea. While drying his hair, he’d forgotten to see to it that it lay flat on his head. The thin wisps that had tried in vein to cover his pink scalp stood up almost straight, leaving him with a look that bespoke a terrifying fright taken. Kiya could barely keep a straight face, especially since the man seemed as always to have one thought in mind.

“Don’t you think you could protect her all the better if you stationed yourself outside?”

“No.”

Kiya quickly turned her unexpected laugh into a cough then a soft clearing of her throat.

“I hope you’re not coming down with something, my dear.”

“No. I’m sure I’ll be fine, Lord Winston.”

But the viscount was intent on one subject and returned to it the moment he was able. “That way you could see if someone approached the cabin from any side.”

“There’s only one door. To get to her, they’d have to come through it. I could kill at least three before they got me,” he said, fingering his gun as well as the long knife that sat sheathed at its side. “I’m sure you could stop a few, Lord Winston.”

“Of course, of course,” he repeated. Both Matt and Kiya could almost hear the man’s mind working on this problem. He was damn near desperate to get Kiya alone. That was more than obvious, but Matt wasn’t about to let that happen. “I think I hear something.”

“Don’t worry. It’s just the wind.”

“No, I think it’s a rider.”

“Perhaps another neighbour needs shelter,” Kiya offered, but she hadn’t heard anything.

“The storm is close to ending. The wind is lessening.” Matt looked directly at Kiya as he finished with, “We’ll be leaving soon, I think.”

* * * *

She didn’t speak to him again that day and thought she probably would not for the rest of her life. In truth, she was aghast. The horror of what she’d done was not to be borne. And there wasn’t anyone to blame but herself, unless she shifted the entire culpability to Matt’s shoulders where, after some thought, she realised it belonged.

Still shifting the blame to him did little good. Despite the fact that it was all that beast’s fault, she couldn’t stop berating herself for her part in it—her very small part in it. Her face flamed every time she allowed herself to remember. Granted, she hadn’t known what he was about. At least not at first. Except, of course, when he’d kissed her. It was then she should have stopped him. Oh Lord, how could she have allowed it? God in heaven, she hadn’t even known his true name! There wasn’t a doubt in her mind that she’d never know another moment when she’d suffer a greater degree of mortification. What in the world had come over her?

Any number of times, she could have simply told him to stop, and she hadn’t a doubt he would have done just that. But had she? No, she certainly had not. Instead, she had allowed a man, almost a perfect stranger—strike perfect, for he was far from that, but a stranger in any case—the most intimate knowledge of her body. And God help her, she had loved every minute of it. He had done things she had never imagined. How had he learned them? There was only one way, of course. He must have been with dozens of women, perhaps hundreds. She shivered her disgust at the thought of becoming one of the many. Too late to worry on that score, she reasoned, for one of the many was exactly what she had become.

She tried to force aside her intense sense of shame and think more clearly on the subject. Exactly what did it mean? Exactly what was it she’d done? Was she a fallen woman, ruined, no longer a virgin? She thought she was still a virgin, at least in the strictest form of the word. Kiya had been born on a working farm. She knew what it took to reproduce, and they hadn’t done that. The problem was she didn’t know what they’d done. And there wasn’t anyone she could ask, except perhaps the villain who had initiated the entire business in the first place. And that wasn’t about to happen since she was never going to talk to him again.

* * * *

“I don’t care what it takes. I want her brought to me.” Jim Willis nodded at Lord Winston. They stood behind the town’s tavern in the near dark of evening. “She is not to know the where or the why. Keep her bound and blindfolded at all times.”

“Aye, sir,” the man said in return as he hefted the two good-sized sacks of coin. Carting off that much money in gold was cumbersome indeed, but a bank draft was out of the question. He was being paid an enormous amount of money. Part of it was to keep his mouth shut. No one could ever know who was behind Kiya Harrison’s kidnapping. “I’ll take care o’ it, sir.”

“Do not try to contact me. Just bring her where I told you and leave her there. You have the key. Make sure the door is locked. I’ll have my man deliver the final payment. Here, same time, in two days hence.” He eyed the man for a long moment before continuing with, “I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that she is to be left unmarred, in every way. Should you or one of your thugs dare to touch her in ways I need not mention, not only will the second half of this payment not be forthcoming, but you will, to a man, be hunted down and disposed of. Have I made myself clear?”

“Aye, sir,” he said stiffly, hardly put at ease by yet another threat, and threatened he was every time he involved himself with one of the gentry. There had been bodies aplenty spread out and grotesquely positioned over the countryside. He wondered if they were to this bugger’s credit. Jim hadn’t a doubt that this one of the bleedin’ gentry meant what he said. Jesus, but he was tired. Tired of kissin’ his bloody arse, tired of his bloody fuckin’ highness, lordin’ it o’er everyone, thinkin’ he was better than any man, when in fact he couldn’t get it up unless some poor gel was strung up an bleedin’. Jim thought it was high time the bastard knew what it felt like to find a knife at his throat. After this job, his last, for this bastard, he’d be a rich man. He wouldn’t be bowin’ to gentry trash again.

* * * *

“We’ll be back tomorrow, Father, the day after at the latest,” Merry said as she dropped a small bag inside the coach. Amy’s bags were tied to the back of the coach. Kiya watched a servant place a huge basket inside which would provide all a picnic lunch midway. It was a lovely day. They were leaving early so that they might arrive at their uncle’s by late afternoon. Kiya expected an easy time of it for the roads to their uncle’s home were the best in all of England.

“Goodbye, my dears,” Mr. Harrison said as he kissed all three of his daughters and helped each into the coach. With the door secured, they adjusted yards of ruffles and lace, while their father went on with, “Have a good trip.”

He directed his gaze to the two riders who would watch over them. “See to it that they are kept safe.”

“Yes, sir,” the two men replied in unison.

Before all three ladies had settled themselves inside, the carriage sprinted forward, leaving the older gentleman in a cloud of dust. The sudden movement jarred the women, sending Kiya, who hadn’t as yet gained her seat, to the floor of the coach with a hard bounce to her rear, her feet and stocking-clad legs thrashing wildly, for an instant, above her head, almost lost amid a stiff white petticoat. Merry alone waved her hanky and called out goodbye while Amy nearly dissolved into a fit of giggles at her sister’s mishap.

“Mr. George, please,” Kiya called out to their driver, while struggling to straighten her hat and secure her seat. “A little less vigour, if you will.”

Matt followed to the left of the coach, while Jake Carter, his partner, rode on the right. Matt hadn’t missed the sight of a black-clad leg, exposed almost to the knee amid a flash of white ruffles and narrowed his gaze upon the lady attached to that trim appendage. He darted a quick glance to his right and had an odd moment of relief upon realising Carter, positioned as he was, had missed the luscious sight.

He hadn’t spoken to her since their afternoon together two days past. She hadn’t again taken her horse out riding. No doubt, the lady suffered some sense of embarrassment over the intimacies they’d shared, but Matt wasn’t about to allow that to stop them from repeating those luscious delights—delights he’d savoured for the last two nights while sleep eluded him. Hour after hour, he’d lain helpless but to remember the feel of her, the scent of her, the taste of her skin and mouth until he thought he might go mad. With relish, he’d relived those luscious moments as he’d initiated her into the first stages of lovemaking. And when he slept at last, it was she who haunted his dreams, leaving him on the verge of insanity. Indeed, he was eager to see to it that she remembered well what they had done. He hadn’t a doubt that they were to do that and more again.

As the vehicle left the long drive and turned onto the country road, Amy was still laughing. “Kiya, it was the look on your face. You were so shocked.”

“I’m delighted to have been able to entertain,” she remarked sarcastically.

“God, you’re so stodgy. You fell. It wasn’t a catastrophe. What happened to your sense of humour?”

A good question, Kiya thought. Her sense of humour had disappeared along with her innocence upon entering her father’s cabin some two days past. She stole a glance at her tormentor once she’d found her seat, only to realise he’d seen the fall and, no doubt, half her leg to boot. God, what else? He’d already seen just about all there was to see and felt most of the rest. Lately, to her dismay, she’d found it impossible to keep her clothes in place while in the man’s company.

She sighed at her thoughts. All right, perhaps that was an exaggeration. She could only blame her extreme distress. After all, what lady wouldn’t be upset? Likely, she’d never get over the incredible scene at the cabin. Lord, it was simply too much for any innocent young woman to manage. She sighed softly to herself. There would come a day when she’d think on the matter with some fondness and perhaps a touch of amusement, say when she reached ninety-three or four. Until then, she’d know only torture especially since Matt had, from the first, been assigned as her guard and would no doubt continue as such.

What reason could she give to find another now? There were none. None she could think of at any rate. Lord, what in the world was she going to do? Could she never ride her horse again, walk in her garden or visit a friend? She had made a terrible mistake. One she had no idea how to go about correcting. She wished she could talk to Merry, but Merry would be aghast. Any one of her friends would be equally horrified should they come to know what she’d done.

“You’ve been quiet these last few days, Kiya. Are you feeling well?” Merry asked.

“Indeed. Very well, thank you,” she returned with a soft smile, loath to cause her family worry.

“Is something troubling you then?”

“No. Nothing at all.”

“She’s in love,” Amy said with a wicked snicker.

Merry smiled. “Is she? With whom, I wonder?”

Kiya thought to bring to an instant close any further discussion, lest they come to some erroneous conclusion. “Please, do not discuss me as if I were not present. Amy is mistaken. I most certainly am not in love.”

Amy ignored her declaration and continued on in the same vein. “Mmm,” she murmured as if in thought then said, “I’ve got it! It’s Matthews.”

“You are a wretched, wilful child,” Kiya said, her eyes narrowing with annoyance. “I’ve just told you I’m not in love. Take that silly thought from your mind this minute.”

“I’m not a child, and I don’t have to listen to you. Besides, you are only four years older than me, so don’t act so high and mighty. And your face is red,” Amy gloated as if that fact alone proved the truth of her words.

“You’d best listen to me before you run amuck. And why shouldn’t I be red? With such a foolish notion, it is a wonder that your face is not red, as well.”

Merry smiled as her sisters squabbled. “I’m going to miss this nonsense when I’m gone.” Merry was due to marry in three weeks time. All too soon, she’d be the Countess of Binghamshire.

“Indeed, it would be the only thing I wouldn’t miss,” Kiya returned, careful not to protest too vehemently, lest she give her sisters something to think on in earnest.

“I wish he looked at me the way he looks at you. He looks scrumptious.”

Kiya merely sighed and shook her head. One could hardly consider the man scrumptious. Granted, it posed no hardship to look at him, and she imagined her sister correct to a point. He was attractive, but in a hard, rough manner, a bit too dark and too obviously male for her liking. He always needed a shave and looked somewhat disreputable, perhaps even frightening, and certainly not the sort to perk her interest.

From the first, Kiya wasn’t overly thrilled to find herself guarded. He was hired by her father, for a murderer roamed the countryside and her father sought to ensure his daughters’ safety. Still, the man rarely spoke and mostly left her to her own thoughts while in his company. And yet, there was something about him, something she couldn’t understand, something that kept her continuously on guard. She couldn’t say what the problem was. All she knew was he made her oddly uncomfortable, while her cheeks often grew warm beneath his dark all-encompassing gaze.

The problem here was that Amy had been in a continuous state of passionate love since the age of twelve. Of course, every month, a new prince charming had caught her eye. So far, thank the Lord, nothing had come of these brief, if all consuming, love affairs, and her sisters were set upon keeping it that way. She was but a girl of ten and five, far too young for such nonsense. Still, she managed some truly outrageous thoughts. In love indeed!

“I’m sure he is merely diligent in his work,” Merry remarked, trying to ease the tension between the two sisters. “No doubt, he is simply being very careful that no harm should befall her while in his care.”

“You turn every word or look into an all-consuming love affair,” Kiya said as she watched the scenery pass and purposely ignored the man who rode just behind and to the left of the coach. “I, for one, will be happy when you outgrow such nonsense.”

“I shall never outgrow it,” Amy declared. “I shall marry a man who loves me to desperation. And we shall live forever consumed by a love that has no equal.”

“One can only hope you find him soon,” Kiya returned dryly.

* * * *

Some hours later, the coach came to a stop at a small clearing near a shallow bubbling stream. Cook had assembled a lovely luncheon of cold chicken, cheeses and bread, as well as a huge jug of apple cider and some fresh fruit. All partook in the small feast, including their driver and the two bodyguards. Kiya was careful to keep her attention on her food while Matt hardly noticed what he ate since he was so absorbed by the lovely lady sitting across from him.

After lunch, Kiya walked away from the small group. “We have things to discuss, Kiya. Hiding in your house is a cowardly route, wouldn’t you say? Besides, no matter how you hide, they’re not going to go away.”

Kiya looked up to find Matt standing at her side. She hadn’t heard his approach and was surprised to find he had followed her to the small stream.

He was dressed in black—his trousers, shirt and coat were always black. He wore a gun, tucked into a holster at his waist, hidden by his coat. The trouble was the gun was the only thing that was hidden. His narrow hips and thick thighs were all too obvious in his tight trousers, while polished boots reached to his knees. He reminded her of pictures she’d seen of pirates, missing only a straggly beard and evil grin. In truth, he looked at least as dangerous.

“I’m not hiding at all,” she hotly denied. “Whatever gave you such a notion? And we have nothing to talk about.”

“You didn’t ride yesterday.” He pushed his point. “Why not, unless you’re hiding? You ride every day. And we need to talk about what happened at the cabin.”

“If it is any of your concern, I was busy preparing for this trip. And nothing happened.”

“Nothing happened except you damn near melted in my arms, and if Winston hadn’t come upon us, we’d probably still be at it.”

She took a quick step away from him as if to deny the truth of his words and returned with a sharp hiss, “Good God, but you are obnoxious.”

“We need to talk about it.”

She turned her back to him. “It was a moment of insanity. I’d be grateful if you would simply forget it ever happened.”

He chuckled softly and moved close to whisper near her ear, “Forget it happened? Forget you turned into a man’s dream at my touch? Forget the heat of you? Forget your taste? Not bloody likely.”

“You must. Please. You must.” She turned to face him again, her blue eyes pleading. “We should never talk about it, never think about and certainly never do it again.”

Matt grinned. “You think it is easy? I’ll wager you’ll never forget it.”

She knew the truth of those words. Still she sought to deny them. “I have every intention of forgetting it. As a matter of fact, I already have.” She looked him straight in the eye and asked, her tone calmly polite as if discussing the weather, “What was it in particular that we were talking about?”

His unexpected laughter was so genuine, deep and masculine that Kiya found her heart suddenly pounding and her cheeks flushing hotly. She couldn’t name the wild explosion of emotion that came upon her. In denial, she silently insisted she felt no emotion. The strange twist in her chest had nothing to do with the fact that this man outshone any other. His looks, of course, were of no consideration. She’d simply eaten too fast. No doubt the apple hadn’t been ripe enough.

Kiya staved off the quiver of her own lips. She wouldn’t join him in laughter. There was nothing the least bit amusing about this conversation. If anything, it was terribly embarrassing, nothing to laugh at to be sure. She turned away and reached into her pocket for her pipe and tobacco. She wouldn’t look at him. The way he threw his head back, the way his teeth flashed white against his tanned skin, had no effect on her, none whatsoever. She wasn’t going to eat another apple for some time, she thought as her chest tightened again.

“Do you have any idea how delicious you are? If we were alone I’d kiss you senseless for that.”

Kiya pulled herself up to her full five feet two inches and fixed him with her most forbidding glare. “Mr. Chase, I’ve no doubt I’m already beyond the point of good sense to be listening to this rubbish in the first place, and you will please refrain from mentioning kisses in my presence.”

He grinned at her sudden show of arrogance. “There’s no point in mentioning them if not in your presence.”

She searched her pockets only to realise she had no means to light her pipe. She knocked the tobacco from it and replaced it in her pocket as she remarked coolly, “Then don’t mention them at all.”

He couldn’t control his need to smile. God, she was something. He thought her particularly sassy and adorable while holding a pipe between her small teeth, her blue eyes flashing in fury. “There is something between us. Don’t you think we should discover exactly what it is?”

“There is nothing between us,” and at his look of doubt, she thoughtlessly added, “except perhaps lust.” Her cheeks grew pink with dismay as she realised she’d blurted out so daring a word.

He nodded, his eyes dark with remembered pleasure. “Lust is good.”

“It’s not good,” she countered, her cheeks growing darker still. “It’s not good at all.”

“It’s a start.”

“It’s the worst of starts.”

“Should we start again then? Should I court you?” Matt was shocked as he realised what he’d just said. He hadn’t intended to offer for her. He didn’t want to marry her. Not any more than she wanted to marry him. Still, he thought perhaps there was a flicker of merit in the notion. Something he needed to think on. After all was said and done, one glaring truth remained, he very simply wasn’t about to allow another the pleasure he knew when she was in his arms.

Kiya laughed at the shock in his eyes. Obviously, he hadn’t meant to make her an offer. “What?”

“Should I?” he insisted, despite his own surprise and already growing a bit more comfortable with the thought. “Should I speak to your father? Should I make you an offer? Is that what you want?”

“What I want is to end this ridiculous conversation.” Then without thought she blurted out, “My sister already thinks—”

“What?” he asked as she came to a sudden stop. “What does she think?”

Kiya shook her head as if to discount the thought. “She’s a child. She thinks she’s in love. She thinks everyone is in love.”

“She thinks you are?” His gaze narrowed at her lack of response. “With me?”

“I told you she is a child.”

“Are you?”

Kiya laughed at the ridiculous notion, laughed even more that he should even bother to ask. “No. I’m not.”

“You’re in lust then.”

“Oh my God,” she groaned and turned beet red before she snapped, “You will abstain from using such language in my presence.”

He grinned. It was all right, he supposed that she could use it, but she blushed to the roots of her blonde hair when he did. “Will I? Tell me you wouldn’t love it if I kissed you right now. Tell me you’d hate it if I sucked your tongue into my mouth or bit your luscious breasts, ran my tongue over your nipples or slid my fingers between your smooth, hot, wet thighs again.”

She spun suddenly away, amazed that she had the strength to move never mind actually walk, for his words caused her knees a weakness she’d never believed possible. She shivered.

“I can see your nipples tightening. You want it all right.”

“You are a monster. I’m not listening to this. I’m going back to the coach. It’s time we got started again.”

“One moment,” he said, touching her arm and bringing her to a stop. “Do you want to marry?”

“I most certainly do not.”

Matt nodded. “Then you will ride again tomorrow. The moment we get back.”

“I will not, and you will kindly—”

“In that case,” he interrupted, “I shall be forced to tell your father what we did in the cabin. I’m sure he’ll immediately arrange our marr—”

“What?”

“I think you heard me.” Matt grinned as he walked with cocky arrogance back to his horse. He had her. There was no way this little spitfire would get away from him. So she didn’t want to marry. No problem. Either way, he would bed the little wretch, bed her until he died from the pleasure of it, until they both did.

She was so upset she followed him back to his horse. Never thinking they were being watched, she grabbed his arm and forced him to turn and face her wrath. “And what would that prove? That you are the worst of all beasts?”

“It’s very simple. Ride with me, or I tell your father.”

“Mr. Chase please, you must know I was an innocent. I never realised what you were about. You cannot force me into accepting you because of one mistake.”

If he’d wanted this tasty morsel just a tad less he might have relented at her heartfelt plea. But the truth was, he wanted her more than she could have imagined, and no amount of pleading would serve her well. “Can’t I?”

“I’ll deny it.”

“Will you? Do you know you have a small beauty mark just under your right breast? Do you think your father might wonder how I came to know of it?”

“I don’t.”

“Look in the mirror.”

“Matt,” she groaned. She wanted to fling herself at him, to beg for a reprieve. “Why are you doing this?”

Matt gave her a look that told her clearly she knew better than to ask such a question.

“There are other women. Others who wouldn’t mind the things you do.”

“You didn’t mind them either,” he returned in all male confidence. “And you won’t mind them the next time we do them. Shall I tell your father we plan to marry, then?”

She shook her head. “I need time to think.”

“Time to try to get out of it, you mean?” His voice grew suddenly hard. “I’ll have your answer the moment you return home.” He nodded towards the coach and the young lady standing beside it, her eyes wide as she watched the strange goings on. “You’d best come up with a good story. Your sister hasn’t taken her eyes off us.”

“Oh my God,” Kiya moaned, as she turned and took in Amy’s eager expression. Kiya had been so distraught that she’d forgotten all about her sisters. Her lips never moved as she snidely remarked, “No doubt just one more thing for which I should thank you.”

Matt gained his saddle then leaned down to whisper in return, “If you are talking about the way I kissed you and touched you, you’re very welcome. Indeed it was my pleasure.” He laughed as her cheeks grew dark and her blue eyes darker still as they promised untold revenge.

She turned towards the coach, lost in thought. She wouldn’t marry him. It was out of the question. She hardly knew the man. How could he possibly believe she’d marry him, and why would he want her to? He didn’t. Of course, he didn’t. He was simply trying to force her to his will. What would he do, she wondered if she called his bluff? He wouldn’t tell her father. She knew he wouldn’t. Didn’t she?

The remains of their luncheon were soon packed away, and the three ladies were once again inside their coach, more than a bit anxious to see this journey at its end. The coach rocked as it hit one rut and then another preventing its occupants from gaining even a moment’s sleep, despite full stomachs and the afternoon’s unusual heat.

The fact that Kiya couldn’t sleep was just fine with Amy, she was nothing if not full of questions. Kiya needed to think. She didn’t want to be bothered answering nonsensical questions right now. Still, she must or else allow the girl to come to her own wayward conclusions.

“We were talking about Jezebel. Matt, I mean, Mr. Chase is entering his horse in a race and thought I might be interested in doing the same.”

“All that time?” Amy asked in disbelief. “You were talking about a race all that time?”

Kiya shrugged, trying to act as casual as possible. “We spoke of a possible wager on the outcome. I suppose we spoke of a few other things, as well. Why?”

“You looked furious most of the time. What was he laughing at?”

She shrugged. “I can’t remember.” Lord, but she was getting good at lying, thanks to a certain abominable man.

“What did he say about you smoking?”

“What did he say?” she asked as if she couldn’t fathom such an outrageous question. “What should he say? It’s none of his business, is it?”

“Do you mean he likes women who smoke?”

“I mean, my dear sister, I have no knowledge of Mr. Chase’s likes or dislikes.” That wasn’t exactly true of course. She knew some things the man liked well enough, but Kiya wasn’t about to correct any inaccuracies in her statement. “Whether he likes women who smoke or not is hardly any of my concern, is it?”

“Do you think I should start?” Amy mused half to herself. “If it means I might attract a man such as him, it’s a thought, isn’t it?”

“I’m sure you are mistaken about an attraction. And I think you can do whatever you wish once you’re of age.”

“You’re not of age, and you smoke.”

“As you continually point out to me, I’m four years older than you.” Kiya gave a weary sigh. “Amy, must we go on about such nonsense? Do whatever you will. I’ve no doubt you’ll do it in any case.”

“I don’t like the taste. It made me terribly ill.”

Merry and Kiya smiled. So the little twit tried it already.

“Good,” the two older sisters said in unison.

The words were barely uttered when the coach came to a sudden jarring stop. Kiya thought Mr. George might do a better job of starting and stopping this coach. She’d never known him to drive so recklessly. As it turned out, it wasn’t Mr. George’s fault at all. A fallen tree lay across the road. All three women craned their necks trying to see the problem from the coach windows. Matt and Jake rode towards the tree and dismounted. Seconds later, the tree was easily moved to the side of the road.

They were about to regain their saddles when three masked horsemen suddenly, almost silently, appeared from the thick woods that bordered the road. One of the three pointed a gun in the direction of the two guards, forcing them to throw down their weapons.

“Oh my God,” Merry whispered softly. “Highwaymen.”

Another of the three quickly took possession of all the horses, including the pair that pulled the coach. Loosely tying all together, he led them away, while the third man opened the door to the coach and peered inside at the three terror-stricken ladies. This wasn’t the first time Kiya wished she had a gun. Only this time, if she’d had the weapon, she wouldn’t have hesitated to use it.

“Mistress Kiya, please step out,” a deep voice ordered, only slightly muffled by the mask pulled over the lower half of a dark face. His eyes were dark, small and mean the brows thick and black. There wasn’t a chance the man wouldn’t be instantly obeyed, unless the lady in question was frozen in place with terror as now proved to be the case.

Kiya barely heard the command, for at the mention of her name, her mind seemed to shut down.

Merry interrupted, “Please, you’ve stopped the wrong coach. There is no Mistress Kiya here.”

The man chuckled evilly. “Good try, lady. Might you be the lady in question?”

“My good man, I’ve told you the truth of the matter. You’ve stopped the wrong coach.” Merry pulled the arm locked around her neck away, for Amy in her fear hardly allowed her sister the ability to breathe. The youngest of the sisters couldn’t stop her soft sobs as Merry repeated, “We don’t know of any Kiya.”

He laughed again. “Then I’ll have to take you all, won’t I?”

His words only caused Amy’s sobs to grow stronger and considerably louder.

“No,” Kiya managed finding her voice at last. “I’m the one you want.”

Merry moaned her disappointment, for she had laboured under the misconception that, if she’d had a few more minutes to convince the man of his error, they might have been left to themselves.

Matt thought his heart would stop as he watched Kiya come alone from the coach. Her face was white. He knew she was terrified. Even from twenty feet away, he could see her tremble yet she put on a brave front, allowing the men to take her without any womanly wiles. No screams, no fainting, no tears, she met her fear straight on, braver than most men he knew.

No , a voice screamed in his head. No, you won’t take her . And when the man closest to the coach, took her against him, with one hand around her waist, and dared to run his free hand over her breasts, Matt lost all sense of reason. He roared his rage as he charged the man, but was shot down halfway to his target. He lay upon the dirt road, while blood gushed from his head.

The sound of gunfire startled the horses. All four reared to their hind legs, pawing wildly at the empty air before them. The man holding them instantly let go and took cover, nearly trampled as they ran free. The two from the coach charged blindly into the woods, while Jake’s and Matt’s horses ran down the road some good distance. The horses were allowed to go their way. Pursuing and gathering them again would take time, thereby adding unnecessary danger to the three men and their evil quest.

Kiya never felt the man’s touch. She was so frightened his depraved actions never penetrated her senses. But watching Matt fall to the road, seeing the blood gush from his head, she screamed, and with a short quick shot of her elbow to her captor’s jaw, she broke free of her kidnapper. Instantly at Matt’s side, she held his bloody head in her lap. “Matt,” she cried. “Matt, are you all right? Damn you, why did you do that?”

Jake was at her side. She hardly realised that fact since she was so absorbed with the puddle of blood in her lap. She pressed her skirt to his bleeding head hoping to staunch the flow. Unnoticed by Kiya or their attackers, Jake slipped something into her pocket.

“I’ll find you,” Matt said, shaken but already conscious again. The bullet had only grazed his scalp, leaving a small, bloody, but very shallow mark just over one ear. It was a close call. Had the shooter been a touch better marksman, the bullet would have torn off most of the side of his head. Still, he knew a wave of dizziness and some measurable discomfort. “Don’t be afraid.”

A moment later, she was yanked away from Matt and carted towards one of the remaining horses. Her hands were bound behind her, a blindfold tied over her eyes. Like a sack of potatoes, she was thrown over the animal’s back just before its rider gained the saddle.

Matt was left in the road, Jake kneeling beside him as the three men rode away with Kiya.

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