Cynthia Hobbs is in trouble. Considered spoiled and vain by the townsfolk of Brimstone, she’s hiding a secret—a sister who needs constant care. When her father informs Cynthia that she has to marry the slimy vice president of the bank—and her sister is part of the deal—Cynthia grows desperate. The only person who’ll help her get enough money to escape town with her sister is the madam of the Jeweled Ladies—who recommends Cynthia sell her virginity to the highest bidder.
One night will solve her problems—if she can go through with it.
Cam Douglas wants to go straight—there’s a horse ranch waiting for him. But he needs cash, so he takes one last job—this time, robbing the bank in Brimstone. He visits the Jeweled Ladies for an alibi but somehow winds up buying a virgin at an auction, which is a great alibi. He has no intention of forcing the girl, but when Miss Diamond insists on being deflowered, he’s far too much of a gentleman to say no to a lady.
Cynthia never dreamed she’d enjoy this night, but Cam is a rogue with a heart of gold. He gives her a night of steamy memories and then they part ways. But as she and her sister make their escape from Brimstone under cover of darkness, a rider takes them by surprise. It’s Cam, with a gunshot in his shoulder and a posse on his tail. If she protects him, they all might be caught. But she likes him, much more than she should. Can she risk her heart—and her sister’s safety—for a rogue?
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“Do you think anyone else recognized me?” she asked, hating the way her voice wavered.
Because if so, that was even worse. Word might get back to her father sooner rather than later and it would make leaving with Sarah before dawn that much more difficult.
“No. I didn’t hear anyone use a name. I only figured it out because I recognized the way you squared your shoulders. I saw you do the same thing before you walked into the bank.”
Suddenly there was warmth against her back and his hands burrowed under the wig, finding the pins and pulling them free. “I recognized the way you carried yourself,” he said, his voice low and soft in her ear. She tensed but at the same time she wanted to relax back into him. “I recognized your determination, your bravery. I recognized your willingness to fight. Nothing else,” he said, bumping his hips against hers.
Cynthia felt something long and hard against her backside and she blushed, innocent that she was.
“No one else sees how strong you are, do they?”
She shut her eyes to keep the tears from pooling, as hairpins scattered onto the floor around them. She had been told she was beautiful more times than any one person could count. She was vain enough to appreciate the compliment, but this? No one had ever seen beyond her face, her hair, her bosom.
It was possible that Mr. Cam Douglas was the first person to ever see her.
What a strange feeling.
“It’s… it’s hard to be brave,” she admitted as the weight of the wig lifted from her head. She let out a sigh. Then his hands were sifting into her curls, setting them free and scattering the remaining pins. She couldn’t help it—now she did lean back into his touch.
“It’s the hardest thing most people ever do.” He massaged her scalp, and for that alone, she fell a little in love with him. He didn’t have to do this. He could throw her down and have his way with her. Instead, he was taking care of her and it was glorious.
“That’s why they don’t do it. But those who do…” He untied the mask. “Those are the strong ones.”
In all the times she had thought about a proper seduction—because she was no angel and she had thought about it—this was not how it had gone. She’d always envisioned flowery language of love and adoration and, yes, beauty.
But this was something entirely different. She wouldn’t have guessed that this sort of honest compliment would put her at ease, but that’s exactly what it did.
The mask fell away from her face as she exhaled relief. He’d been right—it would be easier without the heavy weight of all the paste diamonds rubbing against her nose.
“Did they tell you what to expect?”
She took a deep breath to make sure her voice was steady when she spoke. “A pinch, a little pain.”
He traced the line of her neck before moving down her shoulders, where he stroked over her exposed skin. Little shivers of pleasure coursed through her. “Will you tell me why you need to be ruined? Why you need the money?”
She almost did because somehow, she knew he would understand that her reasons made sense in their own way.
But that was not part of the deal. “I can’t.”
The buttons at the back of the elaborate dress began to give. It had been too snug in the bosom, despite her tightest corset and the best that the Jewels had been able to do in letting it out. Lady Ruby had insisted that having Cynthia's breasts pushed up this high was a good thing, but oh, how sweet it was to draw a deep breath as the bodice gave.
He made a humming noise as cool air touched her back. If this was seduction, she decided she liked it. She liked it quite a bit.
“Have you been kissed before, my darlin’ girl? Had a sweetheart who touched you in a stolen moment? Given your heart to some cad?”
She thought of the few times she'd been cornered—including ones by Beau Haughton. She thought of all the suitors her father had turned away, attractive young men of her station who could’ve made her a good husband. “I don’t think it counts if I didn’t want to be kissed, does it?”
His hands stilled, one flat against her spine. “No, it doesn’t.”
Unexpectedly, he wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her back into his bare chest. She could feel his skin against hers, warm and sensual and almost too much. That hard, hot length of him—the part of him that he would somehow put inside her—pressed against her hip.
She almost sighed with the pleasure of it. Her! Cynthia Hobbs! Perhaps she was a wanton at heart and just hadn’t known it until this very moment.
“Here’s what we’re going to do,” he said, his voice a whisper in her ear. His whiskers scraped over her tender flesh and she had to bite back a moan. “When you’re ready, you kiss me. You’re in control here. Understood?”
She nodded just as the gown gave and slid down her hips. Her corset wasn’t as fancy as some the Jewels had shown her, just a soft peach silk, edged in white lace. But it was pretty enough and oddly, she found herself hoping that he liked it.
She had to kiss him. Before the night was out he would be inside of her and she would be ruined, but somehow, the fact that she had to kiss him felt monumental.
“So brave,” he murmured as he worked the skirt over her hips and then the whole thing fell and she was in nothing but her stays and a shift so fine it was practically transparent. She didn’t even have on drawers, just stockings and garters. Lady Ruby had been very clear about that. Jewels did not wear drawers.
“Here.” His voice was gruff as he stepped to the side and offered her his hand.
She took it, feeling the warmth of his touch, the safety of it. She stepped out of the other woman’s dress and turned to face him. She could do this. For just one night, she could be a woman who was equal to this man.
He was down to his smallclothes, which meant that very little separated him from her. “Now what?” she asked.
“Now,” he said, bowing over her hand as if they were in a drawing room instead of a bedroom, “I get you a glass of wine.”
She nodded, not trusting her voice.
He stepped to the small table where a bottle of red wine that stood next to two stemmed glasses. There was a selection of tiny cakes and cut sandwiches, as well as some cookies. It looked like a tea service, elegant and simple. Cynthia had no idea if this was normal or if Lady Ruby was going above and beyond for her first time. But she appreciated it all the same.
Cam leaned over the table, pouring carefully. There were more scars on his back, including a long one that looked like a knife wound. But they were all healed, nothing recent. His back was strong and powerful and she could see herself running her hands over his skin, feeling his muscles for herself. His legs were hairy, and she could see the outline of his backside. It was scandalous that she was even looking, but she supposed soon enough the thin fabric would be cast aside, so looking now couldn’t be any more scandalous than that.
He turned and caught her staring. “Questions?” He held out the glass for her.
She took it and drank deeply while she studied his face. He was a rough man, no doubt, but he was no less handsome for it. His eyes were dark, but his smile was quick and relaxed. She wouldn’t like to see him angry, that was certain. But like this? He was completely at ease.
“This isn’t going like I thought it would. But,” she went on, when his eyebrows jumped up, “I don’t think that’s a bad thing. In fact,” she said, taking a deep breath, “I think it’s a good thing.”
Oh. He had a dimple when he smiled. “This wasn’t how I’d planned on spending the evening, either. But I’m glad you’re here with me. I couldn’t bear to watch you walk off with one of those two asses.”
She took another long drink of wine. It hit her empty stomach in a wave. Already, she could feel it working, her muscles relaxing. Her smile came easier. “I hadn’t thought I might actually be able to enjoy this.”
“Darlin’, I’ll make you a promise now—you will like this. If I’m doing it right, you’ll like it a whole bunch. Understood?”
His smile sent warmth pouring through her veins and, without being aware of it, her gaze dropped to where his smallclothes were tented.
She was alone with an attractive, kind man who was solicitous of her feelings, who saw her as she really was. It would’ve been better if this had been her wedding night, but it was good enough for now.
He was right—she had been braced for pain and punishment and humiliation. She had been prepared for a terrible night that would haunt her for the rest of her days. But she was still willing to do it because that was the only way to freedom.
But what if instead this was a night she remembered fondly? A magical night she’d spent with a handsome stranger who made her feel safe and comforted and maybe even very good?
Wouldn’t that be worth the price?
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