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Runaway Bride

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Cowboy LustCOWBOY LUST: EROTIC ROMANCE FOR WOMEN
edited by Delilah Devlin
includes Delilah’s story “Runaway Bride”
Cleis Press
ISBN-10: 1573448141
ISBN-13: 978-1573448147
Format: Trade Paperback
On Sale: August 14, 2012

There’s a reason Western romance novels never go out of fashion. The cowboy is an iconic figure that embodies the dichotomy of the fiercely independent, earthy alpha male and the male as a nurturer. Given a picture of a man on a horse, wearing Wranglers, chaps, and with a broad-rimmed hat , women melt. Cowboys take care of their women, in every possible way. Wild and wayward women are gentled by the scent of horse, cow, and crisp, clean sweat; the sight of sun-kissed skin; the feel of work-hardened thighs and arms; and the sound of a deep-voiced, Texas drawl. COWBOY LUST satisfies readers who long to be rode hard and put away wet. Risky and risque, these classic stories are set in romantic settings from Montana, Texas, California, Mexico, and the Outback of Australia. Master of the wild west love story, Devlin’s strong and memorable characters range from hunks on horseback to a feisty female gunslinger. COWBOY LUST corralls within its pages a rodeo star, a cop on horseback, and lots of studs in spurs so hot you’ll be ready to take a vacation on a dude ranch!

Excerpt

Note for Readers: You must be of legal age in your country of origin to read this excerpt.

Jackson Lowry cussed softly when he spotted the blue lights spinning at the roadblock just ahead. Too late to turn back now. He’d only draw more attention.

Squaring his jaw, he rolled down his window and forced a polite smile as he peered into the darkness at the sheriff’s deputy checking IDs with a flashlight.

As soon as the deputy waved the car in front of him to move along and turned to watch the black pickup roll forward, Jackson’s tension eased a fraction.

Maynard Colby’s expression turned from crisply professional to worried in a second a soon as he recognized him. “Dammit, Jackson, where have you been?”

“Around. Why?”

A soft moan sounded beside him, and Jackson reached surreptitiously beside him to tap the tarp covering his precious load.

“You didn’t hear?” At Jackson’s vague expression, Maynard stepped onto the truck rail and leaned toward Jackson. “It’s Sammie Jo. Her car was found in Shooter’s parking lot, the door wide open. No one’s seen her. Looks like she’s been snatched.”

Jackson cleared his throat. “How serious is this gettin’?”

“It’s only been a couple of hours, but Sammi Jo’s daddy is buckin’ to get the sheriff to call in the FBI, the CIA, ATF—and whatever other agency his money can buy to find her. I tried callin’ you, but your phone kept goin’ to voice mail. After the way things went down at the weddin’ last Sunday, I don’t blame you a bit for layin’ low, but I thought you’d wanna know.”

Another sound, this time a snort, sounded beside him.

Maynard’s gaze cut to the dirty tarp folded over a moving bundle on the floor of the cab. A ruddy eyebrow shot up.

“What’s goin’ on, Jackson?”

Jackson rolled his eyes, then pulled up the corner of the tarp to reveal a bound and gagged Sammie Jo whose eyes glittered furiously back at both men.

Maynard barked a laugh, then tightened his lips. “This time you’ve gone and done it, boy. This is seriously fucked up.“ He laughed again, then tipped his hat to Sammi Jo. “No disrespect meant, missy.”

Jackson cleared his throat. “Don’t s’pose you can forget about this?”

Maynard’s gaze shot to Sammie Jo again, raked her once as though ensuring she didn’t look to be in any real danger, then tipped back his cowboy hat. “Tell ya what. I’ll put a bug in the sheriff’s ear, but she better come walkin’ through the po-lice house doors come Monday mornin’.”

“Not a word to her daddy?”

One corner of Maynard’s mouth crooked up. “Man’s already caused enough problems. Deserves to cool his heels a couple o’ days. Don’t do nothin’ I’ll have to arrest you for.”

With a nod, Jackson rolled up the window and pulled past the barricade. In his side mirror, he watched as Maynard crossed to the other deputy’s car and both men bent over laughing.

“See that, Sammi Jo?” he murmured, not expecting an answer because he’d made double-damn sure he’d tied some serious knots and gagged her pretty mouth. “I’m not the only one who thinks you need a good paddlin’.”

* * * * *

Sammi Jo Clements worked her jaw side to side to ease the ache. The dirty bandana was gone, but her mouth and tongue were swollen, and she was sure she had spit dried on her cheeks. The nerve of Jackson Lowry—kidnapping her in broad daylight!

And not a one of the customers lined up to peer out the saloon’s windows had raised a hand to help, or apparently, to call the police. The fact that everyone of them had kept mum about the whole thing burned a hole in her gut.

They all thought she’d been dead wrong—mean, even—to leave Jackson standing at the altar.

That had been only a couple of hours ago, but darkness had fallen swiftly. The cabin was awash in shadows that moved with the flicker of the gas lantern Jackson had hung from a hook in the ceiling.

A washcloth entered her view, and she snatched it from his hand to scrub her cheeks. “Don’t know what you think you’re gonna accomplish here. Daddy’s gonna have your ass thrown in jail so fast you won’t know what hit you.”

Jackson grunted, then sat on the mattress beside her. He pulled down the brim of his hat, then leaned back against the rough headboard as though he was getting ready to take a nap. “Daddy’s got nothing to do with this,” he drawled. “It’s between you and me. Always has been. The fact you let him get to you—well, that’s just one of the things we’re gonna discuss.”

“Discuss?” She eyed the length of rope attached to her left arm. “This can only end badly—unless you drop me at home. I’ll tell him I got drunk and decided to sleep in a ditch.”

Jackson chuckled, a sound that never failed to make her nerves twitch. “With your reputation, he might believe it.”

She tilted her chin and gave him a scalding stare. The truth hurt, but he didn’t have to rub it in. So she’d been a party girl. So what? Jackson had known what he was getting into when he first asked her out. “No need to get snide.”

“I don’t wanna waste my breath tellin’ you something you already know.”

“Then what is it you want to discuss?” She wished like hell she could see his eyes, because they always reflected exactly what he thought, but the brim of his hat cast deep shadows.

His sexy mouth curved in a smile. “Maybe discuss was just a euphemism.”

“Huh?”

“Yeah,” he said, his voice clipped now. “It’s just something else you don’t get.” Jackson leaned forward to set his elbows on his thighs. His head dipped between his shoulders. Then he turned his face toward her and light glinted in his dark eyes. His gaze nailed her, sliding over her face, which she knew wore an expression as stubborn as a mule’s. Then his hot stare trailed down the rest of her body.

Heat seeped into her cheeks. “That what this is all about? You think I owe you somethin’?” His huffed breath told her she’d guessed wrong and pissed him off, but she was too stubborn to take it back. She tilted her chin higher.

Jackson shook his head. “Sweetheart, you are some piece o’ work. You think I brought you here to get what you promised?”

“Didn’t you? What else am I supposed to think? You have me tied to a goddamn bed.”

His snort this time seemed directed inward. He took off his hat and raked a hand through his short, dark hair. “Guess I wasn’t thinkin’ at all. I’d imagined you stretched across my bed so many times…” He pushed off the mattress, placed his hat on a crude wooden table, and then strode toward a grimy window. He stood there for a long moment with his back to her, staring out into the darkness. So long, she began to wonder if he was having second thoughts about what he’d done.

Sammi Jo was having second thoughts of her own—about whether she wanted him to let her go. He’d gone to a lot of trouble, risked arrest, or worse, to get her here. She was curious now about what he’d intended. “What is this place, anyway?”

“My family’s huntin’ cabin.” He glanced over his shoulder and gave her another dark, unreadable stare. “Not up to your high standards?”

Lord, he didn’t know her at all. Not that it was his fault. She’d led him on a merry chase, never letting him see her in any condition other than perfectly put together. Mussed and smudged with dirt as she was now, he probably thought she was horrified at the indignity.

Lord, she’d been such a bitch. And yet, he’d been tender and patient throughout his courtship. He hadn’t had a clue about the real her. She wasn’t a goddess on a pedestal, although she’d pretended for years to please Daddy.

There’d been times when she’d pushed Jackson so hard, she’d flinched inside at the things she’d said, at the picture of the spoiled little rich girl she’d painted. And yet, not once had he shown a bit of disapproval. When she’d floated down the aisle on her father’s arm, dressed in Vera Wang and looking like a princess, she’d had a moment when she’d panicked because the man at standing beside the preacher didn’t know her, and she didn’t want him to feel cheated when he realized she wasn’t the girl she’d portrayed.

But she knew him. She’d watched him for years. Spied on him when he didn’t know it. She knew how he spoke with other men, not mincing words or holding back an epithet. She knew how he looked covered head to foot with dust and grime from riding herd on his family’s ranch. She even knew what he looked like naked and aroused, because she’d followed him one day when he’d taken Carrie Molder to the river and made love to her on the grassy banks.

Every flex of sinewy muscle had enthralled her. And although she’d stayed virgin, according to her father’s wishes and despite the persistence of her many beaus, she’d known his large, rigid sex would perfectly fill her.

There’d never been any doubt in her mind that he was the one for her. But last Sunday, she’d realized she wasn’t the woman to make him happy. Not if what he wanted was “Princess” Sammi Jo.

So, she’d bolted, ignoring the shock in his eyes and the gasps and laughter chasing her out of the chapel.

But he’d been asking about the cabin, hadn’t he? “It’s dusty, but so am I.”

His expression lost the sharp-edged anger that had accompanied his impromptu kidnapping. His jaw ground shut. A chilling bleakness crept across his handsome face.

She much preferred his anger. “Daddy’s gonna have your balls for breakfast.”

Heat flared in his hard gaze, again. And hadn’t her mama said a man’s anger could easily be turned into passion? She’d made promises, but so had he. She remembered every breathless moment she’d ever spent in his arms.
Adjusting her legs to the side, she watched him from under the fringe of her eyelashes, knowing the shift pushed her breasts against the thin tee she’d tucked into her sprayed-on designer jeans. She’d gone braless into Shooters, hoping for a chance to start over and show him the real her. The one who wanted him to see that she was a flesh-and-blood woman eager for his touch.

His gaze trailed down her chest, arrested on her spiking nipples, then slowly climbed again to lock with hers. Moisture seeped into her panties at the raw hunger reflected in his gaze.

She huffed a breath. “It’s stuffy in here.”

Without looking away, he reached beside him and shoved up the window to let in the hot breeze.

She bit her lip and feigned an embarrassed reluctance. “I’d be more comfortable if you’d unbuckle my belt. It’s cuttin’ into my waist, Jackson. I can hardly breathe.”

His eyes narrowed, but he strode toward her, his fingers curling.

She straightened her legs and lay back as he reached for her buckle and flicked it open with practiced ease.

“Better?” he drawled.

“The button, too?” When it eased open, she let out a deep breath. “Better.”

She knew what she looked like. Her long, blond hair spread over the plain comforter. He’d called it pretty as corn silk. Not the most poetic turn of phrase she’d ever been offered, but she’d melted knowing he thought it beautiful.

Melted like she did now, lying on a hard mattress with her pants undone and his large body blocking the light from the flickering flame.

“You have me all tied up, Jackson,” she said, letting her drawl deepen into a sultry caress. “What do you intend to do with me now?”