I’d been the one who’d let my husband stray. If I’d been a better wife, more attentive sexually and provided him with children, he would have been content with me. But no. He’d been forced to find comfort elsewhere. As he’d dragged me into an alley and pinned me there with a hand about my neck, I wasn’t going to tell him that perhaps the problem had lain with his brother, who obviously hadn’t been able to satisfy his wife.
While I’d fled Tyler because I had no reputation left, I also feared for my life. I’d been watching over my shoulder for Carl ever since. While the finger-shaped bruises about my neck had faded, the worry had not. I’d known he was watching, waiting for the moment to do me harm. In his anger, I thought he would follow me from Tyler, perhaps do something like toss me off the moving train. It was an easy and very tidy way to kill someone, a body left to rot out on the open prairie of west Texas or Oklahoma where no one would ever find it. In my case, no one would miss me or question my disappearance. No one cared.
When I stepped onto the train platform in Denver, I’d been relieved. But it didn’t allay my fears entirely, as he could follow on a later train. I would always be looking over my shoulder as I knew he would not be deterred.
The news that Luke and Walker’s town would be snowed in for a few months had been almost joyful. That meant Carl couldn’t get to me. Perhaps in that time he’d either calm his anger or give up.
“None of us wanted this marriage,” I said, admitting the truth.
Luke and Walker remained silent.
“You can annul, you know,” I continued. “I’ll stay here in Denver and find a job. I’m sure my nursing skills are needed.”
Luke pushed off the back of the couch and stood abruptly.
“No.” Both men spoke at the same time, their voices loud, commanding.
I took a step backward, surprised by the instant vehemence.
“No?” I asked, licking my lips.
“While we may have not wanted to marry, we want you,” Luke said, glancing at his brother, who nodded. “Didn’t I just prove that in front of the fire? You’re wearing my shirt.” He pointed at my skimpy attire. “My seed is dripping down your thighs. Hell, you came with Walker watching. I’d say you want us, too.”
I blushed furiously.
“Unlike your first husband, we are honorable. We don’t stray. We aren’t anything like him, doll,” Walker added.
I laughed then, as there was no comparison between the thin, pale man I’d married five years ago and these two strapping cowboys. “No, no, you’re nothing alike. But I was only married to one man, not two.”
“You have reservations,” Luke said.
“I have questions,” I countered. “Such as, how does it work?”
“Being married to two men?” Walker asked. “This is a first for us, as well. First for the town, too. I think we can make this marriage work any way we wish.”
I bit my lip. “Yes, but… I meant in the, um… bedroom, specifically.”
Luke’s eyes widened, then he smiled. “You enjoyed fucking me, sweetheart?”
I nodded, because I couldn’t lie. They were both witness to my first pleasure.
“Being married to both of us gets you two men to give you pleasure.”
He said it so simply, so easily, confident that they could both satisfy me.
I flushed hotly and turned away, looked blindly down at the food on the table.
“What do you want, Celia?” Luke asked. “What do you want from a marriage? You’ve been married and know what it’s like, what you were missing. What is it you’d hoped for? We’ll give it to you.”
I felt frayed, my emotions revealed. The scars of my first marriage ached and Walker and Luke seemed to know how to expose every single one. I picked up a fork, studied the detail work in the silver. “How can you say that? How can you know what I want?”
“Is it money? You never have to worry about going hungry, I promise you,” Luke said.
“Is it protection?” Walker asked. “No harm will come to you when you are with us.”
I thought of how Luke had hidden me from the porter’s view.
An ache filled my chest. That was what I wanted so very badly, to know that they would take care of me, that the bad things in the world, like Carl Norman, would never affect me. But they couldn’t protect me from my past. No one could.
“Tell us, sweetheart,” Luke prodded.
Was it as simple as just telling them my wants and they would give them to me? It was never that simple. I’d wanted a marriage with at least mutual respect, but John didn’t respect me. I’d known him for some time before we wed, but these men. I knew nothing about them. And yet they could promise to fulfill my every desire?