Page 24 of A Wanton Woman

We rode up to our friend Lane Haskins’ house; the downstairs windows glowed with soft lantern light. The man himself came out onto the porch and put his hat low on his head. Tucking up the collar of his coat, he came down the steps to meet us.

Luke handed Celia down from his lap and Lane was there to help her. Luke dismounted and stood beside her and introduced our bride.

Lane replied with a simple tip of his hat. “Ma’am.”

Climbing from my horse, I joined them.

“Celia, this is Lane Haskins, an old friend,” Luke said by way of introduction.

We’d known Lane for a decade. As a mine owner in Jasper, he and Luke had the same profession, fell in with the same circles; he’d even housed Luke one winter when he’d been caught in Jasper after the pass closed. While his mine was smaller than Luke’s, it was very prosperous. His house sat at the edge of town, the base of the mountains directly out his back door. Large for just a bachelor, he’d built it with a family in mind. He had yet to find the right woman. In the meantime, we stayed with him as we passed through, often bringing him supplies with us back from Denver. Not this trip.

Tonight, we only brought our bride.

“Stew’s on the stove to stay warm.”

Stew sounded perfect for my empty stomach.

“You won’t join us?” I asked.

Lane shook his head. “I ate earlier, but wanted to meet your new bride before I left.”

“You’re not staying?” Celia asked.

“No, ma’am,” he replied, offering her a smile. “It’s best that newlyweds have time on their own. Don’t concern yourself with me. I won’t be cold tonight.”

He would spend the night in his mistress’s bed, no doubt, and would be quite warm.

It was too dark to see if Celia blushed with embarrassment, but I had to imagine her thoughts. Of course we would fuck her tonight. Hell, we’d fuck her every night… and morning.

“You must be chilled through. Head on inside and warm up,” he told Celia.

She glanced at Luke, who nodded.

“Thank you,” she replied. All three of us watched her go inside.

“I’ll settle your horses for you, then be on my way.”

“You’ve been generous enough. I’ve got them,” Luke said, grabbing the reins and walking around the side of the house to the barn.

Lane slapped me on the back, knocking snow off my coat.

“She’s lovely, Walker.”

Only a few years older than both Luke and I, Lane was still in his prime and focused on his profession instead of a bride. The mine brought money, but it didn’t put a woman in his bed or children in the nursery. So far, Lane hadn’t minded.

I looked at the closed front door. “Sure is. We are… lucky.”

“If that’s the bride you get from mail order, maybe I should send in a letter.”

Maybe he was more inclined to finding a woman than I thought. We’d been to the brothel in Jasper with him before and knew he had some unconventional needs. When we told him about our marriage, how we’d share a bride together, he hadn’t flinched, perhaps been a little intrigued. He’d poured us some whiskey to toast our new bride and was almost as eager to meet her as we’d been.

I grinned then. “Perhaps you should. Thanks for the house tonight.”

“I’ll come back after breakfast tomorrow. Lil will keep me occupied until then.” He winked.

“I hate to think I kicked you out of your own house,” I said.

With one hand raised, he continued. “Please. I don’t want to be the only one not having a woman warm my bed. Besides, you don’t need me about if you only married yesterday.”

“Probably for the best,” I replied. “She’s got some trouble following her, and I mean to get the story behind it from her.”

“You mean from her behind,” Lane countered.

I shrugged, some snow falling off my coat. “If that’s what it takes to learn about the bastard who was eyeing her in Denver. She knows him, but isn’t telling us. I’ll spank her ass if need be. We’re in charge of her safety now. I won’t have her harmed.”

“I thought you weren’t too keen on this marriage.”

I’d told him that on our way down to Denver last week. So much had changed in just a few days. So much had changed since Luke called me out on my stupidity. “That’s true. I wasn’t. But now, now I’m all in.”

Lane’s eyes widened. “Whoa,” he said. “Fell hard, did you?”

I shook my head, laughed. “Hard. I’d heard of instant attraction, but this… hell, if it can happen to me, it can happen to you, so be careful.”

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