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TEXAS TRIO was my first-ever erotica– a hot historical romance I wrote as a light getaway from the “serious” fiction that’s my usual genre, but I liked the characters so much it’s become the first book in a trilogy about the family. I’m making minor revisions as I post TT here (26 chapters in 7 parts/posts– this is the shortest), but the book is already finished, so you don’t have to worry about getting stranded without an ending!! FAIR WARNING– Texas Trio is a longer story– there’s plenty of hot, dirty sex, but it doesn’t show up in the first paragraph! There are a few little bits to hold you over, but the really good stuff doesn’t start until Section 3. Thank you again for the hearts, stars, if they couldn’t handle her choice of reading material, they’d be even less likely to tolerate her other intellectual pursuits.

Back at her seat, Cat curtsied, tugging her hand discreetly back from the over-lengthy kiss Lloyd bestowed on it, and murmuring a noncommittal answer to his riding invitation.

She fanned her face as she watched Clara Simmons simper across the ballroom to a seat beside her. Clara gave an extra twitch or two, settling the folds of her draped satin overskirt, drawing attention to it. Catherine repressed an eye-roll and repeated her earlier praise. Again.

“Clara, that gown is perfect for your coloring. Your father certainly has good taste in clothing.”

Clara ducked her chin to hide a buck-toothed titter behind her fan. Everyone in Texas knew Mr. Simmons seldom noticed anything before the bottom line, as everyone in Galveston know Clara’s step-mother chose the expensive lavender fabric at Mme. Connelly’s New York City salon. Mrs. Simmons and Clara had certainly told the story often enough to ensure it.

She fluttered her lashes and eyed Catherine’s gown, a less elaborate design in a somber shade of purple.

“Yours is lovely, too.”

Clara didn’t actually sniff, but Catherine got the point, and even agreed with the sentiment behind it. After acting as her mother for the past eight years, Aunt Frannie deserved the full six months of black. She glanced at her lap, hoping to conceal the flash of irritation she felt. As the tenth such comment this evening, it shouldn’t have bothered her by now.

Insufficient to cover her shame, the tiny cough Catherine mustered made a perfect sob, accompanying a belated flash of inspiration.

“Yes.” She lowered her head. “I found the fabric in Aunt Frannie’s sewing room. Uncle Harry said it would be fine…”

Clara gasped, resting a satin-gloved hand on Cat’s wrist. “Oh, Catherine, I’m so sorry. It’s beautiful and I’m sure Mrs. Matthews would have loved it.”

Catherine suppressed a real smile. Everyone in town would know by tea-time tomorrow, putting Catherine solidly back in society’s good graces, despite her uncle’s disgusting disregard for doing the proper thing. She grasped Clara’s hand.

“Thank you, Clara. I was a bit concerned that people would think it too soon, but I was so happy for you and Henry….”

“No, not at all. It’s been three months, and Mrs. Matthews wouldn’t want you to grieve forever.”

“You’re so sweet, Clara, dear.” The petty, pasty-faced socialite had been whispering criticisms with the rest of them all evening.

She sniffed again, hiding real dismay behind her fan. Catherine wouldn’t have dreamt of abandoning her mourning garb this early, had Harry not forbidden it.

Suddenly cold, despite the crowded room and her many layers of clothing, Cat shivered.

Though he hadn’t expressly mentioned the dark purple bombazine of second mourning, she’d known what he expected, and the look Uncle Harry gave her when he joined her at the ball confirmed it, raking harshly upward over unadorned wrists to her jewel-less decolletage. She wasn’t looking forward to the carriage ride home.

It was worse than she’d anticipated. By the time the carriage deposited Catherine and her uncle at the foot of the front steps, she was shaking and almost ready to consent to his demands despite herself. His threats had gotten more and more extreme as the weeks wore on with no sign of her capitulating, and the loving uncle she’d once known had become a nightmarish mix of vile threats and repressed violence. Marrying Lloyd Severn and tiptoeing bahis firmaları her way around his narrow mind had begun to seem like a real alternative to the hell she’d been subjected to in Uncle Harry’s home of late. ->->->->->->–>–

“Holy hell!” Colt crossed the darkened study in three swift strides, diving behind a thick wall of velvet drapes a second before he heard the front door slam. “Jem’s gonna kill me!”

He was just in time. A dim flickering of candle-light appeared, while a muddle of footfalls in the central hallway gave way to the low thrum of a man’s voice and a woman’s silken murmur.

Jem had been warning him for years to knock it off, but Colt couldn’t resist the sizzle an occasional bit of cat burglary brought to his otherwise fairly sedate existence. Now it seemed like Jem’s gloomy, oft-repeated warnings may have been right. If Colt didn’t get caught, tried, and strung up by the fine folk of Galveston in the near future, there was a darn good chance his partner would take care of the killing part when he returned to the ranch.

The tapping of the woman’s heels and the voices in the hall grew faint, but the glow in the study became stronger and steadier.

Great.

The dancing sliver of light through the small gap between the curtains marked the location of the third person in the party, who was now occupied lighting the lamps in the study.

Damn. Now he’d have to stand around listening to the men flappin’ their dull, upper-crust gums and sipping over-priced brandy.

The couple continued to argue. The woman’s voice, barely audible to begin with, slowed and softened, but the man’s became louder and more harsh with each sentence. Colt heard the last few words plainly, even through the insulating velvet drapes.

“– Goddamn well do as I tell you!”

The sound of flesh on flesh split the air, swallowed immediately by a woman’s faint cry.

Colt involuntarily started forward. If it hadn’t been for the crash of breaking glass across the hall and the fellow’s own heavy rush of steps, the man in the room with him would surely have seen the curtains move or heard Colt’s sharp intake of breath.

Colt got his first glimpse of the behemoth as he stomped through his field of view and out the study door… at the exact same instant Colt’s hand hit the spot where his gun should be– but wasn’t.

“Shit!” He thought. “What the hell was I thinking?” The biggest tenderfoot in Texas didn’t leave his guns at home when he went wandering around the city at night. And Jem wouldn’t like the reason he gave– what was the point of carrying a gun when no one would ever see him? Colt had been taught by the same Caddo tracker who’d taught him how to find water under sand and game on a seemingly lifeless plain, and no one but the bats would ever see him ghosting through Galveston at night.

But invisible or not, he needed that gun now… the man crossing the study floor would’ve given Colt pause even without the pair of low-slung peacekeepers he wore. Colt was big and on the beefy side himself, but the other man was at least six and a half feet tall, with four inches and about forty pounds more muscle than Colt.

He stopped, straining his ears. He could just make out the sound of a woman weeping.

“Shit!” He thought. “If he hits her again, I gotta go, gun or no gun.”

The sideshow freak reappeared quickly, though, followed by an older gent in a twenty-dollar suit. Colt caught a fast glimpse of gold buttons on a flashy satin vest.

“That stupid slut better get it through her head that she’s not the one in charge any more.” It was the same voice he’d heard arguing with the woman in the hallway.

“Yes, sir.” The clinking of crystal and splashing sounds of liquid trickled over the conversation.

“My wife put up with her nonsense, but I’m done waiting around for the chit to make up her mind.”

Who the hell was he talking about? Colt had seen no one but the fat old woman and the slick gent when he’d been watching the house.

“Yes, sir.”

“Thank you, Hawkins.”

“Yes, sir.”

Was that the only thing the cretin could say?

Colt listened carefully. The distant sobs had begun to dry up.

“We have to get her married, and fast, Hawkins, that’s the cure for this kaçak iddaa whole sorry situation.”

“Yes, sir.”

Colt rolled his eyes. He couldn’t hear very well, or see much, either, but their looming, darting shadows told him both men had lamps and both were in motion. None of the wall sconces were lit. Maybe they wouldn’t stay.

No sooner had the thought occurred to him than the slit vanished into darkness and the study door slammed shut.

Colt let his breath out in a rush. He hadn’t realized he’d been holding it.

Cautiously, he leaned to the left, sticking his nose out through the gap. His face followed. He listened intently for a minute, hearing nothing. He hadn’t heard the big front door, either, so he didn’t think they’d left the house. Maybe they’d gone to see the woman.

That made him move, and fast. With a hand low in front of him, he glided silently across the room, stopping before the heavy oak door. Years of practice had taught him to memorize every piece of furniture, every square foot of floor space, in a glance of only a few seconds, and his night vision was as good as it got.

One hand on the crystal knob, he stopped, but all was silent beyond the door. Not that it mattered. He couldn’t wait. Slow as bayou tides, Colt turned and tugged. Hearing nothing, he swung it open. A dim glow shone from a doorway across the hall, the dying light of the same fire simmering on the hearth when he came in half an hour ago. He detected a distant murmur from above.

Damn it!

If he hadn’t been such a hothead, he would have cased the place better and known about the big guy before tonight, Colt cursed himself. He hadn’t seen anyone other than the married couple and their servants the two times he’d stopped to watch, but he hadn’t been to town in a couple of months, either.

He changed his mind and cursed his partner instead.

Damn Jem. If I didn’t have to sneak around to have my little bit of fun, I woulda done it right.

Where was the harm in it, anyway? It wasn’t like he hurt anyone; he didn’t even steal anything. Well, nothing of real value. Sometimes he plucked an egg or a potato from the pantry to leave on the table for Jem the morning after his excursion. He sure did enjoy the furor that caused. Colt smirked in the dark hall as he crept carefully forward.

The wool socks he’d wrestled on over his boots were so effective he hardly heard his own steps.

“I’d fall like an ice-skatin’ baby if I hadta fight in them, though,” he mused, his mind drifting to the big guy upstairs.

In the parlor, he found a sprinkling of broken glass on the hearth and a figure on the couch. He froze, but no movement met his entry. He paused again, considering the situation. At the very least, he had to make sure the woman wasn’t hurt before he left.

Colt tread carefully across the ornate carpet, watching as more of the woman’s body come into view. She was lying on her side and all he could see to start with was her feet, wearing a pair of shiny satin slippers. Why the hell did women wear those things? It wasn’t like they did any good, you might as well be bare-footed if you stepped in a puddle in those damn shoes.

Even before Colt got far enough to see all of her, he knew this wasn’t the fat old lady he’d seen entering the mansion before. This lady made hardly a bump on the cushions, though she’d already cleared up a few of Colt’s questions. Those ridiculous slippers, the stockings over her slim ankles, the voluminous skirt– all were black. The old lady must have died.

After the giant puff of petticoats and skirts, the young lady’s waist appeared tiny, her shoulders barely wider… Colt slowed, unable to see around the big rolled arm of the sofa. He inhaled. He hoped to Christ she was sleeping or they were both gonna get a shock when he poked his head out.

He took one more step, barely breathing, and stopped.

Everything stopped.

His feet. His eyes. His lungs. His heart….

Up until that very moment, Cot didn’t know he’d spent any time at all thinking about the perfect woman. He liked Delia down at the saloon all right, and that girl Amy over at the general store was pretty, too, but….

Colt took one silent step, then another, until his knees were only inches from where kaçak bahis her elbows rested on the silk cushions of the richly brocaded couch. Eyes locked on the sleeping woman before him, he lifted his head to listen, thinking he should get the hell out of here, but he didn’t leave. He couldn’t help himself; he dropped slowly to one knee.

She was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen: an angel, fallen from heaven into this fancy Texas townhouse.

Looking at her in the light of the fire shining over his shoulder, Colt couldn’t really say what it was that made him think that about her. Her hair glimmered golden, but he bet in daylight it would be the same brown as old wood floors. Her nose and cheeks were fine, her lips porcelain-doll cute and a bit pouty, her lashes and eyebrows just like any other lashes and eyebrows… but when you put them all together… Colt’s fingers itched to reach out and touch her, wipe away the few teardrops still clinging to her lashes, push the errant tendril of hair from her forehead.

He lifted his hand and paused.

“What the hell are you doing, Colt Kendall?” He thought. “Have you lost your ever-lovin’ mind?”

About one second later his ever-lovin’ mind got made up for him.

“Catherine!” The voice boomed out above his head.

The angel’s eyes flew open and, Colt didn’t know how it happened, but his hand came down on her mouth.

Shit!

No sound came from the second floor, but Colt knew that wouldn’t last.

The angel lay frozen in place beneath his palm. Colt’s other hand started up, thinking to lay a finger on his lips, shushing her, but no answer would be sure to get Brutus down here in a hurry, wouldn’t it?

Instead, he leaned forward and whispered, fast, the only thing he had.

“I’m not going to hurt you– I’m not like him– ” He twitched his head violently toward the door. “I wanna help you.”

Her eyes were wide, but her hands hadn’t moved to strike him. She hadn’t moved at all.

“Catherine!” The man bellowed.

Feeling more desperate than he ought to with freedom only a few steps away at the tall French doors, Colt whispered, “Please!” and lifted his hand.

For a second she didn’t move, and Colt thought “Shit!” yet again.

“Yes, Uncle Harry?” she called, clear as day, her eyes locked on Colt’s.

“You clean that glass up and get to bed!”

“Yes, Uncle Harry,” she repeated.

They stared at each other until a distant door closed softly.

Colt’s brain galloped around in circles, useless for anything else. Now that she was listening, he didn’t know what to say. What could he say? “Pleased to meet you. Miss– I know I broke into your house but would you like to come with me to my ranch?”

Yeah, that oughta work.

“You need help,” he said, instead.

“Who are you?” she whispered, a tiny frown wrinkling her brow.

Before he had time to answer, another door sounded upstairs and they both started. She swung her satin-clad feet to the floor, giving Colt a fleeting glimpse of her calves as he surged to his feet.

A woman’s voice echoed from above. “Miz Catherine?”

“I’m coming, Nanny!” The girl’s eyes flew around the room, skittering across the glitter of glass on the hearth, over Colt and away to the darkness of the hall.

“I’m comin’ to help you, Miz Catherine.” Her voice was closer, no doubt about it.

“No! No, Nanny, I’ll be right there!” She took a step away, her eyes going back to Colt’s.

“Come with me.” Colt said, holding out his hand.

“Get out of here!” she hissed, venturing a step closer to the door.

“I’m coming, Miz Catherine.”

“Please?” He pleaded. With no time to tell her everything; he just needed her to come with him now.

Her next step hesitated for half a beat. “No. I can’t.”

And the angel fled.

The women’s voices mingled a moment later, fading as they turned to mount the stairs. A faraway door closed, and Colt was left standing alone amidst all those shards of broken crystal.

Shit.

She’d woken to a stranger’s hand over her mouth, but when the masked burglar said “please” and asked her to leave with him, Colt had seen uncertainty the in the angel’s eyes. He’d seen desperation.

Any choice he’d had in the matter was gone now– he had to come back. ->->->->->->–>–

If Catherine thought she was having a bad night when Uncle Harry hit her, it was nothing compared to the fear she felt waking to find a masked man less than two feet away!

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