Much Ado About a Cowboy

Chapters 1 and 2


Chapter 1

Beatrice

“Did you hear Ben Dexton has come home?”

The announcement from Aunt Toni startles me from the book I serenely read, losing myself in the fantasy of someone else’s reality. A breeze blows heady and warm across the wrap-around porch gracing my uncle’s old farmhouse. This place holds all I adore most in the world. Yet, the mere mention of his name rips through the peaceful pages of my reading, tearing to shreds the sweet sounds of nature around me in the late, summer evening.

Ben Dexton. How I loathe even the sound of his name. The hairs on my skin stand erect, tingling like an echo, lingering like a whisper of someone I used to know.

“He returned with Princeton Donne and another soldier fella named Clay O’Leary.” Beside me, my cousin Hermione lets out the slightest of inhales, setting my heart pattering. Younger than me, she’s like the sister I never had. Deep, dark hair contrasts her china doll skin. She’s delicate where I’m brash. Her tender hand quickly shoots up to cover her lips, hiding a knowing smile. With a twinkle in her turquoise eyes, she catches mine and instantly looks away. Narrowing mine, I don’t have time to ask her for details before my uncle responds.

“We should have them over for supper. In fact, we could use their help moving the herd.”

My book drops to my lap, the spoils of ancient maidens and rotten rogues forgotten, as my stunned eyes peer at the pleasant, wrinkled face of the man I consider a true father figure—Uncle Leo. Why would we need that scoundrel Ben Dexton, or his best friend, or some innocent soldier, who’d been sucked into the shenanigans of the first two? “Dear Lord, Uncle. You can’t be serious. We have plenty of hands to help with the herd.”

Dismissing me with a wave of his thick, overworked hand, my uncle addresses his wife.

“Whatcha hear, honey? Damn proud of their service to this country.” Uncle Leo taps the palm of his hand over his left pec and beats his chest once to signal his respect. He never served, yet his pride in the red, white, and blue runs deep. His older eyes gleam with reverence as he addresses his wife with his support for heroes returned home.

I, on the other hand, silently wish for small bodily impairment to an appendage of Ben Dexton. On second thought, that may be a rather large undertaking as I recall the girth of his… What am I thinking? I smack my forehead and tighten my eyes as if the image stands before me and not in my mind.

I will not think of him. I will not think of him. I will not think of him.

My mantra repeats as if clicking my ruby red boots could will away any memory.

“All the men are safe and happy to be home in one piece, according to Messina.” Messina, the town gossip, is considered high authority on all things. “She says they’ve been hanging out at the Donne’s estate.” A soft smirk curls the lips of my aunt as she looks over at me.

Uncle Leo scoffs. “That Princeton is set to inherit his parents’ place someday. He’ll own the whole damn town when he does. He could afford three times our size, if he wishes, and ruin us.” In a sense, Leo is correct. Princeton’s family pioneered Bard County, building up the one-stop-light town, and welcoming the families of the surrounding area to form the community. Princeton Donne’s need for work is like a cricket needing a fiddle.

Aunt Toni dismisses her husband with a wave of her veiny hand. “Oh posh. He’d never take advantage. He’s too sentimental over this place.” Toni doesn’t mean our homestead but Bard County in general. Princeton would never try to rule the area like some people we know. The Capstones and Montanas come to mind.

“That he is.” My uncle’s soft mountain drawl fills the air. Headlights wind down the narrow drive, and Leo’s head swivels in the direction of a truck too dark to distinguish in the darkening hours.

I ignore the crunch of gravel under tires as the truck pulls near an outer building on our property, the bunkhouse by the stables. “And who is this Clay O’Leary?” I tease, shifting a glance at my cousin, who averts my eyes again. The corner of her lip curls, and I know I’m onto something when her face pinkens.

Aunt Toni replies, “He’s a decorated hero for his service, so I’m told, but a country boy at heart. Grew up near these parts, although he’s a few years younger than you, ma’am,” My cousin and Margaret giggle as Toni teases me. Margaret is one of our best friends caught in the middle of Hermione and me by her age. Wayward curly hair and dark, mischievous eyes grace her ruddy face. The way she carries her curvaceous body hints at the little hellion she is, but we adore her.

“Don’t ma’am me,” I admonish without spite, knowing she means no disrespect but feeling the sting of being considered too old. I’m not yet on the shelf, even if I am twenty-seven. No need to address me as if I’m ancient before my time. My aunt dismisses me with another smirk and a shake of her head. She knows I have no interest in men at the moment, or in the last eight years, give or take.

“You mentioned Mr. Dickton is holing up at the Donne’s? How appropriate for him,” I say, muttering the last to myself. “He loves any hole he can find.” With a false smile, the curl of my lips pinches my cheeks. “But I wonder why he’d return to where his cock feathers have already ruffled every virtuous hen?”

“Now, now, my smart-lipped niece, you’re embarrassing my sweet Hermione.” Aunt Toni winks at me while nodding at her daughter who blushes a deep magenta. Toni’s round face, accentuated by her white, cropped hair and a sparkle to her blue eyes, portrays a knowing look. The raise of a brow reminds me to behave. The woman, who is my mother’s sister, knows me too well and reads the innuendos in my comments.

“Yes, ignore the old bitter spinster, Hero,” I say, calling my cousin by her nickname. “I’m only teasing.” A smile returns to her pleasing, innocent face but her young eyes refuse to meet mine after boldly emphasizing the male anatomy I refuse to remember about Ben.

Don’t think of him.

“Mr. Dickton?” Margaret scoffs.

“My cousin means Ben.” Hermione giggles, wagging her head at me, but one brow rises similar to her mother’s.

If the name fits, I think, recalling the biggest playboy to hit our portion of the county. While Princeton may own Bard County, Ben possesses carnal knowledge of more than half the women in it with his oversized…

“Yes, don’t mind my niece, Margaret. We all know her bark is worse than her bite.”

“Unless someone wishes me to bite, and then I’m all teeth,” I retort, gnashing my molars together in a display of chomping.

A masculine chuckle occurs behind the railing at my back, and my spine tingles with recognition. Spinning to face the sound that haunts my memory, I drop my gaze on the most handsome man I’ve ever known. Brown waves hide under his ball cap, shielding eyes I don’t need to see to recognize. Rich, deep, the color of tilled soil. Those eyes match Montana earth, a place to set up roots and settle down on. It’s the best way to describe the hidden orbs I sense narrowing in on me. His shoulders are broader. His neck thicker. A faded black tee accentuates the bulge of crossed arms, one thick with black swirls of ink. His waist narrows above low-slung jeans resting on hips spread by the wide stance he holds as he looks over the attendants on my uncle’s porch.

“Well, I’ll be…” Uncle Leo calls out, rounding off the deck and circling the steps to shake hands with the intruder. “Welcome home, soldier.”

A second chuckle fills our visitor’s voice as he responds to my uncle’s hearty handshake. “Good to be home, sir.”

The timbre of his voice washes over me like the rush of frigid water when one leaps into the local river. My heart stops from the warm tone as cold memories circulate through my body.

Him filling me.

Him kissing me.

Him leaving me.

“Ben,” Aunt Toni cries out. “How wonderful to see you home.” She exits the porch with equal vigor of praise for the returned hero. I, however, remain in place, hands gripping the back of the porch swing where I sit next to Hermione. My aunt’s rocker still sways from her release, and I stare at the movement, wondering why my heart matches the steady, galloping beat.

Ben Dexton has returned home, a place he never wished to be.

A sharp jab to my ribs forces my eyes upward to notice three other men standing behind Ben. The dark silhouette of a figure equal in stature to Ben is none other than Princeton. His hair still remains close to the scalp in keeping with his military background. Dusty jeans and flannel shirt rolled to the elbows grace his sculpted body. Next to him stands his young friend, whom I can only assume is Clay. The final figure stands apart from the others.

“John,” I whisper. Having known Princeton’s brother for only a short while, his name on my lips tastes salty, reminiscent of one night’s mistake. His dark head of hair, covering his forehead and dipping across one eye gives him a sinister look, but when those bright blues look up at you, you’ll catch your breath. A viper snaring his prey. His tongue is wicked at both physical pleasure and spreading lies. My body shivers, at odds with itself between the negative vibe lurking around him and a sudden temptation to lick him. A cough breaks my stare and my gaze glides to Ben.

“Ah, Mr. Dickton, I see you survived war. How ironic as killing was never your passion. Tell me, how many hearts did you slay instead? I’m certain your cock…er…kills…belong to many unsuspecting victims.”

His eyes narrow at the reference to his anatomy, packed neatly behind jeans loose at his hips, but I know what lies behind the zipper. And I remember the wickedness of that part of him against trusting, eager girls.

I will not think of him naked. I will not think of him naked. I will not think of him.

“Lady Disdain, you still live…here, that is,” he quips, ignoring my reference to broken hearts and desperate women. He smirks at the play on my name—Beatrice Daine. “How unfortunate for any male within a fifty-mile radius.”

“Yes, well, how fortunate for whichever country allowed you to enter. You’ve probably reset their population.” My brow rises with meaning. A sharp whistle from his young friend Clay and a low hiss from Princeton follows my insult. Ben Dickton might have single-handedly—or should I say single-cockedly—started a baby boom from the amount of sperm he randomly donated to an entire nation.

“Now, now, spice, I see your tongue is still as sharp as those teeth you mentioned.” He snaps his jaw, clenching his teeth to emphasis a bite. Unfortunately for me, I remember those teeth nibbling at my ear, tenderly nipping at my jaw, and teasing my nipples, which now jump to erect peaks at the sight of his eyes slithering down to my traitorous breasts.

Not to mention, there’s that damn endearment.

Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of.

He’d call me sugar when he wanted to be sweet, but when my anger edged forward, he nicknamed me spice. He also used it when we had wild sex, and dammit, I’m instantly thinking of him naked. An unfamiliar sensation creeps up my inner thighs, meeting the flutters in my lower belly and causing a pulsing beat in a place too long neglected.

“Beautiful Beatrice,” Princeton purrs with humor, shaking his head. I stand to cross the porch and pay my respects to the service of my neighbor. He steps forward, and I walk into his embrace, warm arms encircling me. Princeton has been a good friend to our family, and my uncle adores him. My eyes shift to Ben’s over the shoulder of Prince, his nickname among us, and Ben quickly looks away, his jaw tensing once again.

“Bea, this here is Clay O’Leary. He served with us and he’s come to stay in Bard County for a while.”

Lean fingers reach for mine but surprise me with a firm, earnest handshake. His wild blond hair and deep brown eyes remind me of a peanut butter cookie with a candy on top. His sweet smile spreads like molasses off a spoon, slow and drizzly, and I wonder if he used his rosy lips on my cousin as his eyes search for her while his hand shakes mine.

“Pleasure to meet you, ma’am.” His deep southern voice startles me. His young face gives the impression he might have a softer tone.

“Please don’t ma’am me,” I say, keeping my voice level despite my frustration.

“Yes, ma’am is only used for a lady.” Ben’s voice jests and my attention draws back to him.

“Oh, are you still here? I thought you might have wandered off already, knowing you have trouble staying in one place and all.” My eyes roam the length of his body, hard edged and firm under his dark T. I recall the feel of his taunt skin under my palms and my fingers twitch, eager to experience this newer body before me. Thankfully, my head has more sense, and I mentally kick myself for thinking such things.

“My, how her mouth does run.” Prince chuckles, familiar with the banter between Ben and me. He’s a good-looking man in his own right—deep blue eyes and an angular face. The four men together look like one of those calendar ads for hot, brooding country boys.

“If only my horse ran as fast,” Ben snarks and the men guffaw at my expense. Too bad Ben doesn’t own a horse. No need to own a horse when I don’t have a place to call home. Ben holds my glare, and I wonder if he recalls the same memory. Clay snorts and then diverts his gaze from the wrath simmering inside my eyes. Prince pats Ben on the back as a display of shared humor but Ben doesn’t move.

“Ha ha,” I mutter, eyeing the silhouette of his masculine face, cut as if from the dry earth beneath us. A slight shadow covers his jaw; I don’t recall him having scruff in the past. “Laugh all you’d like, but you forget I know you.”

I know you, my heart cries. Dammit.

Chapter 2

Ben

God dammit, she might be even prettier than I remember with blonde hair trickling down her back. Her body reminds me of a curvy backroad and her eyes are the blue of a sky chasing a sunset. Bea’s a ray of sunshine until she opens her mouth. Then she’s the heat of hell. That mouth is the very reason I didn’t want to make an impromptu visit. Princeton convinced us to take a ride after dinner, wanting to survey the land we hadn’t seen in over eight years, and somehow our truck brought us here.

“We’ll just say hello,” he suggested.

Shit. If I didn’t know him better, I’d think he had a hidden agenda for being here—Blue Star Manor—owned and operated by Leonardo Fleck, father to Hermione and uncle to one mouthy Beatrice Daine. How I can’t stand the memories of this woman, and yet, my body yearns for her after all these years. I’d gotten laid when we first returned stateside, but my traitorous dick recognizes Bea as someone who would be three times better than the girl from a few weeks ago. My heart wants a say in the matter as well, but I shush it, slamming the iron grate I erected long ago back in the face of my crushed organ. No words allowed from you, I curse. Stay in the cage, I remind it like hollering at a wild stallion, spirited and anxious to run free.

As I glare at Bea, I keep my arms crossed so I don’t reach out and throttle her. More than anything, I’d like to kiss the sass right off her perky lips. Lips that once bit mine, nipped my neck, and sucked me dry. The thought sends a jolt behind the seam of my zipper, and the tension zings throughout my body. My cock recalls someone lush, lusty, and lippy, and he wants, he wants.

Down, boy, I argue, willing myself to no longer look at her.

John Borgonne has drawn my attention, instead. I didn’t hear him leave the barn after we greeted old Mack and Tyrus, the herd hands. His silence is a disturbing presence. He’s sly and sneaky, reminding me a snake in the grass. With a tap of John’s foot against the packed dirt, I turn to face him, letting thoughts of Bea drift off in the evening breeze.

“And welcome home to you, too,” Leo offers, addressing Princeton’s brother. Bastard brother, if truth be told. His daddy couldn’t keep it in his pants, despite the sweet love of Princeton’s mother, Helena. A tussle in the hay, or rather an extra bedroom on their estate with a young maid, resulted in John. Fortunately for John, Princeton recognizes him as a brother. However, bitterness lies deep within John as his own father doesn’t appreciate his existence. When his young mother died, the grace of Helena allowed John to stay on the farm, but in the bunkhouse where he’d been raised under the disguise of someone else’s boy, although we all know the truth. We enlisted in the army, and Princeton no longer played the games of his parents. He acknowledged John who joined us overseas and returned to Bard County when we were released. Despite Princeton’s acceptance, I don’t trust John, and the way he looks at Bea disturbs me.

I shouldn’t care. I remind myself that I don’t.

Leo engages Princeton in a few minutes conversation about our journey home and suggests we return for breakfast to share in greater detail about our situation overseas. John declines the offer, and his simple rejection inclines me to accept with a nod of approval and a quick word of gratitude. When John turns for Bea, I excuse myself and begin walking away. Clay catches up to me, halting me halfway between the gathering and the beat-up truck parked by the stables.

“What do you think of Hermione?” Clay whispers, although we are out of hearing distance. His eyes drift back to the girls whom I note eye us while we try not to be obvious in glancing at them. It’s all so teenager-ish.

“I don’t think anything of her,” I reply, honest and quick in my answer.

“Isn’t she the most beautiful creature you’ve ever seen?” Clay continues taking in the features of Leo’s daughter. Brunette hair, fair skin, and sky-blue eyes, she’s your typical country beauty but nothing to make my heart patter or my cock swell. Clay, on the other hand, can’t seem to keep his eyes from her.

“You might want to be a little less obvious,” I stammer. “Drooling isn’t attractive.”

Clay’s gullibility makes him swipe at the corner of his mouth, checking for saliva that isn’t present.

“What’s going on?” Princeton teases, walking over to join us. He claps Clay on the shoulder and peers at the ladies over Clay’s angular body. Our fair-haired friend is years younger and inches taller than either of us. He’s lanky and lean, and rather oblivious in some matters. We remain standing in the yard, and I’m not certain what we are waiting on until I see John still near Bea.

“I said Hermione is the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen, but Ben doesn’t agree,” Clay explains.

“Do you need me to agree?” I question, feeling the tension in my arms tighten, noting Bea’s eyes on us as if she can hear us.

“Don’t bother with Ben’s approval. He likes women well enough. He just can’t commit to liking only one.” Prince laughs after his declaration, and Clay smiles, displaying a dimple.

Glancing over at Hermione, I see her blush in response to Clay’s attention, and I recall Clay’s charm. He may be young, but he’s had his share of the finer sex. I’m distracted when John leans forward and kisses Bea on the cheek. My eyes narrow.

“Commit?” I snort. “Why commit? What’s that saying? Why own the cow when you can get the milk for free?”

“Is that a saying?” Clay asks, all innocent and unintelligent.

Princeton laughs harder. “Shit, Ben,” he teases. “You know it’s never really free with women.”

My gaze creeps back to Bea and quickly diverts. “Listen, I like women. A wonderful woman gave me life and I’m thankful. I was raised by that same loving woman and I’m much obliged. I’ve worshipped many women, and I’ve been grateful for the pleasure. Oh, God, I do appreciate women.” My hips thrust emphasizing my gratitude of the opposite sex, and Clay busts into laughter, bending at the waist. A feminine snort sounds off to the side of me, and I turn to see Bea twisting her head away from my direction, shaking in disgust. How could she hear me when she suddenly appears to be listening so intently to John? I huff in agitation.

“Now, there’s a woman my body could enjoy,” I mutter, nodding in the direction of my nemesis, torn between wanting to spank her for speaking to John or just spank her fine ass pointed in my direction. “I’ve never seen such a bucking beauty as her. But that edgy tongue of hers…” I release a low whistle.

“If I recall, your tongue liked the edge of hers just fine,” Princeton retorts with a tease in his tone and a glimmer in his eye as he peruses the body of his old friend. If I didn’t know better, I’d think they had a thing at one time. He better not have touched her.

“And as I recall, she cut me to the quick.” The words are a sharp reminder of Bea Daine as a tough woman who has no need for a man.

Not that I’m interested in being her man, because I’m not.

“But Princeton is right, Clay. I have no desire in getting saddled to a woman, thank you very much.” My crossed arms unfold, and my hands dig into my pockets. Tension vibrates off me at the thought of marriage. I’ll never marry, I told myself long ago, and I’ll be sticking to my self-proclamation. Country boys are loyal to promises they make to themselves. The thought nearly chokes me, and I look at Bea one last time. Brilliant blue eyes glare at me, storming with the heat of a summer thundershower. How I loved when she rained down on me, but it’s all in the past. Her eyes narrow deeper and the cobalt color swirls. She’d drown me in the hurricane of her.

“Oh, you’d saddle up, if you could.” Prince scoffs, his head tipping in Bea’s direction. The double entendre isn’t lost on me. I’d ride Bea Daine again in a heartbeat, but she’d buck me off just as quick. I don’t need that kind of rejection. There are plenty of other fillies to mount, although when I think about it, I’ve already done most of the county. Bard County isn’t largely populated. People have been here for generations. It’s one of those places that crawls under your skin and never leaves you no matter how hard you scrub or how far you travel.

“I’d rather be prodded with a poker than risk the claws of that woman,” I snap, returning his jab with a head tilt of my own at Bea. Prince chuckles again as a firm hand smacks my back.

“If you prod her, she will come,” he jokes. “And those claws on your skin...mmm…mmm…mmm…” His appraisal drifts off as he hums, and I want to belt one of my oldest friends. The jest instantly draws forward a memory of Bea’s legs around my waist, her nails dragging between my shoulder blades as I pin her to the barn wall. The exhale of her gasping breath whispers through my thoughts. So deep, she cried out. My cock is full from the image, and I’m ready to burst with the recall.

A giggle in the direction of the women draws my attention, and Hermione’s eyes leap up to Clay. Beside me, I hear my young friend inhale and watch as the girl drowns in a shade of deep pink. Princeton calls out to his brother as we’ve been waiting on him. Strange relief fills me that he’ll exit when we leave. I don’t like John so close to Bea, although I shake the thought.

“Come on,” Princeton suggests. “Let’s head out before we get in trouble.”

“Trouble,” I mutter. My eyes rake over Bea’s body, taking in the swell of her breasts under the white peasant top, the dip of her waist, and the denim clinging to her hips and legs. I’ve never been jealous of material before, but I envy those jeans. The only thing I’m not a fan of is the color, because the blue matches my balls at the moment.


© 2019 L.B. Dunbar.  All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author.