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"Mierda." Miguel swore as a painful beat pulsed hot in his thumb. With a shake of his injured hand, he turned around to glare at whoever had tapped him on the shoulder. They'd caused him to smash his thumb with the hammer.
"Hello." The pretty golden-haired woman waved toward his bruised finger with a cringe. "Sorry about that. I called out, but..."
His glare faltered at seeing Abigail Sutton standing in his barn. Their gazes met and lingered a little too long. He had spent many afternoons daydreaming about Abigail with her schoolteacher properness, Eastern accent, and big breasts. He'd never seen her hair down, but it seemed to gleam in the harsh Texas sunshine like a halo.
He shifted, putting her on his right side. Dammit. He couldn't hear anything on his left, so he hadn't heard her approach. Looking past her, he glanced outside to look for his old hound. Until that moment, Rosa had never failed to alert him to visitors. Of course, Abigail always took the time to scratch the old dog's ears and rub her belly when Rosa accompanied him. She'd bribed his dog for her silence.
Only at Abigail's lingering gaze on his chest did he remember his state of undress. Quickly, he placed the hammer on the worktable and picked up his worn shirt. Fingers trembling, he buttoned the front up his chest as fast as he could.
"Hm." She waved again. "You've missed a button."
Ignoring the obvious truth, he shoved the uneven shirttails into his pants. "Senorita Sutton." He swallowed as she continued to appraise him. Odd, but this must be what it was like to be his prized bull when prospective breeders came to look at the animal. If she kept her brown eyes on him in such amanner, his cock would soon rival the beast's. "What business can I help you with?"
She licked her lips.
Miguel removed his hat to rake a hand through his hair. Instead of replacing his hat, he used it in an attempt to hide the swelling in his britches. He'd lusted after her since their first meeting. This closeness, this first moment of privacy with her, only added to his arousal. The muscles in his lower back tensed. His mouth went dry.
"Call me Abby, please."
He nodded in hopes she'd get on to discussing the work she needed done. While he was kept plenty busy, people didn't usually stop by his place to socialize. And never had a single female visited. Besides, the women who normally visited shed tears when they put in an appearance. Requesting a pine box moved many souls to weep.
"Well ... may I call you Miguel?"
Again, he nodded. Her nervousness intrigued him as much as the lust she stirred. Once at a barn raising, he'd watched her reluctantly dance with Newton Smith. If only it had been him. Lust for her attention had stirred that day. Watching her from a distance had been the only reason he'd lingered among the townspeople.
Now she stood alone with him in his barn. Soon he'd be unable to think past the arousal she never failed to cause.
"I have a business proposition for you..."
Still, she hesitated.
"Ah." Oftentimes, people couldn't afford to pay for his services. Perhaps that concerned her. "Don't worry." He shifted his stance. "People in the area pay me with whatever they've got. Cash isn't necessary." Though coins sure were a nice surprise.
"Oh, no, let me explain. I've come to speak to you about a business arrangement, more so than a business proposition."
Business arrangement. Business proposition. Not much difference between the two from where he stood. "I accept payments."
A flush spread up her high cheekbones to soften her appearance. In that moment, she went from pretty to lovely. Sí. Something turned him on about the blush she displayed. "Yes, I'll get to payments in a moment."
His cock stiffened. "Would you like to see some of my goods?"
The flush covering her face turned a brighter shade as her gaze slowly slid down his body to rest below his waist. "Ah, well, I'm sure your goods ... uh, well, work fine."
It was his turn to experience a slow heat spread up his neck. Surely, the senorita couldn't have meant what he'd thought. Surely, he'd misunderstood. With his deafness in the one ear, it wouldn't be the first time he'd mistaken someone's speech.
Giving up trying to hide his arousal, he placed his hat back on his head and folded his arms. "Senorita." He'd given his work away before, and for Abigail Sutton, the loss of material wouldn't be a hardship. "It will be all right. Tell me what you need, and I'll see--"
"Abby." She smiled, cutting him off. His balls tingled in response as he recalled the first time she'd smiled at him. Last winter at the general store. He'd nearly plowed her over in his haste. She'd been so soft and funny about his clumsiness.
"Miguel, did you hear me?"
Pushing his hat back, he focused on her lips. Dammit. She'd been talking. He had to pay attention.
"I'd like for you to be my husband."
He tugged on his good ear. No, he damned well hadn't heard her right. "Say again?'
"I'd like you to be my husband."
He stared at the loco woman. Dios. Her husband? Did she realize the trouble he could get into?
"You see, I've calculated my situation, and I feel you're my best option."
Option? He stared hard at her mouth to make sure he didn't miss anything she said.
"You're prosperous." She waved her hand. "Attractive. Respected. No one would challenge our marriage."
Abby's eyes widened. "It's true. I've paid attention to the leaders of the community who speak of you. A-and," she stuttered, "watched you."
He wasn't about to argue with her. But, he knew right where he stood in the town's eyes, even if she didn't see it that way. There was no denying he was as much a Mexican as he was a white man. His yellow hair didn't hide his accent or his black eyes. He made damn sure everyone knew who his mother had been. The townspeople simply had no other place to go for carpentry work.
Being her husband could get him bullwhipped or, worse, lynched.
On the other hand, Abigail had never treated him like so many others had. She'd always seemed genuine in her responses to him. He'd never lusted after another woman the way he had Abby. There'd been a few times he'd allowed himself to weave daydreams...
"You also live outside of town. That's a good thing."
Sí. His isolated home would make it easier for those who'd want to hang him for touching a white woman. But then, his home would offer him and Abby some freedom away from any prying eyes.
His cock twitched.
Sí. They'd have plenty of privacy out here.
The woman had to be loco, though she looked sane enough. The worry in her eyes ignited something in his chest he didn't understand. "Why?" He swallowed past the word.
"Oh, it's a long story ... but the marriage wouldn't be for long. It'd be more of a pretend relationship." She looked away for a moment. When she faced him once more, she looked as composed as he'd ever remembered seeing her. "You see, Miguel, my father has run off, and I need a husband. My brother should be here soon ... and ... things being what they are..."
The townspeople knew how Smith sought Abby's attention. There was no reason to say more. With her father gone, he could see the other man pressuring the lovely senorita into something she wouldn't want ... something he couldn't imagine any woman would willingly want.
"When is your brother due here?"
"From last word, I'd say within two weeks. Maybe sooner." She sighed. "Father ... well, he couldn't wait any longer. You know how some men need to wander."
Sí. He understood the need some men had to keep moving. Some men didn't want roots. Not him. He preferred to stay put. "When your brother arrives, what will you do?"
"Oh, we'll travel back home to Philadelphia." She pursed her lips. "It's where I belong, anyway."
Of course she'd want to leave Texas with her father gone. It'd be a shame to see her leave, though. Her father had been one of the town founders.
After a calming breath, he asked the question that stood between them. "Why me, senorita?" There had to be more behind her seeking him out. He had a suspicion and wanted to be sure.
Singling him out put her in danger, as well. As much as he'd hungered for her ... he doubted lust for him had anything to do with her choice.
The flush returned her face. She moistened her lips as she hesitated.
Again, she didn't need to go on. He'd been picked because out of all the men in the area, he had no other prospects of marriage. No white woman would touch him. And the Mexicans, well, the fathers would shoot him before he'd be allowed to deflower a daughter.
"I have no other choice." Her delicate throat worked, while he admitted it'd taken a lot for her to approach him. "I'll make it as pleasurable for you as possible." The flush reached her forehead. "Though I want to leave the marriage ... pure ... I'm sure there are other things we can do to keep you from the saloons on Saturday nights."
His cock swelled thickly. Sí. There were other things to make it pleasurable for them both without him taking her virginity. His gaze sought her mouth.
"Miguel?" Their eyes met. "If you agree, I think it'd be best if we avoid kissing. It's far too personal, I think."
"Sí. I understand." No fucking. And no kissing. He removed his hat and placed it over his heart.
Inhaling, he glanced over her shoulder out into the sunlight. He weighed the dangers a wedding vow would put him in.
If it were any other woman...
This could be his one shot at marriage. A short marriage, but still a union.
If it were any other woman...
But it wasn't another woman asking. It was Abby, a woman he very much wanted. She needed his protection.
There was only one answer.