Intimate Strangers

Intimate Strangers

by Gem Sivad
Intimate Strangers

Intimate Strangers

by Gem Sivad


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Ambrose and Lucy Quince struggle through eight years of marriage endlessly mired in discord. After they've shared too many of their disagreements publicly, when Lucy mysteriously disappears in 1874, folks assume she either ran off with another man, or her husband killed her.

Three years later, scarred in mind and body, Lucy returns to Eclipse in time to save Ambrose from hanging for her murder. She can't remember him, the life they once had, or the terrible event that tore her from her family. But she plans to find out what happened to her, with or without the help of the snarling, lustful man she apparently once wed.

Although Lucy's lost her memories, Ambrose hasn't forgotten a damned thing. The woman who once promised to love, honor, and obey, left him instead. He owes her nothing. Trouble is-his heart reminds him of a cold, hard fact. Lucy's the only woman he'll ever love and he wants her to love him too.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781449587710
Publisher: CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date: 11/16/2009
Pages: 452
Product dimensions: 5.24(w) x 7.99(h) x 1.01(d)

Read an Excerpt


1874--High Plains, West Texas

Lucy Quince knelt in the straw, smoothing the pastern and fetlock of the horse. "You're a beauty," she crooned. The mare stomped her hooves and twitched the flies from her ears, listening to the husky voice that she trusted. Lucy ran her hands up the leg, and then rose to pat Starlight's withers before stepping back from the chestnut.

She stood deep in thought, admiring the strong hindquarters and powerful legs of the Morgan mare that was a direct descendant of the breed's foundation sire, Figure. Named Starlight of Black Hawk for the star-shaped patch of white hair on her face, she was the first horse Lucy had imported from the east to use for breeding stock on the Quince brothers' Double-Q ranch.

By using a range stallion to contribute stamina and speed to the already compactly built Morgan breed, Lucy hoped to produce nimble working horses that were smart, fast, and strong.

"Come out of there." The deep growl sent shivers up her spine, and she turned to see her husband, Ambrose Quince, hanging over the edge of the stall. Wrinkling her nose at the pungent smell, Lucy wiped the liniment off her hands and onto the piece of linen he handed her.

"Isn't she beautiful, Quincy?" She was speaking of her mare, but Ambrose's eyes were fixed on his wife when he rumbled, "Pretty as a picture."

Lucy knew that she appeared happier to her husband than he had seen her for a spell, just as he knew that he wasn't the cause. She stiffened as Ambrose slid his arms around her shoulders and pulled her into an embrace, nestling his arousal against her bottom.

"Ambrose Quince, have you no shame?" she scolded him even asher pleasure in the day softened her voice.

Displaying rare playfulness, he leaned down to nip her ear and whisper, "No."

Lucy ducked under his arm and said in a stern voice, "It's broad daylight, husband. No decent woman..." Her words were cut short when he turned her in his arms, captured her mouth beneath his, and scooted them both deeper into the shadows of the barn.

"I don't give a rat's ass what time of day it is, woman. Decent time or not, I want you now. Come give me some of that sugar."

Lucy immediately felt frustration and anger. This was her special day. She did not want to share it with Ambrose. But before she could escape, her husband had lifted her onto a bale of straw and flipped her skirts up to her thighs. His hands were already fumbling at her pantalets as he stilled her protests by covering her mouth with his at the same time he slid his callused finger into her hot slickness.

Darn you, Quincy. I do not have time for this. But her usual glacial indifference to his advances was already undermined by his skilled seduction. Her thoughts ran counter to her desire as she arched against him, gasping as he stroked into her with a second finger.

He grunted, stepping closer so that his body pushed her thighs wider, pressing his denim-covered arousal against her mound. Instead of pushing him away as she intended, Lucy found herself enjoying his touch.

Sliding her arms around his neck, she felt his kiss melt her resistance. She was unable to deny her own needs and uselessly struggled against Ambrose's seduction. But as soon as she was compliant, he pulled away from her and dropped to his knees, resting his head on one of her bare, splayed thighs.

"Ambrose Quince, don't you dare." She was scandalized and titillated at the same time. It had been a while since she'd indulged herself with the pleasure he knew how to give. Ambrose had exotic ideas about what men and women could do during their loving.

Lucy had often regretted that her husband wasn't as sophisticated in his living as he was in his loving. But for now, she forgot further disparagement when his mouth descended to her core and his tongue roughly stroked her sodden flesh.

"Oh God, Quincy..." She lay back and enjoyed his fingers as they continued to work their magic and his mouth tasted all of her. At first she concentrated on her embarrassment, trying to remain still and not reveal the wash of pleasure consuming her. But her wet folds were weeping with the need to be filled by this man, and her hips refused to remain passive beneath his intimate caress.

Lucy squeezed her eyes shut and clutched the hair on her husband's head while he pleasured her with lips and tongue. Ambrose demonstrated that he knew her body better than she did, as he held her captive to his desire.

Anchoring herself by holding onto him, Lucy could not mute the sounds of her need mingled with the whimpered protests escaping her. "Quincy, stop. It's too much." He continued his attentions until her objection became a moan of approval and a sighed, "Yes..."

When his lips nuzzled her sensitive nub, she abandoned dissent altogether and lifted her hips, straining for more. For a time, only the rustle of her skirts and the growls of passion rumbling from Ambrose could be heard over the sound of the horses.

Then she let go of her proper guise, crying louder with each release as she clasped his head in her hands and ground her soft tissue against his lips. Before he stopped, she came twice under his rough tonguing.

Ambrose sat back on his heels and chuckled, kissing and nuzzling her sprawled thigh. "Goddamned if I don't love the taste of you, Lucy," he said. And then, as if he couldn't resist, he nipped the reddened bud that still pulsed from his ministrations.

Feeling her shudder and strain toward him again, he teased her pearl with his teeth and lips, curling his fingers inside of her sheath and touching her in that special spot. She came softly, releasing her control and ceding power to him.

Then her husband stood and looked down at her. Lucy was sprawled on her back, elbows propping her up so she could watch. Her knees were up-drawn, and as her silken folds creamed a silvery essence just for him, she waited for him to merge his flesh with hers.

"You love it, don't you, sweetheart?" He was pure male arrogance. Even satiated as Lucy was, irritation disturbed the soothing completion that he had given her.

She looked at his erection. It was a long, thick pole of hardened flesh, ruddy and dark with engorgement. She smiled at the evidence of her power over him. "Please," she whispered.

But then he growled, "Mine," and Lucy wanted to wrench herself away from him and defy his possession. Her body though, defeated her attempt, demanding to be filled.

"Tell me you want me," he ordered. She arched upward, her flesh opening, her internal muscles flexing around the tip of his penetration. Her body begged even as she remained silent, refusing to verbalize his rule over her.

He held back, his face a picture of grim control and determination. Liquid heat spilled from her, wetting his engorged flesh. He rubbed the head around in the evidence of her passion and stared down at her, waiting for her to answer.

Finally, she sobbed in surrender, "Yes, Quincy, you still make me burn. Please stop teasing and love me."

He penetrated her depth, sliding through her passion-slick channel, pushing through her clenching muscles that massaged his rod as he invaded her heated flesh. She became a raging inferno as their bodies fused and they danced.

He thrust hard and deep. "Too much, too much," she protested, but he was only satisfied when he had plumbed all of her depths and felt her nether lips fold back as the hair on his groin mingled with her feminine curls. She forgot past grievances as he covered her mouth with his, and her hands pulled his shoulders down so that their bodies strained together as one.

When he tried to withdraw, her pelvis followed and refused to give him up. His chuckle was deep with pleasure. He slid his hands under her buttocks and held her.

"Let me see if I remember what you like," he growled. He held her up for his next thrust and then began a controlled assault that plunged in and out of her until she screamed her orgasm against lips that caught her cries. Her body arched and tossed until she lay still beneath him, limp and muzzy.

As usual, he didn't let himself lose control or claim his own satisfaction until she was oblivious and weak. Only then did he settle himself deeper as he held her legs splayed, while with tissue and spirit he claimed her womb.

There he lodged and stopped, pumping his seed in jets of hot fluid that spilled around their tight fit and trickled down her thigh. For a minute he slumped, caught with her in this exquisite joy of the flesh. But when she stirred restlessly, he withdrew, leaving her bereft.

Standing, he straightened his clothes, and evidently not ready to end the interlude, lifted her from the stacked bales of straw and settled her on his lap. She rested her head against him, stroking his chest in the aftermath of their coupling. She could smell herself on him. It made her feel needy again, and she squirmed, embarrassed at her earthy response.

It was a rare moment of peace between husband and wife as she rubbed her cheek against the rough fabric of his shirt. She scolded softly because she wanted to reclaim her control."Quincy, you need to remember we have children. What if they'd come in while we were..." Her reproach didn't get her anything but a squeeze and a hug as he nibbled absently on her ear.

"I shut the barn door, just like I always have in the past. Young'ns know better than to come in."

Passion no longer colored his voice, and his words reflected his belief that his orders were always followed, even high-handed, arrogant orders. Unwilling to disturb the moment, Lucy kept her thoughts to herself.

She shivered, unexpectedly chilled, and stood, self-consciously smoothing her skirts. "Anyway, I have to get these stalls ready. My mares will be here soon."

Lucy had been preparing for the arrival of five Morgan mares when Ambrose had interrupted her afternoon. Now she resumed her wait and turned away from the stern man who bore little resemblance to her lover of moments before. Ignoring him, she'd started toward the empty stalls next to Starlight when his words reached her.

"Mares aren't coming." He stood, belligerently facing her. She frowned.

"You mean they're going to be delayed? Did Hamilton have trouble in Wichita?" Ambrose picked up his hat from the bale of hay and pulled it down low over his eyes, hitching his gun holster back into place as he answered Lucy. "They're not coming because I canceled the order." Avoiding the look of shock on his wife's face, he headed toward the closed double doors at the front of the barn.

She grabbed his arm on his way past, digging her nails in deep as she pulled him to a stop. "What did you do?"

He looked down at her then, answering, "I did what needed to be done. The only breeding program you're going to involve yourself in is popping out young'ns sired by me. Get this straight, once and for all. I'm the stud and you're the mare. Don't get ideas above what you can do."

Fury intensified the Boston accent she used to subtly remind Ambrose of their differences. "You refuse to treat me like anything but dandelion fluff. You're afraid I'm smart enough to get away from you and your meanness. I'll show you, Ambrose Quince."

* * * *

He'd known she'd be mad. He was accustomed to her tantrums, but he hadn't expected his own feelings of guilt. Maybe that's why he said the things he knew would hurt the most.

"You're meant to be an ornament, a pretty bauble made to be a mother to my children and a pleasant companion in my bed. Isn't that what they taught you in that fancy school you attended in Boston?"

She dropped her hand from his arm and stepped back as though he'd slapped her. Then she gathered her gear and entered Starlight's stall, shunning him as he watched her saddle the mare.

Her lip quivered like a child's when she whispered, "I'll be damned if you make me cry one more tear over you, Ambrose Quince."

To Ambrose, she sounded like a petulant child intending to get away from him before he saw her cry. Finished tacking up, Lucy left the animal and silently walked to the front of the barn to open the door.

She returned to lead the mare, positioning Starlight by the stable block. Even as she led the mare over to mount her, Ambrose was still pretending that all was right between them. Then, without acknowledging her husband, she seated herself on the sidesaddle that Ambrose called ridiculous and swore invited disaster.

"You seduced me into this marriage," she charged, "pretending to want me, not my money." Her voice was bitter when she added, "That lie went all to hell when Brody came along."

Ambrose Quince didn't know whether to order his wife to stay put, use a western stock saddle, forgive him, or sit down for a talk, so he hesitated to answer, knowing that whatever he said would end in another argument. Finally, he ignored her charge and said instead, "Supper'll be on soon, best not ride too far."

Then he couldn't stop himself from responding to her accusation. Trying to keep his tone unruffled, he said, "Your money's in the Eclipse Bank. I didn't touch it. This isn't about money. It's about your being a good ranch wife."

He was still talking as she ducked her head and rode out the barn door.

Their second child, Brody, had been born early, after a hard delivery. It was then Lucy had changed toward him, becoming a reluctant partner in their coupling, using her opposition to making more children as an excuse to avoid bed sports.

Today, he had felt her joy when she'd knelt in the stall with her new mare, and he'd wanted to make himself part of her happiness. Now, he reached toward her as she rode through the doors. "Luce, don't ride off. We need to talk, honey."

But she was already halfway out of the barn by that time and shouted over her shoulder as she left the barnyard, "I'll not forgive you this, Ambrose Quince. Someday you'll realize the mistake you made today."

He watched her ride off, worrying on two fronts. If she was carrying again, he knew she'd be pissed, convinced that he'd done it on purpose to keep her from continuing with her father's dream to set up a horse-breeding program.

Alexander McKenna had come to Texas with a plan to mix the strong bloodlines of Morgan mares imported from the east with that of the sturdy mustangs that ran wild on the range. Dead before he got started, McKenna left his money and his ambitions to his daughter.

Almost nine years before, when Lucy's father died, the red roan stallion that they'd seen running wild evidently moved his herd to a different grazing land. Lucy had continued to search for him. Finally, six months before, she'd been watching the roaming herds of mustangs through a spyglass when she'd finally spotted an obvious descendant of that stallion.

She'd started planning right then to capture and use the wild mustang to breed her Morgan mare and had begun immediately cutting back on household purchases, hoarding her money to invest in more breeding stock.

Ambrose had assumed control of the McKenna money at Alexander's death. He admitted that he'd encouraged his young wife's compulsive shopping as long as she bought for the house and the children.

He appeased his conscience by assuring himself that his actions today had not been because he needed or wanted the inheritance. Lucy Quince's headstrong ways had given the folks in Eclipse enough to talk about, and he'd be damned if his wife was going to breed horses and cause more.

Hell, maybe he had been intentionally trying to get her pregnant. During the rare times she let him inside of her, she insisted that he withdraw before spending his seed, but today had been sheer bliss. In spite of her attempts to remain unmoved, Lucy had been unable to hide the satisfaction that she'd experienced.

Ambrose figured that in spite of their constant quarreling, today proved the loving still ran hot between them. He had been too long turned away, and the memory of today's coupling made his loins tighten, ready to make love to his wife again.

Ambrose took his hat off and beat it against his leg in frustration before settling it back onto his brow. After today's fracas and last night's downright quarrel, it would be a blue moon before Lucy let him near her again.

He had a note coming due at the bank, rustlers stealing him blind, and neighboring ranchers ready to fight the Double-Q over water rights ... and his wife wanted to play at horse breeding.

Last night, he'd taken her to the town social, planning to seduce her afterward to soften today's disappointment. Instead, he'd had to watch her dance with every able cowboy in the territory and flirt with the rest. Husband and wife had fought the whole ride back to the ranch.

"Goddamn it, Lucy," he muttered as if she were still standing in front of him. "This is a cattle ranch and you're a ranch wife." And then as he walked toward the house, clenching and unclenching his hands, he mumbled, "She'll get over it."

Brody, five years old and as loving as a puppy, sidled up to him and hugged on his leg until he scooped her into his arms and carried her giggling into the house. "What's for supper, Sugar Plum?"

* * * *

When Lucy wasn't back in time for the meal, he went out looking for her, intending to yell at her plenty for scaring the children. Made uneasy by their clash and her threats, he kept remembering the look she'd given him as she rode away.

He didn't want the ranch hands to know that he and his wife had had another fight, so he rode first to the area around the bluff where she usually went to watch the wild horses. When he found no sign of Lucy there, he descended to the dirt path leading to Eclipse, as real fear for his wayward wife set in.

The wind that kept everything coated in red dust came up hard and fast, bringing rain unexpectedly. The ferocious storm churned the red dirt into muddy drops of water. By morning, Ambrose was frantic, knowing something was bad wrong. He had the entire ranch crew out searching through the downpour, but any tracks they might have followed were wiped out in the rain.

It was days before Ambrose let the men resume cattle work. It was weeks before he gave up and admitted that Lucy had disappeared with no trace. At first he believed she must have been thrown from that damn sidesaddle and carried off by some wild animal. Frantically, he rode over his land and the area around Eclipse looking for her.

But after a week, when neither dead nor alive, horse nor rider had been found, doubt set in. Luce had said he'd be sorry. No one claimed knowledge of her whereabouts, but in his heart he knew she wasn't dead.

When he went to town, people looked at him obliquely and stepped aside. He interrupted half conversations when he went to Bailey's Mercantile, "...saw her taking an interest in that stranger."

Sometimes a name, sometimes a local man gone, too, sometimes "that stranger"--but, no matter the male involved, he came to believe the whispers. She'd taken off with another man.

He stayed on the Double-Q and worked. His brother, Hamilton, made the trip to Eclipse when supplies were needed. Ambrose gave Alex and Brody what affection he could find, but a withered thing occupied the cavity that had once held his heart.

For a time he remained unaware of the second set of rumors that circulated until Hamilton brought them to his attention. His younger brother made him listen.

"Damn, Ambrose, Lucy's not here, but there are young'ns waiting for you to remember them. Brody and Alex need you real bad."

After the first three months, Hamilton braced his brother with hard truths. "You're going to have to quit pretending that she'll walk back in. Luce is gone, and now there's a rumor making the rounds that you and she had a big fight, and you killed her and buried her someplace on Double-Q land."

Hamilton and Lucy had sparred often, and he'd made no bones about his opinion that she was a useless fribble, but his brother's wife was still a Quince, and he'd searched for her alongside Ambrose, day after day.

Neither man believed that Lucy was dead--Ambrose mostly because he couldn't accept it, Hamilton because he said Lucifer, as he named her, was too mean to get herself killed. He'd worked hard to pull Ambrose back to the land of the living, and except that his brother had gotten a little colder, a mite grimmer, no one but his children would have guessed that the heart of Ambrose Quince was missing.

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