Read Renegade Online

Authors: Elaine Barbieri

Renegade (15 page)

BOOK: Renegade
6.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Samantha’s question was a foregone conclusion. “Then she forgave him, too.”

Matt paused before continuing. “She told me she didn’t want to embarrass her father by telling him any of this. She said we could allow our betrothal to stand temporarily, then just fade away. I was so angry with Tucker that I didn’t argue. I just stormed out of the ranch house to find him. The funny thing is that when I finally caught up with him—”

Samantha stroked the pained lines of Matt’s handsome face when his voice drained away. He said by way of explanation, “He’s my brother, Samantha. I know as sure as I’m standing here that I would’ve been him if my mother had decided to take me with her when she left instead of Tucker.”

Samantha’s stomach tightened and her throat filled. She kissed his mouth and whispered to him soothingly, knowing it would be senseless to refute his statement. He mumbled incoherently as she kissed his eyelids, knowing he hated himself for having had opportunities that Tucker didn’t. She felt the brush of his thick eyelashes tickle her lips, but she kissed his self-deprecation away. She didn’t want to hear him berate himself. She didn’t want him to say he would have been a thief if he had been in Tucker’s place, because she knew instinctively that it wasn’t true. Yet she couldn’t tell him that. She couldn’t strip him of every speck of sympathy for his brother.

Uncertain when the look in Matt’s light eyes began to change, Samantha continued her comforting kisses until they gradually became more and moved down the column of his throat to cover the chest she had stripped free of his shirt. When her hands moved to his belt, Matt remained still no longer.

Unconscious of beams of afternoon sunlight warming her naked flesh in the minutes following, she felt only Matt’s mouth against hers despite the hard ground of the wooded copse underneath her
back. She experienced with raw delight his trailing kisses as they moved to her breasts and heard only his rapid breathing as his ministrations increased. She felt his body harden as he pressed it tight against hers, then heard his gasp when he entered her.

She held him close, hoping the time would never come when she would have to let him go. Yet she knew in her heart even as he filled her that time and circumstance might interfere, allowing the beauty of that moment never again to be recaptured.

Labored breathing filled with endless glory…sweet satiation that came in a wild burst…Matt throbbing to stillness inside her…

Trembling in the aftermath of their intimacy, Samantha turned toward Matt still holding him tight. His lips found hers and she accepted his kiss—until it became more again, and she stopped thinking anything at all.

“What’s wrong, dear?”

Aware that she had been unusually quiet when her father and his men returned from working the herd, Jenny regarded her father silently. Both Lefty and Mark had gone to the bunkhouse earlier than usual after supper with the excuse that they had chores to perform. She had been grateful for that because she had the feeling she would be unable to bear another moment of their questioning glances despite their obvious concern.

Jenny realized belatedly that she could not avoid
her father’s questions any longer when he said, “You were quiet yesterday, and you’re even quieter today. That’s not like you.”

“Everybody knows I’m not a talkative person, Pa.”

“Maybe you’re not talkative with most people, but you usually tell me whatever is on your mind. You’re not doing that now, and I feel uneasy.”

Jenny tried to smile. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“That’s what I mean, Jenny. You always know what I’m trying to say, even when I don’t say it right. We’ve always had that connection between us.” He took two steps closer, stroked an errant brown strand back from her face, and whispered, “Don’t change that now.”

That gesture, so similar to Matt’s, ripped at Jenny’s composure.

“Maybe I don’t want to talk. Maybe I don’t want to tell you that your daughter isn’t the person you thought she is.”

“My daughter is everything I ever wanted her to be.” Frowning, Randolph Morgan added, “But she’s also a woman with a woman’s feelings and with limitations that are totally different from mine. I might not fully understand those limitations, but I love her enough to try.”

“Don’t say any of that if you don’t mean it, Pa.”

“I mean every word, darlin’.”

“Oh, Pa.” Her facade cracking, Jenny walked
into her aging father’s waiting arms and sobbed, “I let you down.”

“Tell me how you let me down, Jenny.”

“Matt and I…we…”

Randolph took a breath and then asked, “Are you trying to say you two lay together?”

“No. It was someone else.”

Jenny felt her father stiffen. She heard his harsher tone when he asked, “What do you mean it was someone else?”

“It’s a secret, Pa.”

Jenny felt her father’s restraint before he said more quietly, “Have you ever known me to betray a secret?”

“No, but—”

“Well?”

“Did you know all along…were you aware…” Jenny halted and then said in a rush, “Did you know that Matt has a twin brother?”

Her father’s obvious shock was his only response.

“You didn’t know, then.”

“Are you sure?” Randolph asked incredulously.

“I’m sure now. The two of them look exactly alike. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t tell them apart.”

“Oh, Jenny.”

“But I didn’t know until Tucker confessed who he was. To be honest, I didn’t want to believe it was true.”

“Jenny.”

“I’m sorry, Pa. I let everybody down.”

Confused, aware of her agitation but unwilling to remain silent, Randolph probed softly, “Tell me what happened, Jenny—but slowly, please. You know an old man doesn’t get things as quickly as most.”

Her brown eyes tearful and her expression sober, Jenny started to speak.

She was still standing opposite her father when she was finished at last. With an attempt to conceal his angry astonishment, her father said, “I…I can’t believe this.” And then, “Matt knows what happened?”

“I told him and he stormed out of here yesterday. I haven’t heard from him since.”

“What did he say?”

“He said…” Jenny took a breath. “He said he’d take care of Tucker.”

Randolph nodded, satisfied at that.

“I begged him not to do anything he’d be sorry for, and everything is far from settled. Our betrothal still stands for the time being, but that’s all I know—except that although Matt and I love each other, it’s not the kind of love we need in order to marry.”

“The love between you two would grow into more.”

“No, it wouldn’t because there’s somebody else—for both of us.”

“For you both?”

“For me it’s Tucker, Pa. Even though I know now
he lied to me, he melted me with everything he said. I knew then what had always been missing from Matt’s and my relationship. Afterward…after he confessed who he was, he begged me to forgive him. I said I did, but I didn’t mean it and he knew it.”

“And Matt?”

“Every rumor you’ve been hearing about him, the same rumors you tried to shield me from, are all true.”

“You mean about the saloon woman.”

“It wasn’t his fault, Pa. Neither of us recognized what was missing between us until now.”

“But for you it wasn’t missing with Tucker?”

Jenny’s gaze silently pleaded his understanding as she explained, “I don’t know what to say except that Tucker was Matt on the outside—handsome, protective, sincere. He was everything that made me proud to be chosen by him, but he was different in a way that set my heart pounding—in a way that set me afire like Matt never did.”

Randolph did not reply, and Jenny added simply, “I’m sorry, Pa.”

“Don’t be sorry, Jenny.” His lips tight, Randolph forced himself to say, “You only told me the truth. I don’t know what to say in answer to all this except that you’re a woman, and you have to suit yourself. I can only ask you to be honest with everyone concerned.”

When Jenny appeared confused, Randolph said
flatly, “You said Tucker didn’t believe you, but if you really meant what you said about forgiving him—and I’m not saying you should or that I would—don’t let pride assume control. Pride passes, darlin’, but regret doesn’t.”

Jenny still seemed uncertain and Randolph clarified, “Matt will settle things with his brother, but I have faith in your judgment. You said Tucker is Matt’s twin. If he’s anything at all like Matt, he’s the kind who won’t think less of you for your truthfulness.”

Jenny looked at him.

“I didn’t say what you expected to hear, did I?”

“No.”

“I just want you to be sure that there’s not more to this story than even you realize now that everything appears to be out in the open.”

“But it isn’t yet, Pa. Nobody knows that Matt has a twin. Even Matt didn’t know about Tucker until he showed up.”

“Now I know what you mean about it being a secret.” Frowning, Randolph continued. “But it’s still up to you, Jenny. I won’t say anything for the time being. Just think over what I said. Whatever else happens, being truthful is never wrong.”

His daughter nodded and went to her room, closing the door behind her. Randolph’s expression slowly fell. He brushed away the few tears that he could not restrain and attempted to restore his control.
He hadn’t said much to Jenny because she had taken his breath away—but he knew one thing for sure.

If Jenny, Matt, and his brother, Tucker, didn’t straighten things out among them—he would.

Aware that they had lain together until the afternoon sun was well past the high point, Samantha and Matt spoke very little while dressing. Their passions momentarily sated, Matt said thoughtfully, “Give me time to work things out with Tucker before you do anything, Samantha. He’s my brother. I can’t abandon him.”

Samantha nodded.

“I’ll get back to you as soon as everything is straightened out.”

Samantha nodded again, then added, “I’m sorry, Matt…about everything.”

Lifting her into his arms, Matt kissed her thoroughly and then slipped her onto the saddle and promised, “I’ll settle things as quickly as I can.”

Samantha gripped her reins more tightly when Matt slapped her horse’s rump and set her off at a canter. Winston came into sight on the horizon at last, and Samantha could avoid the thought that tormented her no longer.

She had made a mistake calling in Uncle Sean because he was a man of principle who was dedicated to the law. She could no more ask Uncle Sean
to betray his principles than she could ask the same of her father—yet Uncle Sean might inadvertently be the downfall of them all.

She still hadn’t told Matt that she had sent for Uncle Sean; she’d been unable to find the words. She also hadn’t told him that Toby knew he had a twin. She didn’t know what he meant by working things out with Tucker, either. She was certain of one thing only. Uncle Sean wouldn’t wait if he found out the truth.

Chapter Ten

Jenny rode with a sense of purpose she did not truly feel as the sun set. She had remained in her room to think things over as her father suggested and had emerged less than an hour later. She had then mounted and had ridden off before either her father or the ranch hands might say anything to change her mind. She had known what she needed to do.

Jenny breathed a relieved sigh when the Double S ranch house came into view. The light in the windows meant Matt was home. She was grateful that his hired men were away and she wouldn’t have to face them. She had never become adept at the excuses that would have been necessary. She just wanted to explain to Matt that she had told her father. She owed him that.

Jenny drew up outside the ranch house and dismounted. Her step came to a halt when Matt appeared unexpectedly at the door. She walked inside
without a word and turned toward him when the door closed behind them.

“What are you doing here, Jenny?”

Jenny’s throat closed with sudden awareness. “You aren’t Matt, are you?”

“No.”

The appearances of the two men were almost identical, except that Tucker did not wear the belt buckle Matt had worn every day since his father’s death. Jenny saw the simple irony there. Jeremy Strait had found a way to make his sons distinguishable from each other even though he was dead.

But Jenny knew she would have known Tucker anyway.

“You didn’t answer me, Jenny.”

Jenny could not immediately reply. Why was Tucker all that she had ever wanted Matt to be? Was everything she saw in his gaze that she had never seen in Matt’s—like desire and a soul-shaking need for her—merely a figment of her own yearning?

“Jenny?”

“I wanted to talk to Matt.”

Tucker took a step back. “He’s not here. He said he had something to do. I don’t know where he went.”

“I wanted to tell him first that I had spoken to my father.”

“So you told your father what happened. Somehow I knew you would.”

“Then I was going to find you.”

“Why did you want to see me?”

Jenny began uncertainly, “I wanted to say I’m sorry because I left you without clearing things up between us.”

“I think things were clear. Matt told me before he rode off that your betrothal stands.”

“For appearances only.”

Appearing truly stricken, Tucker whispered, “I’m sorry about that.”

“I’m not.” Aware that she had startled him, Jenny took a forward step. “You misrepresented yourself, Tucker. I’m not glad you did that. Nor am I proud that I gave myself to you, but you actually did both Matt and me a favor. You made us aware that it could never have worked out between us as we planned.”

“Don’t say that, Jenny.”

“It’s true. I know that now, and so does Matt.”

“Jenny…” Regret shone brightly in Tucker’s gaze. “I didn’t come here to complicate your life—truly I didn’t.”

“Why did you come, Tucker?”

“I came—” Tucker sighed. “I guess I came because I was jealous of Matt. He had every opportunity that I wished I had had—a childhood he could look back on without bitterness and a future given to him by a father who cared. I was determined to make him suffer for it. But it didn’t work out the way I thought it would.”

“What do you mean?”

“Everything went crazy from the first minute I
met Matt. I knew he was my twin, but to see someone with my face stunned me. Then I started feeling different than I expected. I didn’t get the enjoyment that I had hoped for in making Matt miserable, so I went a step further. Rumors about the new saloon woman and him were rife, so I decided to find out for myself. I figured she would be easy pickings.”

“She wasn’t, but I was.”

“It wasn’t that way, Jenny.”

“You didn’t expect everything to be so easy with me,” she repeated.

Tucker’s voice dropped a notch lower when he explained earnestly, “Everything stopped for me from the day I first met you.”

“You didn’t expect me to be so plain, or so needy,” she insisted.

“I told you, I didn’t expect
you
to be
you
—so honest, so straightforward, never the coquette. The possibility of being other than truthful and understanding never entered your mind. Nor did I expect you to look at me with such trust. No one ever did before and it infuriated me that it wasn’t really me you trusted. I became more and more jealous of Matt, but I maintained the masquerade because you had touched me in a way no other woman ever did. I tried to resist you. I even tried to tell you the truth, but in the end, I just wasn’t strong enough until it was too late.”

Jenny remained silent and Tucker continued. “I
betrayed your confidence, Jenny. I can’t forgive myself for doing that.”

“Even if I do?”

“Your forgiveness—if that’s what you’re offering—isn’t enough for me.”

“What is?”

“I did something even I can’t tolerate. For that reason, I need to forgive myself.”

“What do you need to do in order to accomplish that forgiveness, Tucker?”

“I suppose I need to wipe my past clean to begin with—to change what I am into what I wish I was. I’m a thief, Jenny. I’m a wanted man.”

“I’m offering you the forgiveness you won’t give yourself, no matter how you feel. I said I forgave you before. I didn’t mean it then, but I do now.”

“You’re not talking to Matt.”

“I know that.”

“I’m not like him.”

“I know that, too.”

Beginning to shake, Tucker whispered, “You’d better get out of here, Jenny. With all the good intentions in the world, I don’t think I’m strong enough.”

“Tucker—”

“Get out, Jenny, please.”

“Tucker—”

“Leave!”

Jenny managed a shaky smile. “Thank you for being honest with me.”

Again, Tucker did not reply.

Unable to say a word in farewell, Jenny turned and within minutes was mounted and had turned her horse back on the trail. She did not look back to see Tucker come to the doorway to watch her ride off. She did not see his obvious longing, or hear him mutter, “That’s right, get out of here fast, Jenny. I know I’m not good for you, but nothing can stop me from wishing I were.”

Jenny rode back home, certain of only one thing.

Tucker didn’t want her.

Samantha paused outside Sean’s hotel room. She was due back at the Trail’s End. She knew she could not afford to end her masquerade there yet, but she needed to talk to Sean.

Affixing a smile on her elaborately made-up face, Samantha knocked hard on his door. Sean’s automatic frown at her saloon-woman veneer changed into an uncertain smile when he said, “Well, this is a surprise.”

Samantha walked inside and turned to face him when he closed the door behind her. She said, “I came here to ask you again to leave, Sean. As much as I appreciate your prompt response to my wire, I admit to making a mistake when I sent for you. I’m asking you again to let me handle this case on my own.”

Samantha felt Sean’s blue eyes scrutinize her carefully. She fought to maintain a confident facade
when he said, “I told you I’d leave when I was ready.”

“I need you to leave now. I need to know that I don’t have you as a backup in case things don’t go as I plan.”

“No.”

“No?”

“Are you surprised that I said no to you outright, Samantha?”

“Yes…no…I mean—”

“You’re not telling me everything.”

“I am!”

“No, you’re not, and I’m not leaving until you do.”

Samantha stared at Sean, incredulous at his intuitiveness. How could she explain that birth records gave no indication that Matt had an identical twin who had committed the bank robberies? Sean was a Pinkerton. He would not believe Matt had not known that Tucker existed. He would refuse to accept the tangled circumstances that had evolved, too. Nor would he give her the time she needed to figure out what she should do with that knowledge.

“Uncle Sean…” Not bothering to correct herself, Samantha blinked back frustrated tears and whispered, “I’m asking you to leave…not because I don’t appreciate everything you’ve done for me but because—”

“I won’t leave.”

“Uncle Sean!”

“Don’t call me uncle, either, unless you’re going to reveal your masquerade.”

“I can’t yet.”

“And I can’t leave yet, either.”

Samantha was suddenly angry. “I’m sorry I sent for you! I’m sorry you came! I want you to leave. Can I make that any clearer?”

“If you tell me the truth.”

All trace of anger leaving her as quickly as it had come, Samantha whispered, “Nothing I can say will make a difference, will it?”

“No.”

Suddenly sobbing, Samantha threw herself into Sean’s waiting embrace and hugged him. She struggled to regain control and said, “I’m sorry, Uncle Sean. I didn’t mean half of what I said.”

“I know.” His arms tightened consolingly.

“I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”

“I know that, too.”

Samantha noted that Sean’s eyes were unnaturally bright, and regret surged even deeper. “Just forget I came here tonight, all right? Forget everything I said. This whole thing…it just has me confused, that’s all.”

“I know, but I can help you if you’ll let me.”

“I—”

“But you want to figure things out yourself.” Sean’s expression softened. “That’s all right with me. I’ll just hang around until you do.”

Disengaging herself from his embrace, Samantha
wiped her face dry and said with a half smile, “The truth is, although I tried hard, I didn’t expect you to agree. You’re such a dogged Pinkerton.”

“Yes, I am.”

Sean’s halfhearted smiled faded when the door closed behind Samantha and he said to the empty room, “And I’m so much more.”

Twilight darkened the afternoon sky when Matt rode up to the Double S ranch house at last. He frowned at the sight of a familiar horse tied up in front. He was prepared when he opened the door.

“I thought you’d be gone, Tucker.” Matt closed the door behind him.

“I gave you the time you asked for in order to think things out. Now I figure it’s time to turn myself in as I intended.”

“I thought we agreed to wait before making irreversible decisions.”

“The truth is that I’m looking at things from another perspective now. The law will discover you have a twin brother sooner or later. No matter what I thought at first, it won’t do me any good to involve you in my affairs, and I don’t want to be dodging the law forever.”

“Why the change of heart?”

“Is that what happened to me—a change of
heart
?” When Matt did not reply, Tucker shrugged and laughed. “I suppose you can blame Jenny for that.”

“Don’t even speak her name.” Matt’s expression stiffened. “I haven’t forgotten what you did. Just because I haven’t done anything about it doesn’t mean I excuse you in any way.”

“That makes two of us, so I guess we are more alike than we think.” Tucker added after a moment, “Jenny came here to see you while you were gone.”

“You didn’t—”

“No, I didn’t pretend to be you, if that’s what you’re thinking. Besides, I don’t think Jenny would be deceived again.”

“She’s not stupid, even if you did treat her as if she were.”

Tucker frowned at that thought. “I suppose I might react the same way about what I did if I were in your position—but I’m not, and I resent what you said. I didn’t treat Jenny as if she were stupid. I never thought that was true for a minute, especially since she accomplished what others failed to do.”

“Which was?”

“She made me face myself honestly. Whether I want to admit it or not, that last day when we were together had a lot to do with it.”

Matt took an angry step toward him and Tucker said, “Hold your horses, Matt. I’m just trying to say that Jenny trusted me. I was ashamed of what I did afterward—no matter how weakly I reacted at the time—which is something I thought I’d never hear myself say. I can’t forget the look in her eyes when I confessed who I was. That look haunts me.”

Obviously fighting his own reaction, Matt said through clenched teeth, “You’re such a bastard, Tucker.”

“You’re right, but I didn’t intend to be a bastard with Jenny. It just happened.”

“I know, it just happened because Jenny and I have a lifelong history together and she thought I was you.”

Their positions suddenly reversed, Tucker said, “You have a lifelong history with Jenny, huh? That’s why a saloon woman managed to capture your fancy?”

“I told you, Samantha isn’t a saloon woman.”

“No, she wants to be a Pinkerton. That’s the excuse she gave you for deceiving you as much as I deceived Jenny. But if that’s true, she’s going to tell the agency you have a twin and take credit for solving the case. If that’s true, it’s just a matter of time for me.”

“She won’t do that before telling me first.”

“Is that why you slept with her, so she would feel obligated to tell you what she intended to do before she did it?”

“I slept with her for the same reason you slept with Jenny—because I wanted to. You said yourself that we’re more alike than either of us thought we were.”

Suddenly irate, Tucker said, “Yes, but you didn’t steal from hardworking people so you could carouse like a drunken fool. You didn’t search out fellas who
thought the same way you did so that with a gang, you could make more easy money than you did alone. And you weren’t arrogant enough at the time to think that you were smarter than everybody else because of it all.”

“Maybe not, but if I was raised the way you were—”

“Don’t say that, either. That’s just an excuse. I need to believe in you, not only because Jenny believes in you, but because I need something to hold on to.”

“I think Jenny believes in you, too, Tucker,” Matt said sincerely. “She obviously sees something in you or nothing could have convinced her to act the way she did.”

“You already gave the reason for that. She thought I was you at the time.”

Matt shook his head. “I know what I said, but I also said Jenny isn’t stupid.”

“Maybe she became confused because I was honest with her for the first time in my life.”

“Honest?”

“About the way I feel about her.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

BOOK: Renegade
6.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Mountain of Gold by J. D. Davies
Thirteen Years Later by Kent, Jasper
Once She Was Tempted by Barton, Anne
Still Waters by Crews, Misha
Rapturous Rakes Bundle by Diane Gaston, Nicola Cornick, Georgina Devon
A Journeyman to Grief by Maureen Jennings