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Authors: Elaine Barbieri

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BOOK: Renegade
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Colors flashed before her closed eyelids as their lovemaking became red-hot.

Samantha held her breath as climax neared—but Matt paused. He looked down at her, his gaze passionate yet suddenly uncertain.

Why was he waiting? She loved him. Hadn’t she proved that to him? He was everything she had ever wanted, everything she had ever needed. They were meant for each other

Or—were they?

Then came the ultimate question: Was this the solution she had been seeking?

Knowing she could not deny those uncertainties, and knowing that Matt suffered them as well, Samantha was suddenly aware that she needed to speak the words Matt waited to hear.

Unable to think past the moment, Samantha whispered hoarsely, “Make love to me, Matt. Make love to me, and I promise that I will make love to you, too.”

His light eyes revealing more than words could convey, Matt whispered an unintelligible word with his final thrust.

The world rocked!

Colors exploded!

A shared throbbing ecstasy burst forth to seal the moment in time.

Samantha clutched Matt closer as they soared together to fulfillment. She held him tight against her until his strong body stilled and her own was motionless as well.

Samantha felt Matt raise his head at last to look down into her impassioned expression. Reluctant to release her, he whispered against her mouth, “I will never be able to get enough of you.”

She responded instinctively, wordlessly, accepting the homage of his lips when he offered them. She felt his body swell anew inside her as his kiss sank deeper. Her need renewed, she rejoiced as the momentum of his stroking increased.

And then—she rose higher! She flew more freely! She had not believed the second time could be better than the first, or that Matt’s lovemaking could renew the kaleidoscope of sensations inside her that were so recently spent.

She lay motionless in his arms minutes later and breathed deeply. It was so right.

Wasn’t it?

Waiting long moments after his body shuddered again to a halt atop Samantha, Matt lifted himself to scrutinize her face. She was so beautiful. Her perfect, naked length glowed a pale silhouette in the darkness of the room. Her loosened hair stretched across the pillow in a golden trail that was his alone. The thick fringe of brown lashes lay against her flawless cheeks, and her mouth—the moist, giving wonder of it—lay only inches from his.

She was his alone, just as she had said.

Incredulous, Matt realized that the words he had spoken were truer than he realized. He could never get enough of Samantha. He wanted her still—not only her body, but also the warmth of her, her instinctive generosity of spirit, and the acceptance she had demonstrated despite her many uncertainties.

Matt saw Samantha’s eyelids stir. She opened them and he saw the emotion in the hazel depths of her eyes.

But those depths were shadowed like his own.

He whispered, “All I can say to you right now is
that you fill my mind and heart more than I had thought possible.”

He saw the hesitation in Samantha’s expression. Those were not the words she had hoped to hear. Yet he knew instinctively that he shouldn’t attempt to straighten out all the things that had gone haywire in the past few weeks during the intimacy of that moment.

Feeling a familiar desire stir inside him, Matt looked down at Samantha. He mused again that she was so perfect in his arms…so beautiful, so instinctive, so…honest. She was far too good to settle for the life she had set for herself.

Still joined to her, Matt drew Samantha closer and rested his lips against her cheek. She lay unmoving underneath him, a part of him.

Matt slid his mouth along her cheek in a trail to her parted lips. She
a part of him—an intimate and necessary part—and he owed her more than she had been given.

He would settle everything tomorrow. But for tonight, for whatever time remained, she belonged to him.

Chapter Three

Samantha awoke slowly. Her body ached, a personal pain that was pleasure indeed. She remembered—

Samantha snapped her eyes open wide to find morning sunlight streaming through the hotel window’s tattered blinds. The bed beside her was empty.

She was momentarily at a loss. Had she imagined the previous night? Had it actually happened, or was it a dream? Had she allowed Matt to make love to her again and again—as if he were a lover and not a criminal whom she had come to Winston to hunt down?

Yet his scent still lingered in the room and her body bore the sweet aching of a woman who had been adored thoroughly and completely until exhaustion prevailed.

Momentarily confused, Samantha shook her head. She could not have made up such vivid feelings. Matt had worshipped her body in ways she had
never dreamed, and she had responded instinctively to his touch.

But where was he now?

Samantha recalled belatedly that she had opened her eyes while it was still dark to see Matt dressing in the shadows. Exhaustion had claimed her consciousness then. All she could remember afterward was the click of the hallway door when it had closed behind him.

Fully awake now, Samantha searched the room for a note explaining Matt’s abrupt departure. She ignored her nakedness when she stood beside the dresser mirror and saw a note in a scrawling, masculine hand.

It read:

Last night was a privilege I do not fully deserve. Thank you.


Samantha stood with the note in hand, incredulous that she had been abandoned again.

Would she never learn?

With considerable care and steadfast determination, Samantha washed all trace of Matt from her body. Toby’s whispered comments seemed all the timelier:

“Any interest you might stir up in him won’t be for the long run.”
And later, “
I’m thinking you’re not as world-wise as you make out to be.”

Toby had been right all along. She had somehow believed that her feelings for Matt were strong enough to conquer all uncertainty. She had surrendered to the powerful emotions he raised in her, but she now regretted her lapse for more reasons than she cared to count.

Samantha frowned at her use of the word
Surrender of any kind boded poorly for the professional life she intended—which was her ultimate goal. She would not make the same mistake again.

The pain of reality overwhelming, Samantha forced herself to think clinically as she dressed. She reviewed the information that had set her on Matt’s trail. Most condemning of all for Matt were the positive identifications of several bank employees. But Matt had an alibi verified by others during every robbery.

The questions remaining were:

Was it arrogance that had caused her not to recognize that Matt was clever—perhaps cleverer than she?

Why had she not acknowledged that Matt could appear innocent and truthful while being guilty of robbing banks?

Was it because Matt’s ardor during the night past was difficult to question that she had believed it was not a passing fancy on his part?

Dressed and her final assessment completed, Samantha knew the answer to all those questions.
Matt had never said the three words she had longed to hear. She was determined that his lack of pretense would enable her to put her brief lapse behind her.

Sufficiently cleansed and fortified, Samantha then started toward the street for breakfast. She had little appetite, but she would not allow a night of passion to affect her. She had learned a severe lesson. It was all part of the game.

And she intended to be strong enough to play it.

Matt rode at a brisk canter along the wilderness trail as the sky lightened with morning. He had arisen from Samantha’s bed at daybreak and had glanced at her sleeping face. The truth was that he had not regretted the night past. How could he, with the memory of rapture still vivid and the aching desire to recapture those moments still keen?

Yet his conscience tormented him. Jenny was his fiancée. He had known her all his life and had made a commitment to her. And even if he did not have the same desire for her that he did for Samantha, he did truly love her.

Another truth was that he had become aware of Samantha the first moment he walked into the Trail’s End. With awareness had come an ever-expanding desire that Samantha seemed to share. He knew the danger she presented to him from that moment on. He had promised himself after their first encounter that he would avoid her, but an offhanded remark
that she made during their conversation had caused him to visit her again.

Uncertain if that last thought was completely true, Matt admitted that the end result was that Samantha’s scent now teased him, the remembered taste of her taunted him, and instead of diminishing, his desire for her had increased.

His mind in turmoil, Matt was sure of only one thing. He would take care of something that he had already avoided too long.

The sun had fully risen when Matt drew up a cautious distance from the isolated cabin he sought. Dismounting, he withdrew his gun and silently advanced. The cabin appeared abandoned and silent, but a horse ate casually in a shelter behind the cabin.

Matt took a deep breath. It was now or never.

Bursting through the doorway with his gun drawn, Matt halted when he came face-to-face with the barrel of another gun—
and with a man who was the mirror image of himself!

His chest heaving, Matt growled heatedly, “You’re a bastard, Tucker!”

“Right, that’s what I am. I guess that’s what we both are,

Matt stared at his twin. The thought flashed through his mind, as it had often since discovering the existence of his brother a few years earlier, that if it had been he instead of Tucker whom their irresponsible, self-serving mother had decided to take
with her when she left their father,
might now be the wanted man.

Hardly conscious of the moment their guns were simultaneously lowered, Matt advanced toward Tucker Conroy.

Tucker viewed his
brother coldly as he walked toward him. They were a mirror image of each other, all right. Even he could not believe how identical their appearances were. The rugged cut of their thick black hair was the same, and the dark brows over light eyes were identical, as were the planes of face, mouth, and chin. Although their lifestyles were entirely different, even their physiques were alike.

Yet Matt was
the chosen one
, the elder of the two by a few minutes. He was the firstborn of his father’s identical twin sons, and the son his father had decided to keep.

Tucker said abruptly, “I have a few questions I’ve waited a long time to ask, so here goes, brother. Exactly why are you here now when you never sought me out before?”

“I avoided you at first, just as you avoided me, I suppose,” Matt replied coolly.

“Why? You’re Jeremy Strait’s son. He kept you when he ran our mother and me off.”

“Ran you both off?” Matt shook his head. “You don’t really believe that, do you? Our mother ran off when the going got tough. She only took you with her because she figured you would be her way back in if she decided to return.”

“That’s not what she told me.”

Matt sneered. “And you believed her.”

Tucker took an aggressive step forward, anger clear in the planes of his handsome face. “Our mother did the best she could with what she had—which was very little thanks to Jeremy Strait.”

“Lies, all of it.”

“I’m the proof.”

“I suppose that’s true.” Momentarily saddened, Matt asked, “Why does it surprise you that our mother wasn’t what she pretended to be? She refused to marry our father even though she was pregnant.”

“Jeremy Strait never wanted to marry her!”

Matt did not respond.

A smile so like Matt’s briefly curved Tucker’s lips when he said, “Would it surprise you that when our mother told me you existed shortly before her death, I tried to find you? My efforts stopped when I discovered our father had allowed everyone to believe you were his only son and that he had declared you his sole beneficiary.”

“As far as Pa knew, I
his only son and sole heir to his bankrupt ranch. The only thing of value he left me was the sterling silver belt buckle that he wore. He promised it to me when I was a child because I admired the longhorn carving on it. He told me about you on his deathbed and said he didn’t even know if you and our mother were both still alive.”

“But he didn’t try to find me through all those years, did he?”

“He was too busy trying to raise an infant son and working from dawn to dusk trying to save the ranch our mother had helped drive into debt.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“You wouldn’t.”

Suddenly angry, Tucker said hotly, “It all turned out quite well, though, when that secret worked unexpectedly to my advantage. I took the opportunity and used it well.”

“Everything you did was deliberate, then,” Matt said incredulously.

“Sure it was deliberate! I don’t think the same way you do, brother. I left whatever home our mother provided as soon as I came of age, even though I kept track of her and found her whenever she was destitute. She never asked what I was doing or where the money I gave her came from, and it’s just as well. When I returned the last time, she had been drunk and hit by a runaway carriage. She was dying, but she told me about you first.”

“So you used our identical appearances to confound the law.”

“I figured being your twin had to be good for something,” Tucker said sarcastically.


“I confess it amused me that you could easily have set matters straight by confessing that you had a twin brother. I wondered how long it would take for you to cave in to the pressure I created.”

“I haven’t caved in yet.”

“Because you don’t want to admit that you have a twin brother who might have a legal claim to your sole inheritance!”

“You know that’s not the reason!”

“What is it, then?”

Matt mumbled under his breath, “If you don’t know, it won’t do any good for me to tell you.” He took a breath and continued in a more threatening tone. “But I’m here to say something I should have said before.”

“It wouldn’t have anything to do with your
saloon woman
, would it, brother?”

Matt flushed. “Samantha Rigg is not my saloon woman, but she’s not yours, either.”

“I admit that the rumors about your encounter with Samantha were music to my ears. It showed me that you’re not really what you pretend to be, just like our father.”

“Don’t talk about our father. You don’t know what he was really like.”

“That’s not my fault.” Waiting until that gibe struck home, Tucker continued. “But dear Jenny doesn’t know anything about Samantha, does she? You were always so faithful to her in the past that she doesn’t even have a suspicion. That reason alone made me determined to meet the woman who had finally penetrated your defenses. I have to admit that my visit to Samantha wasn’t a full success, but it did bring you to me with a gun in your hand.”

Matt took a menacing step forward, and Tucker raised his gun. “That’s far enough.”

“I want to make something clear.” Matt’s voice—so similar to Tucker’s—dropped a note lower as he warned, “I don’t care what you do with your life, as long as you don’t interfere with mine. That means I don’t want you pretending to be me with Samantha. She’s off-limits.”


Ignoring the gun pointed in his direction as well as his brother’s question, Matt took another menacing step. “Just stay away from Samantha.”

Tucker remained silent.

“You didn’t answer me.”

“I’m thinking it over.”

Matt took another step forward and Tucker laughed out loud, stopping Matt in his tracks. “All right, it’s a bargain. No more contact with Samantha. All right?”

“How do I know you’ll keep your word?”

“You’ll have to trust me, brother,” Tucker replied.

Matt did not respond and Tucker’s expression hardened.

“So, if you’ve said all you came here to say, you can walk back out that door now.”

“Listen, bastard—” Matt began.

“No, you listen!” Suddenly angry, Tucker said hotly, “I’ve been the younger brother all my life without knowing it, but I don’t intend to let you take
advantage of that accident of birth now. I’ll do whatever I please, so get out!”

“Not before I’ve made myself clear.”

“Don’t threaten me.”

“I’m not threatening you. I’m telling you. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll keep your word and stay away from Samantha. You won’t contact her in any way, do you understand?”

“So protective…”

Matt stared at his twin. A part of him was incredulous that his father had managed to keep Tucker’s existence a secret for so many years. Another part of him despised the mirror image that stared back at him belligerently.

A deadening guilt stirred. He had gotten the better end of the bargain, and he knew it. Tucker was admittedly guilty of bank robbery but was enjoying safety from Texas law because of Matt. He detested being used, but he could not bring himself to turn his brother in.

But in trying to seduce Samantha, Tucker had gone too far.

Matt reiterated with growing menace, “I’m warning you for the last time—stay away from Samantha, or brother or not, you’ll live to regret it.”

Turning toward the door before Tucker could reply, Matt strode outside and mounted his horse. He rode away from the cabin hoping he would never need to return.

Tucker watched as his twin turned on his heel and left, slamming the cabin door behind him.

Silent until the sound of Matt’s horse faded into the distance, Tucker grew suddenly enraged. His voice echoed in the empty cabin as he said, “Don’t worry, Matt. I won’t break my word and visit Samantha again, but I’ll prove that, contrary to our father’s belief,
you’re no better than I am.

Tucker smiled unexpectedly, his expression taking on a light totally unlike his brother’s as he continued. “Strangely, you didn’t mention Jenny. Dear Jenny. Plain Jenny. Sweet and innocent Jenny.”

BOOK: Renegade
9.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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