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Authors: Elaine Barbieri

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BOOK: Renegade
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“That’s not true, Matt.”

“Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. All I know for sure is that you lied to me from the first word, and that I couldn’t resist you. I was willing to sacrifice my brother’s trust and the love of a good woman because of you.”

“Matt, listen—”

“No, I’m done listening. It’s time for me to act.”

“What do you mean?”

“Just get out of here.” Grim lines twisted Matt’s handsome face into an unrecognizable mask. “You got what you came for. You can tell Pinkerton that you solved a mystery that his other detectives couldn’t.”

“None of this really makes sense to me, Matt. I need—”

“You have all the information you’re going to get from me. The rest is up to you.”

“But I don’t want to—” Aware that she was about to say she didn’t want to leave him, Samantha realized she wasn’t sure that was true. How deep was Matt’s involvement in the scheme, and why did he protect a brother who obviously hated him?

“You said ‘I don’t want to’—do what? Leave?” Matt’s question was harsh. “That’s what you were going to say, isn’t it? But the truth is that you want to know why no one seemed to realize I had a twin. I can only assume that’s the next question on your mind since you’ve been trying to get me to talk about myself from day one. Well, that mystery is clear now. It wasn’t me you were really interested in.”

“Not at first, I wasn’t.”

Matt’s lips clamped tight at her honest response. He then replied more softly, “Go. Your horse is saddled and waiting.”

“It’s already saddled?”

“I thought you might like to take a ride with me.” Matt laughed, his harsh tone matching his brother’s and inadvertently sounding so much like him that Samantha took a step back.

“Go! Get out of here!”

Samantha responded to Matt’s emphatic commands with a rise of her chin. He had told her to leave. He was a criminal, after all, wasn’t he? And she would see to it that justice prevailed.

Samantha did not stop to look back when she mounted her horse and rode out without seeing Matt watching her from the doorway.

Standing in the doorway of the ranch house as Samantha’s horse disappeared down the trail, Matt felt numb. The truth was out at last, but he was dead inside. Samantha’s covert glances at him in the
Trail’s End and the interest that she appeared unable to deny from the start had all been a calculated lie. She had merely carried out a callous strategy worthy of a professional. In doing so, she had proved herself in more ways than one.

Matt walked back into the house and slammed the door behind him. Had she executed similar strategies before in order to prove her worthiness to Pinkerton? Had she responded to other men the same way she had responded to him?

No, she couldn’t have!

But then, he wasn’t sure.

In the semidarkness of the cabin, Matt faced another admission as well. He had allowed Samantha to use him because he had wanted her. Yet it was now Tucker who would suffer for his weakness.

Confused, Matt was aware of only one thing. Whatever his brother’s schemes, he needed to warn Tucker of the imminent danger he faced.

Matt mounted his horse moments later. His mount was winded when he finally arrived a distance from the abandoned cabin his brother had been inhabiting. He dismounted and approached the dilapidated structure carefully. Uncertain of his reception, he drew his gun, hoping it would give him time to explain everything to Tucker. He owed him that much.

He could not fully explain away his own behavior, of course, or the fact that he had ultimately betrayed the woman who was his betrothed and
his friend. All he could do was warn Tucker, and prove to him that he was right by admitting that despite their disparate upbringings and the different paths they had chosen, there was really no difference between them.

Taking a breath, Matt burst into the cabin.

It was vacant.

It was obvious that Tucker had not left the area, because most of his belongings were still there. So where was he?

Uncertain, Matt took a moment to decide what to do.

With a sigh, he then sat down to wait.

Riding at full speed, Tucker did not truly realize where he was headed until the Circle O ranch house came into view. Suddenly aware, he drew his mount back to a walk. He had to think, not react. He had to find a way to tell Jenny the truth about his impersonation and that his brother was not really the person she believed him to be because he had betrayed her with another woman.

Strangely, he felt no delight in his mission. Matt was the
good
brother, the
trustworthy
brother, the
hardworking
brother, the brother who was better in every way. Tucker realized that some obscure part of him had wanted that to be true.

But Matt wasn’t worthy of Jenny—and neither was he.

Tucker’s handsome features creased in a frown.
Strangely, he had never thought of himself as unworthy before. He had merely taken the path of least resistance in order to help support himself and a mother who was too far into drink and other vices to appreciate his effort.

He had never met a woman as straightforward as Jenny before. In truth, he had not truly believed a woman like her existed. It occurred to him belatedly that his life might have been different if he had met her sooner, but it was too late for that kind of thinking.

The truth was that he didn’t even think about having sex with Jenny when he talked to her.

Tucker corrected himself. He didn’t think
only
about having sex with her, because other facets of her personality continued to amaze him. But he did want her. He wanted to possess her so completely that he could take her goodness inside him. He wanted it to become a part of him.

He wanted so much more.

But Jenny loved Matt.

His mount had come to a halt when Tucker realized that there was only one solution to the problems facing him. He needed to confess everything about his dual identity to Jenny before she learned about it from someone else. He needed to tell her the truth while looking into those brown eyes that seemed to see down into his soul.

Tucker spurred his mount into motion with that
thought in mind. Within minutes he was approaching the Circle O ranch house.

Jenny heard the hoofbeats before she saw the rider approaching. Her father was not home, but she expected him any minute and she walked to the window. Her heart leaped when she saw the rider was Matt.

Dear Matt, loving Matt.

Jenny took a breath and tried to calm herself. The emotion she experienced when Matt approached was new to her. The breathlessness, the anticipation, the realization that he would soon hold her in his arms and touch his lips to hers was almost unbearable.

Suddenly aware of her appearance, Jenny raced to the mottled mirror and attempted to tuck her mousybrown strands of hair back into the tight bun she wore. She then paused to scrutinize her ordinary features. Brown eyes, brown hair, a lackluster face…she was so plain and Matt was so perfect. Matt had said he didn’t see her that way. She believed he had meant every word because she had seen honesty in his gaze so clearly that it could not be disputed. Yet the mirror reflection staring back at her challenged that thought.

The hoofbeats drew closer, and Jenny ripped off her apron, smoothed her faded gray calico dress, and raced to the doorway. She was smiling broadly in welcome when Matt dismounted and started
toward her. Her smile faded when she saw his sober expression. She knew instinctively that he had come to tell her something, and she feared what it was.

Matt said without preamble, “Is your father home, Jenny?”

“No, he isn’t, but he should be home any minute.” She said hopefully, “Did you come to see him?”

“No, I came to see you, but I need a few minutes of privacy. I have…have something to say.”

Jenny’s hopes fell. That sober expression was meant for her.

“I’ll saddle your horse so we can ride out and be alone for a few minutes.”

Jenny’s spirits continued to sink as Matt led her saddled mount back toward the house a few minutes later.

Riding astride despite her attire, Jenny did not look at Matt until he motioned her into a familiar glade and lifted her down from her horse. She was not aware that her cheeks were wet with tears until Matt asked, “Why are you crying, Jenny?”

He did not release her as he waited for her to respond.

“Am I crying?” Embarrassed, Jenny attempted to wipe her face dry with her hand. “I hadn’t realized…I mean…”

Suddenly sighing, Jenny looked up at him and whispered, “I’ve been expecting this to happen. I knew the way I felt when you took me into your
arms couldn’t last because I knew a man like you couldn’t feel the same as I do—not about me.”

Matt shook his head. He didn’t speak and Jenny rambled, “I had given up on the feelings I was supposed to experience when you kissed me. I figured I would go on for the rest of my life respecting you and loving the goodness in you without feeling true passion. But I suddenly felt alive in your arms in a way I never expected to feel. I felt a new excitement, a new hunger and need.”

He was about to speak when Jenny pressed her hand lightly against his lips. “No, don’t say anything. I promised that I’d always be honest with you and I needed to say these things. But you don’t have to say you feel the same way. The trouble is that I told myself you did. I told myself that your reaction to those moments was more compelling than it ever had been, too. I convinced myself that we had reached the point at last where we not only loved each other, but we desired each other as well.”

He drew her closer and he whispered, “Jenny, please, I have to explain—”

“No, don’t say anything else. I understand. You’ve found someone else.”

“No!”

“But you came here to speak to me privately. That could mean only one thing.”

He shook his head. “It doesn’t mean what you think. I didn’t come here to deny the way I feel about you. You’re like a breath of fresh air to me, Jenny.
You make me complete somehow. You make me feel like a whole person, not the empty, selfish person I’ve been all my life.”

“You haven’t been selfish!”

“Yes, I have, in so many ways. But I don’t want to see you hurt. Not you, Jenny. I don’t ever want to see the light go out of your eyes.”

“I told you, Matt, that light is only for you.”

He paused to say hoarsely, “Only for me, Jenny?”

“Only for you.”

Jenny was not aware that her tears had begun falling again until he brushed them away and said, “Do you mean it, Jenny?”

“I never say what I don’t mean.”

His lips moved to cover hers, and he kissed her with true hunger.

She could not be certain what happened then. She did not recall when he separated the bodice of her dress and covered her virgin flesh with his mouth. She only knew it was right and good as she clutched him closer.

She was unsure exactly when he stripped away the fragments of her light chemise and slipped her dress down to her ankles with a driving need that rebounded inside her.

Lost in a world of scalding sensation, driven by a voracious hunger, Jenny did not remember the moment when she first felt the ground underneath her back or his muscular body warming hers.

Clutching him closer as myriad sensations winged
through her, Jenny caught her breath when he entered her at last.

Reacting, he questioned tensely, “Did I hurt you?”

She whispered in return, “The pleasure is worth the pain.” Then she added, “I love you, Matt.”

Strangely, he frowned. Remaining still for long moments, he whispered, “I’ll make this all right again for you, Jenny. I promise.”

Then sinking himself deeper inside her, he groaned and began plunging again and again in a dance that raised her heart to pounding.

Jenny felt the moment coming. She panicked. Her eyes wide, she whispered, “Matt…please…”

“I promise…to please you as I please myself…to love you more than you’ve ever been loved before…to make this a memory that will last a lifetime.”

“Make it last?”

But Jenny’s gasping words were lost in the spiraling vortex of emotions he brought to life when he plunged one last time and brought them to shuddering fulfillment.

Still in his arms when they were motionless at last, Jenny was stunned at the strength of his grip when he whispered, “I have to tell you something, Jenny. Listen to me until I’m finished, please. Don’t be angry.” He pleaded again, “Please, don’t be angry.”

Suddenly trembling, Jenny waited for him to speak.

Chapter Seven

Samantha rode toward town. Matt had run her off. He had acted as if she were his enemy and that since she had finally discovered how the bank robberies had been committed, she intended to take advantage of the information no matter how she felt.

But how did she feel?

That question foremost, Samantha drew back on the reins and slowed her mount’s pace. Humidity caused sweat to bead on her skin. Her blouse stuck to her breasts and she pulled the material away from her body, remembering how Matt had loved her so thoroughly that he had—

Samantha refused to finish that thought. Winston was too close, and she wasn’t thinking clearly yet. She needed a plan. She needed to remember that Matt now knew the truth about her wanting to become a Pinkerton and her need to prove herself.

But she knew his secret now, too. She wondered
why she hadn’t thought about the possibility of twins before.

The unexpected appearance of a familiar figure on the trail ahead of her slowed Samantha to a full stop. She studied the way the rider spurred his horse to a gallop at the sight of her, and the look on his aging face when he slid to a halt beside her.

An inexplicable fear took hold.

Breathless, Toby blurted, “Sean McGill is in town!”

The knot in Samantha’s stomach tightened. She had forgotten about Sean.

Toby continued. “When I saw him and he asked about you, I knew I was right in everything I suspected. You sent for him, didn’t you?”

Fixed in her masquerade, Samantha responded, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Toby.”

The downward lines of Toby’s face changed when he continued more softly. “I knew from the start that you weren’t what you pretended to be, darlin’. I wasn’t sure why you had come to Winston, but when I saw your interest in Matt, I had my suspicions.”

“Toby, I—”

“Don’t get me wrong, I knew what you were feelin’ was true. I ain’t so old that I don’t recognize the kind of emotion Matt brought to life in you, but that’s beside the point. I figured you’d get discouraged because I knew Matt was engaged to Jenny and I knew him to be an honest fella. The only thing I
didn’t count on was that his feelings for you would be so strong.”

“Toby—”

“That’s where you were right now, right? At Matt’s ranch?”

Samantha did not deny it.

He continued. “No matter what happened, I know Matt’s feelings for Jenny are deep. Yet I made a mistake in my calculations and now Matt is in trouble.”

“Trouble?”

“You know the truth about the robberies, don’t you?”

Samantha went momentarily still. She knew what the answer would be when she then asked in a whisper, “You knew about it all along?”

“That Matt has a twin? Yeah, I did.”

“But how…why?”

“I’ve been around a long time, Samantha. A real long time. I was Jeremy Strait’s friend. I know the whole story about how things were between Matt’s mother and him. And I was around when she finally ran off.”

“You knew about the twin boys and nobody else did?”

“Flo delivered them at Jeremy’s ranch. She didn’t need no doctor. At least, she said she didn’t. Old Doc Stone is dead anyways, so he can’t do no talking. Flo quit the saloon and stayed at the ranch while she was pregnant. She told Jeremy she would marry him as
soon as the baby was born. I guess he didn’t want to believe she would take off as soon as she got back on her feet, and I don’t think he expected that she would take one of the babies with her, either. Anyways, she never came back and everybody just thought Matt was the only baby she had. After Flo disappeared, Jeremy raised Matt and seemed to forget all about Flo. I know everybody else did.”

“But Matt had to suspect something.”

“Jeremy told him the truth about his mother, that she was a saloon woman and that they were never married. He just didn’t mention another baby, that’s all. I guess he didn’t expect Matt to understand at first, and then when Flo never came back and he never heard about her or his other son again, I guess he figured they were both dead. He was too busy trying to raise Matt and keep his ranch going at the same time, anyways.”

Toby continued. “To be truthful, Jeremy was young and hardheaded. I think he wanted Flo to come back of her own accord. As a matter of fact, I think he held out hope that she
would
return someday. But everybody knew Flo was a heavy drinker and that she had every vice in the book. I could never understand what Jeremy saw in her in the first place, or why he wanted her back.”

“There must’ve been something.”

“Yeah.” Toby wiggled his thick eyebrows expressively. “I figure I know what it was.”

“But when you heard about the robberies and the
law came sniffing around after Matt, you didn’t mention the twins.”

“It didn’t occur to me at first. I left the area and started another life after this all came about. I only came back when everything fell apart for me and I had nowheres else to go. Like I said, I forgot about Flo and the other baby. When I did start to suspect the truth, I was the only fella left in town who seemed to know a twin existed. There wasn’t no official record of the births because Flo wanted it that way. I wasn’t going to tell Matt, so I just kept my mouth shut. I did the same when Sean McGill came around asking questions.”

“Sean is—”

“He’s a Pinkerton. I remembered him right off, even though he didn’t know I did.” He shrugged. “Nobody else realized who he was, but everything started making sense to me then. I figured you sent for him and that you’re a Pinkerton, too, just like McGill.”

“No, I’m not.” Samantha saw surprise register in Toby’s eyes before she added, “I wanted to be a Pinkerton operative, but Allan Pinkerton didn’t want any part of my employment with the agency. I figured getting evidence on the bank robberies was the best way to prove I was worthy of the job.”

“What about McGill?”

“My pa was a Pinkerton. Sean McGill was his closest friend and I saw as much of him as I did my
father when I was growing up. In the time since Pa’s death, Sean has been a kind of surrogate father to me. When I was desperate because everything in Winston was getting out of control, I sent Sean a telegram. Yet I regretted sending it almost the moment it went out. I knew he would come as soon as he could, but I hoped it wouldn’t get to him before I could decide what to do.”

“What to do about Matt, you mean.”

“Right. Never in a million years did I expect that Matt had a twin brother—especially somebody like Tucker, who hates him so much.”

“If Tucker hates Matt, I figure it’s because Matt is everything that Tucker wishes he was.”

“There has to be more to it,” Samantha mumbled.

Ignoring her response, Toby asked, “So, now that you know the answer to the mystery, what are you going to do about it?”

Tears filled Samantha’s eyes, but she blinked them back as she whispered, “I don’t know.”

“You’d better make up your mind,” he warned. “Sean McGill’s got blood in his eye. I figure somebody’s going to suffer for it.”

“That’s my fault.” Samantha took a breath. “It’s all my fault, but I don’t know how to fix it.”

“You’d better think up something if you don’t intend telling McGill about Tucker.”

Toby waited until Samantha said uncertainly, “I don’t want to tell Sean anything…yet.”

“Then you’d better think up something real fast.” Looking at the trail ahead, Toby continued in a whisper. “Because here comes McGill right now.”

Samantha paled at the sight of the tall, well built older man who came riding toward them with a frown. She could not help the feeling of nostalgia that swept her at the sight of him. She remembered how close her father and he had been, not only in age but in spirit. She remembered that her father had asked Sean to promise that he would look after Samantha for him when he was gone. She knew that under the well-worn worn Stetson that had become Sean’s trademark was thick white hair, a face that although lined was as tight and strong as it had ever been, and incredibly blue eyes that revealed he had taken his promise seriously. His promise was exactly what she feared when she gave last minute, covert instructions to Toby:

“Listen quickly. This is the way things stand. You know Sean’s a Pinkerton, but you don’t know how I came to be here. You just came out to warn me because Sean was asking around town about me and you weren’t sure whether I was in trouble.”

“Right.”

“I’ll let Sean take it from there.”

Smiling when Sean pulled up beside them, Samantha greeted him with “Hello, Unc…Sean. Long time no see.”

Sean smiled. Samantha saw that the power of the casual smile he flashed underneath his white
handlebar mustache did not match the intensity in his blue eyes when he responded, “I figured I needed to look you up, Samantha. It’s been too long. I’m in need of some good company, and I figure you’re the best there is.”

“You’re right there.” As if in afterthought, she added, “You know Toby Larsen. He’s a good friend. He knew you were a Pinkerton and heard you were looking for me, and he figured I should know about it in advance.”

“My occupation has nothing to do with my wanting to see you again, Samantha.”

Samantha almost choked at the sudden softening of Sean’s voice and his half-lidded gaze. He was old, but she suddenly realized that he was still a damned sexy man! She added silently to that surprised conjecture that he must’ve been trouble for women in earlier days.

The thought that he still might be trouble for women lingered.

Sean said unexpectedly, “How soon do you start work, Samantha?”

“I start in a few hours. Why?”

“That’ll give us some personal time together because that’s what I’ve been wanting.” He added with a wink, “Where’s your room?”

Samantha hid her amazement at the side of Sean she had never seen before. She swallowed and matched his tone. “I’m staying at the Sleepy Rest Hotel if that’s good enough for you.”

“It’s fine.” Turning to Toby, he added, “I’m glad to see that Samantha has a good friend in town.” Turning back again to Samantha, he said, “But I’m also glad that he isn’t as good a friend as I am.”

Samantha managed a smile as she rode back to town between the two men. After Sean and she said good-bye to a frowning Toby, she felt Sean’s hand on her arm as he guided her toward her room in the hotel. She saw the loving glance he turned on her—until the door of her room closed behind them.

His expression changing abruptly, Sean inquired in a solemn tone she remembered too well, “All right, young lady, what’s wrong and why did you ask me to come?”

They were motionless in the quiet glade in the aftermath of their lovemaking. Matt lay beside her and Jenny turned her head to look at him, wondering. Why had she never felt like this before—this magic at the sight of him and this breathlessness each time he touched her? Why was his body so newly tantalizing? Why did his gaze seem to caress her in a way it never had before? Why did those same eyes seem to see her not only as the good woman she had always been, but as the loving, tender woman she could be only with him?

Those questions silently plagued Jenny. She felt no embarrassment at their mutual nakedness. She felt no need to apologize for her slight size or her plain features because Matt had made her feel beautiful.
She had sensed his sincerity when he had loved her with tenderness and unmistakable passion. She remembered his words clearly.

“I’ve dreamed of this from the first moment I saw you.”
And
“You’re the realization of a dream for me, Jenny, a dream I never thought would come true. I want to keep you with me forever.“

Nagging viciously at the back of her mind was the uncertainty she sensed in his remarks, as if he did not believe he could keep her. But she was his betrothed, wasn’t she? He loved her, and she loved him in ways she had never thought herself capable of loving. That was all true, wasn’t it?

Matt asked, “Is something wrong, Jenny? Do you regret—?”

“No, don’t ask that question, Matt!” Sliding her hand across his lips as he turned fully toward her, Jenny whispered, “I can’t bear to hear the words. But just so you’ll know for sure, I have no regrets. You gave me the most memorable moments of my life—something I believed I would never have—and I love you for making me feel that way.” She corrected herself a moment later. “No, that isn’t right. The truth is, I just love you.”

He frowned more darkly.

Aware of his sudden discomfort, Jenny asked, “Did I say something wrong? Please tell me if I did, Matt.”

“Don’t call me that name.”

“What name?”

“Matt. My name isn’t Matt. It’s Tucker.”

“Tucker?” Jenny attempted to smile through her confusion. Appearing conscious of their nakedness for the first time, she struggled to cover herself with her discarded dress.

“No, don’t. I didn’t mean to make you wary of me, Jenny.” Grasping the hand that had reached for her clothing, he stuttered uncharacteristically, “I need…I want to tell you something, Jenny.” Clutching her hand close to his lips, he continued. “Maybe this isn’t the best time to tell you, except to say I didn’t intend any of this to happen between us when I rode out to see you today. I intended to confess something I should have told you before—something I didn’t have the courage to tell you before.”

“You don’t have to ‘confess’ anything to me, Matt. I know everything I need to know about you.”

“My name is Tucker, and you
don’t
know everything you need to know about me.”

“I don’t understand.”

He said determinedly, “First of all, Matt is my twin brother.”

Jenny’s eyes widened and Tucker protested her reaction with a soft curse. He whispered, “Don’t look at me like that, Jenny, please. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Jenny attempted to rise, but Tucker held her fast. He whispered, “Listen to me before you react, please. I need that. I need to know you’ve heard everything I have to say before you decide what to do. Because whatever you decide, I’ll cooperate with it. I promise.”

Jenny did not speak and Tucker briefly closed his eyes. He opened them a moment later to whisper, “You do believe me, don’t you, Jenny? I haven’t destroyed your trust completely, have I?”

BOOK: Renegade
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