by Nia Farrell
Length 22,753 words.
Single-title release July 4, 2020
Originally appeared in the Stand Your Ground anti-bullying/antiviolence anthology (Goodreads http://bit.ly/StandYourGroundGR)
To protect her son, boarding house owner Becca West agrees to a marriage of convenience with the town’s new sheriff.
Fearing for her life, Becca West escaped her abusive husband and has been living under an assumed name. When the new sheriff comes to town, he knows that she’s not really Molly Malone. Truly widowed, Becca vows to never again be at a man’s mercy. Sheriff Donovan insists that marrying him is her best—possibly her only—chance of keeping custody of her boy when Billy’s rich, ruthless grandfather discovers where they are. What will a mother do to protect her son?
Independence Day is an erotic romance set in 1868 California. The heroine was inspired by the gut-wrenching true-life story of Anna Glud, who served as a drummer boy under General Grant. The fictional story includes post-rape PTSD and adult themes and may contain triggers. Written for Ages 18+.
As apprehensive as Molly had been when Sheriff Donovan first arrived, she was soon thanking her stars that he had come to Walnut Creek. He was firm but fair, enforcing statutes that the last sheriff had been lax on and making improvements to their community. Billy adored him. The sheriff had quickly, disturbingly grown on her as well.
So far, she had done her best to ignore it.
At night was the hardest. When her father was dying and insisted on seeing her safely settled before he met his end, she had honored his wishes and wed the man he picked for her. At fifteen years of age, she felt that she had no choice.
Grayson was kind in the beginning. Her wedding night was more than she could have hoped for, given his true nature, with a gentle deflowering and hours of passionate lovemaking. Despite the brutality that Grayson had descended into once her father was gone, she could remember when their marital bed harbored more than forced entries and sleepless nights.
Her body yearned for that again.
She ached for Matthew Donovan.
She could not let him know how he affected her. She longed to touch the shadow of his beard-stippled face at the end of the day and sooth the tension from his brow. The worst was remembering what he looked like naked. Two weeks after he came, he’d failed to lock the bathing room door. She had gone in to clean it…only to find him climbing out of the tub, water clinging to the mat of crisp curls that spanned his chest, thinned below it, and narrowed to a tempting trail that led to his manhood.
His body had stirred at the sight of her, while she watched, mesmerized. He had snatched the towel and covered himself, breaking the spell and sending her flying out the door, her cheeks as red as chili peppers and the heart of her womanhood pulsing with new awareness. It was as if a fire had been sparked inside her. Unable to extinguish it, she now struggled to keep it banked. If she allowed it to flare to life, she feared that it would consume her.
But there was no help for it. Marriage would reduce her to the status of chattel. She refused to put herself at a man’s mercy ever again, and no affair was worth the risk. She would lose her reputation, her livelihood, her home, and possibly her son. Should she be judged an unfit mother, the court would take Billy away.
She was doomed to live each day with the knowledge of what Matthew Donovan looked like naked, and a keen awareness that he shared that most intimate memory.
Things had been awkward between them ever since.
His hazel eyes were as serious as she’d ever seen them. “We can have a second ceremony in the Church when things settle, but we’re making it legal now. As soon as supper’s done, we’re paying the justice of the peace a visit. The only way to ensure that Francis West won’t get custody of Billy is for you to take a husband who can pass close inspection. I’m not perfect, Becca, but my reputation is as good as any man’s and better than most. Mr. West can look for dirt in Indiana or Kansas or California, but he won’t find anything on me. I’ve kept my nose clean and chosen my friends well. Being a lawman, you live a life of risk. Under other circumstances, I’d give you plenty of time to think about that. Once we’re married in the Church, that’s it for either of us. There’ll be no backing out. No divorce. I’ll go off to work each day, and you’ll be here, not knowing if I’m coming home in my boots or in a box.”
She paled at his words and the bleak picture that he’d painted with them.
He shoved five fingers into his hair and sadly shook his head. “Unfortunately, that will be our reality,” he said. “I’ve always hesitated to saddle someone with it. I wouldn’t now, but it can’t be helped. It’s the only sure way to keep you and Billy safe. But if we do this, I want us to be clear. I plan to be your husband, in every way.”
She felt her cheeks warm. A marriage had to be consummated to be legal. If they married, they would share a bed.
His brow knit with worry when she said nothing. “Some women who’ve survived what you did would rather die than be touched by a man. I’m hoping that you’re not one of them.”
She remembered him naked and felt her whole body go flush. “I don’t think so,” she whispered, blood thrumming in her veins to pool in her loins. “How can I know?”
“Well,” he said, “why don’t we start with a kiss and see if you can stand me when it’s done?”
“All right,” she croaked, already wondering what he would taste like.
“Let’s get your chair turned.” Taking hold of the seat from behind, he pulled her away from the table and turned her ninety degrees, so that she sat beside it. He put an empty chair next to hers but in the opposite direction, forming a makeshift courting bench. Folding his long body, he sat down, facing her, with their right hips nearly flush.
He inhaled deeply and exhaled, forcing himself to relax. His hazel gaze snagged hers with the look of a man facing a challenge that he was hopeful he would win.
The sheriff grinned crookedly. “It’s been a while for me, too,” he confessed, “but I think I remember how it’s done.”
Raising his right arm, he held her face in his hand, brushing her cheek with the pad of his thumb, letting her become accustomed to his touch. After a long minute, he reached to cup her head. Leaning forward, he gently pulled her to him.
They met in the middle.
He angled his head for perfect alignment and brushed his lips against hers. His breath smelled of whiskey and lemon, from one of the hard candies that he bought at the mercantile and kept for a treat. When she didn’t shy away, he grew bolder, pressing his lips fully to hers and holding them there, inhaling her breaths and letting her inhale his.
He pulled back his head and looked at her. Keeping her hands clasped tightly against her waist, she met his gaze, unflinching.
“Whiskey eyes,” he murmured. “I could drown in them, you know.”
Certain that they revealed the maelstrom that was wreaking havoc inside her, she was tempted to close them. It was all she could do to sit, trembling at his touch, bathed in the fire of his breath that threatened immolation.
She wondered, would she burn or rise like a phoenix from the ashes?
“Becca,” he whispered hoarsely. “I’m going to really kiss you now.”
Taking her head in both of his hands, he kissed her like a starving man. He consumed her, covering her mouth with his and feasting on it. His tongue came out, capricious at first, then deliberate, seeking her essence to claim for his own. After thoroughly tasting her lips, he urged them apart and delved inside.
She moaned from the feel of it, of him. Her curious fingers touched the faint shadow of his beard, delighting in their differences. Hard and soft. Masculine and feminine. Leashed power and burgeoning passion.
Sensing it, he groaned and pulled away. They stared at each other, motionless save for the rise and fall of their chests with each rapid breath. When the sheriff spoke, his voice was a delicious baritone rumble that echoed in her core.
“Well?” he managed. “What do you think?”
That she was mad to want him. Mad to marry him. She had vowed to never be at the mercy of a man.
She wished that he would kiss her again.
“I’m afraid that you’ll have to tell me what to do. Matthew, how do you want me? Where do you want me?”
He swallowed hard, his throat muscles working. Focused on him, she watched his Adam’s apple move above his cravat. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Tearing his gaze away from her lips, he looked towards her bed.
“Stand up and take off your dress for me.”
He offered his large, strong hands to help her off the floor. Staying close, she unbuttoned her cuffs and bodice, bent to catch the hem of her skirt, and pulled her dress over her head. Turning it right side out, she shook it straight and hung it back in her wardrobe.
Acutely aware of his gaze on her, watching, she untied the waist of her hoops and dropped them. They collapsed at her feet. Her two petticoats and corset cover were next to go, leaving her standing in her corset, shift, pantaloons, stockings, and shoes.
“Sit on the bed,” he rumbled, pushing himself to a stand. She watched, mesmerized, as he pulled off his frock coat and removed his vest. He reached for his belt buckle. She felt herself pale, remembering the bite of leather into her flesh. Noting her reaction, he tossed it aside. When he turned back, his lips were pressed tightly together and his brow was creased with concern.
“I’ll switch to suspenders,” he promised. “I never thought—”
“No!” she whispered. “Please. I need to get used to it, is all. I’ve managed with other things. I can do it with your belt, too, but it takes time. Just be patient with me, please.”
“You have my word, Becca. I’m a patient man. And in case you didn’t notice that day you came into the bathing room, I can control myself. Otherwise, I’d have pinned you against the door and taken you then and there.”
The husky timbre of his voice echoed in her core, triggering a primal response that left her swollen, wet, and aching with an emptiness that he would soon fill.
“You wanted me?”
He nodded slowly, his expression earnest. “I’ve wanted you since I first laid eyes on you again. Back in Jeffersonville, you were always a pretty thing, but you were young. Way too young. Next thing I knew, you were married. All I could do was watch from a distance and hope for the best. But when I walked into Harrell House and saw you again, all grown up…”
He pulled out his stickpin and untied his cravat. “I thought you were the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. I still do.”
She knew that she was passably pretty. The way he looked at her almost made her believe that she was more than merely easy on the eyes.
His hands went to the front of his pants. His nimble fingers worked the buttons to open his fly. Beneath the fabric of his shirt and drawers, she could see the bulge of his erect manhood, rising straight against his belly.
She was no authority, but to her eyes, he seemed very well-endowed. Very. He was large enough, he would have to prepare her to receive him.
The prospect was both tantalizing and terrifying.
The sheriff’s very life depended on being observant. Tonight, with all of his attention focused on her, he saw everything. The rapid lift and fall of her chest with every corset-constrained breath. The night breeze that lifted the curtain and sent gooseflesh rippling across her skin. The uncertainty on her face when she wondered just how large he was and thought of his possession.
“I’ll go slow,” he said. Dropping his gaze to her secrets, he looked determined to uncover them all. “We’ll fit. You’ll see.”