She couldn’t decide between them…
Orchid O’Neal is in love with two men. When Clint Bollinger, the man she’d thought she’d marry, leaves her behind at the Double O with Lowell Meeks, the boy she’s loved since childhood, she goes a little wild. Her outrageous behavior is shocking—and dangerous. Clint must return to set her straight and save her from herself, but when the three friends come together again, they realize that there was only one choice all along.
Reader Advisory: This book contains voyeurism.
Publisher's Note: This book is linked to The Double O Saga but is a standalone story.
General Release Date: 25th July 2017
US Marshal Clint Bollinger tied his horse to a stunted tree and carefully picked his way down the steep, wooded hill toward the flat riverbank. Beyond the sound of rushing water, he could hear the gentle laughter of the two people he cared for most in the world.
His heart clenched at the thought of leaving them, but that’s what he had to do. With the railroad expanding ever westward, new mining towns cropping up on the far edges of the plains and in the high peaks of the mountains and a whole new coast to settle, Clint was being sent farther afield. Unfortunately, he’d agreed to go wherever the government needed when he’d signed up for the job. He’d served his time in Creek Bend and was now being ‘rewarded’ with a promotion and a new location—no matter what his personal feelings were on the matter, no matter what the sight of Orchid O’Neal with her faded skirt hiked up to her knees as she waded in the shallow edges of the river did to Clint’s cock, and no matter that the grin spread out over Lowell Meeks’ mouth spurred a warm feeling of camaraderie deep within his chest—the marshal had to move on.
He didn’t know how to tell them.
“I’ll just say it,” he mumbled to himself.
Orchid laughed then looked up as if he’d announced his presence. Her pretty blue eyes sparkled with excitement the moment she noticed him pushing through the bushes. She lit up as she always did, the expression grabbing Clint’s heart every time he saw it. Nothing in the world made him feel as good as that woman’s smile.
But Lowell’s grin came close. The bond between himself and Lowell was something Clint hadn’t realized he’d hungered for until he’d discovered it—a connection that went deeper than brotherhood. As the other man leisurely climbed to his feet with a strength and lazy grace developed through years of handling unbroken, bucking horses, Clint understood that he’d never had a friend until he’d come to Creek Bend and met these two young people.
And they were young. In fact, they were just old enough that the townsfolk and Offer O’Neal, Orchid’s daddy and Lowell’s boss, hadn’t said anything outright about how much time Clint spent in their company—after all, he wasn’t old himself—but there had been plenty of askew glances.
Good thing those people couldn’t see them now, what with the way Orchid threw her lithe body against Clint’s and held on tight to his neck. He hugged her back for a minute, closing his eyes, savoring the press of her firm breasts to his chest, aware she didn’t have on a corset or anything more supportive than a shift, most likely. Under his stroking hands, she felt next to naked, and his body responded quickly.
He set her back and glanced at Lowell. The welcoming grin had fallen from the man’s face, but rather than seem perturbed at Orchid’s greeting, he was studying Clint’s eyes. Lowell reached out and dragged Orchid back a step as she chattered about nothing in particular.
The other man interrupted her soon enough. “What’s wrong, Clint?”
“Oh, well, I…um…”
Clint hesitated, his plans to simply spit out the truth dissolving at the sight of the two of them together. In the normal run of things, Clint would have asked Orchid to marry him two years ago, the moment she’d gained the proper age for marriage to a man like him. He’d have taken her with him wherever the government declared, happy for her company.
Except what would happen to Lowell? It was plain as day the boy loved Orchid. Hell, he probably had never even spoken to another woman, but he was attached to her. Clint couldn’t take Lowell’s girl from him. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself.
Besides, he was having enough trouble imagining life without Lowell, too. It wasn’t like he could take them both with him, could he? No, the young man before him, standing tall, his lean body wrapped in faded work clothes, the appealing scent of horse and leather still clinging to him, needed a ranch to mind. He needed fillies to tame—and Clint didn’t just mean Orchid.
And what would people say if the three of them went off together?
“Clint?” Lowell reached out and caught his shoulder.
The pair before him made a beautiful couple. An ache formed in Clint’s gut as he looked between them and cleared his throat. Before he could chicken out again, he caught hold of his resolve. “I’m leaving Creek Bend.”
The two of them stared at him for a moment. Then Orchid asked, “For how long?”
There had been a few times that Clint had left town on some job or another. Each case had typically been wrapped up in a week or so, especially as he’d been motivated to get back home quickly. He wasn’t surprised they thought this departure was just like all the rest, but it did make things more difficult.
“I’m not coming back,” he finally told them. “I’m being sent west.”
Orchid lost all color in her face. Lowell lost his breath. For the longest minute of Clint’s life, nothing moved but the birds and the river. Sound faded. The day seemed too damned hot and he could hardly catch a breath.
Then Orchid gave a choked cry and launched herself at him. Breaking free of Lowell’s restraining grip—the man’s hand had gone limp around her arm at Clint’s words—she grabbed him again.
“Clint! You can’t be serious. You can’t go!”
“I have to. It’s my job.”
“Take me with you.”
Pain lanced him. Just to avoid any resentment that might have flared in Lowell’s expression at Orchid’s hasty command, Clint closed his eyes. He hugged Orchid and tried to set her back, but she clung stubbornly.
“What about Lowell?” Clint whispered. “I can’t take you from him.”
She stilled. Woodenly, she let him go and stepped back. “What?”
“Ya’ll will be fine without me.” Clint tried to smile, but he knew the action was too shaky to look anything other than deformed. “It’s how it should be.”
Orchid tossed her head. “I should make you eat those words.”
“Leave him be,” Lowell ordered.
To Clint’s surprise, Orchid obeyed. She wasn’t much for minding anyone, and she always seemed to ride roughshod over Lowell, in particular, but for the moment, she listened. Unfortunately for Clint, that left his friend ample opportunity to study his face. He fought not to fidget as Lowell’s gaze raked him.
“You all right?”
Clint nodded. “Sure. Just got a job to do.”
Lowell shook his head. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Look, I, uh…” Clint fidgeted. “I’ve got to get my stuff together. They gave me a deadline for getting out there, so I’ll be leaving tonight.”
He looked at the flush on Orchid’s face and knew the anguish in her eyes would haunt him forever. “I wish they’d have given me more warning, but they didn’t, and the situation is urgent. I’m sorry. I really am. I would have loved to have more time to say goodbye to you two.”
Then, because he didn’t know what to do with all the misery filling him, the drag of loneliness or the regret and guilt at leaving them behind, Clint turned on his heel and walked away.