Chapter 4

Jasper's Darlin'

Felipa stared up at me. The candlelight was reflected in her brown eyes, and I noticed the way her bottom lip trembled. I reached out and ran my fingers through her thick, long hair. For a moment, she was Fawn Eyes to me, and I longed to pull her close and never let her go. But then she smiled nervously. Her lips were thinner and one tooth was chipped. Her nose was narrower and her eyes were not set as deep. She was not my girl.

Still, she was female, and I could read the anticipation in her shallow breathing and the way her timid tongue darted out to lick her lips. I put my arm around her waist and pulled her close, then lowered my face to hers for a kiss. My other hand slid through her hair and held her head as we kissed.

She tasted sweet—like apple cobbler and wine—but better. Her hands fluttered up, as if she would push me away, then one landed on my arm, caressing me through the dark blue fabric, while her other gingerly touched my hair.

I wanted her. No matter what I felt for my would-be wife, I had a powerful lust for young Felipa. I didn't let up on kissing her, but pressed forward, forcing her back toward the door. I pushed it shut, then pressed her against the sturdy wood. Her jaw dropped in surprise, and she squealed as I plundered her moist mouth with my own. I pressed my body against hers, grinding manly hardness against the gathers of her dress.

Her fingers clutched at my hair and she whimpered when I boldly caressed her breast through the fabric. She tore her mouth free of mine with a gasp. Her Spanish words barely got through to me in my wine soaked state.

"Jasper please... I've never done this before." I kissed her again, possessing her mouth as my hands learned her soft curves. I didn't want to hear any protest. I didn't want to slow down, and I was absolutely certain I couldn't stop. I trailed kisses along her jaw, then sucked and nibbled on the tender skin of her neck.

"I want to make love with you, Felipa." I whispered the words into her ear, letting her hear the hunger in my voice. "I'll make it good for you, but I need" I pawed at the high collar of her dress, managing to separate two of the fastenings. I wanted to tear the thing off her to more quickly get at her naked skin.

"I... Jasper please slow down..." She pulled away from me, stepping away from the door. She made the mistake of getting closer to the bed. "I don't know how to do this... we should stop." I gazed at her lips in the flickering light. They were kissed a wonderful shade of red, and I stalked her as she backed away from me. It struck me that she was as skittish as a young filly, and unless I wanted to attack her and take her against her will, I'd have to try something different.

"Fine, let's go slow." I stopped where I was, and stared at her. She stood so close to the bed, and I imagined pouncing and pushing her down to the soft mattress. I'd been working and training for over a year, and I knew I was strong enough to overcome any fight she might give me. It would be short work to push that dress up, unfasten my pants, and make her mine. I closed my eyes tight to banish the image.

My head was still muddled with wine. I'd never thought of violating a woman before. I slowly ambled to the bed and sat down, as she sidestepped and moved away. With my head in my hands, I tried to corral my thoughts. I was still powerfully aroused, but the idea of claiming a woman who wasn't willing, made me feel terrible.

"I am sorry, Felipa." I didn't dare to look up at her. "I believe the wine has overcome my good judgment and restraint. You should leave now, I'll not bother you again." I listened for the door or her footsteps. Instead, I felt her sit down beside me.

"We can make love, Jasper... I just need you to go slow." Her hand on my thigh made me catch my breath. "I don't want to be a virgin anymore." I glimpsed the timid smile on her face. I tipped her chin up and kissed her soft lips.

Just the promise of knowing where it was leading, allowed me to slow down. I kissed her softly, until she furrowed her fingers into my hair and pulled me close for a more passionate exploration. She then pulled away and gazed at me.

"I like the way you kiss with your mouth open."

"That was an accident." I smiled at her eagerness.

"You taste good; I like your lips." She stood up and I was worried she would leave, but then she reached for the hooks of her dress. Her brown eyes never left mine, as she unfastened the hidden hooks to free her dress. With a shrug of her shoulders it fell to the floor. Her stays were tight around her and laced in the front. She glanced away briefly as she worked with the knot to free the laces. It almost seemed she was in a hurry, as she untied her petticoats, and let them pool on the floor. She freed herself from the hoop frame, like a bird set free from a cage. Then she stood there, trembling and small in her loose chemise.

I stood and went to her, taking her gently in my arms.

"I'm afraid." Her whisper was caught against my chest as I held her close. I kissed her, and she pressed against me, inflaming my need. She pulled away, blushing.

"I'll pull down the covers while you... get ready." She stepped away without looking at me, and lightly stepped around the bed. She folded down the quilt and the heavy woven blankets, exposing softly worn, white sheets.

My eyes never left her as I sat on a stool and removed my boots and socks. I stood and dropped my suspenders and took off my shirt. When I unfastened my trousers, she was motionless on the other side of the bed. My cotton drawers still covered me from my shoulders to my ankles, but they weren't enough to hide my arousal. She stared.

The bed creaked as I got in, and relaxed in the middle, still wearing my undergarment. I reached out a hand for her. She then went to turn out the lamp.

"No. Leave it on; I want to see you." Her hand shook as she paused, then she left it burning. "I'm waiting for you, Felipa." I smiled, and the corners of her mouth turned up as she tried to smile back, but she didn't quite make it. "Have you changed your mind?" The thought made me want to hold and kiss her until she gave in. She shook her head, then carefully sat on the edge of the bed.

I sat up and moved close to her. My hands on her shoulders made her flinch. I gently rubbed her shoulders through the thin cotton fabric. She was small, and even though I knew she worked hard at the Inn, to me she was delicate. The collar of her chemise was loose, and a gentle tug exposed one bare shoulder to my touch.

Her skin was soft under my hand, and I could feel her trembling. In the lantern light I could see the contrast of our skin. My hand was pale, due to the gloves we wore as part of the uniform. Felipa's skin was a lovely light brown. My fingers disappeared into the neck of her chemise, as I touched the bare skin of her back. Leaning in, I pressed my lips to her shoulder and kissed a trail that lead to her neck. A soft sigh escaped her, and she tilted her head and pulled her hair back, exposing more of her tender skin.

She tasted as good as she smelled. A lot has been lost to modern women; they bathe more, using soaps, perfumes and lotions, but there's just no improving on the warm, natural scent and taste of a woman. Felipa had a delightful bouquet that reminded me of the wine, sweet and earthy. I wanted to drink her in and become drunk on her essence. She leaned back against me as my arms pulled her closer. I turned her head to mine and claimed her lips.

Kissing her was more intoxicating than the wine. She was so soft and small against me, and I felt a sense of urgency, driving me to get closer to her. I stopped kissing her long enough to help her into the bed and ease her down against the pillow. I stretched out beside her and just gazed at her beauty. Her eyes searched my face, seeking reassurance.

"You're beautiful, Felipa." I kissed her lips. "I'm glad you're here with me." I caressed her face. "I'll be careful with you." Again I kissed her gently, and lightly touched her breast through her chemise. She moaned into my kiss, as my hand settled over the small swell. I could feel her nipple harden through the thin cotton, and I loved that she was so responsive to me.

Slow. I knew I had to go slow with her, even though I ached to possess her. I let her get used to my hand as we kissed. It was hard for me to think of anything, but the feel of that supple little mound. It fit my hand perfectly, and I rubbed the peak to make her squirm and moan.

She broke away from my kissing and took my hand away from its fascination. Then she looked me in the eyes as she untied the drawstring of her chemise. The collar opened wide, and she pulled it down to expose herself. I stared.

"Touch the other one too; I like it." I don't know what got to me more, her boldness, or the sight of her naked breasts. I touched them both, and watched her reaction. She really did like it, and her hands over mine encouraged me further.

My own underwear felt increasingly uncomfortable, as the fireplace heated the room, and Felipa heated my passions. I stopped touching and kissing her long enough to unfasten several buttons and shrug out of the top of the garment.

When she reached up and touched me, her hands were warm. Those small brown hands on my lighter skin startled me. It was rare for me to care about such things, but considering how Fawn Eyes had left me, I noted our differences. I wondered if Felipa thought we were of two different worlds, the way my would-be wife had.

"Has the wine stolen your tongue?" She smiled nervously, and I realized I'd been frozen there, thinking about another woman.

"Let's see..." I kissed her then, forgetting all about the hue of our skin or what world we belonged to. I proved my tongue wasn't missing, and went from kissing her lips to her neck. I'd moved over until I was lying partially on her, and one hand freely enjoyed her nakedness, while the other worked at freeing me from my drawers. It was being stubborn, and I had to get up to remove it.

It was her turn to stare. Her eyes were wider than any fawn, and her mouth opened with a small gasp. I looked down, thinking she was awed by my scars, but it turns out she was noting another of our differences. I returned to my spot in the bed before it could make her nervous.

Kneeling in the bed beside her, I gathered her chemise in my hands, pulling it up to her waist. She shifted so I could ease it off over her head. Her drawers were a simple covering and I could see through the thin fabric. I pulled them off of her, and she was fully exposed—we both were.

Every impulse I had to ravish her had disappeared. For sure I wanted her, but looking at her, naked and innocent in the dim light, made me feel almost reverent. She was a gift, precious and fragile, and I wanted to honor her. I stretched out beside her and kissed her lips, cradling her face in my hand.

"You're so beautiful." I was suddenly confused about what I should do next. Not that I wasn't experienced, but I was afraid of hurting her. Fawn Eyes had appreciated my gentleness, and Felipa had asked me to go slow. I knew I could take what she offered, but instead I kissed her, slow and tender, as if I had nothing else on my mind.

From her sweet mouth, I kissed along her jaw and nuzzled her neck. She put her arms around me, and I felt her hands moving over my back. I moved down her body, kissing and tasting her sweet skin. The challenge before me was to see just how long I could resist taking her. I found I had a strong measure of control when it came to carnal delights. She was thoroughly kissed, and my hands had explored every inch of her I could reach—all but her most private treasure.

I petted over the soft hair, and with a sigh she parted her legs. She was so quiet, making little more than soft sighs, breathless gasps, and moans, that I'd been fearful I was the only one aroused. When my exploring fingers found that she was more than a little receptive to me I knew it was time.

Pushing her legs further apart, I covered her body with mine, and pulled her knees up. I kissed her, as my body poked against hers, demanding satisfaction. I heard my shallow panting, and closed my mouth, also cutting off the declaration of I love you that was on the tip of my tongue. I loved Fawn Eyes; what I had with Felipa was lust. It was only habit that put the words in my mouth. I fondled all of her soft curves one more time, before I slid hard, needy flesh against her untried opening. Lust, that's all it is, my mind insisted.

I watched her face, as I pushed hard enough to enter her. She was so unyielding it was almost painful for me, and I saw her grit her teeth and wince. I went slow, hoping to give her time to adjust to me. The little cry of pain that escaped her made me feel an odd mixture of guilt and triumph. I hurt her—how dare I be so rough. I hurt her—I was so much a man she could scarcely contain me. It felt so good, she would have had to scream like she was dying for me to stop. I couldn't feel what was happening to her, but I knew there was tearing and there would be blood. How strange that something I found so pleasurable would cause her such pain. Fully cocooned in her, I stopped and pressed against her tight. I rested my body full-length against hers and kissed her. Two tears oozed from her eyes, and again I felt guilty. Again there was the urge to tell her I loved her, but I refused.

I moved slow, teaching her the rhythm I knew. I tried not to give in to the desire to hurry; I didn't want to cause her any more pain than necessary. I wish I could say there came a point of magical bliss for her, but that would be a lie. Still, it was good for me, and I felt my release coming on. It was then I pulled out, finishing in my hand. At the time I thought I was protecting her from pregnancy; there were few other options at the time.

I collapsed beside and partially on her, pulling her to me and nuzzling her neck. I had a feeling of conquest, like now she belonged to me—she was mine. My hands again were familiar with her, and I kissed her freely. I felt like there were no boundaries after such intimacy. The feeling was reminiscent of love, and once again I denied any such feeling.

Snuggled against her, the travel, the wine, and the lovemaking finally caught up with me, and I fell deeply asleep.

The next morning I woke up, alone.

The fire had died out, and the sun was prying at my eyelids through the gap in the curtains. I was still naked. The stain on the sheets told me I hadn't imagined the night before, but she was gone without any other trace.

The effects of the wine were past, and I didn't suffer even a little hang-over. I climbed out of bed and washed in the basin, dressed and left the room.

I followed my nose to the dining room. Felipa came in as I sat down. She was smiling, and completely put together, as if the night before had never happened. She set a plate on the table before me. Eggs, toasted bread with blackberry jam, and a thick slice of smoked ham greeted me. The hot tea she served, was sweet and flavored with sassafras.

"Sorry I had to leave you this morning; the cows needed milking, I needed to gather the eggs, and I had to start cooking." She quickly kissed me on the cheek, then glanced toward the only other customer in the room. He was hunched over his plate, single-mindedly shoveling food into his mouth. We could have made love on the table, and I doubt he would have noticed.

I was finishing up when Peter stumbled into the room. He looked like he'd spent the night in a drainage culvert. When Felipa tried to serve him breakfast, he turned a pale shade of green and waved her away. He gave me a gritty smile as he propped his head on his hand.

"Isn't this the life? I won nine dollars playing poker last night! Round about midnight they wouldn't play with me; they said I was hexing the cards." He laughed, then winced in pain. "No magic to it; I can tell when they're bluffing." He tapped the side of his head. He gave a softer chuckle, then leaned forward so only I could hear his words.

"After midnight, I had a lot more fun." He gave an exaggerated wink. "I might have to marry that girl some day." His smile told me that would never happen. "So... how did you fare with our beautiful, young hostess?" He kept his voice low, but I still feared she would hear him.

"She has more sense than your partner. Sad to say, I tried, but I spent the night alone."

"I knew it! You bedded the lass—I knew she had eyes for you!"

"Will you keep it down! I said no such thing." I felt sick at the thought she would think I was telling tales on her.

"Not with your words, but you're manner is practically shouting it to the world. So was she good? Did she do anything new and interesting?" He made a gesture with both hands over his chest. "How big are her..."

"Enough!" Anger made me stand, knocking aside the bench and clenching my fists. "Don't talk about her like that!" He didn't get excited as he looked up at me with amusement.

"Well, look at that, Sergeant Jasper's in love."

"I am not! But a gentleman doesn't talk about a lady that way."

"A lady now, is she?" He smirked and crossed his arms. I wanted to hit him, even though he was my commanding officer. Instead I put one booted foot on the edge of the bench he was sitting on, and pushed. It over-balanced spilling him and his insolent grin onto the floor.

I was about to walk out, preferring the company of the horses to the tall, blond man who couldn't keep his mouth shut. Then she walked in through the side door. Felipa had her arms loaded down with firewood, and I rushed to help her.

"Let me get this; you shouldn't have to haul in the wood, not with men about." I lightened her load, since she wouldn't let it all go. "Where do you want it?"

"The fireplace, right there." She went about stacking the wood near the hearth, then she stood and brushed the bark and twigs from her apron. A smile bloomed on her face as she gazed up at me. "Thank you... Jasper." I didn't turn as I heard Peter set the bench aright.

"Do you need any more help with the wood?"

"You shouldn't be helping me, you're a guest. Papa usually takes care of the wood, but he went to Amarillo with my mother. They won't be back for another week. My brother is supposed to take care of the wood, but he's too little to use the splitter."

"You're here on your own?" I was stunned.

"Not really. The people who run the saloon are always there, and my uncle is here if I need him." She pointed to the empty table and plate of the man who'd been eating when I came in. "I can handle the work when it's slow. There's a lot more to do in the harvest season, when the farmers pass through here taking their crops to sell."

"Well, you can let me help you with the wood. I wouldn't want you to blister your pretty hands." I took them in mine, and heard Peter make an ugly snort before he went through the door into the saloon. I followed her outside and for two hours I split the wood into pieces that would burn properly, and helped her carry them in.

I was a sweaty mess when I was finished. Even still, she stepped into the circle of my arms to kiss me while we were out of sight of everyone. She tasted like the sassafras tea she served me. I'd helped her to pour it into jars, and lower it into the well to cool.

"You need a bath!" She wiped my face with a cool cloth, and squirmed away when I tried to pull her closer.

"That sounds like a great idea." I leered at her, as I imagined getting her into a tub of water, naked and wet. "What do you suggest?"

"It'll take at least an hour to heat enough water for a tub bath... or we could go wash in the creek." The image changed. It was no longer of her in a small tub, but both of us, hidden away in a creek.

"That sounds really good." I kissed her again before she left to go and get what we'd need. When I learned that the creek was a mile away, I decided we should take my horse. She had to talk fast to dissuade her little brother from going with us. He finally agreed to stay behind and keep an eye on the inn.

We didn't bother to saddle Molasses, and before we left I made her take off her hoops. She left them in one of the stalls in the barn. I pulled her up in front of me, with her legs demurely to one side. That only lasted until we were out of sight of the inn, then I insisted she ride astride, even though it showed off her ankles and part of her calf. I enjoyed the sight.

It was a short ride with the horse, and the creek was better than I hoped. I tied Molasses, and Felipa spread an old blanked under a tree. I shucked out of my clothes, and waded into the deepest part of the creek. The water was cold in March but I didn't mind, considering the heat of the day, and I washed away the dirt and sweat, dunking under to rinse my hair.

While I enjoyed the water, she washed out my discarded clothes. She scrubbed them with lye soap, then draped them over shrubs to dry in the sun.

"Come on Felipa, join me!" I was beginning to think she had only come along to do chores, as she pulled something else from the basket she'd brought along. Then she surprised me when she began to undress. I stood waist deep in the water and stared.

Even though I was familiar with her body, she looked even more lovely in the full light of day. The bold way she faced me continued to surprise me. She didn't try to hide her body, or cover herself with her hands, and as she walked toward the stream, a small smile played about her face.

The cold water affected her body in a way that got my attention, and I didn't notice what she carried in her hands. I put my arms around her, intending to seduce her while I was sober and well rested. Instead she ran a thick brush over my face. She'd brought a shaving mug, brush, and razor, and she wanted to shave the emerging beard from my face.

While she shaved me, I risked my life as my hands made themselves familiar with her body. She sliced the skin of my neck, when I slid my fingers between her legs, and she jumped. She was so concerned about the blood, but I laughed at the harmless little nick. A little blood was nothing to get excited about.

When she was finished with me I rinsed the lather, and she touched my smooth face. I pulled her close and kissed her, feeling her wet and naked in my arms. Her response to me was so different from what I expected. I felt her hands moving over me, touching me in intimate places, as if she were trying to arouse me. The cold water was working against me, and I lead her from the stream to the blanket.

We were soon warmed and drying in a patch of sunlight, but getting dressed was the last thing on my mind. There in the open, on a blanket near the stream, I made love to Felipa. In those moments, she was all mine, and I felt the first real touch of happiness since Fawn Eyes had left me.

My clothes still were not dry, and we swam and played in the stream for a while. We then made love again. Finally I had to don my damp clothes for the ride back to the inn. The whole way back, she chattered away in Spanish about her life at the inn, while I indulged my desire to touch and fondle her body. Back at the barn, I took care of Molasses, while she struggled back into her hoop frame. She left me in a hurry, eager to get started on the evening meal.

When I went to look for Peter, I found him sitting at a table playing a game of poker with three other men. The pile of coins in front of him was about twice the size of theirs.

"Jasper! Have a seat and I'll deal you in." If I'd been given the choice between playing cards, and helping Felipa with the meal, I'd gladly be out in the cook house chopping vegetables or stirring a pot. My brothers had taught me the game when it first became popular, but they cheated every chance they could, and it became another excuse for them to trounce me. But Peter seemed to need me to join in for some reason.

That reason became clear after the first two hands, as he won both, and suckered me for a bit too much of my pay. On the third hand, I did my best to bluff him, but I swear he could tell, and he again beat me. Watching me lose seemed to calm the men, and they stayed in the game longer than I thought they should have.

There was a pretty woman who seemed to work there, and she kept bringing drinks to the men. She was a beauty, and she smiled and touched the men as she walked by. She may have smiled at us, but I noticed the way she looked at my captain. He was the one she really wanted, and from some of the secretive looks he gave her, she would have him.

By the fourth hand I was getting a feel for the men at the table with us, and another joined in. The piano player came in and started to tap out a light tune in the background. For once I had a good hand, but instead of bidding higher, I watched everyone, and took note of how they played. When it came time to lay the cards on the table, I'd won, but more than that I had a grasp of how the men played.

One of the first men quit when he ran out of money, but the other played on, desperate to win some of his lost money back. Peter didn't seem to notice his desperation, but it was like I could feel it in my bones. It was in the way he clutched the cards, the way he shifted his weight in the chair, and the way he kept looking around the room, as if hoping for someone to come and rescue him. I had a pair of threes, but I stayed in. I didn't try to bluff Peter, but the other men did. He won the hand.

While Peter gloated, I watched the desperate man beside me. The chair skidded on the wood floor as he stood up, and a gun appeared in his shaking hand.

"You're not taking my money!" He had Peter in his sights, and the other men seemed content to watch the drama; the gun wasn't pointed at them—though as bad as the man shook they could easily be next. "That's all I got to save the farm—you're not taking it!"
"Friend..." I tried to keep my voice calm, and he spared a glance for me. "...I think y'all need to put that away, and let us settle this like gentlemen." He then noticed I had my colt pointed up at his chest. I was still worried that he would try to shoot both of us "How's the little missus going to deal with the farm, when her man doesn't come home?"

I stood, slow and easy, still holding my gun on him. "You didn't come here to hurt anyone, did you? You just wanted to make a little bit more money for the bank note, am I right?" I spoke to him as if he were a frightened horse, low and soothing.

His hand trembled, and then his arm dropped. He burst into tears, collapsing into his chair as I took the gun from his limp hand. The men at the table converged on him and the story came out. He was losing his farm, and his wife and kids didn't have anything left.

Since there wasn't a lawman for miles, it was really up to me and Peter to decide what to do with the man. Peter wanted to give the man back his money and let him go. A couple of the others wanted to give him money as well, but I stopped them.

"No. You can't give him enough to save the farm, and he'll just take it to the next town over and gamble it away. The next men he pulls a gun on probably won't be so understanding." He looked at me like I'd hit him.

"What kind of cold-hearted bastard are you? The wolf is at the door... we got nothin..."

"Your problem isn't money." I snatched his hand from the table. "You don't have the hands of a farmer. You've got no scars, no callouses... your nails aren't even dirty. You probably haven't been home in months." He stared at me, like I was reading his mind.

"You need to go and talk to the bank, and ask them for a little more time..."

"They won't give me any more..."

"You need to tell them you want time to get the farm ready to sell."

"I can't do that!" He seemed almost panicked.

"It's planting season, and you're here playing cards! You're not a farmer any more than I'm a piano player." We both looked over at the man on the bench. He'd quit playing when we'd pulled our guns. "You go talk to the bank, and convince them to give you three to six months. Then you go and talk to your neighbors and anyone in the area who's kindly disposed toward you. It's planting season, and you need to ask them to give you a hand."

"You think one harvest will repay the bank? It's not enough!"

"Of course not; you've been digging this hole for quite a while, haven't you?" I leaned on the table to get face to face with him. "You go and talk to your neighbors, and ask them for help. Get that farm planted, and fix up the house. Get a few blisters and break some fingernails—work hard for the next couple months. When the crops are looking good, and the place is at its best, put it up for sale. Your neighbors—those who helped you—they'll be the ones looking to buy the place. They'll feel invested in that land, and they won't want to see those crops fail. You'll get the best price for your farm. Pay back the bank, and take what's left and move your family to a big town. Find out what you're good at, and leave farming behind—then your wife will respect you."

He stared at me like I was some kind of fortune teller. But the men around me seemed to accept what I'd said, and they nodded in agreement. One of the other men helped him to his feet and guided him out of the place.

"Looks like I owe you one." Peter clapped me on the shoulder with a smile. "You just saved my life."

"He wouldn't have..."

"Yes he would have, and you know it too. I wasn't paying attention, and he would have shot me dead if you hadn't been here. Those others would have let him do it, too."

"You don't know that. You're a captain in the army, they'd have to be crazy to think something like that wouldn't be noticed."

"That tall one wears my boot size." He grinned at me and motioned for another glass of whiskey. "They'd help him bury the bodies, and we're close enough to Mexico I doubt anyone would come to look for us." His words kept me from doing any more drinking. While we were alone, we were still soldiers, but we didn't have the backing of the army.

"Why do you trust them not to... do you in while you're drunk?"

"My girl... she'd avenge me." I followed his eyes to the woman behind the bar, the same one who had been serving us drinks. She was not only beautiful but deadly, as she cradled a shotgun in her arms. The look in her eyes told me she wouldn't hesitate to use it.

A/N: I'm sorry for the time it's taking me to post updates lately. This is one of four stories I'm writing and posting. I also had my first really bad review on this one, and it sort of made me second guess whether I would keep going until I finish it, or stop and rewrite it. For those who continue to read, and have been kind in their reviews, I'm going to push forward.