Disclaimer: The following is a work of fan fiction, and is not intended to infringe on copyrights or make a profit.

Category: M/F

by Kasey

She had been in town for only a month. Vin had spotted her immediately, though. Hell, the whole town had. She walked through Four Corners as though she had proprietary rights to the place. She was graceful, tall and long-legged, with a stride more confident and feline than determined. The fact that she wore men's britches and boots and wore her blonde hair loose down her back only served to make her stand out in the little town even more.

Vin had watched her interact with his fellow riders, and was jealous of every second she spent with them.

She had met Chris her first day in town. He was on his way out of The Clarion, she on her way in. They had nodded at each other, and seemed to come to an understanding in that instant.

After he heard of that meeting, Buck had fallen all over himself to get an introduction. He took one long look into her eyes and backed off his planned seduction.

Ezra claimed to find her charming, and was the only one who seemed to be able to make her laugh. He called her by her first name, and ate meals with her at the hotel.

JD was cowed by her, called her Ma'am and never looked her in the eye.

Josiah openly stared at her as though she were sent from either Heaven or Hell. He couldn't be sure which.

Nathan and she regarded each other with the kindness of caring strangers, but not pity.

Vin wasn't sure she knew he existed.

She knew.

She didn't much look at the others when she first arrived, but the quiet one had attracted her attention almost as fast as she had caught his. He was comfortable with his own wildness. She avoided him purposely after that first notice, hoping that her own apparent disinterest would make him approach her.

It hadn't.

So she started talking to and getting to know the gambler. She had to admit he was enjoyable company. She liked him, and he liked her. But she didn't want him and he didn't want her

Chris was as quiet as she was, and never pressed her for anything. He didn't even ask her name for the first two weeks they had known each other.

The preacher and the healer were good friends. She liked Nathan. He was smart. And she was sure she could match him scar for scar. Josiah had peered into her, searching for her soul, and he looked at her like he had come up empty. She decided to like him anyway, too.

The boy was so clearly afraid of her that she didn't think he'd ever be able to get past mumbling "Excuse me" at her general direction.

The one called Buck - she was sure *that* was a richly deserved nickname - started off treating her like a conquest in waiting. He saw soon enough that she was not, and came to treat her like he did the men he rode with.

The only one who escaped her was the one she wanted. Wasn't that always the way? She held out hope that he would come around, but to her he didn't just *appear* to be indifferent; he really was. This bothered her more than she cared to admit. And that kind of depth of disappointment she would not tolerate.

So when she and Vin finally did have contact, she had decided he had taken too long, and treated him accordingly. He was not entitled to her smiles, her kindness or her slightest notice. She had given him long enough. It wasn't her fault he wasn't smart enough to capitalize on the situation.

She treated him with a cold indifference that eventually made him boil. She could see that it did, and she did not care.

The more he tried to talk to her, the more he tried to be civil, the less inclined she was to even respond to him. Her willful pride had been hurt by his inattention. But she wasn't going to let him know that, and she wasn't going to let him have a chance now that *he* had decided he wanted one.

She knew she was being stubborn, but every time she looked at him, a little voice told her that it was the right thing to do. She'd never heard from that particular little voice before, but she trusted her own mind to know what was right.

The morning started off much as every other had. Awakened by some noise on the street beneath her hotel window, she climbed out of bed cold and still tired.

She also awoke in a mood that permeated the air around her. She had a bad feeling; something was going to happen and, more than likely, it was going to happen to her.

She sighed as she began her routine. Whatever was going to happen, she might as well get up and get it over with.

The day progressed as usual; no lightning bolts from the heavens crashed down around her, no gunfights erupted on the streets, no conflict with the taciturn tracker.

But that last part was no surprise, since she kept her distance from him. It wasn't hard to do; sometimes she could feel his approach from a mile away.

When she did sneak a look at him, though, she could tell he was up to something. Still, she doubted he had any interest left in her at all. They had reached a kind of stalemate. And that suited her just fine.

The only problem with lack of trouble was that it made her edgier as the day wore on. She snapped at anyone who talked to her and cast glances of fury at anyone she came across. It wasn't a great way to endear herself to the town, but she hadn't planned on staying much longer anyway.

By the time the sun had set, she was almost a nervous wreck. Her intuition had never been wrong before. Either something big was still in the offing, or she could begin the process of learning to doubt herself, not a happy prospect for an independent woman in her part of the world.

She decided to calm her fears at the saloon. She knew all seven of the riders would be there, but at this point, she didn't care. The sudden need for whiskey overrode any concern she might have about a confrontation with Tanner.

The saloon was dark, as usual, and smokier than she would have liked. But that afforded her some time to herself before others made out her presence.

She would have liked to have been in and out of there in minutes, but Buck had sidled up to her and tried to engage her in conversation. She was abrupt with him, cutting him off and being unforgivably rude, but he smiled at her and leaned in close.

"One of those days?" he asked.

She just looked at him, her eyes narrowed by the claustrophobic air.

"Sweetheart, I've had a few myself," he told her with a broad smile, and left her to finish her whiskey, absolving her behavior to him.

She breathed a thankful sigh of relief and threw back the last of her whiskey.

And then he showed up.

It must have been his well-honed tracker's eyes. Vin spotted her as soon as he walked into the saloon. Buck had just said something to her and left her alone. She finished her drink and looked down at the bar. Vin watched her closely, trying to decide his best tack.

Lord knew, she had been bristling at something all day. Every time she turned a corner she left an upset soul in her wake. He hadn't been closer to her than 10 feet all day, but he could feel her anxiety over something. Her nerves were wearing thin on his. And he aimed to do something about it.

He approached the bar. She must have felt him nearing, because she spun around and faced him, giving him a look that made plain her annoyance at him. Vin stopped short. He hated that look and the power it had over him. He itched to slap it right off her face.

Still, he had vowed that tonight he was going to have his way, and no one look was going to deter him.

"That's mighty effective," Vin said as he came up to her. He had closed the gap between them in two long-legged strides.

"Apparently, not effective enough," she said back.

Vin considered his next move carefully, then threw that decision to the winds.

"Have a whiskey with me," he said. "I'm buyin.' "

She looked at him as though he had just cursed her mother. He was the cause of enough of her bad moods without him suddenly deciding for the both of them that it was time to holster their enmity. After what he had already done to her pride….

"Long day, Mr. Tanner. Another time."

"I might not offer another time."

"Promise?" She stalked past him in a few long-legged strides of her own and was outside in the cool air before he could think of a retort.

Both Chris and Ezra had noted Vin's entrance. They exchanged brief looks and quickly made their way to the bar, hoping to head off what looked to be an ugly meeting. But she was already gone by the time they got there.

"She's gotta learn that not everything she wants she's gonna get," Vin said after quickly downing his whiskey. "She's in for a breaking."

"Hell, Vin. She's not a horse," Chris replied.

"Vin, has it occurred to you that she might be the rare exception that *does* get everything she wants?" Ezra asked. "Someone always does, you know. And I see no better candidate than she."

Vin had smiled at them. "Well, maybe she is gonna get what she wants. Maybe she just doesn't know exactly what that is yet," he said.

Chris and Ezra had walked away together, leaving Vin alone. A strange thing for the two of them, to be united in thought, but there they were, concerned for her safety and Vin's sanity.

Vin walked to the doors and quietly slipped outside. He could see her making her way down the street to the hotel. Where she would actually end up staying the night now was up to him.

Vin caught up to her in the street. He was on her heels before she even knew he was there.

From behind her, he wrapped one arm around her waist and the other over her mouth. He easily hauled her to the closest alleyway, taking her away from the slight protection being out in the open might have held.

Vin pushed her up against the wall and held her there with his own body. He had her wrists in a vise-like grip and held them against the wooden boards near her head. He was breathing hard, raggedly, but he was not out of control. The sharp intakes of breath were only his body catching up with his mind, feeling the curves and soft flesh he dominated.

Vin watched her realize what had happened, realize that the edge she thought she had had not in fact ever existed. He watched the smugness he had seen in her eyes moments before become anger, then fear. The emotions danced there, like raindrops on a rushing river: too much motion and captive energy to stay in one place for long.

She struggled lamely, but he pressed his body into hers, holding her against the building with his hips. No matter how scared she was, she'd put up a fight. Vin had counted on that. He was hard against her, enjoying every second she squirmed against him, every involuntary movement of her body against his as she worked for her freedom. She met the fierceness of his gaze with an intensity that only served to arouse him. That look, which had quelled and angered him moments before, now only brought forth a quick smile that mocked her futile rebellion. But she didn't scream, didn't make a sound except for her own quickening breaths. Vin had counted on that, too.

He smiled at her again, and she pressed her head back against the musty boards of the building. Vin hadn't figured on anticipating her reactions to him so well, but it made this part of the chase easier in the long run. Still, he had a long way to go before he would declare the hunt over, and it was a hard road he had just passed.

Vin leaned down to her ear. He could hear her breathing shorten into quick gasps as he quietly spoke to her.

"You're gonna come with me, and you ain't gonna, kick, or scream or make a sound. You ain't gonna try to get away from me. You even look like you might bolt, I'll make this harder on you than you're in for now."

He didn't wait for her to agree. He let go of her wrists, but kept his hips pressed against her. She looked at him with confusion and fear, and silently took him at his word.

Vin backed away from her, caught her left arm in his right hand, and led her off toward the hotel. Hell, he decided, since she was gonna be on her back all night, she might as well be comfortable.

He led her past the man at the front desk. He steered her toward the stairs and up them to the hallway outside her room. He never took his eyes off her back, though. He wanted to watch to see if she made any movement, any gesture that might attract attention to her plight. But she didn't, and Vin was disappointed that she was giving in so easily.

He need only have waited until they were in the privacy of her room for her to fight.

Like the others, it was small, with a bed and a dresser the only substantive pieces in the room. But unlike the others, it was at the opposite end of the hall, away from the stairs and those other, occupied rooms.

He opened her door, and lightly shoved her in the room. She was caught off guard by that and stumbled just a little. When she regained her balance, she whirled around and faced him with her full fury.

"What do you think you're doing?" Her voice was low, even and practically a hiss. Her face was a mask of hatred. She stood staring at him, hands balled into fists, ready to fight in private as she hadn't been willing to in public.

Vin looked at her evenly. Yes, she was mad. Furious, sure. Out for his blood, even. And it excited him. But he made sure to keep that look of bemusement on his face, not willing to give away his desire just yet. Better she learn the object lesson now, and of passion later.

"I don't like you all that much," he said with a lazy drawl.

"So you're going to take me against my will?"


She startled at that. It was no where near what she expected him to say, and he knew it. And maybe it was true; maybe he would take her against her will. Maybe she might even admit she wanted him. Either way was up to her.

She backed up into the room, the backs of her knees bumping up against the bed. She didn't falter this time, though, and stood her ground.

Vin followed her trail, discarding his hat and slowly, purposefully, shrugging out of his coat. It followed his hat onto the floor of her room, in a heap by the door.

With his hat off, she could see his eyes clearly for the first time since he had first started his assault on her in the alley. His eyes shown brightly with menace and desire. She wondered if he had ever had one emotion without the other. It was only the briefest moment lost in thought, but it cost her.

The moment of inattention showed on her face and Vin took advantage of it. He reached out quickly and put his hands on her hips. She came back from her reverie and was about to slap at his hands when he pushed down hard, sitting her down on the bed. She just as quickly tried to bounce back up to her feet, but Vin spread her knees apart with his thigh and stepped between her legs. She was as good as imprisoned.

She reached up then, and tried to push him away, but the angle was awkward and she couldn't get her full weight behind the shove.

She then tried to pick her feet up off the floor and scoot off the bed behind her, but Vin leaned down and wrapped his hands around her upper arms. He shook her for a moment until she looked up at him.

"I told you, I'm gonna have you."

He could see her face flush hot from anger. He had given her too much time during the walk from outside the saloon to the hotel to think.

Vin's decision was as fast as it was unexpected: He would pull out every weapon in his arsenal to stop her from thinking. He would give her everything he could, in exchange for her admission that she wanted him. How he would coax that from her was another problem. But he knew he could do it.

Better to let her think for a bit longer that she was still in for a hard night, letting his decision come to her as a most pleasant surprise.

Still, a little pain never hurt anyone. He smiled a bit more warmly than before.

She noticed, and it scared her more than the cold smile he had graced her with before.

He was thinking about something, she knew that much. What is was, she wasn't sure she wanted to know. But he seemed to decide something. And he was definitely pleased about something.

Vin pulled her to her feet, her legs still against the bed. He loosened his grip on her arms and let his hands lightly brush down them. The motion spoke of familiarity and passion, and only made her more worried.

"…problem is, you're stubborn."

She realized what must have been halfway through his sentence that he was in fact speaking to her. She had been intently watching his fingers lightly rub the tender inside of her wrists to focus too clearly on anything else he might have been doing.

Her head jerked up, her hair falling around her face. God help him, but he wanted to lose his hands in that hair. It was the color of rusted wheat, shiny from the sun, but still betraying golden red undertones.

She was staring into his eyes, watching them leap from emotion to emotion. At least he had her attention.

"And, you don't know what you want," he told her. "So I'm gonna show you."

She couldn't have said a word even if he wanted her to.

"This is gonna be good for us both," Vin continued, his eyes still locked onto hers, his fingers still tracing the now-tender path on her wrists. "I'm gonna make you ache for me."

Lord, no, she thought.

"Maybe you already do?"

His hands went back up her arms, over her collarbone and down the front of her jacket as he undid the buttons slowly. Her arms hung limply at her sides, her eyes transfixed by the transformation that had appeared on his face. He was acting like a seducer rather than an attacker. If his plan had been to confuse the hell out of her, she had to congratulate him: it was working like a charm.

Vin noticed that she wasn't trying to stop him. He figured she was too shocked at what was happening to be able to *do* much of anything.

He pulled her jacket off her arms and sent it to join his. She was coming out of whatever trance she had been in, and looked like she was going to start fighting him.

"Don't be mistaken, darlin,' " he said. "I want you." His voice was low and husky with desire. He was almost whispering now.

Struck speechless. Again. Damn that, she thought.

"But *you* aren't gettin' anything I don't want you to have."

He bucked his hips forward into her, sending her onto her backward onto the bed. She started to inch back on her elbows, but Vin caught her as he made his way across her on the bed. She had clamped her legs shut, and he straddled her. Her hands went up to his shoulders, trying to stop him from his descent.

It didn't work. Instead, she had managed to trap her arms between their bodies.

As Vin's full length covered hers, he kissed her, his mouth taking hers with a ruthlessness that made her believe he didn't really *want* her at all. This was about power, and him trying to claim it. She tried not to make even the slightest movement, but his lips were working with something approaching expertise on hers, and she was not prepared for that. Her lips parted slightly, even as she cursed them not to.

It didn't escaped Vin's notice. His hand reached down to her side and pulled her shirt out of her britches in one clean jerk. It made her gasp, opening her lips even wider to him. He took full advantage.

His tongue entered her mouth. He explored, teasing her senses, all the while coveting the feel of her tongue inside his mouth.

She was waging one hell of a war against herself, Vin thought. Too bad she should waste all that energy fighting herself when she should be fighting him. That thought sent a shock of pleasure through him. Their tangles in the street, in the saloon, had all been a prelude to this. She had brought him to a fever pitch with their verbal sparring. The physical war they would wage might shatter his soul. But not before he had hers to compensate.

Vin heard her muffled cry of "No" before she started to turn her head to resist his insistent mouth. His lips followed hers and brought her head back around to face him with their persistent pressure.

Enough of this, he thought. Vin eased the pressure from his mouth slightly, unconsciously making his kiss arousing instead of demanding. He wasn't going to waste time.

She noticed all too well the change.

"Unbutton it," he said. He lips were still on hers and she felt, rather than heard, his command. She wasn't sure what she should do. Vin bit down on her lower lip, causing a bare amount of pain.

"Unbutton it."

Still she didn't move. He bit down again, a little harder this time.

She understood then. But her hands were still squeezed between her chest and the hunter who lay on top of her. And he was still kissing her, but with a growing warmth that even in her confused state she could sense.

He lifted himself slightly off of her, his hands moving to her hips, driving them into the mattress. His lips stayed on hers, working them, coaxing them to open again.

She couldn't concentrate on her blouse and his mouth at the same time, and so one had to give. Her buttons and her mind both slowly started to come undone.

Vin knew she was having trouble concentrating on the buttons of her shirt; at this point she was too delirious from the confusion of the pain and pleasure of his biting her, rather than purposely trying to resist him. The task was consuming too much time for his taste, though.

He moved his hands from her hips and grabbed the fabric of her shirt. He pulled it apart, sending the buttons flying. He sat back on his haunches, and pulled her up to him.

Vin pulled the shirt off of her, and looked at her camisole. It was light; it couldn't have provided much warmth against the cold. There were stays built into it, cupping her breasts; he couldn't believe he was jealous of a piece of fabric.

Her breathing was hard. She looked at him looking at her breasts and she was glad he wasn't looking into her face. She was embarrassed by how easily she had been giving in to him. She had to come up with a way to fight him, since she wasn't going to overpower him.

Vin traced the delicate lace trim on the camisole. He pulled it down a little. The skin on the tops of her breasts was as tan as the skin on her arms, face and neck. The idea of her, probably tanned from swimming with nothing on, made him pause. Her skin, glowing in the sun, wet. God.

Hell. Enough of *this,* too. He pulled at the stays and laces, but they wouldn't budge. He reached around his back to where he kept his knife looped on his belt and brought it around. The tip of the knife went under the fabric at her belly. One quick swipe and his problem was solved. He pulled the camisole off of her, too.

Finally, Vin looked her in the face. He started leaning down to her, pushing her into her original position. But he caught her arms this time, and moved them to her sides. He could feel her bare skin through his shirt, the heat from the soft globes against his own chest.

He studied her face for a few seconds. She wouldn't look him in the eye this time.

He had brought that knife around so fast and with such skill … she just knew he was going to cut her. Purposely.

But he hadn't. He had only wanted to have her breasts bared to him. She suspected he'd wanted her all along, since he'd first seen her. That idea gave her a heady sense of power and desire that matched his.

Vin put his mouth on hers, hoping for easy access. To his surprise, it was granted.

He cupped her breast in his hand, rubbing his thumb across the tightening bud, and smiled into her mouth. Good, he thought, she was coming around. Her kisses were as forceful as his, and he knew why: she wanted him, but she'd been too proud to admit it. Now she *couldn't* deny what she felt.

He couldn't wait to get her britches off and see just how much she wanted him, and how ready she was for him.

The sensation of his hand working expertly on her breast caused ripples of pleasure to wash down her. She arched her back, her body asking his to claim more territory.

Vin slowly pulled his mouth from hers. He didn't look at her face. His eyes were cast downward, watching his hand manipulate the flesh under it.

He pulled back further, his hand never ceasing its massage. She wanted his lips back on hers, though. She wanted to feel his weight on her again.

He leaned down to her mouth and kissed her lightly. She reared up and took his mouth fiercely, surprising them both. Vin caught a little laugh in his throat as he left her mouth again, trailing kisses down her jaw, her neck, her collarbone, the V between her breasts.

Her hands were tangled in his hair, urging him to his goal.

His mouth made its way to her breast, nipping at the hard bud, taking it between his teeth, pulling on it and sucking. His left hand moved to her right breast and started the same ministrations his right hand had ceased moments before. He pulled as much of her swollen breast into his mouth as he could and sucked again, finally releasing the impossibly tender mound only to blow hot breath on it.

She shivered as her breast cooled against the air. It burned. It was divine.

She couldn't be doing this. She *couldn't* be doing this. He had said he was going to take her against her will and here she was giving in to him, making sure he couldn't be held responsible for assaulting her! What was wrong with h - no, wait, lower, *yes,* right there….

Poor man, she thought.

She had reached around his waist and found the knife looped in his belt. She wasn't even sure how she had managed to come up with a plan to get it away from him, her senses drugged as they were, but damned if she didn't have that knife in her right hand.

She wasn't sure why at this point she even wanted the knife. That had been instinct, trying to reach for it, and her instincts had always been right in the past.

Except regarding tracker, of course.

But she pushed that thought aside.

Vin noticed her sudden lack of ardor and pulled back to look at her. As he did so, she brought the knife around and gently poked him in the ribs with it. He was up and off of her in a split second.

She pulled herself up off the bed and tried to cover her breasts with her left arm. She circled around him, holding the knife pointed at his chest as she grabbed for her shirt on the floor. She was able to pull it on. Somehow, Vin noticed with admiration, she managed to keep the knife pointed at him the whole time.

She managed to back herself into the corner where the coats were piled. She buttoned up the one remaining button on her shirt. It pulled the fabric closed - barely - across her breasts.

The shadows and glimpses were as arousing to Vin as having them bared to him.

He hoped for her sake she knew what she was doing.

He hadn't counted on this turn of events. But by God, things could not have gone better if he had actually planned them out.

"Just don't move," she said. Her mind was racing. She needed to get him out of her room and fast. She wasn't worried that anyone would see him leave. She didn't care about that. She just wanted him gone and not interested in coming back.

She couldn't concentrate though. His taste was still on her lips. Her skin still tingled from his touch. She couldn't form a coherent thought to save her soul.

Vin decided to take actions into his own hands. That knife, well, he'd get that away from her easily enough in a few minutes. For now, he just wanted to make her squirm.

"Hey, now," he said, putting his hands up in front of him, as if to warn her off. "Don't go waving that around. Just settle down."

Not the right words to say to her, he realized. Which made them *exactly* the right words to say to her. It brought her out of her fog and then some.

She looked at him the same way she looked at him in the bar. Suddenly, she was furious with him again.

He had loved her compliant underneath him, practically begging him to take her, but this, *this* was why he *wanted* her: the spitfire personality, the knowledge that she was as tough and strong as he was.

"Give me the knife," he said. He reached out to her, still ample distance from her so that he would have to lunge if he really wanted to grab it from her.

She straightened her back at that. She still hadn't said a word. She gestured at him wordlessly with the knife. It glinted menacingly as it caught the light from the fire in the oil lamp.

She hoped he understood her meaning: Get the hell out.

Instead, Vin sat down on the bed. He pulled his left boot off, then his right. His socks followed.

She couldn't believe what she was seeing. She was too stunned to stop him.

He then maneuvered out of his suspenders and started to unbutton his shirt.

Vin knew she had enjoyed what he had been doing to her as much as he had. She had wanted him to continue his seduction; he just knew it.

But her instincts had gotten the better of her. Vin could relate.

"Wait!" The panic in her voice just barely won out over the husky breathiness of desire.

He looked up at her. She was still holding the knife out in front of her, the one button offering very little protection from his heated gaze. He didn't stop undoing his own buttons, though.

"I was gonna get undressed," he told her, his mock protestation of compliance grating on her. "You didn't have to threaten me with that, you know."

She was looking at a crazy man. Her jaw hung open, slack. He wasn't serious, was he? She wasn't urging him to disrobe … Lord! What was he doing?

He was taking his shirt off. He wasn't wearing an undershirt. He stood up and began to undo the top button on his britches.

She swallowed hard. She couldn't help staring at his chest. His muscles were well-defined, but not bulging out. His long arms were sinewy and lean, but he could not be described as anything but solid. His skin was amber colored, tan from obviously working outside. Or doing something else outside with his shirt off.

She realized he wasn't moving on with his deliberate striptease. He was just looking at her. His arms hung loosely at his side, the muscles taut for all their inactivity. The top two buttons at the top of his britches were open, pulled apart exaggeratedly, showing off even more deeply tanned skin.

What else wasn't he wearing?, she thought. Her eyes closed slowly. Why am I even thinking this?, she wondered.

"Don't," she said. It was a whisper, a soft plea, hardly something Vin would take seriously.

The knife was still out in front of her.

He hadn't moved or said a word. He just looked at her.

After a few moments, she opened her eyes. She wasn't sure what she would find on Vin's face when she finally looked into his eyes. She was ready for anything: contempt, amusement, disbelief, maybe even a good, old fashioned "I told you so" look of victory.

She hadn't expected nothing.

His face wasn't just unreadable, there really was nothing there. No passion of any kind.

This, she realized, was worse.

Much worse.

Still, he held her transfixed with his emptiness.

His hands moved back to his britches.

The third button came undone.

Vin knew this was going to be the best night of his life. For starters, he had made the mistake of thinking of her as a lover, when what he really wanted was for her to be a fighter.

There was only way to have what he wanted. He had to be unrelentingly deliberate with her. He knew he could get what he wanted from her; he just had to find that right way to do it.

Vin figured he had come close already. She was as afraid of her own desire for him as she was of *him*. But she didn't really have any reason to fear either.

And she had liked the power struggle they had enjoyed. She had come nearly undone from it. He had a plan. All he had to do now was get that knife.

All he had to do was now was remain as calm as he could.

So he worked like hell to control the emotions that he knew must be swirling on his face: desire, pride, maybe a little anger. She couldn't be allowed to see any of them. She had to be ready to fight him. He had to be ready to know how to use that against her.

And for her.

He had meant what he had said: this was gonna be good for her, too.

He took one step toward her. Her eyes suddenly flashed with anger at him.

He met that look with one of his own, full of disdainful arrogance.

That caught her off guard.

He took another step toward her. His britches were riding low on his hips. The tanned skin extended down further and further.

Vin made one last step toward her.

She was not impressed with his confidence. But she was getting more impressed with her own.

She made a desperate lunge at him with the knife. Vin had to admit that if his senses hadn't been so heightened, she might have cut him open badly had he not ducked out of the way. He spun around and caught her. He pulled her to him, her back against his bare chest. His left arm pinned her there, while his right hand removed the knife from hers. He threw it across the room. It slid under the dresser. They both heard it clank against the floorboard.

The bare skin of his left arm was nestled against the undersides of her breasts. Vin knew he was pressed hard against her buttocks. He knew she was trying not to let it affect her.

He couldn't have been happier.

He used his right hand to press her hips harder against him.

Vin was ready to finish what he started.

He shoved her away from him. She stumbled a little. She turned around to face him, but Vin had started moving the second he had pushed her and was on top of her by the time she had righted herself.

His hands were back on her upper arms. She was trying to slide out of his grip, but he held her too tightly. He swung her around so that once again, her legs were pressed against the bed.

Dispassionate eyes regarded her.

She wished she hadn't reached for the knife. She tensed up, ready for his assault on her. She wanted him to start talking to her again. She wanted him to try to seduce her again. She'd give in this time.


He shoved her down onto the bed. She went flailing backwards. He leaned over her. He grabbed her hands and moved them up over her head. He kept them trapped there, motionless, with his right hand. His left hand went under the button on her blouse and savagely pulled up, causing the cotton to tear away from her body as the button screamed off into the coldness of the room.

His hand found its way to the waistline of her britches and started to rip the buttons open.

His eyes never left her face. She looked more scared than any woman he'd ever seen. But even as she kept eye contact, her legs kicked upward, trying to force him off of her. She continued the struggle to free her arms.

He couldn't control himself and his eyes became laced with desire. She had fight left and was letting him know it. This was exactly what he wanted.

His hand found its way inside the soft fabric of her pantaloons, down the plane of her stomach.

His hand was greeted with heat and wetness. His delight came in the form of an unintentional smile. He leaned down to her face, his left hand beginning a slow massage, and kissed her. She could feel the state of his arousal against her thigh. The heat and warmth and slow throb of it worked like a drug.

Wait!, her mind screamed at her endlessly. I like this?

Dear Lord, she thought, I *like* this.

She began to kiss him back. Her mouth opened to receive his tongue and begin her own explorations when he pulled back.

Vin lifted himself off of her.

"Get up," he said. "Now."

She didn't need to be told twice. She scampered up off the bed. Her tattered shirt hung on her body like rags.

"Take them off," he said, pointing to her britches. She hesitated. He looked at her, nothing exposed on his face.

She sat down on the bed and struggled out of her boots. Vin watched, unconcerned. He stood, leaning against the bureau, arms folded across his bare chest.

When her boots and socks were off she stood up. She slid out of her black britches. Her legs were perfect, long and lean, made strong from riding and walking. They were as tan as the rest of her.

Vin looked at her, admiration plain on his face. The ripped shirt, the sheer pantaloons, they struck him as more beautiful than most fancy gowns he'd seen in JD's illustrated dime novels. But only because she was in them. Now, however, he wanted her out of them.

She was shaking.

But not because she was frightened of him.

It was because she wanted him. It couldn't have been more of a surprise to her.

She wasn't sure what game it was that Vin was playing with her now. She knew that there must be rules written down someplace, but damned if she knew where.

Whatever he wanted, he was going to get.

Vin crossed the small room to her. He put his hands on her waist, just above the lace of her pantaloons. He stretched them out a little, and they slid down her legs to the floor.

She stood proudly, her back straight, her eyes never leaving his face. She was wearing only the remnants of a well-worn and faded blue blouse. But as regal as her bearing was, she could have been wearing a crown.

Vin wondered if she had figured out what he wanted. She certainly looked as though she had.

She was mortified beyond belief that she was standing there, better than half-naked, and he was *just* standing there.

Shades of her first two weeks in town returned to her mind's eye, and she wasn't so sure she wanted this after all. She felt empowered by his inattention.

Vin meanwhile had returned his attention to his own britches. The last two buttons came undone expertly. The cream-colored pants slid past his slim hips onto a heap on the floor.

She was acting as though she didn't notice.

Memories of the past two weeks floated into Vin's brain. He felt invigorated by her aloofness.

Just let her *try* to get out of this now.

Vin reached out with his left arm and pulled her across the mere inches that had separated them. She leaned her head back, avoiding getting her face anywhere near his.

But there were other parts of him she could not avoid.

He was as hard as she could ever remember a man being for her. As calm and controlled as his face looked, she could feel his breath coming out of him in near heaves. The muscles in his legs were tense against hers. The muscles in his neck strained to be loosed.

Vin could feel her softness against him. She was rigid and unmoving, but her chest rose and fell rapidly from the exertion of trying to look like she wasn't breathing hard. She was working very hard at looking unmoved by the feel of him.

With his right hand, he reached around her back and with one last yank backward at its collar, pulled the rags of a shirt off of her body.

He moved his hand to the back of her head and brought her face to his.

But he had to work at it. He had figured anyone who held their head so high probably had pretty strong neck muscles, but he wouldn't have guessed *this* strong.

He finally spoke to her again. "Don't even think about it."

It came out as a hiss, and she had no idea what he was talking about.

She started to say so when took advantage of her confusion to kiss her, and use his lips to open her mouth to him.

Vin knew she would hate that.

She did.

She pushed against his chest, her palms flat against his pecs, and tried to move him through sheer will.

Vin thought he would die from the feel of her hands on his body.

He started kissing her more deeply as both his hands renewing the exploration he had started on the bed. He eased one hand between their bodies and began the slow descent down her stomach. His other hand cupped the back of her head, keeping it firmly in place.

She kissed him back as forcefully as he could have hoped for. Her arms slid up his shoulders and twined around his neck.

She began to move against his hips slowly, circling with her own, causing spirals of pure agony-laced need to unfurl in Vin. Vin's hand was momentarily stopped; he wasn't able to say at that point whether or not he *had* hands.

She was doing it on purpose, trying to cause him to lose control and take her, without any thought of his own passion. She wanted him to be wild from need. Wild and unthinking about how he might claim this as a victory over her.

Vin was tired from the effort of trying to keep the upper hand while bargaining with his self-control. He had to end this little exercise soon.

He regained enough of his senses to pull away from her a little. His hands made their way to the small of her back, where they splayed in a gesture of power. His mouth was still on hers, though; he alternated between nipping with his teeth at her bottom lip, and making quick sorties with his tongue into her mouth

He maneuvered her the foot or so to the bed, his legs directing hers backwards to the edge. He started to bend her backwards, kissing her the whole time as he lowered her onto the bed.

They were at an angle, half off the bed. Vin wanted them both to be more comfortable.

He lifted her up the bed as he made his way to the middle of it, so that she was directly under him.

He propped up on his elbows. He stared into her eyes. He'd make it up to his body later, and let it feel whatever it wanted to after this; for now, he wanted to watch her as he made love to her, watch her eyes darken and face flush with passion as he entered her and brought her to the brink.

The look on her face told him everything: She would follow him wherever he wanted to lead her. But it would really help if he told her just where that was.

He nudged her legs apart with his thigh. Years of conditioning and instinct toppled her, and she tried to keep her legs shut.

Vin was elated. He assumed she had figured out what he wanted from her - the fight - and he braced himself on his hands above her. His knee came up and did what his thing could not, opening her legs to him.

Her hands came up and rested against his chest. There was no soft caress on his skin. They were planted there, solidly, ready to stop his forward movement.

Nothing had felt so good on his skin before.

He began kissing her, wringing out the only response she could give him.

But even as she responded to him, opened herself up to him, he withdrew. It caused pangs of frustration inside her and she tried to push him off of her again. Her hands found their way to his shoulders, and she shoved upward as hard as she could.

But as she did so, Vin's approach changed. He kissed her harder, pushing her into the mattress as he did so.

She was dazed from both the change in him and her need of him. And she was getting tired of not understanding him.

So she stopped kissing him back. She tried to free her lips from his. She made every effort she could to turn her face to the side and deny him. She couldn't have said why she chose this tack. She just wanted him to *do* something. Soon.

Vin let loose an unexpected sound from the back of his throat. It was somewhere between thanks and damnation.

He finally had had enough. Her last act of rebellion had almost set him over the edge.

He had no idea why he took such pleasure from her fighting him. He just did. And he knew she took pleasure from his easy dismissal of her attempts. She probably understood that about as well as he did.

He lifted himself up off of her a little, and shifted his weight to his arms. He didn't know how he had waited this long. Just the feel of her underneath him had caused him to reach a state of arousal that he hadn't ever felt before. They hadn't even engaged in much actual foreplay. He had kissed her, teased her and kept her from denying him, but no more than that.

Thank God she hadn't gotten the urge to run her hands up and down his back. Thank God she hadn't started shifting underneath him. He knew he wouldn't have lasted this long if she had. This was something new to Vin, and he could not wrap his mind around what it was. He guessed maybe it was desire, in its purest, simplest form.

He knew she was ready for him. He entered her slightly.

She made a little sound, almost a petulant cry, one that demanded satisfaction. Vin knew exactly how she felt.

He saw no reason not to give in to her now.

He eased out of her slowly.

With great concentration, he slammed fully into her.

Her eyes nearly rolled back in her head as she came close to passing out from the sensation of him filling her. They'd been doing this dance of seduction for a whole month now, setting all of her nerves to tingling whenever they'd been near each other. God, what would have happened, what would the month have been like if neither of them had been stubborn?, she asked herself.

Nothing like this, a little voice inside her head taunted her.

The anticipation of what he would feel like inside her had been nothing compared to the reality. She didn't think she could take much more. The very feeling of him entering her, the little tease as he just barely slid in, then when he rammed into her with a such a force she figured he might be done for, had left her weak. Any kind of control she might have been able to exercise was fading away fast. She was going to have to let him decide the course of action.

Just as he had all night. Since the day she had arrived in town.

She didn't mind so much about that anymore.

Vin began the upward movement of his hips that preceded his first thrust. He knew he was lucky to not have exploded into her when he first entered her. Her body had molded itself to him, and contained him completely. He didn't know how long he'd be able to hold out, or if he'd be able to bring her over into the abyss with him if he came too soon. Hell, he thought. He'd have to make it up to her later, too.

He dragged his eyes to her face. She was watching him very closely.

He let out a slow breath and began to move inside her. She shuddered from the smoothness and strength of his strokes.

He leaned over her and bit her lip, all the while continuing his thrusts into her.

She reached her arms around his neck, her hands tangling in his hair. She kissed him back with every ounce of strength left in her. She arched her back into his chest and a little moan escaped her.

Vin practically growled at her.

He *wanted* her to fight him, she finally realized.

The second she did fight back, it made his thrusts harder, his breathing more ragged, his hands on her body more insistent.

And she wanted to fight him. She wanted him to force his thigh between her legs and drive them apart when she tried to deny him access to her. She wanted him to draw blood from her lip when she tried to turn her head away. She wanted him to hold her arms at her side. She wanted him to enter her with violent thrusts. She wanted him to take her, really take her. She wanted him to bite and nip and dominate. She wanted her power to be stripped from her. She wanted this man to own her, even if just for a little while, and claim her spirit as his own property.

She did not want to be humiliated, scorned or abused. It was a fine line, and he did not cross it.

So she pushed at his chest with her hands, exerting what strength she had left. He caught her hands in one quick motion and held them against the bed over her head. She bucked her hips, and he dug in his ground harder, retaliating with thrusts deeper than before. She did not know later when her legs had wrapped around his hips, but it made the upward movement of her own tortuously exquisite.

The two of them were of one mind; her parries met his thrusts. She wasn't half-heartedly trying to dislodge him from her body and mind; she was serious in her attempts. Vin's reactions to those attempts were swift but not gentle; his grip never eased, his passion never tendered. They were no longer fighting one another; rather, they were fighting their own bodies' attempts to ease the growing tension and need. They were trying to prolong the pain of the pleasure they were inflicting on each other.

The pleaful cries to end her mounting need for release were joyful music to him. He would not end her struggle, not until they had both been wrung out emotionally and physically. His own moans spurred her passion on, giving life to her body's growing frustration.

Vin's mind raced through the fog it had become lost in. His body had turned traitor on him, and was busy pursuing its own interests. Under their own volition, his mouth and tongue had started to wage their own war, getting reactions from her that his whole body understood. Skirmishes broke out up and down his nervous system: his hands slipped under her buttocks on the bed and lifted her up against his hips; his legs pushed hers apart further and further; his lips fought for ground that had already been won and lost it, releasing moans of pleasure from his now-turncoat throat.

She climaxed hard, before he did. The scream torn from her throat was almost a roar of relief. The spasms massaged Vin even as he continued to thrust into her.

He entered her one last time, and came with a force that threatened to drain them both of any sense they might have left.

He lay on top of her for a long while. She didn't mind. She loved the feel of him on top of her, she loved feeling his chest rise and fall with hers. Eventually, he might prove to be too heavy for her to bear, but not for now.

He roused slightly, and pulled himself up to his elbows to look at her.

Her face was still flushed. Her breathing was still hard. Her legs were still wrapped around him, keeping him from moving off of her. Her fingers were drawing little circles on his back.

He bent his head down and sweetly, lightly kissed her. He trailed those kisses over to her cheek and to her ear.

"Marry me," Vin whispered.

She giggled as she left playful little kisses on his cheek.

"Oh, Vin. You always say that."

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