Samantha Gardener had never appreciated how hypnotic staring out the window of a bus could be. But on the trip from Dallas to Galveston, she’d had the best sleep she’d gotten since leaving New York. That seemed like a lifetime ago. A year, that was all, but she’d had experiences she’d never have believed. They’d turned her into a different person.
The world sped by, mile after mile of featureless freeway, the cement bridges punctuating the road. She fell asleep and woke up again to what appeared to be the same section of road. The journey gave her time to think.
What good did thinking do? It hadn’t gone very well for her so far. For the last twelve months she’d drifted from place to place, taking dishwashing jobs, waitressing jobs, bar jobs, slowly becoming anonymous, and gathering a small amount of cash. In New York, she’d gotten out of the habit of using cash. Even cabbies took credit cards.
Now she was nearly all cash. She couldn’t do anything else.
She’d stopped making plans months ago. In a year she’d start to think about the future. Now, she didn’t have one.
In Houston she might risk staying longer. That would be nice. To have a place to call her own, instead of a succession of motels and hostels, and maybe get a better job. An assistant in a bookstore, maybe. She’d enjoy that. Anything except working with food or drink.
Closing her eyes, she took advantage of the rocking bus and floated away again. The driver woke her with a yell. “Goldclaw, Texas!”
People stumbled to their feet and grabbed their bags. Half the bus was getting off. What was this place?
A long main street met her gaze, with a boardwalk edged with boutiques, cafes and diners, all bleached by the relentless Texas summer sun. A restaurant with a fancy French name stood at one end, its windows dark because this was late afternoon. They’d be getting ready for the evening session. It looked cheerful and pretty. A hat shop with a display of expensive looking women’s hats and cowboy hats stood next to a shoe store, which held a rack of beautiful cowboy boots.
Across the street, a man strolled down the boardwalk, that loping stroll typical of people who didn’t have to worry about the amount of space they occupied. He wore jeans, a check shirt, and a Stetson, and on his feet were well-worn boots. A real, honest-to-goodness cowboy.
Their gazes met. He had light eyes, blue or gray, and when he smiled, the corners creased lightly. She smiled back. That instant connection stunned her.
Then he moved on. She’d likely never see him again, but if that was the kind of welcome she could expect here, she wanted more of it.
On impulse, she got to her feet, hauled down her small case, and joined the line waiting to get off.
The driver lifted his chin when he saw her. “I thought you were going to Houston?”
“I like this place. I’ll go to Houston tomorrow.”
“You’ll have to get another ticket.”
It’d be worth it. Maybe she’d find work, stay a while. “Is there a motel or something here?”
“End of the street. Get off the bus, turn left.”
She was the last one off, so the driver could talk to her without holding anybody up. “Is this your first time in Goldclaw?”
“You know it’s where they live?”
Mystified, she wondered who they were. Bus drivers could be strange people. They saw a lot but didn’t always appreciate it. They were probably too tired or pushed to keep time to worry about new experiences. Some drivers worked the same route all their working lives, and were bored stupid by it.
This one had to be in late middle age. He shoved his sunglasses up over his forehead so she could see his eyes, grey, the corners marked by deep crows’ feet. “Shape-shifters,” he murmured, as if afraid someone would overhear him.
Enlightenment came. Ah. Yes, shape-shifters. Since they’d come into the open, she’d met a few. Not that they hid themselves away precisely, but until recently, they’d been more discreet.
They still had their own communities. That knowledge made her more curious to visit Goldclaw, not less.
“What kind?” Shape-shifters tended to keep to their own species. In a shape-shifter community different rules applied, like their casual approach to nudity. Maybe she’d get lucky and spot a few nude cowboys. Shape-shifters could be cowboys, right?
A thrill went through her, a shiver of something she couldn’t identify. Something waited for her here.
“You’re real?” She smiled, because she knew he wasn’t. She’d made him up.
“As real as you, baby.” He kissed her throat, lingering over the base where her pulse fluttered. “You’ve been clever and brave and soon you’ll be able to tell me everything. Face to face. If I could have found you, I would have done it long ago.”
“I can never remember.” That was true. In this dream, she couldn’t recall where she was or what she was doing. She didn’t even know if she was in the States or somewhere else. Or her full name. All she had was Samantha. Everything else faded. If she remembered to write something down next time she woke, maybe jot a note on her wrist. No, of course it wouldn’t help. She’d probably break the spell.
She lost her train of thought when he moved lower to the upper slopes of her breasts. His kisses grazed her, fed her desire to be touched.
This man, her man, was touching her, kissing her, murmuring against her skin, words that meant nothing, but demonstrated his affection.
He pushed the cups of her bra down with his chin and sucked a nipple gently, anointing it with his tongue in a sensual caress. She gave up trying to do anything but enjoy this encounter. When he put his hand flat on her stomach, she lay back, half-closing her eyes. She kept them open enough to watch his dark head as he worked his way down her body. He took the rest of her clothes with him with unhurried, gentle movements.
“You taste like nobody else. Just you.” Resting his chin on her belly, he smiled up at her. “Lovely.”
“How did you find me?”
His mouth tilted at one corner. “You were there, waiting for me. I tried to find you outside our dreams, but by the time I got a lead on you, you’d gone. Tell me your last name, Samantha.”
She loved his accent. Deep, unhurried, like his accent, and sexy. Above all, sexy. Southern, perhaps Texan. The word gave her pause, but as fast as she chased the notion, it escaped her. She shook her head in gentle refusal to give him her name. “I would if I could, but I can never remember it here.” She tunneled her fingers into his hair as he eased her dress the rest of the way off and took her panties with it. Naked felt good, natural. Right. “Now we’re both nude.”
“We are. I’m stiff and leaking for you.”
She couldn’t see his cock, but his words brought the sight vividly to mind. He had a thick erection, one she couldn’t circle with her fingers, and long, too. Meaty, rich with blood, hard for her.
He nuzzled the hair around her pussy.
“I used to keep it shaved.” Once, when she’d had regular spa appointments. Where? She couldn’t remember.
He groaned low and pressed deeper, touching her clit with his tongue. “You taste magnificent. So good. I need to fuck you, baby. Are you ready for me?”
Her back arched and she shoved her pussy into his face, wanting more. “Oh yes, please! I want you, I need you.”
He touched kisses to her stomach and her breasts as he came back to her. Then he sealed their mouths together so she could lick the taste of her cunt off his lips.
On him, it tasted divine.
“When I wake up, I know you for what you are. A dream. A beautiful dream.”
“Keep thinking that, baby,” he murmured against her lips. “You have enough to contend with. I know you’re in trouble, that you need help and I’m looking for you, but you’re brave. When we’re close enough, when I can find you, I’ll come to you. Never doubt it.”
He sank deep into her, opening her with his cock, then forging a path into her. Lifting her legs, she wrapped them around his waist, clinging on to him, determined not to let him go. Not this time. If she held on, surely she could wake up with him.
His bottomless groan echoed her cry and he powered in and out of her cunt as she clung on. She shoved her heels into his buttocks while he rocked into her. She clutched his shoulders, marking his skin with the sharp crescents of her fingernails.