Monday, November 25, 2013

Three For All--First Chapter


Hell’s Delight 3


Copyright © 2013
Chapter One
Hell’s Delight, California

“This isn’t your average Delight Hardware crowd.”

Boy, did Lacey make an understatement. Of course, Hannah O’Loughlin had expected a colorful bunch of people at the Hardscrabble Ranch party. It was Halloween. But the extravagance presented here went beyond a few devil, Frankenstein, or Charlie Sheen masks.

A few men even were clad in My Little Pony costumes, complete with plumed tails swishing from their rumps. Muscular gladiators wearing leopard skin capes clanked by in chains. A life-sized Barbie had the dolls glued to every conceivable part of her body. A six-headed hydra spewed sequins from three of its mouths. One fellow was half man, half woman, depending from where you viewed him. The crew-cut, leather-clad lesbian bikers seemed almost homespun next to the razzle-dazzle that paraded in this barn.

“I feel so simple in my costume,” Hannah told Lacey. “And when I picked it out at the store it felt so daring.” We’re not in Montana anymore.

Lacey clutched Hannah’s arm. She seemed to genuinely fear for Hannah’s comfort level now. “Oh, I hope you don’t feel out of place. Believe me, these folks are just cutting loose. They’re normally just everyday people. See that gal dressed like the Statue of Liberty? She’s really Miss Teen Buckeye County. And that guy wearing nothing but a giant book—see, he’s got binoculars for eyes?—well, he’s just the Hell’s Delight bookstore owner.”

Since Lacey was married to one of the owners of Hardscrabble Ranch, many people were trying to gain her attention. It was nice of Lacey to go out of her way to brush her other friends off and stand with the newcomer Hannah in the straw by the beer keg. Lacey didn’t really owe Hannah anything. They’d only met two months ago, when Lacey had walked up to the counter at Delight Hardware where Hannah worked to buy some nylon rope and duct tape. They had bonded over the fact that Hannah had taken Lacey’s old job at the store. Lacey had invited Hannah for a drink at the Bit o’Honey bar and they’d been solid friends since. Lacey was a godsend for Hannah, who knew almost nobody in town. She had just moved to the area after penning a deal to buy a ranch, but the deal had fallen through, so Hannah was stuck selling people nails, washers, and clothesline rope. She knew a bit about many hardware items from having owned a ranch in Montana, so it was a natural fit.

“Didn’t you tell me that bookstore owner was a flasher?” Hannah asked. The people of this Sierra foothill town certainly were festive and colorful. The most picturesque anyone in her Montana town got was the feed store clerk with a lacey bra cup peeking out from under his shirt. But Hannah didn’t want to make Lacey feel uncomfortable, either. “Oh, look at that pretty hat made of butterflies.” Hannah inadvertently gasped when she realized the Carmen Miranda hat wearer was a man in a flouncy blouse with clown-like, garish makeup. Get over it, Hannah. It’s Halloween. You’re never going to fit in with these people unless you start relaxing a bit. It’s California, not Montana. Of course people are going to be a bit more unconventional. That guy probably doesn’t normally wear hoop earrings. But Hannah started to wonder what some of these citizens were really doing with the O rings and lashing straps that they purchased in her store.

Lacey shook Hannah’s arm. “Seriously, my dear. If you want to go back to your apartment I’ll understand. In fact, I’ll go with you. We can hang out, have a couple glasses of wine. Catch up on that Longmire marathon.”

“Of course not, Lacey! It’s your husband’s party, after all. You can’t leave, and neither will I.” Lacey’s husband Devin was currently on a makeshift stage playing guitar with his country and western band. Hardscrabble Ranch was the largest outfit in the area, and Hannah hadn’t hoped to compete with them, but if she still hoped to be a rancher again someday she would have to deal with Devin at various events in both a social and business setting. It behooved everyone if she stuck it out here, even if she did feel like a complete and utter skank in the harem costume. She had felt like a gorgeous, exotic genie putting on the sheer, ballooning harem pants. Now she just felt like a dork. A naked, fat dork with her midriff exposed. She really wouldn’t mind going home and seeing her dog, Blackbeard. “Look, here’s Cal.”

Cal Zhukov was Lacey’s stepbrother. Tall and gangly, he normally wore nothing fancier than a Black Sabbath or Megadeth T-shirt when they worked together at his father’s hardware store. Cal liked to let his freak flag fly, though, and tonight was no exception. He was dressed, appropriately enough, as some heavy metal hair band member, complete with black and white face paint and a Phil Spector fright wig. “Dudettes!” he exclaimed in his usual jovial manner. He was out of breath from running in tall patent leather platform boots. “This party is off the hook, Lace! Did you see John Sansing with an actual peacock on his head?”

Hannah frowned. “I thought that was a peacock headdress.”

Cal elbowed Hannah. “Nope, an actual live peacock. That’s almost as good as Jenny Gardner coming as Casey Anthony. Did you see her? Her mask is custom-made, and she’s smoking a cigar, has a bottle of chloroform, and carries her own pole to dance with.”

Hannah didn’t know whether to laugh or be mortified. She must have looked nauseated, for Lacey drew her even closer, pointed, and said brightly, “Oh, look! Mickey Mouse!”

Cal’s face went blank. “Uh. Dudette. That’s Prickly Mouse.”

“Oh, shit!” swore Lacey at the sight of the rodent-eared guy boasting a bright yellow, dangling strap-on. “Is that Tad Martin from the pharmacy? God, that’s my druggist!”

“It’s an understandable mistake,” said Cal. “I first saw him from the back and thought he was Mickey Mouse, too. Scary to think that’s the same guy who doles out the Valium and Viagra.”

“Let’s hope not both at the same time,” said Lacey.

“I’m going to get a glass of wine,” said Hannah, and started off.

Lacey held her back. “Oh God, we must be scaring you half to death, you poor thing!”

Hannah pasted a smile on. “No, honestly. I’m not much of a beer drinker. More into wine, as you know. Looks like there are some bottles on the bar over there.”

Hannah honestly just wanted a change of air. They had giant hoedowns like this in Montana, too—some even taking place inside of barns—so it wasn’t as though Hannah was unfamiliar with the experience. Lacey didn’t need to baby her. Sometimes Hannah wondered why Lacey was so overly kind to her when she was a potential rival who might undercut Devin’s beef price by a couple of bucks. At first she thought maybe Lacey wanted to fix her up with her stepbrother Cal. But Cal seemed pretty heavy with a pleasant girl named Julie who worked at Positive Vibrations a few doors down from the hardware store. In fact, Julie was dressed as Joan Jett tonight to complement Cal’s costume. They were actually dressed in matching outfits.

Hannah finally concluded that Lacey was just a plain old nice person. Her husband Devin Jonas was a plain old nice rancher, and maybe there were just plain old nice people in the California foothills.

Was it her imagination, or did the bartender give her a lecherous glance as he handed her the plastic cup of cabernet? That can’t be it, you moron. There are plenty of chicks here skinnier and younger than you. You’re thirty-three, a used-up old rancher’s wife from Montana, tanned and callused from way more hard work than these gals have seen in their entire lives.

Still, Hannah had never been more self-aware in her entire life as she wormed her way from the bar area. She should’ve thought ahead while choosing a costume. She had no idea her nearly-bare boobs in the little Barbara Eden tasseled bra would be smushed up against so many other people. She couldn’t have predicted that the party would be so crowded it practically felt as though cowboys’ firm, packed crotches were pressing up against her big old butt. She had had never felt so exposed in a pair of flimsy panties under the chiffon pants. Are these even real cowboys? I’ll bet that guy isn’t a real cop.

Hannah burst out of the barn door, nearly staggering with relief to be away from the blare and twang of the band and the hubbub of people trying to be heard above it. She shied away from a guy in a Simon Cowell mask that was probably scarier than the real thing. In her haste she banged into a guy gesturing with a lit cigarette, and the lovely lilac veil attached to her pillbox hat nearly went up in flames.

“Hey, watch it!” the guy yelled before he realized she was dressed as a sexy woman. Then his eyes openly scanned her up and down. Hannah felt rage begin to build, and she was glad she’d sloshed some of her wine on the guy.

The fun barn hoedown was starting to feel more like a nightmare, and Hannah assumed the worst when a guy built like a brick shithouse stepped in between her and the smoker. With his back to Hannah, hands on hips, she was able to get a full eyeful of the situation. Another fake cowboy, a goat roper? His red checkered shirt with sleeves rolled up to his bulging biceps seemed torn in all the strategic places so as to reveal bunched muscle masses in his incredibly wide and athletic back. A worn Stetson was even slapped on his head, but Hannah could see in light from the barn door he had closely shorn salt-and-pepper hair. And, of course, his ass was magnificent. Hannah had probably never witnessed another ass like that, and would live a thousand lives before she would again. His wide leather belt even looked as though it buckled with one of those etched silver and gold three-dimensional scenes of a bucking bronco or a horseshoe.

In short, he wore every detail of the cornball Halloween cowboy costume except for the fake revolvers in holsters, but Hannah didn’t care. He was her savior. She even began to feel a little feminine and melty with this big slab of masculinity acting as her shield.

“Listen here, Trevor,” drawled the cowboy. His voice was unbelievably deep and resonant. Trevor and his band of partiers shrank back under the festive light of some paper lanterns hanging from an oak tree. “The day a hot, attractive woman dressed like this has to ‘watch it’ is the day I hang up my spurs.”

Hannah nearly laughed at the man’s corny act, but covered her mouth with her hand. Trevor and his friends certainly seemed intimidated by his act. In fact, Trevor just allowed the brute to snatch his stupid Osama bin Laden mask from where he’d shoved it back on top of his head and crumple it in one hand.

“In fact,” continued the cowboy, “the day any woman has to ‘watch it’ is the day you hang up your spurs, you lowdown hand.”

Impressed and emboldened by his words, Hannah went around his side to view him in profile. He had an absolutely stunning Grecian silhouette, brutally coarse with full lips and a straight, aristocratic nose with flared nostrils. His Van Dyke facial hair was already graying, too, although he himself couldn’t have been a day over forty-five. His dusty shirt had been ripped at the throat as though he’d been roping pretend cattle, revealing amazingly buff pectorals sprinkled with just the right amount of hair. A stiff nipple even poked through one of the holes in the shirt, completing his authentic costume. And yes, his belt buckle did seem to depict a pair of steer horns.

Trevor held up his hands. “It’s all right, Mr. Gatling. We don’t want no hassle. In fact, we was just leaving.”

“Yeah,” echoed a doofus who cowered behind Trevor. “We was just leaving.”

Hannah admired the way Mr. Gatling just turned his back on the knot of five men, absolutely unconcerned about whether they’d jump him. They melted away like the fringes of a hallucination. Then Hannah was alone with Mr. Gatling as he advanced on her, his long arms swinging freely. She was slammed with his sexual power, the potency of his virility. He fixed her with a steady, slow-burning gaze as she found herself backing up into a wall of hay bales.

“Thank you for the help,” she stammered moronically. Discovering she still held her plastic cup, she gulped what was left of the wine and dropped the cup. That’s how nervous Mr. Gatling made her. She was so aware of her nakedness. What had seemed like such a cute, adorable idea in the store now made her feel like a concubine in a Zanzibar harem. Lacey had talked her into a fake gold coin choker that jingled when she so much as breathed, fake gold armbands, and she teetered on strappy gold sandals she could barely walk in. She was glad she hadn’t opted for the finger cymbals.

Mr. Gatling seemed to be salivating at the sight of her, like some modern day caveman. He came so close to her his body heat warmed her, stiffening her nipples. He did smell like cow manure. His costume certainly was a good one. He cracked his knuckles as though prepared to do business. “You looked so helpless there. I know that Trevor Dillon. He’s a fucking oaf.”

Hannah began to get a bit of her Irish up. “I’m not that helpless, really. I just came from inside where it was very stuffy, and I sort of stumbled into that jerk.” Her heart raced so heavily the fake gold coins lying across her chest were shivering. She knew why she was afraid of this man, his brutality, his strength. Her past had taught her a “fight or flight” instinct, and right now she was cornered.

“It’s okay, little one,” Mr. Gatling said in that rich, chocolaty voice. He seemed to have picked up on her fear. “They’re gone, and I won’t let any harm come to you.”

What was he talking about? She was a modern woman in a modern society. It wasn’t as though those losers were about to bash her over the head with a club and drag her away by her hair. Hannah changed the subject. “You have a very authentic costume. You even smell like a cowboy.”

This made Mr. Gatling chuckle indulgently, looking to the stars for help. He even took off his Stetson and slapped it against his thigh that was like a tree trunk, raising a cloud of dust. “It’s no costume, honey.” Honey? He had a bit of a Southern drawl, but that was no excuse to call anyone these days “honey.” “I’m sure as shooting a real cowboy. My property butts up to Hardscrabble and I had to repair a fence. One of my randy bulls was trying to get to one of Devin’s cows in heat.”

Hannah wondered if he was the asshole who had thwarted her attempts to purchase a neighboring ranch. “Oh, so you really are a rancher, then? On which ranch, may I ask?”

Mr. Gatling looked at her askance. “You sure are a feisty bottom,” he said guardedly.

What’s that supposed to mean? Oh, that I have a feisty bottom. Must be some Southern lingo. “No, not feisty, Mr. Gatling. Just wondering where you work. I’ve done some ranching, myself.”

Mr. Gatling hooked his thumbs in his belt, drawing even more attention to the torn strip of checkered fabric that revealed half of a hard six-pack. He must work out every day. Certain of those muscles were not much used on a ranch. Gatling was carved like a turkey, every muscle defined. “Why, the Lay-Z-Boy.”

The Lay-Z-Boy Ranch! That was the ranch Hannah had tried to purchase! She had sold her Montana ranch and come hellaway out to California thinking she had a sure bird in the hand with a signed contract and everything properly in escrow, and then bam! That asshole had defaulted! But the name hadn’t been Gatling…This bull of a man must just be a hand on the ranch. The asshole’s name had been Frank Garibaldi. She’d never forget that name. Slyly, she said, “I heard that ranch was up for sale recently.”

Mr. Gatling frowned. “Yep. It was. But the owner decided to do something different.” He raised a hand to her hair, to her veil, and Hannah automatically shrank back into the hay bales. “You sure are a jumpy little sub. Tell me. What are your hard limits?”

Hard limits? Sub? Is he talking some foreign language? Some California ranching language I don’t understand? Hannah moved away sideways. “I’m jumpy because I most certainly will not submit to you, Mr. Gatling. I suppose that is my limit. If Mr. Garibaldi sent you to harass me or scare me into leaving town, I’m going to report him—”

“Whoa, whoa, hold on!” Gatling stepped back and raised his hands as though surrendering. “Who said anything about Garibaldi? I was just, you know, trying to get to know you, have a munch, discuss our common interests.”

Munch? Can’t he pronounce lunch? Hannah inched away, too. “Ah, that’s fine, then, Mr. Gatling. I’ll just be—”

Someone new wrenched her arm. “Hang on, little missy.”

At first she thought her new protector was another crew-cut motorcycle man. But the sandpaper voice and men’s cologne belonged to a female of the Cultured Pearl motorcycle club. They didn’t need to wear much in the way of Halloween costumes. Hannah knew this one from the hardware store. She was friendly enough. “Lila, I’m fine. Mr. Gatling here was just helping me out of a situation, but he was just leav—”

Lila barked, “Mr. Gatling, eh? Old Dominating Dom here wasn’t about to leave unless we stepped in. Right this way, Hannah Montana.”

The ladies of the bike club liked to call Hannah that. She knew that lesbians and men didn’t mix—while, oddly, homosexual men and women mixed very well—so she didn’t put much stock in the feud between Lila and Dominating Don Gatling.

“Yes,” said another lesbian named Regina. “Let’s go get some of that Mickey Tart yogurt inside the barn.”

The bullheaded Don Gatling pointed a finger at the ground. “You can’t steal my sub, Lila.”

Lila shouted over her shoulder, “She’s not your sub ’cause she didn’t agree to it.”

“Yet!” yelled Don.

Hannah had to admit, once Lila had steered her back inside the barn, she sort of felt lonely for the safety and security of Don Gatling’s presence. He had melted something very deep inside of her, something that hadn’t been touched in a long, long time. Hannah had a vague feeling it might be something sexual because she felt mushy between the legs. It had been ages since she’d been turned on sexually, so it took a while for her to identify the feeling.

Holy shit. That brutal cowboy actually got to me. He may have been sent by Garibaldi to scare me out of town, but he only succeeded in turning me on.

“This here’s the best yogurt flavor,” said Regina, shoving a cup with a wooden spoon in it at Hannah. “Mickey Tart has cherries in it.”

“Mickey Tart, Mickey Tart,” chanted Lila, making a face. “Regina’s obsessed with that flavor. Here, sweetie. Try the Filbert Lesh. It’s nuttier and doesn’t make your eyes water.”

Hannah knew logically she should thank the bikers for “saving” her from that line rider for Garibaldi, but she found herself wistfully standing on tiptoes, craning her neck to see out the barn door.