Authors: Arthur Mitchell
I knew it might be his very last sleep, and I couldn't allow that. I had to fight.
“Oh, no. No, baby. Stay with me. Let's talk about the baby while we wait for someone.” I quietly whispered my thanks when he squeezed my hand again.
“I'm hoping we have a boy,” I said, smiling through my terror. “What do you think?”
The next hour or so was a battle keeping him awake. Every time he drifted off, I slapped the side of his cheek, sometimes kissing him awake with hot lips and fallen tears.
He woke up every time, but it was getting harder, taking more effort to keep him with me.
Sometimes, I had to leave him to peer up across the road, afraid that one of the dead eyed killers had survived the deadly crash. There wasn't any sign of either man.
I was screaming through the darkness, trying to keep my loud, shrill whispers as pleasant as possible when the sirens showed up. I ran out into the road, and the racing police car saw me.
An ambulance showed up a minute later. More police streamed in, probably ninety percent of the whole force in our area, making me eat my words about their total worthless.
At least they're good for something. If they save his life, I'll forgive all the rest. I'll forgive them
A kind senior officer let me climb in the ambulance that spirited him to the nearest hospital. I ambled next to his stretcher as long as I could, ignoring the sharp pain every time I bent my right knee.
I trailed him, just one step behind the doctors and nurses surrounding him, rapidly wheeling him into surgery.
“Stay out here, ma'am,” a young man in blue scrubs said. “And, jeez, it looks like you could use some help yourself. Go over to the front desk and get yourself checked out.”
I ignored his advice and sat in the waiting room. I didn't care how many people shot me weird looks.
I must've looked like I just crawled out of a war zone, and I didn't care.
Let them look. I'm proud, no matter what happens, wearing these scrapes and pains with pride.
They're proof that I have a hero. How many people can really say that?
All that mattered was having my lover, my cowboy, and the father of my child back in one piece.
IX: Set Free
We'd picked a cold day to hold a party. The wind blew along the table outside Ethan's newly painted ranch house, rustling the tablecloth.
I was glad I'd brought my jacket. The sunny morning and unsteady weather prediction the previous evening made me feel like a wuss for slinging it over my shoulders when I stepped outside.
But everyone seemed to be dressed in more than one layer. Jimmy, Dean, and a long table lined with familiar faces from the Nichols and Hartz clans shifted their fall jackets tighter, bracing themselves to be outside even longer.
“Hi, everyone.” At last, Ethan stood, pulling me up toward him.
“You all know why I've called you here today. We're gonna have a little speech, and then a bash to celebrate my engagement to the finest woman in the world, Cat Nichols.”
I flushed red, helping to steady him as his big arm wrapped around me. My eyes hit the ground to avoid all the attention on us, but I couldn't help but catch sight of his thick silver cane.
Ethan's opposite hand leaned on it, a little less firmly every day. I was amazed at how quickly his recovery had been.
He'd suffered several cracked ribs, a shattered ankle, a pulled knee on the other leg, and a really nasty blow to the head. Two surgeries and a whole lot of aftercare had put him on the right path, but it was mostly his own tireless will that got him walking so fast.
“This woman has changed my life more than any of you here can imagine. What's amazing to me is just how much happiness and love can grow from sorrow.” He paused, reaching for the small glass near his plate.
He brought it to his lips and took a sip, mulling over his next words.
“When we met, she was reeling from her Pa's death. I liked Mister Nichols a lot. Hell, I wish he were right here with us today, watching us plan our wedding with a baby on the way.” He closed his lips and shook his head exactly once. “Okay, well, maybe not exactly like that, but you know what I mean!
Folks make mistakes, but only little ones. Good people do the right thing in the end.”
Everyone laughed. I smiled sweetly, growing more aroused by the minute as his hand tightened on my shoulder.
“Point is, we're gonna be a wedded item now, and nothing's gonna stop us. We faced down her fathers killers together and survived. We helped jump start our farms. I know a lot of you are a little nervous about what's going to happen when we merge together, but it'll be just like her and I, close friends becoming one in a big, happy family.”
To my surprise, several men shook their heads further down the table. Ethan hadn't been making the rounds as boss for a couple months, reluctantly following the doctor's orders. That didn't lose him any respect among his men.
“But we don't need to talk about the future today. Everybody here knows it's bright. These kinds of get togethers are always so focused on the happy things to come. For us, there are a lot of them, but you know what? I want to just stop and savor the present for a little while. I want to celebrate today, right here with all of you, especially my little Cat.”
Soft applause rang out. I let go of my self-consciousness for a second, lost in the fiery warmth of his lips. His kiss felt extra good out here, with autumn's chill currents barreling onto us.
I tasted the ghostly heat of summer's passion on his lips, the otherworldly vitality that had bound us together from the very start. Some of the men looked away uncomfortably as I licked at his bottom lip, teasing his tongue to respond in time.
Luckily, he had more sense than me at that moment. Ethan detached himself with a broad grin.
“Come on, guys and gals. Let's pull up our coats, kick off our boots, and have a little music.”
At his orders, one of the teens who worked on both our farms switched on the stereo waiting on the patio. Country music howled with the wind, bringing a smile to everyone's face.
I reached for a leftover fudge rectangle on my plate. I'd tried to curb my sweet tooth as I neared my second trimester, but sometimes a pregnant lady just has to indulge herself.
“Why don't you swallow that and follow me? I'll show you something much sweeter.”
I grinned and licked my lips, following the urgent tug on my wrist. We stepped through the back door without notice, knowing full well that our guests were too busy with drink and good company to notice our absence.
All the way to the den with his fireplace, I thought about his proposal.
It had taken me by surprise, just like everything else in this relationship. It was on my fifth day of caring for him, the first I'd hung out inside his house.
It was just as well. After my abduction, I wasn't in any hurry to be at home alone so soon.
I got him everything, dispatching orders to his managers in between ice packs and hot soup. He was laying on the sofa with his battered legs propped up that evening, leaving me just enough space to slide in next to him.
“Do you think we're really safe?” I asked, betraying the greatest fear that had been in the back of my mind since we flung ourselves from the Escalade.
“I know we are,” he said. “I made the mistake of firing warning shots the first time. I should've killed those bastards when I had the chance. Thank God I cut the brakes when I did. If it wasn't for that Plan B when they took my gun...”
“Yeah.” I didn't want to consider the possibilities. “I just, I don't know, keep wondering if they're really done. Whatever pack of animals those thugs came from, I mean.”
“They're done. These fucking creeps go after easy prey. Sending two dead guys and a whole pound of drugs into the DEA's hands has scared them off for awhile, I'd say.” His eyes looked past the fireplace, as if he were peering through the wall.
“God, I don't want to think about the way the money would've disappeared if I'd done anything different. Let alone the way you or I might've been disappeared along with it.”
“Oh, I know. It's still right where it belongs,” I added, tensing my jaw.
It was the first time we'd approached the subject of what had gotten us into so much trouble since the accident. He looked up at me, wincing to process his pain as he shifted his weight and reached for my hands.
“Let's use it for something good. And I'll be damned if much is getting wasted on my medical bills.”
“Hey, we already talked about this. I'm going to pay for whatever your insurance won't cover. It's only fair. As for the rest...I don't know. Makes me sick to think about spending it on anything.”
He leaned over and kissed my cheek. “I have an idea. Sooner or later, you're going to move in, aren't you? Why not use it to make a few upgrades here? We'll need a nursery...maybe a big one if this is just baby number one.”
I started laughing, hoping I didn't offend him. The offbeat suggestion didn't make much sense when he first said it, but after a few minutes of thought...
“Maybe you're onto something. I wouldn't mind putting it into renovations for our son or daughter.
Maybe stashing a little in a future education fund too.”
He nodded eagerly. Then my brow wrinkled.
“Only thing is, why are you so sure it's gonna be your place? Why not mine?”
His face went blank. I watched him shift his weight again, and his hands disappeared from my shoulders, reaching beneath his thick blanket for something I couldn't see.
“Nothing's ever been planned out perfect with you and I. Didn't think I'd do this right now, but there'll never be a better time. How's this for an answer?”
My jaw dropped a little when I caught first sight of the little black box. Without hesitating, Ethan shoved it several inches below my face and flipped the top open.
A gorgeous golden ring caught the dim light above us, inexplicably brightening it like sunlight, casting its glow in a thousand directions.
“Go ahead,” he whispered, smiling seriously. “Read the inscription.”
I flicked my hands once, hoping to keep the tremors at bay. I wouldn't allow clumsy fingers to drop this beautiful promise.
Sure enough, a short phrase was engraved in the shining band, on the opposite side of the sizable diamond. I held it up close and read carefully.
Marry me. Forever.
I started laughing, but caught myself after a small outburst. The ring warmed in my palm as though it had a life force all its own. When I looked up to meet his eyes again, mine were watering, and I broke into sobs for the first time since our harrowing escape.
“Is that a yes?” He asked softly.
“I can't refuse your orders, sir – especially not these! Of course I'll marry you.” We kissed, hard and wet, my legs opening carefully to avoid applying rough pressure on his sore spots.
I climbed onto him and he held me. Ethan's fingers wavered through my hair again and again, stroking me like a beloved pet.
No one else would understand. I want to be touched like this forever, rewarding and sweet and oh so
loving. I'm his pet, his submissive, and now his wife.
At our engagement party, my head echoed with those happy memories as he led me into the den. We sat on the same sofa where he'd proposed.
I smiled, unable to dampen my desires any longer. This time, we didn't need to be so careful on the couch, and we both knew it.
Ethan leaned back in the plush brown leather and I straddled him, hissing with delight as his hands cast up the hem of my dress. His calloused hands ran up my thighs and stopped when the found my ass.
In his possessive grip, I let my head roll backward. My hair caught the line as it snapped out in a flourish – all the better for him to grab and tease.
“Looks like you're excited for a lot more than just the wedding,” he joked.
My soft laughter broke through my steaming lips. My hands yanked on his lapels and I breathed deep. Yes, he smelled just as good as he looked.
“Baby, I'm looking forward to the next seventy years with you. No matter what happens, nothing will ever put out this fire.”
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