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Authors: Rosanne Bittner

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BOOK: Do Not Forsake Me
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Son-in-law is a doctor here in Guthrie
, Jeff wrote. That was something else he already knew. It was so hard to imagine Jake Harkner had a lovely daughter who was married to a doctor. They had a son named after Jake, or so Jeff had been told. Jake's own son, Lloyd, also had fathered a little boy.

grandfather. Jake Harkner is a grandfather. I can't seem to put the two together—the grandfather and the mean-looking cuss I am watching right now.

Brad continued to harass Jake. “Harkner, you can't throw my pa down like so much garbage! I'll kill you for that!”

The crowd quieted. People backed even farther away. Jeff glanced at Miranda Harkner and saw the worry in her eyes. How many times had she been through something like this?

“You want me to arrest that smart-ass kid, Jake?” Sheriff Sparks asked him.

Harkner watched Brad a moment. “No. Just get those three prisoners into the jail. Brian will be here soon to take a look at their injuries.”

Sparks sighed. “If you say so.”

“Juan, come take these horses over to Tobe's,” the marshal ordered, and the old man eagerly obeyed. He led all five horses away, and Sheriff Sparks herded the three prisoners into the jailhouse, nudging them with his shotgun. Jeff's heart pounded with anticipation as Harkner, still carrying a repeating rifle, walked closer to the angry young man on the boardwalk.

“Your pa robbed a bank and killed two men,” he announced loudly enough for all to hear. “Then he took refuge with some innocent ranchers, and he and his men defiled their fifteen-year-old daughter. Did you expect me to feel sorry for him? I threw your father down like a piece of garbage because that's what he

Brad's eyes spit fire. “Anything my pa did ain't no different from things you've done
,” the young man sneered, “including defilin' women. Somebody should have shot you dead a long time ago, Harkner, and I aim to do it

People mumbled.

“Sweet Jesus,” a man near Jeff muttered. “You stupid ass. You lookin' to die?”

Jeff shot the man a glance and happened to spot a very nice-looking young man with a doctor's bag standing near the marshal's wife. He put an arm around her.
Harkner's wife didn't take her eyes off of her husband for one second as he stepped even closer to the much younger and very stocky man who had challenged him.

“Your father already tried shooting it out with me,” the marshal told his accuser. “You can see how that turned out.”

The two men behind Brad backed away.

“You'd better back off, Brad,” one of them told his friend.

“Your friends are talking sense,” Harkner told him. “Fact is, I'd suggest all three of you lift your guns and drop them. Sheriff Sparks can hold them for you until you cool off.”

One of them obeyed. “I don't want no part of this,” he muttered as he unbuckled his gun belt and let it drop. He hurried around behind Brad and jumped off the boardwalk.

Jeff watched, spellbound. He'd never expected to see Jake Harkner in action today.

“I'm really not in the mood for this, Brad,” Harkner told the young man. He threw down his cigarette and stepped it out. “You're young, and you don't want to die yet—and I don't want to be the one responsible—so why don't you hand over that gun and go home?”

“You don't scare me, Harkner.”

Jeff couldn't imagine why any man would want to challenge Jake Harkner this way. In fact, the second man behind Brad also backed away, putting his hands in the air. “Leave me out of this,” he told Jake. He turned and ran back into the saloon, leaving Brad standing there alone, sweat stains on his shirt.

The marshal stepped even closer, still holding his rifle in one hand. “Last warning, Brad. I'm goddamn tired and don't want any of this. Be on your way.”

“You worried, Harkner? Age catchin' up with you?”

The air hung silent. “You don't want to find out,” Harkner answered. “And I really don't want to kill you. You're no older than my own son.”

“Yeah? I'll bet he loves his pa like I loved
! That's where we're both different from
, ain't we, Harkner? We
our fathers!”

Miranda Harkner gasped. “Oh my God,” she said softly.

No one expected what happened next.

In one quick movement that gave Brad no time to react, Harkner slammed the butt of his rifle into the younger man's chest with a violent punch that sent the kid flying backward. He landed against a stack of barrels, which crashed and rolled over the boardwalk and into the street. The marshal kicked more barrels aside and slammed the rifle butt across the side of Brad's head. In a flash, he swung his rifle around and pressed the barrel against Brad's forehead.

“Don't do it, Jake!” Jeff heard Miranda Harkner say softly.

Jeff was sure Jake would pull the trigger right then and there and blow the young man's brains all over the boardwalk. The stunning attack had been so quick and vicious that Jeff felt a sudden need to urinate in his fear.

“You're goddamn lucky we're in town and I have to abide by the law, kid!” Harkner growled. He moved the rifle aside and fired it into the boardwalk, right beside Brad's ear.

Everyone jumped at the gunshot, and a couple of women screamed and ran into a store. Harkner reached down with his free hand and grasped the younger man by the shirtfront. He jerked him up and slammed him against the remaining barrels, sending more of them flying. “Thank your God you're still alive, kid!”

Brad stood there shaking and sweating. He opened his mouth, and Jeff realized the young man couldn't breathe. The blow to his chest had probably knocked the air out of him.

“Take his gun, Sparky,” Harkner ordered the sheriff, seemingly unaffected as Brad's face started going white with the struggle for air. A huge split in the skin at the right side of his face bled profusely, and the whole side of his head was already turning purple.

The sheriff ran up and took Brad's gun from its holster. Still using only one arm, Harkner threw Brad violently off the boardwalk and into the street. “When he can breathe again, somebody help him up and take him over to the jail,” he ordered.

Brad rolled over with an ugly gurgling sound. He held one hand to the ear that had taken the brunt of the rifle shot, blood dripping into the dirt from the gash at the side of his face. Harkner glanced up then, his dark eyes boring into Jeff's. Jeff stood there frozen in place as the man stalked closer.

“You've been watching me. Who the hell are you and what do you want?”

Jeff swallowed. “I…my name is Jeff Trubridge, and I'm…I'm a reporter…from Chicago. I didn't mean any harm.” He held out his arms, his small pad of paper in one hand and a pencil in the other. “I don't even own or know how to use a gun.”

Harkner glanced over at Brad, who was now crying as he got to his feet with the sheriff's help, then crumpled to his knees again. The marshal turned back to Jeff. “I'm not in a very good mood right now, Trubridge, so whatever you want, it will have to wait a couple of days.”


” Harkner growled. “Tomorrow my wife goes to church, and I need some time with my family.”

“Yes, sir.” Jeff was glad to realize the man actually meant to hear him out. He felt a now-painful need to urinate as he watched the marshal walk away. His wife approached him with a devastated look on her face. Jeff could see the love there and realized her concern was over how Brad's remark about fathers might have hurt her husband. Jeff started after him, but the young man with the doctor's bag put out his arm.

“Leave him alone,” he warned. “This isn't a good time. Surely you can see that.”

Jeff faced the sandy-haired and very handsome young man of medium but sturdy build. The doctor's blue eyes showed deep concern and something else. Love? For his father-in-law? Jeff found all of it hard to believe—his wife's loving concern, the doctor's, the friendly manner in which Sparky and the Mexican spoke with Jake Harkner… “Are you Jake Harkner's son-in-law?”

“Dr. Brian Stewart, and I have some prisoners to tend to. I want your promise to stay away from my father-in-law the rest of today, though. The man has been on the trail for over three weeks, and I suspect he's damn tired. Combined with what just happened, that isn't a good mix for a man like Jake.”

Jeff watched Jake and his wife walk up the street. “Will his wife be okay?”

“What?” Brian looked at him as if he were crazy.

“Well, Jake Harkner is in one hell of a bad mood. Is she safe?”

Brian grinned and shook his head. “Mister, I don't know everything you've heard about the man, but Jake would slit his own throat before he'd raise his hand or even his voice to that woman. She'll be just fine. Times like this, she's the only one who can calm him down. That woman has my father-in-law wrapped around her little finger so tight, he couldn't cut himself away with a bowie knife.”

It struck Jeff again how badly he needed to urinate. “I, uh, I need to find a privy.”

Brian chuckled. “Yeah, Jake does that to a man sometimes.” He nodded toward a building across the street. “There's a privy over there behind that store.”

Jeff nodded, embarrassed. “Thanks.” He hurried away, stepping around barrels that still lay in the street and thinking how there was nothing old or soft or weak about Marshal Jake Harkner. He was every bit the notorious, hardened ex-outlaw he'd expected. He had to urinate so badly that he unbuttoned his pants as he half ran to the privy, and he'd barely made it inside before his bladder let loose, spilling out pent-up anxiety and fear along with urine.

He wondered if any man had literally wet his pants when faced down by Jake Harkner.


Randy set Jake's shotgun into a wall rack near the kitchen door. The tight feeling in her chest and stomach that plagued her every time her husband left on a dangerous mission was only just beginning to ease up. As each weapon was set down or unbuckled and untied and laid aside, she felt a little better. Shotgun—rifle—spare six-gun—gun belt and its two .44s. “Are you really all right?” she asked Jake.

He unbuckled the gun belt after untying the holsters from around his thighs. “What do

Randy put her hands on her hips. “I think Brad Buckley weighs well over two hundred pounds, and you threw him off that boardwalk like he was five years old. Should I find some liniment for that left shoulder?”

Jake scowled. “That kid called me an old man. Are you agreeing with him?” He hung up his gun belt and locked the back door, then faced his wife, folding his arms. Randy was smiling.

“I'm just being realistic, and I know you have a lot of pain from old wounds, Jake Harkner.”

He looked her over in a way that always made her feel beautiful as well as weak, even after twenty-six years together. “Woman, I've been gone three weeks, so right now, no pain of any kind could stop me from stripping you naked and having my way with you.”

Randy walked closer, rubbing her hands over his muscled arms. “And you are trying to change the more important subject here. I don't like what happened out there in the street. Brad Buckley isn't going to let this go.”

Jake firmly embraced her. “Well, right now he's hurting really bad. He's not going to be a bother for quite a while. The fact remains, I killed his father, worthless as the man was, and Brad's not going to forget about it anytime soon. I know that.” He leaned down and kissed her lightly. “But right now, I don't want to think about him. I just want my woman and some sleep—and I smell fresh-baked bread.”

“Yes, you do,” Randy answered with a smile. “I had a feeling you'd show up today. I've reached the point where I can almost feel it when you're close, so I made some for you early this morning. I also made that beef stew you like so much. When I heard your whistle, I felt very proud that I'd predicted correctly.”

“Lady, you know me too well.” Jake turned and hung up his hat, then sat down and put out a foot. “Help me get these boots off.”

Randy eyed him slyly, knowing what was coming. She straddled his leg and began tugging, then laughed when he placed his other foot on her rump to support her as she pulled off the boot. He repeated the gesture with a stockinged foot and wiggled his toes teasingly as she removed the other boot. Randy jumped away when the second boot came off.

“I'll eat later,” Jake told her, “after I take care of my appetite for you.”

Miranda grinned as she turned to the stove to stir the stew. “You should be too tired.”

“For you? Never.”

“Is Lloyd really okay? I wish he'd come back with you. Little Stephen misses him so when he's gone.”

“He's fine. By now he's turning on the charm for Katie Donavan Lamont. I told him it's time he made up his mind. Our son needs a woman in his life, and Stevie needs a mother. You can't be doing it all.”

“I hope he listens to you. I like Katie very much, and she needs a husband as much as Lloyd needs a wife.”

In the next moment, Jake's arms came around her from behind. He leaned down and kissed her neck. “God, I miss you when I'm out there. I worry about you, Randy. I don't like not being close enough to watch out for you.”

Randy turned and wrapped her arms around his middle, relishing his strong embrace. “I hate it too, because I'm always afraid you'll never come back.”

“Oh, I always find a way to come back and keep making life miserable for you.”

Randy looked up at him. “It would be miserable
you, and you know it.”

Jake met her mouth with a deeper kiss, pressing her tightly against him. He moved his lips to her brow. “We might have to forget about dinner. Once I'm through with you, I
be too tired to eat. Will Stephen stay at Evie's tonight?”

Randy breathed in his masculine scent. “Of course, but they will have a time keeping Little Jake confined. He asks about you at least ten times a day when you're gone. That boy lives to be around his ‘gampa,' though you need to stop cussing around him, Jake. He's picking up some of it, which upsets Evie.”

“I try, but the kid is a little hellion.”

“Like grandpa, like grandson. The boy knows no fear, and he's going to make Evie crazy. But, yes, both boys will be with her and Brian tonight. They understand we need time alone when you get back, although it embarrasses me a little that they know
we need some time.”

Jake kept his arms around her and walked her backward out of the kitchen. “Why does it embarrass you? You're my wife.”

Randy laughed lightly. “Because they are our daughter and son-in-law, and they probably think we're too old for this.”

“Oh, I think they
know me better than that.” He kept urging her toward the bedroom. “I don't even need to wash up first.”

“Oh? You do smell awfully good for a man who's been on the trail for three weeks, Marshal Harkner. And I notice that this time you came back clean-shaven, except for what looks like a hint of a beard only a few hours old.” Randy planted her feet and grasped his arms. “Maybe you'd like to explain that.”

Jake grinned—the handsome smile that always made her want him. “Lloyd and I took turns watching the prisoners last night while we each took a bath at Dixie's brothel in that shantytown west of the Donavan place.”

Randy stepped back and looked him over. “Is that so?”

“That's so. The women there were more than happy to help out.”

Randy folded her arms. This was all part of their old game; Jake loved when she played the jealous wife, loved pretending to have to talk her down. “I'm sure they were. And of course you slept there.”

Jake unfolded her arms and pushed them behind her back. “Of course I did. We
caught a few hours' sleep in real beds. It felt good. We kept the prisoners hog-tied in a barn and a Mexican who works there tended them for us.”

Randy held his gaze. “You

Jake pressed her tight against him. “Sure did…all alone. Woman, you know better than to think I'd ever betray your trust.” He nuzzled her neck.

“What I know is that women look at you like you're chocolate candy—even the decent ones in town. They wonder what it would be like to belong to Jake Harkner.”

Jake kept her arms behind her as he continued walking her backward to the bedroom doorway. “Then I guess they'll just have to keep wondering, won't they? Including the ones at that brothel. Hell, I've been around whores since I was six years old, Randy Harkner, and you know it. You also know there is only one woman for me, and you're it.” He shut the bedroom door. “Then again, when I'm gone for so long, maybe it's me who has to worry about
, working for that fancy widowed lawyer in town. The man is eight years younger than I am and not bad-looking.”

Randy hesitated, then pulled the combs from her hair as he unbuttoned the front of her dress. This wasn't part of their usual game. “Peter Brown is no Jake Harkner.”

“Yeah? I've seen how he looks at you, and Lord knows he has a lot more to offer a woman like you than I ever had in my whole life.”

Randy sobered and grasped his shoulders. “Jake.” She watched his eyes. “I hope you're joking.”

He lost his smile as he ran his hands through her hair and pulled it over her shoulders. “Maybe I'm not. He's smart, educated, lonely, has money—”

“And he's not
.” She finished unbuttoning her dress and pulled it off. “Nor would he want to have to answer to you, of all men. I only work for him when you're gone, Jake, and that's because I'd go crazy if I didn't have something to keep me from thinking about what could be happening to you. If you think for one minute—”

He caught her words on his lips. He held her close with one arm as he used his other hand to pull one strap of her camisole over her shoulder, then pushed her playfully to the bed. “It's the same here,” he said gruffly. She sat down on the edge of the bed, and Jake knelt down in front of her to unlace her camisole. “When I'm away from you, I never once stop thinking about the woman I love and want to come back to so bad I think I'll die from the need of her.”

He opened her camisole and leaned closer, nuzzling her cleavage. Randy closed her eyes and grasped his hair as he moved his lips back to her throat, then to her mouth again, devouring her lips. The man had a way of erasing the years, always bringing her to the first time they'd made almost savage love in a wagon on their way to nowhere.

Then, reluctantly, he pulled away, beginning to undress and sliding back into their old game. “I stopped for that bath so I wouldn't have to waste time with one when I got home to you,” he told her.

“That's a fine excuse,” she teased. “And why didn't you have one of them cut your hair?”

“I like letting
cut it.”

“Well, it's past your shoulders.”

“Maybe it makes me stronger, like Samson.”

Randy smiled. “I think the only Bible passages you remember me reading to Lloyd and Evie are the ones that were about battles and wars.”

Jake grinned. “Those were the only exciting parts. Now, wiggle out of those slips and anything else that's in the way, woman. Right now,
are Delilah.”

Randy gladly did as she was told, thinking how her husband was still a fetching man, his body hard, his dark hair showing no sign of thinning. He remained amazingly strong for his age, but she hated the scars that told of the rough life he'd led—especially the scars put on his back by his father. Those were the deepest scars of all.

She moved under the covers.

Jake frowned. “Why are you hiding under those blankets like a bashful young girl? You know I'll rip them off of you.”

Randy sighed. “I
feel more bashful as I get older. I'm not the skinny young woman you married, Jake.”

He shook his head and grinned, moving under the covers with her. “Woman, I don't believe you just said that. You've gained, what, maybe all of ten pounds in all these years? And that's weight you
to put on, because you've always been too thin.” He pulled her close. “You still feel damn good to me, and in all the right places.” He moved a leg between hers. “And you know damn well that there isn't a more beautiful woman in all of Guthrie…in all of Oklahoma, for that matter.”

“And you have been away so long that anything would look good to you.”

He nuzzled her neck. “Well, maybe it's the same for you. I'm not getting any younger.”

“There isn't one thing old about you, Jake Harkner.”

He pushed up one breast, kissing at her cleavage.

“See?” Randy commented. “For some reason, my breasts get bigger every year.”

Jake broke into laughter, hugging her close. “Is that supposed to upset me?”

Randy couldn't help her own laughter then. “I'm sure you got quite an eyeful at that brothel.”

“Yeah, but I
these breasts. They're molded to my hands…and my mouth.” He relished each breast as though something delicious, then moved his lips to her neck. “You look damn good, and it's not just because I've been gone, and you

“Just so long as you're not tasting any other breasts,” she teased.

He met her mouth hungrily, his words spoken amid deep kisses. “If I wasn't so needful of being inside you right now, I'd be tasting a lot more than your breasts.”

Randy's smile faded to pleasure as his hands began searching all the places he knew awakened her womanly needs. She couldn't help thinking how nice it was to be married to a man who knew every way there was to please a woman. He kissed and licked behind her ear, then spoke softly.

“Who do you belong to?” It was a ritualistic question he always asked before making love to her.

“Jake Harkner,” she answered, the words mumbled amid a searching kiss.

“And I'm just claiming what's mine.”

Randy closed her eyes and breathed in the scent of him, leather and fresh air and…man. She couldn't think of another word for it. Just
. They were so much in unison…mind, body, and spirit. Jake Harkner knew every inch of her body intimately, knew exactly what she did and didn't like. She in turn took great satisfaction in giving this man who so sorely needed to be loved everything he wanted.

She drew in her breath as his fingers toyed with places that belonged only to him, and in moments she felt the erotic explosion from her deep need for him. She groaned with the sweet ecstasy of the orgasm. He pushed her arms over her head then and gently pinned her there, taking her under his command as he always did in bed, filling her with a love and passion that had not lessened over the years. They could never be sure how long this would last because of the dangers he faced, a worry that made them devour each other as much as possible when he was here with her.

He moved inside of her then with the need of a man long without his woman. Randy knew that though this man had once known many women, she was without question his only love, as he was hers. Over their many years together, their desire for each other had not changed. He always made her feel young and daring and beautiful, and she took him with a desperate need to make sure he was really here and alive and unhurt.

She felt the pain then…the odd pain that came and went lately. It hit deep in her belly, but she ignored it—it always went away after a moment, just as it left her now. Soon there was only pleasure again.

BOOK: Do Not Forsake Me
2.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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