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Authors: Rosanne Bittner

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BOOK: Do Not Forsake Me
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Jake groaned her name as he filled her with stunning thrusts that told her his desire for her was as strong as ever. A second, even more intense orgasm made Randy arch up to him with hungry desire. Jake reached under her hips and filled her until he could no longer hold back his own orgasm.

They lay there quietly for several long seconds, wrapped in each other's arms in glorious joy that all was well and they were alive and still able to enjoy each other this way.

“I missed you so much,
mi
esposa
.
Tú eres mi vida.

“And I missed you holding me. I love your arms around me. I feel so safe and loved when you're here.”

He kissed her several times over—her mouth, her neck, her breasts, her belly, the hairs between her legs, back up to her lips—and soon he was ready for her again, pushing deep inside her with an aching need to be sure he'd pleased her after over three weeks apart. They groaned together with their climax, then Jake wilted beside her. They took a moment just to enjoy the quiet, the feel of naked body against naked body, to listen to each other's soft breathing, to stroke each other lovingly. Finally Jake rolled away from her with a deep sigh. “God, I hate this job. I hate not being here to watch out for you every single day.”

“Evie and I get along fine when you're gone.”

“But you're Jake Harkner's wife and she's Jake Harkner's daughter, which means you're always in danger, and so are the grandkids—all because of me.”

“Jake, stop it.” Randy put an arm across his chest and nestled into his shoulder. “You were in prison for four years, and we were just fine.”

“You had Jess York to watch out for you. And it was different with me locked up. Most thought I'd stay in prison the rest of my life, but I'm out now, and a target for those who want to lay a claim to fame through me.”

She kissed his neck. “You've just been through a lot and it's got you on edge, that's all. We're safe here in town, and Evie has Brian.”

He rubbed his eyes. “I suppose. Damn, I'm suddenly really tired, Randy,” he told her, the weight of the last three rugged weeks and the pain of Brad Buckley's remark clearly taking their toll. “I'm sorry, but I need to sleep. I can't even get up to eat any of that stew you made.”

Randy pulled the covers over them and snuggled against him. “For heaven's sake, Jake. Do you think I wouldn't understand how tired you are? It's all right.” She kissed his chest. “I love you. Thank God you're home safe and sound and Lloyd is all right.”

He closed his eyes. “He's fine.” His words came in a lazy mutter. “I love you.”

Randy settled against his shoulder, and in moments he was breathing deeply in an exhausted sleep. She lay still, enjoying the feel of his warmth in her bed again. The sun wasn't even completely set yet, but it didn't matter. She knew Evie would make sure no one bothered them. The stew would simmer on the cookstove for several hours. There was no need to do anything with it right now. It was enough to just lie here with her husband beside her.

Remarks like Brad Buckley's earlier today brought forth pieces from Jake's past that he might never be able to put behind him, memories that evoked pain and rage. And because she didn't want to worry him, she kept silent about the pain in her belly. It was nothing. It would go away. The Jake Harkner who lay beside her now was a far cry from the man he became when he put on guns and badge and walked out the door. He needed this peace. He didn't need something new to worry about.

Three

Lloyd trotted his horse closer to the Donavans' cabin, hoping Katie was home. He'd always liked her, and the part of him that wanted more kept arguing with the deeper part of him that missed Beth so much that he'd almost lost his mind when she died losing their baby eighteen months ago. The only thing that kept him from returning to a life of drinking and despair after her death had been his father, who'd literally slugged him and hog-tied him one night. Jake and Sheriff Sparks had dragged him into a jail cell and left him there until he sobered up.

A lot of long talks with both his parents had brought Lloyd around, but it was mainly Jake who'd managed to get through to him, reminding him he had a son to live for, a son he never wanted to disgrace…the way Lloyd once felt his own father had disgraced him. He never wanted those same hard feelings between himself and his son, Stephen.

Now he had to face the fact that he was a widower with a six-year-old son to raise. He'd loved Beth desperately, but she was lost to him. Stephen was his whole life now. The boy stayed with his grandma Randy when Lloyd and Jake had to go out on a manhunt, but he couldn't expect his mother to keep doing all the raising. The woman had been through hell over years of living with a wanted man who'd ended up in prison and now lived the life of a U.S. Marshal. A loving grandmother she was, but she needed some peace.

Lloyd knew deep inside that he needed a new wife, someone who would be a good mother to Stephen. Beth would want that too. Katie Donavan Lamont had those qualities, and it didn't hurt that she was beautiful. He'd been seeing her a few months now, had taken her to the spring dance in Guthrie and stolen a kiss or two, but memories of Beth had held him back from allowing serious feelings, and his job often kept him away for days or weeks at a time, making it difficult to develop a closer relationship. Still, he was pretty damn sure Katie would marry him if he asked.

“Lloyd!”Patrick Donavan came out of the cabin to greet him as Lloyd halted his horse at a hitching post.

Lloyd nodded as he dismounted. “Hello, Pat.”

“Sure 'n' you came at a good time, boy!” Lloyd had to grin at the man's strong Irish brogue. “The wife and Katie just took a couple of pies out of the oven. Come on in. You look tired. You been out riding with your pa again?”

Lloyd towered over the much shorter but very stocky man as he tied his horse. “I have,” he answered. He loosened the rawhide string that held his long hair away from his face. “I left Pa back at Winter Point. We had quite a shoot-out with some bank robbers who'd holed up in No Man's Land—Jack Buckley, two of the Bryant boys, and Brad Buckley's uncle, Stu Forbes.”

He pulled his hair back better and retied it, thinking how he really should cut it. But constantly being on the trail made it difficult to keep a decent haircut, so he'd just let it grow, and now it was midway down his back.

“We chased them out of there, and they took shelter at a ranch west of here,” he continued. “The worst part is, they attacked the rancher's daughter in the worst way. You can imagine the rage that put in Pa's gut. By the time he and I got through with them, they were in bad shape. Jack Buckley is dead. I knew Pa could take them on into Guthrie on his own, so I rested up a bit and decided to take the fork and stop here before I go home.”

“Sure 'n' I'm glad you decided to visit,” Pat answered. “We'll feed you good and put you up for the night. You can get all the rest you need before going on into town. We're heading into Guthrie tomorrow ourselves. You can ride with us. We'll feel plenty safe with the likes of a Harkner man along.”

Lloyd shook his head as he followed Patrick into the house. “I didn't come here to eat your food, Pat.”

“Ah, boy, it's not a problem. The wife will be makin' a good supper soon.” Pat reached up and patted his shoulder. “When Katie saw it was you comin', she tore off her dirty apron and hurried up to the loft to fix her hair.” He gave Lloyd a wink. “Come on in.”

Lloyd grasped his arm and gently pulled him aside. “Hold up, Pat.”

Pat frowned and folded his arms. “What is it, son?”

Lloyd removed his hat and glanced at the doorway, then back at Pat Donavan. “Actually, sir, I came here specifically for Katie. I should tell you I've decided to ask her to marry me, if you approve.”

Pat's face lit up like the spark of a match. He grasped Lloyd's hand and began shaking it vigorously. “Of
course
you have my approval!” he answered. “Sure 'n' my Katie girl has a very fond eye for you, and it's time for the both of you to move on from mournin' those who are gone. You're both too young to be livin' in the past.”

A quick pain stabbed at Lloyd at the memory of losing Beth so soon after finding her again after years apart. “Yes, sir. Just don't say anything when we go inside, please. After we eat, I'll ask Katie to step outside with me. I don't want to rush in there and cause a commotion, and we have a lot of talking to do first.”

Pat was grinning from ear to ear. “I'll try my best, son. This is such good news. When the wife finds out, she'll be beside herself.”

Lloyd just grinned and shook his head as Pat took his arm and urged him to the door. “Come! Come! The wife will be happy to see you. She and your mother are such good friends, you know.”

Lloyd stomped dust from his boots before going inside. He actually felt a little nervous. The last three weeks on the trail were the closest he'd come to allowing himself to think about Katie seriously enough to consider marriage. His father had urged him to commit to taking another wife. He wanted Lloyd to be happy and settled again.

Katie Donavan Lamont was only twenty-one years old, but she'd already lost a husband at nineteen to a hunting accident and buried a newborn baby lost to cholera. She was no wilting flower, but a woman who'd known hardship and loss, just as Lloyd had. It only made her more attractive.

The Donavans were part of the new influx of settlers who'd come to Oklahoma from St. Louis in the land rush a couple of years earlier. That land rush had a big hand in the troubles out here, where new settlers were pushing out Indians of numerous tribes who had themselves been forced to Oklahoma with promises of this being Indian country forever. As usual, the government had broken its promise, and now Oklahoma was filled with angry Indians, eager new settlers, and a host of outlaws who'd come here because there was very little law…until Lloyd and his father had come on the scene.

He followed Pat into the house, where Clara Donavan greeted him warmly. She immediately urged Lloyd to sit and poured him a cup of coffee.

“You must need a good rest,” the very robust woman told Lloyd. “We'll put up your horse for you.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Donavan. My father took some prisoners in to Guthrie, and I came this way to check on things here. Neighbors say they've had trouble with rustlers.”

“Well, we've not had problems so far, but it's good of you to stop.”

“Your pa probably figures you'll stay the night,” Pat Donavan added as Clara set some sweet cream and some sugar in front of Lloyd. “He won't worry because he knows how well you can take care of yourself.”

“He's an able young man, that he is,” Clara added, “just like his pa. A man would be a fool to go up against this one, that's sure.”

Lloyd felt a little embarrassed at the compliments. He drank some coffee as he caught sight of the skirt of a green checkered dress at the top of the loft ladder. Katie came down the ladder, and just as she reached the bottom of the steps, the door opened and nineteen-year-old Tommy Donavan came inside.

“Lloyd! I thought that was your horse,” he said, coming in and shaking Lloyd's hand. “I had my little brother put it up for you.”

Lloyd felt a bit shanghaied by the Donavans. “I could have gone back tonight,” he objected. “But I have to admit, I'm pretty worn-out.” He glanced sidelong at Katie. Her lovely red hair was pulled back neatly at the sides and hung down long and lustrous. Her eyes were as green as a grassy valley in the spring, and right now her cheeks were crimson with what Lloyd knew was embarrassment over her parents' too-obvious solicitude.

“Hello, Lloyd,” she said softly. “Thank you for stopping by.”

“Just thought I'd follow up on some rumors about rustling,” he told her, sticking to the excuse for now. Still…he saw an expectancy in her eyes.

She held his gaze in mutual understanding, putting her hands to her cheeks as though to cool them off. “Mother and I just finished baking some sweet-potato pies. Would you like a piece?”

Lloyd nodded. “Sounds fine.” He forced himself to turn his attention to Pat. “Got any ideas who might be giving your neighbors problems?”

“The same idea you probably have. Indians. The sneaky devils are upset over settlers moving in on what's supposed to be theirs, but how are we supposed to ignore free land, Lloyd? The government says we have a right to be here, so here we are.”

Lloyd took note of Katie's slender fingers as she set a piece of pie in front of him. “Thank you,” he told her, giving her another smile. “It's a good thing I don't come out here too often. I'd be fat in no time from you and your mother's cooking.”

Katie's eyes sparkled with pleasure. “I'm sure your mother is a good cook too. I've heard your father rave about her bread and fried chicken.”

Lloyd laughed lightly. “Yeah, that's true. I swear he loves that bread Mom makes as much as he loves the woman herself.”

“Ah, and anyone can tell how much your folks love each other,” Pat added.

“I tease him about that all the time,” Lloyd joked.

Katie turned away to cut more pie, and Lloyd thought she might be embarrassed at their frank talk. “Pa and I have a pretty good connection with most of the Indians in these parts, Pat,” Lloyd told him, changing the subject back to rustlers. “Pa thinks it's maybe a few Indians bribed with whiskey and guns who are doing the rustling for white men. It's hard to keep up with everything that goes on in this godforsaken country. We don't get a lot of help out here. The government keeps promising to send soldiers, but so far we haven't seen any. We've been out three weeks just hunting down the riffraff we brought in today. We could call in other marshals, but Pa likes to work alone, and the others have their hands full in their own territories—let alone the constant hunt for the Dalton gang.”

“Aye, it's a hard and dangerous job.”

Lloyd sobered. “It was Pa who killed Jack. He has a son who lives in town named Brad. He's a no-good himself, and he'll be really angry when he sees my pa bring his own father in draped over a horse. I'm a little worried about him making trouble.”

“Well, I expect it's not something your pa can't handle.”

Lloyd swallowed a bite of pie. “I know that. It's just that he's my father, and I owe him. He's taught me so much, Pat, and I can't help worrying about him.”

“Aye, it's because you love him, boy. It's only natural.”

Lloyd finished his pie. “Well, things are fine for now. After a few days' rest, Pa and I will go talk to what's left of the Bryant family.”

“Sure 'n' you should stay together. Neither one of you should be goin' over to visit that bunch alone. There's too many, and I don't doubt some of them have no problem shootin' a man in the back.”

“Now, now, let's not speak of such things at the table,” Clara scolded. “Lloyd, I hope you don't mind sleepin' in the barn. We'll make sure you have nice clean hay and a blanket to put on top of it.”

“I've slept under far worse conditions,” Lloyd answered. “For the last three weeks, I've been sleeping on the ground most of the time.”

“And always havin' to look out for dangerous men and wild Indians to boot,” Pat added. “We worry about you and Jake both, Lloyd. My Katie there, she worries too.”

“Father!” Katie scolded, looking embarrassed. She turned to set a kettle on the cookstove. “It's just because Mama and Lloyd's mother have become good friends that I worry,” she added. She cast her father a chiding look, though she was obviously blushing again—something a woman of her complexion could not hide.

Pat grinned. “Finish that coffee, son,” he told Lloyd. “I've got a couple of horses I'd like to show you. Maybe the government would buy them for you and Jake. Nice big geldings, they are. Men your size need good, sturdy horses, that's sure.”

“I'd be glad to take a look at them.” Lloyd finished his coffee. “Great pie,” he told Clara. He glanced at Katie. “I, uh, I'd like to talk to you alone after I look at those horses, Katie, if you don't mind.”

Katie's cheeks flushed again, and Lloyd wondered if she blushed like that when a man was making love to her…a not unpleasant thought at all.

“Of course,” she answered. “I have to wash up and change, so take your time with the horses.”

Lloyd nodded, then put on his hat and turned to go out. Pat and Tommy followed, and Katie watched the screen door close.

“He's a lonely young man, that one,” Clara told her daughter. “I am thinking it's a good sign that he wants to talk to you alone, darlin'.”

“Oh, Mother, I don't think he's ready to change his situation just yet. And I wish you and Father wouldn't keep pushing the issue. It's embarrassing.”

Clara shrugged. “Some men
need
a little push. And that one…well, girl, could you ask for a more handsome and able man?”

Katie sighed. “I can't argue with that.”

“Yeah, well, his father is awful handsome too. Lloyd is a fine mixture of Jake and that lovely Miranda, but mostly his pa, with that tall, strong build of his and those dark eyes.”

Katie looked at her mother. “And he leads a very dangerous life. I've already lost one husband, Mother. I'm not sure I want to end up with a man who could be shot in the back the day after he marries me.”

BOOK: Do Not Forsake Me
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