Authors: Rosanne Bittner
“The one called Gordy kicked me down.” Jeff brushed at dust on his rear end.
Jake stiffened. “I'm damn sorry about that. Now you know that if you intend to write a book about me, you might be walking into more problems than you expected.”
“I don't mind. And I appreciate our conversation on the steps.”
Jake looked him over, and Jeff noted the smoldering anger in his dark eyes.
“That doesn't mean I'm letting you write that book, Trubridge.”
“I know, sir.”
Jake glanced past him toward town. “Thanks for the information. We'll talk again later. I will obviously be pretty busy the rest of the day.” He nodded to Jeff and walked back up to the church doorway, glancing back toward town yet again before resuming his position at the doorjamb to watch his son get married.
Jeff headed back into town. He'd walked about three blocks when he noticed the horses the three men had been riding, tied in front of a tavern. Loud voices and laughter drifted past the saloon doors, and Jeff stayed out of sight as he moved a little closer. He heard someone say something about not shooting a man on the Sabbath. A round of laughter rang out then, and Jeff decided he'd better get away from there quick.
Randy removed her dress to change into something more comfortable. It warmed her heart to hear the noise in the house. She'd invited the Donavans to dinner along with Brian and Evie, Lloyd and Katie, and the grandchildren. Evie was helping cook Sunday dinner, and everyone else was visiting, the grandsons running in and out of the house, the screen door to the kitchen slamming every time they ran through again. The house was actually too small for so many people, which only made the bigger gathering warmer and more exciting, especially after a wedding.
She unlaced her corset and removed it, then put on a different camisole that fit better. She hurried, wanting to get back to helping in the kitchen. She began tying the camisole, her back to the bedroom door. The door opened then and she turned to see Jake coming inside.
“Jake, close the door!”
He grinned, coming closer. “Need help with that thing?”
Randy turned away. “I need help with stuffing myself into it, that's what I need.”
Jake came closer and reached around her, moving his hands inside the camisole to fondle her breasts.
“Jake Harkner, get your hands out of there! The whole family is right outside the door.”
He nuzzled her neck. “You're the one who said you needed help,” he teased.
Randy wanted to be angry but found herself laughing. She tried to pull his hands away. “Jake, that tickles.”
The camisole fell open, and he ran his fingers over her ribs and back over her breasts, making her laugh more. “Stop that! I mean it. I have to change and go help Evie.”
“Evie is a great cook. And Lord knows Clara Donavan is too. They don't need your help.”
“Really, Jake, please stop.” She tried to be serious, but she couldn't help more laughter. Jake moved his hands to her shoulders and gently massaged them. “I just thought, since those things were getting so big, as you claim, I'd help you out.”
Randy laughed more as she situated herself into the camisole and began tying it again. “Honestly, I don't know who is the child in this house, Little Jakeâor you. You're fifty-six going on sixteen.”
Jake grinned, walking over to sit down on the bed. “If I was sixteen, I wouldn't give you the chance to dress at all. You'd be naked and in this bed.”
Randy finished lacing the camisole. “By sixteen, you'd probably slept with heaven knows how many women.”
He stretched out on the bed. “Yeah, well, there is nothing like the woman who truly loves me, although I still can't figure out why she does.” He drank in the sight of her as she started to put on her corset again. “You're still a beautiful, beautiful woman, Randy Harkner. Leave that thing off. Why in hell does a woman small as you need to wear a corset?”
“It's just proper, that's all.”
“Leave the damn thing off.”
“People will know.”
“No one will know but me, and if you leave it off, it means a lot less work for me getting you out of it later.”
She smiled and tossed the corset aside, glancing at Jake. Just the way he looked at her sometimes made her feel beautiful and loved. She noticed the sly grin on his face. “You're in a mood today.”
He sat up again. “I'm just happy for Lloyd.”
She smiled. “I am too.”
“Do you really need to go right back out there?”
She gave him a warning look. “You know I do.” She hurriedly took a more comfortable cotton dress from her wardrobe and pulled it over her head, letting it fall down over her petticoats. “And you really were rude to Peter Brown today. Don't think I missed the fact that you wanted to break his hand.”
He sobered. “I wanted to do a lot more than that.”
Randy sighed, putting her hands on her hips. “He's every bit a gentleman, Jake, and he was genuinely glad you made it back all right. He's a good man.”
“I figured that out by the look in his eyes. I want to
like the man, but I think he's sincereâsincere in how he feels about you, but also sincere in never trying to move in where he doesn't belong. I guess part of me wants him to stick around so he'll be here for you when the day comes that I
make it back.”
“I hate it when you talk that way. You could at least say if, not when.”
He shrugged. “It's a fact of life.”
“And you tried to hand me off to Jess York a few years ago, if you will remember. You practically ordered me to settle for Jess and abandon you when you were in prison. I didn't forsake you then, and I didn't forsake you before that, when you disappeared for two years after the Kennedy shoot-out in California. God knows what you were up to all that time hiding out with outlaws and no-goods and painted women.” She smoothed the skirt of the dress.
She met his eyes.
“This thing with that reporter, it's bringing up old memories, isn't it?”
Randy shrugged. “I guess.”
Jake rubbed at his eyes as though weary. “All I did was try to protect you and the kids,” he told her. “You know that's why I left. I wanted to forget you, which is the only reason Iâ¦pretended you didn't exist, but I couldn't go on without you, and now you're stuck with me.”
She smiled. “And you're stuck with me, Jake Harkner, like it or not. Now get over here and button the back of this dress.”
She turned around, and Jake got up from the bed.
“And no funny stuff,” Randy warned, laughing again.
“I mean it, Jake.”
“I know.” He leaned down and kissed her neck as he buttoned the dress.
“Just a kiss because I love you.”
“What did you do with your guns? I don't want either of the grandsons to find them.”
“Everything is locked in the gun cabinet in the dining room, and all the ammo is in the lockbox on top of the icebox, and even you don't know where I keep the key.”
Randy caught sight of him in a mirror. His sudden shifts in mood worried her. She knew every look, every mood, every tone of his voice.
“What's wrong, Jake?”
He didn't answer right away.
“Nothing.” He finished buttoning her dress. Randy turned, grasping his arms and feeling tense muscles.
“You made a point of piling all us women and the grandkids into the back of the Donavans' wagon to come over here from church. You pretended like we were making a game of itâtelling Stevie and Little Jake to see which one of them could keep his head down below the sides of wagon the longest. The sides of that wagon are a good two feet high. What were you protecting us from?”
He sighed, studying her eyes. “Bo Buckley and Gordy Bryant are in town, along with one other man. I'm not sure who the third one is. He might be a hired gun.”
“And naturally they are very unhappy about having relatives sitting in jail, wounded and waiting for a prison wagon.”
He leaned down and kissed her. “Just be careful the next few days. Try to stay home. Peter Brown doesn't expect you to work when I'm home, so you don't need to be out walking around. Tell Evie to do the same. I'll go over to the jail tomorrow and check things out and try to find out how soon that prison wagon will get here.”
“Do you think they'll try to help their brothers escape before it does?”
“Men like that will try anything.”
“Well, Lloyd needs a few days alone with Katie, which means that if something new comes up, you'll go riding off without him.”
Jake stepped back, putting out his arms. “Randy, this is meâJake. In all these years, what have I not been able to handle on my own?”
“You came pretty darn close to not handling Kennedy's bunch.”
He shook his head. “There were
of them. They all died, and we didn't. What does that tell you?”
Randy rubbed at her temples. “Oh, Jake,” she groaned.
Someone knocked on the door. “Dad, come on out of there,” Lloyd yelled through the door. “What the heck is going on?”
“What do you think?” Jake joked, in an obvious attempt to brighten his wife's mood and erase the worry.
“Katie and I are supposed to be the newlyweds, Pa, not you and Mom,” Lloyd answered.
They could hear Evie and Brian laughing in the background.
“We'll be right out,” Randy called to Lloyd. Then she let out a short scream when Jake suddenly picked her up and carried her to the bed.
“Let's give them something to talk about,” he said, climbing onto the bed with her.
Randy laughed and jumped off the bed, hurrying to the door and opening it.
Lloyd stood there leaning against the doorjamb with his arms folded.
“Could you two stop long enough to come and eat with the rest of us?”
Randy re-tucked a pin at the side of her hair. “It's all your fault.” She leaned up and kissed Lloyd's cheek. “We are very happy for you.” She hurried into the kitchen. Lloyd grinned when he heard Evie teasing their mother about behaving herself.
to behave himself, not me,” Randy answered. All three women laughed.
Lloyd turned to watch his father climb off the bed. Jake walked over to a dressing table and picked up a comb, running it through his hair.
“Last I knew, you were the
man of the family,” Lloyd teased.
Jake put down the comb and faced him. “Don't make me have to hurt you to prove I'm not as old as you think.”
Lloyd closed the bedroom door. “You want to go out there in the street and prove it?”
Jake took a cigarette from his shirt pocket and lit it. “Hell, no. I wouldn't want to embarrass you.”
Lloyd laughed. “You wish.”
“Believe what you want, if it makes you feel better, Son.”
Lloyd sobered. “I know when you're keeping something from me, Pa. I saw a worried look on your face when we came out of the church, so don't try to cover it up by joking about other things. What's wrong?”
Jake took a drag on the cigarette. “Nothing I can't handle on my own.” He headed for the door, but Lloyd planted his hand against it.
“We don't keep secrets anymore. Remember?”
Jake scowled. “You're as bad as your mother. She noticed I crammed all the women and kids into the back of the Donavans' wagon on the way back here.”
“Yeah, well, I noticed too. The kids and probably Katie thought it was just a game, but we knew it wasn't. What were you protecting them from?”
Jake kept the cigarette at the corner of his lips and walked to a bedroom window, pushing a curtain aside as though to check what might be outside. “We have a couple of visitors in town,” he answered, telling Lloyd what he'd told Randy.
“Did you actually see them?”
“No. That reporter kid I introduced you to saw them when he left the church. He came back and told me he saw three armed men watching me and talking about our happy family. One of them called the other Gordy.”
Lloyd scowled. “Shit.”
“Yeah, well, it might turn out to be nothing.” Jake faced him and took the cigarette from his lips. “Just keep an eye out. I'll go check things out at the jail tomorrow, and then I'll find out if those bastards are still aroundâfind out what they're up to. In the meantime, you enjoy your new wife and spend some time with her and Stevie. This isn't anything I need help with.”
He started toward the door again, but Lloyd grasped his arm. “Pa, I'm here for you and you know it. Don't do something rash.”
Jake broke into a grin. “
“You know damn well what I mean. What happened yesterday? The preacher told me he was glad you were alive and able to enjoy the wedding. I believe his words were, âafter that run-in Jake had yesterday with Brad Buckley.' What happened between you and Brad?”
“The kid was just a little upset that I brought his father back draped over a horse. Wouldn't
Their eyes held for a few quiet seconds. “I reckon I'd want to kill the man who brought my father back that way.”
Jake nodded. “And there's your answer. The only difference is, Brad proceeded to remind me that at least you and he
The room hung silent and Lloyd closed his eyes. “Jesus.”
Jake took a drag on his cigarette. “Now let's go eat. Your mother doesn't like me smoking in hereâsays it spoils the rose scent she puts in the sheets or some such foolishness.”
“You didn't shoot Brad, did you? Did he draw on you?”
Jake opened the door as Lloyd stepped aside. “Let's just say he didn't get the chance, and right now he's in a bad way. If you want to know any more than that, ask your mother. She was there.”
Jake walked out, and Lloyd felt a renewed hatred for the grandfather he'd never known. Any reference to the man and the fact that Jake had killed him brought out a dark rage in Jake, who preferred to pretend his father had never existed.