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Authors: Rosanne Bittner

Love's Sweet Revenge

BOOK: Love's Sweet Revenge
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Copyright © 2016 by Rosanne Bittner

Cover and internal design © 2016 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover art by Jon Paul

Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410

(630) 961-3900

Fax: (630) 961-2168

www.sourcebooks.com

This book is dedicated to all my faithful fans who wanted another story following Jake Harkner and his family. I am so grateful to everyone who loves these stories as much as I do. My devoted readers are what keep me going back to the computer to tell more stories. When I finished the second book of this saga (
Do Not Forsake M
e
) and the Harkners were headed for Colorado, I knew I had to go with them, and I knew my fans would want to continue Jake's story and learn what happens after they settle into a new life there.
Love's Sweet Revenge
is that story…but it won't end there. I already know I need to write a fourth book. I have already titled it
The Last Outlaw
.

Foreword

Love's Sweet Revenge
is the continuing saga of outlaw Jake Harkner, a ruthless man who walks on the edge of darkness, and the woman (Miranda) who taught him his true worth—and the meaning of love. For those who might not have read the first two books in this series, following is a short review of what has brought Jake and his family to events in this third book.

Book one,
Outlaw Hearts
, brings Jake out of his lost and lonely world into one of hope when, as a young wanted man with a brutal past, he meets the woman who completely changes his life. The story covers twenty-six years of Jake and Randy's struggle for peace and a normal life together as they raise a son and a daughter. Book two,
Do Not Forsake Me
, finds Jake living the dangerous life of a U.S. Marshal in “No Man's Land”—Oklahoma. Through both books, Jake and Randy's incredibly strong relationship spawns a solid and fiercely loyal family that will capture your heart and whose story of devotion and faith holds them together through the challenges that confront them because of Jake's outlaw past.

Love's Sweet Revenge
finds Jake and his growing family finally settled into ranch life in the spectacular foothills of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, but Jake's past reputation and his famous Colt .44s lead to a devastating shooting that takes Jake right back into the darkness that always threatens to consume him. This book is a gritty, hard-hitting story that brings to life the “real” American West and tells an unforgettable love story.

Part One
One

April 1896

Jake leaned against a rough-hewn support post on the sagging front porch of a line shack, taking in the magnificent scenery before him. It was so quiet this morning that even striking a match seemed loud. He lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply.

Since leaving a lawless Oklahoma Territory and his job as a U.S. Marshal, he still couldn't quite get over the fact that he shared a fifty-thousand-acre cattle ranch here in Colorado with his son. It took that much land and more to support enough cattle for a man to make a living, and the J&L had grown fast. Thank God Lloyd was finally fulfilling his own dream instead of riding with him in the dangerous job of hunting down criminals and murderers in No Man's Land. Oklahoma and the devastating events there were behind them now.

He shivered a little, wearing only his long johns against the chilly morning. He slowly exhaled, watching the cigarette smoke drift lazily into the yellow-blue sky. Behind him the purple, snowcapped Rocky Mountains rose like bastions of the West, and before him the foothills sloped downward to sparkling Horse Creek, which ran right through the middle of a vast green valley. They called it Evie's Garden, after Jake's beloved daughter. And far across that valley, he could see dark slopes of pine mixed with the white trunks of aspen, all spilling from purple heights like a waterfall. To the south end of the ranch lay a spectacular bowl of grass called Fire Valley because of how the sun could oftentimes light up the yellow grass.

Lloyd had bought most of this land from a widowed rancher's wife who could no longer take care of it. He'd added several thousand more acres by procuring adjacent government land in a special sale. With money inherited from his first wife, Lloyd paid the greater share for the J&L, and that was fine with Jake, because it would all be Lloyd's someday anyway. Jake was happy for him—damn happy. Lloyd was a loyal and steadfast son who'd given up too much for his father. He deserved happiness and success.

A few horses grazed in the valley below, mingled with some Durhams and a couple of Herefords. Both were meaty stock, and as the herd grew every year, so did profits. If Lloyd could manage to buy some government land to the south, where an abandoned fort now stood, the J&L would grow by another ten thousand acres.

He watched the valley begin to light up from the rising eastern sun, and a tiny lark landed on a thin branch that didn't look strong enough to hold even one feather. It tweeted sweetly, greeting the morning. Jake still had trouble trusting the peace and quiet he'd known here. At sixty years old, he was bone weary, and some days he hurt everywhere. Years of horrible abuse as a child, followed by an outlaw's life on the run that led to prison, and then the rugged life of a U.S. Marshal had taken a toll on his bullet-scarred body, let alone the inner scars and the brand of having murdered his own father.

Inside this dilapidated little line shack lay the woman who was responsible for pretty much one hundred percent of the peace he enjoyed now—the woman who'd taught him it was possible to forgive, both himself and others, the woman who'd taught him the meaning of love and who'd dragged him from the pits of hell to a new world, where a man could enjoy family, and hope.

Ten years younger than he and looking much younger than that, Miranda Harkner was still beautiful and slender and gentle and soft and loving, after all he'd put her through over the years. A bit to the south lay the lovely, sprawling log home he'd built for her. He'd bought her all the most modern appliances, including a huge coal cooking stove with two ovens, plenty of cooktop room for big meals, and a warming rack above that. She had two big iceboxes, kept cold by straw-packed ice brought down from the mountains by some of the ranch hands.

Randy loved to cook, but cleaning the coal heater and the ovens was a lot of work, so he'd hired a Mexican woman for that and to help with other housework. As far as he was concerned, his wife had been through enough hard work, and some of it without him. He'd made sure she had whatever furniture she wanted—fine china and hutches to store it in, her choice of rugs and antiques—and any lovely dresses she desired. She was still beautiful, and she complemented any dress she wore.

He closed his eyes and shook his head at how undeserving he was to be loved by such a woman. He wanted her to have everything good and beautiful he could give her. His heart ached at the thought that she still suffered anxiety whenever he was gone for long periods of time. This resulted from his absences when running from the law and the years he spent in prison—then having to ride away for days or weeks at a time as a marshal.

That anxiety was part of the reason she'd come with him this time to check the southern and western borders of the ranch. Early spring meant looking for broken fences or signs of rustling or squatters, and for cattle that might have been ravished by wolves or those that had not survived the cold and snows of winter.

This moment had to be the best he'd ever known in his long and battered life, right here, standing in a little weatherworn cabin in western Colorado, his wife asleep in a homemade pine bed inside, nestled into its feather mattress. More birds joined the little lark and flittered here and there, chirping their songs to spring. Soon the aspen leaves would open up and glitter in the wind, but he didn't doubt another fierce snowstorm would swoop down from the mountains across the foothills one more time before winter was truly done with its violent wrath. That was expected in the Rockies, but today smelled of real spring.

He jumped when he heard a rustling sound, his hand going to his hip in a reflex he couldn't quite get over, but this morning his gun wasn't there. A deer jumped out from behind a limber pine.

A deer.

Not an outlaw. Not a lawman. Not a drunk. Not an Indian. Not a cattle rustler. Not a prostitute. Not someone out to claim he'd killed Jake Harkner.

Just a deer.

“Jake?”

He straightened, taking a last drag on the cigarette and tossing it into the dirt beyond the cabin. He went inside to see Randy huddled under the quilts.

“What are you doing outside in your underwear?” she asked. “You'll catch your death. Come over here and warm yourself up beside me.”

Jake grinned as he shut the door. “You might regret it.”

“And why would I? I have never regretted inviting you to bed.”

Jake laughed lightly and walked closer. “I've already taken care of a few things and cleaned up. I was out there enjoying the peace and the view, waiting for my love-starved wife to call me to her bed.” He lifted the covers and crawled in beside her.

“Well, far be it for any wife of yours to be love-starved,” Randy quipped. “I wonder sometimes if all men your age still enjoy sex as much as you do, or if it's just because you romped with too many wild women in your younger years and can't quite get away from the enjoyment.”

“It could be the latter,” he answered, pulling her into his arms, “or it could be because my wife is still a beautiful woman who makes me want her every time I look at her.” He kissed her lightly. “And who can get pretty wild herself.”

“Speaking of wild women, don't go hanging out with any when you make those trips to Denver. I know your penchant for befriending ladies of the night.”

“If I did, you'd know it. You always do.” He kissed her eyes.

“Mmm-hmm.” Randy smiled softly as she traced a finger over his dark eyebrows, the thin scar down the side of his face. “The fact remains that you are still an extremely handsome, well-built man who could have any woman he wants,” she answered, leaning up to kiss him again. “And a lot of women want you because you are famous and mysterious and notorious.”

Jake frowned. “I'm mysterious and notorious?”

Randy fingered his still-thick, dark hair, now streaked with hints of gray. “You know darn well that's how some women see you.”

Jake moved on top of her. “The only woman I want is right where she belongs—underneath me.” He grinned as he ran a hand over her bare bottom. “And you're naked.”

“Well, I was lying here thinking what a quiet morning it is and how nice it would be to have morning sex under these quilts with the man I have loved for going on thirty years, and knowing that no one and nothing can take him away from me ever again.” She kissed the hairs of his chest where they peeked out from his partially buttoned long johns. “Where is the peppermint we always share in the morning?”

Jake reached past her to a nightstand and picked up a stick of red-and-white peppermint, always part of their ritual when they had morning sex. He put one end in his mouth, and she took the other end. They sucked and licked at the candy until their lips met, ending in a deep kiss. Jake ran his hands into her golden hair. “I love the way this hair is all messy in the morning,” he whispered near her ear, “love how warm you are.”

He kissed her again, running his tongue suggestively deep and tasting more peppermint as he grasped her wrists and moved her arms over her head, pinning her there as he left her mouth and trailed to her neck, down to taste her breasts, moaning as though tasting something sweet and delicious. Every move he made was done gently, carefully, always with the realization that he could easily hurt her because of his big frame and how she sometimes seemed lost under him.

He moved his hands down her arms as he traced his kisses down her belly and to the inside of her thigh. He knew exactly how to bring out the woman in her, exactly how she liked to be touched…and tasted. He worked his magic in gentle circular motions until he felt her totally relax, then continued the magic touches that helped her bend to his will before they would become one. He kissed the scars that reminded him she'd nearly died from childbirth and the newer scars from four years ago when he thought he was losing her to cancer.

Not his Randy! He couldn't live without her. He couldn't take one more breath without this woman who'd saved his life, both physically and emotionally. She deserved his love and attention, deserved to be made love to in all the ways that pleased her.

He moved fingers inside her, feeling the moistness that meant she wanted more. He kept touching and tasting her, deliberately drawing her to him until he felt the pulsations of her climax. He quickly unbuttoned the front of his long johns to satisfy his own needs, moving inside of her while grasping her bottom and pleasuring her with every touch and every thrust of the mating ritual.

He groaned in his own aching need, still enjoying this woman who had given him so much and still wanting to give back. He always felt he couldn't get quite enough of her.

“Who do you belong to?” he whispered near her ear.

She arched upward rhythmically as she whimpered her reply. “Jake Harkner.”

He gently pinned her to him. “Every inch of your beautiful body,
mi querida
.”

For several minutes he pushed deep in sweet rhythm, needing this, aching with love and with feelings he'd never quite gotten used to after all these years. He still couldn't get over how good it felt to love and
be
loved. No longer cold, he perspired from their lovemaking. He felt her pull him in with another climax while calling out his name in sweet satisfaction. Finally, Jake could no longer hold back his own relief, glad he could still please her this way. Making love never got old for them, both of them eternally grateful to still be alive and together.

They lay there quietly, Jake moving to her side and letting her snuggle against him under the quilts. He'd once said he wanted the peace of being allowed to lie in bed with his wife until noon if he wanted. He'd found that peace. He could only pray that this time it would last.

“Let's not get up for a while,” Randy told him. “Take today off. We have enough supplies to stay here for a day or two.”

“Whatever my woman wants.”

“How long before we get home once we do leave?”

“We are actually only about a day's ride away.”

“I feel guilty staying longer. I miss the grandchildren, even though I know they're surely fine.”

“Then quit worrying like a mother hen. It's your turn to enjoy the moment, so don't feel guilty. We're staying at least one more night.”

“Katie and Evie can certainly handle things.”

At the remark, Jake rolled onto his back, sighing deeply. “Do you think Evie is really okay now? I still worry about her.”

“Jake, no woman who went through what she did could have a better husband than Brian to help her get over it. You've seen how happy they are now. Brian is a good and patient man. He could have a lucrative doctor's practice in a city somewhere, but he came here because he knew it would be good for Evie to be close to her family. And you don't know it, but Evie is carrying again. I think that's a pretty good sign they are doing all right.”

“That's great news! Why didn't you tell me sooner?”

“Evie wanted to spring the news herself at Sunday dinner, so be sure to act surprised.” Randy moved an arm across his chest. “She's a very, very strong woman, a survivor, just like you. You need to think only about your blessings, Jake Harkner, and blessing number five will be here in about six months.”

He smiled sadly. “When those two little girls put their arms around my neck and give me kisses, I wonder sometimes what they will think of me when they find out the truth about Grandpa's past.”

“They will always know and remember you the way you are now. Your past won't make a bit of difference, because they never knew the old Jake.” Randy leaned up to meet his gaze. “And you
are
going to keep your promise that
all
the grandchildren will know
everything
when they get old enough to understand. We aren't going to hide anything from them like you did with Lloyd, Jake. We both know how that turned out.”

Jake reached up to toy with her hair. “I can't very well avoid it, now that Jeff's book about me is in stores. According to Jeff's last letter, the
Evening Journal
is even serializing the story in weekly segments.” He sighed. “I just worry that the past isn't through with me.”

BOOK: Love's Sweet Revenge
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