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LOVE HER SOFTLY CHAPTER 14 KARSHE

LOVE HER SOFTLY CHAPTER 14 THEND
The ride up the mountain was a tense and silent one. Neither man said a word—no words were needed. Both knew they were going to take the lives of at least two men—and they may very well get killed by a posse of mountain men in the process.+ There was a good chance they never would return to town, but, Liam was going to make sure that Silas died first. Dawn had arrived and the sky was lightening when they arrived at Silas' cabin. It was clear by the blood trail they'd been following that Silas and the man who'd been with him, one of his brothers, had come back here and hadn't left. "What was the man thinking?" Kyle asked quietly as they slipped from their horse's backs. "He shoots up your cabin, your wife and your father and then just goes on home?" "Silas never was big on brains," Liam replied with a shrug. He took a moment to really breathe in the surroundings. There was no one around outside which meant the men had taken cover inside—they could very well be watching them right now. "Silas Hawke?" Liam called loudly. "I've come for you." Silence reigned for several long moments. "Liam, I don't want no trouble with ya."2 "We're way past trouble, Silas. I intend to kill you," Liam assured him.2 Kyle chuckled. "Nothing like laying it all out there." Liam nodded toward the cabin. "Go around back. Don't let the bastard escape that way." Liam watched Kyle disappear and then then headed toward the front door of the dilapidated shack. "Stop right there, Liam! Hell, I'm wounded and my brother is lying here dead. What kind of man comes at helpless folks?"3 Liam chose not to respond. He'd learned the hard way that words were wasted on Silas Hawke. The man was evil, pure and simple, and he had to die. That was the only way Liam would keep his family safe. He didn't flinch when a bullet struck the dirt next to his feet. Didn't pause as another whistled past his head. Liam stepped on the porch and kicked out, sending the door crashing open.3 Silas had been being honest. His brother was dead with a hole in his gut and Silas himself, had clearly had his good arm broken by Emma's bullet. He'd been shooting at Liam with his left—which he clearly was no good at. Silas was sitting on the floor beside the window. His clothes were bloody, his face was pale and his eyes were wide and shining. Quickly, he tossed his gun away. "You're a fair man, Liam. Surely you won't shoot an unarmed man...." Liam pulled his gun and cocked it back. "I made it clear what would happen if you harmed my family." Silas opened his mouth, but Liam silenced him with a squeeze of the trigger. The bullet slammed into Silas' forehead but Liam didn't stop. He continued to put bullets into Silas' face until his gun was spent and Silas was an unrecognizable mess on the floor at his feet.7 Liam reloaded his revolver, holstered it and swiped at his cheek before stepping back outside. Kyle met him at the door. His face took on a nice green shade when he glanced over Liam's shoulder and saw Silas. "Damn..... what was I here for?"2 "I don't know." Liam shrugged. "I told you not to come." "Haha..." They mounted their horses. "That was a lot of shots, Liam. We might have drawn attention." "I guarantee we did," Liam agreed. Kyle tipped his head. "No matter what. I'm with you 'til the end." The two men hadn't gone far down the mountain before Liam felt eyes on his back. Figures began materializing from the mist and trees around them. He swallowed hard and remained still and silent on Misty's back. It would seem the end might have found them—in the form of dozens of armed mountain men surrounding them on all sides.7 **** Emma's exhaustion was forgotten. Everyone kept urging her to sit down and rest but how was she supposed to do that? Her husband was on that mountain and, whether anyone here would admit it or not, his life was in danger. "Emma, if you keep pacin' like that you're gonna wear a hole in the floor clear to the orient," Cassandra warned. "Let her pace," Chase grumbled from where he sat at the window, sharpening a knife until it would slice through bone like warm butter. "Her pacing is making me nervous," Cassandra admitted. "Don't scold me, Cassandra! My husband is up on that mountain with plenty of men who wouldn't mind seeing him dead! How would you feel if Ben had gone up there and you were left here to twiddle your thumbs?"3 Cassandra blinked several times and dropped her gaze while Ben patted her hand comfortingly. "I think we're all a bit on edge. Emma, why don't you come sit down here and rest?" Emma threw her hands in the air and let out an angry growl. "I don't need to rest!"2 She stormed to the door, threw it open and strode outside but not before she heard Lauren chastise Ben for being nice. Emma walked out onto the street to resume her pacing. Daylight had arrived hours ago. Where was her husband? Emma was worried sick and damn near ready to hop on Colt and head up on that mountain herself to see what was taking him so long. She heard footsteps behind her and recognized Chase's hand when it fell on her shoulder gently. "They mean well, Emma." "They don't understand..." she whispered. "Sure they do. Liam has a lot of people that love him. A lot of people that are worried about him.. and Kyle is up there too..." Chase added, his voice tightening. Emma's heart hurt in her chest. She turned quickly and threw her good arm around Chase's neck, burying her face in his chest. She wasn't certain if he was comforting her or if she was comforting him as they stood there with passerby's eyeing them with confusion. A throat cleared behind them. "Get your hands off my wife, Chase. I ain't dead yet."38 The sound that left Emma's lips at the sound of Liam's voice was desperate and animalistic. She spun around and threw herself into his waiting arms and Liam held her close to him.+ Holding her washed away all the negative thoughts and emotions he'd been consumed in. Liam needed her and he wasn't ashamed to let everyone around see him clinging to her on the street. He saw Kyle and Chase slip away into the doc's house but he remained where he was, content to simply hold his wife. "Did you....? Did you take care of things?" Emma whispered, her voice muffled against his chest. Liam nodded as he kissed her hair. It wasn't an easy thing to tell your wife that you had killed her father—even if that father had been responsible for nearly killing her. "We won't have to worry about him ever again," Liam promised. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I had to do what I did today and I'm sorry that I didn't do it sooner—if I had, then he never would have been able to...." Emma pulled away and cut him off with a sharp glace. Liam had learned over the months to simply stop talking and listen when she gave him that look. "Liam, I don't blame you for anything. None of it. My father was evil.... But you're not. You didn't want to kill him and no one can fault you for that."2 "But I did kill him," Liam countered. "And there wasn't anything poetic or heroic about it. He was cowering on the floor, covered in blood and I shot him dead." Emma shivered, swallowed hard and averted her gaze a moment. She wrapped her good arm around herself and stared down the road. Liam waited for her to speak. He might have said more than he should have but Emma was the only person he could talk to that way... the only person he felt real comfortable opening up to. Finally, she reached out and took his hand before meeting his gaze with sadness in her blue eyes. "You didn't have a choice, Liam. You are a good man—too good and decent and fair a man to be backed into that corner and left with no choice but to murder a man. My father is to blame for that. He forced your hand." Liam felt the ghost of a smile curve his lips. Without hesitation he pulled her back into his arms. "How'd I get lucky enough to end up with you?" Emma's light laughter filled the morning. "I believe it happened because I stumbled into your barn." "Either way, I'm damn glad." Liam laid his hand over her rounded stomach. He felt the movement of their child—a fluttering beneath his palm. "We've had rough times this year, Emma, but we made it. And come spring we'll have our son here and we won't have a single threat hanging over our heads."1 "I'm glad life will be peaceful for our daughter," Emma replied pointedly, causing Liam to chuckle. Then she bit her lip and his chuckle faded. "But are you sure there are no threats? Won't other mountain men be upset...?"1 Liam recalled the mountain surrounding him and Kyle on the mountain. Damn, he'd been terrified. He'd been so sure they were going to end up dead. "No. We were surrounded on the way back down. I thought they were going to kill us but they thanked us instead. Silas had gotten out of control, unpredictable and violent. And they made it clear they hadn't had any part in his attack on you."9 Emma sighed and Liam swore it seemed like one-hundred tons of weight were suddenly lifted from her shoulders. "So, it's really over then?" she asked. "We can finally stop looking over our shoulders and being afraid?"1 STORY CONTINUES BELOW "Yes, love." Liam stooped low and kissed her lips tenderly. He pulled his lips away slowly and pressed his brow to hers. "It's finally over." There tender moment was interrupted when Lauren burst from the doctor's office and raced down the stairs with William right behind her. "What's going on?" Liam demanded, fearing perhaps his father had taken a bad turn.2 Lauren's eyes were wide and her face was pale beneath her freckles. "It's Antia and Patrick!" she exclaimed.1 "What about them?" Emma urged. When Lauren seemed unable to speak, William threw up his hands. "Hellfire, y'all, they're gettin' married!"68 *** Liam sat on the doctor's steps that afternoon feeling more than a little conflicted and confused. Emma was sleeping soundly in the spare bedroom and Liam was glad for that. She'd been in a lot of pain, pain she'd attempted to hide from everyone, but had been unable to hide from him—he knew her too well.2 Today had been a roller coaster. He'd thought his wife was dead, had found her alive but wounded at her father's hand and had gone up on that mountain and murdered her father without mercy.... Only to come back home and find that his father was marrying his aunt.15 And they hadn't wasted any time.... Ben had married them right there in the doc's house while his father had laid in the hospital bed and she'd sat at his side.2 Liam had known that a relationship had been growing between them but he'd assumed it was mainly friendship—he'd never imagined that the two once sworn bitter enemies, would end up in love with each other!4 Then again, his father wasn't the same man he'd been when they'd last known once another—the past few months had proven that. Liam was overwhelmed... he was more than ready to go home and disappear in the cabin for winter. He needed a bit of peace and solitude—with his wife by his side of course. The door opened behind him and Liam turned to see William coming outside. The boy sat down beside him on the staircase and picked at his pants leg. "Something on your mind?" Liam asked. William shrugged one bony shoulder. "It just seems strange is all." Liam looked out over the bustling street. "People get married all the time, William."1 "Not that." William snorted. "Even though Lauren seemed more than a little surprised by the wedding.... No, I was talking about you killing that man the way you did." Liam tensed. Kyle had told Chase the gory details and Chase, being the man he was, had decided to regale everyone with the tale. "Why does that seem strange to you?" William scratched at his hair. "It's just you were always talking about what made a man but you shot an unarmed man.... It seems strange."1 Liam wanted to get angry, but, William was a child. An impressionable child without much guidance at home—the fact that he'd been away and no one had come looking for him proved that. And Liam supposed it did seem strange to a child. Children tended to see things in black and white—it was only when they matured that they began to see all the gray.1 "A man does what he has to in order to keep his family safe. Pulling a gun and killing someone, taking a life, shouldn't ever be your first choice but sometimes you're left with no options. If I hadn't done what I did, Silas would have killed me eventually, or Emma, or the baby or someone else we cared about.... There is evil in this world that no amount of speaking sense will cure." William nodded. "I wasn't saying that what you did was wrong," he assured him. "I would have killed him too."3 Liam winced. "I truly hope you never get backed into that corner." The two of them sat on the step a while longer. They didn't speak, simply stared off into town. Finally, William stood. "Well, I better be getting back in... Can I say one more thing, Mr. McIntyre?" Liam nodded and waited for the boy to speak. "I sure as hell hope I'm able to be a lot like you when I grow up."31 *** "Home sweet home," Liam announced as he carried Emma into the cabin and kicked the door closed behind them.1 He was quick to carry her through the mess of the kitchen and sitting room and lock both of them away in the comfort of their undisturbed bedroom. "I have a mess to tend to tomorrow," Emma whispered, staring at the closed door. Liam laid her gently on the bed. "I don't reckon you do. I'll take care of it all." "But...." "Don't argue with me. I'm a stubborn man and you'll lose."6 He lit the small lantern in the corner of the room before slipping from his clothes. Liam felt Emma's eyes on him and hunger rushed through him when he looked her way and saw those blue eyes trail up his body. Leaving the lamp on, Liam stalked to the bed. Emma whispered his name as he slowly removed her clothes, piece by piece. Skin on skin, Liam pressed his lips against hers and Emma moaned against him. In that moment he knew. No matter how strange life became—no matter what terrible things they faced, no matter what chaos or oddities happened around them—as long as they could end their days like this, lost in each other's arms—they'd both be just fine. One Year Later "Chase, don't you think you oughta take it easy on the food?" Kyle scolded as Chase dug into his fourth plate of turkey. "You've almost eaten one whole bird yourself." Emma patted Chase on the head as she passed behind him on her way to the sofa. "That's why I made two."4 "You shouldn't encourage him," Kyle warned.1 Emma simply smiled as she walked to the sofa and sat down beside Liam. Liam was watching his father as Patrick bounced their daughter on his knee.15 "We're gonna trot to town," Patrick cooed as Amelia squealed with glee.7 "If she vomits, you get to clean the mess," Anita warned, though the smile on her face made it clear she loved watching Amelia having so much fun. After several more giggle-filled moments of trotting, Patrick heaved out a sigh and let his knee come to a stop. "Papaw has to have a break, little one. You've just about killed the horse."2 Anita swooped in and scooped the girl up. "Come on over here then, girlie and we'll talk a while." Amelia let out an angry grumble and reached her chubby fists toward Patrick. "I believe she's trying to say papaw," Patrick stated. "No, she's not," Liam countered. "If she's going to say anything it's dada." "Sorry to disappoint everyone but she already said my name," Chase spoke through a mouthful of turkey and potatoes.4 "No she didn't," Anita scoffed. Chase's brow furrowed. "Yeah she did," he countered indignantly. "She looked right at me and said, 'Uncle Chase'."9 Kyle shook his head as he glanced up from the book he was reading. "That was a burp, Chase. The girl had gas."21 Chase stuck his tongue out at the other man and tossed a bean at him. Kyle plucked the bean off his shirt and plopped it in his mouth before turning his attention back to the book in his hands.2 The discussion was interrupted by footsteps on the porch. The door opened, bringing in the cold December air with it. "It's colder than a hog's rump out there!" Cassandra declared, shaking snow from her wild hair. Ben took her coat from her shoulders and kissed her red cheek. "Go stand by the stove and get warm," he urged. Cassandra put her hands on her large swollen belly and did just that.1 "Where's Lauren? I thought she was coming out with you?" Emma asked as she joined Cassandra by the fire. "She's at her fella's house for Christmas. He invited her over. I believe Anita's gonna have one less girl in a year or two. William seems bound and determined to marry our Lauren."7 Anita waved her free hand, while Amelia tugged at her necklace. "I don't worry about Lauren. That girl is more than capable of taking of herself. And, if William is brave enough to spend his life with her, then she could definitely do worse." The cabin was filled with laughter and conversation and Emma loved it. She loved the quiet that usually filled it as well, but, every now and then, it was nice to have everyone together this way. She had her husband, their daughter and family and friends that she knew she could count on for anything.1 Life was truly more wonderful than she ever could have imagined it would be. And it was about to get better.1 After the festivities wound down and everyone left, Emma and Liam put Amelia down to sleep before settling down on the sofa to stare into the fire. Emma chewed on her lip as she wondered how to tell Liam what she'd only learned for herself two days before.1 Liam's chest rumbled beneath her head. He put his finger under her chin and tilted her head up so he could look into her eyes. "When are you gonna get around to tell me we're going to have another babe? I've been waiting but you're keeping the news about our son to yourself."6 Emma smiled, feeling her heart swell with joy. "A son, huh? Are you sure you want to start saying that already? I believe I'm the one who got it right last time."1 Liam shrugged. "I figure if I keep saying boy eventually I'll be right."9 Emma kissed him lightly. "So, you're happy?" "Hell, woman, I'm more than happy. This family is my world. You know that." Emma nestled herself against his chest once more, loving the sound of his heart beating beneath her ear. She took his hand in hers and threaded her fingers around his. "You're wrong again though," she warned. Liam kissed her hair. "Am I?" "Yes." "Girl again?" "Nope." Emma smiled. "This time it's twins." 68 A/N: We've reached the end of "Love Her Softly".

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