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LOVE HER SOFTLY CHAPTER 6

LOVE HER SOFTLY CHAPTER 7
Emma shivered upon the dirt floor of her father's shack. Fear, pain and cold had her body wracking as she wrapped her arms tight around herself and watched the angry giant pace.+ "All these years, I've provided fer ya, cared fer ya, made sure ya had food and clothes and how do ya repay me?" he snarled. He walked close and stooped low, the scent of liquor thick on his breath. "By turnin' into a whore! A jezebel! Runnin' away from me when I needed ya most and spreadin' yer legs for a valley man!"22 Emma knew that nothing she said would ease his temper. There was no way to reason with Silas Hawke when he was in a drunken rage. Her father let out another angry growl and swung his hand, catching her sharply on the jaw. Emma let out a whimpering cry as her body was tossed sideways. She curled into herself upon the floor and sobbed into the dirt. There was not a place on her body that did not hurt. Her father's angry fists and feet had shown her no mercy. Her gaze kept returning to the exact spot on the shack floor where her mother had died. Was that to be her fate as well? As her father moved away and resumed his agitated pacing, Emma closed her eyes and tried to block out the pain. An image of Liam flashed through her mind. No doubt the man was frantic with worry but Emma doubted he would find her in time. She was almost certain her father had killed Chase and so there would be no one to tell Liam who had taken her. Feeling despair threatening to overtake her, Emma forced her mind to other things. She thought of the life she'd been building. Anita, Lauren and Sally. She thought about the reading lessons she would never finish. The pies she would never bake. She thought of Liam and wondered what could have happened for them. What would their future have been had her father not found her? A faint smile curved her lips as Emma thought about the dance. The way Liam had seemed so proud and happy to be holding her close and spinning her around. She thought of the way he had looked at her—she'd felt truly special and cherished all evening. And she hadn't been nearly as afraid as she thought she would be. Chase and Kyle had been good men, just as Liam had said, and everyone at the dance had been cordial and polite. No one had judged her or hated her simply because she was an outsider—no one, that is, except Bethany. Anger began to fill her. Emma did not want to die.3 She wanted to go back to the life she'd been building. Back to her friends and back to Liam. What right did her drunk of a father have to take that away from her? Slowly, achingly, Emma pushed herself to her feet, using the rough wall behind her to take pressure from her trembling legs. She edged toward the door. Emma had no doubt that she was not strong enough to make it off the mountain.... She would die out there in her attempt to escape. But at least she would die fighting for her freedom. She would not simply allow this man—or any man—to take her life without a fight.4 Emma was barely able to take more than three wobbly steps before her father turned and snarled. "Where do ya think yer goin'?" "Back....." Emma voice trembled and she took a deep breath, certain her heart was going to pound clear out of her chest. "I'm...g...goin' back to town."1 STORY CONTINUES BELOW Silas strode toward her, his hot breath stale and foul against her face. "Why? So ya can be his whore some more? Yer pa needs ya here!" Emma was shivering so violently her teeth clicked together—but she couldn't back down. She was dead if she stayed here... sadly, she was dead if she left as well. "I... I'm goin' back to Liam, pa..." "Liam!" Silas raised his fist and Emma prepared herself for the pain of his strike, but, it never came. Before his angry hand could fall, a voice called out from the darkness outside. "Silas Hawke! Come on out and have a talk with me!"11 Liam!Hope blossomed inside Emma, but, at the same time, so did fear. What if her father hurt him? Emma wasn't worth that! She wouldn't be able to stand it if something happened to Liam because of her!1 Her father's face paled beneath his dark beard. He backed away from her and his eyes darted around the one room shack, obviously hoping for an escape.1 "Open the door, Silas," Liam called, his voice even and calm. "Don't make me open it myself." Emma could tell her father was afraid. It was something she had never seen her father be before. She hadn't known he was capable of fear. It made her feel somehow less powerless to know that Silas Hawke was not as indestructible as she'd thought he was.2 "Why are ya here, Liam?" Silas bellowed from behind the closed door. "You know why I'm here, Silas," Liam replied, his voice still as calm as a mountain pond. "Give Emma back to me." Emma's heart stuttered inside her chest. He was here for her... she'd known it but to hear him say it—it caused a thrill to shoot through her like she'd never known. But she couldn't stand to see him hurt—not for her. "Pa... pa, just let me go..." Emma whispered. Silas snarled, spat on the dirt floor and grabbed her by the arm. Emma let out a painful yelp and felt herself being dragged to the door. Her pa threw it open and there was Liam, sitting atop his horse about ten feet away. Emma also saw Kyle and a man who she believed was a preacher in town. Also there, though appearing quite weak and bloody in the saddle was an older man—probably fifties—who featured Liam a great deal. The man who had given her to her father—and then attempted to get her away from the man when he realized Silas was violent and crazy. She knew the man was Liam's father.2 "Let her go, Silas," Liam growled, his voice lowering to little more than a harsh whisper as he stiffened upon Honey. "She belongs to me, Liam. Ya have no rights up here on this mountain! Ya ride in here and try to take my daughter and I'll kill ya—then I'll kill her fer causing me so much damn trouble." Liam slid from the saddle and stood with his hand hovering above his gun. "Are ya gonna shoot me, boy?" Silas sneered, though Emma could hear the tremor in his voice and she could see the way his lip shook beneath his mustache. Emma couldn't allow that... if Liam shot Silas then the entire mountain would swoop down and end his life. Folks settled their own disputes around here. There was no law to turn to and no one would be able to save Liam. He would die. "Don't Liam..." Emma whispered, meeting his gaze through the tangled brown hair hanging over her face, stuck to the blood. "He's not worth killin'." "Is that right, ya little whore?" Silas demanded. Emma wasn't sure where her bravery came from. She lifted her head to look her father in the eye despite the pain in her aching body. "Yeah, that's right. Ya murdered my mama... I won't let ya or any of the men on this mountain, murder Liam too." Then she spat. On her father's face.21 What was she thinking? Instantly the man roared with rage. Cries of alarm rang out from the men on horseback. Emma was faintly aware of Liam calling her name. And then her father's fist slammed into her face and the world went black. *** The moment Silas' fist sent Emma's head snapping back and the woman fell to the cold, hard ground, Liam's rage overwhelmed him. He leapt forward, surprising Silas and slamming into the man with so much force, both of them were propelled backward into the cabin and crashed to the floor. Liam swung his fists like hammers, intent on driving Silas Hawke six feet under the ground. Only when hands closed on his arm and yanked him off of Silas did Liam fully realize what he'd been doing. He'd been killing the man. He couldn't murder Silas Hawke—no matter how badly that son of a bitch deserved to die. Liam had never been the violent type or the kind that used violence to solve disputes. If he murdered Silas now, the men on this mountain would find him and they would hang him. There was no doubt about that. His only option was to do something he wasn't sure that Emma wouldn't hate him for tomorrow. He had to marry her... even if he couldn't fully wake her up. He had to become her husband so the mountain men would see her as his property instead of Silas'. Only then could he take her off this mountain. Patrick and Ben would go door to door tonight and announce the marriage, serving as witness so that Silas would not be able to lie tomorrow.6 Everyone on the mountain would take the word of a fellow mountain man and a holy man. Silas would not be believed if he attempted to call the wedding a sham. But that's exactly what it was.. it wasn't what Liam had wanted for Emma at all. He couldn't worry about that now. Glancing around at the dirty, ramshackle cabin with broken furniture and cracked walls, Liam cursed under his breath. This is what Emma had grown up in. He vowed that she would always have everything she ever needed and all she wanted as well. Liam saw his father leaning over Emma's still form and he quickly rushed over to her. Dropping to his knees, Liam lifted her into his lap and pushed her tangled hair from her blood and dirt streaked face. The bruises, welts and swelling were enough to turn his stomach. What kind of man did that to his daughter? "Emma?" Liam whispered. She moaned but did not awaken. "Dear God....." Ben gasped as he too stepped into the cabin and glanced around. "That poor poor woman..." "Liam, I think you damn near killed old Silas," Kyle informed him.1 Liam merely grunted. "Liam...." Patrick began as he wrung his hat in his hands. "I'm sorry... I didn't know. I swear that to you."4 "I'll deal with you later," Liam promised, causing his father to pale beneath his bruises and back up slightly. "I had my doubts about doing this for you," Ben admitted with a tip of his head. "I don't normally condone performing weddings without exact permission or willfulness from both parties, however....." Ben's eyes went to Silas and then back to Emma. "I've heard about you and this woman. I've heard the whispers that you're in love and she loves you just as much. And to save her from that man...." Ben let out a sigh and nodded, pushing his glasses up on his nose. "Let's begin the ceremony."8 Kyle clicked his tongue. "The big man's starting to come around. Let's tie him up real good before we start. We don't want him objecting with violence." Deep aching pain greeted Emma when she returned to consciousness. Each breath was agonizing and her body felt raw, her face swollen.3 Slowly, Emma opened her eyes and took in her surroundings. She recognized where she was immediately. Liam's cabin. But how? The last thing she remembered was her father's angry fist colliding with her face and Liam's angry yell. Why was she here? Had Liam killed her father? Was Liam alright? Turning her head to the right, Emma nearly cried out in surprise when she saw a chair pulled close to the bed and Liam sprawled out upon it, his chin on his chest, sleeping soundly. He was still wearing the trousers and shirt he'd worn to the dance. They were dirty and tattered in places. Her eyes dropped to his hands and she winced when she saw his bloody and battered knuckles. Emma shifted under the fur she was covered in and froze. Where were her clothes? For the second time she was waking up unclothed in Liam's cabin with no idea how she had gotten to be there.1 "Liam?" she whispered, finding that it hurt to even move her lips to speak. She could only imagine what she looked like thanks to her father's fists. Instantly, Liam's brown eyes opened and he closed the distance between them, his fingertips tracing the line of her jaw tenderly. "It's good to see your eyes, Emma." Emma flushed and nibbled at her lip. "H...how did I get here? Where are my clothes?" It was Liam's turn to redden as he pulled away, rubbed his hands on his thighs and pushed himself to his feet. "I uh.. I went up on the mountain and got you," he replied. "And the doctor took your clothes off so he could tend to your ribs and bruises. Aunt Anita and the girls came out this morning to bring you some things." Quickly, Liam turned away and strode to the kitchen. Emma took a moment to look beneath the blanket and realized she was wrapped tight around the middle with white cloth. Her ribs were hurting terribly. She wondered if her father had broken them.1 Laying the blanket back down, Emma watched Liam fill a bowl with stew that smelled delicious. He came back to the bed and returned to the chair. "Can you sit up at all?" he asked. Emma nodded. Liam sat the bowl on the small nightstand and helped her up so she was leaning against the headboard. She took steadying, painful breaths. "It hurts to move—and breathe." She saw Liam's eyes flash and his jaw jumped. His nostrils flared as he took the bowl in his hands. "Yeah. The doc said you've got some cracked ribs and a few bruised ones." Emma chewed her lip and smiled shyly as Liam brought the spoon to her mouth. She quickly swallowed the bite and her stomach roared to life. "How long have I been here?" she asked. "It's afternoon and I brought you here last night. The doc assured me you'd wake up after a good rest. I was getting worried though." Liam nudged the refilled spoon closer to her mouth. "Eat. You need food." Emma rolled her eyes at his bossiness but did as he said because she was hungry. "Liam? How did ya get me here?" "On horseback," he muttered, shifting uncomfortably as his eyes left hers. Uneasiness filled her. "Is he.... Did ya kill him?" She hoped not. Not because she cared about the life of the man who had murdered her mother, but because Liam would have a bounty on his head from those mountain men if he had. STORY CONTINUES BELOW Liam shook his head and fed her another spoonful. "No. He's not dead. Kyle stopped me before I could beat him lifeless." Her gaze dropped to his knuckles. That explained those. "What..." She bit her lip and dropped her gaze. "What did ya do then? He'll come for ya with men for stealing me, Liam.... He'll...." "You don't belong to him, Emma," Liam grumbled. "I do," she insisted, wincing at the pain in her chest. "According to mountain laws I do belong to him." Liam refilled the spoon and fed her another bite before responding. "Not anymore." Emma frowned. What was he talking about? "Liam.....What did ya do?" Liam stared into the bowl in his hands. He cleared his throat once...twice... cracked his neck and shrugged one shoulder. "I did what I had to do, Emma. I couldn't let him kill you and I couldn't kill him or steal you without putting a bounty on both our heads...." "Liam?" Emma was surprised to realize his hands was shaking as he held up a spoonful of stew. "I took Ben with me...the new preacher in town...." Emma knew of him but why would Liam had taken Ben? Liam let out a shaking breath. "I'm your husband, Emma.... And I'm gonna do all I can to be a good one."1 The breath left Emma's lungs in a rush. Husband? She was a wife? She hadn't agreed to that! She hadn't agreed to be a slave to a man... a cook and a breeding factory!15 She didn't want her mother's life! "How could you!?" she yelled, surprising even herself with the volume of her voice and regretting it immediately as pain radiated through her.7 The spoon in Liam's hand stopped on its journey to her mouth. His dark eyes seemed confused. "I had to," he reminded her. "It was the only way." "No.... No, I don't... I...How could ya do that to me?" Liam dropped the spoon back into the bowl as his face paled and he stood up. "Hell, lady. I didn't... I didn't think...." "Ya didn't think what?" Emma demanded. Liam shook his head. "Hell, I didn't think you'd be so damn bothered by the thought of being my wife." Emma pulled the blanket tighter around her. "And what of my marital duties? Did ya already see to that while I was sleepin'?"17 Emma regretted the words instantly. Why had she said such a thing?! Hurt and anger contorted Liam's features. But instead of storming toward her, he headed for the door. "If you could think something like that about me then perhaps I did make a mistake."3 Without giving Emma time to respond, Liam tossed the bowl on the table and stormed from the cabin, slamming the door behind him. Emma simply sat there in shock for several long moments and then the tears began to fall. Tears of confusion, of hurt, of guilt, of pain..... More had happened than she could process. She'd been truly enjoying herself at the dance and then Liam's father had shown up with her father and everything had changed. She'd been taken, beaten and certain that she would die. STORY CONTINUES BELOW Until Liam had arrived. He had saved her life—but he had also trapped her. She was now a wife. She was once again a possession. Liam had taken ownership of her without ever asking if she wished him to.2 As Emma sat there, swiping at her tears, she thought back on the dance and on the times she'd spent with Liam. He had saved her life when he'd found her in his barn. He'd fed her, taken her to town, put her in good hands with Anita and the girls—and he had shown true care and concern for her since. He made her smile and laugh. He was warm and thoughtful. Strong but kind and peaceful. She loved him. But marriage.... Marriage had always been a nightmare in her mind. She'd seen her mother's marriage and had met some of the men that her father had been thinking of marrying her off to. Emma had decided that she never wanted a marriage of her own. But Liam wasn't those men. Liam wasn't her father.5 Marriage to Liam might not be the nightmare she'd grown up believing marriage to be. Marriage to Liam could be good...1 Why had she been such a monster to him?! How could she accuse him of such a thing? Emma could only pray she hadn't hurt him so badly that he decided he no longer wished to be with her.2 She had to speak to him... she needed to go find him. But first she needed clothes. Liam had mentioned Anita and the girls bringing her clothes. It was then that Emma noticed a small wardrobe against the wall beside the fireplace. That hadn't been there the last time Emma had been in the cabin.4 Very gingerly, Emma got to her feet, focusing on breathing through the pain in her body. Honestly, she had had worse before—but that never made it seem easier. Emma wrapped the blanket tight around her, went to the wardrobe and pulled open the door. An envelope with her name written on it was tacked to the inside of the door. The wardrobe was also full of more dresses, skirts and blouses than Emma had ever seen altogether except in a shop. Was it all hers? She took down the envelope and pulled it open, recognizing Liam's handwriting scrawled across the paper inside. Knowing there was no one to read the letter for her, Emma called hard on all she'd learned in the last few weeks. It took a long while and a lot of stumbling over words and sounding things out, but Emma finally read Liam's letter and, when she finished, her heart ached to feel him holding he so she could apologize for her own foolish fear. My Emma,1 I'm sorry that this has happened. I'm sorry he got you. I'm sorry I had to do what I did to save you. I couldn't think of another way. But I'm not sorry that I'm your husband. At the dance I was going to ask you to be my wife but never got the chance. I hope you aren't too upset, Emma. I will be a good husband to you. I never thought I would meet a woman who made me want to give my heart to her but you are that woman.9 The clothes in this wardrobe are yours. You'll find a white dress. It's a special one. I want to give you the wedding you should have had.... That is, if you want it. Always Yours Liam1 STORY CONTINUES BELOW Emma had to talk to him. She had to apologize. She loved Liam. And she knew he loved her as well. Things might not have gone the way she'd have liked them to but when in life did things ever go just so? She had a good husband—one who would be good to her. It wasn't fair that she had been so cruel to him. Laying the letter down, Emma went back to the clothes and picked out a blue blouse and brown skirt. She slid into clean underclothes, got dressed and slowly headed out the door, hoping the pain wouldn't overwhelm her. Emma walked to the barn but instead of finding Liam, she found herself face to face with his father—Patrick. "Miss Emma..." He seemed surprised to see her and Emma was uncomfortable. She wrapped her arms carefully around herself and glanced outside, wondering if she was safe with him. "Please, don't be afraid of me. I reckon I probably need to talk with you." Emma nodded slowly and stared down at her feet. "Okay." Patrick leaned against the rake in his hands and sighed. "First, I owe you an apology. I swear to you I didn't know Silas was that kind of man. We hadn't seen each other since we were boys." Emma merely shrugged. She didn't know what else to say or do. Patrick rapped the end of the rake on the floor several times and cleared his throat. "I thought I was protecting my son..." Emma looked at him with a frown. "Protectin' him from what?" "A woman who would break his heart," Patrick replied as if that much would be obvious.5 Emma shook her head. "I wouldn't do that to Liam."12 Patrick rubbed at his neck in a motion that reminded Emma of his son. He blew out a long breath. "I should explain... I reckon I owe you that much." Emma winced as she adjusted her weight and Patrick was quick to take her arm. "Are you okay?" She stared at his hand on her arm and quickly pulled away. "I've had worse," she whispered. Patrick grunted. "I wasn't a good husband to Liam's mother.. and I wasn't a good father. I tended to do what I wanted and I rode the trails instead of being with them when they needed me. But I loved my wife and I was never unfaithful to her. I never touched another woman. I honored my vows."4 Emma looked at him, taking in the pain etched deep in the lines of his face. "And your wife?" "Wasn't as honorable," Patrick mumbled. "She died after giving birth to Liam's brother. The babe died first and moments later, my wife took her last breath as well. But not before letting me know the dead babe swaddled in my arms wasn't truly mine."7 Immediately pity for Patrick roared to life inside Emma's heart. She tried to remind herself that Patrick was the man who had nearly caused her death the night before, but the pain in the old man's eyes made that easy to forget. "I'm sorry that happened to ya," Emma whispered. "But I won't be that wife to yer son." Patrick appeared unconvinced but he smiled and tipped his head. "I hope you're right."1 Emma attempted to turn around, intent on leaving the barn and finding Liam, but the twisting motion caused pain to radiate throughout her chest and she cried out. Emma would have fallen had Patrick not caught her gently in his arms and supported her weight. "You shouldn't be up moving around," he scolded. "What's going on?" Liam's voice came from the doorway. Patrick turned so they were facing him. Emma felt herself flush with shame when she looked at his face, still so angry and filled with hurt. She truly had been a fool. "She shouldn't be out here, Liam," Patrick told his son. "She's not nearly well enough to be walking around." "I didn't realize she'd get out of bed," Liam assured him. He took Emma's arm and she felt her heart beating faster as her body was pressed against his. She felt safe, warm and protected pulled to his side this way. "I'm sorry," she quietly spoke up. "I wanted to talk with ya." Liam nodded but his gaze remained on Patrick. "I should beat the life out of you for what you did to Emma," he stated bluntly. Emma opened her mouth to speak but Liam spoke again before she could utter a word. "But I'm not going to. Partly because you really seem sorry for what you did and partly because Silas already knocked you around pretty good. I'm leaving to go on a job with Nathan Black. He wants my help running some cattle up to fill an army contract. I'll be gone a good solid month. While I'm gone, I'll want you to keep an eye on this place and Emma. I'll also have Anita checking in and Kyle and Chase will keep an eye on things."4 "I won't let you down, Liam," Patrick promised, seeming surprised by his son's words.1 Emma was even more surprised. Liam was leaving? After last night? After they had just become husband and wife? He was going to leave her and be gone for a month with no warning?1 "I know you won't," Liam replied to his father, the threat clear to be heard in his voice. Emma remained silent as he led her to the house. She didn't say a word as he closed the door behind them and helped her back to the bed. "You need to take it easy while I'm gone, Emma. Let yourself heal," he warned, not meeting her gaze. Emma cleared her throat. "I got yer letter." Liam simply nodded as he began to toss things into a leather satchel. "I wrote it before I knew how you felt."1 Chewing her lip, Emma looked down at her fidgeting hands. "Do ya have to leave?" "Yes." His coldness froze Emma clear to the bone. She'd never heard that tone in his voice before—not when speaking to her. "I promised a friend I'd help with a job and I keep my word."1 "But.. I just thought.. with everything that happened...." Liam tossed the satchel over his shoulder and grabbed his rifle from beside the door. "I have to go, Emma. You can either stay here or go back into town. Just don't travel alone." Emma's heart broke as Liam reached for the door handle. She was hurt and angry and confused. Why was Liam acting this way? He needed to stay so they could talk and get to know one another better.. they were husband and wife now!1 "Is this how it's going to be, Liam? Are ya going to be like him? Will ya come and go as ya wish and leave me alone our whole lives together?"17 Liam's back was to her but Emma saw his shoulders stiffen. Once again she was left regretting her words. Never had Emma been one to speak so bluntly or be cruel. Liam's voice was little more than a low growl when he responded. "I don't know. Are you going to be a whore that dies giving birth to another man's child?"58 With that, Liam walked out of the cabin and slammed the door so forcefully behind him, Emma was sure the walls rattled. She curled into herself upon the bed and sobbed, despite the pain that sobbing caused in her chest. What had happened to them? They had gone from sharing kisses, laughs and gentle touches to sharing cold glances, angry spats and hurtful words. Most of which were her fault.12 Liam had gone from loving her to hating her and Emma had no idea what she would do to earn his affection back.23 hmmm..Emma didn't move from the bed much at all the rest of the day. She was miserable and heartbroken. She needed to speak with Liam but he was gone—he'd ridden out after storming from the cabin.+ And now she was alone. She had thought about going back into town and living there until Liam returned—but she couldn't make that trip until her ribs healed a bit. She would never stand the pain of walking or riding that long journey on the bumpy road. And, she wasn't sure she should leave. If she left and Liam returned, what kind of message did that send him? Emma didn't want to cause him any more pain. No, she was his wife. Her name was now Emma McIntyre. And she would do what a wife was expected to do. She would keep the house up and wait patiently for her husband to return. Emma was imagining what might be said between, when suddenly the cabin door opened and Patrick stepped in. That familiar unease swept through her. Liam was not around. Patrick had already attempted to get rid of her once. Would he do it again? Or would he attempt to hurt her? "Don't be scared of me," Patrick insisted as he took off his gun belt and coat and hung both on a hook by the door. "You're my daughter-in-law now. That makes us family." Emma hadn't thought of it like that. Patrick stoked up the fire and glanced toward the kitchen. "Are you hungry, Emma? I probably should have come in and made you something earlier. I'll admit I'm new to thinking about somebody else—that's something my son and I have in common." Emma frowned. "Liam is a good man...." "I know that," Patrick assured her as he pulled several potatoes from a bin beneath a cabinet. "But he isn't used to thinking about someone else before he makes decisions. Don't pretend you aren't bothered that he went on that job today." Emma merely looked down at the blanket covering her legs. Patrick sighed. "Today was a bad day. You were both thrown into something that you weren't quite ready for and both of you handled it poorly. But you have a month to rest, heal and think about things. I'm sure when Liam comes back, you'll both be back to being the happy, smiling couple I saw at the dance."3 Emma felt herself smiling despite her own doubts. She really truly wanted Patrick to be right. Patrick smiled, his leathery cheeks wrinkling more deeply. "Now, allow me to whip you up some supper. I ain't much of a cook but I can fry a mean potato and I can heat up beans. I hope that'll suit you."5 Emma nodded, feeling more comfortable with the man's presence than she had moments ago. Surely he was no danger to her—not any longer. "That sounds good to me. Thank you, Patrick." Patrick shrugged off the gratitude. "Don't mention it. I owe you a hell of a lot more than one lousy supper."1 *** The next morning found Emma even more sore than she'd been the day before. She knew she needed to get up and move around. Patrick had slept in the barn the night before and hadn't yet been in the house. Perhaps Emma could cook him breakfast as a thank you for cooking supper for her. She wanted to ensure that their relationship wasn't stuck in the past and tainted by his mistake. He truly seemed sorry for what he'd done and she understood that in his own way, he honestly had thought he was helping his son by sending her back to her father. STORY CONTINUES BELOW Besides, the past was the past and nothing could be done to change it. She was Liam's wife now which meant Patrick was her father-in-law... Emma had never had a father who truly cared for her—maybe Patrick could one day be that for her. She was just placing the eggs, potatoes, gravy and bread on the table when Patrick stepped inside. "Well, I'll be....." he muttered as he pulled off his hat and hung it by the door. "As thankful as my stomach is to see breakfast ready, I promised Liam you wouldn't overdo yourself while he was gone." Emma's lips curved in a hint of a smile. "It's only breakfast. I didn't chop wood." Patrick chuckled. "Please stay out of the woodshed."1 Emma motioned at the table. "Are ya going to eat?" "Of course I am! Join me?" As Emma sat down across from Patrick at the table she couldn't help but feel slightly awkward and unsure. She had nearly cleaned her plate when the sound of an approaching cart had Patrick rising. Fear blossomed in her chest when the man kept his hand on the revolver on his hip as he stepped toward the window and lifted the corner of the curtain. He let out a sigh and smiled as he turned to face her. "It's only Sally and Clarence." A visitor! Emma had never entertained visitors before. She should have made more breakfast... there wasn't enough for two more people to eat. "You look scared as a mouse in a snake den," Patrick scolded gently. "Sally's your friend, isn't she? She probably just wants to check on you." Emma nodded, scolding herself for being foolish. Her father had always had her mother do the entertaining for his loud, mean friends and Emma had heard her mother take more than one beating over not being a good hostess. Emma wouldn't want to disappoint Liam that way. "Come on in!" Patrick called when the knock sounded on the door. Sally burst in, took one look at Emma and began to sob. She rushed forward and pulled Emma into a gentle hug. "I'm so sorry you got hurt, Emma!" "It's not yer fault," Emma replied, patting her back and glancing helplessly at Patrick. Long hugs were uncomfortable and awkward for her. "I know but I encouraged you to go to the dance...I worked hard to help talk Liam into taking you. If I hadn't done that...." Patrick stepped forward. "The only one to blame here for what happened is me," he insisted, his voice tightening. Sally glared at him. "You are right about that." She pulled away from Emma and smiled. "Lauren wanted to come but once she found out Patrick was here, Anita wouldn't let her." Emma folded her hands in front of her. "Why not?" "Because Lauren was sharpening her knife, that's why not."39 Patrick swallowed hard and grabbed his hat from the hook. "I'll step outside and see if Clarence is nicer company," he grumbled, before plopping his hat on his head and leaving the cabin.5 Emma bit her lip. "He truly does seem like a decent man."1 Sally snorted. "He has a lot to prove before I'll believe that. And you really aren't the most reliable judge of a good man, Emma—considering the only man you grew up with to judge them all by is a raging alcoholic with bad hygiene and heavy fists."4 STORY CONTINUES BELOW Emma sighed. Sally was certainly blunt, but she was a good friend. "So what brings ya out here?" Emma asked, as she led Sally to the small sofa and the two ladies sat down. "I just wanted to visit my friend," Sally replied, her gaze dropping momentarily. "How are you, Emma? You look.... Tired."1 Emma flushed. She knew she looked terrible. She'd avoided the one tiny mirror attached to the wash basin. She could tell by the swelling and soreness in her face that her father had done quite a bit of damage. She didn't want to know just how ugly she was. "It hurts," she replied honestly. "But Liam saved my life. He got there just in time." "Oh yes." Sally smiled. "The marriage heard 'round the world."2 Emma's gaze dropped to her folded hands. "Does everyone know about that?" Sally nodded. "Yes. Town might be growing every day but word still travels fast—especially word about Liam. He's well known in town for being a mysterious loner. Of course people are shocked that he took a wife so quickly after meeting you." Emma felt her heart break. "Yes.. well... I'm sure he is wishing he hadn't."Sally gasped. "Why on earth would you say that? If there was ever a man in love, it's Liam McIntyre. The whole world can see it when he looks at you!" Emma stood slowly, whimpering in pain as she went to the window and glanced out at the flowing grassy valley behind the cabin. "I was a monster to him yesterday, Sally. I didn't take learning I was a wife well and I said things—accused him of things..." She chewed her lip. "Liam hates me now." "No he doesn't." "Yes, he does!" Emma insisted. "Ya weren't here. Ya didn't hear me... And he's gone now, isn't he? He couldn't get out of here fast enough." Sally joined Emma at the window and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Emma, this job has been lined up for quite a while. Liam had been determined to go, then wasn't going to because you were unconscious, but he must have changed his mind when you woke up...." "Because I was mean..." "Oh hush! Liam is a strong, independent, grown man. He isn't going to pout and run away because someone says something mean and hurts his feelings. This job is paying him very very well and I'm sure he's thinking about the future. He has a wife to support now. He needs money to do that." Emma felt a tear slip down her cheek as she turned to face her friend. "Do ya truly think he'll forgive me?" Sally laughed lightly as she swiped the tear away. "I'm sure he already has. You were tired and in pain and confused and tempers can flare when that happens. By the time he comes home, Liam will be so happy to see your face again, he won't even remember what happened when he left."14 Emma's lips curved in a hopeful smile. Sally took her hand and tugged her gently back toward the sofa. "Now, come on. Let's sit down because I have to talk with you about something."1 Emma didn't like the uneasiness that had suddenly entered Sally's voice. "Is something wrong?" "No... not exactly." Sally sat down and began to pluck at her skirt. "Clarence is moving east... he has some family that way and he wants to work on his music there." Sally met her gaze. "I'm going with him. We were wed this morning and we're heading out of town now. We wanted to stop here on the way—I wanted to stop here on the way."8 Emma's heart dropped into her feet and her throat clogged with emotion. "But.... I..." Emma wanted so badly to tell Sally that she couldn't go. That Emma needed her to stay. But she couldn't do that. Sally had lived a hard life before coming to Anita's and she'd been at Anita's longer than any other girl before just waiting for a life of her own to find her. And it had. Just as life had found Emma. So she plastered a shaky smile on her face and took Sally's hand. "I'm happy for ya." Sally's face lit up. "Are you really? I was nervous to tell you. I thought you'd be angry or feel like I was abandoning you.... Clarence asked me to marry him this morning because he couldn't stand the thought leaving without me." Emma chewed on her lip and fought back her tears. "I'm going to miss ya... I can't lie about that. But I am happy for ya. Ya deserve to be happy." Sally leaned forward and hugged Emma once again. "I'll message you whenever I can while we're traveling, Emma. And once we're settled down we'll write constantly." Emma nodded as Sally pulled away. "Of course. You were my first true friend, Sally, and I'll never forget that."4 The two women sat and talked a while longer before Sally finally stood and said she had to be going. Emma walked her onto the porch and wrapped her arms tight around herself as she watched Clarence help Sally into the cart and her friend disappeared from view. "You okay there, Emma?" Patrick asked, rubbing at his neck and shifting his feet. Clearly he was uncomfortable and the movement reminded Emma so much of Liam that she could no longer hold back her tears.She raced back inside, curled up upon the bed and sobbed into the pillow. She wouldn't see Liam again for at least a month and there was a good chance she would never see Sally again. Patrick stepped into the cabin, shuffled his feet as if wanting to say something and then walked back out, closing the door gently behind him.4 Emma cried a good long while before picking herself back up off the bed and drying her face. She was determined to be strong. Emma would focus on getting better and allowing her body to heal and soon Liam would be back and everything would be okay again—she had to believe that.6

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