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Dire Warning

 
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Bridget McAlister
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2017 7:47 pm    Post subject: Dire Warning Reply with quote

Life as a married woman had settled down surprisingly well for Bridget McAlister. No longer a single, poor, unemployed nobody, she had found employment, a home, and a husband all in the course of a single day, and since being brought to Oakham Mount Ranch, she had managed to secure herself the coveted position of ladiesmaid to the mistress of the house. Jemima liked her honesty, and in return, Bridget was trusted with certain confidences that no one else enjoyed. Today, however, those confidences had taken a frightening turn, confirmed when Bridget overheard a conversation between Mr. Rogier, the master of the house, and Chad Dobson, his obsequious go-to man. As soon as she was done with her morning chores, she convinced Maud to cover for her, hurrying out of the house to seek out her husband, Sam, wherever he was on the ranch. He needed to know what she had overheard, if only so he would not be shocked when news came to them later.

Fortunately, she was lucky enough to catch him before he headed out of the barn to rustle up the hands and lead the cattle out to pasture. He was surprised to see her, to say the least, and pleasantly so, until he saw the look on her face and realized her visit was a serious one. "What's wrong?" he asked worriedly, seeing that look on her face. "What's happened?" His thoughts went immediately to Dobson, thinking the man had finally made good on his threat and done something to hurt her, but he had only just left her a short while ago to start his day, and she looked worried, but unharmed.

A little breathless, Bridget grasped his arm, offering a tense smile to the other men as she pulled her husband out of earshot. "Somethin' bad is goin' to happen at that Brambles place you told me about," she told him, her voice thick with worry. "Miss Jemima was supposed to go there today for some reason, and Mr. Rogier ordered her not to. He told her they wouldn't be in the mood for visitors, and she thinks he's going to send Dobson to do something dreadful."

"Why the hell would he do that?" Sam asked, once they were out of earshot of the other hands. He knew how Rogier coveted the land the Brambles was situated on, but he didn't think he'd resort to something underhanded in order to obtain it. Would he? Then again, just how well did he know Rogier or Dobson?

"I don't know, do I?" she protested softly, looking around them, worried someone would overhear her. "But as I was comin' past the master's study, I heard him talkin' to Dobson, and ... Sam, he said somethin' about killin' children. The master, he told Dobson to break them any way he could, and Dobson said best way to do that was to kill the little'uns. By fire, he said."

"You must have misheard him, Bridge," Sam insisted, though now that she's mentioned it, he wouldn't be able to rest until he found out for himself. He wouldn't be able to forgive himself if it was true, and he'd stood back and done nothing.

The look he got from his fiery wife for suggesting that was almost as bad as being slapped by her. "Oh, aye? You want to risk the lives of your Marin's little'uns on thinkin' that your wife needs her ears washin' out, do you?" she asked him pointedly. "But that's not the point, Sam. The point is, when Dobson said he'd kill the children by fire, Rogier, he said do it. He told him to do it, Sam. Someone has to warn them, but I don't know the way, and Miss Jemima'll miss me very soon anyway."

"You must have misheard him, Bridge," he insisted again, but he relented, holding up a hand to silence her. As much as he thought Marin had come to detest and mistrust him, he didn't have much choice but to go prove his wife wrong. "Reckon I'll head over there and make sure everything's alright," he told her, though he'd have to make excuses with the hands and put someone else in charge of the cattle.

"Be careful," Bridget told him sternly, gripping his shirt as she looked up at him. "If you let that weasel even so much as scratch you, I'll beat you black and bloody myself, you hear me?"

He couldn't help but smile a little, touched by the thought that she was worried about him, even though he thought her worries unfounded. While he and Dobson had never been especially fond of each other, he thought he was valuable enough to Rogier that he didn't have to worry too much about his own safety or hers, for that matter. "It's nice to know you care," he teased her, grazing her cheek with a rough fingertip but a gentle touch.

"Of course I care about you, you idjit, I love you," she informed him succinctly. "Now get goin', would you? Dobson's already gone." A yell from the house sounded like Maud calling Bridget back for the mistress. "I have to go."

He arched a brow, slowly letting those words sink in. "You love me?" he echoed, as surprised to hear her say it as she probably was to have said it. A slow smile spread across his face at that news. "Don't you worry none, darlin'. I'll be back soon as I can," he told her, pressing a kiss to her lips before vaulting onto his horse and heading out of the barn. He could be hear whooping as he kicked the horse into a gallop just outside the confines of the barn. "Ye-Ha! She loves me!"

Backing up, flushed and almost laughing at her confession and his response to it, Bridget waited just long enough to see him ride off before turning to run back to the main house, hoping like hell no one was going to notice his absence at least until it was too late to get him back.

He stopped near the hands and issued some orders, mumbling some excuse or other about something he had to do in town, before kicking the horse into a gallop again and heading away from the ranch in the general direction of the Brambles, as quickly as he could get there without making it too obvious where he was headed.

It didn't take too long to get to Brambles Orchard, not the way his horse was galloping. By the time he rode up to the gate, his stomach was tied up in knots, unsure what kind of welcome he might get. He hadn't spoken to Marin in some time. Though they had once been close friends, somehow the ranch and Rogier had come between them.

The Brambles seemed completely peaceful, blanketed in snow, with its people going about their daily business calmly. The main house was virtually unchanged from his childhood memories of the place, the smell of Jodie St.Clair's cooking wafting out to greet him as he rode up to the stoop. For a brief moment, Marin was visible through the windows as she walked toward the kitchen - still tiny, vibrant-haired Marin, but with a more confident look about her these days.

Not much had changed about the Brambles from what he could remember, except that the place looked just as lively, if not more so, than his memories of the place as a boy. For the first time in forever, he felt jittery - an odd nervousness in the pit of his stomach - but he wasn't sure if he was just nervous about the prospect of seeing Marin again or if it was what Bridget thought she'd overheard that had him on edge. Whatever it was, he brought his horse up nearly to the house before hopping down and loosely winding the reins about the gate so his horse didn't go too far. There was no sign of Dobson, as far as he could tell, and he was hoping to hell Bridget had heard him wrong.

"Samuel McAlister, what the hell are you doing here?" a remembered voice declared, and Bill St.Clair came around the side of the house. He was gray-haired now, but still as vital as he had been when Sam was a boy. "Long time, no see, kiddo."

"Mister St.Clair," Sam acknowledged the man, offering him a large, strong hand that had roughened with hard work for a handshake. The man had gone gray since he'd seen him last, but he had the same kind eyes and friendly smile that Sam remembered. "Ain't much of a kiddo no more," he remarked with a chuckle.
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Bridget McAlister
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2017 7:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"You've grown up a bit, yes," Bill laughed, shaking the younger man's hand firmly. "Hop along inside, Marin'll be pleased to see you. She'd have come by, only we don't want your boss getting another close look at her. The man has no sense of boundaries."

"You sure she won't wanna throttle me for stayin' away so long?" Sam asked, only half kidding. "Heard she got married and had a family," he added. That part of the gossip around Oakham Mount was hard to miss and presumably true.

"Aye, she did," Bill nodded. "Sweetest little lad you ever saw, turned four couple of weeks back. And her husband's girl from his previous, she's a good ten years now. Pretty little family. Heard you got married yourself."

"You heard right," Sam confirmed with a smile, recalling that little declaration of love his young wife had only just recently shared with him. "Another redhead. I'm doomed," he added with a chuckle.

Bill chuckled, clapping him on the shoulder. "You'll live," he predicted. "Go on inside, Jodie'll have the coffee pot on by now. The woman can't get through two hours without more caffeine these days."

"Bill ..." Sam started, his expression turning serious. "I ain't here for a social call. Came here to warn you that there might be trouble. I ain't sure what's going on, but my wife's got it in her head that she overheard Dobson sayin' something about hurtin' Marin's young'uns. Something about a fire. I know Rogier's lusted after the Brambles for years, but if it's true ... Well, I can't just stand by and let innocents get hurt. I don't know if it's true or if it ain't, but I thought I should warn you. I ain't got no love for Dobson. I'd sooner see him dead than alive, but I ain't in the position to do much about it."

The reaction, whatever Sam thought of Rogier, was almost electric. Bill went from calm and secure to stretched as tight as a wire in seconds. "What? Marin, get out here!" As footsteps headed toward them from inside the house, Bill gripped Sam's arm uncomfortably tight. "You stay with her," he told the younger man sternly. "Tell her what you told me, and stay with her no matter where she goes. I'm off to get her husband."

As Bill strode away toward the wide paddocks on the other side of a rather lovely cottage not too far away, the door to the main house opened and Marin came out, frowning in confusion. Her frown melted into a delighted smile when she saw Sam. "Oh my gods! Sam! It's been so long, how are you?"

Sam's heart sank, wishing in that instant that he'd kept in touch with Marin, instead of abiding by Rogier's ridiculous rules. If her children really were in danger from Dobson and Rogier had sanctioned it, he would have no choice but to confront both men and challenge them. "Marin," he greeted her, a grim expression on his face. "I'm well," he told her, his answer clipped, alarmed now by Bill's reaction to his news. "Wish I could say I was here under happier circumstances," he said, before sharing the same news with her that he just had with Bill.

Sam's clipped response was enough to wipe the smile from Marin's face, especially with the sight of Bill running through the snow down the lane. "What, what is it?" she asked, one hand grasping Sam's sleeve as he detailed to her what he had just told Bill. Her face went completely white, a stream of explicit curses leaving her lips before she yelled back to Jodie. "Jodie, tell Evan we're in the apple loft! You, come with me," she added to Sam, already moving down off the porch with a surprisingly quick stride for a woman of her size, breaking into a run.

"Marin!" he called, as he chased after her, alarmed not only by her reaction to the news but the urgency of her reaction. Something had happened here that he had no knowledge of, but from his knowledge of Dobson, he could almost guess what it was. "What's happened! What did he do?" he asked.

"He killed my mother, that's what he did," she snapped back at him over her shoulder, struggling along the path cut into the snow by her children toward the apple loft. "Maggie! Caleb!"

An unfamiliar horse looked at her from the fallow field alongside the loft, but that wasn't her main concern. For a brief moment, the shutter beneath the roof burst open, and Maggie's voice screamed out, the child herself visible for the merest of moments before Dobson dragged her back inside.

"***!" Just seeing that was enough for Marin to put on a burst of energy, breaking through the snow to struggle with the latch on the door. "I'm coming, babies, hold on!"

"What?" Sam said, coming to a dead stop for as long as a heartbeat, his blood running cold, before hurrying after her. If it was true, how could he not know that? Marin's mother had been a good woman and kind to him, before she had died and Rogier had forbade him from visiting Brambles again. Was that why? Had Rogier been hoping to keep that information from him, and if so, why? Who was Sam to Rogier that the man should care what he thought of him or of Dobson? "Marin!" he called again, knowing Dobson for the dangerous and heartless man that he was. He caught her by the arm and pulled her back. "No! Let me talk to him. He'll only use them as leverage against you."

"Sam, he has my children up there," Marin snapped back at him. "You know as well as I do that if he was going to kill them, they'd be dead already. If he wants me, he can have me, but we are going to get my kids out first, and there is no way in hell you're going to stop me, so get your damn gun out and don't get in my way!"

Sam ground his teeth and mumbled something about "damned stubborn redheads", but wasted no time in pulling the gun from his holster and making sure it was loaded. If Dobson truly was threatening her children's lives, all he needed was one shot.

Finally, Marin got the door open, pushing it open and ducking back out of sight as a gunshot went off above them. The bullet impacted in the snow as Maggie and Caleb screamed for their mother, their father, anyone to help them. Without thinking, Marin dashed in through the open door, only narrowly missing the second shot that hit the wall where her head would have been had she not kept moving.

Sam ducked inside after Marin, his finger on the trigger of his revolver as he held it ready by his side. He wasn't fond of the idea of getting shot, but he neither could he allow Dobson to threaten innocent children and take potshots at a defenseless woman. "Dobson!" he called. "Have you lost your mind? The hell do you think you're doing?" He nodded his head to Marin as he did his best to distract the man. "Let the kids go and let's talk about this like mature adults!" Sam peered upwards, trying to get a peek at the man to see if he could get a good shot off without hurting either of the children who were crying for their mother.

"That you, McAlister?" Dobson laughed, his harsh voice sounding worse than ever in a situation where he truly did hold all the cards. "Four for the price of three. Rogier'll give me your little wildcat for this!"

As the door swung closed behind Sam, a lit match dropped through the hatch into the upper loft, and Dobson's hastily but well-laid plan became painfully clear. The flame caught on alcohol soaked ropes of cloth laid along each wall and across the floor, fire spreading to cut off all exits on this level and quickly fill the space with choking smoke.

"Damn it," Sam muttered, as the flame caught on the wood. It was almost too late to go out the way they'd come in, and no choice but to climb the stairs to try and save the children and take care of Dobson for good. "You get the young 'uns! I'll take care of Dobson!" he called to Marin, pushing a kerchief up over his mouth and nose so that he wouldn't succumb to the smoke.
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Bridget McAlister
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2017 7:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Trying to fight down her panic as the childrens' screams turned into sobs of terror, especially from Maggie, Marin nodded to Sam, casting around wildly for the only thing she could think of that might distract Dobson long enough for at least one of them to get up there and to the kids. She found it quickly, flinching back from the flames even as she threw a heavy-looking lever on the wall. From above them came the sound of a trap opening, and the heavy thumps of a load of this year's apples falling from the highest level of the loft, above Dobson. Judging by the swearing, they'd hit him, too.

"C'mon!" she called to Sam, scrambling to get up the ladder as fast as she could.

"I just need one shot," he told her. A clear shot, not one that might put one of the children in danger. If he knew Dobson the way he thought he did, the man had left himself an escape route, and that was where they were going to have to go to get the kids out safely, if they could just get past Dobson first. Sam would have preferred to go first, but there was no time to argue. He cast a brief look around at the walls and floor that were quickly going up in flames, noticing Dobson seemed to have left the north corner untouched. That had to be his escape route, he thought, as he followed Marin up the ladder. Outside could be heard cries of panic and men shouting orders to put out the flames. The higher Sam climbed, the angrier he got. He already knew Dobson was little more than a snake in the form of a man, but this was the last straw. After today, it was going to be him or Dobson, and then he was going to demand answers from Rogier.

The impact of the apple harvest dropping on his head had knocked Dobson to his knees and his gun out of his hand, but the only thing keeping him from grabbing for it as first Marin, and then Sam, gained the upper level was Maggie and Caleb employing their snowball game with the apples themselves.

"You little bastards, I'm going to enjoy killing you," the man roared, finally getting hold of his gun just in time for Marin to deliberately stamp on his hand as she ran past him to grab the children. Howling, he grabbed her foot with his other hand, sending her sprawling as he turned to shoot wildly in Sam's direction.

Distracted by the children scrambling to get away and Dobson grabbing Marin's foot, Sam was only remotely aware that a shot had rung out amidst the crackling of the fire and the screams of terror. He felt something whiz past his head, just grazing his cheek, and breathed a sigh of relief that the wild shot had missed, before another shot ripped through his right arm causing him to wince in searing pain. Thankfully, he was as good a shot with his left hand as he was with his right, but Dobson might not know that. With Marin so close, he couldn't get off a good shot, but he could grab hold of the children and toss them across the loft toward the window, shouting, "Jump!"

Caleb screamed even louder when a strange man picked him up and threw him toward the window, but Maggie was old enough to recognize that the strange man had come in with their mother. The girl grabbed her brother's hand, pulling him over to the shutter as Marin twisted where she lay to jab her heel into the back of Dobson's knee. Then she, too, scrambled over to the shutter, pushing it open to yell down to Evan below. "Catch!"

As Marin dropped Caleb out through the window, Dobson whirled toward her, limping in an attempt to drag at least one of them back. "No!"

With Marin clear of Dobson, Sam didn't waste any time blocking Dobson's path to her and the children, his gun drawn menacingly at the man, even as blood darkened the arm of his coat. "Leave 'em be, Dobson. You're finished. There ain't a punishment vile enough for the likes of you," he told the man, knowing there wasn't much time, but he'd never killed a man in cold blood and was hoping Dobson would either give himself up or give Sam a reason to kill him.

"You can't touch me, McAlister, and you know it," Dobson snarled. All he could see was his payday dropping out through the window, out of reach, all thanks to the interference of the one man on Oakham Mount he had never been able to touch. As Marin dropped out of sight, he shot a punch at Sam's injured arm. "Daddy ain't gonna care what happens to you now, you piece of crap!"

"Can't I?" Sam asked, arching a brow, but before he was able to say or do anything else or even absorb the implications of what Dobson had said, the man's fist had connected with his injured arm, knocking him off balance and back a pace. He knew there wasn't much time before the building collapsed, taking them both with it, but Sam would be damned if he'd let Dobson escape. Clenching his teeth and narrowing his eyes, Sam brought the gun up as Dobson got close, and squeezed the trigger just as he shoved it in the man's gut.

Whether it killed him straight off, or left him in no state to escape the flames he had set, that shot was the end of Chad Dobson. As the man fell back, blood pouring from the wounds left by the bullet as it cleared his body entirely, Marin's voice could be heard above the roar of the flames.

"Sam? Sam! Get out of there!"

"Serves you right, you son of a bitch," Sam muttered, leaving the man to die before stumbling toward the window that was his only escape, batting at the smoke that was threatening to suffocate him. He heard Marin's voice as from a great distance and then he was falling, until he thudded to the ground, blood turning the snow crimson.

When he woke again, he was undressed to the waist, his boots removed, and lying on soft sheets, in a large bed. The wound on his arm had been bandaged cleanly, and his shirt and coat cleaned and mended, lying in a neat pile on the dresser beside him. Outside the window, it was clear that night had fallen, and with it, fresh snow was falling too. From the sounds of the house, it would appear to be the children's bedtime, the smell of supper still lingering in the air, touched only slightly by the smell of smouldering wood from outside. Bill St.Clair was sitting in a chair beside the bed, dozing while keeping watch over their invalid.

Groggy and disoriented, the first thing Sam tried to do was sit up. When that failed, he groaned in pain or at least in annoyance, and blinked to clear his vision and try to remember where he was and what had happened. "Bridge," he muttered, around a thick tongue. "Where's Bridget?"

Bill snapped awake in an instant, sitting forward to ease Sam back into bed. "Easy there, lad," he said gently. "It'll take a few minutes to clear your head before you can move around. Mr. Hale's on his way, but in this blizzard, he's not like to move too fast unless you're bleeding to death." He reached for a cup of water, handing it to Sam. "Bridget's your woman? Not heard a peep about her. You're still at The Brambles."

"I can't stay," Sam muttered further, trying once again to get home, even as Bill's hand pushed him back onto the bed. "I gotta go. She's not safe," he said, feeling a little dizzy and out of sorts, almost like he'd just woken from a long drunk. He felt like there was a hole in the pit of his stomach, and he knew that hole was dread of what Rogier would do to Bridget when Dobson never returned. "Is he dead?"

"You're staying," Bill told him firmly. "Marin'll kill me if I let you leave before you're healed up, so there you are staying, boy. Dobson's dead - pulled him out of the ruins when the fire burned out, handed him over to the Watch for all the good it'll do. Your woman will be fine. She's your wife, after all; figure she knows how to look after herself."

"Good riddance," Sam muttered regarding Dobson, as he settled back against the pillow. "Might know how to look after herself, but I don't trust Rogier." He glanced over at his bandaged up arm and frowned. "She's gonna kill me for getting shot."

Bill snorted at his comment on his wife. "Sounds like our kind of girl," he chuckled, glad Sam was seeing reason. "Soon as we have you healed up, we'll send you on your way. Marin's not letting you leave until Mr. Hale's been by and worked his magic on you, though. You think she was stubborn before? She got worse after having Cal."
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Bridget McAlister
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2017 7:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Cal," Sam echoed. "That's the boy," he reasoned, wincing a little as he rose onto an elbow to take a swallow of water. He looked to the window where he saw it was snowing, just as Bill had said, and his heart sank. "Any way I could send a message?" he asked the other man.

"Way ahead of you," the older man assured him. "We sent one of the hands in that direction with instructions to talk to Nan Prudey and no one else. She'll see the message gets passed on." He leaned back, considering Sam for a long moment. "You did a brave thing today, lad. There's not one person on this acreage who isn't damned glad you came by when you did. Thought Evan was going to walk through a wall of fire until you got them to that window."

Sam appeared to relax just a little at the knowledge that a message of sorts had gotten through. If anyone would know what to do, it would be Mrs. Prudey, who had practically been like a mother to him growing up. "I'll rest better when I know she's all right," he admitted with that worried frown, but looking at the window, he knew in his gut it would be suicide to try to get there tonight. "Didn't do nothing special," he argued. "Nothing no one else wouldn't do." Except maybe Rogier. He suddenly felt sick in the pit of his stomach, remembering something Dobson had said just before Sam had shot him dead. "Daddy ain't gonna care what happens to you now ..." Daddy. What the hell had he been talking about?

"No one else came galloping over here to spread the word," Bill pointed out. "Who knows what he'd have done to those kids if you hadn't gotten here when you did?" He frowned at the look on Sam's face. "What's eating at you now?" he asked in concern. "Your woman'll be fine, Nan'll make sure of that. Rogier won't know 'til tomorrow morning, earliest, what's happened here."

"Didn't have no choice. My wife ..." Sam paused. Even now, it sounded strange sometimes to call her that, even though that was exactly what she was. And she loved him. He drew comfort from that, at least, praying to God she was okay. She had to be. He'd kill Rogier himself if she wasn't. "It's Bridget you should be thanking. My wife overheard Dobson and Rogier talking. I didn't wanna believe it, but I couldn't take a chance on ignoring it, so I came here in hopes of proving her wrong." That wasn't what had made him feel sick in the pit of his stomach though, not entirely, anyway.

"Well, Marin'll want to meet the woman who pinned you into matrimony, in any case." Bill smiled, but the smile was slightly suspicious, fairly sure that Sam hadn't shared what was really bugging him. He glanced toward the window at the sound of knocking on the front door downstairs, his smile relaxing. "There you are," he told Sam. "Hale's here."

That only soured Sam's already sour mood. "Goody," he replied sarcastically. It wasn't often Sam needed medical help, and like most men, he had his pride. "So, I assume Evan is Marin's husband?"

Bill chuckled at the look on his face, knowing exactly what he was feeling about being healed. "Aye, Evan Lassiter," he confirmed for his younger friend. "Carried you back here himself, wouldn't let anyone else touch you. Figure the man reckons he owes you everything for what you did today."

Sam winced again, feeling just a little humiliated by the thought of being carried or even half dragged like a baby by another full-grown man, but he guessed it was better than the alternative. Dobson was dead by his hand, and a lot of people were safer because of it. "Everything is a lot. He don't owe me nothing," Sam objected mildly. As a matter of fact, if Dobson was telling the truth, it might be the other way around. "Sorry for all the trouble. If I'd known ..." He trailed off. What would he have done if he'd known? He'd certainly have done something, wouldn't he? "Marin said he killed her mother," he muttered quietly.

"Rogier's been filling people's heads with lies for years," Bill told him gently, half an ear on what sounded like a strange upheaval downstairs. "Can't blame yourself for what you did or didn't do. All your knowledge is based on what he's told you, and he's been mighty selective with the truth for decades." He sighed as Sam shared what Marin had told him. "Aye, Dobson did, on Rogier's orders. Scared her to death, rather'n violence on her person, and tried to do the same to Marin. When that didn't work, Rogier came here himself and tried to force our girl into being his mistress in exchange for her land."

Sam couldn't help but shudder at the knowledge of that - or was he feverish? Maybe a little of both. "I wish I'd known," he murmured again, turning his gaze toward the window and staring out at the snowfall, so that Bill couldn't see his face and know what he was feeling. "Dobson said something a'fore he died. Said Rogier was my father. That true?" He looked back at Bill, so that if the man chose to lie, he'd have to lie to his face. Then again, if it was true, he'd been lied to for years. He had no idea what was going on downstairs, but presumed it had something to do with the arrival of the doctor.

He couldn't see Bill's face when he was turned away like that; he missed the surprised wince on the older man's face at his question. "You didn't know?" Bill asked in a low tone, but before he could say more, there was a gentle knock on the door.

Marin poked her head inside. "Oh good, you're awake," she said, obviously relieved. "There's a redhead downstairs, says her name's Bridget and she's going to kill you. Sound familiar?"

Saved from answering Bill's question by Marin's interruption, Sam's face brightened a little, relieved to hear his wife had found him, even if she had threatened to kill him. "Sounds like my wife," he admitted, letting Bill form his own conclusion regarding Sam's knowledge of his own paternity. The dots were starting to come together regarding his past, for both Sam and those who called the Brambles home.

"Good." Marin nodded. "Gotta warm her up before I'll send her up here, time enough for you to get your shirt on if you need to. Won't be long." She ducked back out again, leaving Bill smiling in perplexed amusement.

"Your wife often threaten your life?" he asked with a grin.

"Only when she's angry," Sam admitted, extending his good arm for his shirt. "Better get myself dressed or she's liable to worry," he told the other man, not wanting Bridget to see the bandaged up arm until she had to.

The smile faded from Bill's face. He'd known Rogier and his ways a good deal longer than Sam had; if Sam's wife was here, it probably wasn't her idea. He rose from his seat to collect the shirt, moving to help the younger man into it. "Wives worry," he said sagely. "Best to let her get it out of her system sooner rather than later."

"I reckon so," Sam agreed, pushing his pride aside and allowing the man's help, mostly because he knew he'd have trouble doing it himself. "I shouldn't have stayed away for so long," he mused aloud, unable to hide the guilt and regret from his voice, despite what Bill had said about Rogier's lies. Sam was determined to get to the bottom of it, but he'd have to be careful.

"Hard to make the call when you only know one side," Bill reminded him. "We'd have come by to you, if things hadn't started off for Marin so hostile. Evan won't hear of her even passing Oakham on her own, much less going on the property. He doesn't even like her going to the border between our lands."

"Can't say I blame him, but I promise you things are gonna change, one way or another," Sam said, his voice brooking no argument, even if he did feel heartsick about it. How could Rogier be his father and never have told him? What had really happened to his mother? Had he ever cared for them at all? So many questions and no real answers.

Bill might have replied, but for the sound of voices outside the door. It sounded as though Marin was trying and failing to make Sam's wife be a good girl and wait downstairs until she was warm once again, and the evidence showed itself as the door opened.
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2017 7:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Bridget looked frozen still, water clinging to her hair where the snow had soaked her, the heavy fabric of her skirt heavier still with cold water from the snow she had trudged through. She looked exhausted, but determined. As her eyes fell on Sam, she let out a low cry of relief. "Oh, you idjit, you're all right!"

Thankfully, Sam had his shirt on, but it was only half buttoned when she burst through the door, a sight for sore eyes. He couldn't help but smile a little at his wife's greeting. "It's nice to see you, too, wife," he told her, wishing he could go to her and take her in his arms and hold her forever close.

"Don't you "wife" me, you stupid hero," Bridget informed him, her temper just a little strained by her day. She strode into the room, her frozen skirt crackling with each step, and thumped down onto the bed beside him, gathering his hand between both her own cold palms. "I was that worried about you."

Sensing the need for privacy, Bill headed for the door as Marin spoke. "We'll bring the soup up," she told them both. "And a change of clothes for you, Mrs. McAlister. You're welcome to stay as long as you need to."

Once Bridget was there, Sam saw or heard nothing and no one else. It didn't matter if the doctor was waiting to see him or that he was only half dressed or that his arm ached like the devil. It didn't matter that she looked half-frozen and half scared out of her wits. She had told him she loved him and she had braved a blizzard to come after him, to see him for herself and make sure he was alive and well, and he couldn't help the silly, half-feverish grin that appeared on his face because of it. He didn't think he was a hero, but he didn't want to argue about that now. All he wanted was to gather her into his arms and kiss her, like a man should kiss the woman he loves, and so, he did just that. His lips were warm - perhaps a little too warm - but the kiss was soft and tender and full of love and affection. The kiss also served well to silence his wife and stop her from scolding him further.

Too warm or not, his kiss was answered with the kind of passion she had been holding back, afraid of crossing some unknown line or offending him with how much she cared about her husband. But after today, there was no point in hiding anything. Her arms wrapped about his shoulders as he pulled her close, breathing him in, reminding herself that he was alive, he was reasonably well. That they were safe, for now.

He only realized after he'd kissed her how cold she was - freezing, really. Her hands were like ice, and her skirts were frozen stiff from the ice and the snow. "You're freezing," he told her, stating the obvious. "You need to change your clothes and get warm," he told her, and what better way to get warm than to crawl into bed with him not far from a blazing, warm fire.

"I've nothin' to change into, love," she confessed awkwardly. "I dropped my bag a while back, and it opened up. Everythin's wet in there, too." She blushed, ashamed of making such a poor showing in front of his former friend and her household. "I'll dry. Only takes a wee while longer than getting warm."

He smirked, realizing she hadn't heard a word Marin had told her. "Marin said she'll bring up a change of clothes and some soup. You really were worried about me, weren't you?" he asked, somewhat in amazement. He'd known that she cared for him, at least a little, but he hadn't been aware of the depth of that caring until today. He traced the gentle curve of her cheek with a fingertip, his gaze softening as he admired the fiery beauty that was his wife. "I love you, too, yanno. Have for a while now."

"Of course I worried about you, you fool," she told him fondly, trying to relax a little more now they were together. "Did you not believe me when I said it? I've been holding that in for months." She bit her lip, kissing the tip of his nose as he answered her declaration in kind. "You won't be finding yourself another wife, then," she said softly, smiling as his fingers traced her cheek. "Ever your eyes stray, I'll make you wish they hadn't. Love you too much to share with anyone but our little'uns."

He chuckled at her threat, obviously amused by it. "Even if my eyes stray, my heart and body won't," he promised, trying to keep a straight face and failing. The mention of little ones went unacknowledged, as though he hadn't really noticed or heard. He hadn't really thought too much about the prospect of children just yet, but now that he knew she loved him, that might change. How ironic was it that the same person who'd sent him after Dobson was now calling him a fool? The thought of that made him chuckle again.

To be fair, she had sent him to warn the Brambles, not to engage in a shoot out with a man who wanted him dead anyway. "You love me?" she asked quietly, half afraid to believe him, to believe that she could be so lucky as to have the love of this handsome, special man who had only married her to keep her safe in the first place.

"I ain't never lied to you, Bridget. I ain't gonna start now," he assured her, answering her question in a roundabout way. "Reckon I thought you knew, or maybe I was just scared you'd laugh at me," he admitted, not really sure why he hadn't told her before this, except for fear of something.

She smiled, nuzzling to him gently. "Reckon we're a right pair then," she told him affectionately, brushing her chilled fingers against his cheek. "You've to tell me what happened and how. Seems everyone's in one piece but for Dobson, and he's unaccounted for." As she spoke, there was another knock on the front door below them, which must be the expected healer.

For the moment, he wasn't paying much attention to what was going on downstairs, all his attention focused on the woman beside him. "Dobson's dead," he told her, without much feeling in his words. There was no grief or regret there. The man had gotten what he had coming to him; there was no denying that, and though Sam didn't think of himself as a hero, he knew Rhy'Din was a safer place without Chad Dobson in it.

Though it shouldn't have been a surprise to her, Bridget's brows rose at the statement he made. The only way he could know that for certain would be if he had a hand in the making of that fact. "Good," she said firmly. "World's a better place without his like. P'raps the master won't make such stupid decisions without him around to prod and push and promise what he can't deliver."

Sam visibly winced at what she'd said regarding the master. There was the matter of Rogier still, and the question of Sam's true paternity. He felt that sick feeling in the pit of his stomach again, and his face went pale. He wished he could believe what she was saying was true, but he had reasons to believe it wasn't. "I ain't so sure about that."

Seeing his abrupt change, Bridget frowned. "What is it, love? You look like someone's walked over your grave. What did that bastard say before you did him?" She didn't trust Chad Dobson, even dead, not to still be making mischief, but again, Sam didn't have a chance to explain further.

A knock on the door announced the return of the lady of the house, carrying a tray on which were settled a pair of steaming bowls of soup and half a loaf of cheese bread, and behind her, an elderly man in an elderly suit.

"Mr. Hale is here to see to you, Sam," Marin said, setting the tray down on the dresser. "And if you'll come with me, Mrs. McAlister, we'll get you changed out of those wet things and into something warmer."
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2017 7:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Bridget looked at Sam in alarm, uncertain quite what was going on here.

So, it seemed no one had seen fit to tell her Sam had been shot. Well, she was bound to find out sooner or later, and he seemed none the worse off for it. Oh, his arm was aching, and he knew it might be a few weeks before he could go back to wrangling, but he'd wait to see what the healer said before he bothered worrying her further. "Go on, darlin'. Marin'll take good care of you."

Obedient, but not exactly pleased about being away from him, Bridget rose, letting Marin take her by the hand to draw her out of sight.

As the door closed, Mr. Hale smiled his twinkling smile. "Well now ... Samuel McAlister, is it?" he said, moving to sit in the chair by the bed. "I haven't seen you since you dropped out of that tree aged six and broke your leg."

"Yes, sir," Sam replied with a small frown. McAlister. Unacknowledged, Rogier hadn't even given his son his surname. He was nothing more than a bastard son, but he owed it to his mother's memory to become more than that. Sam knew what the man was there for and wasted no time in shedding his shirt so the man could take a look at the arm that someone - Marin, he guessed - had taken such pains to wrap so carefully.

"Let's see what we have here, then." Mr. Hale inched forward in his seat, letting Sam take his time shedding the shirt he wore before carefully undoing the bandage about the offending limb. "Ah, yes, I see. Bullet's been dug out, neatly covered over, kept clean. Oh yes, this is an easy job. Easiest all day." He laid his hand on the wound, concentrating for a moment. Warmth spread from his palm into Sam's flesh, and when that hand was taken away, the wound was gone, healed as easily as a thought for this remarkable man.

Sam steeled himself for pain, clenching his jaw and squeezing his eyes shut, but all he felt was a soothing sensation of warmth and then the pain was completely gone. He opened his eyes and turned his head to look at the place where the wound had been. "That it?" he asked, brows arching upwards, wondering if there was any need for him to remain in bed any longer.

Mr. Hale chuckled, sitting back in his chair. "Did you expect it to be more spectacular?" he asked in amusement. "I don't go in for all that flimflam. The work needs doing, I do it. I'll touch your wife on my way out, make sure that chill she's caught doesn't do her any harm either. Bad weather for a long walk."

"Thanks, Doc," Sam told him, though he realized the man wasn't a doctor at all. He wondered if the man knew anything about his paternity, but for some reason, he felt reluctant to ask. Did everyone around here know the truth but him? Or were they all just lies? "You knew my mother," he said after a moment. It wasn't a question.

"Aye, I did," the old man nodded, his voice calm and gentle. "Delivered her by my own hand. Delivered you, too, though you wouldn't recall it. Haven't been back to Oakham Mount since she died. Rogier didn't want me there, knowing what I knew."

"That he's my father," Sam filled in the blank without bothering to ask. Why had it taken over thirty years of his life for the truth to finally come out, or at least, come to his attention?

"Aye, there's that," Mr. Hale said carefully. "That he's got no legal right to the ranch, too. Can't have people sharing that one, now, can he?" He raised a brow, watching Sam carefully. "Your grandfather was the last man to own Oakham Mount, Samuel. Your mother was taken in by Rogier; we all thought he'd marry her. Hell, he must have felt something for her or he'd have had you smothered at birth. Kept you on 'cos of her, I reckon, and now doesn't know what to do about you."

"Beg your pardon?" Sam asked, unsure if he'd just heard the man right. Healed or not, his blood had just gone cold. If this was the truth, why had it been kept from him for so long? He didn't have to ask that question to know the answer: Fear. Rogier had instilled so much fear in people via Dobson that they'd rather keep their mouths shut than chance his ire in doing what was right. At first, there was shock, but that shock was quickly followed by rage. Father or not, what Rogier had done wasn't right, and Sam wasn't going to let him get away with it for one second longer. Of course, he wasn't thinking logically as he threw the blankets off his legs and dropped his feet to the floor, his face flushed with anger and shame and hatred toward the man who had controlled his life for so long.

"Oh no, you don't." Mr. Hale laid a hand on his chest and pushed him back into bed. "Strength I give, I can take just as easily," he warned. "There's no call for you to be hurtling off in the night, through a blizzard, and abandoning a wife who's had a rough time of it herself, so I hear. You try it, and I'll take back what I gave."

Sam clenched his hands into fists, but it wasn't Hale he was angry with or anyone else beneath this roof. It was Rogier, but it had been a long time coming, and Sam reckoned it could wait a day or so longer. "I need proof," he murmured through clenched teeth, his feet remaining where they were on the floor, though he didn't yet dare get up.

"You'll find it," Mr. Hale assured him. "In the cold light of day, among friends you thought you'd lost, you'll find it. But tonight is for healing and renewing bonds, and reassuring that wife of yours that when you go back, it won't be on foot through drifts of five feet, carrying everything you own on your backs. That's the journey she made today, Rogier's revenge on a moral woman for pricking you into action."

"Revenge?" Sam echoed, darting a questioning glance to Hale. He'd thought Bridget had come here of her own accord, worried for her husband's safety after receiving Marin's message that he'd been hurt. Was he mistaken in that belief? He looked to the window again. It was dark outside, fat flakes of snow piling up on the sill and obliterating the view. It had been morning when he'd left the ranch and now it was night. How long had he been unconscious?

"Word is he tossed her out," Mr. Hale told him calmly. "If not for your friends there, she'd have had nothing but the clothes on her back. They packed up everything, both yours and hers, and took her as far as they could, but she's still walked a good ten miles today in the snow and the blizzard, coming to you. She needs the night as much as you do."

"Tossed her out?" Sam echoed further, seething with rage once again. "Why? Because I came here to stop his goon from hurting anyone else? This has gone on long enough. You should've told me. Someone should've told me."

"I just did tell you, boy," Mr. Hale pointed out. "There's no good will come of going back there tonight. Stay put." For the first time since he'd entered, the elderly man seemed to radiate power, countering Sam's rage with a calm certainty that he would be obeyed. "Proof is what you need, and proof you will not have until tomorrow. So sit, eat, and be a husband to a girl who needs you."

He couldn't have argued with the man if he'd wanted to. Not only was Hale's argument more practical and logical than his own cold rage, Sam couldn't argue with the fact that he wasn't going anywhere tonight - not with a blizzard raging outside. He sighed and leaned back against the pillows, tucking his legs back under the blankets, feeling strangely weary and empty inside, despite knowing he had the love of friends and a good woman on his side. And what would he have done if he'd known Rogier was his father? If he'd acknowledged him? Would he have grown up to be just like him or worse, to be like Dobson? Sam paled at the thought of that, glad that perhaps the lies had served some small purpose in protecting him from the truth until he was ready to accept it and do something about it. "You win," he told the man, grudgingly.
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2017 7:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Of course I do," the old man said cheerily. "I am an old, old man, and I've learned that haste and anger don't do half as well as cold logic and calm resolve. I happen to like you, Samuel McAlister. I'd rather you didn't go and get yourself killed on a whim."

"Ain't planning on getting myself killed. Ranch is mine, fair and square. All I need is proof," Sam said, as simply as that, though he knew it wouldn't be quite so simple. Sam would have to somehow deal with Rogier's thugs, those who loyally followed the man without question. Getting him off his grandfather's land might take more than confrontation and threats.

"Get the proof, and the law's on your side, lad," Mr. Hale pointed out warmly, glancing up just before a fresh knock on the door.

"All decent?" Marin called through the wood hopefully.

Sam reached for his discarded shirt and tossed it on over his shoulders, though he was, for the most part, decent. "I'm decent," he called back, his voice sounding hollow to his ears, his emotions spent.

The door opened, and Marin pushed Bridget inside. Sam's wife had been dried off and changed out of her wet clothes, now wearing something a little more modern than she was used to, right down to the underwear. The only thing on her that was actually hers was her wedding ring.

Mr. Hale smiled, rising to his feet. "A pleasure to meet you, Mrs. McAlister," he said cheerfully, taking her hand to squeeze it gently. "He's to eat and rest, I'm sure you can make certain of it."

"Oh, I ... aye, I will," Bridget agreed, startled by the twinkly-eyed charm aimed in her direction. She stared as the old man stepped out of the room with Marin, closing the door behind them, and turned to look down at her husband. "Are you all right?"

Sam finished buttoning his shirt while Hale greeted Bridget and Marin led him from the room. He was going to have to have a long talk with her at some point, or with Bill, but it could wait at least until morning. His wife's question was a loaded one, but if she was asking about his physical wellness, he would be able to assure her that he was fine. He wondered, though, just how much Marin had told her. "I'm fine, Bridge. No need to worry," he assured her, settling the blankets up to his waist.

"Fine, my arse," was his wife's charming response. She marched across the room to the dresser, to collect the soup and bread and bring them to him on the bed. "You've had a wretched day, and you've not been well, and some heathen's done something unholy to make you well again and all."

He couldn't help but chuckle at the way she seemed almost offended by Hale's help. "He's a healer, Bridge, not a heathen. This is Rhy'Din. Things are different here," he reminded her, not for the first or probably the last time. He didn't know much about Ireland, but he knew she was naturally suspicious of things she didn't understand. He couldn't help the growling of his stomach, reminding him that he hadn't eaten since breakfast and that was a long time ago. "Are you all right?" he countered, patting a spot on the bed beside him.

Sitting down beside him, Bridget drank a little of her own soup straight from the bowl before she answered him. "I'm better now I'm with you," she told him honestly. "For all I'm indecent in some nagging woman's clothes."

She had asked him to tell her everything, but before he could get to that, he wanted to hear what Rogier had done. He frowned in guilt and concern, thinking she'd probably had a far more wretched day than he had. After all, he'd slept most of it away while others fretted over him and she fought a blizzard to reach his side. He made no comment regarding the clothes; as pretty as they were on her, he had more important matters on his mind. "Tell me what happened."

She frowned a little, shaking her head. "Not much to tell," she told him. "One of the hands came back wanting more instruction, went straight to the master. Master went looking for you, and one of the lads told him which way you rode off in. Didn't take him long to work out my part in it. If it wasn't for Miss Jemima, I reckon he'd have beaten me, he was that angry. Kicked me out, no time to pack our things or grab for my coat or shawl. If Maud hadn't told Mrs. Prudey what was happening, I'd have froze on the road, I reckon. They caught up to me before I got to the gate, handed over our bags and such, told me how to get here. I've been walking all day. Just hope they didn't suffer for it."

Thankfully, he had not yet taken even a sip of his soap or bread or it might have gotten stuck in his throat, he was so angry. He wasn't quite sure how to vent that anger just yet, stuck in bed as he was, and it took a long moment for him to master it. What Rogier had done was unreasonable and unforgivable. It was nothing short of attempted murder and even had Sam wondering - knowing what he now knew - if the man had somehow been responsible for his mother's death. "You're safe here. That's all that matters," he said after a moment, shoving the anger down deeper so that she wouldn't notice it, as he turned his attention to his soup, though he'd lost his appetite for it.

"Aye, and you're safe, too," Bridget told him firmly. "Eat your soup, or I'll feed it to you. Knowin' you, you're goin' to venture into the lion's den tomorrow, soon as may be, and you'll need your strength up to do it in."

She knew him too well, so there was no point in denying it. Sam wasn't like Dobson; he wasn't a born killer, but there were some things that were worth fighting for. If it came to it, it would be him or his father, and this was one fight he was determined not to lose. Then again, there was another choice he could make instead, but it would leave justice unserved, as far as Rogier was concerned.

"We could stay here," he suggested casually. "Marin's an old friend. I'm sure she'd have us. I could join the hands, and I'm sure she'd find something for you to do. Even if it's only for the winter."

Her eyes turned to him, unconvinced that he was anywhere near accepting that decision as viable at all. "Aye, and tomorrow you'll fart a rainbow," she said with a faint smile. "I know what needs doin', love. We'll do it. Man should learn that you can't just throw folk out in a blizzard for being decent."

He couldn't help but chuckle at the way she had phrased that. Farting out a rainbow, as she had so eloquently put it, was indeed highly unlikely. He thought they could be happy here, but he also knew if he didn't confront Rogier it would only eventually eat away at him and sour that happiness. "I'll do it," he corrected her. He didn't want her anywhere near Rogier, if he could help it.

"D'you remember the last time you tried to tell me I couldn't do somethin'?" she asked conversationally. "What happened in the end? That's how this one'll end, too. I'm far more stubborn than you, love, and I've not even had to cry on you yet to change your mind."

He broke off a hunk of bread and dunked it in his soup, grateful the Brambles had taken them in, if only for the night. He didn't yet take a bite though, narrowing his eyes at her as he met that stubborn gaze with one of his own. "He ain't the man I thought he was, Bridge. He's a greedy bastard, and he's dangerous." How ironic was that, when Sam was by definition the true bastard there.

"He's gentry," she shrugged. "They're all out for themselves with no call or knowin' what life's like on the other side of the blanket. He'll not think twice about runnin' you off, or hurtin' you some way. You're not goin' alone."
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2017 7:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Never you fear, darlin'," he assured her further, not budging on this one. "I'll take some men with me. Bill's a good man. He'll know who we can trust. One way or another, this ends tomorrow." Quite possibly with either him or Rogier dead, but Sam had no intention of dying just yet. Now that he was at the Brambles, he had a few allies on his side, and he had a feeling they would be willing to put all this to an end once and for all. "'Sides, Oakham rightfully belongs to me, and I reckon it's time we put it to rights."

Bridget surfaced from her soup with a wild look in her eyes. "What 'dyou mean, rightfully yours?" she demanded in shock. "You a landed gentry all of a sudden, Mr McAlister?"

From the look on Sam's face, he was as surprised to realize this as she was to hear it. "Seems Rogier stole the ranch from my grandfather," he explained as best he could without the rage flaring up inside him again. He purposely used the word "stole", not borrowed, not inherited. From the way Hale was telling it, Sam reckoned the rights to the ranch were part of his bloodline, not Rogier's, as everyone else had assumed.

"Then you steal it back and you kick him hard while you're doin' it," Bridget told him insistently. She hadn't quite tied up Sam owning the ranch with her being the lady of the house yet, but it would come. "Nasty, pilfering, murdering piece of filth, he is!"

She might as well hear it all - all the nasty truth that had been kept from him and from both of them for too long. His face grew pale, his voice so low it was barely more than a whisper, almost as if he was ashamed to admit it. "He's my father," he told her quietly, unable to meet her gaze for fear she'd think less of him for a bloodline he'd had no control over.

She paused, her frown deepening as she noted the way he avoided her gaze, wondering at his apparent shame. Shame she couldn't possibly understand - the deeds were Rogier's, not Sam's. "Oh, Sam ..." She sighed softly, setting her empty bowl aside to touch his jaw, drawing his gaze back to hers. "If he's your blood, there's nothin' can be done about it. But he's not your father, any more than mine was my father. A father loves and cares for his child; he protects them, holds them close, and makes sure they are never unloved. He's done none of that for you. Mrs. Prudey is more your father than he is."

Forced to face her gaze, the look of pain in his eyes gave him away, a rare gathering of tears that he blinked hastily away. "Why's he kept me around so long? To shame me? To rub my nose in it? Why's no one seen fit to tell me the truth, until now? I had to find out from Dobson. Dobson! I ain't sure what to do now, but the ranch is mine by rights. It's in my blood. It belonged to my mother's father, not Rogier. He never married her. It ain't his and it never was."

"Don't you go wallowin', you're a brighter man than all that," she told him sharply. "Put yourself in their places, all those who never said a word. See yourself there, looking out for a wee lad who just lost his mother and has a father surrounded by strong thuggish men who wouldn't think twice about ending the lad at a word. Would you tell that child who his father is? Would you be able to force yourself to tell that secret years later, when nothin' has changed? The people who've kept it from you love you, in their way. Prudey and Bryant and whoever else must know the truths. They want to see you safe, more than anythin'."

"Safe or no, it's the truth, and there's no changing it," Sam pointed out, understanding what it was she was trying to say. They'd been protecting him in their own way, and while that was fine when he'd been a boy, he was a child no longer. The truth was out now, and it was time things were set to rights. But this wasn't just about him, not anymore, not so long as she loved him. "What do you want me to do?" he asked, searching her face for answers. They both knew that confronting Rogier was dangerous, but it galled Sam to let him continue on as if nothing had changed.

In Bridget's mind, there was only one thing they could do. "We oust him," she said simply. "He sits where he's no right to sit, usin' fear to hold his power. So maybe we find out how to take that fear away from him before we move in. He'll not have us back on the Mount, and we can't go back only to leave. When we go back, it's to stay. So we make sure there's plenty to stand with us before we go."

"If we have proof of some kind, we could force him out by legal means," Sam suggested, though he wasn't sure he wanted to wait for the Rhy'Din legal system to do what they could do in a matter of a few hours. Besides, there was no telling what Rogier might do in the meantime. He might set the entire ranch a-blaze, just out of spite, destroying it for those who called it home; and there was the problem of what he'd do once they ousted him, too. Sam had a feeling Rogier wasn't the type who'd just walk away without a fight. "It's likely to get ugly," he mused aloud at these thoughts.

"Love, we could have him arrested, the two of us," she pointed out. "He sent Dobson to kill those children - I heard him say it with my own ears. You saw him; aye, and Marin did, too. She'd testify for us, I'm sure of it. Even if he's out, even if it's only a couple of days, the legal side can strip him of his money and land and transfer it back to you. Without money, he's no thugs to call on. Just himself."

"And then what?" he asked. Would he be locked up somewhere where he couldn't hurt anyone anymore? Because if not, Sam had a feeling the man would stop at nothing to have his revenge. Dobson might have been his muscle, but Dobson's orders had come from Rogier.

"We be ready for him to do somethin' very stupid," she said quietly. Uneducated though she was, Bridget had lived her life at the mercy of men like Rogier. She knew the general trend of their thoughts and habits. "He'll either accept defeat and disappear, or he'll think he can win everything back by killin' you. And that is somethin' I won't let him do."

"I ain't gonna let him kill me, Bridge," Sam pointed out, though he wasn't quite sure how he'd stop him. Despite everything that had happened, Sam didn't want to have to kill his own father in cold blood, if he could help it, but he wouldn't allow him to hurt anyone else either. "Let's sleep on it, and we'll talk to Bill and Marin in the morning," he suggested. He was sure they'd be discussing the same thing downstairs and considering their plans.

"All right," she agreed softly. "Just don't you laugh at what I've got on under this." She flickered a smile in his direction, rising to slip her borrowed shoes off as she turned out the light. "That Marin has no shame, those clothes she wears."

"Oh?" he asked, arching both brows in curiosity at what Marin had given his wife to wear beneath her dress. The style didn't really fit Bridget's personality, but he couldn't help but admit that it became her. Unfortunately for him, he still had the dinner tray balanced across his legs.
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2017 7:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Wearing men's trousers and open necks and all," Bridget muttered, collecting the tray from his legs to leave it outside the door before closing it firmly against the entire household. She twisted, trying to reach the zipper than ran down her back. "No proper buttons or anythin'."

Sam couldn't help but snicker at his wife. He'd been born in Rhy'Din, and though he'd spent most of his life at the ranch, he hadn't been so sheltered that he hadn't seen women in various forms of dress from the practical to the bizarre. "Come 'ere, darlin', and let me help."

His offer was timely; she was just about to give up in frustration. Scowling at her inability to undress herself, she moved over to him, pulling her hair over her shoulder to present her back and that damnable zipper to his hands and eyes. "Nothin' wrong with a good shift, a good skirt, and a good shirt," she was still muttering. "Dressin' like a man's not decent."

"Remind me to take you to the market more often," he suggested with a smirk. She was likely to see a lot more than just women dressed like men there, if she hadn't already. "Marin knows how to flaunt what she's got. Always has," he added as he tugged on the zipper to help her out of the dress, his eyes admiring the curve of her back.

"And I suppose you like what she's got, do you?" his wife challenged him over her shoulder. What he saw as the zipper came down was a clever illusion of peach colored silk - the underthings Marin had pressed Bridget into wearing were a camisole and knickers of that peach silk, trimmed with lace. It was certainly the most risque thing she had ever worn in her lifetime. Stepping away as she drew the dress down from her shoulders, Bridget looked over at Sam, daring him to say he liked Marin's assets.

It was the most risque thing Sam had ever seen a woman wearing, or at least a woman he actually had feelings for. "I'd be blind not to notice, but it's you I love," he told her, reaching for her hand to draw her close. He and Marin had been childhood friends, not childhood sweethearts, and they both had chosen mates of their own. There had been a time when he'd thought of Marin as a sister, if anything, but never a lover. At least, he was honest.

"I feel naked in this," Bridget intimated, going willingly into his arms as he pulled her close. "Give me wool and cotton every time. This silk stuff is like wearing a wisp of nothin'." She couldn't help a soft smirk when she was close enough to recognize his reaction to it. "But maybe a wisp is plenty, hmm?"

"You could always wear one of my shirts," he suggested, that smirk still in place on his face, as he traced a finger down along the curve of a bare shoulder and arm. The healer had said he should eat and rest, but he never said anything about love-making.

Lifting her head, she met his gaze with a heat that entirely for him, teasing and sweet and fiery, just like the girl he'd married. "You'd have to take it off first," she pointed out. "And where's the point in me puttin' it on if you're goin' natural?"

"Good point," he said, capturing her lips with his own and effectively silencing her for the moment, while his fingers slid the silken straps down off her shoulders.

Left alone to their own devices, it would be a little while before they'd surrender to sleep. There was healing in her kisses and caresses, perhaps not of the body but of the heart. He knew without a doubt in that moment that he was loved, whether she said the words or not, and he hoped she knew the same was true of him. After the day they'd had, they both needed to know they were loved. Right now, it was all they had in the world.
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