Cowboy Paladin (part 12)
Before letting Patience return to her cabin, she found out that Josiah and the other Paladins had taken the time to dragged the dead and dying Others off into the woods. She was grateful for their consideration, but she was more concerned about getting Jethro someplace where she could tend to his wounds. He also wasn’t the only Paladin who’d been hurt in the brief, but furious battle with the enemy. Hiram had assured her that he could tend to their wounds, leaving her free to concentrate on her own patient.
Two of the Paladins helped Jethro down out of the wagon and supported his weight as they brought him into the cabin. For the moment Patience ignored the mess the intruders had made of her small home. Putting it back to rights would have to wait until she took care of Jethro and then prepared a meal for all of her guests.
“Put him on the bed in my room. You can put Elliott in my father’s room.”
She put water onto boil and washed up using the strongest soap she had. Anything to get all of the blood off her skin. Taking a pile of clean cloths, she headed into her room and closed the door. Jethro sat perched on the side of her bed.
“Why aren’t you lying down?”
“Because I’m feeling better. I told you we heal fast.”
She set down her supplies and glared down at him. “Not that fast.”
“All right, not that fast, but you could let a man have his pride.”
Patience smiled then. “Fine. If you’re up to worrying about your pride, then I’ll believe you are indeed feeling better. Now, let’s see what kind of damage those…those animals did.”
Jethro peeled off his shirt, wincing a bit when the dried blood stuck to the cloth. “It’s not as bad as it looks.”
Enough was enough. “Don’t be ridiculous. It’s every bit as bad as it looks, Jethro. I know you and your men like to think you’re invincible, but don’t forget I was with Elliott when he was dying. Even if he can come back from it, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t scary and painful for him.”
She dipped a cloth in the hot water and began the slow process of washing away the dirt, sweat, and blood from Jethro’s injuries. He’d taken several shallow cuts that she suspected were more painful than dangerous. Two, though, would have killed a lesser man.
Once she had those wounds cleaned and bandaged, she pointed toward the blood on his pant leg. “You need to take those off now.”
His jaw took on a stubborn tilt. “I can take care of that one myself.”
“I’ve seen a man without his pants before, Jethro.”
“You haven’t seen me without my pants, Patience.” He gave her a wicked look. “Not yet, anyway.”
Patience felt her cheeks go all rosy. “So if not now, when exactly are you planning on me seeing you without your pants?”
Jethro grinned as he tugged the wet cloth from her hand and tossed it aside. He patted the bed beside him. When she settled in next him, he lifted his arm around her shoulders and tried to tugged her in closer. She resisted briefly, but then gave in. After all, it was right where she wanted to be.
His next words shocked her to the core. “To answer your question, I was figuring our wedding night might be a better time for that to happen.”
Suddenly Patience’s lungs wouldn’t take in quite enough air. She wanted to believe he meant that, but she also needed to know that he wasn’t offering for her hand out of duty. “Are you proposing to me, Jethro Bane? If so, why? Because if it’s out of some misguided sense of obligation, my answer will be no.”
When he didn’t immediately answer, she was afraid he was already regretting his words. Finally, his stern expression softened just a bit, his green eyes glittering with a touch of heat. “Yes, I am proposing to you, Patience Kort. It’s true I want to keep you safe, and I hate the idea of you living here all alone. Paladins do come with a strong streak of protectiveness and duty, but I promise you that’s not why I want to marry you.”
Her pulse fluttered and then sped up. “Then why, Jethro?”
“Because I can’t imagine spending another minute of my life without you in it. You’re the strongest woman I’ve ever met, not to mention the most beautiful. I don’t know how you managed to sneak past all my defenses, woman, but I love everything about you.”
Then he pressed a soft kiss on her temple. “I’m hoping you can love me back, even knowing who and what I am.”
She started to respond, but he stopped her by putting his finger across her lips. “Before you answer, you should also know that I can’t walk away from my responsibilities as a Paladin. That means I won’t always be home, but I will be as much as I possibly can. I’m also hoping that with the Others showing up around here that the Regents will station someone in this area to keep an eye on things.”
All of his words came out in a rush and left him sounding a bit breathless by the end. If she didn’t know better, she would have suspected he was truly worried that she wouldn’t welcome his proposal. If he could lay his heart out there for her to see, then she could do no less.
She rested her head on his shoulder. “You told me once that you would come courting if you were a regular fellow, but I’ve met a lot of regular fellows. Not one of them ever made me feel the way you do. I love you exactly the way you are, Jethro Bane. Of course you have to continue to protect this world from its enemies. I won’t say that I like it, but I do understand that you might have to spend time away from home. All I ask is that you come back to me as soon as you can.”
“So you’re saying yes?”
Patience nodded. “I will be honored to accept your proposal.”
This time there was nothing sweet or innocent about Jethro’s kiss. They were both breathing hard by the time he broke it off. He rested his forehead against hers. “Many more kisses like that one, I suspect all my good intentions won’t hold up for very long. I’d suggest we send for the parson immediately, but Elliott wouldn’t forgive us for getting married without him there.”
Patience hated even delaying that long, but Jethro was right. Elliott had laid his life down to save her, the least she could do was let him give the bride away.
“Shall we send word to the parson that we’d like to have a small wedding two days from now?”
“If you’re sure…”
She kissed him again. “I’m sure.”
Jethro bought a new shirt at the store in town. When he walked back outside, the sheriff was waiting for him.
“Have things been quiet out at Miss Kort’s place?”
“Yes, sir. My men tracked down last of the renegades day before yesterday. It’s been quiet since.” He leaned against the railing along the sidewalk. “How about you and your men? Any trouble on the outlying farms and ranches?”
The sheriff sighed. “A few dead cattle. A couple of folks reported seeing some strangers riding through, but I suspect those were your men. No one reported seeing anyone who resembled those renegades you described to me.”
“That’s good, Sheriff.”
The other man gave Jethro a hard look. “So I hear tell from the parson that you and Miss Patience have decided to get hitched.”
“We have. Tomorrow, in fact.” He’d been counting the seemingly endless hours since Patience had accepted his proposal.
“That’s kind of fast, don’t you think?”
His good mood destroyed by the careless words, Jethro’s temper flared hot. He stepped closer, his hands clenched in fists. “Just what are you implying, Sheriff? Patience is a lady, and I won’t tolerate anyone hinting otherwise. We’re getting married tomorrow out of necessity only because my friends will be riding out soon. They want to be here for the wedding.”
The lawman held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “I know full well what kind of woman Patience is, and I have no end of respect for her. She has more gumption than most men I know. It’s just that her pa never treated her right. I want to know you plan to do better by her than he ever did.”
It was nice to know that someone knew the truth about Patience and what she’d had to put up with all these years. “I count myself lucky that she has agreed to be my wife. I will still be working for that investigative service I mentioned, so I’ll have to travel some once in a while, but not as much as I used to. My intention is spend every possible minute I can with my wife and the family we hope to have.”
He must have given the right answer because Sheriff Garner grinned and held out his hand. “Then congratulations and welcome to our town, Mr. Bane. And if it’s all right with you, I’ll be at the wedding tomorrow.”
Jethro shook the man’s hand. “I’m sure that will mean a lot to Patience.”
And now, it was time to get back home. Elliott had been starting to come around when Jethro had left for town. He couldn’t wait to tell the man he had better get moving if he wanted to walk the bride down the aisle at the wedding tomorrow.
“Are you sure you picked the right man, Miss Kort? I know Jethro met you first, but I’m much better looking. For sure, I’m more charming.”
Patience wasn’t even tempted, but she smiled at her companion anyway. “Elliott, you are a charmer, that’s for certain. And while I do appreciate your offer—”
“No, don’t say it. It’s perfectly clear how you feel about Jethro.” He snapped the reins over the horses’ backs to hurry them along. “And although I would deny it with my dying breath, he is the best of us. I hope the two of you are quite happy together.”
“I won’t tell him what you said. But from what I’ve seen, I think you’re all good men, Elliott. I certainly have the utmost respect for the Paladins and what they stand for.”
They’d reached the outskirts of town. Jethro and his friends had ridden into town earlier to give Patience a chance to get dressed for her wedding without all of them underfoot. Only Elliott had remained behind to ask as her escort to the small church where her future husband would be waiting for her.
Elliott glanced over toward her lap. “Are you nervous?”
She realized that she’d been clenching and unclenching her hands. “Maybe a little. I never expected to marry, and now I’m marrying a man I met only a few days ago.”
Her companion frowned. “If you need more time, I will take you back home and then have a talk with Jethro. He won’t be happy, but he’ll understand.”
“No, I want this. Very much, in fact. I’m more worried that he’ll have regrets.”
To her surprise, Elliott laughed. “That’s the one thing you don’t need to worry about. That man can’t believe own good luck. Hell, I suspect he’s even grateful to the Others for bringing the two you together.”
Now that didn’t seem likely, but she appreciated the man working so hard to reassure her. “The church is that way.”
Elliott guided the horses down the side street and pulled up to a stop outside the small church. There was a surprising number of horses and wagons surrounding the building. It was as crowded as it would have been on a Sunday morning. Elliott climbed down and came around to assist Patience down to the ground.
Hiram stepped out of the church. “Glad you two finally got here. Poor Jethro has about worn a hole in the floor pacing back and forth as he stared at his watch. I’ll let him know the waiting is over.”
Elliott offered Patience his arm as Hiram disappeared back into the church. She drew a deep breath and started up the few steps to the door knowing her future was waiting for her inside.
Despite the teasing of his friends, Jethro’s impatience had nothing to do with nerves and everything to do with needing this public affirmation that Patience Kort, soon to be Patience Bane, was his and his alone.
He caught a glimpse of Hiram checking yet again to see if Elliott had arrived, bringing Jethro’s bride with him. His pulse pounded in his ears when the Paladin came back inside nodding his head. She was here. His bride.
Jethro turned to the pastor. “Miss Kort has arrived.”
The elderly minister assumed his position in front of the congregation. Jethro had been expecting just his friends and maybe the sheriff and his wife. Instead, it appeared as if most of the town was in attendance. The women had even put together a luncheon big enough to feed the crowd. He would have been happy with a simple ceremony and then a leisurely drive back to her farm to celebrate their marriage in private.
Instead, they would be stuck here in town for the better part of the day. However, for Patience’s sake, he would have endured much more.
The door of the church opened again. There she was, her arm looped through Elliott’s, who was filling in for her late father today. The woman seated at the piano in the corner began playing as Patience and Elliott started down the aisle.
Seconds later, she joined him at the front. As they turned to face the minister, she whispered, “I had not expected so many people.”
“They came for you, Patience. To give you the wedding they thought you deserved.” He smiled down at her. “I hope you’re getting the groom you deserve.”
Her answering smile lit up the room. “I don’t know if I deserve you, Jethro, but for sure I’m getting the man I want and love.”
The pastor cleared his throat. “Now that you’ve settled, shall we begin?”
Jethro winked at Patience. “By all means.”
The sun was setting by the time Jethro guided the wagon down the narrow road to Patience’s farm. No, now it was their farm. It felt odd to feel like he was coming home. He couldn’t remember ever feeling that way before.
He stopped in front of the barn. After climbing down, Jethro held up his hands to lift his wife down off the seat. He took advantage of the opportunity to kiss his new bride. “I’ll take care of the horses and then be along directly.”
Patience picked up the two baskets of food the ladies from church had sent home with them, saying that a new bride shouldn’t have to cook on her wedding night. Jethro had echoed her appreciation of their thoughtfulness. He had plans for the evening that didn’t include Patience spending time at the stove.
He watched as she headed for the house, the gentle sway of her hips nearing transfixing him. One of the horses snorted and stomped its hoof reminding him he had his own chores to take care of. He made quick work of feeding and watering the animals. Anything else that needed to be done could wait until morning.
His friends had done their best to erase any damage done by the Others, another thing for which he was grateful. He didn’t want Patience surrounded by reminders of the horror that had descended on her beloved farm.
He stopped at the water pump to wash up before heading into the house and the woman who waited there for him. When he was finished, the door opened and Patience stepped out onto the porch.
He paused on the bottom step to soak in her beauty. “Mrs. Bane, you’re looking lovely tonight.”
“And, Mr. Bane, you’re looking awfully handsome. Would you like to come inside with me?”
He joined her on the porch. “More than anything, Patience. I want to begin our life together.”
She took his hand in hers. “Then let’s do exactly that.”
Then they walked inside together and closed the door, shutting the out the rest of the world.