Cowboy Paladin (part 7)
Nightfall was but a couple of hours away by the time Patience and Jethro reached the farm. They’d waited in town until he got an answer to his telegram. It was a relief to learn that his superiors had taken the threat seriously and promised to send reinforcements. The only problem was that they probably wouldn’t arrive until late the next day or possibly even the day after.
Jethro had offered to take care of their horses by himself, freeing her to put away the supplies they’d purchased and to start their evening meal. She put a pot of stew on the stove and then checked all the lamps to make sure they had plenty of oil in them. To be on the safe side, she also set out half a dozen candles. When she was done with that, she also packed up some supplies and set them by the trapdoor in case the two of them were forced to abandon the farmhouse.
Meanwhile, Jethro milked the cow, fed the chickens, and brought in several armloads of firewood. She thanked him for his efforts, and it was hard not to think about how nice it was to have a man around the place who willingly did his fair share of the work. Her pa had always pitched in to do a few chores, but only when he was home, and then only when he wasn’t suffering from having had too much whiskey the night before. Patience felt a momentary pang of guilt for thinking about him in that way, especially with him so recently in the grave. However, she’d loved her father, and he’d loved her in his own way. She’d just never been blind to his faults.
Once Jethro finished with the chores, he’d carried all their available weapons out onto the porch. After settling in on the bench along the front of the house, he’d methodically cleaned all of the guns and made sure they were all loaded and ready to go. She watched as he turned his attention to honing the edge on his sword and several deadly looking knives. While she was grateful that he was doing everything he could to defend both her and her home, she had to admit that it bothered her no little bit to see how comfortable he was with all those weapons.
As if sensing her gaze, he glanced back over his shoulder to where she stood watching out of the window. His expression was solemn but held more than touch of what looked like regret. Most likely it wasn’t the first time someone had judged him poorly for making his living with his guns and that sword that he carried.
Under the circumstance, she wasn’t being fair to him. For sure, she didn’t question the sheriff and his deputies for walking around armed and ready to deal with whatever trouble came their way. Why would she feel any different about Jethro? If it hadn’t been for him, most likely she would have been dead and buried just like her father. Resolved to set the record straight on that particular issue, she wiped her hands on her apron, patted her hair to make sure it was tidy, and headed out onto the porch.
Jethro looked up from the blade he’d been rubbing across the whetting stone. When she didn’t immediately speak, he asked, “Did you need something?”
“Yes, I wanted to make sure that I thanked you again for everything you’ve done for me the past couple of days. All of this is a bit hard to get my head around, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not grateful. You’re a good man, Jethro Bane.”
The words all came out in a rush. She suspected she was blushing, and Jethro’s expression was difficult to interpret. “I haven’t done anything that any other man in the same position wouldn’t have done.”
She shook her head. “That’s not true. True, some might have stuck by me long enough to make sure I was safe from those renegades. But most of them would have handed my problems over to the sheriff even if he wasn’t the best man to handle the job.”
Jethro set the knife aside and stood up. “I’m sure Sheriff Garner is good at his job.”
A shiver of fear washed over her as she remembered what it had felt like to be hunted by that pack of animals. “He is a good sheriff, but he has to worry about everyone in the area, not just me. I also suspect he’s never run up against a situation like this before. If it weren’t for you, I’d be out here alone and scared out of my wits.”
She halfway expected him to point out that she could have stayed in town, but he didn’t. He took another step closer to her. “I’ll make sure you’re safe, Patience. I promise those men won’t get a chance to hurt you. Not again.”
His words comforted her, but she wasn’t just worried about herself. “I don’t want you to get hurt, either. There’s just two of us and who knows how many of them.”
She couldn’t help but look out toward the tree line, watching for any sign that the enemy had already come crawling out of the shadows. “I truly hate this, Jethro.”
“And I hate that you’ve been dragged into my world, Patience. I’d give anything if we’d never met up, leastwise not under these circumstances.” His voice deepened, and his green eyes had such fierce determination in their depths, and maybe a hint of heat.
“And if the circumstances were different?”
Jethro reached out to toy with a stray lock of her hair. “If I was an ordinary fellow, and not the man I am, I would surely come courting, Miss Patience. I’d take you for Sunday buggy rides and steal a kiss when nobody was looking.”
His words pleased her far more than they should. That didn’t stop her from looking around and then offering him a teasing smile and stepped close enough to settle her hand over his heart. “I don’t see anybody looking right now.”
He caught her hand in his as his eyes flared wide. “Patience, you’re playing with fire here.”
The huskiness in his voice gave her courage. “No, I’m playing with you, Jethro.”
His grip on her hand tightened, making it clear he wasn’t going to let her walk away from what she’d started. “You deserve better, Patience. Certainly someone who can stick around and take care of you.”
“And so do you, Jethro, so do you.”
Then she was in his arms right where she realized she’d wanted to be since the moment their paths had crossed. She’d known other men in her life, but none that had made her hunger for his touch the way she did Jethro’s. Maybe the circumstances under which they’d met intensified this immediate sense of connection, but her heart said she would have felt the same way about Jethro no matter what.
For such a big man, his touch was so unbelievably gentle, his kiss coaxing rather than demanding. As he pulled her in close, she lifted her arms to encircle his neck and surrendered to the moment.
Patience’s kiss was sweet as honey and as powerful as the woman herself. He was no monk, but he’d never once experienced a moment like this one. Any man with a pulse would be drawn to the warmth and passion of a woman like her, but she just felt so damn right in his arms. Like maybe she was meant to be there.
He deepened the kiss and loved her soft sigh and the way she melted into him. There wasn’t time to go much farther than this, not now when the sun would soon sink behind the hills to the west. She also deserved to know more about him, including the details that he wasn’t supposed to share with anyone outside of the Paladins and the Regents. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t going savor every second of this rare chance to pretend he was that ordinary guy who wanted more than anything to court Patience.
A few seconds later, he took his time breaking off the kiss while he still had the strength of character to do what was right. That was when he realized the two of them were no longer alone. Son of a bitch! What he been thinking?
He shoved Patience behind him and was in the act of drawing his revolver when a familiar voice drawled, “Well, I’m guessing that isn’t what I was sent here to help you with, Jethro, and that’s a danged shame.”
Jethro aimed his gun right at his friend’s smirking face. “Elliot Jones, watch your mouth or I’ll pull the trigger. I’m tempted to anyway. You’d look good with a bullet hole right between those beady eyes of yours.”
“Now, Jethro, we both know I won’t be much help until after I’m done being dead.” Elliot then tipped his hat in Patience’s direction. “Elliott Jones at your service, ma’am. I do apologize, but I meant no offense to you. I’m just not use to seeing my friend here with a beautiful woman.”
She’d stepped out from behind Jethro to stare up at the other Paladin. “Hello, Mr. Jones. My name is Patience Kort. Thank you for coming, but we weren’t expecting anyone until tomorrow.”
To give Elliott credit, he didn’t crack a smile nor did he point out that the two of them had obviously not been expecting company. There was an evil twinkle in his eyes, though, when he turned his attention back to Jethro.
“Captain Earle knew I was close by and sent me a telegram in care of the sheriff in the next county over. We’ve had a few of the same problems over that way, but we’ve managed to contain the problem. Two of the other men were going to hang around there until morning to make sure the patch holds. They’ll be along sometime tomorrow afternoon.”
Jethro was all too aware of Patience listening intently to what Elliott was saying. She would have questions, ones he didn’t want to answer in front of his friend. “Patience, I’ll go help Elliott see to his horse, and then I’ll bring in the weapons.”
She gave him a narrowed-eyed look, clearly not happy that he was trying to distract her. “Fine. The stew should be about ready. I’ll put the biscuits in to bake, so wash up for dinner on your way in. Mr. Jones, you’ll join us, won’t you?”
Elliott’s smile immediately brightened up. “I’d appreciate a home cooked meal for certain, Miss Patience.”
“Fine then. I’ll have the food on the table in about fifteen minutes.” She turned to walk by Jethro on her way back into the house. Before disappearing inside, she looked him straight in the eye and said, “And maybe over dinner one of you can explain to me why Mr. Jones here made it sound as if you shot him dead he wouldn’t stay that way.”
When she closed the door, shutting them out, he glared up at Elliott. His friend laughed. “Well, that’s what I get for shooting my mouth off when I’m this tired. Sorry, Jethro, but I’m thinking the dinner conversation tonight is going to be interesting indeed.”
“And I’m thinking that I might still shoot you. Showing Patience the truth will make it easier for her to believe me.” He offered his friend a small smile. “And the best part is that you’ll be quiet as long as you’re dead. I have to say, that idea really appeals to me right now.”
Elliott finally dismounted. “Well, let me know what you decide. Until then, I’d better get my mare fed and watered.”