Cowboy Paladin (part 9)
Patience quickly doused the lights to make it harder for the enemy to see into the house while Jethro picked up his guns and joined Elliott out on the porch. She wanted to drag them both back inside rather than let them make targets of themselves, but maybe they could drive off their enemies before they got any closer to the house. At least Jethro had said the Others would be armed with swords, not guns. She prayed that was true.
Meanwhile, she filled two kettles with fresh water and put them on the stove to heat. Heaven forbid either man got wounded, but it was better to be prepared if something did go wrong. After adding more wood to the fire, she raided her stash of fabric and tore an old sheet into strips for bandages. Finally, she set out her best needle and thread in case she needed to stitch a wound.
Having done as much she could to prepare, Patience picked up her shotgun and waited. Outside, the shots were coming more often. It was impossible to tell if all the shooting was all coming from the two Paladins. How long would they stay out there? Not knowing what was happening outside just made things worse. She stooped low and crossed to the small window on the front of the house.
Taking care to stay close to the edge, she peeked outside. The smoke from the guns hung heavy in the air, making it difficult to see. But as she waited and watched, she could make out some details. There were bodies scattered everywhere, some writhing in pain while others lay sprawled motionless and bleeding. Jethro and Elliott had obviously thinned the enemy ranks but still more poured down the hillside.
“We’re coming in!”
She hurried to open the door as first Elliott and then Jethro backed into the cabin. After she slammed the door closed, Jethro barred it.
“Are you both all right?”
“So far,” Jethro said, flashing her a quick smile. “We came inside because we were running low on ammunition, and a few of them were starting to close in.”
Elliott held out his arm for inspection. He looked more curious than worried as blood trickled down onto her floor in a steady stream. “Damn, that last guy got closer than I thought.”
Patience’s stomach churned at the sight of the open wound that cut through his muscle straight to the bone. Knowing now wasn’t the time for squeamishness, she swallowed hard and pointed toward the table. “Come sit down while I stitch that up for you.”
He took a seat but told her, “There’s no time for that. Just wrap it tight.”
Patience wanted to argue, but the enemy continued to draw closer screaming taunts and threats in their deep voices. She shuddered at the sound of madness and murder slowly surrounding her small home. Her father had built the cabin to hold up against the worst storms, but wood was always susceptible to fire. If those madmen outside were to decide to burn them out, she and the two men would have no choice but to take to the tunnel. That had its own dangers.
“Patience, I’m going to break out the window, so I can shoot.” Jethro shot her an apologetic look even as he hit the glass with the butt of his rifle. “I promise to fix it.”
Neither of them pointed out that he would only be able to do that if he survived the fight. Of course, if he were to be believed, he and Elliott could come back from even mortal wounds. Could, though, didn’t always translate as would. And if she died, what did it matter if she had a window or not? She brought him another box of ammunition.
“I’m more worried about you than I am the window.”
Jethro smiled down at her, using his free arm to pull her in close for a quick kiss. “I like you worrying about me.”
Determined to steal a few seconds of comfort while they could, she snuggled in closer and buried her face against the strength of his chest and let Jethro surround her with the warmth of his big body. She wished that they weren’t under attack, that Elliott wasn’t there to chaperone, that she and Jethro had all the time in the world to explore this amazing feeling that burned through her veins.
But the screams were right outside the door now. Once again, she thanked the Fates for bringing Jethro Bane into her life right when she needed him most. At the same time, she cursed them for making it unlikely she would live long enough to tell Jethro that she’d fallen in love with him. That he was the one man she’d been waiting for her entire life.
When a face appeared at the window, Jethro pushed Patience behind him and got off several shots before his gun fired on an empty chamber. He backed away and let Elliott take his place. His friend shouted his own taunts at the enemy as he took deadly aim.
Reloading his weapons, Jethro came to the unfortunate realization that they’d badly underestimated how much ammunition they would need. He’d bought what he’d thought would be plenty for his own weapons. He hadn’t counted on having to furnish Elliott with bullets, too, nor had he expected the sheer number of Others that had come pouring down the hillside. In all of his years of fighting them, he’d never seen this many escape from such a small stretch of the barrier.
He did a quick count of the ammunition again, including the shells for old man Kort’s shotgun. The numbers hadn’t changed and still didn’t add up to enough. He looked up from the box in his hand to find Patience watching him. He didn’t need to tell her. The knowledge shone in those pretty eyes of hers. Resignation, but also something else that had his pulse racing and his heart hungering to hold her close.
Son of a bitch! He finally found something real to fight for, something far more substantial that the code of honor that had been bred into him by generations of Paladins. Without knowing it, he’d spent all these years fighting to get to this one moment in time when this one woman would look at him like that. If they were alone, if there weren’t crazies just outside who wanted to kill all three of them and then dance in their blood, he would have dropped to his knees and begged Patience to let him love her for eternity.
He was realist. He had to be. Now wasn’t the time for wishing things were different for the two of them. He had enemies who needed killing and a woman who needed saving. Tomorrow, if they lived to see it, would be time enough for dreams.
“Elliott, I’m going to have to make a stand.” His friend simply nodded and fired off another shot while Jethro continued talking. “I need to reload my rifle, but then I’ll lay down fire long enough for you to take Patience out through the tunnel. As long as I keep firing, they’ll think we’re all in here.”
Patience was already shaking her head. “No, I won’t let you sacrifice yourself for me, Jethro Bane! I can fight, too!”
Elliott joined in the discussion. “I have a better idea. You take her while I lay down fire. She’s more likely to listen to you than me if things go wrong out there.”
Did they really think they had any choice? Jethro pointed toward the bandage on Elliott’s arm, which was already soaked through and dripping blood again. “You’ve only been shooting your pistol, which tells me that arm is worse than you’re letting on. If you can’t use the rifle, you can’t shoot long enough to let us get away. I’m staying. No arguments.”
When Patience started to protest again, Jethro cut her off. He had to find a way to make her go, to think he didn’t want her to stay. “Patience, I can’t concentrate on my job if I’m having to worry about you getting in the way.”
He hated if his words hurt her, but he didn’t regret a word he’d said if it meant she’d leave. He should have known that she was smart enough to see through his ruse. “Jethro, I’ll go but only if you promise to follow as soon as we’ve had time to reach the other end of the tunnel. The door should keep them out long enough for you to get away.”
He’d promise her anything right now. “I’ll follow if I can. Take the shotgun and enough bullets to reload his pistol again.”
“But you’ll need them.”
“I won’t send you out there unarmed, Patience. Now go while there’s still time.”
Elliott was already pulling up the trapdoor while she filled her pockets with bullets for Elliott’s revolver and shells for the shotgun. She watched Elliott ease himself down the ladder into the tunnel, but instead of following him, she back to Jethro. “Patience, you need—”
She stopped him with a kiss. “What I need is you, Jethro. Don’t you dare die, because I have plans for us.”
Then she was off and running, leaving him to stare after her with a huge grin on his face. His good mood didn’t last long. As soon as the trapdoor slammed shut, he locked it again and threw the rug back over the top. Then he returned to the window and started firing again, slow and steady. The longer he could convince the enemy that they were still trapped inside, the better the chances were that Elliott would get Patience to safety. Jethro prayed like he hadn’t in years that his friend could get her away before the crazies realized their prey had escaped.
But as he took aim, he replayed that kiss in his mind. She had plans for the two of them, did she? Well, if he lived to see another day, he might have a few thoughts on that subject himself.
But then the door rattled as something heavy crashed into it. Another few blows like that, and the damn thing would shatter.
“Sorry, Patience,” he murmured and stood back to shoot the first bastard through the door.