The Paladin's Lady Partner (Part 15)
The rest of the day passed by in a blur. Sadie wished they could have slowed things down enough for her to catch her breath, but she wasn't complaining. It was such a relief to know her enemy was behind bars and awaiting trial. She actually felt a little sorry for Mack for having to put up with that odious man until the judge came to town for the trial. Evidently Putnam still thought his money would buy his way out of the trouble he'd caused.
Not only that, he couldn't understand why Elliott wasn't being charged for shooting him. The wound wasn't all that serious, but he acted as if he were on death's bed. Mack had finally told him that if he thought that jail cell was bad, wait until he saw what the state penitentiary had to offer in the way of accommodations. Of course, he might never find out if the judge was in a hanging mood. Things had gotten a lot quieter after that.
For her part, she had been relieved that none of the men she cared about had made it through the day without a scratch. Right now, she was waiting in the hotel dining room for Elliott and Jethro to return from the private discussion they'd wanted to have with Billy. They planned to tell him what it meant to be a Paladin. Depending on how he took the news that he was just like them, they'd make plans for the boy. She was really hoping they'd realize he was too young to pick up a sword and join the battle.
She sipped her tea and considered her own options. There was a lot left unsettled between her and Elliott, and they hadn't had two minutes alone to do some talking of their own. Hopefully that would change soon.
The front door of the hotel opened and her three menfolk came trooping in. Billy was looking a bit wild-eyed, his gaze bouncing back and forth between Jethro and Elliott. As soon as he spotted her, he left them in the dust to join her at the table.
She smiled at him. "Are you all right?"
He swallowed hard and nodded. "Yes, ma'am. I'm guessin' you already knew what they had to say."
"I did. What do you think?"
He rubbed the arm where he'd had a bullet wound just the day before. "If I hadn't seen my own injuries disappear in a hurry all my life, I would have thought they were touched in the head or something."
Then he grinned at the two men who'd finally caught up with him. "I'm still not sure they aren't."
Jethro reached over to lightly smack the back of Billy's head. "Hey, now. Show some respect if you want to sleep here in the hotel tonight instead of the nearest pigpen I can find."
Billy executed a sloppy salute with a big grin. "Yes, sir."
Now she was confused. "The three of you are staying in town? I thought we'd head back to my place after we eat."
Because she wasn't ready to say good-bye to any of them, and most especially Elliott. His big hand came down on hers as he sat down at the table. "The two of them are staying in town until tomorrow. Jethro needs to leave for his farm in the morning, and Billy is going with him. From there, they'll go to headquarters to introduce Billy to everyone and get him set up with a plan."
She bit her lip, not wanting to interfere but also wanting to protest that Billy needed time to come to terms with the changes in his life. What about her teaching him to read and write?
Elliott must have read her mind. "They're trying to give you and me time alone, Sadie. Billy will be back in a week to ten days to stay with you until he's ready to take up his duties as a Paladin. We don't plan on that happening for a couple of years yet. We thought he could spend most of his time at your place but some at Jethro's farm, too. We'll give him lessons with a sword while you teach him how to read and write. He'll earn his keep doing chores for you."
While she heard every word he'd said, the ones that really stuck out were the ones about having some time alone, just her and Elliott.
Billy was watching her a bit anxiously. "Are you all right with me staying with you, Sadie? I swear I'm a hard worker, and there isn't much around a farm that I can't do."
"I'll be right glad of the company, Billy."
Jethro joined the conversation. "Have you figured out what you're going to do with the mine?"
Just one more problem she needed to deal with. "I still need to talk to the man who has been managing the mine. I have no idea if it's making money or barely breaking even. It may be more than I want to take on alone."
A heavy silence followed her last comment. She'd evidently said something wrong. To her surprise Jethro caught Billy's attention and jerked his head toward the door. The two of them were up and moving before she could protest. Weren't they going to stay long enough to have dinner?
Meanwhile, Elliott called after them, "Give us about ten minutes."
Jethro nodded and kept right on walking. When then were gone, Elliott leaned in close. "Who said anything about you being alone anymore?"
"I just meant that I can't take care of my place and still have time to keep an eye on things at the mine. It's not like I know anything about operating one."
"It's your mine and all, but I think you shouldn't rush into selling it. I'm guessing it's probably worth more than you realize considering all the trouble Putnam went to trying to steal it from you. Besides, between the two of us, I'm betting we can learn everything we need to know about the mining business."
The knot in her chest eased up considerably. "So you're planning on sticking around, at least as much as your job allows."
"I sure am." Elliott's handsome face lit up with a sly smile. "That's why I stopped off to see the preacher on the way here. He's waiting for us down at the church. I know womenfolk set store by a big wedding with all their friends, so I hope you'll forgive me for not giving you a chance to set that up. I thought we'd have him say the words over us and then come back here for the fanciest dinner this hotel offers. Billy, Jethro, and Mack will all be with us. Afterward, we'll head home, just the two of us. Alone. All night long."
He twined his fingers in her and pressed a kiss on the back of her hand. "That is, if that plan works for you. Otherwise, I'm open to suggestions as long as we end up married. I promise to love you every day of your life, Sadie. Tell me you want that."
She studied his face, loving the bit of uncertainty mixed with hope in his dark eyes. She knew just how he felt. With everything that had happened over the past few days, both good and bad, it was still a surprise to realize she'd found a man who loved her as much as she loved him.
"I want that so much, Elliott Jones." She stood and tugged him up to his feet. "Let's not keep the preacher waiting."
He picked her up and swung her around and around before finally setting her back down on her feet. Then he proceeded to kiss her long and hard, leaving her breathless and flustered.
As he led her out to the lobby to join Jethro and Billy, he whispered, "Come on, soon-to-be Mrs. Jones. I don't know about you, but as much as I'm looking forward to claiming you as my wife and having dinner with our friends, it's what comes afterward that I'm really looking forward to."
She knew her cheeks were rosy pink, but that didn't keep her from telling him, "Like you said, just the two of us, alone all night long. I can't wait."
"I'll make it good for you, Sadie."
And he did.