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That Was Then, This is Now - Part 3
“And that my children, is enough for tonight.” Gram slammed the journal shut. “We’ve got a long day ahead of us tomorrow. I promised Amy I’d bake at least four pies for tomorrow night.”
“Tomorrow night?” Harm stood up from the sofa to stretch.
“Oh, dear. Did I forget to mention about tomorrow night?” Gram frowned.
“Sounds like it.” Harm noticed Mac stretching too and moved behind her to rub her shoulders.
“Well, the church is having a barn dance tomorrow night. You know, lots of food, music, laughing and dancing. Great fun for the whole town. You used to love them when you were a kid.” Gram raised her nose at Harm.
“Yeah, I guess I did. I didn’t know they still did that.” Harm smiled, still rubbing Mac’s shoulders.
“Well they do. So, don’t you two stay up too late.” Gram smiled and headed off to bed.
“I guess we should call it an early night, too,” Harm suggested.
“Not as long as you keep doing this.” Mac grinned, totally enjoying his touch. She could easily get used to this.
Harm couldn’t help but smile. He wished Mac would really let him take care of her.
“You are a little stiff.” Harm moved one hand to rub the back of her neck. “Good grief, you’ve got knots the size of walnuts.”
“I guess I’ve got a lot on my mind.” Mac half shrugged.
“You head on upstairs. I’m going to make some of Gram’s famous milk tea for you. Put on something loose and comfortable too,” Harm ordered, nudging Mac towards the stairs.
Less than ten minutes later Harm was standing at Mac’s door with a mug of milk tea and a bottle of Gram’s almond oil.
“First drink this. Then you’re going to lie down on your stomach and let the legendary Rabb fingers work your cares away.” Harm handed Mac the mug and wiggled his fingers in front of her.
“You don’t have to do that. The tea is plenty, thank you.” Mac half smiled, half chuckled on her way to the bed.
Following her over, Harm sat down beside her.
“I’m just trying to help, Mac.” Harm didn’t know quite where to look.
Taking a long sip of her tea first, Mac set the cup down on the bedside table.
“I know and I appreciate it, really I do.” Mac reached over to touch Harm’s hand. His hands were so nice and strong. She couldn’t resist running her fingers over his, enjoying the strong rough texture.
Harm watched her playing with his hands. He was completely mesmerized. Such a simple gesture, so insignificant, and yet he could feel his insides melting from the tenderness. He swallowed hard. Without realizing it, he had closed his eyes and allowed himself to get completely lost in her delicate touch.
When she realized how long she’d been caressing his hands, Mac was overcome with embarrassment. It was even worse when she saw that he’d been sitting there with his eyes closed.
“I’m sorry.” Mac let go of his hands as though she’d been burned.
“No, thank you. That was very…nice.” He couldn’t think of a sensible thing to say.
Before he knew what had possessed him, his hand reached up and brushed the side of her cheek. Drawn together like magnets, their lips were only inches apart when a flicker of doubt from the other night flashed through his mind. It was no use, the draw was too strong, the desire too powerful. Their lips met in a slow tentative gesture, the taste and feel everything they needed.
Mac thought of pulling away, of putting distance between them, but this was what she needed, what she’d been craving: to be touched by the one man who made her feel safe and whole. When she felt his lips easing away, she moved her hand and let it fall on his chest. Her other hand landed on his shoulder, pulling him a little closer. Without any thought to the implications or consequences, Mac deepened the kiss. She’d let him pull away from her the other night, but she needed him now.
Wrapping his arms tightly around her, Harm pulled her even closer. His lips against hers ignited a fire deep within him. Their lips touched, teased and danced in exploration. His hands moved along her back, desperate to feel her closer still, unwilling to ever let her go. His heart was pounding as though his very life depended on keeping Sarah MacKenzie in his arms.
Mac felt herself drifting away at his touch. Everything she’d ever felt for him was clamoring its way to the surface, the passion, devotion, desire, and love were all fighting their way to the top. She was being consumed by the need to be a part of Harmon Rabb’s life in every sense of the word.
Harm was starting to feel out of control. His feelings and desires for Mac were taking over all forms of common sense. He needed to pull away, to slow down, but Lord help him, he didn’t want to let go of her. Slowly pulling his lips away from hers, he dropped his forehead against hers and slid his hands to where her hands had been on his chest. Covering her hands with his, he squeezed them tightly. Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath.
“Wow.” Was the only semi intelligible word he could come up with.
Mac couldn’t even find words.
“I uh…Oh, Mac.” He just knew he wasn’t going to find the right words. “I’ve got to stop doing that. I want you so much, but I know you’re not ready for this. I think I need to say good night and then take a very long, cold shower.” Harm tried to smile.
“No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything. I shouldn’t have kissed you again, but God, Mac, I’m only human and you’re so damned beautiful…” Harm was already kicking himself. He was just digging himself into a hole.
“You think I’m beautiful?” She sounded truly surprised. He’d said that to her once before in Paraguay, but she wasn’t sure how to take it then. She wasn’t sure she knew how to take it now.
“You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known. Inside and out,” Harm sighed. Maybe he hadn’t dug too deep a hole.
“It’s okay.” Mac kissed his cheek. “I’m glad you kissed me. I only wish you hadn’t stopped.”
Harm took her in his arms for another long, heated kiss before finally speaking. “This isn’t the time, or the place,” he panted, “but whether you want to hear it or not, I love you Sarah MacKenzie, and I’m counting the hours until the time is right to show you just how much.”
Everyone was feeling real peaceful with Webb in jail. Wasn’t a week later that e’eryone found out just how hollow that safe feeling they’d gotten themselves was. See, Thomas Webb had hisself an older, meaner brother, Cyrus. Beaumont sent a wire instructin Cyrus Webb to get hisself out to Calamity and take care of his brother’s business.
Well, lemme tell you, that there set a fire under old Cyrus, and word is he killed six horses getting himself out to Calamity as fast as he did. Day he arrived he stood up and swore he’d bury the man who accused his brother. See, Beaumont wasn’t above telling Cyrus tales about the evil Doc Rabb who’d arranged to have his brother hanged after tempting him with wicked widow O’Hara.”
Things hadn’t settled down for long. Beaumont hadn’t been willing to even sit in the same room as Doc, never mind say a civil word to him. Mrs. Beaumont was beside herself. She’d never seen her husband so obsessed by a project before. She’d heard plenty of rumors as to what had been happening to the town folks, and she was starting to worry that they might just be true.
She’d arranged for Mr. Roberts to come to tea one afternoon when her husband would be away inspecting the railroad construction. Things had slowed down some since there hadn’t been any further land acquisitions, with Tom Webb being in jail and all.
“It was mighty gracious of you to invite me, Mrs. Beaumont.” It took everything in Jeremiah to smile politely at his hostess when his interest was really with the beautiful blonde at her side.
“Well, Jeremiah… you don’t mind if I call you Jeremiah, do you?”
“No, ma’am. I’d be honored if you saw fit to call me by my Christian name.” Jeremiah smiled at her and Harriet.
“Well, Jeremiah, I’ll get straight to the point. I’ve been hearing a lot of rumors about people being forced off their lands so the railroad can move in. Is this true?” She may have been considered to be a featherweight socialite, but Mrs. Beaumont was a well- educated woman who chose not to keep her eyes closed to her husband’s business dealings any longer.
“I’m afraid so, ma’am. Old man Stevens, when he said no to the railroad, Mr. Webb came calling to convince him. When that didn’t work, the Steven’s barn mysteriously burned down two nights later. The next day, Mr. Webb came back with a slightly lower offer. Mr. Stevens told Webb he wouldn’t sell even over his dead body. Mrs. Stevens found her husband’s body supposedly trampled to death by his herd. Now ma’am, no matter what folks say, I don’t believe cattle are that stupid. I’ve never known an entire herd to stampede over their owner before falling off a cliff, never mind, only three days after their owner turned down an offer from the railroad. Mrs. Stevens barely got enough money for the ranch to move to Austin to live with her sister.”
“You have more, don’t you?” Daphne Beaumont asked stoically.
“Yes, ma’am. Lots of us have lost barns, pig pens, ice houses, cattle, fences. Doc’s even had to treat a lot of folks for broken arms and legs. I’ve already had to replace almost 100 head. The town’s rebuilt my barn twice. I suspect things won’t be pretty when Mr. Webb’s replacement comes into town. I think we’re all in for a bit of a war.” Jeremiah took a sip of his tea. It wasn’t his favorite afternoon libation but thinking about what was to come made him thirsty for anything liquid.
Jeremiah had no idea how foretelling his statements to Mrs. Beaumont were. As he was sipping tea comfortably at the Beaumont mansion, Cyrus Webb was making his way over to the sheriff’s office. Wearing a clean cream-colored suit with bright brass buttons, the man looked like he’d stepped straight off a riverboat casino. The appearance of the southern gentleman was nothing more than that, appearances.
“Okay, little brother, you tell me exactly who’s got you in here.” Cyrus spit out a chaw of tobacco on the floor.
“It’s that Doc Rabb and his widow whore O’Hara’s fault. Doc can’t seem to mind his own business. That Irish woman would dance and flaunt herself at the Doc, but thought she was too good for me. Ain’t no one too good for a Webb.” Tom watched his brother nod in agreement.
“Looks like I’ll have to teach the widow a lesson.” Cyrus sneered.
“Her, and that Roberts fellow who dragged me in here. It’s their word against mine,” Tom added.
“Don’t you worry about nothin’. I’ll clean up all the trash around here. No one puts my baby brother in jail and lives to tell about it. No one.” Cyrus spit another wad of tobacco on the floor.
Neither Harm nor Mac had gotten very much sleep. Each kept thinking about the other laying in bed a short walk across the hall. A few times Harm considered how nice it would be to just hold Mac through the night, but sanity prevailed. He knew after that heated kiss, lying beside her all night would probably be more temptation than he could resist.
They’d spent the better part of the day helping Gram peel and cook fruit for the pies. Mac was actually having a wonderful time. She’d never had anyone to do that sort of thing with her when she was growing up. This was like reliving a second childhood.
By late afternoon the pies were in the oven, and Gram suggested they take a little break to read some more of the history. She so enjoyed watching Harm and Mac together.
Mac followed Harm into the living room. He picked up the book and hesitated a moment to see where Mac was going to sit. The two stared at each other like a couple of inexperienced teenagers.
Finally Harm let out a small chuckle. “I won’t bite. You want to share the couch with me?”
Smiling broadly Mac took a seat. “Best offer I’ve had all day.”
The two snuggled down on the sofa and Harm picked up the story where they’d left off the night before.
Well, Cyrus Webb sure did raise hell when he hit town. Right away he set out to make sure e'eryone knew who was in charge now. Hell, word is he shot Toby Macintyre dead on his spread that day just cause Toby wouldn't give him water for him and his men's horses. An' Beaumont, that peacock sure did act different. No more suckin up to the people, gladhandin us like some kind o' eastern politician. No siree. Suddenly he was huddled close with Cyrus, plottin an' plannin. Soon as that started we all knew somethin' was up, an' it weren't gonna be good.
Daphne Beaumont was at her wit’s end. She knew something big was going to happen and it would be happening soon, but every time she got close enough to hear, her husband and Cyrus would clam up tighter than a Cherokee drum.
The sun was finally shining on Calamity as Daphne came down the stairs early one morning. She hesitated before reaching the sitting room door to fix a piece of her hem that had caught on something at the bottom step. Immediately, she realized her husband and Cyrus were inside the study talking. Carefully, she gathered up her skirt so as not to make much noise, and made her way around to the outside of the house. Standing as close as she dared to the window, she crouched down and listened intently.
“Then everything is in place for tonight?” Beaumont asked.
“Yes, sir. The last of the men arrived at the bunkhouse this morning. We’ve got all the kerosene we’ll need to light up every corner of East Texas,” Cyrus smirked happily.
“I don’t care about all of East Texas, I just want the land for my railroad!” Beaumont barked. He didn’t care about Webb’s blasted revenge. All he cared about were his train tracks.
“Don’t you worry. After tonight there won’t be a single timber left on the Roberts or O’Hara places. I’ll make sure not even a tooth will survive tonight’s blazes. You’ll be able to buy up the property at auction for a song.” Cyrus had a self satisfied grin. Ms. Daphne could hear it in his voice and it sent chills up her spine. “Some of the boys will be taking care of moving the livestock; I understand market price is pretty high right now.”
“Just make sure they can’t get out of the house. It has to be well in flames before they realize what’s happening,” Beaumont said, walking over to get another drink. Ms. Daphne had to swallow the urge to vomit. The idea that she was married to a man so willing to slaughter good people for a little strip of land physically sickened her.
“It’s all taken care of. Half the men will ride on the Roberts’ place, the other half on the O’Hara place. No one will set a foot on the property until after midnight. By then everyone will be so soundly asleep they’ll never know what burned them.” This time Cyrus laughed out loud. “No one messes with a Webb.”
In a panic, Ms. Daphne scurried back around the house. Waiting until her husband and Cyrus left, she ran upstairs to wake Harriet.
“Harriet, honey, you have to get up.” Daphne jostled her daughter. “It’s important, Jeremiah needs you.”
“What?” A very groggy Harriet Beaumont turned over in bed. “Mother, what are you talking about?”
“I overheard your father and that awful Cyrus. They’re planning on burning down Jeremiah’s house tonight, while he’s inside sound asleep. Same with the widow O’Hara’s place too.”
Harriet sprang out of bed as though someone had lit it on fire. “Are you sure?”
“I wish I weren’t, but yes. Hurry up and dress, then ride over and warn Jeremiah. I’m going over to Doc Rabb’s right now. I’m sure he’ll tell the widow. Make sure none of Webb’s men see you. If they do, slow up and pretend you’re out for a morning ride. If not, you better ride like you’ve never ridden before.” Patting her daughter on the arm, Daphne left the house and literally ran all the way to Doc Rabb’s.
Doc had been up for hours. Being an early riser, he would have made a fine rancher. He couldn’t imagine who was practically breaking his door down at eight o’clock in the morning. If the President himself had been standing on his porch he wouldn’t have been more surprised than he was to see Daphne Beaumont panting and shaking at his front door.
“Mrs. Beaumont, what’s happened?”
“Doc, you have to do something.” Daphne was breathing so heavily she was practically hyperventilating.
“You’d better sit down and tell me. Let me get you some water.”
“No! I don’t need water. Just listen.” Daphne Beaumont grabbed hold of Doc’s arm and told him every sordid detail she’d overheard. The color in Doc’s face washed away, only to be replaced by fury red within minutes.
“Do you know where Webb and your husband are now?”
Nodding her head, “They’ve gone out to the construction site as they do every day so nothing looks unusual. All the men are waiting the day out over at the railroad bunkhouse.” Daphne prayed this man had a way to save them all.
“Good. You go back and write a note explaining what you just told me. Have Maggie’s boy Brian ride the note out to every rancher on the outskirts of town, and tell them all to meet back here at the church.” Doc looked piercingly through Mrs. Beaumont. She had to be a very strong woman to do what she was about to do. He had woefully underestimated her Boston breeding. He’d have to apologize for that some day.
Within the hour, Doc had rounded up every able bodied man in Calamity at the church. Mrs. Perkins from the general store had donated every piece of ammunition she had to rid Calamity once and for all of the railroad scum that had plagued their once peaceful town.
Between them, they came up with a working plan to save both ranches and capture all of Beaumont’s men. It would take a lot of fast teamwork, but they were eager to get the job done.
Kaley was working with Jen in the kitchen when she was startled by what sounded like an army of hoof beats. Wiping her hands on a nearby rag and setting it down on the table, she left the kitchen wondering what else could possibly happen now.
Doc came rushing through her front door just about the same time she made it over to the window. There must have been close to twenty of the men from town and some of their wives climbing off horses, emptying wagons, and scurrying like ants in different directions.
“Hosiah Rabb, what in tarnation is going on here?” With both hands on her hips, and her brow furrowed into one huge question, she looked so kissable to Doc, but now was definitely NOT the time for that.
“We’ve got a situation.” Doc walked over and placed his hands on Kaley’s shoulders.
Looking up, he saw Miss Jenny standing in the kitchen doorway. “You’d better come hear this too,” Doc called to her.
Jenny had been staying with the widow since the unfortunate experience with Thomas Webb. The idea had been for Jen to stay for a few days until the widow wasn’t moving so stiffly. As it turned out, Jen was pretty good in the kitchen and even better at getting the ranch hands to cooperate. Being a cook wasn’t part of her original plan, but it was a huge step up in terms of respectability from working the saloon. She’d even taken a liking to one of the hands. More importantly, he had taken a liking to her as well, knew her story, and still treated her like a lady.
“Beaumont and his men will be coming here tonight. They’re planning on burning the house down while you’re asleep inside. It sounds like they intend to burn everything and steal the herd.”
Kaley let out a small gasp just as Jen whispered, “Oh, my God.”
“We’re moving as much of the cattle and livestock as we can over to the Jensen place. The women are helping soak the ground and wood around the base of the house as much as possible in the time we’ve got. Everyone’s bringing their troughs and spare barrels, filling them with water from the well, and placing them inconspicuously around the property in case a fire actually gets started.”
Hosiah paused to look at the horrified look on Jen’s face, then back at the determination in Kaley’s.
“We’re planting sandbags anywhere we can that won’t be noticeable on first sight to help barricade against the fire. There’ll be two men here waiting for every one man Beaumont sends. The women insist on helping. They’ll all be waiting in here with you in case we need help putting out fires once the show is over.”
Taking Kaley’s hands in his, he gave a reassuring squeeze. “We can win this one. We’ve got the element of surprise on our side.”
Harm and Mac helped Gram carry in the apple and peach pies she’d baked. Walking towards the back table, Mac couldn’t help but feel like she just stepped onto the lot of an MGM 1950’s musical.
Streamers were hanging everywhere. There was lots of hay and young people up in the lofts. Chairs were scattered all around the edge of the barn with a group of musicians tuning their fiddles on the makeshift stage that had been erected across from all the food.
As for the food, there was enough to feed an entire Marine battalion. Everyone in town must have cooked something. There was every meat, side dish, and dessert imaginable under the sun. These nice people were going to need to do a lot of dancing if they were going to burn off all the calories waiting at the tables.
Gram Rabb walked from table to table, checking on all the food and thanking all the people who’d brought something. When she wasn’t supervising the refreshments, she was greeting the folks coming in the door. Harm and Mac couldn’t help but chuckle at Gram walking around greeting everyone with her friend Mabel’s grandbaby on her hip. It was obvious she loved her old town and all the people in it. Judging from the smiles, it was pretty apparent they loved her as well.
Sure was different seein' e'eryone get together an' work, with guns to hand. See, sure, the people o' Calamity always did come together in a time o' need, but we sure ne'er had a war in our town before. Worst we had before the railway came was rustlers. Now all o' a sudden e'eryone is loaded up an' sittin in barns and behind windows, just waitin for a chance to take a shot at one o' those railroad thugs.
Doc had been handing out orders like a general preparing his army for siege. As much as he hated leaving Kaley behind, he felt obligated to check up on how things were going over at Jeremiah’s place. For the longest time he just stood in front of Kaley’s house, staring at her front door. Anyone watching could see the thought of leaving her behind for even a short while was eating him up inside. He knew he needed to be moving between both ranches. He just couldn’t get himself up on that horse this time, until Kaley came up beside him. Gently rubbing her hands across his lapels, straightening a wrinkle that wasn’t there, she leaned up and kissed him gently on the lips before turning to whisper in his ear. Whatever she said, it did the trick. Before anyone could snap their fingers, Doc and Matt were riding towards Jeremiah’s place.
“Everything is looking good.” Doc smiled as he got off his horse. Jeremiah had seen him coming and walked up to meet him.
“Hey, Doc,” Harriet smiled. She pretty much hadn’t left Jeremiah’s side since she’d gotten there early that morning, and that was fine with Jeremiah.
“Did the delivery get here from Mrs. Perkins?” Doc asked, tying his horse to the hitching post.
“Hours ago. We’ve got enough gun powder to blow these characters to Boston.” Jeremiah snickered at his own use of the Doc’s hometown.
“As if anyone in Boston would want them.” Doc slapped Jeremiah on the back as the two men walked around inspecting what the town’s people had gotten done.
It wasn’t but a couple of hours before Doc was back at the widow O’Hara’s. The women were all inside, cooking and preparing food. It had already been a long day, and it was going to be an even longer night. He may not have really been a general, but nonetheless there was still an army of people to be fed.
An assembly line of people had been filling barrels with well water all morning. The troughs had been filled early on, and now Fred Withers and Uriah Stone were close to fisticuffs over where to set the barrels in the barn so they’d be most efficient.
“I’m telling you, the only way water in the barn is going to help is if we dump the barrel along the base and drown the fires out fast from the inside.” Fred waved his hand at Uriah.
“That’ll be a huge waste of precious water! You need to leave buckets near each barrel and whoever is manning the barn will decide where the water needs to go.” Uriah shoved Fred out of sheer frustration with his pigheadedness.
“When did you become an expert on fire fighting techniques, anyhow?” Fred shoved back.
“What the hell is going on here?” Doc bellowed from the barn door. “You heard me, what the hell is going on? Since when did we start fighting each other? Did you ever hear of divide and conquer? Well it works, so you stop bickering and start working together to fight the real enemy. United we’re going to stand. Got it!” No one had ever heard Doc yell quite that loud before. He’d pretty much had it with some of the petty fighting that had been going on at both ranches over how things ought to be done. Regardless of the sheer stubbornness of some of the men, he was grateful for how everyone had pulled together. Even the women folk were involved. At first, a few of the men wanted their wives safe at home, but when Sadie Jeffries pointed out that Kaley wasn’t going to be safe at home, most of the men agreed their wives needed to help.
The long night had finally arrived after what had seemed like the longest day. Everyone knew the railway people weren’t going to come until long after any reasonable person would be under their blankets. Just waiting around was almost painful for everyone. Considering how many people were scattered around the property, things were pretty quiet. You could hear the proverbial pin drop.
Doc had put most of the younger fellows up in the barn. Being more agile, they could get up and out of the loft faster. Billy Juniper was the only older coot in there. Doc figured the young ones might need someone a little calmer to keep them steady. They were almost too ready to shoot the first soul who came close, whether they carried a torch and kerosene or not.
People were sitting by the windows all through the house with at least one rifle to a hand, and often more than that. A lot of friends had been hurt or killed in the last few months. The people of Calamity considered this time for justice. Every man there had an iron with six bullets and was just waiting for one of those hoodlums to show up.
The night had been awfully dark. The moon was hidden away as though it refused to participate in this horrible extravaganza. Doc was making his way back to the house from the barn when Kaley came walking out on the back porch.
“Everything set?” She pulled her shawl a little tighter around her shoulders.
“They’re ready. They’re all good men. I just pray we don’t lose any of them. I don’t want to bury anyone else.” Doc looked up wishing the moon would show itself.
“You’re worried aren’t you?” Kaley seemed to have a painful grasp of the obvious tonight.
“It would just make it so much easier to see what’s happening if the moon would join this fight,” Doc sighed, still looking up at the sky.
Stepping up closer to Doc, Kaley was so close she could almost feel his breath against her. Still holding her shawl with one hand, the other snaked out from under the warm covering and inched its way up his chest, until it came to rest on his shoulder.
“Promise me you’ll be careful,” she pleaded.
The feel of her warm hand on him came darn near close to burning a hole right through the fabric. Her deep chocolate eyes had changed to a darker, desire filled black and were silently drawing him even closer to her.
“Tell me it will be alright,” she added, her fingers sliding across to the back of his neck as she tried to pull his face towards her.
“Kaley…I…” unable to resist the attraction, Doc reached around her with his arms, pulling her up against him. His lips descended forcefully on hers. He hadn’t meant to be so rough, but it flashed through his mind if things didn’t go well tonight, this might be the only chance he got to show her how he felt.
Letting her shawl drop behind her, Kaley wrapped both arms around her Doc. She kissed him with everything she had in her. Her fingers began swirling a path through his dark hair. Feeling his arms press her even more tightly against him, Kaley realized for the first time in her life what it felt like to be truly loved by a man. She could feel the energy against her skin everywhere his body touched hers. She couldn’t lose him, not now.
Slowly releasing his hold on her, Doc grudgingly pulled back. Almost ashamed at how he’d let himself take advantage of the moment, he was relieved to see the love returned in Kaley’s eyes.
“When this is all over, we’re going to have a long talk about your future. A future with me playing a much bigger part.” Doc leaned down and kissed her forehead. “I promise.”
Dropping his hand to take hers in his, he glanced up in time to see the moon break through and shine brightly on them.
Smiling broadly, “It looks like the heavens approve.” Doc took two steps to the back door and led Kaley inside, their hands still firmly entwined.
Well, old Maude Kendall was sitting up with the rest of the women in the widow’s bedroom when she saw the moon break out, shining more brightly than she’d ever seen it shine in her long life. Sure enough, as plain as day she could see the group of men making their way up to the back of the property near the barns. Sending her daughter running down through the house warning everyone what was at hand, she hooted out the window like a big old barn owl.
Billy Juniper recognized Maude’s birdcalls straight off. Quietly, he hollered out to everyone, “The show is about to begin, fellows!” Eyes and rifles were poking through knot holes everywhere. They’d been busy doing more than filling water barrels all day. There was going to be no doubt that the men lying in wait could see who was coming and yet still remain hidden.
Everyone was on edge knowing what would be coming next, except maybe for the railway thugs.
Mac couldn’t believe how much fun she was having. She and Harm had danced most of the night. The little bit of food she sampled was simply out of this world. She knew Gram was a great cook, but from the taste of it so was the rest of Belleville.
Gram, on the other hand, had flittered around all night like a queen bee. She loved overseeing and making sure everyone was having a good time. The funny thing was, there was hardly a moment of the evening when Gram didn’t have someone or other’s baby on her hip.
Harm and Mac had just come off the dance floor, having done their rendition of the Cotton Eyed Joe, when Gram came puffing up to them excitedly.
“Harm, have you seen Joe Bixby’s boy?” Turning to speak to Mac, “You know, Joe’s mom thought he was never going to get married and settle down either. There wasn’t anyone in town more surprised than me when he and Betty Jean got married.”
Mac smiled awkwardly at Gram. She had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach this woman was up to something.
“Well, Harm and Joe used to be summer carousing buddies, especially when they were old enough to drive.” Gram giggled loudly, patting Harm on the shoulder. “Has he told you any of those summer stories?” Gram looked pointedly at Mac.
“No, can’t say that he has.” Mac grinned at Harm, very amused by his discomfort.
“Well, he should. Then you can tell me, because we’re all dying to know what those two were up to.” She looked towards the crowd, where someone was calling her name. “Oh dear, Mabel needs me. Here, you take little Joey.” Gram practically dropped the small baby in Mac’s arms without waiting to see if she actually had a grip on him, then turned and flew off to the other side of the barn.
Mac stood awestruck with the tiny baby in her arms. Harm almost laughed at her jaw visibly hanging. Slightly agitated by the sudden change, little Joey squirmed in Mac’s arms as if trying to point out she wasn’t holding him quite to his liking.
Immediately wrapping the blanket more tightly around him, Mac shifted the baby up against her chest in her left arm and began patting his back with her right. “Which one is his mother?” she asked, looking around the barn at all the possible parents.
“Don’t know. I’ve never met Joey’s wife.” Making a funny blowing sound, Harm shrugged apologetically. “I’m not even sure I’d recognize Joey. I haven’t seen him in over twenty years.” He looked around for a minute before his eyes settled back on Mac rocking the little baby.
“He looks good on you.” Harm smiled tenderly, extending his hand to caress the back of the now sleeping baby’s head.
“Harm...” Mac sighed in exasperation. “You know I can’t.”
“Dance with me?” He tilted his head slightly, extending his hand to her.
“What?” Oh, he was definitely losing it, she thought.
“Dance with me.” This time he wrapped his hand around the small of her back and nudged her towards the dance floor.
“Harm, the baby?” Despite her doubts she was walking along beside him.
“It’s never too soon for him to learn.” Harm smiled as he pulled Mac closer to him, cradling the baby between them. He wrapped his left hand firmly around her right hand, and the two danced with their clasped hands gently resting between them on little Joey’s back.
Gram grinned happily at Mabel. “Don’t think it will be long now.”
“Have you mentioned yet that little Joey is adopted?” Mabel leaned into Gram, her eyes watching the couple on the dance floor.
“Not yet, but soon,” Gram smiled, watching the pair from across the barn.
They’d barely finished dancing when Joe Bixby came up behind Harm. “There’s my special boy.” Reaching for the baby, “So how the heck have you been?” He managed to slap Harm on the back and still regain custody of his infant son.
“Fine, thank you,” Harm chuckled. “Joe Bixby, this is Lt. Colonel Sarah MacKenzie.”
“I won’t say the obvious about being too good looking for your rank,” Joe smiled, “but it is a pleasure to meet you.”
“You have a beautiful baby,” Mac sighed.
“Thank you. For a while there, I thought this chance had passed us by.” Joe kissed the baby on the cheek. “Best thing I ever did in my life.”
Just then Betty Jean came up behind them. “I see you found him.” She kissed her son on the cheek, and nodded at Harm and Mac.
“Honey, this is an old childhood friend, Harmon Rabb and his…” Looking at Mac, he suddenly realized he had no idea what relationship it was they had. “I’m sorry, that was Lt. Colonel, wasn’t it?”
“Mac, will be fine,” she corrected, extending her hand to the attractive blonde woman.
“Mac?” Betty Jean asked a little startled. “Remind me never to complain about ‘Betty Jean’ again.” She laughed loudly before continuing. “I’m sorry to break this up, but we really need to be getting this young man home. It’s way past his bedtime.” Making their apologies and giving quick good byes, the Bixby clan was out the door in a flash, leaving behind a very pleased grandmother and a somewhat overwhelmed Harm and Mac.
And this is where people thought the Doc had gone stark ravin mad. When Webb’s men were just about creeped up on the house, cradlin the widow's Winchester in his arms, he steps out onto the front porch and calls out, bold as brass,
"Cyrus Webb! If you have a beef with anyone, you should make it with me. I'm the one who beat your brother down. I'm the one who stopped him from having his way with an innocent woman. You don't need to look any further than me." Just like he was a knight in one of them fairy stories offerin’ to duel the great evil.
Well that tore it. Webb didn't feel like acting all honorable, so he turns his dogs loose an' they start shooting at the Doc where he stood. It was the damndest thing though. E'eryone who was there swore there was no way they could miss a man standing out there in the moonlight, but none of them hit the Doc as he stood there shaking his head sadly.
Doc could feel Kaley’s eyes boring a hole into the back of his head. He promised her he’d be careful, but he had to at least try and stop the bloodshed before it started.
Amazed that so many men could have a straight shot at him and miss, Doc suddenly rolled to the ground and began firing as his voice carried out across the ranch, “NOW!”
Windows could be heard crashing everywhere all at once. For years, people said you could see the flashing of gunfire clear across the county. The first man fool enough to try to torch the barn dropped dead in his tracks as several bullets tore through him. With the speed of a free mustang, one of the boys was outside with water, dousing the burning torch before it could catch and back inside again shooting at the rest of the idiots still crawling up to the barn
The unnatural moonlight gave Doc and his crew an incredible edge in this battle: they could see for quite a distance where Webb and his thugs were, while the town folks were completely sheltered in the house or barn.
Doc managed to work his way back into the house, and moved to one of the front windows where he could shoot from under cover. With an apologetic look at Kaley, he raised the butt of the Winchester and smashed out a couple of panes so he’d have plenty of room to work with.
Webb’s men were dropping like flies all around the property as the gunfight continued. The town folk were shooting at Webb’s men as though they were ducks at target practice, while the women helped reload the extra rifles to keep the fight going to their advantage.
When the shout came down from upstairs that the few railway men still alive were retreating, Doc moved out onto the front porch once more. Most of the men were fired up and ready to see this fight through to the end. Grabbing the horses out of the barn, they rode off giving chase to those who dared to run.
Some of those running off were wounded badly making it incredibly easy for Doc and the posse to follow the blood trail down to the ravine where he’d first met the Widow O’Hara. It made sense, at least the ravine would give them some cover, an advantage they didn’t have at the ranch.
As Doc and his men slowly reached the ravine floor, Cyrus and his remaining men stepped out into the clear, where Cyrus called out to Doc to throw down his rifle.
When Doc first gave Cyrus the chance to end the battle before it began, Cyrus didn’t take it. Of course, at the time Cyrus thought he had the advantage of all his men against just the Doc and the widow. Turns out he wasn’t as smart as he thought. Now he found himself cornered like a trapped rat. The thing is, there’s little more dangerous than a desperate, trapped rat.
Webb was pacing a trench into the ground. “If you were a real man, you’d fight me like a man,” Cyrus yelled to the Doc.
“I’m listening,” Doc called down. The rest of the men, keeping cover, made their way to surround Webb’s bunch.
“It’s the honorable thing to do, give me the chance to clear my family name after the affront of falsely accusing my brother of trying to rape a woman who we all know isn’t good enough for him.”
If Webb thought that was improving his odds with the Doc, he was sorely mistaken. Doc’s blood was boiling at a feverishly high rate.
By now, the widow and some of the others left behind at the ranch had caught up with the Doc and heard what Cyrus was yapping about. Keeping hidden behind boulders and trees, she made her way up close to Hosiah.
“Hosiah, don’t do it. You’re a better man than those animals. You don’t need to finish this fight. It’s over.” She tried to tell him.
Reaching out and taking both her hands in his, he searched for the words to explain.
"Sometimes all you can be is a man. History will have to judge if you were good or evil."
He wanted to take her in his arms and further explain why he had to finish this. This was something he just couldn’t walk away from, or he would never find peace, they would never find peace. Hoping she could hear the apology in his voice, Doc moved further down the ravine. When he reached Cyrus out in the open, he dropped his irons where he stood.
Stripping shirts, the two men stood trading blow after blow. They went after each other like men possessed. Somehow, blows that would have thrown any normal man to the ground had next to no effect on them. Fists and blood were flying.
Maude Kendall was standing next to Kaley, trying to comfort her. With every blow the Doc took, Kaley winced in pain as though she were the one taking the punch.
Wearing him down, Doc hammered Cyrus to the ground until Cyrus couldn’t get back up. Cyrus might not have been the one who laid a hand on Kaley, but his intentions were even worse. Doc could never forgive either man.
Standing over the limp bastard, heaving like a bellows, Doc just watched Cyrus as he struggled with himself on the ground.
“It’s over,” Doc sighed. “It’s over.”
Turning away, he made his way back to where he’d left his side irons. Strapping them on slowly, he turned around to walk back up to Kaley.
All the men watching the fight stood still in their boots. The entire fight had lasted longer than any of them imagined it could. Stunned at how Doc found the strength to walk away, none of them had made a move to advance on Webb and his men.
Doc could see Kaley standing up the ridge when he heard her let out a blood curdling scream. Without even turning to look back, Doc pulled out his gun, whirled around, and fired at Cyrus Webb just as his gun went off.
Cyrus’ pretty white ruffled shirt was slowly becoming a bright crimson as he dropped to his knees. His voice echoed through the ravine, “Damn you,” before he fell down dead.
All the heads turned to see Doc fall to his knees before hitting the ground. In a rush, every man and woman in the ravine was hovering by Doc’s side.
“Oh, Hosiah!” Kaley cried, folding her shawl into a round ball and slipping it under his head. Ripping off a portion of her skirt, Kaley pressed the wad of fabric into his shoulder.
“You promised me,” she whispered.
“Why ma’am, I do believe I’ve been shot. Would you be so kind as to fetch the doctor?” Smiling at Kaley, Doc managed to wink at her knowingly before darkness overtook him.
Relieved that his sense of irony was still intact, some of the men scattered to round up who was left of Webb’s men. A few others had already made their way to the Roberts’ ranch in case they needed more help. It was Billy Juniper and Matt who stayed behind to help Maude and Kaley get Doc back up the ridge.
“I’m so glad you had a good time tonight. There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned barn dance to keep in touch with all the generations. Even the little ones love these things.” Gram hung her coat on the hook by the door before going to the kitchen. “Anyone up for some hot cider before bed? If you’re nice to me, I made an extra apple pie.” Her eyes twinkled like a mischievous four year old.
“How could we resist such a tempting offer?” Harm smiled before swirling his grandmother in a tight embrace.
“I said be nice, not make me dizzy.” She slapped her grandson, loving every minute of his attention.
“Wasn’t little Joey the sweetest baby?” Gram asked nonchalantly, while Harm and Mac took seats at the table.
“He was very cute, Gram.” Harm hoped she wasn’t going to get stuck on babies tonight. He could already see the sunken look on Mac’s face.
“Betty Jean is a few years older than Joe. They only got married about four years ago. Poor folks spent the better part of the last three years pregnant or trying to get pregnant.” Having sliced up the pie, Gram set two plates in front of Harm and Mac.
“Would you like some ice cream with that?” she asked matter-of-factly.
“Not me,” Harm replied.
“Me neither, thank you,” Mac added.
“I thought that last pregnancy was going to darn near kill them.” Gram continued as though she’d never been interrupted. “When she made it into her second trimester, they thought they had a keeper. It just about broke everyone in town’s heart when she lost that baby at six months.” Gram set two mugs of hot cider by the apple pie.
“Last one, when was that?” Harm asked without really thinking.
“Oh, I’d say about seven or eight months ago. We were really worried about Betty Jean, she was so depressed. Not that I blame her, of course.”
“Seven months ago? How old is Joey?” Harm asked. Mac had been sitting there quietly playing with her pie, her appetite suddenly nowhere to be found.
“Joey? I think he must be two or three months old now. Let’s see, they got him when he was two weeks old, and that was just before Mabel’s birthday, so that means he must be closer to three months old.” Gram turned back to the counter and began cleaning up.
“He’s not theirs?” Harm asked, suddenly understanding what his grandmother was doing. Of all the children and babies that his grandmother had toted around all night, it was the adopted baby she saw fit to drop in Mac’s arms.
“Of course he is! Don’t you try telling Betty Jean or Joe otherwise. He’s the apple of their eye. Doesn’t matter if someone else gave birth to him, he’s their son.” Gram was being a pinch melodramatic, but she was pretty sure she was getting her point across, even if Mac was still playing with her pie rather than eating it.
“Well, I think it’s time for these old bones to hit the sack. Just leave those dishes in the sink and I’ll clean up in the morning.” Gram kissed them both on the cheek before leaving them alone to mull over all she’d just said.
“Are you ready for bed yet, or would you like to read a little before retiring for the night?” Harm knew Mac would clam up if he tried to discuss the baby deal now.
“I think a little of the Rabb saga would be nice about now.” Mac stood up and took her and Harm’s plates over to the sink. “You go ahead and get settled, I’ll be right there.”
Looking out the window by the sink, Mac thought her heart was going to break. She didn’t want to admit how much holding that baby meant to her. How it felt to have Harm look at her with so much pride and love.
She must have been standing there longer than she realized. Startling her out of her private agony, she felt Harm’s arms reach around her waist.
“Penny for your thoughts.” He whispered in her ear, his breath warm and hot.
Harm waited for her to speak. “Mac, talk to me. Please.”
“What am I supposed to say? That there isn’t anything in this world I want more than to give you a child? Okay, there isn’t anything in this world I want more than to have your baby. There, I said it. Happy?”
Mac tried to pull away from Harm’s hold, but he wouldn’t let her, instead he turned her around so he could see her face.
“Well, that’s a start.” Smiling that flyboy grin, he hoped to diffuse her frustration. Harm knew it was more than a start. It was exactly what he’d been waiting to hear her say.
“Don’t you get it? It doesn’t matter what I want. It never has!” Mac cried loudly.
“Mac, we’ve been through thick and thin, through hell and high water. Our lives are practically walking clichés. Nothing else matters. It’s finally our turn.” Pulling her more tightly against him, “I want you in my life, Mac. I don’t care if you can or can’t have children, I just want you.”
Harm’s lips came crashing down on hers hard and fast. He wasn’t going to let her answer. She finally said all he needed to hear. He was tired of talking. He was going to show her just how much he wanted her, baby or no baby. His one hand raked through her long hair, keeping her head from pulling away. His other hand dropped down to her side, his fingers playing with the edge of her sweater, teasing the soft skin underneath.
Mac felt the fire ignite when his fingers touched her side and ran softly across the front of her stomach. She couldn’t fight this any longer, she was tired of trying. Fearful for a split second when his lips pulled away from hers that he was going to stop, she moved her hand up his chest and began to fidget with the hairs on his chest while trying to undo the top button of his shirt.
Without skipping a beat, Harm dropped his chin and began kissing his way across Mac’s neck, licking, nipping and savoring every inch of soft skin.
Pressing himself up against her, she could feel exactly what she was doing to him. Harm’s lips captured hers again, his tongue begging hers to dance. Their hearts and souls were pounding loudly as the passions continued to boil out of control. Everything about her was intoxicating: the softness of her hair, the smell of her perfume, the desire in her dark eyes, the memory of her warm smile. She was everything to him.
Tearing his lips away from hers, his breath was heavy and broken. “I’m sorry.” He couldn’t help himself as his lips gently teased the edge of her lips. “I don’t want to stop, not now, not again.” She was so warm, so soft in his arms. He kissed her one more time, his tongue teasing and tasting, savoring the moment, yet wanting so much more. “Please, Mac. Let me love you… please.”
Mac’s heart lurched to her throat at the sound of his words. Her lips were searing with desire, every nerve ending was on fire. “I don’t want you to stop, not anymore.”
With more force than she intended, she pressed herself hungrily against him. Every cell in her body was more aroused and excited than she’d ever been in her entire life. She leaned in for another kiss, trying with everything she knew to show him with that one kiss how very much she wanted this, wanted him.
“Oh, Sarah.” Not wanting to waste another minute, Harm scooped her up in his arms, and carried her to the guestroom around the corner.
Word is that Doc didn't wait to get better before goin ta pay a visit ta ol' Beaumont. Soon as he could tear himself 'way from Kaley the Doc was on his horse, blood soaked shirt an' all, tear out like the hounds o' hell were on his heels.
That Joseph Beaumont was one sorry man that night. He’d bin waitin for Cyrus and his men to show up and whooee was he surprised when he looked up and saw ol Doc hisself standing in the doorway.
By the time Billy Juniper, Maude, Matt and Kaley had gotten Doc to the top of the ravine, he’d come to again.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Kaley asked as Doc tried to get up on his own.
“I have some business to take care of,” Doc answered calmly.
“Not with that shoulder you don’t.” Kaley spread her legs, and set her hands on her hips.
“This is almost finished. I just have one last thing to take care of. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” Doc reached forward to touch her and lost his footing.
“See! You’re in no condition to be going anywhere but to bed. I will not have you bleeding to death on my land. Do you hear me Hosiah Rabb? You are NOT going to die on me.” She pushed Doc back, forcing him to sit on a nearby rock.
“I’m not going to bleed to death. Just wrap me up in a temporary bandage, someone give me a whiskey, and I’ll be back in a flash to let one of you fine ladies sew me up nice and proper.” Doc somehow found the strength to flash a full blown Rabb smile.
“What have I told you about those pearly whites?” Kaley tried hard not to smile. She knew she had to be strong, but she also knew she wasn’t going to win. Sighing heavily, she resigned herself to the Rabb stubbornness and helped Maude patch up his shoulder as best as they could for now. Then she prayed for the man she loved to survive this one last battle.
Meanwhile, Daphne Beaumont had been quietly pacing in her room. She’d changed into her nightclothes, but there was no way she was going to actually get any sleep. Not this night. She’d watch the clock ticking away, hour after hour.
Downstairs, Joseph Beaumont had been impatiently waiting for a report from Cyrus. It was well after two in the morning and he had thought for sure by now he would have heard something. Beaumont was just about to pour himself another whiskey when he heard a crashing noise in the front of the house.
Doc hadn’t bothered with gallantries this morning. He’d just knocked the front door down with a thud, much like he’d done when he’d gone to the widow’s house the day Webb had attacked her.
“Beaumont, show yourself NOW!” Doc called out, already standing at the bottom of the stairs. He might have been as mad as an ornery bull, but he was still a gentleman and if Beaumont was sleeping, Doc was not about to invade the privacy of a lady’s bedroom.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Beaumont yelled back.
Doc whipped around to see Beaumont standing in the door of his study, a whisky in his hand.
“Little early to be celebrating, don’t you think? You might at least want to make sure those henchmen of yours haven’t messed up and gotten themselves killed, now wouldn’t you?” Doc was speaking like the gentleman from Boston he was, but his eyes held the wrath of God in them.
By now all the hired help was perched at the kitchen door watching the two men come face to face. Daphne Beaumont was standing frozen at the top of the stairs.
In a matter of minutes Doc had Beaumont backed up into his study. Grabbing him by his fancy white shirt, Doc slammed Beaumont hard against the wall.
“Unhand me!” Beaumont shouted. “I’ll see your hide in jail if you don’t let go of me immediately!”
“The only one who’s going to see the inside of a jail cell, Mr. Beaumont, is what’s left of your gang of merry murderers.” Doc enunciated clearly and quietly. So quietly, in fact, that no one else in the house could hear a word he said.
Immediately recognizing that threatening Doc wasn’t going to help him, Beaumont grasped at straws. “Hosiah, I’m sure this is nothing more than a simple misunderstanding. Why don’t you just tell me what has you all riled up and I’m sure together we can take care of it.”
“The only thing to be taken care, Mr. Beaumont, is that you and your slimy railroad are moving out of Calamity, or you will find the cost much higher than even you would be willing to pay. We don’t need or want your business here. Is that understood?” Doc was speaking so calmly and yet spitting fire with his eyes.
“Hosiah, put me down and we can discuss this like gentlemen.” Beaumont was trying desperately to hang on to the tiniest shred of dignity, despite the fact that he was currently more terrified than he’d ever been in his entire life. Where the hell was Cyrus?
Easing his grip on Beaumont and then slamming him back hard against the wall again, Doc leaned his face in a little closer to Beaumont’s.
“I don’t believe I’m making myself clear.” This time Doc spoke loud enough for everyone in the house to hear. “You either join what’s left of your buddies in jail, or you pack yourself up and leave Calamity, permanently.” Doc dropped Beaumont in a heap on the floor and slowly turned to make his way out. “You’ve got till sunrise,” Doc called over his shoulder.
Doc was almost at the front door when a gasp at the top of the stairs had him spinning around, his colt already drawn in his good hand. He couldn’t help but laugh. Beaumont was standing in the doorway of the study aiming at him with one of those pretty little two-bullet guns that gamblers played with.
"Your man put a bullet through the wrong shoulder, Mr. Beaumont. Who do you think is the faster trigger, you or me?" With one eyebrow arched, Doc watched Beaumont drop the gun and slump to the floor.
With a little shrug of his good shoulder, Doc slid his iron back into the holster, tipped his hat at Mrs. Beaumont, and went out the door as if he’d just finished an ordinary social call.
By morning, Beaumont had moved on to Robstown. Despite all the bad blood with her husband, the town was grateful to Mrs. Beaumont for her part in bringing down the railroad. She couldn’t in good conscience follow her husband, and she wasn’t up to returning to Boston without Harriet, so Daphne Beaumont chose to stay on in Calamity.
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