A week came and went quickly. Emma no longer wandered through town alone. Liam had come with her the first time and he'd watched over her like a hawk—which had actually caused her to feel more tense. Liam now seemed fairly content in knowing that she always made sure that Cassandra, Lauren or Anita were with her. The fear was beginning to fade as Emma had made three trips to town without ever seeing her father again.+ Maybe he wasn't following her. Maybe it had only been chance that they'd bumped into each other and his temper had gotten the better of him. Emma still hadn't told Liam about the babe but she knew today was the day to do that. She had a good meal cooked, a pie baked and was waiting on him to get home from checking a few of his traps. She hated that she'd waited so long before telling Liam but she had wanted some of the tension, fear and anger to fade. She hadn't wanted those feelings to tarnish a moment that should be perfect, happy and joyous. Liam's footsteps on the porch announced his arrival. Emma could tell by the heavy falls that he was upset. Something must have happened while he'd been gone. Her heart fell. She had wanted Liam to be in a good mood when she told him about their child! Liam threw open the door, yanked off his hat, tossed it onto the sofa and jerked his gun belt from his hips before hanging it by the door. His face was red and his jaw was tight. Then he glanced toward the kitchen and his gaze fell on her. Emma saw saw his shoulders relax as he strode toward her and pulled her into a warm hug. "Damn woman, coming home to you makes even a hell of a day seem like heaven."2 Her heart warmed at the loving words. She glanced up at him after he'd released her. "What happened?" Liam sighed as he flopped himself down in a kitchen table. "Nothing important." "Liam?" Rubbing at his neck, Liam shook his head. "I'd rather just get to eating this supper. Is that venison steak I smell?"1 "Yes, but I want to know what had you storming into the house that way." Emma began making Liam's plate and he grumbled. "A few of my traps were destroyed." "Destroyed how?" Emma asked, her hand pausing in the air as she reached for the potato spoon. "Animals?" Liam snorted. "No, it wasn't animals. Someone up there destroyed them." Emma knew who that someone had been. She didn't need to say it and neither did Liam. She finished making his plate and sat it down in front of him. "Thank you, love. This looks good. I'm starving. Sit down. Eat with me." Emma remained standing and chewed at her lip. She didn't want to wait any longer to tell Liam—even if the moment wasn't the perfect one she had imagined. "I actually have something I wanted to tell you," she began. Liam put his fork down and turned in the chair to face her. "What's wrong?" "There's nothing wrong. I.. I have some news." She was trembling with a combination of nerves and excitement as Liam studied her curiously. "What in the world is it?" STORY CONTINUES BELOW Emma took a deep breath, grabbed his calloused hand and laid it over her stomach. "We're going to have a baby, Liam." Liam's eyes were wide as his gaze dropped to her stomach. His fingers spread wide across her belly and he swallowed hard. "A baby? Are you sure?" Emma bit her lip. She couldn't tell, based on his reaction, if he was happy or not... what if he was disappointed or upset? She had been sure he wanted children.... They had added on to the cabin and they certain hadn't done anything to prevent getting with child. When Liam's eyes met hers, all of her doubts vanished. She was shocked beyond speechless when she realized that tears lined his eyes. A bright smile nearly split his face in half before he leapt from the chair and pulled her into a tight hug.7 "I love you, Emma." "I love you too," Emma whispered, loving that overwhelming feeling of protection and warmth that she always felt when she was in Liam's arms this way.2 "I don't tell you enough but you mean everything to me. My life was empty before you. You've given me happiness, a real home and a purpose. Now you're giving me a child..... You're the best thing that's ever happened to me, Emma McIntyre."16 Emma knew that if she spoke, she would break down in tears of happiness. She also knew that there was nothing she could say that would be any more beautiful than the words Liam had just said.1 So instead of speaking, Emma simply held her husband tighter. After several moments, Liam pulled away just enough to lift Emma's chin. He pressed his lips to hers and Emma lost herself. The kiss was long and tender and thoroughly intoxicating. She was so caught up in the movement of his lips against hers that she didn't realize Liam had been moving them toward the bedroom until she was falling down upon the bed with Liam falling along with her. The dinner she'd spent so long preparing was forgotten as Liam brought her body to life and expertly guided her to the peak again and again. Emma's body was humming with contentment as they lay spent in each other's arms upon their bed. "We need to take you into town tomorrow so you can talk to the doc and make sure everything looks good for you and our boy."1 Emma frowned. "Our daughter, you mean, and I've already been to the doc."1 Liam's brow creased. "You have?" Emma bit her lip. "Yes...." "When? How long have you known?"4 "About a week." She bit her lip. "I saw the doc the day that I saw my father in town." Liam's body tensed against her. His fingers stilled their tracing on her arm. "Does your father know?" "No..." Emma snuggled closer to him, wanting to ease his tension. "No one knows other than you and the doc.... And Ben might have figured it out but I'm not certain and he didn't say. I was going to tell you that day but you were so angry about my father and I didn't want this news to be tainted." Liam sighed and his lips brushed against her hair. "We're not going to let your father ruin anything we're building together, love. I won't let him." A comfortable, content silence fell over the bedroom. Liam's steady heartbeat beneath her ear gave Emma a wonderful sense of peace. Neither was in any rush to leave their bed until the rumbling of an empty stomach filled the silence. Liam chuckled as he smoothed Emma's hair from her red face. "Are you hungry, Emma?" She bit her lip. "A little." Liam sat up. "Let's go get you fed then. Can't be letting my little man in there go hungry."2 *** As silly as it sounded, Liam felt as if he were floating on a cloud. A child.... Hell, he was going to be a pa!3 Never in his life had Liam even given much thought at all to having children. He'd never thought he'd find a woman he could tolerate well enough to marry much less have children with! But Emma had changed all that. She had come into his life, made him realize that she had been what he'd always needed and given him a reason to be a better man. Liam went to the barn that evening after eating supper. He was going to feed the animals but realized his father had beaten him to it. "Hey there, son," Patrick greeted as Liam stepped inside.2 "Thanks for doing the feeding." Patrick chuckled. "When the sun started setting and you hadn't done it, I assumed you and the missus had gotten busy."1 Liam felt his ears get hot but said nothing. He wasn't one to kiss and tell. "I have something I needed—or I guess I should say wanted—to tell you..." Patrick tossed some hay into Honey's stall and wiped his hands on his pants before turning to face his son. "Is something wrong?" Liam cleared his throat. "No. It's good news." Liam wasn't sure why it felt so awkward to share this with this father. Maybe it was because Patrick had never been much of a father when Liam had been growing up and now it was Liam who was going to be a father.... He was going to make sure he was a better one.2 "Well hell, son, what is it? Don't keep an old man in suspense." Liam nodded. "There's gonna be a baby. Emma's carrying our child."4 Liam wasn't sure what response he'd been expecting. He hadn't much thought past simply getting the words out to tell his father the news. Patrick's wrinkled face split with a happy smile. His eyes lit up and laughter filled the barn. "That's wonderful new!" he exclaimed. "I'm gonna be a grandpappy!"22 Liam nodded, rubbing at his neck. "Yeah, you are." Patrick seemed to notice the trepidation in Liam's tone—even if Liam hadn't meant for it to be there. He stopped laughing and his face turned serious. "I know I wasn't a good father, Liam. I know I let you down time and time again and I wasn't around... but I'm going to be good to this youngin. Damn good. He or she is gonna know that their grandpappy loves them—just the way I should have made sure my son knew."2 Patrick's eyes were red and wet when he finished speaking and Liam couldn't seem to breathe much less speak around the lump in his own throat. So he didn't. He merely nodded his head, gripped his father's thin shoulder a moment and then turned and left the barn without a single word. 6 "I'm getting married! Oh Lord.... Somebody pinch me quick so I know I ain't dreamin'!" Cassandra exclaimed as she stood before a full length mirror in her room at Anita's and stared at herself in her white lace gown.4 Lauren reached out and pinched the back of Cassandra's arm causing the other woman to let out a yell and glare at the girl. "What was that for?"3 Lauren shrugged. "You asked for somebody to pinch you!" "That's enough you troublemaker," Anita scolded with a smile as she stepped into the room. "Cassandra, you look beautiful." Emma had to agree with Anita. Cassandra's wild curls couldn't be tamed but they suited her perfectly as they cascaded down her back and the lace gown contrasted with her golden skin. "If my pa and brothers could see me they wouldn't believe their eyes," Cassandra stated, touching her lightly painted cheek. Emma's heart ached a bit for her friend. Despite several invitation sent to her family in the last month, they had refused to come to her wedding. Apparently sending her to Anita had been their way of getting rid of Cassandra for good—that made Emma even more happy to know that the other woman had found such love with Ben and friends and family within their group. A knock came on the door. "Come on in unless you're Ben! Ben you ain't supposed to see me yet!" Cassandra warned, slipping behind the curtain and yelling from behind it. The door opened and Kyle poked his head in. "If there's one thing I'm not, it's a preacher man," Kyle assured them with a smile.4 Emma noticed the bag in his hands. "What do you have there?" she asked. He held it out to her. "It's for you. From Liam. I was sent up here with direct instructions, which have already been given the stamp of approval from the bride and groom so don't feel as if you're stepping on toes....."2 "What are you talking about?" Emma asked, feeling confused by his rambling. "Just look at what's in the bag, sweetheart," Anita urged. "Yeah, I'm having a hard time keeping it a secret," Cassandra agreed. "I ain't good at keeping my mouth shut." "We know," Lauren quipped.1 Emma took the bag and opened it slowly. She instantly recognized the white lace gown from her wardrobe at the cabin. "I.... I don't understand..."2 Kyle took her hand and tilted his head. "Liam wanted to come tell you this himself but he was afraid of bad luck if he saw you..." "But we're already married...." "Wasn't much of a wedding," Kyle countered. "Liam loves you, Emma. You have changed that man for the better and he wants to make you happy. He wants you to have a real wedding with all of the people that love you both there to celebrate with you."7 Emma couldn't stop the tears that filled her eyes. She blamed it on the babe in her belly. She laid her hand over her stomach which was just slightly beginning to grow round—not enough to be visible beneath her dresses and skirts. Cassandra came around the curtain. "Please do this with me, Emma. I'm nervouser than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs! I'd feel a lot better about it all if I had my friend up there with me getting married too."11 STORY CONTINUES BELOW Emma looked around at all the faces of her family—her true family. They were eager and excited and clearly all full of love for her and Liam. Emma was terrified at the thought of putting on that dress and stepping in front of so many townspeople—what if she messed up her words? Then she remembered Liam's letter the day she'd gotten this dress in that wardrobe. He wanted this. He wanted to do this for her. She knew it had to be a big step for him to openly go in front of a crowd and share his love and feelings for her.2 Liam was a very private person. If he could do this then so could she. Emma held the dress close and put her hand on her dark tresses. "I'm going to need some help with my hair." *** Liam paced the ground feeling like a monkey all dressed up in his suit. He missed his animal skins...... but Chase had assured him that wearing the dead flesh of critters wasn't proper wedding etiquette or some nonsense like that.4 He grumbled as he tugged at the collar of his shirt. Hell, it was hot outside. When was the weather going to cool down? Realizing that maybe he was in a sour mood because of nerves, Liam stopped pacing and took a long deep breath. "What are you pacing around grumbling and growling for?" Chase asked, walking up to him. "You're acting like a nervous schoolboy." Liam glared at the man. "Hell, I am nervous." "Why?" "Hell if I know," Liam grumbled. "The woman and I are already married and have been for months. There's a babe in her belly for christ's sake and, yet, here I am scared to death she's going to say no."9 "Well stop worrying," Kyle spoke up, coming to stand beside Chase. "The woman said yes. She's going to marry you again today." Liam's breath left him in a rush. Relief flowed through him like water. "Why'd you have to tell him?" Chase complained. "I was enjoying watching the brave, strong, stoic Liam McIntyre have a mild episode."4 "Why on earth would he be having an episode?" Ben asked, making his way over to them. "Did you see Cassandra?" he asked Kyle. "Did she say anything?" Liam was concerned about the man. He was pale, shaking and appeared ready to collapse.... However, it was clear Kyle didn't share his concern. "She's changed her mind, Ben. Said there just isn't any way she can be married to a preacher man."25 What little color had been in Ben's face, quickly drained away. He swallowed hard and Liam was sure the man was about to cry. Chase nudged Kyle and Kyle quickly spoke up. "Ben, I'm joking. Hell, don't get so upset."1 "So, she didn't change her mind?" Ben gasped.3 "No. The woman is head over heels for you, preacher man." Ben nodded, a smile curved his cheeks and then he reached out and punched Kyle hard in the chest.1 Kyle staggered back, clutching at his chest as he chuckled. "You hit me! I didn't think the Lord condoned violence."2 Ben adjusted his collar. "He doesn't. But at times, I do, and he's good at forgiveness."20 Time seemed to drag on but finally it was time to move to the tiny church. People were crammed inside and Liam felt uncomfortable with so many eyes on him. Liam had insisted on allowing Ben and Cassandra to have their ceremony first. He had done so in an attempt to be a good friend and allow them their moment—but it was hard as hell to stand and wait his turn. Ben had gotta a friend to come and perform his wedding to Cassandra and, as far as Liam was concerned, the man talked too slow. The wedding was short and sweet but seemed to take years where Liam stood. His suit was itchy and hot. His collar was too tight. He hated the eyes watching him and he wanted to be out of the church and into the air...... Then Ben took his stand at the alter to perform Liam and Emma's ceremony and every ounce of Liam's stress, worry and discomfort was forgotten when the pianist began playing and Emma stepped inside. His wife was the single most beautiful sight Liam had ever seen. Her porcelain skin was glowing against the white lace dress. Her dark hair was all pulled back on her head and loose tendrils curled around her cheeks.2 But it was her happy smile and the love shimmering out of her light blue eyes that truly stole his breath. Their vows were simple but Liam put every ounce of love and honesty had had into each word he spoke. Liam was lost enough in the moment and what he was feeling for Emma that when Ben said it was time to kiss his bride, he didn't hesitate before doing that right there in front of half the town. After the wedding, Liam and Emma walked arm in arm out into the last evening sun. Liam was ready to get her home—he figured they might as well have the wedding night that went along with the wedding.1 Lauren and Anita stopped them outside. "Where are you going?" Anita asked. "Home," Liam replied quickly. "No you're not," Anita countered. "None of us got to take part in your first wedding and Emma spent the night of that wedding unconscious and beat half to death in your cabin. Not exactly a celebration." Liam glared at his aunt, angry at her for bringing up such memories. He felt Emma's grip on his arm tight as she too must have been remembering that terrible night. Lauren nudged his aunt with her elbow. "I think that might be why Liam wants to take her home, Miss Anita. Do things the right way this time." Lauren ducked, knowing Anita's hand would be coming for the back of her head. "You shouldn't be speaking that way! I knew allowing you to run around with those boys was a bad idea." Anita fussed with her bonnet. "There's a baby on the way so it would seem they got things just right."4 Liam could all but feel the heat coming off of Emma's cheeks. "Okay, that's enough. We'll come to the celebration you have planned." The celebration that Anita and several others had worked so hard on readying for the happy couples turned out to be a large gathering and dance—much like the one Emma had been kidnapped from several months before.+ She was nervous to be back in the same place but she was determined to not let her own fear, or the memories of her father ruin the evening of what had been a perfect day. Or nearly perfect. All day long, Emma had felt something was missing—and that something was her mother. Emma tried not to think of her too often but she had been today.... She couldn't help but wonder who her mother would have been if she'd been strong enough to escape her abusive husband. Would she have loved to laugh? Would she have gotten along with the new friends and family that Emma had found. Would she have smiled as she'd watched Emma walk down the aisle and speak her vows to Liam? "Are you okay?" Liam's warm voice breathed into her ear as he came up behind her and wrapped his arm around her middle. "I'm fine," she replied, leaning into his touch. Liam sighed. "Something isn't fine. You've been quiet since we got here. Are you ready to go home? Are you sick?" Emma shook her head as she searched the crowd for her friends and smiled. Lauren was dancing with William—and refusing to let the boy lead. Cassandra was teaching Anita and Ben a country 'stomp' dance as she referred to it, and Kyle and Chase were deep in conversation in a back corner, sharing a heaping plate of food from the refreshments table. "Today has been wonderful, Liam," Emma assured him, not wanting him to feel as if she weren't happy. "I'm missing my mother—this baby has my emotions acting up." Liam turned her around and put his hands on her cheeks. "You're allowed to miss you mother, Emma. You should miss her. You loved her and she loved you. I miss mine too, especially on days like today. But they were here with us, I know they were." Emma smiled up at her husband. Such a kind, warm and caring man was hidden beneath that quiet, stoic exterior. Liam tucked a strand of loose hair behind her ear. "Now how about we go learn the 'stomp' dance?" Emma's brow wrinkled. "You're going to dance?" Liam shrugged. "Sure. Why not?" Emma fell even more in love with Liam as he led her to Cassandra, Ben and Anita and awkwardly began attempting to stomp and dance in time with the music. She knew Liam must have felt out of place and uncomfortable but she also knew he was doing what he was doing to put a smile on her face. And it worked. After a long while, Emma called a stop to their dancing. She felt overheated and needed a drink. Liam led her toward the refreshment table and as he was getting her a glass of lemonade, a familiar flash of red hair suddenly came between them.1 "Hello Liam," Bethany's voice purred.32 Emma couldn't believe her eyes! Bethany certainly had a lot of nerve showing up at the party. Liam's jaw tightened as he looked down at Bethany. "Hello. My wife and I are enjoying our evening together. I'd appreciate if you'd keep your distance." STORY CONTINUES BELOW Bethany moved in closer and Emma couldn't do a thing but stand there and watch while seething inside. "You know, Liam, I'm sure you must be getting tired of what little that woman has to offer—especially now that she'll soon be fat with your child.... While I'd rather have you all to myself, I'm more than willing to be your mistress. I think you'd treat a mistress really well."12 Liam opened his mouth to speak but before he could, Bethany reached out and her hand brushed against the front of his trousers. Liam leapt back so quickly, he spilled the lemonade he'd just poured. His jaw dropped and it was obvious he had no idea what to say.6 Emma, however, saw red. She was tired. Tired of being bullied, pushed around and disrespected. All logic and common sense fled from her mind. She squared her shoulders and tapped Bethany on the shoulder. "Bethany?" The beautiful, whore of a woman, turned sharply and glared at Emma. "What?" she snapped. Emma met her gaze full force, refusing to back down. "Get your big ass back to the brothel." Balling up her fist, Emma swung and caught Bethany hard in the jaw.83 The woman's head snapped back and she crumpled to the floor without so much as a whimper.8 Emma stared down in shock, not quite believing what she'd just done. She wasn't a violent person... she hated violence. But she'd just knocked that woman out cold.6 Liam stepped over Bethany and pulled Emma aside. "What was that?" he asked, examining the red, sore knuckles of her hand.1 Emma felt the need to defend herself. "She needed to learn her place... and it sure wasn't putting her hand on my husband's.....area."4 Liam's lips twitched. "My area?"5 "Hush," Emma scolded. "That was quite a show," Kyle said, stepping over with Chase on his heels. "I believe the evil witch is down for the count," Chase stated, poking Bethany with her foot. The woman moaned but had no other reaction.6 "That was a good punch," Lauren praised. "I thought I was the only woman could throw a punch like that," Cassandra agreed. "Kyle, could you be a dear and take the girl outside?" Anita asked, fanning her face. "The rest of us are going to go have a seat for a while. I believe Emma might need some time to cool down."1 Emma was nibbling her lip as she followed after Anita to a long table covered with white linen. Everyone took a seat and Emma caught Anita's attention. "I know I shouldn't have done that... are you angry at me?" Anita waved her hand and laughed lightly. "Of course not! I've been wondering why you didn't do it sooner!" "Me too," Ben agreed.7 Emma's eyes widened. "Ben! You're supposed to be a preacher and guide us away from violence."2 Ben shrugged. "Some people simply don't get the message until you've swung a right hook at their jaw."21 Cassandra was starry eyed as she gazed at her husband. "You really are perfect," she stated which made his flush bright red and tip his head to avoid everyone's gaze.15 Kyle and Chase joined them soon after and the friends laughed and talked for a long while. Emma forgot about Bethany and began to once again have more fun than she'd ever truly had in her life. Being carefree and completely at ease hadn't been a luxury she'd experienced much in her life. The evening was winding down and everyone was beginning to show signs of fatigue, when suddenly Patrick came walking into the building. Emma had only seen glimpses of him at the outskirts of the wedding. The man had kept his distance and she knew it was because of Anita. He approached the table and Liam stood. "I know you've already been married awhile but, congratulations son, you go you a good wife."2 Liam nodded, rubbing at the back of his neck. "Thank you, Patrick. And thanks for being there today." Patrick shifted his feet and rubbed at his shoulder. "I told you I'd be around from here on." Emma nearly laughed, but stifled the sound behind her hand. It was hard to tell who appeared more awkward by the polite exchange. It was clear neither man was very good at public displays of affection. Patrick stuck his hand out and Liam shook it quickly. Then Patrick bent low behind Emma and pressed a tender kiss to her hair. "You look mighty pretty today, Emma." It was Emma's turn to blush. "Thank you, Patrick." She glanced across the table at Anita who was watching the exchange with a very guarded expression. Patrick walked around the table and pulled off his hat as he came to stand in front of her. "Miss Anita? Would you do me the honor a dance?"36 Silence fell. Shock filled the air. Emma wondered if Patrick was going to die—surely Anita would murder him.2 But the woman shocked them all when she smiled warmly, took his hand and allowed him to help her to her feet. "I suppose I can handle one last dance before I turn in." "Did we just witness the end of the world?" Chase mumbled.4 "It was Armageddon," Lauren stated.9 "Was it the rapture, Ben?" Cassandra asked her husband.5 Ben chuckled. "I don't believe so."3 Emma glanced at her husband who was watching Anita and Patrick with a comically bewildered expression. She stifled a yawn and his attention quickly turned to her.1 "You look wore out, Emma." "Thanks," she muttered. He took her hand and pulled her to her feet. "I'm going to get her home." They said their goodbyes to everyone at the table and left the party. Emma's eyes and body felt heavier and heavier by the moment. She truly was exhausted after such a busy day. Liam led her to the livery but instead of riding Colt, she climbed up on Honey with Liam and curled up against him. "Go to sleep, love," he whispered as they left town. "I know the way home." Emma let the gentle rhythm of the horse and the steady beat of Liam's heart, lull her to a peaceful sleep. She was warm, contented and safe.... Until a gunshot blasted through the night air, shattering her peace and spraying blood across her cheek.