LOVE HER SOFTLY CHAPTER 13

LOVE HER SOFTLY CHAPTER 13
Liam felt the bullet tear through his arm. Emma jerked in his lap and fear overwhelmed him. Had she been hit? Her head was mere inches from his arm... had the bullet.....?1 Liam glanced down at her, saw the fear on her perfectly intact face and pulled his gun as he slid from Honey's back and pulled her with him. The shot had come from behind them to the left. Liam spun that way, saw the man standing in the brush, preparing to take another shot which was being hindered by Colt and Honey, storming around them. Liam aimed his weapon and squeezed the trigger. The blast of the gunshot reverberated through his body and the sound of the bullet striking flesh filled his ears. The man's body fell, disappearing among the leaves and branches of the bush he'd been taking cover behind. "Emma, I need you to stay here, okay?" Emma's grip on him tightened. "No.. don't' leave me alone," she pleaded. "You were shot!" Her voice was near hysterics as she noticed the bloody wound on his arm. "Are you okay?" Liam took a deep breath. His nerves were strained and his attention was on everything around them, waiting for another threat—but he had to stay calm on the outside for Emma. "I'm fine, love. It's just a scratch. Stay behind me. I need to make sure he's dead."6 Liam headed toward the man, his eye scanning all around them at once, just in case another shooter was lying in wait. When Liam flipped the dead body over, Emma gasped. "That's... that's my uncle... it's my father's brother." Liam tensed. It was one thing if Silas wanted to send men after him—but he'd crossed one hell of a line sending his brother to shoot him when Emma had been so close. What if that damn bullet had missed him? What if Emma had..... Liam shook his head to end that train of thought. "Liam... my father must have sent him...." Liam could hear the fear in Emma's voice and it angered him. She had been doing so good. Growing stronger and braver and had even managed to knock Bethany on her ass today. She had laughed and been completely carefree tonight..... Why wouldn't Silas let go? "Come on, Emma. Let's get home." The ride home was tense. Liam made Emma get on Colt and he rode on Honey, making wide circles around her as he kept a sharp look out for any other threats. They made it to the cabin safely. Liam helped Emma undress and she helped him clean and bandage the deep gouge the bullet had torn through his arm. Emma was trembling as they climbed into bed and Liam wrapped her tightly in his arms. "Sleep, love. He won't hurt you. We're safe in the cabin."3 "He's never going to stop, is he?" she whispered, her voice nearly emotionless as she stared into the night. Liam held her tighter and kissed her brow. "Just sleep now, love. I'll keep you safe." It was several long hours before Emma trembles and fitful sleep gave way to deep slumber brought on by sheer exhaustion. Liam was exhausted as well and his arm was throbbing painfully, but he had no time for sleeping. He had some business he needed to tend to. STORY CONTINUES BELOW Climbing from bed, Liam slipped into a change of clothes, pulled on his boots and slid his gun belt onto his hips. He cast one last long glance at a sleeping Emma and left the cabin, stepping out into the predawn night. He was surprised when he ran into Patrick just stepping out of the barn. "Where have you been?" Liam asked. He'd assumed his father had been fast asleep inside the cabin they'd recently finished for him. Patrick cleared his throat and averted his gaze. "Town. I got busy." His gaze narrowed as he returned it to his son. "Where are you going?"21 Anger bubbled in his blood as Liam glanced down the road to town. "Emma and I ran into trouble coming home. We were shot at and my arm got grazed—the bullet barely missed her head." Liam took a deep breath to calm himself. "I shot and killed the bastard and it turned out to be Silas' brother. I plan on taking him up that mountain and dumping his body on Silas' doorstep. This has to end." Patrick lowered his hand to the gun on his own hip. "Do you want me to go with you?" Liam shook his head. He could handle things on his own. "I need you here to watch Emma. Don't let anything happen to her." "You can count on me, son," Patrick agreed.1 Liam nodded. "I know I can."7 Without another word, Liam went into the barn and saddled Misty. Colt was Emma's horse and didn't mind him as well and Honey was still shook up from the attack earlier. Just as Liam had hoped, the body was still where he'd left it. Liam tied a good length of rope around the bastard's ankles and attached the other end to his saddle horn. He clicked his tongue and urged Misty forward, ready to deliver Silas' present. The trip up the mountain was slow going and took a while. The body tangled up on roots and brush several times and Liam hadn't wanted to push Misty too hard while carrying the load. He was happy that he didn't meet anyone—he could only imagine the reaction if someone happened upon him hauling a dead mountain man up the mountain by his ankles.3 Finally Liam reached the run down shack that had once been Emma's home. It was mid-morning and plenty light outside but the house was silent. Liam let out a whistle and waited. Seconds later Silas came out the front door with a smile—which quickly vanished when he saw Liam seated upon Misty. "What's the matter, Silas? Were you expecting someone else?" "What the hell are ya doing up here?" Silas growled. "Ya damn well oughta know ya ain't welcome here." Liam folded his arms on his saddle horn and nodded back toward his cargo. "I brought you something." Silas's gaze dropped back and every ounce of color drained from his gnarled, bearded face. "That's Clem....Hell, did ya murder my damned brother?" Liam shook his head. "No." "Then how the hell did he die?!" Silas bellowed. Liam shrugged. "I shot him."3 "So ya did murder him!" "No. It was self-defense. The man was lying in wait and the bullet he shot into me missed my wife's head—your daughter's head—by inches." Silas swallowed hard and his eyes scanned Liam. "So he did manage to shoot ya?" Liam was livid. Beyond angry. He wanted to pull his gun and put a bullet right between Silas' eyes.... But Silas was unarmed and Liam was in his territory.4 STORY CONTINUES BELOW "It was just a scratch, Silas. Sorry to disappoint you," Liam added when Silas' face fell. "Did you miss the part about him nearly killing your daughter?" "That whore bitch is no daughter of mine!" Silas snarled. "And I didn't have nothin' to do with Clem bein' on that road. Don't you come up here lookin' fer trouble with me!"1 Liam slid from the saddle and walked back to Clem. He untied the rope from the man's ankles and then slowly stepped toward Silas—happy to see the fear in the coward's eyes as it became clear he was fighting the urge to flee into his shack. "I think it's time we get a few things straight, Silas. I reckon I've given you the wrong impression of me. You seem to think I won't fight back and that's just not right." Liam was standing toe to toe with the trembling man now. His fists were clenching and he was using every ounce of self-control he had to avoid pulling his gun, or his knife, and silencing the man forever. "Emma is my wife. She is off limits to you. I don't want you to look at her, approach her or speak to her again. You're going to stop destroying my traps. You're going to stop sending your family to do your dirty work and you're going to stop attempting to send bullets into my back. You're going to forget we exist because if you don't....." Liam slid his knife from its holster and at it at the other man's bobbing throat before he could blink. "...I will end your goddamn life. Are we clear, Silas Hawke? You've met your match in me and you need to realize that before it costs you your life; the way it did your brother."3 Instead of anger in Silas' eyes, Liam saw nothing but raw fear and it satisfied him. "Are we clear, Silas? I need to hear you say you understand me." Silas nodded which made the knife presser tighter against his throat. He quickly stilled and his shaking lips formed the word yes, though no sound was able to escape. Liam stepped away and holstered his weapon. He walked back to Misty, keeping Silas in his peripheral vision as he moved, as slid onto her back. He felt a moment of amusement when he saw the wet stain spreading across the front of Silas' trousers.10 "I would say I'd see you around, Silas, but, I truly hope I don't—for your sake." With that, Liam led Misty away, leaving Silas still standing motionless. It was a tense ride down the mountain. Liam wasn't sure if he was going to take a bullet in the back or be rushed by a posse—but neither happened. He made it safely back to his cabin and was leading Misty to the barn when his father came charging from the cabin. His gray hair was a mess upon his head and he looked more than a little frazzled. "What's going on?" Liam demanded, instantly worried about Emma. Patrick snorted. "She's madder than an old wet hen, Liam. She's not happy at all that you rode off this morning and she's smart enough to know where you went.... Good luck, son. Your wife is one angry hell cat."3 Liam sighed. "Take care of Misty for me." "Gladly," Patrick grumbled, taking the reins. He paused. "How did it go? Did you....?" "No, I didn't kill him." "I think that was a mistake," Patrick scolded with a click of his tongue.6 Liam glared at the older man. "Murder isn't something I'm fond of doing," he stated. "Especially to an unarmed man on his own damn property which is surrounded by hundreds of his kinfolk." The door to the cabin opened quickly and Patrick shook his head. "I'm tending the damn horse."2 "What in the hell did you think you were doing this morning, Liam?" Emma demanded. Liam looked up at his wife standing on the porch in her bare feet. Her hair was falling out of the fancy coif it had been in yesterday and she was still wearing her nightdress and robe. Her face was flushed and her blue eyes were flashing as she stood there with her hands on her hips, glaring at him. It was one hell of a terrifyingly beautiful picture.3 "I thought I was delivering a body to next of kin and protecting my wife." Emma shook her head. "You could have been killed! You never should have went up there alone!"1 Liam stepped onto the porch and kissed her brow which only caused her to stiffen and step aside to allow him to pass. He sighed as he stepped into the cabin. "I didn't die, Emma. I'm right here, safe and sound." "Dumb luck," she grumbled. Liam found himself chuckling as he slipped off his gun belt and hung it by the door. "I'll take it." He plopped himself down on the kitchen chair and was happy when Emma settled herself down on his lap. She wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her face in his shoulder. "Did you kill him?" Liam was barely able to make out her muffled question. "No, love. I didn't kill your father." She pulled away and stared at him with wide eyes. "Why not?"3 Liam blinked several times. "You want me to kill him?" Tears filled her blue eyes. "He's not going to stop if you don't, Liam. He's never going to let us live in peace." Liam pulled her into his chest and held her tight while she cried. He rubbed soothing circles on her back and kissed her hair tenderly. "He will, Emma. I talked to him. You don't have to worry." After several long moments, Emma pulled away, wiped at her face and got to her feet. "I'd better start breakfast." Liam stood and took her hands in his. "I'm not all that hungry. Why don't we climb back in bed and stay there for today? That sounds a hell of a lot better to me."1 Emma smiled. It was a ghost of a smile and it didn't quite reach her red-rimmed eyes but Liam would take what he could get. "That sounds better to me too."Emma stepped out into the early morning air and wrapped her shawl tighter around herself. The months were passing quickly and November was upon them—and it had brought winter chills with it.+ She felt the babe stir within her and smiled. Life was peaceful. Despite her fears that her father would never stop his attacks on them, Liam seemed to have been right. They were safe.2 It had been months without a single word from him. She'd had no run-in in town, Liam's traps had remained undisturbed and there had been no further bullets sent their way. Winter was approaching and, honestly, Emma was more than ready for it. Snow would soon fall and trap them in their cozy cabin where they'd stay wrapped up tight in one another until the birth of their child in the spring. Everything was ready. Liam had handcrafted a cradle and Emma had made plenty of blankets and outfits to keep the babe warm and swaddled. The smokehouse and pantry were nearly bursting with food and the woodshed was full. Yes, everything was perfect—except that Liam was preparing to leave for two days.2 He had all his furs from the spring and summer loaded up on the cart and he was going to be taking them to a larger town in an effort to get more money for them. Emma knew he was trying to make enough money that he wouldn't have to do much trapping at all next year—she knew he wanted to be able to spend that time with her and their child. But that wasn't going to make it any easier to say goodbye to him this morning. "Are you sure you don't want to come?" Liam asked, stepping behind her and wrapping his arms around her growing middle. Emma sighed, leaning into his embrace. "I'm sure. I don't think I'm up for quite that much cart sitting." Patrick stepped out of the barn with Honey who was going to be pulling the loaded cart. "Don't you worry none, son. Hell Cat and I will have a good time and you'll be back before you know it."2 Emma flushed and rolled her eyes. Patrick had been calling her Hell Cat ever since she had lost her temper with him when Liam had ridden up on the mountain to confront her father. Apparently Emma had scared the man. Honestly, she wasn't that bad... she hadn't even lost her temper much since.1 "I'll be home in two days," Liam promised, turning her around so he could see her face. Emma forced a smile. "Everything will be just fine. We'll barely have time to miss you."2 Liam stooped low and gave her a quick kiss before walking around her and off the porch. She watched as he and Patrick hooked Honey up to the cart. Emma's stomach was in knots. She didn't want Liam to leave—but she knew he had to. "I'll take care of things around here," Patrick promised.3 Liam clapped his hand on his father's shoulder. "I know." He gave one last long glance to Emma after climbing into the cart and then pulled away. Emma watched him until he rounded the bend and then she sighed as she pulled her shawl tighter. "It's getting too cold to stand out here. Come on in, Patrick. I have some fresh coffee brewed." STORY CONTINUES BELOW Patrick rubbed his weathered hands together as he climbed the steps. "You sure do know the way to an old man's heart." *** Emma was cleaning up the supper dishes the next night when she felt the baby beginning to stir restlessly inside her. She smiled, loving the sensation of kicks and rolls.1 She glanced at Patrick who was sitting in the arm chair, smoking a pipe and staring into the fire. "Patrick?" she called. He turned his head to look at her. "Would you like to feel your grandchild move?" Patrick's face paled. "I..uh..." He got to his feet and sat his pipe down. His hands were shaking as he approached her hesitantly. "You don't mind?" Emma laughed lightly. "I wouldn't have asked if I did." She took his rough hand and placed it over her stomach in just the right place. "Give her a minute," Emma urged. Almost immediately the babe gave a big kick. Patrick cried out with shock and leapt back. A smile split his face. "Well, I'll be damned," he mumbled. "Can I feel that again?" Emma nodded. "Of course." After several more kicks, the babe began to calm down. Patrick's eyes were a bit red as he began to pitch in with the supper cleanup. "Thank you for that, Emma.... I'd forgotten what it felt like to feel a baby move in its mama's belly. It certainly is a wonder of the world."3 "Your granddaughter is going to love you, Patrick." Emma assured him, pausing in her dish washing duty. "You'll be an amazing grandfather to her."1 Patrick swallowed hard before chuckling quietly. "According to Liam, I'm going to have a grandson."3 Emma waved her wet hand. "Either way, you'll be loved and they will be spoiled." The two enjoyed light conversation back and forth as they continued the chores. Emma was eager for Liam to return home tomorrow but, honestly, she was also enjoying this time with Patrick. It reminded her of the time they'd spent together when Liam had been gone in the spring. Emma pointed toward the table. "Patrick, could you bring me that bowl. I forgot to grab......" Her words were cut off when a gunshot sounded. Glass shattered near her and Emma felt the burning, searing pain of a bullet slamming into her arm.30 She fell instantly, crying out with fear and pain. Patrick shouted. He blew out the nearby lantern to surround them in nearly complete darkness. "Emma?" he whispered, crouching low and approaching her. "Are you okay?"1 She was shaking and the pain was intense but she nodded. "It only hit by arm," she replied. "Who is shooting at us?" She felt foolish for even asking the question.9 It could only be one person. If Patrick thought the same, he didn't say. "I'm going to check out the other window. You stay down and stay hid."1 Emma's eyes were wide as Patrick went to the window and rose up enough to glance outside. HE dropped instantly, just before a bullet shattered that window as well. "Did you see who it is?" Emma hissed.1 Patrick nodded. "Three of them. Your pa is one...."5 Emma felt tears filling her eyes. Damn that man. Why couldn't he just leave her alone? Why....... Patrick stuck his other revolver out the window and began firing blindly. As he reloaded, more shots rained down on the cabin. Emma had to fight back screams every time the blasts sounded. STORY CONTINUES BELOW Then, to her horror, Patrick rose up. She saw him taking more careful aim and he managed two shots before a bullet finally found him—and then another.10 Emma screamed his name as he fell to the floor. "I think we got him!" she heard her father's voice from outside. Sometimes snapped inside her. Fear vanished. In its place was rage. She was tired of her father—tired of the threats and the violence. He had murdered her mother. He had attempted to murder her husband. He might have just killed her father-in-law.....2 It would be a cold day in hell before she let him murder her unborn child. Emma crawled to Patrick. She took stock of his injuries. A bullet had grazed his head and knocked him out cold and another had gone into his chest on the right side, fairly high near the shoulder. She was no doctor so she had no way of knowing whether or not it was life-threatening. "Are you in there, Emma?" her father called. Emma's hands were shaking but her resolve was strong as she gripped her gun. "You need to stop this, father."2 "Or what, Emma?" he mocked. "Are you going to shoot me?"1 Emma crawled to the kitchen window—he wouldn't expect her there. She rose up, just enough to see him about twenty feet away, nearing the porch. There was a dead body a bit further out and she recognized one of her uncles walking with her father. Emma took aim and squeezed the trigger, cursing when the bullet missed its mark and hit the porch post. Silas stopped in his tracks. "Did you just shoot at me, bitch?"7 Instead of responding, Emma took a more careful aim and fired again. The bullet hit her father's arm right arm and his gun clattered to the ground. "Goddammit!" he bellowed. Emboldened by her actions, Emma fired another shot. The two men turned and began to run away. Emma fired her last three shots at their retreating backs, reloaded her weapon and continued firing into the trees they'd run off into. The night fell silent. Emma felt tears building. She felt herself beginning to shake and tremble. But there was no time. Patrick needed a doctor. Emma grabbed a handkerchief from the cabinet and using her good arm and her teeth she tied it tight around her bleeding wound. Then she grabbed a pitcher of water and approaching Patrick. Feeling a little guilty, Emma poured it on his face and he sputtered to consciousness. "What....?" He mumbled.1 "You were shot, Patrick. I gotta get you to the doc but I can't get you up and out of here on my own. You have to get up," Emma stated, knowing there was no time to waste explaining things further. "Your father?" Patrick stated, sitting up far too quickly and groaning as he clutched at his bleeding head. "He's gone. They ran away." She hoped. Emma helped Patrick to his feet and led him to the porch where he sat down with his gun in his lap to keep watch. Emma stepped into the barn and removed Colt from his stable. She couldn't saddle him with only one arm but she'd ridden him bareback before—Liam had insisted she learn. He'd said it was a skill she might need someday. He'd been right. STORY CONTINUES BELOW She led Colt to the porch and realized that Patrick had slipped back into unconsciousness. Emma shook him awake. "Come on now," she urged. "You have to get up there." It took some doing but they both finally managed to get onto Colt's back with the help of the porch steps and the horse's own intelligence. Emma had never been so terrified as she was going down that dark path. She kept expecting monsters to leap from the trees and attack her. Patrick was slumping heavier and heavier against her back. The night felt as if it were laughing at her. Mocking her. The cold was overwhelming. Her breath swirled around her head. Emma wasn't at all sure they'd make it. But they did. The glow of town neared and Emma pointed Colt toward the doc's. "Emma?" Chase's voice had her head whipping around she saw the man start running her way. "What the hell are you doing out here, Emma? It's the middle of the night... is that blood?" "Please, Chase, help! Patrick needs the doc!" Chase grabbed the unconscious older man and pulled him from the horse, tossing him over his shoulder. "What about you?" he demanded. "What happened?" "I'm fine.. I'll explain later. Just please get him there quickly. I'm coming."4 Chase seemed torn a moment but finally nodded and ran, as quickly as he could with a man on his shoulder, toward the doc's. By the time Emma managed to get off Colt's back and climb the doc's stairs, the sitting room was empty. Chase and the Doc were back in the other room with Patrick and she could hear their worried voices through the door. Emma sat down on the sofa. She felt numb as she rocked back and forth and simply started at the wall. The ticking of the clock seemed to echo in her ears. Finally, the door to the other room opened. Chase and the doc emerged. "Is Patrick going to be okay?" Emma demanded. She stood quickly, her head swam and she collapsed against the sofa. Chase stormed toward her. "HE's going to be fine, but why didn't you tell me you'd been shot?" he demanded, pulling off her make-shift bandage.1 Emma hissed in pain. "Because it's nothing serious," she replied. "And don't yell at me.... Please?" she whispered. She simply couldn't take it. Chase's gaze softened. He smoothed her hair from her face. "I didn't mean to yell. I happen to care a hell of a lot about you, Emma. And I can't imagine what would happen to Liam if he lost you. What happened?" "She can tell you after we get that bullet out of her arm," the doc countered. He motioned toward a metal table nearby. "Hop up there and lay down." Emma was too weak to stand alone. Chase lifted her to her feet and guided her to the table before picking her up and laying her upon it. He slid off his gun belt and held the strap up to her mouth as the doctor opened a satchel full of sharp tools. "What's that for?" Emma asked Chase, her stomach rolling. "This is gonna hurt, Emma. You'll want to bite down on something." "Hold her down," the doc ordered, appearing none too happy about the task he had to perform. Chase laid across her legs and held her arms tight. Emma bit down on the leather strap. She saw lantern light glint off of something metal in the doctor's hand just before pain blinded her to all else in the world. Emma's entire body tensed, her veins bulged, sweat slicked her skin and she bit down with all her might on that strap as tears poured form her eyes. It took the doctor less than a minute to remove the bullet from her arm, but it seemed as if that minute stretched on for hours. He cleaned and dressed the wound, and then Chase carried her back to the sofa and laid her down with a pillow, a blanket and a glass of water. She was trembling with sheer exhaustion as he put his gun belt back on. "You left your mark on it," he noted, pointing toward her teeth prints.6 Emma shivered. "I'm so tired." Chase knelt down and kissed her brow. "I'm going to go get Kyle. Let Ben, Cassandra and Anita know what's going on. You rest until we're all back. I'm sure you only want to tell the story once."2 Emma nodded. After the events of the night, she should be too afraid to sleep—but exhaustion overrode every other thought or feeling she had and sleep claimed her within seconds. Liam was smiling as he neared home. The trip had gone well. He'd made more than enough money off his furs to take the next trapping season off—which meant more time to spend with Emma and their child.1 He couldn't wait to see the look on Emma's face when she realized he was home early. It wasn't even dawn yet and she would no doubt still be sleeping soundly. He hadn't planned on being home until midday but had decided to skip sleep and ride through the night. Not long ago, Liam had been a man who disappeared for days, sometimes weeks at a time, and never told anyone where he was going. Now, the only place he wanted to be was at that cabin with his wife. As his home came into view unease trickled down his spine. The hairs on his neck stood on end and he pulled Honey to a stop. The darkness hindered him as he glanced around, but his eyes were fairly well adjusted... adjusted enough to realize that the windows of his cabin had been shattered. Liam hopped from Honey in a rush and raced onto the porch, slipping in a puddle of something. Liam's stomach churned and a tangible panic began to claw at his gut—a pool of blood was beneath his feet. "Emma!" Liam cried out as he ran through the open front door. The lamp in the back of the sitting room was burning, casting shadows around the cabin. There was a bucket full of dishes, the supper scraps were in another bucket. Patrick's pipe, something he wouldn't have left willingly, was sitting on the table. And blood... blood was smeared across the floor and puddled in places. "Emma?" Liam's voice was broken and quiet as he went to the bedroom and realized she wasn't there. What had happened while he'd been gone....Part of him knew exactly what must have happened but another refused to believe it. Liam had warned the man; had made it clear..... Had Silas taken her? And where was Patrick? Liam raced to Patrick's cabin but it was empty, just as he'd thought it would be. Going to the barn, Liam began to saddle Misty. If Silas thought he'd get away with taken Emma—he had another thing coming. It was then that Liam realized Colt was gone. Forcing himself to take several deep breaths, Liam tried to still his racing thoughts and rid himself of the images currently flashing in his mind. Something bad had happened here, yes, but if Colt was gone that meant Emma must have ridden him out of here. That beast wouldn't have allowed anyone else—much less a mountain man like Silas—ride him. Liam went back inside the cabin and grabbed the lamp. He took it outside and began examining the tracks. With the help of the light, he was able to determine that Emma and Patrick had both left on Colt's back—though at least one of them had been bleeding fairly heavily. He also found the dead body of a mountain man beside the tree line and the tracks of two more bleeding men heading up the mountain. Liam would deal with them later. For now, he needed to get to his wife and father. He quickly unhooked Honey from the cart, settled her into the barn and finished saddling Misty. Hopping on her back, Liam dug his heels deep and urged her into her fastest pace. He had no idea what he'd find when he reached town but he knew he had to get there quick. STORY CONTINUES BELOW *** Liam raced up the doc's steps with every intention of barging in but when he reached the top step, he froze. What was he going to find? Could he carry on if Emma...... With a deep, steadying breath, Liam slowly pushed open the door. The room was crowded. Chase, Kyle, Anita, Lauren, William, Ben and Cassie all stood inside. But where was Emma? "Liam... what are you doing back so soon?" Kyle demanded when everyone noticed him. Liam's hands were shaking and he had to work his mouth several times before sound came out. "Emma?" Everyone moved aside and he saw her. She was lying on the couch. Blood covered her dress and her hair was wet with sweat and matted to her pale face. Her eyes were closed and she was so very pale—so very still. "Is she......?" Anita rushed forward and wrapped her arms around him, though Liam didn't respond. He simply stood there frozen. "She's okay, Liam. Just exhausted and sleeping." He didn't' feel relief. He saw the bandage on her arm and the pallor of her face... his wife was not okay. "What happened?" Chase stepped forward as Anita moved away, dabbing at her damp cheeks with her kerchief. "We don't know exactly," Chase admitted. "Her and Patrick haven't been real talkative."1 "Is Patrick okay?" Liam asked. "Where is he?" "The doctor's with him in the other room," Anita replied, her voice hollow. "He'll be okay.. but it'll take a while before he's up and ready to go," Chase admitted. "A bullet grazed his head and addled him pretty bad and another clipped his lung. The doc said he'll recover but it'll take time." Silence fell but was quickly interrupted by Emma's fitful whimpering. Liam's gaze quickly returned to her. She was asleep but it was as if she were fighting someone he couldn't see. She cried out his name and Liam rushed forward, shoving past the bodies in his way. He dropped to his knees in front of the sofa and smoothed the hair from her face. "Emma, love, I'm right here."4 Her light blue eyes opened and she cried out his name again as she saw him. Her good arm was slung quickly around his neck and Liam scooped her up, settling himself down on the sofa, with her held tight in his lap. "Liam... don't leave again..." she whispered. "Who did this to you, Emma?" he asked, feeling her body shivering against him. He nodded in thanks to Ben who brought over a blanket and draped it on them. "He did," Emma replied. "Emma, we know your real tired but do you think you could tell us what happened? We need to know," Ben urged. She took a shaky breath and nodded. Liam listened to her words and the anger and rage within him grew with every single one—and so did the guilt. To know the pain and fear his wife had been feeling—to hear of what had happened to his father who had been risking his life to protect Emma—none of that would have happened had Liam killed Silas Hawke from the start. Liam was partly to blame for those bullets that had come flying into his home.5 When Emma finished, Liam barely noticed Ben and Cassandra slipping from the doc's house. His attention was on the doc who was stepping out of the other room. STORY CONTINUES BELOW "Can I see him?" Liam asked. The doc sighed and wiped at his brow. "Yeah, I reckon. He's in and out because of the blow to the head and he has trouble speaking. Don't be too alarmed by his breathing—it sounds worse than it is." Liam nodded and got to his feet. "I want to come with you," Emma stated, getting to hers as well. Liam took her hand and led her to the doorway. It felt as if a ton of rocks settled into his gut when he saw his father lying in that bed. His skin seemed paper thin and white as cotton. Every breath he took rattled and wheezed. He was so small, so frail.... It was Emma who urged Liam forward and his father's eyes fluttered open when they reached the side of his bed. A weak smile tugged at Patrick's lips. "Glad.. you're okay... Hell Cat."1 "Thank you for what you did," Liam managed to speak around the lump in his throat. Patrick nodded. He reached out and took Liam's hand in his—his skin felt so cold. Suddenly the past and every reason Liam had to hate his father disappeared. The wall he had so desperately fought to keep erected, came tumbling down.1 Liam stooped low and hugged his bed-ridden father the best he could. Tears stung his eyes as he buried his face in the man's shoulder. "I love you, pa."26 His father's hand fell surprisingly strong on his back several times. "I love you, son."7 Liam stood straight and swiped his arm across his face. "Come on, Emma. Let's let him rest." Emma kissed Patrick's cheek and then Liam led her toward the door, surprised when Anita was entering. "I'll stay in here and tend to Patrick," she said, her eyes going to the man on the bed. "I'm sure he'd like to have company." "I'd.. like that," Patrick agreed.1 As confusing as all that was, Liam couldn't focus on the budding relationship between his once-feuding relatives. He had a reckoning to deliver.1 Liam led Emma back to the sofa, settled her down on it and then crouched before her. "I'm going, Emma." Fear and worry widened her eyes but she nodded. "I knew you would." She took his hands and swallowed hard. "Please be careful... your daughter and I need you, Liam."2 Liam nodded. He pressed a tender kiss to her lips before placing an even tenderer kiss to her rounding stomach. Then he shoved himself to his feet and headed toward the door. Ben and Cassandra entered just as he reached it. Liam's gaze instantly dropped to the gun belt slung low on Ben's hips. "What are you doing?" Liam demanded.2 "Coming with you," Ben replied. "A man can't let something like this stand." "Isn't vengeance frowned upon?" Liam asked. "The Lord will forgive him," Cassandra assured him. "Men like that one need to be put down."13 Liam sighed. "I'll do the putting down," he vowed. "I should have done it a long time ago. You'll stay here." Ben shook his head. "I want to help." Liam knew that Ben's heart was in the right place but he doubted that he had much talent with that gun on his hip. He could tell by the way the man wore it that he didn't have much practice. "I won't forget your offer," Liam promised. "But I need your prayers here more than I need your gun up there. Don't go breaking your vows for me. I've got this handled." He put a hand on Ben's shoulder and Ben swallowed hard before nodding. Liam could see the relief in the other man's eyes but he chose not to mention it. Liam stepped out the door and clenched his fists as he swept down the steps. "Liam?" With a grumble he turned to realize that Chase and Kyle had followed him. "Don't even try to tell me I'm not coming," Kyle warned. "By God we're more brothers than we are friends and I won't let you go up there alone." Liam knew he wouldn't convince Kyle to stay behind. He recognized the look on his friend's face far too well. "Fine. But Chase you need to go back inside." Chase's nostril's flared. "I don't reckon I will!" "Please, Chase? I know it's not fair of me to ask since Kyle is coming with me but I need to know that Emma and the babe will be taken care of.... I know you'd protect them and take care of them. I know you'd love them in all the ways that matter. I need to know that if I don't come back, they won't be alone...." Chase swallowed hard. He glanced at Kyle who nodded slightly and then he held out his hand to Liam. "You have my word, Liam. I'll see to your wife and child." "Thank you," Liam replied, content with knowing that no matter what, his wife and child would ever want for anything.2 Chase cleared his throat. "But can I ask you a favor?" Liam raised a brow in waiting. Chase forced a humorless laugh. "Can you do your damn best to bring my man back home to me?"

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