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Liam tensed, somehow knowing the reaction Emma would have seconds before she had it As the woman's eyes darted toward the back door, she made a run for it. Liam sprang into action, coming between Emma and the door just before she reached it. Her momentum had her colliding with his chest. Liam wrapped his arms around her to keep her from falling and, damn, if it didn't feel as if a lightning bolt struck him.3 Holy hell.1 He wondered if Emma felt it too but when he pulled away and looked down at her face, all he saw was fear. Plain, raw terror. "Emma, is he looking for you?" A barely perceptible nod tilted her head. "And you're afraid of him?" Yet another nod as she trembled reminding Liam of a leaf in a windstorm. Liam felt his fists clench. Any man who would reduce a woman to this kind of fear deserved to be hanged.25 Silas' fist hit the door sharply three times. "Liam McIntyre? Are ya here?" "Be right there," Liam called back. Emma's blue eyes filled with tears. "Please..." she gasped. "Please, help me...."2 Liam nodded. He led her to a wardrobe in the corner beside the bed and pulled open the door. "Get in here, stay in here and don't make a sound."1 Gratitude lit her eyes and Liam would have been lying if he said it didn't tug at his heartstrings.6 She hid herself within the wardrobe and Liam closed the door. He quickly tossed her coat, gloves, hat and shoes onto the tattered armchair and covered them with the quilt.2 Liam slid his gun belt around his hips and fastened it snugly before opening the door.4 Silas Hawke stood on the porch with clenched fists and anger in his hard, dark eyes. "What are you doing here, Silas?"2 Liam had met the man several times over the years and had disliked him a bit more with each encounter.... He didn't expect this time to be any different. Silas shoved a hand through his stringy black hair and his thin upper lip curled. "I'm lookin' fer somebody." He glanced over Liam's shoulders. "Ain't ya gonna invite me in? It's awful cold out here." Liam raised one shoulder and moved out of the way. "I was just finishing breakfast. Help yourself." Silas shoved his way past and the rickety kitchen chair groaned in protest as the mountain of a man sat down. Heaping piles of food onto a plate, Silas began to shovel forkful after forkful into his mouth.4 Liam added several logs to the fire and stood with his arms crossed as he watched Silas make a hog out of himself. "So, who is it you're looking for?" Silas swiped his stained sleeve across his mustached mouth. "My poor daughter." "I didn't know you had a daughter." Silas nodded. "She stays put at the cabin which is her damn place. Plus, that keeps all the young bucks up on the mountains from trying to spoil her. Carolyn, my wife, was trainin' her and I've been huntin' husbands fer her now that she's grown. I'm tryin' to see how much I can get fer her." STORY CONTINUES BELOW Liam felt anger burn in his gut. Things were different up in the mountains. People lived by their own rules and they had their own customs and beliefs. Liam knew Silas to be a loud, cruel, abrasive, heavy-handed drunkard—just like many others up there. He was a rough husband—and apparently father too if those bruises on Emma were any indication. Beating women, selling children and starving your family when you yourself didn't appear to have ever missed a meal? Those things riled Liam's temper in a hurry.1 "You said she ran away? What would make a girl run off in this kind of weather?"3 Silas glared. "It's personal family business. Nothin' to concern ya."3 "Well I've not see anyone, Silas." Silas stood slowly. "I followed a trail down. I took it to be hers. It led to yer barn." Liam shrugged. "I've been out there and didn't see a soul." "Mind if I check fer myself?" "My word isn't good enough for you?" Liam inquired.1 Silas let out a sigh. "I just wanna be sure. I'm awful worried. Ya see, her mama took ill last night and passed on. Emma was so upset, she just took off... can ya believe that? The ungrateful brat, running off and abandoning her pa in his time of need?"9 Liam fought the urge to snort. Silas must have killed poor Carolyn and Emma had fled for her life.16 "No." He shook his head. "I sure can't." Silas' infamous temper reared its head. He strode forward with his fists clenched. "Are ya callin' me a liar?!" he bellowed.4 Liam's gaze went upward and he stood his ground. He didn't scare easy and it would take more than an overgrown coward to get it done. "Calm down, Silas. This is my home, not yours. I demand a bit more respect from my guests—especially after I've been kind enough to feed them."10 Silas was fuming. Liam could practically see the smoke billowing from his ears. "Now your damn daughter isn't here. If you think you need to check the barn, go ahead. But I think you need to go back to searching the mountain. Chances are she never made it down in that weather and she's probably already froze to death." Silas snarled. "It would serve her right. Abandonin' her pa when he needs her...." Liam raised a brow. "Children these days."8 Silas headed toward the door. "I'm gonna take a look in that barn." Crossing his arms over his chest, Liam shrugged. "Do what you got to do." Silas slammed the door behind him as he left the cabin, shaking the walls. Liam went to the window and watched the big man step into the barn. He was there a long while before finally stepping back out and heading back toward the mountain trail. Liam let the curtain fall, locked the door and crossed the room to the wardrobe. He pulled open the door and stared down at Emma. She was sitting at the bottom of the wardrobe with her knees pulled into her chest and tears on her face. Something inside Liam softened at the sight. Just because he was a loner didn't mean he was cold-hearted.10 He had a soft spot for helping those in need. It was something his aunt had instilled in him from a young age.2 Liam held out a calloused hand. "You can come out now, Emma." She stared hard at his hand a moment before reaching out and taking it. "He's gone?" she whispered, as Liam helped her to her feet. "Yeah, I reckon so," Liam replied, releasing his hold on her hand and attempting to steady himself. Something about this woman's touch made him feel off center. "Emma Hawke? That's your name? You're Silas Hawke's daughter?" "Yes," she admitted. Liam realized he'd opened up an entire can of trouble by saving this woman, bringing her in and lying to her pa. While Silas didn't scare him, if Silas chose, he could come back with an entire posse of mountain men if he discovered Liam was lying. There was no law for hundreds of miles. Men tended to take the law into their own hands and settle issues their own ways. "Please..." she pleaded. "Please, Liam, help me get to a town. I was on my way to one when ya found me." "No, you were on your way to the grave when I found you."20 Emma nibbled at her full bottom lip and Liam found his eyes drawn to the movement. What the hell was wrong with him?6 "I thank ya, Liam. I really do. And I thank ya fer helpin' me with my pa just now.. I won't ask ya fer nothin' else if ya could just point me in the direction of town..." "No." Her face fell. "But I can't stay here." "I know you can't," Liam assured her quickly. Liam wasn't in the market for permanent company—not even the pretty kind.6 Liam saw the confusion on her face. He also thought he saw hurt. Dear Lord, did the woman want to stay?4 "I'll find town on my own then," she announced. "Not today you won't," Liam argued. "The sky looks bad. It's going to start snowing again soon. The wind is howling and it's freezing cold. Even on horseback, in weather like this, it'd take you a good two hours or longer to reach town. And you'd freeze to death on foot." Liam sighed as he realized what had to be done. "You'll stay here until the weather breaks." Fear lit her blue eyes. "With you?" "Damn lady," Liam muttered. "If I was going to hurt you, I would have done it already." He moved away from her and headed for the door. "We can talk more later. For now, I've got stalls to clean and animals to tend. Make yourself comfortable, Emma." Without giving her time to respond, Liam left the cabin. He had questions he wanted to ask, but, being a private person himself, he wasn't comfortable getting too personal. Plus, he wasn't look to have too much chit chat between them. He didn't want her forming some kind of attachment. He'd get her to town, make sure she was in safe hands and that would be that. Emma sat the fresh baked apple pie on the table and glanced around the cabin. She had swept, dusted and tidied the place as a thank you to Liam for all he had done.8 She had not seen him since he'd gone out earlier and evening was darkening outside. Emma hoped he liked apple pie—she'd wanted to do something to please him. Liam was—different—from anyone she had known before. Despite the way he dressed, he was nothing like the men she so feared on that mountain. He had helped her. He had protected her against her father—and he showed sign of meaning her harm.5 Footsteps on the porch signaled an approach. Emma stood anxiously as the door swung open and a snowy gust of air accompanied Liam inside. He closed the door, shook of the cold with a grunt and stared around the cabin with wide eyes. "You cleaned...." Emma wrung her hands. "I hope ya aren't angry." "No, I'm not angry." He ran his hand over the dust-free side table. "Just wasn't expecting it." Liam's nostril's flared and his gaze went to the table. "You baked pie?" "Are ya angry?"8 The look he fixed her with was full of annoyance. "If you do something to make me angry, I'll let you know. Until then, quit asking."14 Emma's face reddened as her gaze dropped to her feet. Liam sighed. "Let's eat some pie." Emma was surprised when Liam served her a piece before getting one for himself. With anticipation she watched him take a bite and felt pride fill her when he nodded his approval. "This is damn good. I don't think I've ever had better pie." Then he frowned. "Aren't you going to eat?" The two finished their meal in silence. Emma noticed that Liam ate nearly half the pie himself. After they finished, Liam stood. "Well, I've made a pig of myself and couldn't eat another bite. Do you want me to cook you supper? You didn't eat much pie."3 "" Emma stammered. "No, I'm alright." Never in all her life had a man offered to cook for her.3 Liam shrugged. "Alright then." He went back out the door and Emma wondered where he'd gone until he returned with an armload of firewood. Emma held open the door for him and watched as he dropped the firewood into the box by the fireplace. Liam was strong and yet he moved with a gentleness and grace she'd never seen a man have before. It was clear he was powerful, capable and confident.18 Emma wondered what he thought of her.7 "Tomorrow I should be able to take you into town. The snow's letting up and I believe it's moving out." "Okay," she whispered. She knew she could not stay with this man—she shouldn't want to. Her mother had told her to run and build a happy life.... Not marry the first man she came across and become a slave to cooking, cleaning and child-bearing. Emma knew there had to be more. "did you know about your mama's death?" Liam asked some time later, interrupting the silence. Pain lanced Emma's heart as she swallowed hard. "Yeah." "Your pa claims she took ill and you ran off and abandoned him." Emma felt anger flare and burn in her chest. She'd always had a temper but had learned to keep it buried over the years to avoid beatings... her father didn't believe women should have tempers, or opinions, or thoughts and feelings of any kind. "That man is a liar," she snapped.3 Her eyes widened and her heart pounded when Emma realized she'd just used a harsh tone with him. Instead of growing angry, Liam chuckled. The good-natured sound rumbled from his chest. "Nice to see you still have some spirit in you." Liam's expression sobered. "I'm sorry about your mother. I know that pain." Emma shifted upon the bear skin fur she was sitting on. "Ya lost yer mother?"6 Liam stared into the fire and his lightly stubbled jaw tensed. "Yeah." Emma could tell it wasn't something he wanted to speak about. After several moments of silence, Liam cleared his throat. "He probably won't let you just move on." Emma's stomach rolled. "I know... but I have to try. If I go back he'll kill me or sell me a husband just as cruel." Liam seemed to think about that a moment. "I'll do what I can to make sure you're safe."1 Emma tilted her head as she looked at him sitting on the tattered armchair. "Why are ya helpin' me?"2 Liam seemed uncomfortable with the question. He averted his gave. "Just trying to do the right thing." "But ya don't owe me nothin'. Ya don't even know me." Liam let out a sigh. "If you don't want my help..." "I didn't say that." "Then why all the questions?" he demanded, raising his brow. "Just tryin' to understand." He shook his head and his gaze went back to the fire. "Well stop. Life isn't always meant to be understood."17 *** Liam stared into the firelight long after Emma had fallen asleep on her bear skin bed. That woman was a complex mystery and, damn if he wasn't dying to find out more. It unnerved and irritated him how quickly she'd gotten under his skin. He wanted to see that she was safe and protected. He'd do everything he could to keep her out of her father's hands. And it would be a cold day in hell before he saw Emma sold into marriage. No woman deserved that.11 It had happened to his own mother and the woman had died without ever knowing true happiness.1 Liam would not let the same be said about a woman as good as Emma. To the right man—a man who truly deserved her—Emma would make a fine wife. It was clear that deep down she possessed strength and spirit. She had a serving heart, as shown in the way she had cooked and cleaned for him. And hell, could she cook! He hadn't been lying about that pie being the best he'd ever had—even his aunt couldn't have done better. She had expressive blue eyes, full lips, soft pale skin and hair as black as midnight.5 Liam stared into the dwindling firelight and sighed as he gripped the cup of water in his hand a bit tighter. Yeah, Emma Hawke would make someone a damn fine wife.

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