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Liam felt relief flow through him as he shoved his money into his pocket. He'd made a tiny fortune for just one month of work and it would ensure that he wouldn't have to spend quite as much time trapping for a while.3 Liam wanted to have plenty of free time as he truly learned about his wife and married life.3 And damn was he ready to get home to Emma—if Emma was still there. After the way they'd parted he didn't know if she would still be around or if she'd tell him to go to hell and not want to see him again. Hell. "You want to head to the saloon with me for a night or two before you head back?" Nathan asked, hopping into his saddle.1 Liam was quick to shake his head. "No."2 Nathan chuckled. "In a hurry to get back to that woman of yours you've been pining after the last few weeks?"1 Liam simply shrugged and swiped at his brow with his bandana. "Thanks for the job, Nathan."4 "In about three months I'll be making another run. I've gotta take a herd up over the mountains and deliver them to a base out west. You want in on that one?" "How long?" "It'll probably take a good three or four months is my guess." "No, I don't reckon I want to be away from home for that long," Liam declined. Hell he was going crazy enough after only about a month without Emma. He couldn't imagine what three or four times that would feel like. "Alright then, Liam. Good luck with the married life. I think I'd rather take a bullet to the leg." Liam merely tipped his head and the men parted ways. There had been a time not long ago when Liam would have agreed with Nathan, but that had been before Emma. Now it was time to go home and make things right with her. If he rode hard, and he knew that Honey could handle a quick pace, Liam could make it home in about three days. Three days and he'd be holding Emma in his arms.2 The journey wasn't as long as it felt... anticipation had made every mile feel like ten. But now he was close.. just a few miles from town where he would check in at Anita's to ensure that Emma hadn't been staying there, and then he'd head home. The day was beautiful and Liam was enjoying the warmth of the sun on his face when the peace was suddenly shattered by the echo of a gunshot.1 A bullet tore through Liam's shoulder from the back, ripping through the front of his shirt upon exit and slamming him from his saddle.32 Liam went for his gun but as he collided with the ground, his head struck sharply against a rock and the world began to spin. Liam tried hard to hold onto consciousness but it was no use—his world quickly went black.9 *** Moaning, Liam returned to consciousness, only to be greeted by darkness. It was night. His body was weak and sluggish and his shirt, as well as the dirt beneath him, were soaked in blood. As Liam rose to sit, his head swam and he quickly vomited into the grass beside him. Who the hell had shot him? Liam didn't have enemies..... Except for one. Silas Hawke. STORY CONTINUES BELOW Did that mean Emma was in trouble?3 If Patrick had allowed Emma's father to get his hands on her again, Liam would kill him. He'd forgiven the man once. It wouldn't happen again. Liam was a peace-loving man. He hated tension and violence. But he wasn't scared to fight and if Silas had laid a hand on Emma, the man would die. No more second chances. Liam would kill the bastard. But first, Liam had to focus on not dying himself.1 He let out a whistle and heard Honey's instant snort in reply. Seconds later her nose was nudging his uninjured shoulder.2 Liam took hold of her neck and let her strength pull him to his feet. "Thanks girl." Liam couldn't seem to focus his vision. His mind kept swirling and his eyes were seeing double and triple of everything around him. Somehow, Liam managed to hoist himself onto Honey's back. He knew he was bleeding heavily. He wouldn't make it much longer if the bleeding didn't stop. "Let's get to town, Honey," he muttered as he hung limply in the saddle. Honey seemed to understand and her hooves began to carry them in the right direction. Liam wanted to stay awake—he needed to stay away. But still the world fell back into black. *** "Good morning, Emma," Patrick greeted as he stepped into the cabin. Emma smiled and looked up from adjusting the colorful blanket she'd sewn over the sofa. While sewing clothing still proved too complicated for her, she'd found that pillows and blankets were much easier. She'd sewn several new pillows for Liam's bed as well as a pillow for Patrick who was still insisting on living in the barn instead of sleeping on the sofa. Emma had thought about making pillows and blankets along with her pies to make money but she didn't know if she could.... Would Liam want her earning money? She was his wife now and, no matter how much she hated the truth, it still was truth that he owned her. She couldn't make pies and sell them or make pillows and blankets for money, without asking his permission. She was already scared enough that she'd had to go shopping for supplies while he'd been gone and put the supplies on his credit. Would he be angry? But surely Liam had known that Emma would have to have supplies during his absence. "What are your plans for today?" Patrick asked. Emma glanced out the window. "I was hoping to go into town. Anita asked me to come to the house the last time she was here.... Would you mind taking me?" "Of course not. I'd say you're mighty tired of staring at the same four walls day in day out."1 Emma nodded and smiled gratefully. Patrick truly was a good man and the two had grown very close in the last month. She trusted him whole-heartedly and that spoke volumes to the kind of man he was.2 She had kept herself busy but she needed to get away for the day. While Patrick was a good man, he tended to keep himself busy away from the cabin during the day and Emma spent much of her time alone.1 "I'll go ready the horses," Patrick said as he opened the door. "Come on out when you're ready." Emma glanced around the cabin once she was alone again. Everything was neat and tidy. Freshly washed clothes and sheets were hanging on the line in the valley behind the cabin and there was nothing for her to do.So, Emma donned her shawl to ward off the chilly morning air and stepped outside. She waited patiently on the porch until Patrick led his horse and Misty from the barn. "Well come on then, darling, and we'll go to town. Though, I probably won't come to Anita's with you. I'm not liked too much over there." Emma mounted Misty and they headed down the trail. "Anita has her reasons," she reminded him quietly. "But if she could get to know the person ya are now, she might change her mind." Patrick chuckled and shoved his hand through his graying hair. "If only everyone in this world was as kind as you are."1 They rode in a comfortable silence for a long while before hoof beats rushing toward them reached their ears. Patrick instantly pulled his gun and brought his horse in front of Emma. Fear bloomed inside her. Who could be coming? Was it her father? She hadn't heard from nor seen him since the night he'd kidnapped her from the dance. Emma had hoped he'd moved on... but had he?1 Relief filled her when she recognized Kyle and Chase. But her unease quickly returned when she saw the desperation on their faces. "Emma, hell, we were coming to get you," Kyle announced. Emma swallowed hard. "Why? What's wrong?" She'd spent some time with both Kyle and Chase. They had told her the truth of their relationship and, if anything, it had made her more comfortable around them. "It's Liam..." Kyle began. Chase rose close to Emma and she met his eyes with despair. "What....?" She whispered.1 "He'sbeen shot, Emma," Chase whispered. "He's at the docs. You should probably getthere quick." 9Emma?"+ Startled by the sudden voice behind her, Emma jumped and dropped the wet rag she'd been smoothing across Liam's brow on the pillow beside his head. "Hi Anita..." Emma whispered, her voice tight with fatigue. "Sweetheart, why don't you got take a break? You've been at his bedside for days." Emma shook her head as she looked down at Liam's pale, drawn face. Chase and Kyle had moved him back into his own cabin the evening before—they'd insisted that when he woke up he'd rather be at home. Emma was terrified that they'd never know for sure what his reaction to waking up at home would be. The doctor had cleaned and sewed the wound to his shoulder and had told them the wound itself was not life threatening. But the blood loss had been great and he continued to run a low fever. The doctor had also voiced concern about the welted lump on the back of Liam's head.7 Emma's heart was broken. Her husband, a man she had been dreaming and planning a future with, was lying on the bed nearly dead. He hadn't woke up a single time. Emma had no idea if he would even want to see her if he woke up. They had so many things to talk about.... Apologies to say and feelings to voice. Liam couldn't now...not like this. "Emma, please, sweetheart. I have to head back to town. Can you at least come outside and get some fresh air for a few minutes before I leave?" Again Emma shook her head. "I won't leave him. He might wake up while I'm gone." Anita sighed and the sound was sad. "I want my nephew to wake up just as badly as you do, but Emma, we have to...." "Stop!" Emma's voice was loud and desperate as she squeezed her eyes shut tight. "Please..." she whimpered. "Just stop." Anita's hand gently touched her shoulder. "Okay. I have to be going, Emma. Lauren is waiting for word on Liam. We'll both come out tomorrow."Emma merely nodded, refusing to look away from her husband's face. She heard Anita walk out and knew that she and Liam were once again alone. "Liam? Can ya hear me?" she whispered. "I need ya to wake up. I don't want to lose ya. I'm sorry for how I acted before ya left. I was scared and foolish and I spoke without thinking. I need to know if ya forgive me, Liam."3 She watched him, hoping, praying that he might respond. He didn't. He continued to lay there still upon the bed. Emma wet the rag once again in the basin beside the bed and continued to smooth it across his slightly heated brow. Emma lost track of time. She was lost in her thoughts and her worries. Only when Patrick entered the cabin did Emma look away from Liam and realized that sunset was approaching. "Emma, honey, you need to go on and stretch your legs awhile," Patrick stated and it was clear the man meant it as an order. Emma shook her head. "I don't want to leave him, Patrick... what if he wakes up while I'm gone?" Patrick sighed as he pulled off his hat and gun belt. "If I promise to sit right there in that chair you're sitting in and holler out that door at you if he even shows the smallest sign of waking up, will you go out and get some air for a few minutes before it gets dark?" STORY CONTINUES BELOW Emma chewed her lip as she debated whether or not she truly wished to leave Liam's side. The choice however was made for her by nature's call. As badly as she did not want to leave her husband for a single moment, it appeared she would have to. Slowly, Emma got to her feet, wincing painfully as blood rushed down her sleeping legs. Her feet tingled and she swayed, surprised when Patrick rushed forward to steady her. "Watch yourself, honey. You gotta give those legs a minute. You've been sitting there all day."1 Emma nodded but removed herself from his grasp as soon as her legs were steady enough. She had come a long way in speaking to people and feeling more comfortable in their presence, but physical touch, especially from men, was something she had not grown accustomed to. "I'll be right back." Patrick shook his head. "Take your time. Rest. I'll take care of him." Emma walked out the back door, paid a quick visit to the outhouse and then walked to the middle of the clearing and wrapped her arms tight around herself. The wind whipped the long grasses and her skirts around her legs. Her dark hair tangled around her face. Tears that Emma had been fighting back for days suddenly rushed into her eyes and she was powerless against them. Emma's chest heaved as the mournful, desperate droplets ran down her cheeks. She let her feet carry her quickly to the river and fell to her knees at the base of a tree. Her tears were uncontrollable and fell with a vengeance. She had held them back since first walking into Liam's room at the doctor's. She had seen Anita's pain, Patrick's pain, Chase and Kyle's pain... all those people had loved Liam, had known Liam so much longer than Emma had... it just hadn't seemed right to act as if her pain could compare. So she had held it in. But she couldn't hold it in any longer. Emma curled her knees into her chest and sobbed into her skirts. She did not want to lose Liam. *** Liam moaned and winced when he attempted to adjust his tight shoulder and pain rocketed through him. That's when he remembered that he'd been shot. Opening his eyes resulted in the dull ache in his head, roaring to life and becoming an intense thud. That's when he remembered he'd hit his head. Liam fought to remember where he was... the last he remembered was getting on Honey's back and pointing her toward town. A groan left his mouth and he nearly leapt from his skin when he heard Patrick yell. "Damn boy! Are you awake?!"4 Liam winced. "Quieter please," he grumbled. Slowly, Liam opened his eyes and realized he was in his own cabin. Patrick was sitting in the chair beside him looking worn and tired. "How long have I been out?" Liam asked, his voice raspy from lack of use. Patrick quickly filled a cup with water from the basin and held it to Liam's mouth. Liam took several greedy sips and pushed himself up to a sitting position. "You've been out for about four days, son. We brought you back here yesterday. Kyle and Chase figured you'd rather wake up at home and the doc said there wasn't anything else he could do." STORY CONTINUES BELOW Liam glanced around the cabin. It was neat and tidy and he could see new pillows and a blanket—had Emma made those? He didn't see her anywhere. Had Liam lost her? Damn him and his inability to just open up and communicate. If he'd talked to Emma instead of responding to her confused temper and accusations by storming away, he would still have the woman.....2 "You look like someone kicked your puppy, son. What's the matter?"6 Liam grunted and adjusted the blanket over him—that's when he realized he was naked. "Why aren't I wearing clothes?"2 "The doc thought it would be best for your fever if you were kept cool. Emma...." "Emma?" Liam's head snapped around to face his father. "Is Emma okay? Is she safe in town?" Patrick chuckled as he nodded. "She's just fine, Liam. There haven't been any problems here while you've been gone." A frown creased Liam's brow. "She's been living here?" Patrick grinned. "Where else would she live?" "Well then where the hell is she?" Liam demanded. "She went outside a while ago for some fresh air."2 Liam glanced at the window, saw the fading sunset and rushed to his feet. His legs swayed and gave out beneath him as his head spun. Liam clutched desperately at the front of the wardrobe to steady himself as the thin blanket he'd been covered in fell to the ground. "How long has she been out there?" he growled, as he swallowed back bile and fought the urge to vomit. "It's getting dark... she shouldn't be out there alone." Patrick held up his hands. "She's been out there for a while but I'm sure she'd fine, Liam. Hell, the woman hasn't left your bedside since you've been injured. She needed air."2 Liam's heart swelled. Emma had cared for him? "I'm gonna go to her," he insisted. "You're weak. Let me. I'll bring her back in." Liam shook his head. "I'll be fine." "Stop being so damned stubborn," Patrick snapped. "You damn near died son! The wound wasn't so bad but you nearly bled to death and your fever is just now breaking. Poor Emma has been tending to you for days. Trying to lower your fever and cool your body...." An image of Emma's dainty hands stroking his bare body flashed through Liam's mind. He felt his blood run hotter as he imagined her biting her full bottom lip as she touched him.Patrick cleared his throat, turned quickly and his quiet chuckle filled the cabin. "Yeah, you're on the road to recovery, alright."46 Liam glanced down and felt his face heat when he realized his father must have seen proof of where his thoughts had taken him.25 Patrick went to the front door. "I'll just check on the horses and leave you two alone awhile... but son? You might want to put some clothes on before you seeking your wife." His shoulders rose and fell in a shrug. "Then again, maybe not."15 When Liam was alone, he went out dressing as quickly as he could. The bandage on his shoulder, as well as the pain and tightness in those muscles, hindered his movements and made the task a difficult one. STORY CONTINUES BELOW Liam was weak, he was hungry, he was in pain and he felt tired and shaky. But he had to find Emma. He had to speak with her. Liam made his way out the back door and glanced over the valley. The fading light showed no sign of Emma. Liam listened closely and heard a muffled sound, something much like a sob, come from down by the river. Wasting no time, Liam let his feet carry him quickly toward the sound. He found Emma curled up beneath a tree, her face buried in her skirts as she sobbed into them. Liam stepped closer but it was clear that Emma didn't hear him. Her tears made his heart hurt. It was a new feeling—to have someone else's pain causing him pain and leave him wanting to do nothing other than fix whatever was hurting her. "Emma?" Her head snapped up and blue, tear swollen eyes landed on him with shock. "Liam?" she whispered hoarsely. Emma scrambled to her feet and Liam reached out a gentle hand, wiping tears from her soaked cheeks. "Why are you crying? You shouldn't ever cry Emma. Your smile's too pretty." Emma's cheeks reddened and her teeth nibbled at her full bottom lip. "I thought ya were going to die." Liam shook his head. "No, not yet. I was just taking a nap."23 Emma nodded as she tucked her messy hair behind her ear. She started forward and then quickly stopped. Liam frowned. He wanted her in his arms. Instead of speaking, Liam simply held his arms open and tipped his head. Emma rushed forward. Her hands balled into fists as they clutched his shirt and she cried into his chest.3 Liam closed his arms around her and buried his face in her dark hair. "I'm sorry, Emma." "I'm sorry too," came her muffled response. Liam kissed her head. "Can we pretend that day never happened?" Emma nodded. "Yes. I was foolish and mean and cruel and....." Liam pulled away and put his finger beneath her chin to raise her gaze to meet his. "We were both foolish and mean and cruel. That's why we're going to forget that day. I.. I love you."6 Emma's jaw dropped open. She stared at him with wide eyes. Liam shifted uneasily. Should he have said that? Liam was a man who tried to always speak the truth. And the truth was that he loved Emma. He'd nearly died without ever telling her that truth and he wanted to make sure she knew. He rubbed at his neck. Emma reached up a shaking hand and touched his jaw, causing Liam to lean into her touch. "I love ya too, Liam. I didn't think I'd ever get to tell ya that." "I know that the way we became husband and wife probably wasn't what you dreamed of but..." "Ya saved my life, Liam," Emma interrupted. "And I was afraid of being a wife... afraid of being the wife my mother was to the husband my father was. But we won't be like them.""No," Liam quickly agreed. He laid a protective kiss to her brow. "I wouldn't ever hurt you, Emma. We won't be them. And we won't be my parents. We'll be us."1 Liam swayed slightly as his vision wavered. Perhaps he wasn't quite as strong as he'd thought he was. It was clear he was going to have to lay down soon or else he was going to fall down. Emma must have noticed his weakness as the color drained from his face. "Come on, Liam. Ya shouldn't be out here. Let's get ya back to bed." It was slow going and Liam knew that he leaned much more of his weight on her than he should but eventually they made it back into the cabin. Liam felt like a child as Emma tucked him into bed, but he didn't stop her. It was nice, in a way, to be cared for. Liam hadn't known anything like it since he'd been a small child. "I'm going to fix some supper. Ya need to rest and I'll bring it to ya when I'm done," Emma insisted. "Then you'll join me in bed," Liam replied.4 Emma turned so bright red she nearly glowed. "I...uh.. I'll...."5 "To sleep, Emma. We'll just sleep."4 Lord knew Liam wanted more than just sleep but he was weak and she wasn't ready.2 Emma nodded. "Okay. To sleep." Liam smiled as she quickly turned away and busied herself in the kitchen. Liam slipped out of the cabin the next morning while Emma continued sleeping peacefully. He'd laid there awake for a long time simply staring at her.+ She was beautiful.3 The bruises her father had placed upon her were gone. She had a small scar above her lip but it only reminded Liam of how lucky he was to still have her. He couldn't wait to truly get to know the woman who was his wife. He couldn't wait to watch her grow and change as she came out of her shell and broke loose from the bonds her father had placed on her. Right now, Liam needed to speak with his own father. He found Patrick in the barn, just rising from his own makeshift bed. "Good morning, son."1 "Good morning, Patrick," Liam replied as he scratched at Misty's neck. Patrick grunted and his joints popped and cracked as he stretched. "How are you feeling?" Liam rolled his shoulder with a wince. "Sore. But I'll live." "Who shot you, Liam? Did you see anybody?" Liam shook his head. "Didn't see him but I know who it was."3 Patrick cursed. "Silas?" Liam simply shrugged and filled a tin cup with oats. "It doesn't matter. I can't prove it was him." "It does too matter!" Patrick countered, angrily kicking at a stall door. "You damn near died, son!" "I know that," Liam replied calmly as he poured the oats into Misty's feed trough.1 "So that's it? He's just going to get away with it?" Liam sighed, wiping his hands on his pants. "I don't see anything else I can do." Patrick mumbled under his breath a while as Liam worked one handed feeding the rest of the animals. "So there wasn't any trouble here while I was gone?" he finally asked his father. "No." Patrick grabbed the water bucket. "I'll water them, Liam. You shouldn't be overusing that arm." Liam reluctantly accepted the help. Patrick headed out of the barn. "There hasn't been any word of or from Silas, or any other mountain man, while you've been gone. We sure as hell didn't expect him to come after you. I figured he was still nursing those broke ribs."1 Liam followed after his father. "We'll just have to hope he's done now. And keep an eye and ear out just in case he isn't."Patrick nodded. "We'll take care of things. Get back in there to your wife. You'll have company riding out shortly." "Company?" Liam groaned. "Anita and Lauren. Probably Kyle and Chase as well." Looked like there wasn't going to be any quiet, privacy or peace in the near future.1 Liam walked back inside and found Emma fastening a belt around her waist. She was fully dressed and he felt a twinge of disappointment. He'd been hoping to see her in that thin, white sleeping gown again.7 "Good morning," Liam greeted. Emma smiled and Liam felt his heart stutter. "Good morning, Liam. Ya look much better this morning." STORY CONTINUES BELOW "I'm feeling better. Did you sleep well last night?" Emma's cheeks reddened as she nodded. "Yes. Did you?" Liam stepped forward, took her arm gently and pulled her close to him before pressing a tender kiss to her head. "Best night of sleep I've ever had." Emma smiled and slowly pulled away. "I need to cook some breakfast." "I feel restless," Liam grumbled. "I want to get work done."4 "You need to take it easy. Your shoulder needs to heal."1 Liam snorted. "So I keep hearing."1 Emma simply shrugged and headed into the kitchen where she had bacon and eggs waiting to fry. Liam picked at the new blanket on the sofa. "Did you make this?" he asked. "Yes," Emma replied, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear and refusing to meet his gaze. "I'm just learning... I'm afraid I'm no good at anything more complicated than a blanket or pillow."2 Liam grinned. "That's good. I can't make a pillow or a blanket but I can make you clothes if you want them. Just so long as you don't mind wearing furs and skins." Emma smile brightly and went back to preparing their meal. "I was... I was afraid ya might be angry about me making them," she admitted hesitantly. "Why would I be angry over some pillows and blankets? I reckon we need both of them to be comfortable at night." Emma's hands were shaking as she cracked the eggs into a bowl. "I... I didn't have the money to buy the material," she whispered, her voice wavering. "So, I had to purchase them on yer credit. I'm sorry, Liam... I had to buy several things on credit while ya were away.... I hope ya aren't angry..."7 Liam sighed. He walked to Emma and spun her around before putting his finger under her chin and forcing her to meet his gaze. "I'm not him, Emma, remember? And you're not her. Don't be a scared little mouse with me. I'm your husband. I reckon protector, provider and a whole lot of other things go along with that—good things. Buy what you need. Buy what you want. I want you to be happy."19 Emma's blue eyes widened a moment and then she smiled as her body sagged with obvious relief. It was obvious she really had been terrified. His heart hurt to know just how hard her life had been. No one alive deserved that kind of life. Liam moved away from her to allow her to continue cooking since his stomach was growling loudly. "I should have showed you this before I left but, well, I wasn't thinking clearly." Liam went to the floor beside the fireplace and lifted a loose board. He pulled out a sack of money and Emma's eyes widened.2 "Are you rich, Liam?" she gasped.1 He couldn't help but laugh. "No, I'm not rich. But I have enough. Where's my saddlebags?"2 Emma poured her eggs and cream into a heated skillet and motioned toward the corner. "There, with the rest of your things."Liam went about adding the money from the job he'd worked into the sack and tucked it all back in its hiding spot. He was damn lucky Silas hadn't raided his belongings and taken that money from him.11 Liam wondered a moment as he watched Emma in the kitchen, if he should tell her he suspected her father in his shooting. He quickly decided against it. Emma was scared and frightened enough. She didn't need any added worry.1 STORY CONTINUES BELOW Unless she asked him directly if Silas shot him, he wasn't going to utter his suspicions. "You know I don't mind you using credit to get what you needed, Emma, but what about your pies?" Liam asked. "I thought you were selling them?" Emma shook her head as she scooped the finished eggs onto a large plate. "I haven't been filling any orders." "Has everyone in town lost their sense of taste?" Liam demanded. Emma's pies were damn near the best thing Liam had ever tasted. "No... I haven't been taking any orders.. I didn't want to do it without yer permission. My father forbid my mother from working. He said it made him look bad to have his wife making money. I didn't want to do anything to embarrass ya." Liam sighed and bit his tongue. He was angry. But he had to remind himself that Emma had been raised a certain way and those things weren't going to simply disappear because he wanted them to. He had to have patience with his wife. "Emma, love, you don't need my permission to bake and sell pies. I'm your husband not your keeper. Hell woman, I'm the one that told you people would pay for them in the first place." Emma bit her lip. "So you wouldn't mind if I made money?" Liam chose not to respond and instead just fixed her with a pointed gaze. Emma smiled and rushed forward, throwing her arms around Liam's waist and hugging him tightly. "Thank ya..." Liam wrapped his good arm around her. "You don't have to thank me, Emma. But you can hug me anytime you want."96 *** Emma was floating—filled with so much happiness, she couldn't keep her feet on the ground.Liam was amazing.5 She had known he was but somehow it was better than she 'd dreamed and imagined. He was kind, caring, strong and different. So very, very different from what she'd known a husband to be. He didn't want her to be nothing more than a slave to his needs. He wanted her to do things she enjoyed, make herself happy and even earn money of her own since it made her feel proud and productive.2 She was happy that, as they sat and ate their breakfast together, the tension, the anger and the harshness of that day over a month ago was truly behind them.1 Just as they were finishing their meal, Emma heard a cart approach the cabin and come to a stop. "That'll be our company," Liam grumbled, sounding less than happy at the idea of visitors. "Company?" Emma asked. "Yeah, Patrick said Anita and the girls were coming out. I'm glad Sally and Lauren have still been keeping you company out here." Emma's heart twisted a bit. "Sally, moved away actually. She married Clarence and they left town and went east the same time ya left for that job." "Oh..." Liam's voice was flat but his expression spoke volumes. His brown eyes filled with sadness as he gazed at her. "I'm sorry you lost your friend and I wasn't there to help you...." Emma shrugged as she stood and began cleaning off the table. "It wasn't so bad. She promised to write and I've had Anita, Lauren, Patrick, Kyle and Chase. They've all kept me company. I haven't been lonely." "Oh." Now the man looked jealous! Did he want her to be lonely?7 There was no time to ask him before Anita came bustling in. "Liam!" she exclaimed. "It sure is good to see you back in the land of the living!"1 Liam stood just in time to have his aunt throw her arms around him and squeeze him tightly. Emma nearly spoke up when she saw the pain Liam was in but he met her gaze over Anita's shoulder and her husband smiled while giving the smallest shake of his head.1 "I'm alright, Aunt Anita." "Of course you are!" Lauren agreed, walking into the cabin. "You're Liam McIntyre! It'd take at least ten bullets to kill you!"1 Emma felt her stomach flip. "Let's not find out."8 "Is there enough breakfast for us? My stomach's done eat my back bone up!" Lauren stated, glancing longingly at the table.1 Emma bit her lip. "There's a bit left. It was supposed to be for Patrick but you can have it. I'll make him more..." "Don't bother," Anita waved her hand. "He's hiding in a hole somewhere and won't be coming out until we're gone if he knows what's good for him...."3 "Anita..." Liam's voice was tired.Anita shrugged as she breezed her way to the table and sat down beside Lauren who was already filling a plate. "I know he's your father, and I know he's been good to Emma, but he's a cad, a scoundrel, a rogue and I hate him—I don't believe that will ever change."12 "I'd still like to scalp him for what he did," Lauren agreed. Emma saw Liam edging toward the door. She knew the man was uncomfortable with so many people in his home and the conversation was far from anything that would make him comfortable. Anita glanced at Liam as well. "You look pale, nephew. Are you in pain?" Liam shrugged his uninjured shoulder. "I've had worse."1 "Worse than a bullet wound?" Emma asked skeptically as she moved in closer to him. She wasn't sure how Liam would feel if she showed him affection in front of company—she quickly found out how he felt about such things when his arm snaked around her shoulders and he pulled her close to his side.2 "Yeah.. there was that time Kyle dropped a hornet's nest on my head when we were boys." "Or that time you got kicked in the nether regions for looking up June Fallery's skirts in church," Anita chimed in.3 Emma felt her ears burned as she flushed bright red and stared up Liam in shock. "Up her skirts? In church?" Liam simply shrugged. "I was only ten. It seemed like a good idea at the time."17 "You know I've heard it said that if a man gets hit hard enough in his nether regions, it doesn't work anymore," Lauren noted, before shoving a forkful of eggs into her mouth while grinning mischievously.20 Anita choked on the sip of water she'd been taking while Emma gasped audibly and covered her stifled laughter with her hand. Liam cleared his throat. "I didn't get hit that hard," he replied. "And I believe I'm going to go outside a while. Let you women visit." Emma chewed her lip as Liam pulled away from her. He smiled before swooping down and kissing her lips gently. "Love you, Emma."1 Emma stammered several times—she couldn't believe he'd just declared his love for her in front of company! She hadn't thought Liam would be the type for such things. Her heart swelled and she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "I love you too." With that Liam all but ran for the door to escape the cabin. Lauren was grinning like the cat who got the cream. "Are you sure he didn't get kicked that hard?"5 "Lauren!" Anita exclaimed, tossing down her fork. "That's enough of that talk." Lauren simply shrugged. "It seems like an important thing to know."

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