Read An Outlaw's Christmas Online

Authors: Linda Lael Miller

Tags: #Romance, #Western, #Fiction

An Outlaw's Christmas (15 page)

BOOK: An Outlaw's Christmas
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Bess, who had slept beside Ginny-Sue through the night, gathered the child close again and wept for joy. “No, baby,” she said, beaming through her tears. “You didn’t miss Christmas. You surely didn’t!”

Doc went over to touch Ginny-Sue’s forehead, and his broad smile told the story. The fever had broken.

“That’s one of the finest chest colds I’ve ever seen,” Doc said, in a jocular voice that nonetheless cracked with fatigue. “A few days of bed rest and I’ll wager the little lady here is good as new.”

Piper turned immediately into Sawyer’s embrace, trembling a little, weak with relief. She felt his lips move against her temple. “Go ahead and cry,” he told her softly, patting her back. “God knows, you’ve earned the right.”

* * *

T
HERE
WOULD
BE
no school that day, fortunately for Piper, who probably couldn’t have kept her eyes open to teach. Doc gave a dime to the local newspaper boy and told him to spread the word, along with the just-printed edition of the weekly
Blue River Gazette.

He and Sawyer shook hands, and Piper greeted Cherokee, who’d stood patiently at the hitching rail all night long, even though he’d come untied at some point. Stroking the horse’s velvety nose, she promised him an extra ration of grain.

Then Doc headed off toward his place, doubtless girding his loins for battle as he went, and Piper and Sawyer made for the schoolhouse, in the other direction, Sawyer leading Cherokee along behind.

Piper couldn’t recall when she’d ever been so tuckered out, or so full of happiness. There would be no outbreak of diphtheria, at least for the time being, and Ginny-Sue was going to be all right.

As soon as they’d reached the schoolhouse, Sawyer put Cherokee away in the shed, and Piper went along, partly to help, and partly to keep her word about the grain.

While Sawyer removed Cherokee’s bridle and then proceeded to give the animal a quick brushing down, Piper plunged a hand into one of the feed sacks Clay had brought in from the ranch and held out her palm, heaping with grain.

“Watch your fingers,” Sawyer warned, but he was smiling as he spoke.

Piper just laughed.

Cherokee ate delicately, for a big-jawed creature with enormous teeth, and Piper patted his head when he’d finished, and called him a good boy.

“Hey,” Sawyer teased. “I’m starting to get jealous.”

Piper made a face at him, but then she sobered a little. “Do you think Doc will really stand up to Eloise?” she asked.

Now it was Sawyer who laughed. Having been on the other side of the horse, he ducked under Cherokee’s long neck and came up in front of Piper like a swimmer breaking the surface of still waters.

“No,” he said. His voice was sleepy and low, and he still needed a shave. “I think he’ll bribe her with a fancy bathtub and an indoor toilet, and she’ll let him off the hook—until next time, anyway.”

She felt incredibly shy, all of a sudden. Maybe it was from lack of sleep. “The poor man
is
a dentist,” she said.

Sawyer laughed again. “Come on, Mrs. McKettrick,” he said. “Let’s get you inside so you can get some shut-eye.”

They went into the schoolhouse, and Sawyer headed for the stove to build a fire while Piper hung up her beautiful russet-colored cloak. She’d never owned a finer garment in all her life, but she was too worn out just now to properly appreciate it.

She wandered into the bedroom, taking off everything but her bloomers and camisole in the shadowy cold, and practically dove into bed, anxious to get warm.

It was only when she caught a fleeting glimpse of Sawyer standing in the doorway that she realized she’d gotten into the wrong bed, the one she was in the habit of sleeping in.

And she was not about to risk more goose bumps by getting out again.

There was a fire going in the stove, she could smell the burning wood and hear the popping, but the warmth was still far away.

“A man could misinterpret aspects of this situation,” Sawyer remarked, crossing to sit down on the edge of the bed, right next to her.

She realized then that she must have dozed off for a while, because he was clean-shaven, and his skin and hair, which was damp, smelled of soap.

Piper yawned, stretched luxuriously. “Really?” she asked coyly. For some incomprehensible reason, she’d forgotten how to be afraid, how to mistrust another person’s motives. If that other person happened to be Sawyer McKettrick, that is.

“Oh, yes,” Sawyer replied seriously, kicking off his boots. “That could easily happen.”

“What if a
woman
wanted to be held, for example?” Piper’s voice was a little shaky now, and her heart was picking up speed with every beat. She’d only had this feeling once before, when she was much younger and speeding down a snowy hillside in Maine on a homemade toboggan.

“That could be arranged,” Sawyer said, after pretending to give the prospect due consideration. “But he might be tempted to, well,
persuade
her a little—beyond holding her, that is.”

“I guess that would be acceptable,” Piper allowed, from beneath the covers.

Sawyer chuckled, and there was some shifting around, and then he was in the bed beside her—her
husband—
resting one hand on the curve of her hip. “It might take days,” he said, his voice husky, “but I’m a patient man.”

“You are not,” Piper argued, as he uncovered her face and quieted her with a kiss.

It was light and soft at first, that kiss, but it soon gathered momentum.

As Sawyer kissed her, he undid the laces at the front of her camisole. “Oh, but I am,” he disagreed, when their mouths parted. “Patient, I mean.”

Piper slipped her arms around his neck, gasped when he opened the camisole and bared her breasts. Stroking one, chafing the nipple gently with the side of his thumb, he nibbled his way down over her collarbone.

“How could it—take—days?” she asked, a little out of step with the flow of conversation.

“I like to take my time,” Sawyer replied, measuring out the words slowly, so slowly, like a man muttering in his sleep. “Especially when I’m doing this.” And then his mouth closed, warm and wet and pulling ever so gently, around her already distended nipple.

She cried out with pleasure, instinctively arched her back in a plea for more and then still more.

“Days,” Sawyer said idly, moving to her other breast.

The pleasure—yes, it
was
pleasure, and it was glorious, and it was
hers
—unleashed something inside Piper, some vast, elemental state of derring-do she hadn’t known existed.

Over the next few minutes—or was it hours?—Sawyer raised Piper to a fever pitch with his fingers, his lips, his words. She wriggled out of her bloomers with a shameful lack of encouragement, making him laugh.

When he slid his hand between her legs and began to work her with a light, circular motion of the heel of his palm, she was lost. And then he took her nipple into his mouth again, and she was electrified, more completely and powerfully
alive
than ever before.

“Oh—
Sawyer—
” she sobbed out.

He lifted his head from her breast, where he’d been feasting, and said quietly, “Any time you want me to stop, Piper, all you have to do is say the word and I will.”

“Ooooooh,” she moaned, raising her hips high off the mattress to maintain contact with his hand.
Stop?
Not if she had anything to say about it.

He quickened the pace of his hand, and she went wild with desire, with a need that would not be refused. “There’s more,” he told her softly, gruffly, tracing the length of her neck with his lips. “There’s a lot more. But before any of that happens, I want you to know how it’s supposed to feel when I make love to you.”

She cried out again, frenzied, flying. Wanting. She was wanton, wide open to him, and she felt no shame, only freedom and ferocious instincts.

“Sawyer!”
she pleaded raggedly.

“Let go,” he murmured. “Just let go.”

There was a fierce seizing sensation then, deep inside her, a thing of the spirit as well as the body, followed by a release so keen that it seemed to consume all of Piper in sweet blazes of satisfaction. Her body flexed and flexed again, speaking its own language of joy.

Finally, she shattered completely and, after what seemed like a very long time, fell back into herself, in a slow but still dizzying drop, dazed, crooning and purring with every small aftershock.

“That’s how it’s supposed to feel,” Sawyer told her, with a grin, much later, when her breathing had returned to something approaching normality and her heart had ceased struggling to flail its way out of her chest and fly heavenward like a bird.

She snuggled against Sawyer. “But there’s more,” she repeated sleepily.

“Yes,” Sawyer said, with a smile in his voice. His chin was propped on the top of her head. “We’ll have time for that later.”

“Mmmmm,” she said, and moved closer still.

Then she felt the hard length of him against her thigh, and she was instantly wide awake.

“I did say there was more,” Sawyer reminded her, his eyes alight with mischief and—just possibly, no it couldn’t be, not so soon—love.

“Now I know why everyone says it hurts,” Piper announced, feeling her eyes go wide.

“Everyone?” Sawyer asked, teasing. “Is this something you talk about a lot?”

She shook her head, nervous and, at the same time, wanting him. All of him. “Of course not,” she whispered, as though imparting a secret in the midst of a listening crowd. “But, well, it does seem—logistically impossible.”

At that, Sawyer threw back his head and gave a shout of laughter.

She thumped his chest with the side of one fist, though not very hard. “What’s so funny, Sawyer McKettrick?” she demanded, blushing from her hairline to her toes.

He didn’t answer right away, but his amusement subsided a little.

Their gazes locked and the mood turned serious again.


Will
it hurt?” she asked meekly.

“Probably,” Sawyer answered, smoothing her hair away from her cheek. “But only the first time, and for just a little while.”

“Oh,” Piper said.

“It’s up to you,” he reiterated.

“Let’s try,” Piper decided.

“It’s not like that,” Sawyer told her. “There’s no ‘try.’ You do it, or you don’t do it.”

“Will it hurt you?”

He kissed her forehead, then the tip of her nose. “No,” he answered, in his forthright way.

“And there’s only pain the first time?”

He nodded. “Usually. And I’ll be real careful, I promise.”

She believed him. Her heart widened somehow, and took him in, and that was the moment she truly became his wife. “I love you, Sawyer,” she said, and she’d never meant anything more than she meant those words. “I know you probably don’t—”

He stopped her from finishing the sentence by pressing an index finger to her lips. “I can speak for myself, woman,” he said, with mock sternness. “And it just so happens that I love you, too. I realized it when you took off for the Bitter Gulch Saloon—even before that, really—to see to Ginny-Sue, and there was no talking you out of it.”

She blinked. “Really? Why?”

He gave another raspy chuckle and shook his head. “I guess I admire spirit in a woman,” he replied, “and you’ve got plenty of that, all right, with some to spare.”

His answer pleased her deeply, settled into her, saturated her with a sense of rightness and perfect safety. “Well, Mr. McKettrick, I think it’s about time we consummated our marriage, don’t you?”

“You’re sure?” He looked troubled, but blue-green fire burned in his eyes.

“I’m absolutely positive,” she replied.

Dutifully, she situated herself on the mattress, spread her legs a little, and waited for him to get on top of her.

Instead, he gave another chuckle, and then he drove her to near madness again, caressing her, kissing her, whispering things that made her blood rush hot through her veins.

When Sawyer finally took Piper for his own, in a long, swift thrust, she wanted,
needed
him inside her so much that she barely noticed the twinge of pain as her maidenhead gave way.

Her body responded to his, as if drawing on some ancient knowledge, stroke for stroke, giving and then taking, offering and then demanding, and when he finally stiffened upon her, with a hoarse cry, and she felt him spilling himself into her, ecstasy claimed her once again, even more completely than before, and her cry of triumph rose to meet and mingle with his.

Later, they slept, and it seemed to Piper, as she drifted off, exhausted and utterly spent, a vessel deliciously emptied of all she had to give, that even though their bodies were separate and distinctly individual, their souls had somehow fused into one being, a making-right of many wrongs, large and small, a kind of coming home to all they’d ever really been.

They slept for the rest of that day and all of the night, to Piper’s amazement, and awoke to a frost-sparkled morning that had drawn exquisite paisley patterns on the glass in the schoolhouse’s few windows.

Sawyer was already up—she could hear him rattling the door of the stove, whistling under his breath.

Smiling, purely happy, she snuggled down in the warmth of the bed, every part of her pulsing with the memory of their lovemaking.

“You’d better get up, Teacher,” Sawyer called good-naturedly, from the other room. “School starts in an hour.”

Reality jolted through Piper, and she bolted out of bed, immediately beginning to shiver as the cold morning air struck her bare skin. She fumbled for her flannel wrapper and put it on quickly. “An
hour?
” she called back, padding in to squeeze up close to the stove while Sawyer dumped ground coffee beans into the pot.

It was only then that she noticed he’d removed his sling, though not his bandages, and even as he finished putting the coffee on to brew, he was slowly flexing and unflexing his left elbow.

“What are you
doing?
” Piper demanded, instantly alarmed.

“What I can,” Sawyer responded. “I still have a lot of use for this arm, Mrs. McKettrick, and I don’t want the muscles to atrophy.”

BOOK: An Outlaw's Christmas
8.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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