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Authors: Linda Lael Miller

Tags: #Romance, #Western, #Fiction

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BOOK: An Outlaw's Christmas
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The four of them sat around the table for a while after that,
talking quietly while the fire burned low in the furnace downstairs, along with
the one in the cookstove. The single bulb illuminating the kitchen blinked on
and off periodically, and they used a kerosene lantern in between.

Eventually, Clay went down to the cellar to stoke up the
furnace, and Dara Rose lifted their sleeping baby from his cradle, holding him
tenderly, his face in the curve of her neck.

“I’ll say good-night,” Dara Rose told Piper and Sawyer, Sawyer
having risen from his chair and drawn back Piper’s so she could stand, “and a
happy Christmas to both of you.”

Piper stepped forward, kissed her cousin’s cheek. “Sleep well,”
she told Dara Rose.

The spare room—Piper had stayed in it before, of course—was on
the far side of the house, spacious and comfortably, if simply, furnished. It
had its own wood-burning stove, which already crackled with a welcoming fire,
but her favorite part of it was the bathroom. Like the one near Clay and Dara
Rose’s room, which they shared with the girls, this one was well appointed with
a pedestal sink, a toilet, and a long, narrow tub made of gleaming
porcelain.

Water flowed from a copper tank set into the wall, heated by
the small boiler beneath.

Someone, probably Clay, had made sure the boiler was operating
properly, and when Piper put the plug in place and turned the spigots,
gloriously hot water soon spilled and splashed into the tub.

By the light of the lantern she and Sawyer had brought from the
kitchen—there were no electric bulbs in this part of the house—Piper shed her
clothes as quickly as she could and climbed in while the water was still
running.

She sighed and closed her eyes. “Bliss,” she said.

A chuckle from the doorway made her open her eyes again and
turn to see Sawyer standing there, watching her. “I’d have to agree,” he said
huskily.

She didn’t think he was referring to the bath, and his words
made her blush slightly.

“Join me?” Piper asked. She’d taken regular baths at the
schoolhouse, of course, but that had been an awkward proposition to say the
least. This was a
real
bath, with plenty of hot
water and scented salts in the bargain.

Sawyer remained where he was, giving his head a slight shake.
His gaze caressed her as intimately as a touch of his hand. “I’ll take a bath
later,” he replied. “Right now, I’m content to watch you.”

She sighed again, a crooning sound of purest contentment, not
just with the bath but with the whole of her life, and leaned against the back
of the tub, even though the porcelain was chilly where it touched her bare skin,
and allowed herself to sink deeper into the rising water. “Nothing,” she said,
“could be better than this.”

Sawyer stepped into the room then, set the lantern on a shelf,
and knelt beside the bathtub. “Is that a fact?” he asked, holding out his right
arm to her, as he was in the habit of doing when they undressed, and, without
replying to his question, she unfastened his cuff link and rolled his sleeve up
past his elbow.

He swirled the water around her lightly, splashed some on her
belly and her breasts. She quivered as his fingertips brushed those same places,
and others, too.


One
thing might be better than a
bath,” Piper admitted, feeling saucy.

Sawyer traced the circumference of her right nipple, again,
with a fingertip.

A tremor went through her, with a promise of sweet tumult to
follow. She groaned, already surrendering to his caresses, even as the water
rose and rose, so warm and soothing. The very marrow of her bones seemed to
melt.

Sawyer chuckled at her response; he loved the sounds Piper made
when he pleasured her, and he was very good at that.

The tub was full, and he turned off the spigots, reached for a
bar of soap.

And he began to lather Piper, gently but thoroughly, washing
every part of her, and she gave herself up to the sultry, luxurious sensations
of his touch, and of the things he said to her, quiet and strictly their own,
almost a private language.

Presently, he leaned over and caught her mouth with his, kissed
her deeply, all the while stroking the place between her legs, which had opened
for him readily, like always.

His lovemaking always seemed new, and exquisitely daring. He’d
taken her standing up in the schoolhouse one moonless night, and even now the
memory aroused her almost as much as what he was doing now. She’d taken him into
her greedily, crying out in welcome as he took her.

“There’s more,” he always said to her, after each ecstatic
surprise.

“There’s more,” he said now, getting to his feet and reaching
for one of the towels Dara Rose had so thoughtfully provided, along with the
fancy soap and the ample supply of hot water.

Wobbly-kneed, Piper stood, let him wrap her in the towel.
Stepped over the side of the tub and onto the rug to stand very close to
him.

He led her into the warm bedroom, lit only by the light
escaping from the edges of the door in the little stove, dried her off, and
settled her sideways on the mattress. Easing her onto her back, he kissed her
and caressed her for a long time.

She waited, dazed with comfort and anticipation, because when
Sawyer said there was more, there always was.

Always.

When he slipped away from her, she tried to pull him back,
already wanting him on top of her, inside her, but he eluded her grasp.

And then he knelt again, and parted her knees.

When he took her into his mouth, the most sensitive, intimate
part of her, she had to stifle a ragged shout of delight. It was scandalous—it
was—

“Sawyer,”
she whimpered, tangling
her fingers into his hair, holding him close to her, pressed hard against
her.

His mouth. Dear heaven,
his mouth.
What magic was this? What wild, sweet magic was he working on her?

Without withdrawing from her, he eased both her legs up,
setting her heels against the mattress. Her bent knees widened and still he
feasted on her, nibbling and tasting, teasing her with just the tip of his
tongue until she begged for completion.

One of his hands found her mouth and covered it gently, and
that was a good thing, because when satisfaction finally,
finally
overtook her, she was making a primitive sound, part sob and
part growl, that would have carried clear to town, never mind to the rest of the
house.

Before rising from his knees, Sawyer kissed the insides of
Piper’s still trembling thighs. Several small, sharp after-releases followed,
each one causing her to moan softly and arch her back, as though to find his
mouth again.

He arranged her properly in the bed and covered her up. “If
Clay hears you yelling like that,” he joked quietly, “he’ll think I’m killing
you and storm the room with a shotgun.”

Piper couldn’t speak. She was still trying to find her way back
to herself, still lost on the outskirts of heaven.

She slept a sweetly shallow sleep, rising to the surface now
and then, like some exotic fish. She heard Sawyer running a bath in the next
room and, later, felt his weight on the mattress when he climbed into bed beside
her. She stirred as, unbelievably, desire reawakened within her, blossoming like
some soft-petaled flower.

“Sawyer,” she whispered, reaching for him.

He moved on top of her, and she widened her legs for him.

He took her slowly, so slowly, and so deeply that her body
instantly responded, even though she was still half-asleep. She began to buckle
beneath him, as the first climax seized her, followed by another and then
another. They were soft, these releases, and she soared with them as surely as
if she’d had wings.

Finally, Sawyer too reached the pinnacle, and gave himself up
to her with a long, low groan that seemed to rise from the depths of his
soul.

* * *

“G
ET
UP
!” a little voice
crowed. “Get up, get up, get up!”

Sawyer opened one eye, spotted Harriet standing beside the bed,
holding up a stocking—one of Clay’s, probably—bulging with loot.

“It’s
Christmas!
” Edrina piped up,
from the other side of the bed.

Piper, buried deep under the covers, murmured something.

“And St. Nicholas was here!” Harriet cried, waving the
stocking. “Get up!”

Sawyer laughed. “I thought you didn’t believe in St. Nicholas,”
he said, stalling for time. He wasn’t wearing a stitch, and neither was Piper,
which meant, of course, that the getting-up part would have to wait until the
girls were out of the room.

“Now we’ve got proof!” Edrina trilled, exhibiting a burgeoning
work sock of her own. A doll’s head poked out of the top, flanked by what looked
like a toy horn of some kind, brightly painted and made of tin.

“And there was a
note!
” Harriet
added, her eyes huge with excitement. “St. Nicholas left us presents
in the barn,
and that’s why you have to
get up,
so we can all go out there together and
see!”

Sawyer thought of the two spotted ponies Clay had been hiding
in the barn for three days now, and grinned. The night before, he and Clay had
set the small, fancy saddles out in plain sight, on a bale of hay, and draped
the bridles over them. “Go wake up your folks, then,” he said.

Piper’s head popped out from under the covers, and she smiled
sleepily at the girls, yawned a good-morning.

Sawyer would have given a great deal for another hour alone
with her, right there in the guest room bed, but he knew he was out of luck,
given the combination of kids and Christmas.

“They’re
already
awake!” Edrina
informed him. “Hurry
up—
at this rate, it’ll be New
Year’s before we get to see our presents!”

“Out,” Sawyer ordered good-naturedly.

“Go on,” Piper urged the girls, with a twinkle in her eyes.
“We’ll be up and around in a few minutes, I promise.”

Possibly because she was their teacher, as well as their
mother’s cousin and closest friend, Edrina and Harriet scampered out, shutting
the bedroom door smartly behind them.

“Hurry!”
one of them called back,
over the sound of rapidly retreating footsteps.

Sawyer sighed, got out of bed, and gathered up his clothes. He
went into the bathroom to dress, and when he came out, Piper was fully clad and
pinning up her hair in a loose chignon.

He kissed her nape. “That was quick,” he said.

“Christmas waits for no one,” she replied, turning in his
embrace to kiss the cleft in his strong chin. “Let’s go see what St. Nicholas
has left in the barn.”

One year later
Triple M Ranch, Indian Rock, Arizona

T
HE
WHOLE
CLAN
HAD
GATHERED
at the main ranch house, where Angus
McKettrick officiated, from his wheeled chair, over a busy and memorable
Christmas Eve. Even Clay and Dara Rose were there, with the children, having
traveled all the way from Texas on the train.

Since all the McKettricks would have separate celebrations for
their own families the next day, gifts were exchanged after supper, and even
after months spent with these people, Piper was amazed by the rough-and-tumble
love they bore each other. They’d taken her into their lives and hearts back in
June, when Sawyer had returned, bringing a new wife with him, and she’d fallen
in love with them, too.

She and Sawyer had stayed with his mother and father, Kade and
Mandy McKettrick, at first, while they were building their own house and barn on
a little rise with a spring and a broad view of the ranch. Mandy was still trim
and agile, though she’d long-since given up sharpshooting to reign over her
children and grandchildren, as well as her adoring husband.

Besides aunts and uncles, there were sisters, too, and
brothers, and cousins galore.

Piper was still getting to know them all. Sawyer’s Aunt Katie,
Angus and Conception’s late-life daughter, a particular favorite of Piper’s, was
married to a United States senator and divided her time between Arizona and
Washington. She was bound and determined to see that women got the vote and
constantly pestered her husband and his associates to “catch up with the modern
world” and do something about the problem.

On this sacred night, Mandy approached her newest
daughter-in-law and gently touched her protruding stomach. Piper and Sawyer’s
first baby was due soon—she’d been hoping for a Christmas birth—but that didn’t
seem likely, since there hadn’t been so much as a twinge of a contraction so
far.

“You mustn’t overdo, now,” Mandy counseled. “We’re a pretty
overwhelming bunch, we McKettricks, especially when we’re all in the same
place.”

Piper smiled, caught Sawyer’s eye and received his smile like a
blessing. He was standing next to Angus’s wheeled chair, listening while the
older man went on about the unfortunate changes statehood had brought.

None of them, in Angus’s view, were good.

Sawyer winked, and Mandy, seeing the exchange, smiled at Piper
again. “At least sit down,” she said, steering Piper toward one of the few
unoccupied chairs.

Chloe, a lovely red-haired woman and a teacher, like Piper,
approached them, having taken a large and gaily wrapped package from beneath the
towering Christmas tree. Katie and Lydia and Emmeline, the other aunts, found
their way over, too, all beaming proudly.

Chloe handed the parcel to Mandy, who gently laid it in Piper’s
lap.

Dara Rose joined them, too. From her smile, she was in on the
surprise.

“What on earth—?” Piper asked, near tears.

“Open it,” Mandy urged eagerly.

Carefully, her hands trembling a little, Piper removed the
ribbon, draping it over the arm of her chair for safekeeping, and then smoothed
back the tissue paper.

BOOK: An Outlaw's Christmas
4.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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