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Authors: Kristen Heitzmann

Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Historical, #General, #Religious

Sweet Boundless (10 page)

BOOK: Sweet Boundless
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The slap was no more than a dim burn on her cheek, the shaking a mere inconvenience. “Blast it, Carina! Wake up!”

She was completely warm, so peaceful. Why would she wake up? And then his mouth was on hers, hard and fierce, and her heart leaped to life. She raised her hands and sank them into his hair, and he kept kissing her until she opened her eyes with a cry. He pulled away, breathing hard and bearing down on her with his eyes.

She dropped her hands and clasped them together at her throat. Why now did he kiss her? Were they dead, or was she dreaming?

“You have to stay awake.” His words and face were fierce, as fierce as his kiss.

She shot her gaze to the side. It was dark, but there was the glow of a lantern at the corner of their shelter. It must have been recently lit because there was only a faint smell of it. Beyond the lantern, a white wall surrounded the wheels. It was quiet, so quiet.

Quillan turned her face back to him. “I’m going out now, and you have to stay awake.”

How could he go out? There was no out. There was only the wall.

He shook her. “Do you understand me, Carina? You can’t sleep.”

She swallowed thickly and nodded. He looked another long moment, his eyes charcoal in the glow; then he released her and headed for the side. She watched as he hung on to the undergirding with his hands and kicked his way out from under the wagon. Sam whined at his head.

Carina struggled upright as Quillan forced himself through the wall, hollowing out a space as he went. How long had they huddled there through the storm? How deep was the snow? Quillan kept working, battling it back, and suddenly she heard the wind again, not howling now, but softer. He must have broken through.

He pushed to his feet and stood. All she could see were his legs as he kept expanding the space. The wagon over her head sagged, and she realized he’d climbed into the bed. She felt him moving around, then the sudden swing as he jumped down. A pile of wood landed at his feet and he crouched at the side of the wagon and began shaping it for a fire. Her spirit jumped at the thought.

When he had the wood blazing, she crawled toward it, the motion painful but necessary. The fire drew her by some primal need. She stretched out her fingers, crying out when they thawed enough to feel the warmth. It was not bliss. It was sharp, unremitting pain.

Quillan crouched at the fireside, eyeing her, then drew her out into the snowy hollow, a circular wall some four feet high. She looked up into a dark, milky sky. Quillan pulled her to her feet, pressed her shoulders to the wagon side, and glared. “Don’t you know better than to go to sleep in a blizzard?”

He was so close she couldn’t answer. Then his mouth again claimed hers, the whiskered skin rough and scratching, the lips demanding. Didn’t he know she would give whatever he asked? He didn’t have to take what was his by right. Again her heart beat a sharp staccato. But he pushed away and stalked to the other side of the fire, the flames illuminating his back.

He wanted her. It was in his kiss. There was a need in him for her. That wasn’t so much. God had made man to want woman. Quillan was human. But maybe . . . if he wanted her, he could one day love her.
Ah, Signore, that is my prayer
.

Hands clenched at his sides, Quillan fought the desire burning inside him. The fact that Carina was his wife and he had every right under heaven to kiss her did nothing to excuse it in his mind. It was his intention to release her from that bond, not drive it deeper. He forced the heat inside him to subside, closed his eyes, and gained control.

He turned and looked at her across the fire, her hair glowing like a raven’s wing, rippling down where it escaped from the shawl. She stood where he’d left her, probably afraid to move, probably wondering what he’d do next.
Nothing. I won’t do anything. Anything I do will only
make it worse for both of us
. But he didn’t voice his thoughts.

He held his gloved hands to the fire. In a small while he’d add another log. He had enough wood to get them through the night, maybe part of another day. But they wouldn’t be there that long. As soon as he had light to work with, he’d start clearing a way. They were drifted in, but not all the road would be so deep. He could dig through the drifts.

He released a slow breath. “If you stay by the fire, you can get some rest.”

“I thought you said not to sleep.” Her voice was small, uncertain, not completely recovered from his actions, he guessed.

“Wrap up warmly and stay close. It’s all right to doze. I’ll wake you periodically.”

“By slapping me?” Her chin rose perceptibly.

Or kissing her? She didn’t voice it, but the question was in her eyes.

“A shake should do.”

She pulled the blanket around her shoulders and sat down. “Can you get to my book?”

He eyed the box with a foot of snow in it and the leg space filled in. “If I dig.”

“You dig, and I’ll read.” She reached under the wagon and took out the lantern. A gust of wind caught her hair and tossed it as she hung the lantern on the wagon’s side.

Well, it would give him something to do. Quillan reached into the wagon bed for the shovel he kept against the side. With it he shoveled the snow down to her carpetbag, then hauled it free and shook it off. Carina took the book from inside, then stuffed the carpetbag under the wagon. She settled down inside the blanket and opened the book.

Quillan took a place near her and the fire. It wasn’t warm inside the hollow he’d dug, but some of the edge was off the cold. They would survive the night like that. He hunkered down and listened as she read. Without seeing the words or taking it at a pace he could imprint on his mind, he couldn’t get it all by memory. So for once he just listened.

He tried to imagine George Eliot a woman. It could be. It was possible a woman wrote under a man’s name. Many authors chose a nom de plume that suited their purpose. But how did Carina guess it? What were the phrases and insights that one woman recognized in another?

As Carina read he watched her, the firelight playing on her face, breaking it into softly defined planes and angles. She was beautiful. Breathtaking, really. He wanted to reach out and touch her hair, to pull it free of the shawl and bury his hands in it. He wanted to taste her again.

Would she resist? Quillan knew she wouldn’t. The resistance was his. He closed his eyes and let her voice wash over him. The physical battle with the elements had tired him, and now his muscles let him know. He leaned against the edge of the wheel and eased the strain from his back. He stretched his legs and felt the stiffened joints loosen.

Her voice went on, her English clear but with just a hint of foreignness, more inflection than pronunciation. He liked the sound. It soothed him. The story took a twist, and Carina was in it, coming to him, arms outstretched. He caught her hands and brought them to his chest, sinking into her eyes, so dark, so richly lashed. Her mouth was soft and waiting.

But she shook his arm and kept shaking it. He opened his eyes to her face, just as he’d imagined it. He caught it between his hands. She was his wife. Desire hit him like a kick in the belly, but so did reality. The sky had lightened, and she was waking him. He looked aside to gauge the time, then released her face and pushed himself up.

It was silly to ask if he’d slept. And it didn’t matter if she had as well. Day was dawning, and they’d survived. The fire was little more than embers, but there was warmth there still. He reached a hand to it. “I’d kill for coffee.”

“I have beans but no grinder.”

“No pot either. I wasn’t planning on spending the night.”

She let go his sleeve. “I’d have let you sleep longer, but you thought it was important to be wakened.”

He forked fingers into his hair and groaned. “I didn’t intend to sleep myself.”

She shrugged. “Your body had other ideas.”

That was an understatement, but he didn’t elaborate. Instead he let his body know it was time to stand. The air was still, but with the coming of day the wind would probably return. The sooner they were making progress, the better. He looked around and took stock of their position. Almost to the summit.

This would be the worst of the snow. But more perilous than the drifts would be the slippery slope down. “Can you see to the horses while I make some preparations?”

She nodded. He had covered each pair with a spare canvas tarp that had kept the worst of the snow off them and held their combined warmth together. He watched her tug the tarp from his wheelers; then he started his own work. He dug down to the bottom of the wagon bed, rearranging Carina’s goods until he found the square-linked chain and pulled it out.

Carina gave the horses oats from feed bags while he draped the chain within easy reach of his seat and began shoveling the wagon out. He worked up a sweat, clearing the wheels of drifted snow and cutting a path ahead. When he made it around the bend that had formed a windbreak, the road was almost blown clear, leaving only the treacherous ice.

If he led them by hand, he could get the team up the last stretch. Then it was level across the summit for a half mile before starting down. That’s where the snow would be even and deep. He returned to the wagon, and Carina met him with a chunk of pungent cheese and a handful of olives. He half grinned. “What, no hardtack?”

With a look that showed what she thought of his hardtack, she broke the ice from the surface of the water barrel and dipped in the cup. Then she held it out to him. He drank gratefully, thirsty from his labor and warmed. The water was icy cold as it went down.
Better go
easy
, he told himself. They were a long way from home, and he didn’t need to lower his body temperature.

He took a bite of the cheese. It was satisfyingly stiff and grainy, with a sharp bite that was familiar from her cooking with it before. “What do you call it?”

“Parmigiano. Or grano. It’s the heart of cheeses. Nothing compares.”

Again his mouth pulled sideways. “Not even the blue one?”

“Gorgonzola can only be taken in small amounts.”

“I’m not sure I could live on parmigiano either.”

She shrugged. “You’ll learn.”

He popped an olive into his mouth. He’d seen the jars in the store when he’d shopped for her before, but hadn’t bought any. He’d never tasted one. He bit down and jarred his teeth.

“Be careful of the pit.”

He held his jaw and sent her a dark look. “Now you tell me.” He didn’t miss the amusement in her eyes.

“Eat around it and discard the pit. They’re wonderful.” She bit the flesh of one and savored it, then put the rest into her mouth and worked the pit loose.

He watched to see how she would discard the pit. He wasn’t surprised when she discreetly removed it with her fingers and threw it into the snow. He made a point of spitting his. All in all, this breakfast had his usual fare squarely beaten. He chewed the cheese with satisfaction and washed it down with another gulp of water, then handed the cup over to her. “Don’t drink too much. It’s awfully cold.”

She sipped. “What now?”

“Now we go.”

“Is it clear?” She looked down the road where he’d dug, lit now by the first pale hues of dawn.

He fit the shovel back into the wagon bed. “Not clear, exactly, but passable. I imagine we’ll have to dig in some places, and try not to fly in others.”

“Is it safe?”

He leaned on the wagon and gave her a taunting smile. “You didn’t come to Crystal for safety, Miss DiGratia.”

“No?” She raised a hand and primped her hair. “A fine established city like Crystal? So
affettato
, sophisticated.”

He grinned. “Well, we’re a long way from town, signora.”

He saw her pause at his Italian designation. He’d never used one of her words before.

“Sì,” she murmured softly and looked down the road again.

Did he know he’d just called her “wife”? Carina turned to the wagon, reached in, and pressed the black waxy rind closed around the wheel of parmigiano. Oh, it could mean lady or missus, but it also meant wife. If only he meant it that way. She tightened the lid on the jar of olives and made it secure between the cheeses and bags of flour.

Then she reached under the wagon and pulled out her carpetbag. It was still chunky with snow, the temperature insufficient to melt it. She banged it off with one gloved hand and tossed it up to the box. Sam bounded to her, his whole body wiggling. He was eager and ready. Carina turned. “Is there anything else?”

Quillan passed her to inspect the load. “Just let me get this fastened down.” He wrangled the tarp into place and made it tight, then whistled for Sam to jump aboard. Carina waited, and he came to her, lifting her in with a strong arm under her hand. He didn’t join her in the box. He walked to the front of the team.

Leading by Jock’s head, Quillan urged the horses and the wagon creaked forward, the snow squeaking under the wheels, the hooves muffled thumps. Carina lurched side to side as the wheels rolled over the uneven terrain of the shoveled drift. Then the snow abruptly ended and the road was bare.

No, not bare. She noted the milky gleam of ice. How would the horses pull up that? Her gaze followed the grade to the summit. Slowly, the horses advanced the wagon, their hooves clattering sharply on the icy road, their steps uncertain. Halfway up, Quillan stopped to let them blow, and she climbed down.

He glanced from under the broad brim of his hat. “What are you doing? I’m just giving them a minute to blow.”

“I know.” She held the harness as she passed around the horses to the front. “I can’t stand to make their burden harder.” She reached up to Jack and stroked his nose with her soft kid glove. “I’ll help you lead.”

“I don’t need help. Get back up where you belong.”

She brought her face to Jack’s. “I won’t make you carry me,
cavallo
. Not on this ice.” Jack nuzzled her back. He might be Quillan’s horse, answerable to his command alone, but they had an understanding.

Quillan frowned. “Carina, this is hard enough. I don’t want to look out for you, too.”

“Then don’t. I look out for myself.” She took hold of the harness on Jack’s head. “Are they ready?”

BOOK: Sweet Boundless
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