Her legs were going to kill her. But the morning in the hay was too delicious. He was completely smitten with her, she was sure of it. And she was on her way there too.
But the smell of bacon frying was more than the wonder of Stud in the hay could overcome.
He held her hand as they walked. Loud voices were coming from the other side of the cabin. His hand tightened on hers.
“No, sheriff. They held me here and they were—” O’Keefe said.
“Their cabin is on Marlowe land,” Stud said.
“And who are you?” the sheriff said. He was everything Judy would have hoped for. The big mustache, the hat. His horse was tied to a tree, a big shiny Morgan.
“Steve Marlowe,” Stud said. “I’m a cousin.”
The sheriff looked over his clothing, then he looked to Judy. “And you?” he asked.
“Judy Reynolds. Steve is my paramour.” She hoped that was the word that would sound right. Somehow boyfriend just seemed like it would be the wrong thing to say.
The sheriff nodded. “Would you be able to show me where the cabin is?”
Stud nodded. “I can take you right there.”
“Smith will be here in a minute. We’ll go as soon as he gets here,” the sheriff said. “It’ll be fine to get this cleared up. We don’t take kindly to claim jumpers, but we want to make sure the property lines are respected before we come to any conclusions.”
Judy squirmed. Her muscles were tightening again. It was going to be a miserable few days while she acclimated to this lifestyle. And whether the lifestyle was just Steve in her bed, that was to be seen.
Kit moved to go to the stable after giving them a funny look. A giggle grew in her soul. Was it so obvious what they were up to in the hayloft? Probably.
But she moved closer to Steve. She just couldn’t call him Stud, not in her heart of hearts. And definitely not while they were together. She wasn’t sure whether he noticed, but it was just too much.
“I’ll just get my horses saddled and we’ll go with you, sheriff,” Kit said.
Steve turned to her and kissed her cheek, then said, “I’m going with him.”
She nodded and watched him follow after his great-grandfather.
Sylvia came out from the cabin, holding her baby to her chest. Judy smiled seeing her and moved to stand next to her. “Good morning.”
Sylvia looked at her face, thens aid, “How was your night?”
“Long. Been a long time since I’ve ridden.”
Sylvia laughed once, then choked it into a cough. “The, uh, fresh air brightened your complexion.”
Judy bobbed her head, then said, “This fresh air is invigorating.”
Sylvia laughed again. “Are you hungry? That much fresh air can make you work up an appetite.”
Judy followed her into the cabin. Sylvia gestured to the pitcher and basin again. Judy washed her face and combed her hair, then pulled it back into a braid.
“They’ll come in and eat right quick before they go up with the sheriff,” Sylvia said. “Once the deputy is here.”
Judy nodded. “We’ll be fine.”
Sylvia nodded. “We will.” She looked over the door. Another rifle was there hanging on pegs over the door. “You can use that?”
Judy shook her head. “I never learned guns.”
“Well, I’m not great, but if the son of a bitch got close enough, I’d blast him.”
Judy shivered. “He’ll deserve it.” Sylvia looked out the door at Kit. “Steve will keep him safe,” Judy murmured.
“You love him,” Sylvia whispered. It almost sounded like a question.
“I don’t know. I only just met him.”
“Trying times can have a way of making two people come together.”
Judy nodded. “We’ll come through this and then when we get home, we’ll see how it all shakes out.”
Sylvia handed a bowl with bacon, scrambled eggs and toast to her. Judy sat at the small table and ate with abandon. Once she was done, Sylvia took her bowl and refilled it, then filled the other. “We’ll feed the men before they go to the jumpers.”
Judy took both bowls along with cups of coffee and went out into the stable. She handed one bowl to Steve and the other to Kit. They both ate and as they finished, Deputy Smith rode up on his horse.
Steve dropped down and kissed her cheek. “I’ll be right back to you. I promise.”
She nodded and kissed his mouth. “I’ll be here.”
The men rode off and she went back to the cabin with Sylvia. Deputy Smith had O’Keefe in the stable, waiting until the sheriff was back to decide what to do.
“What can I do to help?” Judy said.
“Do you want to take Alex for a moment?” Sylvia offered the squirming baby to her.
Judy scooped the little boy to her chest and shoulder. “Oh, he’s perfect,” Judy murmured. “I miss the little ones. My girl’s twenty-seven. It’s been a long time since I could just take a big, deep sniff of this scent.”
“Your girl doesn’t have her own?”
Judy shook her head. “Not yet.”
“You miss her a lot?”
“Her best friend is getting married tomorrow. Well, tomorrow in my time. I hope this hasn’t made it all fall apart. I hope I don’t ruin Vivi’s wedding by not being there.”
Sylvia shook her head. “I don’t know how this all works. I don’t know what to say.”
The deep sadness grew in Judy’s heart. She’d tried to keep it at bay, but it crept up on her now. Were they stuck here? What could they do? Could they do anything?
She’d managed to keep the tears at bay. They were so busy, they were so tired and now that she had a chance to hold still, holding this small child, she bent her head and wept, rocking with the baby, but at least holding a hint of the future goodness in the child. That even if this was it for her, life would continue. In her own time, Celia would be faced with the horror of a mother who disappeared, but she’d live on. She’d continue. And all the things that Celia had done with her life, all her experiences and education and friends would bring her through.
Vivi would be there for her, and Dovie would do anything to take care of Celia. Addie would be there. They would all do it to take care of her. Celia wouldn’t be alone. And when enough time had passed, all of her Judy’s assets would become Celia’s.
Once she’d worked through how Celia would be okay again, Judy relaxed. At least, her soul unclenched a little. It would hurt, of course, but once Judy could see the path Celia would walk, it would be better. Once she knew Celia would be okay again, it was easier. It hurt, of course, it hurt as badly as it did that Judy didn’t have her daughter, but it wasn’t a mortal blow.
Judy swayed with Alex, holding the boy to her chest, Steve’s progenitor. It was so odd to think she would be the grandma to Steve’s great-grandpa.
Something about that settled in her heart. That even if, and it was such a big even if, they were stuck here, they’d find a life for themselves. They’d find a way to make it work.
And now, with Steve and the things she felt and that she was sure he felt, they’d make it all work.
With the peace of acceptance, she settled into the rocking chair by the fire. It still hurt, but there was nothing she could do, so she just took it. If she knew how to fight it, she would. That was one of the things she finally learned from herself. She was strong enough to change things when they were changeable. She traded in that awful minivan for Roscoe. She left Kyle. She raised Celia on her own. Her strength, her power, she was more than enough.
And in the face of this? She just had to accept it. Once she got through this sadness and mourning, she’d just pick it up and keep going.
“What would you like for dinner?” Sylvia asked.
“I’m sure it’s not as easy to make dinner plans as it was for me,” Judy said. She stood up and stood next to Sylvia. Sylvia looked at a barrel of salt pork and bread. “That works.” She swayed with Alex then said, “Fish? I’ll go get fish.”
“For everything Kit can do, catching fish just isn’t one of them.”
Judy laughed. “I won’t tell him you said that.”
Sylvia laughed with a dismissive flip of the hand. “He’d tell you that himself.”
Judy pulled together a fishing kit. She’d fashion a pole of some sort and she’d clean the fish too. Sylvia gave her a knife and Judy knew she’d be able to figure out a hook and enough to fish.