Trailing Home Ch. 07byharemgirl©
The day felt magical for Liam and Selena. They went about their usual routine, but there was a new connection between them. Every touch or glance, no matter how innocent, reminded them of the intimate time they had spent that morning, and they eagerly anticipated the end of the day, when they could be together again.
They traveled twenty four miles that day, about the best they could hope for with the oxen's plodding pace. However, Liam and Selena didn't suffer from the usual weariness when they reached their campsite. They were too full of expectancy. They hurried to complete their chores so they could relax together.
Selena noticed Liam rummaging through the wagon. "What are you looking for?" she inquired.
"Never mind," came his muffled reply.
"Well, if you tell me what it is, maybe I can help you find it," she insisted.
Liam's head poked out of the back of the wagon, and he gave her a boyish grin. "I know exactly where it is, I just have to dig it out. Now, you worry about supper."
With that he disappeared back into the wagon, and Selena frowned, wondering what he was up to. He emerged from the wagon a few minutes later, and she noticed he was empty handed, but she concentrated on cooking. If he needed her assistance, he had only to ask.
Selena heated a pot of beans from the day before over the fire. She and Liam were both getting sick of them, but they were a necessity on the trail. As a special treat, she made a pot of apple dumplings, having learned they were one of Liam's favorite desserts. She smiled to herself as she worked on the dish. His sweet tooth wasn't the only appetite she was anxious to satisfy.
It was mid June, and the sky was still light when they finally settled down for supper. Liam ate his dinner, and his face lit with an eager smile when Selena handed him a plate of the apple dumplings. He took a deep whiff of the steam and sighed. There was a twinkle in his eye when she sat beside him.
"These smell almost as appetizing as you, but not quite." He hooked an arm around her waist and pulled her close so he could bury his face in her hair.
Selena giggled and lifted his spoon to feed him a bite. She remembered the time she had shared her custard with him, and she was amazed by how much their relationship had changed since then. Liam closed his eyes and chewed. He let her feed him the rest, and as he ate, he gave exaggerated moans and sighs that caused Selena to giggle even more. When he had finished the last morsel, she set the plate aside and leaned against him, running her fingertip along his chin.
"How were they?" she whispered huskily.
Liam bent to capture her lips and he tasted of apples and cinnamon. He savored her softness, pulling her across his lap as he deepened the kiss. "Delicious," he murmured. A slow grin spread over his face and he stole another kiss.
When he looked down at Selena, her eyes were deepest amethyst, and they shone with love as she stared back at him. Liam fished in the pocket of his shirt and pulled out a gold band, which he slipped on her finger. The fit was perfect, and he smiled. It was a good omen. He raised her fingers and kissed them, as his gaze melded warmly with hers.
Selena's jaw had dropped open with wonder. She looked at the ring, and tears filled her eyes. "Where did you get this?"
"It was my mother's," he said softly. "She gave it to me to keep for my wife."
Selena knew by the things he had said just how deeply Liam had loved his mother, and the gesture touched her soul. She cupped his cheek in her palm and smiled up at him through trembling lips. "I shall treasure it, Liam. Thank you."
"And I shall treasure you. You're everything to me, Selena. My life would be nothing without you. I learned that when I almost lost you." He wiped away a tear from her cheek with his thumb. "I love you."
Selena's heart swelled with joy. "I love you too."
They shared another lengthy kiss, and when Selena looked up at him again, her eyes were full of sultry promise. She traced his jaw with a fingertip.
"Let me clean up these dishes, so we can go to bed," she whispered. "By the time you have your bath, I should be finished."
Giving him one more smile, she slipped off his lap and began gathering the plates and pots. Liam watched her for a few minutes before rising to complete the last of his own chores. When he finished, he collected his towel and soap and set off toward the creek. By the time he had stripped and washed, the moon was beginning to rise in the sky. He started toward the bank and froze. He was reminded of another night, but this time, he knew instantly that it was Selena who stood on the shore, silently removing her clothes. He watched, transfixed as her body was gradually revealed to him in all its naked glory.
The moon was nearly full, and by its bright glow Liam admired her fair skin that looked silvery in the moonlight. Without hesitation or shyness, she waded into the water and glided toward him. Her hair hung past her waist and floated briefly on the water as it rose around her hips. She came into his arms, and she shivered from both the coolness of the water and the excitement in her heart.
Liam stood perfectly still, only settling his hands on her hips. It was as if some woodland nymph had decided to grace his bath, and he was reluctant to move lest he frighten her away. She stretched up to thread her fingers through his hair, and he sucked in a breath when her breasts pressed against him, warm and quivering. Her nipples were like twin points of fire that seared his bare chest as she nuzzled his ear and ran her hot tongue around his earlobe. It was the most enticing siren's song he could imagine.
"Could I join you?" she sighed in a husky whisper.
Liam cupped her bottom in his palms and gave her a boyish grin, but his voice was hoarse when he replied. "It is my fondest wish."
As he said the words, he pulled her hips hard against him, and Selena could feel the solid length of his erection cradled against her belly. She kissed him wantonly, and counting on him to catch her, she wrapped her legs around his waist, impaling herself on his rigid cock with a sigh. They sank down into the water, their bodies and lips fused, and Liam groaned against her mouth.
"My God," he breathed, "you're beautiful."
Selena began to move on him, and her eyes were beguiling in the moonlight. Her hair streamed around them, and Liam clung to her as she wove her spell around him. She offered her breasts, and he was helpless to resist, devouring them with greedy hunger. She became an enchantress, stealing his will and making him her eager paramour. She gave her body freely, using it to appease his raging appetites, but in so doing, she captured his heart and took it firmly into her keeping.
The next few days were like heaven. Liam and Selena hardly noticed the rigors of the days as they concentrated on the pleasures of the night. They spent long hours, speaking in whispers of their hopes and dreams as they lay intertwined among the blankets. They used their bodies to convey their love and commitment, and vows spoken in words were sealed with kisses and heady caresses. Their sleepless nights took their toll, and Liam couldn't help but smile when Selena would doze on the bench of the wagon. More than once, he had to put an arm around her to keep her from toppling off the seat.
Selena took to the duties of a wife with zeal. She still performed her usual chores, but now, she also assumed responsibility for a multitude of other small tasks that added joy to Liam's life. She would often massage his shoulders in the evenings, using her fingers to knead out the tiny kinks and knots. Sometimes she would sit after supper with Liam's head cradled on her lap as she read to him from a book of short stories. She took possessive pride in her right to claim him as her husband, and time and again, Selena found small excuses to touch or caress him. She mended his clothes, smoothing the fabric dreamily as she worked. She even took the initiative to trim his tawny hair, and of course, it became her habit to share his evening bath. She wasn't going to give Natasha a chance to enjoy her husband's company again!
Liam returned her many favors. He was frequently on hand to lift a heavy pot or loosen a jar. He surprised her with a bouquet of wildflowers that he had picked, and he looked puzzled when they made her cry. Although he no longer hovered over her, Liam was always near at hand whenever Selena needed his assistance. His consideration for her could have been merely a product of his generous nature, but Selena always gave him a smile, kiss or caress, just to ensure he kept coming back.
By day, Selena was a prim and proper wife. Neither her dress nor her behavior gave any hint that by night, she became a seductress. With merely a smile or a look, she could start a fire in Liam's blood that she was only too happy to quench. She captured Liam's imagination so completely that his every fantasy, even in his dreams, centered on her. He knew her to be innocent and pure, but he might have denied that fact when she came to him in the darkness. She exhibited a natural curiosity and a boldness to learn new things that nearly took his breath away. However, Liam gently tutored her, taking special care not to frighten her. He didn't want any unpleasant memories of her earlier trauma with her stepfather to be associated with their lovemaking.
Selena sensed his caution, and it was the only thing that impinged on her complete contentment. She had the feeling that Liam never quite forgot about her stepfather's abuse, and thus, she could not banish it totally from her mind. While she knew Liam did not think badly of her for the attack, he always seemed to treat her with concern when they made love. Though Selena did her best to allay his fears, she had the feeling that Liam was afraid to press her beyond a certain point and that he was somehow holding back. She longed for a way to show him that she was not fragile or faint hearted, for she sensed that there were other sensual realms they might explore together, if Liam could only abandon his fear.
They continued to make good progress on their journey. Liam explained that they had to cross the South Platte River only to gain access to the North Platte River, which they would continue to follow nearly halfway across the Wyoming territory before they would have to cross it as well. The South Platte presented a major obstacle. In June, the water was so low that mud flats and sandbars were scattered throughout the middle. Many of them were unstable, and a wagon could easily get bogged down and hopelessly stuck. The main channel was only about three feet deep, and it traced a peculiar path, winding aimlessly from bank to bank. They had no choice but to cross the river because it was too wide for a bridge and too shallow for a ferry.
Liam and Gerald waded out with stout poles, probing the mud to see where it might be most favorable to cross. It took them several hours to find a good spot, and they had to travel a few miles downriver. They crossed one at a time, but luckily, neither the wagons nor the buggy got stranded in the middle. Both families breathed a sigh of relief and were glad to be on their way once again.
As they crossed the vast plains, food and water were scarce, and firewood was nonexistent. When they were lucky, they found dried buffalo chips to burn, and they stowed as many as they could in the wagon. When there were none to be found, they had to eat raw bacon and stale bread. Selena quickly learned to bake extra bread for the times when they had no fire, but since food didn't keep for long in the heat, she couldn't stock up on cooked beans or bacon.
Vast herds of buffalo roamed across the plains, and there were too many to be counted at times. Many of the emigrants seemed to see killing the great beasts as a way to prove their manhood. They would cut out only the choicest parts and take the pelts, leaving the rotting carcasses to dot the trail. The stench was sometimes overwhelming, and neither Liam nor Selena liked to see such waste. Liam would occasionally shoot a buffalo to supplement their food, but he took as much of the meat as possible, sharing it among the other families traveling with them. He showed Selena how to smoke long strips of it over their campfire until it was dried, and then she could add it to stews or use it to flavor their beans.
They saw more and more items that had been discarded by the side of the trail. Treasured family heirlooms and pieces of furniture had been left behind to make room for food and fuel. The emigrants had realized by that point that survival was more important than even their most cherished belongings. It made Selena sad to see such things, for she knew their previous owners must have grieved to leave them behind, and it seemed a shame to let them rot out on the prairie.
However, the worst thing Selena saw were the graves along the trail. There were hundreds of them, most marked only with a simple wooden cross or nothing at all. Sometimes there were several graves all together.
"What happened to these people?" Selena asked. "There are so many. Were they attacked by Indians?"
"I doubt it. A lot of these folks died from cholera," Liam explained. "When I made the crossing with my brothers, sometimes we'd see whole families dying. A person could be healthy in the morning and be dead by nightfall."
Selena shivered just thinking about it. She prayed fervently that they would not contract the dreaded disease. She couldn't imagine life without Liam, if anything were to happen to him.
Despite the hardships, Selena enjoyed the vast prairies. The grasses were taller than the front wheels of the wagon, and when the breeze blew, as it frequently did, the grass would dance in golden swirls all around them. The sky seemed endless, and Selena had never seen such magnificent sunrises or sunsets. It was a land so free and open, it captured her heart.
Rising up from the plains, they began to see massive outcroppings of sandstone. They could be seen from miles away, and they marked the beginning of the transition from prairies to mountains. One formation in particular had a singular spire that stuck straight up into the sky.
"I've never seen anything like that," Selena whispered in awe.
"That's Chimney Rock," Liam explained. "They say it's more than three hundred feet high. That means we're almost one third of the way."
Thus, it was cause for celebration when they passed Chimney Rock and later the landmark of Scotts Bluff. The trail was so hot and dusty that they took to parking the wagon in the river at night to soak the hard wooden wheels. If they didn't, the wood would shrink, and the iron rims would roll right off. Selena usually wore a bonnet to protect against the baking sun, but Liam often went without a hat, and his skin turned a dark bronze and his hair was liberally streaked with strands of gold.
Sandy dust was a constant nuisance. It got into everything and was an unending source of irritation for eyes, noses and throats. Selena tried to start each morning clean and fresh, but within an hour or two, she always ended up being coated in a thick layer of grime. She gave up worrying about how she must look, since all the other emigrants were equally dirty.
It took another week to reach Fort Laramie. The fort offered an opportunity to restock their supplies, have the oxen reshod and make minor repairs to the wagons. The McKenzies and Boyds decided to take an extra couple of days there to give the animals and themselves a much needed rest.
Fort Laramie was a large adobe structure, almost square and surrounded by a high fence. It sat at the foot of a range of mountains where the North Platte and Laramie rivers intersected. There was a lookout tower centered in front, with gates underneath giving access to the courtyard. The tower was equipped with a cannon, and there were two more blockhouses on opposite diagonal corners to defend against attack.
A multitude of shops and businesses were housed inside, including the only reliable post office within three hundred miles where emigrants could go to post a letter to relatives back east. Liam explained that the fort had once been used as an outpost for the fur trade, but several years earlier, it had been purchased by the army. They had expanded the fort, fortifying it against possible attack by the increasingly hostile Sioux Indians. Seeing Selena's alarm, Liam squeezed her knee.
"It's alright sweetheart. The Indians have more to fear from us than we do from them," he assured her. "When my brothers and I crossed several years ago, the Indians were quite friendly. We even traded with them a few times, but in recent years, there have been several skirmishes and massacres. Last year, Lieutenant Grattan and his men wiped out an entire village of Indians over a dispute about a cow." Liam shook his head in disgust. "There are many white men who would like to see the Indians eradicated entirely. I hate to say it, but I think things are only going to get worse for the Indians as more white men travel west."
They camped outside the fort, and Liam and Selena walked inside to restock a few of their supplies. They were lucky that it was just the two of them, so they had ample food, and they didn't need much. Selena was astounded to see the prices that were being charged. Sugar that cost ten cents per pound back in St. Louis was a dollar fifty per pint and flour was a dollar per pint. Tobacco that should have cost a nickel was a dollar at Fort Laramie. Her eyes were as round as saucers, and Liam couldn't help but laugh at her expression.
Soldiers dressed in dark blue were everywhere, and they eyed Selena like wolves stalking a lamb. However, the set of Liam's jaw and the hard glint in his eye was enough to keep them at bay. They appreciated the sights but didn't attempt to touch.
Marcia and Gerald joined them, along with Natasha and Susan. Selena noticed that Natasha kept a respectful distance from Liam and didn't try to catch his eye. Instead, Natasha seemed more interested in attracting the attention of the handsomely dressed soldiers. She cast many coquettish glances in their direction, and she was gratified to receive many leering smiles in return. Had her parents not been with her, Selena was left to wonder how far Natasha might have dared go to win the soldiers' interest.
Late in the afternoon, they were in a shop, and the men were anxious to hurry them along. Liam and Gerald needed to go in search of feed for the animals, and the ladies wanted to stay and look through some bolts of fabric they had found.
"Go on," Selena told Liam. "We'll be fine. We'll wait here for you until you come back."
Liam looked around the shop, seeing no sign of the leering soldiers, but his indecision was evident on his face. "Are you sure? I don't like leaving you ladies here on your own."
Marcia scoffed and pushed at Gerald's arm. "Go on with both of you, stop being silly. We want to take our time."
"We'll wait right here until you get back," Selena promised.
The men left and Selena, Marcia and the girls looked through the fabrics. Natasha begged to buy some.
"Please Mama! This blue would be perfect on me." Natasha held up a bolt of light blue muslin. Selena hated to admit it, but the cloth did look divine against Natasha's skin.
"Natasha, I said no," Marcia whispered. "These prices are exorbitant. I just wanted to look for fun. Besides, you already have two other dresses in that same color."
"But not in muslin," Natasha whined. "This would be so nice in the summer."
Selena wandered to the other side of the store to look at some other fabrics and give Marcia privacy to deal with her spoiled daughter. Selena was stroking a bolt of soft calico when she heard a dreadfully familiar voice from behind her.