Trailing Home Ch. 11byharemgirl©
A light snow began to fall the following afternoon, as they wended their way through the mountains. Liam eyed the grey sky nervously. The snow wasn’t enough to impede them from traveling, but it was enough to raise worry in their minds. They plodded through it for the rest of the day, and by the time they made camp, there was six inches accumulated on the ground.
Liam and the other men did their best to provide shelter for the animals. They cut large branches and erected a lean to of sorts where the oxen, mule and cows could get out of the snow and wind. The weather showed no sign of improving, but at least the snow wasn’t falling too heavily.
That night, Liam and Selena lay snuggled under their blankets, their limbs entwined in the afterglow of their lovemaking. As Selena lay with her head on Liam’s shoulder, cuddled against his warmth, she knew his thoughts were troubled.
“Are you worried?” she asked softly, leaning her head back to see his face.
Liam gave her a tight smile and pulled her closer against him. “A little. Snow this early could be trouble. Its only September 17th.”
“How much further do we have to go?” Selena asked, stroking his chest soothingly.
He shrugged. “I’m not sure exactly, but I know we have a few more passes to get through. Probably another week or ten days and we’ll be past the worst of it.” He gave her a rueful smile, and there was a tinge of guilt in the hazel depths of his eyes. “If I hadn’t gotten sick, we would have already been past the worst of it.”
Selena rose up on her elbow and stared down at him with amazement. “Well, there wasn’t anything you could have done to avoid that, Liam. It was an accident, plain and simple.”
“Hmmm,” he murmured. “I know you’re right, but it doesn’t make me feel any better about it. I’m just anxious to get home.”
“Home,” she whispered dreamily, resting her chin on his chest. “Our home. Sometimes I still have a hard time believing it.”
“Believing what?” he asked, tucking her hair back behind an ear.
“Believing that you’re really mine. Believing that I found my heart’s true love and that you love me too. Believing how incredibly blessed I am.” Her eyes were shining with happy tears as she smiled at him. “Sometimes I think it’s all too good to be true, and that I’ll lose you.”
Liam hooked his arm behind her neck to pull her down for his kiss. He savored her lips, using his own to reassure her. “Selena, short of God himself, no one could take me away from you. I know as well as you that we’ve been blessed.”
He kissed her again, and the tenor quickly changed until they were both panting, hungry yet again for the feel of melding bodies. He rolled her onto her back and rose on his elbow above her, one knee intruding between her thighs as he ogled her bosom.
“You know,” he said softly, reaching to cup her breast, “my dear mother always taught me to count my blessings.” He watched her eyes turn soft and dark with desire as he firmly squeezed her nipple. “I think I’ll start giving thanks with these.”
As he claimed her breast, Selena closed her eyes and luxuriated in his touch. The world, the snow, the mountain passes, and everything else would simply have to wait. She was in the arms of her beloved, and nothing else mattered at that moment.
The snow stopped during the night, but there was already ten inches of the white powder on the ground. Their progress was slow that day, as they trudged along through the deep drifts, and they only covered six miles. They all prayed that they wouldn’t get any more snow, and their luck held for the next three days, but it never got warm enough to melt the snow that had already fallen.
On the fourth day, a drizzling rain mixed with sleet started falling in the morning, and it got stronger throughout the day. The rain turned the snow into icy slush, and the oxen had to struggle to keep their footing as they negotiated their way up and down the steep inclines. By the time they camped that night, they were all shivering and miserable, wishing desperately to reach the end of their journey. They pulled off the trail and camped in a dense forest, thankful for the tall trees that gave them some protection from the weather.
They woke up in the morning to find that nine of their oxen had disappeared during the night, three from each family’s team. Liam squinted into the predawn darkness, as he felt icy fingers of dread settle into the pit of his belly. Gerald and Matthew stood beside him, equally unsettled.
“You don’t think they just wandered off, do you?” Gerald asked, standing shoulder to shoulder with Liam.
“No. It’s too neat, losing three from each team. Someone took them,” Liam muttered.
“Maybe Indians stole them,” Matthew suggested.
Liam shook his head. “It’s not unheard of for Indians to steal an ox for food, but I can’t see them taking nine. They usually wouldn’t take more than they could use.” Liam crouched down to examine the ground. The rain combined with the slush had turned the surface into a sloppy mess, but he hoped there would be signs they could follow. They needed those oxen back or they would have to abandon one of the wagons. “There!”
They could just make out hoof prints leading into the forest, but it was evident that a branch had been used to erase much of the signs. Whoever had taken the animals didn’t want it to be easy to follow them. More searching revealed the partial imprint of a boot.
Liam stood up and frowned at Gerald and Matthew. “Well, it’s definitely not Indians. We’d better get the rifles and ask the other men to come with us. If we follow this trail, there’s no telling what we’ll find. We don’t know how many there may be, and we might need all the help we can get.”
The other men nodded their agreement, and they went to talk with the others. They grabbed a quick breakfast and in a short time, the men were ready to go. Armed with rifles and pistols, they set off to track the oxen. Selena, Marcia, Cassie and Susan watched them go, worry etched on their faces.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Selena whispered.
Marcia nodded. “Me too, but there’s nothing we can do but wait and hope for the best.”
“Well I, for one, am freezing,” Cassie said, rubbing her arms. “I’m going to go sit by the fire where it’s a bit warmer. Do you want to come with me?” Her gaze encompassed them all.
“Sure, why not?” Marcia said, smiling. She and Susan turned to follow, and only Selena remained standing where she was.
“I’ll join you in a little while. I have a few more chores I need to take care of.” Selena watched them walk away before returning to her own campsite. She tidied everything she could but decided to leave the tent and pallet. She didn’t know whether Liam and the others would find the oxen and return in time for them to move on today or whether they would stay an extra night here. Selena went to see about the other animals. She had told Liam not to bother with tending them, as he had been in a hurry to go and look for the oxen.
Glad for something to keep her occupied, Selena fed the animals and then fetched the bucket so she could milk the cow. She smiled as she stroked the cow’s nose. Selena remembered when Liam had chosen the animal, and she had been doubtful of his wisdom. Sure enough, she had proven to be an excellent milk cow, and she routinely produced more milk than most cows. In addition, she had a sweet temper and was easy to handle. Liam’s instincts about animals never ceased to amaze her.
Selena ran her hands along the cow’s side, cooing to her softly as she settled the bucket beneath her udder. Selena was about to settle down for the milking, when she was snatched backward against a hard male body. She opened her mouth to scream, but a filthy hand clamped over her lips, and she felt the tip of a knife dig into the side of her neck. She knew who held her before she even heard his hated voice.
“Easy there, missy,” Jeb hissed into her ear. He could feel her heart pounding, and he relished the power he had over her. “Now, nice and easy, you just come with me.”
He pulled her backward a few steps, and Selena’s eyes opened wild with panic. She searched through the trees, trying to catch a glimpse of the other women. Cassie’s campsite was at least fifty yards away. The three families had a habit of camping a short distance apart for added privacy. The other women were facing away from her, and they hadn’t noticed anything amiss. Tears of fear welled in Selena’s eyes, but she blinked frantically to clear them. It wouldn’t do her any good to give in to her terror. She had to think. If she could just struggle loose from Jeb’s hand, she could scream and draw the other women’s attention.
Jeb seemed to sense her train of thought. He leaned close to whisper in her ear. “I wouldn’t do that, if I were you, missy. If you get them other women involved, I’d just have to kill ‘em.” He pulled her face downward so she could see the pistol tucked into his waistband. “Now, I really don’t want to have to do that. After all, this is between me and you. You understand?”
Selena gave a small nod of her head as she felt her hopes plummet. She didn’t want to risk her friends getting hurt, and she didn’t doubt for a second that Jeb was evil enough to carry through with his threat.
“Good,” Jeb said softly. “Now come on.”
He turned her and they walked deeper into the woods, away from their camp. Jeb kept his hand clamped over her mouth and the knife pressed against her neck. At one point, Selena tried to struggle against him, but he pressed the knife into her skin until a tiny trickle of blood dripped down her throat.
“Now, now. Don’t make me cut you, missy. You just do what I say, and I promise not to hurt you.”
Selena’s heated glare told him what she thought about his promise. With each step, her fear increased, but she couldn’t think of any way of escaping. Her only hope was to go along with him and stall for time. She hoped that eventually, she would be able to find an opening to escape from him. With that thought in mind, she paid careful attention to the direction they took. She wanted to be able to find her way back to camp if she did manage to get free. The sky was too overcast to see the sun, so she really didn’t know which direction they were going, but there was a light wind, and she noted its direction.
After what seemed like an eternity, they reached a small clearing, and Selena saw a horse tethered to a tree. Jeb walked her to another large tree and pressed her face forward against the trunk, using the weight of his body to pin her against it.
“Now,” he said, grinning down at her, “I’m gonna take my hand off your mouth, but if you scream, I swear I’ll slit your throat. Do you understand?” At her nod, he removed his hand but kept the knife against her neck. Using his free hand, he reached into his back pocket and withdrew a length of rope. “Put your hands through here,” he ordered.
She moved her hands as if she would comply with his request, but instead, she jabbed her elbow into his ribs and tried to twist and wriggle out of his grasp. Jeb swore and slapped her viciously across the face, splitting her bottom lip. His fingers bit into her upper arm as he shoved her hard against the tree, knocking the wind out of her.
“Listen, you little bitch, you’ll do as I say or it’ll go even harder for you. Do you understand?” Jeb hissed into her ear.
Selena gasped for breath but managed to nod her head. She would have to wait for a better opportunity to get away from him.
“Now, put your hands through here,” he ordered, giving her a shake.
Selena looked down to see that he had already tied the rope into two loose loops. She hesitated, loath to let him tie her hands. She felt the knife dig into her neck once more and gasped. Swallowing hard, she slipped her hands through the loops, and Jeb yanked the end, tightening the loops around her wrists until the rope bit into her skin. Selena winced and shot him a venomous glare.
Jeb’s taunting grin told her that he knew just how tight he had made the loops. He was enjoying her discomfort, and she had no intention of asking for him to loosen the bands. She refused to give him the satisfaction. Jeb wound the end of the rope around her waist and tied it in another knot over her wrists, securing her arms tightly against her belly.
“There,” he said with satisfaction. “That should hold you nicely.”
He turned her to face him and gave her a taunting smile. He leaned hard against her, pressing her back into the tree until its rough surface bit into her shoulders. His foul breath nearly made her retch, making her wish she hadn’t gotten her breath back so quickly. His eyes raked down her body, clothed in the thick wool coat.
“I’m gonna enjoy you, Selena. I’ve been waitin’ a long time to have you beneath me again.”
Selena shivered with dread, but she glared up at him. She refused to let him see just how terrified she felt. “My husband will kill you for this. You know that don’t you?”
Jeb laughed softly, obviously not frightened by her threat. “It will take him most of the day to find those oxen I stole. By the time he gets back to camp, it’ll be dark, and you and I will be long gone.” Jeb forced her legs apart with one knee and reached a hand between to cup her crudely. He lifted her skirt and reached into her pantalets to jab and prod her clenched pussy. “You and me are gonna have a real good time this evenin’. I’m gonna ride you ‘til I get my fill, then maybe, if you’re real good and behave yourself, I might let you go back to that husband of yours.”
Selena fought to quell her panic as she bucked and squirmed, trying to rid herself of his loathsome touch. “You’ll have to kill me first! And my husband will catch up with you sooner or later. Then you’ll wish you were dead.”
Something in her tone made Jeb’s hackles rise, but he shook off his unease and grabbed her by the elbow. “Come on,” he said, yanking her along as he stalked to the horse.
Selena struggled against him as he tried to lift her to the horse’s back. Each time he came close to getting her mounted, she wriggled off. After several attempts, Jeb lost his patience and punched her on the jaw, knocking her nearly senseless.
“Be still you little bitch,” he snarled. He waved the knife in front of her face. “You wouldn’t want me to carve up that pretty little face of yours now would you?”
Having no doubt that he meant every word, Selena ceased her struggles and held still as he lifted her astride the horse. Jeb looped another piece of rope around one of her ankles and wound it beneath the horse before tying it to her other ankle. She blinked back tears of pain and frustration, realizing that even if she could scramble off the horse’s back, she would be trampled or dragged helplessly beneath it. She waited, powerless and full of dread, as Jeb untied the horse and swung up behind her.
Selena tried to straighten away from making contact with his body, but Jeb yanked her back against him. He set the horse in motion. With the density of the forest and the ground covered in slippery slush, they could only manage a brisk walk, but as each minute passed, Selena knew the chance of Liam catching them grew slimmer. She couldn’t suppress the tears that slid down her cheeks.
Liam and the others followed the trail for almost an hour. Whoever had taken the animals had been careful to cover their tracks, but the odd thing was that every time they had almost lost the trail, they would find another couple of prints a few yards away. They occasionally found a boot print, always belonging to the same boot and obviously that of a white man. Liam couldn’t shake a growing sense of unease.
It was almost as if the thief had wanted them to keep following the signs. Liam opened his mouth to say as much and froze. Sharp talons of fear dug into his mind, and he gasped.
“What is it?” Gerald asked, seeing Liam’s sudden pallor.
“It’s almost as if someone is trying to lure us away from camp,” Liam whispered, almost to himself. “I’ve got to get back to camp! Selena’s in danger.”
“We’ll all go,” Matthew said, turning to follow him.
“No, you stay on the trail and find the oxen. I’ll go and make sure the women are all right,” Liam said. He turned and started trotting back to camp at the fastest pace he could manage through the icy slush. Hearing steps behind him, he turned and found Gerald following in his wake. “I’m going with you,” Gerald said firmly.
Liam didn’t want to waste time arguing, so he nodded and led the way. Before they even reached camp, they could hear the other women calling Selena’s name.
“Oh God, no!” Liam located Marcia through the trees and ran straight to her. “What happened?” he asked, clutching Marcia’s shoulders anxiously.
“Selena said she had a few more chores to do and then she was going to join us. When she didn’t show up, I got worried. I came to see if she needed any help, but she’s gone!” Marcia’s eyes were full of concern as she stared up at Liam.
“Where was she the last time you saw her?” Liam asked.
“Over near your tent.” Marcia put an arm around Gerald’s waist, hugging him for comfort as they both followed Liam to his campsite.
Liam noticed the milk bucket near where the cow was tied, and he searched around on the ground. It wasn’t hard to pick up a trail of Selena’s small footprints and the same boot prints they had been following earlier.
“He’s taken her! The bastard’s taken Selena!” His voice sounded so primitive that Marcia shivered.
“You know who it is?” Gerald asked with surprise.
“I think so, but there’s no time to explain right now. I have to catch them.” Liam glanced at Marcia, “You women stick close together. No one should stray from camp. Do you have a pistol?”
“Yes, and a shotgun,” Marcia whispered.
“Good,” Liam said, nodding grimly. “Keep them handy and use them if any strangers show up. I’m going after Selena.” He turned to follow her trail.
“I’m going with you,” Gerald said firmly. “Why don’t we take Adam and Peter’s horses? We don’t know how far we will have to travel, and we’ll have a better chance of catching them.”
Liam didn’t even pause, but yelled over his shoulder. “You go saddle them, and catch up to me. I’m going to stay on the trail.”
Liam followed the tracks for several hundred yards before coming to a small clearing. He could see from the footprints where Selena had been forced against a tree and then lifted onto a horse. Liam’s jaw hardened even further. He turned as Gerald approached. He was riding one horse and pulling the other behind him. Liam quickly mounted and led the way as they picked up the trail once more. At least this time, the bastard hadn’t taken the trouble of covering his tracks.
Liam suspected that Selena’s stepfather was the man who had kidnapped her. Ever since Selena had encountered him at Fort Laramie, Liam had thought about the man and wondered if their paths were destined to cross again. One way or another, he was going to find the bastard and kill him. Liam could only hope and pray he found him before he was able to hurt Selena again.
With every minute that ticked by, Selena’s fears increased. She hoped desperately that Liam would come after her and rescue her, but the more she thought about it, it could be hours before he even knew she was missing. Although she racked her brain, she couldn’t think of any way to get free, the way she was tied to the horse. She worked as inconspicuously as possible trying to free her hands from the loops, but she only succeeded in making the rope bite into her wrists. Jeb’s laughter in her ear made her stiffen.
“Tryin’ to wiggle loose are you, missy? Those knots are tied special. The more you wiggle, the tighter they’ll get.” Jeb laughed again at his own humor. Realizing that Selena wasn’t going to answer him, Jeb searched for a way to ruffle her composure. “You always thought you were too good for me, didn’t you? Well, we’ll see how good you are when I get you beneath me again.”