Kate the Kid Ch. 12bymadam_noe©
Author's Note: Thank you to the fans of the series for waiting so patiently for an update. This is not the end of Kate The Kid, keep that in mind, this is just a major chapter on the relationship between her and Rafe. The gang still has to rescue Izzy so there is more to come!
"Dan! Finn!" Kate ran to her friends on the deck of the Adovanti and hugged them both around the neck, they in turn raised her legs, swinging. They set her down, all three grinning madly as Rafe and Jerome watched with smaller smiles.
"It's still amazing to see you in a dress," Dan said, shifting uncomfortably in his own suit.
Kate looked at him and Finn done up like city gents. "I take it Jerome has remade us all?"
"Not everybody," Rafe said after clearing his throat.
She glanced back at him, having noticed him first on the deck of the ship, still in his denim shirt and rough pants. The open sea air blew his hair, almost curly from the humidity that was upon them all like a wall.
He'd left as she was packing to roust the others and it had been Jerome, not Robert, who had come to collect her. To her consternation Jerome had spent the entire morning with her gathering up clothes suitable for the journey, even having a dressmaker take precise measurements and cabling them to a dressmaker in Rome. As they went he told her stories in a melancholy way of his life on the rough streets and how time had removed him from that life, in fact any life, until Izzy had come along.
Even if she hadn't loved Izzy with her whole heart, Kate would cross mountains on foot and swim the ocean to bring Jerome his woman back.
"No, not everybody," Kate said. Smiling she turned back to her old friends. "Who ever thought the gang would be in the states and even leaving them for Europe?"
"So what's the plan?" Finn asked quietly.
"We have a month at sea to figure that out," Dan said. "Let's use some time to find out more on this Vercelli and then we'll come up with a plan."
Kate nodded to Jerome. "If it's worth doing, it's worth taking our time and using it wisely for our goals. C'mon, I ain't never been on a ship, let's explore!"
Rafe watched them race off like children. He'd never been on a ship before but he had other goals. And a month at sea with Kate ought to give him enough time to bring her around to his way of thinking. The woman was too focused on finding Izzy to take the blinders off and really see him. He vowed when they set foot in Italy everything would be different.
"It's amazing, she has no idea, does she?"
Rafe roused himself from his thoughts and turned to Jerome. "About what?"
"I tried to tell her, her mother was the sole heir of the Reynolds dysnasty, and now that makes Kate the heir. The woman could afford to buy three ships like this if she wanted."
Rafe put his hand on his friend's tight arm. "Let's not tell her."
"Why on earth not?"
"Jerome, I mean to marry Kate. I think I knew it before there was talk of a child, and I damn well knew it before there was any talk of money. I don't want anything but her, but I doubt she'll see it that way."
"Rafe, you're playing at dangerous things ere. She has a right to know that at leas one of her parents was a good woman, from a good family, with a solid legacy for her."
"Christ, Jerome. I love her and I have this one chance not to lose her. What could be more important than that?"
Jerome leaned back against the railing and folded his arms. "Is that true?"
Rafe swiped a hand through his hair and then placed his shaky hands on the railing next to his friend. "It is. I know it sounds crazy. She's nothing like Faith, she's nothing like any other woman. Damn it, I wasn't looking for a woman, I had no intention on settling down, but now I know I'll never be happy until I have her with me. Is that so wrong?"
Jerome turned and looked across the sea into the distance where he knew Izzy was, scared and alone but for the bastard Franco. If he touched her...he felt his fist clench and unclench. "No, it's not wrong. Love makes fools of us all, but in the end we're stronger men for it."
"I hope to hell you're right."
It seemed everyone was intent on some for of merriment in order to forget their troubles. Everyone but Jerome and Kate. Jerome retired to his cabin after dinner pleading a headache and need of rest, Rafe disappeared without a word, and Dan and Finn made noises about a poker game, apologizing to Kate that in this world, women did not play.
Alone Kate had three options; retire to her own cabin, stroll the deck, or join the other ladies in a parlor for tea and gossip. Since the latter appealed about as much as a lynching to her and the former felt a mite bit depressing, Kate grabbed one of the shawls Jerome had bought her and headed for the deck.
The ship was one of Izzy's and transported cargo, cotton she learned from the first mate, as well as a handful of passengers. There were just twelve outside their group and after dinner only the crew was on deck, bustling, cleaning, ad patrolling. They all ignored her, and she was grateful.
She allowed her mind to wander at last from Izzy to Rafe. Izzy was safe enough on board one of her own ships she'd have the captain's quarters and Franco would not be allowed to try anything. They would only have to worry upon docking and that was a month off.
Rafe...now that was another matter. Her heart still ached from that morning. How could he share his body with her like that but have no kind words, nothing she wanted to hear? She felt a fool, how her heart had jumped when he had offered to marry her, but it had all been an illusion.
Ruby's words came back to haunt her...Rafe was a man of honor but little emotion. As foolish as it seemed she didn't want to tie her fate to the wagon of a man who didn't love her. But why was that, she asked herself did she love him?
There was a twinge in her chest and she knew the thought was scary. Life was in turmoil right now but she was no further along than she had been the day she met Jerome and Rafe. She needed to strike out on her own. MacMasters didn't change anything, the range was her home, Frisco too, but she needed to settle down and do something ow that the Kid was retired. Perhaps she would talk with Finnegan and get some tips.
Disheartened she pulled the shawl tighter around herself and left the deck for the small passageways leading to the cabins. She slipped the key for her door from her pocket and slipped it into the lock, but the door swung slightly ajar.
"Tarnation," she mumbled and went for her .45 in the other pocket. She kicked the door open with her boot to find Rafe sitting in the small chair next to the bed. All the candles had been lit giving the small pace an intimate light, and the gold of the flames cast his skin dark.
In his suit still from dinner, albeit with the collar open, everything about him was dark except those amazing eyes. The room was delicate and feminine and he seemed impossibly large and masculine against it.
"What are you doing here?"
"Still have the gun, I see."
She put it on the small table and closed the door but didn't lock it. "I packed plenty of ammo, too."
"Have a seat, Kate. I only want to talk. For now."
She started to do as he said but the "for now" stopped her. "What is this?"
"Did you think I would just ignore you? Ignore what we have together?"
That damn twinge in her chest started again. "What we have together?" she softly repeated. "Rafe, I told you, I ain't the motherin' kind, nor the marryin'. And in case you didn't notice, we're on a ship. If you want to tussle again know I only have enough herbs for a few go 'rounds."
Something in that green gaze shuttered. "So practical of you."
She did finally sit on the fine feather mattress with a sigh. "One of us has to be."
"Kate, what are you afraid of?"
She could only blink. She was afraid of so many things. Of losing Izzy, of MacMasters getting free and seeking revenge, of life not being the same again. Of never being Kate the Kid again.
"Kate, I have no home to speak of. I have no family, Jerome is it. I won't ask you to change your life, I just want to share mine with you. You want to ride together, take bounties together? Fine, I'll do it. Yo want to wear men's clothes and drink and gamble? Fine, I'll do that with you, as long as you don't bind that gorgeous bosom again."
She blushed darkly at that and drew the shawl tighter around her shoulders. "What are you saying?"
"I am saying that I want to marry you. I want to be with you, be by your side. I don't care where, I don't care how."
She hadn't expected this. Perhaps an assault on her senses, the fast, furious tumble into ecstasy she so craved, but not this. She looked into his eyes, a cool, level gaze of a gunfighter, and she didn't see what she wanted there. If pressed, Kate couldn't even say what she sought, but it just wasn't there.
"Rafe, we have so much to do. We have to rescue Izzy, and see that she and Jerome get married. Only when that's done can I plan my life."
He remained still, again every inch of him a hardened gunfighter. And God help her, Kate just didn't feel up to the draw. She felt changed she felt strung out, and part of her just wanted him t shut up and hold her, but the old Kid inside her would die before admitting that.
"Kate we have a month. A month where we can do nothing but wait and plan. Give me that time to show you what it would be like. Just you and me, let me show you."
The idea came from nowhere and she felt it had slapped her silly. "What do you mean?"
"No past, no future, just now, give me now. Let me prove to you I'm someone of value. Let me show you everything I have to offer."
And with that he rose and stepped to the bed. The ropes beneath the mattress groaned with his weight and the movement of the ship pushed her into him. All he did was put his hands on her shoulders and kiss her, very softly.
If it hadn't been for that kiss, slow and drugging, she could have said no, could have asked him to leave, but Kate was lost. Her hands slid into his hair, cupping his head and she angled her mouth at his, pressing the seam. At last his lips parted and it was Kate who slid in and plundered.
Her hands wandered down to his open collar, seeking the buttons below, eager to expose his skin.
Rafe grabbed her hands and broke off the kiss, panting as hard as she was. "No, sweetheart. We rushed this before, it can wait. I want you to know there is more than something physical between us."
He could have been speaking Chinese to her and Kate might have understood better. "Then what do we have?"
He stood then and her eyes couldn't help but flicker to the impressive bulge in his pants. Damn it, he wanted her, what game was he playing?
"My dear, if you have to ask, I am going to have to show you. I'd offer to stay but I don't think it's a good idea. Have breakfast with me, nine sharp, my cabin."
He left without her answer and she could only stare. One month of that crazy man? At long last she felt her face split into a grin. At least life would be interesting.
Jerome looked up at the knock on his door. "Come in."
Rafe entered, looking haggard. "I need some advice."
"Have a seat." Jerome closed the account book he'd been going over and slipped off his glasses.
"Faith and I, well, Andre took me in. I saw her day n, day out. Marrying her was as natural as breathing, so was loving her. But with Kate, I'm over my head."
"So what can I do for you?"
"Well for starters, you can tell me how to woo a woman."
Jerome raised a brow. "You're asking me this now? Isn't it a bit late?"
Rafe's jaw just flexed, which made Jerome laugh. "I'm glad you find this amusing."
"I've seen hundreds of girls and women chase you. It's just nice to finally see the tables turned. Don't get me wrong, it'd be mighty nice if you two ended up together, and I want you happy, but forgive me while I laugh at the smitten man who's broken the heart of every maid I've ever had."
"Are you going to help me or not?"
Jerome rose from the bed and headed for the desk. "No time like the present then, to get started."
Three weeks passed like a dream. At first had just been uneasy meals, walks on deck, card games. Then he started to wear her down. Rafe was good at cards and knew every dirty trick she did. They had to abandon poker and pharo for old maid when they discovered neither could out-cheat the other.
He told her stories about growing up in the south, about New Orleans, even about his wife, Faith. At first mention Kate had felt an icy alarm but he spoke of the woman fondly, but in the past tense. Faith sounded like a good woman, and it slightly depressed Kate to know she was her opposite in every way.
By the second week she found herself retelling stories from her youth with the Lakota over breakfast, and stories about Dan and Finn after dinner. By the third week it seemed natural to spend so much time together, and even Dan and Finn had stopped looking at her as if she'd gone mad.
Still, every night he left her at her door with nothing more than a kiss. It left her confused, it left her aching and needy in the night. She began to wear the lower cut dresses Jerome had provided her with, to actually worry about her hair, to kiss him with raw hunger, but the man was unflappable.
Slowly it began to make sense what he was showing her. They did get along, and they got along well. He made her laugh, h melded into her circle of friends with great ease. Dan and Finn were even singing his praises and asking her like little old maids when she planned to make an honest man out of him.
Somewhere along the way, Kate realized she loved Rafe. It had been a long, violent ride. Her life had changed so much and yet looking back at every twist and turn, there was Rafe. He was her anchor in the storm, the constant that would pull her through the hardest change to come.
Izzy and Jerome would marry, start a family of their own. She would always have a home with them, but she wanted one of her own. And she wanted one with Rafe.
She would find a way to make him love her, she knew it, but without Izzy to give her advice there was only Dan and Finn.
When she dared confess her feelings to them over coffee one morning while Rafe met with Jerome to go over their landing plans, she was met with two blank gazes.
"Holy hell, never thought I'd see the day," Dan said.
"That's wonderful," Finn said with sad eyes, his brogue pronounced.
Kate covered his hand with hers, feeling guilty. She had long ago forgiven Finn for dragging her to MacMasters, but he had yet to forgive himself, and she knew that came from love. Love she did not feel for him, not more than she did a brother, but it still bothered her. "You'll find a great gal yourself, Finn."
Her eyes sparkled as she turned to Dan. "Finn's a rancher now, Spotted horse is long married, Izzy will be soon, and I'm retiring. Your turn is next too, Dan."
He raised a dark golden brow. "I doubt it. Look, Kid, as much as this makes me, um, uncomfortable to say, seduce him."
Finn spit out his coffee into cup and coughed long enough Dan pounded him on the back. "He needs to know how you feel, and if you're not ready to say it, show him."
Finn was blushing as darkly s she was, their Irish skin betraying their feelings. At long last he nodded. "Dan's right. But if that bastard hurts you in any way, just let us know and we'll throw him overboard."
They laughed at that and in the back of hr mind, a plan settled into place.
There was only one night left and all the plans were settled, action was all that was required. Jerome had men in Citavecchia where the ships would land soon. His men would tail Franco and Izzy, intervening only if Izzy was in danger. Jerome wanted his own revenge, and the rest of their group was in agreement.
When they landed Jerome would meet his men, taking Rafe and Kate as backup. Dan and Finn would meet the more intellectual of Jerome's men who were investigating Franco, gathering evidence. They all knew there would be a corpse, but Europe didn't work the way the west did and to explain away their actions, they'd need hard evidence.
They had passed the straight of Gibraltar, all of the group save Jerome gawking like greenhorns on a cattle ranch. The white cliffs reminded her of a fairy tale version of the red cliffs in Ute territory.
With one night left Kate decided it was time. Four weeks of anticipation had driven her mad, in the night she touched herself dreaming of Rafe but it was a shallow pleasure, a pale imitation.
She often thought back to their last night in Boston. It had been raw, animalistic, but beneath it all it had been tender. Had Rafe been doing exactly as she was? Was there hope he loved her as well?
Smiling as she pulled out the peignoir Suzy had gifted her, Kate hoped to hell there was a chance.
Rafe was losing his mind. For four weeks he had followed Jerome's advice and courted Kate the way he would a lady, the way he had with Faith. He loved his long lost wife but she was a shadow in his past. He knew she was in a better place, happy that he had found happiness again. If God was on his side she was his angel and would help him.
Kate was fire on flesh, burning life. He ached to possess her, to claim her as his woman in every way a man could. It drove him wild to see her in those gowns day after day, looking softer than she had but still firm. He loved her lithe muscles, her harsh tang, hell he even loved the way she cursed and cheated at cards and didn't take any guff.
She had taken after Izzy and let her hair fall loose, and often on their walks on deck he had just stood there watching the flame colored tresses blowing in the salty air. Every now and then they would tickle his nose and the scent of flowers rose up. Those times were horrible, it reminded him of their first night together and he still felt guilt at all his assumptions.
Thinking back he knew it would make no difference if she had had a hundred men before him. All that Kate had been through made her who she was, and she was the woman he loved.
This was their final night, and instead of cards in the parlor or a walk on deck she had invited him to her cabin for a nightcap. He'd long changed from his formal suit for dinner into his familiar jeans and a denim shirt. He thought of Kate's own jans, the way they molded to those long legs and the heart shaped ass he adored, and suddenly he was uncomfortably hard.
Before he knocked he untucked his shirt to hide it, took a deep breath, and rapped on the door.
"Come in," came Kate's voice, soft and husky, and his blood pulsed slowly through his body.
He opened the door to see a few candles lit, the room cast into a flickering dance of light and shadows. On the slowly swinging rope bed Kate lay, reclined against the pillows, and her beauty stole his breath.
Her hair was wild and lose, almost wavy from the salty air it looked wild and free, just like Kate. Her clothing if one could cal it that, showed more skin than it hid, but it hid enough to tantalize any mortal man into deepest sin.
The material was sheer, but a shade of blue like her eyes, close to violet. Her large breasts swelled up from the material, her rose-colored nipples mere shadow behind the material which skimmed her narrow waist and the flare of her hips to pool between her legs, the auburn curls a deeper shadow. The skirt of it stopped at the tops of her legs and split on each side revealing the lean muscles that were purely Kate's.
"My God," was all he could say.
She gave him a small smile, her eyes as steady as if they faced ac other at high noon across a dusty street. "Close the door, Rafe."
Mechanically he did, hands trembling. He had promised himself and Jerome he would be a gentleman, he wouldn't touch Kate, but how could he resist this?