Trailing Home Ch. 02byharemgirl©
Selena reached the docks the following afternoon to find them in a state of near pandemonium. It took her a while to locate the Arabia among the various craft that were anchored nearby. She was somewhat surprised that it wasn't a larger boat. The Arabia was twenty nine feet wide by one hundred and seventy feet long. She was built of wood and painted white, with two full decks and a pilot house perched on top. The lower deck accommodated the cargo, and there was a large paddle wheel at the rear that was powered by the wood burning engine. Black smoke from the engine was channeled through the two large smokestacks at the front of the craft. The upper deck was surrounded by a wooden rail, and the interior of that deck consisted of a kitchen, dining room and a number of small cabins for the few passengers that would travel onboard.
A throng of people and animals were crowded around the steamship, waiting for their turn to load themselves or their cargo on board. Priority was given to loading the precious goods that would be sold for profit in the various frontier towns such as Independence, Westport, St. Joseph, Omaha and Council Bluff.
In turn, the economies of the various towns depended on reselling the goods to the local residents and the multitude of emigrants who passed through their borders on their way to Oregon, Utah and California. During the few months of spring, when travelers were beginning their trek across the west, those towns, known as jumping off sites for the Oregon Trail, would make enough money to sustain them through the remainder of the year.
Selena had arrived early, and was glad she did, for she began to despair of ever finding Liam McKenzie among the crowd. She made her way through the noisy mob, jostling and stumbling as she was buffeted about by humans and beasts alike. She was barely five feet in height, and it was impossible for her to see very well over the broad shoulders and backs that seemed to pen her in on all sides. Out of desperation, she climbed onto a stack of wooden crates, finally managing to win a clearer view of the scene around her. She scanned the sea of faces, looking for the tawny head that was so fresh in her memory from the night before, but she couldn't see Liam McKenzie anywhere.
Unfortunately, her position provided more than just a vantage point for Selena. A group of rowdy youths nearby took notice of the dark haired beauty, and one of them elbowed his companions.
"Look at her!" His tone was full of awe, for he had never viewed a woman so fair of face or form. "She looks like she could use a little male assistance, and I'm just the man to offer it."
"Ha! You haven't got what the lady needs. She looks like she could use a real man." This bolder youth thrust his thumbs into his belt loops and puffed out his chest, making his friends laugh. "Stand aside boys."
"Now wait just a minute, I saw her first!"
"Yeah, well I'm going to get to her first!"
His buddies were not to be outdone, and as a group, they began to elbow their way through the crowd to get a closer look at the girl.
Liam McKenzie had been bent over near his trunks, examining a crack in the wood that needed sealing when he heard their exchanged comments. Curious as to what had drawn their attention, he stood and watched them making their way through the horde. When he spied Selena standing on some crates looking around, he gave an exasperated growl.
For a man who was normally quite articulate, his vocabulary was quickly being reduced to that single word, and he knew the cause could be attributed to one Selena Darcy! Liam expelled a low growl of frustration and set out in pursuit of the disorderly youths.
Selena had been scanning the people around her for several minutes, but she hadn't spotted Liam McKenzie among them. She was about to climb down and move farther along when she felt a hand grip her calf and massage its length with bold familiarity. She gasped and looked down into the leering face of a dark-haired man.
"Hello there, little lady," he grinned. The man assessed her rudely with his eyes, making Selena inwardly cringe as he ogled her bosom. "Are you all alone here, 'cause I'd be glad to provide you with some company."
Selena raised a haughty brow and jerked her leg away from his offending hand. "No thank you," she replied coldly. "I am looking for someone, but I don't need any help from you."
Her rebuff caused several nearby men to chuckle, and Selena felt the hairs rise on the back of her neck. The last thing she wanted was to draw the attention of a bunch of men. The dark-haired man frowned sharply, not wanting to be embarrassed in front of his friends.
"Hey now, darling. There isn't any need to be rude." He reached up without warning and grasped Selena's hand, giving it a sharp yank. She squealed as she toppled and landed in the lout's outstretched arms. "That's better," he laughed, crushing her against his chest while his hand boldly cupped Selena's bottom. "Say, you're even softer than I thought you'd be." His friends roared with laughter.
"Take your hands off me!" Selena cried. The overwhelming smell of whiskey nearly made her gag, and she struggled against the stranger's arms as a familiar sense of panic began to rise within her. "Let me go!"
The randy youth was about to refuse when a steely voice intruded from behind him. "You heard the lady, let her go." The words were spoken softly, but their tone brooked no refusal.
Selena was relieved to find herself abruptly released, and she sidestepped her assailant to scramble behind Liam's broad back. Her relief was instant.
Recovering from his momentary surprise, the dark-haired man squared off to face Liam, and his friends rallied around him, boosting his confidence even more than the whiskey he had imbibed. "Mind your own business, mister. I was just talking with the lady."
"She is my business, she's my sister," Liam stated. "Now you boys go on about your business and leave us in peace."
It was obvious that the youth didn't appreciate being called a boy, especially in front of Selena, and he frowned as he drew himself up to his full height. He was almost as tall as Liam and a good deal heavier.
"I was just trying to get to know her better." He winked suggestively to his friends before continuing. "I think she likes me."
Liam was not amused. He gave the boy one last stern look before turning away and grasping Selena's elbow. "Come on," he growled near her ear.
They had only gone a few steps when Liam was tackled from behind. He landed on the ground with the dark-haired youth on top of his back, and Selena clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle her scream. Liam rolled over and slammed a fist into the younger man's jaw. The scuffle was over in a matter of moments. The dark-haired youth was no match for Liam, and with a few well aimed punches, Liam had reduced him to an unconscious heap. The boy's friends stood slack-jawed. They had never seen their leader bested in a fistfight.
Liam pinned each one of them with a glare before asking quietly, "Anyone else want to try?" The boys were quick to give a negative shake of their heads but remained mute. "Good." Liam bent to retrieve his hat before taking Selena's suitcase from her hand. Once again, he grasped her elbow and turned her toward his trunks. "Come on."
As they were walking away, Selena leaned toward him anxiously asked, "Are you alright Mr. McKenzie?"
Liam gave her an irritated frown, but he bent to whisper in her ear. "If you are expecting other people to believe that you're my sister, you'd better start calling me Liam."
Selena swallowed hard. His husky voice and warm breath on her neck had caused a shiver to run up her spine, and it wasn't from dread. "Alright...Liam. Are you alright? Did that man hurt you?"
Liam looked even more annoyed, and he fixed her with a condescending glare. "I am the youngest of three brothers, Selena. I learned to defend myself in a fight at a very young age."
Selena bristled under his scorn, and she raised her chin to a lofty angle. "Well I was just concerned. How was I supposed to know you are such an experienced brawler?"
Liam stopped and glared down at her. "I'm not in the habit of getting into fights. I wouldn't have gotten into that one if not for you. I'm already beginning to wonder why I allowed you to come along."
"Are you blaming me for what happened?" Selena asked incredulously. "It certainly wasn't my fault that those men accosted me. I was minding my own business."
Liam's brows drew together over his nose in a disapproving frown as he scanned her face. "It looked to me like you were putting yourself on display, standing up on those crates like you were. It was only natural that you would draw men's attention, dressed like that." As he spoke, his eyes took in her appearance, and he realized that the dress she was wearing today was a vast improvement over the previous evening's apparel.
While this dress was modest, it fitted her frame to perfection. It was sewn from light blue cotton, and the high collar and long sleeves were trimmed at the edges with a delicate white lace. The dress was fitted superbly over Selena's bosom, waist and hips, and Liam was gratified to know that he hadn't been mistaken. She had a very shapely figure. It wasn't the cut of the gown that made it so alluring, it was what it contained. Selena's curves were ample but sleek, and her waist was tiny enough that Liam's hands fairly itched to span its circumference.
Irritated with himself for letting her comely form distract him from his topic, Liam frowned even harder. "From now on, don't flaunt yourself, and maybe I won't be forced to do battle with every man from here to Oregon to defend you." Liam turned and led her toward where his trunks were sitting on the dock.
"Flaunt myself? How dare you!" Selena had to trot to keep up with Liam's long strides. "I was merely trying to find you in this mob. I couldn't see you from where I was standing."
They reached his trunks, and Liam set her suitcase on top of the largest one. "Fine. Now that you have found me, please try your best to be inconspicuous from now on, alright?"
"Fine," Selena ground out.
Her anger mixed with self-reproach, and she looked away so that Liam wouldn't see the tears in her eyes. She had worn this dress hoping to make a better impression on him than she had the day before. She had taken special care to braid her long hair and swirl it into an attractive bun at the crown of her head, and for once she had let a few wisps escape to curl around her face and neck. The dress was her best, and she had hoped he would find her attractive in it. However, judging by his reaction, Liam wasn't impressed. In fact, he frowned with displeasure whenever he looked at her, and it had stung her pride.
A few moments later, they heard the call to load passengers onto the steamship, and Liam turned to Selena. "That's us."
He handed her suitcase to Selena and hefted the largest trunk onto his back. He lifted the smaller trunk into the crook of one arm, and without looking at Selena, he started toward the steamship. "Come on," he said gruffly.
Selena followed at his heels, noticing that he toted the two trunks seemingly without effort. They climbed the ramp to board, and Liam had to pause to show their tickets to the steward. He didn't realize that Selena stood so close beside him, and he nearly set the trunk on her feet. When she skittered back a step, he frowned at her.
"Well, watch yourself," he grumbled. "I'm not going to coddle you if one of these trunks lands on your feet and breaks your toes."
Selena gave him a narrow eyed glare. "Don't worry Mr. McKenzie. I told you I won't be a burden, and I meant it. Now that I know you don't pay attention to where you set these, I'll be more cautious. I know how to take care of myself."
"Liam," he said sharply, glancing toward the steward who stood nearby to make sure he hadn't overheard.
"What?" she hissed.
"You're supposed to call me Liam, remember?" he whispered impatiently.
Selena took a deep breath to cool her temper. "Fine...Liam. As I said, I can take care of myself."
"That remains doubtful, but I would appreciate it if you would try."
Without setting the other trunk down, Liam fished their papers out of his shirt pocket and held them ready. When the steward reached them, he examined the documents briefly and then directed Liam to the area where he could stow their trunks. Liam lifted the smaller trunk and headed in that direction without a backward glance.
Selena silently seethed as she watched him walking away. She took hold of her suitcase and followed in his wake, silently contemplating several unpleasant scenarios that she wished would descend on her escort at that moment. She doubted he would be so condescending if he were dealing with oozing boils, itchy underpants or a rapidly swelling nose, and had she been a sorceress, she would have been tempted to conjure such tortures just to gratify her sense of outrage. What had made her think that this man was charming? He was arrogant, egotistical, and rude, and she didn't appreciate him treating her like a child. She was beginning to feel that she had made a grievous mistake.
They stowed the two trunks, and Liam paused only long enough to remove a small suitcase from the smaller chest. He refastened the lid and turned to take her suitcase.
"Come on," he grumbled.
"Where are we going now," Selena asked, struggling once again to keep up with his long strides.
"We're going to find our room. I booked a cabin for the journey to Kansas City so I'd have a private place to sleep. You can share it with me."
Selena stopped dead in her tracks. Her voice came out as a nervous squeak. "No, that's alright. Perhaps I could book a separate room."
Liam rolled his eyes upward and gave a long-suffering sigh before glaring down at his charge. "Selena, there are no other rooms available. The ship is fully booked, and I'm certainly not going to allow you to sleep out on deck."
"I wasn't asking your permission," Selena stated. She wasn't about to let on that the idea of sharing a private cabin with this man made her stomach flutter. "I'll sleep wherever I see fit, and you don't have any say in the matter." As she said the last, she reached to pull her suitcase from his hand, but Liam refused to let it go.
Liam was normally a mild-tempered man, but this slip of a girl had a way of getting under his skin. He leaned closer, using his height to tower over her as he glared down his nose at her. "Let's get one thing straight. If I'm going to let you come along with me, you have to agree that I am in charge. I refuse to be saddled with a harebrained female who doesn't even know how to look after herself and refuses to follow the simplest of instructions. Now is that clear?"
"Harebrained! Why of all the nerve! Give me that," Selena yanked furiously on her suitcase, but was unable to pry it loose from Liam's strong fingers, and she stamped her foot with impotent rage. "Give me my suitcase this instant! I've changed my mind."
Liam looked amused and he needled her harshly, "Oh, and just where were you intending to go, back to the pub? You didn't get enough of your lusty boss yet?"
"Any place is better than here with you!"
Liam grabbed her arm none too gently and began towing her along in his wake, ignoring her struggles of protest. When several other passengers stopped to gape at them, Liam pulled her between some tall stacks of wooden crates and dropped the suitcases to take hold of both her shoulders. He gave her a light shake.
"Stop it now, you're making a spectacle of yourself," he said harshly.
Selena was too furious to listen to reason, and she pummeled him with her fists. Her frustration mounted when she saw she was having no effect at all. "Let go of me! I don't need you. I want to get off this boat."
Liam yanked her against his chest to subdue her flailing fists, and they both stilled instantly. Their bodies were in contact from knee to chest, and everywhere they touched was infused with heat. Slowly, almost reluctantly, Liam bent to kiss her. At first, Selena stood stiffly in his arms, but as Liam's warm lips explored hers with gentle coercion, she began to relax against him.
Selena held her breath as she waited for the familiar panic to start, but all she felt was warmth beginning to grow in the pit of her belly. His lips were firm and insistent on hers, and when his tongue flicked across her lips, it felt only natural to open for him. He surged in, letting his tongue explore the warm recesses of her mouth, and Selena sighed as she slid her arms up to wind them around his neck. The sensation of having her breasts pressed intimately against his solid chest was an unexpected thrill, and she moaned.
Liam felt a surge of possessive hunger when he heard her, and without conscious thought, he pressed her back against the crates as his mouth became even more demanding on hers. He was gratified by her eager response and his hand drifted down to cup her bottom, exploring the luscious flesh boldly. His mind reeled from the feeling of her soft body, and he could feel the blood pounding through his loins when a nearby whisper broke through his awareness.
"I thought he said she was his sister!"
"I never seen anybody kiss his sister like that!"
Liam looked up to see two of the young men they had encountered earlier gawking at them. When they saw Liam's heated glare, they took off at a run, disappearing from sight.
Selena's eyes were just fluttering open, and she looked up at him with a dazed frown. Angered by the realization of how completely she had forgotten herself, she shoved against Liam's chest. "Let me go! I said I want to get off this boat."
No sooner had she said the words than they heard a load whistle, and the boat broke free from its moorings. There was a shudder as the engines fired up, and they were in motion, bound for Kansas City and beyond.
Liam raised a tawny brow and consented to release her from his arms. "Well, it looks like it's too late for you to leave. We seem to be stuck with each other, so come on."
He snatched up their suitcases and stalked away, leaving Selena to catch up. What the hell was the matter with him? If those two hadn't interrupted, he might have ravished the wench right there on deck. There was no way in hell this charade was going to work, and it would soon be clear to everyone that they were not siblings, at least not normal siblings!
Liam was a normal, red-blooded male, and he couldn't expect himself to travel two thousand miles with a beautiful woman and not take a few peeks at her or steal an occasional kiss. He didn't want to risk any other people thinking they were an incestuous couple. He was going to have to think of some other way they could travel together and still protect her reputation.
Selena trotted behind him, blinking back tears of frustration. What was the matter with her? She had thrown herself at Liam like some cheap slut, and while the experience of his kiss had left her feeling warm and giddy, it obviously had not had the same effect on him. He was frowning as if the kiss had been distasteful, and her cheeks flushed with shame. Well, that would be the last time she allowed him to kiss her!
Liam led the way down a narrow corridor and located their cabin. It was a tiny cubicle that barely had enough room for the two of them to stand side by side next to the narrow bed. There was a tiny window that let in enough light to see through the gloom and a shelf above the bed where suitcases could be stored. As soon as the door closed behind them, Liam felt desperate to get out of the cabin. He needed to put some distance between himself and Selena, and the thought of sleeping in this enclosed space with her would be too much for his self restraint.