Trailing Home Ch. 07


"Well, well, well. If it ain't little miss prissy pants herself."

Selena whirled to face her stepfather, and she felt the blood draining out of her face. It seemed as if the months that had passed since she last saw him just faded away, and she was filled with all the terror she had experienced that day beside the creek. Her lungs locked, feeling like someone had punched her in the gut with a hard fist, and she couldn't draw a breath.

"Jeb! What are you doing here?" Her voice came out as a trembling whisper.

Jeb's eyes raked her body, making her skin crawl. The light in his eyes told her that he clearly remembered what she looked like without her clothes.

"Probably the same as you, just passin' through." He glanced around, not seeing anyone nearby. "Are you all by yourself, Selena?"

Selena shot a glance toward Marcia, but the other woman was busy arguing with Natasha. Selena turned back to him as she fought back her panic.

"No, I'm not." She jerked her head to indicate the other women. "Those are my friends. Just go away and leave me alone."

Jeb took a step toward her and Selena instinctively stepped backward, until she bumped into another table of fabric. Jeb was close enough for her to smell the sour whiskey on his breath.

"Don't go gettin' all uppity now, missy. I just wanted to talk with you." His eyes said something entirely different as they settled on her breasts, and Selena couldn't suppress a shudder of revulsion.

"Leave me alone or I'll scream," Selena warned, although her voice was so soft and shaky that he could barely hear her.

Jeb laughed, and the sound sent shivers of dread down her spine. "I don't think you've got enough breath to scream, missy. But don't worry. I'll be on my way. Just remember," Jeb leaned forward to whisper in her ear. His foul breath fanned the side of her face making her nauseous. "You and I still have some unfinished business to take care of, missy. I'll be seein' you around." He raked her with one more lecherous stare and then left the shop.

Selena collapsed back against the table, her knees nearly buckling beneath her. She still couldn't draw a deep enough breath, and her heart was thudding painfully in her chest. Marcia turned to ask her something, and when she saw the look on Selena's face, she came running with alarm.

"Selena, what's the matter? Are you alright?" When Selena didn't answer, Marcia tried again. "Selena! What is it?"

Selena finally looked at Marcia, and her eyes swam with tears. She opened her mouth but no sound came out. Marcia rubbed her trembling hand.

"Whatever happened? You look as if you've seen a ghost and your hands are as cold as death."

Just then Liam and Gerald came back, and when Liam glanced over at them, he came at a run. He hugged Selena against him, noticing her colorless cheeks. "What's wrong, honey?" When he got no response, he looked at Marcia. "What happened?"

Marcia could only shrug helplessly. "I don't know. One minute we were looking at fabrics and the next minute, she was like this."

Selena clutched at Liam's shirt front and buried her face against the base of his neck. "Take me back to camp, please," she whispered, her teeth chattering in her head.

Liam was quick to comply, lending her his support as they made their way through the crowded fort. The Boyds followed, but when they got back to their camp, Liam waved away their assistance, sensing that Selena needed to be alone. He led her to their tent, and she collapsed on their pallet. She was clearly in shock, not responding to his anxious questions.

"Selena," he said, giving her shoulders a shake. "Tell me what happened."

Selena started to cry, and she clutched at his shirt as if she were holding on for life. "He's here," she whispered miserably.

"Who's here?"

"Jeb. He was there in the store. He spoke to me and...looked at me." She shuddered violently at the memory. Selena sobbed against Liam's chest, all her buried fears and painful memories rising up to haunt her again.

"It's alright, sweetheart," he soothed, stroking her hair. "He can't hurt you anymore. I'll kill him if he comes near you again." Liam was tormented by guilt for leaving her alone in the store.

Selena finally calmed, but she remained snuggled against Liam's chest, her fingers clutching convulsively against his shirt front. His steady heartbeat was comforting, and she stroked his chest. When she looked up at him, her chin was still trembling.

"Can we leave here? I know you wanted to stay for a couple of days, but can we please just go? I don't want to stay here."

"Yes, sweetheart. We'll leave first thing in the morning." Liam kissed her gently, and when he raised his head, he was gratified to see a small smile on her face. "I love you."

His words comforted her like nothing else could have, and Selena's smile grew stronger. "I love you too."

Liam held her that night, listening to her soft breathing in the darkness. He hadn't made love to her, afraid that it might scare her again, but he felt closer to her than ever before. He wanted to protect her from everything and everyone that might hurt her, but he was only a man, after all. His inability to foresee the future gnawed at him, but he was going to do everything within his power to protect her. She was his life, his entire world.

Liam awoke during the night as Selena was in the throes of a nightmare. She was whimpering and pushing against him. He rose on one elbow and gently shook her to wake her up.

"It's alright, Selena. It's just a dream."

"Nooo! Get off me. Get your filthy hands off me," she moaned.

"Selena, wake up."

Liam shook her harder and Selena came awake with a gasp. She was still caught up in the dream, and she struggled against him for a moment before she realized it was him.

"Oh, Liam! Hold me," she clutched at him and started to cry. Her sobs wracked her whole body as she clung to him.

Liam held Selena and stroked her hair, kissing her brow and murmuring words of love and reassurance until she calmed. Her hands were curled against his chest, but she reached up to grasp his head and pulled it down for her kiss.

"Make love to me," she whispered, her brow against his.

"Selena, I don't think it's a good idea . . ."

"Shh," she said, placing a finger over his lips to stifle his words. "I need to feel you close to me. I can't explain it, but I need you."

Her words were spoken as a plea, and they went straight to Liam's heart. He pulled her against him and kissed her, letting his lips tell her how much he loved her. For once, she was a greedy lover and she let him lavish love on her. He gave and she took, and he gloried in his ability to comfort her. He pressed her down on the pallet, stroking her breasts and hips, as his kisses wandered down over the swelling curves of her bosom.

Liam let his adoration wash over her as he paid homage to her breasts. He took his time, coaxing tiny gasps of pleasure from her as she arched her back, giving him better access to the succulent flesh. He wandered further, along the undersides of her breasts and over the sleek planes of her waist and belly. His tongue delved into her naval, licking and suckling as she writhed beneath him.

Selena opened her thighs beneath his questing hand, and she stifled a moan as he explored her softness. His clever fingers found her clit, and they lingered there, stroking and probing until she was slick and swollen. When Liam slipped his shoulders between her thighs, Selena frowned and would have sat up, but he gently pressed her back with an outstretched arm across her belly.

"Shh, my love. Let me love you." His voice was a heady caress, and Selena surrendered to his direction.

Still, she couldn't keep from crying out when he kissed her. She would have snapped her thighs shut, but his broad shoulders held them wedged apart. She felt open and vulnerable, fully exposed but not afraid.

"Liam, what are you doing?" she moaned.

"Let me love you," he whispered again, in those same soothing tones.

Liam tasted her, using his tongue to trace her sensitive folds. She tasted tart and musky at the same time, and he was careful to capture every delicious drop of her moisture. His teeth nipped at her, sending hot shards of need into the pit of her belly, then his lips followed to suckle and soothe. Step by step, he pushed her up the mountain of pleasure, nudging her to the brink but always bringing her back.

Selena lost all sense of connection to the world, and his lips, teeth and tongue became her sole focus. All she could think about was what he was doing to her body, and her hips tilted toward him of their own volition, begging for his attentions. She grasped his head, clutching at his skull and biting her lip to keep from screaming from the sheer delight of his touch.

"Liam, please," she gasped, not really sure what she was asking for.

Liam knew what she was begging for, and he pushed her over the edge with one sharp suckle. The sweet sound of her fulfillment washed over him, and he rose above her to watch her beautiful face as spasms of pleasure wracked her body.

He waited until her breath returned to normal, then he stole it again by thrusting deeply into her, not stopping until he was buried fully inside her. Selena's eyes came open and locked with his. She answered his thrusts eagerly, wrapping her legs around him and greedily clutching his buttocks in her hands.

Selena watched Liam in the firelight. His face was etched with concentration as he made love to her. She knew that every kiss, every caress, every stroke of his body into hers was his way of erasing the traces of her earlier abuse. She traced the ridges of his abdomen and chest, threading her fingers through the sprinkling of coarse hairs and tweaking his flat nipples. Her fingers skimmed over his rippling arms and shoulders, and she drank in the sight of his masculine beauty.

When he swooped to claim her breast once more, she grasped him to her, desperate for his kisses. Their faces were close and their breaths mingled as they climbed the last stretch together. Liam snared her gaze and compelled her to stay with him, as they reached the summit and plunged over the top.

Selena felt Liam's seed spilling deep into her womb in pulsing waves, and her eyes filled with joyful tears. It was as if he were washing away all the horrible memories and replacing them with his love. She was his and he was hers, and nothing else mattered in that moment. She clung to him, reluctant to have him part from her as she kissed his sweaty brow, feeling his ragged breath against her neck.

"Thank you," she whispered, stroking his hair back from his sweaty forehead.

Liam rose up on his elbows, and his hazel eyes were glowing as he gave her a lopsided grin. "It was most definitely my pleasure, madam." He gave her a tender kiss. "I love you."

"I know," she said simply.

She slept peacefully for the rest of the night, snuggled in the arms of her husband.


They got an early start the next morning. Liam warned Selena that in most ways, the easiest part of their journey was behind them. They had only a few more days of prairie to cross. Ahead of them lay the formidable Rocky Mountains.

Every mile they traveled helped Selena leave her fears and pain further behind. Thoughts of Jeb faded once more into her murky past, and she began to enjoy the trip again. Selena realized that she and her mother had never talked about her sister in Oregon in front of her stepfather, and as a result, Jeb hopefully didn't know where she was headed. She remembered him talking about wanting to go to California some day. Although the height of the gold rush was over, there were still plenty of men like Jeb who thought they could go out west and make a quick buck by panning for gold. With any luck at all, Jeb was headed for California and she would never have to set eyes on him again. She felt helpless fury that he had murdered her mother and been left free to go his merry way, but there was nothing she could do to bring about justice.

Bouncing along next to her husband, Selena felt her fears and anger gradually recede. It was hard to stay depressed when she had Liam beside her. As the day aged, she felt a renewed sense of hope and happiness, and she once again began to focus on their future together.

One night, sitting beside Liam and staring up into the vast sky streaked with pink and purple, Selena heaved a deep sigh of contentment. "I've never seen anything so lovely," she breathed.

"Neither have I."

Selena looked over to find his gaze focused on her face and she couldn't help but giggle. "Liam, can you be serious for just one minute?"

"I am serious," he grinned. He lay back on the grass and pulled her down on top of him. He released her braid and ran his fingers through her hair. When he looked at her, the heat in his eyes warmed her woman's heart. "I'm seriously in love with you."

"Oh yeah?" she taunted. She rubbed her hips against his, laughing when he sucked in a breath. She leaned down and whispered in his ear. "Then prove it."

He carried her into their tent and did just that. When they collapsed on their pallet, they were completely spent, but there was no doubt in Selena's mind that Liam loved her completely.

Later that night, a violent thunderstorm descended on them. Rain came down so fast and hard that it threatened to wash them away, and lightning flashed all around them. Selena and Liam huddled in the tent, cold, wet and nervous. To protect against the chill, they donned their clothes, and it proved to be lucky that they had. Tiny chunks of hail started falling and Liam jumped up and grabbed Selena's hand.

"Come on," he yelled. "We have to get under the wagon."

He pulled her behind him and they raced toward the wagon, groping in the darkness. They managed to get underneath the wagon just as the skies seemed to open up above them. Hail as large as grapefruits pounded down all around them, and the noise was deafening. Selena clung to Liam, his arms wrapped protectively around her as the chunks of ice careened off the wagon. The hail seemed to last forever, but it finally gave way to rain once more.

The fire had long since been doused, and they huddled together in the pitch blackness. The sky was lit by occasional flashes of lightning, but otherwise, they couldn't see their hands in front of their faces. The downpour was so strong that water washed around them like a river, flowing up to their calves.

"Come on," Liam said again. "Let's climb in the wagon. At least we'll be above this water."

He clutched her hand and they groped their way to the back of the wagon. Liam lifted her up, and Selena crawled inside, being as careful as possible not to damage anything. She heard Liam grunting as he climbed in to join her. They dug dry blankets out of the trunk in the back, and huddled together to share their warmth. It was a long miserable night. Trickles of water came in through tiny holes in the canvass bonnet that had been caused by the hail, and there was no way to stay dry.

The heavy rain finally let up just before dawn, but a steady drizzle continued to fall. When the sky had lightened enough to see, Liam climbed out of the wagon and went to check on the Boyds. They had managed no better. In fact, Gerald had a nasty gash on his head from a piece of hail, but otherwise, they were unhurt.

The animals had fared the worst. The mule had run off, and the oxen and cow were battered, bruised and skittish. Two of their chickens had been crushed when the hail pounded their coop.

Their canvass bonnet was only minimally damaged, but their tent had collapsed and had several large tears from the hail. All their bedding was thoroughly soaked, and some of it had been washed away. In all, their campsite was a mess.

"Well, it will take us at least a day or two to get everything fixed up," Liam said, still surveying the damage. "Let's eat breakfast and then I'll see if I can help Gerald find that blasted mule."

Breakfast was a miserable affair. The drizzle continued to fall, and everyone was cold and wet. Getting a fire to burn was out of the question, even though they had a few dry buffalo chips in the wagon. The ground was too wet and the drizzle would put the flame out before it got started properly. Therefore, they huddled in the wagon and ate stale bread and raw bacon.

"I'll work on fixing the bonnet and the tent," Selena said, as she nibbled on her bread. "I'll try to spread out the bedding as much as I can, but I don't think there's any way it's going to dry with all this humidity."

Liam nodded. "We'll be alright." He squinted up at the sky, but there was not a single break in the thick grey clouds. "Doesn't look like it's going to clear up any time soon, so we might as well do the best we can. Come here," he said, pulling Selena down onto his lap.

He gave her a lengthy kiss that managed to warm her even though she was soaked. When he raised his head, his eyes were shining with love.

"I don't think I said good morning to you," he whispered huskily.

Selena leaned her head against his shoulder and smiled up at him. "Good morning, husband." She was struck by the notion that even though their circumstances were miserable, being in Liam's arms made her wonderfully happy. "Come on. Let's get to work."

Liam and Gerald went in search of the mule. The heavy rains had washed away any tracks they might have followed, so they decided to do a wide sweep around the camp and see if they could spot the animal. In the meantime, Selena tended to the oxen, cow and remaining chickens. She rubbed ointment into their scratches and nicks, talking to the animals to soothe their nerves. She fed them and milked the cow, although the poor thing was so upset from the storm that she had very little milk.

Selena got out her sewing kit and stitched up the small tears in the canvass bonnet. It was hard work, because she had to hold her arms overhead much of the time. However, there weren't very many rips, and they were small. In only a short time, she was finished.

Squinting up at her handiwork, she hoped it wouldn't leak. They had been lucky thus far, and their belongings and supplies had been kept nice and dry. They couldn't afford for their foodstuffs to get wet and moldy. With the price of supplies, they might not have enough money to replace them.

Selena gathered up the sopping blankets that were strewn over the ground. One blanket had washed away, but she found it a short distance from the camp. She wrung as much water as possible out of the muddy blankets, but there was no place to wash them and not much room to spread them out in the wagon. She did the best she could, hoping that they wouldn't mildew.

The tent had sustained heavy damage. There were multiple holes, and Selena shivered when she thought about the pounding it must have received. She was grateful for Liam's quick thinking that had ensured they were safe beneath the wooden wagon when the worst of the hail came down. Had they stayed in the tent, they could have been injured or even killed by the huge pieces of falling ice.

Selena worked diligently, repairing the tent with neat stitches. The drizzle finally stopped by midmorning, and she sighed with relief. She looked out at the sky, and the clouds were breaking up and blowing over. Encouraged that the rain was finally over, at least for today, she decided to try and get a fire going.

She dug through the wagon and fished out some empty canvass bags from the animal feed they had already used. She folded them into thick squares and placed them on the ground before piling some of the dried buffalo chips on top of them. The chips, when dried, burned for a long time without any smell, and they made an excellent source of fuel for the fire. Soon, she had a good fire burning, and she smiled.

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