Bride by Mail. Katy Madison

Bride by Mail - Katy Madison

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off into the darkness as he chewed. Was he thinking of lying with her? Was he looking forward to it?

      Olivia knew nothing of what actually occurred in the marriage bed. Her curiosity was likely to be satisfied, but Jack was a stranger. He’d said little. If he was eager to bed her, it wasn’t at all clear.

      Would Jack be gentle or would he be impatient? Olivia watched him for clues. All she could tell was that he didn’t seem terribly interested. He hadn’t really kissed her after they were wed. Just a peck on her cheek.

      Her mind swirled back to the brief exchange following the ceremony.

      “What did the minister mean when he said he won’t file the certificate for a month?” she ventured.

      “He meant that if the marriage is a mistake, he’ll tear up the certificate rather than officially record the marriage.”

      “What?” She felt punched in the gut. “Like a trial period?”

      Jack shot her a narrow-eyed look. “Simpler than a divorce if it isn’t going to work.”

      “I didn’t know such things were done.” Her hushed voice shook. A coldness crept into her chest and took root. Was she married or not? She sucked in as much air as she could.

      “Not everyone is suited for life in the Rockies.”

      She bit on her lip until she tasted blood. Would this marriage be as temporary as every situation had been since the deaths of her parents? “D-does that mean it would be like the marriage never happened?”

      “Officially, yes. There wouldn’t be a record.”

      She’d thought she would finally have a permanent home. The coldness in her chest spread as if she’d been shoved outside naked into a blizzard.

      “Did you want him to tell me that?” she squawked.

      “No. I didn’t think it would be a good idea to alarm you.” His voice was tight. Jack leaned forward.

      Olivia jumped.

      He put another pine branch on the fire. The needles flared and snapped, echoing the turmoil inside her. Her stomach quivered, and even if a decent meal had been offered, she didn’t think she could have eaten.

      “Don’t fret. It is just a precaution in case you cannot handle life out here.”

      Or he didn’t want her. Pulling her knees tighter to her chest, she looked down at the ground. Did he want her to leave?

      “Is the jerky that bad?” Jack asked.

      Olivia looked at the remaining piece in her hand and forced herself to take another bite. Her stomach protested. Was he waiting for her to finish eating before taking her to bed?

      Jack pulled out another strip from a pouch and contentedly ate. The strong line of his stubble-darkened jaw caught her attention. His hair was shorter than when photographed, but the ends curled, defying the neatness of the fresh cut.

      She knew so little of him, beyond that he lived in the mountains, trapped and traded with the Indians for furs and wrote of the mountains with reverence. She wanted to learn about him. Perhaps the distance between them could be bridged. “I really want to like it here.”

      Jack grunted.

      Not exactly encouragement to talk.

      Abruptly, Jack stood and brushed his hands on his pants. He looked over his shoulder.

      His expression turned determined, as if he had an unpleasant task ahead of him, Jack lifted the lantern. “I’ve made a pallet of sorts in the wagon. We have a long day tomorrow if we’re to make it home.”

      Home. The word felt foreign. She had been heading to a new home in Boston when the train wreck had derailed her life. She wanted to go home, but wasn’t sure such a place existed for her. Perhaps sharing the night with him would allow her to feel less like an unwelcome intruder into his world.

      Olivia shakily rose to her feet. The stars twinkled in the sky and she couldn’t delay any longer. The jerky sat in her stomach like a lead ball. Jack put his hand on the small of her back. She stumbled forward.

      The march across the twenty feet felt like miles, yet they reached the wagon too soon. Her heart tripped. She rubbed her damp palms on her skirt. Jack stood so close she could feel his heat. His hand on her lower back seared through the layers of clothing, and her knees turned to jelly.

      Setting the lantern on the seat, he slid his hand to her shoulder and turned her to face him. Her body moved woodenly. He cupped both her shoulders. She felt so strange, floaty and yet tense. She wished he would tell her what to expect, that he would take care of her, that she had nothing to fear, but he was silent. Not knowing where to look, she stared at the V at the neck of his shirt.

      He slid his hands across her back and brought her against his body. He was solid, warm and, oh, so strong. She didn’t know what to do, how to respond. So she did nothing, her arms hanging awkwardly at her sides. Tension screamed through her body as strange tingles spread along her skin.

      He expelled a breath before pressing his lips to her forehead.

      With a quick movement, he scooped her up.

      She gasped.

      He hoisted her above the wagon bed’s rim and lowered her. A small place behind the seat had been hollowed out, but the space was only enough for one person, unless he intended for them to pile on top of one another as the chicks did. Hot and cold streams ran down her spine.

      Setting her down on the pile of skins and blankets, he said, “Good night, Olivia.” He returned to the fire, then settled cross-legged by it.

      She sat stunned. “You’re not sleeping here?”

      “I’m not sleeping. I’m keeping watch.”

      Shadows all around concealed any menace. The strange boulders looked as if they’d been marbles tossed out by the hand of a giant. What lurked in their shadows? Her heart hammered. The wind soughed through the trees. “Watch for what?”

      He picked up his gun and laid it across his lap. “Animals.”

      Bears? Olivia nodded slowly and turned to burrow into the bedding. He was her husband and protector. She could relinquish her worries to him.

      Underneath her relief at not facing the mysteries of the night, disappointment curled in her stomach. She tried to tell herself Jack just had a duty to protect her and the animals. But she suspected she had been such a disappointment he didn’t want to make her his wife.

      Chapter Four

      I haven’t traveled since my youth, but I have always dreamed of seeing the Rocky Mountains. I was born in New York. In 1853 my family was moving to Boston when the train had an accident. The engineer missed the signal that the drawbridge was open and the cars fell into the water. My parents did not survive and I never made it to Boston. I would like to know more about your home.

      The fire burned low. The temperature dropped. Jack pulled a hide over his legs. In a perfect world, his wife would be nestled beside him keeping him warm, and they’d be farther from the road where Kincaid and his ilk could chance upon them. Predators came in all shapes and sizes. He added a branch to the fire. The pine needles flared.

      Olivia’s dread of the intimacies couldn’t be clearer. Since leaving town, she’d been unnaturally quiet. Several times she’d jerked away from him. When Jack had hugged her, she’d kept her arms rigidly at her sides.

      When she’d allowed him to touch her, she always stared studiously at his chest rather than angle her chin for a kiss.

      The last thing he wanted was a wife who submitted but would make it clear she hated every second of intimacy.

      But as the hours after midnight ticked by, Jack’s concerns diminished. His thoughts shifted to the strange creature nestled in his wagon. Why had Olivia

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