20 Jun The Scarlet Wedding is coming soon
A look back:
As his arms circled her, William thought again how perfect a fit she was in them. He had never expected to fall in love with another woman after Catherine, but as he twirled the beautiful blond woman around, he knew he had done just that. Yet he wasn’t scared. In fact, he was exhilarated. The thought of a life with her filled him with excitement each day.
“You’re not a bad dancer,” Emma teased up at him.
“I’m actually a very good dancer,” he responded. “It just takes me a minute to warm up.”
“By the end of the night, I expect to be amazed then.”
He tightened his grip on her and pulled her closer. “I’m amazed every day I spend with you,” he whispered down at her.
A rosy pink color flooded her cheeks, and she shook her head. “Flattery will get you nowhere Mr. Cook.”
“Well, then how about this?” Though the music played on, he stopped moving and dropped to one knee. “Emma Stewart, you have reopened my heart to God and to love and for that I am truly thankful. Will you do me the honor of being my wife?”
A silence fell as the crowd around them realized what was happening. Even the music stopped. Emma glanced around before returning her gaze to him. “Of course I’ll marry you, William.”
Clapping and cheers erupted around them, but William barely heard them. He stood, scooping the woman he loved up and twirled her around. Though he had not thought it possible, he had finally found his way home.
“You’re so lucky” Carrie sighed as the girls got ready for bed that night. “That proposal was so romantic.”
“I’m sure yours will come soon,” Emma said with a smile. “I saw you dancing with Phillip Alder, and he had stars in his eyes.”
“What about me?” Jennie asked.
Emma laughed. “You have a few years yet, Jennie Bean, but there’s a man out there for you as well. You just have to be patient.”
Jennie’s lower lip fell out in an adorable pout. “I want to be older now. I want to be kissed like you were, Emma. It looked so romantic.” She put her little hand on her forehead and fell onto the bed.
“Oh, dear,” Emma said. “We have our work cut out for us with this one.” She slipped off her dress and climbed into bed beside Jennie. Carrie followed suit and climbed in on the side of Jennie.
“Have you thought about the wedding yet?” Carrie asked.
“He just proposed tonight,” Emma said, but she had already been thinking about the wedding. She wanted it in the church of course. Carrie would be a bridesmaid and Jennie the flower girl. Emma wondered if William would ask Samuel to be his best man. The two had been spending a lot of time together building William’s homestead, but he had also been spending time with Jesse Jennings.
Of course, Emma had also been spending time with Kate Jennings. The two were fairly close in age and had started spending more time together when William made it clear he was staying and courting Emma. Once or twice a week, they would get together and trade secrets and recipes. They also spoke often of children.
Of course, Kate was going to reach that milestone first. She was with child and nearing her fifth month. Though Emma enjoyed seeing her friend grow, she couldn’t help feeling jealous, and so she hoped William would be okay with a fairly short engagement. She couldn’t wait to start a family with him.
“I know he just proposed tonight,” Carrie continued, “but I bet you’ve been thinking about the wedding since the first day he kissed you.”
Emma was glad the light from the lantern was low so her sisters wouldn’t see her blush. She had been thinking about the wedding since that day. Well, not the wedding itself, but the marriage. She had already had one wedding, but her first marriage had ended so shortly it was almost nonexistent.
As much as Emma loved her family, she wanted to be a wife again, to run her own homestead, cook for her husband, and enjoy quiet times in front of the fire. Of course, eventually she hoped to fill the house with children, but that was at least a year away.
“Get some sleep,” Emma said in answer. “We can talk more about the wedding tomorrow.”
“Do I get to throw the flowers again?” Jennie asked, her voice heavy with sleep.
“Yes, Jennie Bean, you can throw the flowers. Now, get some sleep.”
Carrie and Jennie obliged, but it was Emma’s own mind that refused to shut down. When it wasn’t reliving the wonderful night and the proposal, it was thinking forward to what had to be done for a wedding. She would need to make the cake, get flowers, see if she could alter her old wedding dress a little. Emma couldn’t afford a new one, and it would have been a frivolous waste of money anyway.
William left Emma’s house with a smile on his lips. Though he had been nearly certain she would say yes, there was always the small chance of a no.
However with the positive response, he could now relax and focus all his energy on finishing the homestead. It was nearly complete as he had spent the last few months on it, but he needed to finish the interior caulking and get the rest of the furniture.
That would require a trip into a larger town though. Sage Creek was growing, but it wasn’t quite large enough to have the type of furniture he had in mind, and he wanted the best for Emma. Perhaps he could do that in the next few days.
“You’re a hard man to track down.”
William started at the voice and reached for his gun. Retired or not, he still liked having it attached to his side and rarely went anywhere without it.
“Easy now,” the voice said, and a moment later William relaxed as the man stepped out of the shadows. Though it had been awhile, William would have recognized that mustache anywhere.
“What are you doing here, Jack? I’m retired.” William walked past the man who had convinced him to become a bounty hunter and up the few steps to his porch.
“Yeah, I heard that. Didn’t really believe it though,” Jack replied. “Wild Bill Cook no longer hunting? It just doesn’t seem right.”
“Well, it is. I’ve been out of the game for months. This is my life now.” William motioned to the house.
“Are you really ready to settle down?”
“I was settled down once before if you remember.” William said.
Jack’s fingers traced his mustache. “That’s right. You were married before. What was her name?”
“Catherine,” William said. “After her death, I wasn’t sure I would ever marry again, but I love Emma and I am ready.” William folded his arms across his chest, “and even if I weren’t, this here keeps me from getting back into bounty collecting.” He pointed to the scar on his neck. “Got wounded on the bounty that landed me here. Emma nursed me back to health, but I wasn’t ready to settle down. Took another job, but landed in the wrong place at the wrong time and took a punch to the neck. The bullet fragments shifted. Ended up having to have a tracheotomy. Doctors in Dallas told me I should give up the hunting life. So, I’ll ask you again, Jack, what are you doing here?”
William froze at the mention of the name. John Holden, his first job as a Bounty Hunter and the job that had gotten Emma’s late husband, Joseph, killed. “What about him?”
“Can we talk inside?” Jack motioned to the front door.
William debated for a moment before nodding. He led the way through the mostly empty living room into the kitchen area. Here, at least, he had already built a table and some chairs. He pointed to one and pulled out a second one for himself.
“So, what about Holden?”
Jack took a deep breath and ran his hands over his mustache and down his chin. “After we picked up Holden, he was being held in the Dallas jail until his trial. About a week ago, he managed to disarm a guard and escape.”
The thought turned William’s stomach over. John Holden had been notoriously evil before he was arrested and having him out again was an unsettling thought, but it was no longer William’s fight. “I’m sorry to hear that, but you have great men. I’m sure you’ll be able to capture him again.”
“There’s more, Bill.”
“It’s William, now.”
Jack nodded and then dropped his eyes to the table top. His index finger tapped a few times on the wood, and William bit the inside of his lip to keep from snapping at the man to spit it out.
“You remember how connected he was?” Jack finally asked, raising his eyes to meet William’s once again.
“Yes, I remember.”
“We got word that he’s gotten a few good men together and wants revenge on those who put him in prison.”
William stiffened. He didn’t want Holden anywhere near this town, Emma, or her family.
“He’s going after their families. Most of us don’t have many left, but…”
“Mabel?” William asked. He hadn’t spoken the name in years, but she was his only family outside of Emma.
Jack looked up. “Who?”
“My half-sister,” William said, blinking away old memories. “We haven’t spoken in years. How would Holden even know about her?”
“He might not,” Jack said with a sigh. “But, William, you know how dangerous he is. He went after my brother. He was shot at the saloon two days ago. From what I can gather from witnesses, it was Holden. I didn’t know about your sister, but I came out here to warn you and to ask you to join me. My brother lived in Roseville, so we’ve dispatched the Rangers there. They’ll spread out from Roseville and update the local sheriffs. I’ve also rounded up as many bounty hunters as I can to track him, but I want to find him first and I want you with me. Not only are you a great shot, but your sister could be in danger.”
William closed his eyes as he processed the information. Roseville wasn’t far from Barefoot Glen where he had grown up and where Mabel probably still lived though he hadn’t spoken with her since their mother died. Emma wouldn’t want him to go. In fact, if he were honest, he felt a small sliver of fear at the thought of going. What if he didn’t make it back to Emma? Or what if he received an injury that would cost him his throat and his voice? But it was Mabel, and while they hadn’t been close, she was still his sister. And what if Holden didn’t stop there? If Hardesty found him, Holden could too and then Emma and her family would be in danger as well.
“Please William,” Jack said. “He was my brother.”
William opened his eyes. “I need to talk with Emma.”
“I understand,” Jack said. “I’ll be heading out tomorrow by noon. I can’t lose him. Will that give you enough time?”
No, it wouldn’t give him enough time. He needed another few weeks to finish the house. He wanted to marry Emma first, to start a family, but he couldn’t say those things aloud. “I guess it will have to,” William said instead. “And why don’t you stay here tonight? I’ve only got the one bed right now, but I have plenty of blankets.”
“Thank you,” Jack said. “That’d be nice.”
William nodded, pushed back his chair, and led the way to the bedrooms. The house had three. One for Emma and himself and two for the children he hoped to have one day. As he set Jack up in one of the rooms, he couldn’t help wondering if his decision would keep that from ever happening.