Forever His Texas Bride (Bachelors of Battle Creek #3)(8)

By: Linda Broday


“Try not to snore too loud.”

He frowned. “I didn’t know I did at all.”

“Just a little but it was probably from the pain.” She curled up next to him and laid her head on his arm. “Good night, Brett.”

“Good night.” He hesitated a long minute, impulse warring with reserve…then slowly laid his other arm protectively across her stomach.

A sense of peace flooded over him. This slight woman who seemed to have no one had awakened a long-buried dream. He silently vowed to protect her for however long he had left.





Three


Brett woke sometime later. He had no idea of the hour. In the lantern light, he stared at his bunk partner’s mass of riotous curls, blowing one away from his nose.

Having a woman in his arms felt nice. It was something he’d never allowed before, something he’d never sought. Yet deep inside, his heart had desperately yearned for this sort of moment. She was very different from anyone he’d ever known. Somehow, even though he lay in a jail cell and listened to a gallows being constructed outside, she made him feel alive and happy.

Rayna stirred. “Are you awake?”

“Yes. Just curious about the time. I don’t want the sheriff or anyone to catch us like this. I would feel great pain if he harmed you because of me.”

She sat up, pushed back her cloud of russet hair, and got to her feet. It was then he saw that she wore a heavy pair of men’s brogans. Where on earth had she gotten them? The shoes looked as though they might’ve come off a very poor dead man.

Her dress was dirty and had been mended so many times it looked like a patchwork quilt with none of the squares matching. But she seemed so spirited, so brave.

If society had ever allowed him to take a wife, he’d want someone like her. He hated to think he’d have spent all his life never knowing what it could be like to be happy like his brothers now were. While he waited to die, maybe they could pretend.

Maybe he could know what it was like to be loved.

Until they led him through those doors to a hangman, maybe he could have the bride prejudice had denied him. The bold notion made ripples dance under his skin.

Brett raised to a sitting position, ignoring the pain shooting through his back. “This may sound crazy, but I’m going to ask anyway. Rayna, do you think you could pretend to be my wife? Just until they take me away? No one will ever know but us, so they can’t hurt you.”

Turning, she dropped down beside him. Surprised tears bubbled in her eyes. “No one ever asked me to marry them before.”

“Is that a no?”

“I’d be honored to be your pretend wife,” she whispered, brushing his face with her fingers. “What do we do now?”

“Do you mind if I kiss you?”

“I’d like that…husband.”

Under her bright gaze, he lowered his head. But before their lips touched, the sound of a key grating in the lock made him jerk back. “Quick, go to your cell before they catch you with me.”

Rayna scurried into hers and quietly eased the door shut.

Just then a deputy sauntered in, taking care to keep his distance from Brett’s cell. “You alive, breed?”

Brett glared. “Disappointed?”

The deputy—a squat man who reminded Brett of a possum with little weasel eyes, grunted, shifting his gaze to Rayna. “Give any thought to my offer, woman?”

No one had to spell out what the deputy meant. Brett sought to tamp down his rising anger. He watched Rayna tilt her head at a defiant angle.

“The answer is the same as all the other times.”

The weasel shrugged and went back out. The minute the door locked shut, Rayna slowly walked into Brett’s cell and sat down beside him again. “I wish I could see the sky and smell the fresh air.”

“How long have you been in here?”

“Over a month, I think. With each sunrise I’ve been making a mark on the wall. The one today makes thirty-one. But no matter how much I want out, I’m not doing what that deputy wants,” she whispered. “I’ll never be a fine lady, but even I have my dignity. No one will ever take that.”

Though still hesitant, Brett took her small, dainty hand. Her skin shone white against his. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d touched someone who wasn’t family, but his pretend wife was different somehow. “Always stand on your principles. In the end, we still have to live with ourselves, look at our faces in the mirror.”

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