Texas Redemption(139)

By: Linda Broday


“Laurel?”

Strain lingered in her father’s question. Dread lodged like a week-old biscuit in her throat. She pulled from her mother’s arms. Where had Brodie gone? She couldn’t face the stern disapproval alone. But Brodie had disappeared.

Raising her chin, she met her father. “I’m home, Papa.”

Ben James hugged her. “All these years and here you are.”

The stripes of his bibbed overalls blurred.

They accepted her, just as Ollie had vowed. So far.

“Your face, child. What happened?” Work-roughened fingers touched her wet cheek.

“It’s a long story, Papa. A wise woman once said a person without scars never fought for anything they believed in. I’m happy to say I’m home because I stood fast and won.”

“You should’ve seen my sister,” Hannah seconded. “Without her courage, I’d be bound for Missouri right now.”

Laurel spotted her love, standing apart from the rest wearing a lop-sided smile. She tugged him forward. “This is Brodie Yates. He asked me to marry him.” She turned to Adeline. “And show Adeline Cade a warm welcome. Our family just got larger.”

“Lordy. Not only do we get our Laurel back, but we have another son. And a new daughter, to boot.” Ben slapped Brodie’s back. “Thank you for watching over my little girl.”

“Don’t give me credit. Miss Olivia Applejack b’Dam had the honor, Mr. James.”

“Plain old Ben, that’s what everyone calls me. That Olivia sure has a fanciful name. I’ll have to ride back and meet her.”

Hotness lurked behind Laurel’s lids. “Ollie’s a little busy polishing a halo and trying to be as good an angel in heaven as she was on earth. We laid her to rest a few days ago.”

“I would like to have known her,” Mary murmured.

“She’s watching and grinning from ear to ear.”

Brodie draped an arm around her. “That she is.”

“Hey, sis. Glad you found the way back,” Quaid said.

“Us, too,” chimed the rest of her siblings.

“I’m waiting for that long story, girl. Let’s go inside.”

“I’ll make some lemonade.” Mary James rushed up the porch.

Brodie’s hand prevented Laurel following. She couldn’t conceal panic in the gaze she favored him with. The shaky footing wouldn’t become solid without his help. He couldn’t back out.

“Aren’t you coming?”

He brushed her jaw. “I have some business in Jefferson while you visit with your folks. Don’t worry, I’m not about to let you out of my sight for long.”

“Is it wise? The general might believe Taft.”

“Not a chance. Shoot, that forged signature of Andrew Johnson almost convinced me.” His soft kiss held desire and promise. “I’ll be back before you know it.”

“I can’t bear us to part. Silly of me, huh?”

“I’m glad. I’ll bring a surprise.”

“Something sneaky up your sleeve?”

“Who, me? I’ll never tell.” Grinning, he untied Smokey.

Keeping an anxious eye out the window, she bared the whole ugly mess since that fateful day, including how Ollie helped her escape. Hannah filled in the ending, which allowed Laurel to give the shady lane her undivided attention. No sign of Brodie.

“You should’ve left that low-down scum to us. We’d show him what happens when you hurt a James,” Jeremiah proclaimed.

“I hope he has to live with nasty pigs,” Millie said.

Mary James held Laurel’s hand as if afraid she’d disappear.

Ben James blew into a faded kerchief. “I failed in my duty.”

Through a misty haze, she stared at the love and harmony in the faces that surrounded her. Grief had aged her father and mother beyond rightful years. She despised Taft more for that than anything.

“Stop blaming yourself, Papa,” she said. “The man is getting his due. We can’t go back and undo what happened.” Her glance encompassed them all. “Hope that I’d see you again sustained me through all the dark times. And yet, shame kept me away after Ollie freed me. I was afraid you’d think badly of me.”