She slept. She hadn’t meant to, but she’d drifted off after Jami had brought up a tray. She’d tried not to let the worries get to her, but it was hard not to. When she woke, Emmy and Jessi were sitting next to the bed, talking quietly. She hugged Jessi quickly. “Did he hurt you?”
“That arrogant ass of a man? He didn’t hurt me. But I’m not staying married to him. No matter what he says. Always telling me what to do…I told him the first time he didn’t have a right.”
Jessi’s face flamed. “I…I met him up at the creek one day last week. I was…washing the dust off and…he stood on the bank and watched me.”
“She was naked,” Emmy said around a grin. “And he kissed her.”
“Did he force himself on you?”
She shook her head, sending red curls flying everywhere. Jessi and Jami had their mother’s red hair and their aunt’s wild curls. And their father’s big blue eyes. They were absolutely stunning, and unlike twins Emmy and Izzy, completely identical down to the last freckle. “No. But he insisted I give him a kiss before he’d give me back the reins to my horse. So I kissed him. And then he promised he’d find a way to get more from me and soon.”
“And he was the one behind last night, wasn’t he? That’s how he knew you weren’t a boy. Why he went right to you and didn’t even look at the others. Even Jami.”
“Yes. He’s manipulative. And used to getting what he wants.”
“Where did he take you?”
“To his place. It’s up on the creek. It’s nearly finished. He’s been building it for a while.”
So Jessi would have her own place, in the land that she so obviously loved. With a husband who’d wanted her specifically and not just any random wife. She felt a little hope at the prospect of a happy future for this niece. A rancher for Jessi, a doctor for Jami. What about Emmy and Izzy?
“Girls, I need to get up. And dressed.” She wore only a man’s shirt. A big man’s shirt. And it smelled faintly like him. Like the bed did. “And get home to the rest of the girls.”
Emmy smiled and leaned closer. “Daddy’s coming. For dinner. The girls, too.”
“Barratt went to Finley Creek and talked to dad. Left two of his sons with Janie and Ally to help with the chores. They’re bringing the kids over for dinner. Barratt said…he said we were all a part of his family now. And he wanted us to get to know each other. Izzy and Jami are helping the cook in the kitchen.”
“Just like that? Everything’s settled just like that?” Emmy and Jessi shared a look. Jude stared at them, knowing these two were straight-shooters and would tell her the truth.
“Most everything is settled,” Emmy said. “Except…I heard…he told one of his sons that he wanted a pretty woman in his bed and since there was already one in it, he was going to keep her. Well, you.”
“Did he now?” She bit out the question.
“Yes. I think that’s why he’s being so nice to dad, now. Because of you.”
“So if I’m nice to him, everything is nice between our families. I see.” And she did. He was no different than Wharton under his skin, was he? A man wanting what a man wanted, and a woman had no real choice in the matter. Well, she wasn’t going to make it easier on him.
He was not getting her.
She looked at her nieces. “I’m going to down there. Get me out of his bed. Right now.”
There were a damned lot of Finleys. Hughes held open the door while he sons Mick and Jack helped the Finleys out of their wagon. His eyes narrowed on how his boys treated the two older unmarried girls. Interesting.
He’d figured the girls would be snapped up pretty quick. Were his boys thinking the same thing?
The spirited girl glared at him, but she allowed Mick to lower her from the wagon. She didn’t pull away from Mick’s hands. Jack had the smallest girl, while her cousin climbed down. He passed the baby back to her.
The rest of the young’uns and Finley himself filed by. Every last one of them females stared at him like he was the ogre from a fairy tale.
He heard footsteps on the stairs leading into the kitchen behind him. There she was. Her cheeks were red with anger, and her hair was still down around her shoulders. She’d brushed it. With his brush? Her clothes had been cleaned from the straw, but they were still older. He had some of his wife’s old things in storage, but they would be far too big for this little firebrand. And out of style. He’d have to have the mercantile get in some new fabrics for her. All of his daughters-in-law would need new dresses soon, as well.
The baby girl started babbling the instant she saw her mama. That had the fire going out of her cheeks and her eyes softening and her hands going out toward her little one.
She laughed and cuddled her daughter in her arms, careful of her left side. There were three more little ones rushing to her side, none of them bigger than a grasshopper. So small and vulnerable, weren’t they? And if he had his way, soon to be his responsibility.
His daughters-in-law hugged their father, then their sisters.
There was a lot of chatter and reassurances flying everywhere.
Hughes barely knew what to make of it. His boys were silent, but they watched their wives closely. Mick and Jack could barely look away from the other two girls.
So that was the way of it for them. Good. He’d like them all settled and soon. Making those grandbabies he wanted.
He put his hand on the aunt’s shoulder. “Dinner will be ready soon. If you want to wash your girls up a bit first.”
“Thank you.” Her tone was cool with him, and blue eyes studied his face.
“We’ll talk later, pretty little girl. I can promise you that.”
“We most certainly will.” Her daughter had her hands buried in her mother’s hair and was giggling. Beautiful. Sweet. A little family.
He’d missed the sound of young’uns in his place. Grown sons just weren’t quite the same.
He wanted a wife of his own. He wanted her.