Jude and the Barratt Man: Chapter 9

He’d put her chair right by his. And he’d done it on purpose. She’s thwarted whatever he was planning by putting Becca in one of the old high chairs he’d had fetched from the attic. Hannah, her four-year-old, occupied the one between Jami and Jessi. Everyone except the children were relatively quiet, attesting to the awkwardness of this meal.

No one truly wanted to be there. Except for him. He shot her a look of cunning satisfaction. Letting her know he wasn’t finished with her at all. That he was planning something.

She remembered how his body had felt over hers.

There had been no real fear in her, not like that time Justice Wharton had cornered her.

Held her still for his bruising, nasty kiss.

This man had only held her while she cried.

And kissed the tip of her nose. Why had he done that?

The meal was finally, blessedly over, and she and Jacob were able to load the girls into the wagon.

Barratt insisted on his two sons accompanying them back home. Insisted they camp out on the porch, to keep the place guarded. He rode along with them, his horse right next to the wagon.

She had to admit the idea of two strong men, even if one was a minister and one a botanist of all things, to help keep their family safe made her feel a bit better.

Not that two young men could stop Justice Wharton and his sons. Their treachery knew no boundaries, after all. Janie and Ally were tired, but they held up well. The Barratt boys helped them get the younger girls off the wagon.

Then it was her turn. She knew better than to even try to climb down on her own. With what had happened at Barratt’s that morning, and the long wagon ride on the narrow wooden seat home, she would most likely fall flat on her face if she even tried. She already felt the telltale numbness in her left leg.

But she didn’t want Barratt to see her that weak. Ever. But what choice did she have? She couldn’t stay in the wagon all night. She turned toward her brother. “Jacob, I’ll need help into the house.”

“Hurting?” Jacob asked. “We’ll get you inside, and I’ll get a warm fire going.”

“I’ll be ok by morning.” She would be, or she’d hide it. Too much work to be done for her to be lazing around. Without her four older nieces around, it was going to take some rearranging of things to get everything done. Those girls were hard workers and she didn’t know if the rest of the girls could fill in the gap, when it came right down to it. Janie could help Jacob, but Ally…Ally already handled so much with the children as it was.

Strong arms reached up to get her out of the wagon and she opened her eyes. Stared straight into his. “What are you doing?”

“Your brother is tending to the horses. I told him I’d help you down.”

No. Surely Jacob wouldn’t have…

But then again, maybe Jacob had done it on purpose. Maybe he’d thought Barratt’s offer of protection meant he’d take care of her. Maybe when it was all said and done, Jacob approved of Barratt somehow? Before she could make up her mind, Hannah started crying for her mama. “I…need to get inside. But I don’t think I can walk right now. Can you…can you…”

Oh, damn her meddling brother. He’d be getting an earful once they were all inside. And the Barratts of Barrattville were gone.

“What?”

“Can you get me to my daughters, please?”

“It would be my pleasure.”

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