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The attack came just like Hughes had expected it would. 

Early in the morning, before the rest of the house was awake. The yell of fire came. Like he had expected it to.

He hurriedly slipped his trousers on, as Jude sat up in the bed behind him. “What is it?”

“Fire. One of the barns.” 

She gasped. 

“I suspect it’s Wharton. Trying to pull us outside, so he can split us all up.” Hughes wrapped his hand around her good arm. “You are not to leave this house, honey. Stay inside, with the girls and your children. I have enough men here to handle this, and keep you safe.”

He had thirty-two men hidden around his property. He’d brought them in the back way. Some of his brothers’ hired men, ranch hands, neighbors, and every one of his brothers’ grown sons. 

No one threatened the Barratts of Texas. No one. 

Hughes had been expecting an attack just like this. It’s why he had some of his best stationed around the house—watching. Waiting.

“Hughes? I…be careful. Please, just be careful.”

“I’ll be fine, honey.” He opened the drawer next to his bed. Withdrew the Adams revolver he’d carried twenty years earlier when he’d defended his home and his neighbors. “You know how to use this?”

She nodded. “Jacob has one just like it. He taught me. Taught all the girls old enough how.”

“You keep this with you. Keep the girls in the parlor. There are no windows there. But if something happens and you need to get out of the house quickly, there’s a secret exit. Second shelf from the left directly behind my desk. Hit that ugly green book. Just pull it right out. A door will open. Take the girls and go out that way. I’ll come for you as soon as I am able.”

He’d never forget her eyes in that moment, as the sun was just pushing its way into his bedroom. Her hair was down around her shoulders, tangled from his fingers. Her lips were swollen from his kisses.

His baby might very well be growing beneath her heart right now.

He wasn’t about to let her go through that alone. 

Hughes wrapped his fingers around hers as the sounds of his family waking around them came. 

“Slip on your dress and braid your hair. Quickly.”

She did as he instructed. “Why?”

“I’m not stepping foot out of this house until you have my name to protect you. And any little one we may have made last night.”

All it would take would be a few words from his son and it would be done. Mick could handle all the rest. 

They’d already jumped the gun on the honeymoon a bit, after all. 

“Jude Finley Handley, will you do the honor of making me the happiest man in Texas? Right here, right now?”

She just stared at him, eyes wide and mouth softly parted.

Hughes just waited.

He didn’t care if the whole damned barn burned. Jude was far more important than that.

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