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The man really was insane. “Jude?”


“Good. Then I consider it as good as done. But we’ll get Mick in the parlor, he’ll make it official.”

“Do we have time?”

“We’d damned well better. I’m not…I ain’t forgettin’ what we did in that bed behind us. I don’t expect anything to happen with this Wharton, but I’m not as young as I once was, and we both know anything can happen in the simplest of moments. Even the not so simple.”

There was a real vulnerability in his eyes. One she wouldn’t have expected. Her heart raced. 

People from somewhere shouted.

Hughes dragged her out of his room. Flames hit her cheeks. 

Everyone would know exactly what she had been doing—with a man she wasn’t married to. A fine example she’d just set for her nieces, her daughters. 

“Don’t be ashamed of loving a man, little one. There is nothing wrong with that,” he said as he led her down the hall to the large front room. Their family was waiting there. 

Waiting for him. 

Jacob saw her, took in the state of her hair. And she understood. 

Her brother knew exactly what she had been doing tonight.

“The back barn. Torched,” Harrison, who had had the night watch from the living room, said. Emmy was at his side, wrapped in a blanket, sleep still in her eyes. There was a rumpled blanket on the couch beside the large window. “We have hands tending it now.”

“Is it going to spread?” Hughes asked. 

“Not too quickly. But we need to get out there,” Harrison answered. 

“Not yet. First…Mick…I got a task for you.”

“Dad?” Mick asked. “What is it?”

Jude pulled in a breath. What he was going to say was going to change her life forever. And she knew it.

“I want you to make it legal in the eyes of Texas right now. And make it sanctified under the watch of the Lord.”

“Jude?” her brother asked, shock in his tone. “This what you want?”


“Right now?” One of his twin sons asked. “Rather an inopportune time, isn’t it?”

“It needs to be done before I face down Wharton. And…boys, if anything ever happens to me, you see your new step-mama and her girls are well taken care of. And anyone else who may come along. You understand me?”

They all nodded. No, none of Hughes’s sons were stupid.

Within four minutes—four short minutes—Jude’s life was tied to his forever.

Then she stood back and watched him and all but two of his tall, strong sons and her brother step out to face down her nightmare.

She held her youngest in her arms and prayed. 

Prayed this would end with all of them safe, and end with the threat of Wharton gone forever.

Jude just kept praying.

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