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She had killed a man tonight. Jude would always have that on her soul. That he had already been aiming a gun at her Janie…well, she had still killed a man tonight. 

Jude’s husband had carried her away from the sight. But she knew what was happening next. There would be questions in town, most likely. Hughes would have some explaining to do. 

Her, too.

But it had been an attack, pure and simple. Hughes had been defending his home, his land…his family. No law in any land would be able to overlook that. 

Her Barratt man didn’t seem to be worried at all. At least not about what would happen next. He was worried about her, though. 

To her surprise, after everyone was settled in the front parlor, all the blood had been cleaned up and the bloodied sofa removed forever, Hughes took the big chair by the fireplace. And pulled her down into his lap. His arm went around her and Jude just cuddled against his chest.

Until her youngest toddled over and pulled herself into Jude’s arms. “Mama, hold, too.”

Jude wrapped her arms around her little one immediately. Hughes’s arms went around them both. And she just held her daughter close.

Overwhelmed by what she could have lost today.

She looked at her family surrounding her. Her brother, tall and strong, speaking quietly with Wharton’s youngest son. The boy would be leaving tomorrow, after they did the burying of his brothers and father. To return to clean up whatever mess Wharton had left behind in Wharton Town. To get his nieces settled.

Becky was almost inconsolable. Jude hurt for her, so much. The two. Had been sending sad looks to each other all evening. 

Hughes’s hand cupped the back of her head, as she held her daughter close. Her baby drifted off to sleep. Jude stayed right where she was. She could feel his heart beating beneath her cheek.

She didn’t feel so afraid now. 

Justice Wharton was dead. Gone. He would never be able to hurt her girls ever again. 

His boys and his brother would probably hang for what they tried to do here. That had her shuddering. 

“You ok, little one?” her new husband asked, his lips next to her ear. 

“I…just memories, that’s all. The last few years…they’ve hurt. Changed us all.” Emmy was arguing with her husband quietly. Jude looked at them for a moment. Her little Emmy, so fierce. So afraid. Jude had to smile when Emmy finally settled on her own husband’s lap. One arm snaked around the young man’s neck and Emmy snuggled just as close.

Jami and Jessi were side by side on a couch, their husbands on each side of them. Protective and loving, even though only Jessi seemed to be liking her husband at all. Jami was still spitting fire at hers, though the two were subdued tonight. And his hand was wrapped around Jami’s. 

Ally and her botanist were sitting together on a wooden chair, Ally held tight to his own lap.

They didn’t have enough places for them all to sit. They’d have to fix that. 

Izzy and her man were curled up in front of the fire on a cushion from the bloodied sofa of all things, a litter of motherless kittens in front of her, in a box, as she tried to get them to take some sheep’s milk. Her husband just watched her with a look of adoration in his eyes, taking each kitten and putting it in his lap after Izzy was finished with it. Jude smiled as the stray thought occurred to her—it was good he liked animals. Izzy would fill his house with them, every corner, if she could.

Even the preacher had gotten a bit too close to her Janie than he probably should have, sitting next to her on the loveseat, where she sat with an arm around Becky. He’d stayed close to Janie since Jude had killed Justice Wharton. It had scared Mick something fierce to have Janie have been so close to Wharton, then. For once, Janie wasn’t resisting his presence either.

“Everything is going to be okay, you know, kitten,” Hughes said, softly. “Wharton can’t bother you or the girls again. And look at them—they are starting to love each other. Maybe the love should have come before the marriage, but we Barratts…we tend to do things our own ways. Nothing wrong with that. It’s always worked for us before.”

Jude looked into his eyes. She could see how he felt for her, right there. Maybe it wasn’t love yet. But he cared for her. The love would come. She could feel it starting in her heart. When she had been so frightened, worried for him out there facing down Wharton, that was when it had started. When it had sunk in…she had tied her life to this man’s forever. 

And she accepted that. Wanted it more than she’d wanted something in a long, long time. This man, this man she’d once thought a monster…was hers. 

She snuggled closer, needing to feel him against her as much as she could. Her daughter slept in her arms, her new father’s hand rested on the baby’s small back, tying them together like the family they were. Her three older girls slept curled up on the rug at their cousins’ feet, along with Jacob’s youngest daughter, little Annie. 

Annie, all of twelve years old and so scared and confused by what had happened. Poor little thing. She looked very much like her mother had. 

Jude continued to study her family, while held close in her husband’s arms. Jami had taken the girl from Jude’s own arms and took her up to her bed, while some of Hughes’s boys and Jacob had dealt with the other children. 

Jude just stayed where she was, feeling safe for the first time in a long time. 

The last thing she remembered was him standing, her held in his arms. And him just carrying her up to their bed, and holding her until she drifted to sleep in her husband’s arms again.

The last thing he said to her before sleep claimed her stayed with her into her dreams. “Everything is going to be okay…”

And it was.

Previous Chapter.

Thank you for reading Jude & the Barratt Man!

I do plan to do more online stories, time willing. Look for the next one (I’m not sure who it will be about!) in 2022. I will also be “bundling” Jude & Hughes into an ebook format in 2022, after I send it off to the editor to be edited.

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