“Ensuring that everyone in town is safe, with enough wood nearby to keep the house warm and don’t have to wander out in the snow,” Luke said. “Some elderly need food delivered. Even tending to animals.”
“Like Mr. Bernard. Since we’re the closest, I’ll go over and check on him, make sure he has what he needs to make it through the storm,” Walker added.
I liked the idea, thought it smart for neighbors to check on each other.
“How long will the storm last?”
Luke buttoned his shirt. “Couple hours, couple days. We never know.”
“Miss Esther, she’s eighty-four,” Walker commented. “Her bones ache when a big storm’s coming. She’s the closest we’ve got to weather predictions around here.”
I smiled at the idea of an old lady telling everyone bad weather was coming because her knees hurt. But, I’d heard others predict rain the same way in Texas, so I didn’t doubt it.
“After some coffee, I’ll get going. I should be back in a few hours.” Luke came over and kissed me, then went downstairs.
Walker pulled me into his arms. “I’ll take care of the horses, then go see to Mr. Bernard.”
I shifted in his hold so I could look at him. “I’ll see to the animals while you go next door.”
“You’re sure?” he asked.
“I know what I’m doing. I’ll be fine.”
He ran a finger over my nose. “I don’t doubt your abilities, doll. I do worry about you in the weather. This is new for you.”
I laughed then. “Very new. I had no idea it could snow like this. I’ll be fine. Luke told me about the rope to follow.”
“Good. When we’re all done with our work, we’ll meet back here.” He patted the bed. “Right here. I have plans for you.”
My body warmed at his words, at the husky tone of his voice as he said the last.
“Oh?” I asked. “We could… we could do them now.”
His finger slid down my neck and over the skin exposed by the partially buttoned shirt. “They involve both Luke and me… and that gorgeous ass of yours.”
My heart skipped a beat. “You mean—”
“When we get back, we’ll claim you, doll. Together. Then you’ll be ours once and for all.”
With Luke already gone, I watched Walker out the window as he trudged toward Mr. Bernard’s. It took less than a minute for him to disappear into the snow and wind. I didn’t want either of them to leave, but that was a silly fantasy. We couldn’t remain holed up in the house forever. Perhaps it was his dark promise of what we would do upon their return that had me longing for them. But chores needed to be done, there were neighbors to help. Until that was finished, I would have to wait, no matter how impatiently.
It took time to put on the boots, coat, mittens and hat, but knew I couldn’t go outside without them, not even just the short distance to the barn. I took a deep breath and opened the back door, but the cold sucked it from my lungs. Narrowing my eyes against the blowing snow, I turned my back against the wind and pulled the door shut behind me.
I’d never felt such cold before. Even crossing over the pass hadn’t been like this, for I’d had Walker at my back and a blanket sheltering me. My cheeks stung and my eyes teared. There was no reason to linger, so I carefully stepped down from the porch and looked across to the barn. I could see it easily and ran for it, my steps wobbly from the snow. By the time I pushed the barn door closed behind me, I was winded and my coat was covered in snow.
Stomping my boots, I brushed the snow from my shoulders and arms. The barn was cold, but without the wind, it seemed almost warm in comparison. The scent of hay and animal was heavy in the air. Taking off my gloves, I went to the first stall and rubbed the nose of Atlas, Luke’s horse. As I murmured to him, he snorted, both our breaths coming out in puffs of white.
Footsteps on the hard packed ground had me spinning about. For a split second, I thought it was Walker, having returned from Mr. Bernard’s. But I hadn’t heard the door open and he wouldn’t have surprised me.
Before me stood Carl Norman. I gasped at the sight of him. He was no longer the confident, tidy man who’d harassed me in Texas. He wore a heavy winter coat, no gloves and a scarf wrapped around his head instead of a hat. He hadn’t shaved in days, the dark hair of a new beard on his jaw. His cheeks were chapped and red, his eyes narrowed and wild. He had no snow on him, meaning he’d been in the barn. Had he been waiting for me? Had he sought shelter from the snow?
“I told you I’d come after you,” he spit out. “I’d get you and make you pay.”