The Wrong Husband

A Marriage Owen Didn’t Expect…
The courthouse is right up ahead.
Owen dug his heels into the dirt, but the sheriff lifted him
by the shoulders and dragged him along, making him stumble a
couple of steps before he found his footing and walked with him.
What a joyous day this will be! Now Jenny can rest
assured that her little boy will be safe.
Little boy? She has a child?
Don‘t act so surprised. That‘s why you two are getting
married.
It is?
They stopped in front of the imposing building and the
older man set his hands on Owen‘s shoulders. Now, I know
you‘ve never been a family man before, but you‘re about to
become one. I feel responsible for you, what with you being so
young and all, but I know your ma raised you right. You‘ll do
right by Jenny and Jeremy. They need you.
Uh…no, I don‘t think-
Oh, here she comes. She‘s the one in the pretty white
dress. She even sewed it herself.
Owen grabbed the sheriff‘s vest. You don‘t understand.
I can‘t marry her! It was bad enough he stole Irving‘s clothes and
money. He didn‘t need to add this to his list of sins.
Meyer chuckled and shook his head. The jokes just never
stop with you, do they? Look behind you.
He reluctantly obeyed and straightened as soon as he saw
her. Whoa! She was…She was…He rubbed his eyes and looked
again, just in case they were playing tricks on him. But they
weren‘t. She was the most beautiful woman he‘d ever seen. He
blinked several times. She was still there…and looking very
appealing.

The Wrong Husband
Chapter One
Omaha, Nebraska
July 1876
“I
said I‘m here to see my son, Clyde Jenkins said, standing
firm in the doorway.
Jenny Larson tried to slam the door on his face, but he
stopped her by putting his foot out so she couldn‘t shut it. Her
heart hammered in her ears. No. He couldn‘t. He wouldn‘t! She
pressed on the door with all of her weight but it wouldn‘t budge.
You didn‘t want to have anything to do with him when you
found out I was expecting. Why are you interested now? she
finally snapped.
He‘s my son. He shoved the door open and stormed
past her.
She ran after him as he strode down the hallway of the
boarding house. You can‘t do this!
He ignored her and opened the kitchen door.
Get out of here! Jenny demanded.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
You can‘t keep me from him, Jen, he said as he paced
toward the four-year-old boy who stopped eating his soup.
Jenny shot Mrs. Jones an apologetic look as she raced to
the small round kitchen table and put her hands protectively on
her son‘s shoulders. You‘re not taking him, Clyde. I won‘t let
you!
Jeremy looked at Clyde but didn‘t say anything.
Smiling at the boy, Clyde knelt in front of him. Good
morning, Jeremy. I‘m your pa.
Jenny‘s gaze shifted from Clyde to Mrs. Jones who set
down the stack of newspapers and gave her a questioning look.
Jenny silently pleaded with her landlady to help her. Turning back
to Clyde, she said, You can‘t do this.
His cold brown eyes met hers. Jen, I believe I have a
right to my own flesh and blood. He pulled out a chair and sat
on it so he could be eye level with the boy. Now, Jeremy, I hope
your ma told you something about me.
Jeremy looked up at her. Is he my pa?
Taking a deep breath, she debated how to answer his
question. All Clyde did was make it possible for her to conceive
the child. She hardly considered him a real father.
Who would have
thought five minutes could change everything?
Ma?
Yes. The confirmation tore at her heart. S he knew the
day might come when she‘d have to reveal the truth of his lineage
but hoped it would be when he was older, when he could fully
understand the situation.
Clyde shook his head at her. You didn‘t mention me at
all?
She gritted her teeth. You weren‘t around.
He smiled at Jeremy. Your pa had some important
business to do. I‘m done now, and you and your ma will come
with me to St. Louis.
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The Wrong Husband
We will not! Out of the corner of her eye, she watched
as Mrs. Jones quietly left the room. Her grip on Jeremy‘s
shoulders tightened.
Come on, Jen, Clyde argued. Be reasonable.
Our home is here. We‘re not leaving, and we‘re certainly
not leaving with you.
Jeremy needs a father.
You didn‘t think so five years ago.
And I was wrong. He attempted to rest his hand on
hers, but she pulled away from him as if his touch burned her.
People make mistakes, and I made a horrible one. I intend to be
a part of your life.
No! Scared, she grabbed Jeremy from his chair and
picked him up. Holding him close to her, she rushed toward the
kitchen door.
Clyde blocked her exit. You‘re not going anywhere.
He‘s my son and I have every right to talk to him.
Despite her shaky hands, she refused to back down. You
gave up those rights when you abandoned us.
He threw his hands up in the air. I had to get settled. I
didn‘t have the money to support you and a child.
You hopped on the first train out of here. You said it
was my fault I got in the family way. You even said someone else
could be his father.
Shrugging, he stepped toward them. How could I tell
that you weren‘t sleeping around with other men?
Indignation swept through her. How dare he! Could he
Used goods. That’s all I am
easily forget that he took her virginity?
and that’s all I’ll ever be.
However, it wasn‘t time for regrets. She
had to protect her son.
I know Jeremy is mine. He took another step closer to
her. I want to do right by you and him.
No, no you don‘t.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
She didn‘t trust him. Something was wrong. After five
years, he showed up at the boarding house and asked her to marry
him. She refused, figuring she was better off continuing on as she
was rather than condemning her life to a man who left when she
needed him most. And now he was threatening to take Jeremy
from her!
Standing in front of him, holding an overwhelmed little
boy, she refused to budge.
What is the problem? he demanded, anger creeping into
his voice.
She nearly cried with relief when Sheriff Meyer and Mrs.
Jones entered the kitchen.
Is there something I can help you with, Mr. Jenkins? the
sheriff asked. He straightened his vest, causing sunlight to bounce
off his shiny badge.
Clyde faced him, his hands relaxing at his sides. Hello,
Sheriff. His tone cordial, he smiled. I‘m just saying hi to Jenny
and my son.
Oh, Sheriff, don‘t you believe him for a minute. Mrs.
Jones slipped between Jenny and Clyde. She‘s been asking him
to leave but he won‘t.
Sheriff Meyer looked at Jenny. Is that true, ma‘am?
Forcing her tears back, she nodded. Yes, sir. I don‘t
want him here.
Turning to Clyde, he said, This is a personal residence.
You must leave.
A father has a right to talk to his son, doesn‘t he? Clyde
asked.
You have to consider the mother‘s thought s on that. I‘d
say you have to wait until she‘s willing.
His mouth formed a thin line. We‘ll see about that. He
stormed out of the kitchen, letting the front door bang shut
behind him.
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The Wrong Husband
Jenny exhaled, unaware that she‘d been holding her
breath.
Mrs. Jones gave her a hug. You don‘t have to worry
about a thing. You have family and friends who are here to help
you.
Thank you, Martha. She let Jeremy stand on his feet.
Though her son looked bewildered, she decided she would
talk to him later. She needed time to think. Clyde‘s arrival had
been unexpected.
The sheriff led Jeremy back to his soup before urging
Jenny to the other side of the room. Resting one hand on the
work table and the other on his hip, he whispered, I don‘t think
he‘ll stay away. I‘ve dealt with this before, and some men can get
persistent.
She folded her hands together, squeezing them. That‘s
what I‘m afraid of. Sheriff, from the way it sounded, he wants to
take Jeremy away. He can‘t do that, can he?
There have been kidnappings.
Her stomach knotted up, making her feel queasy. She
glanced at her son who hadn‘t touched his food. Though he
didn‘t fully understand what happened, he knew it wasn‘t good.
Never once did she imagine Clyde would return, much less want
his son.
What should she do? Martha asked.
He stared at the floor for a good moment before he said,
A married woman has a n easier time than a single one when it
comes to certain men coming around uninvited.
Marriage? She long since gave up on the idea of getting
married when she discovered her pregnancy and Clyde bailed on
her.
A man would provide a stable environment for a family.
He‘d be the protector if Clyde returns. Men like Clyde tend to
stay away when there‘s another man around.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
She sighed in despair. The sheriff was right. Clyde ran
from her brothers when they searched for him and he just backed
off when the sheriff came, so she knew he‘d back down when
confronted by another man. She failed to be intimidating enough
to make him leave.
No reputable man will marry me, she replied. In fact,
single men avoided her because of the stigma associated with her.
I have a new deputy who‘s due to arrive in September.
He rubbed his chin. His name is Irving Spencer, and he‘d
probably be willing to take a wife. He‘s one of my cousins. Since
he can‘t have children, no woman‘s been interested in him. But
you have Jeremy already, and he won‘t mind the fact that the boy‘s
not his.
But won‘t his reputation suffer for it?
I‘ve been told that Irving is a force to be reckoned with.
He doesn‘t care what others think. He‘s tough as nails and strong
as steel. A few rumors won‘t bother him.
Feeling overwhelmed, she rested her head in her hands.
This is happening too fast. First, Clyde shows up and now the sheriff’s trying
to pair me up with his distant relative. I can’t process all of this at once.
I‘ll tell you what. The man cleared his throat and stood
up straight, making her look his way. I‘ll send him a letter and
see what he thinks. We still have two months before he arrives.
That should be plenty of time for the two of you to make a
decision. Nothing has to be done today.
She closed her eyes for a moment, glad that she had time
to think.
What do we do about Clyde in the meantime? Martha
wondered.
Keep Jeremy in this house. As long as Jeremy‘s here,
Clyde has no right to intrude on your property.
Why can‘t you just arrest him?
On what grounds? He hasn‘t committed a crime.
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The Wrong Husband
She groaned. I know you‘re right, Sheriff, but I don‘t like
it. Alright. Off with you. The poor boy and his mother need to
calm down.
As Mrs. Jones shooed him out, Jenny murmured her
thanks and looked at her son. His eyes met hers and tears formed
in her eyes. Spinning on her heel, she reached for a clean
washcloth to wipe her wet cheeks.
I don’t know what to do.
Though
it was true that she didn‘t have to make a decision today, she
didn‘t want Clyde coming back. She saw the determination in his
eyes. He wanted Jeremy for something, and whatever that
something was, there was no way it could be good.
***
Baton Rogue, Louisiana
August 2,1876
Play it calm. You’re
Owen Russell held the cards firmly in his grip.
almost there.
He eyed the money in the center of the round table.
After seven hours of playing poker, it all came down to this
moment.
If I win this hand, Aunt Rachel will be financially stable again.
The dim light in the saloon and the heavy smoke gave him
a headache but he pressed forward. He hated being here. But he
had to do this. If he didn‘t, his aunt would end up homeless.
Ignoring the drunk patrons and the prostitutes lingering around,
he straightened in his chair and focused on the cards in front of
him.
Forcing his attention from the whispers as people bet on
who would win, he peaked at the clock. Almost five in the
morning.
Almost there. Just be calm.
This game was too important.
Out of the eight players who started the game, only he and Big
Roy Hawke were left. A quick glance at Big Roy, aptly named for
his overweight frame, notified him that the bearded, dirty man
worried that he‘d lose his money. Though Big Roy prided himself
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Ruth Ann Nordin
on his ability to bluff, he had a habit of chewing his toothpick
faster when he didn‘t have a good hand, just as other players had
their own subtle cues that told Owen when to raise the ante and
when to fold. In this case, Owen had raised the ante. The
remaining sum of his aunt‘s life savings sat in t hat sizable pile of
coins in front of him.
Owen slowly exhaled, willing his fingers steady so he
couldn‘t grab the stash and run. He had to play it cool. He
studied his cards again, just to make sure he had a possible
winning hand. The royal flush stared back at him, the charming
diamonds and clovers seeming to dance in tune with his heartbeat.
I call. Big Roy‘s gruff voice interrupted the murmurs
around them. He shoved his remaining money forward.
Downing his shot of whiskey, he glared at Owen. What‘d you
got, boy?
Without bravado, he laid his cards on the table.
Diamond King, Queen, and Jack with Clover Ace and King.
Big Roy swore and threw his cards on the table. He had
been holding three of a kind.
Loud shouts and harsh pats on Owen‘s back from the
men who bet for him brought him to his senses. He did it! He
got his aunt‘s money back! Accepting the bag the bartender
handed him, he collected the money, hoping he didn‘t look too
eager. He needed to act like he did this kind of thing all the time.
Unsure of what the winner usually did but not wishing to offend
the bartender who‘d been kind to him, he gave the man a tip and
headed out. He bypassed several prostitutes who flirted with him
and left the establishment. He breathed a sigh of relief. Thank
goodness. He never wanted to go into another place like that ever
again!
With the adrenaline rushing through him, Owen took his
horse and rode the steed hard until he arrived at his aunt‘s small
wooden shack that rested along the bayou. He couldn‘t wait to
see her face when he showed her the money! He anxiously
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The Wrong Husband
knocked on the door. One glance at the light filtering through the
canopy of trees surrounding the house told him it was dawn. This
would wake her up, but it was for a good reason. He knocked
again, this time making his rapping louder.
He heard the creaking of the floorboards as she shuffled
to the closed door. Who is it?
It‘s me, Aunt Rachel, he said.
Owen? She opened the door, surprise written on her
face. Come on in, son.
He did as she bid and entered her kitchen that didn‘t have
room for more than two chairs and a wobbly table.
She hastened to make a pot of coffee while he set his bag
of winnings on the table. How is that fishing business of yours
doing?
Great. I got two new customers last week. Sitting in his
usual spot, he took his ratty hat and put it on the table. He ran his
hand through his light blond wavy hair. I‘m sorry I woke you. I
know you like to sleep until nine.
She waved her hand. I always have time for my favorite
nephew.
I‘m your only nephew.
That doesn‘t stop you from being my favorite. She set
the pot on the old cookstove. The open window allowed fresh air
in, and though no breeze wafted in, it did serve to cool the place
down at night.
He chuckled. Why don‘t you sit and talk? He leaned
forward, his elbows resting gently on the table lest he knock it
over.
I‘m comin‘. She turned and froze in place. Eyebrows
furrowed, she shot him a curious look with the same blue eyes he
and his father shared with her. You haven‘t been misbehavin‘,
have you?
Take a look before you jump to conclusions.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Boy, you‘ll send me to an early grave if you‘ve been
misbehavin‘.
I only set things right for you.
Not looking convinced, she gingerly opened the brown
sack, her jaw dropping when she saw the money inside. Oh
Lord, he‘s fallen in his uncle‘s footsteps. Her words choked on a
threatening sob.
I‘m not going back there, Aunt Rachel. I made enough
to gain back the savings Uncle Jim lost gambling. That‘s why I
went. Now, I want you to move out of here and get a good home
like you always wanted. I promise I won‘t gamble again.
Her lower lip trembling, she sorted through the cash.
Owen, I… Breaking off, she reached across the table and gave
him a big hug and kiss on the forehead. It was a foolish thing
you did, but I‘m glad you did it.
He returned her hug and laughed. Now, don‘t spend it
all in one place.
She playfully swatted him on the arm and settled into her
chair. Alright. Since you saved me from the poor house, the
least I can do is feed you. Are you hungry for biscuits and eggs?
His stomach rumbled. I sure am. No one makes biscuits
as tasty as you do.
Then you just sit back and relax. I‘ll have your meal
ready soon.
He put his hands behind his head and enjoyed their
easygoing conversation for the rest of the morning.
10

The Wrong Husband
Chapter Two
Three days later
Baton Rogue, Louisiana
O
wen was leaving the bait shop to go fishing at sunrise when he
saw Big Roy‘s two cronies, Mitch and Lance, walking toward him.
Despite the six men who lingered inside, talking and laughing, and
the old man crossing the street from the pier to the shop, he felt
isolated. He recognized the twin rail-thin brothers from the
saloon. By the looks on their faces, he knew that they meant
business…and that business was him. Without waiting for them to
catch up to him, he bolted down the street.
Come back here!
As if I’m that stupid!
Owen didn‘t bother glancing back as
he raced passed an elderly couple and a small group of men. A
dog jumped in front of him, barking, and he tumbled, his fishing
supplies flying out of his hands. He quickly debated picking them
up, but the sound of eagerly approaching footsteps behind him
made up his mind. Scrambling to his feet, he turned the corner of
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Ruth Ann Nordin
a street and ducked into an alley. He found a large dumpster and
huddled behind it.
Taking deep breaths to calm the pounding in his heart, he
focused on the sounds around him. He heard the click-clack of
horses as they made their way down the street and the chitter-
chatter of women. He didn‘t hear Big Roy or his goons. That was
a good sign. That meant they didn‘t know where he was. He‘d
lost them. Just to be extra sure, he waited a good five minutes
before he felt safe enough to emerge from his hiding place.
Took you l ong enough to come out of there.
Owen jerked.
Lance and Mitch had been waiting for him on the other
side of the dumpster. And Lance was smiling at him as he rubbed
his new beard with a knife.
Stupid, Owen. You should know to examine all your surroundings!
Without thinking, he ran down the alley, aware that the two men
were in close pursuit. The wind blew trash around his feet but he
hardly noticed the debris. He was quickly approaching a well-
traveled street. If he could make it there, then Lance and Mitch
would have to back off since they couldn‘t afford to be seen trying
to kill someone. Big Roy had trouble with the law, and one more
mess would be his undoing.
Owen was only five meters away from the street when
Mitch jumped on him and knocked him to the ground. Grunting,
he dodged the knife in Mitch‘s hand and quickly pushed him away
so he could jump up. He took out his own knife and waited for
one of the two men to make their move. This wasn‘t good. It
wasn‘t good at all! He‘d never been in a fatal encounter in his
entire life. If only he could get out of this…alive.
If you would just reimburse Big Roy the money you stole
from him, then you wouldn‘t have to run. Lance spat the tobacco
he‘d been chewing onto the ground.
Do they know about Rachel?
The last thing his aunt needed
was these men tracking her down.
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The Wrong Husband
Just take us to the bank where you deposited the money
or show us your little hiding place for the cash and we‘ll let you
go, Lance continued, his grin showing off his yellow teeth.
Owen breathed a sigh of thanks for the small fortune in
knowing his aunt was safe.
Where‘s the money? Mitch snapped.
He forced the man‘s words to make sense over the loud
pounding in his ears. His heart beat with a nervous dread. He
wasn‘t strong enough to fight both of them. He knew it. He was
about to die. But he decided that if he was going to die, then he‘d
die fighting, even if it did scare him.
Give us the money, Mitch ordered.
I don‘t have it, Owen replied. I lost it in another
game. As long as he could take their mind off of his aunt, then
his death would be worth it.
How could you have done something that stupid? Lance
hissed.
I got greedy, he explained, though in the back of his
mind, he knew it was pointless to do so. I had no idea my
opponent was cheating.
Too bad for you that we don‘t believe you, Mitch
sneered. Someone as smart as you wouldn‘t be done in by a
cheat.
He wasn‘t sure which man lu nged at him first, but he
stuck out his knife and plunged it into Mitch‘s gut. He let go of
his weapon and fought against Lance who got behind him and
wrapped his arm around his throat. Owen backed up and
rammed into a wall. The force of the impact caused Lance to let
go of him. Glancing down at Mitch, he realized that he had
mortally wounded the skinny man. Though Mitch was still
breathing, he wouldn‘t be much longer. Lance glanced at Owen
for a moment in disbelief. Owen took Lance‘s hesitation and
bolted for the street.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Just as he reached the brick road, a horse neighed at him,
startling him. The driver of the buggy stopped the horse.
He killed my brother! Lance pointed an accusing finger
at Owen. Murderer!
This caused a great upset from the people watching them,
and a marshal called out for Owen to stop. Before he considered
the fact that running only made things look worse, Owen took off
down the street. He managed to lose the marshal and get to his
meager home where he grabbed his horse and ran the poor animal
out of town. He didn‘t have a destination in mind. He just rode
north.
***
Omaha, Nebraska
Two Weeks Later
Sally Johnson held Jenny‘s hand as they sat on the bench at the
park and watched their sons play. Jenny hadn‘t slept a wink in
nearly a week, and she willed her pounding headache aside. This
couldn‘t be happening. It was like a nightmare. Clyde had been
hovering around the place and following her and Jeremy ever
since that day he‘d asked her to marry him. She knew he was
using her to get Jeremy.
Why should he care so much about Jeremy now? Why?
After all this time? She closed her eyes, determined that she
wouldn‘t cry.
Jenny swallowed the lump in her throat and looked away
from the two laughing boys who threw a rubber ball back and
forth. I don‘t know what else to do but find a husband.
Sally shook her head in dismay. Do you have any idea
why he wants to be a father all of the sudden?
I keep telling you no.
Sally squeezed her hand. I‘m sorry.
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The Wrong Husband
Forcing a smile, she patted her hand. Thank you for
being here through all of this.
What are sisters for?
A round of laughter coming from Clyde brought Jenny‘s
attention to him. She stiffened. He was strolling through the park
with his mother and pointing at Jeremy—as if he had any right!
He glanced at her and turned to say something to his mother
before he walked over to them.
She briefly noted Sally‘s sharp intake of breath as he knelt
in front of her. Pressing her back to the bench, Jenny shifted as
far from him as possible. Though she was a grown woman of
twenty-two, he made her feel as if she were a child.
I‘m willing to be reasonable about this, he smoothly
stated. All you have to do is marry me, and I can do right by our
son.
No, she firmly stated despite her trembling hands.
It‘s not fair to keep a man from his boy, Jen.
It‘s also not fair to leave an expectant mother to fend for
herself, Sally snapped. Now, you get away from here before I
hit you with my purse.
I‘d like to see you try. Clyde smiled, as if enjoying the
possibility.
Is there a problem here? the sheriff asked as he quickly
approached the bench.
Clyde jerked to his feet and cleared his throat. Without a
glance in the other man‘s direction, he scampered back to his
mother.
The sheriff sighed. I can see that he‘s as bad as I feared.
Are you alright, ma‘am?
Jenny nodded, even as a flush of anger and frustration
warmed her cheeks. She hated this. She hated how Clyde refused
to go away. Rubbing her eyes, she willed herself to remain strong.
I have good news, he said, unfolding a letter he‘d been
holding.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
That‘s good because we could use some, Sally replied,
letting go of Jenny‘s hand so she could hug her. Clyde won‘t
leave her alone.
I just got word today that Irving is in Tennessee. He says
he‘ll marry you. He handed Jenny the letter which she took in
shaky hands. He‘s riding horseback out here with his goods as
we speak. I didn‘t read the part he wrote to you, but I read
enough to know he‘ll be here by October 1
.
st
The knots twisting in her stomach nearly overwhelmed
her. She glanced at Clyde who continued to watch Jeremy.
The
sooner, the better.
Keep praying. He turned and headed in Clyde‘s
direction to suggest Clyde and his mother move along and enjoy
the nice day, which they finally did.
I hope that Irving Spencer is as big and strong as the
sheriff claims, Sally muttered, crossing her arms. I can‘t believe
Clyde or his mother.
Jenny turned her attention to the letter so she could read
it.
Jenny,
Forgive my delay. I had a last minute run in with some bandits in
South Carolina. They have been apprehended. I proceed west. I agree to
marry you. You should know that it is physically impossible for me to
consummate our relationship. There was a showdown I had ten years ago
with an unruly young man. Needless to say, I lived through it but it left me
unable to conceive children. I will give Jeremy my name and protection. You
don’t need to worry about that. I think over time we might be good friends.
Signed,
Irving Spencer
It wasn‘t a love letter, but Jenny was hardly in the position
to be taking suitors. What she needed was a husband and he
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The Wrong Husband
volunteered to be one so she could keep Clyde away.
It’s enough.
After all, that’s all a woman like me can hope for.
Sighing, she closed her eyes, once again wishing she had
done things differently five years ago. As much as she loved her
son, she mourned the fact that she hadn‘t waited to get married
before she had him. If she had, then she wouldn‘t be in this
situation right now.
But she couldn‘t live in a world of if only‘s. She‘d marry
Irving and be glad for the favor he was doing her. She wouldn‘t
concern herself with childhood fantasies of love. Love had no
place in doing what was best for her and her son.
Never look back. Keep moving forward.
***
One week later
On the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee
Late at night
Don’t look back. Keep going forward .
Owen rode his poor horse so
hard that it finally stopped in the middle of a forest, not caring
that its owner poked it in the sides with his spurs.
Wiping the sweat off his forehead, Owen wearily set the
hat back on his head. His blond hair was matted down with sweat
and his three week old beard lined his jaw. He spied a river close
by, so he slipped from the horse and winced. Being on a horse
for almost three weeks made his entire body stiff, especially in the
saddle area. He tied the horse‘s reigns to the tree before he
waddled to the shore of the river which dipped out of sight from
the place his horse stood.
He cupped his hand in the cool water and brought the
refreshing liquid to mouth. Water never tasted so good! Deciding
to take a swim to wash nearly a month‘s worth of grime off his
body, he eagerly threw off his clothes and dipped into the water.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Though it chilled him, he couldn‘t recall a time when he felt
better. He really was lucky that he got out of Louisiana alive.
He washed his body off the best he could. At least, he felt
much better. Dipping into the water for another drink, he paused
when he heard a gunshot. Tensing, he stilled his swimming as he
listened to his horse‘s neighing. Another gunshot silenced the
animal. He winced. Poor Charlie. He loved that horse.
That‘s his horse alright. After a moment‘s pause and
snapping twigs, the man said, I want him alive.
Owen would have recognized Big Roy‘s gruff voice
anywhere.
How did he find me?
He passed through so many forests,
he thought for sure he‘d lost the intimidating gambler.
I want to kill him for what he did to Mitch, Lance
whined.
You‘ll get your chance, but no one harms a hair on his
head until I deal with him.
Though Lance grumbled, he didn‘t protest.
Owen tried not to make any sudden movements as he
slowly made his way to the shore. He gingerly stepped on the dry
soil and darted behind one of the many trees in the vicinity, glad
he swam far enough from his horse to avoid being seen by the
three men who crowded around Big Roy and Lance.
The trees hid the moonlight, making his task of hiding
easier. He had to figure a way out of there. But how? He didn‘t
have his horse anymore. He glanced over his shoulder and caught
sight of a campfire in the distance. Perhaps he could enlist help?
He shook his head. The last thing he wanted to do was involve an
innocent party into this mess.
But maybe the man would be willing to give him some
clothing and a ride into Nashville. Liking the idea, he cautiously
made his way to the fire. When he reached the spot, he frowned,
realizing that the man had left his bedroll to go off somewhere,
probably to take care of personal business.
Boss, there‘s a fire up ahead! Lance yelled.
18

The Wrong Husband
Though Lance was still far enough away to not spot
Owen, Owen didn‘t want to risk being found. He grimaced at the
thought of stealing another man‘s clothes but saw little choice as
the five men ran in his direction. He sorted through the traveling
bag and pulled out a large brown shirt, long black pants and
leather boots. The clothes were too long and loose but he wasn‘t
in the mood to be picky. He shoved a brown hat on his head and
shuffled his way to the horse that was tied to a tree. Cringing at
the realization that he had to steal the horse, he quickly threw the
saddle and bridle on and jumped on the animal.
What do you think you‘re doing? A tall man with a hefty
build emerged from the trees, pulling up the pants of his
longjohns.
I‘m sorry. I don‘t have a choice, he hastily whispered.
Who‘s there? Big Roy yelled, his voice closer.
Frightened, Owen fled from the site. The last thing he
heard as he maneuvered the steed through the maze of trees was
the tall man saying, Well, well…If it isn‘t Big Roy and his men.
Interesting running into you here.
What that meant, Owen didn‘t know, nor did he care to
find out. He kept moving. He made it to Nashville and snuck
aboard a supply car on the train, hoping he succeeded in evading
the group for good.
19

Ruth Ann Nordin
Chapter Three
O
wen entered the restaurant, aware of the looks he was getting.
Oh well. He‘d just have to act like he didn‘t notice the snickers.
He was lucky to even be alive. Taking a deep breath to steady his
nerves, he found a seat in the corner of the spacious room and sat
down. The boots that were much too big for him scraped across
the hardwood floor. He had to pull up his pants so they didn‘t fall
down. Rope. He needed rope. Or a belt. But then, a pair of
pants that fit would do even better.
He took a deep breath and allowed himself to relax. He
made it to Omaha. That meant his problems were finally over.
No one would be looking for him this far out west.
What can I get you? a woman wearing an apron asked,
holding a pad and pencil in her hands.
Right. Food. He quickly picked up the piece of paper in
front of him and read the list of menu items. Do you have any
fish?
She grinned. No. We don‘t. Hey, you sound funny.
You aren‘t from here, are you?
No, ma‘am. And that‘s all he‘d tell her. The less anyone
knew, the better.
20

The Wrong Husband
Well, I just love the way you southern men talk. It‘s
adorable.
He stopped himself from rolling his eyes. Great. Just
what he wanted to be: adorable. Clearing his throat, he said, I‘ll
start with a cup of coffee please.
You‘re so polite too! she squealed in obvious delight
before she skipped off past the other patrons who filled the place.
He took off the hat that was too big for his head and
placed it beside him on the table. Leaning back in his chair and
closing his eyes, he gave himself permission to relax. His muscles
loosened and the beating of his heart slowed to a normal pace.
Now he‘d get a good meal, find a place to stay, and shave this
horrible bush off his face. He hated beards. He didn‘t understand
why other men wore them. They itched and food got stuck to
them. He rubbed his jaw, the irritating beard scraping his fingers.
Definitely get a shave. Maybe he could go to the barber.
He dug his hand into the pocket of his pants and pulled
out the coins. He hadn‘t realized the man had pocketed some
money in his pants when he took the clothes. As bad as he felt
about spending it, he didn‘t see that he had much of a choice. It
wasn‘t like he could repay the man, so what did it matter at thi s
point? Hopefully, the man would be compensated somehow.
Here you go, the woman sweetly spoke.
He opened his eyes and straightened in his chair. Thank
you.
Have you decided on what you want to eat?
Yes. I‘ll have the pork chops.
A wise choice. Barry isn‘t in the kitchen today.
His eyes widened. Whatever did that mean?
She walked off before he could ask.
He grimaced. It was better that he didn‘t know. He
pulled out a napkin and folded it. As he did, he scanned the
room, checking the group of about fifty people who assembled
into the restaurant at the noon hour. He figured that only two
21

Ruth Ann Nordin
tables remained vacant. That was just as well. He could blend
into the background better in a crowded room.
A man sauntered past him and joined what looked to be
his friends at the table close by. He sat down and picked up a
glass of water.
Well, Clyde, the man across from him began, it‘s
almost October 1.
September 29, he replied, lifting his glass and chuckling.
Here‘s to October 1
.
s t
Here, here, another man said.
Owen wondered what was so important to the four men
but decided it didn‘t matter. He took a scoop of sugar and put it
into his coffee before he stirred it. Lifting his eyes, he caught
sight of his reflection in the mirror on the other side of the wall.
Maybe he‘d get a haircut while he was getting the shave.
You know, she should be glad I came here to do the right
thing, Clyde said. I don‘t understand what her problem is.
Maybe you shouldn‘t have left to begin with, one of the
others replied.
Come on. I wasn‘t ready for the responsibility back
then.
Tell us the truth, Clyde. Why do you really want to go
through with this?
I told you. To do the right thing.
I don‘t know, another man spoke up. Maybe you
should give up.
Are you kidding? I have to get my boy.
The waitress returned with a plate full of pork chops, a
baked potato and beans. Here you go, you adorable thing you.
How old you are, son?
Owen debated whether or not to answer her. After all,
that didn‘t seem to be any of her business, but since she was in
charge of his food, he figured he better oblige her. Twenty-
four. He picked up the cup and took a drink of the hot liquid.
22

The Wrong Husband
Ooh! You know, I have a daughter who just turned
nineteen. Why, you two would make such a fine looking couple,
and you know, she can‘t resist a southern gentleman.
He nearly spit out the coffee he was drinking.
Too bad she doesn‘t like bearded men. She patted him
on the shoulder. Don‘t be a stranger.
He touched his beard. Maybe he should keep it on. He
didn‘t exactly relish the prospect of women trying to fix him up
with their daughters, especially women who thought he was
=adorable‘. Adorable was for puppies and kittens, not grown men.
The men in the table next to him got up, threw some
money on the table, and left the restaurant.
Owen watched them through the window as they walked
down the street, laughing like a bunch of idiots. He didn‘t know
the specifics of what Clyde wanted with the woman they talked
about, but he felt sorry for her. He hoped she didn‘t give into him
on whatever it was he planned for October 1
. Forcing aside the
s t
thought, he ate his meal.
After he paid the bill, he pulled up the pants by the belt
loops and held onto them as he meandered down the boardwalk,
wondering if he should make a home here in Omaha. The town
looked like it was thriving. It was so different from Louisiana.
The air wasn‘t as humid, and he felt a chill that he usually didn‘t
experience until December. Did they get snow this far up north?
He shrugged, supposing he‘d find out if he stuck around.
Several people cast odd looks in his direction, and a
couple of women giggled as they scurried by him. He sighed.
First things first; he‘d go ahead and get that shave and haircut and
then get new clothes. Then he could decide on whether or not to
make this his new home.
He found the barber shop and got the shave and cut. His
blond hair no longer fell over his eyes, which was a good thing.
At least he could see clearly. He rubbed his jaw. Now that the
23

Ruth Ann Nordin
itchy beard was gone, he kind of missed it. For some reason, he
felt naked without it. But he knew that sensation would pass.
As he searched the businesses lining the street, he caught
sight of a
Wanted: Dead or Alive
poster. He halted in mid-step,
causing someone to bump into him.
Sorry, he mumbled to the man and stepped forward so
he was out of other people‘s way.
He studied the poster. Alright. So maybe the shave was a
big mistake. He tried to determine if the drawing looked enough
like him for someone to recognize him. His name was right there
“Owen Russell”
for the world to see.
was under the drawing
“Wanted
of his face in bold letters. Under his name was written
for Murder”
. The queasy feeling in his stomach threatened to
upset his lunch. Wow. This really wasn‘t good. How had word
spread about him anyway?
He lowered the hat over his eyes and hastened down the
boardwalk, hoping no one realized that the man in the Wanted
poster was him. Yes, he had murdered Mitch, but it had been to
defend himself. How did the sheriff in this town know about that
anyway?
Big Roy. He must have sent his cronies out to spread the word
about me.
It made sense. Since they couldn‘t get him, they f igured
they‘d frame him.
Great. If the sheriff in this town knew Owen was a
wanted man, then chances were good that no matter where he
went, he‘d run into other sheriffs who knew the same thing.
Except if he ended up in a small town. He quickly pulled out
some of the change from his pocket. Did he have enough to get
to the end of the world? That might be far enough.
Now, hold it right there, someone said from behind
him.
He gasped and raised his hands, dropping the coins which
rolled on the boardwalk and settled several feet away from him.
He‘d been found! This was it. He knew what happened to men
accused of murder. They were hanged.
God, I’m too young to die!
24

The Wrong Husband
The man chuckled. Very funny, Irving. You can put
your hands down.
He reluctantly turned around and winced at the older man
who had graying hair and a gun in his holster. The sunlight
bounced off his shiny sheriff badge, as if mocking him. He
lowered his hands, but only slightly.
The man frowned and took a step closer, his badge still
flashing in the sunlight. You look familiar. Have I seen you
before?
Owen‘s eyes darted to the Wanted poster that was not
even five feet from them. Did that drawing look just like him?
He decided to hedge his bets. No. I don‘t think so.
Hmm… The man closed the gap between them and took
off his hat.
Hey!
The man held up his hand to shush him. He inspected the
inside of the hat and a big grin crossed his face. Irving Spencer.
It is you! Your ma said that you always put this design on your
hat. He pointed to the deputy badge that had been stitched into
the front of the hat.
Owen nearly fainted with relief. Thank goodness! The
sheriff thought he was someone else. Well, that was easy enough.
He‘d play along and then get the heck out of town. He laughed
and pulled up his pants which had slipped to his hips. You
caught me. I‘m Irving.
I haven‘t seen your ma since we were kids. Had it not
been for your hat, I wouldn‘t have recognized you.
I‘ll be sure to tell her you said hi.
He turned to run off but the sheriff grabbed his arm. Do
I look like a fool?
Owen swallowed the lump in his throat. No, sir.
Then why are you playing me for one?
Alright. So the sheriff knew he had lied about being
Irving. I can explain. You see, I have this aunt–
25

Ruth Ann Nordin
Right. My ma. We‘re cousins, and your ma assured me
that you were the best deputy back in the Carolinas.
The…the Carolinas? Your aunt? My aunt? Our
mothers? Now he didn‘t know what was going on. Was this
good or bad or what?
I‘m glad you finally got here, Irving. We sure do need a
good deputy around here who can do his job. I had to let the last
one go because he hit the bottle too many times. He put his arm
around Owen‘s shoulders and walked with him down the
boardwalk. I have to admit that I expected you to be taller
though. You look weak. Didn‘t that mother of yours feed you
anything? Before Owen could answer, he laughed and patted him
on the back. Must be all that running you do after the riffraff.
Well, don‘t worry. We‘ll get you set up soon enough and you‘ll
have a woman who‘ll cook all your meals for you.
Owen wanted to ask what he was talking about but the
sheriff stopped.
The first thing we need is to get you into clothes that fit.
You can‘t be fighting the law in clothes that are ready to fall off of
you.
Fighting law? he dumbly asked.
Oh, Irving. You‘re such a kidder. Come on in.
Owen slowly entered the store where a thin man worked
on setting up the belt display by the window.
Hi there, Ernie! This here is my cousin, Irving Spencer.
He finally arrived. The sheriff turned to Owen. I got to admit,
we were starting to fear you weren‘t going to show.
We? Owen asked.
Ernie laughed and motioned to Owen. What a hoot!
The poor boy needs clothes alright. And fast.
That‘s my thinking on it as well, the sheriff agreed.
We‘ll start him up with two pairs of pants, four shirts, two belts,
your best pair of boots, and a better hat than this one. He tossed
26

The Wrong Husband
the hat in the trash can. Looking at Owen, he said, No offense,
son, but you have to have a hat that fits right on your head.
You know, Meyer, I have to admit that your kin looks
younger than I thought he‘d be.
Sheriff Meyer looked Owen up and down. I thought
you‘d be older too. Just how old are you anyway?
Uh… Did Owen dare tell the truth? How much could
he afford to play into this game before he could slip out and
escape town? Finally, he decided that he couldn‘t tell too many
lies. Besides, would it matter once he hopped another train to get
out of here? Twenty-four.
I don‘t know why I thought you were in your thirties.
The sheriff shrugged. No matter. We‘ll get you settled in and
then you can start your job.
My…my job? Owen wiped his forehead and stared at the
moisture on his hand. Man, was he ever breaking into a sweat!
This was worse than sitting in that godforsaken saloon. But not as
bad as being chased by Mitch and Lance. Still, there was that
Wanted poster outside. He gulped the nervous lump in his throat.
The sooner he got out of town, the better off he‘d be.
The sheriff laughed. You‘re my deputy. He patted
Owen on the back, nearly knocking him over. Boy, you need to
get some meat on those bones. I don‘t k now why I thought you
were built like a brick wall. Apparently, your ma exaggerated
some things about you in her last letter.
Owen grinned and shrugged. What else could he do? For
all he knew, Irving was a tough man. Then he remembered the
man who owned the clothes he was now wearing. His eyes nearly
popped out of his head. Was
that
Irving? The man was like a
might oak!
Anyway, Meyer continued, waving in Ernie‘s direction,
go get measured and we‘ll get you set up. I‘m going to get some
people together and we can get the ball rolling on things.
27

Ruth Ann Nordin
Things? Owen asked, his mind taken off of the large
man in the forest. What things?
The sheriff left without answering.
He groaned. He needed to get out of here! As he made
his way to the door, Ernie stopped him. Not yet, Mr. Spencer.
We have to get you in decent clothes first. Now, if you‘ll follow
me over to the mirrors, we‘ll get started.
Owen glanced at the door, biting his lower lip. Well, he
might as well get a good set of clothes. Then he wouldn‘t stick
out like a sore thumb. He checked the change in his pocket. At
least he wouldn‘t have to rip off poor Ernie. Alright, he finally
consented and followed the man to the back of the store.
28

The Wrong Husband
Chapter Four
J
enny stared at the calendar on the wall in the parlor. It was
September 29
and Irving hadn‘t arrived in town yet. She glanced
th
at Jeremy who played jacks with Sally‘s son, six-year-old Greg.
One-year-old Isaac sat in the corner of the room and chewed on a
stuffed toy. Jenny looked over at her sister who didn‘t say
anything, which was unusual for her. Then her gaze shifted to
Mary, her sister-in-law, who was the mother of Isaac. She usually
enjoyed her time together with her two closest friends. But she
couldn‘t today.
Irving did say he‘d be here before October 1
in that
st
letter, didn‘t he? Mary asked, as if she could read her mind.
Jenny exhaled and rubbed her temples, willing her
headache to ease. That‘s what he said.
He does have tomorrow to show up. Mary‘s voice
drifted off.
The silence hung heavy in the room. What could any of
them say? Irving probably wasn‘t coming.
Jenny took a deep breath and clenched her hands together.
Maybe I should marry Clyde.
Sally gasped. Don‘t you dare!
29

Ruth Ann Nordin
But I can‘t fight him forever. Besides, maybe she was
being selfish in keeping Jeremy away from his father .
We‘ll get our brothers to chase Clyde out of town, Sally
insisted, banging her hand on the arm of her chair. It worked
before, and it‘ll work again.
Dave‘s ready to go after him. Tom and Joel are too,
Mary added.
And don‘t forget Richard. Why I think even my husband
will have a go at that no good… —Sally shook her head, obviously
biting back the word she really wanted to use— that no good
man!
Clyde has his brothers with him this time, Jenny argued.
And he‘s not trying to avoid being a father.
Sally huffed. Well, we got more brother s than he does.
Greg and Jeremy laughed as the rubber ball bounced
across the floor. Greg ran after it and brought it back to the set of
jacks lying on the floor.
Jenny wiped her eyes. How she wished that Clyde would
stay away, but he wouldn‘t and she was tired.
The excited knocking at the door startled her.
I‘ll get it, Mary said as she stood up.
It‘s not October yet, Sally whispered. Keep praying,
Jenny. Don‘t give up hope.
I‘ve got good news! a male voice called out.
Jenny turned her attention to the sheriff who looked like
he was ready to throw his hat up in the air and shout for joy. Her
pulse sped up and she jumped from her seat so she could run over
to him. Is Irving here?
Please say yes!
Just came in off the train, he replied with a big smile and
a nod.
Sally and Mary hugged her, but she was too busy asking
the sheriff to repeat himself to pay attention to them.
He came just in the nick of time, Sheriff Meyer assured
her. He‘s getting ready for the wedding as we speak.
30

The Wrong Husband
Oh, you should put on your best dress, Sally squealed.
I love weddings!
I‘ll watch the children while you get ready, Mary said,
grinning. You two go on upstairs.
I‘ll go tell the judge to get ready with the vows, the
sheriff responded.
Make sure to get Judge Johnson, Sally stated.
Jenny rolled her eyes. I don‘t care if your husband does
the wedding or not. I just want to get married. She turned to the
sheriff. Whoever is available will be fine.
She watched in part amusement and part frustration as
Sally mouthed the words
Judge Johnson
to the lawman. Then her
sister ushered her up the stairs.
***
Owen studied his reflection in the mirror. The dark blue pants,
crisp white shirt, and dark blue vest was nice, but he wondered
why Ernie felt the need to give him a suit when a pair of denims
and shirt would have done just fine.
Ernie patted him on the shoulder. You look dapper, Mr.
Spencer. Why, I hardly believe you‘re the same man who came
into my store!
I can‘t believe it either. Owen touched his chest. Yes, it
was him alright, but he‘d never worn a suit in his entire life. It just
didn‘t
look
like him.
Here‘s your suit jacket.
Wow. This must be expensive. He touched the fabric
before he slipped it on.
Don‘t worry about it. The sheriff‘s paying.
What? Owen stopped fastening the buttons and shook
his head. No. I can‘t let him do that.
Why not? He‘s your kin…and your boss.
31

Ruth Ann Nordin
But…I don‘t really know him. At least that much was
true.
Naturally. But it‘s your special day and he wants it to be
that way.
A special day? All Irving Spencer had to do was show up
in town and it was = a special day‘? Owen shook his head. Irving
must be an important man.
Alright. I have your measurements down, so I‘ll get
started on your other clothes. I‘ll have them delivered to your
new residence by tomorrow afternoon.
My new residence? You mean the sheriff‘s house?
Ernie threw back his head and laughed. Oh, Irving.
Meyer didn‘t tell me you had a sense of humor.
Owen watched, bewildered, as the man went into the
backroom. He took that as his cue to leave. He quickly dug out a
coin that he figured would cover the cost of the suit and threw it
on the counter by the cash register. Then he retrieved Irving‘s hat
from the trash can and put it on his head. So it didn‘t match.
Who cared? He just had to get out of town before the sheriff
realized the truth.
Just as he opened the door, the sheriff stood right in front
of him, and he jerked back. He tumbled and fell back against the
shirt display which came crashing on top of him a s he landed on
the floor.
What‘s going on? Ernie yelled as he came running from
the backroom.
The sheriff laughed. Looks like I scared poor Irving. I
was ready to come in when he opened the door. He turned to
Owen and stretched his hand out to him. I guess the groom is
anxious to see his bride.
Owen‘s jaw dropped. What?
The sheriff leaned forward and practically picked Owen
up and set him on his feet. He sighed. You can‘t wear that hat
anymore. It doesn‘t fit you right. Here. He grabbed another hat
32

The Wrong Husband
from the wall, took off the one Owen was wearing, and plopped
the new one on Owen‘s head. Much better.
I‘ll get the shirts on the floor, Ernie told Owen. Go on
ahead.
Yep. We don‘t want to keep that bride of yours waiting.
She‘s real anxious to see you, the sheriff said. Ernie, send me
the bill.
Will do.
The sheriff wrapped his arm around Owen‘s shoulders,
forcing Owen out of the store.
Irving‘s getting married? Owen asked dumbly.
You know, you‘re a breath of fresh air, son. I can‘t tell
you how nice it is to finally have a deputy who has a sense of
humor.
A breath of fresh air? A sense of humor ? Owen gulped
the lump in his throat as he struggled to keep up with the older
man‘s fast pace on the boardwalk. He caught sight of the train
station and wondered if he could create a diversion so he could
get there.
I tell you, you had us mighty worried, Meyer continued.
Especially Jenny. She‘s been fretting something awful. I can‘t
tell you how much it means to her that you‘re doing this.
This? You mean the… Oh goodness. Dare he actually
say it? Wedding?
What else?
He glanced at the train as it pulled into the station. Oh,
this was bad. Really bad. He had to get out of here! He couldn‘t
marry someone else‘s woman. He licked his dry lips and cleared
his throat. You know, I…I need to…to… To do what?
Think,
Owen. Think!
Now, now. Did you think I‘d forget?
Owen couldn‘t answer. He was breathing too fast. Was
he hyperventilating? He did feel dizzy, almost like he was going to
pass out. He tried to get a gulp of air but coughed instead.
33

Ruth Ann Nordin
Here it is. The man handed him something. I kept it
safe for you, just as you requested.
Owen stared at the wedding band in the palm of his hand.
Shaking his head, he said, You…you don‘t understand.
Cold feet, huh? Well, all men get that. Even the tough
ones.
No. I- He almost tripped on a step as the sheriff led
him down the boardwalk so they could cross the dusty street.
Watch your step, son. You don‘t want to get this nice
suit dirty.
Owen gave a frantic look at the train station. This wasn‘t
wasn’t
good. This
good!
The courthouse is right up ahead.
Owen dug his heels into the dirt but the sheriff lifted him
by the shoulders and dragged him along, making him stumble a
couple of steps before he found his footing and walked with him.
What a joyous day this will be! Now Jenny can rest
assured that her little boy will be safe.
Little boy? She has a child?
Don‘t act so surprised. That‘s why you two are getting
married.
It is?
They stopped in front of an imposing building and the
older man set his hands on Owen‘s shoulders. Now, I know
you‘v e never been a family man, but you‘re about to become one.
I feel responsible for you, what with you being so young and all,
but I know your ma raised you right. You‘ll do right by Jenny and
Jeremy. They need you.
Uh…no, I don‘t think-
Oh, here she comes. She‘s the one in the pretty white
dress. She even sewed it herself.
Owen grabbed the sheriff‘s vest. You don‘t understand.
I can‘t marry her! It was bad enough he stole Irving‘s clothes and
money. He didn‘t need to add this to his list of sins.
34

The Wrong Husband
Meyer chuckled and shook his head. The jokes just never
stop with you, do they? Look behind you.
He reluctantly obeyed and straightened as soon as he saw
her. Whoa! She was…She was…He rubbed his eyes and looked
again, just in case they were playing tricks on him. But they
weren‘t. She was the most beautiful woman he‘d ever seen. He
blinked several times. She was still there…and looking very
appealing.
She had light blond hair that fell softly past her shoulders,
a white hat with a red flower on it, a white dress that hung nicely
along her curves, and a red floral bouquet in her hand. She smiled
at him as she approached him. Two women and two children
followed behind her, and a boy stood to her left.
Hello, Irving, she said.
Who? Owen asked.
Meyer waved his hand at her. Oh, don‘t mind him. This
one is a hoot.
A real kidder, huh? the blond woman standing on
Jenny‘s right said. Well, I‘m Jenny‘s sister, Sally. And this is our
sister-in-law, Mary.
Owen couldn‘t take his eyes off of Jenny. He tried to…but
he couldn‘t.
I really appreciate this, Irving. Jenny glanced down at
her son and smiled. We both do.
Owen knew he should tell them all the truth. This was the
time to do so. He took one last look at the train station and then
turned his attention to Jenny. Was there really a contest? She was
much more attractive. And Irving wasn‘t here. And everyone
expected Jenny to get married today. And Jenny looked very
happy about it. He looked down at the boy. How old are you?
Four, Jeremy answered.
You been taking good care of your ma? he asked.
The boy puffed up his chest and nodded. Yes, sir.
The group chuckled.
35

Ruth Ann Nordin
Well, the boy seemed like a good kid. Owen returned his
gaze to Jenny who appeared hopeful. Who was he to let them all
down? A big smile crossed his face. Let‘s get married!
Right this way, the sheriff said, motioning to the
courthouse.
Make sure you ask for Judge Johnson, Sally spoke up.
He‘s my husband, she told Owen.
Owen felt a momentary flicker of panic slither up his
spine. He was going to work for the sheriff and his brother-in-law
was going to be a judge? Was this a good idea? Maybe he should
bolt for the train.
Jenny touched his arm. I promise not to overwhelm you
with everyone in my family until you get settled into your life
here.
Sally laughed. We are a large bunch, especially when you
consider all our children.
That was when Owen noticed the other two boys. Are
they yours too? he asked Jenny.
No. Greg is Sally‘s son and Isaac is Mary‘s son, she
said. I did make it clear that I only had one child in my letter,
didn‘t I?
He blinked. A letter? Uh…right. It‘s been a
hectic…uh…journey here. Now that was the understatement of
the century!
Well, I was afraid you weren‘t going to make it, she
replied. I‘m glad you did.
She had such a nice smile that made her face light up. I
am too.
Great, the sheriff said. It looks like you two will be a
good match.
Owen couldn‘t agree more. He knew he‘d just met her,
but he was already in love with her.
They followed Meyer into the courthouse and requested to
see Judge Johnson for the nuptials. The judge agreed to perform
36

The Wrong Husband
the ceremony and it was over before Owen knew what was
happening to him. He experienced that slight twinge of
discomfort over being called Irving Spencer during the vows but
promised that he‘d do good by Jenny.
When it came to sign the marriage license, he waited until
Jenny, the judge, the sheriff, and Sally signed their names before
he reluctantly took the fountain pen. He glanced at it and
frowned. These things leaked when one pressed on the tip just
right. His heart raced and he debated how to do this without
looking obvious about it.
He leaned over the paper, hoping to block their view and
quickly signed his real name, pressing harder into the paper than
necessary. As soon as the ink sprayed over his signature, he took
a moment to inspect it. Did it look good enough? Could anyone
tell it read
Owen Russell
instead of
Irving Spencer
?
The sheriff glanced over his shoulder.
Owen jerked back, his heart hammering loudly in his
chest. The sheriff would see it. He‘d know for sure. Owen just
knew it!
But the sheriff shrugged and said, Those darned pens.
Oh well. No matter. The deed is done, and handed the license
to Owen. Better take good care of that.
Owen stared at him. That was it? He was safe?
The sheriff turned to the judge and started talking as if
nothing was wrong.
He quickly tucked the license into his suit pocket. There.
No harm done.
The sheriff patted him on the back, startling him. You‘re
a married man now. I know you wrote that nothing is more
thrilling than fighting the bandits, but I think you‘ll find marriage
has its own adventures, even if you didn‘t seem to think so.
Owen glanced over at Jenny who stood with Sally and
Mary and their children who doted over her. Irving said that
going after bandits was more thrilling than marrying Jenny? Well,
37

Ruth Ann Nordin
the man hadn‘t seen Jenny, so Owen reckoned he‘d say that but
still… Maybe Irving was an fool. If that was the case, then Jenny
was better off with a man who preferred her to his job.
Jenny‘s gaze met his and she gave Sally and Mary a hug
before she took Jeremy‘s hand and walked over to him. You
must be tired after your long trip here. Would you like to go
home and get some rest?
Owen nearly jumped with joy. Going home…with her…to
=rest‘… Yes, that definitely sounded like a good idea. Stopping
himself from dragging her and Jeremy out of there, he casually
stretched. Well, I am a little tired.
Tired of being around other people,
that is.
The sheriff grabbed his arm before he could turn and
leave with his new wife and son. Now, I know you got a
honeymoon to enjoy, so I‘m giving you three days before you
have to report to work. You two also need to check out that
house up by the lake I‘m giving you. But you have to pay me for
it with a percentage of your earnings.
A house? Owen glanced at Jenny and Jeremy. Where
were they staying right now? You don‘t live with your parents,
do you? Not that it would have stopped him from enjoying his
wedding night, but it wasn‘t the most comforting feeling to be
near her parents when such an event was occurring.
No. I live at the boarding house.
Now you see why it‘s important that you and your wife
and son get a home of your own, Meyer added. It‘s a nice out-
of-the-way place with a good five acres of land. You‘ll have plenty
of privacy and can even get a dog or two for the boy to play
with.
A dog? Jeremy excitedly asked. Can we get a dog,
Ma?
As long as your pa says it‘s alright. She looked at hi m.
Like Owen had the strength to deny her anything. Just
looking at her made him weak. Sure, we can get a dog. A boy
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The Wrong Husband
needs an animal to be friends with. He bent forward so he was
eye level with the boy. When I was a kid, I had a shaggy dog that
would chase sticks I threw for it. He stood up and turned to the
sheriff. You said the house is by a lake. How are the fish in that
lake?
He shrugged. Fine, I guess.
Well, I can fish. He looked back at the boy. Do you
know how to fish?
The boy shook his head.
He glanced over at Jenny who was smiling at them. Mind
if I teach him?
She chuckled. Of course not. You‘re his father now. I
want you to do things with him.
Sally walked over to them and nodded. Jeremy needs a
father. I think you‘ll do just fine for that, Irving. Welcome to the
family.
It took Owen a moment to realize when Sally said =Irving‘,
she meant him. Oh, right. I‘m going to do just that. He shook
the judge‘s hand and then the sheriff‘s. Well, Jenny, are you
ready?
Sure. She waved to everyone.
Don‘t be a stranger, Sally called out.
Sally, her husband began, let them be.
Oh, it‘s just an expression, Rick, she retorted, rolling her
eyes even as she giggled.
Owen took Jenny by the arm and said, We promise to
make an appearance once in awhile.
The group laughed.
He breathed a sigh of relief as he left with Jenny and
Jeremy. Thank goodness that was over. He‘d been right there in
front of a judge and lawman and lived through it. Maybe
everything was going to be alright after all. Maybe he could make
a life here and be safe. One look at Jenny took his mind off of the
Wanted: Dead or Alive
poster. He was now a married man, and
39

Ruth Ann Nordin
married men got to enjoy being in bed with a woman. This was
going to be worth all the stress of the past month.
40

The Wrong Husband
Chapter Five
A
s soon as Jenny closed the door to the room in her boarding
house, Owen frowned. Is this it?
She nodded. I know it‘s small, but it‘s all Jeremy and I
needed. Well, until now.
His gaze drifted from the small boy to the two beds. One
was his, obviously, and the other was hers, but this wasn‘t what he
expected. He cleared his throat. Can I talk to you… He glanced
at the space that consisted of a dresser and a washstand. Over
there, he finally said, pointing at the window on the other side of
the room, which was only a few paces away.
At her prompting, Jeremy went over to a box in the corner
of the room and pulled out a toy train set.
What is it? she asked, looking concer ned.
Um… He tried to think of how to phrase this. Lowering
his voice so the kid wouldn‘t overhear, he asked, Is someone
going to watch him tonight?
No, she whispered. He stays with me.
Yes but— he glanced at Jer emy who was focusing on
his toy— what about us. You know. It is our wedding night.
41

Ruth Ann Nordin
Her eyes grew wide. Oh. Don‘t worry about that. I
understand. You don‘t have to feel awkward about it.
Awkward about what?
Your inability to…consummate the marriage.
My inability to what? he shrieked.
Jeremy looked over at them.
Jenny set her hand on Owen‘s arm and smiled at her son.
Everything is fine, honey. Keep playing. She turned her
attention back to Owen and whispered, You explained that in
your letter. Remember that accident you had?
Accident? he dumbly repeated, unable to believe this
horrible thing was happening to him. Here he was, married to a
beautiful woman…and he couldn‘t consummate their marriage?
She walked across the room and pulled out a letter from
one of the dresser drawers.
As she made her way back to him, he had a sinking feeling
that he wasn‘t going to like this. He reluctantly took the folded
piece of paper from her and opened it up. He slowly read the
letter, realizing that Irving came off as a very orderly and formal
man, so unlike him. His heart sank when he got to the part where
Irving made his confession about not being able to perform in
bed. Then Owen wondered exactly what kind of accident would
render a man unable to make love. He cringed at the different
scenarios that ran through his head. Was Irving stabbed, shot at,
or what?
I just want you to know that I will honor our wedding
vows, she said. I‘m in this for life.
But… He looked back at the letter. Did this mean he
couldn‘t ever…? He glanced back at her, fighting the urge to cry.
This wasn‘t right. I mean… What could he say that wouldn‘t
give away the fact that he wasn‘t really Irving? It‘s just that…
Just that what? He was lying about being Irving so he wouldn‘t be
arrested and hanged? Her brother-in-law was a judge. She‘d turn
him in!
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The Wrong Husband
She smiled. I don‘t think you‘re less of a man because of
this. To be honest, it‘s a relief.
His eyes nearly popped out of his head. It is?
Shrugging, she took the letter from him. This means we
can work on being friends. I never really was friends with
Jeremy‘s father. All he could think about was one thing. At least
with you, you‘ll want to know me. That is, I hope you will.
He felt his heart soften. Of course, I want to know you.
You‘re my wife.
I‘m glad to hear that, Irving. I have to admit that I was
unsure about this. You sounded nice enough in your letter, but I
got the feeling that you wanted to treat our marriage like a
business.
Really? No. I don‘t want that.
I don‘t either.
Alright. So he wouldn‘t get to have fun in bed with her
that night. He had to figure out a way to make Irving‘s problem
go away so that he could consummate the marriage, but he
realized that she needed to have a husband who was her friend
first. He took her hand and led her to the bed where he sat next
to her. He would have picked chairs but none were in the room.
Why don‘t you come over here, squirt? he called out to Jeremy.
Bring that toy of yours over if you want.
Jeremy picked up his train and several tracks and plopped
them on the floor right in front of them.
While he assembled the tracks together, Owen turned to
Jenny. I think there‘s something we need to discuss before
anything else. He knew this was another lie, but he couldn‘t give
away that he was a man convicted of murder, even if that murder
was self-defense. Taking a deep breath, he said, I‘d like you to
call me Owen.
She furrowed her eyebrows. Why Owen? I‘d think your
nickname would be something like Irv.
43

Ruth Ann Nordin
My aunt called me Owen. Because that was his name,
but there was no need to tell her all that. But I‘d rather you call
me Irving in public.
She shrugged. Alright.
Well, that was simple enough. He was surprised, but
relieved, she accepted it as easily as she did. So, tell me about
you and Jeremy here. He motioned to the boy who seemed
focused on his train, though Owen suspected the youngster was
paying close attention to everything that was going on.
There‘s not much to tell really. I already explained about
his father. I‘m glad that you came. You have no idea how
worried I was that you weren‘t going to show up.
He considered her words and realized that she had written
to the real Irving and explained everything to him. That, of
course, meant he was supposed to already know about her
past…or at least her past with Jeremy‘s father. He couldn‘t ask her
to explain it to him again or else she‘d suspect something was up.
So that was a dead end. Clearing his throat, he opted for another
avenue. What are you interested in?
Well, I like to sew. That‘s how I‘ve been supporting me
and Jeremy.
You sew clothes?
And blankets. I make my own clothes. See?
You made this dress?
She wanted to look pretty, Jeremy said. Do you like
it?
Owen examined the white dress that was simple in its
design, but the way it fit on her was what got his attention. It
showed off her curves, and he definitely liked that. It was a shame
he wouldn‘t be a ble to enjoy those curves as long as Irving had
that stupid impotence problem. He really had to figure a way out
of that one. There was no way he could be married to someone as
gorgeous as Jenny and not enjoy the benefits of marriage.
Owen? Jenny asked.
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The Wrong Husband
Owen blinked and forced his mind off what she might
look like naked. Oh. Yes, I do. I like the dress.
Especially the
way you look when you wear it.
He had to get his mind onto
something else. So, what else do you like to do?
I like to sing.
Really? Are you any good?
She sings like an angel, Jeremy spoke up. The preacher
says so.
Is that true? Owen looked at her. Will you sing
something so I can hear?
She blushed. I don‘t know…
Oh come on. It‘s just us.
Well, I know but… I mean, I don‘t really know you that
well.
That‘s why we‘re doing this. To get to know each other.
She looked down at her lap and fiddled with the sleeve on
her dress. I don‘t even know what to sing.
Owen smiled. He thought it was cute that she was shy
about singing for him. Anything will do. What about the
Star-
Bangled Banner
by Francis Scott Key?
I like that one, Jeremy agreed.
There. If your son wants it, then you should sing it for
him.
She shifted on the bed and cleared her throat. Alright.
She licked her lips and straightened her back. She took a deep
breath before she began singing.
Owen‘s mouth almost dropped open. He thought she
would have a pleasant voice, but he wasn‘t prepared for how good
she really was. Jeremy stopped playing with his toy and watched,
probably just as transfixed as he was. The sound of her voice
evoked a wave of emotions that surprised him. When she
finished, he struggled to find the right words to express what he
thought, but had to settle for a simple, That was beautiful.
45

Ruth Ann Nordin
She shrugged, her face a bright shade of red. It‘s the
song.
He shook his head and laughed. Granted, the song stirs
the spirit, but I‘ve never heard anyone do it the justice you just
did.
She peered up at him. Really?
Yes, and I‘m not just saying that.
Thank you.
I told you, Ma. You‘ve got the best voice in town.
In town? I‘d venture to say she‘s got the best voice in
the country, he told the boy.
I doubt that, she said. What about you, Owen? What
kind of things do you like to do?
He wondered what Irving told her about him. He decided
to feel out the question she just asked so he wouldn‘t
inadvertently say something contrary to what Irving already said.
You know, I‘m having trouble remembering what I wrote. I was
busy that day, when I wrote the letter— assuming, of course, that
there was only one letter— so could you refresh my memory?
Were you locking up the bad men? Jeremy asked, his
eyes wide.
Yes, he lied.
What did they do? Jeremy dropped his toy and sat
beside him on the bed.
Uh…bad things. He glanced at Jenny who looked at her
son in amusement. Realizing the boy wanted to hear something
exciting, he continued, They were wanted men. They robbed
five banks in three months.
Wow! Did you catch them in a bank?
I did. Actually, they came in to rob the place when I was
making a deposit.
What‘s a deposit?
A deposit is when someone puts money into their
account.
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The Wrong Husband
What‘s an account?
He paused, wondering how to best explain it to the kid.
The bank holds money for me. So I took my money into the
bank so they could put it into my account…for safe keeping.
Why? Can‘t you hide it under your mattress like Ma
does?
Jeremy, Jenny interrupted, some people like to keep
their money in banks. She looked at Owen. Go on.
Owen nodded. Right. Actually, there were six of them.
Six? The boy‘s eyes grew as big as saucers.
They were tall too. I think three of them were seven feet
tall.
Seven feet tall? Jenny asked, obviously not believing it.
He winked at her, and she grinned. She‘d recognize the
tall tale for what it was, but a boy had to believe in little guys like
Owen taking on men the size of monsters. It made for good
daydreams. At least it did for him when he was a kid. He patted
Jeremy on the shoulder. I had to be calm through the whole
thing. It wasn‘t easy. They were huge and mean.
Did they have guns?
You bet they did. That‘s how they were able to talk all
those other banks out of their money.
Did you shoot any of them?
No. I did shoot the guns out of their hands, but it took a
careful aim in order to do that. You see, when you‘re
outnumbered, you got to use your head and think of how to
outwit the bully. I threw something across the room to distract
them and was able to shoot the guns out of their hands, just like
that. He snapped his fingers.
You mean you‘re a quick shot?
Well, I don‘t want to brag… because he‘d never shot a
gun in his entire life… but they didn‘t call me fast fingers for
nothing.
Wow.
47

Ruth Ann Nordin
I then lassoed them all together in one fell swoop and
dragged them off to jail. Not that he‘d ever held a lasso before,
but he had to finish with something credible. How else would he
get six large men rounded up so they didn‘t run off?
Ma was right about you, Jeremy said. You really are
the best!
Is that what you said? Owen asked her. Was Irving that
great of a deputy?
She nodded. It showed in the way you wrote. I‘ve never
seen a man more dedicated to his career.
Oh. Oh boy. Owen exhaled. If Irving had the potential
to be
that
good, then he had a lot to learn about being Irving when
he was on duty. He wondered if he could possibly fill Irving‘s
shoes.
48

The Wrong Husband
Chapter Six
O
wen groaned and rolled over in the bed. Maybe he should
sleep on the floor. Laying next to Jenny in the dark was driving
him insane. The bed wasn‘t that big, and the fact that Jeremy was
asleep in the small bed next to them wasn‘t that much of a
deterrent. At least, it wasn‘t as much of a deterrent as it should
have been.
He closed his eyes and tried to focus on what he needed
to do. Really, he had some serious problems coming up. If Irving
had been a fisherman, there wouldn‘t be anything to worry about.
But Irving wasn‘t a fisherman. He was a deputy. And apparently,
a good one. In fact, from reading Irving‘s note, Owen could tell
that the man took his job seriously.
Owen tried to imagine doing the things that deputies
did…whatever those things might be. Chasing the outlaws,
naturally, was one of them. He never thought that he‘d be one of
those outlaws. Seeing his face on a Wanted poster had been a
chilling experience. Killing Mitch had been as well, but that
wasn‘t intentional. The man was coming after him. What else
could he do? If he hadn‘t defended himself, he‘d be dead.
Don’t think about that.
He had to concentrate on being
Irving. Irving was brave. And Irving was large. How tall was he
49

Ruth Ann Nordin
anyway? A good six feet at least. Maybe six and a half. He
recalled how happy Irving had seemed to run into Big Roy and his
men. Owen shivered. Those were scary men, but Irving looked
at them in the same way a cat looked at a mouse. Irving, it
seemed, enjoyed tracking down outlaws with great enthusiasm.
The man didn‘t just like his job. He lived for it. It was in his
blood. How was Owen supposed to imitate that kind of
dedication?
Jenny sighed in her sleep and snuggled against his back.
He gritted his teeth. This was horrible. She was full of softness
and curves. His body insisted he act on the urges coursing
through him, but how could he when Irving was impotent? Tears
sprang to his eyes. This wasn‘t fair. Of all the things the
invincible Irving could do, making love to his wife wasn‘t one of
them. She wrapped her arm around his waist. He winced. Was
she trying to kill him?
He explored the floor. Was there enough space for him to
sleep there? Probably not. The room was way too small. He
wondered what was going to happen once they got the house.
Would he get his own room or would he be forced to endure this
hardship there too? And that brought up another good question.
Just when would they actually move to the house? They really
needed a bigger place, especially with the three of them. He
hoped he‘d get his own room. No. That‘s not what he hoped for.
Not really. What he really wanted was for Irving to overcome his
problem. He would have to come up for a way to make that
happen because he had every intention of doing more than
cuddling with his wife.
***
Owen stopped in front of the jailhouse. Taking a deep breath, he
straightened his new vest and wiped imaginary lint from his
50

The Wrong Husband
denims. He did like his new clothes. The tailor did an excellent
job. Alright. Enough stalling. It was time to report to work.
He stood up straight and stared at the door. He could do
this. Everything would be fine. All he had to do was follow the
sheriff‘s instructions and things would work out. He had to
believe that because if he didn‘t, he‘d doom himself. The
optimism had worked when he got his aunt‘s money back, and it
would work this time.
Always think positive.
He opened the door and walked into the jailhouse.
Currently, two cells were inhabited. A quick glance around the
large room showed him that the sheriff was nowhere in sight. He
approached the desk with a pile of papers on it and wiped his
sweaty palms when he realized that one of the top pages on the
stack was information about him.
There it was in black and white.
Owen Russell was last seen
heading west on a train. He is 5’8” and has blond hair and a beard. He is
wanted for murder. If you see him, apprehend him and notify the Baton
Rogue, Louisiana marshal.
Owen took the piece of paper and stuffed it into his
pocket. He glanced over his shoulder. One prisoner was asleep
and the other had his head bowed in a book. Owen took off his
hat and wiped the sweat from his brow. Why was it so hot in
Nebraska? He couldn‘t recall sweating this much in Louisiana.
Then again, he hadn‘t been on the run when he lived there. He
knew it was nerves caused him to break out into a sweat.
The door behind him opened and he whirled around to
see the sheriff enter the building. Good to see you, Irving. You
know, you could have asked for more than three days off to be
with that bride of yours.
Really? Owen had assumed he‘d be expected to show up
for work as soon as possible. He mentally kicked himself for that
assumption. He‘d rather spend the day with Jenny and Jeremy
than be here.
51

Ruth Ann Nordin
But I shouldn‘t be surprised. I know that yours is a
marriage of convenience.
Lucky me.
Owen decided not to voice the sarcastic
thought. Instead, he shrugged. So, what are you going to have
me do today?
The first thing I need to do is show you your desk. He
pointed to the desk against the wall. There it is.
At least I won‘t get lost on my way to it, he joked.
The sheriff chuckled. I know that the last thing you want
to do is sit behind a desk, but I really need you to sort through all
of this paperwork. Meanwhile, I need to escort Benny over there
to the judge.
Owen looked at the man who was reading in his cell.
What did he do? He lowered his voice so Benny wouldn‘t
overhear him.
He got into a brawl at the saloon the other night and shot
a man. It wasn‘t planned or anything. In fact, some witnesses say
that he was defending himself.
Owen tuned into everything the man was telling him.
Oh. What will happen to him?
I‘m not sure. That‘s up for the judge to decide. The
witnesses are due to show up in court.
Well, you‘ll let him go, right? I mean, he had to shoot to
save his life.
If the judge finds him innocent, then yes. But you see,
the issue is proving that he did shoot in self-defense. That‘s the
part that matters.
Right. Of course. Owen rubbed his stomach, hoping to
ease the crazy knots it was making. What if no one could prove
that he killed Mitch in self-defense?
The sheriff patted him on the shoulder. I‘ll be back
around lunch. Then you can take your break. For the time being,
I need you to file all these papers. And don‘t worry. We‘ll get you
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The Wrong Husband
out chasing outlaws soon enough. I know you‘re eager to get into
the action.
That‘s alright. I don‘t mind doing this. Actually, he
much preferred doing this. It was safer than being in the line of
duty where men used guns and knives.
Sheriff Meyer unlocked the prisoner‘s cell and led him to
the front door. He stopped and told Owen, Tr y not to let
Danny back there bother you. He has a habit of mumbling in his
sleep when he‘s drunk. I see him a lot.
Owen nodded. A regular. He suspected he‘d be seeing a
lot of Danny in the future. Clearing his throat, he told the man
who walked beside the sheriff, Good luck.
The sheriff raised an eyebrow at him.
The man looked as scared as Owen secretly felt.
Thanks.
Owen could tell the man was innocent just by looking at
him. Couldn‘t Meyer see the same thing?
After they left, he went to the window and watched as
they crossed the street. He prayed that the man would be
acquitted. If the man was released, then maybe Owen stood a
chance as well…should his secret be discovered.
The sleeping man snorted and muttered something about
red dancing dots.
Owen shook his head and turned to the desk. Being
drunk made some people say strange things. He sorted through
the stack of papers and was relieved when none of them pertained
to him. Good. At least he could relax for the time being.
***
Jenny finished dressing Jeremy as Owen walked into the room at
the boarding house that Sunday. She smiled at her husband,
relieved that he was friendlier than he seemed to be in his
correspondence. She did like him, and Jeremy did too. It was
53

Ruth Ann Nordin
nice to know that the marriage was leading to a friendship
between them.
Are you ready to meet my family? she asked as she tied
Jeremy‘s shoes.
Sure. I‘ll have Jeremy here to keep everyone nice, right?
Jeremy nodded. You bet, Pa.
See? Jeremy will make sure that no one picks on me.
She grinned at her son. You have a tough job. She
glanced at Owen. Fortunately for you, my brothers are very fond
of their nephew, so since he likes you, they will too. She stood up
and took a deep breath. Let‘s go. We‘ll be going to Sally‘s house
after church.
As long as Jeremy doesn‘t leave my side, I‘ll be just fine.
He patted Jeremy on the shoulder.
Jenny grabbed her shawl.
Here. Let me help you with that. Owen moved over to
her and put it around her shoulders.
Her face flushed at the nearness of him. She hadn‘t
expected to feel the fluttery sensation in her stomach. Pushing it
aside, she turned to hold Jeremy‘s hand. Well, here goes
nothing.
Owen opened the door and waited for them to leave
before he stepped out of the room. I think we‘re a nice looking
family. Don‘t you?
I sure do, Pa, Jeremy said.
She hoped her brothers would approve. Though she
knew they couldn‘t do anything about her marriage, she longed for
them to accept her husband. After she made the huge error in
judgment with Clyde, it‘d be nice to know she could do something
right…even if the sheriff had to arrange it for her.
On their way to the church, Owen slipped his hand
through hers. The contact felt natural, as if they had always
known each other. It was a wonderful feeling, knowing she was
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The Wrong Husband
safe with him. He wouldn‘t run off on her or Jeremy. Somehow
she knew that this was the kind of man she could trust.
When they reached the yard, Sally waved to the other
family members. Oh good! Irving‘s right over there.
Owen must have noticed Jenny‘s anxiety, for he squeezed
her hand. Everything‘s going to be just fine. Then he let go of
her and picked Jeremy up and told the boy, Now you make sure
to tell them lots of good things about me, alright?
I sure will, Jeremy assured him, looking unusually
serious about his new mission.
Sally ran up to them with Tom, Jessica, and their girls.
This is Irving Spencer, she told them. He‘s Sheriff Meyer‘s
new deputy. Irving, this is our brother Tom and his wife Jessica
and their pretty little girls. She turned to Owen. Did you bring
your badge?
No, Owen replied. I only wear it when I‘m on the
job.
Oh. That‘s a shame.
It sure is, the oldest girl agreed. I‘ve never seen a
deputy badge before.
I‘ll have to grab it before I head on out to your
grandparents‘ farm for the family get-together, Owen promised.
Can I try it on?
Sure.
Why would you want to do that? Tom asked. You
won‘t be a deputy.
It‘s just for fun, Jessica said. I think it‘s a great idea.
Tom shook his head. You won‘t let them climb trees
because you say they‘re acting like boys, but you‘ll let them wear a
badge?
They won‘t fall and break a limb if they put on a badge.
They could get stuck with the pin. Those things are
sharp.
55

Ruth Ann Nordin
She rolled her eyes. You manage just fine around the
sharp objects, and they will too.
I managed to help build our new house, didn‘t I? I stood
high up on the roof for that one. That means the girls can climb
trees without breaking a bone.
Yes! the girl jumped up and down with her two sisters.
It‘s true. We saw Pa up there. He even hopped on one foot.
Jessica gasped. You did that on the roof?
To make sure I wouldn‘t fall through it.
She shook her head in disbelief. I hate to think what
chances you take when I‘m not looking.
I‘m fine. The girls are fine. Everyone‘s fine.
Sally groaned. That‘s enough. This is about Irving, not
girls climbing trees. She scanned the yard. I‘ll get David and
Mary. They usually get people to stop arguing.
As she ran off, Jessica furrowed her eyebrows and looked
at Tom. What is wrong with your sister? Why does she think
we‘re arguing?
He shrugged. Who knows? Sa lly has a tendency to go
overboard on things. He smiled and shook Owen‘s hand. Nice
to meet you, Irving. I see that Jeremy likes you.
I now have a pa! Jeremy said.
That you do, Jessica replied.
Owen chuckled before looking between Jenny and Tom.
I can tell you‘re related. You look a lot alike.
Oh really? Tom‘s eyebrows rose in a challenge. Can
you tell where the other siblings are in this crowd?
Jenny watched in amusement as Jeremy leaned forward to
whisper in Owen‘s ear. She nu dged her son in the side. There‘ll
be no cheating. He has to figure this one out on his own.
That‘s right, Owen agreed. It wouldn‘t be fair to make
this easy for me.
Jeremy looked disappointed but kept quiet.
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The Wrong Husband
After a full minute of inspecting everyone assembled on
the lawn, he finally pointed out Richard, Joel and Dave. Well,
that brother over there is pretty much a given since Sally is leading
him over here.
Tom and Jessica‘s girls watched Owen in obvious shock.
You‘re amazing, one of them said.
No wonder you‘re a good deputy. You can probably
figure out who‘s an outlaw just by looking at them, the other
added.
Owen shrugged. It‘s nothing. Really. I mean, the
Larsons all have the same shade of blond hair and cheekbones and
chin. It was easy.
Not all of us can do that, Jessica said.
Sally came up to them, holding a one-year-old boy in her
arms. This little man here is Isaac.
Same blond hair as the others, Owen told Jenny.
Notice the same streaks of white blond through the golden
layers?
Jenny inspected the hair and then took in Tom‘s hair and
Dave‘s hair. By golly if her new husband wasn‘t right. Even a
look at Jeremy showed the same trait. It was uncanny that a man
could detect subtle details like that.
Sally turned to the couple next to her. This is Isaac‘s pa,
David. And there‘s his ma, Mary. They were made for each
other.
Jenny blinked and took a good look at her older sister.
Was there a hint of sorrow in Sally‘s voice?
Before she could further contemplate what was going on
with her sister, Isaac threw his arms around Sally‘s neck and kissed
her cheek. Sally laughed. I‘m his favorite aunt.
I beg your pardon?
Jenny glanced at Amanda as she and Richard walked up to
them.
57

Ruth Ann Nordin
Sally turned to Amanda. Well, it‘s true. I‘m the favorite.
Don‘t you all agree? she asked the children.
Jenny‘s parents hustled over to them. Oh good, her
father said. I finally get to meet my new son-in-law.
Jenny smiled sympathetically at Owen as he shook her
father‘s hand. Her poor husband was being surrounded by a
group of strangers. He glanced her way, and she gave a slight
shrug.
To her surprise, he winked at her. I think I can handle it.
After all, I got Jeremy to help me remember names. You‘ll do
that for me, right?
Jeremy nodded. I will.
Jenny had to admit that Owen could handle the onslaught
of her family with amazing ease. She guessed that was part of
what made him a good deputy. He didn‘t crack easily under
pressure—and he must have felt some kind of pressure. Her
family inspected him with open curiosity. She finally decided that
being a part of the Larson family was not for the faint of heart.
The church bell rang, announcing that service would soon
begin. As the group dissipated to assemble into the building,
Owen placed his arm around her shoulders and drew her close.
That wasn‘t so painful, was it?
Startled, she blinked. Painful?
You looked like you were ready to flee, he said.
Did I?
Jeremy leaned forward. Ma hates large gatherings.
She blushed and cleared her throat. It was true. Even if it
was her family, she preferred there to be less of them bunched
around her at the same time.
Owen kissed her cheek.
Her skin tingled with warmth from the simple contact.
It‘s alright. You can lean on me if you get overwhelmed
in the future. Now, we better get in there before they start the
hymns, he said.
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The Wrong Husband
Once again, he took her hand and her heart gave a tiny
flutter. It‘d never been this nice with Clyde. You‘re nothing like
I thought you‘d be.
I hope that‘s a good thing.
She smiled. It is. Then she turned her attention to the
church.
59

Ruth Ann Nordin
Chapter Seven
J
enny couldn‘t hide her excitement as she took Jeremy to the
mercantile. They‘d be moving into a house. One that would have
a kitchen, a parlor, and a couple of bedrooms. There would also
be land for Jeremy to run around on. She couldn‘t wait! It would
be wonderful to get out of the boarding house. As nice as her
landlady was, Jenny longed for a place to call her own. Now she
could make breakfast for her husband and son, see her husband
off to work, and watch Jeremy run around outside. And Owen
agreed that they could get a dog, so Jeremy would finally have the
pet he always wanted.
As she walked with Jeremy down the boardwalk, Jeremy
said, I really like Pa. Do you like Pa?
She smiled. Yes. I do. Owen was turning out to be a
lot of fun. From his formal letter, she‘d never guess he had the
kind of personality that naturally drew people to him. Already,
her brothers liked him—and they weren‘t easy to please.
He‘s going to take me fishing. Are we going to live by a
lake?
That‘s what the sheriff said. She didn‘t know who was
more excited about fishing: Owen or Jeremy.
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The Wrong Husband
We‘re a real family now, aren‘t we?
She stopped and looked at him. He‘d always wanted a
father, one who was there for him. Yes. We are.
Am I going to have brothers and sisters?
She didn‘t know why the question should make her blush,
but it did. No, honey.
Why not?
There was no way she could tell her son about Owen‘s
problem, so she opted for a little white lie. Well, it‘s not meant
to be.
Oh. I will pray for one.
Uh… She didn‘t know what to say to that. The boy
could pray all he wanted, but there were some things that just
weren‘t going to happen. Finally, she settled for shrugging her
shoulders. Alright. Let the boy pray. He‘d figure it out when
he was an adult and still the only child.
They turned their attention back to the boardwalk and
stopped in front of the mercantile in time for Clyde to approach
them. She instinctively placed her hands on her son‘s shoulders.
Clyde smiled at Jeremy. Hi there, Jeremy. Do you
remember me?
Jeremy looked hesitant.
What are you doing, Clyde? she demanded, her hands
tightening on her son‘s shoulders.
Ow, Jeremy said.
She relaxed her fingers. Sorry, honey.
Clyde handed Jeremy a coin. Why don‘t you go in there
and buy a piece of candy. I want to talk to your ma.
She bit back a protest. He had no right giving her child
anything, but she knew that if Jeremy didn‘t go into the store, then
Clyde would talk to her with him right there. And she had no
intention of getting him involved in this mess if she could avoid it.
Once Jeremy ran into the store, Clyde frowned at her.
She braced herself. Here it came.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
I see you got married, he sourly stated.
Really? I don‘t recall you being there when it happened.
He grunted. Hmm… Funny. I should be amused. Who
knew you had a sense of humor.
Why can‘t you just scurry on out of here like you did
when you found out I was expecting Jeremy?
Oh, honey. I‘m not going anywhere. I meant what I told
our boy in there. He nodded in Jeremy‘s direction. That fancy
new husband of yours may be married to you, but he‘s not
Jeremy‘s father.
He is according to the law. I‘ve got full rights to
my
son.
You won‘t be taking him away from me.
He‘s got my blood in him, and there‘s no court of law
that‘s going to change that. I will be a part of his life, whether
you‘re married or not.
No! Her heart beat accelerated. You need to get out of
here.
I will not.
He didn‘t even look like he cared that he was upsetting
her, and that only served to upset her all the more. He enjoyed
this. She just knew he did! Why are you doing this to me?
I‘m not doing anything to you. You may be married to
that deputy, but Jeremy will always be my boy.
She glared at him. She couldn‘t believe this was the same
man who, just five years ago, had been sweet and kind. And she
had been such a fool to not listen to her parents. They had
warned her to wait until she was married, but she thought she
knew better and just look at where that got her! She glanced at
Jeremy who paid for the piece of candy and plopped it into his
mouth. Her son was the only good thing that came out of her
time with Clyde. Her son. Jeremy was hers. Not Clyde‘s. A man
who ran off to avoid taking responsibility for his actions wa s not a
father, and no he has my blood argument would change that.
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The Wrong Husband
Her gaze met Clyde‘s in a challenge. You‘ll have to get
through my husband. You‘ve heard of his reputation, I‘m sure.
He‘s Irving Spencer and he‘s known for performing great feats on
the job. Why, it wasn‘t too l ong ago that he single-handedly
caught six bank robbers in one fell swoop, and three of them were
seven feet tall.
Clyde threw back his head and laughed. I‘ve seen your
husband, and he‘s pathetic. I‘m at least six inches taller than him.
Yes, but you‘re not seven feet tall, which means you‘re
easy bait.
He rolled his eyes.
Finally feeling as if she‘d just won the upper hand, she
casually shrugged. It doesn‘t matter what you think. Sheriff
Meyer said he‘s the best, and you know that Meyer isn‘t one to lie.
Now, if you‘ll excuse me, I have some things I need to buy. She
pushed past him and entered the store. It wasn‘t until she noticed
that he hadn‘t followed her in that she finally breathed a sigh of
relief.
***
Get =em, boy! Sheriff Meyer called out.
Sweat ran down Owen‘s forehead as he pursued the man
who was hightailing it down the street with the bag of cash.
Blood pumped through his body with an overwhelming surge of
panic. He never should have bragged about catching bank
robbers to Jeremy because now God saw it fit to show him exactly
what dealing with a robber was like—and Owen decided that he
didn‘t like it. Nope. He didn‘t like it one single bit.
The man was fast on his feet, which was surprising when
one considered that he was only 5‘4 . The man was short, but
boy, he sure could run. The man glanced over his shoulder and
scowled at Owen. Alright. So the man was also a mean looking
fellow.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
And as much as Owen hated to admit it, this particular
robber intimidated him. But Owen knew he couldn‘t give into his
fears. He was supposed to be the mighty and brave Irving
Spencer who was nothing short of legendary in this town. So he
had to act like he was Irving. And that was proving to be no small
feat!
Owen rounded the corner after the legendary bandit as
they passed multiple shops along the boardwalk. Along the way,
he caught sight of a fishing pole. Inspired, he dug into his pocket,
pulled out a coin and flipped it in the store owner‘s direction as he
snatched the pole from the doorway. He might not be able to run
the man down, but he could fish him out of the crowd. He threw
back the rod and released the hook.
As he hoped, the hook lodged itself right into the back of
the man‘s shirt and Owen pulled back on it. The man grunted
and fell to the ground. Owen then proceeded to reel the robber
until he was at Owen‘s feet.
Wow! a twelve-year-old boy said as he approached
Owen. That was amazing!
Out of breath, but grateful the desperate trick had worked,
Owen grinned at the boy. Thanks.
How did you flip that rod back like that?
It‘s nothing. I just use my wrist like this. He
demonstrated by showing the boy how he angled his wrist. Then
I snap it forward in a quick motion.
Just wait until I show that to Cal! Next time we go
fishing, we‘re bound to get the hook out far. Why, that man was a
good distance from you. I don‘t know if you would have caught
him any other way.
Sadly, the boy spoke the truth, so Owen didn‘t deny it. He
glanced at his gun in the holster. Maybe instead of the Colt .45,
he needed to lug a fishing rod around.
So you‘re the new deputy? Irving Spencer?
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The Wrong Husband
That‘s what the sheriff calls me. There. That wasn‘t a
direct lie. What‘s your name?
Amos.
I‘ll tell you what, Amos. I already have a couple of
fishing rods at home. Would you mind taking this one off my
hands?
Honest to goodness?
Yep.
Sure, Mister!
Owen quickly released the hook from the man‘s shirt and
cuffed him before he could get away. Straightening up, he handed
the boy the fishing rod. Remember, if you see any bandits
running through town, you can be my assistant and catch them for
me. But practice on getting those fish first.
The boy‘s face glowed. I sure will. You can count on
me.
Owen chuckled. Good.
The sheriff caught up to them and slapped Owen on the
back. Well, I‘ll be. You got =em.
He was amazing! the boy exclaimed. I better get to Ma
before she starts hollerin‘ for me.
As the boy ran off, the sheriff shook his head. I finally
got to see Irving in action, and what a sight that was. Did you
know I‘ve been trying to get old Joe McGuffy for over two years
now. I didn‘t think that was ever going to happen, but thanks to
you, it did.
Really? Owen asked, suddenly feeling better about
resorting to using a fishing pole.
That Joe there is the fastest runner around. I‘ve never
been able to catch him. The sheriff leaned down and pulled Joe
to his feet. Justice will fina lly be served, and all thanks to my
new deputy.
Owen‘s smile widened. Maybe he wasn‘t so bad at this job
after all.
65

Ruth Ann Nordin
***
News of Owen‘s deed spread fast and within two hours, Jenny
heard it from Mrs. Wilson who paid her for the two dresses she
made for the woman.
He caught =fast as a bullet Joe‘? Jenny asked.
Mrs. Wilson smiled as she held the clothes in her arms.
He sure did. That new husband of yours is a real catch, if I ever
did hear of one. You did good on this one.
Jenny grinned. It was nice to have the respect of being
married to a good man. I didn‘t rea lize how good I was going to
have it when Sheriff Meyer suggested the arranged marriage to
me. But it really has worked out.
I‘m glad. It‘s about time you got a good one after that
Clyde ran off.
Yes, well, I should have said no.
And what can you do about the past? Nothing. Which is
why there‘s no sense in dwelling on it.
Jenny sighed. She feared that she didn‘t deserve Irving.
When she thought it was just going to be a convenient
arrangement, it was easier to accept. But Irving was turning out to
be a friend too, and there was that part of her that was attracted to
him. He wasn‘t drop dead gorgeous. He was good looking, but
he was more adorable than anything else. Still, he did have a smile
that made her heart skip a beat.
Mrs. Wilson giggled and patted her arm. Enjoy the
honeymoon. It‘s the best time in a woman‘s life.
Jenny blushed and said good-bye before she went to
Sally‘s house to get Jeremy. She pulled the shawl around her
shoulders, realizing that soon she‘d be wearing a coat, and
knocked on her sister‘s front door.
Sally answered it and waved her in. Did you hear about
Irving catching that robber?
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The Wrong Husband
I did. News had reached Sally too? She wondered who
didn‘t know.
He‘s earning his reputation. Will you stay for a cup of
coffee before you head back home?
Remembering that she wanted to talk to Sally, she nodded.
Are the boys out back?
Yes. Jeremy wanted to play with the dog.
Well, we‘ll get one as soon as we move into the little
house the sheriff is selling us. Then your poor dog can get a
break.
As they entered the kitchen, Jenny took off her shawl
while Sally grabbed two cups from a shelf. Oh please. Jeremy is
doing Clifford a favor. Greg would rather read.
Jenny glanced out the window where the two boys were
rolling around in the grass with the dog. Doesn‘t Greg ever play
with him?
Once in awhile. But he finds Clifford more interesting
when Jeremy‘s interested in him. You know how it works.
Things are more entertaining when someone else takes note of
them.
True. She sat down as Sally poured coffee into the cups.
Once Sally handed her the cup and sat across from her, Jenny
said, I noticed you seemed unusua lly sad on Sunday when you
said Dave and Mary were meant for each other.
Sally groaned. You know me too well.
That‘s because I‘m your sister and I love you.
I know.
So, do you want to tell me what‘s going on?
Nothing. And that‘s the problem.
Jenny frowned. How could nothing be a problem?
Sally took a sip of coffee, put the cup on the table and
sighed. Rick and I… Well… We‘re not as close as we once
were.
Are you having marital problems?
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Ruth Ann Nordin
No. Not really. I mean, we don‘t argue. It‘s just that we
have a routine, and that routine doesn‘t allow for much time to be
together. You know what I mean?
The romance is gone from your marriage?
Yes. It‘s like we just got too comfortable with each
other, and when I talk to him about it, he says that it means we‘ve
been married for nine years and that‘s normal. In fact, I can‘t
remember the last time we were intimate. I think it‘s been five
months.
Really? Jenny didn‘t hide her shock.
Rick spends a lot of time studying the law books, and
when he gets to bed, he‘s tired. At least, that‘s what he says.
She reached out and touched her sister‘s arm. You think
it‘s another reason?
She shrugged. I wonder if he still likes what he sees
when he looks at me. I‘m not the young girl he married.
You‘re still attractive.
I don‘t feel attractive. Do you know that I got my hair
done and even bought a new dress, but he didn‘t even notice it.
He just came home, gave me the obligatory kiss, and went to read
the paper. The paper is more interesting than I am!
Jenny grinned. Since when do men notice things like
how our hair looks or what we‘re wearing?
It‘s not just that. We‘ve been unable to have a
conversation that doesn‘t revolve around Greg. If it weren‘t for
our son, I don‘t know what we‘d talk about. We‘re turning into an
old, boring married couple, and I don‘t want that. I miss how
things were when we were first married. Everything was fun and
exciting.
I don‘t think things are supposed to stay that way.
Oh, I realize that. I mean, I know it‘s not that way all the
time. But there should be moments where the spark comes back.
Jenny couldn‘t fault Sally‘s reasoning. It seemed logical.
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The Wrong Husband
Enjoy the honeymoon period. Sure, you‘ll have fights,
but there‘s nothing like that first year you‘re with your husband.
She smiled wryly. It‘s not like I have a typical marriage.
Maybe it didn‘t start that way, but you two look happy
together.
I do like Irving. I thought he‘d be old and boring, but
he‘s not. However… Jenny hesitated to broach a subject that was
sensitive, but she thought it might help Sally feel better about her
situation. Well, Irving had an accident back when he lived in
South Carolina, and it rendered him unable to perform in bed.
Sally brought her hand up to her cheek. Oh no.
He wrote me about it ahead of time so I knew. I didn‘t
care because I wanted to get married so Clyde would leave me
alone, and by the way Irving sounded in the letter, I didn‘t get the
impression that he was likable enough to want to share a bed with.
After dealing with Clyde, I learned the value of a man who was a
friend. You know?
Sally nodded. Of course, I do. No woman wants to be
with a man like that if he doesn‘t truly love her.
Right. And that letter didn‘t give me any reason to hope
that I might be marrying someone who had the capacity to love
me. In fact, he seemed much too devoted to his job. In a way, he
was already married, and he agreed to marry me in order to do the
sheriff a favor.
So it‘s turned out better than you hoped?
Yes, it has, which is why it‘s a real shame that he
can‘t…you know.
Sally nodded. I do. At least your husband has a valid
reason.
Well, I think it‘s time that you and Rick got the spark
back into your marriage.
Don‘t think I haven‘t tried.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Now you have my help. Jenny squeezed her sister‘s
hand. We‘ll see what we can do about Rick. I know he loves
you. He just needs to remember how desirable you are.
From your mouth to God‘s ears.
We‘ll figure something out, Jenny promised.
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The Wrong Husband
Chapter Eight
T
hat Saturday, Owen purchased a wagon and led his new family
out to the home that Sheriff Meyer had given them to buy.
The quaint little home was situated on the outskirts of
town with a good five acres around it and a good-sized lake not
too far away. Owen liked it immediately, and he turned to Jenny
and Jeremy who sat beside him in the wagon to see what they
thought.
Jeremy bounced up and down in between him and Jenny.
Wow! This is for us?
It sure is, Owen said. And I‘m going to pay for all of it
too. It might take a few years, but this is going to be ours. Then
he lifted his gaze to Jenny who had the most beautiful smile he‘d
ever seen on a woman. What do you think?
She looked at him with tears in her eyes. It‘s the most
wonderful place I‘ve ever seen.
Then there‘s no need to cry, he teased.
Grandpa says women cry over everything, Jeremy
whispered in his ear. Don‘t worry about Ma. That‘s her happy
crying.
He grinned and winked at the boy. Thanks.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Behind them, a puppy poked Jeremy in the back. He
picked the dog up and cuddled him the best he could despite the
animal‘s squirming.
That poor thing is more slippery than a fish, Owen said,
chuckling as the dog bounded out of the boy‘s arms and into the
back where all of their belongings waited for them to take into
their new home. He pulled the wagon up to the front door.
There‘s the barn! He pointed toward the rear of the house.
This place has everything we need, doesn‘t it?
It sure does! As soon as the wagon stopped, Jeremy
crawled over him and climbed down. He turned and caught the
anxious puppy. Rover likes it too!
Well, don‘t run off too far, Jenny called out as the boy
and dog headed out to play in the fields.
I won‘t! he called out, not bothering to look back.
He‘s a great kid, Owen said. You did a good job
raising him.
She shrugged. I did the best I could.
You‘re not used to taking compliments, are you? Before
she could respond, for he could tell that the question startled her,
he wrapped his arm around her shoulders and drew her close.
You‘re a good woman, Jenny. A man couldn‘t do better than
you. Then, so she wouldn‘t have to respond for it seemed to him
that she‘d long ago learned to suppress her vulnerable side, he
kissed the top of her head and added, Let‘s go see if this place is
as good inside as it is out.
Blushing, she nodded.
He jumped down and helped her down. She felt good in
his arms, so he took a moment to hold her. He wished he could
kiss her on the lips, but he wondered if Irving would do that.
What did a man who was unable to consummate a marriage do
anyway?
Deciding to press his luck—or Irving‘s luck, he kissed her
cheek. She didn‘t turn away. In fact, he thought she leaned into
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The Wrong Husband
him. He knew that was all he could get away with today, so he
didn‘t go any further. The fact that she allowed him to get close
to her lips was enough for the time being. Somehow, he hoped to
work his way up to kissing her on the mouth. Then, perhaps,
Irving could overcome his problem because she healed him.
Yes, that seemed like a good plan.
Standing up straight, he smiled at her and happily noted
she smiled back. You‘re the prettiest woman I‘ve ever seen.
She lowered her eyes and shrugged.
I mean it, Jenny. You really are. He took her hand and
led her to the front door. After he opened it, he glanced slyly at
her. On impulse, he picked her up.
What are you doing? she asked, surprised.
Carrying my bride over the threshold.
She giggled as he stepped forward. Oh Owen, what a
silly thing to do. But it was very sweet.
Well, I figure this will get us off to a good st art on our
life together in this house. He gently set her down. What do
you think?
She took her eyes off of him and turned to the cozy
kitchen. Gasping she ran to the window. It has a view of the
land! I think I can see the lake from here.
He grinned at her enthusiasm. Every woman needed to
have a good view when she cooked a meal, his aunt had often told
him. I hope this will make your hours slaving away in here worth
it, he joked.
She looked at him and laughed. I love it. I really do.
I‘ve always wanted a kitchen where I could make meals for my
husband and children. She paused, her face growing red. I
mean, of course, you and Jeremy. I had this thought long ago—
when I was a child… Avoiding eye contact, she turned to inspect
the shelves along the wall.
There could be children, Owen thought. As soon as
Irving could make that possible… He‘d caught the wistful look
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Ruth Ann Nordin
in her eyes. He suspected that she dreamt of having a house full
of children running around and causing chaos everywhere they
went. She did, after all, come from a good-sized family. He rather
We’ll see, Jenny. In due time, our dream
fancied the notion himself.
might come true.
She inspected the pump at the sink before she touched the
round table and four chairs. The furniture is in good shape.
Curious, he made his way to the parlor and saw the couch
and two chairs and table. It looks good in here as well. Want to
go upstairs and check on the bedrooms?
Our own bedrooms! she squealed as she rushed past
him and up the staircase.
He frowned. Our
own
bedrooms? What exactly did that
mean?
She reached the first bedroom and motioned to him.
Come on!
What? Did she find the one he‘d be staying i n? Was she
planning where he would sleep and where she would sleep? Even
if he didn‘t get much sleep next to her in bed, he still wanted to be
with her. He‘d gotten used to her soft body pressing up against
his. Sure, it drove him crazy. But still…the impotence ordeal was
temporary.
Owen?
Reluctant, he trudged up the steps. When he reached the
bedroom, he saw the small, empty room.
I think Jeremy will like this one. It looks out toward the
lake. You know, he‘s excited to learn to fish. I think looking out
his bedroom window will be exciting for him.
Yes.
She took his hand and hurried out of the room, practically
dragging him along. She stopped and glanced at the second room
which seemed to be the same size as the one she‘d just reserved
for Jeremy. Maybe we can put the toys in there.
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Owen‘s ears perked up. Toys? As in, this would not be
his
bedroom? When they reached the last one on the other side of
the hallway, he noted it was the largest of the three, and it even
came with a bed meant for more than one person.
I love it! She released his hand. Two windows! You
can see to the west and the south. Just look at all the land around
us. It feels as if we‘re in our own little world, doesn‘t it? My
parents bought a house out on a farm because they hated living in
the city, so I got used to being out with the fields. I loved it then,
and I love it even more now because this is our home.
Right. And this is our bedroom, he said, just to make
sure he hadn‘t misunderstood her intentions.
Yes. Isn‘t it beautiful? I can‘t wait to see how my pillows
look on the bed. And curtains! Will flowers on curtains bother
you if I make them blue?
Relieved that they would still be sharing a bed, he waved
his hand and said, Honey, you can have pink flowers for all I
care.
You mean it?
Sure.
Well, since you‘re sincere, I would like pink roses on the
curtains. They‘d match my pillows and blanket. I never could
make those kind of curtains at the boarding house because it
wasn‘t my place to decorate.
This is your home. Do whatever you want. I‘m easy to
please. Feeling like a huge weight had been lifted off his
shoulders, he clapped his hands together. Well, I‘m going to
start bringing our things in.
She seemed to be so focused on checking the width of the
window frame that he didn‘t bother repeating himself. He
enjoyed seeing her happy, and she was definitely happy. As was
he. He wondered how soon was too soon to really get enjoyment
out of that bed.
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***
Sally took a deep breath and examined the new bookcase in the
den. She had dusted all the books and placed them on the
shelves, just as Rick had arranged them. He‘d been eyeing this
bookshelf for a good six months but hadn‘t bothered to buy it, so
she saved up some of their money and thought today might be a
good day to give it to him.
The front door opened and she nearly jumped with
delight. Rick was home! She ran to the front door to greet him.
How was your day? she asked.
He looked at her and smiled as he shut the door. It was
good. Where‘s Greg?
He‘s spending the night at Richard and Amanda‘s. I
thought it‘d be nice to have some time to ourselves.
His smile widened and he drew her into his arms. I can‘t
remember the last time we were alone. What‘s the special
occasion?
Shrugging, she wrapped her arms around his neck. I
don‘t know. I thought it might be nice to be together, just the
two of us.
He bent his head and kissed her.
Her heart beat with excitement. She really should have
thought of this sooner. Maybe that was why he hadn‘t been this
romantic with her for the longest time. When the kiss ended, she
sighed. That was nice.
Nice?
Wonderfully so. Then she remembered his gift. Pulling
away from him, she said, I got you something today.
Did you? What is it? He put his hat and light coat on a
hook in the closet.
You have to come with me to find out.
His eyebrows rose in interest. Well, now you got my
interest.
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She pretended to pout. You mean I didn‘t have it when I
was kissing you?
Chuckling, he tucked his hand around her arm. You
already know the answer to that.
Maybe. But it would be nice to hear it. Pushing the
matter aside, since it was a minor one, she led him to the den.
Do you notice anything different?
Oh come on, Sally. You know I‘m no good at these
games.
But you‘ll like this one. Give it a try. Take a good look
around and see if there‘s anything here that you‘ve been wanting
for months now.
Alright. He let go of her arm and stood in the middle of
the room. After half a minute, he snapped his fingers. The
bookcase?
She nodded. I saved up some extra money and got it
today. It looks terrific, doesn‘t it? I just love oak!
It does look nice.
And I took care to keep your books in the same place
where they were on that old bookcase.
He examined the shelves. I see that. He glanced at her.
Thank you, Sally.
I‘m glad you like it. In fact, this turned out even better
than she hoped.
He walked over to her and kissed her.
She leaned into him and let their kiss deepen. Two kisses
before supper? She was on a roll, and she planned to do whatever
she could to keep it going.
He gave a low groan as she wiggled up against him. His
hands roamed places they hadn‘t touched in awhile.
Her heart pounded with excitement. It‘d been so long
since they made love, but she was definitely ready for it.
A knock at the door interrupted them and he sighed.
Duty calls.
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She blinked. Duty? What duty?
He cleared his throat and adjusted his pants. Jack‘s
bringing over the notes for the case I have to hear on Monday.
Another hearing?
Judge Townsend got ill, so I‘m taking his place.
Again?
The doctor‘s not sure what‘s wrong with him. Hopefully,
it‘s something that can be quickly resolved. I hate to think it‘s
something serious.
She followed him out of the room and down the hallway.
But you don‘t have to start on the notes now. You just got back
from visiting the sheriff about the bank robber.
I have to study up on this one.
Now?
I‘m afraid so.
Her face grew warm with anger as he opened the front
door.
Good afternoon, Jack. You got Judge Townsend‘s notes
for me?
Yep. Jack handed over the large stack of papers. Says
it‘s his life‘s work.
We‘ll see if we can put this one to rest for his sake then.
Tell him we‘re praying for him to get better.
Will do.
Sally gritted her teeth and shut the door since Rick‘s arms
were full of work. Work. That‘s what she was competing with. It
didn‘t dawn on her until that moment what she was up against.
Rick loved his job. And she was more interesting than his job,
wasn‘t she?
Forcing aside her irritation, she strode after him as he
went back to the den. You know, she sweetly began, it‘s
always a good idea to take a break sometimes. Even I can‘t go on
with the housework and budget unless I take a break.
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I know but I need to refresh my memory on this. He
motioned to the papers.
That‘s not the only thing you need to refresh your
memory on. Her eyes grew wide. Did she say that aloud?
He placed the ton of papers on his desk and frowned.
What is that supposed to mean?
Well, if the cat was out of the bag… I just think it‘s been
too long since we‘ve been together. You know, as man and
wife.
He groaned. I can‘t. As it is, I‘ll be up until midnight
studying all of this.
But it doesn‘t take a long time to do what I have in
mind.
There‘s a lot of other things that come into play when we
get together.
She crossed her arms, knowing she wasn‘t going to like
this but unable to stop herself from asking the question anyway.
What is that supposed to mean?
It means that you want to talk and cuddle. That will end
up taking a couple of hours.
You didn‘t mind spending a couple of hours with me
when we were first married.
Well, I can‘t spare a couple of hours this weekend.
When can you spare a couple of hours?
I don‘t know. Townsend might be gone this week.
So I have to wait for whenever you have time to be with
me?
He sighed. Don‘t do this.
Do what? she snapped.
Make this about the way I feel about you. I love you. I
never stopped loving you. But I have responsibilities to take care
of.
And those responsibilities have nothing to do with me?
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Of course, they do. If I didn‘t work, we wouldn‘t have a
roof over our heads or food to eat. Then, as if the matter was
settled, he sat behind his desk and started sorting through the
stack in front of him.
A responsibility? That‘s all she was to him? Fine, she
finally said when her shock wore off. Since you‘re so busy, I
suppose you won‘t have time to eat supper either! Before he
could protest, she left the room and slammed the door behind
her.
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Chapter Nine
T
wo weeks later, Owen chased the man who just stole another
man‘s horse. The two rode on horseback toward the outskirts of
town.
Get back here! Owen yelled.
The thief ignored him.
He groaned. Why couldn‘t any of the bandits he‘d been
chasing around actually stop? He‘d love it if one would obey him.
After all, he was the deputy. Shouldn‘t that carry some weight in
this town? He reached for his fishing rod. Yes, real deputies like
Irving Spencer carried a Colt .45. Owen carried a fishing rod. But
the rod worked.
He threw back the rod and released the line. It caught
onto the belt loop of the man‘s pants. Even as Owen pulled the
rod toward him, he realized that he was falling off his steed. He
struggled to compensate with his weight, but it was no use. He
tumbled off the animal and fell right onto the prairie grass. Still
holding onto the rod, he was pulled along the land, being scraped
and bruised in places he didn‘t even know existed.
He screamed and grunted. Where was Sheriff Meyer?
Suddenly, the man stopped his horse.
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Owen continued to roll a few turns until he stopped, flat
on his back and staring up at the sky. He gasped for air and tried
to focus on the clouds. His head was spinning.
To his surprise, the thief walked over to him and handed
him the hook. Whatever did you do something stupid like that
for?
Stupid like what?
Like not letting go of that fishing rod. You could have
killed yourself.
It didn‘t occur to me to let go. A fisherman always holds
his fishing rod so the fish doesn‘t get away.
The man laughed and slapped him on the shoulder.
You‘re the strangest deputy I‘ve ever come across. But I heard
that you are an expert with the rod, and darned if that ain‘t the
truth. Why, you got me good. It took all my strength to hold
onto that horse.
Owen grinned at the compliment. I spent years
perfecting the technique.
Well, I hate to see you go through all that trouble to lose,
so I‘ll tell you what. You talk that sheriff of yours into going easy
on me—you know, avoiding that rope—and I‘ll turn myself in.
Really? Was it going to be that easy?
Sure. Why not? You remind me of my brother.
Oh.
Just as Owen was about to thank him, he continued, Not
too bright and clumsy but he‘s got a good heart.
Owen blinked and gave the man a startled look. Was that
a compliment or a put down?
The sheriff called out to them as he rode in their direction.
Don‘t worry. I got this covered. The man slapped him
on the shoulder again and stood up. I give up. Your deputy got
me. He held up his hands and waited for the sheriff to arrive.
Sighing, Owen stood up. He‘s returning the horse to its
owner. What happens with someone in a case like that?
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The sheriff rubbed his chin. I suppose a few nights in jail
might be enough since I haven‘t seen you on any wanted posters.
Wanted posters? Are those serious? Owen asked,
hoping he didn‘t sound too stupid…or guilty.
Of course they are. Only the worst of the worst get on
those.
Oh great. Just what Owen wanted to hear. He could only
hope that no more posters of him were being printed and sent out
across the state. Because if the sheriff got a hold of one and Jenny
saw it… Well, he didn‘t even want to think of the implication of
those events, and hopefully, he never would.
***
Jenny sat next to Sally who‘d stopped by her new home to check i t
out. While Jeremy played outside with the dog, she faced her
sister who looked torn between screaming and crying.
Rick spent the entire weekend locked up in his den. He
loves his job more than he loves me.
Jenny wished she had some words of comfort to offer her
sister, but she couldn‘t think of anything. He did kiss you
though, and you said it was a good kiss?
I thought so. At least it got me excited. I really thought
something interesting was going to happen. But no. Someone
came to the door and ruined everything.
Inspiration struck her. I know what you two need! You
need time to get away from it all, even if it‘s a romantic dinner for
two.
I‘ve tried.
But you didn‘t get out of the house. Why don‘t you
bring him here? You two can have a nice, relaxing meal. Take a
stroll down the lake or sit on that lovely porch swing. Then Owen
and I will watch Greg, and you two can go home alone. By the
time you get back, it‘ll be too late for anyone to bother you.
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Sally bit her lower lip, as if she considered it. It might
work.
It very well might! Why not give it a try? What‘s the
worst that can happen?
He‘ll talk about his job through the whole meal. When
Jenny laughed, she shook her head. Believe it or not, he‘s done it
before. He even put Greg to sleep one time. The poor child fell
forward and his head landed right in the mashed potatoes.
Well, we‘ll have to make sure that doesn‘t happen again.
How?
I don‘t know, but we‘ll think of something.
The front door opened and Owen entered the house.
Good afternoon, Sally. It‘s good to see you.
What are you doing home so early? Jenny wondered.
Sheriff said he had nothing for me to do so I should
spend time with my bride.
Sally gave a wistful sigh. Glancing at Jenny, she
whispered, You‘re lucky. Turning back to Owen, she smiled and
stood. It‘s time for me to go anyway. I need to be home when
Greg comes back from school.
I finally got to entertain in my own home, Jenny told
Owen. Then she hugged her sister. Thanks for coming.
Of course, I came. I had to see why you were so excited
about this place. She stepped to the door which Owen held open
for her. There‘s no need to walk me to the buggy.
After she waved to them, he softly shut the door. You
have a great family.
Yes. I know.
Where‘s Jeremy? he asked.
He and the dog are by that big oak tree out front. He
said he needed to practice fishing. She chuckled. He even broke
off a thin branch from that tree to use as a fishing rod, and he‘s
pretending the grass is a big lake.
I‘ll have to go out there with real rods.
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Touched, she walked up to him until they were inches
apart from each other. You‘re really going to teach him how to
fish?
I promised I would.
You‘ll make his year, you know.
It‘s not like I don‘t want to fish. I miss it sometimes.
Do you?
I grew up on the water. Fishing is how my pa and I
spent most of our Saturdays together. It brings back a lot of good
memories, except instead of being the son, I get to be the pa this
time. He put an arm around Jenny‘s waist and drew her closer so
she was in his arms. Does the ma want to kiss the pa?
Her heart raced with excitement. Well, that depends,
she replied, deciding to be coy.
He raised an eyebrow. On what?
Is Pa going to bring home a fish for supper?
He can‘t guarantee it, but he‘ll do his best.
I suppose effort counts enough. Alright. Ma will grant
Pa a kiss.
He bowed his head to kiss her, and she held her breath in
anticipation. His lips brushed hers, sending a thrilling spark up
and down her spine. Besides the kiss he gave her at the
courthouse, it‘d been a long time since she kissed a man. She‘d
forgotten how wonderful it was. But it was better with Owen, for
she knew he wasn‘t going to run off and leave her when things got
tough.
For a brief moment, she thought he might end the kiss,
but then he brought his lips back to hers and deepened it. In
response, she wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her
body against his. The thought did occur to her that perhaps she
shouldn‘t be so eager. But then she remembered they were
married, so it was perfectly fine for her to be enthusiastic with
him.
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He reached up to cup the side of her face with his hand.
Giving a light moan, she parted her lips for him and allowed him
to more intimately pursue her. He followed her silent lead and
took his time in enjoying the moment. He was wonderfully solid
against her. His hands were gentle but firm. This was much
better than kissing Clyde had ever been. It was more than the fact
that Owen wasn‘t rushing through the kiss to go further with her.
Owen was tender and patient. And best of all, he was her
husband.
When he pulled back slightly, her heart was racing with the
possibilities of what they might do. Even if he couldn‘t
consummate the marriage, there might be other things they could
enjoy. But could a man really enjoy lovemaking without the ability
to perform? She thought to ask him about it when someone
threw the front door open.
She jerked, noting that Owen also gave a small jump, and
breathed a sigh of relief when she saw Jeremy holding the stick in
his hand. There was that split second where she thought it might
be Clyde. She hadn‘t told Owen about Clyde, but she knew she‘d
have to…even if it would ruin the newfound joy she‘d found with
her husband. Clyde had a way of causing problems.
I saw you came home, Pa! Jeremy exclaimed, as excited
as a boy could be.
Yes, I did. Owen gave her waist a quick squeeze before
he let her go. I thought we might have our first fishing lesson.
His eyes grew wide. No kidding?
I didn‘t lug a boat all the way home to let it sit in the
yard.
She gasped. You bought a boat?
Owen glanced at her and nodded. It‘s nothi ng fancy, but
it‘ll do the job. That lake is deeper than it looks, and I think we
might stand a better chance out there. But that boat is a little
heavy. I need someone strong to help me carry it. You have any
ideas on who that someone might be?
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Jeremy puffed out his chest. I‘m strong!
Well, you sure do look strong.
I am! I carried a box up the stairs all by myself when we
moved in.
Chuckling, Owen winked at her. That‘s good enough
proof for me. Let‘s go see if we can catch a fish for your ma to
fry up.
Without a glance in her direction, Jeremy bolted out the
door and raced to the wagon which, did indeed, have a boat
strapped to it.
He‘s a great kid. Owen gave her a quick kiss. Wish us
luck!
As he headed toward the wagon, she cal led out, Good
luck! and smiled as she watched them work together to get the
boat onto the ground. Reluctant, she closed the door so she could
return to her sewing. Already, she missed being close to her
husband.
***
That night, Owen was wide awake in bed, again aware of the fact
that Jenny was sleeping next to him. It was a bittersweet
experience to feel her soft body pressing up against him. She felt
incredibly good, and the male part of him was insisting he nudge
her and tell her that he could consummate this marriage.
But what if it was too soon? They‘d only shared their first
real kiss before he took Jeremy fishing. Wasn‘t it jumping the gun
to go from the kiss to ravishing her? He pushed the silly notion
aside. He wouldn‘t ravish her, no matter how eager his body was.
At least, he didn‘t think he would—not when he was much too
interested in checking out all of her.
Next time she dressed, he should barge into the room. It
was natural that a wife dressed while in the presence of her
husband. In the past, he‘d lost his nerve and didn‘t dare enter the
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room when she wasn‘t decent. Well, he could thank his pre-
marriage years of abstinence for that. Pre-marriage abstinence?
Being married hadn‘t changed his virginal status one single bit.
And this little fact was getting old—fast.
There was no doubt about it. Irving Spencer had to
overcome his problem. The kiss was a step in the right direction.
Next time they kissed, Owen would get a little further. He
glanced at Jenny in the moonlight. Her eyes were shut and her
breathing was slow and even. Yep. She was asleep.
He wondered when they could do more than kiss.
Tomorrow? The next day? A week? He inwardly groaned. He
really needed a plan. If he established goals, then he might take
note of his progress. Maybe that would help him be patient.
Letting out a low sigh, he debated getting up and doing
something productive with his time. The leg of the chair in the
kitchen needed to be sanded down so it wouldn‘t scratch the floor
anymore. He could work on that. But then he looked over at
Jenny who rolled onto her back. With the sheet at her waist, he
had a pretty good view of her breasts because the nightgown she
wore was a thin cotton material.
Fine. So there was no way he was going to give up this to
work on a chair leg, no matter how much his body was aching.
Instead, he rolled onto his side and stared at her. Whether he
studied her angelic face or let his gaze drift lower, it didn‘t matter.
She was the most beautiful sight he‘d ever beheld. Though, he
had to admit, his focus seemed drawn more to her breasts than
her face. His fingers itched to touch her. Just what did breasts
feel like anyway? Did he dare try to find out?
But that was wrong. He couldn‘t do that when she was
asleep! Even if they were married, he didn‘t feel right about taking
that kind of liberty with her. No. She‘d have to be wide awake
and aware of what was happening. However, watching her as she
slept was fine. She chose to wear the nightgown to bed and lay
down next to him. Surely, she knew the chance she was taking in
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doing that. But would Irving Spencer even be interested in
looking at her like this? Of course, he would. A man would have
to be dead not to be interested. And he was
very
interested in her.
She gave a soft sigh and opened her eyes.
Startled, he quickly directed his gaze from her breasts and
up to her face.
To his surprise, she smiled and turned onto her side so she
was facing him. Then she snuggled into his arms and rested her
head against his chest.
His heart pounded with uncertainty. She hadn‘t done that
before. At least, she hadn‘t wiggled up to him while she was
awake. What did it mean? What would Irving do? He‘d want to
caress her, wouldn‘t he? A man in bed with a soft, warm body
would want to hold her. Yes. That would be fine. He could hold
her. He gingerly brought his arms around her.
She didn‘t protest. That was a good sign. Deciding to
press his luck, he let his hand slide down her back. She wasn‘t
angled in such a way where he could feel her breast, but he
enjoyed tracing the curve of her hip. She didn‘t protest that
either. So that was something else he had permission to do.
He didn‘t dare go further than that. Not tonight. This
was enough. Tomorrow, maybe he‘d make a little more progress.
Patience, Owen. It’ll come soon enough.
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Chapter Ten
T
he next day at the jailhouse, Owen fell asleep while sorting
through some paperwork. Half aware he was dreaming, he gave
himself permission to enjoy the world where anything could
happen. And enjoy himself he did. He smiled at the images
dancing before him.
Then, just when things got really interesting between him
and Jenny, a loud bang jolted him from the world of sleep and
back into the stark reality of unrelenting desire. He blinked
several times as he sat up in the chair and straightened his
wrinkled vest. Then he adjusted his deputy badge and turned to
the sheriff who gave him a knowing grin.
That little woman of yours keeping you up at night?
Well… Since the man had caught him sleeping on the
job, Owen figured he might as well tell the truth, even if it was in
a roundabout way. Yes.
Sheriff Meyer chuckled. There‘s nothing quite as
wonderful as that first year of marriage. I‘m glad things are
working out between you two. She‘s a fine one. I knew you‘d
make her happy.
Uh…thanks. Owen wondered, once again, just how great
this Irving Spencer really was. The man seemed to be idolized by
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everyone who heard his name. In some ways, it was intimidating.
There was no way Owen could ever live up to that kind of legacy.
I got an assignment for you.
What is it?
I suspect that Clyde Jenkins is up to no good. He‘s
supposed to be meeting up with some men in town. Those men
are shady characters. I haven‘t pinned anything on them yet, but
my gut‘s telling me something is up with those three. I got word
that they‘re meeting up at Guy Ike‘s house in an hour. I‘ll give
you directions and you can head on over to find out what they‘re
talking about.
You mean, you want me to eavesdrop? Is that legal?
Don‘t eavesdrop. Just pass by a window and take a rock
out of your boot.
Owen wondered if that was a good idea, but if there was
something serious going on, then wouldn‘t it be better to find out
exactly what that was? Maybe he could prevent a bank robbery.
He nodded and stood up. Placing his hat on his head, he
stretched. Clyde Jenkins? Where have I heard that name
before?
He‘s Jeremy‘s father.
He stilled and stared at the sheriff. Jeremy‘s father is in
town?
I thought you knew. That‘s why you came to marry her.
I thought once you two exchanged vows, Clyde would hightail it
back to wherever he‘s been hiding for the past few years, but he
won‘t leave.
That made Owen uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable.
He knew that Jeremy had another father—that another man had
been with Jenny, but it made him uneasy to know that this man
was lingering around in town…and that he‘d have to deal with
him. If it was up to him, the man would stay out of sight forever.
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The sheriff told him where to find Guy‘s house, patted
him on the back, and steered him to the front door. Just stay
there for a little while. There‘s no need to stay all afternoon.
Owen indicated his consent and left.
As he retrieved his horse from the post in front of the
jailhouse, the boy he‘d given the fishing rod to ran up to him.
Are you going to catch any outlaws today?
No. I‘m afraid not today, Amos.
The boy looked disappointed.
Realizing the twelve year old was probably bored and
needed an adventure, he said, But I do have an important task.
The boy‘s eyes lit up in interest. Oh?
Yes, but I can‘t tell anyone what it is. Then he purposely
paused to build the suspense. That is, of course, unless my
partner promised to keep it a secret.
I can keep a secret!
Pretending to be alarmed, Owen glanced around and put
his fingers to his lips. Shhh… We need to be quiet. This is too
important to mess up.
I‘m sorry, he whispered, looking embarrassed. I won‘t
be loud again.
Hiding his grin, Owen gave a slight nod. Good because
this is a special mission. You see, there are some bad men who
are planning something big, and-
How big?
I don‘t know. That‘s what I have to find out. He tipped
his hat back and gave the boy a good look, as if trying to make a
difficult decision. Are you any good at listening?
I sure am.
And can you be quiet?
Uh huh.
As quiet as a mouse?
Yes.
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Great. Then you can be my partner. He held his hand
out. This makes it official.
Excited, Amos shook his hand. Should I bring the
fishing rod?
Though Owen didn‘t think they‘d need one, he decided it
might be fun if the boy had a weapon with him. That‘s a great
idea. You never know when you‘ll need something like that.
I‘ll be back. The boy began to run off but then turned to
ask, You won‘t leave without me, will you?
No. I‘ll wait.
While the boy went to retrieve the rod, Owen saddled up
his horse. As soon as he finished, the boy returned and, sure
enough, he had the fishing rod with him.
I don‘t have a horse, he said.
Owen shrugged. I got one and this saddle will fit the two
of us. Hop on.
He obeyed and they headed off for Guy‘s house. Once he
had the horse tied to a tree where no one would easily spot it, the
two made their way to the rundown barn.
Does Guy live here? Owen whispered.
Sometimes. Usually, he runs off with his brother
Jimmy.
To do what?
A little bit of gambling and running odd jobs.
Owen stopped to take a good look at the twelve year old.
Just how much did this kid know? You have any idea what
they‘d want with Clyde Jenkins?
Well, my ma said that Clyde wanted his son back, but you
came in the nick of time and stopped that.
That much Owen already knew. Still… How does your
ma know that?
She cuts hair and takes in laundry. People talk to her.
Apparently. You got anything else on Clyde?
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He shrugged. Not really. He ran off a good few years
ago and now he‘s back.
Owen nodded. At least that was something to go on.
They reached the two-story house before the four men
arrived on the land. When they saw the men, they scooted around
to the side of the house so they wouldn‘t be spotted.
Once the men got into the house and slammed the door,
one of them opened a window. Seeing this as a good opportunity
to better hear them, Owen motioned for the boy to join him and
crawled to the other end of the house.
It‘s hotter than the pit of hell in here, one of them
gruffly said.
Hasn‘t been lived in since June. What‘d ya expect?
another replied.
Who cares? Let‘s get down to business. We‘re stuck in a
rock and a hard place. How‘re we gonna get out?
One grunted. If Clyde‘d have followed through, we‘d be
fine.
It‘s not my fault. Obviously, that was Clyde, and the
voice sounded familiar.
Owen had to know where he‘d seen Clyde before. He
eased up from the ground and peeked through the open window.
It is your fault! a scruffy man barked. If that damn
deputy stayed away, we‘d be sittin‘ pretty on our way west.
Stan didn‘t come through, Clyde said.
Alright. Now Owen knew what Clyde looked like, and he
remembered seeing him before. But where? One of the men
turned in his direction, so Owen quickly sat back down. His heart
pounded anxiously. Did the man see him?
Stan didn‘ come through alright. What‘d ya goin‘ to do
=bout it?
What can I do? Clyde asked. We had a deal, and he
blew it. It‘s not my problem anymore.
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Another man butted in. We got news for you, Jenkins.
It‘s still your problem. No money? You got problems.
There was a slight ruckus before someone ran up the
steps.
After him!
There was a rush to obey him, and Owen wondered if
everyone was upstairs. He got up and peeked into the window.
The room was empty, but he heard shouts and gunshots from
upstairs. Turning to the boy, Owen nodded to the fishing rod.
How good are you with that?
Real good. I‘ve been practicing.
Think you can get that wallet over there in the middle of
the room? There was no way he was going to risk the boy going
in there, and he wasn‘t small enough to fit through the window.
The boy stood up and looked through the open window.
Oh sure. That‘s nothing.
Those men might be upstairs now, but at any moment,
they were bound to return. They‘d have to act fast, and he knew
this would be the highlight of the boy‘s day if he was the one to
get the wallet. He patted the boy on the back. Go ahead and
fish it out of there, but be quick. Those men won‘t stay up there
forever.
You think it has something important in it?
He shrugged. There‘s only one way to find out.
The boy nodded.
Owen lifted the boy so half of his body fit into the
window. The boy surprised Owen because he did, indeed, catch
the wallet on the first try. Great job, he cheered as loud as he
dared. Fortunately the gunshots and ruckus made it easy to mask
any other sounds. Now, reel it in.
The boy obeyed, and Owen set him back down. That
was fun!
Shh… Owen warned as he took the wallet and opened it.
Sorry.
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Owen saw some debt notes and a piece of paper. He
lifted the paper out and saw, Robert Scott and Farewell Bank.
October 23
. 12:30. He read the items several times before he
rd
placed the paper back into the wallet and handed it to the boy.
Throw it back in.
Don‘t you want to keep it? the boy asked.
No. They‘ll suspect something if it‘s missing. He lifted
the boy and let him throw it back into the room. Good. Let‘s
get out of here.
They made it to Owen‘s horse right before two men ran
out of the house. Owen hid the boy behind a tree and grabbed
his gun. True, he didn‘t know how to use it—at least not well
enough to hit his mark—but if anyone found them, he‘d give it his
best shot.
Fortunately, the two men didn‘t go in their direction.
They hopped on their horses and rode off. Owen breathed a sigh
of relief. Good. They were safe.
The boy peered around the tree. Did you see the other
two?
No. And that gave Owen a bad feeling. He saw Clyde
leave since he was one of the men who ran out of there. He
didn‘t recognize the other one. He glanced at the boy. Do you
hear anything?
The boy shook his head.
It shouldn‘t be that quiet in there. Something was wrong.
He had to investigate. Stay here. I‘ll be back.
Those are dangerous men in there!
The kid had a point—a good one—but, I‘m the deputy.
It‘s my job to face danger. Even if he was scared. Irving
wouldn‘t be scared. He was, after all, the picture of courage, but
Irving wasn‘t here. Owen was. And that meant Owen had to take
charge. Forcing aside his unease, he cleared his throat. You
promise me you‘ll stay here and be good.
The boy nodded.
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Owen made his way to the house, careful to be quiet so he
could hear any noise, in case he needed to hide. But no noise
came. It was quiet. Eerily quiet. His hands trembled. Oh boy.
This was a far cry from fishing! Wiping his sweaty hands on his
pants, he renewed a firm grasp on the gun and held it out. As
long as he directed it where a threat came up at him, he might hit
his target…or at least scare the other man enough so he could get
away. One glance in the boy‘s direction assured him that the boy
was still safe and out of the way.
Owen rounded the corner of the house and gingerly
stepped onto the porch. Still quiet. There were only two options
as to why it‘d be this silent. One, the men knew he was there and
were waiting for him. That thought made him tighten his grip on
the Colt .45. Or, the men could be injured or dead. There had
been an awful lot of gunshots while he and the boy were getting
that wallet. Someone could easily have gotten hurt. He cringed.
He didn‘t want to see a dead body.
Well, either way, he was about to find out. He could do
this. He was pretending to be Irving Spencer. All he had to do
was imitate the man. Squaring his shoulders and scowling in his
best I‘m a tough man imitation, he entered the house through
the open door.
No one was in the room. There was a battered old couch
and a wooden table with two chairs. That was it for furniture, and
there were no long curtains to hide behind. It was a small house.
Smaller than the one he and Jenny had. Jenny. Just the thought
of her beautiful smile made him second guess whether or not he
wanted to risk his life like this. But he had to. He was the deputy.
Just pretend you’re Irving and everything will be fine.
Strengthened, he pressed forward. As he reached the bottom step
of the narrow staircase, he remembered the wallet. Glancing over
his shoulder, he realized that the wallet was gone. So one of those
two men took it on their way out the door. Well, it was a good
thing he thought to return it.
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He directed his gaze to the top of the stairs. Still no
sound. He took his first step and ducked when he heard a noise.
He waited but nothing happened. As soon as he realized that he
caused the creak when he pressed his foot onto the step, he sighed
with relief. Thank goodness. No one was shooting at him.
He really needed to get a grip on being the deputy. No
deputy could afford to be a chicken—cowering at the slightest
noise. He looked behind him. Good. The room was still empty,
and from what he could tell from looking out the two windows
and door, no one had returned.
He resumed his walk up the steps, careful to be as quiet as
the old steps allowed, and paused when he reached the top. There
was a narrow hallway with two rooms. There was also a broken
kerosene lamp and table between the two rooms. Bullet holes
marked the walls too. Yep. There had definitely been a shoot-out
up here.
He held his breath and waited. Still, no noise. They could
be waiting for him in one of those bedrooms. He thought of the
best way to proceed. Catching sight of a shard of glass from the
lamp, he picked it up and flung it into one of the bedrooms.
Nothing.
So that meant the men had to be dead, right? After all,
one would have shot if he was startled. At least, Owen hoped so.
He moved forward and stopped when he reached the
bedrooms, which were directly opposite one another. He noticed
the blood on the floor before he saw the two men, lying face
down. They didn‘t move. They didn‘t even blink. But their eyes
were open and it spooked him. Though they were most likely
dead, he had the creepy I‘m being watched feeling.
Giving a slight shiver, he entered the room they were in.
He knew they were dead. Well, he was 99% sure. But he knew he
had to check. Blood seeped out of their sides and chest. One was
even shot in the neck. He fought the urge to vomit. He‘d never
seen so much blood in his entire life, except for when he gutted
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fish…and that was a completely different scenario than the one
confronting him now.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Big mistake.
Now he was aware of the foul smell permeating from the bodies.
He quickly ran over to the window and opened it. He leaned out
and inhaled the fresh air. There was nothing like the cool autumn
breeze to calm a man‘s stomach. He caught sight of the boy and
waved to him. Then, in case the other two decided to return, he
indicated that he was alright.
The boy nodded and, thankfully, stayed put.
Owen braced himself for the images of the men and
turned to face them. The second time looking at them wasn‘t
much easier than the first. Swallowing the bile that rose in his
throat, he quickly made his way over to them and tapped them
with his foot. Neither one budged. That was enough proof for
him. He wasn‘t about to feel for a pulse. He couldn‘t imitate
Irving that well yet!
Relieved, he raced out of the house to notify the sheriff
about this turn of events.
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Chapter Eleven
T
wo hours later, Jenny was working on a baby gown for one of
the better well-to-do new mothers in town when a loud rapping at
the door made her bolt in surprise. She accidently pricked her
finger with the needle.
Ouch. She sucked on her finger and set aside the
thimble and clothing so she could answer the door.
Jeremy got up from where he was playing with his toys
and followed her.
Jenny‘s heart raced at the rapid pounding at the door. Did
something happen to Owen or one of her siblings? There was no
denying that whoever was on the other end considered their visit
to be an emergency.
Who is it, Ma?
I don‘t know, honey. She could have checked through
the window, but she didn‘t want to waste the extra couple of
seconds that it would require. She opened the door and gasped
when she saw Clyde‘s mother standing in front of her with a scowl
on her face.
My son is not a killer! the woman yelled before Jenny
could speak.
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Jenny wasn‘t sure she heard right. What?
The woman barged into the house, pushing past both
Jenny and Jeremy. Where‘s that no good husband of yours?
Jenny put her hands over Jeremy‘s ears. I will not have
you talking about Irving that way, especially not in front of his
son.
Irving Spencer is not— she motioned to Jeremy— that
child‘s father.
Her face grew hot with anger. His name is Jeremy.
I didn‘t come here to talk about him.
Of course not! The woman didn‘t care one single bit
about her own grandchild. Jenny turned to her son and said, Go
upstairs and play with your toys. And close the door. He didn‘t
need to hear anything else that viper of a woman had to say. Ma
has to take care of some things, alright?
He nodded and obediently went up the stairs.
Jenny waited until he closed the door before she glared at
Clyde‘s mother. You have no right to barge into my home.
The woman crossed her arms. Well, that fool husband of
yours has no right to accuse Clyde of murder.
Murder?
And don‘t think for a minute that I can‘t connect the
dots, missy. She pointed her finger in Jenny‘s face. You
managed to weasel your way out of letting Clyde be with his son,
and now you‘re using your husband—who just happens to be the
deputy—to put Clyde away for good.
I have no idea what you‘re talking about.
Oh really? You mean to tell me you don‘t know that
Sheriff Meyer arrested Clyde?
No. But if he did, then Clyde deserved it.
The woman huffed. I shouldn‘t be surprised that you‘d
say that. You‘ve had it in for Clyde ever since you first laid eyes
on him.
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I‘m not having this conversation with you again. Jenny
stormed over to the door and pointed outside. Get out of here!
Not until you release Clyde.
That‘s not my decision! Glaring at the woman, she flung
her hand toward the doorway and hit something solid. She
quickly looked at what she smacked and saw Owen. Oh! I‘m
sorry. I didn‘t know you were there.
Humph! Clyde‘s mother grumbled. I don‘t care if you
are the deputy, Irving Spencer. You have no right to go around
arresting anyone just because this hussy exchanges sexual favors
for you to do her dirty work.
Jenny gasped.
Now, that‘s out of line, Owen snapped. Jenny‘s my
wife and I won‘t have you talking about her that way. Just what
has you fit to be tied anyway?
You know, she replied. You got my boy arrested.
I‘ve gotten three men arrested since I got here. Which
=boy‘ are you referring to?
Clyde Jenkins. The one you just tossed into jail!
Well, someone killed Guy and Jimmy, and Clyde and
Joshua were the only ones there at the house. I saw all of them
with my own eyes, and I heard the gunshots. The sheriff wants to
hold him long enough to find out if he killed Guy or Jimmy.
They‘re still looking for Joshua. If Clyde‘s innocent, he‘ll go free.
No! the woman protested, frantically shaking her head.
I order you to release him at once. He‘s innocent!
The law doesn‘t work that way. I saw Clyde in that
house. I know he was there.
This is personal, she insisted. It has nothing to do with
the law. She glared at Jenny. Isn‘t it enough that you won‘t let
me or my son near his own child? Must you frame him for
murder too?
Keep Jenny out of this, Owen said, standing in front of
Jenny as if to protect her. It has nothing to do with her.
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You don‘t want to see Jeremy anymore than Clyde does,
Jenny hissed, edging around Owen so she could approach the old
coot. Just why is Clyde so interested in Jeremy all of the sudden
anyway?
She lifted her chin and crossed her arms. He‘s always
been interested. It‘s just that you refused to have anything to do
with him. You seduced him until you got with child, and then
your brothers chased him out of town. He wanted to do right by
you and marry you, but you wouldn‘t let him. None of you
would. And now you‘re determined to put him away for good, if
he doesn‘t get hanged first.
Clyde shouldn‘t have been hanging around where he
didn‘t belong. Jenny glanced at Owen. What happened?
A shoot-out, most likely.
She turned back to Clyde‘s irate mother. There you go.
What was he doing in a shoot-out anyway? Something was wrong
with the whole picture, and Jenny wished she could figure it out.
There was no way Clyde would take a sudden interest in Jeremy.
And now he was having a shoot-out with… Who did you say got
killed? she asked Owen.
Guy and Jimmy.
Her eyes grew wide. Guy and Jimmy Ike?
He nodded.
She rolled her eyes. No wonder Clyde got put into
prison if he was hanging around those shady characters. She
turned to the woman. Aren‘t you aware that Guy and Jimmy
are…I mean, were…dangerous? If Clyde was with them, then he
was up to no good. And just what did that have to do with
Jeremy? Was there a connection or was it a coincidence?
Owen took off his hat and hung it up by the door. Mrs.
Jenkins, this is my house. Jenny didn‘t welcome you here and
neither do I. Leave before I get you for trespassing.
Jenny couldn‘t help but give a slight grin of satisfaction as
Clyde‘s mother grudgingly made her way out the front door. It
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was nice to have a man—and a deputy, no less—put the old bat in
her place. The woman didn‘t care about Jeremy anymore than
Clyde did. Not once in all the time she‘d had him did either Clyde
or his mother come to see him. Relieved when Owen finally shut
the door, she thanked him and turned to the staircase.
Why don‘t you let me talk to him, Owen suggested.
She glanced over her shoulder. I try to keep him away
from all of this. She motioned to the closed door. It can‘t be
easy on him to know that there are people who should care about
him but don‘t.
He strode over to her and took her hand in his. You‘re
right. It can‘t. And children pick up more than adults realize.
Sometimes a boy needs a man he can talk to.
Sighing, she realized he was right. All these years Jeremy
had needed a father in his life, and now that he had one, she
needed to let the father do his job. Alright.
He gave her hand a gentle squeeze and kissed her. He‘s a
good kid. You‘ve done a great job with him. But you have help
now.
She smiled. And good help it is.
He let go of her hand and turned to the staircase. Maybe
I‘ll take him out to the lake. It‘s not that cold out today.
If you catch anything, I‘ll fry it up.
Sounds like a deal.
Owen? she called as he climbed the steps.
He glanced back at her.
Will you tell me what happened today, when everything
settles down?
Yep.
Nodding her thanks, she returned to her sewing.
***
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The next day, Jenny took Jeremy to the jailhouse so her son could
see Owen at work. As soon as she opened the door, she caught
him sorting through some Wanted posters. He stiffened and
quickly turned to them. His eyes were wide.
She laughed. Relax. It‘s just us.
He gave a half-hearted chuckle before he straightened the
stack. Uh…just checking on the outlaws.
I hope you get them all, she replied, admiring the way he
looked in his denims and vest with the shiny deputy badge on it.
She smiled when she saw the fishing rod leaning against the wall.
Sure, his methods were unorthodox, but from what she heard, he
managed. Maybe that was why he earned himself a stellar
reputation back in South Carolina. She scanned the length of the
building and frowned. I thought Clyde was here.
He sighed. Was. The sheriff caught Joshua this
morning, and it turns out Joshua did the actual shooting. So
Clyde was released. Joshua was sent to his hometown where he‘s
wanted.
She nodded. She shouldn‘t be surprised. Clyde didn‘t
strike her as someone brave enough to handle a weapon, but it
had made her feel a little better knowing he wasn‘t running free
through town. She glanced at Jeremy and squeezed his hand.
Children had no control over their circumstances, and they
seemed to handle things well enough. She just hoped that with
Owen to take Clyde‘s place, Jeremy would have an easier time of
it.
Did you come for a tour? Owen asked, walking over to
them.
We were in town and thought we‘d say hello, she
replied. What do you think, Jeremy? Do you want to see where
Pa works?
The boy eagerly nodded, so Owen put him up on his
shoulders. Here is Sheriff Meyer‘s desk. I share it with him.
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She motioned to the stack of paperwork. It looks like
you do a lot more than catch dangerous men.
Yep. Judges and lawyers like reports.
That made sense.
Over here, he bega n as he directed them to the three
cells, is where we keep the prisoners.
Whoa! Jeremy said when they stopped in front of an
empty cell. Do really bad men go in there?
Some more bad than others. We get the occasional
drunk or bar brawler.
Do you get bank robbers?
Sometimes.
I want to see a bank robber!
Well, you would have if we didn‘t stop a robbery.
Jeremy‘s eyes grew wide. You did?
Just the other day. Someone was going to rob Farewell
Bank. The sheriff and I got there before the robbers did.
Did you see the robbers?
Owen shrugged. I‘m sure we did, but we aren‘t sure
which of the men who entered were supposed to do it. They
probably saw us and left.
And there‘s been no attempts on the bank since then?
Jenny asked.
Nope. We‘re keeping a lookout. Right now all I have is
a name, Owen replied. Does the name Robert Scott ring a
bell?
She shook her head. I‘ve never heard that one before.
Probably an out-of-towner then. I‘m guessing he has
connections with someone in town though.
I want to be a deputy when I grow up! Jeremy said,
obviously impressed.
He chuckled as he turned from the bars. Over here is
where we make coffee and heat up the place. He patted the
potbelly stove in the corner with his free hand. Over there is
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where we hang our coats and hats. And over here is where we
play checkers when we get bored.
The sheriff and deputy get bored when there‘s that stack
of papers on the desk? Jenny asked, amused by the quaint spot
for games.
He shrugged and grinned. Everyone needs a break.
Do you and the sheriff get along?
Well enough. I have no complaints about working with
him.
He obviously adores you, she said. I remember before
you got here, and he couldn‘t stop bragging on you. He kept
saying you were the best deputy in South Carolina and that you‘d
be good to me and Jeremy. She reached out and touched his arm.
He was right. I‘m glad you came.
His easy smile faltered. Right.
She wondered at the change in his mood.
He lifted the boy off his shoulders and placed him down.
Why don‘t you go check out the checkerboard. You can stack
the pieces.
Jeremy ran to the board and started collecting the black
pieces.
And don‘t put any of them in your mouth, Jenny added
before she went to Owen. Leaning close to him, she whispered,
Is something wrong?
He let out a slow breath and directed his gaze to her.
Well… You and Jeremy mean everything to me. You know that,
don‘t you?
Now she was worried. What is it? Did something bad
happen? Not that she could imagine what that something could
possibly be, but still… He was a deputy. Maybe someone wanted
to come after him. She clenched her hands together at the
thought of some angry thief coming after Owen with a loaded
gun. Why hadn‘t she considered that aspect of his job before?
I should tell you something.
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She closed her eyes and braced herself. Is someone out
to kill you?
What?
She opened her eyes and looked at him. Did one of
those terrible bank robbers get loose and decide to track you
down?
A bank robber? The confusion left his face as her
meaning dawned on him. Oh. No. It has nothing to do with
that.
She relaxed. What a relief. For a mi nute there, I thought
your life was in danger.
He squinted and glanced at the ceiling. Well, I guess you
could say—
The door opened and the sheriff walked in. Howdy, he
greeted, tipping his hat in her direction. It‘s nice to see everyone
together.
We just stopped by to say hi, Jenny assured him. We
don‘t intend to take up any more of your deputy‘s time. She gave
Owen a quick kiss. I‘m glad you‘re safe. I‘ll see you at home.
She motioned to Jeremy. Come on, honey. We need to go see
your Aunt Sally about Saturday. She glanced at Owen. Is it still
alright if we have the supper for her and Rick?
Owen nodded, looking both relieved and disappointed.
Sure. I‘ll even dress up in those fancy clothes the sheriff bought
me for our wedding day.
Thank you, Owen. She took Jeremy‘s hand, and on her
way out of the jailhouse, she said good-bye to the sheriff.
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Chapter Twelve
J
enny bit her lower lip as she studied the parlor. If this didn‘t
peak Rick‘s romantic interest, then he was a lost cause. She spent
that entire Saturday getting everything ready for the special
supper. The lacy white curtains were drawn to give the room a
private feel to it, and she had set out the matching tablecloth. She
made both years ago when she thought she‘d marry Clyde. Was
she ever glad she ended up with Owen instead!
She hummed as she lit the two candles. She dimmed the
kerosene lamp and smiled. Though she had no flowers, she
arrange some colorful leaves in the center of the table and placed
a pinecone on top of it. Closing her eyes, she inhaled the sweet
scent, which was almost masked by the pot roast that was cooling
in the oven.
She opened her eyes and set the cushions on the chairs so
they‘d be comfortable. Then she stepped back and examined the
effect of the candlelight. It seemed magical to be in here. She
clapped her hands and nearly skipped out of the room. Owen and
Jeremy waited in the kitchen. As she requested, they dressed up
for the occasion. Even she wore her best shirt and skirt.
I feel fancy, Jeremy said, beaming.
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Yep, Owen agreed. This is just like those restaurants
where rich people eat.
Let‘s hope it does the trick! She was too excited to sit
down, so she checked the dinner rolls. Fresh and soft. Perfect.
She glanced at the two men who sat on the remaining chairs she
had left in the kitchen when she moved the table and other chairs
to the parlor. She smiled at them. Thank you for doing this.
Owen grinned and patted his stomach. It‘s the least we
can do since you‘re letting us feast on this meal too.
You even made cake! Jeremy cheered, bouncing in his
seat.
She chuckled at her son‘s enthusiasm. That I did.
We can‘t wait to dig in, Owen replied.
There was a knock at the door.
She gave a brief shout of glee before she ran to the door
and opened it. Come on in! she told Sally, Rick, and Greg.
You weren‘t kidding, Sally, Rick said as he helped her
take off her coat. This place really is nice. He turned to the
hook by the door and hung it up. You did good, Jenny.
Jenny laughed. I can‘t take all the credit. Owen had
something to do with it. She glanced at Owen who stood up.
Well, actually it was the sheriff, Owen said. He had
this house in tip top shape when we moved in.
How is he doing? Rick asked as he shrugged off his own
coat.
He‘s fine. I notice he works all the time, Owen replied.
Rick hung the coat up and took Greg‘s coat to put on
another hook. I heard he‘s all business.
Yes, he is.
Jenny cleared her throat to get their attention. It worked.
She motioned to the parlor. Rick and Sally, will you follow me?
Rick peered into the other room. Wow. You didn‘t have
to go through all this trouble for us.
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Sally ran on ahead and looked over at Jenny with
unbridled enthusiasm in her eyes. It‘s lovely, Jenny. You must
have spent hours on this.
Not really, Jenny said. The supper took longer, but I
want you two to have a wonderful and relaxing evening. So
tonight, let Owen, the kids, and I handle everything. She went
over to one of the chairs and pulled it out. Sally?
Her sister readily obeyed.
Rick shook his head and grinned. It is a nice thing to do
for us, Jenny. Thank you.
You‘re welcome. Satisfied, she added, We‘ll be serving
you shortly. Then she left and went to the kitchen. Are we
ready?
Greg and Jeremy stood at attention and nodded.
She laughed. You don‘t have to so formal, but I do
appreciate the enthusiasm. She grabbed the utensils and plates
and held them out to the boys. Be careful with these.
We know, Greg said. He loosened his tie a bit before
he took the plates.
She gave the utensils to Jeremy and watched as they went
to the parlor.
Owen picked up the bottle of wine and champagne
glasses. You really thought of everything.
I had days to plan for it. She lifted the salad bowl and
joined him on his way to the parlor. After the boys set out their
items, she served the salad while Owen poured the wine in their
glasses. Potato soup is next, she said.
My favorite, Rick replied.
And you make it better than I do, Sally told her.
I like your soup too, Rick said.
I know, but Jenny knows exactly how much cheese to
add. She has a gift for making potato soup.
Jenny finished dishing out their portions of salad. I
thank both of you. Once she returned to the kitchen with Owen,
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she realized Greg and Jeremy were staring at the ceiling and
talking about a strange noise. What is it? she asked, setting the
bowl down.
Greg pointed up. We heard something scurrying around
up there.
She frowned. But the dog‘s outside. She inwardly
shivered. What if it was a mouse? She hated those things!
I‘ll check it out, Owen said as he turned to the staircase.
No, Greg said. It‘s sounds like it‘s coming from the
roof.
Oh. Owen stopped to listen.
They stood in silence for a moment before another series
of pitter patters drifted down to them. It wasn‘t on the roof, but
it was somewhere up there. She glanced uneasily at Owen. The
attic?
I think so.
Oh gross! A rodent was running around in their home!
When she saw him begin to walk up the stairs, she yelled out,
Wait!
He turned to her.
She went to a shelf and retrieved an empty flour sack. If
you catch it, you might as well put it in here. How she hoped
he‘d be quick about getting it and throwing it out of the house!
She ran over to him and handed it to him before she gave him a
quick kiss. For luck.
There‘s nothing to it. I used to drive out snakes at my
aunt‘s house.
She nodded. I hope it‘s as easy to get as a snake.
I‘m sure it‘ll be. He ran up the stairs.
Turning to the boys, she said, This is one time when I‘m
really glad to have a man in the house.
Sally directed her attention to Rick as she finished her
salad. I had no idea she‘d do all of this. She was deeply touched
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that her sister went out of her way to make this a memorable
evening.
I feel underdressed. He glanced down at his suit. And
this is what I wear to church.
You look as good in it as you did two years ago when you
bought it.
He looked at her with a twinkle in his eye. Well, you are
absolutely beautiful.
She blushed. It‘d been a long time since he told her that.
Jenny, it seemed, had a wonderful idea. The atmosphere was not
only romantic, but it was enchanting as well. It was as if the hands
of time were rewound and she was the same youth who let Rick
court her. She sipped her wine and furrowed her eyebrows. She
glanced at Rick and then looked up. Is there something going on
up there?
It certainly sounds like it.
Jenny entered with two bowls of soup and placed them on
the table.
Are the boys playing? Sally asked.
No, Jenny answered. There‘s something in the attic so
Irving went to investigate.
Sally cringed. I hope he gets it.
You and me both.
Does he need help? Rick asked, ready to stand up.
Jenny motioned for him to sit back down. He said he‘s
handled critters before, so he‘ll be fine. You two need to enjoy
the meal…and try to ignore the activity up there.
If you‘re sure… Rick sounded uncertain.
Of course, I‘m sure. He‘s very capable. Now I‘m going
to bring the roast and gravy out.
Alright.
Jenny picked up the plates and left the room.
Sally had to admit her sister was going above and beyond
the call of duty to give her and Rick a romantic meal, and she
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couldn‘t think of a time when she loved her sister more. She
could only hope that she might return the favor sometime.
The loud thump above their heads made her jump. She
laughed. That must be some rodent up there.
He set the spoon down and sighed. I don‘t feel right
sitting here while he‘s up there fighting that thing.
Jenny said he can handle it. We should enjoy the meal
she made for us. She picked up the spoon and dipped it into the
soup. She took a bite and smiled. This is the best potato soup
anyone‘s ever made.
Rick sighed as something small ran on the ceiling above
them. He doesn‘t sound like he‘s having much success.
She groaned and set the spoon down. Will you please let
him take care of it? The man‘s caught snakes before.
I can help him and then come back down here.
Why is it that every time we get a moment to ourselves,
you run off to do something else? Am I that burdensome to
you?
He rolled his eyes. Not this again. Come on, Sally. This
isn‘t work related, alright?
Jenny sa id Irving can do this by himself. Let him take
care of it.
Another rumble of noise echoed from the attic. He‘s not
taking care of it!
Yes, he is!
You hear that up there? How can you call that =taking
care of it‘?
Tonight is supposed to be about you and me. You
promised, Rick.
Do you really want him to suffer through all that?
Jenny quickly grabbed the platter full of neatly cut pot
roast and hurried into the parlor, hoping to stop her sister and her
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husband from fighting. Is something wrong? she anxiously
called out as she entered the room.
Yes, Jenny, there is. Tears fil led Sally‘s eyes as she stood
up. Rick doesn‘t love me anymore. He‘d rather be up there
chasing a stupid rodent than be down here with me.
That‘s not true, he said, his face red with anger. He
threw his cloth napkin down and stood up.
Oh really? Then why do you avoid me all the time? she
demanded, hands on her hips.
I have to work. If I don‘t, I can‘t put food on the table.
You do more than your share of work. You‘re doing
others‘ work too.
Townsend‘s been sick!
He‘s not the only one you fill in for. You also do some
of the clerk‘s duties.
Because he was fired.
Then hire someone!
I can‘t, Rick argued. It‘s not my position.
Then talk to your boss or have someone else help you.
In a desperate attempt to break up their argument, Jenny
motioned to the roast. This is getting cold. Now, Irving can do
this. He‘s got everything under control!
In that instant, a crack came from the ceiling before it
caved in, and Owen fell down onto the table. Sally screamed as a
bowl of soup landed on her dress. One of the candles landed on
Owen, and he caught on fire. Jenny dropped the roast.
I‘ll go to the well! Greg yelled as he ran to the door and
flung it open.
Jenny and Sally grabbed the candles and blew them out.
Rick took the tablecloth and beat it on the places where Owen‘s
shirt was in small flames. The dog bolted into the house, barking
and running on top of Owen.
Jenny reached for the dog and pulled him off of Owen.
Stop it! she scolded the animal. As soon as the fire was out, she
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pulled off Owen‘s shirt . I think the wounds are minor. She
glanced at Sally and Rick who looked bewildered. Do you think
we should take him to the doctor?
I‘m fine, Jenny, Owen assured her. It shocked me
more than it hurt.
Are you sure? She inspected his red skin.
Yes, I‘m sure.
Greg came in with a pail of water. He looked
disappointed. Oh, the fire‘s out already?
Through the hole in the ceiling, a squirrel leapt in front of
Jenny. She jumped onto Owen‘s lap and shrieked. The dog,
who‘d been eating portions of the roast, stopped and barked at
the critter. The squirrel ran under the chair. The dog ran after it
and knocked the chair over. The two animals went in circles
around the room twice before the squirrel found the exit and
bolted out the front door. The dog followed it right on outside,
leaving everyone in shock.
This is all your fault! Rick told Sa lly.
Sally‘s jaw dropped. My fault?
Yes. If you‘d let me go up there and help him, none of
this would have happened.
You don‘t know that!
It wouldn‘t have hurt to try.
Oh please. The only thing that would have been
different is that both of you would have fallen through the ceiling
instead of just one.
Rick looked as if he couldn‘t believe his ears. Are you
saying that I‘m incompetent?
Sally raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms. Are you
saying he‘s incompetent? She nodded in Owen‘s direction.
Of course not.
There‘s your answer.
Jenny sighed. Apparently, the romantic mood she‘d
carefully set up had been destroyed. She helped Owen to his feet
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and said, I‘m sorry, Sally and Rick. I never meant it to be this
way.
Owen coughed before adding. I would have fallen
through whether you were there or not, Rick. The floor up there
was thin.
It doesn‘t matter, Sally said, obviously irritated. The
point is he‘d rather be up there chasing a stupid animal than
spending time with me. Just like he‘d rather be doing anything as
long as it doesn‘t involve me!
That‘s not true! Rick argued.
Sally rushed to the door, and the others followed. She
snatched her coat off the hook and hurriedly put it on.
Greg ran over to her. Does this mean I can‘t stay here
tonight?
I don‘t think so, sweetheart, she told her son.
Why not? Rick asked. We already promised him he
could.
She glared at him. And you promised to love and cherish
me above all others, but look at how well that turned out!
He groaned and threw his hands up in the air. What
does that have to do with Greg staying here?
There‘s no need for him to stay because nothing
interesting will happen at home. She grabbed Greg‘s coat and put
it on him. Let‘s go, honey. Glancing at Jenny and Owen, she
gave an apologetic smile. Thank you both for a wonderful
meal. Then she headed out with Greg.
Rolling his eyes, Rick snatched his coat and said, We‘ll
see you at church.
The door shut and Jenny sighed. That didn‘t go at all like
she hoped.
Owen put his arm around her shoulders and gave her a
slight squeeze. It‘s alright.
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Jeremy, who had stayed out of the way during the ordeal,
stepped from the corner of the parlor. Don‘t cry, Ma. I can
clean.
That‘s a good idea, Owen quickly said. We‘ll clean up
this mess. I‘m sure Rick and Sally will work things out.
She supposed he was right. But she really wished things
could have ended better.
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Chapter Thirteen
J
enny wiped ointment on Owen‘s arms to soothe his burns. As
she did, he watched her, enjoying the way she fussed over him.
His Aunt Rachel had fussed over him too, but it was different
with Jenny. It was much nicer. He was lying on the bed and she
sat next to him, gentle and caring. Yes. It was definitely much
nicer.
She closed the lid on the jar and placed it on the
nightstand. Then she wiped her hand on a clean cloth. It was
funny…in a way.
What? Seeing me on fire?
No, silly. She nudged him playfully in the side. That a
squirrel could cause so much damage.
He chuckled. That was a smart squirrel.
She got up.
He tried to reach for her hand to stop her, but she was too
quick for him. Quick just like the squirrel. Where are you
going?
To check on Jeremy.
He watched as she left the room. It was unfortunate that
things happened as they did. Jenny had been so excited about
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making the perfect supper, and all it took was a loose squirrel in
the attic to spoil everything. She had a good heart. He lucked out
when he married her.
Well, maybe Owen Russell didn‘t luck out. It was Irving
Spencer who did. He sighed and pushed the stab of guilt aside.
So he took on another name. Did that make him a horrible
person? He winced and rubbed his forehead. But what else was
he supposed to do? Turn himself in? Who would believe he had
killed to protect himself when Big Roy and his men claimed
otherwise? Big Roy was an imposing force. He even got the law
involved. And now Owen was part of that law. Thou gh he
couldn‘t deny the irony of the situation, he wished it hadn‘t
happened like this.
He wished he hadn‘t married J enny under these
conditions. When he kept busy, it was easy to forget his
deception. But when he fell through the attic floor, his life passed
before his eyes. He used to think people saying that happened
were exaggerating…except they weren‘t. It really was that
profound—and quick. Jenny hadn‘t married a brave deputy ready
to take on all the outlaws in the world. Nope. She married a
fisherman who had lived a relatively quiet and peaceful life in the
Louisiana bayou until he decided to get Aunt Rachel‘s money
back. And that decision led him into a whole lot of trouble.
Would Jenny fault him if she knew? He could imagine her
disappointment when she discovered he wasn‘t the strong,
invincible Irving Spencer. He could see the sheriff‘s angry
countenance when he realized he‘d been had by a simple
fisherman. Then there was Jeremy… That was probably the
hardest one to deal with. In some ways, the boy looked up to him
as if he were a hero. Owen had never been a hero before. The
last thing he wanted to do was disappoint that little boy. Just how
could he tell Jeremy he was a fraud?
Jenny returned to their bedroom and shut the door. He‘s
asleep.
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Owen nodded and swallowed the lump in his throat. He
loved that boy with the same love his pa probably loved him with.
He always wanted Jeremy to be proud of him.
What a day, huh? she asked, breaking him out of his
thoughts.
He turned his head and his eyes grew wide. Was she
actually going to undress in front of him?
She removed her shirt. I hope they‘ll be in a better mood
when we see them at church tomorrow.
He blinked. Who? Oh right. Sally and Rick. She was still
talking about them. You can‘t change anything by worrying
about it.
She glanced at him and sighed. You‘re right. I‘m sure
they‘ll get through it.
He was ready to voice his agreement when she slipped out
of her skirt. Now, his interest was definitely peaked. Was she
going to keep taking her clothes off? He‘d always gone to bed
after she got ready for the night. Apparently, he should have
made it a point to come into the bedroom earlier in the evenings.
She went over to the kerosene lamp, and he feared that
she‘d turn down the flame, but she didn‘t. She simply took her
necklace off and laid it on the dresser.
He breathed a sigh of relief. That was close. He didn‘t
want to miss this for a moment. She took off another layer of
clothing, and he couldn‘t believe she had more underneath. Did
women have to wear all those undergarments every day? The
whole process of watching her, and her not seeming to even
notice he was in the same room—or simply unabashed about
being in his viewing range, was as frustrating as it was arousing.
He wanted to see if she‘d bare everything, but the suspense was
thrilling, to say the least. He couldn‘t remember a time when he‘d
been more entertained in his entire life.
By the time he finally got to see her breasts, he had to
physically close his mouth. Thankfully, she didn‘t notice. It
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would be embarrassing if he showed just how eager he was to see
her naked. Sure, this was the greatest thing that ever happened to
him, but he didn‘t have to let her know that.
She removed the last of her clothing, and he was as giddy
as a little kid who just caught his first big fish. He had to stop
himself from jumping up and down on the bed. He knew that
women looked good without clothes on, but he had no idea just
how good
they looked. They were absolutely beautiful. He wished
he could take this moment and gaze at her forever.
But in the split second he got to see her completely nude,
she then turned to the dresser drawer to select a clean
undergarment to put on.
No!
In his panic, he grabbed his arms and said, Ouch!
She gasped and turned to him, dropping the piece of
clothing that would block his view of her, and ran over to him—a
process that he most enjoyed since her perky breasts bounced.
This was definitely a lot more fun than sitting in a boat
and waiting for a fish to reel in. Remembering his arms, he gave a
slight wince, trying to look brave through the pain, and said,
Maybe I need more ointment.
She nodded and grabbed the jar.
He struggled not to stare at her breasts, but every time he
forced his gaze to her face, it ended up falling back down.
She took his arm and placed it on her lap as she dug into
the jar.
His fingertips brushed her thigh. Her skin was so
incredibly soft. He sighed. Yes. He could get used to this.
Jenny, he whispered.
What? she asked, gently rubbing ointment on his arm.
I‘m glad I‘m your husband. A man couldn‘t ask for a
better wife.
She looked at him then and smiled. I‘m glad you came to
marry me.
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Emboldened by her confession, he scooted closer to her
and wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her against him. I
love you.
I love you too. She lowered her head and kissed him.
He welcomed her lips and the sweet taste of her when she
invited him to explore her with his tongue. They had shared
intimate kisses before, and as the days continued on, the contact
had grown frequent enough where he was comfortable with it.
But even as comfortable as it was, his heart still hammered loudly
in his chest. This was it. If he didn‘t ruin it, he just might get to
finally make love to her.
His fingers traced the smooth skin from her hip and up to
her nearest breast. Since she didn‘t pull away, he cupped her in
the palm of his hand and groaned. Breasts felt even better than
they looked, and he didn‘t think that was possible. But it was, and
he couldn‘t wait to find out how much better things were going to
get. That is, if she allowed him to continue.
He reluctantly ended the kiss and took the jar she‘d been
holding and returned it to the nightstand. There‘s no reason for
that to get in the way. Too eager to care that excitement was in
his voice or actions, he pulled her into his arms so he could kiss
her again.
She moaned and fell into his embrace.
It felt right to hold her close with her bare skin teasing
him. It felt as if she belonged to him—as if she had been created
so that he wouldn‘t have to live his life alone. His mouth left hers
so he could sprinkle a trail of kisses down her neck. He was aware
of many things: the feel of her back as he pressed her closer to
him, the way her breasts crushed against his chest, the contented
sigh drifting from her lips.
I want you, Jenny, he whispered in her ear.
I want you too.
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He separated from her so he could wiggle out of his pants
and glanced at her when he heard her give a slight gasp. What?
Is there something wrong with me?
Well…no. But aren‘t you supposed to be… She
motioned to his erection. You know…
Oh. Right. Irving wasn‘t able to do this. As unlikely as
it was that she‘d believe him, he blurted out, It‘s a miracle! and
tossed her onto her back so that he was lying on top of her.
Before she could ask any more questions, he kissed her again. All
he had to do was get her back into the mood, and she‘d forget all
about Irving‘s problem.
Fortunately, she didn‘t take much convincing. She
wrapped her legs around him and encouraged him to continue.
He didn‘t want to rush their first time, so he resisted the urge to
enter her, though he did give into the urge to move his hips. He
couldn‘t tell whose groans were louder, but it was apparent that
she was receiving pleasure from this action—just as he was.
He wanted to fully explore her, to learn all her womanly
secrets, so he pulled away from her. The tip of his manhood
teased him by lingering at her entrance, but he resisted the urge to
rush this. Instead, he caressed her breasts. Her nipples hardened
for him and she arched her back. His breath grew heavy at the
sight. She was, without a doubt, the most desirable woman who
ever lived. Who knew lovemaking could be so incredible?
He let his hands travel down her body until his fingers
reached the patch of curls that marked the entrance that held a
particular interest to him. Not that her breasts weren‘t exciting, in
and of themselves, but the male part of him was especially drawn
to this area of her body. He took his time in feeling her and
looking at her, growing even more aroused by her whimpers of
pleasure.
He wanted to please her. For some reason that was even
more important than satisfying himself–something he didn‘t think
would be possible considering the insistent throbbing of his
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erection. Giving into his curiosity, he slid his finger into her. Yes,
that male part of him was definitely going to like being in there.
She reached down and directed his movements. The fact
that she took charge further motivated him to do whatever she
needed to get the most enjoyment from this. He continued until
she cried out. He decided that
that
was the most beautiful sound
he‘d ever heard a woman make.
When she relaxed her hold on him, he moved over her so
that he could enter her. The moment he‘d been waiting for ever
since he saw her coming his way in front of the courthouse was
finally here, and as he slid into her, he closed his eyes and groaned.
Really, he knew it was going to be good, but he didn‘t know it was
going to be
this
good. What in the world had convinced him to
wait so long? Irving should have resolved his problem weeks
ago.
She wrapped her legs around his waist and allowed him to
thrust deeper into her. He moved as slow as he could, knowing
he could prolong the sweet agony if he did so. And he dragged it
out for as long as he could before he couldn‘t take it anymore and
had to climax. He gritted his teeth and braced himself against the
onslaught of sensation that rushed through him. Never in a
million years did he imagine it‘d be like this. And he thought he
had a pretty good imagination.
When the last wave of pleasure ebbed, he collapsed on top
of her, hardly aware that she was holding onto him. It took a
good minute before he could think clearly. He lifted his head so
he could look at her. He brushed the stray strands of her hair
from her eyes and smiled.
That was the best thing that‘s ever happened to me, he
admitted, still breathing hard. I mean, of course, besides
marrying you.
She ran her legs down his, sending a thrill through him. I
want to do this again.
You won‘t get any complaints from me, sweetheart.
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It was nice, you know. To do this and know you‘re not
going to leave me if I get with child.
Turning serious, he inspected her and realized that it must
have hurt when Clyde ran out on her and Jeremy. No, I‘m not
leaving. I love you, Jenny, and there‘s nothing that will tear us
apart.
Good. Because I‘ve grown accustomed to having you
around.
You got me for keeps. Even if we have a dozen children,
I‘ll still be here.
She balked. A dozen?
He shrugged. It‘s been known to happen.
Oh dear. Maybe I should rethink this being in bed with
you thing.
Giving a playful slap on her bottom, he said, Don‘t you
dare!
She giggled and kissed him. I wouldn‘t dream of it.
Content, he settled back into her arms and waited for
when he had enough energy to make love to her again.
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Chapter Fourteen
J
enny scanned the crowd of people the next morning. She
didn‘t want to go into the church until she saw Sally. But Sally
wasn‘t anywhere, and that wasn‘t like her sister. She couldn‘t even
focus on what her brothers were telling Owen…or what Jessica
and Mary were talking about.
An uneasy feeling swelled in the pit of her stomach.
Perhaps she should have run after her sister last night. But then
she wouldn‘t have taken care of Owen and then… She blushed.
She didn‘t know lovemaking could involve such bliss. She glanced
at him, recalling the way his hands and mouth felt on her skin.
Her body tingled from the memory. She couldn‘t wait to be alone
with him again.
Jenny? Someone nudged her in the side.
She jumped back and cleared her throat. She realized that
Mary and Jessica were staring at her. What? she asked, hoping
they didn‘t detect what she‘d been thinking about.
Sally‘s here, Mary said. You wanted us to tell you if we
saw her.
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Jenny looked in the direction where Mary pointed. Oh
good! Thank you. She wove through two groups until she
reached her sister. Sally, how are you? Where‘s Rick and Greg?
Sally sighed and shrugged. They‘re going to his parents.
You don‘t sound happy.
Well, I‘m not. I don‘t feel like being here. You know
how hard it is to sing hymns about loving and forgiving people
when all you want to do is hit your husband over the head with a
rolling pin?
I‘m sorry, Sally. Everything started out so well. I don‘t
understand what went wrong.
What‘s there to understand? Rick would rather chase a
squirrel than be with me.
Surely, that isn‘t true.
Maybe not. But it‘s how I feel . I could take off all my
clothes and go right up to him, and he wouldn‘t even look up
from his work.
Jenny blinked. Did you actually try that?
Well…no.
Maybe you should.
Sally gasped and clutched Jenny‘s arm. Oh, I couldn‘t.
Why not?
It‘s just…it‘s not something women do. They don‘t go
parading themselves in front of their husbands in broad daylight.
But you‘re in the privacy of your own home.
Maybe but… She let go of Jenny‘s coat sleeve and
clasped her hands together. I‘d lose the nerve.
Hasn‘t he seen you naked before?
Sure he has. We‘ve been married for a good eight years.
It‘s just that we‘re in bed.
I‘m surprised at you, Sally. You have more experience in
this area than I do, but even I know that men have a hard time
resisting a woman who undresses in front of them.
Really?
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Try it. I guarantee that if you casually go around the
room and slip off a piece of clothing here and there, you‘ll have
his full attention.
Sally bit her lower lip and tapped her foot on the grass.
Can something that simple work?
Oh, it can.
It worked like a charm on Owen. She grinned at the
memory. She hadn‘t thought he‘d be able to have or maintain an
erection. She didn‘t understand it. Maybe he was so distraught
from his accident that he feared he couldn‘t make love. Maybe
seeing a naked woman was all it took for him to forget his fears.
Well, whatever the reason, she didn‘t care. The point was they
spent hours—instead of minutes like it‘d been with Clyde—
enjoying each other. Once Owen got going, there was no
stopping him. She was sure that Rick would respond similarly to
Sally if she stripped in front of him.
Jenny winked at her sister. I bet it‘ll be just the thing to
put the spark right back into your marriage.
Sally seemed to consider it for a moment before nodding.
It can‘t hurt.
No, it can‘t!
Sally finally broke into one of her familiar smiles. You‘re
right, Jenny. It really just might work.
And to show you how sure I am it will, let me and Owen
take Greg off your hands for the day.
Oh, there‘s no need for that. His parents are taking him
to their house after the service. Thank you, Jenny. I feel much
better. Maybe now I can get through the sermon without wanting
to strangle my husband.
And now Jenny could get through the sermon without
driving herself crazy over her sister‘s predicament. Giving a
contented sigh, she returned to Owen.
***
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Rick led Greg to his parents before he went to find Mr. White.
He hated it when Sally was mad at him. He realized his workload
caused a strain in their marriage, but it didn‘t occur to him how
upset Sally was about it until the previous night. Something as
small as him wanting to help Irving track down a squirrel wouldn‘t
usually upset her. She was too levelheaded for that kind of thing.
No. He knew what bothered her. It was the fact he consistently
put her aside for his work that bothered her.
If there was one thing he knew, it was that marriages had
to be nurtured. He‘d seen enough miserable men and women
come through in his line of work to see what a lack of care and
attention did to a spouse. Though divorce wasn‘t common back
east, it happened in the west quite a bit, especially in places where
the men outnumbered the women. But even if the couples didn‘t
choose divorce, they sometimes chose to live their lives apart
from each other. And he didn‘t want that to be the case with him
and Sally.
He found his boss lingering in a group by a tree and
approached him. Mr. White, may I have a moment of your
time?
The middle-aged man nodded and excused himself from
his family. Is something troubling you, Rick?
Actually, yes. He put his hands in his pockets since he
didn‘t know what else to do with them. Sir, I was wondering
about Carl Townsend. Do you think he‘ll be well enough to
return to work?
I don‘t know. Some days he feels better and other days
he doesn‘t.
Rick feared that was the case. He glanced over his
shoulder and saw that Sally was talking to Jenny. He hated
knowing she was mad at him, and quite frankly, he couldn‘t blame
her. Turning back to his boss, he said, I was wondering if you
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would consider hiring a third judge and hire Jack full-time to take
care of the clerical duties?
Mr. White sighed. You‘ve been having a rough time of it
for the past six months, haven‘t you?
The admission was hard, but he managed to say, Yes,
sir.
I‘ve been wondering what to do about Carl. He‘s a good
man. I don‘t want to let him go.
Of course not. Rick liked Carl and didn‘t want to see
him go either.
But I don‘t want to make things harder on you than they
have been. Mr. White nodded. I will hire Jack full -time, and I‘ll
see about finding a temporary judge. It might mean a slight pay
cut.
That is fine, sir. He didn‘t mind taking a little less home
if it meant he didn‘t have to wor k overtime. Sally, he figured,
would be happy with the arrangement.
I‘ll get to it tomorrow morning then.
Rick breathed a sigh of relief. If he‘d known it was going
to be this easy, he wouldn‘t have delayed the discussion for as
long as he had. Thank you, sir.
The man returned to his family, so Rick headed off to find
his wife. She had just finished talking to Jenny.
Sally? he called out to her, excited that he could finally
give her some good news for a change.
She stopped on her way to her parents and strode over to
him. What is it?
He took her hand and smiled at her. I just want to let
you know that you‘re as beautiful today as the day we got
married.
She frowned as if she couldn‘t believe her ears. What?
I‘m sorry about last night. You‘re right. I have been
working too hard. I just talked to Mr. White, and he said he‘d hire
a temporary judge and let Jack work full-time.
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Her eyes lit up and she squeezed his hand. Really, Rick?
It‘ll mean a cut in my pay, he warned her.
Oh. Well, how much of a cut?
He raised an eyebrow at her. And I thought you cared
more about me than the money.
She giggled and patted his arm. Oh, I was teasing and
you know it.
He let go of her hand so he could slip his arm around her
waist and pull her closer. I have missed being with you.
Rick, she whispered, glancing around, you shouldn‘t be
holding me this close in public.
A sly grin crossed his face as he leaned forward and
whispered, This is nothing, honey. Just wait until we get home.
My parents agreed to take care of Greg until six.
She blushed but her eyes twinkled with excitement. I
have a surprise for you.
Really? What is it?
You‘ll have to wait and see. She gave him a quick kiss
on the cheek.
I can‘t wait, he told her, enjoying the anticipation, even
as it was killing him. Knowing Sally, it was going to be worth the
wait. His body was already anxious to be alone with her. It‘d
been much too long since they had time to be together for a
decent amount of time. I love you.
I love you too, Rick.
Glad that things were no longer tense between them, he
led her into the church when it was time for the service to begin.
***
Owen pounded the last board onto the attic floor and tested it to
make sure it was in place. Good. Setting down the hammer, he
stood up and walked over the new section of flooring. It wasn‘t
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perfect, but it worked. No one else would be falling through the
floor.
Satisfied, he went over to the board he had set over the
hole in the side of the wall. It was a temporary fix. He needed to
take care of the outside of the house. But that would have to be
on a day when he didn‘t have work. As it was, he was going to be
late if he didn‘t get a move on.
He collected the rest of the boards, the hammer and box
of nails and carefully went down the ladder. Once he put
everything away in the little shed out back, he found Jenny sitting
in the parlor making a dress for one of the women in town.
Jeremy was outside playing with what little snow covered the
ground. She looked out the window and watched him.
Since they had a moment of privacy, Owen hurried over
to her and gave her a big hug.
She shrieked and then laughed. You scared me. Setting
her things aside, she hugged him back. Did you secure the
attic?
I did. He kissed her neck.
She giggled and ran her hands down his back. So no
more squirrels will get into the house?
Not unless you want them to.
Wrapping her legs around his waist, she brought him
closer to her.
He groaned. I have to go to work.
Just giving you an idea of what‘ll happen tonight.
Giving her a long kiss, he caressed her breasts. Reluctant,
he pulled away from her. I can‘t wait.
Me neither. She squeezed his bottom.
You don‘t play fair, honey. He removed himself from
the tempting position so he could sit next to her. He took her
hands in his and debated, once again, if he should tell her the
truth.
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She snuggled against him and smiled. I thought you had
to go to work.
I do. But I thought I should tell you something first.
What is it?
He hesitated. Could he actually do this? Would she still
love him if she knew he lied to her…to everyone? He looked into
her eyes. What if she didn‘t love him once she knew he wasn‘t the
invincible Irving Spencer? He released his breath. It was wrong
to withhold the truth. He knew it was. But he couldn‘t bring
himself to tell her.
Not day.
Maybe tomorrow.
Maybe next week.
He just needed time to think of the right words. Then
he‘d tell her in a way that would ease the shock, and she‘d
understand why he did the things he did. Yes. He‘d figure out
what to say first.
After he gave her another kiss, he asked, Will you make a
pie?
She laughed and nudged him in the side. You sure did
look serious for someone who wanted something simple. Yes. I‘ll
make you a pie. She kissed him on the cheek.
Thanks, Jenny. He grinned and kissed her back.
Standing, he took a deep breath and patted his vest. Once he
slipped his badge on, he‘d be in proper attire. I should be back
around eight.
I can‘t wait, she replied, winking.
Neither could he. He recalled how her body felt under
his. The male part of him did as well since it made no fuss to
remind him of how eager it was to spend time alone with her. He
sighed and retrieved his coat. Glancing back at her, he hoped that
bedtime would come very soon. If Sheriff Meyer kept him busy
enough, the time would go fast. Hopefully, it would be a busy
day.
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Once he had his coat on, he put on his hat and left the
house. He saw Jeremy rolling a snowball across the lawn, picking
up fragments of the snow as he went along. How are you doing,
squirt? Owen called out as he f astened the top buttons of his
coat.
I‘m making a big ball! Jeremy replied.
You know, where I grew up, we only had snow once, and
as soon as the flakes touched the ground, they melted.
Jeremy stopped rolling his ball and frowned at him.
That‘s not fun.
But I could fish this time of year without having to wear
a coat.
He shrugged. I can do that when it gets warm.
He had to admire the kid‘s logic. True. Maybe being in
Nebraska is better than being down south. He didn‘t miss being
in Louisiana. Not with Jenny and Jeremy right here. But
sometimes, he did wonder how his aunt was doing. He prayed
Big Roy never figured out that she had the money. As long as he
believed Owen deposited the cash into the bank, then she was
safe. He adjusted his collar to brace against the chill in the air and
waved at the youngster. I‘ll see you when I get back. Be sure to
take care of your ma while I‘m gone.
The boy nodded, but he‘d already turned his attention
back to his snowball.
A grin on Owen‘ s face, he went to get the horse ready for
the ride into town.
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Chapter Fifteen
O
wen patted his stomach and leaned back in the chair at the
sheriff‘s desk. If he had to eat another bite of anything, he was
going to burst. Those Larson women knew how to stuff a man
senseless. Who knew Thanksgiving could render a man comatose
for days on end?
He sat up straight. He couldn‘t even take a deep breath.
In an effort to finish up the leftovers, Jenny persuaded him to
have an extra helping of thanksgiving breakfast that morning.
He hoped that they were officially done. He‘d had enough of
turkey to last a lifetime. Now it was time for his poor stomach to
get a break.
He picked up the latest papers on Meyer‘s desk and sorted
through them. Good. None were of him. But there was one on
Robert Scott. Owen frowned. Why did the name Robert sound
familiar? Oh yes. He was the name Joshua had written and
placed in his wallet when Owen went to Guy Ike‘s house. That
was the day of the shoot-out. He shivered at the memory. He
hoped shoot-outs didn‘t happen often in Omaha.
He looked back at the paper and read the caption under
the rough sketch of the bearded man. Kidnapping children.
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Owen‘s jaw clenched. What in the world would a man do that
for? He thought of Jeremy. If someone kidnapped him… For
once, Owen was glad he was a deputy. At least he had some leads
that another father didn‘t. He studied Robert‘s face. If he came
across this man, he‘d definitely get him, even if he had to use a
dozen fishing rods…or try his hand at the gun in his holster.
But what if Robert isn’t guilty? What if he was framed for
something to cover up for someone else?
Owen sat back for a moment and considered the
implications. How many men were falsely accused of something
and put on a Wanted poster? Probably most of those men were
guilty. But how could one be sure? Still, Robert had a connection
to Guy and Jimmy.
But I have a connection to Big Roy.
He looked back at Robert‘s picture.
Innocent until proven
guilty. If I do find you, I’ll make sure that this is accurate. And if it is…
Well, if it was, then all bets were off, and he‘d do his part to make
sure justice was served.
The door opened and someone asked, Is Sheriff Meyer
here?
Owen stilled. He didn‘t look up from the paper right
away. He didn‘t have to because he recognized that low rumble.
He winced and set the paper down. So this was it. The moment
he‘d dreaded ever since he married Jenny.
Steeling his resolve, he dared to look in Irving Spencer‘s
direction. The blood drained from Owen‘s face. The man was
larger than he remembered. Irving Spencer wasn‘t six or six-and-
a-half feet tall. This monster was seven feet! And Owen barely
made it to five-eight. The man was also built like a brick wall.
He’s going to kill me!
It‘d be an easy thing for him to do too.
All Irving needed to do was pound him once on the head and into
the ground he‘d go. Irving didn‘t even need to dig a hole first.
Well,
Owen gulped,
at least I had my last meal.
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Irving narrowed his eyes at him. His bushy black
eyebrows formed a perfect V. You look familiar. Do I know
you?
No, Owen squeaked. He cleared his throat and tried to
say No again, but he only squeaked a higher note.
Oh wait. I remember you. You were in the forest in
Tennessee. That‘s where I found Big Roy. Then Irving gave him
a huge smile and balled his fists. He underestimated me.
Owen gulped. How anyone could underestimate this
monster of a man bewildered him. Surely, Irving realized that too.
No matter. He won‘t be causing trouble anymore.
Really? That meant his aunt was safe!
Irving‘s eyes fell to Owen‘s badge. I see Meyer found
another deputy.
Not exactly. And Irving wasn‘t going to be happy at all
when he discovered who had the job.
The door opened again and this time the sheriff walked in.
Of course. It would have to be Sheriff Meyer! Owen
thought. Why would it be otherwise? His luck had just taken a
nosedive. Well, except for finding out Big Roy was no longer a
problem. That was good. Probably the
only
good thing right
about now.
The sheriff looked up at the real Irving. Howdy. How
can I help you?
You must be Meyer. Irving motioned to the man‘s
badge.
That‘s right. Do you need help with something?
Actually, I came to be your deputy, but I see you already
got one.
Yep. Sure do. Sheriff Meyer nodded and adjusted his
hat. Irving Spencer is the best there is.
Owen cringed. Oh great. So much for hoping Irving
would quietly slip out of town. For a split second there, he had
this wonderful fantasy where Irving would find out there was a
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deputy, thank the sheriff and leave…never to be seen or heard
from again. But Meyer had to indicate that Owen was Irving
Spencer and now the cat was out of the bag. And that meant
Owen was in deep trouble.
As predicted, Irving turned his steel cold eyes in Owen‘s
direction. What‘s your name?
Owen moved his mouth but no answer came out of
it…unless one counted a whimper an actual reply.
He‘s Irving Spencer, Sheriff Meyer said.
Owen sunk further into the chair. This was not good.
Oh, there was absolutely no way this could end well.
He can‘t be Irving Spencer, the mammoth of a man
said. I‘m Irving Spencer.
Then there must be two Irvings. The sheriff shrugged.
This one came from South Carolina to work for me.
I‘m from South Carolina.
The sheriff frowned. And he married Jenny Larson, he
slowly added.
I‘m supposed to marry Jenny Larson. Because of the
boy. Jeremy.
Owen suddenly noticed how hot it was in the place. He
glanced around the jailhouse and saw no means of escape. His
exit was blocked by Meyer and Spencer who looked at each other,
and then, in perfect unison, turned their gazes to Owen. Well,
Owen had only one recourse before the law came crashing down
on him.
He jumped over the desk and hightailed it right into the
cell. He slammed the door and tested it. Good. Irving couldn‘t
come after him. Not when Owen had the key in his pocket! He
might be in jail, but at least he‘d just preserved his life. He backed
up until his legs hit the cot. He fell on it.
The two men crept forward, their eyes narrowed at him as
if they were stalking a rodent.
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Owen cleared his throat and gave a weak chuckle. Look,
it‘s all really simple when you think about it. You see, Big Roy
came after me, so I ran. He motioned to Irving. He saw Big
Roy in Tennessee. Well, Big Roy was chasing me because I won
some money from him at the saloon. Um… He cleared his throat
and leapt up on the bed so he could scurry further away from the
men who stepped closer to the bars. Oh goodness, those bars
would hold them back, right? I borrowed Irving‘s horse and
clothes so I could get away.
You have my horse? Irving demanded, crossing his arms
and shooting him the evil eye—or at least that‘s how Owen
interpreted the keen stare.
Owen tried to laugh but it came out sounding like another
pathetic whimper. It sort of…left…when I got on a train.
Hmmm…. Irving didn‘t stop staring at him.
So I…uh…came here. I was just going to get a haircut,
shave and eat. Then I was going to be out of her e. But… His
gaze shifted to the sheriff who shook his head in disappointment.
Bu t then the sheriff saw your hat and thought I was you. Then
the next thing I know, I‘m getting married. He let out another
weak chuckle. Funny, huh?
I‘m not laughing, Irving said, his face unreadable.
Neither am I, the sheriff added.
Owen gave up and cried out, Please, don‘t hang me! I
didn‘t mean to kill Mitch!
Irving‘s eyes grew wide and he snapped his fingers.
That‘s where I‘ve seen you. You‘re wanted for murder!
It was an accident! I didn‘t mean to kill him! Big Roy
sent him after me. He had a knife. I had no choice!
You‘re in a lot of trouble, son, the sheriff said. And it
isn‘t just Mitch. You stole a horse. You came here and
impersonated a deputy. You married a woman that belonged to
another man, and you spent all these months lying to all of us.
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What you need is a lawyer. He held out his hand. Give me the
badge and key.
Owen didn‘t know why but the command hurt. He knew
he couldn‘t be the deputy anymore, and yet, he wished he could.
Trying not to show how this affected him, he slowly stepped
down from the cot. He dug his hand into his pocket and pulled
out the key. Then he removed the badge. His hands trembled as
he handed them over.
The sheriff took them but wouldn‘t look him in the eye.
Instead, he handed them to Irving. Let‘s see what we can do
about getting this mess straightened out.
Mess? Owen grabbed the bars. Wait! You don‘t mean
Jenny, do you?
They didn‘t answer.
He watched them leave the jailhouse and fought the urge
to cry. He deserved what he was getting. He knew what he was
doing was wrong, but he‘d done it anyway. And who knew if
Jenny would want to stay with him when she found out the truth?
What a way to find out! And from the real Irving himself.
Owen‘s shoulders slumped as he made his way back to the
cot. He should have told her. At least, if she already knew, then
she‘d be prepared for it. No. It was best she didn‘t know. Now
they couldn‘t arrest her for aiding a Wanted man. She was
innocent, and that made her safe. He put his face in his hands.
Would she want to stay married to him? He‘d already lost his job,
his reputation, and his freedom. That was manageable as long as
she was with him. But if she wasn‘t… If Jeremy wasn‘t… He
closed his eyes and tried not to think about it.
***
Jenny grabbed her broom. Stay here, she told Jeremy who wa s
eating at the kitchen table.
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She looked back out the window. She didn‘t know
whether to be angry or afraid. Why was Clyde coming out to see
her? Was it because Owen arrested him? Glancing over her
shoulder to make sure her son was still at the table, she put her
coat on and stormed onto the porch.
He got off his horse. When he looked in her direction, he
didn‘t seem concerned by the fact that she was ready to whack
him with the broom if he got too close. Hi there, Jenny.
Get away from here, she snapped.
He sauntered over to the bottom step of the porch and
stopped just two inches shy of her being able to hit him with the
broom. Placing his hands on his hips, he tilted his head up so he
could make eye contact. I want my son.
He‘s not your son. She tightened her grip on the broom
handle and got ready to strike if needed.
That‘s not what you told me five years ago.
She gritted her teeth. Irving Spencer is his pa now.
He smirked at her and adjusted his suspenders. That‘s
just it, ain‘t it? The real Irving Spencer just got into town today.
Get out of here!
You think I‘m making this up?
Since when did you tell me the truth about anything?
=Oh Jenny, I love you. I want to marry you. It‘s just this one
time. We‘re engaged anyway.‘ You make me want to throw up.
And that much was the truth. Her stomach was rumbling like
crazy at the sight of him. She swallowed the bile in her throat.
She tried to hit him with the broom, but she hit dead air.
You can go on down to the jailhouse and check for
yourself if you‘d like, Clyde said, seeming to be unconcerned that
he‘d come close to being knocked over. You should see him,
Jenny. He‘s huge. He makes that Owen Russell you married look
like a pipsqueak.
She blinked through the ringing in her ears. What name
did you say?
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He threw his head back and laughed. Sound familiar? I
thought so too. Owen Russell is on the run, sweetheart. He‘s a
wanted man, and he came here posing as Irving Spencer.
No. It couldn‘t be true. She shook her head and tried to
focus through the tumult in her stomach. Owen wouldn‘t lie to
her like that. Owen? Owen! What were the chances Irving
Spencer would have that nickname? Another rush of bile came up
her throat. Oh no. She just knew she was going to throw up!
Clyde grinned. Poor Jenny. Well, it was worth a shot, I
guess. Can‘t blame this one on you. He got up on the first step.
She hit him across the head with the broom. You‘re not
getting near my son!
He rubbed the side of his head and glared at her. You
have no right to keep me away from him! Owen Russell-
Is still married to me. And he‘s Jeremy‘s pa, even if he is
a wanted man! Her stomach tossed. A wanted man? Oh, she
was going to vomit for sure!
Don‘t make this difficult, Jenny, Clyde said, his
expression darkening. I told you I‘d do right by you and marry
you.
And I told you no! She whacked him again, sending him
through the air.
He landed on his back and groaned.
Get off my property! she screamed, shaking. Leave me
and my son alone! She ran down the steps and got ready to
whack him again.
He quickly got up and ran from her.
She chased him, holding her broom over her head.
Hopping up on his horse, he said, I‘ll get my son next
time I come out here, Jenny!
You‘ll get Jeremy over my dead body. Then she
whacked the horse which bucked back, nearly knocking Clyde off.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Unfortunately, Clyde managed to stay on the animal.
He‘s my son too. Then, before she could swing the broom
again, he kicked the horse in the sides and bolted off the property.
Even though she was still trembling, she lowered the
broom and began to cry. No. It couldn‘t be true! He couldn‘t
take Jeremy from her. He was just lying. That‘s what he did best.
From the moment she met him, he told her things that didn‘t
come to pass.
And now she just learned that her husband was the same
way? No. Owen wouldn‘t do that. He wouldn‘t do that! What
man would lie to a woman so he could marry her and be a father
to a child that wasn‘t his?
“I’d like you to call me Owen.”
“Why Owen?” she asked him. “I’d think your nickname would be
something like Irv.”
“My aunt called me Owen. But I’d rather you call me that when it’s
just us.”
She didn‘t know whether to keep crying or throw up. So,
in the end, she did both. She remained kneeling in the snow,
aware that it was cold and wet but not truly feeling it.
Why her? Of all the women out there, why did she have
the uncanny ability to attract the wrong men? Was there a dark
cloud hanging over the house when she was born or something?
How could Owen do this to her? She thought she knew him. She
thought it was odd that he went by Owen but figured that some
people had nicknames that had nothing to do with their real
names. She was a horrible judge of character. She really had no
common sense when it came to men.
Ma?
Blinking through her tears, she looked over her shoulder
and saw her son watching her from the porch. She struggled to
her feet and went over to him. Pulling him into her arms, she
swore she would do whatever it took to keep Jeremy safe with her.
It didn‘t matter what else happened to her. If staying married to a
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man who was wanted by the law was the only way she could keep
him, she would. It wasn‘t that Owen was a bad man. He was
always good to Jeremy. But what had he done? She didn‘t
understand it.
So many emotions were whirling inside of her, and she
didn‘t know what to do. One minute she wanted to smack Owen
and the next she wanted to go to him and ask him to explain what
was going on.
I’ll find Sally. Rick is a judge. Surely, he’ll have some ideas.
Already feeling better, she turned Jeremy to the open
doorway. Get your coat and boots on, sweetie. We‘re going to
see your aunt and uncle.
Which ones?
Sally and Rick. She was still trembling, but she set the
broom down and went into the house to get his coat. They‘ll
know what to do.
Though she spoke aloud, she wasn‘t directing the last
statement to him. It was so unreal. Like being stuck in a dream.
Parts of it made sense, but most of it didn‘t.
She wiped her wet cheeks on her coat sleeve and placed a
hat on her head. It wasn‘t hopeless. Whenever things looked
hopeless in the past, she managed through it. She remembered
how horrible things seemed when she told her parents she was
with child. Clyde had just left town, leaving her all alone to figure
things out. And she got through that. If she could handle that,
she could handle this too. She just needed to think. Nothing was
hopeless as long as she kept going.
Always look forward. Never look back.
She turned to Jeremy who finished putting his last boot
on. Good. He was ready. Let‘s go. She put her arm around his
shoulders and directed him out of the house.
As she closed the door, Jeremy said, There‘s Aunt Sally.
She looked over in the direction he pointed to. Yes.
There was Aunt Sally alright. And Aunt Sally brought Mary and
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their children—Greg and Isaac. Jenny‘s heart plummeted. If Sally
brought Mary out, then there was no doubt that what Clyde said
was true. Sally knew that Mary would be a source of comfort to
Jenny. Mary would be the one to break the news to her because
Mary somehow knew the right words to say, no matter how bleak
the situation.
Well, even if they came to tell her that Owen was not
really Irving Spencer, Jenny still needed to get things straightened
out. As she and Jeremy walked down the first step of the porch,
she caught sight of four horses. She grimaced. Her brothers
knew too? This wasn‘t going to be fun. For any of them.
Taking her son‘s hand, she steadied her nerves and headed
down the rest of the steps.
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Chapter Sixteen
O
wen jumped up as soon as the door to the jailhouse opened.
He rushed over to the bars to see if Jenny came. She did. But she
also brought Sally and her four brothers with her. Four very angry
looking brothers. He immediately stepped back as the four
glaring men surrounded the cell. He examined the bars. He
hoped the steel was strong enough to keep them out. They
looked like they were ready to rip him apart and feed his remains
to the vultures.
You‘re lucky you‘re in there! Tom barked, pointing an
accusing finger at him. Because if you weren‘t, we‘d run you out
of town.
How could you do this to our sister ? Richard
demanded, shaking the bars.
Owen swallowed the lump in his throat and backed up
until he hit the wall. He glanced at the small window and
wondered if he could escape if he squeezed through it. No. That
was ridiculous. He was much safer here with the bars protecting
him than in the open where these men could chase him down.
First Clyde and now
him
, Dave said in disgust. Is there
no end to what Jenny has to go through?
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Why did you do it? Sally asked. She left Jenny in the
corner of the room and stormed up to the bars. Well? Why did
you do it?
You knew you weren‘t Irving, Dave agreed.
Owen thought of how to respond. Really…was there
anything he could possibly say that would ward off the evil vibes
coming his way?
Richard shook the bars again. Answer her!
I- His voice squeaked so he loosened his collar and
cleared his throat. It may have been snowing outside, but it was
incredibly hot in here. Sweat was literally dripping down his back.
Well… He glanced at Jenny who just stood to the side of the
room and stared at him. He couldn‘t figure out what she was
thinking. Horrified…stunned…appalled… Probably that and more.
What were you thinking? Richard screamed.
Owen jerked and directed his attention to five irate people.
Shrugging, he managed out a weak, I saw her and she was so
beautiful-
The group groaned and rolled their eyes.
That‘s just what I thought, Richard said, shaking his
head. He wasn‘t thinking. Not with his brain anyway.
This is just great, Dave muttered. Looking at his
brothers, he asked, What are we supposed to do with him?
Joel sighed. There‘s nothing we can do. He‘s well
protected in there.
Richard banged the bars. How long were you going to
let this go on? Were you ever going to tell us the truth? He
pointed to Jenny. Were you ever going to tell her?
Owen shifted from one foot to the other, aware that there
wasn‘t anything he could say to alleviate their wrath. I‘m sorry. I
didn‘t want to lie to everyone.
By the looks on their faces, it was clear they didn‘t believe
him. And who could blame them?
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It‘s just that… Owen rubbed the back of his neck. Yep.
It was hotter than the dog days of August in this place. Clearing
his throat again, he said, Down in Louisiana, my uncle gambled
away all of his money and then killed himself. My aunt had
nothing to her name, and they were ready to take her home so I
went to the saloon-
Sally gasped and brought her hand to her mouth.
I didn‘t do that, he quickly assured her. I went to get
the money back. I got lucky and won the money back after a full
night of playing poker. Big Roy and his men didn‘t take too well
to that. They found me a couple of days later and tried to kill me.
I managed to get out of Louisiana.
So how does this involve Irving Spencer? Richard asked.
I ran into him while I was on the run. Big Roy found me
in a wooded area and was chasing me. I stumbled upon Irving‘s
campsite by mistake and took his clothes while he was- he
glanced at Sally and Jenny- answering nature‘s call.
What did you need his clothes for?
I was naked.
What were you doing in the forest without any clothes
on? Richard angrily asked.
Taking a swim in the river. I wanted to get clean. Big
Roy found my horse before I had a chance to get back into my
clothes. So when I found a pile of clean clothes—at least I
assume they were clean, I put them on. By the time Big Roy came
up to the campsite, I was on Irving‘s hor se and got out of there.
I don‘t feel good, Jenny said, clutching her stomach.
Sally ran over to her and put an arm around her shoulders.
Shooting a scolding look at Owen, she asked, Are you happy?
Look at what you‘re doing to her!
Jenny sat on the bench and Sally sat beside her, still
hugging her sister.
Owen winced. I‘m so sorry, Jenny. I never meant to
hurt you.
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You‘ll answer our questions right now! Tom
interrupted.
Owen quieted and waited.
Tom nudged Richard in the side. Go on.
Richard nodded. So you ended up in Omaha and
decided to be Irving?
No. Well, I mean it turned out that way, Owen began,
but that wasn‘t what I originally intended. I was just passing
through. I saw the Wanted posters. Big Roy framed me for
murder, but I didn‘t mean to kill Mitch.
Jenny groaned. I think I‘m going to throw up.
You murdered someone! Dave shouted, his eyes nearly
popping out of his head.
Owen threw his hands up in the air, as he‘d seen other
outlaws do when they were caught. He was going to kill me! I
had to protect myself.
Then why was your face on a Wanted poster?
I don‘t know. I think Big Roy told the local sheriff that I
killed Mitch on purpose.
The sound of Jenny throwing up into the trashcan Sally
held for her stopped the interrogation. The five men cringed, and
Owen had to look away in case he joined her. Once the horrible
sound stopped, his stomach settled.
Sally marched over to the cell and showed him the
trashcan. I ought to fling this in there for what you did to her!
Now, Sally, Richard began, let‘s not be gross.
She grunted. I‘ve never seen Jenny this upset. She
turned to Owen. I hope you‘re happy. I just hope you‘re
absolutely happy with what you‘re putting her through!
Owen hastened to a free section of the bars so he could
see his wife. He winced. She was too pale. This wasn‘t good.
Jenny, I love you. I only said I was Irving because the sheriff
came up to me and I thought he was going to hang me. Then I
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married you, and I think you‘re the most wonderful woman a man
could ever have.
Get away from her! Richard ran over to him.
Owen immediately scurried back to the safe area of his cell
where no one could touch him. He tried to look around Richard
to see if Jenny might give him some leeway, but Richard expertly
shifted so his view of her was blocked.
Richard pointed at him. You‘re not having anything t o
do with Jenny ever again. Do you understand? You‘re a wanted
man. You can stand trial before a judge, and maybe he‘ll release
you. But there‘s no way you‘ll ever get near our sister again.
Tom nodded his agreement. We‘ll chase you out of town
if we have to. We won‘t have anyone else hurting her.
The door opened and the infamous Irving Spencer
entered the building with the sheriff close behind.
Owen pressed his back to the wall. He was still
overwhelmed by the sheer brute strength of the formidable tower
of a man. As if the brothers secretly felt the same way, they
cowered in his presence. Owen had no doubt that if the roles
were reversed—if he was built like Irving—that the brothers
would think twice before gaining up on him. Irving could take on
an entire town and still be left standing.
I need to speak to the prisoner, Irving said in a low,
controlled voice.
Without question—or even a hint of hesitation—the
brothers took Sally and Jenny out of the jailhouse.
Owen rolled his eyes. Yep, it was too bad he wasn‘t
actually built like Irving. The man didn‘t even have to raise his
voice to get four tough brothers to run off like a bunch of
women. Irving was the perfect man, and Owen was really
beginning to resent that. Didn‘t the man have one flaw?
Irving took the key out of his pocket and opened the cell
door.
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Startled, Owen braced himself against the wall and glanced
at the window. Why did it have to be so small? There was no
escaping this beast! He shot an anxious look at the sheriff who
simply sighed, shook his head, and went to his desk. Oh great.
Sheriff Meyer was going to leave him alone in the cell with Irving
the Monster
Spencer. And Irving couldn‘t be happy with him since
he took his job and Jenny from him.
To Owen‘s surprise, Irving sat on the cot and calmly
folded his arms. What do you know about Big Roy?
Of all the things Owen expected, this wasn‘t on the list.
W-what?
You had personal dealings with Big Roy. He‘s a sneaky
fox. Escaped prison. Though he wouldn‘t have if I‘d been there.
He slammed his fist into the palm of his hand. Now the weasel‘s
hiding.
Owen winced.
He directed his confident gaze to Owen. Problem is, I
need something to lure him out from his hiding spot.
It took a moment before Irving‘s meaning dawned on
Owen. Gasping, Owen tapped his chest. Me? I‘m bait?
Don‘t think of it as being the bait. Think of it as giving a
helping hand. You know all about taking care of the scum. You
did become me.
He gulped but nodded.
And in return for your help, I will talk to the judge about
going easy on you.
Owen wiped his sweaty hands on his pants. What about
Jenny?
What about her?
Well…I married her, you know?
He nodded.
I want to stay married to her. That is, if she‘d still want
to be married to him—Owen Russell. He scanned Irving. Did he
even stand a chance against Irving?
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I only agreed to marry her to help her out. Clyde Jenkins
runs around with a suspicious crowd.
Really? What did he do?
Nothing…yet. His name popped up awhile back though.
Seems suspicious when a thief makes a comment. Slip of the
tongue or intentional, I don‘t know. But either way, I got to
figure him out too. He stood up and placed his hands on his
hips. His legs were spread apart and he stared Owen down as if
he were bracing for a fight. What‘d you say?
Adjusting his collar again, Owen asked, I get to stay with
Jenny then?
If she‘ll have you. She didn‘t look too happy just now.
True. And she had every right to be mad. But she loved
him. No. Not exactly. She loved him as =Irving Spencer‘. Still,
he had been his true self around her. He might have assumed a
different name and a deputy job, but he‘d been who he really was
with her. Surely, she‘d remember that. When they were alone, it
wasn‘t possible to hide who he really was. He just hoped she
really would remember that. He couldn‘t imagine his life without
her…or Jeremy. Even if she had four brothers ready to take off
his head.
Well, he had to try. He nodded. I‘ll help you get Big
Roy.
Good. The matter done, Irving headed out of the cell
and locked the door.
Relieved he was still in one piece, Owen relaxed and
exhaled.
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Chapter Seventeen
J
enny didn‘t feel like dealing with anyone at the moment. Her
mind was a jumble of thoughts, and her relatives weren‘t helping.
Her brothers and Sally sat around the kitchen table trying to
decide what to do about the situation while Greg, Jeremy, and
Isaac played with the dog in the backyard. Mary stayed out there
to watch them from where she sat in the chair next to the house.
Maybe Jenny shouldn‘t have come to Sally‘s house after
they left the jail. Maybe she should have just gone home. She
watched the children as they laughed and took turns throwing the
ball for the dog to catch. It was simple for them. Children didn‘t
sit and analyze things. They either liked something or they didn‘ t,
and they acted accordingly.
Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and rested her
forehead against the cool glass of the window. Her hand fell to
her abdomen. She should‘ve realized it sooner, but she and Owen
had stayed up well into the night to enjoy lovemaking. The
fatigue was easy to explain. Today when she found out that he
was really Owen Russell—instead of Irving Owen Spencer…
Naturally, it made her sick to her stomach.
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It wasn‘t until she was at the jail and throwing up into the
trashcan that she realized what was going on. She hadn‘t thrown
up since she was carrying Jeremy.
I found something we can use, Rick said as he entered
the kitchen.
Startled that he was in the room, Jenny‘s eyes flew open as
she turned from the window.
I hope it‘s good, Richard replied, looking sour.
All Jenny has to do is get an annulment, Rick told the
group. He didn‘t even seem to notice that she was right there in
the corner of the room, for he kept his gaze on the group
crowded around the table. Jenny didn‘t know she was marrying
Owen Russell. She thought she was marrying Irving Spencer.
Therefore, the marriage is null and void.
Even though he signed the license with his real name?
Richard asked.
She didn‘t know he did that. None of us did.
You‘re a judge, Rick. Why didn‘t you double check?
Sally stood up and went to her husband‘s side. Why
didn‘t any of us think to double check? Were we supposed to
know that Owen was an imposter?
I‘ll check the names on all marriage licenses in the future
and make sure no one leaves blotches of ink on their names,
Rick said. I can‘t do anything about the past. But Sally‘s right.
It didn‘t occur to me that Owen was lying.
Dave sighed and set down the coffee cup. None of us
would have thought someone would do something that
underhanded.
Richard groaned. Fine. What‘s done is done. We need
to figure out what to do now. Are you sure Jenny can get an
annulment?
Yes, Rick said. Here‘s the law. He handed Richard
the piece of paper.
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After Richard read it, he nodded and handed it to Tom.
Good. Then let‘s get this annulment over with.
Jenny stepped forward and yelled over their chorus of
agreement. Isn‘t anyone going to ask me what I plan to do?
Tom glanced at her. It‘s obvious. Owen is scum.
You‘re getting rid of bad rubbish.
The others nodded.
No, she argued, crossing her arms. I am not getting an
annulment.
They gasped with apparent shock.
The room was so quiet that Jenny swore she could hear a
needle bounce off the floor. I‘m expecting his child, she finally
said. I‘m staying married to him.
Richard threw his hands up in the air. How is it possible
that you keep getting pregnant by the wrong men?
Her face flushed with anger. Excuse me?
First Clyde and now Owen.
For your information, I was married to Owen. It was
perfectly alright for me to be intimate with him!
Sally shook her head. I thought that wasn‘t possible.
It wasn‘t possible with Irving Spencer, she told her
sister, knowing that only Sally knew of Irving‘s impotence.
A flicker of understanding lit Sally‘s eyes. Oh. Then she
blinked and shook her head again. But didn‘t it dawn on you
that you married the wrong man since Owen could… She glanced
at their attentive audience before directing her gaze back to Jenny.
Well…you know.
For a moment but then I assumed whatever caused the
problem corrected itself.
Problem? Tom asked. What problem?
Dave rolled his eyes. You really have no idea what
they‘re talking about?
Joel snorted. I‘m younger than you, and even I know
what Sally means. Boy, Tom. You sure are dumb.
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Tom glared at his brothers.
Richard grimaced and stood up. I don‘t care what the
details are. Jenny, you can‘t stay with him. He lied to you—to all
of us—and he killed someone.
To defend himself, Jenny pointed out.
That hasn‘t been proven, Richard said.
And it hasn‘t been
not
proven. She groaned. Aren‘t we
all innocent until proven guilty?
Oh sure. We made that mistake when you married him.
We‘re not going to fall for that again.
Jenny had had enough. She headed for the kitchen door.
Where are you going? Sally asked.
I need to think things over without the lot of you telling
me what to do, she snapped as she flung the door open. In case
you haven‘t noticed, I‘m an adult woman. I‘m perfectly capable of
deciding what‘s best for me and my children. Before anyone
could protest, she stepped outside and slammed the door.
Mary jerked and turned to Jenny. She pressed a hand to
her heart and smiled. You gave me a good scare.
Jeremy ran over to Jenny. Is Pa here yet?
Jenny smiled as she stroked his cheek. Not yet, honey. I
need to talk to your Aunt Mary. Will you be a good boy for me
and play with your cousins?
Though he looked disappointed, he nodded and went
back to the two boys who were petting a very happy dog.
Jenny pulled the other remaining chair in the yard so that
it was next to Mary‘s and sat down. At a time like this, she needed
someone with a level head who could do more listening than
talking. Mary, I don‘t know what to do. I mean, I know what
Owen did was wrong, but who can really blame him? He
expected to be hung. If I were in his situation, I‘d probably do
the same thing.
Mary nodded.
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You weren‘t here when I was with Clyde, Jenny
continued. I thought we were going to get married, and when I
told him I was with child, he said we‘d have to marry sooner than
planned. Well, the next thing I knew, he bolted out of town. His
mother wouldn‘t even have anything to do with me. She blamed
me for making him leave. Can you believe that? I didn‘t get
myself in the family way. Sure, I had a part, but I wasn‘t in it
alone.
Anyway, my brothers were so mad they searched all over
for Clyde but couldn‘t find him. They insisted I stay home after
Jeremy was born, but I was tired of them telling me what to do.
So when I found the boarding house and worked out an
agreement with the landlady to make my rent less, I moved out.
And now they want to tell me what to do about Owen.
Maybe I‘m wrong for wanting to stay with him, but I
think that‘s what I want to do. I don‘t know exactly what
happened to land him here, but he showed up when I needed
someone to marry. I don‘t think the timing was a coincidence. I
think I was meant to be with him. And I can‘t imagine that with
all the time I spent with him, he was pretending to be someone
he‘s not. No one can put on that good of a show. You get to
learn about people when you live with them. You know what I
mean?
Mary smiled and nodded. Yes, I know.
Jenny already felt better. It was nice to finally speak her
thoughts. She released her breath and relaxed. You know what
Owen told me while my brothers were harassing him? He said I
was the most wonderful woman a man could have. No one, not
even Clyde when he was sweet talking me so he could sleep with
me, ever said that to me before. That‘s how he treats me too.
And even though they don‘t like it, I love him.
I don‘t think they are opposed to you loving Owen,
Mary said. They‘re worried you‘ll get hurt again. But then,
doesn‘t every marriage suffer its trials? We all get hurt at some
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point, whether the other person intended to hurt us or not. As
long as there are imperfect people, there will be problems.
I think I should take you in there so you can explain that
to them.
Oh no. I wouldn‘t go near them right now. They‘re too
hot-headed. Once they calm down enough to think straight, I can
give my spiel.
Jenny laughed. They can get so irrational at times, can‘t
they?
She chuckled. They have their moments. As much as I
adore your family, I‘ve learned that there are times to stick with
the children.
Smart idea. No wonder Dave enjoys being with you.
She took a deep breath. I need to see Owen if the sheriff will let
me.
I think everything will work out. Owen seems like a
good man who just got stuck in a bad situation.
I think that too. Thank you, Mary. It‘s no wonder you‘re
my dearest friend.
You‘re mine too, Jenny.
Already feeling much better, Jenny stood up and called to
Jeremy who came over to her. We‘re going to see your pa.
The boy‘s eyes lit up. There was no denying the
attachment he shared with Owen, and Owen was just as attached
to him.
Taking his hand in hers, she said good-bye to Mary and
the boys and quickly snuck out of the yard with her son. She
figured that she didn‘t have to literally run, but she wasn‘t sure if
they would discover where she went. If they did, there was no
doubt they‘d drag her back. She knew Mary would stall them for
awhile. Sooner or later though, they were bound to track her
down.
By the time they reached the jailhouse, Irving opened the
door. She gave a slight gasp and stepped back. True, she‘d seen
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him already, but he hadn‘t been standing right in front of her. He
was enormous. No wonder criminals shook in their boots when
they knew he was coming.
Good afternoon, Jenny, Irving calmly said.
She cleared her throat and nervously replied, Hello,
Irving. Uh… Can I see Owen?
He furrowed his eyebrows. Are you sure?
I want to see my pa! Jeremy insisted.
Honey, shhh. She turned from her son and looked back
at Irving. Yes. I wish to talk to him. Is that alright?
He shrugged. It‘s fine with me as long as you don‘t run
off with him.
She furrowed her eyebrows. Just what did he mean by
that?
He gave a slight smile. I meant I didn‘t want the prisoner
to escape.
She relaxed. Oh. I thought you meant… She had
thought he meant that he didn‘t want her to stay married to
Owen. But he hadn‘t, and she didn‘t want to explain it. Looking
at Irving, she knew that they wouldn‘t have made a good match.
She would have married him for her son, but he wouldn‘t have
been her first choice. She glanced inside the jailhouse. There, in
the cell, sat the man she would have chosen. Returning her gaze
to Irving, she asked, So I can talk to him?
Follow me. He led her into the building. Meyer, I got
the wife wanting to see her husband.
Jeremy broke free from her and ran over to the cell, calling
out Pa!
Owen‘s face lit up and he eagerly ran over to the bars so
he could hug Jeremy… Well, as much as he could with the bars
between them.
The tender moment brought tears to Jenny‘s eyes. How
many times had she seen fathers and their sons and wished Jeremy
could have a pa that loved him too? Wiping her eyes, she turned
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to the sheriff and deputy. Can we go into the cell? You can lock
us all in if you want. That might offer a forte of protection too,
in case her brothers came to get her and Jeremy.
The sheriff nodded. I see no harm in that.
Irving led her to the cell and opened it so she and Jeremy
could be with Owen. As he locked the door, he said, Let the
sheriff know when you‘re ready to leave. I have some
investigating to do around town.
When he turned to leave, Owen ran over to her and
hugged her. Oh Jenny. Thank you for coming back.
She held onto him, taking comfort in his embrace.
Owen, is there anything else you didn‘t tell me? She had to
know. If she was going to stay married to him, she had to know
everything. Then they could start with a clean slate.
Pa? Jeremy tugged on his pants.
He pulled away from her so he could pick Jeremy up. I
grew up in Baton Rogue, Louisiana. I had an uneventful
childhood. My pa was a fisherman, so when I grew up, that‘s
what I became. I‘m not a deputy, as you already know. I fish and
then sell whatever I catch. My parents passed on early in my life.
First my mother. Then my father. I went to live with my Aunt
Rachel when I was fourteen. I spent most of my time fishing.
Like I said, nothing eventful happened.
Until you went to get your aunt‘s money back, Jenny
said, not wishing to go into too much detail with her son right
there. But you got it.
Yes. I won it from Big Roy in a round of games. And I
took it to her. Then three days later, I got some bait to go fishing
when Big Roy‘s men came after me. They wanted the money
back, but I couldn‘t let them have it. It was Rachel‘s. Well, they
pulled out— he glanced at Jeremy— K-N-I-V-E-S and chased
me down an alley.
Her eyes grew wide.
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I never fought anybody a day in my life. I did have a K –
N-I-F-E because I use it to gut fish. So I took it out to protect
myself. They attacked and I panicked. It all happened so fast.
I‘m not even sure exactly what happened or in what order it did. I
swung the you-know-what out in desperation, and it ended up in
Mitch‘s stomach. That‘s how he D-I-E-D. Lance followed me
out of the alley and accused me of K-I-L-L-I-N-G Mitch. Which
I did, but I didn‘t mean to.
I understand. Go on.
I panicked when I saw a lawman coming after me. I
know it was dumb to run, but I wasn‘t thinking straight. I was so
scared. So I took my horse and headed north. Then Lance and
Big Roy found me while I was taking a bath in the forest. I didn‘t
have time to go back for the horse or my clothes, so I ran until I
came across Irving‘s campsite. Except I didn‘t know it was
Irving‘s. I would have asked for the clothes and horse, but he
wasn‘t anywhere in sight. Big Roy and Lance were getting closer.
I had to do something if I didn‘t want to die.
That‘s when you grabbed Irving‘s clothes and horse.
He nodded. Irving went after Big Roy and Lance, and I
rode off. I let the horse go in Nashville and got on a train until I
arrived here. I was thinking of staying here when I saw the poster
of me. Then I ran into the sheriff and was afraid he was going to
arrest me. So when he saw me in Irving‘s clothes and assumed I
was Irving…I let him. He got new clothes for me, and before I
knew it, he was taking me to the courthouse. I kept thinking I
could slip out of town and go further out west.
But then I came along needing a husband, she inserted.
I know it was wrong. I thought of telling you, but from
everything I heard, Irving was this incredible man who could do
anything. And boy if he isn‘t. I can‘t compare to him. The man
doesn‘t even need a gun to track down outlaws.
She chuckled. Neither do you. Not with that fishing rod
of yours.
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He grinned. Maybe. But it does look ridiculous for a
deputy to run around with a fishing rod.
She kissed him on the cheek. But you managed to get
the outlaws.
He put his arm around her waist and pulled her against
him. So you forgive me?
There‘s nothing else I need to know?
Just that I married you because you were too beautiful to
pass up. But I do love you, Jenny. I want you, me and Jeremy to
be a family. He sighed and scanned the cell. If I can get out of
here.
She put her arms around him and Jeremy. There‘s
another one on the way, Owen. That‘s why I was sick earlier. It
wasn‘t because of what‘s happening with you. I just didn‘t put the
pieces together until after I left with my family.
Oh, Jenny. Really? That‘s great! He looked at Jeremy.
Now you can finally have someone to teach things like fishing
to. He glanced at her and winked. Isaac‘s too young to
understand what he teaches him.
She giggled, more from the fact that Owen was happy
with the news than with Jeremy wanting a brother or sister to
teach.
Irving said that if I help him catch Big Roy, he‘ll speak on
my behalf to the judge. Then maybe I can get out or serve a lesser
time. Thankfully, he‘s not going to charge me with stealing his
horse. Did you know they hang men for that?
She frowned. Just what does Irving want you to do?
He shrugged. I don‘t know yet. He let go of her and set
Jeremy down. Sorry, buddy, but my arm is getting sore.
Can I stay here? Jeremy asked, excited.
Jenny couldn‘t believe her ears. What?
It‘s a real cell!
Your goal is to never be in here.
But Pa is.
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She rolled her eyes, exasperated.
Owen patted him on the shoulder. Your ma is right. It‘s
not good to be here. I lied to a lot of people and stole some
clothes and a horse. That was wrong, and now I‘m paying for it.
He smiled at her. I sure am glad you came back.
We‘ll get through this. She gave him another kiss.
Someone cleared his throat.
Startled, she stepped away from Owen, wondering if one
of her brothers tracked her down. But it was the sheriff.
I hope you don‘t mind, but I have some questions to ask
Owen, the sheriff said.
No, I don‘t mind. She took Jeremy‘s hand. We‘ll be by
tomorrow with some comforts from home.
Owen nodded.
Sheriff Meyer opened the door for her and Jeremy to
leave. I don‘t think it‘s as bad as it seems, he told her. Big
Roy is notorious in the southern states. If we can get him, getting
Owen off should be easy.
Relieved, she said, I appreciate that, Sheriff.
Then she took Jeremy and left…and kept going until she
was out of town and heading home. There was no way she cared
to deal with her family until they calmed down enough to listen to
reason, and hopefully, by the time they thought to go to her
home, they‘d be reasonable enough to talk to.
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Chapter Eighteen
J
enny heard Sally knock on the front door but hesitated to
answer it. No one had been out to see her since the day they
found out about Owen, probably because Mary managed to talk
them into giving Jenny time to herself, so she didn‘t know why
Sally came out. She pushed the curtain aside in the parlor. Sally
was alone. She exhaled. At least, the cavalry wasn‘t coming out
again.
She quickly thought of a way to distract her sister from the
matter at hand and opened the door while Sally was in mid-knock.
Oh good! I wanted to talk to you. Jenny pulled her into the
house and peered out the door. Good. Sally really was alone, just
as she thought. She shut the door and turned to Jeremy. Take
your blocks and play upstairs. I have to talk to your aunt.
Jeremy obeyed and went up the steps.
As soon as he was in his room, Jenny led Sally into the
kitchen and sat her down. Would you like a snack?
No thanks, Sally said. I came to talk to you.
Yes, and I‘m glad you did, Jenny lied. She picked up a
plate of cut up cheese and added a slice of bread to it. As long as
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she kept something in her stomach that she could manage to eat,
she warded off the morning sickness. How about a drink?
No. I‘m fine.
Jenny nodded and grabbed a cup to fill with a little water.
Not too much. Just enough to help the food go down.
Jenny—
How are things with Rick?
Sally looked startled. What?
Rick? Your husband. How are things with him? She
picked up the plate and cup and sat across from her sister.
You already know the answer to that.
Oh, I know that his boss hired another judge part -time
and got the clerk to work full-time. But is everything still going
well between you two?
Uh…yes. Actually, they are. In some ways, we‘re like
newlyweds.
Jenny caught the blush on her sister‘s cheeks. She
grinned. So I take it undressing in front of him worked too?
She bit into a piece of cheese.
She shrugged and stared at her hands. It didn‘t hurt.
Good. Now you don‘t have to worry about whether
you‘re desirable anymore.
No, I don‘t. It‘s been wonderful.
Jenny caught the far off gleam in her eyes. It sure is nice
to see you happy again.
Oh, I am. Why, do you believe he actually bought me
flowers yesterday? I swear, Jenny, I feel like a school girl being
courted all over again.
I‘m glad it was nothing serious.
Me too. Now I… She stopped and frowned at her.
Wait a minute. I know what you‘re doing, and it won‘t work.
Jenny swallowed another piece of cheese. What?
You‘re trying to avoid talking about Owen Russell.
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I am doing no such thing. She waved her hand as if to
dismiss her sister‘s complaint and picked up the slice of bread.
I‘m just curious as to the happiness of my favorite sister.
I‘m your only sister.
She shrugged. You‘re still my favorite.
Sally crossed her arms.
Jenny took a small bite of the bread and waited to swallow
it before she took a sip of water. There. Her stomach was finally
settling down. I just complimented you. This is the part where
you thank me and say I‘m your favorite sister too.
What‘s going on with Owen? You aren‘t really staying
with him, are you?
Jenny knew when she couldn‘t avoid her sister‘s badgering
any longer, so she gave up trying. Giving a loud sigh, she said,
He didn‘t kill Mitch.
Maybe not, but he did pretend to be Irving Spencer.
Who wasn‘t able to get here in time for me to marry him.
Clyde kept talking about October 1
as if he planned to take
s t
Jeremy on that day. At least with Owen nearby, Clyde backed
off.
Owen married you because he wanted to get into bed
with you.
That‘s more than Clyde did. She groaned. Sure, Owen
was wrong to lie, but honestly, if I was afraid of being hanged, I‘d
probably do the same thing. He‘s only hu man. And for your
information, he didn‘t sleep with me right away. He waited until I
was ready. Actually, I had to force the issue. So if he was a
horrible person, don‘t you think he‘d have married me as Irving,
had his way with me, and then headed on out? But he didn‘t do
that. He stuck around. He must have known Irving could come
into town at any time, and even then, he stayed because he wanted
to be with me and Jeremy.
Sally‘s expression softened. Maybe.
Well, he‘s not going anywhere now, is he?
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Because he‘s in jail.
No. Jenny pushed her plate aside and looked pointedly
at her sister. He‘s staying because he‘s owning up to his wrongs,
and he‘ll be coming home to me and Jeremy. You‘ll see when it
happens.
I hope you‘re right.
She groaned and put her hand to her forehead. When her
siblings harassed her like this, she could feel a headache coming
on. No wonder she was desperate to get into the boarding house
when she lived with her parents.
I don‘t mean to be hard on you, Jenny. I just worry
about you.
I‘m fine. I‘ll be fine. She rubbed her forehead. If what
you fear comes to pass, then I‘ve proven I can take care of myself
and my children, haven‘t I?
Sally nodded. I‘m sorry, Jenny. You‘re right.
She put her hand down and looked at her sister in
surprise.
Is that unbelievable?
Well…yes.
She smiled. You‘re the one who told me how to get my
husband‘s interest back. I suppose in some ways, you‘re older
than me. It‘s time I started paying closer attention to what you
say.
Jenny relaxed. Stick around then. You might learn other
things as well.
Sally laughed and picked up a piece of cheese. Maybe.
But I‘ll always be your older sister.
As long as you remember to also be a friend, I can deal
with it.
Deal.
Feeling much better, Jenny got more cheese.
***
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Now shoot, Irving said.
Owen held the Colt .45 in his hands and focused on the
target. He could do this. He pressed the trigger and almost fell
back.
Irving chuckled and patted him on the shoulder. You
need to toughen up.
Owen winced and rubbed his shoulder. The man didn‘t
know his own strength. I did better. I hit the tree this time.
You sure did. Irving pointed to the large metal circle
he‘d hammered into the tree. You just need to get the bullet
twelve inches closer to it, and you‘ll hit the edge of your target.
He sighed. There was no doubt about it. When it came to
shooting a gun, he was pathetic.
You‘ll learn. Just need practice.
When did you learn to shoot?
Oh, I was hitting targets when I was six. Woke up one
morning and mastered it by the time the day was done.
Owen‘s jaw dropped. And he‘d been doing this for two
days with little progress? Yep. He was
really
pathetic.
Some of us are born with the shooter‘s eye. Others need
time.
He knew that Irving meant to make him feel better but he
didn‘t. He felt like a failure.
Now, I let word out all over about you being in Omaha.
That Big Roy should be coming to find you. =Course, how soon
he comes depends on how far he is from here. Irving smiled and
rubbed his hands together. Isn‘t that great?
Yeah…great, Owen said, his voice void of enthusiasm.
He wiped his forehead. Despite the chill in the air, he broke into
a sweat.
Big Roy…on his way to Omaha? Owen was beginning to
get an inkling of what Jenny was going through with her
pregnancy. He felt sick to his stomach. If it‘d been anyone but
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Aunt Rachel, he wouldn‘t have taken on a man with the reputation
of Big Roy.
I should have known he’d come after me for the money. Why
did I assume he’d be a gentleman and let things go?
Irving placed his hands on his hips and took a deep
breath, accentuating his broad chest. I got feelers out through
town. As soon as anyone sees Big Roy, we‘ll set the trap. He
smiled. I can‘t wait!
Owen rubbed his stomach. Yes, he definitely knew what
Jenny was going through.
Anyway, Irving began as he motioned to the horses,
we‘ll bide our time. Patience will be to our advantage.
Patience wasn‘t a problem for Owen. He could wait for
the rest of his life if need be. He placed the gun back in the
holster around his waist and went to his horse.
By the way, Meyer and I decided you can go home
tonight.
His ears perked up. I can?
Irving nodded. But don‘t run off. If you do, I‘ll have to
put you back in the cell.
I won‘t. Despite the fact that he was a sitting duck, he
felt much better knowing he could be with Jenny and Jeremy that
night. He missed them. They‘d come to visit him every day, but
it wasn‘t the same as being at home. He eagerly hopped on the
horse.
Be here tomorrow at sunrise. After we do more practice,
I‘ll teach you how to fight.
His eyes grew wide. Fight? Isn‘t that what a gun is for?
Irving looked amused. If you lose your gun, you need
these. He clenched both hands into fists and held them up.
Owen gulped. The man‘s hands were almost as big as
Owen‘s face.
You might be weak, but you‘re small. Probably quick on
your feet. If you get stuck, run.
Do you ever run?
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He laughed. No. But I don‘t have to.
Of course not. The invincible Irving Spencer didn‘t need
to resort to scurrying off like a scared rabbit. Owen hated the fact
that Irving was so competent at his job. He should have expected
Irving to be that way, but seeing it for himself was almost as
nauseating as knowing Big Roy was out there—lurking in the
shadows and getting ready to pounce. Even so, Owen had to
admit that he liked Irving. The man might be the size of a
monster, but he also had enough compassion to go easy on him.
Once they reached the town limits, Irving gave him a final
warning about running off and then headed for the jailhouse.
Owen felt a slight sting in his gut. He wasn‘t a deputy anymore.
Sighing, he glanced down at the spot where he had put the badge.
For some reason, he felt naked without it.
Mister?
He turned his attention to the boy who had helped him at
Guy‘s place. Hi, Amos.
Is it true that you‘re not Irving Spencer? he asked,
peering up at him.
Owen sighed. This wasn‘t fun. He knew the boy looked
up to him—to Irving Spencer—as a hero, and he hated to dash
the boy‘s hopes. Taking a deep breath, he admitted, Yes, it‘s
true. I‘m really Owen Russell.
To his surprise, the boy broke into a wide grin. Then it‘s
also true you‘re on the run from a big-time outlaw?
He wasn‘t sure how to respond but finally figured the
truth would be best. After all, look at how much trouble lying had
caused. Yes, Big Roy is looking for me.
Because you killed one of his men?
Well, that man and his brother came after me with
knives.
Were the men big?
Owen thought about it for a moment. Bigger than me
but not as big as Irving.
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You took on two of them at once?
He shrugged. Well…yes. I did. They followed me down
the alley and had me cornered.
And all you had was a knife?
He nodded. I didn‘t have a gun. It was good I had to go
fishing that day or else I wouldn‘t have had it. I used that knife to
gut fish.
Wow.
He furrowed his eyebrows. Wow?
The boy waved his two friends over. Two big men
chased him down an alley and tried to kill him but he got away!
The other boys looked impressed as they approached him.
Do you have the knife on you? one asked.
No, Owen replied, still surprised. It had blood all over
it so I left it behind.
Blood? Was there a lot of it?
Owen thought for a moment. His shirt soaked up most
of it, but I guess there was a good-sized stain on his shirt before
he fell to the ground.
Then what happened? Amos asked.
I ran out of the alley, Owen replied.
Did the other bad guy come after you?
Yes, and he wasn‘t happy. There was no way he could
forget the look of outrage on Lance‘s face. He even got a
lawman to go after me.
You outran the sheriff?
I panicked.
But you were fast, huh? You had to be fast! another
boy said, nudging his friend in the arm with an excited expression
on his face.
Owen felt a chuckle rise in his throat. Well, being short
helps you run fast.
And you fooled Sheriff Meyer!
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Now wait. Lying is wrong. I didn‘t do the right thing.
He had to make that clear to them in case they thought it was a
good idea to do that in the future.
Oh, we know. We heard you got put into prison.
Right. And I belonged there for what I did.
But you‘re out now.
Owen nodded. Because the sheriff and deputy decided
to give me another chance. I have to help them catch Big Roy.
Big Roy is coming here? Amos said, nearly jumping up
and down.
It‘s a sure thing. He‘s coming after me.
Wow! Big Roy is coming here! another boy said.
Amos smiled with obvious glee. And all because of you!
You must be important, the boy agreed.
Owen hadn‘t thought of it that way, nor did he think he
deserved their praise. But he could see that this gave them
something fun to talk about. He might as well make the most of
it. Now, you three remember to be honest. It‘s much better to
be Irving Spencer than Owen Russell. Irving is always honest, and
he gets the outlaws each time.
With your help, Amos added.
He raised an eyebrow at the three excited boys. Alright.
So they would insist on hailing him as a hero—of sorts. What was
the harm in that as long as they understood they shouldn‘t go
around lying? Just to make sure, he asked, You do know lying is
wrong, don‘t you?
Oh yes, sir, Amos replied. We don‘t want to get in
trouble like you did.
Owen furrowed his eyebrows. Then why are you looking
at me as if I‘m a hero?
Because you came clean, one of the boys said. You‘re
on the good side now.
Owen couldn‘t argue with their logic. Alright.
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We‘ll be on the lookout for Big Roy and let you know if
we see him, Amos promised.
He smiled. Be sure to do that.
We will.
After they said good-bye and ran off, Owen watched
them, thinking maybe things were going to be alright after all. At
least in regards to his reputation.
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Chapter Nineteen
J
eremy ran to the front door and jumped into Owen‘s arms.
Surprised, Jenny turned from the sandwiches she‘d been
making and went over to him. They let you out of jail?
As long as I promised not to run away. He gave Jeremy
a big hug. I missed you, squirt.
Was it scary in there? Jeremy asked.
No, but it was lonely. It‘s good to be home with my
family. He leaned forward and gave Jenny a kiss. I can‘t believe
how much I missed you two.
We missed you too, she said, hugging him as much as
she could with Jeremy between them. I was just making supper.
Are you hungry?
I didn‘t get much to eat, so yes. He set Jeremy down
and took off his coat and hat.
It‘s nothing fancy. Just sandwiches, she warned.
He put up his holster on the hook next to his coat and hat.
After eating nothing but beans and jerky, sandwiches will be a
treat. He turned to them and gave them another hug. It feels so
good to be back home.
She laughed and hugged him back. It‘s nice to have you
home.
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I finished the dog house, Jeremy said.
With a little help, Jenny whispered, holding onto
Owen‘s waist.
He put his arm around her waist and asked Jeremy, Does
the dog like it?
Sure does. He slept in there last night, Jeremy
answered. Want to see it?
You bet I do. He turned to her and kissed her again.
I‘ll be right back.
Sighing, she released him. She didn‘t want to let him go
but figured it was for a good cause. Alright. But you better
hurry back.
Honey, there‘s nowhere else I‘d rather be. He let go of
her and put his coat back on. You‘ll need a coat too. He
handed Jeremy his coat.
I‘ll have sandwiches done by the time you return, she
promised.
Sounds good. He gave her a wink before he followed
Jeremy out the front door.
***
Jenny groaned as Owen deepened the kiss. She didn‘t think
Jeremy would ever get to sleep. But he finally did, and now she
had Owen all to herself. Alone in their bedroom…and being able
to do what she‘d been aching to do ever since he came home.
How she missed this. Having his hands caress parts of her
that made her body tingle in places no one else was allowed to
touch. Having his lips travel down her neck. Having his tongue
tease her as it lightly traced her ear. She shivered in delight and
ran her hand down his chest until it settled on his erection. Even
through his pants, he felt wonderful.
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He moaned and pulled slightly away from her. We need
to get out of these clothes. Bringing his hands up to her shirt, he
began to unbutton it.
She undid his belt and pants. Sliding her hand under the
soft fabric of his underwear, she stroked him. Hmm… I missed
you.
Not as much as I missed you, I bet. He finished
unbuttoning her shirt and cupped her breasts through the thin
chemise. You feel good, Jenny.
She kissed him. Her tongue ran the length of his lower lip
until he opened his mouth and let her in. It seemed like weeks
instead of days since he‘d last made love to her. Her body ached
for him. All her years of celibacy were quickly catching up to her.
As much as she hated to break the physical contact with him, she
withdrew her hand from his pants so she could shr ug off her shirt.
She let out a contented sigh as he kissed her neck.
Owen, she murmured. Owen Russell. Not Irving =Owen‘
Spencer. But she got to meet Irving, albeit briefly, and knew
Owen Russell was better suited for her. Jenny Russell. That was
the first time she thought of her new last name and she liked it.
Mrs. Owen Russell. She wanted to make love to him as Jenny
Russell instead of Jenny Spencer.
She broke contact with him to fully undress. Even though
the room was chilly, her flesh was warm under the appreciative
stare of her husband. Giving him a coy smile, she asked, Like
what you see? knowing full well that he did.
What‘s not to like? You‘re perfect.
Oh, Owen. You know all the right words to say. She
settled on the bed and raised an eyebrow. Are you going to
stand there watching me all night or are you going to join me?
She patted the spot next to her.
He blinked, as if he hadn‘t considered the possibility, and
shrugged out of his clothes before he got into bed next to her. I
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have to admit this gets more and more exciting each time we do
it.
She giggled and drew him closer to her. Without giving
him a chance to say anything else, she brought her lips to his and
wrapped her legs around his waist. I need you, she whispered
and wiggled against him.
He entered her and groaned. I missed you, Jenny. He
reached for her hands and clasped them over her head.
She moved her hips, thinking of how good it felt when he
was inside her. He moved in rhythm with her. The ache grew
stronger, and she figured she should take her time to savor each
thrust but her body wouldn‘t have it.
She rolled on top of him and sighed in pleasure.
Lovemaking had been incredible in the past, and this time was no
exception. She reached the peak sooner than she anticipated. Her
body tensed as she cried out, and shortly, he joined her.
They remained still for a few moments, and she delighted
in each lingering wave that went through her until she was
satisfied. She looked down at him and saw that he was smiling at
her. Smiling in return, she leaned forward and kissed him, this
time gentle and slow.
You sure are one passionate woman, he murmured as
he squeezed her hips.
It helps to have something to be passionate about. She
got off of him, grabbed a blanket, and snuggled against him.
He wrapped her in his arms and kissed the top of her
head. I love you, Jenny. I want you to know that no matter what
happens when Big Roy gets to town, that I love you, Jeremy, and
the baby.
She lifted her head. After the wonderful moment they‘d
just shared, he thought to bring up something this dismal? Don‘t
think that way. You‘ll help Irving get him. Then you‘ll come
home and spend the rest of your life making love to me. When
she saw the worried look in his eyes, she continued, Think
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positive, Owen. You can do it. You just have to start believing in
yourself. When you won your aunt‘s money back, what were you
thinking?
That I didn‘t have any choice but to win. I couldn‘t let
Aunt Rachel down.
Then think of how much Jeremy and I need you. You
have no choice but to win this time too.
You‘re right. He gave her a slight squeeze. I will.
She settled her head on his chest and closed her eyes.
I will, he whispered.
***
Owen was on his way to meet up with Irving for another round of
shooting when he ran into Jenny‘s brothers. His steps slowed as
he approached the jailhouse. He thought of getting right back on
his horse and heading back to the safety of his home where Jenny
had managed to keep her kin at bay.
This was ridiculous. He couldn‘t hide behind a woman‘s
skirts for the rest of his life—even if they were his wife‘s…and
even if his life might be cut short by Big Roy. He took a deep
breath. Nope. It was time to be a man and confront four
brothers who still looked angry.
Are you aware that people are saying you‘re daring Big
Roy to find you? Richard asked, his arms crossed.
Owen‘s jaw dropped. Wh-what?
I don‘t think it‘s wise for you to brag on how you
outwitted him.
I‘m not bragging! Like he‘d ever evoke the wrath of Big
Roy! Irving Spencer let me out of jail in hopes that he‘d come to
kill me. It‘s not something I‘m looking forward to.
Tom rubbed his chin. He does look scared.
Joel nodded thoughtfully. Kind of like a mouse being
chased by a cat.
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Owen wiped his forehead. Even when a layer of fresh
snow covered the ground, he could break into a sweat. Who‘s
saying that I‘m boasting like that?
Just about everyone, Richard said.
Dave furrowed his eyebrows in concern. Do you need to
sit down? You look pale.
Owen drew a shaky breath and sat on the bench in front
of the jailhouse. Look, I love Jenny. I‘m not going to leave her.
I know I married her for the wrong reason, but I‘m not sorry I
married her. He shook his head. If I didn‘t want to stay with
her, I would have left. I‘m not sticking around because I‘m
looking forward to seeing Big Roy again.
I think he means it, Dave said.
It does look like it, Tom replied.
Maybe we should go easy on him, Joel added.
Richard gave a slight nod, as if his decision settled the
matter, and said, Alright. I believe him too.
Owen hid the urge to roll his eyes. He couldn‘t stand it
when people talked about him as if he wasn‘t there.
As if Owen hadn‘t just heard them, Richard leaned
forward and said, We believe you.
You don‘t hear the rumors about you? Joel asked.
Owen gritted his teeth. Well, I‘ve been in prison up until
yesterday.
That is true, Richard said. Just so you know, word is
that you‘re bragging on how you outsmarted Big Roy. Apparently,
you have a stash of the money you won in the game hidden
somewhere around here.
The blood drained from Owen‘s face. Big Roy thought he
had the money? He tried to swallow but his throat was too dry.
This was worse than he thought! Big Roy would be coming after
him for sure!
Joel grabbed him by the shoulder to steady him. Hey,
you aren‘t going to faint, are you?
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I thought only women fainted, Richard said.
Well, he is wanted by a notorious murderer from the
south, Tom replied. And it‘s obvious he‘s not ready for what‘s
coming. I heard he can‘t shoot a target to save his life.
Owen didn‘t think it was possible, but this made him feel
even worse. That piece of information was going around town
too?
Oh God, I’m a sitting duck!
Great, Richard grumbled. This is a fine how-do-you-
do. He got Jenny in the family way and now he‘s going to get
himself shot! He glared at Owen. Couldn‘t you have at least
pretended to be Irving in all situations? Then she wouldn‘t have
another mouth to feed.
Dave tapped his older brother on the arm. To be fair, it
should have occurred to her that something wasn‘t right.
I don‘t get it, Joel whispered. How can someone as big
as Irving not— he glanced around— you know.
What? Tom asked.
Are you kidding me? Joel turned to Tom. You still
haven‘t figured it out?
It doesn‘t matter, Richard inserted. What matters is
what we‘re going to do with Owen‘s dead body and how we‘re
going to help Jenny out. You know how proud she is. She rarely
accepts help from anyone.
Just dump him out in the fields and let the animals get
him, Joel said.
No, Dave replied. We need to bury him. It‘s not right
to let a corpse rot like that.
I guess we can dig a hole in the ground. Joel snapped his
fingers. We‘ll do it on Neil‘s property. No one cares about
going out there anyway.
Owen bolted to his feet. I‘m not dead yet. He shook his
head. I mean, I don‘t plan on dying.
They looked at him, as if suddenly remembering he was
right in front of them.
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A bunch of fine brother-in-laws you all turned out to
be! Owen huffed. I got away from Big Roy once and I‘ll do it
again.
Richard frowned. By running off to another town?
If I have to. Before they could protest, he pointed a
finger at them. But I‘ll take Jenny and Jeremy with me.
Irving opened the door to the jailhouse and stepped
outside.
They immediately stopped and turned to him.
Time for shooting practice, Irving told Owen.
Like it‘ll do any good, Joel muttered.
Owen decided he‘d had enough. For your information, I
can handle myself just fine. I‘ll survive this. And when I do, I‘ll
be ready to accept all of your apologies. Grunting, he strode over
to Irving and glared at them. The nerve of the lot of them trying
to off him before his time! Sure, Big Roy might get him, but he
didn‘t need Jenny‘s brothers arranging his burial, as dishonoring as
it was.
Irving patted Owen‘s shoulder. I assure you that I‘ll be
here when Big Roy comes. I won‘t let him die.
Owen winced and rubbed his shoulder.
The four brothers glanced uneasily at Irving before they
agreed with him and quickly headed off.
Owen wished he could get rid of them that easily. But no.
He had to be lanky and short which made them feel justified in
giving him a hard time. At least Jenny liked him the way he was.
Ready to go to the shooting range?
Owen nodded. Pulling his coat tighter around him, he
followed Irving to their horses.
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Chapter Twenty
I
t was a week later when Big Roy finally arrived in Omaha. And
Owen had just finished breakfast when the fateful knock came at
the door.
He put his napkin down and went to answer it. Amos?
he asked, surprised to see the boy with his two friends standing on
his porch, holding fishing rods. Isn‘t it a little cold to be
fishing? It was December after all.
Big Roy‘s in Omaha, Amos said, looking unusually
excited by the prospect.
Owen‘s eyes grew wide. How do you know this?
We saw him. Oh, he‘s big and angry alright. He was
asking where you were.
You didn‘t tell him, did you? Owen demanded as he
watched the boy practically dance with glee. Was everyone but
Jenny and Jeremy eager to send him to an early grave?
Course not! We‘d never do that, Amos assured him.
In fact, no one‘s telling him anything. But Irving wants you
down at the jailhouse. Amos motioned to his fishing rod. You
don‘t need to worry about a thing. We‘re ready to help you!
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Amos and his friends thrust the fishing rods forward,
almost hitting him in the face with them.
Alright, Owen uncertainly said. He gently pushed the
fishing rods back. You three need to be careful. Big Roy isn‘t
one to mess with. He‘s a dangerous man.
We know! another boy said with a big grin. I hear he
killed two guards when he got out of prison. He didn‘t even need
a weapon. He just used his bare hands.
Wonderful. Terrific. Just what Owen
wanted
to hear! He
was sure the boy was exaggerating…but still… He shivered.
Jenny walked over to him as she wiped her hands on a
towel. What is it? She glanced at the boys and smiled. Hello.
Big Roy is in town, Owen whispered to her. Turning to
the boys, he said, You best be getting on home to your mothers.
They‘ll want you to be safe.
Oh, alright. Amos winked at him before he and his
friends darted across the grass to their horses.
Jenny shot him a curious look. What was that about?
He rolled his eyes. They think they‘re going to help me.
I told them to go home.
She pulled him close to her. Remember what I said.
He nodded. I‘m doing this for you and Jeremy, he
softly said. Cupping her face in his hands, he kissed her, praying
this wouldn‘t be the last time he‘d get to do so. I love you.
I love you too. And you‘ll make it. You have a family to
come back to.
Walking over to Jeremy who had been taking his time with
eating the eggs on his plate, Owen picked him up and gave him a
tight hug. I love you, squirt.
I love you too, Pa.
Fighting back his tears, Owen set his son down and
headed to the hooks by the door so he could grab his gun and
holster to slip around his waist. It wasn‘t easy to fasten it with his
shaky hands but he managed. Then he slipped on his coat and put
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his hat on his head. Turning to a worried looking Jenny, he said,
This is it.
She ran over to him and gave him another hug.
Remember to be positive.
He nodded and tightened his hold on her, noting the
sweet scent of honey soap in her hair and the softness of her skin.
Funny how such details became vivid in that instant, but maybe
that‘s what happened when a man wondered if he‘d ever see his
wife again. Before she could catch him crying, he wiped his eyes
and then pulled away from her. Clasping her hands, he took a
deep breath. I‘ll be back.
Even though he suspected she wondered about it as much
as he did, she agreed.
After another kiss, he reluctantly left to get his horse. As
he rode off the property, he glanced back one more time to see
Jenny and Jeremy watching him from the porch.
I have to do this for
them. I can do it.
Looking forward, he exhaled. I have to do this.
***
By the time Owen reached town, he‘d said his final prayers to
make amends for anything bad he‘d done in his life, figuring it
couldn‘t hurt to have the slate clean if he was about to meet his
maker. Too late he thought of a will, but then, he didn‘t really
have anything to his name, so he had nothing to leave Jenny and
Jeremy.
So, as far as he was concerned, he had everything settled
and could leave this life in peace. He‘d done all he could do.
Now, it was up to fate to handle the details, no matter how grim
those details might be. He sighed. He didn‘t fancy himself a
pessimist, but he supposed a man facing the possibility of death
was permitted a =glass half empty‘ moment.
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As he turned the corner of the block that would take him
to the jailhouse, Sheriff Meyer waved him over to the side of the
street. Owen obeyed and got off his horse.
The sheriff took the reins for him. Big Roy must have a
connection in town. We don‘t know where he‘s hiding, but rumor
is that he was with one of the saloon girls last night. By the time I
got there, he was gone. We thought if you walked around a bit, he
might come out of hiding. Might as well start with a walk past the
saloon.
Even though he didn‘t want to, Owen gave the obligatory
glance over his shoulder at where the saloon was located.
Irving‘s in that area. He‘s going to be watching you.
Once Big Roy pops up, the action begins.
Sounds fun, Owen blandly repli ed.
You‘re in good hands. Irving‘s the best there is.
So he‘d heard. Again and again.
The sheriff cleared his throat. It hasn‘t been the same
without you.
Owen wasn‘t sure he heard right. Sheriff?
The man shrugged. Just had fun joking around, that‘s
all. He patted him on the shoulder. Maybe if you get through
this, we can have two deputies.
But I lied.
You served your sentence. And you learned your lesson,
right?
Sure I did.
Good. Then there‘s a slot open for you. Just as Owen
was ready to thank him, he continued, That is, if you survive.
Owen‘s smile faltered. Right. There was that tiny staying
alive thing. Without delaying the inevitable, he turned in the
direction he needed to go.
Son, the sheriff called out.
Owen stopped.
Don‘t forget that gun of yours.
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The Wrong Husband
Oh, right. Owen put his hand on his holster. The gun
wasn‘t as comfortable as a fishing rod, but he supposed he
couldn‘t keep on carrying that around forever. The gun still felt
unnatural in his hand, bu t at least he figured out how to use it.
Maybe not as good as Irving did, but it was better than what he
used to do. Here goes nothing, he murmured under his breath
before he crossed the street.
He could barely hear people chatting around him as he
passed them by on the boardwalk lining the businesses. The
pounding in his ears was much too distracting. But what did it
matter what they were saying? Soon enough, they might be
looking at his dead body and wondering why he thought he had
any chance against a big-time outlaw like Big Roy.
He took a deep breath to clear his head and wiped the
sweat from his brow. This was it. Soon, it would all be over. No
more running. No more hiding.
As he approached the saloon, his grip tightened on the
butt of his gun and his steps slowed. He peered into the window
and saw a couple of men lounging around at the bar. None were
Big Roy or anyone associated with him. His shoulders relaxed,
but only slightly. Big Roy was in Omaha…somewhere. He
scanned the people who mingled about. He didn‘t recognize
anyone in there. He didn‘t even see where Irving was hiding.
If Irving was even watching him… He wiped his forehead
again. Of course, Irving was watching. He took his job seriously,
and he wanted to bring Big Roy to justice. Owen had to admit,
though, that Irving did an excellent job of hiding.
Unsure of what to do, he continued moving forward. A
couple of women giggled as he past them. Wondering if his fear
showed, he looked to see if they were laughing at him. But they
weren‘t. They were pointing to something acr oss the street.
Curious, his gaze traveled to where they motioned to and his jaw
dropped.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Amos and his friends were lingering by the mercantile
eating some candy and holding onto their fishing rods.
Owen‘s jaw clenched and he quickly checked both ways
before he stepped onto the street. Didn‘t he just tell them to go
home and stay safe? He made it halfway across the street when
the first gunshot rang out and blew the hat off his head.
The boys looked up at him in surprise.
Get out of here! he yelled at them as he darted past a
startled horse with an equally startled rider.
Another gunshot broke through the still air, but this one
didn‘t come near him. Or maybe it did and he was too scared to
notice. Either way, he needed to get out of there! And he wasn‘t
the only one who thought that way. Everyone else scattered for
whatever shelter they could find. Some ran into the stores and
some down alleyways. Some rode their horses and buggies as fast
as they could until the street was clear of all traffic.
Owen found himself bolting into the mercantile. He tried
to take out his gun, but the stupid thing was secured in the holster
and the palms of his hands were too slippery to get a hold of it.
He scanned the mercantile at the frightened women and children,
but he didn‘t see Amos or his two friends. Didn‘t they run in
here?
You‘re mine!
Owen recognized that gruff voice anywhere. And there
was no way he was going to play possum now. He leapt over the
counter, nearly knocking over the startled owner who ran to
retrieve his gun.
This is my store. You have no business being here! the
owner barked. Then he fired his rifle at the doorway.
Owen didn‘t bother seeing if the man hit Big Roy or not.
He just ran. He ran down the narrow space that led to the
backdoor and found himself in another alley. The scene was eerily
familiar. Except this time Mitch and Lance weren‘t cha sing him.
Nope. Big Roy was doing the honors this time.
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The Wrong Husband
Owen raced past the dumpsters. He heard a door open
and almost got hit with a bullet. He swerved to the right and
found himself on a less traveled part of the business district. He
bent to hide behind stagecoaches and buggies as he scampered as
fast as he dared without giving Big Roy ample opportunity to get a
clear shot.
Where was Irving anyway? Some stellar deputy he was
turning out to be! Owen had already been shot at three times and
Big Roy was still chasing him.
He found a vacant stagecoach that was still on the side of
the road, so he slipped into it and curled up on the floor. He
pressed his hand to his aching side and gasped. He could barely
catch his breath. He shook his head to make the rushing sound in
his ears die down. There were voices approaching and he needed
to hear who they were from.
We need to get out of here, an unfamiliar man said.
We can pick them up later.
The other man agreed and the stagecoach swayed, shoving
Owen from side to side since the man driving it was in a hurry.
Who could blame him? Owen was anxious to get out of there as
well. He hesitated to see if Big Roy was out there but finally
decided he might have an advantage if he knew.
Finding his balance, he leaned against the seat to peek out
the window. His eyes grew wide. Irving was pursuing them on a
horse. What in the world was Irving doing chasing him? Irving
made eye contact with Owen and gave some gestures that Owen
didn‘t understand. Just as Owen shook his head, Big Roy‘s head
popped into view from above the stagecoach. Big Roy gave
Owen a sinister smile.
Owen screamed and scrambled back. The driver suddenly
stopped the stagecoach and the door behind Owen‘s back flew
open. Still screaming—and probably sounding just like a
woman—Owen went barreling down the side of the hill. He
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Ruth Ann Nordin
stopped screaming so he could grunt and groan each time his
body hit a rock that was poking out of the ground.
Several gunshots sounded, and all Owen could do was
pray none of them would hit him as he tossed and turned, his
world spinning out of control around him. When Owen did
manage to come to a stop, he saw another horse rider coming in
his direction and recognized him as one of Big Roy‘s men. That
man also had two other riders with him.
Gasping, Owen struggled to his feet and ran further into
the trees that surrounded the perimeter of the park. Up ahead, he
saw a small bridge and scrambled under it. It was a tight fit, but
he managed it. Then he waited.
The three men assembled near the bridge and stopped.
Where did he go?
Owen turned his head to better listen to them. If he heard
right, that was Clyde Jenkins. But what would Clyde want with
him?
Weasel is sneaky, another replied.
That was Jim, one of the card players at the saloon in
Louisiana and one of Big Roy‘s friends. Owen fought the urge to
sneeze. He squeezed his eyes shut tight and pinched his nose.
Look, Jim said. You two need to move fast unless you
want to push up daisies like Owen will be in a few minutes.
Right. We‘ll get that boy. Right, Clyde?
Owen‘s eyelids flew open. Were they talking about
Jeremy?
You don‘t get him this time and you‘ll be working the
mines, Jim said. This has gone on long enough. You owe Big
Roy.
I know, Clyde said. I‘ll get him.
And I‘ll go to make sure you do it right this time.
Go on, Robert. I got Owen, Jim replied.
Robert! That was the man wanted for kidnapping
children. His eyes grew wide. Big Roy had a mining operation
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The Wrong Husband
that was driven by childhood labor? He gasped. Jeremy! Jenny!
Owen finally grabbed his gun and pulled it out. He had to get to
them before Clyde and Robert did.
He waited until the men rode off before he crept out of
his hiding spot. Holding the gun firmly in his hand, he found the
nearest horse a good half mile away lounging by its rider. Well,
drastic times called for drastic measures. He headed for the horse
and made it close to the pathway when a bullet skinned the sleeve
of his coat. Thrown off guard, he stumbled and fell beneath one
of the trees in the shaded area. He scrambled in the dirt until he
got behind one of the trees that was big enough to protect him
from several more shots.
Gripping the gun, he peered around the edge of the trunk
and saw Jim riding toward him. He ducked before another bullet
went flying through the air.
I have to get to Jenny and Jeremy!
He
poked his head out again and aimed the gun and fired it. Jim‘ s
horse bucked a bit, but Jim quickly regained control. Licking his
lips, Owen steadied his hand and made another attempt to shoot
Jim or the horse, but Jim shot the gun right out of Owen‘s hand.
Owen yelped and pulled his hand to his chest and hid
behind the tree. He quickly inspected his hand. One, two, three,
four, five. All fingers were there. He wiggled them. He breathed
a sigh of relief. That was lucky.
A sudden neigh and angry yell took Owen‘s focus off of
his hand. He peered around the tree. He blinked and rubbed his
eyes. He looked again. So he wasn‘t seeing things. Jim was
hanging beneath a tree by three fishing hooks that were dug firmly
into the back of his shirt. Owen‘s gaze traveled up the tree, and
he saw the proud smiles of three very happy looking boys.
Amos? he said in a mixture of awe and disbelief.
We got =em for you, deputy! Amos hollered out.
Yep, another boy stated, we fished him right out for
you, just like you would!
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Ruth Ann Nordin
After a moment of stunned silence, Owen laughed. Now
that‘s the finest bit of fishing I ever did see. Great job, boys! He
found Jim‘s gun lying on a small patch of snow and picked it up.
Glancing up, he saw that Irving was heading toward them, but he
was still a good distance away. Obviously, he managed to capture
Big Roy. Turning to the boys, Owen said, Tell Irving Spencer
that I had to help Jenny and Jeremy.
Without waiting for the boys to respond, he ran up to
Jim‘s horse which had slowed down to a walk not too far from
them and got on it to head home.
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The Wrong Husband
Chapter Twenty-One
J
enny flung a dish at Clyde‘s head. Drats! She missed! Get
off my property! She picked up another plate from the stack she
held to her chest and threw it at him.
Again, he expertly dodged it as he made his way to the
porch.
She grunted and threw the whole stack at him.
This time two plates hit him in the face. He yelled and
touched his cheek which had a bloody cut on it. Glaring at her, he
took a step toward her. Not this time, Jenny! I‘m getting my
boy.
She grabbed her broom and swung at him.
Unlike last time, he jumped back.
She stepped forward but someone came up behind her
and held her arms in place. She screamed and kicked at her
captor, but his hold only grew tighter.
Get the boy and let‘s get out of here, the man growled
at Clyde.
Run! she yelled at Jeremy who was supposed to be in his
room. She prayed he would make it to the attic before Clyde
found him.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Clyde climbed the rest of the porch steps, and as he
passed her, she stuck her foot out so he tripped and fell on his
face, hitting the doorway with the side of his head. Then she bent
forward and bit the other man on the arm. He roared and let her
go. She gripped the broom and swiped it under his feet so he fell
back.
Knowing her time to act was short, she hopped over
Clyde and kicked him so he wasn‘t in the doorway and slammed
the door on his face. She locked the door and ran up the
staircase.
Ma? a terrified voice asked.
She turned to Jeremy who huddled in the corner of his
room. Get into the attic, she whispered.
I can‘t. It‘s too high.
One of the men smashed the window in the parlor. She
jumped and saw her son‘s terrified eyes. What were they doing
here? Why did Clyde want Jeremy so badly? Trembling, she
darted into the room and flung the window open. Looking out of
it, she breathed a sigh of r elief. Owen had forgotten to take down
the ladder when he fixed the shutter by the window. Go down
the ladder and hide in the barn loft. Okay?
He nodded.
She gave him a quick hug, said she loved him, and helped
him get his footing steady on the ladder before she turned her
attention back to the men invading her home. She hurried to her
room and opened the armoire. Up on the top shelf was a rifle.
Snatching it, she returned to the top of the staircase and saw the
men rummaging through the house. They threw over the couch
and chair in the parlor as they searched for her boy.
She hadn‘t used a gun since she went after the foxes trying
to get into the hen house on her parent‘s farm, but there was no
time like the present to hone in on old skills. She fired the shot
which went right through the front door. The men weren‘t even
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The Wrong Husband
close to it, but they stopped and stared at her so she got their
attention.
Get ou t of my home before I kill you! She fired the gun
again, and this time, the bullet went into the kitchen floor. She
gritted her teeth. Why couldn‘t she even get the bullet into the
parlor? She knew she was rusty, but this was ridiculous.
Clyde‘s face was pale and he held his hands up, but the
other man smirked at her and drew out his gun. You don‘t know
how to use that thing.
Sure I do, she lied. Those were warning shots!
Uh huh. By the tone in his voice, she knew he didn‘t
believe her. He rubbed his pistol along his jaw and sauntered to
the threshold of the kitchen. Where‘s the boy?
Long gone. Now get out! She lifted the rifle to her eye
and tried to gauge where to shoot him.
He flipped the pistol in his hand and shot the top of the
banister which was a mere five inches from her elbow.
She yelped and almost dropped her rifle.
I didn‘t miss, sweetheart. That was
my
warning. Now,
tell me where the boy is or I‘ll make sure he loses his mama.
Tears stung her eyes and she glared at Clyde. What do
you want with him?
Where is he? the other man barked.
The front door flew open and Owen charged into the
kitchen. Hands up!
Clyde obeyed.
The other man rolled his eyes. I‘ve handled worse. The
boy belongs to Big Roy. Clyde over there —he motioned to the
trembling man who looked as if he was ready to pass out— lost
to Roy in game of poker. He couldn‘t pony up, so he opted to
give up the boy. Now, hand him over.
No! Jenny screamed. Never! She fired again and got
within ten inches of shooting Owen‘s foot.
Over there! Owen said, shocked.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
I was aiming over there, she replied through her tears.
Let me handle this, Jenny, Owen said in a voice that told
her he knew what he was doing. I‘ve been trained for this.
She nodded at him but kept her rifle up and ready to shoot
just in case the man got any ideas about shooting her in order to
distract Owen.
Owen directed his gaze at the man and kept his gun
pointed at him. The sheriff‘s on his way, and he‘s bringing Irving
Spencer with him. You‘re familiar with Irving Spencer, aren‘t
you? He‘s the best deputy around. You can‘t stand up against
him.
By the time they get here, I‘ll be long gone. In a swift
movement, he directed his gun at Owen.
Owen pulled his trigger first and shot him in the chest.
Jenny gasped and almost dropped her rifle, but she quickly
renewed her grip.
The man dropped his pistol and fell to the floor.
A moment of tense silence hung in the air before Owen
directed the gun at Clyde.
Don‘t shoot, Clyde whimpered and held his hands up
higher. Please don‘t shoot. I don‘t want to die.
The sheriff and Irving stumbled into the house and
studied the scene.
Did you do this? Sheriff Meyer asked Owen.
Jenny lowered the rifle. That man was going to shoot
him! And me! And he and Clyde were going to take Jeremy to
Big Roy. Owen was defending us! She knew she was rambling
and yelling, but she was too shaken up to be calm or silent. He‘s
a hero.
Owen‘s gaze met hers and he smiled.
In that moment, she relaxed and returned his smile. He
really was a hero. Who needed Irving Spencer when she had
Owen Russell to defend her and Jeremy?
It sure looks like you‘re a hero to me, the sheriff agreed.
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The Wrong Husband
Yep, Irving said and patted Owen on the back.
Owen lurched forward but stopped before he fell on his
face.
Who knew you had it in you? Irving said.
Finally able to move, Jenny descended the staircase. She
placed the rifle on the table and hugged her husband. You did
do a great job, Owen! I‘m so proud of you.
Looking pleased, he pulled her close to his side. Once I
had it in my head that I needed to be there for you and Jeremy,
the rest just fell into place. He glanced out the doorway and
called out, Jeremy? It‘s safe!
You know where he hid?
I saw him come down the ladder and found a couple of
thick bushes for him to hide.
Well, you did a fine job, the sheriff said with a big smile.
A very fine job.
Jeremy ran into the house and into Jenny‘s arms.
She held the boy tightly. Thank you, Owen. And she
me ant that for more than what he did that day. For he was more
than the man who saved her son. He was also a real father to
him. And together, they were a real family. Just as she used to
dream of but feared would never come to pass once she messed
things up with Clyde.
The sheriff grabbed Clyde by the arm. Time to reap
what you‘ve sown, young man.
Jenny didn‘t even look at Clyde as he and the sheriff left.
Instead, she pressed her face against Jeremy‘s blond hair and gave
her thanks that Clyde would no longer be a problem.
I‘ll make arrangements for Robert‘s body. Irving lifted
the body as if it was no heavier than a bag of potatoes. You did
good, Owen. Real good. Then he left.
***
197

Ruth Ann Nordin
It was about time Jenny‘s brothers stopped their harassment,
Owen thought as they took in the bright, shiny deputy badge that
Sheriff Meyer returned to him. Owen‘s chest puffed up with a
sense of pride as he closed the door of the jailhouse and placed his
hat on his head.
Afternoon, gentlemen, he said and buttoned his coat.
Getting ready for Christmas?
We had some errands to run, Tom replied. Even if
women say they don‘t want anything but our love, they don‘t
mean it.
Joel snickered. And you had to learn that the hard way.
Tom‘s face grew red. I can‘t wait until you get married,
Joel. I don‘t care what you argue about. I‘ll take her side each
time.
Unlike you all, I have no desire to tie the knot, he
replied and gave them a smug smile. I‘m going to stay single
forever.
Since when?
Since I saw how you all ended up. No woman is going to
tell me what to do.
Oh really? Dave asked. Then what are you doing in
town looking for gifts?
Joel sighed. I got to give a gift for Ma. When he saw
their amused expressions, he said, But Ma doesn‘t count.
She‘s a woman, Richard dryly pointed out.
Not a
womanly
woman. She‘s just…Ma.
I wonder what she‘d think if she heard that, Tom
mused.
She won‘t mind. Joel shrugged and kicked at a rock on
the boardwalk. She loves me no matter what.
The brother s rolled their eyes but turned their attention
back to Owen.
So anyway, Richard began, while we were in town, we
thought we‘d apologize. You know, for hounding you and all.
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The Wrong Husband
Yeah, Tom added. Guess we were wrong about you.
Owen placed his hand on the butt of his gun that was
resting in the holster. Just remember that. I‘m on the right side
of the law now.
Tom‘s gaze flickered to the Colt .45. Well, you weren‘t
the deputy when we came after you, so that time doesn‘t count.
And then you were ready to write my obituary, Owen
reminded him.
The four men stood silent, as if trying to determine just
what, exactly, Owen was going to do.
Deciding that he‘d messed with them long enough, Owen
chuckled and twirled the gun in his hand.
They ducked.
He laughed harder and placed the gun back in the holster.
You‘re all too easy. It‘s alright. I forgive you.
The door behind him opened and Irving stepped out.
Leaving already? Owen asked, noting his travel bag.
Irving nodded. Texas needs a lawman who‘s dedicated
to his job. I hear it can be rough out in that area. I hope that‘s
true.
After Irving complained that catching Big Roy and the
others weren‘t challenging enough, Owen wasn‘t surprised that he
started looking for other places to go to. Hope those outlaws
down there keep you on your toes.
Nice meeting you, Owen. He shook Owen‘s hand
before he tipped his hat to the four brothers who moved out of
his way.
Owen waited until Irving was out of hearing distance and
said, Yep. Way too easy to scare you all. But all the same, I look
forward to seeing you at the family gathering on Christmas day.
Right now, I have to pick up my aunt from the train station.
The one you got the money for? Richard asked.
That‘s the only one I got.
You know, it was nice of you to do that, Dave said.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Pretty brave too, Tom added. I mean, I saw Big Roy.
He‘s not the kind I‘d want to go up against.
I‘ll agree with Tom on this one, Joel replied.
Richard smiled. Well, we think Jenny‘s lucky to have you.
A man who‘d go against the likes of Big Roy for those he loves is
alright with us.
Pleased, Owen said his thanks. He then left them and
hopped on over to pick up his aunt. The train pulled into the
station just as he arrived. Though it hadn‘t been more than three
months since he last saw Rachel, it seemed like a year.
She pulled him in for one of her bear hugs. You‘re a
sight for sore eyes.
How are you doing?
She patted him on the back twice before she let him go.
Good because of you.
So everything‘s alright down in the bayou?
Yes. It was still a foolish thing you did. I heard all these
rumors about you killing a man, but I knew you wouldn‘t hurt a
fly.
I explained it all in my letter.
You sure did. Said you have a wife, a son, and a young‘n
on the way?
Yep. He collected her travel bag and took her by the
arm. Jenny‘s making a big meal for you. She wanted to come,
but she‘s still fighting off nausea from expecting.
Poor thing. Well, I got just the thing to help with that.
You know we use lots of spices in our cooking down south. I
have a feeling she‘ll like ginger.
He smiled. She‘s a great girl. I think you‘ll like her, and
that boy of hers is going to be a fine fisherman if I have anything
to say about it.
She chuckled as they left the train station. I have no
doubt both are fine.
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The Wrong Husband
He led her to his buggy and took her home. A new layer
of snow covered the ground, giving it a special wintery feel. He
couldn‘t have asked for a better welcome for his aunt than this.
He set the brake and helped his aunt out of the buggy before he
grabbed her bag.
She shivered. How do you handle this cold?
You get used to it. Especially when one had a nice warm
body in bed to hold, but he figured some things were best left
unsaid. Are you sure you don‘t want to move up here?
She rolled her eyes. Now I know you aren‘t right in the
head. You bring me up here when it‘s cold and ask that?
He shrugged. It‘s just nice having you here.
She grinned and patted him on the shoulder. I have
enough money to come visit when the mood strikes. Next time
I‘m coming in the summer though.
Chuckling, he opened the front door. The smell of pine
cone coming from the wreath Jenny made permeated the room.
The Christmas tree in the corner of the parlor and lit fireplace
gave the whole house a festive feel. Owen found he enjoyed the
season a lot more with Jenny there to decorate the place. He
recalled his little shack along the bayou and didn‘t miss it a single
bit.
Pa! Jeremy came running from the parlor and jumped
into Owen‘s arms.
Hey there, squirt. He hugged the boy. This is Aunt
Rachel.
I‘m five, he told her.
That‘s true, Owen replied. He had a birthday last
week.
We‘ll have to do something special while I‘m here, she
told the boy. Are you keeping my nephew here out of trouble?
Oh yes, ma‘am. He hasn‘t had any falls since Aunt Sally
and Uncle Rick were here.
She glanced at Owen. You had a fall?
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Ruth Ann Nordin
It was nothing. I‘ll tell you about it later. He set the boy
down. Where‘s your ma?
Right here. Jenny laughed as she came down the steps.
You must be Owen‘s aunt.
Rachel nodded. That‘s what my brother told me when
Owen was born. His aunt nudged him in the side. You got
yourself a looker.
Why do you think I married her? he whispered.
Are you talking about me? Jenny asked.
I‘m always talking about how great you are, honey. He
waited until she reached him before he kissed her. I was just
saying you‘re a real beauty.
She blushed a pretty shade of pink. It‘s nice to finally
meet you, Rachel. I do hope you‘ll enjoy your visit.
I have no doubt I will. Rachel gave her a big hug. I
hear you‘re expecting a little Owen.
In August.
Rachel looked at Jeremy. And how do you feel about
being a big brother?
Good, Jeremy said. I have lots of things to teach him.
I see you‘re having a boy. Rachel glanced between
Owen and Jenny and winked.
Well, come on into the parlor and make yourself at
home. Jenny helped his aunt out of her coat. Supper will be
ready in an hour.
I‘ll get the horses put away for the night, Owen said.
Can I help? Jeremy asked.
Sure. He took Jeremy‘s coat, hat, and mittens off the
hooks by the door and waited until Jeremy put them on.
Don‘t get into another snowball fight, Jenny called out
as Owen opened the door. She looked at Rachel. Those two can
stay out there for hours if I let them.
Rachel chuckled.
We‘ll be good this time, Owen said.
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The Wrong Husband
Jeremy bent down, grabbed some snow off the porch and
threw it at Owen.
In retaliation, Owen collected enough snow to make a
snowball and glanced at Jenny. Uh…it‘s just this one snowba ll. I
promise.
Another snowball landed on his back.
Jenny sighed, even as a flicker of amusement crossed her
face. I‘ll call you in when supper‘s ready.
Deal. He closed the door and got ready to throw his
snowball at the laughing boy.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
204

The Wrong Husband
Epilogue
A
nd so that is how Owen Russell ended up in Omaha,
Nebraska. They say some men are born for greatness, some
choose greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. For
Owen, he was shoved headlong into it. But he managed quite well
and soon earned himself a good reputation as the deputy, though
he never did match up to Irving‘s level of fame.
Irving was very happy in Texas where there were enough
outlaws to keep him busy doing what he did best.
In August, Jenny gave birth to another blond-haired boy,
and after much debate, she finally settled on naming him Carl. A
proud Owen and Jeremy promised to make him one of the best
fishermen in Omaha.
Last, but not least, Joel did find himself married despite all
his efforts to avoid what he deemed a most terrible fate . But
that is another story for another day…
Joel Larson‘s story will be in the book
The Shotgun Groom
(a romantic comedy)
Coming 2010 or 2011
205

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