Endings — normally we think they come at the end of the book. But thanks to Sarah McLeod inadvertently getting caught with them one night in the McLeod barn, secret lovers Nathaniel Campbell and Jackson Kellar believe their relationship ends at the start of Tangled Past.
Nate stared across the shadows of the yard. Would McLeod be going after Sarah, beating on her for sneaking out to the barn? He sure as shooting had been angry. Would Sarah tell McLeod what they’d been doing?
Images of Sarah decrying them, of the McLeods and their farmhands turning on them, raced through his mind. The skin on his neck prickled as he imagined the noose being placed around it. His arms and legs twitched at the thought of being forced to straddle a horse or stand on a box, while the rope was flung over a tree branch or barn rafter. Of the rope snapping when whatever held him up was kicked from under him. Of the noose tightening, strangling him.
He’d seen the bodies left hanging by lynch mobs with vultures and crows picking at the eyes of the corpses, been sickened by the stench of flesh rotting from the bones in the damned Texas heat.
The drapes in the downstairs of the house hadn’t been drawn. With the kerosene lantern still lit, Nate watched McLeod pour himself a whisky in the kitchen. He was more troubled that there was no sign of Walt or his buddy Jed. A shadow fell across the curtains on one of the upstairs windows, a silhouette of a feminine form, her bodice pulled tight as she reached for something. The image disappeared as she snuffed the light, the window a black rectangle in the dormer.
Would she try to get out of the marriage by telling McLeod what she’d seen? How the holy hell could they explain it so they wouldn’t end up swinging from the rafters come morning?
“I’ll try to be a good husband to her, if that’s what you’re worryin’ about.” Jackson had come to stand beside him and stared up at the window too.
He met Jackson’s gaze for a moment before slowly nodding. “I know you will.”
“We both knew it would end up like this.”
Bet you figured it would be me who’d get hitched first. Ma would have been pleased to see him settling down, even if it was to a woman with Indian blood. Until her dying breath, Ma hadn’t given up her quest to find a woman who would keep him in line and give her grandbabies. She would have defended Sarah at church against the women who would whisper the sordid details of her mother’s indiscretions. Maybe Miss Martha would stand in her stead.
“If I could change McLeod’s mind, I would.” Jackson sighed. “You’d be better for her, no question about it. I ain’t got nothing to offer a woman ’cept for my hat, my saddle and my horse.”
It took all of Nate’s strength not to touch him right now, but he had a feeling if he did they’d both shatter. He rubbed the back of his neck instead in a futile attempt to ease the impending headache he knew would soon hit. “You and Sarah will do fine. You’ll…do fine.”
And so would he, despite how the world felt as if it was spinning out of control. After all, outwardly nothing had changed. He and Jackson could still work together. Still be friends. Only part of their relationship would have to end after tomorrow. A part neither of them should have had in the first place.
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