Boyle was as ugly as sin. His face was covered with pockmarks, his eyes were set too close together, and his lips all but disappeared when he closed his mouth. The man looked like a chicken. Douglas wasn't surprised by his appearance though. The fact that he had to resort to terrorizing a woman in order to get married indicated the bastard had a serious problem attracting the fairer sex, and most women who had learned to look deeper would have been sickened by the evil lurking inside.
Douglas willed the man to move his hand toward his gun. Boyle wouldn't accommodate him. He didn't even bother to glance toward the window, but kept his gaze firmly directed on his prey.
Isabel held her own against him. "I told you to get off of my land. Now, get…"
"Is that any way to talk to your future husband, girl? And me planning a real party wedding for you. You're looking worried today. Are you getting scared about birthing that thing all alone?"
"You've got ten seconds to leave or I'll use this rifle."
"You'd go to prison if you did."
"No jury would ever convict me. Everyone in Sweet Creek hates you as much as I do. Now, leave me alone."
He pointed his finger at her. "You watch your tongue around me, girl. I don't like sass. You've still got your fire inside you, and I'm going to have to do something about that after we're hitched. You will beg me to marry you, you know. It's only a matter of time."
She was cocking the rifle when he dug the spurs into his horse and rode away.
"I'll be back," he shouted. The threat was followed by his grating laughter.
Douglas kept Boyle in his sights until he was halfway across the field. Isabel came inside, shut the door softly behind her, and sagged against it.
"Damn, he's ugly," he muttered.
She nodded agreement. "He won't come back for another two weeks."
"Maybe," he allowed. "We're still going to be prepared for anything. Dr. Simpson told me Boyle will be leaving for some kind of family get-together."
"He's going away? Oh, Douglas, that's wonderful news."
"Simpson said he usually stays a month to six weeks with his family in the Dakotas. We aren't going to let our guard down or get lackadaisical."
"No, of course not. May I ask you something?"
He kept his gaze on the shadow starting up the path. "Sure."
"Won't you look at me?" she asked.
"Not until Boyle goes over the rise."
"I don't understand what's come over you. You told me you didn't want to let Boyle see you and that as long as he continues to think I'm all alone, he'll be content to wait…"
"That was before I knew you always went outside to speak to him."
"I don't like it."
She rolled her eyes heavenward. "Obviously not," she replied. "I'm still going to continue to go out every time he comes here, like it or not."
"We'll discuss it later. You shouldn't get upset, Isabel. The doctor said it isn't good for you."
"For heaven's sake, I'm not sick. Surely you've noticed I'm getting much stronger every hour. So is my son."
"Eight weeks from the minute Parker arrived," he announced with authority. "That's how long it will take him to get stronger."
"Eight weeks," he stubbornly insisted.
"When will you be leaving?"
He smiled. "In eight weeks, unless you or Parker gets into trouble. Maybe longer. And by the way, Isabel, you and your son are going with me. I'm getting you out of here."
"No, you're not. I won't be run out of my own home. Do you understand me? No one is going to chase me off of my land."
Too late, he realized he'd upset her. Her voice had taken on a shrill quality, and when he looked at her, he saw the tears brimming in her eyes. He quickly tried to calm her.
"You can do what you want," he lied. "As long as it's eight weeks from now."
"You can't possibly stay here that long. I assure you
I'll be fully recovered sooner than that and Parker will be much stronger. We'll be just fine. We'll miss you, of course." Desperately so, she silently added.
He didn't know what compelled him to do it, but he leaned down and kissed her forehead. "You seem to be having trouble grasping numbers, sugar. I'm not leaving for eight weeks. Want me to tell you how many days that is?"
She knew he was teasing her but didn't have the faintest idea how to respond. Her husband had always been terribly serious about everything. He never flirted, nor did she, yet she knew Douglas was now doing just that. She decided to get away from him for a few minutes. She couldn't seem to think when he was so close.
"It's your decision," she said, "I won't be plagued by guilt, and if you don't mind staying, I… I mean to say, we… I have a baby, you know, and we'll be happy to have you around." She knew she was stammering her explanation. She'd also lied to him. She wouldn't be happy if he stayed. She would be ecstatic.
"Why don't you take your nap now?"
He was saying something to her, but she couldn't make herself pay any attention. She was trying to figure out how such a ruggedly handsome man had managed to remain unattached so long. He had to be close to thirty if her guess was right. Perhaps he wasn't unattached after all. There could be a beautiful young lady patiently waiting for his return. Yes, that was it. She was probably very refined and elegant too, and Isabel imagined she had gold-colored hair that wasn't at all unruly with curls.
"Why did you kiss me?" she blurted out.
"I felt like it. Did you mind?"
"No… I didn't mind."
She told herself to snap out of her stupor. It was high time she faced a few important facts. She wasn't a naive young lady with hopes and dreams and yearnings to be loved. She was a widow with a baby who depended on her. She couldn't and wouldn't change her past. She had been blessed to have a dear friend for a companion, and now she had his beautiful son.
Still, there wasn't any harm in daydreaming about a future she could never have, was there? Wasn't it natural to wonder what it would feel like to be loved by a man like Douglas? Thinking about it seemed like a natural curiosity on her part. That was all. He was so strong and hard and sensual, and she'd never known anyone quite like him. Why, even though she was a new mother and didn't physically want him, she couldn't help but notice the erotic, earthy aura about him. Besides, there wasn't anything wrong with appreciating the wonderful differences between them, and, Lord, he was masculine all right.
He'd be a demanding lover, and he wouldn't stop until she had…
Good Lord, what was she doing? She forced the outrageous fantasy out of her mind.
"I believe I'll rest for a little while." He looked as if he was amused by her remark.
"Sounds good to me," he teased.
She turned, stumbled over something littering the floor, and yet hurried on. He followed her.
"Axe you feeling all right?" he asked.
"You seem a little preoccupied."
"I need a nap, Douglas. I'm a brand-new mother and I must rest."
He leaned against the doorframe and refused to budge when she tried to shut the door.
"I would like some privacy so that I can change my clothes. I'll give you your belt back later."
"It's on the floor in the other room with the towels you used to look pregnant."
She didn't believe him until she put her hand on her waist. Good Lord, when had they fallen, and why hadn't she noticed?
"Want to tell me what you were thinking about a minute ago?" She could feel herself blushing. "This and that."
"Is that what you call it?" he asked.
"The horses," she blurted out at the very same time. "Minerva and Pegasus. Yes, the Arabian stallion is Pegasus and his mate is Minerva. Didn't I tell you their names already?"
She really wished he would go away for a little while. The way he was looking at her was making her feel self-conscious and as awkward as a little girl. "What have you been calling my Arabians?"
"This and that."
He slowly brushed the back of his fingers down her cheek. "I think you should know something. I'm real partial to women with freckles. Yours drive me wild." He leaned down and kissed her on the mouth quick and hard. "By the way," he whispered, "I'm having some real wild thoughts about you too."
He stunned the breath out of her, and he knew it. That was why he winked at her before he turned around and walked away. She stared after him until he disappeared into the kitchen; then she shut the door and fell back against it. Dear God, he'd known all the while what she was thinking about, and she was never, ever going to be able to look at him again.
She was mortified. She must have given herself away, but how in heaven's name had she done that? She didn't know, and she wasn't going to ask him. She wasn't going to have another scandalous thought about him for the rest of her life. In fact, she wouldn't think about him at all.
She threw herself down on the bed and groaned. She fell asleep a few minutes later with her feet hanging over the side of the bed, her shoes and stockings on, and one thought flitting through her mind. He liked freckles.