The Officer and the Southerner (Historical Western Romance) (Fort Gibson Officers Series, Book 2) (6 page)

BOOK: The Officer and the Southerner (Historical Western Romance) (Fort Gibson Officers Series, Book 2)
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~Chapter Eight~



It was a new day, and without question, he and Ella needed a new start.

For reasons he didn’t truly understand, Ella was upset with him; and though he didn’t really feel as if he were at fault, he knew just enough to know that sometimes lowering one’s pride and being the first to try to make amends was necessary.

Ella,” he whispered softly in her ear.

She stirred from where she’d slept right beside him. Of course, that was quite a large part of his motivation in making amends—he could certainly get used to having her sleep in his arms and against him rather than on the edge of the bed. And, preferably, without a thick dress to separate them. He pushed away such lusty thoughts before he gave himself away.

“Ella,” he whispered again.

She opened those eyes of hers that intrigued him so. Both were light in color but different hues.  He’d never seen anyone’s eyes that varied before. Not that it was a bad thing, just different...unique.

As if sensing what he was staring at, she closed her eyes and rubbed her eyelids with the tips of her fingers.

Are you excited to meet Allison?”

Her nod was so slight he would have missed it had he not been staring at her.

Suppressing a sigh at her lack of enthusiasm and swallowing the last ounce of his pride, he said, “Ella, I’d like to talk about last night.”

Can it wait?”

He rolled up onto his side and propped his head up on his hand, his elbow digging into the pillow, so that he could study her face. But it gave nothing away, just as her tone hadn’t. He was losing patience. She was clearly still unhappy with him, and he was growing just as unhappy with her at a very rapid rate. It would be best for them to talk. Instead, she wanted to lie there. Why? Did she feel she was
wronged by him for whatever reason her mind had come up with?

He clenched his right hand into a fist. “Ella, I—”

“Didn’t spend the night in the watchtower,” she finished for him in a soft and gentle tone that was barely above a whisper.

No. I didn’t,” he agreed, his blood pounding through his veins. Was she angry with him or was she not? He had no idea what had caused her sudden solemn mood any more than he knew why she was so upset about anything, especially the watchtower. Irritated at her level of stubbornness and blatant disinterest in him, he said, “You’ll be satisfied to know, however, that it is still my duty to make sure all of the horses are fed and properly tended to each morning.” He rolled over and then climbed out of bed. “I’ll be back in half an hour to escort you down to breakfast.”
And help you change, if you’d like
. But he doubted she would like that, or even care for his mention of it, so he didn’t say it. She’d worn a very simple traveling dress yesterday and he imagined that most of what she’d brought would be similar in style.

To his good fortune, nobody was out yet as he made his way across the inside of the barracks and to the stable. It wasn’t really his responsibility to see to the horses, but that of Stiles, a man under his command. From time to time though, Jack would come in while the boy was working to make sure everything was being done to his satisfaction.

“Morning, Private,” he called, spotting Stiles’ head just over the top of Rans’ back.

Morning, Lieutenant Walker,” the man greeted in kind. “I’m surprised to see you this morning.”

Jack pierced the younger man with his gaze. “And why is that?”

The boy shrugged. “You just got married last night. I assumed you’d be...” He shrugged again.

Jack crossed his arms. “You worry about yourself.”

“Yes, sir.” Private Stiles bobbed his head twice in understanding, his cheeks growing a light red.

Jack imagined his cheeks had reddened, too, but didn’t want to give this young man any reason to suspect anything was wrong. Whistling, he went over to walk up and down the aisle of horse stalls to see how well Stiles had been taking care of them. It wasn’t the most entertaining thing to do around the fort, but it would at least give him time to breathe and rethink things where Ella was concerned.

Unfortunately, nothing came to mind as he continued up and down the aisle to look in on each horse.

It looks good,” he said with a slight nod toward the boy after he made his second pass through the stables without seeing anything out of place or having a better idea of what he’d do differently with his wife.

Stiles said something else to him and Jack muttered something in response before checking his pocket watch. For as long as he might like to spend out here trying to puzzle out his complex bride, he couldn’t. He glanced at the time and snapped it closed. It had been twenty-five minutes. That should have given her plenty of time to get dressed, and if she wasn’t... Well, she’d had plenty of time, anything left uncovered would be his good fortune to glimpse. The randy thought he knew better than to have made him speed up his pace. Angrier than the devil or more solemn than the brook that trickled by his childhood home in West Virginia, he desired her. There was no arguing that.

Taking a minute to cool his ardor and regain his composure so not to stoke her ire again and have her create some other obstacle for him to get around, he took a deep breath, then grabbed the doorknob. He released it just as quickly. Though he’d like nothing more than to open the door and glimpse his bride in a state of undress meant only for her bridegroom, if he wanted to get himself back into her good graces, he’d do well to remember the manners his father had tried to beat into him and knock.

So he did.

No answer.

“Ella? Are you dressed?”

Go on without me,” a weak voice called.

Jack frowned. “I'm not going down there until you're ready. Now, hurry up, or I’m coming in there,” he said as calmly as he could.

“Just go!” she all but shouted.

His frown deepened. Not thirty minutes earlier, she was as quiet as a mouse and as docile as a kitten when she’d spoken to him. What could have possibly soured her mood so quickly? He clenched his fists and sighed. “Ella, is everything all right?”

“Yes. Just go away.” Her voice, which had sounded so sweet and gentle for most of yesterday, even when it was obvious she was vexed or irritated, was now full of annoyance. “Please?”

He shook his head. “Ella, do you need help?”

“No,” she said with just a little too much emotion.

Heedless to her state of undress or distress, Jack swung the door open and stood frozen in the threshold. “Ella, what’s wrong?”

She didn't answer, just leaned her pale face over the chamberpot she held in her trembling hands and gave a colossal heave. She wiped her mouth with a nearby cloth. “Nothing,” she said, not meeting his eyes or even looking in his direction.

His temporary paralysis ceased and he shut the door to their room then walked over to where Ella sat in a chair, his appetite completely forgotten. He sat down on the edge of the bed in front of her. “Can I get you anything?”

She shook her head once, her face still lowered and hovering over the chamberpot.

Jack removed his hat and set it down next to him, then reached forward to push her long, unpinned hair away from her eyes. “You're burning up,” he murmured. The food here was bad, but not
bad. This couldn’t have been brought on by dinner last night. “How long have you felt unwell?”

Since I woke up.” Her voice was nothing more than a broken whisper. A shiver wracked her body and the chamberpot shook. Her hands tightened their grip around the painted metal, making her knuckles and fingertips go white.

Jack reached forward and took it from her trembling hands before she dropped it and spilled its contents on them both.

Whether her trembles were a result of her illness or her undeniable embarrassment about regurgitating in front of her husband, he didn't know. Nor did he care. “Why don't you lie down and I'll go see if I can find something for your stomach?”

That’s all right, I don’t wish to be an inconvenience.”

He sighed. “Ella, I know we haven't exactly gotten off to the greatest start, but I want to make amends and show you that I’m not the villain or manipulator you think me to be.”

She opened her mouth to say something, but before she could speak, she heaved again, spewing the partially digested beefsteak from last night all over the boots he’d polished just yesterday for her impending arrival.

Swallowing the bile that was now rising in his own throat, he forced a grin. “Did that make you feel better?”

“Because it’s out of my stomach or because I think you deserved it?” she asked with a quiver of her lips.

Either? Both?”

She nodded once, then her face changed. Her cheeks bloated out like they were about to fill again and Jack quickly brought the chamberpot in front of her to spare himself another spraying of stomach contents.

“Thank you,” she said after she vomited again.

Jack handed her a handkerchief. “You’re welcome.” He waited while she wiped her mouth, then reached for the soiled handkerchief. “Why don’t you lie down?”

“But don’t you expect me to spend the day with the other wives cooking and—”

He pressed a finger to her lips, halting whatever other damning words she thought to throw at him. “No. I expect you to lie here and get better.” He shot her a quick grin. “That way you can recover before you cook for me. I’d hate to catch whatever you have.”

Thankfully, she finally seemed to understand his jest and gave him a weak smile. Then she allowed him to help her lie back down on the bed.

For a brief second, he considered offering to help her out of her gown or to loosen the clasps so she’d be more comfortable as she slept; but when she closed her eyes with her head against the pillow, he decided against it.

He grabbed the corner of the pale green quilt and pulled it up to her chin then pushed some of the extra around her.

Thank you, Jack. I’m sorry that I cannot—”

Shh,” he said, pressing a finger against her lips. “You don't worry about anything but getting well.” He stood and put his hat back on. “Just lie here and I'll be back shortly.”


Ella wanted to die.

Never in her life had she experienced such an ache in her stomach. She hadn't been feeling very well after dinner last night but chalked it up to her frayed and trampled nerves. This morning, however, she was far worse.

She wiped the back of her hand across her forehead and cringed at the way her sweat had made her hand damp. Her stomach lurched and she closed her eyes in pain. That uneasy stomach of hers had lurched all day, but now there wasn't so much as a crumb still inside to be expelled. She was sure of it. Sighing, she rolled over onto her side. What must Jack think of her now? Likely, he already disliked her for her sharp tongue and temper fit yesterday afternoon before they married. Then he’d caught her crying when he’d come to bed. She might not have been awake enough to acknowledge him when he came in, but she’d felt him crawl in bed behind her and touch her cheek. His touch, so light and gentle, made her want to cry all the more for what she’d hoped would be waiting for her here: a man who was interested in her, not the drastic living and working improvements her presence would create for him. Then, as if all of those childish things weren’t enough, she’d vomited all over him. She almost laughed at the absurdity, and the look on his face, but laughing only made her stomach roil more.

Doing her best to ignore the queasy feeling swirling in the pit of her stomach, she squeezed her eyes closed tighter and waited for him to return.


Hmm?” she mumbled, unable to muster the energy to open her eyelids.

Cool fingers swept across her forehead. “Can you sit up?”

Despite her chill, she attempted to get into a sitting position. “What is all of that?”

A hint of a smile touched Jack’s lips. “I'm not sure exactly. I bought everything Charles, the man who runs the sutler shop, had that he claimed would cure you.”

“What is that?” She wrinkled her nose at the little brown-tinted bottle he pulled from the sack and shook.

I don't know exactly, but we'll find out shortly.”

Ella cringed. “I’m not sure I want to know.”

Jack shot her a mischievous grin and gave a lopsided shrug. “Don’t worry. It’ll be good for you.”

Had she even an ounce of energy to spare, she'd have rolled her eyes at his insolence. Instead, she sat quiet while he looked around the room for something to put her medicine in.

Finding a little cup on the four-tiered wooden shelf in the corner, he wiped out the dust then uncorked the bottle. He took a sniff and lifted his eyebrows, then poured some of the brown liquid from his jar into the cup before handing it to her.

Without taking the risk of smelling it first, she took a giant gulp and drained the contents in one swift swallow, grimacing.

BOOK: The Officer and the Southerner (Historical Western Romance) (Fort Gibson Officers Series, Book 2)
7.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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