A Lawman's Christmas: A McKettricks of Texas Novel

A Lawman's Christmas: A McKettricks of Texas Novel by Linda Lael Miller

Book: A Lawman's Christmas: A McKettricks of Texas Novel by Linda Lael Miller Read Free Book Online
Authors: Linda Lael Miller
“as I’ve already told you, I am quite capable of looking after myself, and besides, I wouldn’t think of spending good money on a hotel room.”
    â€œAll right, then,” Clay said, with a slight smile and a nod of farewell.
    He followed his own quickly disappearing boot prints back to Dara Rose’s front door, shoulders braced against the wind, his arms tight around the little girl tucked in the folds of that old quilt.
    A lamp burned in the center of Dara Rose’s kitchen table, and the house was not only blessedly warm, but there was something savory simmering on the stove.
    Her face lit up at their return, and even though Clay knew most of that joy was for Edrina, he basked in the welcome, anyway. And Chester was just about beside himself, he was so happy to see Clay.
    â€œYou’ll stay for supper,” Dara Rose informed Clay briskly, once he’d set Edrina down, and then she commenced to unwinding that now-damp quilt from around the little girl.
    Clay just stood there for a long moment, in his snowy duster and his wet hat, waiting for his bones and sinews to thaw and just enjoying the sight of her. Dara Rose’s aquamarine eyes were bright and her cheeks flushed, probably from the heat of the stove and happiness because Edrina was home.
    â€œAll right,” he said, finally realizing that her statement called for some kind of response, however mundane. “Whatever you’re cooking, it smells good.”
    She smiled at him, briefly, distractedly, and all but set him back on his heels by the doing of it.
    â€œEdrina, you go in and change into dry clothes,” she told the child.
    Edrina hesitated, then left the room. Harriet, after trying in vain to get Chester to come along on the jaunt, followed her sister, chattering about the walk home from the mercantile.
    It was a heady thing, being alone with Dara Rose in that steamy little room.
    And Clay, a quiet man but not a shy one, couldn’t come up with a single thing to say.
    Dara Rose tightened the bands on her apron, a reach-back motion that made her shapely bosom rise and jut out a little. “If the chickens survive this,” she said, withan anxious glance toward the room’s one opaque window, “it will be a miracle, and I sure hope some of the men in town give a thought to the O’Reillys, like they generally do at times like this….”
    Her voice fell away, and she gnawed fretfully at her lower lip, likely pondering the fate of the poultry, the family she’d just mentioned, or both.
    â€œThe O’Reillys?” Clay croaked out, grabbing hold of the rapidly sinking conversational lifeline with the first thing that jumped off his tongue.
    Dara Rose sighed again, turned away from him to stir whatever was cooking in that pot. The scent of it made his stomach rumble, and it came to him that, except for Miss Krenshaw’s whiskeyed-up coffee, he hadn’t had anything since breakfast.
    â€œPeg O’Reilly’s no-good excuse for a husband,” she said quietly, after a glance in the direction of the doorway the little girls had hurried through earlier, “ran off with some…some… woman he met at the Bitter Gulch Saloon, and left a wife and three children behind to fend for themselves!”
    For a moment, Clay was taken aback—not by the story, which unfortunately was not an uncommon one, especially with the war in Europe picking up momentum—but by Dara Rose’s apparent failure to draw any correlation between Mrs. O’Reilly’s situation and herown. Except for one obvious variable—Parnell had had the bad fortune to die, while the long-gone Mr. O’Reilly was presumably still alive—the two women had essentially been dealt the same bad hand of cards.
    Dara Rose seemed to sense that he was looking at her, and she turned to meet his gaze, colored up again and looked quickly away. The girls returned to the kitchen just then, before

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