I opened my eyes. Something was off. It took me a minute to focus and realize Al wasn’t in my bed. No, our bed. I looked at her pillow. There was a note.

I couldn’t sleep with all the delicious smells coming from downstairs.

I stopped reading and took a deep breath. Yep, Matilda was cooking Christmas Eve dinner. I looked over at the clock; 6:10 am. She was starting early today.

I didn’t want to wake you after the hard work you did last night.

Yeah and now I was ready to go again.

I got a shower. Now I’m going down to help Matilda. See you when you come down.

                           I love you very much, Al.

Yeppers, now I needed a shower.

After a quick shower, I put on a pair of faded blue jeans and a t-shirt. Maybe we could go for a ride later. It looked like it might be a beautiful day outside.

 

I stood at the door to the kitchen and watched Al working over a pan of bread. Anna was setting the table for breakfast. Matilda was cooking eggs.  Half Pint and the boys would be in from the barn soon.

Anna looked up. Before she could say anything. I put my finger to my lips and looked at Al. She nodded and went back to work. I caught Matilda’s eye and gave her the same sign as I moved to Al. I wrapped my arms around her. I pressed my hips to her back so she could feel how much I missed her. She moaned.

Leaning down, I kissed her neck. Then moved to her ear, “I woke up this morning and the love of my life wasn’t in our bed.” I kissed her jaw. She stopped crumbling the bread and cornbread in the pan. She moved her hand up around my neck. Now I moaned, “I have a problem we can’t take care of until late tonight.”

She whispered, “Sorry.”

I kissed her neck again.

“I love you,” I felt the shudder roll through her body and smiled.

Leaving Al to her work, I kissed Matilda on the cheek. “Good morning,” I said as I poured some coffee and walked to the table.

“Anna, you got in late last night. I’m glad you made it home,” I sat the coffee down and hugged her, “Sorry for all the security, but it can’t be helped.” I sat down at the table and watched the girls work.

“Allie told us what happened. We’ve got to get that woman before she hurts or even kills one of you!” Anna said as she hugged Al.

Matilda walked over to Al and whispered something in her ear. She nodded, washed her hands, and walked to me. I moved my chair back to let her sit on my lap.

She moved her head under my chin and kissed my neck.

“Sweetheart, I’m not mad,” I raised her head to look at me, “I just had a small heart attack, when you weren’t in bed.”

She moved to watch my eyes, “Why?”

I sighed, “I thought I was dreaming. That you weren’t really here.”

“I’m never leaving, …again.”

I kissed her forehead, “I know that here.” I touched my heart, “But my head just doesn’t want to believe.”

“I’m so sorry.”

I smiled, “Just wake me up next time. I don’t mind.” I ran my hands down her back, “We could have had a little fun before coming down.”

“Now I just want to get you back upstairs.”

This time I kissed her lips, “Me, too.”

The back door opened. The boys and Half Pint came thundering in from the barn.

I sighed, “It’ll have to wait until later.”

She laid her head back on my chest as I wrapped her in my arms.

“All the chores are done until tonight if anyone needs to run any last-minute errands,” Angus said as he poured his coffee.

“Al and I are all done,” I paused, “Maybe we’ll go for a ride. It’s a nice day today. I don’t know how many more we’ll get before it’s too cold to ride.”

Al nodded, “That sounds good.”

 

We were in the bedroom getting ready to go riding when the intercom sounded. I moved from Al with a groan, to the bedside table.

Yeah, this better be good.

Um, Mac. It’s Sam.

Yeah?

Um, there’s a fire in the Nokota pasture.

What?!

Angus and most of the extra help have gone to check it out.

I sat on the bed and pulled Al into my arms as soon as she walked to me.

Call Randy and have him cut the fence so Wind can get the mares out.

He’s on it. Do you want me to saddle Big Red and Bullet?

Just Big Red. Al’s not going out there into the unknown.

She hit my shoulder, “Ow.”

“If you go, I’m going too.”

“No, you’re not.”

I’ll have Big Red ready to go when you and Al work out who’s going. Robert will be with you.

I heard the ding of the intercom disconnect. Al was watching me with her hands on her hips.

“What was that for?”

“You said we were partners.”

I had told her that, but every part of me wanted to make sure she was safe. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, “Okay, talk to me.”

She smiled as she put her hands on my face, “If I were Cindi, I’d try to separate us. Then I could come at you from two sides. I’d send my goons for me, knowing that most of the help, and you, would be at the fire.”

Well damn, I hadn’t thought about that. I turned my head and kissed the palm of her hand. I didn’t like it, not one bit, but she was right, “You’re right, but we ride together.”

“I’m good with that. Just so we’re together.”

I leaned in and kissed her, “I’m sorry. We are a team, always.” I kissed her again, “Just keep reminding me.”

She laughed as I rubbed my shoulder, “Let’s go make sure the girls are okay.”

I nodded as I pushed the intercom to the barn.

Sam, we’re coming out. Al’s going to ride with me. Make sure we have two rifles and sidearms.

On it.  Robert will meet you at the back door.

Roger that.

I looked up at the window. Walked back to the bedroom, opened a drawer, and pulled out two bandanas.

I tied one Around Al’s neck and put the other around mine. Taking her hand, we walked out the door.

 

By the time we got to the fire, my men had it under control, but the smoke was thick. I wrapped my arms tight around Al, “You doing okay?”

She nodded. I stopped Big Red so he would stay out of the smoke, dismounted, and lifted Al down. I pulled out my radio, “Sam, where are y’all?”

“Just inside the thickest smoke. I need you to ride north of the smoke and help Randy get the Nokota’s out.”

“Roger that.” I took Al’s hand to walk back to Big Red when all hell broke loose.

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