I woke up in a tiny white room. Laying on a much too small bed. I moaned as I tried to move.

“Hi, handsome,” Al said from next to me.

“Hi yourself, beautiful. Did someone get the number of that truck that ran me over?” I tried to smile.

“Yep, Cindi and her boys are in the Fort Worth jail.” She was standing on my left side, “How do you feel?” She ran her hand through my hair.

I used my left hand to cup her face, “The pain’s better. I don’t understand why it hurt so bad.”

She leaned her head into my palm, “Doc said the bullet broke apart when it hit your shoulder. The pieces tore through the muscle. He said it looks a little like coarse ground hamburger. He had to stitch parts of it back together, so, you can’t use that shoulder for a few weeks. I guess I get to be in control for a while.”

“Umm, when can we get out of here, ma’am?” I smiled and winked at her, “I love it when you tell me what to do.”

She leaned over and kissed me, “Doc said anytime you’re ready.”

She helped me sit up, “Sam went to have your drugs filled. He’s pacing the waiting room.”

I moaned, “What kind of pills?”

“Pain and antibiotics,” She replied.

I was shaking my head no, “Tell Sam to make sure we have ibuprofen for the pain.”

She smiled and laughed, it sounded like little bells on the wind. Her face looked like she knew a secret I didn’t know, “Sam said you would say that. So, he picked some up, too.”

“He’s a good man. Do I have a shirt, or are you going to stare at me all the way home?” I asked.

“Umm, stare,” She wiggled her eyebrows, as her hands roamed my chest.

 

I woke slowly the next morning, Christmas morning. I turned my head to look at the clock; 4:30 am. Damn my shoulder hurt! I’d gone too long between pain pills, but I wasn’t going to wake the beautiful gift that was laying on the left side of my chest. After all, I’m a cowboy and ex-bull rider. So, I could handle a little pain.

Six more days and she would be mine for the rest of our lives. I closed my eyes and held her with my good arm. Mind over matter had worked on the rodeo circuit, it should work now.

When next I woke, my eyes were staring up into a rich vat of dark chocolate, “Merry Christmas, cowboy.” Her smile lit up the room, “How do you feel this morning?”

I smiled up at her, “Like I could eat you up. Merry Christmas to you too, sweetheart.”

She leaned down, not touching my right shoulder and kissed me. I opened to her instantly and our tongues danced. I moaned as she broke away.

She moved her sweet little bottom down my hips. “Oh…so ready for me, cowboy.” She purred.

Al laid her head on my chest. I held her as we both floated back to reality, “Damn sweetheart, many more gifts like that and I may keep you in this room all day.” I kissed the top of her head, “But, the family is going to expect us to make an appearance before breakfast and gift opening.”

“Okay,” She raised her head to watch my eyes, “do you need some ibuprofen?”

“Yeah, I could use some. I may have gone too long without last night.”

She rolled off.  I felt the loss of her body immediately, “Let me start a warm bath that we can share. Then I’ll bring you some water and ibuprofen.”

I sat up and put my legs over the side of the bed, “I’ll just come with you, sweetheart.”

 

We stood at the hall door to the kitchen and watched all the activity going on. The food smelled good. Because of yesterday’s trouble, we didn’t have our big Christmas Eve dinner. So, today’s would be even more significant.

I had my arm around Al’s shoulders, holding her to my side. She seemed to understand my need to have her close. I was thinking about how needy I was with her. But in all seriousness, I didn’t know how long it would take to let her out of my sight. Maybe never…

Anna and Half Pint were helping Matilda with food. Sam, Angus, Garth, and Fred were just walking in the back door. They were the first ones to see us standing at the door.

“Hey guys, all the chores are done until this evening,” Angus was clearly in charge, so I just smiled and nodded, “How are you feeling big bro?”

I started walking us to the table, “Sore, well the truth is, really sore, but I’ll live.” I pulled out a chair, sat and pulled Al into my lap.

“He went too long last night without pain management,” Al said.

Half Pint turned from her chopping board, “Really big bro! You need to take care of yourself! The rest of us need you.” Everyone nodded in agreement, and she smiled, “By the way, Merry Christmas, everyone.”

The kitchen erupted into choruses of Merry Christmas’s and hugs all around. Well, no one hugged me, but that was okay. I was glad to have everyone back home.

“It really is good to have y’all home,” I held Al closer, “I really miss you when y’all are gone.”

It was quiet for a few minutes as the boys cleaned up and the girls put breakfast on the table, “Soooo,” Half Pint said, “Allie, we need to talk to you about some things concerning the wedding.”

Anna and Matilda were nodding in agreement.

“Okay, what do we need?” I asked.

Anna looked at me, “We,” she motioned to the ladies in the room, “will talk while you boys are watching football, later.”

Al stiffened in my arms, “Oh, okay, sure.”

I kissed her neck, “Shh.” Then she relaxed into my chest again.

“Ladies, remember we’re keeping it small and simple.” I kissed her again, “You do need a dress, though.” I looked into her eyes, “Maybe tomorrow you can take me shopping.”

She turned in my lap and looked back at me, “I have one. I got it at Miss Anderson’s the day we went shopping in town.”

Half Pint smiled from ear to ear, “Really!” She was bouncing up and down, “Where is it?”

“In the closet of the room connected to ours,” Al replied.

“Okay then, while the boys are watching football, you can show us the dress,” Anna said.

“I brought a few things with me from New York City. When Patty called to tell me about the wedding, I went shopping,” Anna smiled. “You’ll need to try some things on. But I think Patty gave me good approximate sizes.”

I could see the very slight blush go up Al’s neck. No one else would be able to see it because of her darker skin, but I was learning to read her, “Ladies, that’ll be fine, but I have some conditions.”

Anna raised her eyebrows at me, “You can’t see anything until the wedding and wedding night! So, you can’t be in the room with us.” She now had her hands on her hips.

I could read her too. She was my, ‘No man will make rules for me. I’m an independent woman’-girl.

I raised my hand, “I wasn’t going to suggest anything like that. Hear me out, please.”

I waited for Anna to nod her agreement, “The boys will watch football in our,” I moved my hand between Al and myself, “living room. All the doors between the living room and the connected bedroom will need to stay open. So that if something happens, someone can get to you fast.”

Al relaxed more into my chest. She was just as leery about being separated as I was, “I can live with that.”

Anna sighed, “Fine!” Rolling her eyes at me.

Breakfast was almost done when the doorbell rang, “I’ll get it,” Garth said as he got up from the table.

We all kept eating until Garth came back with Ranger Robert Clark in tow.

“Ranger Clark, how can we help you?” I looked up at him, “and Merry Christmas.”

He smiled for the first time in over a week and few days that I’d known him, “Thank you, Merry Christmas to y’all as well. Mr. Ross, could I have a word with you in private?”

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