Willa was confused which was frustrating for her. She had always been a woman who knew what she wanted and chased after it. But this was different. Eleanor was different.
Willa wanted her. The way her body had reacted to the feel of those soft fingers against her skin told her that much. More than that, however, Willa wanted to know her. She wanted to know what made her so afraid, why she stayed so guarded, and why she wore that damn shawl even though it was hotter than a whore in church.
Would Eleanor want her in the same way? Willa had no idea. Most women wanted men—was Eleanor like most women? And if she wasn't, if she was a woman like Willa, would she want Willa? Would she ever open up? Two days they'd been talking over breakfast and dinner and the woman was still tightlipped about herself. Whereas Willa had told Eleanor all about her trick riding, trick shooting, her journey to find family—hell, Willa had shared more with Eleanor than anyone else in her life. Something about the woman made her comfortable.
But was it even possible for Willa to stay here in this town? For so long she'd searched for family and this is the place where she'd learned that all those years had been a complete waste. There was not family for her here—just a bunch of people who had had the chance to love her brother when she hadn't.
Dammit, she didn't like feeling so conflicted.
Willa was there gnawing at her bit and hating being so cooped up when Maria entered the room. "How are you this morning, Willa?"
"Ready to get outta your house. No offense." Willa grumbled, though in truth physically she wasn't able to do much. Her rib was still good and broken and too much movement hurt. She sure as hell couldn't hop on a horse and ride off.
Maria laughed lightly. "No offense, taken. You're a lot like so many I've treated in the pasts. More wild critter than civilized human. It's hard to keep folks like you cooped up."
"How much longer do I have to stay here?"
"You don't. I have a mama having a difficult delivery and need this room. She's on her way with her husband now. You'll have to go stay at the hotel while you finish healing up."
The hotel? "For how long? When do you think I'll be healed up enough to leave?"
"Are you in a hurry to get out of our town?" Maria asked.
Before Willa could answer, Eleanor walked in and their eyes met. Damn, but that woman got to her. Those dark eyes and exotic features. Willa could read her emotions fairly well and it was clear by the uncertain look in Eleanor's eyes she had heard Maria's question and was waiting for an answer.
Willa chewed on the inside of her lip and scratched at her shoulder. "Just ready to have a choice on where I go, that's all."
Before anyone could say anything else a man entered the room. A huge man. He clearly had Indian blood and he was tall—massively tall. With muscles like oak trees and a scarred up face rugged face that had to frighten young children, he was certainly intimidating—but Willa had spent her life around intimidating men.
"Who the hell are you?" she asked.
Eleanor's face lit up. "This is my brother, Zachariah."
Willa's eyes widened. Eleanor and Zachariah were complete opposites. One soft and beautiful. The other hard and rugged. How were they siblings?
"Jeb sent me here," Zachariah said, clearly not one to do small talk. "Apparently Maria sent them word that Willa needed a place and Jeb and Gill said she can come there. She can have Craig's old room out in the barn—they're in the process of making it a bit more private."
Willa shook her head. "No, I don't think I'll be going there..."
"But it will be perfect," Maria countered. "If you're there, Eleanor can finally go home and still keep an eye on you to make sure you keep healing up properly."
"I have a wagon for you to ride in," Zachariah added, crossing his arms over his massive chest.
Willa groaned inwardly. She felt Eleanor watching her closely, that damned shawl pulled tight around her. What the hell was she gonna do? She wanted a chance to know Eleanor more and the only place she could do that was at that ranch but that meant being surrounded by all those people who had known her brother.
"You'll have to make a decision quickly, dear," Maria insisted. "A woman in much worse shape than you will be here any moment."
As badly as she wanted to say no, one more look at Eleanor had her saying yes. Zachariah nodded. "Do you need to be carried or are you able to walk?"
It would be a cold day in hell before Willamina allowed herself to be carried while there was any strength in her body. "I'll be walking."
"Eleanor, help her dear. She's not nearly as strong as she thinks she is," Maria encouraged.
Willa grumbled under her breath. Did the woman think she was helpless. She had gotten up and walked a bit around the house the last couple of days. But when Eleanor appeared at her side as Willa got painfully to her feet, and slid her arm around her, all of Willa's complaints died on her tongue.
Feeling that soft body up against her stole Willa's breath and made her forget, or nearly forget, about the pain from the broken rib in her chest. Despite the layers Eleanor kept herself wrapped in, Willa could feel her soft curves pressing into her.
In order to feel that, Willa could feign a bit of weakness.
As she was led outside, Willa saw the wagon waiting for her. Clearly she was meant to ride in the back. "I can ride a horse," she quickly announced.
Maria shook her head. "No, you can't. Your stitches are still healing and so are your ribs. You go bouncing around on horseback, you're just gonna do more damage."
"You might as well do what she says," Zachariah advised. "You won't win an argument."
Willa obeyed alright, but she grumbled like hell the entire time. Zachariah replaced Eleanor as he hoisted her gently up into the wagon. Willa refused to let her pain be known, though a grunt or two may have escaped.
When she settled down on a bed of blankets, Willa knew they'd been planning this all along. How had they known she would agree to stay at the ranch?
"Are you okay?" Eleanor's gentle voice asked as the woman got into the seat and looked back at Willa.
Willa nodded. "Fine and dandy."
And just like that, the wagon lurched forward and Willa was on her way to her temporary home on Jeb and Gill's ranch.
YOU ARE READING
The Outlaw and the Lady (4th in the Crane Gang Series)(womanxwoman)Historical Fiction
Willamina or Willa as she insists everyone call her, has been on the same mission since age fourteen. Find her family. It had been a difficult journey being a young woman on her own all these years. In just over a decade she'd reached nothing but de...