From Chapter Two
Creed cut across his father’s land and headed south, the closest route to Full Circle. Part of him hoped Lauren wouldn’t be at home and part of him hoped she would when he visited Finn today. Would he always feel this conflict, torn between love and hate, hope and despair? He longed to see her, yet her visage produced unbearable torment for him.
He couldn’t bypass the pond. To do so would take him miles out of his way. He braced himself for more anguished memories and urged his mount forward. He’d mulled over his options a thousand times in the last few months and the same answer surfaced. In the spring he’d leave Minnesota, journey far from home. He didn’t know his destination, but what did it matter? He’d become an outsider, a man in love with his brother’s wife, his dead brother’s wife. Creed laughed into the cold wind. Both him and Lauren were waiting on a ghost.
The dapple gray beneath him flattened his ears and flared his nostrils, alerting Creed to a foreign presence in the woods. Could be a renegade or a wounded beast. Hell, could be a whirling-dervish sent by Satan. Nothing surprised him anymore.
The horse came to a halt and tossed his head to the right. Creed followed his signal and spied something dark against the pearl-white ground. He pulled his rifle from the scabbard, cocked it and slowed the gray into a foot-dragging pace. He smelled the blood before he saw it. Once a man smells blood, tastes it on his tongue, inhales it, the coppery scent is stamped on his senses forever. He could thank the United States government for that.
Creed dismounted near the body and scanned the woods. Could be an ambush. He’d heard of hostiles propping a body on the ground and lying in wait for a man to take a closer look. The noisy chatter of the forest told him everything seemed normal. He kept the rifle ready and walked forward.
His heartbeat picked up speed. A familiar wave of knowing washed over him. The hair, the slender body and graceful curves could only be.... “Lauren!” He dropped to a knee beside her and placed his fingers against her neck. Thank God, a faint pulse. A ribbon of crimson streaked her forehead and ran down her cheek. The blood, thickened by the cold, had ceased running long ago. Creed pulled her to his chest and rubbed her arms, hoping to bring warmth to her cold body.
Her eyes fluttered open and nonsensical words fell from her blue lips. “Come back, Adobe, don’t leave me.”
“Lauren, hush. It’s all right. I’m here now.”
Her eyes tried to focus on his face. “I knew you’d come. Forgive me, please. I never meant to hurt you.”
Good God, who does she think she’s talking to? Brand? Me? “I have to get you home or you’ll freeze to death soon.”
“It’s all right. I deserve to die. He hates me, hates everything I stand for.”
“You’re not making any sense so stop talking, using up valuable energy.”
Creed slung Lauren over his shoulder and walked to the mount. Grabbing hold of the horn, he flung himself into the saddle, dragging her lightweight body with him.
Facing him, her teeth rattling, she snuggled into his chest. “Finn. Don’t let anyone take my son. Promise me you’ll care for him.”
“You stupid little fool, what are you doing out here alone...no horse, no one around?”
“The Indians tried to-to get me again.” She stammered through the words. “Came-came out from a tree and frightened the horse.”
“What horse, where’s the horse now?”
“Ran away.” She burrowed deep against him. “Like Brand and Uncle Mason. Poof, gone.”
Jesus, he hurt, all the way down to his toes. She’d lost so much and yet continued to worry about everyone else—two dead men and their very much alive son.
A limp arm slid up his chest and clung to his neck. His body warmth poured into her. And blood poured into his cock. Pressed into the crotch of her riding skirt, his hard shaft had its own way of responding to the blasted woman. God, he wanted her, wanted her so bad he’d die from it one day. What kind of a sick son of a bitch would think about fucking a woman when she was almost frozen to death?
Another arm snaked up his torso and wrapped around his neck. “I knew you’d come, Creed; knew you’d save me again. Don’t leave me, don’t ever leave me.”
So she did know it was him? “I won’t,” he lied. “Hang on, Lauren, we’ll be home soon.
Riders stormed the land in front of him. As they drew closer, he recognized Estelle’s long gray hair and Zev’s rangy Appaloosa.
Arms waved in the air and Estelle’s words rang in the wind. “Oh, thank the Good Lord, you found her! Sally came galloping into the ranch without Lauren and I feared the worst.”
Within feet of them now, Creed looked down at Lauren. “She’s got a large welt but a minor head wound. Found her a mile back lying in the snow. What the hell, Estelle, what is she doing out here alone?”
“You have a right to be angry, Creed, but once that girl makes up her mind a team of mules can’t pull her from it. Daphne warned her and her father sanctioned the ride without my knowledge. Course, I couldn’t have stopped Lauren.”
“What do I have to do, tie the confounded woman up to keep her alive?”
Tears found Estelle, and not from the cold. “That’s twice you saved my niece’s life. I’m beholding to you, Creed Gatlin.”
“Send for Doc to come over and check on her when we get home. I suggest you keep her quiet for a day or two.”
Estelle rose in the stirrups and leaned forward for a better view of her niece. “She’s-she’s not unconscious?”
“No,” he said and remembered the last words she said to him before falling asleep, ‘Don’t leave me, Creed, don’t ever leave me.’ “At first she didn’t know who’d found her, only that someone friendly had. She talked about coming across renegade hostiles in the woods.”
Estelle and Zev craned their necks and scanned the trees. “Oh, dear me,” Estelle said.
“Look, Estelle, I’ll tell you straight up. Something happens to Lauren, Finn is without a mother. And his father is already gone from his life. That’s all I care about.”
“I understand, I do. It won’t happen again.” She turned her horse around, but not before Creed heard her whisper, “Yes, right, and my mother’s best pearls that’s all you care about.”
Creed shook his head, kicked the gray into a fast clip and led them home.
Creed Gatlin flees to Arizona intent on eradicating the haunting memories of his brother’s wife. Brand Gatlin, presumed dead, resurfaces after a long absence and with his re-emergence, the destinies of those he loves are altered forever.
In a land rife with war and danger, Sage must travel to the village of her husband’s People. There, she is reunited with Crooked Back, the ancient healer. On the long trek
back to Full Circle, devious plots are underfoot and peril lurks around every corner forSage, Lauren and Peter Pa.
Dark Night of the Moon will take you on an unforgettable journey of war, violence, overwhelming grief, and finally, love.