Reese and the Renegade – Kari Trumbo

Wedding bells from the tall church steeple launched into a glorious announcement as the doors swung open wide at the little chapel. Reese O’Connor waited on a blanket where the wedding picnic would be held outside the tall white building, not wanting to disturb the happy occasion with her appearance. By the looks of it, she was one of the few in town who hadn’t gone to the wedding. Though she wanted to show support for the relative newcomers to Redemption Bluff, she wouldn’t set foot in the church. Seamus approached her with Gloria on his arm and they settled next to her. His new bride had even managed to get him to dress up for the occasion. Gloria had worn only orange dresses until a month prior. Today, she wore a pretty rose-pink gown that she knew Seamus favored. Reese already had the food spread out for them, leaving nothing for Gloria to do but serve up a plate for Seamus. “Doc Parker sang. It was lovely.” Gloria kept her focus on the tin plate and not Reese. But Reese didn’t miss her sly smile. She’d focused on little but Drake Bauer – known to the town as Dr. Dane Parker – for months, years if she were honest.

Since Gloria had needed the assistance of both Reese and the good doctor, forcing them to speak again, she couldn’t find release for her mind from him. Not that he’d obliged her. “I’m sure.” She avoided saying more. “He isn’t sitting with anyone else. I could go and invite him to share our blanket.” Seamus offered, scanning the crowd of people and halting his appraisal on the church door. “I’m sure he’ll sit with Hawk and Millie,” Reese countered. Hawk was his brother and Millie his sister-in-law, and former love interest. Drake probably knew them better than anyone else in the whole town.

Even her. “He’s just standing by Pastor Nelson right now. Maybe he’s waiting on you?” Seamus goaded. Brothers were good for that. She’d return the favor when he least expected it. Reese sighed and finally allowed herself to glance in the direction Seamus had been looking, though she didn’t need to try hard. Her eye always seemed to find Drake with little resistance. He wore a dark vest and a crisp white shirt. The moment her eyes found him he met her gaze as if he’d been waiting for her to look up. He nodded somewhat, and she may have imagined it, but his lips seemed to turn up ever so slightly.

Then he went back to speaking to the preacher. “He’s busy,” she mumbled. He was always busy, first with studying, then with being a doctor and finally as a member of the town posse. He never had time to stop into her shop. She’d hoped when he’d come by once a few months before that it would lead to more such visits. It had been an evening like no other. They’d stayed up until the first blush of morning lightened the area around her windows, talking just as they had when they’d first met. But he hadn’t come by again. He’d returned to keeping his distance after that. Many men had availed themselves of her body before she’d come to Redemption Bluff, and she’d willingly taken their money.

None had her heart except Drake Bauer and he didn’t seem to want it. Drake finally came down the front steps of the church and over to the newly married couple. He laughed and shook hands with the groom, then stood and talked for a few minutes. Reese craned her neck to see where Millie and Hawk might be, but they were nowhere nearby. Dare she hope he would stop by their blanket? She glanced at Gloria, afraid Seamus would see through her question. “Were the Bauers at the wedding?” “Why, no, now that you mention it…” Gloria’s brow furrowed. “Strange that they wouldn’t attend. The wedded couple was so new, Preacher Nelson asked last week that we all attend to make them feel welcome.” Gloria again hit Reese with one of her pointed glances. At least it wasn’t judgment she saw now.

Gloria had been one of the most horrible people before they’d been forced together, but now they managed to be reasonable friends. Gloria still put on airs once in a while, but Seamus always gently reminded her and she was contrite after the fact. Seamus brushed crumbs off his trousers. “There you have it. He has nowhere else to sit. I’ll go fetch him straightaway.” He began to stand. Reese tossed a fried chicken leg at him and he fumbled it, trying to keep the oil from his good clothes. Seamus scowled at her as he wiped off his greasy fingers with a tea towel. “Waste of perfectly good chicken,” he mumbled.

Gloria laughed, giving Reese the perfect distraction to find Drake again. He’d managed to walk on by and was now behind her. He hadn’t even stopped to nod hello. The thrumming pain in her chest intensified. If she’d known that there would ever be a man like Drake Bauer later in her life, she wouldn’t have chosen the path she had. But wishes were little more than rainbows and there was no luck to be had at the end. “You can’t keep on like this.” Seamus tossed the crumpled towel on the blanket in a heap. “You have to face him and make him answer. You’ve never asked and you’ve never been this shy about anything.

He doesn’t even know how you feel.” Reese shook her head slowly, unwilling to fight right there where the whole town could hear. “He does know. Aye, he knows exactly how I feel.” She squelched the pain pushing its way up through her, wanting to be released. She’d been utterly candid with Drake the last time they’d spoken, and he with her, which was why she’d thought they’d crossed a bridge of understanding. She wanted no one but him. However, he wanted nothing but to be a doctor. That left them at a pretty solid fork in the road. A fork that left her in pain every time she thought about him.

“Perhaps he doesn’t see your value?” Gloria set down her own chicken and eyed Reese’s plate, then inched it closer to her. “Hunger won’t help you. You need a plan. You and Seamus have always been decisive. You just need to look at the problem and create a solution.” Reese hated that Gloria was right. Despite their new friendship, she still held back from Gloria most of the time. Seamus was her chosen confidant, no matter how much Gloria wanted to be the one in that position. “Every problem has a solution, but how do you warm up a doctor who’s gone cold?” Seamus laughed. Drake hadn’t gone cold, not by a long shot.

When in the right mood, he was downright fiery. The problem was to put him into a situation where he would be forced to admit what he felt, and keep him there. “A shotgun wedding,” Reese mused. Gloria tilted her head in sweet confusion. “But…your daddy isn’t here to force him.” Reese flinched at the very idea. “I don’t need my daddy to get behind a gun for me. I’m perfectly capable on my own.” Her da was long in the grave and unable to do it even if she’d needed him to. Seamus wiped his plate clean after polishing off his second piece of chicken.

“Seems to me, if you go into his office with a gun and tote him down to the church, the posse would probably arrest you for abduction.” He leaned back and eyed his wife as if she were dessert. Reese rolled her eyes and shoved her plate at her starving brother. “No, they wouldn’t. I would do it in such a way that they wouldn’t know it was me. I still have Da’s trousers…” Seamus set down his plate. “Roisin, this is a very bad idea. I said what I said in jest, though I should know better. You always take me seriously when I mean for you to laugh.” “You were the one who said I couldn’t just sit around and do nothing.

This is something. I didn’t say I was going to march in and take him hostage. There’s probably another way.” For once her mind drifted to the fruitful instead of the futile. Gloria tittered nervously. “Something like that might just get you killed. He happens to be one of the best guns in town. Hawk even admitted that and you know what a braggart he is.” But if he didn’t know who Reese was…just that she was a woman… “I think I know what I’m going to do. Thank you, Gloria.

I had no hope until you gave me the perfect idea.” “Bless me.” Gloria fanned herself. “I hope my idea doesn’t get you dispatched.” FROM A DİSTANCE, Dane watched over the churchgoers enjoying the wedding picnic. Hawk was missing because Millie had been feeling poorly that morning. He’d told her to take one of her magic muffins and go back to bed. She’d told him she couldn’t, her stomach was too upset. Only he and Millie knew that her muffins weren’t the only buns in the oven. He knew he should keep an eye on everyone in town equally.

That was his job and one he took very seriously. But he also failed. No matter how he tried to skip over the blanket with the lovely Reese on it, he couldn’t. He’d thought about her every day for years. When a man wakes from a fever, sure he’d be dead, to find an angel of mercy hovering over him, he wasn’t likely to forget it. Reese was his angel. She herself had dragged his sorry weak carcass through the rain to their shack, made sure he was warm and fed and understood that his secret was safe. She was even the one who’d given him the idea to become a new man. Of course, she was also the only one who refused to use his new name. Yet he couldn’t bear for her to call him anything but Drake, his birth name.

He’d considered asking her to, but it left bile in his throat. Drake was the name she’d called him on his sickbed. Drake was the name she used when she’d told him she loved him. And Drake was the incompetent fool who’d told her her love wasn’t enough. Then he’d walked away. He watched as she slowly stood and picked her way through the maze of blankets to the newly married couple. As she tried to introduce herself, the wife yanked her new husband’s hand from Reese’s and made a slashing motion, cutting off whatever Reese had said. He clenched his fists, wanting to run to her defense, but that was exactly the display Reese would hate. Even more than what the new members of town had done. As far as he knew, Reese had never spoken to Preacher Nelson.

She’d never mentioned going to church and had even said to him on one of the few times he’d talked to her that she avoided church and the people there. She’d only made one exception – for Rose Owens’ wedding – and only because Rose, a former soiled dove herself, had insisted Reese be her maid of honor. But now Reese strode all the way over to where the preacher sat. He stood, then shook her hand. Good, Dane didn’t want the burden of disliking the preacher. So far, he’d found him to be a good man. Reese spoke to the preacher, holding her hands in front of her as if she was desperately trying to look innocent. A pretty amazing feat, considering she wore a bright red silk dress that ended abruptly at her knees in all sorts of soft black lace. She talked with Pastor Nelson at length, then scanned the small group of people. Dane stepped back behind a tree, feeling like a gawker, but she caught him before he could fully hide.

Even across the distance, he could picture her pert nose, her soft lips, her clear pale skin. She was far too much of a distraction and he wasn’t smart enough to keep studying to be the best doctor he could be and be with Reese. He could do one, but not both. The town needed him. He could’ve managed with someone like Millie, someone he was only warm for. Millie had been minor compared to what he felt for Reese. Millie was a campfire, Reese an inferno. The preacher laughed at something she said, then took her hand and led her toward the church. Part of him wanted to race after them, see what they were up to. He knew she’d given up her past, and the preacher would never want such attention.

But Dane was a jealous man. He didn’t want her behind closed doors with anyone, not even one who professed to be a man of God. Hawk laid a hand on his shoulder, bringing him abruptly out of his thoughts on what could possibly be happening inside the church. “Millie’s feeling better.” “Yes, though she’ll probably feel poorly again tomorrow morning. She’d best give you her recipes or let Rachel handle the baking for a few weeks.” Hawk gripped his shoulder. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” “I’m saying you’ll see soon enough.” His brother was too much fun to prod, and Millie had asked that he not tell Hawk until she could do something special when she felt up to it. “Land sakes…” Hawk’s voice died.

Dane turned from his point at the edge of the picnic and strode back toward town, Hawk followed close behind. “What were you doing?” Hawk asked. “You didn’t really expect there to be any trouble at a church social, did you?” “In Redemption Bluff, you just never know what’s going to happen,” Dane replied. REESE FOLLOWED the young pastor into the church and tried to keep from bunching her skirt in her fists. Her nerves ate away at her reserve until she clenched the fabric tightly. The church had pressed her parents for tithes even when they had nothing to speak of. Those same women would turn up their nose at her as unclean when she finally left home, faced with the choice to sell herself or starve. They’d probably prefer she’d starved. “Miss O’Connor, have a seat.” Rev.

Nelson indicated a bench. He sat in the one just ahead of her, with the back of his pew between them. She sat and tried to calm her nerves. Talking and standing up for herself had never been an issue, she’d had to do it for so long. Yet Drake’s refusal to look at her had her feeling cowed. This pastor wasn’t going to ask her for money she didn’t have, though maybe a reverend did ask for payment when they did a wedding. So why couldn’t she just open her mouth and say what had to be said? “Why don’t you tell me what it is you want from me?” He sat uncomfortably on the edge of the seat so he could turn to face her, and refused to look anywhere but at her eyes. “I need you to perform a wedding.” She bit her lip and took a deep breath. Would he perform a shotgun wedding? Did real preachers do that? “I would need to talk to the groom as well.

” He frowned slightly. “Marriage is something you don’t enter into lightly…” She refused to believe that. If a woman could be dragged into a church and forced to say an “I do,” so could a man. “No…no, you don’t. The groom doesn’t realize yet he’s going to be one. It might not even come to that. He might shoot me instead.” The man’s eyes grew round as saucers. “Miss O’Connor! What kind of game is this? It’s certainly not amusing.” This was a matter of life and death as far as she was concerned.

“I’m not fooling. The man is Dr. Parker…” His name stuck on her tongue like jelly too long in the sun. “…and he doesn’t realize yet that he’ll be a groom…or a killer. But more likely a groom. He probably wouldn’t think anything of pulling the trigger either.” She gulped back the brassy taste of fear. This wasn’t really living, sitting there with starry dreams and hope. Seamus was right. She’d always taken charge of her own life, why not this too? Where it could mean the best of her life, or the end of it? “I think you’d be surprised.

Perhaps you don’t know him as well as you think,” the reverend cautioned. “I’ve given him plenty of opportunity to act on his feelings, sir. I’m to the point where he needs to either marry me or shoot me, but I can’t go on like this.” “So you plan to bring him here by force to wed?” His lips puckered slightly. “Not quite like that…” His questions were good. As he asked them, she was forced to flesh out her plan even more. “If we make it here, it will be for a wedding. If I come alone…it’ll be in a box.” The reverend tossed his reservations out the window and touched her arm, then grimaced as if he’d met with something cold, choosing to grip her hand instead. “Miss O’Connor, all this cryptic talk is most unbecoming.

” “I’ve never been all that becoming,” she countered. At least he hadn’t said no. “So you plan to marry Dr. Parker. What then? He comes to church most every Sunday. Will you start coming as his wife?” He didn’t look as if he was trying to hold anything over her, yet his question had that feel. He seemed oddly curious about her plans, as if he thought she might follow through with them. “I… I can’t answer that just yet.” She had no plan to darken the doors of the church again once she’d said her vows, unless she had to. “But I do have money.

You’re a business. I need to buy that big house on the end of Baptist Street.” He shook his head gravely. “I’m not a business and I can’t take your money. You’ll have to go to one of the actual business owners in town to figure out that part of your plan.” She gripped the seat in front of her. Every other owner would warn Drake. “I need someone who won’t say a word.” He laughed. “I find it mildly ironic that you trust me with your money, trust me to keep this secret from Dr.

Parker, even trust me with your very life – if you were being honest – yet you won’t share with me what keeps you from my church. The very church you expect to make your wedding valid.” She stood and paced the back row of the pews, needing space from his needling. “It’s like this. Mam always said to trust the church, but that didn’t work out so well for her or Da. Some of you are good, some not. Drake trusts you, so I do. For now. But only you, not everyone else.” She still felt the sting of the new bride’s words outside.

I’ll not let your kind near my husband. Filth. The reverend drummed his fingers atop the back of the pew. “Custis is also a business owner. You could take this to him and he wouldn’t likely say anything.” She hadn’t considered him, though it was a good suggestion. “He’s getting his voice back. Sometimes when it’s least convenient.” Rev. Nelson laughed.

“That’s true, but I’m glad to hear him. Praise God for healing.” “But you’ll perform my wedding? I’ll be here in four days – Thursday afternoon.” “I’ll perform your wedding, no questions asked…if you agree to attend services with your husband. I don’t want you to be a stumbling block for him.” She swallowed hard. If she were married to Drake, could she be the wife he needed her to be? She stalled for a moment, then nodded. “If I don’t arrive before three, send someone out to the glen on the other side of the river.” The reverend laughed. “And just what will they find there?” She took a deep breath, then met his eyes.

“If I don’t get here for a wedding, they’ll find my body.”

.

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