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Irene Pascoe ~ Romance Novelist
Kathleen
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Excerpt:
 

It took John and Kathleen days to get used to traveling by  wagon. Sadly the farther west they went, the more roadside  graves they saw, and scatterings of cherished household goods  that had been discarded by preceding emigrants to lessen the  wagon loads.

 

Those grim and inescapable reminders of the hardships,  sacrifices and hazards of overland travel kept them mindful of the need for extreme caution. And Kathleen was particularly cautious when she was preparing meals over the campfire, for the ever present winds whipped the flames dangerously close to her skirts. For John, caution was paramount when fording rivers and maneuvering through deep ravines. There had been plenty of both in the one hundred miles that now lay between them and Fort Laramie.

 

"We've been traveling for days," John muttered in disbelief one evening after reining in, "and we're still in Wyoming." They made camp alongside an angrily foaming brook in a vast mountain  meadow. In keeping with their customary routine, Kathleen  prepared the campfire and unloaded the cookery while John, who had become lefthandedly proficient with a rifle, went in search of wild game. As soon as the evening meal was over they, as usual, made quick work of the dishes, then wearily bedded down in the wagon.   

 

Sleep was generally instantaneous, but on occasion one or the other would lay awake listening to the wolves in the distance and yearning to reach out for the other.  As much as John longed to hold Kathleen near and make love to her, the deep and ever growing affection for the dark-haired beauty convinced him that such an intimacy would only add to the sorrow of their parting.  When he considered their parting, as he often did, he wondered if she would miss him as much as he knew he was going to miss her.

 

Kathleen, on the other hand, was still too saddened by the  passing of her daughter to really think beyond the daily needs and the strength and sense of security she'd gained from John. Instinctively, she'd come to know that in time there would be lovemaking between them. And when at last that moment came, it was as spontaneous and beautifully natural as she had dreamed.

 

They'd halted travel earlier than usual on that day to rest the horses, and had set up camp alongside a winding mountain  stream. John had wandered up the bank of the sundappled water to the rapids to fish for trout. Kathleen had hauled out the laundry. For the first time in her life, she washed clothes in a stream, and on a rock. It was more of a backbreaking chore than she had anticipated. By the time she's hung up the last of the laundry to dry, her hands were a sorry state and she was soaked to the skin. Those discomforts, added to the days of dust and grime from the trail, made her feel less than human. 

 

Kathleen regarded the stream longingly, then returned to the wagon. She secured a towel, hairbrush, and the one luxury she'd brought from the Fitzgibbon home, a bar of fragrant lavender soap.

 

Back at the water's edge, she shed her clothes. The sun, filtering through the abundant cottonwoods, was warm on her body and the gentle breeze caressing her flesh made her feel delightfully wicked. She laid her clothes over shrubbery to dry, then removed  the pins from her luxuriant hair, letting it tumble about her shoulders. Kathleen inched her way into the water. How refreshing it was. She ducked under, immersing herself, then indulged in a brief but leisurely swim before lavishing on the lavender soap from head to toe.

 

Bath completed, Kathleen left the water. She wrapped the towel about her and sat down on a sunwarmed boulder at the  stream's edge. As she brushed her hair, she listened to the    warbling of meadow larks and smiled from time to time at a pair  of scampering squirrels. Heather would have loved them.  Kathleen was so engrossed in the cherished memories of her daughter that she did not notice John return to camp.  

 

And John didn't see her sitting downstream until he crossed and placed the string of trout he'd caught into the  water to keep them fresh until supper. Then his heart leaped out of rhythm as his gaze dropped from Kathleen's beautiful face to her creamywhite shoulders, then slid down over the snugfitting towel to her shapely legs. He reminded himself to stay away from her, to spare them both from any possible hurt.

 

Clinging to that resolve, John also secured a towel and soap from the wagon. But he went upstream to bathe, maintaining a safe distance between them. For all his determination, though, he couldn't keep his eyes from returning to Kathleen. They had been through so much together, grief and hardships that had strengthened the bond between them. Now their closeness made him want her all the more.

 

 John shook off the thoughts that warmed his blood and  scrubbed his flesh as if he were trying to scrub away the  tormenting desire. He left the water, dried himself, and wrapped

the towel around his waist. Another look downstream conveyed Kathleen was still sitting on the rock. John caught up his clothes. As he started back to camp, she glanced up, as if she sensed she was being watched. Their eyes met and held, then he saw her gaze wander down the front of him and linger on the towel. Warmth stirred anew in his loins, and he moved helplessly toward her.  

 

Kathleen moistened her lips against the sudden heat surging through her. The towel John wore left little to the imagination. Why, just the sight of his bare chest and the taut muscles in his arms and legs quickened her pulse. 

 

He narrowed the gap between them. "Had yourself a bath,  too, I see," he said as if he hadn't spotted her before he'd gone into the water.

 

"Yes, it felt wonderful." Again their gazes locked and the desire Kathleen saw in his eyes made her lightheaded. Unable to think clearly, she stammered as she came to her feet, "I should go now and get dressed.

 

"Must you?"  

 

The huskiness that came into his voice increased her  lightheadedness and Kathleen felt as if her legs were about to give way. "Not if you don't want me to."

 

"I'd like for you to remove your towel."

 

"You remove it." Her voice fell to a sensual whisper.    This was the moment she'd dreamed of and she intended to savor  each second, each sensation.