An Excerpt from Breed True


Gem Sivad

 

Men in general were dangerous, but Julie had found that men in groups were more deadly than a pack of wolves. Whatever her new husband had planned for her, there was no help to be found among the males at the table.

Her stomach lurched and the food she’d enjoyed earlier threatened to return. She met Grady’ gaze and clenched her jaw as she walked toward him, obeying.

As she approached, he raked her with his gaze and she remembered his statement about cows. Must be checking his livestock for flaws.

When she walked to his end of the table, he turned on his seat, guiding her until she stood between his thighs. Here it comes. She expected him to handle her in front of the men, if not worse. But that didn’t make accepting his touch easy. She stood tense, waiting.

 “This is Julie Fulton Hawks. Give her the respect due my woman.”

Give her the respect due my woman? Julie stared at the wall, refusing to react as his hands fumbled at her hair. One by one, he pulled the pins from the heavy, thick mass and watched as it tumbled to her hips. Julie shifted her stance between his thighs, preparing to pick up her pins and leave. Instead, she froze as she inadvertently brushed against the bulge that swelled along his leg.

But he ignored the contact and said prosaically, “If you keep serving up the bread that way, we’ll run out before the next trip to town.”

Startled, she looked at the remaining crumbs on the plate. It hadn’t occurred to her that he bought the loaves, but of course there was no one here to bake. He tugged on her hair.

“Leave it down from now on.” He wound his hand through its length and showed it to the other men. “Red, the color of my da’s,” he growled. “She’ll breed true.”

Of all the arrogant… She couldn’t disguise her anger and forgot her fear.

Grady dropped the length of hair and turned away, dismissing her with a shrug. As Julie began to gather her pins, he covered her hand and murmured without looking at her, “Leave them.”

She hesitated. They were plain wooden hairpins, but they were the only hair clips she owned. She couldn’t decide whether the battle was worth the effort. Without them, her possessions could be counted on less than five fingers.

“I don’t have a proper comb,” she murmured, eyes downcast, testing to see if there would be punishment for backtalk. She was tense, ready to spring away if need be.

But he said nothing, nor indicated that he’d even heard. His hand lay still, covering hers, until she withdrew her fingers—empty. She fiercely resented his victory as she moved to carry the cradle from the room.

“Too cold back there.” Silently he crossed the floor and stood beside her before she could leave. She hunched defensively, preparing for the slap that didn’t happen. Instead, he took the cradle and set the babies back by the fire.

Julie stood bewildered as he returned to resume his meal. It was too much. She looked wildly at the table of men, desperately trying to keep from screaming at him. What do you expect me to do? Stand here and wait for your commands?

No further orders were issued and he went back to his food, leaving her to make the next move. She pulled the heavy bench so that she faced the fire. Then she sat with her back to the men and wrapped a blanket around her shoulders as she lifted each twin for her morning meal.

As always, feeding them soothed her. She focused on the tiny hands that clutched her breast as first Emma fed, and then Amy. This is what I was made for—this is my purpose. She ignored the rancher who already tried to dominate her.

Humming softly, she rocked her body as each daughter fed and blinked into sleep. When she laid each into the new bed and tucked the rough blanket around them, she became aware again of the men behind her. They were evidently listening to her because they weren’t speaking to each other.

A year… I can do anything for a year. Julie squared her shoulders and went out the cabin door, leaving the babies for his tending. It didn’t occur to her until later that she already trusted Grady Hawks to protect her children. Once outside, the brisk fresh air worked wonders on her spirit. She trudged around the house to the back, inspecting the building that would be home to her and the twins for a small time.

Logs already chopped gave her a purpose. She stacked a bundle in her arms, remembering occasions on the farm when she’d done likewise. The skirt of her borrowed dress was too long and caused her to stumble every third step, so she gathered it high in front and used it to make a pouch, carrying the wood inside that way.

Fumbling the door open, she crossed to the fireplace and piled the logs there. Her long hair swung over her shoulder and tendrils caught on the rough wood. She didn’t hear his approach but suddenly he reached across her shoulder, untangled the snarl and pulled all her hair back, tying it at the nape of her neck with a leather strip.

“Can I borrow your knife?” He frowned, unsheathing the weapon that had killed Frank and handed it over. In one quick motion she flipped the long tail of hair over her shoulder and hacked it off. “Here,” she said, handing him the knife and the hank of hair. “You like it so much. You take care of it.”

His eyes darkened and became slits of anger, but without a word, he stuffed the hair into his pocket. The other men looked away as if they hadn’t heard her, but she knew they’d witnessed her petty rebellion. She expected a slap at least, but Grady shrugged into his coat and led the ranch hands outside.