She hooked the elbow of her broken arm around the remains of one of the rungs, wincing with the effort. She strained her good hand up until her fingers brushed his arm. Billy grasped her forearm and scooted backward, hauling her up and over.
Still lying on the ground, he swept her into an embrace, careful of her broken wrist. He gazed at her, drinking in the sight of her, safe in his arms. Her face was filthy, there were cobwebs in her hair, and there was a goose egg on her head the size of a baseball. But Billy didn’t see any of that—all he knew was that he was looking at his future bride. “You’re one helluva woman, you know that, Sorrow Bailey?”
“I know it,” she said, smiling broadly. “Oh, and Sheriff? I love you, too.”
Bear turned to give them privacy. “If you kids are done, let’s get the hell out of here. I’ve got a neck to wring. I plan on killing Damien Simmons with my bare hands.”
“It wasn’t Damien’s fault,” she said as Billy helped her stand. She swayed as she got her legs under her, and he held her close.
“Like hell it wasn’t Damien,” Bear snarled. “He brought you here, didn’t he?”
“No, Dad. My falling was an accident.” Sorrow clung to Billy for balance as they made their way from the mine, and he thought he might never let her go again. “I think he ate something that made him sick.”
“Wait”—she stopped—“What? Dabney and Phoebe sent us cookies. How’d you know?”
Billy pressed on, walking as he talked. “All the problems at the lodge, Laura’s hit-and-run…it was Damien’s dad. He’s been sabotaging you all along.” He felt her stagger, and hoisted her higher, taking more of her weight. “We need to get you to the hospital.”
“You need to tell me what happened,” she insisted. She was striding along the path, looking nothing like a woman who’d spent the afternoon trapped in a mineshaft.
He shook his head—there was no stopping her. “Dabney wanted your land. At first he wanted the timber. But then he found out about the gold.”
“But that mine isn’t on our land,” Bear said.
Sorrow added, “And Damien told me it was a failure anyway.”
“It’s true,” Billy said. “The lode was played out, and that mine was a failure. Thing is, that wasn’t the mother lode. The mother lode is on Bailey acreage.”
“Holy cow,” Sorrow exclaimed. “Are you saying there’s gold on our land?”
“Once I learned that Dabney knew about the mine, from there, it was a no-brainer. There aren’t many surveyors around. It took me fifteen minutes to track down the one he worked with, out of Sacramento. Modern technology makes things like prospecting a whole other ball game. They found gold—a high-grade vein.”
“I still don’t get how Dabney could’ve done all this,” Sorrow said. “He was with us in the kitchen when the oven exploded. It was his car that got hit when Helen spun out on the black ice.”
“Dabney didn’t do it alone. He had help from his family gardener. The man has a record as long as your arm.”
“Easy,” Bear said. “That ain’t how it works. My granddad was panning for gold before Dabney Simmons was a light in his mama’s eye. We’re all sitting on gold out here. It’s the mining of it that’s hard. Dabney’s too much the fool to know that.” He turned to Billy, getting back on point. “So if it’s my land, why pick on my daughter?”
Billy took a moment to help both of them navigate down the ravine. “It makes sense. Despite my doubts, it seems our Damien is a decent guy.” He put his arm around Sorrow’s waist, adjusting her arm to take most of her weight. “Every one of those accidents at the lodge drove the two of you closer. When you had trouble, Damien came to your rescue. The more accidents you had, the closer you got. If you’d eventually married the guy, the mine would’ve become just another part of the Simmons empire. Or at least your share of it would have.”
“Well then why try to run me over? I can’t marry Damien if I’m dead.”
“The game became deadly when you had the great good sense to break up with Prince Charming. That meant it was time to sabotage the lodge and take it by force.” He looked at Bear. “I imagine Dabney’s long-term game was to drive your business into the ground and then make you an offer you couldn’t refuse.”
Sorrow staggered as they reached the bottom of the gully, and Billy simply swept her into his arms. “Put me down,” she protested at once. “I’m too big to carry.”
He gave her a little bounce, careful not to jostle her arm. She was soft and full and perfect in his hands. “You feel just right to me.”
She wrapped her good arm around his neck, and the feel of her was like a missing puzzle piece clicking into place. She whispered in his ear, “Thanks for finding me.”
Billy pointed his chin toward Bear. “Couldn’t have done it without that man.”
“Your mom and I would be lost without you, girl.” Bear’s lip twitched as he spoke, and Billy chuckled to himself, seeing how hard it was for the man to speak warmly. “Thought I’d have to come drag you out of that mine myself. Your sheriff was moving slower than molasses in January.”
“Wow…rich or not, we’re sitting on a gold mine,” she repeated. “You know what that means? I’m definitely getting an assistant.”
The men laughed and Sorrow did, too, and it was a wonderful sound. She tucked her head in his neck and he hugged her closer, managing to carry her effortlessly back to the car.
She’d been wrong—she was a feather in his arms. He could carry her forever if she let him. He hoped she would.
He’d never forget Keri—she’d been his first love, and there was no greater gift than that. But he’d aged a lifetime in a few short years, and his heart and soul had found peace there with Sorrow.
He let Bear walk ahead on the trail. Sorrow nestled close. “Thanks for carrying me.”
“I was just thinking how there’s nothing better than holding you.” He hugged her even tighter, overwhelmed by the urge to have her, to make Sorrow his, wanting her with an intensity he’d never experienced before.
She nipped him on the ear, whispering, “I could think of maybe one thing that’s better.”
They went to Silver City Memorial, where she got bandaged up. Then Billy sped her back to his place, hoping to put that theory to the test.
“You sure you don’t want to lie in bed?” Billy was torn. He wanted to be gentle with Sorrow. But he also wanted to take her, to have her and love her. To take care of her. To let her know he’d be there to do all of those things for the rest of her life if she’d let him.
Sorrow used her good hand to grab a pillow from his couch and toss it in front of the fireplace. “I’m sure I want to lie right here, with you, in front of the fire that you’re about to make for me.”
He added a couple of pillows to the mix, making a cozy nest for the two of them. “I’m about to make you a fire, am I?”
She nodded, settling under the afghan. “Mm-hm. A nice big hot one.”
“I best get to it then.” He squatted in front of the hearth, stacking kindling and logs. He glanced back at her as he twisted sheets of newspaper into rolls for tinder. The sight of her arm in a cast made him weak, but it could’ve been worse—she could’ve needed surgery. Or he might not have found her at all.
He forced such thoughts from his mind. He’d be there with her, enjoying the moment, looking with hope to the future while putting away regrets of the past.
“Hey, Sheriff.” Sorrow had a saucy light in her eye, and it was one he’d already come to recognize. “You almost done over there?”
He chuckled. God, he loved this girl. “Oh, I’m done…with the fire, that is.” He stood, wiping his hands on a rag. The kindling began to crackle and pop, warm at his back as he faced her. “I was thinking maybe you wanted me to do something else.”
“How’d you know?” She pulled aside the afghan for him to join her. “You’re going to join me.”
“Join you?” He knelt beside her.
“Definitely. A girl gets cold on the floor. And lonely.”
“Cold and lonely. We can’t have that.” He slid in next to her, and she turned to face him, wrapping her good arm around his neck. Their bodies fit like two puzzle pieces. “You okay?” he asked, helping her adjust her injured arm.
They settled her broken wrist on the floor over her head, nestled in pillows. “I’m good now,” she said.
He sighed, a satisfied sound. “You are. You have no idea how good.” He stroked his hand up her side. In the hospital, she’d been unable to pull her sweater back over her cast and had become chilled in just her tank top, and so he’d put her in his flannel shirt the moment they got back to his place. And, just as he’d imagined, she was sexy as hell in the oversized red and black plaid. “You warming up?”
Her hand found him beneath the blanket, and she caressed his leg. “It’s getting downright hot in here.”
“I’ll say.” He snuck his hand under the flannel, finding her breast and teasing her through the thin cotton of her tank.
She moaned, leaning close to nip at his jaw, then leaned in for a deep kiss. “Now I’m burning up,” she whispered as she parted from him. Her eyes were glazed with desire.
He swept the hair from her face. “You’re so beautiful.” His eyes went to her mouth, so glistening and tempting. “I could kiss you forever.”