Ike sighed as he watched Lou lumber up out of the bed he’d made her. He’d framed it out of small logs, then used handmade ropes, criss crossing between the edges, to form the base of the bed. Then, he’d made a straw tic to act as a temporary mattress.
It was the first piece of furniture he’d built for their new home after they’d moved in. Unlike the others, they’d brought no furniture with them and had had to start from scratch. He’d spent every evening of the last couple months piecing together beds for him and Lou, the children were still sleeping on pallets up in the loft. He had also completed a table, bench and chairs for the kitchen and now was working on another project, a present he was hoping to present to Lou soon.
He smiled as she waddled more than walked out the door of their sleeping quarters, headed for the kitchen area. He knew he needed to get up quickly and get in there to help or breakfast would probably be just plain oatmeal. The further her pregnancy progressed, the shorter her temper, not to mention her patience, got. And her cooking skills, never more than passable to begin with, suffered as a consequence.
Pushing back his blankets, he grimaced at the feel of the cold floor against his feet. Maybe he’d do some hunting once winter fully set in. A nice warm bear rug would be welcome. Moving quickly, he shrugged into his outer clothes and straightened the blankets on both his and Lou’s beds.
While they’d been moving slowly closer since that momentous day they’d moved into their home, they were definitely still in the courting stage. And Ike wasn’t really in a hurry to push things beyond that. While it certainly made for a few uncomfortable nights on his part, he was enjoying getting to know Lou so intimately, learning about not only her likes and dislikes, which he’d known for what felt like forever, but also her deepest held dreams and fears. The better he got to know her, the more he loved her, and he’d thought that would never be possible.
Stepping into the kitchen, he rubbed his hands to warm them after being outside in the brisk fall morning air.
*Morning, beautiful,* he signed as he leaned in to kiss Lou good morning.
“Ummm,” she murmured in pleasure at his caress. He loved how she responded to him. It warmed places in his heart he hadn’t realized were cold. “I’ll take the compliment but I hardly count as beautiful these days. I look more like a moose than a woman anymore.”
Placing a hand on the top of her belly, now mounded high under her breasts, Ike grinned. *You’re more beautiful than ever, and getting prettier every day.*
“I think you’re just biased,” she laughed, turning away to stir the oatmeal she already had boiling on a pot in the fireplace.
“By the desire to have an unburnt breakfast.”
Ike laughed with her a moment, not denying he wanted a decent meal. Instead, he began pulling out a few strips of elk meat to fry up, while Lou began to mix up biscuits.
*We’re getting pretty low on meat,* he signed. *Even with the extra help we’ve gotten from Tall Elk’s people.*
“Yeah, we’re running pretty low on a lot of other things as well,” Lou sighed. “We need salt, flour, cornmeal, oats…” She let the thought trail off.
*I hate to say it, but I think we need to make a run back to Fort Bridger for supplies. We’re not going to be able to rely on the Arapaho for much longer.*
“Yep,” Lou sighed, plopping down on the bench along one side of the kitchen table. “I think we’ve stretched it as far as we can. We’d better head out soon, before the first snows close off the mountain passes.”
*What do you mean ‘we’?* Ike asked, a frown growing on his features.
“Well, we’re all going, ain’t we?”
*I don’t think you should, Lou,* Ike said, shaking his head. *Not in your condition. It isn’t safe.*
Noticing the thundercloud spreading across her fine features, he hurried to add, *Besides, you’d slow us down. Admit it, you just can’t move as fast as you used to. Why, it takes two of us to get you up on Lightning these days!*
“Alright, alright,” she finally grumbled, conceding he was making some sense. “Doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
Reaching out, Ike pulled her close, nuzzling his nose into her neck, which always made her laugh, and effectively ending both the incipient disagreement and her own disgruntlement over being left behind.
“Pay attention,” Lou ordered, as she dropped Teresa and Jeremiah off at the Nolans’ later that morning for their lessons. “I expect a full report of everything you’ve learned this afternoon.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Jeremiah said, hustling inside after Teresa, in a hurry to get out of the chilled mountain air.
“They’re doing fine,” Tim reassured her, standing in the doorway, holding open the door.
“I know,” she smiled up at him, “but it doesn’t hurt them to be reminded we think education is important.”
“I can respect that,” Tim laughed. “What brings you out with the children this morning?”
“I need to speak with the others about supplies,” Lou sighed. “Looks like it’s time to set up a run into Fort Bridger.”
Tim nodded knowingly. It was a topic the entire community had discussed more than once the last couple of months. “Well, let me know what everyone decides to do.”
“Will do,” Lou said, as she turned toward the two other homes in the small cluster of buildings.
“Yeah, we’re almost out of flour and we’ve already run out of sugar and several spices,” Amy Nolan said, placing a cup of coffee in front of Lou.
“We’ve been out of coffee beans for a week now,” Mrs. Heath said, sniffing at her cup appreciatively.
“Well, let’s make a list of what we need and what we want,” Lou suggested.
“Then we can decide who’s going tonight at the meeting,” Emily added.
Lou looked at the other woman, a sinking feeling in her stomach. Each family would choose one representative to go on the supply run. Somehow, Lou just knew Emily would represent the Metcalfes. With the recent closeness growing between her and Ike, Lou found herself suddenly jealous of Ike’s friendship with Emily and the time they’d end up spending together on the trail. Lou shook her head to rid itself of the uncomfortable thought.
While Lou and Ike had been settling into a routine and inching ever closer to each other, the other families had begun setting up their homes too. The Nolans were starting a school in their home. So far their only students were Jeremiah and Teresa, but they hoped to add several of the Arapaho children soon. The Heaths had added a third room to their house and held weekly services there. Meanwhile, Carl Metcalf had decided he wanted to build a saloon onto their cabin. He’d been busy felling trees on his own the last couple of weeks, none of the rest being willing to help with that particular project. Ike and Lou had already spoken to him severely about not serving alcohol to the Arapaho. But, despite lack of evidence to the contrary, he was sure there were enough mountain men, trappers and such, in the area that he could keep a saloon running.
“All I can say is, they’d better leave quickly,” Mrs. Heath said, standing up and patting Lou’s shoulder. “At least if they want to get back in time for Ike to be here for the birth of your baby!”
They laughed at that, Lou blushing slightly, as they’d all witnessed more than once Ike’s excitement over the coming child, and his adamant determination to be present for the baby’s birth. Something Lou herself wasn’t so sure about.
“I wish you didn’t have to leave tomorrow,” Lou said sorrowfully as Ike climbed down out of the loft after tucking Jeremiah and Teresa into bed.
Ike followed her back over to the kitchen as she wandered around the cabin, absently straightening things as she went. She came to a sudden stop when she saw the handful of wildflowers he’d left for her in the middle of the table, carefully arranged in a mason jar full of water.
“Oh, Ike,” she murmured, walking up and touching the late fall blooms gently. “You shouldn’t have. They’re beautiful.”
*Just like you,* he smiled at her.
Blushing, she hid her face in the blooms, inhaling their scent. Finally setting them back down on the table, she reached out to pat his shoulder. “You ought to head to bed, Ike. It’ll be an early morning.”
Ike smiled at her. He was leaving for at least a couple weeks tomorrow, no way was he going to bed without spending some time with Lou. *What? No kiss goodnight?*
He followed that up by grabbing her around the waist and hauling her in for a playful nuzzle. But, when he pulled his head back to smile down at her, she reached up to frame his face with both hands. Pushing herself up on tip-toe, she pulled his face down to meet hers in a long, deep, drugging kiss.
Even as she gasped for breath through the intense kiss, never once pulling away from him, she muttered so softly he wasn’t sure if he really heard her, “I’m gonna miss you, Ike.”
Then her hands were leaving his face, roving across his shoulders, down his arms, behind his back. The next thing he knew, her fingers were nimbly unbuttoning the front of his shirt. Startled, he pulled away to look at her questioningly. While they’d had plenty of passionate moments the last few weeks, none had ever gone beyond hungry kisses. Tonight felt… different.
*Are you sure?* he finally asked, gulping down a nervous breath. *I don’t want to pressure you.*
“You ain’t the one pushing, Ike,” Lou smiled up at him. “You were always patiently waiting for me to catch up, weren’t you?”
Then she pulled him down for another intoxicating round of kisses. Finally, unable to bear the temptation she presented any longer, Ike bent down and picked her up in his arms, starting to leave the kitchen.
“No,” she said. He stopped all forward motion to look down at her, already moving to set her back down on her feet. “Not that, silly. I just meant, we can’t go back to the bedroom. Jeremiah and Teresa?”
Ike smiled at her and nodded, before carrying her out the door to the breezeway, leaning down to press his lips to hers in yet another hungry meeting.
“The barn?” she muttered as he struggled to open the barn doors, “How…. conventional.”
They’d put it up themselves, after helping the other families with their cabins. It was small, yet cozy, with plenty of room for all their animals. Even as Ike finally got the door unlatched and pushed open, Duke, their dog, came running up to greet them. Ike pushed him away impatiently with one leg, then closed the barn door behind him.
When he reached the ladder to the hayloft, he set Lou down, continuing to kiss her silly. Finally, he stepped back from her, chest heaving from his efforts to maintain control of his growing excitement.
*I have a surprise for you,* he signed.
Looking him up and down, Lou giggled. “It ain’t much of a surprise there, Ike.”
Ike blushed, then looked up at the hayloft above them.
*It’s up there,* he said. *Will you come?* He held out a hand invitingly to her, giving her one more chance to back out, go back to the cabin and crawl into her single bed. Instead, she stepped forward and placed her small hand in his.
“Yes,” she whispered.
Lou rolled over, enjoying the feeling of freedom that came from sleeping in the large, double bed Ike had surprised her with. It was a beautiful bed with tightly strung ropes to hold up the feather filled mattress, all of which he’d made by hand on the sly.
A satisfied, feline smile crossed her face. That wasn’t the only thing he’d surprised her with. She’d known for a few weeks now that he’d been holding back his passion, waiting for her to feel the same way about him. But she hadn’t realized just how much until he’d let go of the reins.
Suddenly, she found herself rolled right on over into Ike’s waiting arms. He loomed up over her, an almost lascivious grin on his face as he stared down into her brown eyes. Then, he was kissing her frantically, passionately.
“Again?” she murmured. The feel of his hands and mouth roving across her body was her only response.
Ike didn’t respond, too busy enjoying the taste and feel of her, finally his to explore. And he had so little time to explore in!
*I wish I didn’t have to go,* Ike said for the thousandth time as they snuck back into their own house.
“I know,” Lou said, smiling up at him. “But it’s only for a couple weeks. Then you’ll be back for the whole winter.”
*I know,* Ike said mournfully. *But by then you’ll be so close to your time you won’t want anything to do with me.*
Lou moved in close to him, running her hands up his chest to his shoulders as she reached up to begin pressing kisses along his jawline. “That’s not going to happen. I promise. Although you may not want anything to do with me, I’m going to be so big and fat by then.”
*Never,* Ike said. *You’re always beautiful to me, Lou, the baby just makes you even more so. And I’ll always want you, in more ways than I can say.*
Lou blushed at his frank words. Slapping his shoulder and pushing him away from her, she said, “Come on, let’s get you packed up and out of here. Sooner gone, sooner back.”
It was with a mournful gaze that she watched Ike ride out a short time later.
“He’ll be back soon,” she kept reminding herself. She couldn’t help but feel like it wasn’t going to be soon enough. She glanced worriedly at the sky. The weather was her biggest concern, although not her only one.