Summary: Little misunderstandings can leave an awful painful injury. But sometimes it just takes a kiss, or two, or three, or more, to make it all better.
Author's note: This story is a sequel to my novella Starting Over.
Thunk! Thunk! Thunk!
He paused to wipe the sweat from his forehead, glancing almost bitterly over the pile of firewood scattered around him. He supposed he should stop chopping and start stacking. But that just didn’t provide enough outlet for his… not anger, not exactly. Frustration, he decided to call it. He didn’t understand what had happened to his loving wife. One day she’d been her normal, passionate self. The next, she hadn’t wanted anything to do with him. Now, it felt like she was avoiding him. She and Lou would be whispering frantically about something when he entered a room, but would go silent as soon as they saw him. Today, she’d run off to town with Lou without even saying good-bye to him.
He’d thought she was in love with him, that he’d finally found the love Emma had once described to him. Had he really been that mistaken? Or had he just managed to do something to foul it up? Like always.
Sighing again, he lifted the ax to his shoulder with one hand, setting another piece of wood on the chopping block with his other. With one hand at the base of the handle, the other near the head of the ax, he swung with all his might, letting his hand slide effortlessly down the handle as the ax came down on the waiting chunk of wood, splitting it right down the middle with a satisfying THWACK!
“Damn it!” Kid muttered as the horse on the other end of the lead rope once again shied away from him, jerking the rope roughly through his ungloved hands. Kid knew he shouldn’t be out here doing this. One should never try to train a horse when one is already upset. But he’d had to get out of the house.
He knew he’d missed the pregnancy with Mary Kate, but surely Lou hadn’t been this cranky. But he couldn’t imagine what else could’ve turned her into such a termagent. This morning all he’d done was bring her a cup of coffee and she’d started yelling at him like a banshee for trying to poison her.
He’d decided it was better to spend the day out of her sight and hidden in the barn. He’d been in such a hurry to escape, he’d left his good work gloves sitting on the dresser by their bed. A couple of hours ago he’d even found himself hiding in the hayloft when Lou had come stomping out to hitch up the buckboard and take off with Lydia for who knew where.
He didn’t even question where they were headed, just breathed a sigh of relief that he could come out of hiding.
Taking advantage of his preoccupied state, the horse jerked toward the other end of the corral, causing the lead rope to slide roughly through Kid’s unsuspecting fingers.
“I feel kinda bad ‘bout the Kid,” Lou muttered as she drove back toward the ranch the two couples had purchased just a few weeks ago. “It ain’t his fault coffee smells so putrid to me right now. He was tryin’ ta be sweet, but he danged near got ever’ bit of breakfast I’d managed ta choke down all over his front.”
“At least he knows why,” Lydia said softly in her deep Tennessee accent. “That’s more than I can say about Jimmy. The poor man’s got no idea why I’ve been acting so strange these last couple of weeks.”
Lou shrugged, slapping the reins against the horses’ backs to keep them from slowing to a stop and snacking on the nearby scrub brush. “Mebbe,” she allowed. “But I figger you’ll be spillin’ the beans soon ‘nough, now.”
Lydia grinned, one hand going to her flat belly. Lou just shook her head. “’Sides, Kid may have some idea of why, but it ain’t like he was around fer this the last time. I don’t manage ta get my temper under control and there may never be a baby #3.”
Lydia laughed outright at that. “I sincerely doubt that. I’ve seen the two of you together. Kid can’t keep his hands off you any more than Jimmy can keep his off me.”
Lou joined in Lydia’s laughter, patting her own, already rounding, stomach. “Ain’t that the truth? Might explain why we’re in this condition so danged fast!”
Kid trudged slowly toward the house he and Lou shared with Lydia and Jimmy, as well as their children, his and Lou’s Mary Kate and Lydia’s Carl, Jr. The children were off at school for the day. Thank goodness. And he didn’t bother wondering where Teresa was.
Lou’s little sister was staying with them for now, as well. She kept saying she was going to leave any day, but never quite seemed to manage it. He snorted. She’d said she was going to head back East with Cody and his family to join Cody’s Wild West Show after Jimmy and Lydia’s wedding. But she hadn’t. He had a sneaking suspicion her reasons involved a certain tall, dark skinned former Express rider who now ran the telegraph office and was currently trotting up to the ranch buildings on his sorrel mount.
Stopping in the middle of the ranch yard, Kid waited for Buck to arrive, reaching out to grab his horse’s bridle as he pulled to a halt. Kid winced at the pain of the leather straps of the bridle biting into his palm. He’d known better than to work with a horse while distracted. Now he was going to pay the consequences.
“What brings you out this way?” Kid asked as Buck agilely clambered off his horse.
“Lou invited me over for supper, when she and Lydia were in town,” Buck said nonchalantly as he stepped up next to Kid.
“Hmmm,” Kid murmured. “How was she?”
Buck gave him a strange look which Kid did his best to ignore as the two men walked into the barn.
“Seemed like… well, like our Lou,” Buck finally answered. Kid grunted. He was afraid of that.
It didn’t take them long to unsaddle Buck’s horse, give it a quick rubdown with handfuls of hay and a little feed. Soon they were walking back out of the barn, toward the house.
The enraged shout coming from the side of the barn had the two men running to find out what was wrong. They slid to a halt at the sight of Jimmy sucking at the pad of his thumb while glaring at a pile of split logs tumbled willy nilly in the dirt.
“What happened, Jimmy,” Buck asked, grinning. “Did they bite?”
“Yes,” Jimmy growled, holding out his hand to demonstrate. “Damned things gave me a splinter!”
Kid and Buck started laughing. Jimmy just stood there looking like a child whose favorite pet had died.
“Come on inside,” Buck said, grabbing Jimmy’s elbow and urging him toward the house. “I’ll wager the ladies have somethin’ ta fix ya right up.”
Jimmy suddenly blanched and began back peddling. “No,” he said, almost frantically. “I’ll… uh.. I’ll be fine.”
Getting in on the game, Kid came up on Jimmy’s other side and grabbed his still free arm in a steel grip, ignoring his own slash of pain at the use of his hands.
“Now, Jimmy,” he chided, trying to swallow his laughter. “You need to have that looked at. I’ve seen untreated splinters fester and kill men bigger’n you!”
Buck and Kid began to march Jimmy toward the house in lock step, ignoring his vigorous protests.
“What on earth is going on out here?” Lou called, hearing the commotion from kitchen at the back of the house as the men reached the porch.
Pushing Jimmy through the front door in front of them, Kid and Buck followed him into the house. They peered over his shoulder to see Lou stepping out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on an apron, with Lydia and Teresa crowding behind her.
“Jimmy’s hurt,” Buck and Kid chorused.
Lydia pushed past Lou and rushed to her husband’s side. Frantically, she began running her hands over him, searching him for injuries.
“What happened? Did you get shot?”
“Erm,” Kid hedged. “Uh, he hurt himself… uh, choppin’ wood.”
Lou tossed Kid an odd look at his tone of voice, but didn’t say anything.
“Where?” Lydia demanded urgently, suddenly fearing he’d cut himself on the ax.
Sheepishly, Jimmy held up his hand for his wife to look at. “I, uh, got a splinter.”
Lydia stopped her frantic motions and peered at the palm of the hand he was showing her.
“Where?” she asked again, this time wonderingly.
“There,” Jimmy said, pointing to the pad at the base of his thumb, as if wondering how she could have missed it the giant piece of wood piercing his hand. Lydia reached out and grabbed his hand in both of hers, peering closer.
She sighed in exasperation and began dragging her husband back toward the kitchen. “I’ll need better light,” was all she said to him. To Lou she added, “Could you get me a bottle of whiskey? And a knife?”
Jimmy blanched at the mention of the knife.
“I’m fine, really,” he tried to convince his wife.
“Nonsense,” Lydia riposted shortly. “You’ve been hurt. If we don’t take care of it, it could get infected. We wouldn’t want that, now would we?”
Jimmy shook his head in reluctant agreement even as she pushed him down into a chair at the kitchen table, next to the large western facing window.
Taking the big butcher knife Lou had brought her, Lydia doused it in the amber liquor. Then, without warning, she grabbed Jimmy’s hand and used the tip of the knife to begin digging into the pad of his palm.
“Owwwww,” Jimmy yelped. “Are ya tryin’ ta kill me woman? Ignorin’ me ain’t enough?”
Buck and Kid didn’t even bother to hide their laughter this time, each leaning against one side of the kitchen door. Lou turned and glared at them. Teresa reached up and whacked Buck in the back of the head as she came back into the kitchen with a basket full of clean rags.
“Don’t be an ass,” she hissed, then turned to Lydia. “I brought these to bandage his hand with when you’re done,” she said, setting the basket down on the table at Lydia’s elbow.
“Thanks,” Lydia grunted, pulling the hand Jimmy was trying to slip out of her grasp firmly back against her chest. “Stop that.”
“Please,” Jimmy practically begged. “I’m fine. Really. I don’t need this.”
“Oh, stop being such a baby,” Lydia said, digging into his palm once again. This time Jimmy didn’t yelp. He merely whimpered. “There,” she breathed in satisfaction. “All done.”
She held the tip of the knife under Jimmy’s nose. He nearly went cross eyed trying to look at it.
“Awful small for such a fuss, don’t you think?” she asked.
“It wasn’t the splinter I was makin’ such a fuss about,” Jimmy whined. “Ya did more damage diggin’ it out than it did goin’ in.”
Lydia sighed and set the knife aside. She reached over and grabbed the whiskey bottle.
She turned at Buck’s call and raised an eyebrow. “What?”
“I’ve got somethin’ better,” he said. “It’s in my saddle bags.”
Lydia darted a questioning glance at Kid. He nodded.
“Well, hurry up about it,” she told the Indian.
“Here,” Lou said, grabbing up the bowl of alcohol leftover from Lydia’s cleaning of the knife and taking it over to Kid. “Go dump this, would you?”
He reached out to accept the bowl. Lou, not paying much attention, sloshed some of the whiskey out of the bowl and it dribbled onto Kid’s blistered hands, hitting the raw skin of a couple of blisters that had already broken. He was unable to control the rapidly inhaled gasp of pain.
“Kid?” Lou asked, concerned. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothin’,” he muttered, trying to finish taking the bowl from her. But she squeezed her hands around his, pushing the edges of the bowl into his palms. He winced again, harder this time.
“Don’t give me that,” she said, almost harshly, as she jerked the bowl back out of his hands and set it down on the counter next to her. Reaching around Kid to grab the hands he was now trying to hide behind his back, she pulled them into the sunlight sparkling through the window. “Good Lord! What did you do to yourself?”
“I.. ah… I was just trainin’ one of the horses,” he muttered half under his breath.
“Must’ve been more’n that,” Lou responded, shaking her head, “to cause this much blistering. What’d ya do, ferget yer gloves?”
Kid shrugged sheepishly, not wanting to explain. Not letting go of his hands, she dragged him across the kitchen to a chair opposite Jimmy’s.
“Sit!” she ordered. He sat. “Teresa,” she added, “bring me the bowl please. Lydia, could you hand me the knife and the whiskey?”
“Wait a minute,” Kid spluttered. “What do you need all that fer? I ain’t got no splinters.”
“No,” Lou said. “But we need to pop them blisters so they’ll start healin’ proper.”
“Loooouuuuissseeee,” Kid whined. “Just let ‘em be.” A moment later he added, almost unheard, “Please?”
Lou shook her head adamantly, turning toward him with the large knife, freshly washed in more whiskey, in one hand, sending shards of sunlight flashing across the room.
“Now, what kind of a wife would I be if I let you walk out of here with injured hands?” she crooned sweetly. She grabbed the worst injured of his two hands and tucked the arm under hers to hold it in place. Then she began to dig the tip of the knife into each of the half dozen large blisters scattered across the palm. As each blister popped, she used a whiskey dipped rag to soak up the moisture. She ignored Kid’s yelps of pain with each one, muttering only the occasional, “Sit still, will you. Or this’ll take twice as long.”
“Here you go,” Buck said, slightly out of breath, as he jogged back into the room holding out a pot of something.
“What is it?” Lydia asked suspiciously, as she reached out to take the pot from him. She lifted it to her nose and sniffed dubiously.
“Don’t ask,” Lou said without looking up from what she was doing. “Just apply generously. I’ll guarantee ya it works.”
Shrugging, Lydia turned and looked straight into her husband’s eyes as she dipped her fingers into the pot and pulled out a large dollop of the unguent before handing the pot to Lou. Jimmy’s eyes widened as he saw the contents. Sharing a look with Kid, he and his best friend both gulped as their wives advanced on them with determination.
“Hands out, boys,” Lou purred, reaching down to grab the first of Kid’s hands before he could even react to her command.
“Ow!” Jimmy and Kid squealed in unison as Lou and Lydia generously spread the medicine across their injuries.
Buck nearly doubled over in laughter, one arm wrapped around his stomach, at the sight.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Lou crooned. “Did that hurt?”
“Yes,” Kid whimpered pathetically. Jimmy merely nodded mutely. Lou and Lydia shared a look of their own, then began wrapping their husband’s injured hands in the clean rags.
“Poor baby,” Lou whispered, finished bandaging Kid. She sat down in his lap and pressed a gentle kiss to his forehead. Moving her lips down to his, she added, “Do you want me to kiss it and make it all better?”
Kid didn’t answer. His lips were already too busy, completely occupied responding to the pressure of Lou’s own mobile mouth on his. He didn’t even notice the slight pain in his hands from the pressure of pulling her closer to him.
“How’d you get that nasty old splinter, anyway?” Lydia asked tenderly, pushing a stray lock of hair back behind Jimmy’s ear.
He shrugged, then after a moment found his voice. “Uh, I was… uh, choppin’ wood.”
Lydia pulled back to look into his expressive eyes. “But, why?” she questioned. “We already got plenty chopped.”
“I was….. well…. “ Jimmy ground to a halt, unsure how to explain to her.
“Oh, baby,” Lydia commiserated in sudden understanding. He wasn’t good at talking, she’d figured that out a long time ago. But still waters ran deep. She pressed one palm to his cheek. “Surely you weren’t upset by me?”
Jimmy leaned into her touch even as he shrugged in answer to her question.
“Darlin’,” she said, affecting his own accent, “you may’ve been the ‘cause of my…. mood… the last few days. But that ain’t a bad thin’.”
Leaning forward she began to feather kisses down the side of his cheek and over to his ear. Pausing there, she whispered, “Besides, this mood won’t last more’n, oh… ‘bout eight more months.”
She didn’t wait for his response, simply resumed kissing her way down the side of his neck, gently letting her breath blow across the moist trail she was leaving behind, making shivers course down his back. Enjoying her attentions, it took him a minute to figure out what she’d said.
Jerking his head back to look into her eyes, he gasped out a strangled, “What?!”
She looked down into his shocked orbs and simply nodded her yes. Leaning forward again, she whispered to him, “Why don’t you take me upstairs and we can…. discuss baby names.”
“Ye… yes, ma’am,” he stuttered, standing up in one jerky motion and slipping an arm under her legs to pick her up.
Taking advantage of the distraction Jimmy and Lydia were creating, Lou giggled in Kid’s ear, “Let’s get out of here.”
Grabbing his hand in hers, she began dragging him toward the back door of the kitchen. At his suddenly indrawn breath, she glanced back and realized what she’d done. She shifted her hand up to his elbow and finished pulling him out the door, where he turned and pushed her up against the back wall of the house to finish the kiss she’d interrupted. She laughed throatily against his lips, enjoying his eagerness for her.
Within seconds the only ones left in the kitchen were Buck and Teresa.
Teresa looked at the tall, handsome young man and smiled. “Looks like we’re on our own again.”
“What say we go pick up the children from school,” she suggested, “seein’ as how their parents seem ta be a bit… preoccupied… at the moment and have ourselves a picnic supper down by the swimmin’ hole?”
“Sounds good to me,” Buck smiled, his teeth flashing white. He held out an arm and Teresa tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow and they walked out of the kitchen arm in arm. Leaving behind only a bloodied knife, a few rags and a bowl of used whiskey next to a half empty bottle on the kitchen table. “And remind me never to get a splinter or blister around those two, would ya?”