“I was using averages, but calculus would give you the exact area.” She elbowed him in the chest. Heaven only knew whether it was intentional with the way they lay squished beside each other. “Calculus is the study of curves, after all. But to determine the area of my belly, we could probably just take the equation for an ellipse and divide it by...”
He pressed his mouth to hers before she started spouting off a jumble of letters and numbers and symbols that would make about as much sense as starting a brush fire during a rainstorm. He meant to keep the kiss quick, a little silencing of her mouth. But her lips were too warm and her body too soft. He inched closer, using the hand not trapped between them to cup her cheek and slide down her neck...
He jolted upright at the sound of his sister’s call, scrambled off the bed and headed to the open door. Sam and Pa each sat on a horse and watched the cabin.
“I wondered if you’d bring Elizabeth here...for your picnic.” Pa’s eyes twinkled.
Confound it. The man knew exactly what he’d been about in the cabin. At least Sam seemed ignorant.
“Pa and I were out riding and thought we’d stop by.” Sam edged her horse closer. “Do you need us to carry anything back?”
Luke glanced at the spread blanket and empty plates beside the cabin. “Sure. It’d save me the hassle of taking things myself.” He stepped down and headed toward the blanket. “You look like you’re enjoying that ride on Dumplin’ a little too much, Sam.”
She patted her horse’s neck. “I hadn’t realized how much I missed it.”
Indeed, she loved this place as much as he did—she’d just forgotten it for a while. She still planned to make it to college in another year or so, and he’d no doubt she would. But for now, she contented herself helping Pa around the ranch and filling the spot Ma had vacated when she’d passed last January.
Pa wasn’t exactly happy about Luke’s living out East, but the older man was coping. Of course, signing the deed to the ranch over to Pa hadn’t hurt his convincing.
Reaching the blanket, Luke tossed the leftover food into the picnic basket and hefted it up to Pa, then threw the blanket across Sam’s lap and gave Dumplin’ a pat on the rump. “Now the two of you get on out of here and let me go back to courtin’ my wife.”
Sam turned Dumplin’ around. “Courtin’? You’re supposed to get all of that in before you marry.”
Pa chuckled, low and soft. “The things you’ve yet to learn about life, girl.”
“You sound like Elizabeth.” Sam scowled and kicked her horse into a trot.
“Well now, Elizabeth’s a pretty smart woman,” Pa called, sending Luke a wink as he trotted away. “I’d listen to her.”
The twosome were mere specks in a sea of prairie grass before Luke headed back toward the cabin. Though they’d likely as not decide to turn around, come back and ask him another question.
Annoying family. What was so good about having them all together anyway? He’d hardly gotten a second alone with his wife in the two weeks they’d been staying at the ranch. Almost made a man want to move into his brother’s deserted cabin.
Luke stepped back inside the ramshackle building and paused. Elizabeth lay where he’d left her, curled on her side. Dusty sunlight filtered in from the window above, hitting her hands, belly and knees while casting the rest of her sleeping form into shadows. He moved closer and stroked a strand of hair back from her face. She slept so peacefully, as though she belonged on the lumpy straw rather than their soft feather bed.
And in a way, maybe she did. Not because the dusty cabin suited her or because she deserved the discomfort and aches she’d surely wake with, but because she filled the spot inside him that had lain empty for so long. He had his old family back, a sister-in-law and nephew who wrote him every week, and a new family starting. He had employees who depended on him and commitments to charities. He had God’s forgiveness and a fresh hope brimming inside him. Indeed, for the first time since his brother’s death, he was full enough to burst.
And being full felt good.
* * * * *