Victoria was thankful the Ladies Auxiliary had already left before Audra, wearing a form-fitting blouse over her riding pants which were tucked into her short boots, yelled as she ran into the mansion. “Mother!”
“Audra, please,” Victoria graciously appeared, from the hallway under the second-floor landing, reaching out to greet her daughter. “A lady does not yell or carry on in such a manner.”
“But Mother, they’re home!” Audra pointed to the still open front door. “They’re coming!”
“Who… Jarrod and Nick?”
“And Heath. Oh Mother, it has to be Heath riding with them.”
Together, mother and daughter stepped to the porch, to await their returning family members.
As if they hadn't a care in the world, the three riders slowly made their way to the front yard, laughing at something one of them had said.
Barely allowing for her brothers to dismount, Audra ran up to Heath, “They brought you back! Oh Heath.” She wrapped her arms around him.
Responding to her hug by rubbing her back, “No need to cry.”
“I thought you’d left.”
Understanding just how much this family had taken him into their hearts, he whispered, “I was planning ta come back. I wouldn’t a left without saying goodbye.”
Expressive blue eyes looked up, “Truly?”
Nodding, “Why don’t you dry your eyes. I think we all need to sit down and talk, after dinner.”
“Is that Chicken Creole I’m smelling?” Nick walked past the gathering, ignoring the roll of Victoria’s eyes.
“Always thinking of his stomach,” Jarrod jested as Heath pulled his saddlebags from behind his saddle.
“Just making sure I get to the tub first!” With that, Nick ran up the stairs.
Reaching out, she took Heath’s hands in hers. “Heath, welcome home.”
Pulling her close and wrapping an arm around his step-mother, “There’s no place I’d rather be.”
Stepping back, Victoria asked of her newest son, “Is everything okay?”
“It will be Mother.” Jarrod initiated a welcome-home hug to his mother. “We have some decisions to help Heath make.”
“Oh?” Victoria queried, looking to Heath who was handing the reins of his horse to Ciego and whispered something to the old vaquero.
Turning to face Victoria, “Yes Ma’am. It’s about my…. Aunt Martha.” Seeing the petite woman stiffen at the mention of his aunt’s name, “Ya don’t have ta worry about her. She’s in custody of the marshal over in Grayson.”
“That’s what we have to talk about.” Leading his family inside, “But I think it best that we wait until we’ve all had a chance to clean up, eat dinner, and then gather in the parlor where this can be discussed fully.”
With the front door closed, Victoria watched as two of her sons made their way up the staircase. “Heath… Are you limping?”
“Damn,” breathily escaped his lips, he lowered his head.
A hand to the blonde’s shoulder, “You are on your own,” Jarrod quietly answered before continuing to the top landing.
Turning, he was unable to look her in the eyes, “Just a little saddle weary.”
“I can always tell when one of my sons is not being truthful.” Standing with her hands resting on top of the newel post, she looked to where Heath had stopped, half way up. “Do I need to retrieve my bottle of liniment?”
Responding quicker than he mean to, “No, Ma’am!” Realizing his folly, he continued a little less hurried, “The doctor sent along some antiseptic for me to use.” He patted the saddlebag slung over his shoulder.
Wishing her newest son would feel comfortable using the term of familial used by her other children, she felt that taking him to task at this moment would be wrong, as would pressing him to allow her treat his injury. “I take it your brothers know about whatever it is?”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Looking at her, his eyes brightened just the slightest.
Thinking he looked like a little boy hoping to get away from some kind of a punishment, she decided to allow him. “Go on, upstairs with you. Let Nick and Jarrod tend to your injury. This time.” Victoria smiled at the wide grin that appeared on Heath’s face before he turned to finish making his way upstairs. Victoria exited the foyer to go help Silas with the final arrangements for dinner.
Link to Chapter 10