*** Logan and Rachel are married, though the honeymoon is marred with tragedy...
≈ 6 ≈
~ Mr. & Mrs. Burke ~
Upon arriving at the Dangling W, Jim headed to the bunkhouse to Logan, and Sandra went to the house. As Rachel answered the door to let her friend into the house, Arnie walked gingerly into the foyer. She turned to him, "Daddy, you look very dapper."
"Little girl," Arnie said in awe, "you take my breath away. Logan won't know what hit him when he sets his eyes on you."
"Do you really think so?"
"Know so, because you're the very image of your mother." Arnie's voice hitched, and he blinked. "Maddie . . . would be right happy and proud to see her little one so happy again. It becomes you."
Rachel went to her father and hugged him. "Thank you, Daddy. I feel her all around me today."
"Is that why I've been primping like a woman then," he guffawed, "and acting all grown-up and proper, trying to impress her and my daughter?"
"Mr. Arnie," Sandra Evers said laughing, "you'll never be grown up or be proper, you mischievous reprobate."
"Sandra Evers, you and my daughter will never get so old that I can't turn you over my knee and get your attention with a willow-switch."
She giggled. "You mean the willow-switch that had daisies tied with a yellow ribbon for me, and daisies tied with a green ribbon for Rachel?"
"Yes, Daddy," chuckled Rachel, "it's the very willow-switch that I have safely tucked away in my cedar chest."
"Here I am, practically on my death bed, and you two youngin's are ganging up on this old man." He gave Sandra a welcoming hug, but when he stood back, he found himself swaying.
"Mr. Arnie!" Sandra called.
While the woman helped him gain his balance, Arnie growled, "Horse-whipped!"
Rachel reprimanded, "Just where is that cane Logan gave you so you could get around easier today instead of sitting in a chair?"
"I'm not going to walk around like some cripple in my own house, by darn-it! Now if you two worry-warts will stop accosting this old man, I'll set about giving Rosella last minute orders."
"I do not need your two-cent worth of 'hooey', Mr. Arnie," Rosella added to the mix while coming into the room from the kitchen. "The food is ready, and the house is spic-and-span. You're as cleaned up as an ornery old coot like you can be, and here is this nice cane Logan gave you." Rosella shoved it into his hands. "Now use it and behave!"
With his daughter's hand on his arm, Arnie proudly walked her over to Logan standing in front of the stone fireplace in the library. On each end of the oak mantel were a vase of daisies and red roses, as was the small bouquet Rachel carried. Arnie placed his daughter's hand in Logan's. "Next to marrying my Maddie, this is the happiest day of my life, son."
"I'll take good care of her, old man." Their eyes locked, showing love and pride for one to the other as the men shook hands.
Logan squeezed Rachel's hand in his, "You're absolutely beautiful, honey."
"I wanted to look special today." She smiled, "Oh, Logan, I'm so happy."
He caressed the side of her face and smiled, "You make me happy too, honey, so we're even."
The preacher cleared his throat. "Shall we begin?"
"Let's get this party going because we got us some celebrating to do," said Arnie.
Warm laughter filled the room.
Logan turned to the reverend and smiled, "You heard the old man, let's get us married."
Reverend Tommels prayed, and then smiled and said, "I understand you have your own vows, so Rachel, take Logan's hand in yours and feel free, my dear."
Her face radiant with joy, she said, "Logan, we have traveled many a different road to get here, but now that we are, my heart is full of love and expectation, sweetheart. You made me feel love again when I didn't think it possible. You complete me. I promise to love you always, and hold you only unto me."
"Logan, please take Rachel's hand in yours."
"Honey, if you gave me a wagon load of pennies, I could still never tell you how much you mean to me. How much I love. Everything I am and want to be revolves around you. I look forward to our loving and our children, and growing old with you. When I look into your eyes, I see all my tomorrows, brighter, richer. I promise always to remain by your side, steadfast, loyal."
Reverend Tommels handed Rachel's ring to Logan. "You may seal your love with this token."
Logan slipped the simple gold band on her finger. "You're mine, honey, and I'm not letting you go."
"I now pronounce you, Mr. and Mrs. Logan Burke. Logan, you may kiss your bride."
While Rachel conversed with the ladies, Logan saw a chance to talk with Tater and took it where they stood under the willow tree east of the ranch house, "What have you got for me?"
"Max, he keeps sayin' how hard we have to work for so little pay, 'cause that old skinflint Wesley wants us for workhorses. I think he got to Rick and Jake, 'cause they been a actin' strange."
"Is there anything else?"
"Max says he wants to take me to meet up with a friend a his. But so far he ain't give me no name."
"I hope I'm not breaking anything up," said James walking up to the two men.
"No sir, Mr. Evers," said a grinning Tater. "I just had to give the boss a hard time about hitchin' up with the Mrs."
Rachel searched out her husband and found him at their usual meeting spot at the corral puffing on his pipe. "A penny for your thoughts, Mr. Burke," she said.
Logan smiled, turned and slowly removed the pipe from his mouth, and then reached his hand out to his wife. "Mrs. Burke, I'd give you a wagon load of pennies and the whole world if it made you happy."
Rachel took her husband's offered hand. "Mrs. Burke needs nothing more than the mere touch of her husband's hands on her body, his smile to warm her heart, and his love for a lifetime to make her happy and complete."
Logan emptied his pipe, kicked dirt on the ashes, and shoved the pipe into his back pocket. "Come here," he said and took his wife into his arms. "You've got that in spades, honey. I have my whole world right here in my arms, Mrs. Burke." Then he kissed her for the first time since the ceremony two hours earlier. "You feel so good in my arms, Rachel. Tell me I'm not dreaming."
Rachel placed the palm of her hand over his lower back and moved them boldly downward. "No more dreams, sweetheart," and then they kissed again. When Rachel leaned back, she looked directly at Logan. "Why did you come up missing?"
"After practically beating Arnie with the cane he hated, but now thinks is a right spiffy ornamentation to his person, I got him to rest. I saw you with Sandra, Libby, and Rosella, so I thought it a good time to find Tater. I sounded him out about Max before James found us. When Tater started bending his ear, I thought it was the perfect time to come to our place." He touched his finger to her nose. "Then I prayed like hell my wife would want me badly enough to come looking for her husband."
"Didja now?" she teased, a warm smile over her face. "I'll have you know my dear husband; the whole time Sandra and I were catching up, I had visions of you, me, the gazebo, and a starry night full of loving."
Logan ran the back of his index finger over Rachel's cheek. "Loving you is what I do best. You complete me in a way that I never thought possible, Rachel. For so many years, I was lost, lonesome, and now I'm afraid to close my eyes for fear you'll vanish." He sucked in a breath of air and pressed his forehead to hers, "I've craved a family of my own for so long."
Rachel held Logan's face between her hands. "From the moment I began having urges to be held, touched, loved again. It was your ebony eyes looking into mine, Logan. Your work-roughened hands felt like silk on my skin when I closed my eyes and pictured us together.. Mr. Burke, Mrs. Burke loves you very much, and even though it is barely dark, she craves what only your hands can do to love her."
Logan surprised Rachel by picking her up in his arms and twirled her around. "Anything I can do to make Mrs. Burke happy, I'm your man." He hesitated, "Wait, what about our guests?"
"James saw you come out here while Tater had him cornered, and as soon as he could break away, he gathered Sandra and his folks to go home. He said a little birdie told him my husband needed his wife. The hands have all gone to town to finish celebrating. After Daddy rested, he and Rosella decided to play Checkers. She'll serve him supper soon enough, and then they both are going to retire for the night. The rest of the guests are leaving as we speak, sweetheart."
"I would appear that we can begin our life together in the gazebo. Perhaps work our way to my bedroom," he cleared his throat and corrected, "our bedroom, virtually unnoticed, officially getting this honeymoon on its way." He smiled as he snuggled her neck.
"Indeed, Mr. Burke." Then it dawned on Rachel. "Hey, you mentioned something about Tater and Max?"
"Yes, I did mention Tater, but no, we are not talking about him right now. However, if you're a real good little girl, Daddy will indulge you in talk later - much - much later."
A man waiting in the shadows just outside the mudroom off the kitchen jimmied the lock with little to no noise and entered the house easy enough. He recalled Max's recollection of the layout of the house from the few times he had been inside to know where the housekeeper slept. Nonetheless, even with the moonlight shining in through the windows, he wasn't crazy about searching through the house. After a moment's hesitation, he got lucky and recognized the housekeeper from Max's description enter the kitchen.
At midnight, Rosella awoke from a restless sleep. She put it down to the preparations and excitement of the day. She decided a cup of warm milk would do the trick. Rosella lit a candle and first checked to see if Mr. Arnie was comfortable and was pleased to find him fast asleep. She went downstairs then to fix her warm milk. She hummed as she placed the candle in a holder on the table. She pulled the pitcher of milk out of the icebox, and while pouring milk into a pan, a smile warmed her face thinking back to the beautiful couple who took their vows so eagerly. She walked over to the icebox, opened the door to put the pitcher away and heard the shuffling of feet. She turned her head in the direction of the noise and saw a shadow coming toward her. Rosella let out a blood-curdling scream, which filled the quiet night air as a sudden pain sliced through her head as everything faded to black. The pitcher of milk shattered on the floor, splashing milk all over as Rosella fell to the floor in a heap.