Taking a deep breath, Theo glanced around the office.
“Three years,” he murmured in disbelief. “Can’t believe how much time has passed. It’s about time.”
A slight grin made its way to his face as he carefully unpinned the star from his chest. He gave it one final glance before setting it on the desk. The deputy, Ryan Earnest, would come to work in the morning and have his new job as sheriff, set and waiting for him.
As for Theo, he couldn’t be happier to be done.
He whistled on his way out of the office to reach his horse. The animal had been with him ever since he first headed out West. They had bonded over the battles they’d faced and the peace they’d enjoyed. He patted the creature gently on the nose before mounting.
Taking the job as sheriff was only meant to be temporary. He’d been the deputy since he didn’t want the full responsibility of the job. However, Sheriff Amerson only lasted half a year before deciding to leave. They’d left Theo in charge, and it had stayed that way until four months ago when he took on young Earnest to start training him to take over.
While Minerston didn’t run into too much trouble, it had been more than enough work for Theo to enjoy for long.
He liked getting to know the town and helping them out where he could. He’d taken on a variety of jobs in the past, but this one had been among the best. No one told him how to do his work. It had been a good opportunity, just not the one he wanted.
“I promise you it’s fine,” Nora told him repeatedly.
She always said that.
It didn’t stop Theo from worrying. They had worked on the ranch for a year while he also had the role of deputy before finally hiring on more help. Five young men from town were more than eager to take on the work.
While it had helped ease the workload, he had also seen Nora dropping into their bed every night from exhaustion. She never complained. But it worried him. They were trying to build a life together, and he wanted it to be a good one. It had taken them time to figure out how they were going to manage everything. Some plans were slowed down and more hands, including a foreman, were hired.
And now, finally, he could focus his time there.
He was retiring from one job to focus on another, one that he cared for more. Working on a ranch was exciting, especially when he did the work with his wife. She liked to be in the middle of everything, whether they were building a shed or moving the cattle. He was tired of hearing her stories when they could have been doing all of this together.
Nudging his horse to move a little faster, they left the streets behind them.
They had renamed it to simply the Green River Ranch. Although aspects of the past lingered, it was a healing journey for them both.
“I never want to leave this place,” Nora told him whenever she was at her happiest. He loved seeing that smile on her face, the wild one that made him fall a little deeper in love every day.
“You won’t,” he would respond. “We can stay here together forever.”
Just the thought of seeing his wife again warmed his heart. Theo knew they had spent the morning together. He had lingered behind to join her on the morning chores, finding excuses to brush his hands against hers and wrap an arm around her waist.
The house finally came into view.
It was a beautiful house that had taken more time than expected, but it had been worth the effort. He grinned every time he looked at it, remembering what it was like teaching Nora what it meant to build. That had been eight months of adventures between the two of them with the occasional help from others in town.
Two floors with plenty of light and wrap-around porches on each level. Nora had painted the shutters blue just a few months ago when spring officially arrived. A small garden was prepared to the side filled with wildflowers and vegetables. It was a peaceful home that relaxed his shoulders and reminded him what a fortunate man he had become.
He was really coming home for the last time now that he was no longer going to be working in town. Although he had wanted to retire for some time, he hadn’t wanted to leave Minerston unprepared.
Still whistling, Theo dismounted once he reached the back porch. It had been recently swept. He was considering taking the horse right over to the barn before stepping inside.
A loud thump came from within the house.
His heart skipped a beat. What was that supposed to be? What had happened to his wife?
“Nora!” he called.
Scrambling to get the horse tied, Theo hurriedly ran up the stairs to barge through the door. His hands balled into fists as he prepared for trouble. There was no one in the back hall, so he raced into the kitchen.
“Nora?” he cried out worriedly.
He heard a small squeak and then caught sight of her only a few yards away in the corner of the kitchen. His wife was seated on a cabinet with a grim smile on her face. Dropping his hands down to his sides, he hurried over.
“What happened?” Theo demanded. “Are you all right?”
She started to shake her head before nodding with a sigh. Her arms wrapped around his neck as he reached her side. “I’m fine, just embarrassed.”
Hearing the annoyance in her tone, Theo coughed to hold back a chuckle. She didn’t particularly take well to certain teasing lately, and he wanted to be sensitive. Unable to completely understand her situation, he just wanted to be of help to her.
“I’m sorry,” he said after a minute.
Her body shuddered as she gave a big sigh. “No, you’re not. You’re trying not to laugh, but I suppose that’s fine. This just means that you have to help me out more than usual. I dropped the pot that I was trying to get down. I had been hoping to have something prepared for an early supper, but I don’t know where the time has gone.”
“I can pick up the pot for you,” he reassured her. “And anything else you might need. That also means you need to stop climbing things.”
She moved away, and he grudgingly let her. She smelled like blackberries and saddle oil. One of her hands crept up from his neck into his hair, so she tousled a strand while giving him a pout.
But he wouldn’t let that break him.
“I mean it.”
“You can’t tell me what to do,” she whined playfully. “What if I need something up high? I spent years climbing trees taller than our house.”
He chuckled this time, unable to help himself. Tugging a strand of hair from her face to tuck it gently behind her ear, he gave her a caring smile. “Yes, I’ve seen you do that. But it’s a little harder when you’re carrying someone. So, until then, I think it’s a fair ask that you relent with the climbing.”
When she huffed, it fluttered his hair. “Fine. But only if you kiss me.”
That wouldn’t be a problem. He moved his hands from around her swollen belly to around her so he was as close as he could be to her. He was still smiling when she kissed his nose and then his lips.
Nora was sweeter than honey. She was soft and firm in all the right places. Every day, he fell more in love with her. They had been together for three years, and he still marveled over the fact that they were together. She challenged him, encouraged him, and loved him. All Theo wanted was to be with her and give her everything she wanted and needed.
Suddenly remembering something, he stepped back to mutter under his breath.
How could he have forgotten? There was a list in his pocket. “You asked for supplies this morning,” Theo recalled with a groan. “I completely forgot.”
The concern in her expression faded with a roll of her eyes. “So? That was not a good enough reason to stop kissing me. Besides, my Pia and uncle brought supplies.”
Following her gesture, Theo looked to the kitchen table. He hadn’t noticed it upon entering since he was so focused on his wife. To his surprise, it was completely crowded with baskets. They all appeared to be filled with food. Dried meat, cornmeal, and more. There was even a set of colorful blankets and other cloth in one corner.
The tension in his shoulders faded. That was more than enough stuff to last them through the winter.
“They’re leaving?” he asked gently.
She sighed, leaning forward to rest her cheek on his shoulder. “Yes. They’ll be going into the Arizona area for the winter. I can’t believe how fast time is moving lately. It seems like they just arrived. They don’t even know if they’ll come this far northwest again.”
Hearing the hint of sadness in her voice, he faced her again to shower her in gentle, loving kisses. “I’m sorry,” he murmured. “No matter where they go, they’re family. We’ll always find a way to see them again. I promise.”
“I know.” She sniffed and paused to wipe a hand across her brow. “I know. I’ll be fine. I have everything I need right here. The ranch, my memories with them, and now you.”
Theo nodded in agreement. “Now me. And I’m not going anywhere.”
Inhaling and then exhaling, Nora was able to put a smile on her face. His heart skipped a beat as she continued playing with his hair. She knew it was his weakness with her. “Thank goodness. Although you know what would be nice? Having this child out. I’m getting impatient.”
He decided to finally help her down. There was something delightful about her being higher on the cabinet like this, but he wanted to make sure that she was safe and didn’t somehow take a tumble.
“Any day now,” he promised. “And then we’ll meet him.”
“Or her,” she said teasingly.
A grin made its way up to his face. “She’s going to be a perfect little terror.”
“Terrifically beautiful. And smart, too.”
He kept his arms around her waist, and she still hung on around his neck as they teased one another about the child that was due that very week. It had been torture for the last month, worrying he would come home to have lost her somehow. But now, they were going to be together and were prepared for the arrival of their first child.
With any luck, they would have a brood of them someday.
Playfully talking about their future had quickly become a favorite pastime for him and Nora, especially because they were able to bring so much of it to life. They had the ranch, they had healed themselves, and one another, and they were growing their family.
Warmth flooded through Theo as he admired his wife. She was fierce and intelligent and generous and kind. He hoped that their children were just like her.
“It’s going to be wonderful,” Nora said with a soft smile. “Don’t you think?”
Theo touched his nose to hers. “I know it,” he assured her softly.
And then he finished his words with a tender kiss. He put a hand on her belly and felt the baby kick. Still smiling, he pressed his lips to his wife’s sweetly.
This was a perfect moment. It brought radiant joy to his soul, knowing that there would be more days like this for them in the nearby future. Everything was going to be perfect for them in the coming days.
As long as they were together, everything would be just right.