Summary: Ben Cartwright has twice loved and lost. Will the third time be the charm?
Word Count: 1071
All she had to do was walk into the room. That alone was enough to make his heart beat a little faster, even when he willed it not to.
Her beauty would take any man’s breath away, but Ben Cartwright was not just any man, and it was fair to say she took him by surprise. It was obvious from the beginning they had little in common. Their age difference notwithstanding, he was as much a stranger in her world as she would be in his. She had been merely cordial toward him at first, then aloof and dismissive, and he would have gladly concluded his business and bid her adieu and gone back to his sons, but fate had other plans. Fate and his stubborn heart overruled, with a little help from a lusty New Orleans moon.
Spellbound, he watched her take down her hair, unwinding the golden strands between her delicate fingers and letting them fall to her shoulders until he could wait no longer. He pulled her into his arms and was rewarded with the smile he feared he might never be able to resist. “Do you know how lovely you are?”
The touch of her hand on his face was like the softest day in spring, and there was invitation in her eyes as she answered with a question of her own. “Do you know how much I love you?”
He drank deeply of her warm and tender kiss, and the more he tasted, the more he wanted. It was this way from the very first time their lips met, but tonight that desire would be fulfilled. With a care that seemed painfully slow at times, he removed the restraints that separated them, until she came to him completely, and the whisper of his name on her lips was all he remembered before drowning.
Afterwards, he lay contemplating the possibility he had died and gone to heaven, but no. Instead, heaven had come to him. The angel next to him curled into his side, and he kissed her gently. “Good night, Mrs. Cartwright.”
She sighed. “Good night, Mr. Cartwright.”
Sleep claimed her as he looked on, unwilling to take his eyes from the treasure he had found without seeking, marveling that a care-worn heart could beat anew, so light and yet so full at the same time.
“I love you, Marie.”
She smoothed her hair and her dress as she examined herself in the mirror and would have to admit she was not displeased with what she saw. The few extra pounds she had put on since her wedding weren’t enough for anyone else to notice, she decided. Life on a ranch wasn’t quite what she had expected, and even with Hop Sing’s help, it wasn’t easy, but there was a satisfaction at the end of each day that she had never known in New Orleans. Hard work and the Ponderosa air seemed to agree with her, but they weren’t the only reason for the bloom in her cheeks and the smile on her face.
Her husband joined her in reflection, his hands on her shoulders, his expression one she had come to know well. She chided him with an arch of her brow and a murmur. “We don’t have time for this, you know.” Her words were a mockery even to her own ears, for she had no intention of stopping him.
She almost lost her breath at his touch, so gentle and insistent at the same time. His lips trailed a line from behind her ear, down her neck to her shoulder, weakening her knees, and with one long slow kiss she was lost in him, far from the rest of the world, where she would have been content to stay forever.
They shared another kiss later, a tender pledge between lovers truly in love. He smiled down at her. “Whatever this power you have over me, I hope you’ll always use it for good and not evil.”
“I was thinking the same thing about you.” She traced the lips that had just brought her to pleasure and smiled, thinking how complete her life seemed at that moment and remembering the new life beginning inside her. She had been saving her secret for later, but she couldn’t imagine a more perfect time. “Ben, I have something to tell you.”
The joy in his face was a look she knew she would remember always, and she felt so blessed to be the one to put it there. And with another kiss that rekindled their hunger for one another, dinner was all but forgotten….
He paused on the landing to soak in the sight of his sons below. Though it was well past daybreak, they were still in their night clothes and apparently asleep. Adam was slumped against the arm of the sofa with a book in his lap and Hoss’s head resting on his shoulder. Ben smiled. These were moments only a parent could appreciate, and they seemed to be getting fewer and farther between. All too soon they would be gone.
Adam was already twelve and well on his way to becoming a young man, and six year old Hoss could hardly be called a “little” boy. Brothers by half, by two mothers, they stood in stark contrast to one another. The elder was lean and wiry; a pensive lad with dark features and a crown of black curls that lately seemed to have become almost an embarrassment to him. The younger was a sturdy freckle-faced tow-head with eyes like the summer sky and a smile just as wide. From the outside, one would have to look long and hard to find two more different siblings.
But what most people couldn’t see was that the same Cartwright blood ran deep in both their veins, and they often stood as one. The desperate circumstances of their beginning had forged a bond that the leanest of times only served to strengthen, a relationship that flourished through good years and bad. Each had come to rely on the other; they defended, comforted, admired and trusted one another. In essence, they were best friends who happened to also be brothers.
But they were no longer two.
His heart full, Ben smiled again, this time at the bundle in his arms. Joseph Francis Cartwright had just made them three.