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The pounding of hammers floated into the schoolroom. Without looking, Jennifer knew the sounds were coming from the Slipper at the end of town. That was where Jesse was and where her children were. She sighed, that was where she wanted to be too.
It was approaching the end of the school term and Jennifer was looking forward to the end like she hadn’t any before. She missed being with her family during the day. She missed the moments Jesse would surprise her with a handful of freshly picked wildflowers or when her wife would ride into the ranch yard to give her a kiss before galloping back out to whatever chore she had left undone. She missed watching KC and Charley play and hearing their giggles of delight when Jesse joined them.
When she had first arrived in Sweetwater, Jennifer had thought being a schoolteacher would be wonderful. And it was. Seeing the smile on a child’s face after reading aloud for the first time or adding a column of numbers and coming up with the right answer was wonderful. Knowing that with her encouragement, students who had first arrived at the schoolhouse not able to read were now devouring books and sharing their new knowledge with their parents.
Children enjoyed coming to school and they liked Jennifer being their teacher. And she liked them. But they weren’t KC and Charley. And those were the children she wanted to spend her days with.
Jennifer looked up when she heard boots crunching on the gravel walk outside. She smiled, hearing KC calling for her before the toddler appeared in the schoolhouse doorway.
“Ah, here you are, darlin’,” Jesse smiled as soon as she entered the room. KC was tugging at her hand to be set free and Jesse obliged when she saw Jennifer appeared to be alone in the room. “Thought you’d be coming to the Slipper when school ended,” she carried Charley, following KC who was running for her momma.
“Momma,” KC cried excitingly. She ran for Jennifer who was still seated behind her desk. “Momma, I bang nails. It hard,” she told her mother as she pulled herself up into her Jennifer’s lap. “Cha-wie too small. He can’t bang nails, he gets hurt.”
Jennifer looked up in alarm, thinking her daughter was describing an actual event.
“He’s fine, darlin’,” Jesse bent over to kiss her wife before leaning against the edge of the desk. “I told her not to let him because I didn’t want him to get hurt.”
“Oh,” Jennifer smiled in relief. “Come here, little man,” she held her arms open for the baby who was reaching for her.
Jesse handed the baby to Jennifer. “So what’s keepin’ ya so long, darlin’? Young ‘uns were starting to get worried.” The school bell had rung almost two hours earlier marking the end of the school day.
“I had some papers to finish grading and Miles Jr. wanted to get some more books,” Jennifer explained.
“Sorry, Mrs. Branson,” a boy stood up from where he had been sitting on the floor next to the bookshelves that lined one wall of the room. “Guess I got lost in this story and didn’t know so much time had passed.”
“It’s alright, Miles,” Jennifer assured the boy. “I just now finished up with these papers. Did you find some you haven’t read already?”
“No ma’am but I found a couple I haven’t read in awhile.” Miles Jr., the son of Sweetwater’s mayor, had been the first student Jennifer had made a difference with. A shy, withdrawn boy, he had discovered a love of reading in Jennifer’s classroom and had read every book Sweetwater had to offer.
“Well then, maybe you’ll want to stop by the Slipper on your way home, Miles,” Jesse told the boy. “New delivery arrived today. Don’t know why they didn’t just bring them here,” she said to Jennifer. “Billie brought them over with a load of wood and supplies and dropped them on the Slipper’s porch. Think he plump forgot about them,” she thought out loud. “Bet ya could find ones in the box you haven’t read,” she told Miles Jr.
“Thanks, Mrs. Branson,” Miles Jr. replaced the books in his hands back on the shelves where he had found them. “I’ll do that. Thanks a lot,” he hurried for the door, a huge smile on his face. “See you tomorrow, Mrs. Branson,” he called back to Jennifer and then disappeared out the door.
“You know you make his day every time a new box of books arrives,” Jennifer grinned at Jesse.
“Just happy to see someone ‘sides us read the dang things,” Jesse shrugged, always embarrassed when her gift to the town was recognized. She was responsible for the large library of books Sweetwater had and it had happened quite unintentionally. A one night stay by a traveling salesman had led to monthly delivers that she had first kept at the Silver Slipper for overnight guests. With the help of Billie, Ed and the schoolchildren the past summer, book shelves had been added to the schoolhouse and the books had been moved. “Guess it’s a good thing we moved them,” she twisted around, her eyes scanning down the wall of books.
“Yes,” Jennifer, though her arms were full of her babies, managed to reach out and place a hand on her wife’s leg. “Loosing them in the fire would have been disastrous,” Jennifer said, her lessons depending heavily on the wide range of books in the school’s library.
“Well,” Jesse turned back around, placing a hand atop her wife’s. “Fire didn’t reach that part of the dining room but I’m still glad we moved ‘em. They get more use here than they ever did at the Slipper.” Most travelers not being much interested in reading during their stay in town.
“How’s the work going?”
“Pretty good, ‘though it’s gonna take some getting’ used to seeing it shorter than it used to be.”
After the fire, Jesse and Jennifer decided to make some changes at the Slipper. The fire had destroyed the end of the building that had housed a saloon and the boarding rooms above it and they decided not to replace them. They rented the old general store building from Ed and moved the dress shop there, luckily, other than getting a little smoky, the dresses and material had not been damaged in the fire. To the joy of Bette Mae, the wall separating the dress shop and the dining room was taken out and the dining room expanded. With more travelers coming through town on their way to mining camps that kept springing up in the surrounding mountains, the Slipper’s dining room had been doing standing room only business. The kitchen was also expanding giving Bette Mae the additional room she had been asking for. Neither Jesse nor Jennifer felt bad about losing the saloon business which generally caused more trouble than it was worth. There was always the Oxbow in town that could take care of any cowboy or drifter needing a drink.
“We got the rest of the walls raised today and we’ll be ready to start puttin’ on the new roof in the morning. With as dry as it’s been, we won’t have to worry about the weather givin’ us fits.” After a relatively wet winter, the spring had offered little in moisture.
“I would like to see some rain,” Jennifer said.
“Yeah,” Jesse agreed. “If it stays this dry, we’ll be having a rough time finding graze for the cattle. Good thing we’ve got good access to the river,” she added. “’Least we don’t have ta worry about them dying of thirst.”
“Momma,” KC looked up at Jennifer, “we go’s?”
“Do you want to go home, sweetie?” Jennifer smiled at her daughter.
“Yep,” KC’s head bopped up and down. “Cha-wie wants go toos.”
“He does, does he?” Jennifer laughed at KC’s habit of speaking for her brother. “You plan to ever let Charley speak for himself?”
“Nope,” KC hung her brother. “He needs me do it.”
“Not for long, sunshine,” Jesse laughed, plucking the toddler out of Jennifer’s lap. “You too, little man,” she said, lifting the baby. “Let your momma get up so we can go home.” Charley giggled when Jesse placed a sloppy kiss on his cheek, “you gonna have as much trouble gettin’ in a word or two with your sister as I have with your momma.”
“Jesse Marie Branson,” Jennifer scolded, playfully. “That’s a terrible thing to tell him.” She pushed the chair back away from the desk then stood reaching for the peg on the side of her desk where her cane hung. She’d asked Jesse to put the peg there after having to pick her cane off the floor one too many times after it had fallen from where she leaned it against a wall or her desk.
“But it’s true, ain’t it, sunshine?” Jesse smirked.
“Yep,” KC agreed.
“You’re impossible,” Jennifer laughed, tucking her arm around the rancher’s. “Oh, and Jesse…”
“AIN’T,” KC shouted, finishing her mother’s comment. She burst into giggles when long fingers tickled her side.
“Think you’re pretty smart, don’ ya,” Jesse growled at her daughter.
“Yep,” KC agreed. “Cha-wie smart too,” she told her mommy.
“Come on,” Jesse started for the door with her family. “Let’s git ya home and let your grandparents see what little rascals you are.”
“Me go see Grumps,” KC told her mothers. “Tell ‘im ‘bout bangin’ nails.”
“Yeah, that’ll make him real happy,” Jesse nodded, her father having taken a real liking to his grandchildren. She sometimes wondered why he hadn’t shown the same interest in her as a child but realized she’d probably never know and was just glad he had with her children.
“Been thinking we might want to move the cattle up to some of the higher pastures,” Stanley Branson said to Jesse as they walked out of the barn after seeing to the horses for the evening.
“Might early in the year to be doing that,” Jesse swung the big barn door closed. “We might be needing those grasses if we don’t get rain soon.”
“Grass down here is getting’ mighty thin.”
Jesse looked to the sky. What few clouds she saw weren’t the kind to carry much moisture. “Strange spring this has been,” she said more to herself than her father. “Don’t recall ever seeing one this dry.”
“Been a few I can remember,” Stanley commented. “Usually didn’t bode well for the rest of the year.”
“Jesse,” Jennifer was standing on the back porch calling into the darkness. “You coming? Supper’s on the table.”
“We’re coming, darlin’,” Jesse called back. “Come on, Pop. Don’t want them waiting on us, the young ‘uns will be hungry. Let’s give it a few more days before we decide anything.”
“When you leaving for Granite?” Stanley knew of Jesse’s plans to take Jennifer to the mining camp to visit their friend. If they didn’t move the herd before then, he’d not be able to move it on his own.
“Day after school lets out,” Jesse removed her stetson to run fingers through the tangled hair. “Guess maybe we should just let the herd be ‘till we get back. There’s plenty of grass left if we spread them out some more.”
“It’s your call,” Stanley didn’t agree with Jesse but it was her ranch.
“You think they should be moved, don’t you?” Jesse asked as she knocked the dirt and dust off her boots before climbing the porch steps.
“If it were me, I’d move ‘em,” Stanley followed her example.
“Let’s give it a few days,” Jesse muttered.
“Mommy,” KC was standing inside the kitchen looking out the screen door. “Hurrys.”
“We’re coming, sunshine,” Jesse smiled at her daughter.
“Grumps hurrys too?”
“Yes, I’m hurrying too,” Stanley grumbled. “Seems to me that there young ‘un has more to say about what goes on around here than you do.”
“Yep,” Jesse smirked. “Does seem like that.” She knew her father adored KC and was just trying to sound annoyed.
“You plan on doing anything about it?”
“Nope,” Jesse laughed.
Jesse had just slipped under the blankets and wrapped her arms around Jennifer when she heard the sound of small feet padding along the hall outside the bedroom door. She waited knowing what would happen next, it had become a nightly ritual since the fire at the Slipper. The knob on the bedroom door turned and the door was pushed inward. Jesse watched in the moonlight as KC toddled across the room to stand beside the bed.
“What ya doin’ out of bed, sunshine?” Jesse asked her daughter, KC had long ago become adept at climbing out of her crib.
KC didn’t answer. Instead, she used the arm her mommy had dropped off the side of the bed to pull herself up. She spent a few minutes finding a comfortable spot to sit which usually ending up being on top of Jesse like this night.
Jesse waited patiently, Jennifer lying quietly at her side watching and listening.
“Mommy?” KC finally said.
“Yes, sunshine,” Jesse place her arm around the baby.
“What ya afraid of?” Jesse asked, her voice soft.
KC sat, cocking her head off to the side like she did whenever she was thinking hard about something.
“Me scared Cha-wie get hurt,” KC finally answered.
“Ya mean in the fire?”
KC nodded, a sad look on her face. “Me ‘sposed watch him.”
“Sunshine,” Jesse pulled her daughter into a hug. “You were watching out for him.”
“He git scared, mommy,” KC whimpered. “He scared of smoke.”
“Were you scared of the smoke?” Jesse asked, her hand soothingly rubbing the toddler’s back. She could feel KC’s head slowly move up and down in answer to her question. “But you found Charley and kept him safe, didn’t you?”
“Cha-wie cryin’,” KC sniffled.
“I know. But you stayed right there and you let me know where you were so I could find both of you, didn’ ya?”
“I told Cha-wie you come,” KC wiped at the tears on her face. “I told him.”
“That was good, sunshine,” Jesse kissed the top of the toddler’s head. “And I’ll always come find you, I promise.” Jesse felt the tears building in her own eyes and didn’t try to stop them when they overflowed down her cheeks. She could hear the quiet sniffling of her wife next to her. “I promise, KC,” she told her daughter, holding her tight. “I’ll always find you.”
“I know, mommy,” KC used her mother’s chest to push herself up on her arms. She leaned down, kissing Jesse, “I wuv you.”
“I love you, too, sunshine,” Jesse smiled as her neck was wrapped in her daughter’s arms. After a few minutes, she asked KC, “you ready to go to bed now?”
“Yep,” KC yawned, her fears assuaged for one more night.
“Kiss momma goodnight.”
KC shifted so she could kiss and hug Jennifer.
“Okay,” Jesse said as she slipped out from under the blankets. “Let’s go.”
KC stood, ran to the edge of the bed and stopped abruptly remembering she wasn’t supposed to leap into the air when Jennifer was watching. “Sa-wie,” she whispered loudly to Jesse.
Jesse lifted her daughter off the bed, catching the movement of Jennifer’s body under the blankets that gave away her silent laughter. “Come on, rascal. Let’s get you to bed so I can come back and show your momma how much I love her.”
“Ugh, mommy,” KC grumbled, her face scrounged up in annoyance. “You ‘n momma kiss too much.”
“Ah, sunshine,” Jesse told her daughter as she carried her out of the room. “There’s no such thing as kissing your momma too much.”
When Jesse walked back into the bedroom after making sure the children were settled, she found Jennifer waiting for her.
“Hurry up and get into bed,” Jennifer ordered. “I can see from here you’re cold.”
Jesse smirked, the women having foregone wearing any nightshirts from almost the first night they’d made love. “You can, can you?” she snickered as she slipped under the blankets.
“Yes,” Jennifer said, turning onto her side and cupping a warm hand around a chilled breast. “And now I have the proof of it,” she flicked her thumb over the hard nipple.
“Well now, darlin’,” Jesse drawled. “You keep that up and I won’t be cold for long.”
“Com’ere,” Jennifer’s hand moved to the rancher’s back as she pulled her close. She kissed Jesse, her lips tenderly pressing against her wife’s. After several heartbeats, she broke the kiss, pulling back just enough so she could see into Jesse’s eyes. “Do you know why I love you?”
“Let me finish,” Jennifer kissed Jesse again to quiet her. “When I see you talk to KC like you just did, my heart melts,” she said, her voice thick with the emotions she was feeling. “I don’t know what I ever did to have you come into my life but every day I’m more thankful than the day before that you’re here. I don’t know what I’d ever do if I lost you, Jesse. I think I’d just curl up and die.”
“I love you, too, darlin’,” Jesse smiled through her tears. She felt the same way about Jennifer. “And to prove it,” she rolled Jennifer onto her back, flipping the blankets off their naked bodies as she did. She lowered her lips to her wife’s. Her hands kneading and squeezing Jennifer’s breasts until the erect nipples pressed against her palms. Starting slowly, she kissed around her wife’s mouth, her tongue flicking out to taste where she kissed. After exploring and tasting every curve, ridge and dip of the lips, she slipped her tongue inside, beginning her exploration all over again.
Jennifer’s breathing was coming in gasps as her body reacted to her wife’s loving attention. Her hands buried themselves in the rancher’s hair, pulling her even closer and mashing their mouths together. She sucked on Jesse’s warm tongue before forcing it back in its own mouth and joining it.
Jesse slid a hand down Jennifer’s body to her patch of silky hair, sliding her fingers through the slickness it found there.
Jennifer spread her legs, her hips rolling up encouraging Jesse to enter her. “Please, Jesse,” she moaned when a hard nipple was pinched between thumb and finger.
Jesse continued to slide her fingers over her wife’s nether lips, pausing only to circle the aroused clit on each pass. She adjusted her position so she could suck a breast into her mouth, the soft flesh tasting salty on her tongue. She began to tease Jennifer, pressing her fingers into her then withdrawing.
Her hands still entwined with Jesse’s hair, Jennifer pulled her wife’s mouth against her breast. Digging her heels into the mattress, she forced her hips off the bed trying to draw fingers deeper inside her.
Jesse felt the increased flow of warm juices over her fingers as Jennifer cries of need urged her on. She pulled her fingers free then held them for a moment before plunging them deep inside Jennifer.
Jennifer felt the fingers fill her at the same instant a thumb was pressed hard against her clit and teeth gently bit her nipple. Her head flew back and her back arched as the first wave of orgasm crashed through her body. Her hips rocked, matching the rhythm of Jesse’s fingers. She clung to Jesse’s head, craving the feel of her lips and tongue on her breast and nipple. A second wave engulfed her.
Jesse’s fingers plunged in, pulled out and plunged in again. With each repetition, the movement became more frantic as she felt Jennifer respond to her. She could feel her own body responding in kind and she pressed her sex down on Jennifer’s thigh, rubbing herself up and down the firm leg.
Jennifer felt a third wave building. Feeling Jesse’s riding her leg, she knew it would not be long until her body could hold out no longer. “Now, Jesse,” she screamed.
Jesse plunged inside one last time; driving her fingers as deep as possible before curling them up to press against the spot that always gave her wife the greatest pleasure. As she felt Jennifer’s release begin, she reached for the schoolteacher’s leg pulling it up hard against her own clit at the same time she pressed herself against the leg.
Jennifer had no choice, her body jerking violently as the bent up pleasure exploded within her.
Jesse felt her wife’s release, the body convulsing beneath her, and her own release followed immediately after. She pressed her legs together trapping the thigh between them to keep it pressed against her clit. Her fingers were similarly trapped inside Jennifer.
It was several minutes before either woman could find the breath to speak. Jesse had collapsed on top of Jennifer who had wrapped her in a death grip as their orgasms consumed them. Slowly, Jennifer released her hold on her wife and Jesse slid off of her to lie at her side.
Jesse gently turned Jennifer onto her side, spooning in tight behind her. Reaching back, she grabbed hold of the blankets pulling them back over their sweaty bodies. “I’ll never leave you, darlin’,” she whispered into her wife’s ear. “I love you too much.”
Jennifer entwined her finders with Jesse’s, pulling the hand to her heart that continued to beat rapidly. “I love you, Jesse Branson.”
“I love you, Jennifer Branson,” the rancher whispered as sleep claimed them.
Continued in Chapter Six
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