Wildest Dreams - By Rosanne Bittner Page 0,1

misfired his gun apologized again, this time to a woman standing near Luke. "Thank God your boy wasn't hurt," he told her.

"It was partly my fault," the woman answered. "Nathan has just found his legs, and he is always running. He thinks it's a game. I think I shall have to put a rope on him and tie it to my own waist."

"Might be a good idea, ma'am." The man left to collect his horses, and Luke looked up at the woman who held the towheaded youngster he had just rescued. The boy still clung to his stuffed animal, which Luke could see was a homemade brown horse. Part of a feather from the stuffing stuck out of one of the seams. The child was still grinning, oblivious to the danger he'd been in. His mother chided him for running away from her.

"I don't know how to thank you, sir," she told Luke then. "Nathan could have been killed if not for your quick thinking. I do hope you're not badly hurt."

For the first time Luke truly noticed her and was surprised at how pretty she was. That thought had barely registered before it was eclipsed by the pain in his leg and his irritation at how the whole morning had gone for him.

"I don't think so," he answered, "but you ought to keep a better eye on the boy there. On a trip like we'll be taking, you'll have to hold a tighter rein on him, or you'll be running into this kind of problem every day." Luke watched her stiffen at the words, and the concern in her pretty eyes gave way to consternation.

"It isn't easy to watch an active two-year-old every second, Mr.—"

"Fontaine. Luke Fontaine."

"Hossy." The little boy held out his stuffed horse to Luke.

"That's his word for horse," the woman told Luke. "As you can see, there isn't a bashful or fearful bone in Nathan's body."

Luke could see the deep hurt and anger in her eyes, figured she was holding her temper in check for the boy's sake. He ignored the child's gesture, at the moment more interested in how a woman with such deep red hair and luscious green eyes could have given birth to a blond-headed, blue-eyed child like the one she was holding, but then that wasn't his business. Her husband must be the one with the blond hair. Luke wondered where he was. "You might try tying a rope around the kid like you mentioned earlier." He rubbed at his leg a moment longer, then stood up.

"Well, thank you for the sage advice," she told him coolly.

Luke studied her full lips, the porcelain look to her skin, her slender waist. He could not help noticing how nicely she filled out the bodice of her flowered cotton dress, a dress, he took note, that was suited to the journey ahead, but still had a more elegant look than what the other women were wearing. Her hair was nicely done up, in such a pile of curls that he was sure it must hang to her waist when she let it down. "I'm sorry," he told her. "I haven't had the best morning."

The woman sighed. "No, neither have I." She struggled to hang on to her son, who was wiggling to get down again.

"Here, let me hold him for a minute," Luke said. "I'll walk you back to your own camp."

"That won't be necessary," she started to protest, but the husky boy was obviously more than she could handle when he had the desire to climb out of her arms. "Oh, dear," she said, reluctantly handing him over.

Luke gathered the child into his arms, surprised at how easily he came to him when he had never met him before. "Well, Nathan, you've got to quit giving your mother such troubles."

"Hossy," Nathan said again, touching the horse's nose to Luke's. The gesture broke the strain between Luke and the boy's mother, and they both smiled.

"I am Lettie MacBride Dougan," she told Luke then.

Luke nodded, secretly touched when little Nathan put his head down on his shoulder. Over the last year he had given a lot of thought to what it might be like to have a son of his own. He'd certainly give him more love than he had ever known from his own father. "Glad to meet you, Mrs. Dougan."

She looked past him then at his mules. "You... you're traveling alone?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Well, then, I insist, Mr. Fontaine, that you let me and my family