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Fairytale Colors: Gold

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Gold: Chapter One

Lady Eleanor Bradford grew more worried by the moment as the snow howled outside the thin walls of the stagecoach taking her and her maid from Wyoming back to the more civilized half of the world. She rapped impatiently on the little sliding door above her head when the coach bounced yet again.

"That driver has better things to do than answer you," said the only man among the four passengers. He was seated beside his elderly mother, who had fallen asleep amidst her wrappings of fur and diamonds, quite oblivious to everything around her.

"Perhaps you should try, sir?" she suggested. "I fear my own pounding could not possibly rival that of the stronger sex." The man stood up and pounded the door harder, and the coach bumped and lurched all the more. He had to hold onto the walls to keep from falling.

"Something isn't right, here," he said, and he yanked open the little door himself and stuck out his head. Eleanor moved out of the way as he half climbed out for a better view. "Damn!" he shouted as he practically fell inside again. "The driver froze to death, and we're headed straight for a cliff. You'd better brace yourselves."

Everyone hit the floor, and not long afterward the coach flew over the edge of the cliff and hit hard at the bottom. Eleanor found herself sandwiched between her maid and the man as the coach turned over and over and finally came to a stop. When she was certain it was over, she struggled to free herself from the awkward position.

She suddenly realized she was the only one moving and saw that the man above her stared back with lifeless eyes. She screamed and looked at her dead maid as well. With a sudden rush of strength brought on by fear, she shoved the man along with his mother aside and wormed her way free.

She managed to shove open the door of the stagecoach after a lot of effort. The blizzard, which had only been noise before, suddenly hit her body like thousands of sharp blades, and she shivered violently and ducked back inside.

"I'm sorry to do it, but I don't think you're going to need these furs any longer," she told the old woman as she pulled them free of her head and shoulders and wrapped them around herself. When she popped her head out again, everywhere she looked she saw only whiteness, but she knew that she could not stay here with the bodies. Her only hope would be to find shelter from the storm.

As she yanked herself out of the mangled coach she thought she could see the shapes of trees and decided to investigate. The trees might block some of the raging wind, if nothing else, and if she was lucky she might even find somewhere to wait out the storm.

Gold: Chapter Two

Eleanor walked and walked as the blizzard raged. She could no longer feel her legs, yet she knew that if she stopped moving she was sure to end up like the others—dead and gone. She kept running into the trees and tangling her feet in the hidden brush, yet still she kept moving, determined to live on.

When at last she could move no more, her body collapsed into the deep snowdrifts and her hand fell forward, somewhere above her head. It hit something hard, and it did not feel like a tree. Curious, she surged forward and felt the object with both her hands. It was a wall, and it was attached to a building.

She traced her way to a door and fell inside the structure, not even able to move enough to close the door behind her. After she laid there for a while, she managed to crawl over to the hearth, where a warm fire still burned.

"Hello?" she croaked, barely able to speak. "Is there anyone here?"

Nobody answered.

Beside the fire sat a small table with a bowl of porridge still steaming, and a pot next to it with even more. Whoever lived here, they could not have gone far with the food so fresh and the fire so hot.

"There's enough food here, they should not mind if I eat some," she told herself as she dragged out the little stool and tried to sit on it. It fell over, and she was so tired she simply reached up to grab the bowl and eat right on the floor where she'd landed.

When she finished the food, she dragged herself over to the warm looking bed covered with blankets and furs and got under all the covers. Soon she was fast asleep.

Gold: Chapter Three

Eleanor woke with a start when she heard a pile of wood hit the floor. She sat up in the bed and stared, wide-eyed, as a huge bear stood framed by the trees just beyond the entrance. It stood there for a moment looking in her direction, and her heart hammered in her chest.

"I—I'm sorry, but my coach fell over a cliff and I was lost in the blizzard," she explained. "I would have died if I hadn't come in here."

The huge bear rose up with a decidedly masculine grunt, and fell to the floor, no more than a skin worn by the man beneath. He slammed the door shut against the cold and quickly turned to put another log on the fire and warm himself. He was tall and strongly built, that much she could see. But she knew he was a mountain man, so she didn't expect the rest of him to be at all interesting.

"The others are all dead," she said to his back. "I'm the only one left alive. You're not going to make me leave, are you?"

"No," he said as he turned around to look at her again.

Eleanor had expected a scraggly man with a beard down to his knees, not the handsome face she saw instead. Though he wasn't clean-shaven, his dark brown facial hair couldn't be more than a week old at best, his hair was neatly trimmed, and he smiled at her with a row of clean, straight white teeth.

"Oh, hello," she said, her surprise clearly written on her face.

"John Dyson, ma'am," he said, and reached up as though to tip his hat until he remembered he wasn't wearing it. He blushed and looked at his hand with chagrin.

"I'm Eleanor," she answered, not bothering with the rest.

"You're English," he said with surprise as he noticed her accent.

"Yes," she said. "I came to America to visit my brother and his new wife, who are out here to tell her family about the wedding. They were in a different coach that left a few hours earlier than mine. They were supposed to meet me when I arrived in Missouri, so we could ferry across together and head back to New York."

"That's quite a ways to travel this time of year, Miss Eleanor," he told her. "I'm afraid now that the snows have hit there won't be any more coaches going through until the spring thaw. Looks like you're here to stay."

"Oh, my!" she gasped as she realized that meant they'd be here alone that whole time. She decided she might be better off not to mention that her father was an Earl and would likely demand that he marry her, or he might just pitch her out after all.

When John saw the look on her face, he added, "Don't worry yourself, now, ma'am, I can make me a bed on the floor."

"That hardly seems fair, sir," she protested.

"Would you rather just share the bed, then?" he asked with a raised brow.

"Of course not!" she said quickly. "I just thought that since this is your house that I should be the one on the floor, not you."

"I wouldn't hear of it," he insisted. "Tell you what, I'll take the floor tonight, and tomorrow we can discuss this further."

"Fair enough," she agreed, and then she laid back down as he pulled off a few of the covers and laid them out near the hearth. Almost as soon as her head hit the pillows, Eleanor was fast asleep again.

Gold: Chapter Four

When Eleanor woke up the next morning she saw John melting snow in a pot on the stove. She stretched and yawned, then padded over to watch.

"Good morning, John Dyson," she said.

"If you need the—um—chamber pot, I guess you'd call it, I can turn around," he offered as he pointed to a pot sitting near the small window near the door. "Doubt you'd want to try to go find the outhouse in the middle of this storm."

"Very true," she agreed, but she blushed uncomfortably as she said it.

"I promise not to look," he said with some amusement as she grabbed the pot and took it behind the bed where he couldn't see her. There was no way to minimize the sound, however, which left her more embarrassed than ever.

"I didn't have a woman in mind when I built this cabin," he said apologetically as he took the full pot and opened the window to dump it outside. A bunch of snow blew in as he did so, and he noticed Eleanor trying not to laugh as he closed it again. "What's so funny?" he asked.

"I was just thinking it was a good thing the only thing that blew back in was the snow," she answered, and finally had to let her laughter out as his eyes widened.

"I never thought of that," he admitted, laughing with her.

When they were done with their little joke, John said, "I want to go look for that coach, and make sure there's nobody left alive out there. I'd hate to think I left a man down. Besides, we can use all the supplies we can get, and there's sure to be something worth salvaging in the baggage."

"All right," she said. "Anything you want me to do while you're gone?"

"You could fix us up a batch of porridge so it'll be nice and hot when I get back," he told her. "It shouldn't take me more than an hour since I know where the cliff is."

"I—I suppose I could do that," said Eleanor, even though she'd never tried to cook anything in her entire life. After all, how hard could it be?

John grabbed up his bearskin and tied it on with a rope, then pulled on some hand covers made of leather. "Best stand back from the door if you want to keep warm," he suggested, and then he stepped outside and pulled the door quickly shut behind him.

Eleanor went over to look in the pot and saw that the water was boiling. The bag of ground up grains was sitting on the table waiting. Too bad she had no idea how much grain she was supposed to use.

She grabbed up a cup and dumped in two heaping scoops, one at a time, into the boiling water. Then she grabbed a spoon and stirred as fast as she could, but the whole mess boiled over onto the hand that held the spoon. She could smell the food at the bottom burning as she grabbed the pot with her burning hand and threw it onto the table.

When the mess was rescued she decided she needed to rescue her hand next. Opening the window, she stuck it into the cold snow for as long as she could, then closed the window again and gathered the snow that blew in with a spoon and put it in an empty pan. She sat by the fire with her hand in the ice and suddenly found herself sobbing uncontrollably. Everything that had happened in the past day was finally catching up to her, and she couldn't stop the flood.

Gold: Chapter Five

John came in a while later with several pieces of luggage and found Eleanor by the fire with her hand in a pan of water bawling her eyes out, and he threw off his bearskin before he rushed over and gathered her into his arms.

"Sh, sh, it'll be okay," he told her as he stroked her hair. "I know, you've had a rough day, but it'll be okay."

"I ruined the porridge," she said on a shaky breath. "I couldn't bring myself to tell you that I don't know how to cook. I've never cooked a thing in my entire life. I'm just a spoiled, pampered Lady, and now my poor maid is dead, and she won't even get a proper burial."

"Shhh, shh, we can bury her when the ground thaws, Eleanor," he promised. "We'll even give her a really nice cross. Now let me have a look at your hand, it'll need some tending to."

Eleanor gave him her hand as he let her go, and after one look at it he set it back in the pan and started rummaging through the baggage looking for something soft to wrap it in. When he tore apart a pair of bloomers and started wrapping she recognized them immediately.

"That's my bag," she told him.

"Oh," said John sheepishly as he put down the other undergarment he was holding. The look on his face gave Eleanor butterflies in her belly.

"Well, come on," he said as he looked away. "We still need to eat. I'll show you how to cook porridge the right way, okay?"

"Okay," she agreed.

When they were finished eating John said, "There was another load of bags I wanted to bring in before it gets dark. I'll only be another hour, if that. You can put your things away in the closet if you want."

"That sounds good," she said softly as he stood up and put his bearskin on again. But before he grabbed the leather mittens, he grabbed her good hand instead, and drew her up against him. Eleanor gasped, but she didn't try to get away.

"It's going to be very cold tonight, my Lady," he said softly. "We might have to share the bed just to stay warm, and I don't want you to be scared of me if I decide to cuddle up against you, you know?"

Eleanor didn't get to answer him because he chose that moment to bend down and kiss her soundly, not letting her go until her knees went weak. Then he grabbed his mittens and went out the door before she even blinked twice.

"Oh, my!" she breathed, holding on to her racing heart. If that was any indication of how they would be keeping warm, her father would definitely be well within his rights, she thought.

Eleanor didn't have any idea what went on between a man and woman in bed, except what her uncle had once told her. He was a dog breeder, and she had caught sight of a male and female mating one day. Uncle Charles told her a man and woman did that same sort of thing, and it was perfectly natural in the marriage bed.

The only trouble was, Eleanor was not married to the man who would be in her bed tonight. She felt she shouldn't be looking forward to his return quite so much, but after the way he'd left she just couldn't help it.

Gold: Chapter Six

When John returned, he was carrying two bags and a freshly killed deer. He put the bags by the rest and the deer on the table, and threw off his bearskin as he turned to shut the door.

"Did you miss me as much as I missed you?" he wanted to know, and Eleanor blushed hotly. "Yep, you did."

"Mr. Dyson, you have a very high opinion of yourself," she said as circumspectly as she could considering he was pulling her up for another kiss as she spoke. He didn't bother with a response other than to wrap her that much closer into his arms than he had originally intended so he could show her just how high of an opinion she would have of him once he was done.

Eleanor's heart was racing, and she felt her breasts tighten in reaction to his kisses. They were yearning for their share of the attention before he let her go, and her voice failed her completely when she tried to speak.

"I'm going to show you how to tan the hide once I get it off the meat," he told her. "That way I can work on one while you work on the other."

"Good thinking," she managed to say, though her voice was somewhat ragged compared to its usual, calmer tones. She sat on the hearth and watched while he worked, fascinated that he could cut right into the deer's flesh without even flinching.

When the hide was free of the body he brought out a wooden monstrosity he had obviously created just for stretching hides, and showed her how to scrape away the fatty tissue that was still clinging to the hide and treat it with a powder he gave her when she had finished.

Eleanor surprised herself by actually enjoying the work, even though her hands were filthy by the time she was finished. She was just rubbing in the last of the powdery stuff when John crept up behind her and started to nibble her ear.

"I've been up here six years mining for gold," he told her, "but I never found any gold as beautiful as this." He took the pins out of her hair and let if fall down her back.

"I'm completely filthy," she protested, and John chuckled wickedly as he turned to put another log on the fire.

"Then let's clean you up," he said, and he brought her over to wash her hands with the heated water he'd just used on his own mess. Using a wet cloth, he stood behind her and ran it up and down both her arms, and then took the old bandage off her burn and replaced it with a fresh one. "There, now we're ready for bed."

Eleanor got into the bed shyly and turned so that her back was facing John, and he wrapped them snugly into the furs and blankets and curled up to her. They were both so tired that they soon fell asleep.

Gold: Chapter Seven

Eleanor woke up to the feel of John's hand sliding up and down her side in a soft caress. She pretended she was still asleep until she felt that hand slide over her sensitized breast instead, and she let out a soft moan she'd been trying to hold in.

He moved his body against hers and rubbed her with it, and she could tell just how much he wanted her. Unable to resist, she rolled over and kissed him back. They clung together for a while, but then John resolutely turned his back to Eleanor instead. She sighed and laid on her back with her hands on her stomach, trying to go back to sleep with little success.

After several hours, she got back out of the bed and cooked some porridge, doing a much better job this time. The smell of it woke John, and he got out of bed to eat it.

"It's still cold in here," he said when they were finished. "Come back to bed with me."

Eleanor could tell by the sound of his voice and the look in his eyes exactly why he wanted her back in the bed, but she could think of no excuse not to go back with him. He made no pretense of covering them up before his lips were at her throat, tantalizing her senses. His hands were at the buttons of her gown, and she could feel the fabric falling away as each one was undone.

It was Eleanor who was undone by his taste and his touch. Her senses were reeling, and she was more than ready to give him what he was asking her for. They didn't get out of bed again for a very long time.

Gold: Chapter Eight

John and Eleanor were looking though the rest of the baggage together. He came across a bag filled with the old woman's jewels, and picked up a beautiful diamond and sapphire choker with a smile.

"This matches your eyes, I think," he said as he put it around Eleanor's neck and admired how she looked. "Beautiful."

Eleanor smiled shyly, and John returned to look some more. She did not see him surreptitiously put a ring in his pocket as he looked, thinking he might need it later.

"Put this on," he said as he pulled out a pretty nightgown that was a pale blue material.

Eleanor blushed, but she did as he asked. When he saw her in it, that was the end of their sorting. He pulled her to him and they made love right there by the hearth for what seemed like hours on end. He put in a couple extra logs and undressed her completely, so that all she wore was the fancy choker, which he eventually removed with his teeth.

"I hope spring never gets here," he told her then, and she was in complete agreement.

"Let's not think about spring," she pleaded softly. "I just want to think about this very moment, right now, lying here in your arms."

"Agreed," he said, and took her back to bed.

Gold: Chapter Nine

Eleanor and John were sitting in the bed together reading a book she'd found in one of the suitcases. It was a love story she'd purchased in England but hadn't gotten around to reading yet, and when she'd started to about a month ago he had asked what it was about. Now it was about their third time through.

This time, when they got to the part where the hero professes his love, John said, "He's not doing it right. This is the way to do that." And then he kissed her eyes, and her cheeks, and her lips, and said, "You are the most beautiful woman I've ever seen, and I love you with all my heart."

Eleanor giggled, and answered, "Then shut up and kiss me, you fool!"

"No problem," said John with a grin, and did just that. He sighed after a minute and said, "I don't want you to leave when the snow does, Eleanor. I want to keep you forever and ever."

Eleanor sighed and gazed up at him.

"Besides, I think you are going to have my baby," he added with a grin. "Either that, or there's something you haven't mentioned."

"No, I didn't have it," she admitted. "If I did, there'd probably be a few less rags around here."

John pulled her around so she was laying on top of him and said, "Then you can't leave me, my love. We've got a baby to think about."

"Well, we could always go to England, at least for a visit," she said softly. "I don't want my family to be worried about me."

"Yes, we can go there," he agreed. "But first I need to gather all my gold and sell it off."

"How much gold do you have?" she asked curiously.

"Almost enough to fill that biggest trunk there," he told her. "We sell that off, and we can go anywhere we want."

"Even on an African safari?" she inquired.

"Not with a baby!" he protested, then saw that she was teasing him. "Come here, Eleanor. This is my favorite gold right here—well, and this little wedge of gold here as well—"

The door swung open and Eleanor's brother walked in to find her in the bed with a man. His face fell in outrage, and then he pulled free his pistol and aimed it.

"Get away from my sister this moment, sir!" he shouted.

"Henry, put that gun down!" Eleanor protested. "You're going to hurt someone."

"That's the idea," he said as John put up his hands and got out of the bed.

"Stay in the bed, my sweet," John told her. "You're not properly clothed for company."

"I have been looking everywhere for you all winter long, and here you are all cozy with one of the locals," Henry said to her in an irritated tone. "I'll not have it, sir. You are in the presence of a Lady, the daughter of an Earl, and I will have justice. If you do not marry her straight away, I shall be forced to run you through."

"Calm down, red coat, I was just about to ask her to marry me anyway," John said.

"Well then, have at it, sir, and be quick about it. I just happen to have a preacher along with me, in case of the worst," Henry said, then cast his sister an apologetic glance.

"You thought you would find me dead, too, didn't you, brother?" she asked him with a scowl.

"Far better to find you very much alive, I should think," John pointed out. "Here, love, I was saving this ring for just such an occasion."

Eleanor laughed as he slipped one of the old woman's baubles out of his bearskin and slid it onto her finger, but Henry scoffed, "You call that a proposal?"

"It's the best proposal I've ever heard in my whole life," Eleanor told him, and sprung out of the bed to kiss John with no more thought to her attire.

Henry turned quickly away, and took his time fetching the preacher, just in case.

Gold: Epilogue

It was a fine spring day in London as Eleanor Dyson and her husband finally arrived at her father's palatial estate just outside of town in a fancy carriage drawn by four white horses in golden livery. Her brother and sister-in-law were with them. The footman helped the ladies down, and then the four young people walked to the front door arm in arm, partly to help the two slightly rounded females in the middle to walk.

The Earl met the company well before they reached the door, and after he hugged the rest of his children in greeting he happily shook his new son's hand, and led them all inside.

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