"Caitlyn." Jon held her tighter and laid his cheek on her head. "Honey, shhhh, don't cry. Ah, Caitlyn, don't. Tell me what's bothering you."
She shook her head against his neck, and Jon held her, letting her cry. Her tears trickled down his bare chest, searing a path of misery into his own soul. She had cried the day they arrived at the cabin, upset over the destruction of the furnishings, but she'd quickly controlled it. Now she sobbed as though she would never stop—couldn't stop—as though each inch of her ached with misery.
Jon cradled her, murmuring any soothing phrase that came to mind, though he knew she couldn't possibly hear even one word. He glanced at the window after a few minutes, when he realized the room was somewhat lighter. He could make out the outline of the ruffled curtains.
Ruffled curtains and an ermine skin on the wall. A feisty, blue-eyed minx who loved to shop, and a fiercely loyal woman who risked her own safety to ride through a blizzard to rescue him and Silas. What a contradiction his little Caitlyn was.
Images of her flashed through Jon's mind as he held her. The tattered, foul-smelling ragamuffin Tall Man had dragged from the wigwam, and the concerned woman who had knelt over him in the soaked white shirt, worry on her face because he had been injured when he shot that puma. Until he spat at her and ordered her away.
Even then, she had swallowed what had to have been resentment at his mistreatment and cared for his head wound.
Caitlyn crouched low over the pinto's neck, hair flying and a herd of half-ton buffalo on the pinto's heels, because Jon had been stupid enough to ignore her wiser advice. The heart-stopping fear he had felt when he aimed the rifle at the lead buffalo.
Caitlyn facing the mother bear, when the only father she had ever known had been killed by a grizzly, yet allowing the sow to go free because she had only been protecting her cub.
Caitlyn in the snow, white flakes highlighting her raven hair and worry on her face for him and Silas. Instead of thanking her, he had snapped at her for wearing a pair of pants to keep herself warm while she came to help them.
Caitlyn in a blue ball gown that matched those beautiful eyes, swirling in his arms around the polished dance floor of the plantation mansion, staring up at him with love on her face. Jon glanced up at the first floor railing on the staircase and saw two blue-eyes, raven-curled imps staring through the rails, wide-eyed wonder on their faces. He couldn't quite tell if they were boys or girls....
"I'm...." Caitlyn sniffed and pushed at his chest. "I'm all right now."
Jon loosened his arms, but kept them around her. She sniffed again and swiped at her nose, and he grabbed the pillow, shaking the cotton case free to hand it to her.
"Sorry," he murmured. "I'm fresh out of handkerchiefs right now."