“What does God want for your life?” He stroked his hand down her back then up again, gentle, soothing movements. “We’re to obey God over men. Have you read the story of Jonathan in the Bible? He didn’t always obey his parents. He was best friends with his father’s worst enemy, but he still honored God by saving David from his father’s hands.”
“Jonathan.” She sniffled. “Mother always quotes that verse about Saul and rebellion. And here God’s answer lies in Saul’s son.”
“There’re consequences for disobeying your parents. The Bible tells us to obey both God and the family He’s given us. If God and family are at odds with one another, the person caught in the middle will have heartache, to be sure. But we ought to always obey God first.”
She wiped her face with his coat sleeve. “I hadn’t considered Jonathan, my parents and God being at odds, any of it.”
“And now you have.” His hand continued to rub up and down her back, comforting even though her tears had stopped. “Feel better?”
“Yes, thank you,” she croaked, her voice hoarse and froglike.
He shifted to offer his handkerchief, and with the simple movement, his side pressed hard into hers.
Entirely too hard.
Where was she sitting? How was she sitting? She glanced down and found herself nearly on his lap, with her head touching the crook of his shoulder and his arm tight around her back.
She scrambled away. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have...that is, it was very improper for... I mean...”
He laughed, actually laughed. Not a raucous sound at her expense like David’s cackles but an encouraging guffaw from deep inside. “No need to get your feathers in a ruffle. I can keep a secret.”
“Thank you.” She glanced down, then back up. “It seems that’s all I’m doing this evening, thanking you and then apologizing.”
His lips slid into that lazy half smile and he handed over a handkerchief. “Everyone’s allowed a bad night once in a while.”
She glanced away, her cheeks suddenly hot.
“You feeling a bit better after that cry?”
She nodded without looking up.
“Good. So now we’ve got that business over your parents settled, tell me about this DeVander fellow.”
She dabbed her face with the hankie. “Nothing much to tell, really. Just my mother’s latest suitor for me.”
“Who you were once engaged to.”
Her eyes snapped to his. “How’d you know?”
“My butler told me.”
“Why would your butler—?”
“You just happened to ask if I had any former fiancés?” Ugh. She could just imagine that conversation.
The side of his mouth twitched up into that smile again. “No. I asked why you weren’t married.”
The carriage rumbled over the road that had turned from cobblestones to dirt. A faint draft stirred around the boxed-in conveyance, and a coyote yipped in the distance. She stared down at her lap, folding and unfolding her hands, unable to bring her eyes to meet his. “And why would you ask about a thing like that?”
“I can assure you, it’s not.”
“Then why were you standing outside with your former fiancé?”
“Because Mother...Mother...” Should she continue? And why was she even tempted to blurt her life’s troubles to Luke Hayes?
She slid her eyes toward him, his firm jaw and solid shoulders. The man seemed strong enough to carry any burden she unveiled—and determined enough not to let her out of the carriage until she answered.
“David’s wife died recently. So he needs another, you see, for appearance’s sake. Mother wants it to be me. Did you know Father lost a lot of money in the panic?” She swallowed. “Actually he lost everything. His bank collapsed, and his campaign finances, his personal savings, his investments in the railroad... Everything is gone.
“So after the panic, he mortgaged his house, thinking that he only needed a little time to build his investments back up. But now Mother and Father are through that money and on the brink of losing their home and...um... David is still well off. So if I marry him, he would take care of my fam—”
“No.” The single word sliced through the carriage.
She stared down at her hands, still curled in Luke’s coat. “He can save my parents.”
Luke shifted close, so close his broad shoulders blocked the carriage lamp. He trailed a finger from her cheekbone to her jaw, then laid it over her lips. Probably to silence her, though she could hardly speak with his hand warm against her face.