Josie’s believe-me-or-not shrug twisted his thoughts. She’d almost had him—for a minute. He pulled in the oars to let the boat float up against the anchored raft. “Furthermore,” he said smugly, “Anita Weatherby has lived on the far side of the lake, over by Hog Back Ridge with her sister, Colene Arneson, for years. Ever since their husbands died, prior to the war.”
She stood up and looped the tie down around the post before turning his way. “Until three years ago when she moved to Missouri to live with her daughter.”
“Exactly,” he said. “And she didn’t like it and moved ba—” His voice trailed off as Josie’s grin increased.
“Moved back,” Josie said with a twinkle in her eyes, “in with her sister Colene, who is ten years younger than Anita and very active in the Ladies Aid Society. As a matter of fact, Colene is one of the founding members.”
“The real Anita Weatherby is still in Missouri, isn’t she?” Scooter’s mind was putting more than one piece of the puzzle together. “And there’s an old road that leads from the resort to the back of the lake.”
“To Hog Back Ridge,” Josie said, climbing onto the platform. “However,” she added, “Anita is ailing and rarely leaves the house these days.”
“She doesn’t have to,” he said, climbing onto the platform beside her. “Gloria makes regular house calls to check on her health.”
As if their conversation was as trivial as discussing the weather, Josie turned her attention to the charred bits of wood that yesterday had been barrels and crates full of fireworks.
“So, what are we going to do with this stuff?” she asked.
Scooter reached down and grabbed the bucket out of the boat. It was the same one he’d used to douse the flames last night. “We put the big pieces in here, and kick the ashes into the water,” he said. However, his mind hadn’t shifted far off topic. “It’s not as ironclad as you think it is.”
She’d already started picking up chunks of blackened wood. “What’s not?”
Her back was to him, and she didn’t turn around. “Your little scheme. When your father discovers—”
That had her spinning about. “You can’t tell him, Scooter. You can’t.”
He told himself to ignore the pleading in her eyes, and her tone. It didn’t do much good. In fact, it only made him think about last night. Holding her. Kissing her. That had been an idiotic thing to do—acting on the desires he’d had for years. It could only make things worse, and that he didn’t need.
“It has to stop, Josie.”
She tossed a chunk of wood into the bucket with enough force that the pail tipped over. They both bent down to retrieve it. The faint lemon scent that filled his nostrils added a degree or two to the temperature of his blood. He wouldn’t give in to his desires again. Would not.
“I know I have to stop lying to my father, Scooter, but not until—”
He grasped her shoulder. “Until when, Josie? When you’re taken by one of those ships? Sold overseas to some man’s harem? That’s what happens, you know. The girls who refuse to work at the docks are shipped out, never seen again.”
“That doesn’t happen anymore,” she said. “There are too many border patrol officers checking for whiskey.”
Bile rose in his throat. Maize had never said a word about what had happened to her. Refused to talk about it to this day. Scooter, however, had an imagination, and didn’t like the things that formed in his mind when he thought of his sister’s imprisonment. Even as short as it had been, she’d been hurt. Not in ways anyone could see, but inside, where she still kept it hidden. “Just because they aren’t being shipped out doesn’t mean they aren’t being hurt. Doesn’t mean they aren’t being forced—”
“I know,” Josie said, sinking down onto her knees. “Which is why I can’t stop. Please, Scooter, don’t try to make me. I have to finish what I started. I have to.”
There were no tears in her eyes, but he could hear the sorrow in her voice and that made his throat turn raw. He kneeled down and this time took her by the arms gently. “You could get hurt or worse.”
“Not if I’m careful. And I am.” She shook her head. “But there are others, and they are being hurt.”
“Others?” In his mind, he’d put all the blame on Galen Reynolds. It wasn’t until he’d learned about Josie’s trips to Duluth that he’d considered the other women who hadn’t been as lucky as Maize. Not until Josie’s call from jail, after talking with that truck driver, had he started contemplating that perhaps the men Galen might have been in cahoots with were still in Duluth.