Blinking at the sting in her eyes, she asked, “Who has a broken heart?”
She wanted to shake her head, but her neck had seized up.
“I was as surprised as Scooter when you said you wouldn’t marry him,” her father said. “I don’t understand why you refused.”
“Norma Rose will be leaving soon, and—”
“Don’t give me that excuse. Norma Rose hired Maize, and that is working out very well from my understanding. I’ll be here, so will Gloria.”
Josie was too full of hurt to take much more. “Are you saying you don’t need me?”
“No, I’ll always need you, just as I’ll always need your sisters, but I’ll never stand in your way, just as I didn’t stand in their way when it came to marrying the men they love.”
Tears clouded her vision. “It doesn’t matter if I love Scooter or not, I can’t marry him.”
“Care to tell me why?”
All the reasons she’d come up with in the past two days shot forward in her mind. “Because he lied to me—he told you everything when he promised he wouldn’t. Because he thinks it’s all over now, that I’ll never have to go to Duluth again.” Fury was building inside her and she leaped to her feet. “It’s not over. Francine may be gone, but there are other girls there who still need help. Other girls who don’t want to be there, but don’t have a choice.”
Reaching out, her father took her hand and pulled her over to sit on the bed beside him. “And that’s what you want to do, help those girls?”
“Yes,” she said. “I want to buy a house, a safe house, where the girls could live while they find other work.”
“Then do it.”
“I’m going to,” she said, “as soon as Norma Rose gets back from her honeymoon.”
“There’s no reason to wait until then,” he said. “You have plenty of money in the bank—I should know, I put it there.” Grinning, he continued, “Use some to buy a house and hire someone to run it.”
“You wouldn’t mind?”
“Of course I wouldn’t mind,” he said. “I’ll give you regular donations to keep it going. I have a few friends that will, too.”
“I’ve known for a long time that running this resort isn’t for you. You have to go with what’s in your heart, Josie. If you really want something bad enough, you’ll find a way to make it happen, no matter what.” Lifting her chin, he added, “But that doesn’t mean you have to give up on other things.”
“There are no other things.”
He stared at her long and hard, before letting go of her chin. “If you say so.” After kissing her forehead he stood up. “I’m going to Twyla’s for dinner. You’re welcome to join me.”
“No, thank you,” she said. “I have some planning to do.”
Nodding, he walked away, but stopped after pulling open the door. “I’d have helped you and Gloria with those girls if you’d have asked.”
“You would have?”
“Yes.” He took a step but then stopped again. “We never know what someone will say until we ask them.”
A shiver rippled up her spine.
“I have one more question, and then I’ll leave.”
“Does Scooter know you want to keep helping those girls?” When she didn’t reply, he said, “Perhaps you should tell him.”
She opened her mouth, but closed it when her father started talking again.
“I’ve already told him how indebted I am to him. If not for him, I may have lost you. He saved a lot of lives. I’d think you’d want to thank him for that.”
As the door clicked shut, Josie rubbed the base of her neck, where deep inside her throat burned. Pushing off the bed, she walked to the door, but then turned and walked to the window, where she spun around again. Feeling caged, she left the room and took the back staircase down to the kitchen. The resort wasn’t busy, but there were a few guests and the waiting staff was busy carrying out platters and plates to them. Bypassing the activity, she ducked into the storeroom and then out of the back door.
The same door she and Gloria had used on the Fourth of July, leaving Scooter standing there alone, promising to wait for her. Tears once again formed in her eyes, and this time, she let them fall.
She crossed the lawn to the road that led past Uncle Dave’s cabin, noting that his Chevy was gone. The very car Scooter had found a way to get back home so she wasn’t caught. Following the bootlegger’s road, she walked past the boathouse they’d been locked in together. The tears were still falling, but they weren’t painful now. Before she realized it, the Bald Eagle depot appeared. She walked around the building and then along the tracks. Town was four miles ahead. She had no desire to go that far, but couldn’t seem to stop walking. It was as if her feet had a mind of their own, knew where they were going.