“I’ll have your plates out in a minute and your tea, ma’am,” Mr. Ryan said before walking away. He, too, was wearing a uniform, but it was covered with a long white apron.
“Is Mr. Ryan the cook?”
“Yes,” Seth answered. “Keeping the unit fed is his job.”
The words seemed to hold a double meaning, but it was beyond her to understand exactly what. The man was back within minutes, placing a teapot and two plates of food—stew, not beans—in front of them.
The tea was refreshing, but it didn’t help as much as she’d hoped. Perhaps because the room held a thick silence, one that had her wondering if being alone with Seth would be better.
They, too, ate in silence, and though he didn’t gobble his food, Seth was done long before she was. At which point he pushed away from the table. “I have work to see to. I assume you can find your way back to the cabin.”
After patting her lips, she laid her napkin on the table. “I’m finished, too. May I walk out with you?”
He eyed her slowly, then gave a slight shrug. “If you want.”
She wanted, all right. The eyes staring their way had burned holes in the back of her dress. It was to be expected, her showing up out of the blue like this, yet she couldn’t help but wish things were different. That animosity didn’t ooze off of Seth.
Mr. Ryan met them at the door again. “The food was to your liking, no?”
“Oh, yes,” she assured him. “The stew was delicious. And the tea wonderful. Thank you, Mr. Ryan.”
The man grinned, but his smile faded as he glanced toward Seth.
“I’ll talk to you later, Sergeant,” Seth said.
“Yes, sir, Major, sir.”
Needing fresh air, Millie bolted out the door as soon as Seth opened it. How was she ever going to pull this off? Someone that stern, that commanding, was sure to know a lie when he heard one.
You catch a lot more bees with honey than vinegar. One of Lola’s sayings raced through her mind, and Millie couldn’t help but wonder why that one came to her now. Rosemary wasn’t known for her kindness. Then again, the saying did produce another thought. “You know, Seth,” she said, forcing her voice not to tremble, “it’s been five years. People change.”
“I haven’t,” he said.
“I’m sure you have in some ways,” she insisted, while keeping up with his fast strides again. “I know I have.” That much was the truth. Five years ago she’d never have done this: traveled to Indian Territory, taken on her sister’s identity, lied. Papa would have been alive and he wouldn’t have let her.
Seth stopped and once again studied her thoroughly. “So much that I should believe you’re Rosemary and not Millie?”
She sighed heavily, partly because lying made her feel more soiled than her travels had. “I am Rosemary.”
Seth wasn’t exactly sure how to respond. In some ways he couldn’t think. He hadn’t gotten over how a bath had transformed her into a stunningly beautiful woman, and it didn’t help that the men—his men—were already treating her like royalty. It was how he’d expect them to treat his wife, but she wasn’t his wife. Leastwise he didn’t want her to be. Never had. She’d already instigated the first-ever clash of power between him and Briggs Ryan. The cook was right. Guests, moreover women, were respected at all times at the fort, and held in the highest esteem. Making her eat at the long tables wouldn’t have been right, but Seth was in charge here, and his orders had to be followed.
Not that Briggs had disobeyed any, but he’d come close, and Seth didn’t allow any man to challenge his authority.
This time, he’d thank the man for seeing to Millie’s comforts. For that’s who she was, and what Briggs had done wasn’t out of line. Anger had overruled Seth’s own manners, but Briggs had to know he was walking a thin line. It had to be that way. If not, the entire regiment wouldn’t have lived through the past few years. Now wasn’t the time to let their guard down.
Especially not Seth.
As the thoughts conformed in his mind, and settled, his gaze roamed. Men, mingling in the courtyard, were moving closer, hoping for an introduction, no doubt. He’d have to make them, and take her over to headquarters to meet Jasper Ketchum—his second in command—and Jasper’s wife, Ilene.
Seth’s temper once again flared. He’d have to introduce her as Rosemary. Explaining his marriage had caused enough confusion. Introducing her now as Millie would have the questions deepening, and that couldn’t happen. People would wonder if he was capable of commanding a fort when he couldn’t handle his own life.