Her whisper was soft, but the hand she’d laid on his arm bit through his coat and shirtsleeve, hotter than the fangs of a snake. Yet the anxiety filling her big brown eyes had his insides colliding. Whether he wanted her here or not wasn’t the issue. She was here and he had to offer his protection.
With that, he reached over and patted her hand. The action had him smothering a curse. He didn’t want to care about her, but he did care about his men. They looked at him for leadership, and true leaders did whatever it took. Nodding at the first man in line, he then glanced her way. “Rosemary...” Saying the name had disorder leaping inside him. “This is Quartermaster Josiah Fallon.” Turning toward the man, he said, “Josiah, this is Rosemary Parker, my wife.”
The word tasted bitter, and her fingertips dug deeper into his arm.
“Mrs. Parker,” Josiah exclaimed. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. If there is anything you need, you just let me know and I’ll find it for you.”
“Thank you, Mr. Fallon. It’s a pleasure to meet you, too,” she responded with sincerity. “Mr. Cutter and Mr. Winston told me about you.” Leaning closer, she said, “Thank you for finding the tea Mr. Briggs served with lunch.”
Fallon was as hairless as a rock, and right now the top of his head was bloodred, while he shuffled feet the size of snowshoes until a dust storm hovered around his ankles.
“Private Cutter told me you were hoping for tea,” the quartermaster replied. “I had a tin left over from when we had some English visitors a while back. I dug it out and hauled it over to the cookhouse as soon as Ben mentioned it.”
“Well, thank you very much. I truly enjoyed it.”
Seth could have sworn there were stars in her eyes, the way they twinkled.
Fallon was the catalyst that led to a list of introductions so long Seth started confusing names. Neither he nor Millie moved; people just kept filing past, to the point he wondered if some weren’t coming by a second time, just to get another look at her. A part of him couldn’t blame them. She was overly charming, and remarkably, had conversed enough with Cutter and Winston to know a small bit of information about each and every person he introduced her to.
The line finally ended with Jasper and his wife, who invited them to sup at their home tomorrow night.
“That will give you time to settle in, dear,” Ilene Ketchum finished.
Her angular face with sunken cheeks and narrow eyes could never be noted as pretty, but Seth had never known a more benevolent woman, and he respected Ilene’s knowledge and support as much as he did her husband’s. Lying to her, pretending the woman beside him was Rosemary, had Seth’s stomach curdling all over again. It was almost as bad as letting down his own mother.
“Thank you, Mrs. Ketchum, that’s very kind of you,” his supposed wife answered, but she glanced his way before accepting the invitation.
“We’ll be there,” Seth stated, nodding in turn to both women. He couldn’t refuse the invitation, yet he needed to do some serious thinking before the event.
Jasper, a good four inches shorter than Ilene, and twice as round, gave Seth an inquisitive look. His second in command knew about the marriage and the divorce papers—had since the beginning. “I’ll take care of things for a day or two,” Jasper said. “You take some time getting to know your wife again.”
“No,” Seth replied, his insides stiffening. “That won’t be necessary. But thank you for the offer.” The last thing he wanted was to get to know Rosemary—or Millie. He was starting to question in his own mind who she was. Which was ridiculous. The woman beside him was nothing like the conceited little snit who’d insisted, that morning back in Richmond, that no man could resist her body.
He hadn’t touched her then, when she’d claimed he had, and he wasn’t about to touch her now, but he wasn’t going to put himself at her side, either. She was a beautiful woman, there was no doubt about that, and he’d never been one to tempt fate.
“I’ll see you over at headquarters shortly, Jasper,” he said.
The Ketchums departed, and with her hand still holding his elbow, the woman beside him sighed deeply. “I never expected this.”
“It’s so...” A blush covered her cheeks. “Civilized.”
A tiny frown had formed over her big brown eyes. “Yes, Rose—uh, roses could grow in that garden over there.” She lifted a hand, pointed toward the flower bed Ilene pampered, but the way she’d stuttered had his spine quivering.