“Yes, roses. They are my favorite flower.”
The innocence in those doe eyes was choking off his air like a hangman’s noose. “Roses for Rosemary,” he said, not quite sure where he’d heard that before.
“That’s what my father always said.”
Her face had softened and the words were almost a whisper, lacking joy. She was missing her father, no doubt. He understood that emotion. His own father had died on the battlefield, but hers hadn’t. No illness, no war. The general just hadn’t woken up one morning in his bed at his Richmond home.
The facts of the death had been forwarded to the fort, as many details as possible. Millicent, the youngest sister, had found their father that morning, and per the report, had been distraught. Seth’s insides jittered again—an odd sensation he recognized and listened to regularly. It was what he’d felt earlier. Intuition that held a warning.
In the few hours he’d known her, he’d understood Rosemary to be a hard woman, and he couldn’t, or perhaps wouldn’t, believe she’d mourn her father after four years. But Millie, though he’d seen her only once that day, sitting in attendance at the wedding, had been softer. She’d actually shed a tear when offering her congratulations after the ceremony. Yes, Millie would still miss her father after four years.
He should offer his condolences, yet he couldn’t do that, either. For if this was Millie, she’d changed. Was now lying through her teeth, pretending to be Rosemary.
“So,” he asked, “what kind of flower did your father relate to you, Millie?”
Millie pulled her hand off his arm, but instantly wished she hadn’t. His solidness had kept her stable during all the introductions, and she found herself needing that support again.
Squaring her shoulders didn’t help much, but it was all she had. “I wish you’d stop calling me that.”
The only movement he made was to lift a dark brow, but it said a lot. Digging deep into the dredges of her mind, she found a fraction of truth to embellish upon. “Millie is...” She drew a deep breath, hoping lightning wouldn’t manifest out of the blue sky and strike her. “Engaged. Millie is engaged to an army man, too.”
This time Seth frowned.
She held her breath.
He took her elbow and guided her along a well-worn pathway. “Really? An army man?”
“Yes,” she answered, looking everywhere but at him as they walked.
Thank goodness. A subject she could discuss freely. There was no reason to lie about Martin. “He’s from Richmond. His family lived only a few blocks away from our house. The three of us grew up together and everyone always said we...that is, the—the two of them would get married. He’s in Texas right now. At a fort there, and Millie is preparing to travel there. Their wedding will take place shortly after she arrives.”
“What’s his name?”
“M-Martin Clark.” The conversation was making her stomach gurgle. If or when Martin learned of this escapade, he wouldn’t be happy. They’d been best friends for years, and he’d been her rock when Papa died, but he wouldn’t be happy to know she was saying such things. Especially not as a cover-up for Rosemary.
“Is that a trading post?” She flinched as she said it. The sign painted the length of the building said precisely that, but she was searching desperately for anything she could use to change the subject.
Seth had stopped beside her, was staring at her thoughtfully.
“Oh, I apologise, you have work to do. Forgive me.” She spun, and a stone caught under the ball of her foot, making her recoil at the sting. It also gave her an answer. “I was just wondering if the trading post might have a pair of boots. These slippers are not made for outdoors.”
His dark eyes went to her feet and then to several men still watching them before he said, “I can spare a few minutes.”
“The fort is so large,” she said, as they started walking again. “It’s like a complete town inside walls.” Working hard at sounding normal, she added, “Mr. Cutter said there’s a hospital and a church here.”
“On the other side of the barracks, along the back wall.”
His answer was clipped, and Millie bit her lips. Rosemary had said they’d be living in tents and cooking over campfires. Though, in the next breath, she’d insisted it was completely safe and that Millie had to go.