Quietly, not wanting to draw his attention, she let the air out of her lungs. Pretending to be Rosemary might not have been the best idea, but after her abruptness, Seth would probably believe she was Rosemary now.
Oh what a tangled web we weave. Another one of Lola’s sayings. It didn’t help any better than the first one had.
Seth stepped to the side as they neared the door, allowing her to enter first. Millie showed her appreciation with a nod, not trusting her mouth to open again. Upon entering the dark and crowded store, she wanted to take hold of his arm again. The space was crammed with shelves, barrels, crates and tables full of merchandise, and Indians. Lots of Indians. Her heart started beating erratically.
“This way,” Seth said, walking around several tables stacked high with merchandise.
Very few windows let light into the area, not that sunlight would have helped. She had to get over this. Nothing had happened for her to fear the Indians, yet the way they looked at her had her inching as close to Seth as possible when he stopped to speak to someone.
“Here,” he said, pulling over a stool. “Sit down.”
“I’ll have to measure your foot, ma’am.”
Millie gulped, glancing toward a burly man with a straggly gray beard hanging almost to his belly.
“I don’t get much call for women’s boots,” the bearded man was saying as he knelt down near the stool.
She sat, and inched the hem of her dress just high enough to display her day slippers.
“I’ll have to order them. It won’t take much more than a month or so.” The man measured the length and width of her foot, and then stood, tucking the flat wooden ruler into his back pocket. “I could try to get them faster, but it’ll cost extra.”
“Get them as soon as possible, Jenkins,” Seth said.
“Aye, aye, Major. I’ll see what I can do.”
Seth helped her to her feet, then kept one hand on her elbow. “Don’t see, Jenkins, make it happen.”
“I ain’t got the pull you do, Major, but I’ll get them.” With a tip of his head, which was hairless compared to his face, the man shuffled toward the long plank laid atop two barrels, with several people crowded along it.
“Is there anything else you need?” Seth asked.
Millie shook her head, barely able to keep her eyes from going to the Indians again.
A little shudder rippled through her. “Are they friendly?”
His gaze went to the Indians for a moment. “Friendly?”
He led her out the door, and she sighed at both the bright sunshine and the fresh air. The smell of coffee had been overpowering in the store, yet she hadn’t noticed it until they’d stepped outside.
“For the most part,” he answered, glancing toward a group exiting the building behind them. “When they want to be.”
She shivered again. None of them appeared threatening, but their stares were acute and left her chilled. “Isn’t that why you’re out here? To fight them?”
“But you would if they attacked, wouldn’t you?”
He shrugged. “Guess that would depend on why they attacked.”
Even her throat was quivering. “What do you mean, why?”
“They only attack when they want to steal women. Not too many women around here. We’d be better off just turning them over, rather than losing men in a battle.”
Completely ignoring the stones beneath the soft soles of her slippers, she hurried to remain at his side when he started walking again. “The women? You’d just give—?”
“I have work to see to,” he said. “I assume you can make it to the barracks on your own.”
The cabins were only a few yards ahead, and she had no doubt how fast she could make it there and shut the door. Matter of fact, there was probably a rooster tail of dust behind her, but she didn’t care. Her focus was on whether the cabin door had a lock or not.
It didn’t, and Millie was dragging, pushing and shoving one of her trunks to barricade the door when a knock sounded.
“Ma’am?” Ben Cutter said, poking his head in the doorway.
“Y-yes?” she stuttered, breathing hard, mainly because her heart was still in her throat.
“Briggs wanted me to deliver this pot of tea to you. He thought you might like a bit more than you had for lunch.”
“Oh, thank you.” Stepping aside so he could squeeze in the small opening—the trunk was almost in place—she waited until he set the pot and a delicate china cup and saucer on the table. “Mr. Cutter, how many women are here at the fort?”