A sour sensation curdled in his stomach. Martin Clark. She’d smiled when she’d said the name. Briefly, but enough that it had displayed her white, even teeth, and showed she cared about the man.
The name could be familiar, but Seth had met many soldiers over the years. For all he knew, Clark could have been one of the soldiers from Texas escorting the drives that came through this spring.
Seth scanned the area out the window once more, and frowned when he spotted the quartermaster carrying a large crate across the courtyard, toward the cabin. His teeth clamped down. He’d lied to her about the Indians, but there were dangers here. Plenty of them. The Oklahoma Indian Territory was the roughest place in the nation. Besides the very real possibility of an Indian uprising at any time, there were whiskey peddlers, Mexican traders, desperados, horse thieves, cattle rustlers, prostitutes and men just bent on killing. It was no place for women, and no matter which sister it was, he should send her back as fast as possible.
Yet he didn’t want to. Instead, he wanted to know why she’d traveled weeks to get here. Her telegram had confused and irritated him, but now she had him out of sorts. She was the exact opposite of what he’d expected. What he remembered.
“You know, Seth, sometimes what we claim not to want is the exact thing we need.” Jasper had moved, and now stood staring out the window on his right.
Seth gestured toward the activity happening around his cabin with a nod. “That is nothing but trouble, and I don’t need any more troubles.”
“Maybe she won’t be trouble,” Jasper said. “Maybe the changes she brings are what the men need.”
Seth took pride in commanding a well-run fort, but knew the counsel he received from his second in command was a driving force behind all his actions. Still pondering what Jasper could be referring to, he glanced toward the other man when he shifted, pointed out the window.
“Things have changed out here the past few years, Seth, and they’re good changes. Towns are popping up, settlers moving in, the population is growing. Including women. And I’m not referring to the soiled doves that have made the rounds for years. The army sees it, too. More and more wives are living with their husbands at the forts rather than staying back East. The men here want that, too. Most men, whether they’re soldiers or not, don’t want to remain alone forever.”
Seth turned from the window, walked to his desk and picked up the report Jasper had been reading, but it was just to give him something to do. “You know how I feel about soldiers being married.”
“Yes,” Jasper answered. “And you know how I feel about it.”
He did know how Jasper felt. Four years ago, when the man had been assigned to Fort Sill, Seth had refused to allow Ilene to accompany him out here. Neither the man nor his wife had accepted that command. It had made for some tense meetings, but, now, Seth had to admit, Ilene was as much a part of the fort as Jasper was.
Spinning so he leaned against the wall, Jasper folded his arms. “You’re one of the best commanders I’ve seen, Seth. Men not only respect you, they trust you. When are you going to learn to trust?”
“Trust who?” he retorted bitterly. “Her?”
Jasper shrugged. “Maybe, but I’m referring to life in general.”
Tension was eating at him, mainly because his second in command was much more than that. Over the years, Jasper, with his mellow ways that were the opposite of the urgency Seth often felt, had become the tutor he needed, often sought.
“You can’t hide it from me. I’ve noticed you struggling ever since that telegram arrived.”
Seth threw the report back on his desk. “Of course I’ve been struggling with it. I can’t imagine what she wants.”
“Then ask her.”
He let his glare show what he thought of that.
Jasper cracked a dry grin.
Seth ignored it.
“I know you only married her to appease her father. No one said no to the general. Ever. Including me. But—”
“Army men shouldn’t be married,” Seth interrupted.
“In your experience,” Jasper said. “I understand why you feel that way. Losing your father in battle, taking over his responsibilities for your family at such a young age... But it’s not always like that.”
“No?” Seth snapped. “I’ve seen it here, too. How battles take lives. Leave loved ones alone.” Perhaps he’d look upon things differently if his mother had been weaker. Amanda Parker-Wadsworth had cried over the loss of her husband—silently and behind her closed bedroom door. But in front of her children, she’d displayed strength and determination. Seth had seen through it, to the pain his mother harbored while comforting him and his siblings. To this day he lived on the tenacity her resolve had imbedded in him. Every day after school, he’d gone to work in the shipyards until dark, wanting to ease the burden that had fallen to his mother. Once old enough, he’d continued overseeing crews building ships, until his mother had ordered him to stop.