Page 18 of The Major's Wife

Chapter Four

Millie did walk over and open the office window she’d closed earlier, having known the heat would intensify the smell of the rose oil while they were eating supper. Lola had said to use it sparingly, just a drop or two in a bathtub of water. Millie had used an entire bottle scrubbing the cabin.

Exhausted inside and out, she plopped onto the chair. What would Rosemary do now?

Millie couldn’t remember when she’d learned her mother had died; it had happened when she was just an infant. But she did recall the moment she’d learned how her mother had died. It had been her eighth birthday. Papa had given her a new saddle, black with silver conchas, and a seat as plush as velvet. She’d ridden all afternoon. It was that night, when she was in bed, that Rosemary had entered her room and said if she didn’t give her the new saddle, she’d jump in the river. Drown. When Millie said she wouldn’t give it to her, her sister had told her the family secret.

No one was ever to know, Rosemary had said, but their mother hadn’t died from complications of childbirth. She’d taken her own life when Millie was six months old, with one of Papa’s pistols.

Papa hadn’t been home—he had been off doing army business, as he had been most of their childhood. The saddle had been ordered and delivered with a note from him. So Millie had asked Lola about their mother the next morning.

The housekeeper confirmed what Rosemary had said was true, that their mother had shot herself when Millie was a baby. She’d also said no one but their dear mama, God rest her soul, knew why she’d done it.

Months later, when Papa had come home and asked Millie about the saddle, she’d told him she loved it so much she was sharing it with Rosemary. Papa had said he was proud of her, how she understood Rosemary was different, and needed to be assured constantly that she was loved, just like their mother.

Millie closed her eyes. It was true. For as bold and brassy as Rosemary was on the outside, inside she was fragile, as delicate as glass, just as their mother had been. Rosemary had said she’d take her own life, and that of the baby, before allowing Seth to discover the truth. He would ruin her if he found out. Millie didn’t believe there was much left of Rosemary’s reputation to ruin, considering the number of men her sister’s name had been linked with, but she did believe her threats. She feared the baby would be in danger, for Rosemary did appear to be as desperate this time as she’d been over the saddle, when she had jumped into the river.

The weight on Millie’s chest increased tenfold. She didn’t believe her sister capable of murder, but she did know there were things worse than death. And knowing that had left her with no option but to agree to travel to Fort Sill to keep Seth from going to Washington, and possibly Richmond, as the letter he’d sent implied, until December.

Her gaze roamed the room. Seth didn’t deserve the deception, neither Rosemary’s faithlessness nor Millie’s lies. And he didn’t deserve her painting his cabin with rose oil, either. But Rosemary was her sister. There was nothing she wouldn’t do to protect her, and the life growing inside her.

If Millie was more daring and courageous, this would be easier. Actually, if she’d told Papa the truth five years ago, she wouldn’t be here now. She’d known about Clifton Wells, that Rosemary was planning to run off with him, but instead of saying something, fearful there’d be a row when Papa discovered it, Millie had gone to a friend’s house to avoid being dragged into the argument. The following morning, when she’d been summoned home, she’d been confused to hear Rosemary was marrying Seth instead of Clifton. Until Papa told her Clifton was already wed, and marrying Seth was the only thing that would save Rosemary’s name.

A knock on the door had Millie pushing off the seat and squaring her shoulders. She couldn’t stop protecting the family secrets now, nor could she give up on this mission.

“I hope I’m not intruding, Mrs. Parker,” Mr. Winston said when she opened the door, “but I wanted to drop off your boots. They should be fine this time. Good as new, actually.”

A lump had formed in her throat at how he’d addressed her. Others, when making her acquaintance, had called her Mrs. Parker, but right now, after contemplating the past and the events that had led her to here to Seth, the deceit seemed uglier. Heavier. Taking the boots, she found a simple smile. “Thank you, Mr. Winston. I do appreciate all you’ve done.”

“It’s been my pleasure, ma’am,” he said, bowing his head as he backed out the doorway.

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