Not so much as a single scuff mark signaled that the heel had once been separated from the boot. Brand-new at the start of her journey, the black leather was still relatively stiff and the breakage had been disappointing. To Millie. Rosemary would have thrown them away and bought a new pair in Tulsa.
“Good night, ma’am.”
“Good night,” she repeated, closing the door.
Seth watched the door close from where he stood across the compound. The smell of roses still filled his nostrils, leaving his insides hard. The flower’s aroma might be pleasant in small doses, but what he’d just experienced was sickening, mainly because it reminded him of Rosemary. The overpowering smell had taken him back in time.
“Marry her and I’ll make you a major,” General St. Clair had said that fretful morning five years ago.
Seth’s stomach recoiled all over again.
He’d refused the offer, more than once, but ultimately, before the day was done, he’d become a major and married her.
It had been a goal he’d set for himself, to become a major, and to do so at the age of twenty-three had been enticing, but that was not why he’d given in. The reason had been the general. The man had been afraid. Seth had assumed it was because of his daughter’s reputation, but St. Clair’s fear had been deeper, more distressing than one might experience over a reputation. The general had talked as if Rosemary’s very life was in danger, and eventually shared the truth that Rosemary was seeing another man, one she shouldn’t have been associating with, but was.
None of that had truly been Seth’s concern, but knowing how the general had numerous times put his own life in danger to save the men he commanded, he hadn’t been able to ignore the man’s plea for assistance. When the general had assured Seth that he could still return to Indian Territory, and that when things calmed down in Richmond, he’d see to the divorce himself, Seth had finally agreed to marry the girl. In name only. He’d left shortly after the ceremony, with the general’s promise of a divorce within the year ringing in his ears.
St. Clair had died less than a year later, and that’s when Seth had started pursuing the divorce on his own. It galled him, how he’d accepted the man’s deal—saved her reputation, and then worked twice as hard to prove he was capable of the position he’d been granted—only to have her ignore his requests. Not so much as a note had been sent his way, verifying she’d received his letters.
Why was she here now? The question jarred his insides. She had nothing to gain, and though he lived half a world away from Richmond, word traveled. He knew Rosemary wasn’t sitting in her father’s parlor, pining for her husband.
His gaze followed Winston as the man walked almost the entire length of the compound, his way lit by torches staked in the ground and shielded from the wind with heavy glass-and-brass enclosures. Winston turned near the icehouse and headed toward the location where a group had gathered.
Some of the boys sat back there most every night, strumming guitars and banjos, playing harmonicas and an assortment of other instruments they’d acquired over the years. Seth sat there plenty of nights, too, but it wasn’t their music filtering through his mind right now, it was an annoying little feeling he hadn’t experienced for a very long time. He couldn’t be jealous of Winston; the man had simply returned her boots. Yet there was an inkling of envy or perhaps resentment inside Seth. It had appeared as soon as she’d opened the door and smiled at the man.
She had Seth flustered. A crazy thing for him to be, but there was no other way to explain the turmoil swimming through his veins, and that confused him, too. Crazy as it was, he was attracted to her. A fact he’d been trying to deny ever since she’d climbed off the wagon and stomped across the dirt with that adorable uneven gait.
A smile tugged at his lips. Covered in Oklahoma’s red dirt, parasol whipping in the wind behind her, with bright red cheeks and windblown hair, she’d been a sight. He’d never seen anything so endearing.
And later, when he’d stepped onto the walkway after Russ had signaled that she’d left the bathing house, his heart had almost stopped in his chest. A puny gust of wind could have blown him over as he’d watched the beautiful woman walk toward him, dressed in a form-fitting blue-and-white dress that had him craving to see what lay beneath it. She still had on that dress, and he’d still like to see what was under it.
He drew in another breath of air, long and hard. The telegraph lines weren’t working. A renegade had chopped down several poles recently, and repairs had been ordered, but the troop he’d sent out hadn’t returned yet. It was ironic that the last message that had come in had been the one saying his wife was to be picked up in Tulsa.