“The man you thought you loved. The one that was married.”
“I don’t know.” Rosemary had never mentioned Clifton again. “He left town, I guess.”
She nodded and carried the last of the flowers out the door. After the wedding, Rosemary had been forbidden to leave the house. There had been a few months where life had been relatively calm. Then Papa had died and things had changed all over again. Especially when Rosemary had discovered the clout that came with being a major’s wife. She used that to open doors regularly. Special events and ceremonies she insisted she needed to attend—escorted by many different men.
“You guess?” Seth repeated.
Sighing heavily, Millie reentered the cabin as a new bout of guilt turned into a hard knot in her stomach. “Yeah, I guess. I guess we all do things from time to time without knowing why we do them.” She was speaking about herself, and crossed the room to wet a towel in the basin. “Here, wash your face to get rid of the pollen.”
He eyed her warily.
“It’ll help. Honest.” As he followed her directions, she said, “I’m sorry, too. I’ll put everything back the way it was tomorrow, and ask To-She-Wi if she knows how to eliminate the rose oil smell.”
Seth folded the towel and hung it on the washstand. “I’m sorry, as well, for the saddle soap and stuff.”
When the silence grew into a lingering stillness that had her nerves ticking, Millie inched her skirt up to show the tips of her boots. “I no longer need new boots. I’ll cancel the order first thing in the morning.”
His gaze stayed on her boots. “No. It’s too late. Besides, it won’t hurt to have a spare pair.”
There’d been a time when she’d had several pairs of boots, when Papa was alive. But like everything else, that too had changed. “All right, but I do have money. I’ll pay for them.”
“Have you been short of money lately?”
He’d stopped sneezing and was no longer wheezing. That alone allowed her to sigh with relief.
“Have you been short of money lately?” he repeated.
“No,” she answered, for Rosemary hadn’t been short of money. And that’s who she was. Rosemary. Flowers or not.
Her gaze caught his then, and the way he squinted had her all but choking on the lump that bubbled up the back of her throat. Faltering, inside and out, she gestured toward her room. “I think I’ll turn in now. It’s been a long day.”
He nodded and she hurried toward the door, but was turning the knob when he asked, “Why didn’t you just sign the divorce papers? There was no reason for you to travel out here.”
A chill flowed over her, but she ignored it as best she could. “This way you won’t need to travel to Richmond.”
“It’s only a short distance to there from Washington.”
She turned, gave him a smile that wobbled on her lips. “Now you won’t need to go there, either.”
“Yes, I will. I have to appear before Congress. Explain in person how important it is to increase the provisions sent to the tribes out here.”
Millie felt like a mouse in the corner, trapped, with Lola’s whisk broom about to fall on top of her. Rosemary’s pregnancy wasn’t known outside the family, and before leaving for the fort Millie had taken precautions, told several people that both she and her sister were traveling out of town. But nothing was foolproof, and the news could spread to Washington. Rosemary did have a few enemies who would like nothing more than to be the one to tell Seth about his wife’s behavior over the past five years.
“Perhaps you can send someone else,” Millie said hopefully.
“No. It’s my job, and I’ll see to it.”
Finally able to breathe without sneezing, Seth gulped in air. His eyes no longer burned and he could actually see how the lamplight reflected in the depths of her eyes and highlighted the flawless perfection of her skin, the shine of her hair. She was a beauty, but what he found more enchanting was her tender presence. There was sweetness in her voice and movements, even during those times when she reminded him of Rosemary. Which only proved she was Millie. Rosemary was about as gentle as a water moccasin. She would never have fought him with flowers. If they hadn’t made him as miserable as a kid with a runny nose, he’d have kept up the game. He’d run out of ammunition, though. His next choice would have been a bucket from the barn, and he wasn’t willing to do that.