“Why is it your job?” she asked.
His mind was circling like a wagon train in fear of attack, and before he remembered anything beyond their game, she was speaking again.
“Surely they’re other army men that could relay the message.”
Oh, yes, his trip to Washington.
“I—I was hoping to stay out here until December,” she said, stammering slightly. “Maybe you could postpone your trip until then.”
December? That was impossible. Yet, needing time to think why, he said, “We’ll talk about it tomorrow. You look tired.”
She bowed her head bashfully. “I’ll remove everything in the morning. Including the curtains.”
He’d won their game, so why didn’t it feel that way? “Good night.”
She turned and pushed open the door to her room before saying, “Good night, Seth.”
Something, maybe the sadness, or it might have been the softness of her voice and how sweet his name sounded when she said it, pinched him deep inside. Seth turned and, after glancing into his office, climbed the ladder to the loft, careful of the bows. Once there, laid out on his bed, he wondered if the open window let in that much fresh air or if he’d just got used to the smell of the rose oil. It hadn’t made him sneeze, not like those crazy weeds. Wild lavender, she’d called it.
The next morning Russ woke him with the news that someone was requesting a meeting. A scout demanding army escorts for a wild-game hunting party coming down from Kansas. While walking across the compound to where the man waited, Russ said Seth smelled like the tents of the soiled doves that camped nearby a couple times a year.
Seth held his tongue and his temper while talking with Otis Field, a scout known for finding buffalo for rich men to shoot. Not only was the man sniffing the air like a wolf picking up a scent, he was demanding three dozen men—which Seth wasn’t about to give out.
In the end, he agreed to provide four soldiers, and he dictated the amount of days they could be gone, exactly where the hunting party could travel and what specifically could be hunted. Otis tried haggling, but Seth didn’t give an inch, and the scout was the one to accept defeat, or at least he claimed he’d accept the conditions. Long ago Seth had figured out who to trust and who not to, and the scout was not trustworthy.
As Otis and four privates left, Seth made his way back to his cabin, where he planned on retrieving a fresh shirt and coat before riding out to find one of his Indian scouts. White Bird was never too far away, and he’d spread the word of the hunting party, letting all the tribes know to stay clear. For their safety, not the hunters’.
When Seth opened the door, a sound had him walking directly into his office, where his heart did a somersault. Single-handedly she was dragging his desk across the room—or attempting to. The exertion had her face red and her chest heaving, even though the desk had been moved only a few feet.
The room had been cleared out, including the curtains, cushions and rug, but it was the impish grimace on her face he reacted to.
Without a word, he pulled the desk across the room. She pushed, and he hadn’t yet found his tongue, so he didn’t tell her not to.
Once the desk was in place, along with his chair, he told her, “I’ll be gone all of today and probably most of tomorrow.”
She frowned, which on her was cute. “Where are you going?”
“I have to go find someone.” He chose not to say more, regretting the way he’d attempted to scare her about the Indians.
“Who?” she asked, following him out of the office.
“Just a man.” He climbed the bowless ladder, and pulling down his spare jacket from its hook, figured it probably smelled more like roses than the one he was wearing. That didn’t infuriate him. Perhaps because he now knew for certain that the woman downstairs was not his wife. Rosemary must have put her up to it, and the only way he was going to find out why was to gain Millie’s trust. She was a worthy opponent, and might have won their skirmish if the wildflowers hadn’t gotten to him—he’d seen how bad she felt about that. Fighting on someone else’s terms was the best way to lose; he’d learned that years ago. He would set the terms this round, and the battlefield. This time he would win.
She was waiting at the bottom of the ladder and he couldn’t help but respond to the worry in her eyes. “Don’t fret. No one’s going to turn you over to the Indians, whether they attack or not.”
A tiny grin formed, then she gave him an impudent stare. “I know that.”