“Yes, Corporal Kemper?” Seth answered, lifting his head.
“I’m sorry to intrude, sir,” Russ said. “But riders are coming in. It’s Per-Cum-Ske.”
Seth’s hands continued to tenderly rub Millie’s upper arms, and his affection had her insides twisting into knots.
“I’ll be right there,” he answered.
She kept her eyes closed for as long as possible, until one of his hands lifted her chin, forcing her to look at him. The breath she was pulling in snagged in her throat at the solemn expression on his face. Concern set her heart throbbing. “Who is Per-Cum-Ske?”
His sober gaze went to the door behind her. “He’s the current leader of the Comanche.”
All her self-pity and sorrows vanished, while fear gripped her insides like a huge fist at the seriousness of his tone. She latched on to his shoulders, grasping the material of his jacket. “Seth—”
“There’s nothing to fear,” he said. “I’ve known Per-Cum-Ske for years.”
“Why then do I see worry in your eyes?” The question surprised her, for she hadn’t realized that was what she’d say. But his troubled look sent a chill clear to her toes.
He smiled, though it was as false as some of the ones she forced upon her own lips. She’d created so many, they were easy to spot. Yet this was the first one she’d seen him display.
“I,” he said, brushing her forehead with his lips, “am worried about your tea.” He took one of her hands, led her to the table by the door. “I’ll have Briggs send over a pot. You stay here. Acclimate yourself to your new home.”
Her mind insisted she didn’t need tea, but her voice refused to comply, so she simply nodded.
“Good girl,” he said, squeezing her hand before letting go. Then he put his hat on and walked out the door.
The tremors in her knees kept her legs from moving. It was several moments before the ability returned and she followed his footsteps. On the front porch, she grasped one of the porch pillars to hold her up. The Indians on horseback, the ones slowly riding toward Seth as he stood in the center of the courtyard, were not like the ones in Tulsa, nor the ones she’d encountered here at the fort. Dressed in animal skins, with feathers in their hair and on their horses, they rode through the wide gate with guns in their hands and scowls on their faces. These were the ones that lived in Indian Territory. The ones her father had spoken about behind closed doors.
Seth spoke to the man in front, the one with a large amount of feathers sticking out of the hat on his head. Though no words carried all the way to the house on the breeze, Millie could tell by his gestures that Seth was welcoming them to the fort. The Indian nodded while turning his head, scanning his surroundings, and when his gaze stopped on her, it was as if his eyes bore right into her skin, leaving it burning.
“Come, dear, we mustn’t stare at them.”
“Mrs. Ketchum...” Unaware that anyone had joined her, Millie found a touch of comfort in the older woman’s presence. She wanted to ask about the Indians, but the pull to turn back to the gathering in the courtyard was too strong.
Seth’s gaze was what held her attention, and though he was a distance away, she clearly understood his request. Still fearing for him, she comprehended he had a job to do, and so did she. Being a major’s wife included allowing him to complete his duties without interference. Her father had instilled in her years ago the importance of not interfering in army business.
“Come along, dear,” Mrs. Ketchum repeated.
Millie turned, and remembering her manners, waved a hand for the other woman to cross the threshold first.
“I know they’re frightening at first, dear, but your husband is an excellent commander. One of the best, and you have nothing to fear.” Ilene Ketchum closed the door. “Now, why don’t I take this opportunity to show you where everything is? I was so excited when I heard you and Seth were moving into the major’s house. I stocked the kitchen for the two of you myself.”
“You did?” Millie bit her tongue and quickly added, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Seth was adamant that you not learn about what we were doing. He said everything had to be in order the first time he showed it to you. He wanted it to be a surprise. It was, wasn’t it?”
The other’s woman’s features were angular and stern upon first glance, but Millie saw beyond that, especially after the meal she and Seth had shared with Jasper and Ilene upon her arrival. The woman’s kindness seemed to have no bounds, and Millie found herself looking up to her, wishing she could be more like her. Ilene had such confidence and poise, and Millie couldn’t help but wonder if her mother had been like that at one time.