Millie pushed her cup aside, as well, no longer thirsty. Seth’s trip to Washington was imperative. She understood that and couldn’t ask him not to go, but she had to find a way to postpone it.
“Don’t frown so,” Ilene said. “I know Seth will make progress. He can be quite persuasive.” She reached over and laid a hand upon Millie’s. “And I’m so glad you’re here for him.”
Millie had no idea how to respond, so she simply nodded. “Thank you.”
“Did your sister go off to school, or marry?”
Her blood turned cold. “My sister?”
“Yes,” Ilene said. “Seth said you have a younger sister, that you had to take care of her, raise her. That’s why you never came out here before.”
Ilene patted her hand. “Last winter Seth was very ill. That’s when I discovered he was married. I wrote you a letter. I know I’d have wanted someone to tell me if Jasper was ill.”
Millie’s heart was pounding as she thought of Seth, so strong and healthy, becoming ill. It seemed almost impossible, and frightening at the same time. “I—I never received a letter.”
“That’s what Seth assumed once he was better. And that’s when he told me about your younger sister. Millie, isn’t it?”
The lump was too large to swallow around. Would the lies never end? Millie nodded and reached for the tepid tea.
* * *
Seth was still at the headquarters building along with Jasper Ketchum and several others, including the Indian Per-Cum-Ske, when Millie carried a lamp up to her room and prepared for bed. Ilene had returned and they’d eaten together the meal To-She-Wi had delivered. Millie had worked hard to keep the conversation off herself. Had to. Confusion was overwhelming her mind. She knew she wasn’t Rosemary, but she couldn’t help but wish she was. Pretending Seth was her husband—speaking of him as if he was—was so easy and enchanting. It was as if she’d landed in the life she’d always imagined having, except she wasn’t herself. She was a Millie-Rosemary person who didn’t even exist.
Flopping onto the bed, she lay on top of the covers wearing just her nightgown. The weather hadn’t cooled off yet this evening, and even with the window open, the room was hot. Or maybe it was just her body. When it wasn’t heated by thoughts of Seth, it was boiling with all the things Rosemary hadn’t told her.
If Millie had seen Ilene’s letter, she’d have come. She’d have taken care of Seth.
The rolling of her stomach said that wasn’t true. Rosemary would never have let her, and the chance she’d have come upon Ilene’s letter was next to nil. Not only would Millie never have read someone else’s private message, she was often away from home when correspondence arrived. Either staying clear, not wanting to know who was visiting her sister, or on an errand for Rosemary. Returning a garment to the dressmaker that didn’t fit quite right, or a hat to the milliner, or...her eyes went across the room, to where her boots sat upon one of her trunks...shoes to the shoemaker.
She pressed a hand to her chest, where it felt as if someone was stitching up her heart and pulling the string tight, telling her once again how selfish she was. Focusing on the boots, she tried to think other thoughts. The heel was as good as new. It hadn’t given her any problems, and every morning, when she pulled the boots on, she was reminded of her mission. Yet it didn’t stop her from wishing things were different.
Sighing, she turned her gaze to the window, wondering again when Seth would return. To-She-Wi had said he’d eaten. All the men in the meeting had, and that was comforting, but not as soothing as the way he wished her a good-night. She’d wait up, as long as it took, to hear those words again tonight, too.
Without much effort, her mind pulled up a picture of him standing in the doorway, leaning against the frame as he had back at the cabin. His grin would be a bit cockeyed—showing his dimple—and sweet, and he’d say the words softly. Not necessarily a whisper, but in a low tone that was like a lullaby. Kissing entered her mind again, and she could almost see him walking across the room, sitting down on the edge of her bed.... A sigh left her chest, and she let her mind wander, creating a most pleasurable dream.
A thud, thump, or some such sound tugged her from slumber. Blinking, she fought to chase away the groggy thickness in her mind and vision. The flame in the lamp still flickered, and she reached for it, wondering when she’d fallen asleep.