Two other privates greeted her as they entered, and Seth quickly explained the situation last night, before he moved to where she stood in the archway as the searchers went upstairs.
He was a military man, had embraced that choice for years. But when it came to spending time with her or carrying out his duties, resentment toward his obligations tended to flare up. That had never happened before and couldn’t happen now. Things were precarious out here, and needed his constant attention. Per-Cum-Ske was insistent upon going to Washington, and that was what needed Seth’s focus right now. He should have been at it an hour ago.
“I’ll walk with you as far as headquarters,” he said.
“I’ll need my bonnet and wrist bag.”
The grimace when she glanced toward the stairs made him grin, even though he didn’t want to. “I’ll get them,” he offered. “Where are they?”
“Thank you,” she said. “They’re in the wardrobe closet. Hanging on a hook on the left.”
He nodded and shot up the stairs. After insisting the men double-and triple-check every nook and cranny, he grabbed her items and found her waiting on the front porch.
“I’m sure there aren’t any more snakes,” he said, pulling the door closed behind him.
“I hope not.” She took the bonnet, slipped it on and tied the long ribbons on the side of her chin before taking the bag. “Thank you. Both for getting my things and for having the men search the house.”
There was a shyness about her again, and with it came the desire to kiss her again. It had been there the moment he’d awakened with her still snuggled against his side, and had been with him ever since, other than that fleeting moment in the kitchen when she’d reminded him of the past. Then he’d wanted her out of here as fast as possible. Now, looking into those clear brown eyes, he didn’t want her to be anywhere but at his side. Which was impossible.
Seth dwelled on that as they walked, and if she hadn’t stopped, he’d have kept going right past headquarters. The big stone building with its wide double doors mocked him this morning. Challenged him to ignore the responsibilities that lay inside it. Inside him.
“Have a good meeting,” she said.
Accepting his duties, as he always would, he let loose her arm.
Millie, with her hands trembling and her insides fluttering, turned, knowing he wouldn’t go into his meeting while she was standing there. He was too much of a gentleman for that. Putting one foot in front of the other had never been quite this difficult before. The desire to tell him the truth, the entire truth, created a rather intense argument inside her.
By the time she reached the trading post she had resigned herself again to the fact that she couldn’t tell Seth anything, but it left her stomach churning. She told herself to ignore it. Not that it helped.
“Aw, Mrs. Parker, your boots are in.”
“Good morning, Mr. Jenkins,” she said, maneuvering through the space, which was even more crowded than usual. Crates made of thin wooden slats were balanced precariously and stacked head high in most every direction. “My husband thought they might have arrived.” A thrill circled her heart. Husband. One word had never filled her with such pride.
“Yes, yes, just this morning,” the bearded store owner answered. “I’d sent a wagon to Denver the day you ordered them, to make sure I’d get them as soon as possible. No one wants to disappoint the major.”
“I’m sure they don’t,” she answered, turning toward the dusty window, where the faint outline of the headquarters building could be seen. Seth was a firm leader, but well respected and admired. She’d gathered that from the first day, and every day since.
“Here they are, ma’am.”
Mr. Jenkins, the lower half of his face covered in white whiskers, had set a pair of black boots very similar to the ones she was wearing on the counter. “These are perfect,” she said. “Thank you.”
“Would you like to try them on?”
“I don’t believe there is any need.” Then, remembering the soldiers searching for snakes, she realized spending time at the trading post seemed a much better idea than returning home. Especially if another slithering creature was uncovered. “On second thought, I believe I will.”
Mr. Jenkins pulled a stool around the plank-and-barrel counter and set it down, patting the round top. “Here you go. Sit right here.”
In no hurry, she removed a boot and slipped her foot into one of the new ones. It fit perfectly and the inner sole was as soft as a pillow. “These are very nice boots, Mr. Jenkins.”