“Only the best,” he said with a wide grin. “I have something else for you, ma’am.”
“Oh?” she answered absently, while removing the boot. The idea that Seth had picked them out filled her with a unique sense of endearment. She’d save them for special occasions.
“Here you go.” The man held out a yellow parasol, complete with cane handle.
Shaking her head, she sought for an explanation. “I don’t recall ordering that, Mr. Jenkins, though it is very beautiful.”
“You didn’t order it, ma’am. It’s my gift to you.” The top of his head, very close to being hairless, took on a pink glow. “Seeing how your other one was ruined on your journey out here.”
His smile was so bright and his tone so sincere, she had a hard time shaking her head again. “I couldn’t accept such a gift, Mr. Jenkins. But thank you for the thought.”
He extended it farther. “I insist, Mrs. Parker. It’s a gift to welcome you to our fort. Please take it.”
“Oh, but I couldn’t.”
Shaking his head, the man said, “Then I’ll have to tell the major.”
Her stomach flipped. “Tell the major what?”
“That you wouldn’t accept my welcoming gift.” There was a teasing glint in his eyes. “He’ll make you take it. He likes to keep everyone happy. Makes for easier living.”
Relieved, because for a split second she’d thought he had discovered her true identity, Millie clicked her tongue. “You, Mr. Jenkins, are a rascal.”
His guffaw echoed off the walls, ceiling and unevenly stacked crates. “That I am, ma’am. Now are you gonna take my present or not?”
“I believe I have no choice.” She grasped the handle and ran her other hand over the silk and lace folded and tied along the intricate woodwork. It was a beautiful piece, and finely made. “Thank you, Mr. Jenkins. I appreciate your thoughtfulness.”
“And we appreciate you. The major’s been grinning ever since you stepped off that wagon.”
Her heart seemed to double in size. Everyone at the fort was so kind to her. Had been since her arrival. She leaned closer to the man and teasingly whispered, “He’s probably still thinking about the comical limp my broken heel gave me.”
The storekeeper’s rumbling laughter filled the room again. “You were a sight, ma’am.”
She couldn’t help but giggle. “I know.” Happiness like this was so new, sometimes she wondered if she should pinch herself. Setting the parasol on the counter next to her boots, she asked, “May I leave these here? I’d like to look around a bit.”
“Of course.” He picked a can out of the box next to him and set it on the shelf. “I gotta get this freight unloaded, but you just holler if you find something you can’t reach.”
“I will,” she assured him, already scanning the shelves and tables. There truly wasn’t anything she needed, but it would take the men time to check the house, so she might as well explore the merchandise. Besides, with Seth at headquarters, there was little else to fill her time.
Time. Now that was an amazing thing. A week ago, she’d thought Mr. Jenkins a scary-looking character, but now recognized he was an enterprising shop owner who was also generous. A kind-hearted soul. Not even the Indians filing in and out of the doorway fazed her. She offered a smile to those who glanced her way. Who’d have ever imagined she’d adjust so well, so quickly? It just proved people could get used to new things if they would only try.
Her hand stalled on the glass chimney of the oil lamp she’d been admiring. The tiny flowers on the base no longer drew her attention. She’d adjusted all right. More than she should have. A heavy weight settled in her chest.
She’d tried to become Rosemary this morning, but hadn’t put forth much effort. It was as if something inside her refused to allow the disguise to manifest, and she’d readily accepted that. How would she ever make it to December? September was barely over, and every day it grew more difficult to remember why she was here. It wasn’t that she didn’t think of her sister and the baby regularly. But being here wasn’t so much of a chore anymore, and that wasn’t right. Rosemary wouldn’t be enjoying life at the fort, and that’s who Seth had to divorce. Rosemary. Not Millie.
The air around her grew suffocating. It was as if she no longer existed, yet at the same time, she had never been happier. And that was the problem. This wasn’t about her. It was about her sister and Seth. Millie felt as if her head was spinning. The harder she thought, the more confusing everything became. Of all the skirmishes and incidents she’d had to clean up for Rosemary, this was the most complicated, especially for her.