Ilene pulled her across the threshold and shut the door. “Just put it in the kitchen, ladies. I’ll help Mrs. Parker lay it out,” she instructed.
Once again Millie faltered. The maidens had set the table back at the cabin, and she’d never questioned it. Frowning, she followed the others into the house and kitchen.
“We won’t need those.” Ilene gestured toward the tin plates Su-Ma set on the table. “That will be all now. Thank you.”
Millie thanked the maidens as they piled the plates back in one of their crates and took their leave. But her attention was on Ilene, who’d started lifting fine china dishes out of the cupboards.
“Here, take these,” she said. “I’ll show you how to wrap the food so it stays warm until the major arrives.”
Taking the matching plates and serving dishes, Millie carried them to the table, listening as Ilene started to explain, “Now, in the winter, it’s easier to keep food hot with a fire in the stove. During the summer months, I wrap the kettles with these miniature quilts. I made them myself and they work quite well. When the major arrives you just spoon everything into the serving bowls.” While wrapping the kettles the maidens had left, Ilene gestured across the room. “You’ll find the napkins in the drawer over there. I embroidered them with blue Ps when I heard you were coming. Seth wasn’t sure what your favorite color was, but I knew his was blue.”
Millie found the napkins, beautiful cream-colored ones with a fancy P stitched in one corner. “Blue is my favorite color, too,” she whispered, more to herself than the other woman. The letters were the same deep blue as Seth’s eyes. If she’d never had a favorite color before, she did now.
“You know, dear, being a major’s wife—an army wife in general—isn’t for everyone. It’s hard work.” Ilene took the napkins and set them beside the plates.
Millie placed the silverware atop them, noting how nice the table looked compared to the tin plates and cups they’d used back at the cabin.
“I believe a proper wife knows how to make a home presentable wherever that home may be located.”
Pride had filled the woman’s words and an invisible weight settled on Millie’s shoulders.
“It is part of taking care of our husbands,” Ilene continued. “Another part of being married to a commander is never questioning his actions. If they want to talk about things, we need to be good listeners, but we should never ask about what they’ve seen or had to do.”
A hard knot formed in Millie’s throat. “I don’t know very much about being a wife.”
“Of course you don’t, dear, living apart as you have the past five years. When Jasper and I were first married, we lived apart, too. It’s the way it was back then, for army wives. A tragedy for sure. Your mother wasn’t the only wife to succumb to the loneliness.”
A chill ran so deep Millie’s entire body shivered. “You know about my mother?”
Ilene stepped closer, laid a tender hand on Millie’s arm. “I knew your mother.”
The other woman nodded. “Not well, but I met her a couple of times. Jasper and your father were well acquainted.”
There were so many things swimming in her mind, Millie didn’t know how to respond, and didn’t have time to figure it out before the front door opened.
“That must be the major,” Ilene whispered. “I’ll let myself out the back door.”
Maybe dreaming about kissing her all morning, or worrying about her while dealing with the incident with the children—even though he’d seen Ilene Ketchum take her back to the house—was the reason he was so anxious to see her. Either way, when Seth rounded the corner, saw her standing near the table set for lunch, his heartbeat sped up.
He’d been about to kiss her earlier, and the desire was just as strong now. But the atmosphere had changed. Releasing an inward sigh, knowing the moment was long gone, he wondered what to say, and finally stated, “The men didn’t find any more snakes.” He held in the groan that tried to escape. Reminding her of the snake had not been a good choice of words.
“That’s a relief,” she said, offering a wobbly smile. “Lunch is ready.”
“It smells good,” he answered, then pointed to the table. “This looks nice.”
“Thank you.” She carried a serving dish from the counter. “Mrs. Ketchum helped me.”
He waited until she had the food set on the table, and then held her chair before taking his own. After filling his plate from the assortment of bowls, he ate slowly, watching her pick at the food she’d served herself. “Aren’t you hungry?”