“Tomorrow?” the leader asked.
Millie dipped her head beneath the warm bathwater and rubbed her scalp with both hands, rinsing away the bubbles. Goodness, drawing was exhausting. Sitting up and wringing the excess water out her long hair, she rebuked herself. Not exhausting. Exhilarating. Never had anything consumed her as her art had the past several days. The hours between when Seth left her near the rock in the morning until he came to fetch her each afternoon were spent drawing, and drawing, and drawing.
From braves carrying deer carcasses across the backs of their horses, to babies tied in cradle boards leaning against rocks as their mothers foraged for things Millie would never have imagined were edible, and everything in between. It was amazing to have a job to do, something people wanted from her. But the most thrilling aspect was the pride in Seth’s eyes every night when he looked through the tablets. She’d never experienced anything like it, was amazed at how it made her feel so significant, so useful and important.
She did try to convince herself she should be uncomfortable with all his praise. Tried, but failed, because his attention was far from unpleasant. Frustrating maybe, but that was her fault. Since the day—ten excruciating days ago—when she’d seen the snake, he hadn’t tried to kiss her.
Sometimes, especially during lunchtime, when he’d carry a basket out and they’d share the meal on her blanket beneath the open sky, she sensed he wanted to. Something in his eyes said so, but she pretended not to notice.
It’s what needed to happen, but not kissing him felt worse than kissing him. Desire had compounded inside her until she was so fraught with need she was sure that if she sat on a pin she’d explode.
After they’d left the Indian camp the night Per-Cum-Ske had asked her to draw him, they’d come home and prepared for bed, and Seth had asked if she was fearful of sleeping in her room. She’d had to say she wasn’t. He’d still offered his room, said they could trade, but she assured him she’d be fine, and had been every night since.
Fine was hardly the word. She was miserable.
There hadn’t been any more snakes, and she rarely thought of them, but that had little to do with it. A serious change had happened between her and Seth. He was still attentive and charming, and they’d formed a unique companionship—something akin to friendship that went deeper, filled her with such warmth there was no place for fear or worry.
“Where are you?”
Just the sound of his voice filtering into the room had her heart racing and put a smile on her lips.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are.”
Millie stifled a giggle. “I’m taking a bath,” she yelled, and then held her breath as footfalls stopped outside the door. Just knowing he was in the hall had her skin tingling.
“Need any help?” he asked through the wood.
He’d started teasing her lately, in a way no one had ever done before, and the delight lingered long after the moment. In an ironic way, it satisfied some of her longing, while increasing it at the same time. It had all been baffling until she’d come to understand it. Mrs. Ketchum had explained it while sitting with her as she drew one day. The woman said a wife’s role was to relieve her husband of the worries he constantly carried, and how teasing brought out the child within and made a person feel carefree. Millie enjoyed knowing she did that for Seth, and welcomed his bouts of playfulness.
“No,” she said, while wondering what he’d do if she said yes. “What do you need?” She slid the bar of soap up and down her arms, hurrying to complete her bath and join him in the parlor, where they’d sit and talk of little things. Afterward he’d walk her up the stairs and wish her good-night, at which point her longing to cross the hall and lie next to him would keep her awake for hours.
The doorknob rattled. “If I tell you what I really want, will you give it to me?”
The bar of soap shot out of her hand, landed on the floor with a thud.
“Is that a yes?” he asked.
Splashing to quickly rinse the last of the suds from her arms before her heart exploded, she searched for an answer to keep him on the other side of the door. He was using the tone that made her stomach simmer like a pot about to boil, and when he sounded like that the glow in his eyes made her toes curls. Leaping out of the tub, she answered, “I’ll save my bathwater for you.”
“You always save me your water.”
She lifted a towel off the stool. “There’s no sense wasting it.”