In the washroom, pulling on his stiffly starched uniform, he couldn’t help but wonder if he was the cause of Millie’s fear. The way it had contorted each of her lovely features last night, from her doe eyes to her petal mouth, had torn at his heart, and left it sore and bruised this morning. She hadn’t wanted to come with him to Washington. Had said she’d stay at the fort, wait for him there. He’d refused, said he wanted her with him. He did. Always would, and her pain was his. In an unparalleled way, it hurt worse than any injury he’d ever acquired.
It wasn’t until after Seth quietly returned the basket to their room, resisted yet another urge to kiss her, and made his way downstairs, that another possibility entered his mind. He was penning a brief message Mrs. Brewster promised to slide under the door for his wife when the thought hit.
His wife. That had to be it. Millie was fearful of facing Rosemary. He thanked the hotel owner and left, mulling things over more deeply. Lately, he’d forgotten about Rosemary’s part in all this. If she’d behaved the way she had toward him, how had she treated her sister over the years? Millie had such a kind and gentle soul, and he’d bet his best horse that Rosemary had taken advantage of that.
Anger twisted inside him. He’d wanted to wait until after the meeting in Washington to tell Millie the truth, but he couldn’t let her fear grow. He’d have to tell her, let her know he was there to protect her. That she hadn’t done anything wrong.
He had, though. This was all his fault. Whether his marriage to Rosemary was real or not, he had said the vows and should never have pursued another woman. The fact that he’d fallen in love, had been willing to do whatever it took for her to return his affection, didn’t make it right.
Pressing a hand to his aching forehead, Seth made his way to the stables.
From there he went to the train station to oversee the unloading of the items they needed from the wagons, and to ensure that the private sleeping car he’d requested was part of the long, eastbound train.
Normally, he’d have traveled with the rest of his unit and Per-Cum-Ske and his braves, in one of the cars that sported built-in berths. But a major’s wife needed more privacy than that. If one of Pullman’s hotel railroad cars had been available, he’d have rented that. Men with enough money shot buffalo out windows of those cars, while singing along to an organ, dining on delicacies and drinking wine. A true tale Seth had witnessed and a remembrance that never failed to irk him.
As it was, a smaller, not as lavish private car—with a bed large enough for two, he noted, while touring the accommodations—would suit their purposes. After approving the loading of supplies and the car, he started back for the hotel, but along the way a window display caught his eye.
It was still early and the door securely latched, but he noticed movement beyond the merchandise, and knocked on the glass.
When a woman opened the door, he asked, “That dress in the window, is it for sale?”
“Well, of course—” she pointedly noticed the emblems on his sleeves “—Major.” Stepping aside, gesturing for him to enter, she added, “But it’s not a dress, it’s a traveling suit.”
“All the better,” he said, moving forward to examine the ensemble. “I’d like to purchase it for my wife.”
“Oh, would she be available to try it on? I could make any alterations needed,” the woman said.
He hadn’t thought about size. Stepping closer, he placed his hands around the waistline and the tailor’s form beneath it, and then noted the length, compared to his height. “We’re leaving on the morning train, and I believe this size will be about perfect.”
“I do have an adjustment string sewn inside the skirt,” the woman explained. She unbuttoned the jacket, to expose a white blouse tucked inside a wide waistband made of contrasting black velvet, with a large diamond shape in front, and she pointed out the drawstring.
He nodded, and fingering the soft velvet of the skirt, said, “This color is almost the shade of my wife’s eyes.” Her hair, as well, and the style would highlight her flawless figure.
“They must be beautiful.”
“They are,” he answered. “She is.”
“She’s a lucky woman, Major.”
“No. I’m a lucky man.” Turning to the woman, he said, “I’d like to take it with me now, please.” He’d tell Millie everything as soon as the train started to roll. They’d have plenty of time to talk it through. Have things settled before they arrived in Washington.