Air snagged in his throat, like that of a man falling out of a tree, catching on each branch, and that made their kiss begin as a mere mingling of breath. It grew into several small kisses, openmouthed so he could catch one of her lips for a second, and then it turned into a passionate exploration that had him wondering how late they could be before the train left without them.
It was the fact they had to talk—today—that made him finally pull the door open.
Perhaps because an inner part of her was tight with tension that had the rest of her wanting to delay their arrival—forever—time decided to speed past, as if to prove a point, or break her heart, or both.
The sky was starless, a never ending black void that could have overwhelmed her, feeling the way she did. Then again, in order for the sky to overwhelm her, nothing else could be, and something certainly was. Millie pressed her head against the window of the train, which had blown its whistle moments before to signal they were on the outskirts of Washington. Her thoughts were so jumbled nothing made sense.
She folded her hands across her stomach, hugging herself against the dull pain that now throbbed in every part of her being. Even hurting as she was, the soft velvet beneath her fingers made her smile. The traveling suit Seth had bought for her was the most beautiful outfit she’d ever owned. Ever seen. Made of thick velvet, it kept her warm as the climate outside the train dropped lower, and the gorgeous shade of brown—a color she’d never have imagined using for a gown—was perfect for traveling. It seemed to repel even the coal dust that somehow found its way inside the private sleeping car.
They’d left it for meals, gone to the dining car, and a couple of times she’d joined Seth in short visits with the men. Usually, though, she stayed behind. Stepping between cars frightened her, even with him at her side. He was never gone long, yet she missed him terribly every moment.
The whistle sounded again, reverberating up her spine and over her skin until her insides were quaking. The dream had continued, and Seth, dear sweet Seth, was constant in his attempts to calm her, chase away her fears. He kept trying to draw her into conversation, tell him what was wrong, but it wouldn’t come out. Instead she did the only thing she could: beg him to love her. And though he did—he loved her thoroughly—the worry she now saw in his eyes increased her cowardice. Not only was she unable to tell him the truth, she was terrified of sleeping. Had barely closed her eyes for days, yet had pretended to be asleep whenever he wanted to talk.
A clang followed by a jolt had her reaching for something to grasp. If only she’d stayed behind! At the fort she might have been able to build up the gumption to tell him the truth upon his return.
The starch left her knees and she sank into a red folding chair. She wouldn’t have found the courage there, either. Someone this spineless didn’t have the ability to all of a sudden become brave. If so, she’d have done so years ago. Told Rosemary to handle her own problems. Stood up for herself, as Lola and Martin, and even at times, her father, had told her to do.
Now she was in so deep, nothing could save her.
With a screech she’d come to know, the door opened and Seth walked in. Her heart knocked, as if excitedly announcing “he’s back!” and the butterflies his smile always awoke started batting their wings against the walls of her stomach.
Returning his grin, she realized that though she was a coward, she was also glad there had been one time in her life she’d been brave. Back at the fort, when she’d told him she loved him for the first time. For she did, and the past weeks had been the most wonderful time of her life. Seth loved her in return. She saw it in his eyes, felt it in his touch, and what cut her to the quick was understanding the severe pain of being betrayed by someone you love.
He was standing in front of her, holding out his hands. She laid hers in them and stood, willingly met his lips for an elevating little kiss.
“I’m hoping you’ll sleep better at the hotel,” he said, caressing her cheek with the pads of his fingers. “I don’t like seeing you so tired.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“Yes, it is,” he said.
Millie pressed two fingers to his lips, sensing he was about to say more. As far as hardships, this trip had been a simple undertaking compared to the journey west, where she’d slept sitting up on one of the hard seats in the passenger car, and had had layovers of up to eight hours at different stations, not to mention the wagon ride, which had been something else entirely.