“If you tell me what you need, ma’am,” Cutter said, “I’ll carry it down there for you.”
An uneven click and thud echoed against the rough-hewn walls as she walked across the room toward the table.
“Her heel broke off in Tulsa,” Ben said directly to him. “It got caught in a knothole on the train platform. Ralph fixed it, but it broke off again yesterday.”
Seth didn’t need an explanation; it made little difference. Yet because in most instances he did expect full reports from his men, he nodded to Cutter before he asked her, “Don’t you have another pair of boots or shoes?”
The sideways glance she sent his way was full of intolerance. “Do you honestly think I’d be wearing these if I had another pair?”
That, too, sounded like Rosemary.
She lifted the tapestry bag Russ had set on the table. “I have day slippers I can wear now, but they wouldn’t have held up while traveling.” Turning to Ben, she smiled. “I packed everything I’ll need in here last night, after you and Mr. Winston explained the layout of the fort.”
“Here, then, ma’am, I’ll carry that for you,” Ben replied, taking the bag and holding the door wide with his other hand.
“Thank you.” Chin up, she marched—with her awkward high-low steps—out the door, without a single backward glance.
Seth was just fine with that. Though he did follow as far as the opening. A crowd had formed, which was to be expected. The fort was close-knit, more so than some families, and there were a few men who’d probably been standing right outside the door, attempting to hear every word. They were off to the sides now, watching curiously. Only a select number of people had known he was married, but once the telegram came in, announcing her arrival, word had spread fast. A twinge pulled at his forehead. He’d have to tell his mother now, and better send the letter soon. If someone else mentioned it, she’d never forgive him.
“Major, sir,” Ralph Winston said, clicking his heels together as he stopped next to the open doorway. “Did Ben explain your wife wasn’t hurt, other than a broken heel, when she fell? I did fix her boot, but without the proper tools, it broke again.”
Seth was grinding his teeth again; he had to pull them apart to answer. “Yes, he did.”
“She was attempting to help us load her luggage, sir. We told her it wasn’t necessary. Half the town thought it was a gunshot, the way the sound echoed beneath the platform.” Winston wiped his brow and replaced his hat. “My heart danged near stopped working, seeing her sprawled out on the ground.”
Seth was a touched surprised by the concern that raced over him—and irritated. One more person to be concerned about. Responsible for. Army men were one thing. Women and children another—and something he never wanted to have to worry about again.
The giggle that sounded a short distance down the walkway snagged his attention, but through will alone, he kept his gaze from turning that way. He was about to dismiss Winston when the man continued.
“She’s a trooper, Major. Was laughing to beat the band when I helped her to her feet. Never saw a woman laugh at herself like that.”
Seth’s spine stiffened all over again. The Rosemary he knew—or the one he thought he knew—would never have laughed at herself. True, he’d left Richmond less then twenty-four hours after meeting her, returned here to the Indian Wars, but her attitude, her persona, had imbedded itself within him the first hour he’d known her.
“I’ll see the heel gets repaired properly this time, sir.”
After a nod, Seth waved a hand, dismissing Winston. His eyes then went to where his wife entered the door to a room with tubs and water barrels. The officers’ quarters were separate homes with space for private bathing, and Rosemary would have demanded to know why he didn’t live in one of them.
He turned and reentered his cabin. Even after becoming a major, he’d gone on living in the barracks. Back then things had been so busy, he hadn’t had time to think beyond knowing he had a bed to fall into at night.
The turmoil had calmed down considerably over the past few years, even more the past months, but he still hadn’t thought about moving. Besides, the major’s house, as it was known, had become a catchall. Storage for items no one knew what to do with.
As Seth spun to shut the door, the hairs on his neck stood up. People were still gathered about, some pretending to be on missions, whereas in reality they were staring at him. Watching for his next move.