“No,” she said, “you have no fault in any of this.” Realizing how much she’d just said, she pressed her lips to his, afraid he might understand more than she wanted him to, and right now, that might be enough to make her keel over.
* * *
A week later, Millie did keel over, right there at the counter in the little bookstore where she was filling the last items on Ilene Ketchum’s list.
When she opened her eyes, lying on some little sofa, the man crouched next to her shoulder made her wish she could faint again. Though she loved him for who he was—her oldest and dearest friend—he was the last person she wanted to see: the faceless man in her dream.
“Millie?” he said as she closed her eyes. “Millie, it’s me, Martin.”
“I know who you are.”
“And you’re so shocked to see me you fainted?”
She opened her eyes again, glanced around long enough to realize they must be in the living quarters attached to the bookstore. “What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be in Texas.”
“That’s a mighty fine welcome.”
Flipping her legs over the edge of the sofa, she pulled herself up, taking a deep breath and wishing she was dreaming. But she wasn’t. “Hello, Martin.”
“What are you doing here?” he asked. “In Washington.”
Pressing a hand to the pain in her forehead, she said, “I asked you first.”
He took her face between his hands. His hold wasn’t hard or distressing, just so different from Seth’s, so different from how he made her feel, that she wanted to cry.
“What kind of mission does Rosemary have you on now?” Martin asked in a firm and somewhat disgusted tone. “You look terrible. I’ve never seen you with bags under your eyes.”
It was another voice that turned her spine to ice. The one filtering through the curtain hanging behind Martin. “Hide,” she insisted, pushing at her friend. “Hide now!”
“Now!” She leaped to her feet so fast her head spun. Fighting the dizziness, she hurried to the curtain, arriving as it parted. Seeing his face, she felt her heart exploding with a mixture of grief and joy. “Seth.”
He grabbed her, held her close. “I was told you fainted.”
“I thought you were in a meeting,” she said, her heart pounding so hard she couldn’t think.
“I was.” He leaned back to examine her with scrutinizing eyes. “But we’re meeting for lunch, just half a block from here. We decided that this morning. Don’t you remember?”
It had been all she’d thought of until a few minutes ago. They’d barely seen each other the past few days, with the way he’d been in meetings from morning to night, and when they were together, neither wasted time talking. “Yes, yes, I do.” She tried to push him backward, away from the curtain.
He studied her thoroughly before his gaze lifted. “You there, are you the man who assisted my wife?”
At the sound of Martin’s voice saying, “Yes, sir,” Millie’s world went black again.
Seth’s heart—still inhabiting his throat from when he’d seen commotion outside the bookstore, passersby stopping to gawk through the open doorway—threatened to strangle him as he lifted her into his arms. Her body was limp, and reminded him too much of the remains of fallen soldiers he’d carried off battlefields.
“Sergeant,” he yelled, noting the stripes on the sleeves of the man standing on the other side of the curtain. “Get me a carriage and a doctor. Room 218 at the Wormley Hotel.”
Shifting her weight, so her head rested against his shoulder and her arms no longer hung at her sides, Seth had one thing to compare to the fear and pain charging through him. His throat was on fire and he knew why, even as a hundred scenarios, a thousand why-didn’t-I’s, and a million if-onlys plagued his mind while he carried her out of the bookstore and into the buggy rolling to a stop. All his proclamations of not wanting to marry because he hadn’t wanted to leave anyone behind when he perished were a lie. The truth was this was what he didn’t want. To again lose someone he loved. Not knowing how to deal with his father’s death, how to grieve, Seth had hidden all the pain, focused on others’. His mother’s pain. The needs of his family. Eventually, he’d convinced himself that was what he didn’t want again.
And that was also why he hadn’t told this woman the truth. That he knew she was Millie. He was afraid she’d leave him. He’d wronged her in so many ways, she was sure never to believe him again, or trust him. He wouldn’t ride with men he didn’t trust, and he couldn’t expect her to, either.