A chill settled inside Seth, so fast and strong he probably had frost on his fingertips, the way they’d frozen to the glass he’d been twirling.
“As much as I hate to say this, sir,” Clark said, “I can’t give you any answers.”
Stung, Seth felt the muscles in his neck start to throb, and not trusting his mouth, he simply glared at the man.
Clark touched the scar on his cheek. “I got this when I jumped in a river to save my best friend’s sister from drowning. Ironic thing was, she wasn’t drowning, just pretending to be.”
Seth was listening, but the bile churning in his stomach was burning the back of his throat, and every muscle in his body had gone tight. “Why should I care about that, Sergeant?”
Clark shrugged. “I guess I just wanted you to know.”
“Why?” he pressed.
“Because Millie’s my best friend.” Clark swallowed. “And I love her.”
Seth bottled his reaction, refused to let it show, but it was like a steam cooker, spitting bouts of boiling hot mist throughout his system.
“Ultimately, sir,” Clark continued, “that’s all I can say. It’s Millie’s story, and she wants to be the one to tell you the truth.”
Seth’s anger was so thick, thoughts couldn’t form. Just actions. His hand came down on the table hard enough to make the empty glass bounce and tumble to the floor.
Clark flinched, but held his gaze. “I told her I’d take her away. Desert the army. Hide. But she refused.” The man stood then. “She’s in your room. Waiting for you.”
Seth didn’t move a muscle, just sat there, knowing the man had something else he wanted to say. Seth didn’t want to listen to anything more. He didn’t like being ambushed. Not by anyone. And Millie, the woman he loved, had ambushed him.
“I know your reputation, sir,” Clark said, “and I hope I’m correct in my belief that you won’t harm her.”
Once again Seth remained still, quiet.
“I’d appreciate it if you’d let her know I’ll be in the lobby if she needs me.”
That was more than he could take. Snapped the last thread of his patience. “She won’t need you tonight, Sergeant.”
The man left, and Seth remained sitting in the corner of the dining room until the rest of the hotel was sound asleep, and the black man who operated the Wormley Hotel finally approached the table, asking about his accommodations.
Seth assured him the accommodations were fine, it was the rest of the world that wasn’t. He could have sat there for a year and still not known what to do about any of it. The emotions filling him as he climbed the stairs were unfamiliar and unidentifiable. Some at least. Others he knew. Anger. Rage. Resentment. Humiliation. Dishonor. Shame.
Separating them was impossible; all he knew was he’d been duped again.
Martin Clark hadn’t given him any answers, but Seth now knew more than he wanted to. The man did love Millie. He’d not only said it, it had shone in his eyes as he spoke of her, and by that Seth knew Clark would still marry her, even knowing she’d pretended to be another man’s wife. Seth’s. Tempted him with that body, whispering words of love. She’d played him well, and in all actuality, she was more dangerous than her sister.
Seth waved the sentry away from the door before he entered, pulling in a deep breath in order to gain the ability to even turn the knob.
She rose as he entered, from the chair near the table on the far side of the room. Her chestnut hair had been recently brushed. It glistened in the glow of the lamp and splayed over her shoulders, except for a few strands that had caught on the three big buttons on her housecoat when she stood up. His throat swelled and he begged for the ability to keep all the anger from seeping away. He’d need it tonight, tomorrow, the next day, the day after....
It had been years, but the sting and pain was as strong as he remembered—that gut wrenching rip at losing someone you loved. No, it wasn’t the same. It was worse this time, because she was still alive. Standing right before him.
Seth took off his hat, mainly to give himself something to do, and kept his back to her well after he’d laid the headwear on the chair by the door. She’d set it there, so he’d have a place for his hat and coat, just like at home. That’s what she’d said, anyway, when he’d come in after a meeting the first night they’d been here.
Quivers shot down his spine. “Say what you have to say,” he said, fidgeting with his coat buttons, already knowing he wouldn’t be taking it off. Not in this room.