Threads of Grace–continued

     Trey gulped. If only he’d listened to Ben he wouldn’t be in this fix. Was it too late to give one more argument? “Sir, I can assure you no harm will come to Miss Morrow or her sister. You have my word. But—”
     Reverend Bittman nodded. “I understand this is most uncomfortable for both of you. However, you must surely agree that as the guardian of the two Miss Morrows, I simply cannot allow SueAnna to leave—in the company of two young cowboys, no less—without the safety of marriage. I only wish Mr. Covington, himself, would have made the offer of employment in person.
     “But he couldn’t. That’s why he sent us.”
     “I’m aware of that. But without a letter or some kind of assurance from him, I’m afraid that my argument still stands. I know how very much SueAnna wants to keep Lily with her. And I know she would make Mr. Covington a very fine housekeeper, young as she is. But I will insist that she be married before I allow her to leave my home to begin a two-day trek back to the KIM. If your mother were here, I’m sure she’d agree.”
     The preacher had a point. Ma would more than agree. But he didn’t even know Miss Morrow, let alone love her. Why wasn’t SueAnna fighting this? Surely she didn’t want to be married any more than he did?
     “What if—
      Bittman shook his head. “No, young man. No more arguments. I’d suggest you take some time to rethink your proposition and come back in the morning with your decision. If you agree to my request, then we can proceed with the wedding right away, and  you can begin your journey back to Mr. Covington with his plea for a housekeeper quite accomplished.”
     A small gasp escaped from SueAnna. Until now she’d sat with her head down and her hands folded tightly in her lap. Now she was pale and wide-eyed. Maybe she’d side with him.
     “Don’t you think we should ask Miss Morrow how she feels about all this?” 
     Reverend Bittman turned to her. “What say ye, SueAnna? I know this isn’t what you expected, but I’m sure Naomi will help you understand all the implications.”
     She nodded. “It would be a marriage in name only, am I correct? I wouldn’t be expected to…I mean we wouldn’t…”
     It gave Trey a certain amount of pleasure to watch the preacher’s face turn red. 
     “That would be…well, I’m sure you know…Naomi will…”
     “You’re correct, Miss Morrow. In name only.” Trey heaved a sigh of relief. At least they understood one another. 
     SueAnna stood. “I don’t have much choice, do I? If I say no, I’ll lose Lily. I can’t let that happen. I’m sorry, Mr. Martin. I don’t like this any more than you do, but I’ll do whatever it takes to be allowed to keep my little sister with me. Mother would never have wanted us separated. All I can do is wait for your decision.” She turned to the Reverend. “May I be excused, please?”
     Bittman nodded. As small as she was, the soft tap of each step as she ascended the stairway drummed against Trey’s heart. 
     Ben would never let him live this down, and Mr. Covington may very well order them all to leave. 
     His ears rang, his palms were sweaty, and common sense told him to walk out the door, ride back to the ranch and admit defeat. 
    But for reasons he couldn’t explain, nor did he want to think about, he knew he’d return to the ranch with a wife. 


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