Threads of Grace
Chapter 2, continued
Ben reined the horses to a stop in front of the house. “You go on in, Trey. I”ll take care of this wagon.”
“No way, fella. We’re in this together, remember?” He reached for SueAnna’s hand.
She ignored his offer of help and climbed out of the wagon on her own, then lifted Lily to the ground. “Perhaps it would save you both trouble if I were to introduce myself.” She gripped Lily’s hand. “And you let me do the talking, little sister.”
Trey shrugged. “There isn’t any need for you to go it alone, ma’am. I got us in this mess, likely it’ll be up to me to get us out.”
She pulled Lily in front of her and put her hands on the girl’s shoulders. “This mess, as you call it, was a wedding, sir. And as much as I didn’t like the idea then and like it even less now, I took a vow that I’ve promised to keep. And I expect you to keep yours…in name only. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to meet Mr. Covington.” She swallowed and prayed she sounded more confident than she felt. Truth was, her legs were so weak she’d likely fall if she were to loosen her hold on Lily.
Ben winked at her, and one side of his mouth slid into a grin. “I reckon we best all go in at once.” He squatted in front of Lily. “How ’bout you and me walkin’ in together seein’ as how I’d be all alone now that Mr. Martin, here, has gone and got himself a Mrs.”
Lily giggled. “Can I, Annie? Cuz that would be polite, wouldn’t it? And remember, you told me to mind my manners.”
SueAnna met Trey’s gaze. “Is it okay if Lily comes along, or would you prefer I keep her away from your boss?”
He nodded. “No need to keep her away. It isn’t like you can hide her for long. Keeping her hid would be like trying to keep the leaves from twisting on a windy day.”
Lily stepped away from SueAnna and took Ben’s hand. “I wish you was my sister’s mister instead of him. He don’t like us, does he?”
Ben laughed. “You want to know a secret? You listen too, Mrs. Martin. Trey’s a real slow learner. Took him near a week to like me, and I never met a soul that didn’t take to me right off. Don’t you worry none. He growls and pouts and says stupid stuff all because he thinks it makes him more like a man. But he won’t hurt ya none.”
SueAnna sighed. Could a man understand how many ways a lady could be hurt?
“You did what?” Adam Covington scooted himself higher against the headboard.
“Hush,” Hilda pulled him forward and gave the pillows a fluff then shoved him back against them. “If you’re going to yell, then you do it when that little lady isn’t present. You sent them two to bring you back a housekeeper and that’s what they’ve done.”
He glared at her. “I’m not yelling.”
“That’s telling a lie, Mister. Sister says if you tell a lie you’ll get a blister on your tongue. And they hurt. I know. I tried it once.”
Before he could stop it, his tongue gave an involuntary swab against the sides of his mouth. It was bad enough his cowboys came home with one girl instead of a grown woman, but to add a miniature one with a strong opinion was more than he bargained for.
Hilda handed him a glass of water. “If I had soap handy I’d make you take a big chew of it before you swallowed a drop of this nice cold water. The little girl’s right, you were yelling.”
He took a long, deep breath. “Okay, I’ll not raise my voice again. But young man,” he pointed to Trey, “you best start explaining exactly what it is you’ve done. And Ben, you can wipe that smirk off your face. I sent the two of you to do a job so the two of you can either take the blame, or receive my thanks. I’m reserving both until I know the whole story.”
Awkward silence filled the room when Trey finished his explanation. Adam glanced at his housekeeper. Wasn’t she going to get him out of this? She’d be most kind if she’d choose to put a pillow over his face and hold it there until he quit breathing.
“You satisfied, now?” Hilda hissed. “SueAnna, my dear, you come along with me and I’ll get you settled in. And if we’re lucky, these three will chew one another into tiny pieces and we can sweep them up and toss them to the wind before nightfall.”
“You mean I’m to stay?”
He could only nod. He closed his eyes against the image of another woman, at another time, that near tore his heart to pieces. And he clamped his teeth onto his tongue to keep from calling her name.
Kathleen had stood like this—back ramrod straight, too proud to lower her head, her eyes so full of pain he couldn’t breathe. Even with her pa’s shotgun against his chest, he vowed he’d never stop loving her. He’d not stop looking until he found her…no one would ever be able to keep them apart…he’d die first.
Only he was the one still alive. To this day he didn’t know how her pa knew where to find him. But the letter said she’d died before their bastard child was born. And it ended with a promise to kill him if ever saw his face again.
Something hit his chest and he opened his eyes. A rag doll. Really? Brown yarn hair hung in long braids that matched the little imp of a girl who peeked over the top of the tall mattress.”
“I kinda don’t like you much, but Miss Libby likes you. She can stay with you if you’re sad. She knows kind words and happy words.”
“Adam Covington. The young lady asked if you agree to her staying and you’ve not answered. I think that doll has more manners than you.” Hilda threw him a glare that would make an onion cry.
“Annie says I’m to speak when spoken to. That means I can’t just shake my head or shrug or look at my feet.” She demonstrated each move. The rag doll hopped on its bottom closer to his face, then one grubby rounded arm rubbed against his face. “Libby says you need a shave. Whiskers hurt her when she gives hugs.”
Hilda rolled her lips and he didn’t chance a glance at the two cowboys. Okay, he could play this game. He took the doll and held her in a standing position on his chest. “Well, Miss Libby. How about if you stay here with me while your mama and her sister get settled in.”
He smiled at SueAnna. “Yes, you are to stay. My obvious angst is not against you at all. This broken leg has kept me abed too long, I’m afraid, and I’ve grown old and cranky in the meantime.”
“Pffft. You were old and cranky before that leg ever thought of getting broke.” Hilda put her arm around the girl’s shoulders. “Crank is the only thing that man knows. You’ll learn soon enough how to handle him. Come with me, now. I’ll put you in the best room of the house.”
“Wait. That’s my room, Hilda.”
“Not any more it isn’t. It’s now for Mr. and Mrs. Martin.”
Adam didn’t miss the look of panic that passed between Trey and SueAnna. It shouldn’t have…but it gave him the most pleasure he’d had in quite some time.
SueAnn held her breath. She’d never seen anything this nice. Especially nothing that you only slept in. A bank of windows covered the east wall. The lace curtains that puddled against the floor matched the curtains around the high canopied bed situated across from them. This didn’t look like a man’s room at all.
Large marble-topped tables flanked either side of the bed, and both were topped with ruby glass lamps. The dark walnut floor shone even in the midday light, and was topped with a red, gold and peacock blue rug so plush her feet sank into its depth.
The fireplace on the north wall was surrounded by walnut book cases and a peacock blue settee faced the hearth. On one side of the settee sat a large, red leather chair—the one masculine accent—and on the other side was a smaller red tapestry chair with a small matching footstool.
Hilda bustled around the room. “I’ll make sure all of Adam’s clothing is moved to a different room. Don’t you let him hang guilt around that pretty little neck of yours, you hear? I’m sure you’ve noticed by now this little sanctuary of his has the hint of a woman.”
“I did notice. Was there a Mrs. Covington?”
“Don’t ask me any questions, and don’t ask him, either. But I’ll tell you this much—if you take a good long look at the woman in the painting above the mantle you’ll see an amazing resemblance. I think he took one look at you and thought he’d seen a ghost. SueAnna, my dear, you’ve managed to win him over better than my apple pie, and he’s sworn he’d die for my apple pie.”
She pulled open the curtains. “Most beautiful sight in the whole of Kansas, waking up every morning to the sun topping those hills. Adam’s an early riser, and I used to stand here after I got his room all tidied up just gazing across that prairie. In the spring those little calves romp around, their little white faces bobbing like daisies amongst the tall grass. And in the autumn, them hills look like big loaves of bread, all brown and shiny on top like they’d just been buttered. And oh, the winter. Why old man winter just takes him a great big old spreading knife and ices everything in site.
She patted SueAnna’s cheek. “You’re going to love it here, sweetheart. Now, Lily honey, you come with me. We got us a room here just specially for you.”
“Oh, but she can—”
“My dear, you take a good long look at me. I’ve never married, but I’m not dumb to the ways. I know you want to look out after this little one, but mark my word, that young cowboy you spoke your I do with isn’t gonna be nearly so ready to share the bed with the two of you.”
She winked. “No, siree. I just changed my mind and I’m not leaving for one more week. Gonna make sure you all get settled in and know the way around this place before I leave you here. Newly married is hard enough. Keeping house for Adam Covington and cooking for twelve hungry cowboys is no small job. You’ll do fine, but first you need a chance to get used to being a Mrs. Come on, Lily. I gave your sister the best room in the house, now let’s you and me go find the prettiest for you and Miss Libby.”
SueAnna waited until the door clicked shut behind them, the laid across the bed and wept. Lily would love a room of her own. But how in the world was she going to escape sharing a room, and a bed, with the likes of Trey Martin?