Chapter Eight

Threads of Grace
Chapter Eight
     Trey made a point to touch SueAnna’s hand when she handed him his coffee. “Thank you, Rose. And thank you for another wonderful meal.” Who was he fooling? His gut was tied in a knot so tight he couldn’t get food into it—and had been that way since the preacher came to stay four days ago. Surely he wasn’t jealous, was he?
     Her eyes met his. “Thank you, Mr. Martin.” 
     She turned to the guest. “More coffee, Sage?”
     So that’s how it is—preacher man is Sage, and I’m Mr. Martin. Shouldn’t a wife call her husband by his given name?
      The preacher took her hand. “No, thanks. But I was wondering,” he turned to Adam Covington, “Sir, would you mind if Rosie and I took a walk after we clean up the kitchen? This is my last night here and I would very much like to have some time with her.” 
     This is going to stop. Trey’s chair scraped across the floor as he scooted from the table.
     Covington put his hand on his shoulder before he could get to his feet. “You two go have your walk and Trey and I will see to the kitchen. That is what you were going to say, isn’t it?”
     Trey swallowed. This would not be a good time to argue. “Uh…of course, SueAnna. You deserve a night away from all your duties.” Bile rose in his throat. This was not at all what he wanted to say.
     The other men at the table stopped eating, their forks in midair. They knew they were married and most likely wondered why he’d just given permission for her to go out with the preacher…alone. Any comment from him would only serve to disgrace SueAnna. A week ago he wouldn’t have cared. But now…admit it, Trey…now it does.
      “Annie, shouldn’t you ask Trey?” Lily’s lip stuck out like a perch.
       SueAnna didn’t hide her frown. “And why should I ask Trey?”
     “Well, because he’s your hus—”
      Ben wiggled his fingers across Lily’s lips. “Shh, little one. Your sister is old enough she doesn’t need to ask. But you do. Don’t you ever go walking by yourself without asking. Okay?”
     Sage put his napkin on the table and stood. “It’s settled then. If you’ll excuse us, gentlemen.” He nodded at the men and placed SueAnna’s hand in the crook of his arm.
     “I really need to get a jacket. Wait on the porch and I’ll be right down.”

     He bowed low. “As you wish, milady.”
     The click of the door echoed like a shot across the prairie. 
     “I still think she should ask Mr. Martin.” Lily huffed.
     “Yeah, well it’s okay. My opinion doesn’t seem to matter much around here anymore.”
    Lily’s spoon clanked against her plate. “But when you start sleeping with my sister so we can have babies then she can’t go walking in the dark without asking, can she?” She shoveled in the last bite of pie.
     He wouldn’t give Ben the satisfaction of listening to his answer.  “Excuse me, please.” He didn’t even make it to the kitchen before the red-headed woodpecker snickered. 
     Even through the closed kitchen door he could hear the laughter in the dining room. When would that little girl learn to keep her mouth shut?

     The events of the evening whirled through SueAnna’s mind as she made her way up the stairs to fetch her jacket. Trey had touched her, seemed to make an effort to do so, in fact, and it had sent shivers through her whole body. Had he noticed? And he even called her Rose. Sage called her Rosie, too, but he always had. And Trey had almost seemed…could she dare call it jealous?
     Ben was waiting at the bottom of the stairs when she came back down. “Don’t let Lily’s outburst bother you, SueAnna. Sooner or later that preacher is going to heart the truth, you know.”
     She nodded. “I’m not trying to keep it from him, Ben. It’s Trey who doesn’t seem to want anyone to know our marital status.”
     “I’ve seen the way Sage Bowen looks at you, ma’am. I don’t think this is just a pleasant little stroll to talk about old times. What you gonna do if he gets serious? Will you tell him the truth?”
     “I’d like to know the same thing.” Trey was behind her, so close she could feel his breath on her neck. 
     “I thought you were in the kitchen.”
     “I was. Just on my way to clean off the table. I did the pots first so I could bang some frustration out of my system.”
     “And did it work?” She took a step away, but he grabbed her arm. 
     “Promise me you won’t do something stupid.”
     She wrenched free from his grasp. “Stupid? And what would you call stupid, Trey Martin?” She wanted to pound on his chest but he grabbed her arms before she could hit.
     “Let me tell you what I call stupid. Going through with this marriage in the first place. Having a husband who is in love with another woman. Being the wife of someone who refuses to acknowledge her as such. That’s stupid, stupid, stupid. Shall I continue? There’s more.”
     “Trey ran his hand through his hair. “For crying out loud…keep your voice down.”
     “Why? So you won’t have to answer questions? I have done nothing since coming out here but keep my voice down. I’ve cooked, cleaned, washed, ironed and planted a garden. I canned and put away enough stuff to feed this army of men for the entire winter—”
   “I fall into bed every night so tired I can’t even think. Then I get up the next day to do it all over again. The men on this ranch think we are husband and wife—and everyone else thinks I’m the housekeeper Mr. Covington hired. I don’t have anyone to talk to, except a four-year-old girl who already knows and repeats too much. And now an old friend shows up, someone I trust and who listen to me, and you ask me not to do anything stupid. Exactly what do you think I could possibly say or do that would make this whole mess any more stupid than it already is?”
     “SueAnna, please,” he pulled her to him.
     She pushed away. “Let me go before Sage comes looking for me.”
     “I…I already came looking for you, Rosie. Now if you’ll excuse us, Mr.  Martin. I do believe this sweet lady and I have much more to talk about than I could have imagined.”



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