The ride back to the KIM was grueling. Though the big horse never seemed to tire, each stride pounded like a hammer through Trey’s tired body. While he dreaded the confrontation with his boss, he breathed a sigh of relief when the barn came into view.
Adam Covington scowled as Trey approached. “You lose the wagon, Son?”
Trey slid to the ground, then leaned against the horse to steady himself. “It’s a long story, sir.”
“Well, take care of this horse then come to the house. You both look like you’ve been through some kind of storm.”
The silence, after he finished recounting the events, was deafening. But it was the disappointment he saw in his pa’s eyes that shouted the loudest. How long would the man go without speaking?
It seemed an eternity before Adam swiped both hands down his face. “You say Lorna sent you here? Why? And why did you even agree to come. Why weren’t you man enough to admit what you did was wrong, ask for forgiveness and refuse to leave your wife’s bedside? How do you know she’ll even be alive when you return?”
She wouldn’t die, would she? Not before he had a chance to explain. Why had he left? Covington was right. He wasn’t man enough to admit his failure—his failure to return for Claire as he’d promised, and his failure to acknowledge his love for SueAnna. He had to get back as soon as possible. He stood. He’d saddle his horse and ride back tonight. If he rode hard he could reach Nelson’s by noon tomorrow.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Covington motioned for him to sit. “If you have some crazy notion about riding back there tonight you can forget it. You’re in no shape to go anywhere until you’ve had a good night’s rest. I bet you can’t even remember the last time you had something to eat.”
Pa was right. he couldn’t remember. But he didn’t feel like eating and it wouldn’t do to prolong his return. “I’m not hungry. If you don’t mind, I’ll saddle a fresh horse and be on my way. I’m not sure why Lorna wanted you to know, but now I’ve told you so I’d better be gettin’ back.”
“You can stop the martyr act. Riding yourself to death won’t keep SueAnna alive. I’ll send Ben to let Lorna know you and me will get there as soon as you’re rested. In the meantime I suggest you do some serious thinking about what you’re going to do when you see that Claire-person again. You can’t have both, you know. And if you can’t love SueAnna with your whole heart, then you might as well stay right here. I’ll not have you hurting her again. Do you understand?”
He nodded. “Understood. But, Sir, you say I wasn’t man enough to stay with her when Lorna sent me to tell you what happened. Well, I’ll prove you wrong. You can disown me, send me packing, or whatever you please, but I’m going back to my wife and I’m going back as soon as I saddle another horse. You want to keep me here,” he took a deep breath and squared his shoulders, “then just try it.” He met Covington’s glare. If the man was going to punch him, he wanted to see it coming.
A slow grin spread across his Pa’s face. “You have no idea how badly I wanted to hear you say that. I’ll saddle our horses. You finish your coffee. There’s bread in the pantry and butter in the well. Grab whatever you can hold and we’ll ride. I’ll leave a note for Ben. He can keep things going here while I’m gone.”
“A note? Where is he? Are you sure he can read?”
“He went to Rawlings’s to check on Lily. He may get back before we leave, but I’ll leave a note just in case. And yes, he can read.”
Covington was right. By the time they were ready to leave, Ben had returned and heard the reason for their hasty departure. “You sure do know how to get yourself in deep muck, pal. Hope that little gal wakes up so you can make things right.”
Trey shivered. Did Ben think she’d die, too? She was sick, he was aware of that. More aware then they could imagine. But was she sick enough to die? ” He leaned from his saddle and gripped Ben’s hand. “How was Lily? SueAnna will want to know.”
Ben laughed. “Oh, that little girl is something. She announced I was to call her AnnaLily so her name would start with A like all the rest of them. I’d say she was doin’ just fine.” He slapped the horse’s rump. “Now get. Covington’s already halfway there.”