Doc hurried to Claire’s side. “Somebody go get that hot-headed husband of hers. Trey, you carry her to the couch. It isn’t unusual for a woman with child to pass out. I, for one, am mighty grateful someone was here to catch her.”
SueAnna breathed a sigh then mentally scolded herself. Hadn’t she and Peter discussed this very thing only minutes ago. Wasn’t she the one who said she was going to choose to forget? She looked around the table and all eyes were on her, except Lily’s. The little girl held her dolly in front of her face, but it didn’t hide the quiver of her tiny shoulders.
“Why, Miss Libby. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you. Who do you have hiding behind you? That can’t be LilyAnna Rose Morrow, can it?” She moved the doll and met the tear-filled eyes of her baby sister.
“I wasn’t supposed to say ‘surprise’ ’til you saw me and now it’s not a surprise. I made Peter mad, didn’t I?”
“Oh, sweetie. You didn’t make Peter mad. Your big brother was already angry and it has nothing at all to do with you.” She drew the little girl to her. “You know what? You just gave me the best present ever.”
Trey knelt by SueAnna’s chair, his eyes pleading for understanding. She leaned toward him and put her arms around his neck. “I”m glad you were here to help her,” she whispered. “Don’t worry about Peter. He’s going to have to fight his own ghosts. Did you know Lily was coming? “
He stood and kissed her on the forehead then turned and swooped Lily off her feet and twirled her around in circles. “We surprised her, didn’t we punkin’?” He kissed her on the nose then set her on her feet.
SueAnna shook her finger at James. “You knew about this, didn’t you?”
He leaned back his head and laughed. “Never had so much fun in all my life. Mercy it feels good to laugh for a change.” He wiped his eyes with his fingers. “You gave us a scare, you know.”
Trey scooted a chair next to her and perched her little sister on his knee. “Lily, you and I need to have a serious talk. Think we can do that?”
Lily took SueAnna’s hand. “Am I in trouble? I said mean things about him. I’m sorry.”
Trey put his hands on each side of her face. “No, Lily, You’re not in trouble. I need to ask you to forgive me for the way I treated your big sister. I love her very, very much and want us to be a family. Would you be my little sister, too?”
Lily held her doll to her ear for a bit, then smiled. “We forgive you, but Miss Libby says not to let it happen ever again. That’s all we got to say.”
Adam stopped at the edge of the porch and plunged his hands into his pockets. Where did the hot-head go? Surely he was smart enough not to go traipsing off in this cold. A small speck on the horizon caught his attention and he took off in that direction. The wind was sharp and he pulled the collar of his coat higher onto his neck. Why hadn’t he taken the time to saddle his horse? The kid had a head start, and with his bum leg he’d never be able to catch up with him.
When the person ahead of him was met by a man on horseback, Adam stopped. The two seemed to converse and then the rider pulled the other one behind his saddle and headed toward him. His gaze met the horseman’s as they came to a stop in front of him.
“Looks like someone was smart enough to have extra legs under him.” Adam extended his hand in greeting. “Good to see you again, Reverend Bowen. Certainly glad you showed up when you did. I didn’t have the strength to chase this pup much farther. How did you know to find us here?”
“I was feeling guilty for never showing up at the KIM again. Alice Rawlings told me where you where. She wouldn’t answer any questions though, so decided to come see for myself. Why don’t I let you take the horse back, and Peter and I will walk.” Sage motioned for Peter to slide off.
“No, just let Peter in the saddle. He needs to get back to his wife as soon as possible.”
Sage dismounted and Peter got back into the saddle. Adam slapped the horses rump. “Give that horse a kick son, before I give you one.” He waited until Peter rode away then turned to Sage and took a deep breath. “You need to know what you’re gonna face once you step through the door of the mercantile.”
“Been praying for a preacher-bad. That explain it? It’s a long story. Hope you got a couple of days.”
“I got as long as the coffee lasts, sir. And I’m listening.”
Peter hesitated before he stepped into the mercantile. Would he ever learn to be a man? SueAnna was right—he ran every time he faced anything tough. The bell jangled as he entered, then he was met by a flying object—two flying objects—three flying objects before he found safety behind a counter which held a display of kettles and dishpans.
“You made Claire cry. I’m tired of you silly men making your wives feel bad.” Lily stood with her arm cocked and loaded with a child’s shoe. “And you didn’t tell me hello or anything. You hurt my feelings, too.”
Peter attempted to get to his feet, but as soon as his shoulders cleared the counter the loaded missile shot toward him “Lily, that’s enough. Stop it, or I’ll turn you over my knee. ” He scooted from behind the counter and snatched her off her feet then squeezed his arms around her.
Lily whimpered. “Would you really turn me over your knee?”
“You’re awful sassy, little sister. Someone has to teach you some manners.” He tickled her ribs and she squirmed and giggled.
“I know manners, but you don’t. Miss Libby told me.”
“Oh, so Miss Libby is here, too? I don’t see her anywhere.”
“She stayed by the shoes ’cause she didn’t want to get in trouble. The Holy Ghostes wil probably make me tell you I’m sorry and Miss Libby doesn’t like it when I do things that make me have to say I’m sorry.”
“Well, good for Miss Libby. Now, could you tell me where I can find Claire?” If only he could prolong the dreaded encounter. The Holy Ghost was surely going to require an apology from him too.
“She’s on Emma’s couch. First she cried, but now she and SueAnna are talking and laughing.”
“Want to go with me to see her?” He prayed she would
“I can’t. SueAnna told me to watch for you and Mr. Covington, then I was supposed to say put—that means I can’t go back in there ’til somebody tells me. I don’t like being little and having to always stay put.” Her brow wrinkled and her bottom lip stuck out like a perch.
“Yeah. Well, sometimes it isn’t a lot of fun being a grown-up, either.” He took a deep breath. There was no putting it off. “You stay here, then. I’ll tell SueAnna you’re very obedient.”
“Shall I tell Jesus you need help, or are you going to tell him yourself?” Lily retrieved Miss Libby from the stack of shoes and held her to her shoulder.
“I think we better both tell him.” He smiled at his little sister. How could one so small be so wise?”
When Peter stepped to Claire’s side, SueAnna moved away.
“I’m so sorry. I blew it big time, didn’t I?”
“I should say you did, buster.” But if you would give me a kiss it might help.” Claire’s dark eyes were loaded with mirth. “Honestly, my dear husband. Sometimes you are like a little boy.” She clasped her hands behind his neck and pulled him to her.
SueAnna chuckled. “I can see I’m no longer needed here. I think perhaps I should go find my husband.” She blew Peter a kiss and turned to leave.
“Wait, Sis.” He stood. “Uh…I think you should know Mr. Covington will be showing up here soon with…”
“With who? Santa Claus, maybe?” She tittered
“Not exactly. Would you believe…Sage Bowen?”
She spun toward him. “Oh, Peter. What terrible timing.”
Trey shrugged his arms into the sleeves of his coat. Pa didn’t have any business out in this cold.
“What are you doing?” Lily sat cross-legged in the front window of the mercantile.
“Well, I’m looking to buy a little sister, and I think I found just the one I want.” He lifted her out and set her down on the floor. “What are you doing in there?”
“I’m staying put. Where are you going?”
“I”m going to help look for Peter.” He had one hand on the knob.
“Peter is already here. He’s with Claire, and I prayed to Jesus to help him.”
“Peter’s here? Are you sure?”
“Yes, because I threw shoes at him for making Claire cry, and he said If I didn’t stop he was going to tun me over his knee.”
Trey roared. “Oh, I would like to have seen that. I—”
The doorknob jerked from his hand and a blast of cold air swept through the room as his Pa enter the room, followed by Sage Bowen.
Trey touched his hat with his fingers to acknowledge his pa, then shouldered around the other man. He took a few steps, then the cold air hit him like a wake-up call. If he kept walking he’d be just like Peter, and Peter was stupid. He turned around and stepped back onto the porch.
Lily curtsied when he re-entered the store. “Should I pray to Jesus to help you, too?”