No One's Bride (Escape to the West Book 1) (5 page)

BOOK: No One's Bride (Escape to the West Book 1)
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“It’s all I have,” she said. “It’s the money I was going to use to buy a ticket and get a room once I got to San Francisco. I know it’s not even half what you paid to get me here, but I’ll find a job and pay back the rest as quickly as I can, I promise. I always intended to pay you back. I’ve packed my things. I’ll go to the boarding house.”

Her bag was on the chair next to her. She didn’t have much to pack.

Adam stared at the envelope. “Can you tell me why you did it?”

She looked down at her lap. “There was a... situation in New York I had to get away from. Far away. I didn’t know what else to do.” Her eyes lifted to meet his. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. You have to believe me.”

He hated himself for not answering, but he wasn’t sure if he did believe her. He’d gone from being certain she was the most wonderful woman in the world to not knowing her at all. But maybe that was the problem. How could he possibly know her in less than a day? His desire for someone to love had clouded his judgement.

She stood and picked up her bag. “I’m sorry, Ad... Mr Emerson.”

As she turned, the handle of the bag caught on the top of the chair, causing it to jerk from her grasp and fall to the floor. Something tumbled onto the wood, bouncing a couple of times before coming to a halt against Adam’s shoe. He bent to pick it up, a shudder going through him as he did so. Pulling at the groove in the metal, he watched the blade slide free from the handle of the folding knife.

Had she meant to harm him?

But then he saw the fear in her eyes, her shoulders trembling, and realisation dawned. “Amy, were you in danger in New York? Did someone hurt you?”

She shook her head, not meeting his eyes.

“Did someone
try
to hurt you?”

She didn’t answer, but a tear caught the light as it fell from her chin to the floor. In an instant, all his anger drained away. He took a step towards her, reaching out a hand before thinking better of it and folding the knife back into its handle and holding that out instead. She took it from his hand and looked up at him. The fear and vulnerability he saw in her eyes almost knocked him flat.

“I won’t let anyone hurt you.” The words came out before he even knew what he was saying, but he meant them, maybe more than he’d ever meant anything in his life.

She wiped her eyes again and sighed. “You don’t have to do anything. I meant what I said, I’ll get the money to pay you back, I swear.” She picked her bag up from the floor. “Which way is the boarding house? I don’t remember seeing it yesterday.”

Suddenly, the thought of Amy staying in Trenchard’s Room & Board terrified him. Mrs Trenchard, the widow who ran it, wasn’t a bad person, but she did have a tendency to overindulge with the wine in the evenings. In addition, the boarding house wasn’t far from the saloon with its drunken patrons and noise and other activities that went on upstairs. It wasn’t a safe place for a woman on her own.

“You can stay here,” he blurted, before he could think it through.

She looked up at him, startled.

“I mean in the room you stayed in last night. The boarding house, it’s not... What I mean to say is, it’s near the saloon and the noise could be... distracting.” He breathed out, trying to unscramble his mind. “I don’t want you to feel afraid anymore.”

She stared at him for a few seconds before lowering her gaze. “What do you want?”

He frowned, confused. “What do I want?”

“In exchange for me staying here. I can’t pay you straight away, until I find a job. I can clean and cook, but if you want more than that...” She swallowed, still not looking at him. Her trembling fingers clutched the knife against her stomach.

Adam still didn’t know what she meant. “More than...?” And then understanding came like a punch to the chest. He took a step back, stumbled against one of the chairs, and dropped onto it with a thud. “You think I would... No! I would
never
... I meant you can stay here for free. I don’t expect anything from you, and certainly not... I just want to help.”

Her eyes were wide as she looked down at him. “Why would you do that? After what I did to you?”

He was about to answer it was because he was a good man, unlike whoever had tried to hurt her, when he remembered something. He chuckled, rubbing one hand across his eyes.

“Why are you laughing?” Amy said. She looked as if she was undecided if she should run.

“Last night I picked up my Bible to read, like I do every night, and I dropped it and my bookmark fell out. I couldn’t remember exactly where I was, just that it was somewhere near the start of 1 Peter. But instead I ended up in James, on the verse where it says if there is a brother or sister in need it’s no good to just wish them well without doing anything to help them. I’ve read that verse so many times before, but last night it seemed to stick in my mind.” He smiled, shaking his head. “It seems God was making me clumsy to teach me something for today.”

Amy moved back to the table, taking a seat opposite him. “Sometimes I think God speaks to me. Not out loud, like I hear you now, but in my mind. Do you ever get that?”

The only voice he ever heard in his head telling him what to do was his father’s. “Not that I can recall.”

“But you think He made you drop your Bible?”

He shrugged and smiled. “Maybe He knows I don’t listen hard enough and so He has to do things I can’t ignore.”

She smiled back at him. For a moment, Adam could only stare. She had such a beautiful smile.

“So will you stay?” he said. He really wanted her to stay.

She lowered her eyes to the tablecloth, took a shaking breath and let it out slowly. Adam waited, holding his breath.

“If you truly don’t mind after what I’ve done.” Her eyes found his, fear mingling with hope in their depths.

He breathed out. “I can’t say I don’t feel hurt, but what kind of man would I be if I turned you away when you need my help?”

She looked down at the knife still clutched in her hand. “You’d be like most other men, at least the ones I’ve met.”

What had happened to her? Adam wanted to ask, but it wasn’t his business. Maybe one day she would trust him enough to tell him.

“Well then I don’t want to be like other men,” he said firmly. “So will you stay?”

She nodded and smiled a little. “But I’ll find a job and pay you back for the fare and my board. And I’ll do everything I can for you here. I’ll cook and clean, not that your home isn’t clean, it’s beautiful, but I promise you won’t have to lift a finger. I’ll do everything.”

He laughed, relief making him feel like a weight had lifted from him. “You’ll spoil me.”

She grinned. “Rotten.”

Adam couldn’t stop smiling. Even if she wasn’t going to marry him, it could work. They’d spend time together, get to know each other, become friends.

And maybe for a while, he wouldn’t be so lonely.

 

 

Chapter 5

“I have the mailbag to sort that came on the train yesterday and then I have to open the post office for a few hours this morning for people to collect their mail, but I’m free this afternoon. Are you sure I can’t do anything?”

Amy glanced back at Adam on the settee and waved a wet hand. “You stay right there. Relax. Drink your coffee.”

“You’re going to have to let me do something. I can almost feel my mother’s disapproving stare on me.”

“Does she live here, in town?” She tried to keep her tone light, but the mention of Adam’s mother had her stomach clenching. What would Mrs Emerson think of a woman staying with him who’d tricked her son into paying for her to cross the country? It was a meeting she most definitely didn’t want to have.

“No, my parents live on my grandparents’ farm. Well, it’s their farm too.”

Keep it casual.
“Is that far away?”

“An hour and a half’s ride, more or less. I don’t see them very often.”

Amy breathed a surreptitious sigh of relief.

“Ma taught us all to look after ourselves, even the boys. She says folks should marry for love, not cooking and cleaning. I’m not used to other people doing everything for me.”

“What were you going to do once you were married?” she said, carefully not looking at him.

“I supposed we’d work it out together, somehow. I was kind of looking forward to all that, to getting to know each other and adjusting to living in the same house. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I was looking forward to doing it together, as a couple.” He laughed softly. “I think I have a bit of an overly romantic view of marriage.”

Amy’s stomach sidled down to her feet. She set the plate she was washing on the drainer, dried her hands and went to sit on the other end of the settee from Adam. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to ruin it all for you. You must hate me now.”

“I don’t hate you. I understand why you did it. You had no choice.” One side of his mouth curled up. “Besides, how can I hate someone who just washed all my dishes and is insisting on spoiling me rotten?”

She couldn’t help smiling back. “I’d better get right on that then. I’ll dry up and start on the cleaning. Then I can go out and look for a job.” She started to rise.

He leaned forward and grasped her wrist. “You don’t...”

Panic flashed through Amy’s chest. She jerked her arm away with a cry, scrambling to her feet before she was even aware of what she was doing.

Adam gasped, pressing back away from her, his face filled with horror. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to...” He lifted both hands, palms out towards her. “Please, I wasn’t... I’m sorry.”

She squeezed her burning eyes shut, embarrassed. What was wrong with her? She knew Adam wouldn’t harm her. “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I did that.”

Sinking back down onto the settee, she tried to calm her pounding heart.

Adam lowered his hands and held them against him, looking like he was trying not to move too much in case she spooked again.

She sighed. “It’s not you. I’m not afraid of you.”

He seemed to relax a little, moving his body forward from where he’d been pressed into the corner of the settee. “I shouldn’t have touched you. It wasn’t my right.”

She drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. The last thing she wanted was for Adam, after everything he was doing for her, to feel like he had to be careful what he did in his own home.

“If I’m going to live here, we need to make some rules,” she said.

He nodded slowly. “All right.”

After a moment’s hesitation, she reached out and took his hand. “Rule one; you don’t have to be afraid of touching me.”

He looked at their hands resting together on his thigh and gently threaded his fingers between hers. “All right.”

Amy tried to ignore her stuttering heart which now had nothing to do with fear. If she could have taken it out and slapped it, she would have. “Rule two; this is your home and you can do whatever you want in it. Although I will do my best to get in as much spoiling as I can.”

The corners of his mouth twitched. “All right.”

“Rule three; if you change your mind about me being here, you have to tell me and I will move right out. I don’t want you to regret doing this.”

He stared at her for a few long seconds before nodding. “All right.”

His fingers were still entwined with hers and she found herself desperately trying to think of more rules so he wouldn’t let go. “Rule four; you get to make any rules you want and I will stick to them.”

“All right.”

To her regret, she couldn’t think of anything else. “Do you have any rules?”

His eyes dropped to their hands. “Just one. If you ever feel afraid or threatened in any way, tell me. I’ll protect you, you have my word. You should feel safe here.”

Safe. Could she truly feel safe anywhere? Was it possible to live life with no fear of harm whatsoever? Amy couldn’t imagine such a thing, but as she looked at Adam she got the feeling that if it would happen anywhere, it would be with him.

“All right.”

His gaze held hers, his thumb tracing a slow circle on the back of her hand and sending small tingles of sensation into her skin. Maybe she was wrong. Maybe she could stay and marry...

No
.

She slid her hand away and clutched it in her lap. It didn’t make any difference how good a man Adam was or how safe she felt with him; she wouldn’t depend on him or anyone else.

He cleared his throat and sat back.

Feeling awkward, Amy stood. “I’ll finish up the dishes.” She walked to the sink and resumed washing up.

Behind her she heard the settee squeak a little then Adam appeared at her side, taking a towel from a hook and picking up one of the clean, still wet plates.

Before she could object he said, “Rule number two, remember?”

She smiled and returned her attention to the pan she was scrubbing. “Do you know of anywhere they might be hiring?”

“Not that I’ve heard, but that doesn’t mean much since I haven’t been looking.”

She finished scrubbing and rinsed the pan. “I can go and take a look around town when we’re finished.”

He held out the towel for it. “I can show you around a little before I open up the post office. I would have liked to have kept it closed, it being the day after you arrived, but Saturdays are always my busiest day and I figured you’d want to rest and settle in after your long journey. You can still do that though. You could look for work on Monday.”

Rest sounded good after the night she’d had, but she needed to find a job as soon as possible. “I’m OK. Now I’m on solid, not moving ground I feel so much better. I would like to go out today, if that’s all right.”

“You can do whatever you want to, you don’t ever have to ask my permission. I want you to be comfortable here. While you’re staying here, this is your home.” He smiled. “I could make that my rule number two if it would help.”

She laughed. “I’ll do my best with it being a suggestion rather than a rule.”

He nodded and placed the pan into the dresser cupboard. “Just let me know if you need me to make it official.”

 

~ ~ ~

 

It was after nine by the time they left the house, and the main street of Green Hill Creek, while not exactly bustling, still had a smattering of people going about their daily business.

“Mornin’, Adam.” A man sat in a rocker outside a store two doors down from Adam’s post office, tilting slowly back and forth. He raised the pipe held in one weathered hand in greeting.

“Morning, Isaiah.”

Isaiah moved his gaze to Amy, a network of wrinkles forming in the dark skin at the corners of his eyes. “And a good mornin’ to you, missy.”

“This is Amy Watts,” Adam said. “Amy, meet Isaiah Smith. He’s the town’s best cobbler.” He indicated the building at Isaiah’s back with its sign depicting two pairs of shoes, one men’s and one women’s, either side of the words ‘SMITH’S QUALITY FOOTWEAR’.

“I also happen to be the town’s
only
cobbler,” Isaiah said, his eyes twinkling, “but that don’t make me any less the best.”

Amy stepped forward, holding out her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr Smith.”

Isaiah’s smile grew as he grasped her hand and shook it. “Just call me Isaiah. Everybody does. So, you two off to get hitched?”

Amy glanced at Adam, her smile disappearing. Caught up in the emotional whirlwind of the last couple of hours as she’d been, she hadn’t given much thought to how they were going to explain the situation to his neighbours and friends.

Adam looked like he was trying to think of something to say. “The truth is...” he began.

“The truth is,” Amy said, “I didn’t come here to marry Adam. I needed to get out of New York and he is kindly allowing me to rent his spare bedroom for the time being until I can pay him back for the train fare and get together enough money to continue my journey to San Francisco.”

One of Isaiah’s eyebrows raised slightly and he nodded. “Well now, that explains all the fuss.”

Adam grimaced. “Fuss? What fuss?”

“’Bout an hour ago, Matilda Vernon comes out of the church,” he waved his pipe towards the cross just visible above the roofs of the buildings along the road, “and runs over to Violet Winters across the street. They have a talk, are joined by two more of the upstanding ladies of our community in the meantime, then all four of them rush down here and stand right there,” he used the pipe to point at a spot directly opposite the post office, “staring at your place and whisperin’ to each other for ’bout ten minutes. Then they all hurried back up the road like somethin’ was on fire.”

Adam groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“What’s wrong?” Amy said, touching his arm. She looked around nervously.

He heaved a sigh. “Nothing. It’s just, Mrs Vernon can move faster than a jack rabbit when she has some gossip to spread. And I imagine the news that a young woman I’m not wed to is staying in my house unchaperoned made her day. Possibly her year. It’ll be all over the town by now, and probably not in any form approaching the truth. I’m sorry, I should have thought of this.”

Her stomach curled in on itself. “Do you want me to move out? I’ll ruin your reputation.”

His eyes widened. “
My
reputation? Oh no, I don’t care what they say about me. Besides, I’m a man, it’s very hard to ruin a man’s reputation. It’s you I’m worried about. I don’t want you to have to be bothered with all that.”

Amy considered it for a moment. She wasn’t staying here so it didn’t matter what people said about her. Her only concern was Adam, but if he wasn’t worried, then should she be? “Well, I don’t care what people think of me. Gossip’s everywhere in New York and I was never in the kind of social circle where it mattered. Doesn’t it say somewhere in the Bible about gossiping being bad? And if God thinks that about it then so do I. As long as it doesn’t hurt you, it doesn’t matter one bit to me.”

Isaiah removed the pipe from his mouth and burst into laughter. “Miss Amy Watts, I like your style.”

“That makes two of us,” Adam said, grinning. “Do you know of anyone who’s looking to hire?” he said to Isaiah. “Amy wants to find a job today. Maybe in one of the stores or the hotel?”

“Haven’t heard nothing,” Isaiah said, replacing his pipe. “’Part from George is lookin’ for someone for the livery, but mucking out horses ain’t no job for a lady. But that don’t mean there ain’t nothing to be had. There are some things that go on in this town even I don’t know about.”

“I’m not sure that’s true, Isaiah,” Adam said, smiling.

Isaiah grinned back. “Maybe.”

They left Isaiah to his pipe and people watching and continued along the road, Adam pointing out the local landmarks as they walked.

“Down that road is Green Hill Creek Emmanuel Church where we’ll be going tomorrow. I don’t know if you remember the way from yesterday.”

“Where I performed my fake swoon, yes.”

He chuckled. “It was very convincing. Scared me half to death.”

“I’m sorry,” Amy said with a sigh. “It was the only thing I could think to do.”

He stopped and turned to face her. “You don’t need to apologise, for any of it. I understand you were desperate. To be truthful, I think you were very brave to do it.”

“You do?” she said in disbelief.

He resumed walking and she fell into step beside him. “Not many people, man or woman, who would have the courage to come all this way across the country to this wild place with no real idea of what was going to happen once they got here.”

She looked around at the slightly rough around the edges, but otherwise pleasant seeming town. “Doesn’t look very wild to me.”

He smiled. “Well, no. It is pretty peaceful in these parts nowadays, but there are some places where it’s still dangerous, with bandits and the fighting with the Indians and such. Marshal Cade is good for the town too. He’s been here just over a year. Fought in the war. He keeps everyone in line.” He pointed to a one storey brick building ahead of them, a sign next to the door saying ‘MARSHAL’S OFFICE’ swinging slowly in the breeze. “That’s his place there, but I hope you never have cause to need his services.”

BOOK: No One's Bride (Escape to the West Book 1)
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