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Authors: Kristen Heitzmann

Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Historical, #General, #Religious

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BOOK: Sweet Boundless
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Carina chose the maple Jenny Lind bed over the brass. She had never been one for bright, showy brass, and she liked the lines of the maple headboard. It was the first major purchase she’d made in Crystal, scandalously overpriced, and she did it with borrowed money. She sighed. With any luck that would change.

Luck? No. If it were God’s will, her plans would succeed. If not— she shrugged—she could hardly be worse off. She paid for the bed, mattress and blankets, and for a small table and two chairs. So it was wishful thinking, but who was to say he wouldn’t come?

She laid the money on the counter for Mr. Fisher. “Send it all to the house next to Mae’s. The door is open.”

His eyes widened. “The Carruth—” Then he caught himself. “Certainly, Mrs. Shepard. And may I say you look very fine today.”

She found that astonishing, as she’d been on her knees scrubbing and sweating, but she smiled. “Thank you, Mr. Fisher.”

“If there’s anything else you need, Quillan’s credit is good here.”

She hadn’t thought of that. But then it irked her to think it. She would rather be indebted to Mae. Her emotions tumbled about as she passed through the door into the sharp sunshine. When she’d last seen Quillan, she’d felt so confident she could make him love her. How hard could it be?

It was in him to love. She’d learned that the one night they had together. But then he’d left the next morning, fiercely separate, and after the night of the vigilantes, he’d left again. Two months with no word, only his claim that he wanted no part of their marriage. What had she done to make him hate her so?

She reached the entrance to the hot springs. It wasn’t a cave so much as a shelf hollowed out of the bedrock with a structure built across the front and several basins inside through which the springs emerged. Steaming water straight from the earth, right beside the icy creek. Èmie had shown her places where the creek ran both hot and cold.

Carina entered the dimness of Èmie’s world. Now that her uncle Henri was dead, Èmie worked the hot springs in earnest. She no longer had his thieving to augment what she earned, though the priest Father Antoine, her other uncle, shared what little he could collect with her. It was just that things came so dear in Crystal. Thanks to freighters like her husband.

The thought was unfair. As he said, most of the cost of goods was the difficulty in getting them from the railhead over the treacherous pass and the long miles into the high mountain gulch where Crystal rested. It didn’t stop people from coming. In two months the population had swelled by at least a thousand.

Carina saw Èmie approach. In the cave she always looked so stiff and pale. But when their eyes met, Èmie smiled. There was no trace now of the beating her uncle had given on Mr. Beck’s orders. No bruises, no swelling, no sign of the pain Èmie had borne because Berkley Beck wanted to punish Carina.

“Well, hi there. Want to soak?” Èmie asked.

“Is it very busy?”

“You’ll have to wait for a private basin.”

Carina smiled. “That’s good news. Good business.”

“Oh yes. Everyone new wants to try the springs for themselves. I’ve put a little by this week.”

“How wonderful. What will you splurge on?”

Èmie laughed. “As though I would.”

Carina caught her hands. “I’m starting a restaurant. How would you like to work with me?”

“Are you? How?”

Carina shrugged her head to the side. “I haven’t worked out all the details. But I’m going to as soon as . . .”

“As soon as what?”

“Quillan leaves.” She said it softly.

“Quillan’s back? Oh, Carina, I am glad!”

Carina dropped her friend’s hands. “I have yet to see him.”

“Well, come. I’ll shoo someone out.” Èmie entered the cave, hung with dim lanterns. “You soak, and I’ll scrub that skirt outside in the creek.”

“You won’t.” Carina followed.

“Oh yes, I will. And you’d do the same for me.”

Carina watched Èmie’s back, straight and unwavering, the thin braid that hung down the middle hardly swaying at all. They reached the first private basin, and Èmie informed the occupant that the time was up. Then they waited until the curtain parted and a man emerged, red-faced and steaming.

Èmie waved Carina in. “I’ll bring you soap.”

“Thank you.”

When Èmie came with the clove-scented soap, she took Carina’s skirt out with her. Carina didn’t argue again. It was true she would do the same for Èmie if her husband were returned. Of course, Èmie had no husband yet, though Carina suspected a romance with Dr. Simms. Most people thought Èmie plain. Carina thought her beautiful.

She sank into the steaming water with a low groan. She truly needed the healing it would give her sore and aching joints and muscles. If only it could soothe the deeper aching. Would Quillan come to her? Would they speak? What could she say?

There were so many things she wanted him to know. And she thought again of the journal Father Antoine Charboneau had entrusted to her, the diary of Quillan’s mother. If she gave him the journal, would he come to know and love that mother as she did? Would he know his parents weren’t what he thought them? A savage and a harlot.

Carina closed her eyes and dropped her head back into the water, freeing the hair from its braid. It spread out around her like a rippling black veil, and she threaded her fingers through its mass, then ran her nails over her scalp. She soaped and soaked, ducked under the surface, and let the water work on her.

Èmie returned with her skirt and hung it to dry on the line attached to the wall. “There. Now you can greet your husband, fresh and clean.”

“Thank you.” Carina had almost succeeded in conquering her inner quakes, but Èmie’s words brought them back. God could bring good out of this, now that she was His. She had come to Crystal to spite Flavio, in the back of her mind believing he would come for her, but God had known better. Or she might now be Mrs. Caldrone, forever wondering where Flavio was and with whom.

Was it any different with Quillan? Yes! He might despise her, but she had no doubt of his fidelity. And she loved him. If she didn’t, her chest would not be so tight, her thoughts so tumultuous. She must find a way to show him. If she could cook, if she had even one thing she needed to make something wonderful . . . But unless he went to the Italian market in Fairplay, she had none of the
grano
, the tomatoes, the garlic, even the Gorgonzola of which he’d been so leery.

She released a hard breath. What was the use? She could not win him with food. Nor had she impressed him in their marriage bed. Why else would he leave her the next morning with no tender word, no touch at all? She pulled herself up from the water, climbed onto the ledge, and wrung the water from the hair that reached to the back of her legs.

Then she rubbed her skin dry with the towel hanging on the line. So many others had used it before her that it was not much use. But she hung it back and pulled on her clothes. Her skirt, like her hair, was heavy and wet. She went out of the cave without seeing Èmie again. Her friend must be attending someone else in the steamy depths.

Carina walked out to the creek, giving the sun and breeze a chance to dry her hair and skirt. There was a smell of fall and a chill in the air. The light was different, sharper, but not so brilliant. The aspens were splashes of gold among the blackish green pines higher up the mountain. She had a sudden longing to see the mine. The Rose Legacy, where both Quillan’s parents had perished.

She had gone up only twice since Quillan left. One of those times she had met Father Charboneau sitting on the burned stones of the old foundation. They both smiled, no longer surprised to find the other in that spot. Together they had visited the grave higher up the mountain, the single stone that bore the names Wolf and Rose.

Yes, she had read the journal and now treasured Rose in her heart. Yes, she understood why Father Charboneau had tried to protect their memory. What would she do with it now? She didn’t know. The priest seemed satisfied, but she was restless when she thought of it.

She prayed the time would come when she could share it with Quillan. And she prayed she would know when the time came. But now, when he was grieving for Cain and keeping himself so separate, was not the time. Carina stopped walking and looked around her.

Directly behind the hot springs cave, the creek ran through a small copse of spindly pines. All the rest of the slopes around Crystal were denuded and scarred, studded with stumps and mine workings. Above and below her, along the creek on both sides, were tents and shacks and all the ragged trappings of greedy humanity.

But she no longer judged. They were all doing the best they could. With a sigh, she left the creek and headed back toward the little house she now claimed as her own. It was true she had purchased it from a fraudulent advertisement that had made it all the way to Sonoma, California. But she had purchased it in full. She had a legal right.

She pulled open the door to her house. She would have to get a key made, since Walter Carruther had stolen hers and she had no idea what had happened to it. The bed had been delivered and assembled, the feather mattress an extravagance she granted herself. It had been so long since she’d slept on anything soft. The blankets were folded at the foot. Whomever Mr. Fisher had sent was diligent.

The table stood near the wall to her right, and the two chairs looked ready for use. Again she wondered if Quillan would come. Then she wondered if he’d come already and found her gone. What if she had missed him? The thought threw her into a flurry of concern.

She dashed through the door and rushed across the yard to Mae’s back door. It, too, was new, replaced after the vigilantes axed it down in search of her. Carina yanked it open, then stopped and calmed herself. She was Carina Maria DiGratia Shepard. She could walk.

She heard his voice. In Mae’s parlor. Mae responded and they laughed. If Quillan was laughing, maybe he had worked out his grief, his anger, his disdain. She stopped outside the door to Mae’s rooms. It was open a crack, and she could see him. Heat washed into her belly.

He stood with a day’s worth of beard on his chin and his mane of hair tamed with a leather thong at the base of his skull. Did he know how like Wolf he seemed? Or at least her image of Wolf from the descriptions she heard and read. Was it a desire to imitate the father he never knew? Not likely, not with the hatred he felt for him.

Quillan’s blue woolen shirt and canvas pants were clean, the leather brogans almost new. He didn’t look like a man just off the road. Had he changed and washed for her? Carina’s heart leaped, and she tried unsuccessfully to contain her excitement.

“I told him to think twice before he knocked heads with me.” Mae poked her head with a plump finger.

Quillan smiled, and Carina’s chest tightened. It amazed her how his smile transformed his face, the hard lines and planes softening, inviting.

“He’d have to know you to fully appreciate the threat.”

Mae released her belly laugh. “He caught enough to back off.”

Carina touched the door with her fingertips and it swung quietly. Quillan turned, and his smile changed, not in magnitude but character. It became his pirate smile, the rogue smile he kept only for her. He dipped his head slightly, all the while holding her mute with his charcoal-rimmed stormy eyes.

Her throat ached with unspoken words. What could she say? She should have thought before she pushed open the door, but her hand had reached out of its own volition. Betraying her.

“Well, don’t just stand there.” Mae walked over and swept her in.

She came to a stop before her husband, whose eyes hadn’t left her. She felt so small, her five feet four inches hardly significant before his almost six feet that seemed more somehow. Yet she was determined to speak first. “You’re back.” She was pleased her voice held steady. If he guessed the tumult inside, at least she didn’t show it.

“Briefly.” He dispensed with the smile and became again the man with the silent purpose she’d met on the road. “I understand you’re moving out.”

Well. Her business was known before she knew it herself. “It’s my house. Why shouldn’t I live there?” She should have said “we,” but his expression was so hard she couldn’t.

“I’ll leave you two alone.” Mae didn’t give them time to argue. In spite of her bulk, she could be quite swift when she wanted to.

Quillan hadn’t moved, hadn’t shifted his expression. “Have you considered the risks?” There was no deep concern in the question, simply a business tone with a hint of condescension.

“The risks of what?”

“Living alone.”

It hurt. She should have expected it, prepared for it. But she hadn’t, and it sank deep. She waved a hand, refusing to show her pain. “I am safe here? With canvas walls?”

He glanced briefly out the door Mae had passed through. “Is it habitable?”

“I’ve made it so.”

“I’ll have a look.”

Carina startled. “That’s not necessary.” Somehow the thought of him inside those walls . . .

He took up his hat and started for the doorway. Helpless to stop him, she followed. Just outside the door, the brown-and-white dog jumped up and followed, too. They crossed the short distance, circled to the front of the little house, and Quillan pushed open the door. “Do you have a key?”

“No, I—”

“I’ll get you one made.”

He stepped inside with a hand motion to the dog to stay out. “Where did you get the furniture?”

Her chest heaved with indignation. Who was he to walk in and ask? What was she to him that it should matter? She waved both arms. “I got it. What does it matter where?”

He turned and eyed her. “Is it on credit?”

“No.”

He tucked his tongue between his side teeth, then, “Carina, as long as you insist on this flawed liaison, I’m responsible for you.”

Her breath left in a rush. She wanted to kick him, imagined her foot striking his shin, hard!
Signore, it is more than I can stand. This
once, just this once, let me kick him!
But she didn’t. Instead she drew herself up. “It was
your
decision to marry
me
.”

BOOK: Sweet Boundless
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