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Authors: Kristen Heitzmann

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

Sweet Boundless (5 page)

BOOK: Sweet Boundless
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“Don’t think I haven’t pondered that.”

“Bene. Then you might consider what it means.”

His eyes narrowed. “I know very well what it means. That’s why I offered to let you out.”

“You would divorce me?” She splayed her fingers, palm upward, a gesture of fury and exasperation.

“The dissolution of folly is hardly contemptible. What have you to lose?”

She dropped her hand clenched to her side. “I have lost one thing already. Or did you forget our wedding night?”

He turned away and his throat worked as he studied the wall. “Where did you get the furniture?”

She snorted her derision. “Fisher’s General Mercantile.”

“How did you pay for it?”

“I borrowed from Mae.”

“I’ll pay that back, and I’ll leave you something to use at your discretion.”

“Un gross’uomo.”

“Carina . . .” He raised his hand, then dropped it. “Do you have your Sharps?”

She shook her head. The gun had been lost the night the vigilantes struck.

He unbuckled his gun belt and removed it, then refastened it and hung it on the bedpost. “Do you remember how to shoot?”

“Sì.” Yes, she remembered, though it would do her little good. She couldn’t hit anything at the best of times, and in the stress of the moment . . .

“This caliber has quite a kick. Use both hands. I’ll leave you extra loads.”

He would leave her this, leave her that. But he wouldn’t stay himself. Bene. Let him go. “When do you leave?”

“In the morning.”

“What about Mr. Makepeace?”

He raised his brows slightly. “We’ve met already.”

She wanted to ask about his business with a mining engineer but didn’t. “Where will you stay tonight?”

One side of his mouth pulled in an insolent grin. “Here. Since you insist.”

Her pulse suddenly rushed in her throat.

“By the way, I brought you a dozen eggs.” He put on his hat and walked out the door.

Carina sank down to the bed, her legs no longer steady.

THREE

It is the Lord who sees, the Lord who knows. Search me and fill my thoughts with wisdom and grace.

—Carina

UNQUESTIONABLY STUPID. But what else could he do—pitch a tent when he had a wife in a house in a town where everyone knew everything? Quillan ordered Sam to stay. The dog looked mournful, lying back down on the stoop. But for once Quillan didn’t want the animal tailing him everywhere he went. He stopped first at the blacksmith’s and ordered a key. To his knowledge, Crystal had yet to procure a locksmith.

He eyed the towering Norwegian. “How soon?”

“First thing tomorrow, eh?” Bjorn Svendsen set down his tongs and made himself a note.

“Thanks.” Quillan went next to the livery, where he’d left the eggs and his personal luggage with the wagon.

Alan was dozing, but he snapped awake at Quillan’s approach. “And what did the man think of your mine?”

“He’ll survey it tomorrow. His group will take charge of it. D.C. and I’ll collect our share.”

“Just like that.”

Quillan pulled up a grooming stool and placed it beside Alan’s chair. “More or less.”

“And who’s to keep them honest?”

Quillan straddled the stool. “Meaning?”

“How will ye know if yer gettin’ a fair deal?”

Quillan dropped his chin and kicked a chunk of sawdust. Getting cheated out of profits he hardly considered his own wasn’t high on his list of concerns. But he had D.C.’s interests to look to also. “What makes you think that’s a problem?”

Alan tapped the side of his head. “I’ve lived. Gold and silver are beguilin’. They make breakin’ the rules acceptable.”

Quillan looked out the doors at the street crawling more thickly as dusk approached. “Well, I can’t worry about everything.”

“But you could stay and oversee it.”

Quillan snorted. “I don’t know anything about mining.”

“That’s why you have the engineer. And a manager.”

“Then what’s my part?”

Alan showed a slow grin. “Your part is to be a presence, a dissuasion.”

Quillan rubbed the back of his neck. “I have other things to do.”

Alan shrugged. “Might be if you ever stayed, you’d grow roots.”

Quillan brushed a spiraling seedpod from his pants leg. “I don’t need roots, Alan.”

“Ah, boyo. We all need roots.”

Well, that was something Quillan would never have. He had no past, no name except the one loaned him by two people he despised, and one given to him by two others he’d never known but whose story had been a torment as long as he could remember. No. He’d live without roots.

“How is she?” Alan spoke low.

“Who?”

“Your bride.”

Quillan frowned. “How do you think? Contentious and expensive.”

“And bonny.”

“Oh, she’s beautiful.” No denying that.

“Take her to your bed tonight. Get her with child. Settle down and make a home.”

Quillan didn’t argue, but none of that would happen. He stood up, walked to his wagon, and pulled out the bedroll and the pack that held his immediate necessities. Then he carefully lifted the small crate with eggs packed in sawdust. “Good night, Alan.”

“Aye.” Alan’s smile was misguided.

Quillan hated to deceive him, but even more to disappoint him with the truth. He went out. Up the block he stopped at Fisher’s and learned the amount of the bill for Carina’s furniture. He’d have provided the things for one sixth what she’d paid, but it was done now. He’d bring that amount to Mae, then request that Carina not shop Fisher’s again.

He looked around the town, up the street and down, at all the new and existing businesses. Most had nothing to offer Carina—saloons, gambling dens, houses of ill repute—but there were enough others, including a new bookstore, which might prove costly unless he established some ground rules. And he knew how well Carina took direction. Blowing his breath through his lips, he headed for Mae’s.

Carina pulled the long crusty loaves from Mae’s oven. She’d used Mae’s flour, salt, and yeast, a spoonful of honey fresh from the comb, and olive oil from her own dwindling supply. That and a handful of herbs was all she had left of the treasure Quillan had bought from the Italian market in Fairplay.

It was enough to make the bread he liked drizzled with oil and sprinkled with basil and salt. But she had nothing with which to make the cannelloni or the ravioli, unless—hadn’t he said he’d brought eggs? She could dice Mae’s beef with a pinch of nutmeg for filling, and with the eggs and flour she’d make the pasta dough and cut the ravioli. Without butter and garlic . . .

Bene. It was the best she could do. Besides, why should she care? What was it to her if Quillan ate well or poorly? But she did care. Especially when he wasn’t near to infuriate her. If only she could find a way . . .

She set the steaming loaves on the board. The aroma enticed her nostrils, and she breathed it deeply, thinking of home. She had learned how to adjust to the altitude and make the bread as light and crusty as Mamma’s. If she had the right ingredients, she could cook food the men of Crystal would trade their mines for. She smiled at the thought, caressing the end of one loaf. If only she had what she needed.

Sam bounded toward Quillan as he approached Mae’s back door. Quillan gave the dog a reassuring stroke, let him lick his hands, then patted him lightly. Why did the animal always act as though his very existence depended on Quillan’s affection? Leaving Sam outside the door, Quillan entered Mae’s kitchen, only slightly surprised to find Carina there. But then, the stove in her house was good for little more than warmth. A kettle maybe and a skillet to warm something. Certainly not adequate for the kind of use Carina made of a kitchen.

Mae went to the corner shelf and stuffed the bills he’d given her into a canister. He saw Carina frown. Did she think he wouldn’t pay her debt? He knew his responsibilities. Mae shuffled to the stove and began slopping beef from one large kettle into a serving pot.

Quillan crossed to the table where Carina stood over two long crusty loaves, the kind she’d served him before. His mouth watered as he held out the small crate. Not much of a gift for a man to bring his bride, but she took it as though each egg were pure gold.

“Thank you.” Her eyes met his briefly.

He didn’t like the way her gaze made his stomach clench up. “You’re welcome.” He sat down on the bench at Mae’s table.

Near his elbow, Carina set a bowl, and into this she scooped flour. He watched her sprinkle it with salt, then make a well in the center. Her hands made each motion a dance, and he was amazed again by how expressive fingers and palms could be. Her fingers and palms. She lifted one egg from the carton and kissed it.

Irresistibly, his glance went to her lips. Was she playing a game? Enticing him? She cracked the egg and emptied it into the well, never once looking his way. Then she drizzled in oil and water. His brows rose slightly when she plunged her fingers into the bowl and began working the dough by hand.

“Do you always do it that way?” He waved at the bowl.

“How else would I know if the mixture is right?”

He chewed the side of his lower lip where a crack was starting from the long days in the sun and dust. It wasn’t hard to believe that her hands told her things. They were more than ordinary hands. He watched them work the dough into a pliant sheen, then divide it into two balls.

She sprinkled the table with flour and rolled one of the balls into a thin sheet. Watching her was like watching a juggler or a musician, someone with a skill beyond that of normal men. She covered the dough with a damp towel and began to mince beef from Mae’s pot. Again with her fingers she sprinkled a brown powdery substance, and he whiffed it but couldn’t name it.

“What’s that?” He jutted his chin toward the substance.

“Nutmeg.”

He recalled her tale of misfortune the first time she cooked with nutmeg. She had told it the first time she cooked for him. He warmed inside, but he resisted it. He wasn’t here to fall prey to her wiles. He looked away, indifferent to what she did next. But when she began to hum, he looked back.

She had made little mounds of the meat on the first sheet of dough and was laying a second over it all. It looked exactly as though she were tucking them in for the night, and the corner of his mouth twitched with the thought. Once she had it covered, she took a metal circle and pressed it over each mound, cutting them out like biscuits.

Now he knew what she was making, though the name eluded him. It was the little pillows she’d brought to Brother Paine’s picnic. He scowled. It wasn’t much of a stretch to consider that day the start of it all. If he hadn’t wanted to try her fare, he wouldn’t have gone back for more.

“Your face is as long as Guiseppe’s mule.”

He glanced up at her and found the shadow of a smile. So she thought it amusing. He forked his fingers into his hair. “I’m tired. It’s a long road.”

“This won’t take long.”

He wanted to say never mind, he wasn’t hungry. But that would be a lie, and the longer he looked at the golden loaves before him, the more he imagined the flavor of it drizzled with oil and basil and salt. She’d taught him that much.

“What do you call those things?”

“Ravioli. It won’t be the best without butter or
parmigiano
or garlic.”

“You used it all up?”

She spread her hands. “What do you expect in two months?”

He tried not to think of the meals he’d missed. It didn’t matter. He could do with a can of something heated over a fire.

She dropped the ravioli into a pot of boiling water. Now that was something he hadn’t seen before. He would have guessed she baked them. Crossing to the table, she brushed her hair back from her forehead with her sleeve, then took the knife and began to slice the bread. Steam erupted and filled his nose with the wonderful smell.

His throat worked already. If she wasn’t looking, he’d snatch a piece and stuff it into his mouth whole. She laid the slices of bread onto a plate and drizzled the oil over them. He noticed the bottle was nearly empty. The jar that held the pungent basil was all but empty as well.

She placed the plate in the center of the table and turned back to the stove. His fingers itched; his mouth watered. But he controlled the urge. No good letting her see his impatience. Gently she strained the ravioli from the boiling water into a bowl. With a sigh, she poured the rest of the oil and the last of the basil over them. She tossed it lightly with a spoon, then set it on the table.

BOOK: Sweet Boundless
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