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Authors: Kristen Heitzmann

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

Sweet Boundless (6 page)

BOOK: Sweet Boundless
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Mae came in, refilled her pot, and left again, the noise of the men in the other room reason enough for her haste. But Quillan knew he’d have no help from that quarter. She’d find something to occupy her and leave them alone together all evening. Carina sat down, and he reached for a slice of bread.

“We’ll bless the food and thank God for it.”

His hand hovered over the plate, then returned to his side. If she wanted to pray, let her.

“Grazie, Signore, for this bounty. Bless it to our use. Amen.” Her hand made a path from her head to her chest and across each shoulder.

Quillan narrowed his eyes mockingly. “Is it safe now?”

“Sì.” She didn’t even blink.

He snatched a slice of bread and took a bite.
Heaven
. The most heaven he’d ever know. Carina then spooned ravioli onto his plate. Again the steamy aroma wafted to his nose. She wasn’t playing fair. He cut into one and brought it to his mouth. She was right that it wasn’t as good as the last time, but he chewed it with relish nonetheless.

“When can you go to Fairplay and get me more?”

“More?” He knew exactly what she meant.

“The market there. I need ingredients.” She held a ravioli poised, then plunked it into her mouth.

He swallowed his own bite. “I don’t recall that working out so well.”

“What do you mean?”

“I ended up in the hole.”

She waved a hand, dismissing his point. “You don’t know how it’s done.”

He raised an eyebrow. “How
what’s
done?”

“How to buy from an Italian.”

He set down his fork and leaned back from the table. “Is that so?”

“Sì. You never pay what he asks.”

Quillan took the napkin beside his plate and wiped the side of his mouth where he could feel it slick with oil. He haggled every day in his line of work—on the buying end, not the selling. In Crystal he could ask whatever he wanted and folks would pay.

But it was true that on the occasion she described, he hadn’t haggled. It was all so foreign, the things on her list, the man with his broken English. Quillan had taken whatever the man said Carina would want and paid his price. Now he felt like a fool.

“How do you know he didn’t ask more than I paid?”

She laughed. “Not even a
truffatore
would ask more than you paid.”

“What’s a truffatore?”

“A swindler.”

Quillan placed a whole ravioli into his mouth. It would save him from responding to that one. He savored the flavor. What would it hurt to keep her supplied? If he had to make a show of this marriage, he might at least eat well. He washed down the bite with a swig of coffee.

“You think you could do better?”

She smiled a perfect smile, soft lips, white teeth. “What do you think?”

He thought the old truffatore would melt into the floor. Quillan crowded his plate and folded his hands on the table. “How would you like to buy for yourself?”

Her breath caught. “Do you mean it?”

Quillan’s throat tightened at her earnest expression. He hadn’t expected quite such excitement. “If you think you can take the ride.”

“Didn’t I take it all the way from Denver? Of course I can take the ride. When do we go?”

He retreated to his bench, angry with himself for suggesting it. If she got tired they’d have to spend the night in Fairplay. But he doubted she’d admit getting tired. “I guess tomorrow.”

“Oh, thank you.” She grasped his hand a moment, then let it fall and withdrew hers swiftly to her sides.

It was too late, though. She’d touched him, and his heart hammered his chest. He pushed away from the table.

She followed with her eyes, two dark pools wreathed with even darker lashes. “Aren’t you going to finish?”

“I have things to do.” He stood, leaving the food that had so beguiled him, and walked out Mae’s back door. He kicked himself for being vulnerable, for once again letting her lure him with food, and even more than the food, the companionship. For the second time that day, he made for the graveyard.

He hardly noticed the dog following until it lay down beside the mound, as though seeking its old master’s comfort as well. Cain’s stone still looked new. But then, it took more than two months to weather a stone, even at this altitude. He slumped down beside the grave, feeling the pain of loss as fresh as ever. He looked at the stone.

CAIN JEREMIAH BRADLEY. 1810–1880. He thought of Cain’s favorite saying.
“And we know that all things work together for good to
them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.”

Did they? Did they, Cain? Can you still believe it wherever you
are?
He shook his head. No, God didn’t do good to those who loved Him. He sacrificed them, the same as He had His own Son. Quillan sat by the grave until the stars shone in the clear black canopy, then reluctantly stood. He’d have to go home sooner or later.

Carina had changed into her gown and brushed her hair a hundred strokes as she always did. She’d scoured her teeth diligently, considering each one a small battlefield. She was determined to take each tooth to the grave without surrendering even one to a dentist. She had a candle lit on a crate beside the bed. She hadn’t thought to purchase a lamp, but Quillan had said he’d leave money for such things.

Quillan. Where had he gone? If he intended to sleep here, he’d better come before she put the chair against the door. Once her head felt the softness of a real pillow and her body sank into a feather mattress, she was not moving again.

The door opened behind her, and she spun. Quillan came inside and dropped a bedroll to the floor. “Svendsen will have a key for you tomorrow.”

She nodded. Now that he was inside, the walls had shrunk and it was impossible to breathe normally. Would he take her in his arms as he had before, with no words? Would he kiss her, making the love she felt that much harder to bear? She stood frozen beside the bed.

Quillan let the dog inside, and it made a quick circle of the room, then returned to him, tail wagging. Quillan rubbed its head briefly, then stooped and untied the bedroll. He spread it sideways before the door. No one could reach her without stepping on him. The dog circled three times, then lay down at the bedroll’s edge.

“You’re sleeping there?”

“That’s right.”

So he wouldn’t practice his husbandly prerogative. Was she so undesirable? Her spirit sank, but she raised her chin, looking from him to the dog and back. “Good. Whatever lives down there can eat you first.”

He glanced sideways, but she ignored him. Dropping to her knees beside the bed, she crossed herself, then laced her fingers together beneath her chin. “
Il Padre Eterno,
thank you for giving me my house. Please bless Mamma and Papa, my brothers Angelo, Joseph, Vittorio, Lorenzo, and Tony. Bless my sister, Divina.” She hardly paused at all over this last. She had forgiven Divina and prayed now for her happiness.

“Bless my uncles, my aunts, godparents, grandparents, and all my family. Please bless Guiseppe and his mules. And bless my stubborn husband. Amen.” She didn’t look his way, but she knew he’d heard every word. She hoped the order of blessing wasn’t lost on him.

She crossed herself and climbed into the bed. She had resisted trying it even for a moment so that her first feel of it would not be diminished. She sank into its softness with a sigh of pure pleasure. If Quillan preferred the floor, fine.

Quillan watched her make the hand motion and climb into the bed. Her form was hidden in the gown that hung loosely to the floor, and she pulled the covers to her chin and blew out the candle, but he knew well enough what he’d find beneath it all. She was every man’s dream, beautiful in face and body, sweet and passionate and deadly.

He couldn’t afford to lose his heart. He wanted her too much. And he knew how that was—the wanting. His whole being ached. He could take care of the physical need. It was his right. But what of the rest? He settled onto the hard floor. Better to remember that and sleep alone.

FOUR

Be my banner, O Lord, champion of my soul.

—Carina

FOG SHROUDED THE WINDOW when Carina opened her eyes. She had slept soundly in spite of Quillan’s presence, which had made it hard to succumb. No doubt it was the wonder of feathers and clean, warm bedding that at last won out. She nestled her head for a moment, then raised it. The dog raised his, too, and looked at her with expectant eyes, but the bedroll beside him was empty.

She looked at the door. How had he risen and left without her hearing? She sent her gaze to the window. The fog was dense and swirling. Had he left without her, crept out through the fog and disappeared for months again? No, he wouldn’t leave his dog, Cain’s dog.

Carina settled back into the comfort of the bed, stretching luxuriously. Then she thought of Quillan seeing her that way and sat up like a shot. She gripped the covers to her chin and searched the room as though he could be hidden somewhere in its bareness. He wasn’t there, but he could be at any moment.

She slipped out of the bed, her feet jumping at the cold planks. At Mae’s the floor had held a little warmth from the rooms below. Here it was only cold ground beneath the wood. She washed hurriedly with the pitcher and bowl she had borrowed from Mae and set on a crate by the window.

Rubbing her face dry, she looked out. The fog had brightened with the coming dawn but had not cleared. The town looked ghostly pale. Maybe Quillan wouldn’t ride out in fog like this. Maybe he would stay with her for the day. She anticipated the thought hopefully. All things were possible. She cleaned her teeth and loosed her braid, then brushed the hair and left it down.

It was her finest feature. Hadn’t Flavio . . . Carina stopped, amazed. That was the second time she’d thought of Flavio. Did Quillan’s difficult behavior bring to mind the first man she had thought she loved? Would it always be so? Would Quillan wound her in the same way?

She pressed a fist to her breastbone and dropped to her knees.
Grazie, Signore, for this day. I know you are bigger than my troubles.
And I am a lot of trouble to you
. However, Carina sensed God’s love now in a way she hadn’t before. Crystal had made her know Him, made her need Him. And she had surrendered.

She no longer tried to boss and bully God, to chastise Him when things didn’t go her way. Her thanks were not empty acknowledgments that He had done as she wanted. He knew better what she needed, and she tried—
tried
—to submit.

I ask only that your will be done. You know the desire of my heart. If
it is your desire as well, let my husband love me
. She remembered Father Antoine’s words.
“You don’t have because you don’t ask.” Bene. I’m asking.
I’m asking for his love. But you know best. I surrender to your will
.

It was the best she could do with such a wayward spirit as hers. She stood and went to the bed. Stooping, she pulled the carpetbag from underneath. From it she took the skirt and blouse she’d worn yesterday and some clean underclothes. When she had time she would put hooks on the walls. But for now, she must hurry. If Quillan came back while she was changing . . .

But he didn’t. She pulled on the oversized miner’s jacket and went to the door. The dog rose, wagging himself earnestly. She bent and stroked his head. “What’s your name? Are you my house dog, my
cane
da guardia?
Are you keeping me safe?” The dog’s tongue lapped her hand, and she laughed.

“You are a lover, I see. Your master better watch out, or he will lose you to a lady dog, a fine
bella cagna
.” She opened the door and the dog leaped out, then frisked on the stoop. She closed the door behind her, and the animal raced off. She was concerned a moment, but he raced back as swiftly, circling her legs.

She wished she felt as carefree as she started across to Mae’s. The fog was so thick she could barely see Mae’s place. A few spindly shapes wavered in and out like specters. She slowly found Mae’s back door and gripped the knob, relieved. Then she realized the dog was still wiggling at her side.

She glanced out where she knew the pump to be. “All right. Come on.” She cut across the yard and almost stumbled on the stone basin at its base. She worked the pump handle and brought water into the basin. The dog lapped happily. Carina smiled. If only everything were that easy.

She started back. Suddenly a figure loomed and she cried out. The dog rushed past her legs, leaping and cajoling as Quillan caught her elbow.

“Are you all right?”

“Yes. You startled me.” Her heart still raced, but then, Quillan had a way of suddenly appearing without warning.

“Sorry. Down, Sam.”

“Is that his name?” Carina let the dog lap her fingers again.

“Second Samuel. Cain named him, not me. The first Samuel died.”

“I gave him water.” Would he care that she’d seen to his dog?

“Thanks.”

“Mae might have something for him. Some scraps . . .”

“I’ll take care of it.”

Carina clasped her fingers together. “Are you coming in?”

“I ate at the hotel.”

She sagged. He had risen and eaten without her. Her spirit shrank. He’d gone to Mrs. Barton, who was, no doubt, all smiles. But what would the woman think to have him there instead of eating what his wife provided? What could his wife provide?

BOOK: Sweet Boundless
12.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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