Authors: Kristen Heitzmann
Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Historical, #General, #Religious
She almost stamped her foot. What did he expect? But then she knew. Nothing. He expected nothing, wanted nothing.
“I’ll be leaving soon. This should tide you over.” He held out a wad of bills.
She looked from the money to his face, swimming in the fog. “What do you mean? I’m going with you. You said—”
“I can’t take you in fog like this. Something’s moving in, and it could turn nasty.”
“Then you shouldn’t be out either. We’ll go tomorrow.”
“I can’t waste a day.”
Oh, a day spent with her would be wasted? “How long will you be gone?”
He turned away. “A while.”
“A month? Two?”
“There’s enough there to last you.”
But not to get what she needed. There was no Italian market in Crystal. She shrugged and reached for the bills. “I’ll find someone else to take me.” She waved her hand. “You can’t be expected to, such a gross’uomo, so busy and important. I’ll go myself.”
“You can’t, Carina. The snows’ll come any day.”
They’d already had several dustings, but what did she care? She waved a hand. “You don’t need to worry. Go. Do your business.”
He took a step and clutched her arms. “Look at me, Carina. You can’t leave Crystal.”
She said nothing.
He blew through his teeth. “All right, tell me what you need. I’ll go to Fairplay and back.”
She raised her chin but said nothing. He’d said she could buy for herself, and she wanted to. She would brave the fog or the snows or anything else to get the precious ingredients she needed.
His hands softened on her arms. “Carina, be reasonable. I can’t risk you—”
“Why not? Then you’d be out of this ‘flawed liaison.’ ”
He dropped his hold, his eyes as menacing as the fog, their gray even darker. The dog whined at his side, sensing his master’s animosity. “Fine. Be ready to go in an hour.” He jammed the wadded bills back into his pocket.
Carina bit her lip to hold back the smile and hid the satisfaction that burst within her. No good flaunting her victory. He was contrary enough to take it back. “I’ll be ready.” She hurried into Mae’s.
Quillan stalked away. Why should he have thought she’d be reasonable? What possible reason was there to suspect her capable of good sense? He’d worked it all out at the graveside. He’d leave her the money, all his profits from his latest deliveries—except what he needed for his trip down and to procure goods to resell in Leadville.
He’d been freighting to Leadville the last two months, close enough to monitor what was happening in Crystal without being there and lucrative enough to keep him busy. He’d hardly rested, simply changing horses but not giving himself the benefit of even one day free. On the wagon he occupied his mind with literature and poetry he’d read, memorizing it and drilling himself until he had it perfect. Anything to keep his thoughts at bay.
Why had he married Carina, invoked the wrath of Berkley Beck, put Cain at risk, left him unprotected . . . ? Quillan gripped his forehead and rubbed his palm down his face. So Carina wanted to see the freighter’s life? He’d show her. He’d let her feel the backbreaking hours on the box, eat the dust, though the fog would keep that down some.
He looked up. The cloud was sitting solidly on the mountain. Every surface and blade of grass was already turning a fuzzy white. A hoarfrost. Snow would follow. It was insane to take her out with the possibility of a storm. He should pack up and go, leave her to her own devices.
But she was just foolish enough to try to make the trip alone. Hadn’t she come to Crystal that way? However, that was in June— risky enough, but not the start of an alpine winter. No, he had to satisfy her this once. After this, it would be obvious she couldn’t do it again. Even Carina had to see that.
He reached the livery. “Alan!”
“Aye.” Alan stood up in one of the stalls. “Ye don’t need to bellow. I’m not deaf yet.”
“I need my team.”
“They’ve hardly had their rest.” Alan let himself out of the stall.
“It’s a short trip. Just to Fairplay.”
Alan reached his side. “And then where?”
Alan’s stump-toothed smile stretched broadly. “Aye. Back by nightfall.” Alan gripped his shoulder. “Didn’t I say—”
“Carina’s riding with me. I’ll return her tonight and head out in the morning.”
“Ah, boyo.” Alan sighed and looked out the doors of the livery. “It smells like snow.”
Quillan nodded. “She insists on riding along.”
“To be near you.”
“To buy at the Italian market.”
Alan walked to the doors. “Would you risk . . .”
“You don’t say no to Carina Maria DiGratia.”
Alan turned, his face troubled. “Don’t ye, now.”
“I’ll get the team myself.” He saw his wagon in its usual spot by the back. Alan came and worked beside him. While they hitched the horses, he was aware of Alan’s quiet scrutiny. It irked him, but he did his best not to show it. Carina had even spoiled this, the one good friendship he had left. She’d wheedled her way into Alan’s heart until he took her side every time.
Quillan led the team out with a silent wave to Alan. He wasn’t stupid. He knew weather like this was chancy. But if anyone could take Mosquito Pass in a storm, he could. He had plenty of road experience, and he’d handled the pass in all kinds of weather.
If it proved more than a snow shower, the worst of it would be at the summit. Once they’d started down the other side, it would lighten up again. And a fog like this could as easily lift to clear skies. If it got bad, they’d stay in Fairplay. That would show Carina just how dangerous her impulses were. That would keep her home next time.
But it didn’t help at this time. He loaded the wagon with cured wood at twenty-five cents a foot. Scandalous as the price was, he wouldn’t be caught without the means of making a fire. Then he loaded a barrel of water, checked his box of hard biscuits and jerked beef, emergency provisions, and a crate of canned vegetables he got directly from Mrs. Barton’s larder.
He threw in blankets and an extra tarp, then fastened the main tarp over the bed. The wagon was ready, the horses rested enough for a short, light haul. Now it only remained to fetch Carina. Quillan made a quick check that the rifle was under the box with plenty of loads. It was there, along with Cain’s shotgun. Well, that should cover everything.
He released a hard breath. Maybe she’d changed her mind. Wasn’t that a woman’s prerogative? Maybe he’d get back there and she’d be all aflutter with reasons why she couldn’t go. He glanced up at the sky. Couldn’t a man wish?
Before returning to the house, he went to find Svendsen. “Is the key ready?”
“Ya, sure.” The Norwegian smiled broadly. “I didn’t have to make that one.”
“When I saw which house you meant, I remembered. Berkley Beck ordered several for that place. I don’t stick my nose out; I don’t ask questions, eh? I only made the keys.”
“How many more do you have?”
Svendsen held out four on his large calloused palm. “This is the last of them. No one wants them, since the house is haunted, ya?”
Quillan raised a brow, taking the keys. “Haunted?”
“It stood open these two months. How many empty rooms are there in town? Much less a house, ya?”
Quillan considered that. It was probably the best defense Carina had from harassment. Any other key holders would have jumped in before now, but for the superstitious mind of the prospector. As for any actual haunting, Quillan had slept well enough, the only moaning being Sam’s rabbit-chasing dreams.
He set a coin on the table and dropped the spare keys into his pocket. “Thanks.”
“Ya, sure.” The Norwegian went back to his work.
Carina was ready long before Quillan returned. She had run home, filled her carpetbag with a change of clothes, her nightclothes, brush, and toothbrush. What more was there? She added a book,
by George Eliot. Quillan had taken the gun he’d hung on the bedpost. Why would he leave it if she was going along? It was useful to him. He could shoot the head from a rattlesnake. She knew; she’d seen him do it. He was her protector. So where was he now?
The sun rose somewhere behind the fog, turning it white, and everything she could see through the little window was sugarcoated. The fog moved over the ground, parting and tearing and shrinking into itself, then spreading again. She stood watching, with the carpetbag at her feet. Did she look too eager? He would smirk. But she didn’t move.
She searched the fog. A few figures wandered through it, though it was doubtful many would work their mines before the fog lifted. When she finally made out Quillan’s form and saw him emerge from the fog onto the stoop, she girded herself. Would he try once again to dissuade her?
He tapped lightly on the door and entered. “Ready?” No smirk, no argument.
Again he surprised her. She thought she could guess his next move, but she never could quite. She took up her bag. “Yes.” She pulled the miner’s jacket closed at the neck.
“Is that the best coat you have?”
“Yes. The only one.” Now he would argue. This would be his excuse.
He reached for her bag, carried it out, and started into the fog. She followed, feeling very like the dog who pranced beside her.
At the corner of Central, he turned and entered Fisher’s. He went directly to the shelf on the right wall and pulled down a woolen coat. “This the smallest you have?”
Henry Fisher crossed to him. “Too small for you, Quillan.”
“It’s for my wife.”
Fisher turned and noted her standing inside the door. “You’re on the wrong side, then. Here.” He crossed to a rack standing near the window, pulled out a brown woolen coat with fur-lined collar, and held it up. “This is what you need for the little woman.”
Carina looked from the coat to Quillan and saw him frown. It cost more than he wanted to pay. She knew. She’d looked at it already.
He nodded sharply. “How much?”
“Two crates of bourbon. The real stuff.”
Quillan eyed the coat, jaw cocked, then nodded again slowly. “Deal.” He took the coat and headed for her.
Her fingers sank into the fur as she took it from him. It was good of him. Her heart braved a tiny skip. Maybe he cared. Maybe . . .
“Lose the other one. It looks ridiculous.”
She slipped the canvas coat off and left it by the wall. Then she slipped into the woolen coat and felt its warmth and the softness of the fur. With unsteady fingers, she fastened the buttons and pulled it snugly around her waist. She couldn’t help smiling. How long since she’d donned something new and fine? “Thank you.”
Quillan didn’t answer. With a firm grip on her elbow, he led her outside. “That’s the last time we buy there. From now on, when you need something, write it on a list. I’ll get the things when I’m away.”
She hurried to match his stride. “You don’t like Mr. Fisher?”
“It’s just good business. I can get it for less elsewhere. And that goes for the other stores in Crystal.”
“I thought it was my discretion.”
He turned abruptly. “That was before.”
“Before I thought it through,” he ended lamely.
She fit her hands into the pockets of her new coat. “So you don’t trust me.”
He stopped before his wagon and team, standing ready, and whistled through his teeth. Sam leaped to the bed and climbed to the box. Quillan led her to the off side and swung her up. Sam licked her ear before Quillan ordered him down. She watched Quillan circle back, then felt the wagon sag as he climbed up beside her with the dog between them.
He turned briefly. “It’s just good business.”
Bene. She knew good business. When she had her own, she would shop wherever she wished.
My will is stubborn as leather before the tanner. Bend it, Lord, to your ways . . . in spite of me.
QUILLAN TOOK UP THE REINS. They were damp and frosty from the fog. He pulled the leather gloves from his pocket and worked them on. He realized now that Carina had none, but she could keep her hands in her pockets. Or wrap in the blanket if it was really cold at the summit.
He slapped the reins and whistled to his team. The wagon lurched forward. With a nearly empty bed this portion of the journey would be swift. But not so swift Carina wouldn’t know some discomfort. He didn’t find that thought as gratifying as he’d expected.
A sidelong glance ascertained her settled against the short back, straight and determined. She was fine. But then, he surmised that even if she weren’t, she would pretend to be. “If you get cold, there’s a blanket under the tarp.”
“You sure you want to do this?”
She turned. “Was the man a Sicilian?”
“At the market.”
“How should I know?”
She crooked an eyebrow. “Then I should do this.”
He hated her insinuations. His work was not something he wanted scrutinized by a prima donna with an inflated notion of herself and her skills. They rode in silence as they left Crystal with fairly little difficulty. The fog had cleared the road of most traffic. Quillan was confident he could handle whatever came, but others were not so inclined to risk it.