Undaunted Love (PART TWO): Banished Saga, Book 3.5 (7 page)

BOOK: Undaunted Love (PART TWO): Banished Saga, Book 3.5
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“Thankfully she heals. She’s finding her inner strength one day at a time.” I smiled at Jeremy. “And she asked me to give this to you.” I held out a letter. “I know Gabriel would say I’m meddling, but I agreed to act as mailman.”

“Why didn’t she come to visit with you?” Jeremy asked. He stroked his name written in her penmanship.

“I believe she was worried about her reception here.”

“Savannah is always welcome in our house,” Richard proclaimed although Florence gave a sniff of disapproval.

“Flo?” I asked.

“I don’t approve of how she treated Jeremy. I’ve tried to understand what she has suffered. I’ve attempted to imagine that kind of terror. And yet, how she could think, for one second, that Jeremy would ever hurt her is beyond me.”

I frowned as I saw Jeremy flinch at Florence’s words. I reached out and gripped his hand for a moment. “I know you’d never intentionally hurt her, Jeremy. We never intentionally hurt those we love, although that doesn’t mean we don’t cause them pain at some point. The difference is that you work to soothe it once the hurt is known.”

Jeremy watched me with intense green eyes for a moment.

Richard watched Jeremy and me, his expression one of guarded optimism. He reached forward and clasped Florence’s hand. She held it over her belly.

“How’s Gabe, Rissa?” Richard asked. “I wish he were here.”

“I think he would have preferred to travel with me, but he needed to remain in Montana for his business. He has many projects, and he would have lost work had he traveled. And we only had money for two fares. We thought it best for Colin to come with me.”

“Work can’t be more important than you, Rissa,” Richard said.

“It’s not. But, because I’m not allowed to work as a teacher, I have to work at a small library, earning very little. I can’t add much to our income, and Gabriel is determined to provide a good home for us.”

“As he should,” Richard said with a smile toward Florence.

“Well, I’m happy he wants to be a good husband and provider, but I’d like to contribute more than I do,” I said.

“I’m sure you do plenty, Rissa, with all the work you do around the house,” Jeremy said.

I flushed and looked away as Florence snickered. “I doubt it, Jeremy,” Florence said. “Clarissa never knew how to do any of the practical aspects of running a home. Isn’t that one of the reasons your stepmother wanted you at home?”

I replied, “She was more interested in me sitting in the parlor wearing a provocative dress and enticing would-be suitors than learning anything of value. If you’re interested, I’ve been learning to cook.”

“Even a year later? Is it that hard?” Richard asked, sharing an amused grin with Jeremy. “Gabe and I used to do well enough with simple meals. Maybe you should have him teach you a few of the tricks that he learned when he was a bachelor.”

“I’m not going to ask my husband for cooking advice, Richard.”

“I would, if it meant you’d eat a decent meal,” Jeremy said. “Nothing worse than being hungry.”

“Anyway, we have a wonderful friend who is helping me,” I said.

“Does she feed you too?” Florence asked.

“We’re often invited to dinner after I have a lesson,” I said and blushed as Jeremy, Florence and Richard laughed.

After a moment Florence calmed her laughter and watched me with serious eyes. “You’re happy, Rissa?”

“I am. We’ve had some difficult times, but I never knew I could be as happy as I am. I believe Gabriel feels the same.”

“Never doubt it, Rissa,” Richard said. “In his letters to us, all he writes about is the wonder of that place and his joy in sharing it with you.”

“How is Uncle Aidan?” Jeremy asked. “I can’t believe I haven’t seen him yet.”

“He’s well. He travels frequently for his business, although he has purchased a lovely home in Missoula.”

“Why don’t you live in it?” Richard asked. “Sounds nicer than living over the workshop.”

“It’s your uncle’s home. I think Gabriel would like us to live in a place that is ours. And I support Gabriel. I don’t want to live in a place that is beyond what we can afford.”

“I’d think Aidan would want you there, rather than have the house empty for months at a time,” Florence said.

“It’s not empty. The woman who’s helping me with my cooking, Amelia Egan, she lives there with her children as a housekeeper.” I turned to Jeremy. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Uncle Aiden were to travel here at some point. He’s been invited to invest in an overseas shipping venture with Jonas, and I believe he wants to come east to speak with him. I’m uncertain as to what he will decide.”

“I’d hope he’d have better sense than to have any dealings with that man,” Jeremy hissed.

“He’s often said that he shouldn’t mix business with family, but I hope you’re right,” I said.

“If one is as successful as Uncle Aidan is purported to be, he should be able to decline dealings with anyone he chooses,” Jeremy said.

“Jer,” Richard said with a warning glance. “You know that he has to think about his business too. It’s not just about how that businessman treated the woman who intrigues you.”

“It’s not like I’m playing some game, Rich,” Jeremy said as he rose. “I’m not intrigued by her. I love her. If I had my way, I’d marry her tomorrow.” He flushed as he turned to face the empty back lot abutting the rear of their house.

I shared a knowing glance with Florence. “I should return to Sophie’s.” I began to rise before sitting again. “Wait, I forgot.” I reached over and gripped Richard’s arm. “Richard, what’s happening with my father’s forge? Colin came back earlier this afternoon boiling mad, and I couldn’t get a coherent word out of him. He stormed off before he explained anything to me.”

Richard took a deep breath as regret flitted across his face. “I hadn’t realized until today that your da had died, Rissa. The man who took over for Old Man Harris, Mr. Wade, works us much harder than Old Man Harris did and doesn’t like to catch us chatting while we work. Thinks we’ll be more productive if we get into a routine.”

“He treats you like you’re a bunch of automatons,” Jeremy grumbled.

“Well, anyway, I haven’t kept in touch with my friends at your da’s forge. I work hard and want to come home to see Florence. Spend time with Jer. I don’t want to spend my time and money at the saloons. So I just learned today about your da. And about your da’s forge.”

“What about my da’s forge?” I asked.

“Mrs. Smythe is already planning to sell it to Mr. Wade,” Richard said. He flushed. “In fact, he talked to me today about having me take over the running of it.”

I sat back in my chair, becoming paler by the moment. “Mrs. Smythe is selling Colin’s birthright?”

“I think it’s all but finalized. Mr. Wade was contacted two days after your da’s death. Something about maintaining profitability and the goodwill of customers.” Richard shook his head. “The problem is, I know that woman thinks she’s cunning, but I doubt she has the head for business Mr. Wade has. He’ll convince her that he’s giving her fair value when in truth it’s worth triple what he’s paying her.”

Richard sighed. “And I shouldn’t have told you any of that because, if Mr. Wade finds out that I’m undermining his negotiations, he’ll be furious. He took over after you ran away to be with Gabe, so he’s unaware we’re related.”

“I don’t want you to lose your job on account of me, Richard,” I murmured.

“If I do, I’ll find another. I know I’m a good smith. And I know I won’t run your da’s shop the way he would want me to. I can’t be that type of a manager.” He rubbed away a chagrined smile. “I can’t say, just for a moment, that the thought of running my own forge wasn’t very tempting. But, when I realized who I’d be taking it away from, I don’t know if I could do it.”

“I’d think Col would rather have you running it than anyone else,” I said. I rubbed at my temple. “No wonder Colin was so furious.”

“I can only imagine what he thinks of me,” Richard said.

“That you are a good, loyal friend,” I said. I squeezed his arm again and rose. “I should head home.”

I walked down the hallway with Richard. As the front door opened, I gasped to find Colin on the front step, his hand raised as though to knock. “Col!” I gasped. I reached forward and clasped his arm. “I’ve been worried since you stormed out of Sophie’s.”

He nodded, and I hated the desolation I saw in his gaze. “I’m sorry, Rissa. I needed to think.” He tried to smile, although no joy entered his blue eyes. I stepped aside, allowing Colin full sight of Richard. “Hi, Rich. It sure is good to see you again.”

He reached out his hand, but, instead of clasping it, Richard pulled Colin into a quick embrace. After a pat on the back, Richard slung his arm over Colin’s shoulder and tugged him into the living room area. I shut the door, following them.

As we entered, I saw Jeremy and Florence pause in the midst of what appeared to be a deep conversation. “Is there any more tea, Flo?” Richard asked as he ushered Colin to one of the chairs. Colin collapsed into it, smiling a vague hello to Florence and Jeremy. I shared a worried glance with Florence, and I again found myself sitting around the table with another mug of tea warming my hands.

“I visited Mrs. Smythe today. She wants money, and she wants it as fast as possible. I don’t understand her haste,” Colin said. “The forge runs well, will earn her a steady income as long as she has a good, reliable man at the helm. I don’t know why she wants to sell it.” Colin shook his head in dazed confusion.

Florence cleared her throat. “Word has it that she is quite extravagant in her purchases. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s in acres of debt.”

“Sophie mentioned much the same recently, but Da would have kept a tighter control than that,” I argued.

“It makes sense, Rissa,” Colin said.

“Sophie often spoke about what a ridiculous woman she was and of how she was beggaring your father,” Florence said.

“What can we do to stop her?” I asked.

“In truth,” Colin said, “I would love for you to run the blacksmith shop, Rich. I just don’t want it sold to Mr. Wade.”

“I agree,” Richard said. “I mean, I don’t want it sold to him. I’d have thought you’d want to run it.”

“I’ve been here two days, and already I can’t wait to leave,” Colin said on a groan. “I may not be my own boss in Missoula, but it’s where I want to be.”

Jeremy, who had been pacing, paused and leaned against the counter. “Where’s Uncle Aiden now?”

“He’s at his office in San Francisco,” I said. “Well, at least he was when we left.”

“Why doesn’t he buy the forge? He has the money, and it sounds like it will be a good investment, especially since it seems like this man is offering less than its value. Uncle Aidan wouldn’t have to pay full market value. He’d earn a good profit if he ever chose to sell it, and Richard could run it knowing that it’s now the family’s forge.”

“Col?” I asked him.

“In the end, it doesn’t matter, Rissa. Nothing I do will bring Da back. Nothing will change the fact that I wasn’t here when he needed help.” He took a deep breath. “If Richard can be helped, that is good. I’ll know that the forge will go to someone deserving.”

CHAPTER 6

MY DARLING JEREMY,

I know I asked for time away from you. You were very upset with me when last we spoke, and I fear my request caused you both confusion and pain. I have returned to Boston and much has occurred. My uncle Sean has died. I have seen Jonas again. Clarissa has returned to us for a short time.

So much has happened, Jeremy, and, through it all, one constant emotion fills me: a deep and abiding need to see you. I miss you. I miss sharing my life with you. There is much I would like to say, if you will let me. Will you meet me at your house tomorrow at 1:00 p.m.?

Savannah

Jeremy sat in his room, fingering her letter. Anger and hope bloomed in his chest, and he sighed. He thought of the past month without her, and although he had promised himself he would not run to her the minute she asked it of him, he knew he would meet her.

He turned toward the door at the gentle knock. “Jer?” Richard asked as he poked his head in. “Is everything all right?”

“Fine, Rich.” He held up his letter. “She wants to see me again.”

“I told you that she wouldn’t be able to stay away from you for long,” Richard said with a sardonic smile.

“I just wish I were able to stay away from her.”

“Why? For how upset you were with me earlier, it seems as though you still want to be with her.” Richard moved into Jeremy’s room, his face cast in half shadows by the bedside lamp.

“I know, but I want her to want to be with me.”

“I’d think that letter would prove that to you.”

“No, it just shows she’s lonely, and she doesn’t like to be lonely. I’m not certain it truly has much to do with me.” He scrubbed a hand through his ebony hair before meeting Richard’s gaze.

Richard watched him with a curious tilt to his head. “You don’t value yourself as highly as you should, Jer.”

“In the end, I don’t know as it matters, Rich. We can’t marry, and I have little to offer her.”

“You’ve shown her that you value her opinions. That you are capable of respecting her as a woman without subjugating her to your whims. That is a remarkable gift for a woman who has suffered from the treatment bestowed upon her by her husband. When she asked for time away, did you try to force her to change her mind?”

BOOK: Undaunted Love (PART TWO): Banished Saga, Book 3.5
10.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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