Authors: Starla Kaye
“She’ll be missed,” Angelica said, her voice hinting of sadness. “I will miss her. She was one of the few women in town who treated me with any kind of respect.”
Faith glanced in her direction and saw Ben putting his arm around Angelica’s shoulders. He had such a tender look in his eyes. Not for the first time, Faith wondered what kept the two of them from getting married. They obviously had strong feelings for one another, were always there when the other needed support of some kind. She wanted that special bond with someone, too. For a while she had thought maybe she’d found the man who could love her, whom she could love. But she’d only had a young girl’s foolish dream.
She shoved the disheartening thought aside and forced a smile for her friend. Angelica had started helping out at the store last week and more than one woman who’d come in had snubbed her. Annabelle didn’t put up with such shenanigans. She’d told the ladies flat out that they could change their attitude or shop elsewhere. Of course there wasn’t anywhere else to shop unless they drove all the way into Dodge City. Eventually most of the town’s ladies had reluctantly accepted Angelica’s presence in the mercantile. Good thing, too, because Faith wouldn’t put up with such nonsense either.
She straightened her shoulders and put a hand to her stomach to still the nerves fluttering there. “Time is a wasting. I need to go start hauling my satchels to the mercantile.”
As she turned toward her parents’ house, she thought about the tumultuous last week. Moving into the small apartment above the mercantile had proven to be a bigger complication than Faith had anticipated. Her father, as expected, had bellowed in outrage the instant she’d finally told him her plan. I won’t allow it! I swear I’ll lock you in your room until I find you a husband. You are not going to live alone. It’s not proper. He’d said similar words every time she’d been near him since that fateful day. She did not look forward to going there now to get her clothes.
“Hang on, Faith,” Ben called after her. “I brought my wagon to help haul your belongings.”
She turned back to him with a wobbly smile. “I appreciate your offer, but, really, I don’t have that much. I’m not even planning on bringing all of my clothing.” In truth, there were a great many personal items she would like to bring, but the space she was moving into was small and already furnished.
Angelica nudged him toward the livery, where Faith now saw a buckboard tied up out front. “Your mother came into the store yesterday when you were over at the barbershop, arguing with Adam. She mentioned that she was packing up some stuff to send with you.”
That caught Faith by surprise. She and her mother had hardly talked about this move, both getting too emotional about it whenever they did mention it. She was going to miss her mother…even her father, gruff as he could be at times.
“I never did have a chance to ask you, but what were you and Adam arguing about this time?” Angelica asked, her eyes dancing in merriment. “And did I hear you throw something in there? Something that broke?”
Faith huffed in annoyance at the reminder, noting how Ben slowed down to obviously listen in about her latest run–in with his brother. She didn’t care if he knew. Adam was getting more on her bad side with each passing day. Yes, she had thrown something at him. He’d stood there all smug and determined, telling her his latest idiotic notion. She’d picked up the nearest thing, a ceramic cup holding a shaving soap brush, and tossed it at him. Fortunately, she’d missed him and had been mortified at her behavior. He’d scowled and threatened to burn her butt, yet he’d let her walk away.
“Faith?” Angelica prodded.
Tugged back from her embarrassed musings, Faith said, “A shaving mug. I threw it at him, but missed.” She sucked in a breath. “Remember, he asked me to come there and talk to him when I got a chance. That’s why I went. My mistake.”
She frowned at Ben, as if he were partly responsible for his older brother’s actions. “He told me that he’d made a decision. He’d evidently had some kind of discussion with my father.”
She bristled all over again at the pure gall of them both. “You know how my father has been talking non–stop about me needing a husband. Evidently Adam feels the same way.”
Ben glanced across the road at the barbershop and Faith followed his gaze. Between the few riders trotting down the dirt road, she spotted Adam sitting in the chair outside his shop, chair tilted back, sitting with one leg propped over the other knee, casual as you please. He had the nerve to nod in her direction.
Faith sucked in fury and went back to her explanation. “The wretch told my father that he planned on finding me a suitable husband. Can you believe that?” She raised her voice, “Can you believe that?”
Adam settled his chair down and yelled, “Maybe you should speak a little louder, Faith Paddington. I think there’re some folks in Dodge City that didn’t hear you.”
“Oooooo,” she hissed, stomping a foot in utter frustration. Then she stomped the other foot for good measure. “You are despicable.”
People on the boardwalks and in the street began stopping to stare between them. Ben grinned in amusement. Angelica’s lips twitched. Their reactions only served to make her even more irritated. “This isn’t funny!”
Finally Angelica composed herself and nodded at Ben. “Go get your wagon.” She stepped down into the road. “I’d better go open the store while you go about your business of moving and getting settled in.”
With a last disgusted glance at Adam, Faith said, “He’s pretty unhappy about this move, too.” She smiled. “Which only makes it more enjoyable.” Again, she raised her voice, “I appreciate your help, Ben, with the move.”
To her delight, Adam glowered toward his brother and then strode into his shop.
* * *
Adam tried his best to ignore the rumbling clatter of Ben’s wagon pulling up out front of the mercantile an hour later. He was dead set against Faith moving in next door. No way would he go help. And Daniel didn’t appear to be interested either, since he’d walked in just a couple of minutes ago for a shave and a haircut and didn’t do more than settle back in the barber chair.
“Good heavens!” Angelica called out, obviously having stepped out of the store. “That’s a lot more than a couple of satchels of clothing.”
The wagon creaked as Ben must have climbed down from the high seat. He didn’t sound too happy when he explained, “Her mother was determined to set Faith up with a household of stuff. Her father wasn’t too happy about it, but he helped cart out the furniture and trunks. Now it’s up to me to get all of this into that couple of rooms above the store.”
“Maybe Adam would…” Angelica started to say.
Faith cut her off bluntly. “You and I can help Ben.”
Daniel glanced at Adam in the mirror in front of the chair, although he didn’t jump up to go assist their brother.
Adam shook his head. “Ben got himself into the problem. Let him deal with it.”
They heard the sounds of the tailgate being lowered and then a fair amount of huffing and puffing as items were unloaded from the wagon bed. A minute later, footsteps echoed on the outside staircase between the mercantile and the barbershop. The sounds of moving continued for a good ten minutes while Adam lathered up the shaving cream and Daniel sat waiting for his shave.
“I should go over there and tan her bottom,” Adam grumbled as he finally soaped up Daniel’s face. “Crazy woman all but announced to the whole damn world that she’s moving out on her own.” He brushed more lather on barely aware that his brother’s face was almost completely covered. “She doesn’t seem to have a clue how dangerous it is. A woman living by herself.”
Daniel grabbed Adam’s wrist and spit out soap. “Pay attention to what you’re doing!”
Adam jerked his hand free but did have the good sense to mumble, “Sorry.”
He set the shaving mug down and picked up the razor to swipe it on the leather strop hanging next to the chair. With each swipe, he got more frustrated. Faith could irritate him more than any other woman and she’d been doing her best at that for days now. She needed reining in, needed a husband to keep her in line, a half dozen kids to chase around. Maybe then she’d…
Daniel shifted in the barber chair and captured Adam’s attention. He picked up a flour sack rag and wiped the shaving lather from his face. He stood, frowning. “There’s no way in hell that I’m letting you come near me with a sharp razor in your hand. Not with the mood you’re in.”
Adam heaved a sigh and let the strop fall against the chair. “That’s probably for the best.” He put the razor down on the wood shelf in front of the row of three chairs. “I can’t seem to focus on anything today but that stubborn woman.” Hadn’t been able to focus on anything else for far too long, in his opinion.
He heard a Thud! and then Ben swore a blue streak. “I should never have let you talk me into this,” he grumbled and grunted as he obviously picked up something heavy.
Adam stiffened, worried for a second, then staying put. “He can handle it. Not my problem. Shouldn’t be helping her anyway. He’s as crazy as she is.”
“I imagine Ben’s just trying to make his woman happy. Angelica can get him to do almost anything.” Daniel smoothed a hand down his right leg; clearly making sure his gun belt was adjusted right. Not that there was a lot of crime in Dry Fork, but his brother liked to be prepared.
Adam turned away to toss the soiled rag into a small crate near the back door. Angelica was another sore spot, as far as he was concerned. He liked her okay, but he didn’t think she’d make a good rancher’s wife. Not that Ben had ever actually talked about marrying her. But he didn’t see any other women, hadn’t since Angelica had come to town three years ago. “Maybe you should have sent for a mail–order bride for Ben, too.”
“Maybe enough women will show up that there will be someone for him, too.” Daniel hesitated. “And you.”
“If you do not want me to mess up that pretty face of yours…” Adam spun to glare at Daniel. He was damn tired of his brothers pressing him to get married again.
“Threatening a lawman, are you?” Daniel questioned, but he just grinned and dabbed at a last splotch of shaving cream on his chin. “My Jennie would be greatly upset if you messed up my handsome face. Trust me; you don’t want to get on her bad side.”
The mention of Jennie reminded him of how angry she’d been with Daniel when she’d found out that he’d sent for a mail–order bride for Caleb. “Has she seen reason by now about what you did? She was mighty upset with you about that whole bride business.”
Daniel chuckled. “That she was, but she’s settled down. Took some soothing.” He gave a cocky grin. “I had to work hard there at the start, but a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do. If you know what I mean.”
Adam rolled his eyes, not really wanting to think about what Daniel meant. Once more, he realized how long he’d been without a woman “to soothe” or to be soothed by. What he should do was close up this shop and head off to California in search of that rascal youngest brother of theirs. But the idea of going so far away right now didn’t really appeal to him. Still, he should go into Dodge for a couple of days, find a nice friendly woman…
Heavy footsteps moving into the doorway drew his attention. Ben stood there, looking on the weary side.
“I could use some help for a few minutes.” He glanced back toward the mercantile, his expression testy.
“Leave it alone, you stubborn women. You’ll just hurt yourselves.”
“We can do this,” Faith countered, sounding confident and uncertain at the same time. “Don’t bother your brother.”
“We’re not as helpless as you seem to think,” Angelica protested.
Ben blew out a breath filled with frustration. He swiped at the sweat beading under his hat brim and then cast his brothers a final disgusted look. “Few satchels of clothing, hell. Her mother sent trunks and more furniture than can possibly fit in that upstairs set of rooms.”
“Your problem, not mine,” Adam said without moving an inch.
“Damn but you’re a stubborn sumabitch.” Ben turned his glower toward Daniel. “I suppose you’re refusing to help as well.”
Daniel stood his ground. “I don’t really want to come between my brothers. Reckon I’ll stay out of this whole moving issue.”
“Faith, don’t!” Angelica shouted, sounding horrified.
Adam and Daniel were both already moving even before they heard Faith’s pain–filled cry. As he shoved Ben out of the way and sped out onto the boardwalk, Adam’s heart pounded with dread. It hammered even harder when he spotted Faith lying flat on her back at the end of the buckboard. One end of a good–sized trunk leaned against the wagon and the other end was jammed against her stomach. Her face was white as a sheet.
Before he could get to her, she tried to shove the battered trunk off her. It only settled more firmly on her, making her moan in pain.
In a heartbeat Adam and Daniel lifted the heavy weight off of her. Adam’s gaze never left her pale face. “Crazy woman.”
Ben glowered at Angelica, “Why did you let her try to move that by herself?”
Angelica snapped right back, “Let her? Faith was moving it before I could stop her.”
“I’ll go round up Doc,” Daniel interrupted and headed off across the road.
“No. I’m fine,” Faith protested, sitting up with great effort and a wince. She wrapped an arm around her abdomen. “I just got winded there for a second.”
Adam knelt beside her, every nerve in his body on edge, pulse racing. When he reached out to brush some dirt from her face, his hands shook. He wanted to run his hands over her. He wanted to check for broken ribs. He wanted to hug her to him and kiss the blazes out of her. But he stopped himself from doing any of it, especially the kissing business. So he scowled instead.
“What the hell did you think you were doing? You could have been killed.” He heard the worry in his voice mixed with the fury, wondered if anyone else noticed it.
Angelica clearly had, she moved closer and gave him a sympathetic look.
Faith sat there with tears glistening in her green eyes. Her creamy face was paler than normal, her brow pinched in pain, and her long red hair had fallen from the knot at the back of her head. Still she managed to tip up her chin and take him on. “I only meant to pull the trunk to the end of the wagon bed.” She sucked in a sharp breath. “Guess I pulled it a bit too far.”