Read Lips That Touch Mine Online

Authors: Wendy Lindstrom

Tags: #romance, #historical fiction, #kindle, #love story, #civil war, #historical romance, #romance novel, #19th century, #award winner, #kindle book, #award winning, #civil war fiction, #backlist book, #wendy lindstrom, #romance historical romance, #historical romance kindle new releases, #kindle authors, #relationship novel, #award winning book, #grayson brothers series, #fredonia new york, #temperance movement, #womens christian temperance union

Lips That Touch Mine (8 page)

BOOK: Lips That Touch Mine
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Sensing she was on the verge of tears, he
stepped back. "The sheriff is across the street. I'll send him
over."

"No." She dragged in a shaky breath. "I'll
stop by his office tomorrow."

"For God's sake, Claire. What's going
on?"

She glanced at the letter in her hand, then
lifted her chin and silently glared at him. "I don't know, but I
intend to find out." She slammed the door in his face.

He heard her twist the key in the lock, and
he turned away thoroughly confused.
What the hell just happened
here?
She was scared to death. Of him!

 

 

Chapter Six

From his apartment
above the saloon, Boyd watched Claire's house. Why were her lamps
burning at two o'clock in the morning? No shadows or movement
shifted across her windows, so she must be sleeping. But why with
the lantern burning?

He and Duke had searched her yard, but hadn't
found anything to warrant her fear. Duke had knocked and announced
himself, but Claire wouldn't answer the door or even bother to look
out the window.

So what the hell was it that had spooked
her?

Boyd paced his apartment, glancing at her
windows. Was she awake? Was she watching him, too? Or was she
cowering in her house, afraid and alone?

The thought had him heading for the door, but
he stopped in his kitchen and blew out a breath of frustration.
Even if he went to check on her, she wouldn't answer the door.
Worse, if he knocked on her door, it would just make her more
scared, which was the last thing he wanted to do.

He would just have to wait until
tomorrow.

With a sigh of fatigue, he headed to a small
room off the parlor where he dabbled with his carvings. He'd
boarded up the window that Claire's wild gunshot had shattered the
previous weekend, but the room still felt chilly.

Sailor padded in behind him, sniffing and
circling the life-size, partially carved statue that forever
intrigued the dog.

"It makes me nervous too," Boyd said,
scratching the dog's head. "What do you think? Will tonight be the
night?" he asked, wondering if the day would ever come when he
would resurrect his talent.

The dog wheezed and stared at him with
adoring brown eyes.

"You have more faith than I do, but I'll give
it a go." He surveyed a long narrow table that was covered with
several curved carving knives, various-size chisels and gouges,
shaving blocks, sanding paper, tubs of wax, cans of varnish, and
other items he and his father had once used to carve furniture. He
picked up a small carving knife and turned to the huge block of
basswood sitting in the center of the room.

Claire's bullet had torn away a brick-sized
chunk of wood from the upper portion of the statue. When Boyd had
first discovered the damage, he'd felt as if the bullet had torn
away a piece of his own flesh. But now, in this light, seeing the
partially carved block of wood from a different perspective, the
missing chunk of wood seemed...right somehow.

"Maybe that's my problem," he said, talking
as naturally to his dog as he would to his own brothers. "Maybe
I've been approaching this from the wrong direction." Boyd began
shaving away the splintered edges where the bullet had struck the
wood. He worked his knife in slow, methodical strokes, but his
apprehension grew as the night deepened. He feared he would cut
away too much, and despaired that he wouldn't know if he had.

His hands trembled and his face flushed with
heat. This had been so easy once. There had been a time when he'd
known the result of each knife stroke before he took it. Now, each
curled wood shaving that fell to the floor filled him with anxiety
because he was carving blind. He could no longer see the treasure
the wood contained.

o0o

Claire jerked awake with a gasp.

She clutched the gun on her lap and searched
the shadows of her bedchamber. Nothing moved. No one panted in her
ear and threatened her. No one clutched her throat and issued
instructions. She was alone and unharmed. Heart pounding, she sank
back into the wing chair with a trembling sigh of relief.

She couldn't live like this again.

She couldn't bear the sleepless nights, the
gnawing fear, the watchfulness.

The heavy iron revolver pressed down on her
thighs, but it didn't comfort her. She had no idea how to
successfully use the gun. Her chances of being able to actually
shoot anybody were slim, but she kept the revolver nestled in her
lap.

It was the only protection she had if the man
who left the threatening note on her door decided to visit her.

She slipped her hand into the pocket of her
skirt and wrapped her fingers around the carving Boyd
had
given her. The note was in her pocket, too, but she had no need to
pull it out and read it again. The threatening words had circled in
her mind all night long.

 

A woman who lives alone shouldn't stir up trouble.
Stop the marches or you'll have an unpleasant visitor.

 

She was too familiar with the instability of
alcoholics to discount the note. Whoever wrote it, meant it.

Was it Boyd? Had he been waiting near her
porch to purposely frighten her? He had as much to lose as anyone
if the marches were successful. And if he hadn't written the note,
who had?

She leaned her head back, sick with
exhaustion. Her body begged for rest, but she didn't dare undress
and climb into bed. She'd saved herself from Jack's rage on many
occasions by running out of the house before he could grab her. She
couldn't run for help if she was undressed.

Smarter to remain fully clothed and sitting
in her grandmother's wing chair with the gun in her lap. In the
morning she would march with the women, then slip away to see the
sheriff.

That was sensible. That's what she'd do.
There was no need to panic.

Then why was she sitting shivering in fear
with a revolver clenched in her hands?

 

 

Chapter Seven

Friday morning
Claire slogged down Main Street through ankle-deep slush, shaking
with cold and exhaustion. She longed to be safe in bed beneath her
grandmother's thick comforter, sipping a cup of hot tea.

Instead, she spent an hour at church, then
tromped through the cold wind to visit Baldwin's Drug Store, the
Taylor House, and three saloons. The proprietors all refused to
sign the temperance pledge.

The women ended their march at Barker Common.
Claire was shaking so badly from the cold and fatigue, she sank
onto a park bench to rest before going to the sheriff's office.
Elizabeth winced as she half-collapsed beside her.

"Are you all right?" Claire asked, her heart
filling with compassion for the hurting woman. "I noticed you've
been favoring your left side all morning."

Elizabeth's eyes misted and she gravely shook
her head. "I'm not all right, but my mother is heading our
directions and I don't want her to know the cause of my injury."
She met Claire's eyes. "How did you know?"

"I was in your situation once," Claire said,
realizing too late that she'd revealed her secret. She saw Desmona
making her way toward them. "Maybe you should tell your parents.
They might be able to help you."

Elizabeth shook her head. "My father is too
old and unhealthy. I'm afraid the shock and worry would kill him.
He thinks my husband is a good man. I don't want him to know about
this."

Claire frowned. "A good man doesn't beat his
wife."

"He's not all bad," Elizabeth said, repeating
the same words Claire had once said about her own husband. "Ted
works hard and provides well for us. He was a good father to our
two girls."

"He didn't...bother your girls like this, did
he?"

"No. He was good to them. They never knew we
had problems."

Desmona was too near for them to continue the
conversation, so Claire patted Elizabeth's hand and stood. "Take
care of yourself," she whispered. Then she strode across the park
toward the old academy building that housed the sheriff's office,
before Desmona could corner her.

Sheriff Grayson sat at a scarred pine desk,
elbows propped on either side of a stack of papers. One finger
tapped the page he was reading, the other hand was braced on his
forehead with his fingers stuck in his thick brown hair. He was
handsome in a rough and rangy way, but clearly Boyd's brother.

The massive desk sat in the middle of a room
the size of the connecting jail cell. Although the sheriff seemed
comfortable in the tiny walled off space, she thought he would
appear more at home in his family sawmill, wrestling logs and
working alongside the massive horses that moved the timber. She was
hesitant to disturb him, but couldn't leave without telling him
about the note. She tapped on the doorframe.

"Sheriff Grayson?"

He looked up and smiled as if he'd seen her
coming for miles and had just been waiting for her knock.

"Has another saloon owner locked you out?" he
asked, referring to Don Clark, who had done just that on
Wednesday.

"We didn't call on Mr. Clark today," she
said. "We sent the men around yesterday, and decided this morning
to adjourn our marches until Monday."

"Then you're either guilty of something or
you've got a good-sized problem on your hands."

She stepped into the room. "This was tacked
to my door last night." She handed him the note.

He leaned back in his chair and gestured for
her to sit. As he read, his dark brows lowered. "Is this why you
wouldn't answer your door?"

She nodded.

"Do you know who wrote this?"

"Maybe Don Clark. Maybe...I don't know. It
could be anybody." She sighed, feeling weary to the bone. "Whoever
wrote it obviously means to stop our marches."

He scowled. "Did you tell anyone about the
note?"

"No." She met his eyes and knew he wasn't
only referring to the women she marched with. He wanted to know if
she'd accused any of the saloon owners. "I don't want to worry the
ladies, or cast suspicion on any man without knowing who wrote
it."

"I need to keep this." He laid the paper on
the arrest warrant he'd been reading. "I'll question Don and the
other saloon owners this afternoon."

"Will you question your brother too?" Despite
her effort to maintain eye contact, his frown made her drop her
gaze to her cold, clenched fingers.

"Do you think Boyd would do this?"

The sheriff's tone implied his brother would
never do such a thing, but she could only shrug. She honestly
didn't know what Boyd Grayson would do.

"Mrs. Ashier?"

She looked up to see sympathy in his
eyes.

"I know you're frightened, but I'd stake my
badge on my brother's innocence. He would never threaten a lady. In
fact, when I tell him about this note, I'm going to have a hell of
a time keeping him from hunting down the author."

"Why would he get involved?"

"Because he's the kind of man who protects
those who can't protect themselves. When Boyd was ten he fought a
boy twice his size because the boy had been picking on one of our
friends. Kyle, Radford, and I had to restrain Boyd while the older
boy ran home."

"You believe he's innocent then?"

"Yes." The sheriff leaned his wide shoulders
back in his chair. "My brother is too hot-tempered to spend time
writing a note, Mrs. Ashier. If he'd wanted to give you a warning,
he'd have banged on your door and made sure you understood his
message. But I'll question him along with the other saloon
owners."

"Thank you," she said, but she wasn't ready
to take the sheriff or Boyd Grayson at their word. She would watch
and judge them by their actions.

She got to her feet and moved to the door.
"Will you let me know when you find out who left the note?"

"Of course," he said, pushing his chair back.
The room shrank when he stood, and she instinctively took a step
back. "My deputy and I will be around this afternoon to check on
you."

She nodded, but didn't leave. "Did you ask
Levi Harrison to stop selling liquor at his hotel?"

His eyebrows lowered. "Why?"

"Because it was an honorable thing to
do."

He sighed. "Don't accuse me of being noble,
Mrs. Ashier. I acted out of self-preservation. I couldn't hire a
rum seller as deputy when there are a hundred women in town who
would scalp me for doing so."

"Despite your penchant for frequenting your
brother's saloon, Sheriff Grayson, you just climbed a notch in my
regard."

o0o

Boyd slammed his empty mug on the bar,
outraged. "Claire thinks I wrote the note?"

"Settle down," Duke said, then finished
telling him about the incident. "She's scared and doesn't know what
to think."

Pat Lyons leaned his elbows on the bar beside
them. "Who could be threatening her?"

"Any man in town." Karlton, who was four
inches shorter than Pat, stood behind the bar drying a beer mug.
"She's stirring up trouble with everybody."

"Unfortunately, that's true," Duke said.
"When Mrs. Ashier started the temperance push, I decided to do a
little digging into her past. It seems her husband died sucking
river water. Apparently Claire was there but unable to save
him."

Boyd's gut tightened. "Do you think someone
from her past could have left the note?"

"I don't know. Mrs. Ashier suspects everyone,
but thinks Don Clark might be responsible. I can't see Donny doing
something like this though," Duke said. "I'm going to talk with him
now, but I want you three to keep this information about Mrs.
Ashier in strict confidence. She's pretty shaken up about it."

"She should be," Karlton said. "The saloon
owners and our patrons aren't taking too kindly to being harassed
by a nagging group of women."

"That doesn't give anyone the right to
threaten those women."

BOOK: Lips That Touch Mine
2.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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