Read My Darling Melissa Online

Authors: Linda Lael Miller

Tags: #Romance, #Fiction, #Historical, #General

My Darling Melissa (37 page)

BOOK: My Darling Melissa
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Of course, she reflected, lifting her eyes to the hotel rising before her like a magnificent castle, it was possible that he was inside.

Melissa had no intention of crying on his shoulder, and she’d meant it when she’d turned down his proposal, too. She wanted nothing from Quinn except the strange, silent comfort of his presence.

When she knocked at the door of the office Quinn used when he worked at the hotel, a feminine voice called out a cheerful “come in.”

Gillian. Melissa’s throat tightened, but she opened the door and stepped inside anyway in the hope that Quinn would be there.

He wasn’t. Gillian sat alone at the desk, up to her eyes in ledgers and looking wan and pale. “Hello,” she said, as though it were an everyday occurrence for Melissa to approach her.

Melissa’s throat felt tight. “I’m looking for Quinn,” she confessed. “Have you seen him?”

Gillian gave a rueful chuckle. “If I had, I’d have made him do these dratted books,” she said, waving her hand over the clutter before her. After studying Melissa pensively for a few moments she said, “He’s probably up on the mountain. Quinn’s been working like a crazy man for the last week or two. I can’t even pin him down long enough to discuss his buying out my half of the hotel.”

Gillian’s words, idle as they were, altered something deep down inside Melissa. They reawakened hopes and dreams that had seemed shattered only an hour before.

“He expected Ajax to buy your shares,” she said, praying that her eagerness didn’t show.

Gillian made a skeptical sound. “How could Ajax and I have any fun together if either one of us were tied down to this place?” she said.

Melissa was wildly intrigued, but she kept her mind on business. If there was any juicy gossip concerning Ajax and Gillian, she would hear it soon enough. “I have some money to invest,” she ventured to suggest.

Gillian sat up straight. “That’s right! With all the hubbub, I almost forgot you’re one of the Corbins!”

Melissa suppressed a smile at being informed of her own identity. “Yes,” she replied simply.

“You were all het up to start a newspaper,” Gillian recalled, frowning.

“That fell through,” Melissa said, unwilling to go into painful explanations.

Gillian was gazing at Melissa through narrowed, speculative eyes. “I want fifty thousand dollars for my half of this place,” she warned.

Melissa’s heart leapt with excitement, but she allowed nothing to show in her face. “I couldn’t give you more than forty,” she countered.

Gillian considered. “Cash?”

Melissa swallowed. Even for her, forty thousand dollars was a lot of money. “Cash,” she replied after a moment.

Gillian’s face was alight. She jumped out of her chair and pumped Melissa’s hand exuberantly to seal the agreement.

“There’s just one thing, Gillian,” Melissa said when she was about to leave the office. “I don’t want Quinn to know that I’m his partner until I’m ready to tell him. That kind of news has to be broken gently.”

There was resignation in Gillian’s smile. “Don’t worry,” she replied. “Quinn and I don’t talk much anymore.”

Melissa offered no answer to that. “Is there a place here
where I can stay?” she asked, remembering that Quinn had said the hotel was booked solid until Christmas.

“There are some rooms we kept empty in case we need extra people on the staff. Nothing fancy, of course.”

Melissa thought of her small, seedy room at the State and of the chamber she’d meant to occupy above the Rip Snortin’ Saloon. “Just so long as it has a window and a lock on the door,” she said, and once Gillian had assured her it did, she left.

Wondering how she could possibly keep her delicious secret, Melissa started back toward town. She would next look for Quinn in the office at the lumber mill.

As she was passing Kruger’s Mercantile, however, Dana ran out and dragged her inside to have a cold drink and a chat.

Melissa told her friend about Mr. Bradberry’s return to Port Riley and his plans to establish another newspaper.

Dana, who had been spending time on the mountain overseeing the construction of the lumber-camp school-house, was rosy-cheeked with health. Her color faded, however, at Melissa’s words. “How can that be? Miss Emma told us herself that her papa didn’t ever want to lay eyes on another printing press, remember?”

Melissa sighed. “I remember,” she confirmed. She shrugged. “He’s changed his mind, I guess.”

Dana reached out to pat Melissa’s hand. She was not one to lament a lost cause for long, it soon became apparent. “Everything will be all right, you’ll see.”

Melissa had just agreed to buy half of a very expensive hotel, and she was dizzy with her own daring. In fact, she could hardly believe what she’d done. “H-have you seen Quinn?”

Understanding flickered in Dana’s eyes, and she nodded. “He’s on the mountain,” she said softly. “You’re going to marry him now, aren’t you? Oh, it would be so romantic if you did!”

Melissa shook her head and pushed away her glass of lemonade, unable to finish it. Approaching Quinn in an
office or even in his home was one thing, but climbing a mountain was another. He might jump to the conclusion that she was willing to agree to his terms if she did that. “I’m going to be a reporter for Mr. Bradberry,” she said. She still wanted to keep her forthcoming plunge into the hotel business to herself.

Dana looked singularly horrified. “But you’re pregnant!” she cried.

“Shhh!” Melissa hissed as several matrons turned from the notions counter to stare. She sat ruffled and indignant, red to her ears, before going on. “I might have been able to keep that a secret for a few months if it hadn’t been for you!” she accused.

“I’m sorry,” Dana said with a sigh. “It’s just that—well, if a man like Quinn Rafferty wanted to make an honest woman out of
me,
I’d let him. I don’t understand you, Melissa.”

“I’m not sure I understand myself,” Melissa replied, and then she stood, bid her friend a distracted farewell, and left.

There was no point in going on to the lumber mill, knowing that Quinn wouldn’t be there, so she returned to the State Hotel, planning to have lunch. After a light meal in the dining room she intended to visit her banker.

Two letters were awaiting Melissa when she stopped by the reception desk. The first was from her publisher; the second, forwarded from Quinn’s address, was from Keith. She opened her brother’s letter immediately.

Keith’s message was typically concise. There was something he wanted to discuss with Melissa—he didn’t say what—and he would be arriving in Port Riley by train the morning of the fifteenth.

Melissa’s hands trembled a little as she refolded the letter, her brow knitted. She wasn’t afraid of any of her brothers, for she knew they loved her, but the terseness of the missive alarmed her. Something must be terribly wrong.

The possibilities were discouraging to consider—probably the family had learned somehow that her marriage to Quinn had been a bogus one. Perceiving their sister as a
spinster, humiliated and scorned, her brothers had probably gotten together and appointed a rescuer from among themselves.

Tasks requiring diplomacy nearly always fell to Keith.

Melissa was so deep in thought as she entered the shabby little dining room of the State Hotel that she nearly collided with Mrs. Wright, who was just coming out. The delicately built woman was dressed for traveling, and she was accompanied by a lady taller and sturdier than herself.

“I’ve come to say farewell, Mrs. Rafferty,” Quinn’s housekeeper said, taking one of Melissa’s hands in her own and drawing her to the side so that the doorway wouldn’t be blocked by the small gathering.

Melissa let Mrs. Wright’s form of address pass unchallenged, since she’d already learned that no force on earth could dissuade the woman from using it. “You’re off to Europe,” she said a little enviously.

Mrs. Wright beamed and nodded, then introduced her sister, who was clearly in better circumstances and thus able to finance the expedition. “We’re going to have a wonderful time,” she promised, her eyes shining. But concern dimmed her happiness a moment later, and the color of conviction rose in her papery cheeks. “I’m an old woman, and I’ve earned the right to speak bluntly,” she said in a moderate tone. “You’ve got to stop all this nonsense, Mrs. Rafferty, and look after your husband properly. It isn’t as if there weren’t any other women in the world who’d undertake the task, you know.”

Since Mrs. Wright was so dear, and a product of a less modern generation, Melissa overlooked her presumption. “I’m afraid it’s not so easy as that,” she said gently.

“Oh, but it is,” the elderly housekeeper argued politely. “You get yourself up that mountain, young woman, and come to some kind of understanding with your man before it’s too late.”

Melissa blushed, filled with a mingling of defiance and embarrassment. Mrs. Wright was the second person that day to suggest that she humble herself by trudging up that
mountain like some kind of prodigal. She wasn’t about to resign herself to a life of surrender, for she knew that her love for Quinn would soon wither and die if she did.

It simply wasn’t fair that she should have to make all the concessions while Quinn went merrily on with his life, doing as he pleased.

“You’re upsetting the poor girl, Marion,” said Mrs. Wright’s sister, who had been presented to Melissa as Hattie. “Merciful heavens, you’re always trying to boss everybody around!”

Mrs. Wright looked at Hattie indignantly. “Why, sister, I do nothing of the sort!”

Amused by this mild tiff between elderly siblings, Melissa smiled and gave Marion Wright a gentle kiss on the cheek. “Good-bye, my friend,” she said softly. “Have a wonderful journey.”

Mrs. Wright sniffed, standing up very straight and trying hard not to show undue sentiment. “I will send postal cards,” she promised, and then she and her sister took their leave, and Melissa went on into the dining room.

She seated herself beside a window that looked out over the street, ordered a bowl of soup and a glass of milk, and opened the letter from her publishers. They were happy to learn that she was writing again and eagerly awaited her manuscript.

Melissa sighed and set the letter aside to reread the one from Keith. Her feeling of unease grew. Perhaps her brother’s plan to visit had nothing to do with her scandalous situation. Someone in the family could be seriously ill, for instance.

Maybe one of the children, or even Jeff, had suffered serious complications from the chicken pox.

Melissa was so distracted by that dreadful possibility that she was caught utterly off guard when Mitch Williams doffed his hat and slipped into the chair facing hers. He smiled and pointed out that her soup was getting cold.

With a sigh Melissa took up her spoon. She didn’t ask Mr. Williams what he wanted, for she knew that he would volunteer that information soon enough.

“I talked with Bradberry this morning, Melissa. I’m sorry about your newspaper.”

Melissa swallowed, keeping her eyes on the noodles and colorful vegetables in her soup. “Thank you,” she answered.

“You don’t like me much, do you?” Mitch ventured to ask in a quiet, concerned tone of voice.

Melissa looked up. “I don’t trust you,” she admitted forthrightly.

He looked wounded. “Why not?”

“Because you told Quinn that I asked you for money that day I couldn’t get into the railroad car, when in fact you volunteered it with absolutely no encouragement from me.”

Mitch sighed. A waitress approached, and he ordered coffee. When he and Melissa were alone again he confessed, “I may have been trying to put Quinn on his guard a little.”

“Why?” Melissa demanded angrily. It wasn’t as though she and Quinn didn’t have enough problems without other people interfering.

The lawyer shrugged. “He’s my friend, Melissa—the first one I had in this town, and the best. I didn’t want to see Quinn get hurt.”

Melissa smiled and arched one eyebrow. “In other words, you didn’t trust me, either.”

Mitch smiled winningly. “That’s about the size of it, love,” he replied. “But you’ve won me over now.”

The wholesome, tasty soup was beginning to restore Melissa’s flagging energy. “What a relief,” she replied with a wry little shrug.

Her companion laughed at that.

Melissa took a more serious tack. “You’ve heard about our fraudulent marriage, I suppose.”

He nodded, immediately sober of expression and quite sympathetic in the bargain. “Yes. It does seem that you’ve had an uncommon amount of trouble lately.”

Self-pity was a morass Melissa didn’t care to slip into. She took a firm grasp on sensible optimism. After all, she would soon be busy reporting the news and helping to run the new hotel. She sipped her milk and took her time in answering.
“I’m a Corbin, and it takes considerably more than what I’ve been through to discourage me.”

Respect glimmered in Mitch’s blue eyes as he looked at her. He was handsome, in a rough-edged sort of way, and Melissa thought she might have found him very appealing if it hadn’t been for Quinn.

There was a short silence, then Mitch cleared his throat and said, “Melissa, there’s a picnic at the Seaside Hotel this Saturday. I wondered if you would go with me. Might give Quinn a few things to think about.”

Melissa liked that idea. So far Quinn Rafferty had taken her purely for granted. Still, she was careful. “Isn’t there someone else you’d like to take, like Gillian?”

Mitch looked very uncomfortable. “She’s—she’s got Quinn for an escort.”

Melissa was not only shocked, she was wounded, but she kept her pain to herself. It wasn’t as though she hadn’t known about Quinn’s affection for Gillian and hers for him.

For a few desolate moments Melissa wavered wildly between going to the picnic with Mitch and spending all of Saturday hiding in her room. She was nearly finished with her novel, thanks to a lot of hard work, and if she pressed, she could be done with it. ...

“Melissa?” Mitch prompted.

Just then Melissa spotted Quinn crossing the street. He was wearing the uniform of the woods—oiled trousers, a flannel shirt and cork boots—and his expression removed all doubt that he’d seen her through the window. Picturing him fawning over Gillian at the upcoming picnic, Melissa reached out and closed her hand over Mitch’s.

BOOK: My Darling Melissa
3.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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