Authors: Elaine Barbieri
Gasping with surprise when Scully stepped unexpectedly into sight at the top of the stairs, Lacey did not protest when he took her arm and said with an expression that suffered no protest, “I need to talk to you.”
Lacey turned toward Scully when he ushered her into her room, leaving the door ajar as he turned toward her to ask, “Did you tell Sadie you won’t be back to work at the restaurant again?” “No.”
Scully did not look pleased.
“I’m not going to quit, Scully.”
“Yes, you are.”
“No, I’m not.”
Scully’s chest began an angry heaving. He said tightly, “You tried and did your best, but working at the restaurant was a bad idea in the first place.”
“You saw what happened this morning.”
“I could’ve handled it, Scully.”
“I could have! Sadie warned me about Jud. He causes trouble every now and then, but he’s always been manageable in the past.”
“In the past…before you started working there.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You have a mirror, Lacey.”
“I don’t understand.”
Scully paused a moment, then grasped Lacey by the shoulders and turned her toward the washstand mirror. He held her facing her reflection as he demanded, “What do you see when you look at yourself, Lacey?”
Lacey frowned as she studied her image, then said, “I see a young woman with blond hair and blue eyes whose hairdo needs repairing and who looks confused.”
Standing behind her, Scully stared at her reflection as he said, “I’ll tell you what I see…what every man in that restaurant saw this morning. I see a young woman whose fair hair and womanly figure catches a man’s attention even before he gets a closer look that stops him in his tracks.”
“Scully…” Lacey gave a short, embarrassed laugh. “That’s ridiculous.”
“Is it? Look at yourself more closely. Is there another woman in this town who looks as good as you do?”
“Of course there is!”
Momentarily taken aback, Lacey stuttered, “There’s…ah-ah…Noelle Leach, the blacksmith’s daughter. She’s a natural beauty.”
“Right, and she smells like horses.”
“Go ahead, name another.”
“There’s Rita Johnson, the apothecary’s niece. I haven’t met her personally, but I’ve seen her, and she’s lovely.”
“Lovely? She’s also so snobbish and impressed with herself that she repulses any man who might think of looking her way.”
“You’re not being fair.” Lacey shook off Scully’s grip and turned back toward him with a touch of irritation. “What difference does that all make, anyway?”
“What I’m trying to tell you, Lacey, is that you’re different from the women in this town. You’re kind and innocent, and too friendly for your own good. You trust people too much. You don’t seem to realize that some of the men who look at you in that restaurant don’t have the best of intentions.”
Scully’s expression darkened. “Take Gould, for instance.”
“He can’t be trusted.”
“How can you say that? He’s a lawyer.”
“Is that supposed to prove something?”
“He’s educated, and dedicated to serving the law.”
“He’s also a member in good standing of Reverend Sykes’s church.”
“Oh, so that’s supposed to mean something?”
“Of course it does!”
“Lacey, Reverend Sykes arrived in town only a few weeks before you. He doesn’t know the townsfolk any better than you do.”
“But even Reverend Sykes accepts that people aren’t always what they represent themselves to be. And as far as our town lawyer is concerned, I’ve seen too many peculiar things happen over the years after some poor fellows wandered into town and went to Barret Gould for advice. He isn’t to be trusted, Lacey.”
“No one else in Weaver seems to feel that way.”
“I’m in a unique position in Weaver, Lacey. I see people come and go that the respectable members of the community don’t give a second glance.”
“I can’t believe that.”
“You should, and the fact that you don’t is just my point. You’re too gullible to be exposed to the element that frequents the restaurant.”
“You and I have eaten there every morning since I arrived!”
“That’s right, but you weren’t working there, where everybody feels you’re at their beck and call.”
“Everyone respects me there.”
“Oh? What about Jud?”
“That was different. He got out of hand. One of the customers in the restaurant would’ve stepped in to take care of him if you hadn’t.”
“Is that what you want…to be exposed to that kind of treatment, hoping somebody will step in to stop it?”
“It’s not what I
“It’s not what I want, either.”
“But it’s not the norm at the restaurant—and I don’t want to discuss this with you anymore. Please understand. I won’t quit my job there. Sadie needs me…and I need this job.”
“Why?” Lacey took a deep breath. She swallowed against the emotion that abruptly choked her throat as she attempted to continue. “You…you had a very pleasant life here before I came back, but since I arrived, you’ve done nothing but worry about me.”
“That isn’t the point I’m trying to make, Lacey.”
“But it’s the point
making. Please listen, and try to understand. You’ve been so good to me, Scully—and I’ve rewarded you with one problem after another.” Lacey hesitated, dreading the words she was about to say before saying, “I’ve been wrong. I need to admit that to you. I need to move away from this room and give you some space so you won’t feel so responsible for me.”
“I’ll go to see Mrs. McInnes today. If she still has that room, I’ll take it and tell her I’ll pay for my board at the end of the week, when Sadie pays me.”
Scully’s hands dropped back to his sides.
“That is what you wanted, isn’t it?”
“What I want is for you to be safe.”
“I’ll be safe there. You said so yourself.”
“What about the nightmares?”
Lacey took a short breath. “I have to grow up sometime.”
Scully looked at her for silent moments, then nodded. “All right. Mary is saving the empty room at the boarding house for you.”
“I told her you’d be taking it soon.”
“So she held it for me…no charge?”
Scully did not reply.
“Thank you, Scully.”
Expressionless, Scully said, “Let me know when you’re ready to move.”
Lacey stared at the door that closed behind Scully as she heard his footsteps retreat down the hallway. When she could hear him no longer, she frowned, suddenly at a loss.
She had done it…broken a tie that she had not truly wanted to sever.
What had she done?
What had he done?
Scully walked down the hallway, entered his room, closed the door behind him, then stood still. He had wanted Lacey out of the Gold Nugget environment, hadn’t he? He had insisted that she move into the boarding house…had even paid the rent on the vacant room while Mary McInnes held it for Lacey. He had reasoned it was best for Lacey that way.
What he had not considered, however, was if it was best for him. He was, in effect, thrusting Lacey out on her own even more surely than she was with her job in the restaurant.
Scully shook his head. Her job in the restaurant…that was the problem. His respect for Sadie aside, Sadie was not prepared to handle the complications that having a beautiful, sincere young woman like Lacey working for her would entail.
Lacey needed to find a place that was more secure…more protected. The problem was, that place did not exist in Weaver, except in her room near his.
Yes, what had he done?
re you sure you can’t stop for breakfast, dear?” Mary McInnes’s lined face moved into a frown of concern as Lacey passed through the boarding house kitchen on her way to the street. “You haven’t been taking any of your meals here. I worry that you aren’t eating right.”
“I’m fine, Mary.” Breathless with haste, Lacey continued, “Sadie will be waiting for me at the restaurant. I can eat there if I get hungry.”
“But the restaurant is so busy…”
“I’m fine, thank you.”
Outside moments later, Lacey walked quickly toward the main street. Mary was a dear woman. A widow with grown children who had made their homes away from Weaver, she looked after the residents of her boarding house with a surfeit of motherly love, which Lacey appreciated, and which she was certain Scully had taken into consideration when arranging for her room there.
Lacey took a deep breath as she approached the corner of the street. Scully had helped her move her things when she had said goodbye to Helen and taken her room at the boarding house a few days earlier. Mary had had no problem with allowing Scully into her room to help her—a privilege that Lacey had learned Mary granted to few male visitors to her respectable establishment. She had been comforted by the warmth Mary displayed toward Scully and had been pleased to see Mary show insight into Scully’s character.
As for herself…
Lacey’s step faltered.
She missed Scully. Not that he had distanced himself from her since she had moved. He hadn’t, but the physical distance between them had been as difficult for her as she had expected. She was lonely in her room with strangers on all sides—residents of the boarding house who were friendly, who said all the right things intended to make her feel at home, but with whom she had no connection that even approached the bond Scully and she shared.
She had been so cautious in staying out of Scully’s way during the nighttime hours at the Gold Nugget. She had remained in her room and busied herself with countless necessary tasks. When they were completed, she had sat down with her Bible to reread the familiar words she had virtually committed to memory, while images of nights spent in that same way with her grandfather grew gradually clearer in her mind. She suspected that the sense of security she had felt knowing Scully was nearby had somehow facilitated the clarification of those memories. She had come to anticipate with true warmth Scully’s knock on the door before she retired for the night, when they would spend unhurried time talking in the doorway, no matter how heavy the traffic in the saloon below had become.
Those moments with Scully had meant so much to her. Losing them had cost her dearly.
Even her nightmares…
A chill raced down Lacey’s spine. The intensity of her nightmares continued to increase. When she awoke in her silent room after those nighttime terrors, the shadows seemed somehow darker still.
Lacey murmured a prayer for the strength she needed to combat her fears. She was an adult now. She had come home to Weaver to repay Scully for his generosity and his caring over the years, and to regain memories of her grandfather that eluded her. She couldn’t accomplish either of those purposes if she allowed her fears to gain control.
In the meantime, she was anxious for Scully’s morning visit to Sadie’s restaurant, anxious to see in Scully’s sober gray eyes a warmth that was meant for her alone. She—
Lacey stopped still as the sound of a slap turned her toward the less respectable boarding house on the opposite end of the side street, where most of the Gold Nugget women lived. Rosie was standing outside the door, holding her cheek and sobbing while an unfamiliar fellow turned and walked angrily away from her. He was gone in an instant, the same instant it took for Lacey to start in Rosie’s direction.
Rosie had already slipped through her boarding house doorway when Lacey reached it. Determined, Lacey was about to follow when she heard a female voice say, “Don’t do that. It won’t help.”
Lacey turned to see Jewel behind her. A tall cowboy stood silently at her side. Not bothering with an introduction, Jewel turned toward him and said, “Go back to the ranch, Buddy. I’m all right. I can take care of Rosie.”
Lacey noted the fellow’s reluctance before he nodded. With a tip of his hat in her direction, he was on his way.
Jewel turned back toward Lacey. She still wore the satin dress and heavy makeup of her dancehall trade, but her expression was sober and concerned when she pushed back a straying strand of dark hair and said, “Rosie wouldn’t like it if you saw her right now. She’d be embarrassed. She always is when Riley treats her like that, but she’d be especially embarrassed if she knew you saw him hit her.”
“But she might be hurt. I only want to help.”
“If you want to help her, don’t let her know you know what happened. Rosie likes you. She likes to think you like her, too.”
“I do like her.”
“Then let her believe you don’t know about the way Riley treats her. She thinks you’d lose respect for her. She doesn’t have much, and that’s important to her.”
Jewel’s dark eyes grew suddenly moist and her voice hoarse. “Rosie’s a good girl who’s had a hard life, Lacey. Riley treats her pretty good for the most part. He just gets out of hand sometimes.”
“But he hit her.”
“And he’ll come back tomorrow and tell her he loves her. To Rosie, that means a lot. Not too many people have told Rosie they love her in her life.”
“That Riley fellow couldn’t love her if he’d do that to her.”
Jewel shook her head.
“What does that mean?”
“I know Riley doesn’t really love Rosie. He just enjoys his power over her. You know it…and in my heart, I think Rosie knows it, too. But she’s alone, and right now she figures he’s the best she can do. I know how she feels because I’ve been there, too.”
Lacey glanced spontaneously in the direction into which Jewel’s quiet cowboy had ridden off, and Jewel responded, “No, not Buddy. He’s all right.” Her voice softened with suppressed emotion as she said, “Buddy’s a fine fella, but he’s not the first man in my life. I don’t expect he’ll be the last.”
Sadness and frustration combined to tighten Lacey’s throat as she whispered, “What can I do for you both, Jewel?”
“I’m all right. Rosie’s the one who has trouble right now. If you want to help her, just be her friend. You’re not like the other people in this town. You don’t treat Rosie any different than anybody else just because she works at the Gold Nugget. She appreciates that.” Jewel hesitated, then said, “I do, too.”
Lacey still had not found the words to respond when Jewel turned away and slipped through the boarding house doorway.
“Can I have some more coffee here, Lacey?”
Lacey turned toward the young, curly-haired wrangler who had made the request. The restaurant had been filled since the door opened that morning. She had responded to the rush with instinctive haste, but her mind had not yet left the moments she had spent with Jewel in the doorway of her boarding house.
Lacey refilled Todd Fulton’s cup, then felt his callused hand touch her forearm to stay her as he said, “Is something wrong, Lacey?”
The thought that if not for her grandfather’s Christian teachings, his dying guidance and Scully’s boundless generosity, she might now be standing in Rosie’s or Jewel’s shoes had lodged deep inside Lacey.
Todd’s hand tightened on her arm, bringing her back to the present, and Lacey replied, “I’m fine, Todd, just a little distracted this morning, I guess.”
Todd’s brown eyes searched hers before he said, “I was beginning to worry. I haven’t seen you smile since I got here.”
“Well…” Lacey forced her expression brighter. “I’m smiling now.”
“You are all right, aren’t you? You’d tell me if you weren’t….”
Lacey replied sincerely, “It’s nice of you to be concerned, but I’m fine.”
“Good.” Todd scrutinized her a moment longer, then said, “Because I came here this morning with a purpose in mind.”
Lacey saw warm color creep up Todd’s neck as he said, “Talk was that Jake Scully was looking after you, then somebody said you moved out into the boarding house to be on your own.”
“You aren’t another fellow who’s going to say you’re glad because Scully wasn’t a good influence on me, or that my job here isn’t right for me, either, are you?”
“No, ma’am. I’d never say that.”
“Well, in that case, my response to you is, it’s about time I started out on my own, don’t you think? Scully is family—all the family I’ve got, anyway. He’ll always be my closest friend, even if I am living at the boarding house.”
“Then he wouldn’t mind if another friend asked you to have supper with him on Saturday.”
“Another friend? Who?”
“Oh…” Somehow startled, Lacey responded, “Why would you do that?”
Todd grinned. “Let me see…so we could get to know each other better, maybe?”
“That’s so kind of you, Todd,” Lacey responded, “but I’ve been eating my meals with Scully.”
Lacey frowned at her own response, suddenly realizing how presumptuous she had been in taking for granted that Scully would always give her needs precedence. Determined to correct that mistake but somehow reluctant to commit to Todd, she continued, “I can’t have dinner with you on Saturday, but if you’ll ask me again sometime, it’ll be my pleasure.”
“Fine. That’s fine. I’ll do that…soon.”
Gratified to see that Todd’s response and his smile were genuine, Lacey hurried to answer Sadie’s call. She was returning with another breakfast in hand when she saw Scully sitting in the corner and realized she had been so preoccupied that she hadn’t seen him enter. Uncertain how long he had been sitting there, she met his gaze with a sense of relief inexplicably so great that it brought a rush of tears to her eyes.
At his table moments later, Lacey saw Scully’s fists slowly clench as he asked, “What did Todd say to upset you?”
“He didn’t upset me.”
“No. I just…before I came here this morning…” Lacey halted. Scully was Rosie’s boss, and Jewel had asked her not to embarrass Rosie. She couldn’t relieve her own distress by talking the situation out with Scully and asking his advice. Rosie would be mortified.
Scully was waiting for her to finish her statement.
Lacey said sincerely, “I was feeling a little lost this morning until you came. I feel better now.”
Lacey had spoken those words automatically, and she suddenly realized how true they were. Just to know Scully was nearby made her feel better. What would she do without him?
Lacey was looking at him with her great blue eyes so open and earnest that Scully could barely restrain the impulse to hug her protectively close. If he were honest, he would say the same—that he’d been feeling a little lost until he saw her, and he felt better now.
Well, almost better.
Scully scrutinized Lacey’s pale face more closely. She had been frowning as she worked, something she rarely did, and there were light shadows under her eyes, indicating a lack of sleep. Something was bothering her…and whatever bothered her, bothered him. He asked softly, “Are you all right, Lacey?”
“Yes, I suppose I will be when I learn to use the resources the Lord gave me to depend on myself a little more. You don’t seem to have that problem, but I do.”
Scully said flatly, “I wouldn’t exactly say the Lord has much to do with my line of work.”
With unexpected sobriety, Lacey replied, “It’s more clear to me today than ever before that whether you realize it or not, you’ve been doing the Lord’s work in caring for my needs over the years. And if that’s clear to me, I know it’s clear to Him.”
Scully pondered Lacey’s response. He had been doing the Lord’s work? He was suddenly aware that, before Lacey’s return to Weaver, he would not have given a thought to the gulf that lay between the Lord’s work and his.
He pondered that reality, then dismissed it.
Lacey seemed to have dismissed it as well when she said, “You do want breakfast, don’t you?”
He nodded. “The usual.”
“Hotcakes and eggs.” Lacey smiled into his eyes and all was momentarily well. She was back with his breakfast within a few minutes, and he mentioned casually, “Careful’s due for some exercise. I take him with me occasionally when I go riding. The little critter seems to enjoy it. I’m going to take him out this afternoon after I finish some work at the Gold Nugget.” He paused, then asked, “Do you want to come?”
Before she could respond, Scully stressed, “You don’t have to worry. I don’t have any particular destination in mind.”
“Oh, I’d like that, but I have to do something first. It’ll only take a few minutes. I could meet you at the livery stable afterward.” She hesitated. “Unless that’ll interfere with your plans.”
Unless that’ll interfere with your plans…
Didn’t Lacey realize he wouldn’t
it interfere with his plans?
It occurred to him that she did not.
Scully nodded his assent and saw her relief. He watched her walk away, wondering what was so important to Lacey that she’d chance missing a ride with Careful.
“How are you, Reverend Sykes?”
Lacey neared the small, dilapidated church situated in a less frequented area of town. She was uncertain exactly when that morning she had decided the visit was a necessity. She only knew it was.
Paintbrush in hand, Reverend Sykes turned at the sound of her voice. He had abandoned his customary dark suit for work clothes, and he seemed to be wearing more of the paint than he was successfully applying to the outside of the building. Yet the front portion of the church was already done, and he appeared determined to continue.
Reverend Sykes responded, “Well, I’ve been better. Painting isn’t my specialty, but Leticia said we needed to do something to freshen up the church, and I’ve learned that she knows more about these things than I do. So, she’s working on the inside, and I’m working on the outside.”
“You’re doing a fine job.”
“You’re a true diplomat, Lacey.” Reverend Sykes’s lean face moved into a smile. He searched her expression, then glanced at her riding apparel and said, “You’re on your way somewhere, it seems. What can I do for you?”