Authors: Elaine Barbieri
Lacey scrutinized Scully’s tense expression, then said, “I’m only telling you this because I had said you were mistaken in judging Barret harshly. I don’t want you to get angry.”
“Tell me what he said.”
“It wasn’t really bad. He just said your behavior wasn’t exactly in my best interest.”
Scully hardly breathed.
“I’ll take care of it.”
“Scully, please…” Suddenly so close to him that he could feel her sweet breath against his cheek and see the silver specks of agitation in her eyes, Lacey rasped, “Promise me you won’t confront Barret. It’s important to me. I don’t want to stir up any trouble for you.”
“You didn’t stir anything up. Barret did.”
“I’m sure he meant it for my own good.”
Somehow unwilling to concede that point, Lacey responded, “Whether he did or not doesn’t matter. I didn’t come back to cause you problems.”
“You came back because Weaver is your home.”
“I want Weaver to be my home, but it’s
home first, Scully. You’ve made a life for yourself here. I don’t intend for my presence to complicate things for you.”
Lacey was so close. Scully took an unsteady breath before responding, “You aren’t the one complicating things for me here.”
“Yes, I am, and I don’t want to. I’d rather go back east and take a position at the school than cause trouble for you.”
“Back east…” He shook his head. “Not a chance.”
“Then promise me,” Lacey begged. “Please.”
“Lacey…” Scully stared into Lacey’s disturbed expression.
Scully slid his arms around her and drew her against his chest. He hugged her tight, a myriad of emotions assaulting him as he said, “All right. I won’t confront Barret about what he said this time. I promise, but if there’s a next time—”
“You don’t have to worry, there won’t be a next time.” Drawing back from his embrace, Lacey smiled sheepishly. “I got a little angry when he admitted he didn’t like you, so I told him that was all right, because you didn’t like him, either.”
Scully gave a hard laugh.
“He did apologize for what he said, you know, but I told him I couldn’t accept his apology because his remarks were ignorant and untrue, and his intentions questionable.”
Scully listened intently.
“He asked me to reconsider accepting his apology, and I said maybe I would, but I didn’t want to talk about it anymore.” Lacey paused, then added, “Truthfully, I may accept Barret’s
to apologize, but I won’t ever accept what he said about you.”
Scully stared at Lacey a moment longer, then offered, “Even if it’s partially true?”
“You’re so sure of that?”
Scully had no words to reply as he scrutinized Lacey’s sincere expression. She believed in him without exception. The thought was sobering.
At the sound of a soft bray, Scully looked up to see Careful approaching them. Lacey laughed as Careful nudged her head with a look that could only be called a half smile, and then grasped a lock of her fair hair with his teeth and pulled.
Scully was about to chastise the brazen burro when Lacey said, “No, don’t. Careful pulled my hair in order to get my full attention. He always did that when I was a child.” She stroked the animal’s muzzle and added with a touch of seriousness in her tone, “See that, Scully? Time and circumstances don’t change real friendships. If friendships are true, they’re impervious to all assaults.”
Scully watched as Lacey stood up unexpectedly. She drew Careful back with her to the stream, took off her boots, then waded into the water and splashed the burro playfully. He realized that what she had said was true. Time and circumstances didn’t change true affection.
Or did they?
Succumbing to impulse, Scully pulled off his boots and walked toward the stream.
“They didn’t do nothin’, boss.”
Blackie stood opposite Barret in the cool confines of his office, but the unkempt boor hadn’t yet stopped sweating. Barret attempted to ignore Blackie’s offensive odor as he replied, “What do you mean? They certainly didn’t ride out just to pass some time. It’s hot out there, in the event you didn’t realize it.”
“Me and Larry realized it, all right.” Blackie pulled off his hat and ran his hand through hair stuck slickly to his scalp with perspiration, then wiped his arm across his forehead before continuing. “Larry and me was stuck out there in the sun, watching, while them two took off their boots and walked around in the stream to cool off.”
“You’re telling me—” Barret took a firmer grip on his agitation “—that Jake Scully rode out into the afternoon heat just to splash around in a stream?”
“It sure looked that way.”
“Well, maybe you weren’t looking hard enough!”
“Look, boss…” His bearded face growing unexpectedly menacing, Blackie snapped, “Me and Larry spent a long afternoon trying to cool off in the shade of a few, miserable bushes while them two was kicking up some fun in the stream. We was looking hard enough, all right, and it wasn’t easy.”
Barret gauged Blackie’s reaction critically. The man was irritated because he had been sent out on a wild-goose chase in the heat of the day, but that was too bad. He snapped back, “Where’s Larry?”
“He went straight to the Gold Nugget to get a drink.”
“And he left you to carry the ‘good news’ to me.”
“Like you said, it was hot out there.”
Barret nodded. He pressed, “They didn’t travel in the direction of Charlie Pratt’s burned-out cabin?”
“I told you, they didn’t go nowheres near it.”
Barret paused to consider the situation. Lacey Stewart had waited ten years and it appeared she was content to wait a few more weeks until she was again familiar enough with the territory to be able to locate her grandfather’s strike without Scully. That could be the only explanation, because if she intended sharing the claim with Scully, they would have headed directly for it that afternoon.
So he need wait a little longer.
Barret felt a hot flush suffuse his skin. But
had waited ten years, too, and he wasn’t as patient as Lacey Stewart obviously was. It occurred to him that the way the situation presently stood, Lacey would find it difficult to ride off alone when she was ready to search, without Scully trailing behind her. He’d need to figure out a way to separate the two of them. He hadn’t been successful in ingratiating himself with Lacey earlier that day, but he was no longer concerned about that failure.
An uncouth, barbaric adage commonly used by Weaver residents sprang into Barret’s mind. He despised it, but the truth of the saying was so appropriate.
there was more than one way to skin a cat.
acey took a deep breath as she walked down the hallway toward her boarding house room. The afternoon spent with Scully in the wild Arizona terrain had been exceedingly pleasant, even though the day had started out poorly in so many ways.
Lacey’s mind returned to the scene between Rosie and her beau earlier that morning. The image of Rosie sobbing as a result of Riley’s blow shook Lacey even in retrospect. She had not quite recovered from witnessing that devastating encounter or her revealing conversation with Jewel when she was stopped by Barret Gould. Lacey recalled the unpleasantries of the exchange that had followed. Barret’s audacity in criticizing Scully so boldly had been infuriating. She wondered how he could believe for a moment that she would prefer his advice to Scully’s about any portion of her life.
She supposed she shouldn’t have told Scully about that conversation, but she had needed to let him know he was correct in his assessment of the haughty lawyer, and that she had been wrong.
But the remainder of the afternoon, while they had stopped at the stream to cool off themselves and their mounts, had been one of the most pleasant times she could recall in recent years. Sitting so close to Scully and speaking to him so honestly from the heart, she had been even more conscious of the special intimacy they shared. Careful’s affectionate bid for attention had interrupted their dialogue, but the display had warmed her heart and returned her briefly to a carefree period of her life that she cherished in memory.
She recalled her astonishment when Scully waded into the stream behind her, his feet as bare as hers. She remembered how they had both stomped around in the cool water. She recalled the moment when Scully laughed out loud in spontaneous enjoyment. Her heart had jumped a beat at the sheer beauty of the sound.
She truly was fond of Scully. There was no one whose affection was presently more dear to her. She whispered another brief prayer of gratitude, knowing she could never give enough thanks to the Lord for His having placed Scully in her life—although she wondered why she deserved such a precious gift.
Lacey closed the door behind her. Their visit to the stream had been invigorating, a relief from the intense heat of the day. Their damp clothing had cooled them for the greater portion of their ride home, but once their clothes had dried, the heat had become oppressive. She was presently looking forward to sponging herself with cool water from her washstand and refreshing herself with the delicate fragrance of the lilac-scented soap she favored.
Lacey looked at the clock on the mantle. She had a few hours until Scully and she would go to the restaurant for their evening meal. It occurred to her that Mary was right. She had yet to take advantage of the food the dear woman provided her guests—meals reputed to be consistently excellent. She knew, however, that even if she were given the choice, she would prefer Scully’s company to a meal fit for royalty.
Lacey turned to the washstand. She was unbuttoning her shirtwaist when she looked at the soap dish and stopped cold. She had used up the last of her soap that morning.
Impatient with herself for having forgotten to stop at the mercantile to buy another bar, Lacey checked her small purse for change. Satisfied, she started for the door.
Lacey walked briskly toward the store. Her path lay past Barret Gould’s office, but the possibility of a second encounter with him that day was more than she could presently face. Deciding to avoid it if she could, Lacey crossed the street and walked quickly along the crowded walk, hoping no one would notice her circuitous route when she crossed back again to the other side.
Lacey moved quickly between the last straggling shoppers of the day and the influx of wranglers just beginning to arrive for the weekend’s entertainment. She approached a small boutique where it was rumored that many of the Gold Nugget women did their shopping. According to the whispers of two matrons standing behind her while she had waited for her order to be filled at the mercantile a few days earlier, the clothing at the boutique was fashionable, direct from Paris and well beyond the reach of the “decent” women in town.
He who guards his lips, guards his soul.
She had wondered if those two “decent” women were familiar with that passage. Less important than that, she had then wondered if the clothing in the store was really direct from Paris.
That thought lingered as Lacey spotted a familiar figure standing in front of the boutique. She recognized the distinctive shopping basket Rosie carried. Rosie’s surprising talent for weaving was well-known at the Gold Nugget, and her baskets were easy to pick out.
Lacey’s step slowed as she approached the thin dancehall girl and said, “I thought it was you standing here, Rosie.”
Rosie turned toward her, then glanced away—but not before Lacey saw the fresh bruise at the corner of her eye.
Rosie replied, “Marcella told me that Madame Lilly had reduced her prices on some dresses because she expects new stock to arrive on the stage at the end of the week.” Referring to the voluptuous brunette rumored to be so popular in the Gold Nugget, Rosie continued, “Marcella bought herself a beautiful dress. I thought I might be able to find something. My old gold satin got ripped somehow.”
Lacey paused in her response. She knew how Rosie’s dress had gotten ripped, all right.
Lacey said simply, “Maybe I can help you fix it. I’ve done a pretty good job of repairing my own dresses from time to time.”
“No…I don’t think so. It’s ripped beyond repair.”
Her heart aching for Rosie, Lacey looked at the sign in the window and said, “It seems there are a few more dresses left at reduced prices.”
Rosie turned back hopefully toward her. “How do you know that?”
“It says so right there on the sign.” Lacey read, “‘Only six dresses remaining at greatly reduced prices.’”
“I won’t get paid for another few days. Does it say how much longer Madame will keep the prices reduced?”
Lacey looked back at the sign. The sign was clearly written in bold letters. Momentarily confused by the question, Lacey responded, “No, that’s all it says.”
Realization then struck her, and Lacey asked, “Don’t you know how to read, Rosie?”
Rosie stiffened and took a backward step.
Rosie’s lips wobbled. “No.”
“My Ma and Pa died in an accident when I was six. My uncle didn’t have any choice but to take me in.” She shrugged. “That’s what he said, anyway. He raised me until I was ten. I guess he figured a girl like me wouldn’t have no use for book learning.”
“A girl like you?”
Rosie ignored the question. “He ran off when I was ten.”
“He left you alone?”
“He said I always had too much to say.”
Lacey took a breath, then forced a smile. “Well, I suppose I wouldn’t know how to read, either, if it wasn’t for my grandpa. He took me in when my mother died, too, you know.”
Lacey’s brows rose with surprise.
“Everybody at the Nugget knows that story. Your grandpa was killed, and before he died, he told you to go to town and ask for Scully, so Scully could take care of you. Then Scully sent you back east to school, so you could learn to be a lady.”
Rosie had used that word with profound admiration, and Lacey felt her own eyes moisten. She heard herself say, “Yes, Scully did all that for me, but I could already read by the time I met him. My grandpa taught me easily enough. I could teach you, too.”
“No, it’s too late for me.”
“Oh, pooh! I never heard such nonsense!” Realizing she had startled Rosie with the sudden vehemence of her response, Lacey continued more softly, “I’d really enjoy teaching you to read, Rosie. It would be fun.”
“Everybody would laugh at me. Besides, Scully wouldn’t like it if you spent too much time with me.”
“He wouldn’t care.”
“Yes, he would.”
Rosie was adamant. Aware that she was losing the battle, Lacey said, “Then we don’t have to tell anybody I’m teaching you to read.”
“That won’t work.”
“Yes, it will.”
A glimmer of hope shone in Rosie’s eyes as she said, “You really think I could learn…it’s not too late for me?”
“Of course it’s not too late.”
Rosie hesitated a moment longer, then said, “I could try—but only if I can pay you for teaching me.”
“Pay me? Why?”
“Men get paid for the work they do. Women should, too.”
The light of principle shone in Rosie’s eyes—and a fragile fragment of a pride that was almost nil. Lacey could not infringe upon what little Rosie had left.
Lacey replied, “All right, I’ll teach you to read if you’ll—” Lacey continued smoothly after a moment’s hesitation “—if you’ll make me a basket just like yours. It’s beautiful.”
“That’s not a fair exchange.”
“We’ll both be getting something we want. What’s fairer than that?”
“Well, is it a deal?”
Rosie hesitated a moment longer, then nodded.
Elated, Lacey said, “We’ll start tomorrow! You can come to my room at the boarding house when I’m done with work in the restaurant and we’ll—”
“I couldn’t do that. Mrs. McInnes wouldn’t like it.”
Lacey did not bother to argue the point. After a moment’s thought, she said, “In that case, I know the perfect place.”
Lacey walked out onto the boardwalk and waited as Scully closed the restaurant door behind them. She smiled up at him, then took his arm as they began walking. Yes, the day that had started out so badly had made a complete turnaround. She’d had a lovely afternoon with Scully and had taken the first step toward helping someone desperately in need. She had simply turned her perplexity over into His hands, and the Lord had provided the way to help Rosie. All she had needed to do was listen to His response.
Her heart rejoiced.
Lacey’s smile briefly faded at the thought that night was approaching, and with it the possibility of the nightmares, which had increased in frequency. As pleased as she was that the situation with Rosie appeared to be headed in the right direction, she was forced to admit she had been unsuccessful in combating the shifting shadows of the terrors she faced in her dreams. Lacey glanced at Scully. Her inclination at that moment was to confide in Scully, to tell him about the nighttime anxieties she could not seem to overcome, but she was determined not to take a step backward in her independence, nor to allow fear to intrude even briefly into the beauty of the day they had shared.
Forcing those thoughts aside, Lacey watched as Scully observed the street with a practiced eye. Her gaze lingered. His skin had darkened to a golden hue while they had frolicked in the water. His eyes, always his most outstanding feature, appeared a lighter, softer gray in comparison, and his smile more brilliant.
She said candidly, “You’re a very handsome man, do you know that, Scully?”
Scully looked back at her with a suddenly wary expression.
“Well, you are. I can’t possibly be the first woman to tell you that.”
Scully’s gaze narrowed. “No, you’re not…but, in my experience, that compliment is usually followed by a request for something extravagant.”
“Scully…” Lacey replied sincerely without hesitation, “What could I possibly want from you that you haven’t already given me?”
His expression unreadable, Scully did not respond, and Lacey continued with a hint of a smile, “I have something to confess, though. I didn’t really remember what you looked like when I came home that first day. I saw that tall, gray-haired rancher who was in town when I stepped off the stage, and I thought he was you.”
“Tall, gray-haired…” Scully frowned. “You mean Tom Belcher?” At Lacey’s nod, he said, “He’s more than fifty years old.”
“I figured you had to be at least that old since you were already an adult when I first met you. I figured you’d be needing somebody to take care of you in your old age. I wanted to be that person.”
“You wanted to spend your life taking care of an old man?”
old man. Just Jake Scully. But the joke was on me. You’re young and handsome…and you’re still taking care of me.” Lacey sobered. “You’re not only handsome, Jake Scully, but you’re a good man.”
Scully did not smile as he said, “Did you ever stop to think that I might not be the Good Samaritan you think I am?”
“Scully…you’ve read the Bible!”
“Does that surprise you? Do you really think I could’ve lived with your grandfather for a year without learning something?”
Lacey asked with a sober bluntness, “Is that why you left Grandpa? I know he didn’t ask you to leave.”
“No, that’s not the reason.” Scully’s voice dropped a note softer. “I left because your grandpa set a criteria I needed to emulate. He was a man who had set his own goals and established his own way of life with standards he refused to compromise. As far as I was concerned, whether he ever struck it rich or not didn’t really matter. I admired him. Although my own ambitions or standards weren’t as clearly defined, I knew it was time for me to make my own way, too. Your grandpa understood that.”
“My grandfather and grandmother were cut from the same cloth. I don’t know if you knew that. Grandpa told me my grandmother could’ve stayed in a nice, comfortable home back in Illinois when he went west, but she chose to go with him. He said she accepted every day they had together as a blessing, no matter how difficult their circumstances, and he’d never forget that. It broke my grandpa’s heart when she died in an epidemic. He raised my mother by himself, and when my mother died in an epidemic, just like my grandmother, he raised me, too.”
“Your grandfather was a good man.”
“You are, too.”
“I’m not your grandfather, Lacey. Don’t ever mistake me for him.”
“I won’t. I couldn’t.”
Appearing uncomfortable with their conversation, Scully turned his attention back to a cautious scrutiny of the street. He had behaved in the same way when the previous weekend was approaching. She supposed it was a reflex that had become instinctive over the years in a territory where civilization sometimes seemed to lapse when celebration took over, but she didn’t yet feel the same way.