Margaret Brownley, page 24
He wondered why he had allowed the two of them to grow on him so. Mother and son. He had no business feeling the things he felt for them. No business at all. He was nothing but a lowly trapper, with nothing of value to his name.
“There,” Libby announced at last. She brushed her hands off. “It won’t be long before you’ll have flowers.”
He should have told her right then and there that he’d never see those particular flowers come to bloom. He was leaving in less than two weeks. But the words wouldn’t come, and so he kept his misery to himself.
She gave him an uncertain smile and for a moment, but only a moment, he imagined things were different. That he wasn’t who or what he was. That his body was sound and his future bright.
“Here,” he said brusquely. He handed Noel to her.
Looking confused, she stared as Logan backed away.
“I have things to do,” he explained. He grabbed his gold rocker and heaved it onto his horse. Why. God, why? Why are you doing this to me?
All he had to his name was a leg that kept him from running—more than that, kept him from loving.
Libby spread a blanket on the ground next to the clothesline and placed Noel on his stomach. She then proceeded to hang her wash.
Noel rolled over and Libby dropped the wet garment into the basket and bent over to tickle him under his chubby little chin.
“My little man,” she whispered. He was growing so fast, she could hardly keep up.
She straightened just as Logan stepped out of his cabin and lumbered toward her.
He didn’t look happy.
She picked up a wet shirt and flung it over the line. It was Big Sam’s shirt and required an extra peg to keep it in place.
Logan walked up to her and she greeted him with a smile. “Noel turned over all by himself.”
He glanced at the infant and smiled. “Well, now.”
“Soon he’ll be crawling and walking.”
“I reckon so,” Logan said.
“The dress fits perfectly,” she said. He had dropped it off the night before.
“Good to hear.” After an awkward silence, he cleared his throat.
“Cast-Iron asked me to talk to you.”
She wiped her hands on her apron. “That’s a surprise.” The man hadn’t said word one to her. “Why doesn’t he talk to me himself?”
“He wanted to but I wouldn’t let him. He called you a meddler.”
“Did he now?”
“Said he put up with all the building, painting and curtains, but things have gone too far. Some men aren’t doing their fair share at the gambling tables.”
She nodded. “Their saving their money so they can bring their families here,” Libby said.
“I’m only telling you what Cast-Iron said.” He hesitated. “You have something on your nose.”
She touched nose. “What?”
“A soap bubble. Right here,” He wiped it away with his finger.
She smiled and he stepped back.
“Was there anything else?” she asked.
He frowned. “Anything else? Eh…no.”
“Well you can tell Mr. Iron that it makes no sense for miners to throw their hard-earned gold away on the gaming tables.”
“It’s their only recreation.”
“When they bring their families out here, there will be other ways to occupy their time.”
He nodded. “I’ll convey your message.” He stood looking at her and saying nothing.
“Was there anything else?” she asked.
“Yes, eh, no.” He shook his head and spun around. “Forget it!”
He stopped mid step.
“Why don’t you say what you really came to say?”
He turned to face her. “What makes you think I came to say anything that I haven’t already said?”
“It’s just a feeling I have. Now would you please stop beating around the bush? If you have something to say, then just say it!”
“I have no right to say what I want to say. Me being a rough, uneducated mountain man and you being a …fine lady.”
“But you are a fine lady.”
“I meant your being a rough and uneducated mountain man. Why I’ve never met a man more knowledgeable …Macoa owes his life to you and so do I. You helped with Noel’s birth just like you were a doctor.”
“I never went to school.”
“That doesn’t mean you’re not educated.”
“I know nothing about opera,” he said.
“I don’t know anything about wild animals.” She glanced away. “Sometimes I wonder…”
He closed the distance between them. “What? What were you going to say?”
She bit her lower lip. “I wonder how I can teach Noel about nature and wildlife. He won’t learn that in Boston.”
“Boston is still in Noel’s best interests,” he said, his voice husky.
She swallowed hard. “I know that. And I must think about his future.”
“He’ll need other children his age. I’m sure…that’s what Jeffrey would have wanted.”
At mention of Noel’s father, Logan frowned. “Do you still think of him much?”
“Jeffrey? Yes,” she said. But nowhere near enough. “He was the perfect match for the woman I once was. I’m no longer that same woman. I’m stronger, more independent. If Jeffrey and I were to meet now, I’m not sure…”
Oh, but she was, she was. Jeffrey was a wanderer and at first she loved his sense of adventure, but that was before she knew her own heart, knew how much she wanted a home and family. As much as it hurt her to think it, she could no longer deny the truth; Jeffrey belonged to a woman who no longer existed.
Logan stood watching her, a look of regret and sadness on his face. “You were always strong, Libby. I’d bet on it. Maybe that’s why you came out west. Not just because of Jeffrey, but because of your own free spirit. Did that thought ever occur to you? Did you ever stop to think that maybe you wanted to escape Boston?”
She loved him for thinking her strong and free-spirited. But he gave her more credit than she deserved. “If that’s true, then I was deluding myself. Boston is my home. It will always be my home.”
“I know.” He glanced away. “When….when do you plan to return to Boston?”
“Thornton says I should leave soon. Otherwise, I’ll meet with bad weather.”
A muscle tightened at his jaw. “Thornton’s right.” He blew out his breath. “As Noel’s godfather, it seems only fitting that I help with expenses.”
His offer touched her, and she felt a pang inside. “That won’t be necessary. I still have money left from my savings and some of the miners have been paying me to do their laundry.”
“Let me pay your fare.”
“That’s very kind of you, Logan, but it’s really not necessary…”
“It’s the least I can do for my godson. Please, Libby. Let me do this one thing for him.”
She sensed it was important to him and for that reason she accepted his offer. “That’s most generous of you.”
His eyes met hers. “It’s time, Libby. That’s what I came to tell you. It’s time.”
She knew he spoke the truth, but nonetheless her eyes filled with tears.
He wrapped his fingers around her arm. “Don’t cry, Libby. Don’t do this to me.” She reached up to touch his cheek.
Moaning her name, he crushed her to him.
“Oh, Libby!” He ran his lips across her forehead and down her cheeks, turning the steam of tears into liquid fire, before covering her mouth hungrily with his own.
Wanting to absorb his every essence, she raised on her toes to feel the full impact of his lips on hers and quivers of delight ran through her. She buried her fingers in his hair and willed herself to remember every line, every shadow and plane of his face.
His eyes smoldered with desire as he looked at her, smoldered with something else she dare not name. For then she’d have to name the emotion in her own heart.
“I’d better go, Libby.”
“Don’t go,” she pleaded. “Please stay.”
“Libby. Listen to me. If you really care for me…I beg you not to make this any more difficult for me than it already is.”
He touched his finger to her lips, and she clung to him for one last time before he pulled away.
Logan spent the remainder of the day in his cabin battling the need that burned inside. He wanted so much to go back to Libby and finish the kiss they had started. But that would be a mistake. He knew it would be a mistake. A big mistake.
Still, he wanted her so much he couldn’t think straight. Her sweet hot lips had burned a hole in his resistance. Finally, he gave up and was halfway to her house before he noticed someone standing at her front door.
Thornton! Drat the man! Choosing that exact moment to make his appearance, a large bouquet of wildflowers in hand, has face, no doubt, plastered with an oily smile.
Logan didn’t even wait to see Libby open the door. Instead he walked straight to the Golden Hind. Scanning the crowded room he spotted Cast-Iron Peters.
He walked up to the man and slapped him on the shoulder. “I delivered your message.
Cast-Iron grunted and Logan made a quick decision. “What do you say? Feeling lucky tonight?” He had to do something to relieve his misery, even it meant going against his Christian resolve.
Cast-Iron only had one facial expression: contemptuous. “I always feel lucky.”
Logan pulled out a chair by an empty gaming table. “Have yourself a seat.”
Cast-Iron hesitated. “I don’t want to waste my time with no two-bids.”
Logan grinned. “I wouldn’t think of insulting you.”
Cast-Iron nodded once and sat down.
Big Sam sauntered over from the bar and sat next to him. “Count me in.”
Logan shuffled the cards. “Don’t you have to consult with your financial adviser?”
Big Sam looked surprised. “You mean Libby. She won’t care.” He leaned over the table. “I got money to burn.”
Logan gave Big Sam a narrow-eyed glance. “Is that right?”
“Lookie here.” Big Sam pulled a leather pouch from inside his shirt and set it in the middle of the table. Inside was a gold nugget the size of a fig.
“Holy smokes!” Sharkey exclaimed as he leaned across the table to have a closer look.
Soon everyone in the saloon was scrambling to get an eyeful of Big Sam’s treasure.
“Calm yourselves down.” Big Sam grinned good-naturedly. He stood and held it up for all to see.
The miners exclaimed and marveled over it.
Big Sam couldn’t resist an audience and he took great pleasure in dramatizing his tale. “I was walking along Devil’s Bar minding my own business. There it was right on the ground in front of me. I couldn’t believe my eyes.”
“Let me see that.” McGuire picked up the nugget and examined it.
“Where’d you say you found that?” one of the miners called from the back. “Devil’s Bar?”
“It’s mine,” Big Sam said, grabbing his nugget back.
“The one in your hand might be yours,” Sharkey argued. “But a man’s got no right to anythin’ not in his own hand.”
McGuire nodded. “Sharkey’s right.”
“I say every man for hisself,” Benjamin said, heading for the door.
“Now wait just a minute!” Sharkey grabbed his hat and chased after him. This started a mass exodus as everybody pushed and shoved their way outside.
Logan sat debating with himself. A nugget the size of Big Sam’s could keep a man going for quite some time. It would certainly mean that he could forgo the trapping season and wait until fall. He could wait a whole year if necessary. Two years. Three. He could wait for however long it took his leg to heal.
He’d be rich. He would never have to trap again.
His chances of finding a nugget weren’t good. The others had an advantage over him. They could walk faster, cover more terrain, take shortcuts through streams and rivers, climb unhampered over rocks and fallen trees.
Common sense told him that any attempt to search such rough terrain would only do more injury to his leg, negating any progress he’d made in recent weeks.
Still, it was tempting. He’d be rich enough to move to Boston and not have to worry about making a living.
He’d be rich enough to give Libby the kind of life she deserved. His chances weren’t good. Practically nonexistent. No sane man would pursue such odds. But it was all that he had at the moment, a chance, the slimmest possible chance.
With this last thought burning inside, he grabbed his hat and followed the last man out the door.
In no time at all, news of Big Sam’s remarkable find had traveled from one saloon to the next, sending miners scrambling back to their cabins for their knapsacks. The night thundered with the sound of horses as one by one the men sped out of town.
The race was on!
Libby rose just after dawn. It had been a long sleepless night filled with burning memories of being in Logan’s arms. The kiss they shared. The love in his eyes—and yes, it had been love. She didn’t want to use that word, but now that she had she couldn’t get it out of her mind.
She’d gone through the process of motherhood, had seen her body go through the most amazing changes in the process, but never had she imagined she was capable of feeling what she felt for Logan.
Anxious to get an early start on her chores before Noel woke she dressed, worked her hair into a bun, and slipped outside, closing the door quietly behind her. She found herself staring at Logan’s cabin, her pulse quickening in anticipation. She longed to go to him. To tell him the things in her heart that she couldn’t say yesterday.
But sensing his absence and noting his horse gone, her spirits dropped. Had he left already? Without saying a last goodbye?
She drew her shawl around her shoulders as she walked to the creek to fill her bucket with water. Something was not right.
Normally at this time of day, the chimneys were smoking and the smell of bacon, salt pork and coffee filled the air. Today, the only smell that greeted her was the sweet smell of pine trees and wildflowers. The town was deserted.
She spent the remainder of the morning doing her chores and taking care of Noel, but she was troubled by the miners’ absence. Every few minutes or so, she stopped what she was doing to glance out her window at Logan’s cabin, hoping that by some miracle he would return.
Had Logan gone to the diggings? He told her he was leaving Calico Corners at the end of the week. So why would he chance doing more damage to his leg? It made no sense.
It was a lovely clear day, the air was cool and sparkling, and the sky cloudless. But it would be far colder up at the diggings.
Distracted by her troubling thoughts, she left her chores unfinished and decided to go to the general store. Hap would know where everyone had gone.
She put Noel in the little cart Beaker had made for him and pushed it along the newly built boardwalk. It puzzled her that every business in town was closed, even the general store. Where was everyone?
The sound of horses broke the eerie silence, and feeling a sense of relief, she spun around to greet them.
But it was not the miners riding into town; it was strangers.
The leader was a grim-looking man with an eye patch. The man reined his piebald horse in front of her and signaled the others to stop. Hands on the horn of his saddle, he impaled her with one stone-cold eye.
“Howdy, ma’am,” he said politely. “My name is Thomas Flint. Me and the boys here are looking for someone. I wonder if you could help us? His name’s St. John.
There was something about the man she didn’t trust. He was smiling at her, but the smile failed to reach his eyes.
Her heart fluttered nervously. “St. John, did you say?”
“Logan St. John.”
She pretended to give the matter some thought. “I can’t say that I’ve heard of the man.” She hated to lie, but something told her that this man was dangerous.
“Are you sure, ma’am?” Flint was looking at her hard. “Think carefully.” He glanced at Noel and Libby felt a knot in her stomach.
“I’m certain,” she said too quickly, too …Everything. “There’s no one in this town by the name of St. John.”
One of the other men took off his hat and wiped his forehead with his arm. “Come on, Flint. What is this? You said this was the perfect town for us to hang out in once you took care of your business with St. John.”
“Perfect!” sneered a scar-faced man. “Did you ever see a more namby-pamby town in your life?”
“Will you look at that?” yelled a man on a flea-bitten roan. “A saloon with ruffled curtains!”
All the men except for Flint began to laugh.
“Stop it!” Flint roared.
Flinching, Libby tightened her grip on Noel’s cart.
One man rode his horse next to Flint’s. “No. You stop it, Flint. You said Deadman’s Gulch was perfect for us. You said nothin’ about women and children.” He let out a stream of curses. “It eve’ has a church. And ‘nough flowers to pol’nate the entire state.”
The other men echoed in agreement. “I ain’t stayin’ here,” one cried out.
The men rode down Main Street, leaving a cloud of dust in their wake.
“Wait!” Flint called. “Come back, you scoundrels!” Flint hit his horse with his whip. “I’ll make St. John pay for making an ass out of me. If it’s the last thing I do!”
Horrified at the venom in his voice, Libby stood frozen in place as the men rode out of town. Despite the warm sun, she shivered and goose flesh rose on her arms.