[ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]
.He filled out his blues in a way both forbidding and appealing.He held RuthAnne as if he intended never to let go.They danced in perfect step, as if they were two sides of a coin.Clara was pleased to see her well-ensconced in the brash soldier’s embrace rather than Edgar’s.But a flick of her calculating gaze saw someone who wasn’t pleased.In fact, he was seething.Clara watched Marcus observing the same scene.His jovial face darkened.His eyes were locked on the pair.In heartbreak? Disgust? She couldn’t read his expression, but she knew the cause.The same cause of all of her troubles since she arrived at this godforsaken place—RuthAnne.The sound of brass instruments, laughter, and chatter filled her ears, threatening to split her head in a cacophony of sound.Clara only had eyes for RuthAnne, pale skin glowing under the lights, her long blonde hair lit up like a halo.Her joyous smile pierced Clara’s icy heart, filling her mouth with a bitter taste until she could take no more.Clara stepped into her path, forcing them to stop mid-step.RuthAnne saw Clara Carington from the corner of her eye.“You.” Clara’s eyes brimmed with loathing.“Mrs.Carington?” RuthAnne was confused.Bowen guided them out of the way of the onslaught of dancers until they stood in the center of the floor, though Clara followed them like a stalking wildcat.“I know all about you.What you and my daughter did.So you think that you can just appear out of nowhere and ransack my house for your own profit?”“Mrs.Carington, we didn’t.” RuthAnne looked to Bowen for help.Just beyond the murmuring crowd, Dolly muscled her way in between RuthAnne and the coiled snake that was Clara Carington, Whit closing in behind.“Mrs.Carington, it wasn’t RuthAnne’s idea.It was mine,” Dolly said.“And mine, Mother.” Amanda stood beside Dolly, visibly shaking but standing her ground.The band ground to a halt in a disharmony of brass and drums.“Is that right?” Clara turned her fury on her own child.“So, it’s finally happened.By hiring a whore into army service, your father has finally corrupted his own daughter.”Dolly blanched, her mouth open.Before she could speak, RuthAnne stepped in.“Are you sure you’re one to cast stones, Clara? What do you know about Dolly Jewel? Have you ever spoken with her? Met her, even?”“I don’t have to meet her to know that she came to Fort Lowell unmarried and pregnant.Shamed.Cast out from The Wedge.” Clara’s smile was evil, full of hurtful intentions.“And what about you, RuthAnne? Ever since you came here you’ve been flaunting yourself around the fort, tempting my son to fall in love with you.Riding off to meet heaven knows whom in the desert for days at a time.These aren’t activities for a woman with no means and no family in this godforsaken place.I’ve seen you.Don’t deny it.” Venom spilled from every word.The guests were silent, watching the heated exchange.“You don’t know anything at all,” RuthAnne whispered.Bowen stepped forward, arm protectively around RuthAnne’s shoulders.He nodded to Reggie.“Just like you, Mrs.Carington, to spoil a surprise.We have another special visitor this evening.Another life to celebrate.”Reggie vanished and, moments later, reappeared with three people in tow.Father Acuña in his simple brown robes; Mariposa, his exact opposite in a brightly-colored Mexican dress, hair ornately arranged in traditional combs; Mara followed behind, adorned much the same.Mara found her way into the mix, her dark eyes full of worry.She wore her hair pulled back from her face, spilling loosely around her shoulders.Her eyes searched until they settled on RuthAnne.She breathed a visible sigh of relief, face brightening into a wide smile.Her skin was full of color, her brown eyes dancing.RuthAnne met her in a deep embrace.With a look of extreme satisfaction, Bowen guided RuthAnne and Mara out of the middle of the dance floor.Father Acuña stepped forward, hands outstretched to the murmuring crowd, which fell to a hush.“These two sisters were brought to me with nothing.Robbed penniless by El Tejano.Mara was shot.Your own Captain Shepherd rescued them from certain death.RuthAnne was tending her sister back to health at the chapel; she was too proud to sit idle and came here to serve you.” Father Acuña told the story, his voice booming over the crowd.RuthAnne had to admit it was the perfect opportunity to lay all of their cards on the table.“When she wasn’t with Mara, she was waiting on others here at Fort Lowell.She is a noble and honorable woman.Anyone who thinks different will have to speak to me.”The crowd answered with hurrahs of agreement.RuthAnne blushed, and Mara all but glowed.Clara turned her attention back to Amanda and Dolly, pointing a rigid finger at them.“That doesn’t excuse my daughter consorting with a prostitute.”Whit Baker stepped forward between Clara and his fiancée.“Ma’am, this woman has more class in her little finger than you will ever muster.”“I don’t need you to defend me, Whit Baker,” Dolly protested.“Get used to it, Dolly.” He kissed her firmly and then waved her off.With chest puffed out and eyes wide and full of indignation, he continued, speaking not just to Clara, but the entire room.“If I ever hear anyone refer to my future wife in that manner again, they’ll be answering to me!” His gaze scanned the crowd, reunited with Dolly’s, and softened along with his smile.“These women did a fine job dressing the ladies using their own ingenuity and the meager supplies I was able to find for them.There’s no reason to tear Miss Jewel or your own daughter down.”Clara narrowed a venomous glare at her daughter.“You didn’t have my consent for any of this.”“She had mine.” Megan spoke quickly, taking Marcus in hand and dragging him behind her.He said nothing, his expression a blank poker-face.“You.You ungrateful children.” Clara gasped, speech slurred and hair falling from its pins.“Mother, can’t you see—” Amanda said, but Clara held up a hand.“The only thing I see is disrespect.”RuthAnne’s heart filled with pity.Clara’s outrage and indignation were only on the surface.Below lay something much deeper, be it heartache or fear of abandonment.“I wanted to surprise you.” Amanda swallowed.“Don’t you see how much brighter and beautiful things look? Doesn’t it remind you of San Francisco?”Clara blinked.The crowd stared back at her.The band members held their instruments at the ready, watching the exchange with interest.To RuthAnne, with the flags and banners flicking in the breeze and lantern light glimmering, the place looked like any other backwoods army dance.She wondered what Clara saw in her mind’s eye; the woman’s wide-eyed expression visibly softened.Instead of wearing their normal frocks and housedresses as usual, each woman looked fitted and lovely in her own way.“You did this for me?” Clara’s voice was small, slurred, as she addressed her daughters.Whispers of gossip rose from a breeze to a gale.Marcus set his jaw and turned to gesture to the band [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]