A Wanton Woman(13)

By: Vanessa Vale

“Perhaps it is better to eat as we talk,” Walker suggested, lifting a cover from a dish. A large, very pink steak was revealed, then glazed carrots, mashed potatoes and more as the plates were uncovered.

“You have just revealed that I am married to both of you and you expect me to sit and eat?” They seemed too calm about this, or perhaps they’d just had more time to reconcile to the idea.

Using a serving spoon, Walker put a variety of items onto the plate with the steak and carried it to the dining table that sat before a large bay window. I had to imagine the view if it were daytime.

“Please,” he said, waving his hand to the plate. “You said you were hungry after your journey.”

I was hungry and the topic of conversation wasn’t going to change regardless of whether I ate or not. Walker held out the chair for me before turning to the food cart for himself. Luke pulled out the chair beside me, spun it about and sat down with his legs straddling the seat. His bare forearms rested on the chair back and he watched me as I cut a slice of meat, then put it in my mouth.

“Slate Springs has a population of about three thousand,” he began. “Only three hundred or so are women. All of them are either married, much older than the bachelors or too young to wed. A young maiden who arrives in town is snatched up quickly, usually with at least two fights beforehand. With the town being isolated for five months a year, the men become… aggressive and somewhat volatile by the end of winter.”

He meant they hadn’t been able to fuck a woman for that stretch, but I didn’t clarify.

“Once the pass opens, most of the men are eager to leave town, never to return. As a business owner, it is a concern since my miners have walked away from their jobs, but there is a never ending line of men ready to work. Replacements are easy to come by.”

“But the town does not grow, nor have a large number of families,” Walker added. He’d sat on the other side of him and made quick work of his carrots. He speared another. “They are quite good. Try one.”

He coaxed me into eating a buttery sweet carrot and I nodded in agreement. The food on the journey had been passable at best. This was the first meal I’d had in weeks where I didn’t have to eat quickly when the train stopped for more water and coal, or eat alone.

“The solution was to allow two men to marry the same woman,” Walker added, when he was satisfied I’d eaten the vegetable.

“I can’t imagine everyone would be keen on this idea. Surely the clergy would find it amoral,” I added, cutting another piece of steak. My stomach had settled after the men’s initial surprise and I realized I was ravenous. I was glad for the food, and something to do as we spoke. Was this why Walker had suggested it?

“There are some who are against the law, but they are either wed already or are, as you say, in the clergy. The Bible was separated from the challenge the town council faced.”

“And yet you used it to identify yourself to me on the platform,” I countered.

Walker grinned, pointed his fork at me. “Touché.”

“Most men in Slate Springs want a bride, but they are few and far between.” Luke snared a roll from Walker’s plate, ripped it in half and popped a piece into his mouth.

“Thus, your need for a mail order bride,” I added. “I assume the other men will need to leave town to find a bride?”

“Yes.” Luke shifted in his seat. “As mayor, everyone in Slate Springs is looking to me to set an example, to ensure the law works before others are willing to commit.”

“So I am wanted solely as an experiment?” I knew Luke had not specifically chosen me, personally, from Mrs. Carstairs’ business. He’d wanted a woman who would wed him sight unseen. I shouldn’t have felt hurt by the truth because I’d known it all along, but still, I was.

Luke didn’t answer the question. Instead, he asked one of his own. “And what of you? You must have a reason for choosing to become a mail order bride.”

I was very thankful then for the food on my plate. I took a big bite of carrot and took my time to chew, stalling.

I glanced at the men, who recognized my action for what it was, but remained quiet and patient. Waiting.