A Wanton Woman(7)By: Vanessa Vale
Her question was unexpected. I feared she would be concerned about being trapped in a small town with us, not trapped without us. I stopped on the sidewalk, tilted her chin up with my fingers. Her skin was soft, like silk, yet chilled from the cold. Her eyes met mine. “Luke. Call me Luke. We would never leave you alone like that,” I replied, my voice gentle. “We have been in Denver three days waiting for you, considering just such an occurrence.”
Her eyes widened. “You… you have?”
It was the surprise in her voice that kept me from responding, for I knew there was much to learn about her from that alone.
“We’ve been waiting for you, Celia,” I told her. All my life. I just didn’t know it.
“Let’s get out of the cold.”
I glanced at Walker as we turned toward the hotel once more. Neither of us would leave our bride alone in a big city as we waited for spring thaw, stuck in Slate Springs. If anything, we’d remain on the east side of the pass with her. With her.
What kind of marriage did she have before? Why was she so amazed we had been concerned? I wanted to know the answer, but not on the street. While I was big enough to keep warm in just my shirt, and the temperatures in the city were much warmer than at home, I did not think our bride could tolerate the chill for long until she became accustomed. Even then, she was a tiny thing and we needed to be cautious. If my toes were turning cold, then certainly hers were as well in her thinner shoes. Some new clothes more suited for the winter weather were our first purchases. But as I glanced down at her as we continued on, watching the gentle sway of her hips, seeing the long line of her elegant neck, I was just as eager to see her out of clothes entirely.
“This is impressive.”
There weren’t any other words for the suite Luke had at the hotel. I’d only come through the door, but the space was opulent. Thick rugs covered hard wood, dark red velvet curtains hung at the tall windows and also covered the chairs and couches that faced a crackling fire. I could see into two additional rooms, their doors across from each other. Large beds were centered in each, one even had a canopy. This wasn’t a simple hotel room to waylay until our departure in the morning. This showed wealth. It appeared my husband had money. Lots of it.
I should be reassured that I would not be married to a pauper, but I knew that money did not offer happiness. Certainly a full belly and warm clothes, but I’d known both of those with John and I’d been so very unhappy. I would hold judgement on Luke, for now.
I watched as he removed his hat and placed it on a table by the door. He wore the usual men’s uniform of dark suit, white shirt and black tie, but it seemed to fit him better than most and only accented his broad shoulders and thick chest. He turned and took his coat from my shoulders and caught me studying him. The heavy outer garment had kept me well protected from the cold and allowed his enticing scent to envelop me. Something dark and manly. Not a heavy tonic like John would have used, but a natural scent, clean and sharp. I breathed in the last remnants of it as I followed him to the couch before the fire.
I took the moment that was offered for one more surreptitious look. He was tall, so very big. I only came up to his shoulder and it should have felt imposing to have to tilt my chin back to meet his gaze, but that was not the case. Every time he spoke with me at the station and out on the street, he’d been close, perhaps a little closer than was appropriate for a man, but he was my husband. It hadn’t felt awkward. Instead, I felt… protected.
Butterflies fluttered in my belly as I looked at him. His fair hair was short and neatly trimmed. His eyes, so fair and yet intense, were beneath a strong brow. His nose seemed to have a slight crook to it, as if it had been broken at one time. While it appeared he had shaved earlier in the day, whiskers dusted his square jaw and I wondered if it would feel raspy against my palm.
The entire journey from Texas I’d wondered and fretted as to the man to whom I’d been matched. Would he be just like John—a well-respected man with absolutely no conscience or values? I hadn’t had to share much of my past with Mrs. Carstairs at the establishment that matched men to mail order brides. My past had preceded me certainly, but women who came to her had varied reasons for wanting to be sent to marry a stranger. I was sure she’d heard it all, even a story like mine. The underlying reason though was most likely the same. Desperation.