Texas Redemption(10)

By: Linda Broday

A gentle touch on her back strayed lower to pat her behind.

“My goodness, Murphy.” Laurel stepped back.

A pair of rebel gray eyes could easily set disaster in motion. She wouldn’t give Shenandoah any more provocation than existed.

“I don’t care who sees. We’d have tied the knot days ago if I had my way.”

She juggled dirty dishes and tried to ignore the grumbles. Bothersome thoughts plagued her as she hurried toward the steaming washtub. Wedding Murphy would bring everything she coveted.

Why then did she drag her feet, pushing the date further away?

The question barely formed before guilt rose. The gentle man had waited his whole life for the right woman to come along. He deserved the best. Lord knows she wasn’t even in the running for that distinction. She owed him more than the high road to hell she would saddle him with.

Sure, he’d probably try to whitewash over her past at first, being the true gentleman he was, but regret would show with each new day.

Murphy tagged behind with a load of plates. “Let’s go to Jefferson right now. Within two hours you can be my wife.”

How tempting to muzzle each rational thought and just accept. Perhaps through enough trying and hard work he’d never realize he’d gotten a jaded lady instead of the noble wife he sought.

Respect and caring came near enough to love. Didn’t it?

Close perusal revealed nothing displeasing. Never mind that everything was worn a bit too perfectly and to crisp precision. Murphy’s nicely trimmed hair brushed his collar in rich, sandy waves, each strand neatly in place. The bow tie and starched white shirt added a distinguished air. A gleam came from below.

Her reflection glimmered in the high gloss of his shoes.

…the face she couldn’t bear to see in the mirror.

Laurel jerked away, setting the dishes in the washtub. “We’ve discussed this. We can’t rush—”

His mouth smothered her objections. The earnest kiss caused no disruption in her heart’s steady rhythm. She wiggled away, trying not to notice hurt in his soulful gaze. Plain ordinary wouldn’t satisfy her and to be fair, it wouldn’t him either.

“I hope that settles any questions you have regarding my true feelings. You’re the lady that I’m going to build my future with.”

“I believe you care for me. That’s not at issue.”

“Goes a hell of a lot deeper than that.”

For now. Rueful whispers would dodge her attempts to bottle them.

“What’s wrong with wanting everything fitting and proper?”

“Enough fuss and bother. Seems an odd reason for concern.”

Before a reply came to mind, Ollie ambled in from the alleyway door, blocking a furry blob with a quick foot. “Durn cats. They break their fool necks to get inside. At least something likes the taste of your cooking, Laurel girl.”

The woman slapped her sides, enjoying the joke. Except for a slight pallor that remained, a body would have mistaken her for the picture of health.

Murphy covered his awkward position. “Afternoon, Ollie.”

“You’re just the one to put the bloom back in our girl’s cheeks. Reckon you heard about the ruckus?”

“Yeah, didn’t get the particulars though.”

“Started right here over a man’s lunch. Laurel got caught smack dab in the middle of the whole shootin’ match.”

“Sheriff mentioned the stranger stood up for her.”

“Dadgum truth of it. And he did a fine job.”

“Horsefeathers.” Laurel had to damper the steam before the train jumped the track. “You both know by now I’m fully capable of taking care of myself. Misplaced heroics caused two grown men to put pride over common horse sense.”

Ollie turned a deaf ear and squinted at Murphy. “Do you know that fellow, Shenandoah?”

“Might say so. Puzzles me why he’s come though.”

Laurel choked and collapsed into a chair.

“You do? Who… How?” Ollie’s words echoed her own.

Murphy pulled out a pocket watch and flipped the lid. The gold chain’s jiggling motion matched her thoughts. “Certain matters demand my attention at the moment, I’m afraid. Our discussion isn’t over. I’ll be back soon so be thinking about what I said.”