Texas Redemption(5)

By: Linda Broday

Tightness squeezed. The irascible lady had delivered her from wretched hands when no other dared. Laurel could never repay that.

Laurel kissed the weathered cheek. “You truly have.”

“Now quit your brow-wrinkling and cook that steak. Hunger makes a man meaner than a lop-eared polecat. I’ll serve the rest of those whey bellies.”

Laurel eyed stacks of dirty plates lining the sideboard and ladled simmering soup into a bowl. “Most left. Take this to old Jonas and we can get Shenandoah out of here quicker.”

“Ring the bell when that cow quits mooing and I’ll fetch it.”

A fine mist covered her eyes. The meat on the grate covering the hot coals could’ve been a fence post for all she could tell. An unbreakable bond existed. Risking your life for someone tended to do that. Not that Ollie spoke of it. Laurel respected that, same as the gut feeling that Ollie ran from something, too.

With no destination in mind, the wind carried them to Texas. Murky swamps and marshes had righted an upside-down world.

Redemption was a place of being. What lurked in the bayou’s water lilies and deep shadows had reborn her spirit. Majestic cypress knew her here and sympathized with the raw break she’d gotten. They forgave her sins.

She could become a whole person. Peace lay within grasp.

Damn Shenandoah. Damn him for appearing from the blue and scaring her witless.





Two


Mystery surrounded the funds Ollie had used to buy the café and small living quarters overhead. Seemed strange for a parlor house cook to fork over such a sum. Still, that was neither here nor there. Laurel respected another’s affairs. Besides, a desperate lady shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

Everyone had secrets…some more than most.

She flipped the meat and stirred the hot coals.

Hungry flames licked the raw edges of the steak, consuming, scorching. The hiss and spit of juices dripping onto the fire mimicked her heart’s loud protest.

A proper marriage to Murphy Yates could disappear into the thin air of a desert mirage. Instinct urged her to flee somewhere, anywhere safe from the familiar gray-eyed rebel.

Yet such a place didn’t exist, not even in her dreams.

Through a haze she watched until an evenly dark color signaled the meat’s doneness. She pulled it onto a plate and shook the cowbell.

The door swiveled on the hinges almost immediately. From the corner of her eye, she watched Ollie plummet. The pipe flew from the woman’s mouth, skidding across the floor. Laurel rushed to her side.

“What’s wrong?”

Frightened eyes in the chalky face stared up. Ollie clutched her chest, gasping for air.

“Oh Lord. What can I do?”

Laurel stretched her on the floor then wet a cloth. Loosening the top of the threadbare bodice, she placed it on the clammy brow.

If only the town had a doctor instead of a dentist. Jake Whitaker would have no inkling how to treat anything more than the usual chigger bites and earaches.

A lifetime passed before the pain eased. At last Ollie managed to speak. “Didn’t mean to let you see this, girl.”

“I’m going to get help. Even Jake—”

“Might as well dig a grave and throw me in.”

At least the suggestion put a bit of color back in the wan cheeks. “He’s better than nothing. At least give him—”

“Hmph! Reckon you don’t recollect how that quack gave me pyrexia poisoning when he pulled my tooth.”

Darn the ornery woman. Ollie suffered a grievous problem and it was no time to split hairs. Besides, she couldn’t prove Jake made her puke up her toenails and put her abed with a fever. But the stubborn set of her lips left no room for mind-changing.

“We’re closing the café. I’m taking you to Jefferson.” Laurel wouldn’t let Ollie die and leave her all alone again. “I’ve heard they have fine doctors. The Lizzy Belle will come through tomorrow morning. We’ll be on that steamship or else.”

With considerable effort, Ollie sat up. “I dadgum sure am not going. A pure waste of time an’ good money. Ain’t nothing wrong with me. Besides, if I’m gonna die, I don’t want the good Lord to find me with those carpetbagging leeches and riffraff.”