Texas Redemption(8)

By: Linda Broday

War had ended and men continued to fight. They’d never learn that violence only dug more graves. Sudden nausea had her running toward the back before she lost the contents of her stomach.

Gulps of air and a glass of water helped. Ten minutes later, she eyed the mess left by the dinner crowd, mindful of the ticking clock. Only a few hours before suppertime. Besides, Jeb had asked for what he got. And avoiding Shenandoah seemed more prudent than before. Ollie would spout she couldn’t lollygag around. Speaking of which, she needed to check on her.

Heavy-hearted, she climbed the stairs.

“What was all that ballyhooin’ down there?” Ollie asked before she barely crossed the threshold to the room.

“Stupidity.” Laurel straightened the frayed patchwork quilt. “Jeb discovered his mistake in drawing down on Shenandoah. Probably walk with a permanent limp from now on.”

“A man goes spewing his mouth, he’s liable to get it filled with something besides a chicken leg. Reckon he found lead a bit harder to swallow.” Ollie cackled, puffing on the pipe. “Jeb never cast a shadow across anyone of this caliber.”

Laurel veered away from that subject. “How do you feel?”

“Fit as a four-legged mule.” She threw her legs over the side of the bed, dodging Laurel’s attempt to feel her forehead. “Don’t need any mothering neither. Save it for your younguns.”

“Don’t have any.” Nor did the prospect seem likely. Laurel lowered herself onto a chair beside the bed.

“Won’t get any either, less’n you learn to stifle that god-awful sassy tongue.”

“No use trying to change my ways now.”

“What happened to Shenandoah?”

“Eating, I suppose. Jeb interrupted his meal again.”

“Fool boy. Just ain’t right in the head.” Ollie stared into her face. “Well?”

She knew what Ollie asked, but recognized what more worry would add to a bad heart. “Well, what?”

“Did he remember you, that’s what.”

No use trying to plead ignorance with the crusty dear. “He called me Lavender Lil. Spoke about unfinished business.”

“Son of a bluejacket.”

“I tried to deny it, but he wouldn’t listen. I don’t know how to fix this mess.” Her nerves were tightly stretched bowstrings. Each breath rasped over them in a quivering rush.

“Appeal to his better side. Did you ask for his silence?”

“Jeb stole that chance.” Even had she found the words, she couldn’t have gotten them out.

Smoke curled about Ollie’s head. “Gotta find out his plans. Don’t reckon he gave any hint of how long he’s staying?”

“Not hardly.”

“What’s holding you back, girl? Get busy.”

Hotness scorched the back of her throat. It had taken too much strength, time, and planning. She wouldn’t let one steely-eyed drifter snatch it away. If he thought her a daylily, she’d make him change that opinion quick. In twenty-one years she’d already lived several hundred. A person couldn’t go through what she had without acquiring survival skills.

“I’m waiting for you to not die on me. Luckily, I see far too much mule blood in you to let that happen. Much as I loathe the thought, I intend to satisfy your curiosity and mine.”

“I’m coming.” Ollie’s boots struck the floor.

“It’s my past I have to face.” Laurel stared horrified as the woman danced a jig around her and wondered if Ollie’s brain had sprung a leak. “What in heaven’s name are you doing?”

“Proving I’m not ready for the undertaker yet.”

Ollie wobbled when she stopped. Quick reflexes kept her from falling. Laurel held tight, glancing about for a piece of strong rope. She spied none, not even a speck of yarn. “I do this alone. By myself. That doesn’t include you.”

“Well, of all the ungrateful nerve,” Ollie sniffed. “It’s not as if I wouldn’t let you do all the talking.”

“Only a case of lockjaw would save that from happening, I’m afraid. I’m ordering you back to bed. Don’t make me lock you in.”

“You’re mighty bossy, you know that?”