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Burning Kansas: Chapter 9
The warm hand on Caroline’s back startled her and she turned around. She recognized the trail-worn hat, but everything else about the man standing beside her was unfamiliar.
“Act like I'm your beau. I'll explain later.”
“Excuse me, what are you talking about?”
“Caroline, it’s me, Creighton.”
King interrupted the awkward moment by jumping up and planting his big paws on Creighton’s chest with his tail wagging.
“Hey, boy, I guess you like the new me better as well. I had no idea I was so scary looking before. I probably smell better too,” he said, ruffling the dog’s fur.
Caroline met his twinkling blue eyes and had to laugh at the absurdity of the situation. It had been barely two hours since he’d ridden away from Uncle Donald’s house, but he was a changed man. Minus a bushel of hair and three layers of grime, his high-cheek-boned face was recklessly handsome and totally at ease. The crisp muslin shirt glowed against his flushed skin and his whole mood seemed lighter and younger as he kneeled and played with King.
“Creighton Blaylock, I do declare, I thought I was done being surprised by you.”
He stood. “Glad I could be of service. Now, I can feel the eyes of every busybody in this town burning into my back. Is there another general store? I don’t much feel like going back into this one.”
Caroline raised a fine brow in question, but caught the subtle shake of his head.
“Yes, there’s a small sutler on the edge of town. Not as nice, but not as curious either. Let’s go. I have a lot to tell you.”
This time she didn’t hesitate to place her booted foot in his inter-laced hands and let him help her mount her horse. In a few moments, he pulled next to her on Zeus.
You’ve known him less than a day.
I’m tired of being alone and afraid.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“Where to? I asked you twice. Is everything all right? You seem a million miles away.”
Only in my dreams.
“North edge of town, follow me.”
The daubed log building was only half as big and not one-quarter as grand as the main store, but the few customers seemed more interested in their own business than the couple on horseback.
Caroline kept her gaze on him as he tethered the horses and offered her his hand to dismount. She didn’t pull away quite as fast this time.
“We need to talk,” she said in a tone that didn’t allow for any argument. Face impassive, Creighton gestured to a pair of tumbledown tables with log benches under a tree next to the store. She didn’t speak again until they were seated across from each other.
After fussing with the cuffs of her blouse for a moment, she blurted out, “Jacob and Emma are married. My Uncle Donald is a minister and he married them this morning.”
The easy mood and humor drained out of Creighton’s face. She put up her hand before he could speak.
“Wait. Let me finish. My brother lives in Lawrence and I’m positive that’s where they are headed.
Unless you have kin on this side, I can’t think of anywhere else they could go. The situation isn’t good for long traveling.”
“Married? What the in hell was that damned preacher thinking? Jacob’s in no shape to be married. Is that how you do things in Kansas? Let children run off and play grown up? This was supposed to be some damn kids prank and you’re telling me they’re married? Damn it.”
Caroline jumped when he slapped the table, stood up, and walked away. He stood at the edge of the clearing and his frame jangled with tension.
This isn’t accomplishing anything and we’re losing time. I might as well tell him everything.
“Creighton, turn around and look at me.”
His angry, petulant expression angered her.
Damn it. We don’t have time for this.
“Listen up. There’s more and I need you to listen. I don’t need to be dealing with two arrogant boys right now.”
He bridled at her tone, but a small smile lifted one corner of his mouth.
“There’s more? Of course there is. Caroline, ever since I showed up in your yard this morning there’s been more. Ever since I met you, there’s been more.”
“Well, we both get to share in this one. Has Jacob been acting strange the last couple of months? Extra secretive or thoughtful?”
Creighton’s face fell. Caroline had an idea of what he was going to say, but stayed quiet.
“To be honest, I don’t rightly know. I haven’t been around much. But, from what little I’ve seen, yes, he’s been quieter than usual. I put it down to the death of his mother.”
“Well, Emma’s been touchier than a cat on a cook stove. I thought it was about me selling the farm and moving us back east. She even pinned a quilt over the door of her loft so I couldn’t see up there. I put a lot of thought into this since I left Uncle Donald’s. It’s why I was so preoccupied when you came up behind me. On the ride out here, Elspeth’s words fell into place.”
“She’s Donald’s maid . . .” Her voice trailed off. This wasn’t the time to explain the woman’s other duties.
If he noticed her hesitation, he didn’t show it. “What did she say?”
“She told me it was most likely right for the kids to be married. Because you can’t put the sap back in the roots once it rises.”
His face was a question. She was going to have to come out and say it.
“Creighton, unless I am sorely mistaken, you and I are fixin’ to become grandparents.”
To be continued . . .