She couldn't possibly marry him, and just as soon as she could get him alone for a few minutes, she would tell him so. She wasn't in a position to marry anyone now, not with all the trouble hanging over her head, but she wasn't about to go into a lengthy explanation when she talked to Adam. She would simply tell him that marriage was out of the question. Then she would be on her way.
Admittedly, before things had become so horribly complicated and bleak, she had entertained the notion of marrying him. After she had read all of his letters, she'd even dreamed about it, but then the Reverend Ezekiel Jones came into her life and turned it upside down. Because of her own naivete and self-involvement, she could no longer consider becoming the wife of such an honorable man as Adam Clayborne.
It was her hope that once she had completed the dreaded duty of explaining her change of heart to Adam, she would gain a little peace of mind. Lord only knew, she was due for some.
She needed privacy for their talk though, and privacy wasn't easily accomplished at Rosehill these days. The two-story house was bursting at the seams with returning family members and their spouses and babies. Adam was constantly surrounded by his relatives, and there was also a steady procession of friends, and strangers too, who stopped by the ranch for a cool drink, a hot meal, and a little conversation. None of the Claybornes ever turned anyone away.
As head of the household, Adam tried to be hospitable. He also tried to avoid her whenever possible. It hadn't taken her any time at all to come to that conclusion, for every time she entered a room he happened to be in, he found a reason to get up and leave. His abrupt departures would have bothered her if she hadn't already surmised from his wary glances that he was as uncomfortable with the situation as she was.
Time was running out and she would have to leave soon. She had made a promise, and she was determined to keep it. She had already stayed at Rosehill much longer than she had originally intended, and she was feeling tremendously guilty about deceiving all of the Claybornes. She had come there under false pretenses to hide, and every time she looked at dear Mama Rose, Genevieve's shoulders slumped a little more from the weight of all her lies.
The Clayborne family had made her feel worse by being so good to her. They had welcomed her into their home and treated her as though she belonged there. Mama Rose constantly sang her praises. She told her family that Genevieve was a sweet, generous person with high moral standards. Genevieve wondered how Mama Rose would feel about her if she knew the truth.
The opportunity to talk to Adam in private finally presented itself on the day of Mama Rose's birthday celebration. As Genevieve was coming down the stairs to the first floor, she spotted Adam going into his library, and, saints be praised, he was all alone. She straightened her shoulders, gathered her resolve, and hurried after him.
Two hours later, she was still trying to get to the library. First she had been waylaid by his sister, Mary Rose, who asked her to please supervise the men putting up the picnic tables while Mary Rose fed and changed her daughter. Over the past week, Genevieve had become very close to Mary Rose, and she was happy to help out. An hour later she had only just completed the task when Adam's brother Douglas asked her to please hold his ten-month-old son, Parker, while he helped construct the platform that would be used by the band Travis had hired.
Parker was a little charmer, and Genevieve certainly didn't mind taking care of him. The baby was persnickety with almost everyone but her. He was going through what his parents referred to as "a shy phase," which meant he usually started screaming whenever a stranger came within ten feet of him. He'd taken quite a fancy to Genevieve though, and much to his parents' surprise, the moment he'd spotted her, he'd put his arms out and demanded with a grunt that she pick him up. She was wearing a colorful necklace at the time, and she was convinced Parker only put up with her so that he could get to the trinket he thought he might like to eat.
Genevieve considered taking the curly-headed cherub with her to the library to talk to Adam, then changed her mind. Parker was fretful and would have been too much of a distraction. With all the pounding and shouting and laughing, she also knew that if she tried to put him in his crib, he'd have none of it. So she carried him out to the porch, sat down in the rocker Douglas had carried out for her, and let the baby rest against her chest and watch the chaos.
A shrill whistle made Parker jump. She soothed him with a gentle pat and a whispered word.
" Harrison, we could use your help," Cole shouted. "Bring Adam with you."
The screen door opened and Mary Rose's husband came out. He had his daughter, Victoria, in the crook of his arm. He looked a bit guilty as he came across the porch to stand in front of her. Genevieve knew what he wanted before he asked. She shifted Parker to the left side of her lap so there would be enough room for his adorable seven-month-old cousin.
"Would you mind holding Victoria for a few minutes while I help build the platform?" he asked in his rich Scottish brogue. "She's been fed and changed. My wife's helping in the kitchen, but if you don't think…"
"I can manage," she insisted.
Harrison got his daughter settled next to Parker, patted both babies, then removed his jacket and tossed it on the railing on his way down the steps.
Genevieve had her hands full. Parker was determined to gnaw on Victoria 's arm, but Genevieve gently pulled her arm away and substituted his blanket. His thumb immediately went into his mouth, and he began to make loud slurping noises.
Travis came running up the steps. The sight of his nephew and niece snuggled together in her arms made him smile.
"You sure do have a way with babies."
"It would seem so," she agreed. She burst out laughing then, for her little charges looked up at her and smiled. Both babies were drooling.
"They're perfect, aren't they?" she said.
"Yes," Travis agreed. "But it doesn't seem fair that Victoria only has peach fuzz on her head and Parker has all the curls. They're as different as night and day."
She agreed with a nod. "Where are you headed?"
"To the kitchen to get my hammer and then to the library to get Adam to help us. He can do his paperwork later. The band's going to be here by three, and we've got to be ready."
As soon as he had gone inside, Genevieve began to rock the babies. A soft warm breeze, sweet with the fragrance of wildflowers, enveloped the porch, and she stared at the mountains in the distance. She felt as though she were sitting in the middle of paradise.
She began to sing a French lullaby she remembered from childhood days, a favorite because her mother used to sing it to her every night before she tucked her into bed. The lyrics were simple and repetitive, and the melody was innocent and joyful. The lullaby brought back memories of happier, carefree days. Genevieve closed her eyes, and for a few brief, precious moments, she wasn't all alone. She was back in her childhood home, sitting in the big overstuffed chair listening to her mother sing as she pulled back the covers on her bed. The scent of lilacs enveloped Genevieve. She could hear her father's laughter floating up the stairs and feel the peace and contentment of that house. She was once again surrounded by people who loved and cherished her.
Adam stood in the doorway watching her. He was just about to push the screen door open when she began to sing, and having no wish to interrupt her, he had turned to go out the kitchen door. The music pulled him back. The rich, lustrous timbre of her voice, so pure and clear, was surely as perfect as an angel's, yet the look of tranquillity on her face was just as beautiful. The longer he listened, the more magical her voice became. Like a blade of grass drawn to the heat of the sun, he was drawn to the glorious melody. Captivated, he never wanted the song to end. He didn't make a sound, didn't move, and barely drew a breath as he let the music, and Genevieve, enchant him.
He wasn't the only man affected. One by one the crowd of men working in the yard paused to listen. Harrison was bending over to pick up his hammer when her song reached him. He straightened up and tilted his head in her direction. Travis, carrying a stack of two-by-fours across his shoulder, was halfway across the yard when he heard her singing. Like Harrison, he instinctively turned toward the porch, then went completely still and closed his eyes. Sweat dripped off his brow, the sun beat down on his face, but he was oblivious to any discomfort. In fact, he smiled with genuine pleasure.
Douglas had a nail in his mouth and a hammer in his hand and was swinging his arm in a wide arc when he heard Genevieve singing. He slowly lowered his hand and, like his brothers, turned to the sound.
The hired hands were bolder in their reaction. They dropped their tools and moved in unison to the front yard, as though they were drawn by some inexplicable force to the heavenly melody.
The babies were the only ones who weren't impressed. Both Parker and Victoria fell asleep during the first verse. Genevieve finished the lullaby and only then noticed the silence. She was given quite a start when she opened her eyes and saw the crowd watching her. One of the men began to clap, but a hard nudge and a reminder from his friend stopped the noise. However, her audience must have felt she was due some sort of appreciation, and within a few seconds every man there was smiling and tipping his hat to her.
Their grins were a bit unnerving. Embarrassed by their attention, she gave the men a tentative smile, looked away, and found Adam watching her. That was even more unnerving.
He smiled. She was so astonished she smiled back. His usual guarded expression was gone, and the look in his eyes was one she hadn't seen before. He looked… happy. He didn't seem so dangerous or fierce to her now, yet her heart was pounding a wild beat. The tenderness she saw in his eyes made him even more handsome… and how could such a thing be possible?
The screen door squeaked open, and he walked over to her. She stopped rocking the babies and simply stared up at him. He wasn't smiling any longer, but he still looked pleased. She was feeling flush and in dire need of a fan. She needed to get hold of herself. She was behaving as though a man had never looked at her before. Under his close scrutiny, her usual confidence evaporated, and she was suddenly feeling like the shy, awkward little girl who had made such a mess of things the first time she tried to sing in the church choir. Fortunately, he was never going to know how nervous he made her.
He dropped to one knee in front of her. She couldn't imagine what he was going to do… and then he reached for Parker. He was so very gentle as he lifted the sleeping baby into his powerful arms. He stood up, put Parker against his shoulder with one hand splayed against the baby's back and then put his other hand out to her.
She moved Victoria into the crook of her arm and let Adam pull her to her feet. For several heartbeats they simply stood staring at one another. He didn't say a word to her, nor she to him, yet the silence didn't seem awkward. Perhaps the babies made them feel connected to one another for the moment. Adam's fingers were entwined with hers, and she didn't know if she should pull away or not.
He made the decision for her when he turned toward the door. She had to let go of him then. She assumed he was going to put Parker in his crib and wanted her to follow with Victoria.
A few minutes later, both babies were sleeping peacefully in their cribs. She was putting the blanket around Victoria when she looked up to see Adam quietly stepping out of the room.
Oh no you don't, she thought. You aren't getting away from me this time.
She glanced over at Parker to make certain he was covered, then picked up her skirts and rushed after Adam.
He was waiting for her on the landing. Unfortunately, she didn't know that. When she came running around the corner, she crashed into him and very nearly sent him flying over the banister. Had he been a couple of inches shorter and a few pounds lighter, she probably would have killed him, and, dear God, he never would have forgiven her then.
He buckled under the impact, let out a low grunt, and grabbed hold of her to keep her from falling down the steps.
Her sense of humor helped her get past her embarrassment. She burst into laughter in the middle of her apology.
"I didn't want you to get away before… I'm so sorry, Adam. I didn't mean to bump into you. Are you all right? I didn't hurt you, did I?"
He shook his head. "Are you always in such a hurry?"
His smile sent her heart racing. She stared up into his beautiful dark eyes and felt herself melting. She knew that if she didn't say or do something soon, she would find herself married to him in no time at all. Why, oh why, did he have to be such a charming man?
"I'm sorry. What did you ask?"
"Are you always in such a hurry?"
"In a hurry? No, I don't think I am."
"We need to talk, don't we, Genevieve?"
She vehemently nodded. "Yes, we need to talk."
"We'll need privacy."
As if to underline that fact, the screen door slammed shut and Cole crossed the foyer below them.
"Yes, we need privacy."
"Is something wrong?" he asked. "You seem a little nervous."
"Nervous? I seem nervous?"
He nodded. She took a deep breath and ordered herself to stop repeating his every word. The man was going to think she was a twit.
"I am a little nervous," she said. "Do you know what I think?"
He didn't have a clue. "What do you think?"
"You and I started off on the wrong foot."
"Yes, we did," she insisted. "It's all my fault. I shouldn't have told you I was your bride. I stunned you with my announcement, didn't I? Well, of course I did. You obviously didn't expect to find me in your bed. You looked so horrified, and you were in such a hurry to get away from me you were tripping over your own feet. I simply couldn't resist tormenting you. I didn't take offense over your conduct, but now that I think about it, I probably should have been insulted, or at the very least… Why are you smiling?"
He didn't tell her the truth, that he was amused by her. The play of emotions that had crossed her face as she rambled on and on was comical. She was smiling one second and glaring up at him the next. He felt like laughing, and if she hadn't been so agitated, he probably would have given in to the urge. He didn't want to hurt her feelings though. Genevieve obviously took the matter of their engagement seriously, and he was pretty certain she expected him to do the same.
It really was a hell of a mess, and he had no one but Mama Rose to blame for meddling in his private affairs. He would deal with her later, but now he needed to have a long-overdue discussion with Genevieve.
First things first. He needed to move away from her. He was standing entirely too close. Odd, but he couldn't seem to make himself step back. Her scent, so light and feminine, made him think she'd bathed in lilacs. He liked it more than he thought he should. He liked just about everything about her. He even noticed, and approved of, what she was wearing, and he had never been interested in such superficial things before. Still, the starched, high-collared white blouse and white skirt were a nice contrast to her flawless coloring. She looked as prim and proper as a banker's wife, and was as sexy as hell.
He shook himself out of his reflection. "Why don't we go down to the library."
"The library? Yes, we should go to the library."
"Good idea," he drawled out.
She inwardly groaned. She was doing it again, repeating his words. He was going to start calling her a parrot if she didn't get hold of herself and stop thinking about foolish things, such as how deep and rich the sound of his voice was and how clean and masculine his scent was. He seemed to carry the outdoors around with him.
He really had the most devastating effect on her. She let out a little sigh. "I've been dreading this."
"Our private talk," she said. "Shall we go and get it over with?"
She sounded as though she were on her way to a firing squad. He agreed with a nod and walked by her side down the stairs. When they reached the end of the back hall, he moved forward to open the door, then stepped back so she could enter the library first.
The room was musty and smelled of old books. She found it very pleasing and looked around in fascination and approval. There were hundreds of volumes lined up on cherry wood shelves from the ceiling to the floor, and more books were piled in stacks on the hardwood floor near the windows.
The library had taken on the character of the man who occupied it, she decided. She knew from Adam's letters to his mother how much he loved to read, and she would have wagered every cent she possessed that he had already read every book there. He might even have read them more than once.
He motioned for her to take a seat. She chose one of the two overstuffed leather chairs facing the desk, sat down on the very edge of the seat, with her knees and her ankles pressed together and her back as straight as a ruler, and folded her hands in her lap.
She couldn't sit still long. While he was getting comfortable in his chair behind the desk, she nervously began to tap her heels against the floor. She stared down at her lap so she could concentrate, and rehearsed what she would say to him.
She thought it would be better if she let him speak first, and after he was finished, she would then gently-yes, gently-explain that her circumstances had changed and she couldn't marry him. She would be as diplomatic as a statesman so that she wouldn't injure his feelings or damage his pride.
Adam sat back in his chair and stared at her, patiently waiting for her to tell him what was on her mind. After several minutes passed in silence, he decided it was up to him to begin. He knew exactly what he wanted to say to her, for he'd been thinking about it all week long. Why then was it so difficult for him to get started?
He cleared his throat. The tapping got faster and louder.
"Genevieve, I'm not certain what your understanding with Mama Rose was, but I-"
She jumped to her feet. "Oh, Adam, I can't do it. I just can't."
"You can't what?"
"I can't marry you. I wish I could, but I can't. I wanted to explain right away, but you've been avoiding me all week long, which makes me think you don't really want to marry me anyway, and this personal matter wasn't something I wanted to talk about in front of your relatives. It's all so awkward, isn't it? Your mother put both of us in such a peculiar position. Are we engaged or aren't we? No, of course we aren't. Will it surprise you to know that I do want to marry you, or at least I used to want to marry you? For heaven's sake, don't look so surprised. I'm telling you the truth. Everything's changed though, and I can't possibly marry you now. No, it's out of the question, and even if you did want to marry me, well, eventually you'd find out about the trouble I'm in, and then you'd be horrified you ever entertained the notion. Do you see? I'm saving you from making a terrible mistake. I'm so sorry to disappoint you. Truly I am. You're just going to have to get over me. Broken hearts do mend. There, I've had my say. We can't get married, no matter how much you want to, and I apologize for deliberately misleading you. It was insensitive and cruel of me."
She finally paused long enough to take a breath. She knew she'd made a mess out of her explanation, and even while she had been rambling on and on, she'd kept telling herself to stop, but she couldn't seem to make herself do it. He probably thought she was crazy. His expression didn't give her a hint of what he was thinking, and she could only conclude that he was too stunned to react at all. Some of the words she'd blurted out kept repeating inside her head. Dear God, she'd started out telling him she didn't believe he wanted to marry her, and by the time she'd finished, she was insisting that his broken heart would mend. Oh, yes, he had to think she was demented. Mortified, she turned her attention to the wall behind him, pretending great interest in the framed map hanging there.
"I have to 'get over' you?"
She was relieved there wasn't any laughter in his voice when he asked the question. She gave him a weak nod and said, "Yes, you do."
"I see. You said you misled me. When exactly did you do that?"
She continued to stand and stare at the map while she answered him. "The night we met, I introduced myself as your bride. That was a falsehood."
"Ah, yes, I remember."
She dared a quick look at him. The warmth in his eyes had a strangely calming effect on her, and she began to relax.
"Are you always so self-assured?"
He laughed. "No."
"I think maybe you are. You don't get riled easily, do you?"
"No, I don't. Did you want to rile me?"
"No, of course not. You really do have an odd effect on me. I'm very relaxed around your family, but you…"
She shrugged and then decided to change the subject. "Your mother didn't tell me what a nice-looking man you were. It doesn't change anything. I still can't marry you, and I wouldn't marry any man just because he was handsome. I've learned from experience that appearances are misleading."
"Mama Rose didn't tell me how pretty you were. Why don't you sit down and tell me about the trouble you're in. Maybe I can help."
"Trouble? Why do you think I'm in trouble?"
Her voice rose an octave, and she seemed astonished that he would ask her such a question. He held on to his patience. "You just told me you were."
She didn't remember. "I spoke out of turn. I was in such a hurry to get everything said, and I was very nervous. I'm sure you must have noticed. I was talking a mile a minute, but I so wanted you to understand. And I was concerned about hurting your feelings. I didn't, did I?"
"Hurt my feelings? No, you didn't," he assured her with a smile he couldn't quite contain. "I might be able to help you, Genevieve, if you'll tell me what the problem is," he insisted once again.
She shook her head. She didn't want to lie to him, but she didn't want to tell him the truth either, for then he would be involved and could very well end up in trouble too.
"I don't have a problem."
She didn't think she could have been more emphatic, yet from his frown, she knew he still wasn't convinced. Once again she tried to get him to talk about something else.
She nodded toward the wall behind him. "Your mother showed me that map right after she purchased it for you. Why did you frame it and hang it on your wall? That wasn't what she wanted you to do with it. You were supposed to take it with you when you set out to see the world."
He knew she was deliberately evading his question, and that only made him more curious to find out what was troubling her. He wasn't usually intrusive, but she was a guest in his house and a close friend of his mother's, and if she really was in trouble, then he should try to help. He couldn't imagine that she was involved in anything serious though. She was such a sweet, innocent woman, one who undoubtedly had been sheltered by her family. What possible trouble could she have gotten into?
His mind leapt from one possibility to another. "Did you leave a suitor pining after you when you left New Orleans?"
The question gave her pause. "No," she answered. "I wasn't in New Orleans long enough to meet anyone. Why would you ask me such a question?"
"I was just curious."
"Are you always this curious with all your guests?"
"Only the ones, I find myself engaged to," he teased.
She hastened to correct him. "You were engaged, Adam, but you aren't any longer."
He laughed again. "That's right," he agreed. "How long were you in New Orleans?"
"Just long enough to see the sights?"
"I wasn't there to see the sights. I was singing in a choir, but then I decided it was time for me to leave. Now it's your turn. Answer my question and tell me why you haven't left here to travel the world. I know you wanted to, because I read all the letters you wrote to Mama Rose."
He raised an eyebrow in reaction. "You did? Why would you-"
She wouldn't let him finish. "I love Mama Rose, and I wanted to know everything I could about her family. It was something I could share with her. We met at church," she added. "Then I joined the choir and traveled from place to place."
"You have a beautiful voice. Did you ever think about teaching music?"
"No, but I did think about a career on the stage. Then I came to my senses. I sing in church, and I occasionally sing to babies," she said with a smile.
"Now it's your turn to answer a question. Tell me, why haven't you gone out to see the world?"
"I can see the world every time I turn my head and look at a map, and I can go from port to port by simply opening one of my books and reading."
"It isn't at all the same. You've become too complacent, Adam. Think of all the adventures you could have. What happened to your dream? You've forgotten about it, haven't you? Your mother didn't forget, and that's why she gave you the map. She showed me all the presents she was bringing to her sons and her daughter, and every one of them had special significance. Mary Rose continues the family tradition by wearing her mother's brooch, and Douglas carries his gold watch with him. Travis told me he takes his books everywhere he goes. Why, just last night he was rereading The Republic. I haven't seen Cole's compass yet," she added.
Before she could continue, Adam interjected, "He hasn't seen it yet either."
She looked perplexed. "I don't understand. Why hasn't he seen it? Didn't Mama Rose give it to him?"
"Both the compass and the gold carrying case were either stolen or borrowed from Mama Rose."
"Which was it, for heaven's sake? Stolen or borrowed?"
"It depends on who you ask. Cole insists it was stolen, but the rest of us think it was borrowed. I'll admit that when Mama Rose first told us what happened, we all thought it was stolen, but since then most of us have changed our minds."
"Tell me what happened," she insisted. She sat down, folded her hands together, and waited for him to begin.
"Mama Rose was waiting for a train at one of the stations on her way here. She showed the compass and the gold case to a man who was traveling with her. He was also headed for Montana," he continued. "According to Mama Rose, the two of them became friends and confided in one another."
"Your mother's a good judge of character."
"Yes, she is," he agreed. "She told us that he looked out for her on the journey and was very kind to her."
"He gained her confidence, and after a while, she began to trust him," she said with a nod that suggested she understood what had happened.
"Yes, she trusted him."
Her voice was edged with sadness when she said, "I bet I know what happened then. He betrayed her, didn't he?"
Adam found her reaction to the story intriguing. He had expected her to be a little curious, but she seemed upset about it.
"Cole thinks he did betray her," he said. "Is that what happened to you, Genevieve? Did you trust someone who betrayed you?"
The question startled her. She quickly shook her head in denial. "We're talking about your mother, not me."
"Yes," she insisted. "I do find the story disturbing," she admitted. "Has anyone notified the authorities about the theft? They might be able to get the compass back."
"So you think he stole the compass?"
"Yes, I do. The gold case is very valuable. I'm telling you, Adam, you just can't trust anyone these days."
He was trying not to smile. She had formed her conclusion without knowing half the facts. She and Cole had a lot in common. Like his brother, Genevieve was willing to think the worst.
"You sound as cynical as Cole."
"I am cynical," she said. "I'll bet the authorities also think the compass was stolen. What did they have to say?"
"The man who has the compass is the authority."
Her hand flew to her throat. "What's this?" she demanded.
"A U.S. marshal has the compass. His name is Daniel Ryan."
She was astounded. "The thief's a marshal? How shameful. Your dear mother must be devastated."
"No, she isn't devastated at all. She's convinced herself that he never meant to keep the compass. There was a crowd trying to get on the train, and she and Ryan were separated. He just happened to be holding the compass and the gold case at the time. She believes he'll bring Cole's gift here as soon as he finishes his more pressing business. Cole thinks Mama Rose is being very naive. From the description we have of Ryan, it does seem peculiar to all of us that he could be pushed around in a crowd. He's a big man with muscle."
"Is he as big as you are?"
Adam shrugged. "If the description's accurate, then yes, he is."
She mulled the story over in her mind for a moment and then condemned Ryan. "He stole it all right."
"Then you also believe Mama Rose is being naive?"
Genevieve stood up and began to pace around the room. "She has to have faith in Daniel Ryan, and you should let her."
"Why?" he asked.
"Because otherwise she would have to accept that she had been duped, and that's very difficult for anyone to admit. She would feel foolish and stupid, and blame herself. Yes, she would. She wouldn't be able to sleep worrying about it."
She turned at the window to look at him and knew by his expression that her outburst had been a bit extreme. She took a deep breath and tried to explain herself, "You must think it strange that I would become so passionate on your mother's behalf. It's just that she's such a good-hearted woman and it wounds me to think that anyone would take advantage of her. I wouldn't advise going after Daniel Ryan though, because it will only make matters worse."
"Why would it make matters worse?"
"Because in the end, it would be his word against hers."
"And you think that because he's a marshal, the law would be on his side?"
"Yes, of course," she replied. "It's naive to think otherwise. Ryan holds a position of power and influence over others, and if Mama Rose doesn't use her wits to figure a way to outsmart him, then all will be lost."
Adam stood up and came around the desk. "Tell me something. Did you use your wits to outsmart…"
He stopped in the middle of his question when Genevieve headed for the door.
"Don't run away. I'll stop prying into your personal life. I promise."
Her hand was on the doorknob, and he could tell from her frown that she didn't believe him.
"Your affairs are none of my business," he insisted. "I just thought I might be able to help."
"I don't need your help."
He leaned against the desk, folded his arms across his chest, and nodded. "Obviously not."
She took a step toward him. "It was very kind of you to offer. Please don't think I'm not grateful."
She visibly relaxed and moved closer.
"You smell like lilacs. I like it," he said.
She smiled. "Thank you," she said. "And thank you also for offering to help. It was very kind of you, but since I don't happen to have a problem, I don't need your assistance."
She wasn't a good liar. She couldn't quite look him in the eyes when she insisted she wasn't in trouble. He wouldn't challenge her though. He knew she'd head for the door again if he didn't agree with her.
"No," he said. "You don't have a problem, and you don't need help."
"Mama Rose doesn't need help either. She made all of us promise not to go after Ryan, but now that we know where he is, Cole's having a real hard time keeping his word."
"Where is the marshal?"
"About a hundred miles from here, in Crawford," he answered. "He lives in Texas, but he's working out of the office there while he rounds up a gang hiding out in the hills. Word has it, he's determined to take them back to Texas to stand trial."
"Couldn't one of you go to Crawford and have a little talk with him? I'm sure he'd give you the compass once he knows who you are."
Adam shook his head. "We have to wait until he brings it here because we promised we would. I figure he'll get around to it one of these days. Besides, the circumstances changed, and Cole's the only one who still wants to go after him."
"How did the circumstances change?"
"Ryan saved Travis's life."
She was astonished. "Tell me what happened."
He told her the story of Travis's encounter with the O'Toole brothers. "They ambushed him, shot him in the back. If Ryan hadn't gotten there when he did, Travis would never have made it."
"I wish you had mentioned this earlier," she said. "I have to revise my opinion now. Why, he probably didn't steal the compass at all. The man proved that he's honorable by coming to Travis's rescue. Shame on you, Adam, for making him out to be guilty."
The sparkle in her eyes told him she was teasing. She really was a beautiful woman, and that smile of hers was doing crazy things to his heartbeat. He found himself wondering what she would feel like in his arms. If he kissed her the way he wanted to, he knew he'd shock her sensibilities, but that didn't stop him from thinking about it.
"You made him out to be guilty."
Her remark jarred him out of his daydream. "I what?"
She repeated her statement. He shook his head. "I did no such thing. You drew your own conclusions before I could give you all the details."
She burst out laughing. "I got all riled up for nothing. I won't worry about Mama Rose any longer. I've taken up too much of your time. You're needed outside," she reminded him. She glanced back at the map once again. "You should take the map out of the frame. Your mother doesn't want you to give up on your dreams, and neither do I. You should see all the wonderful places you've read about before it's too late, and if you ever find your way to Paris, be sure to look me up."
She turned to leave. He didn't know what compelled him to do it, but he grabbed hold of her hand and pulled her back.
"You're going to France?"
"Yes. My grandfather lives there, and he's all the family I have left now."
"When will you leave?"
"In a couple of days."
The news that she would be going so far away bothered him, and he couldn't understand why. He should be happy to be rid of her, shouldn't he? And now that he thought about it, why hadn't he been elated when she'd told him she couldn't marry him? He had intended to say those very words to her.
Adam knew he wasn't making any sense, and that made him angry. He immediately let go of her hand and watched her walk away.
Then he got up and went back to work. His involvement with Genevieve Perry was over.