He figured he would have to take her as far as Gramby. It was the least he could do, and there really wasn't any other choice. She was right: he would worry about her if he didn't go along. Besides, he'd never hear the end of it from his family-and he had a sneaking suspicion they'd find out-if he didn't accompany her and make certain she got on the coach. He had considered dragging her back to Rosehill and letting Harrison take some sort of legal action against Jones and his friends to discourage them from harassing her, but he was pretty sure Genevieve would take off again and he'd just end up chasing her.
He felt responsible for her because she was all alone. Like it or not, he was temporarily bound to her, and though it was completely out of character for him to do so, he was determined to interfere in her life.
She'd dreamed about him. He couldn't seem to get past that startling announcement. If she had meant to stun him with it, she'd succeeded magnificently.
Speechless, he'd simply stared at her and waited for her to explain why she would have done such a thing. She fell asleep instead.
She didn't wake up when he lifted her into his arms and carried her to his bedroll. He got her settled and sat down next to her. After removing his boots, he stretched his legs out, rested his shoulders against a tree, and closed his eyes.
Even in sleep she tormented him. She rolled over and curled up against his side, and just as he was dozing off, her hand dropped down in his lap. He was suddenly wide awake again. He quickly removed her hand, but less than a minute later, it was back, only this time it landed much closer to his groin. He gritted his teeth in frustration and tried to block the impossible thoughts that came into his mind. He could have gotten up and moved to the other side of the camp, but for some reason he felt compelled to stay close to her.
Needless to say, he didn't get much sleep that night.
He was up before dawn; she didn't wake up for two more hours. She was cheerful and refreshed; he was out of sorts and surly. She liked to talk in the morning; he preferred silence.
By noon, Adam had come to the conclusion that they were as different as night and day. When he wanted to get somewhere, he didn't let anything distract him. She wanted to stop and smell every flower along the way.
He rarely smiled; she laughed a lot. Mostly she laughed at him for being so overly protective toward her. She didn't seem to worry about anything and told him she thought he worried far too much.
The biggest difference between them was their attitude toward strangers. He was instinctively wary and distrustful. She was the complete opposite. Her trust in her fellow man astonished him. She greeted everyone she met as though he were a long lost friend, and she spent entirely too much time in conversation.
When they stopped to rest the horses, he reminded her of what she had told him back at Rosehill.
"'You can't trust anyone these days,' " he said. "Remember telling me that?"
"I do remember, but I meant to say that I can't trust anyone in a position of power these days. How long before we reach Gramby?"
"That all depends on you. If you insist on stopping to talk to every stranger we pass on the road, we won't get there until tomorrow."
"And if I don't talk to anyone?"
"Gramby's about five hours away. If we ride hard, we could be there before supper."
She nudged her horse forward so she could ride beside him. "Do I have a choice? If so, I think I'd prefer to take my time. I like meeting new people and hearing their stories. I think you do too."
He smiled in spite of himself. "I do?"
"Yes," she insisted. "I looked through the books in your library, and I remember seeing quite a few biographies. You obviously enjoy reading about other people's experiences. I like to read about them too, but I also like to hear firsthand about their adventures, and if you show an interest, complete strangers will tell you the most wonderful stories. Of course, you'll have to put them at ease first, which means you're going to have to stop frowning all the time and looking so threatening. People tend to shy away from armed men who look like they're going to shoot them if they say the wrong thing. Do you have any idea how intimidating you are? You're such a big man, and surely you've noticed how strangers back away from you. Maybe if you put your guns away-"
He wouldn't let her finish. "No," he told her in a voice that didn't leave room for negotiation.
She shook her head. "There isn't any polite way to tell you this. You scare people." He laughed. She didn't know what to make of that. "Do you want to scare people?"
"I haven't given it any thought, but, yes, I suppose I do."
"They'll give me a wide berth, that's why. I've learned not to trust anyone, and until I put you on the coach in Gramby, I'm responsible for keeping you safe."
"No, you aren't responsible for me."
He wasn't going to argue with her. "So you would rather sleep outside again tonight?"
"I don't see any reason to rush."
"What about Ezekiel Jones? Aren't you worried about him?"
"No," she answered. "He's given up looking for me by now."
It was the perfect opportunity to tell her that she was wrong and that Ezekiel was indeed following her, but once again Adam was silent. He didn't want her to fret, and if she knew he intended to talk to Ezekiel, she would probably pitch a fit. The preacher scared her, and Adam was determined to put a stop to his harassment as soon as possible.
She had been saying something to him, but he hadn't been paying any attention. The expectant look she gave him now indicated she was waiting for an answer. He had to ask her to repeat the question.
"I said I don't have a schedule to maintain, but you do, don't you? I'll bet you have a hundred things to do when you get back home."
"There's always work to be done."
"Your brothers will run the ranch while you're away. They're probably very pleased that you finally left Rosehill. I know for a fact that you've never gone anywhere outside of the mountains surrounding your ranch."
"And how would you know that?"
"I read all your letters to Mama Rose, remember? You got so busy building the ranch you forgot about your dream. By the way, Adam, I haven't made up my mind if I want to take the coach to Salt Lake or not. It seems like a waste of good money. I have a sound horse," she added. She leaned forward in her saddle to give the mare a pat of affection.
"I was a boy when I wrote those letters, and you are taking the coach."
"You wrote most of the letters when you were a boy, but there were also some that you wrote just a couple of years ago."
His response was a shrug of indifference. They rode along in silence, each caught up in thought. About fifteen miles outside of town they passed a family traveling on foot, following a wagon laden with their possessions. Genevieve stayed by Adam's side until they had reached the crest of the hill, then abruptly turned her mare around and headed back. He didn't have any choice but to follow her.
He caught up with her just in time to hear her invite the strangers to dine with her. There were five in all, a young couple with two little girls about the age of five or six, and an elderly man Adam assumed was the grandfather and patriarch of the family. The little girls stared up in fascination at Genevieve, but their mother stared at the grandfather while she awaited his decision. There was a look of eagerness and desperation on her face.
The two men were warily studying Adam. The younger one gathered his daughters up and pushed them behind his back. The protective gesture wasn't lost on Adam. If he had had children of his own and a stranger had ridden up to him with a rifle across his lap, he probably would have done the same thing. It was always better to be safe than sorry.
The little girls weren't frightened of him though. They didn't give him the time of day. They were giggling as they peeked out to look up at Genevieve.
"Adam, I would like you to meet Mr. James Meadows and his family."
The elderly man stepped forward. He was tall, painfully thin, and had snow white hair. Adam judged him to be around sixty-five or seventy years old.
As soon as Genevieve introduced the old man, he moved forward and reached up to offer his hand to Adam.
Adam shook it. "It's a pleasure to meet you, sir."
"Folks back home call me James, and I'd be pleasured if you'd do the same," he said in a voice that was thick with a southern twang. "This here is my son, Will, and his wife, Ellie. Those two little chatterboxes are Annie and Jessie. You can see they're twins," he added proudly. "Jessie's the one missing her front teeth."
Will stepped forward to shake Adam's hand. He was a strapping man with broad shoulders and brawny hands. After sizing him up, Adam decided that Will was used to doing hard labor out in the sun, for he had bulging muscles in his forearms and weather-beaten skin.
"Are you a gunslinger?" Will asked, frowning over the possibility.
Adam shook his head. "No, I'm a rancher."
Will didn't look as though he believed him. Genevieve gave Adam an I-told-you-so look before turning back to the Meadows family.
"Adam does look like a gunslinger, but he really is a rancher. He and his brothers own quite a large spread outside of Blue Belle."
"You own the land?" James asked Adam.
"Yes, sir, I do," Adam replied.
James gave his son a quick nod of encouragement. The younger man immediately stepped forward again. He tried not to sound overly eager when he asked, "Would you be looking to hire some extra hands?"
"I can always use more help," Adam said. "Are you looking for a job?"
"Yes, sir, I am," Will answered. "I can put in a long day doing any job you give me, and I won't stop until I get it done. I'm a good worker, sir, and I'm strong, real strong."
"Ranching is hard work," Adam warned.
"I'm not afraid of it," Will replied.
"Then you've got a job," Adam told him.
"We're headed for a new beginning. Jobs have dried up down south," he explained. "Where exactly might this ranch of yours be?"
Adam gave them directions to Rosehill. "It will take you a good two weeks to walk all that way. I should be back home by then, but in the event I'm not, just tell my brother Cole you're there to work."
"We'll make it without any trouble at all," Will promised.
His wife grabbed hold of his arm and hugged him. There were tears in her eyes, and she was frantically trying to blink them away.
"I might be useful for you to hire too," James said. "I've got a few good years of work left in me."
"Why don't we talk about this during lunch?" Genevieve suggested.
James looked as if he was about to decline the invitation. Adam thought he knew why. The family had obviously hit hard times, and they had probably used up all of their money too. They were dressed in clothes that were so worn they should have been thrown out. The little girls were barefoot, but aside from the dirt on the bottoms of their feet, they were spotlessly clean.
All of them looked in dire need of a good meal.
Genevieve wasn't going to take no for an answer. "We were planning to have a picnic," she announced. "And we would love for you to join us. There's plenty of food, and I don't want it to go to waste. Isn't that right, Adam?"
The entire family turned to hear his reply.
"Yes, that's right," he said.
"We'd be pleased to join you," James announced with a nod.
Will and Ellie shared a smile. Genevieve beamed with pleasure. Adam knew she was relieved. She had obviously been worried about the family. She had seen the condition of their clothing and had assumed, as he had, that they were hungry, but unlike him, she had rushed forward to do something about it. Her generosity and compassion humbled him, and he no longer minded the delay in their journey at all.
They ate lunch by a stream about a half a mile south of the main road. While Adam took care of their horses, Ellie helped Genevieve spread the blanket on the ground and put the food out. There was cheese, salted ham, biscuits, apples, dried bananas, and sugar cookies for dessert. They drank cold water from the stream. Although Genevieve had enough food for all of them, she didn't eat much at all. She seemed content to nibble on a biscuit, and as soon as everyone had eaten their fill, she insisted they take most of the leftover food with them, using the excuse that she would have to throw it away if they didn't.
"How does a man like yourself end up owning a ranch?" James asked.
Adam shrugged. He wasn't used to telling anyone about his personal life. Private to the extreme, he decided to tell them that owning the ranch was a result of hard work and a lot of luck. Genevieve had other ideas. She decided to tell his life story.
He was too astonished to interrupt. She knew everything about him, which really wasn't all that surprising, since she had read his letters and Mama Rose would have filled in the gaps. What stunned him was the fact that she remembered so many details that even he had forgotten. She had a way with words, and by the time she was finished, she had romanticized the story until he barely recognized himself. She made him out to be a champion, a warrior, and a hero, and from the look in her eyes as she gazed at him and the sound of her voice as she spoke, he couldn't help but think that she really believed he was all those things.
The Meadowses were captivated by the tale. They stared up at him as though he had just grown a halo over his head. He gave Genevieve a look to let her know she was going to catch hell when they were alone. She smiled back at him.
Adam thought he and Genevieve should head for Gramby. Genevieve thought they should stay and visit for a spell. Will and James were full of questions about Rosehill. While Adam answered them, Genevieve sat by his side. She waited for a lull in the conversation and then suggested that he give Will and James an advance against their wages to secure their positions.
Adam knew what her real motive was. They needed money to replenish their supplies. Realizing how important it was for a man to hold on to his pride, she had come up with a solution that would be acceptable to them. James and Will both protested, and Genevieve must have thought that Adam was going to let them have their way, because she put her hand on his arm and pinched him.
He kept his attention centered on the grandfather while he put his hand down on top of hers and squeezed hard. She let out a little yelp and pulled away.
"If you work for me, you take the advance," he told both men.
"Is that how it's done at Rosehill?" Will asked.
"Yes," Genevieve blurted out.
Adam handed each man twenty dollars. "I expect to see you at the ranch by the end of the month."
He shook their hands to seal the bargain, told Genevieve it was time to leave, and then started to get up.
James Meadows changed his mind with his next remark. "Adam, you've got the same noble look in your eyes that President Abraham Lincoln had when I saw him. Yes, sir, you do."
Astounded, he asked, "You saw Lincoln?"
"I sure did."
Adam wanted to hear every detail. He sat back down, and for the next hour he listened in rapt fascination as James shared his remarkable experience of seeing the man Adam personally believed was the greatest orator and president of all time.
"He was on his way to Gettysburg," James said. "It was a terrible time back then. The war had already taken so many young men. Folks were scared, and rightly so, and when the war finally ended, everyone flooded into the cities looking for work. It was bad for a long spell, but then it got better for a while."
"And now it's bad again," Will interjected.
"Where is home?" Adam asked.
"The prettiest little spot in the whole country," James boasted. " Norfolk, Virginia."
"Rosehill is very pretty too," Genevieve said. "I'm sure you're going to like living there, and soon you'll think of the town of Blue Belle as home."
"I'm sure we will," James agreed with a smile before turning back to Adam and asking him if he had ever been to Gettysburg.
"No, I haven't," Adam replied.
"I walked the fields of battle," James announced.
Adam wanted to hear all about it. He was impressed that James remembered the battles and the dates. He also knew details Adam had never read about.
While the men discussed the war, the twins took turns sitting on Genevieve's lap. She braided their hair and used the pink ribbons from the sleeves of her dress to tie bows for each of them. Ellie sat by her side. She and Genevieve whispered back and forth, and every now and then Genevieve would nod.
Adam kept glancing over at her. He heard one of the twins tell her she was pretty. He silently agreed.
It was going on three in the afternoon when Adam finally pulled Genevieve to her feet and insisted they get going.
James followed them to their horses. "If you don't mind my asking, how long have you two been married? You're newlyweds, aren't you?"
Genevieve laughed. Adam frowned.
"What makes you think we're newlyweds?" she asked.
"The way he looks at you," James replied.
"How exactly do I look at her?" Adam wanted to know.
"Like you haven't quite figured her out. You're puzzled, but you like what you're seeing, and that's about the same way I used to look at my bride, God rest her soul. Come to think about it, I guess I looked at her that very same way until the day she died. I never did figure that woman out, so I guess you could say we were newlyweds for close to thirty-two years."
Genevieve thought that was the sweetest thing she had ever heard. "What a lovely tribute to your late wife," she whispered, fairly overcome with emotion.
"I didn't mean to make you weepy about it," he replied. "If the two of you are considering sleeping outside, you might want to camp over by Blue Glass Lake. It's mighty pretty over there, and peaceful. You two will have all the privacy you could want."
Genevieve waited for Adam to tell James that they weren't married. He didn't say a word, and when she nudged him and looked up at him, he ignored her.
"We're going to stay in Gramby," he said.
"Why is it called Blue Glass Lake?" she asked.
"Because the water looks like blue glass," James answered. "It's deep, but you can see all the way to the rock bottom, and you can sit on the bank and actually see the fish swimming around. Someone tied a rope to one of the branches that hangs out over the water. I expect so you can swing out and drop down in the center of the lake, but my granddaughters are too young and too timid to try, and Will and Ellie weren't inclined."
Genevieve turned to Adam. He was already shaking his head.
"No," he interrupted. "We're going to Gramby."