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TT2: Becky’s Debt—Chapters 23 turning mattresses, washing windows, cleaning kerosene lanterns, and scrubbing soot off the hearths and fire surrounds. Between the cleaning and the four children waiting for her at home, Margaret didn’t have the energy to care about Brody and Becky getting frisky. She was businesslike in view of the ranch-house and kind to the lovers once they were away under the trees.
“I’m gonna rest right here on this rock. You two don’t go too far, hear? And keep your braces on, Mr. Easton.”
Brody didn’t wear suspenders, but he knew what Margaret meant. Every so often, she’d call softly to them, and Becky and Brody would walk back to where she could see they remained clothed.
Louella was more zealous, but also sympathetic. She stayed in sight, but would periodically turn away, as though watching birds or admiring the sunset. She always hummed to let them know it was time and stopped suddenly on a louder note, so they’d know their time was up.
In this way, Brody and Becky accomplished a lot of walking, a lot of talking, quite a bit of kissing, and a tiny bit of petting—on Margaret’s shift, of course. Brody made absolutely sure he was there on the days Margaret worked. He would have been there every night, if he hadn’t thought Colt would shoot him for it.
Neither Brody nor Becky would have admitted it, but it was actually a perfect courtship—they had plenty of time to learn about each other.
They learned they were both orphans who didn’t remember their parents.
They both liked to read, though not at all the same types of books. Becky read science, news, and occasionally philosophy. She knew where wars were being fought and when borders changed. Brody read almost exclusively novels and travel books. She found it horrifying that he didn’t care what was happening around the world.
“Are the Russians invading Texas?”
“Then why should I care?”
Try as she might, Becky failed to convince him that current events were important.
On the other hand, what she initially considered “dull travel books” were educational in surprising ways. When she bored Brody with dictatorial regimes, he told her how the region’s history contributed to what she’d told him was happening there. Becky thought of history as a dead thing, but when she wanted to discuss the current conflict in Eritrea, Brody knew right away why it was significant.
“But that’s geography, and geology, and agriculture,” Becky protested, after he’d talked for ten minutes about the Red Sea, fertile highlands, and fishing in the Dahlak Archipelago.
“Yes, but writers who travel often like to see rocky coastlines or climb mountains and eat local cuisine.”
“Mmm,” Becky said thoughtfully, and stopped calling Brody’s travel books “dull.”
They were very different: Brody knew a little about a wide range of disparate topics, while Becky was intensely focused on a few specific subjects. Brody was much less serious by nature, gregarious, and widely-traveled. Becky was politically well-versed and friendly, but she was more comfortable at home with her family.
“Maybe it’s because I’ve never been anywhere,” she wondered aloud.
“You said you spent summers in New England.”
“As a child, with school-mates. We didn’t visit museums and cathedrals: we rowed and played croquet.”
Brody wanted to show Rebecca the world, take her to the finest restaurants, the most luxurious hotels . . . he laughed to himself: she’d end up in the basement, examining furnaces and stone foundations.
To him, her life sounded idyllic and sheltered. Though she’d lost her parents at a young age: she’d been raised by family and had never been separated from her sister for longer than a few weeks.
He’d stayed with an uncle for a while, Brody said, but they didn’t get along.
Becky heard something in his voice and guessed his one-sentence coda about running away failed to mention a lot of beatings. She’d been beaten escort ataşehir once, too, but Colt and Jem had rescued them immediately; no one was there to rescue Brody.
“I have to tell you something,” he said, after they’d been walking out together for several weeks.
He was so serious that Becky’s heart sent a frantic pulse-beat of alarm to her temples. He was leaving, going back to San Francisco. She bit the inside of her lip and clutched her fingers in her lap to avoid hanging on his arm and begging him to stay, reminding herself that she wasn’t interested in marriage or courting.
They were sitting on a fallen tree that would soon be firewood, but for now acted as nature’s serendipitous bench. Brody looked down at his hands.
“My foster mother–“
Becky released the breath she’d been holding in a rush, trying to do it silently while still paying attention. She knew about Miss May Murray, of course, and how wonderful she’d been to Brody, but his tone of voice told her this was something else.
“I was about fourteen when a storekeeper from Minneapolis started courting May. For no particular reason, I didn’t like the man, though he gave me a job in his store and seemed nice enough. No one had anything bad to say about him. He and May got engaged, were supposed to be married the next year, but at the end of the summer, she told me she was breaking off their engagement. She didn’t say why, and I didn’t ask. We had a big shipment come in that weekend, and I slept in the storeroom Saturday night so I could get up early and start work again. When I got home Sunday night, she was dead.”
Becky started, putting a hand to her throat as though choking off the cry which had risen there.
“He’d . . . violated her . . . beaten her almost to death, then slid a knife into her heart. I couldn’t prove it, of course. I was just a boy. No one listened to me.”
Brody held her hand between his own, without looking up. She was crying by then, silent tears for the lonely, lost boy he’d been, and for May, the woman who’d taken such good care of him.
“That’s not what I have to tell you, though.” He patted the back of her hand. “After the gravedigger finished covering her up, I went and got my stuff—didn’t have much–” He laughed, not a funny sound at all. “–and I slit the storekeepers throat while he slept.”
His tone didn’t change.
“I stole everything I could carry from that store in one night, all the gold, jewelry, and cash in his safe, and struck out for Cassiar.”
Brody shrugged. “You know most of the rest, but I got my start in the gold fields selling merchandise I stole from the store of a man I murdered, and I thought you should know that.”
Becky’s small hand was clenched tightly about his, he realized. He looked up to find her face tear-streaked and furrowed with emotion. Brody straightened in alarm, sure she was crying for what they might have had together if he weren’t a thief and a murderer.
He turned toward her. “Becky, I’m so sorry–“
Becky fell across his lap, sobbing, and he comforted her as well as he was able while his own heart tore in two. When she’d cried herself out, he gave her his handkerchief, apologizing again.
Becky waved her hand to stop his speech, her palm so close she was practically polishing his nose. When she finished mopping her eyes and blowing her nose (he wondered inanely how ladies managed to sound so ladylike while blowing their noses) she rested her head on his shoulder.
“I’m crying for you, not for me, ninny.”
A great welling of gladness filled Brody’s belly and came rolling out in a deep rumble of laughter, because she’d called him a ninny.
Becky lifted her head with a questioning glance.
Brody hugged her back to his side. “You called me a ninny.”
“And . . .?”
“You wouldn’t call me a ninny if you were sending me away.”
Becky sat straight up and hit him, an easy fist to his ribcage.
He ‘oof’ed to make her happy.
“How could you think kadıköy escort I wouldn’t understand that, Brody Easton?” She rose and turned away with a haughty flounce and her nose in the air.
Brody was faster, though, and vaulted the log, stepping into her path and falling directly to his knees with a pleading, upturned face. “I beg your forgiveness, Miss Connor. Please allow me to make it up to you in some way.”
Becky pursed her lips. “I’ll need time to devise an appropriate punishment, Mr. Easton.”
He twinkled up at her, and she couldn’t help embracing him.
Unfortunately, he was at exactly the right level to turn his head and rub his cheek against her breast. “Mmm.”
“Miss Connor! Mr. Easton!”
Brody’s murmur turned to a groan as Margaret’s voice summoned them.
Becky petted his hair, smiling tenderly.
They walked back to the house holding hands. When they crossed a fall of light from the library window, Brody stopped in his tracks. “Jesus Christ.”
“Becky, there’s no delicate way to say this . . . you look—” Brody stopped speaking when he realized there really was no way to tell her she looked a fright without sounding beastly. He didn’t need to finish the sentence, though.
Becky figured it out, and her hands flew to her face. She wondered at how bad it must be to have occasioned Brody’s comment. She began to blot with his handkerchief.
Margaret waited at the corner, probably thinking they were whispering love words.
He shook his head slowly, side-to-side. “That’s not going to help. They’ll know you’ve been crying.”
He squared his shoulders and turned toward the porch, resigned. He hoped his nose didn’t get broken this time.
Becky dug her heels in and held onto his elbow, shaking her head. “No.”
“Becky . . . .”
“No. I refuse to be the cause of you being beaten. I can explain it just fine if you aren’t here. If you’re here, they’ll hit first and talk later.”
“I’m not leaving you to face th–“
“Oh, pshaw. That’s a lovely sentiment, Brody, and a noble gesture if you actually believe I’m in danger of being hurt. Otherwise, it’s just reckless.”
Brody frowned, not liking the idea at all.
“Miss Connor!” Margaret was getting impatient.
“Brody!” He wasn’t going to agree, she could tell. “Brody, if you don’t leave this instant, I’ll refuse to see you for at least a month, maybe more.”
His eyebrows rose.
“Go ahead and tell them about the quicksand, too, because I’ll definitely get beaten then . . . No, wait! Better yet, I’ll go tell everyone right now.”
She turned away, but he caught her elbow this time. “Alright. I concede. I’ll leave, but I do so under duress.”
Becky gave him a brilliant smile, a quick peck on the cheek, and shoved him toward the barn. “Go.”
She took her time strolling along the edge of the porch, and sat down with her back directly to the lantern by the door. “Margaret, could you please fetch Mrs. Connor; I have a question for her. You may leave directly after.”
“Yes, Miss Becky.”
Cat appeared at the door a minute later. “Becky? You wanted to ask a question?”
“Could you come out and close the door?”
Catherine sighed, hoping it wasn’t about sex again.
As soon as the door closed behind Catherine, Becky turned her face to the light.
Cat gasped and reached for her. “What did he–“
Becky giggled, which had the dual effect of instantly vanquishing a brewing storm and rousing Cat’s curiosity.
“I need your help.”
Catherine appeared silently in the archway to the parlor.
“Where’s Becky?” Colt asked, immediately suspicious.
Cat smiled—not a soothing, wifely smile, but an about-to-bust-out-laughing smile.
He relaxed. Slightly.
“Colt . . . .”
“Do you remember when you told me about living in an old chicken house near an orchard because you ‘ate real good’ that summer, but you were only maltepe escort bayan five and all alone in the world?”
Colt’s expression went from suspicion to curiosity and from there to impatience. He rolled his eyes. “Yes, wife, I do.”
Catherine frowned, so he smiled at her, charmingly, he hoped.
“Do you remember telling me about your twelfth birthday–“
He held up his hand to stop her. He’d been beaten with a belt three times that day and didn’t particularly want to remember. “Yes.”
“Do you remember how I reacted?” She looked from one husband to the other.
Colt and Jem smiled the exact same loving, tolerant smile, and nodded. She’d bawled her eyes out in each instance, and they’d ended up comforting her.
She smiled widely in return.
“This,” she said, reaching into the foyer beyond the archway wall, “is like that,” she finished, pulling Becky into the light.
—:—:—:—:—Chapter 24 a —:—:—:—:—
“I don’t like it.”
“Neither do I.”
Kendall and Wilson were standing shoulder-to-shoulder on their front porch, blocking Brody’s access to the front door and telling him what they thought about him leaving Becky to face them alone the night before. Kendall’s arms were crossed on his chest and Wilson stood with his fists on his hips. Both men had their shirt sleeves rolled up, exposing more brawn than Brody wanted to face down without a weapon. He kept his hands by his sides.
Brody answered, “And, sirs, that’s exactly what I told Becky last night, about ten times, right by that corner of the porch.”
“But Becky can be . . .” He paused for a noticeable span of time “. . . persistent.”
The corner of Wilson’s right eye twitched.
“She had it in her mind to protect me, and she dug her heels in.” He shrugged helplessly.
“Since I didn’t believe there was the remotest chance of her being harmed,” Brody looked from one man to the other, wordlessly pointing out that they were the ones he’d been trusting. “I let her have her way with this.”
He shrugged again.
They stared silently some more, then Wilson turned and went inside without a word. Kendall made Brody tough it out, eye to eye, for another minute or so, then followed his partner inside, leaving the front door open behind him.
Brody heaved a sigh of relief before going in. He didn’t know if he could best either man in a fight, and he didn’t want to try. Whether he won or lost, it would hurt like hell.
Becky had a hard time keeping her mind on the after-dinner conversation. Most of the adults—including Brody—were seated on the porch, with the exception of Nanny, who’d left with Caleb for their cabin overlooking the river to the north. The family was discussing the petroleum industry, which normally topped Becky’s list of favorite topics. Not only did she have her secret theory involving oil, but discussing the industry afforded her the opportunity to tease Jeremiah, a less common occurrence than being able to tease Colt. Often she began by claiming that the internal combustion engine was doomed to fail because steam engines or hot air balloons were much more practical. Lately a new bicycle design had become very popular, though, and she’d planned to substitute that for steam.
Sadly, Becky couldn’t concentrate on the conversation because her mind—and eyes—were occupied with Brody.
Almost a month had passed since that day in the bunkhouse—a month of frustrating kisses and hurried embraces. A lot of her nervousness had faded as they became more familiar, and Becky wanted more. She wanted Brody to touch her, she wanted to feel him against her again, and she had an idea how they could be together, for at least a little bit longer than their chaperones allowed. Her only problem now was how to tell Brody without sounding like a saloon girl, or giving him the impression that she wanted to do a whole lot more than kissing.
Abruptly, she stood, forcing the men to do the same. “Mr. Easton, would you care to walk with me?”
She ignored the sharp look Nanny shot her way, much as she ignored the social convention that dictated a lady shouldn’t ask a gentleman to walk with her.
Brody didn’t seem bothered by it. “Yes, Miss Connor, I’d like that very much.”
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