She had nerve, sticking to her story. How could she accept shelter from him when her child was out in the blizzard? Then there were the bruises on the child’s body. Something wasn’t right. The boy took priority. A lump formed in his throat and he wondered what his life would have been like if someone had rescued him from beatings. The meanest of people were the ones who appeared sweet. It had been a hard, painful lesson to learn.
The cabin felt smaller, more closed in with her in it. She wasn’t going to stay without working for her keep. “Can you cook?”
She jerked her head and glanced at him. “Yes.”
“What about keeping a place clean and the like?”
“I can do it all. Don’t worry I don’t intend to sit around waiting for the snow to subside. I appreciate all you have done for me but I’ll be lighting out as soon as possible.”
“And the boy?”
“I don’t even know his name. I know you don’t believe me but it’s true. No, the boy will not be coming with me.”
He grunted. “No sense arguing about it now. The snow will be there for months to come.”
Her eyes widened and her throat dried. “Months?”
“Yes, months. You’re in the high country. Once it snows it’s pretty much going to keep snowing until spring.” He briefly enjoyed her horrified expression, until he realized he was stuck with her. “You mentioned your parents died.”
“My mother started to grow weaker and weaker and no matter what we tried, she died. It was only three weeks into the drive. My dad fell off his horse and broke his neck, about two weeks ago. It was his turn to hunt and I drove the wagon. His horse showed up, dragging him.” She closed her eyes. “It wasn’t pleasant to see. We buried him and they banned me in the same day. I’ll never get over losing my parents but being turned away hurt. I nursed many of the people on the train, especially the children. I helped to birth one too but in the end it didn’t matter.”
Her sadness tugged at his heart. “They banned the two of you?”
“Two? Oh, you still think he’s mine. No, they left me alone.” She bristled.
“I see.” He didn’t see at all.
“Do you like living here alone? How far are you from town?”
“I enjoy my solitude. The town is a good two to three days away. I don’t go in very often.”
“Sounds lonely.” Her voice grew soft.
“It can be but it’s better than the alternative.”
He started to reply but a cry from his bed drew his attention. They both went over to see the boy. He sat on the bed next to him and was surprised when the boy wrapped his arms around him.
“Are you my Pa?” Bewildered, Patrick turned and locked gazes with Samantha. She just shrugged.
“Do you know what your name is?”
“Yes, Sir, I’m Brian.” He nodded hesitantly.
“I’m Patrick and well you know your ma.”
Brian just nodded, his eyes widened as he stared at his mother. Then he smiled.
“How’d you end up outside all alone?” Patrick asked gently.
“I donno. I don’t think I know. How?” He raised his eyebrows waiting for an answer.
“Perhaps your ma knows.”
“I don’t think so. I don’t think anyone knows.”
“What’s the last thing you remember?”
“I was sleeping in the back of a wagon. A man was takin’ me to live with him. He said I’d be able to do a lot of work.”
Patrick gave her a pointed look. “Doesn’t sound like a good situation.”
Brian smiled. “Here is better. Got any food?”
“I bet your ma could get you some food. I’d like some too.”
Samantha stiffened but didn’t say a word. She went to the pot hanging above the fire and stirred the stew before she ladled it onto two plates. She grabbed the two other forks he owned and brought them both food. “It’s hot.”
She stared at him for a moment and then nodded. “You are welcome.”
He sat on the edge of the bed and out of the corner of his eye, he saw Brian watching him and taking a bite when he did. He wanted to chuckle but thought it best not to. He wasn’t sure what was going on, but they’d be stuck with each other for a while and they needed to work things out. The first thing he needed to do was find Samantha’s dress. The occasional peek at her shapely legs was stating to give him ideas. Ideas he had no business thinking. Maybe she would be interested in a relationship with him but he didn’t want any kids to come of it. It was better to keep his mind on other things.
“I’ll go hunting tomorrow and see what I can find. For some reason my traps were all empty today. I don’t rightly remember that ever happening before.”
Brian hung his head. “Solomon stoled them.”
His brow furrowed. “Solomon?”
“Yep he’s the man who I belong to. He took all your animals and reset the traps. I must have fallen off the wagon.”
“He has a wagon up here? It’s sure to get stuck.”
“We ain’t from around here. We’ve been traveling and Solomon saw Ma get throwed away so he followed her but he said she was a tricky one and hard to find. He always took the animals. He likes the fur. Soon we were going to hunt for gold.”
“Brian I want you to think hard before you answer my next question. Is she really your ma?”
Brian’s hands shook but he looked Patrick straight in the eye. “Yes sir, she’s my ma.”
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