Joel rode out to the Wiley residence to talk to Michael. He needed advice from someone who wasn’t going to judge him. There had to be a way to extricate himself from the situation he was in. What had he been thinking, allowing himself to become entangled with Angel? Money, greed, the possibility of help from an influential citizen like Senator Browning? His conscience smote him. All of the above his heart answered. He dismounted, knocked on the door, and was met by eight-year-old Annette.
Her bright smile almost lightened his heart. He smiled back at her as he removed his hat and bowed toward her. “Good day, my lady,” he teased her.
Annette giggled. “I’m not a lady yet, Mr. Taney, but I shall be when I turn thirteen. Mama said so. But I won’t be a grown-up yet.”
Deanna came up behind her. “Don’t keep him standing at the door, child. Bid him enter.”
Annette held the door open wider and waved her hand in a grand gesture of welcoming as she had seen photographs of other ladies do. “Please, do come in,” she teased back.
Joel wished he had brought a bouquet of flowers but it was inconvenient to ride a horse and carry something in your hand at the same time. He bowed slightly to Deanna and asked if Michael was home.
“Indeed he is. I believe he is in the library. I’m sure he will be delighted to see you.” She kept up the atmosphere of chivalry, much to Annette’s delight.
He hid his anxiety. He had come to see Michael and what he had to tell him was not going to be easy to say. There was no one else he could trust and he wasn’t even sure Michael to could help him. Maybe no one could.
The door was open. Joel stopped at the door and cleared his throat. Michael was standing in front of the bookshelves, perusing the titles. He turned toward the sound, his smile fading at the expression on the young man’s face.
“What is it, Joel? Come in and have a seat. Can I offer you a glass of tea or lemonade?”
Joel sat heavily on the Queen Anne chair, its cushion hand embroidered with a green background bedecked by peacocks. “I don’t think I could swallow anything right now, Michael. Can we close the door?”
Michael strode to the door and closed it. Deanna and the rest of the household knew not to interrupt when the door was closed. He sat in the chair opposite Joel. “What’s wrong, Joel?”
Joel rested his elbows on his thighs and held his head in his hands. What would Michael think of him once he had finished? He was seven kinds of a fool, a cad, no better than a dead skunk. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and get on with it.
“I’ve been a complete idiot and I’m in trouble. Michael, I don’t know what to do.”
Michael nodded his head in encouragement. “Look at me, Joel.”
Joel lifted his head, glanced in Michael’s direction, then lowered his head again.
“Joel, I said look at me. I am not your judge. No matter what kind of trouble you are in, there will be no condemnation from me. Do you believe me?”
Joel gave the briefest inclination and held his gaze steady. He let out a deep sigh. “I’m not sure where to begin, but I guess it started with my infatuation with Angel Browning.”
Michael didn’t interrupt, but waited for Joel to gather his thoughts and continue.
“You know Angel. She’s beautiful and she knows it. I’ve never seen a man that didn’t follow her with his eyes. She’s a magnet for male attention. I had no idea what I was getting into.” He looked directly at Michael but saw no hint of criticism or disgust.
Michael’s smile was one of sad understanding. Many men had been carried away by the lust of the flesh. It had been so from the beginning. “Go on.”
“Maybe I could use a glass of tea. My throat is tight. This is difficult.&r...