“Just came in,” Holding a piece of paper, Joe rounded the corner and gave the message to Dave. “He can’t come out this way. Busy with a case up in Quesnel. Asking if you and Rose can meet him there.”
Dave turned to Rose, “Well, are you up for one of our old adventures?”
“That’s one thing England was sorely lacking, horseback adventures on a wilderness trail with the best of company.”
For the next half hour, they packed enough clothing for a few days. Once Rose finished, she sought out Dave in his room. She stepped over his threshold and saw him holding a tiger’s eye stone in his hand. After a moment’s hesitation, he tucked it into his vest pocket and tapped his hat against his thigh as he looked around his room one last time.
“Are you ready?” Rose asked as he took a step toward the door.
He nodded. “Horses are out front. I got them ready first.”
During the first half of their ride, awkward dread loomed heavily over Rose as she waited for Dave to speak. Surely he must have conjectured that she had seen him pocket the stone, the stone that obviously held much significance? She could sense the thickening fog of an accusatory attitude growing in her heart. She had to reach out for his hand lest they be separated and lost to each other. Plucking up the courage, Rose asked, “What’s the significance of that stone in your pocket?”
His brow scrunched in concentration on solving a dilemma, the dilemma of telling her where he had procured it. “Agnes gave it to me.”
“Oh,” Rose responded hollowly as she determined to keep her gaze ahead and not allow herself to be led to the pool of bitterness and drink from its waters. Could she harden her heart toward a girl who either may have already lost her life or who may have suffered unspeakable things?
“She gave it to me for good luck. I don’t believe in luck, but it was a sweet gesture, one I appreciated. It’s funny, I guess, me keeping it in my pocket is part of me hoping I’ll find her safe.”
Rose sighed, “You must tell me if you feel something for her, however small.”
He gently shook his head and said, “Think back to almost two years ago. You thought you had your father, and then…you didn’t. Remember the time when you didn’t even know if you could count on anyone except yourself? And then Joe, Jack, and I came along. Agnes is in the same position you were in, except she only has me for family.” He reached out to hold her hand that was resting on her saddle horn. She hadn’t realized how close he had been riding beside her. “Only one girl has my heart, and she’s riding right beside me.”
The affection pooling in Dave’s eyes convinced her that he was telling the truth. Oh how convincing and volatile her feelings mixed with her imagination could be! She wouldn’t let it maim the bloom of their love. Rose sighed and rolled her eyes not because she doubted his sincerity but because she doubted Agnes’s integrity. “You being her knight in shining armour isn’t going to help her see you as anything less than her paramour.”
He grunted, “I can’t change the way she feels about me. One day, I hope she finds what we have. Then she’ll understand. Until then, she needs to accept what I have with you, and that it’s not going to change.” He nudged her with his knee. “Why is it so hard for you to accept what I’m saying?”
She smiled sourly and blew through her mouth. “I’m jealous. I look at her and think, ‘Why wouldn’t you want her?’”
He barked out a laugh. “Now you know how I felt when I saw you making eyes at Daniel when we first met.”
He barked, “How?”
Rose retorted, “First, I was trying to make you jealous. And I succeeded. You haven’t been maliciously trying to make me feel this way. Second, I was making eyes at the man who single-handedly turned my life upside down, who murdered my father, and who took advantage of my heart, body, and mind. You’re not even trying to make eyes at her, and I’m sure Agnes doesn’t have three quarters of the depth of his depravity.”
“Well, when you put it that way…”
“I do. You have much better taste than I do. I’m humble enough to say it.”
“Thank y…wait! So you’re saying my choice, you,” he pointed at her, “is better than your choice, me,” he pointed at himself as he slowly said, “which means that you are better than me. And you said you’re humble!” He shook his head playfully and clucked reproachfully.
She slapped his thigh playfully, “Now you’re reading much further into the situation than I suggested.”
Their relationship had never been still water nor was it ever a raging storm without reprieve. It was the ocean without bounds, without continuity, freedom to move and change without ever being mistaken for anything other than an ocean of love.
Rose expressed, “I missed this. I missed you. I met all kinds of people in England. People treated me within a large variance of behaviour, but no one has ever taken and given back in equal measure.
“Even Lord Faversham—I believe he was curious, even enchanted with my unique wit and charms; but I think he almost viewed them as a pet, something he could run his hands through, something that would bring him joy and happiness but only for a moment. Over time the novelty would fade, and I would be a bird trapped in a gilded cage, asked to sing and shine only when it would please him and the society he kept. I didn’t think he would ever realize how I would suffer until it was too late. He’s a good man, but not my equal in every sense. He’s not you.”
Dave’s mouth quirked upward, the single most facial expression that drove her mad with love and increased his attractiveness tenfold. How he had always had the power to rile up her emotions toward annoyance or attraction or both! This unnerving hold over her had unwittingly confused her initial feelings about him in general during the first stage of their relationship.
Crossing oceans to be at his side and bridging the gaps of misunderstanding after such a long time apart was a solidification of how committed she was to him.
The rest of their ride to Quesnel was filled with playful banter and whispering of future dreams. Once they arrived at their destination, they paid for two separate rooms for the night. They set out to find the Mountie immediately. Alas, he wasn’t e...