Rose was hard pressed to find a good measure of sleep as she mulled over the details of Laura’s disappearance. Tossing this way and that, her body mirrored the struggle of her mind attempting to catch the answer zigzagging from her grasp.
As the first of the sun’s rays peeked over the horizon, Rose ground her palms into her closed eyelids. She slapped her cheeks once, twice and fumbled to her dresser to pick up her brush. Running it through her long, raven locks was too much of a chore to prompt the extra attention of coiffing it for the day.
Her mind could find no peace; for the details of the case failed to lead her to the answer of who had committed the string of heinous crimes. Her heart fared no better; for her differing emotions concerning Agnes, Dave, and she masqueraded as outfits for her heart to slip on and off, sending her reeling in a tizzy.
Restless, she rode over to her future homestead, hoping she could rejuvenate in its quiet embrace. Yet she had not been the only one in need of a distraction. As she turned her mount toward the hitching post, she spotted Dave putting up the railing on their porch.
After hammering in the last nail, he laid down his tools and welcomed her in his arms.
His woodsy scent hoisted away the chill moist blanket hanging upon her shoulders, her albatross.
Dave smirked and asked, “What are you doing here so early in the morning?”
As she raised her head to meet his gaze, the sight of his unbuttoned shirt offering her a sumptuous view of his chest made her blush.
“I, uh,” she gulped in a way she hoped wasn’t too noticeable, “your buttons are undone.” Her fingers trailed up his chest toward the opening. As her fingers reached for the buttons, they grazed over his skin. She heard his breath tighten, his body poised as a spring, ready to fire without the bolt of self-control holding it in place.
Rose ruefully smiled, “Perhaps, we’ll leave it just as is.”
Agonizingly slow, he brought his lips a hair’s breadth from hers and emphatically slid his hands over her shoulders. He whispered huskily, “I have a name in mind for you.”
She swept her lips over his gently. “What is it?”
He shook his head as his eyes were closed, and he smiled in ecstasy. “I’ll call you this name when the time is right.”
The energy crackling between them slowly diffused as she frowned playfully. She remarked, “The porch is looking wonderful. Is that the last of it?”
Dave wrapped his arm around her shoulders. “Sure is. That’s it for aesthetics. Now, I’ve got to move on to the more heavy-lifting projects.”
Rose asked quietly, “Why didn’t you accept the money I was willing to give toward our home? You know it’s not a problem in the least.”
He barked out a laugh. “I know money will never be a concern for us. That’s okay. I don’t think I could have built this with anyone’s money other than my own. It’s not because I’m arrogant, or I feel like I need to prove something. This is my love offering to you, and that means that offering needs to come from me. Everything, including the money. Plus, I’ve been saving my money for a long time. I had enough for the bare bones of this place. Over the last year and a half, I’ve been adding to it as I’ve continued working. It’s me giving something of myself to you.
“And even when we marry, I hope you don’t think that I’m not working anymore?”
Rose contemplated, “No, it’s something I’ve learned about my father looking in retrospect at his life, his story. He needed the same. I mean he gave up wealth, privilege, a life free of worry to come out here to this wilderness to earn his fortune. And that meant a life of hardened days that ultimately led to his demise.
“I may not understand it. I’m not a man. But I can know it and accept this love offering you give me just as long as you see that my inheritance is my love offering to you. I ask that you not spurn it.”
“We both have lots to give.”
Rose wrapped her arms around him. “And lots to receive.”
Dave looked into her eyes. “Ready to search out our next miner?”
“70 Mile House, here we come.”
Dave and Rose packed up a few changes of clothes and headed out. They arrived at the 70 Mile House and saw two teams of road crews with the words G. B. Wright emblazoned on the sides of their wagons preparing to head back south. 70 Mile House was the first stopping place on the Cariboo Wagon Road after Clinton, the last major city before the wilderness trail began, and therefore garnered a lot of activity. Dave and Rose slid off their horses and led them toward the clacking of reins and the jerking wheels of the wagons taking off. They wrapped their reins onto a hitching post and walked into the house.
Dave rapped his knuckles on the front desk, startling a man sitting behind it. However, it was most surprising that a man who looked like he had wrestled cattle all his life would exhibit such skittish behaviour. Rose attempted not to laugh. Instead a choked chortling escaped her lips. Dave smiled, “We’re looking for Shane.”
The man’s baritone voice rumbled, “That’s me. What can I do for you?”
Dave replied, “We wanted to talk to you about your buddy John.”
Shane replied, “John Sotter?”
“No, not him. The John who went missing about five months ago?”
“Ah, that John.” Shane sho...