She vowed never to marry again.
|Clara snatched the list from the counter, and turned her back to Daniel Dickerson.
Shrewish, that’s how she was behaving, but she could not let down her guard. Albert had matched this man in grooming and soft-spoken politeness. That was, until he’d claimed her for his wife. Then slowly, brutality had taken over.
But no amount of resolve could keep Daniel from her mind’s eye. She could still see the unruly waves of ripe-wheat colored hair capping his head. Could still see the angled planes of his all too serious features. Could still trace his familiar scent and the sound of his steps as he left the counter and wandered from one display to another. He was over six feet of solid, work-worn muscle.
She tugged a bag of corn meal from the shelf with a snap, stepped smartly across the floor, and tossed it into the small crate she’d set on the counter. Why could she not overcome these feelings? Angry and discomfited beyond measure, it took every ounce of will power she possessed to remain in her mother’s general mercantile and perform the duties the job demanded of her.
After what seemed an eternity, she added the final item to the crate. “Will this be all?” Rather than looking at him, she began tallying each item into the ledger.
“You can add these in.” He tossed five lemon drops on the counter, then followed with a packet of forget-me-not seeds.
“You plan to brighten up your homestead?” The question slipped out before she could recall it.
Again, his face and neck flushed. Several moments ticked by. Clarissa waited, torn between curiosity and hope he would not answer.
Finally, just as she’d given up and turned once more to her figures, he spoke. “My Ma, she dearly loved forget-me-nots.”
Sadness and grief vibrated in each word. She could not stop her gaze from darting upward. Alone. How could a person stand before one and seem so alone? Quietly, the question slipped from her lips. “She passed away?”
He nodded. “Her and my brother. You probably think its silly, but Keith practically lived for lemon drops.”
Clarissa wrapped the seeds and drops together in brown paper, and wedged the package between the can goods so it would not fall through the slats.
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
“No need. It’s been long enough now.”
“The length of time doesn’t matter. Not if you’re still grieving.”
Daniel felt foolish.
The empathy warming her voice was sure different from the haughty irritation she usually directed his way. But she’d also had her share of loss. First the death of her husband, then her father.
There was something about this woman. Something beyond her aloofness, that drew him towards her more and more each time he came into the store. She tried so hard to be cold, but her dark hazel eyes radiated a warmth that put a lie to her actions every time.
Daniel watched as she tallied the rest of his order.
“There you go. Everything is ready.” Her color was high as she looked up at him once more.
Daniel searched for words, for something to say that would put them both at ease. Finding none, he reached into his denim pocket and withdrew some bills. He counted the amount she quoted him, and handed it to her. Their hands grazed one another, and the warmth he felt at that mere touch seemed to seep deep within him.
Her fingers trembled while she stashed the money in the cash box. For the life of him, though he considered it rude, Daniel could not take his eyes off her movements.
Resuming her stiff exterior, the widow turned once more to the task of transferring canned goods from a large crate to the shelves.
Dismissed. Daniel clenched his jaw and tried not to take it personal. She was one fine woman, no doubt about that. Too fine for a dirt-farm boy like him. Elegant, that’s what she was, from her topknot of gold-struck hair, the graceful line of her jaw, and the stately way she carried herself. He had no business even thinking about her. Daniel squared his shoulders, picked up his crate, and walked out. Nope. He had no business even thinking about her. But that hadn’t stopped him yet.