Ethan’s body healed enough over the next week to allow him to mind Calvin Anspach’s store as long as he didn’t have to lift anything. Townsfolk obliged. They rooted through supplies and did their own carrying. They only expected Billy to handle money.
One afternoon, in a swirl of pale skirt, the Hawley maid, Emily Blanchard, entered the general store. Her dark eyes glistened from the cold wind and a wind-flush lit up her olive skin. She threw off the hood of her green woolen coat to reveal coils of raven hair wrapped around her head and held by tortoise-shell combs. She had a prim mouth pursed in a tiny smile.
“Hello, Billy. Mrs. Nichols sent me over for a pair of shears. Seems hers are missing.”
Reflexively, Ethan reached under the counter, found scissors, and handed them toward the young lady. As she approached, he saw a look of recognition in her eyes. Oh, no, another one. Ethan had the constant problem of encountering people who knew Billy. He endlessly fumbled to squeeze information from people he was supposed to know.
The dark-eyed young woman lowered her head and looked at Ethan from under her brows. “She said you wanted to talk to me?”
Suddenly, it struck Ethan who this was. God knew what fictions Mrs. Nichols had poured into this poor creature.
“Yes, Emily.” Ethan’s mind raced. If this young woman had romantic notions, the last thing she would do is help Ethan contact Katherine.
That is, if she kept her romantic notions. Ethan hated himself as he opened his mouth. “Can you keep a secret?”
Flames leaped in the young girl’s eyes. “I ’spect I can.” Her voice told Ethan far more than he wanted to know.
“Good. When you head home, I want you to take something to Katherine Hawley. But you mustn’t tell anyone about it. Not a soul. Especially not Mrs. Nichols or the whole town will know by sundown.”
For five seconds, Emily’s eyes burned into Ethan with an intensity that almost made him shiver. He held up a fifty-cent piece. “It’s very important I get a message to her right away.” He extended the silver toward the girl.
Her focus shifted momentarily to the money, then back to Ethan’s eyes. He watched her hopes crumble. Eyes that had been so vivid and bright now clouded over. Taking the only path open to her, Emily’s small fingers reached out for the coin. Her voice had been husky earlier, but now Ethan could barely hear her as she replied. “What’s the message?”
Ethan felt cheap as he handed her the envelope he had sealed with wax to thwart prying eyes. All he could think to say was, “Thank you.”
Her eyes lingered on him for another second. She turned and put her shoulder to the heavy front door, at the same time flipping her hood over her head. Through the plate glass windows, Ethan watched her hunch against the wind and head back toward Mrs. Nichols’s shop.
He noticed that the scissors still sat on the counter. He replaced them in the drawer.