Read Deep in the Heart of Trouble Online

Authors: Deeanne Gist

Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Historical, #Romance, #General, #ebook, #book

Deep in the Heart of Trouble (8 page)

BOOK: Deep in the Heart of Trouble
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Chagrined at the panic in his voice, she tried to keep her eyes open and focused, but all went dark.

chapter SEVEN

TONY FOUND the office door ajar and kicked it wide. “Get everything off that desk, Sharpley, and be quick about it.”

The tiny office held an old teacher’s desk, a bookshelf, a stove, and two ladder-back chairs. Sharpley grabbed the books littering the desk and pushed all the papers to the side so Tony could lay Miss Spreckelmeyer on top. He glanced around for something to prop her head on.

“There’s some ready-mades two rooms down,” Sharpley said, reading Tony’s mind.

“Good. Grab the first thing you see.”

She lay still and limp. He gently squeezed her wrist, relieved to feel a strong pulse, yet wondering what he would do if she didn’t come to.

What had he been thinking to challenge her to a game of football? If she suffered some serious injury and word got out that he had pitted himself against her in a one-on-one match, a scandal would follow for sure and he would permanently lose his job. The men in the patch might think she was eccentric, but they were protective of her.

He combed his fingers through his hair, admitting to himself exactly why he had challenged her. Because he knew he could beat her. He, Russ, and a group of immigrant boys from across the tracks used to spend many an hour playing football. When his father had found out he’d participated in that “workingman’s game,” he’d taken a strap to Tony. But it hadn’t kept him from playing.

It wasn’t worth losing his job over now, though. Instead of trying to prove himself to this woman, he needed to start focusing on his goals.

He glanced at the door. What was taking Sharpley so long? A B. F. Goodrich Company advertisement tacked on her wall caught his eye.
Cycling produces Health. Health produces Honesty. Honesty impels Cyclists to ride licensed SINGLE TUBE TIRES!

Sharpley returned with two pairs of bloomers. “It’s all I could find.”

“You’re kidding me,” Tony said, but took them anyway. “Now go get a pitcher of water and some cloths.”

He wadded up one pair of bloomers and put them under her knees. The other pair he placed beneath her head.

Blond hair spilled over the navy fabric and across her face. Hooking a tendril with his finger, he pulled it free of her mouth. Then brushed another strand from her forehead.

Her sandy-colored eyebrows arched gracefully above her eyes. Long, long lashes lay still against her pale cheeks. Cheeks that usually held such color and life. Her perfect, rosebud lips were bleached white.

“Miss Spreckelmeyer?” He ran his thumb along her brow. “Wake up. You need to wake up.”

Sharpley zoomed around the corner with a bowl of water. “I can’t find any cloths.”

Tony grabbed Essie’s left wrist and slipped his finger inside her cuff, snagging the handkerchief hidden within its folds. Taking the bowl, he dipped the frilly piece of cotton inside, then brushed it against her forehead, cheeks, and lips.

“Can you hear me, Miss Spreckelmeyer?”

Her eyelids quivered.

“I think she’s coming around.” He dipped the hanky again and bathed her chin, the back of her neck, and up behind her ears.

She blinked her eyes open, then let them fall closed again.

“No,” he said, his voice clipped. “Do not go back to sleep. Open your eyes, Miss Spreckelmeyer. This instant!”

She opened her eyes, her brows crinkling.

He took a deep breath. “That’s better. Now keep them open.”

She obeyed, though the blue orbs were clouded with confusion and fatigue. Her body was still as flimsy as jelly.

“Go see if you can find a glass or at least a smaller bowl than this, Sharpley, and fill it with water so I can give her something to drink.”

Wrapping the hanky around two fingers, he dipped it again. “You about scared me to death.”

Her expression didn’t so much as flicker. He slid his clothencased fingers down each side of her nose, beneath her cheekbones, and across her upper and lower lips.

The wet fabric provided no barrier between his skin and hers. She was so soft. As soft as a goose-down pillow. Swallowing, he glanced up and suspended his ministrations. Her blue, blue eyes had cleared and were fixed on him.

They held waves of royal blue and sky blue and a blue so light it was almost white, all captured within a fine ring of deep navy.

“Found one,” Sharpley said, entering the room with a glass of water.

Tony jerked his hand away from her mouth. “Good. That’s real good.” He slid his hand beneath her head. “I want you to take a little sip now.”

He brought the glass to her lips, tipping it slightly. She swallowed. A tiny rivulet missed her mouth and plunged down her chin and neck.

He captured it with the handkerchief. “Your color is starting to come back. Do you feel any better?”

“Yes,” she whispered. “I’ve never fainted before in my life. I’m so terribly sorry.”

“It wasn’t your fault, it was mine. Are you able to take a proper breath yet?”

A splash of color momentarily touched her pale face. “Yes, thank you. I’d like to try to sit up now.”

He placed a staying hand against her shoulder. “Not so fast. There’s no rush.” He looked over at Sharpley. “I think the danger’s passed, son. It would probably be best if you called it an evening, though. I don’t think she’ll be up to training you any further tonight. Were there any laps you needed to do or anything?”

“No, sir. We usually do the football drill last.”

“Very well. Report back here tomorrow night as usual unless she sends word otherwise. I imagine she’ll be back to herself within the hour, though.”

“Yes, sir. You’ll make sure she gets home all right?”

“I will.”

He turned to leave.

“Sharpley?”

The boy paused.

“You’re not to say a word about this to anyone. As part owner of Sullivan Oil it would cause her a good deal of embarrassment if the boys were to blow this thing all out of proportion. I’ll have your word that you’ll keep your trap shut about both the football match and her fainting.”

“You have it, sir. I wouldn’t never do nothin’ to hurt Miss Spreckelmeyer.”

“Thank you, Sharpley.” He gave the youth a nod of approval and listened as he moved to the entrance and let himself out.

The lantern in the room hissed. Retrieving the water glass, Tony propped her up again. “Let’s have another sip now.”

She brought her hand to the glass, her fingers resting against his as she swallowed.

“Excellent.” He laid her down and smoothed the hair away from her forehead. “How are you feeling?”

“Lethargic.”

“That will pass.”

“I’m terribly embarrassed. I’m not some weak, simpering female.”

“And nobody thinks that you are. As a matter of fact, I heard today that you’re one of the best shots in town.”

“Who told you that?”

He relayed Crackshot’s story, pleased to see the color return to her lips and cheeks as she smiled over the tale. She had a nice smile, with white teeth and dimples on both sides.

“If today is any indication, I’m afraid Wilson’s gonna be forever known as Crackshot,” he said.

She started to push herself up, and Tony reached to support her shoulders.

“Are you sure you’re ready?” he asked.

“I’m feeling much better.”

“Sit here on the desk for a minute before you try to stand.” He removed the bloomers propping up her knees and took hold of her calves, gently swiveling her around so her legs dangled off the side of the desk before realizing what he’d done.

Snatching his hands back, he slid them into his pockets, looked at the floor and discovered he was still barefoot. “Do you recall why you sent for me today?”

“Yes, of course,” she said, catching her breath.

He glanced up to make sure she wasn’t faint again, but her cheeks weren’t pale, they were burning with embarrassment. He felt his own begin to heat. What in the blazes had he been thinking to manhandle her just now?

“It was just a small thing, really,” she said, “but I didn’t have time to get out to the fields today and didn’t want to wait until tomorrow.”

He said nothing, not sure how to respond.

“I, um, I wanted to find out the names again of the men who sell those rotary drills and how to contact them,” she said.

“Baker. M.C. and C.E. Baker. I’m not sure where they are, though. I know someone I can telegraph over in Beaumont to find out if they’re still there or if they’ve taken a job out of town.”

“Would you mind?”

“Not at all.”

“If they are there, do you think you could ask if they would come to Corsicana and give me a demonstration?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I’d appreciate that, Mr. Bryant. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

He waited, but she said nothing more.

That’s it?
he thought.
That’s all she wanted? All of this for one simple question?
He suppressed his irritation, then realized that as a female, she probably avoided coming out to the fields if she could.

She’d only shown up at his rig once since he’d started, and all work had come to a complete standstill. If she tried to do anything, someone would jump in and do it for her. All the while, Grandpa and Jeremy did what they could to get her away from the patch. He wondered if she was aware of the effect she had on them.

He curled his toes beneath the hem of his denims. “Do you think you’ll be all right if I go out and get my boots?”

“Oh yes. I think I’m ready to go now, actually.”

Frowning, he pointed a finger, stopping her. “No, ma’am. Don’t you move from there until I get back.”

“I’m fine, Mr. Bryant.”

“I mean it, Miss Spreckelmeyer. I want you to stay put. Tell me you’ll stay put.”

She shooed him out with her hands. “I’m fine.”

He didn’t budge. “Say it.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake.” She sighed. “All right. I’ll stay put.”

He wasted no time in grabbing his boots and heading back to her office. She’d stayed where he’d left her, as promised.

Plopping down into a chair, he pulled on his socks and boots, then slapped his hands on his knees.

“Well,” she said. “I guess we’d better call it a night.”

He jumped up to help her off the desk, holding tightly to her elbow.

“I’m really all right, Mr. Bryant. You can let go now.”

“I’ll just hang on awhile longer, if you don’t mind.”

When they left the office, he tried to guide her toward the exit, but she tugged in the opposite direction.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he asked.

“I need to turn out the lights.”

“I’ll do it. You want to sit down?”

“No. And please, all this mollycoddling is not necessary.”

“Listen, you plum scared the living daylights out of me and I’m not anxious for a relapse. Now, can you stand on your own or do you want a chair?”

“I can stand on my own.”

He eyed her skeptically, but her color was better and she seemed to have her wits about her. Still, he wasted no time turning out all the lights except for the one by the front door.

“Okay, nice and slow, now,” he said, returning to take her elbow.

At the entrance he lifted her shawl off a hook, draped it over her shoulders, turned out the final lamp and locked the door behind them.

Essie had become so used to the smell of oil permeating town that she hardly ever noticed it anymore. But now, as she and Mr. Bryant stepped outside the club and the familiar fumes rushed up on her, her stomach lurched and her knees wobbled.

He pulled her close, allowing her to lean more heavily onto him. “There’s a wagonyard just around the corner,” he said. “Would you like to go there instead and get something to ride home in?”

“No, thank you. Walking is fine.”

“Are you sure?” he asked, slowing their pace to a stroll.

“Yes. I’m positive.”

Darkness shrouded them. With the sun gone, the worst of the heat had dissipated, but its stickiness lingered, leaving the air thick with humidity.

Her pride urged her to pull away from Mr. Bryant, but common sense insisted otherwise. She was not as surefooted as she’d pretended, and she didn’t want to risk humiliating herself again. Though his ministrations had been swift and efficient, thrusting him into the role of caretaker had been too unsettling by half.

She was his boss. His superior. But now he’d beaten her at her own game and had also taken charge of her. To make matters worse, she’d participated in a rather physical match with a man—a barefooted man—and then allowed him to see to her personal needs.

If anyone found out, there would be the devil to pay.

His parting words to Mr. Sharpley had surprised her, though. The field men loved telling tales, and tonight’s episode would have been embellished, laughed over, and retold for weeks. It could have damaged her standing in the community and embarrassed Papa. That Mr. Bryant had made certain her privacy and reputation remained intact had taken her completely off guard.

She risked a surreptitious glance in his direction, but it was too dark to see more than a faint silhouette. Cowboy hat. Straight nose. Defined chin. Powerful chest.

A few years back she might have pretended they were a couple. A young married couple strolling for the sheer pleasure of enjoying each other’s company.

But she’d learned the hard way that ill-founded fantasies and manipulations brought nothing but pain and heartache. No, she knew exactly who she was and who she was walking home with and why. She had no illusions whatsoever.

Still, the man no longer fit so neatly into the mold she’d originally placed him in. “Do you have a family, Mr. Bryant?”

The muscles supporting her arm tensed slightly, then eased. “Yes, ma’am. A mother and a sister.”

“In Beaumont?”

“That’s right.”

“Have you lived there all your life?”

“More or less. What about you? Have you lived here all your life?”

“Yes. I used to go out to my grandparents’ farm in Quitman every summer as a child. Other than that, I’ve been right here in Corsicana.”

“Guess it’s changed a lot in the last few years.”

“Oh my, yes. We went from being a small, struggling cotton community to an overpopulated oil boomtown almost overnight. We are still trying to adjust to the growing pains.”

BOOK: Deep in the Heart of Trouble
9.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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